A Tuesday in London

Yesterday I took a day off and wandered up to London with Richard Willis. We left Brighton at the break of dawn, arriving in the capital by breakfast time. We walked from Victoria to Trafalgar Square, which was my daily commute when I last worked in London. Arriving at the square who should we see, but the Mayor of London. It seemed like a good omen for the day.


Prompted by meandmybigmouth's recent visit, we started out with a trip to the National Portrait Gallery where they had the exhibition for the 2010 Portrait Competition. It was as impressive as the previous ones I've seen, but for some reason left me feeling melancholic. I don't know if it was the pictures selected, the early morning, or something else, but all of the images felt like memento mori.

The painters had worked so hard to portray their sitters. Many of the labels discussed the personalities the artists had tried to capture. But as soon as the picture was finished, the sitter would be aging, becoming less like their image. Maybe I should feel the same way from photography, but I guess the difference is that painting takes so much more time. Everything I saw seemed somehow elegaic.

After that we visited the British library for the Magnificent Maps exhibition. It made me want to be a little boy again, scribbling maps of places I loved and places that would never exist. We also visited the permanent exhibition where we saw the first page of JG Ballard's crash, a type written sheet covered in scrawled amendments. We also saw Scott's diary, which never fails to move me – I still find it hard to believe that things could have gone so wrong.


A stroll across town took us to the Tate Modern, but we discovered we had had our fill of culture. Instead we sat on the balcony and watched the clouds pass by. As the sun came out we saw some interesting shapes.

 Our final event of the day was the Proms, where we took advantage of the £5 standing tickets. It was a long wait but the queue was friendly. I eavesdropped on our near neighbours, a teenaged boy telling a couple of girls about the wonders of special relativity and what happens as a body approaches light speed. "Best of all," he said, "Your mass increases." "That's a boy thing," one girl said to another.

 The concert was fascinating. I've been to the proms before, but never this close to the orchestra. It was amazing to watch the players – the patience of the percussionists as they waited for their moments, the way the double bass players seemed to dance with their instruments. We heard three pieces, diving out during the third; my favourite was Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier. A couple of reviews of the night are here and here. I know next to nothing about classical music (other than don't clap between the movements!) but it was a good evening.

After that we had a mad dash back to Victoria for our coach home. We were delayed by an electrical fault, but a visit from Sammy's Garage soon had us underway. It was a long day but a lot of fun.

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