I went to London today, and made sure I crammed as much in as possible, starting with a lunchtime concert at the excellent LSO St Lukes. It is their tenth anniversary, and today's performance was by the Wihan Quartet (and was broadcast as the Radio 3 lunchtime concert, so you have seven days left to listen again). The Wihan quartet played at the first LSO St Lukes lunchtime concert in October 2003, with the same line-up of performers, when they performed the second of the pieces they played again today, Dvorak's string quartet in F major. The Dvorak was the major draw that led me to pick today's concert rather than another day, and I was grateful to the Radio 3 presenter I'd heard introduce them as 'Veehan' and not 'Why-han', so I did not embarrass myself in front of the old friend I dragged along with me to the concert. LSO St Lukes was a new experience for this friend, despite the fact that he is a cultured sort of chap, and proved a hit, including the basement cafe which I was afraid might lack finesse in his eyes. Not that I am into one-upmanship with my friends, or no more so than is healthy if we are to discover interesting new things and not stick in a rut, but it is gratifying to have introduced a native Londoner to a London landmark they didn't already know.
As I strolled up to Old Street from Liverpool Street I was treated to a small Proustian moment of remembrance, seeing a taxi parked outside an office in Chiswell Street with the name of the person it was reserved for written on a piece of cardboard in the window. It was a name I knew of old, a former colleague of the Systems Administrator. He was once a close enough friend that we flew all the way to Italy for his wedding. Soon after that he and his new Italian wife went out to try their luck in Hong Kong, and the next thing I knew he was agonising about whether or not they could ask their maid to wear uniform when friends came to dinner. He rose up and out of our ambit, and I haven't seen him since. I didn't hang around to ambush him as he got into his taxi, but went and had a nose around Bunhill Fields. The massed ranks of tombstones behind their iron railings needed only a weeping Dickensian heroine to complete the effect, but instead I got an incongruous sprinkling of daffodils.
After the concert I yomped down to the Strand to see Becoming Picasso at The Courtauld Gallery. Originally I was going to get the tube, and even recharged my Oyster card when I arrived at Liverpool Street (memo to Transport for London: the reason why next time I don't top up on line, as they suggest, is that in order to activate your top up you have to swipe the card at a nominated station, and I prefer to decide on the day of travel whether to get the tube, or the bus, or walk, or not go to London at all). However, the more I looked at the tube map the less I could see any sensible tube route between Old Street and the Aldwych, whereas it was a fairly short walk. Even my native-Londoner friend admitted that it was a soddy journey by tube. There's probably a bus, but I don't know the number. The short walk would have been more pleasant if it hadn't been for the trail of large blood spots on the pavement every few paces along part of the Strand.
The Picasso exhibition is popular, and the Courtauld were operating timed tickets, though when I was there they were timed to go straight in. This show consists of work he did in 1901, so he was no more than twenty years old at the time. I hadn't realised his child with dove, familiar from a thousand postcards, was painted so early in his career. It's a very good little exhibition, and well worth catching, on until late May so you have plenty of time. While I was there I went and communed with my favourite Braque, and was happy to discover that an extremely weird Elizabethan portrait of a naked, bearded man up to his waist in water, with a ship and allegorical scenes behind, had reappeared from storage. I think the background scenes are allegorical in the sense that art historians can't agree what the hell the painting is about, but it always reminds me of the ballad of Sir Patrick Spens.
After the Courtauld it was a toss-up whether to proceed on to the RHS show in Vincent Square or turn round and head for Liverpool Street, since it was already four o'clock and Vincent Square was another four tube stops in the wrong direction. The flower show won by a neck, since with this weather I have spent a lot of time sitting in my house recently, and will be spending more. The show was spread over both RHS halls, competitive daffodils, alpines and flower photographs in one, along with cutesy barrows of flowers, old-fashioned street lamps and bunting in one, and growers' stands in the other. The daffodils and alpines were lovely. I used to think that when I got too old and feeble to manage a large garden, I would retire to a small one and grow impossibly neat and perfect alpines, sheltering out of the rain in my alpine house. I have rather given up on that plan, realising that I am not a neat person, and that a small messy courtyard garden stuffed with pots and objets d'art would be more my style, but I enjoy looking at other people's incredibly perfect, tiny plants.
It's a pity that the RHS decided to add to the intended Victorian street-scene ambience by turning down the main lights while I was there, so that I could no longer see the plants very well. I heard a fellow show-goer giving the woman on the RHS information desk a very hard time about it, rather unfairly so in that her badge said clearly that she was a volunteer. He should really have directed his ire at the management, though he was absolutely right about the lighting.
The trade stands were fun too, and I bought a plant, a young Parehebe perfoliata, which I've been after for about four years since admiring one at the Wrabness Open Gardens. They like sunshine and free drainage, and it should be very happy in our front garden. It appeared to be the only one on the stand, since I was given the display plant instead of another being produced from under the bench, and its little handwritten sale sign said that they were not often seen nowadays, which is true.
The boss was judging at today's show, but I think he'd gone long before I arrived.