Dear Readers, when I left you last week I had just disembarked from the bus and was making my way towards Tate Modern, on the other side of the Thames. The quickest way is across the Millenium Bridge, which rises like a whale’s back and seems to float across the brown water. From here, it looks almost ethereal, suspended by a delicate tracery of cables.
However, I was not expecting the Arctic wind that hit me as I started to cross. It sang in the cables, it chilled my face into a rictus grin, and I even had to take my hat off in case it was lifted off my head in a gust and deposited in the water. I stopped briefly in the middle of the bridge for the obligatory picture of Tower Bridge, and then made my way very briskly to the south bank. I confess, I was a little afraid – I felt as if it would be very easy to be blown over the edge, and the Thames looked both very choppy and a long way down.
I did stop again for another obligatory photo. This one, of St Pauls ‘balanced’ on the bridge is a mainstay of many a suite of holiday pictures, I’m sure.
And then it was off to Tate Modern, so that I could thaw out a little. The building is home to a pair of peregrine falcons and their young every year, but nobody was around today.
I was here to see an exhibition by a pair of Russian installation artists, Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. Their exhibition is called ‘Not Everyone Will Be Taken Into the Future’, and there is a theme of escape, of flying and of angels. In one exhibit, you peer into a room in which there is a hole in the ceiling and a kind of sling, as if someone has been catapulted into space – it’s called ‘The Man Who Flew Into Space From His Apartment’, and it was created in 1985.
But my favourite was this one, at the end of the exhibition – a rickety scaffold where a tiny figure reaches out his hands to an angel. It’s called ‘How to Meet an Angel’ and dates from 1998.
If you’re in London and you want to see it, you will need to leave now, because it finishes on 28th January.
Fortified with coffee, I head off home, stopping first to look back at the new extension to Tate Modern, which looks a bit ziggurat-ish to me. There is a viewing gallery at the top, from which you can look right into the living rooms of the very expensive flats opposite, which has caused some discomfort to those who live there. I think I might be looking at installing some blinds on that side of my apartment if I was discomforted (the planning permission for the extension had been granted before the flats were even built), rather than demanding that the viewing gallery be shut down, but there we go.
On the way back to Southwark Station, I took a walk through the gardens at the base of the aforementioned luxury flats. They are rather cleverly designed, as the space is extremely shady, but plants, carefully chosen, are thriving. I always make a mental note when I walk through, as I too have a very shady garden.
As I approach the station, I notice a couple of things that I hadn’t seen before. One is the exuberant Lord Nelson pub. It was recently voted the Best Pub in Southwark by readers of The Londonist website, and apparently it’s even more fun inside. It has a menu of 20 different kinds of burger, including six veggie options.
And then there’s this. Why is there a statue of a dog feeding from a pot on the corner of Union Street and Blackfriars Road?
Well, it’s a recreation of a shop sign that the twelve year-old Charles Dickens used to see when he was on his way to work at the blacking factory.
‘My usual way home was over Blackfriars Bridge and down that turning in the Blackfriars Road which has Rowland Hill’s chapel on one side, and the likeness of a golden dog licking a golden pot over a shop door on the other.’
The statue is by Michael Painter, an artist and sculptor who has worked at Windsor Castle and St Paul’s Cathedral, and is made of elm wood. It even has its own Twitter account, for those of you who are Twitter-minded.
Onwards, then, to Southwark Station, which is on the Jubilee Line. From the outside it doesn’t look particularly impressive, but it is one of my favourite tube stations.
As you leave the station, you ascend into a shiny blue dome, which reminds me a little of a planetarium. The glass wall is made of 660 individually cut pieces of blue glass, and was designed by Alexander Beleschenko. One lovely thing about the Jubilee Line stations in central London is that they are architecturally very interesting, and embodied a kind of exuberance that I fear the Crossrail stations will not. But maybe I’ll be surprised. I hope so.
And there is also a feeling of space and light, an industrial edge coupled with the feeling of being on a cruise liner.
And so, out by bus and home by tube, down to the river and back again. London is such an extraordinary city (and yes, I know I’m biased, being born and bred here). I wouldn’t swap it for anywhere in the world, partisan that I am. But I do love walking in the country as well, as next week’s post is likely to reveal…..