Due to popular demand… Many people have asked… Someone idly asked yesterday… ‘when would this series continue?’ And so, because I am here to give the people what they want, here is what happened on the day The Colonial Went to the B.N.G.
Arising around 8:00 (although the notes for the day state an uncertainty about that time), St. Pancras International Rail Terminal is headed for, with a desire to locate coffee and food. Also, connectivity to confirm that Trudi Topham is still meeting me for the purpose of both delivering some material to me which has been ordered from both small publishers as well as through Amazon UK (which wasn’t available through Canadian sources; mostly books with different editions and/or covers), as well as accompanying me around the National Gallery.
Happily, one can check e-mail over breakfast of coffee and muffin-thing, as St. Pancras Station has free Wi-Fi! HUZZAH!
Sadly, Trudi is at King’s Cross Station on the other side of Pancras Road, but I’m able to see the grandness of this international terminal with its impressive roof of the Train Shed [image, left] which was designed by William Henry Barlow (who’s been immortalised in a statue in the Station). So, in the end, NICE!
I wander across the road, and — after working my way through a teeming mass of humanity down the entire King’s bloody Cross Station’s bloody warren of platforms and levels — locate the lady herself, complete with massive box of books. Huzzah! We head to hotel, dump the shit in my room, and then head to the wilds of the underground, where I buy an Oyster Card so as to be able to move about easily on any number of methods of available public transportation without the need to ensure my tickets not expired, correct change, and so on. For anyone visiting London, this is a boon, as you are only charged for the tickets you would normally need, but the most you can ever pay per day with this card is the maximum daily charge for unlimited use of the system and that flat rate is less than the cost of several tickets. If you plan to use the tube or the bus more than three times a day (go somewhere, go somewhere else, return to where you began), you’ve just saved money, and all you had to worry about was slapping your card on a big yellow disc when entering the tube or when both getting on and off a bus. Brilliant! Get one and make your visit to the City of Western Culture a breeze. You’ll thank me for it, I’m telling you!
The card, oddly, comes in a little yellow wallet with an advert for IKEA on the back. “Oh…! It’s got IKEA on it”, I remark to Trudi, whereupon we say “Oooooooo-OOOOOO!” at each other. Why it’s called an “Oyster Card” and not a BLAN or TORVELD as a consequence of the IKEA sponsorship is good for a few minutes of discussion. It may have something to do with IKEA’s brand-new Family Mobile — a virtual mobile phone network — but I suspect the new London Buses will be built from flat-pack kits.
We head into the City of Westminster to meet Lee Thompson for luncheon, passing short-arse Buckingham Palace in the process [image, right]. Trudi claims that my house in Burnaby must be bigger than ‘Buck House’, as it is illusion and isn’t even as large as it looks in its apparent reality before us. Something about ‘garden shed’ is mumbled. While she was exaggerating, it’s fairly different to see the place in front of you after years of television and photos showing you what seems to be a massive building… when it’s actually quite human and comprehensible in scale. In effect, ‘Buck House’ is the exact opposite of St. Paul’s Cathedral; while one is far more massive than is pre-conceived, the other is smaller than is expected. While this may seem to be disappointing, it’s actually quite nice understanding that the building is less impressive for some reason; not for any reason of feeling superior to those who rail against the vast fortune of the Royal Family, but in some sense it’s easier to like the place knowing it’s not some massive construction of ostentation. Certainly it’s bigger than most hotels, but it’s not bigger than one could see the use of by a family doing more entertaining than a small collection of Martha Stuarts, really.
We luncheon with Lee at a Starbucks in Westminster, and feel more energised as a result.
Trudi and I board a bus — oddly remaining on the lower level, but I’m not doing the touristy things anyway — then alight near St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields and gain entry to the National Gallery after fighting our way through the pigeons of Trafalgar Square whilst grumbling about the ‘damned rat birds’.
The entry lobby of the National Gallery operates on the basis that you know where you’re headed. It’s not large, and you’re almost headed in the direction of a specific gallery after only two steps inside the building. “This is a lobby, not a congregation area”, it seems to say, “so get where you’re headed, make room for the person behind you, and make no delay about it, m’man!”
It’s worth mentioning here just what sort of level of generosity Trudi is extending with this whole excursion. Not only has she travelled by train all the way from Welwyn Garden City (over an hour north of London); much of the day is spent walking around on either pavement or hard floors, which is not easy for someone with both back and knee problems plus a dodgy hip. The idea of travelling for almost three hours on the train to spend much of the day on one’s feet can’t be the most cheerful thing to consider. Her willingness to aid in the cultural uplifting of a Colonial is a wonderful thing.
As you may recall, the presentation of Things of Great Historical Worth over at the British Museum was sufficient to cause my head to be filled in short order. I mention this, and add that Trudi shall have to quickly move me into the middle of the room if she sees my head about to explode, that way the paintings will be saved from being splattered with brain goo. At one point she actually holds my head together due to viewing one particularly Important Work, and it’s because of that we weren’t hustled out by security for damaging a National Treasure.
Remember all those renaissance paintings you saw in the TV series hosted by Kenneth Clarke called Civilisation or its accompanying book heavy with full-colour plates? No? What about the ones shown in the series with Sister Wendy where she kept giddily discussing the shapes of the men’s anatomy and the almost adolescent excitement of her discussion of the sensual themes of many of the Great Works of Art? Up to speed now? Right: most of those paintings are in this building. After looking at nothing but reproductions — most of which tended to use darkish tones — seeing the actual hunks of canvas with oil paints placed there personally by the artist… well…
My head nearly exploded due to seeing actual versions of things such as Michaelangelo’s preliminary sketch of something for Sistine Chapel (which one cannot find on the site for the National Gallery, nor one’s favourite fine art web-site), which was only done in charcoal on a massive hunk of paper yet had something like four different colours in it — not tones of grey, but colour tones: greens and browns mostly. Then the realisation that it was, in effect, a doodle on a cocktail napkin to accompany the statement “what about something like this? Would that do? Whattya think, Cardinal?” was nearly sufficient to splatter the walls with my mind on it’s own.
As if this wasn’t enough, just below it on the right was the “Portrait of Erasmus” by Hans Holbein (the younger), which — while the floor in front of it is roped off — you can get close enough to so that not only the brush-work is discernible, the canvas is nearly within reach of the average finger-tip and there is no glass to stop that contact being direct. Granted, you’d be buried under a pile of ancient volunteer gallery watchers inside of two seconds, and then probably beaten to pulp by them (they all survived the war, after all); however, you could actually touch the painting should you be determined to do so.
Moving on through the rooms, occasionally sitting on the massive, over-stuffed couches and chaise longues, more familiar images presented themselves, including a large number of works by Titian — whose full name was “Tiziano Vecellio”, which one never knew — including probably “Bacchus and Ariadne”, as well as “The Adoration of the Kings”, by Jan Gossaert; “The Doge Leonardo Loredan”, by Giovanni Bellini; and “The Virgin of the Rocks”, by Leonardo da Vinci (some little-known wanker, never heard of him meself … seems like he was a fair bloke with the brush, though); but after awhile the paintings seem to become a bit of a blur.
We landed in a few rooms with Spanish portraits from the 1700s, I believe, and thought them well done, possessing of great character of the subjects (or what they wished to have recorded as their character, at the very least), but ultimately quite the same in execution. The school of portraiture demonstrated a seemingly strict set of regulations for a good half-century or more, almost to the extent of the pose of the subject having only one possible, though the works were by several artists. Certainly, if someone sees another’s portrait in their house, it’s natural to want one much the same of yourself. However, this was almost akin to seeing a number of huge images on the waiting room wall of the local “Foto Stoodeo Portrait Gallery (Weddings a Speciality)”, only for the Eighteenth Century Spanish Ruling Class. Odd. Quite good and a pleasure to see, but odd all the same.
On the way, we pass by some cinemas, then through a square with some trees and a bench or two, plus someone bidding farewell. “That was Leicester Square, that was”, says Trudi,after we finish passing through it. I stop, turn, stare at this tiny fraction of park-ground inside a wrought-iron fence, turn open-mouthed to her and Lee, extend a finger in the direction of the darkening area of grass and mildly-tended bushes, then disbelievingly simply say “…that?”
I look again at one of the reality of the thing whose name has been known for my entire life, yet was imagined to be some grand piazza with jugglers, fortune tellers, jug balancing wenches, men making speeches… Nope: a tiny plot of land, some trees and a dodgy lawn; with some cinemas, theatres, and exceedingly out-of-place things like a KFC outlet and some nightclubs.
This revelation is one of the fact that it is often the things which happen at a place which make it famous — or infamous — and not the place in and of itself which is noteworthy.
We eat at the Joy King Lau Restaurant (WC2H), and I remember good soup, respectable spring rolls, and some sort of rice dish that was quite good but the name escapes now. We cannot read the bill, though it is written in English, nor can we sort out what we each ordered from the prices. Truly, this is the Bistro Mathematics of infamy.
We head to a pub… a wine bar… somewhere with booze… and plot overthrow of the world via publishing. Humdrumming will — as I’ve suggested for a few weeks — call in all monies owed it from dealers (a considerable sum, and we desperately need it), plus put everything on discount as a Christmas Sale — as I’ve also suggested for a few weeks — barring the three books which were just released at FantasyCon ’08 in Nottingham. We’ll have to sort out exactly what’s owed to and by the firm — copies of the latter are to be sent to me for the purpose of careful budgeting of 2009 — the costs of posting and packing will be carefully measured because the costs are not being fully borne by the customers as is needed to be — as I’ve suggested for… — and then we’ll see where we’re at. We’re likely to have to change the book dealers’ and bookshop discounts, plus probably cease including shipping to them as part of the deal, but this will be examined after the other parts are better known. The more attractive we can make the books’ value, the more books we shift in volume.
All is well, and we are solidly on the right path forward. We all agree that we need to exaine everything closely, and are determined to continue what we are doing: making damned good books for people who like that sort of thing. HUZZAH!
We enter tube and get on the Piccadilly line, which travels through Cockfosters Station. I giggle. “What a pity we aren’t going as far as COCK–fosters, eh?” “YES,” replies Trudi, “BECAUSE I DO LOVE COCK-fosters, I DOES!”
Several people are seen to be smiling quite hard, as they resist the urge to actually laugh out loud in public. They will, no doubt, relate this moment in the pub later.
I leave Trudi at King’s Cross, head to hotel, watch more Blakes 7. After all that Culture, one welcomes something fluffy.
Table of contents for the series “UK-tober-Fest”
- What I’m Doing in a Fortnight’s Time
- One Final Sleep in Our Bed
- Friday, October 10th, 20:15 ~ YVR… still…
- Friday, October 10th, 23:50 ~ somewhere over the NWT probably…
- Saturday, October 11th ~ Arrival & Warwick (Day I)
- Sunday, October 12th ~ Warwick (Day II, part i)
- Sunday, October 12th ~ Warwick (Day II, part ii)
- Monday, October 13th ~ Warwick (Day III)
- Tuesday, October 14th ~ Warwick (Day IV) to London (Day I)
- Wednesday, October 15th ~ Canadian Election Results [an Aside to London (Day II)]
- Wednesday, October 15th ~ London (Day II)
- Thursday, October 16th ~ London (Day III)
- Friday October 17th ~ London (Day IV)
- Saturday October 18th — London (Day V)
- Sunday October 19th — London (Day VI)
- Monday October 20th — London (Day VII, part i)
- Monday October 20th — London (Day VII, part ii)
- Monday October 20th — London (Day VII, part iii)
- Tuesday October 21st — London (Day VIII)
- Wednesday October 22nd — London (Day IX)
- Thursday October 23rd — London (Day X)
- Friday October 24th — London to Vancouver (Day XI-XII)