Friday, 9 June 2017

a day out

I went up to London today for lunch with an old university friend.  With the benefit of hindsight we shouldn't have fixed it for the day when I'd have been sitting up until two in the morning watching the election results unfold on TV, but back then commentators were predicting a solid Tory majority.  How things change in a few weeks.  I am no tribal Tory, but I am utterly mortified at how astoundingly bad their campaign was.  Looking on the bright side there are a record number of women MPs and the unutterably annoying Alex Salmond lost his seat, but that isn't really adequate compensation for the shambles, out of which we are supposed to somehow negotiate a good deal for Brexit.  My friend was not impressed either, but as she holds dual German citizenship at least she has the option of retiring to Germany.

Her offices are in Farringdon and so I got a tantalising glimpse of the Crossrail site in passing.  The Systems Administrator and I saw a documentary recently about the new station at Farringdon and it was an astounding civil engineering project.  We lunched in a pizza place on the Clerkenwell Road which was actually not part of a chain, practically unheard of in central London.  I opted for gnocchi because I guessed we'd be having pizza at home tonight, but I ate a small piece of my friend's while I was waiting for the gnocchi to arrive and the base was very thin and the tomato sauce was very good.  They served craft beers as well, and my lack of sleep and political trauma were such that I could have been tempted to break my normal rule of never drinking at lunchtime and order a half, but the waitress who was very young came and hovered over us before I was anywhere near deciding, and they all seemed to have very high ABVs for lunchtime except for one which was said to have citrus overtones, which I didn't really fancy, and my friend doesn't drink beer, so I gave up on that idea.  It is called Wedge Issue Pizza which is a peculiar sort of name but what do I know, and we were the oldest and least hipsterish people in the room by a significant margin.

Clerkenwell Road put me handily on my way towards the British Museum where I thought I would catch The American Dream before it finishes in nine days' time.  It is an exhibition of prints from the 1960s to the present day, starting with Andy Warhol's screen prints and including Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha, and several US artists I had honestly never heard of.  The subject matter veered from consumer culture to the political, with a rather well put together film clip showing contemporary news and advertising footage on one large screen, complete with sound track and tongue in cheek subtitled stage directions, and reproductions of works in the exhibition influenced by those events on a second screen.  I have liked graphic art since childhood and found a lot in this exhibition to like.  I was greatly taken with Jim Dine's lithographs of household objects, successive impressions becoming denser and darker as he added more and more to the plate, but felt vindicated in my decision not to spend half a day on seeing Robert Rauschenberg's recent retrospective at Tate Modern.  It's no good, I can't see the objective difference between his assemblage of cardboard boxes and the one made by the artists formerly known as kittens on the study floor out of the destroyed remains of their former favourite bed and some scrumpled up brown paper that arrived as packing around the cordless drill the SA bought recently.

I'm afraid the recent attacks have taken the edge off the careless joy of being in London.  I thought so on my last visit, feeling exposed crossing London Bridge and telling myself that the statistical chances of being caught up in anything were tiny, and two and a half days and several hundred thousand pedestrians later there was an attack on that very bridge.  All the galleries I've visited since the Manchester outrage have limited the number of entrances and carried out bag searches. At the British Museum visitors are channelled off to one side of the large open space in front of the museum down a very long series of chicanes made out of metal crash barriers, and the searches are conducted in a large upmarket portacabin.  This gets the queue and disruption out of the museum proper, and means that once inside Lord Foster's magnificent covered courtyard you can console yourself that your fellow visitors have been screened, and it also means that any would-be attacker would be denied the media spectacle of creating death and mayhem in the Great Court and have to make do with a measly portacabin, but it is all rather depressing.

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