Posted in London on Saturday 28th April 2012 at 11:16pm
My visits to London this year have been frequent and rather hurriedly booked - partly due to huge blank calendar spaces, but also born of a strange compulsion to head that way which I've not yet quite placed. It is perhaps, a year of change for the city - but my usual obsessions are of course with the static, hidden and ordinary. In any case, I found myself heading to the capital on perhaps a better planned footing than last Sunday's jaunt. The object was to head early to Tate Britain, so on arrival at Paddington I enjoyed a late, rather lazy breakfast and then hopped on a bus southbound. Misjudging my stops I failed to get off before Vauxhall Bridge and ended up being carried over the river in the drizzle and ending up at the strangely modernist bus station. With time to kill before the gallery opened I took advantage of a nearby coffee shop and watched the life of the bus station and nearby railway develop as this corner of South London slowly awoke. Then, still in rather damp and gloomy weather, I made the walk over the Bridge to Millbank and the vast, stately bulk of the gallery.
The reason for my visit was the Patrick Keiller curated exhibition. Focused very much on artefacts related to and inspiring "Robinson In Ruins", I was intrigued and amused by much of the collection. In particular, the transplanting of a Government Pipeline marker into the gallery was neatly done, and some of the maps were also fascinating. I was less convinced by some of the artworks selected from the collection - but on the whole, they'd been chosen well to reflect some of the historical events pondered by the narrator of the film. Overall it was a surprisingly well attended bit of the gallery too, being wedged into the main concourse through the wings. Serious looking foreign art students sketched - apparently unsure of why. Especially I noted one sketching one of the paintings, a huge solid black blob, earnestly scratching it onto paper with charcoal. Strange.
I decided that I'd hit the buses next, in an effort to get up to Liverpool Street for some diversions that were running today. However, the city had other idea. When one of the few services which pass the Tate arrived the driver said "I'm only going a couple of stops mate". As I wandered along it became clear - a demonstration by disgruntled cyclists was stopping the very forms of sustainable travel they purported to support. I resigned myself to a walk in this, for me, mostly uncharted part of the city. After heading along Millbank until it became Abingdon Steet and swung north to skirt Parliament, I found myself stuck in crowds. Tourists milled stupidly, cyclists zipped around en route to the demonstration, and the route between the traffic islands of Parliament Square was illogical and confusing. I pushed on, battling the crowds, into Whitehall - following that time-honoured processional route past the Cenotaph and the great offices of State. Outside Downing Street, vendors sold pre-Jubilee tat to Union Flag clad foreign families. The road was divided, ready for the cyclists to pour down which felt like it could be any second. I took the advantage and crossed the street while I could, not wanting to get trapped in Trafalgar Square. The crowds were hemmed into a narrower pavement here so I turned again, into the sudden quiet and calm of Great Scotland Yard, following it's curve to Northumberland Avenue. Spotting the crowds at the Strand end of the street, I veered over to Northumberland Street, taking its shadowed, narrow course to the Strand and heading into Charing Cross. It had been a taxing and irritating, but rather exhilarating trip based on instinctive dashes into side-streets.
With buses out of action I decided to hop on a train just as far as London Bridge. From there, I fought my way out of the station and it's much enlarged concourse into the tangle of a building site. The footway signposted for the 149 bus stop didn't in fact go there, and was sealed off from the main road at the end. I wasn't alone in having to retrace my steps, the bored security folks not too concerned about us. It was raining now, and my trudge over to the west side of the bridge was a damp one. There were a good few waiting here, and one woman tackled the driver of a passing bus about a different service, completely unaware how she was delaying the service despite other passengers remonstrating with her. Eventually just hoped on one I thought might go near Liverpool Street, ending up leaping at Aldgate and walking up through Houndsditch to the station. The object was to take a Cambridge or Stansted service, which were today diverted via Stratford and Temple Mills to reach Tottenham Hale. I travelled out and back, using the opportunity to survey progress on the Olympic Park with a little hint of a wish to get down among the wilderness which survived on the edge of the area. On arriving I touched out and optimistically visited the bus station. The routes didn't throw up any immediate possibilties and needed work, so I headed over the bridge and caught a pair of cool, quiet Class 379s back to Livepool Street and the inevitable coffee. It wasn't new track, but the scenes out here change so often it was well worth the visit.
On the way back to Paddington, via a lazy trip on the 205, I thought a lot about today's traversal of the traditional route through the stately environs of the city, and how my second eastern objective would soon see some of the same once the Games start. Quite how the royals will react to the contaminated dustbowl remains to be seen. But what is abundantly clear is that I need to strike out that way before it's too late...
...but that's for next time. For tonight, all that was left was a pleasantly lazy trip home on the usual train - and time to think about Keiller and "Robinson" and how I connect to places.
I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.
I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.