Three Days in London and a Bit of a Book

Imperial Camel Regiment Monument (Victoria Embankment)As my birthday appeared on the horizon, I could feel myself giving into the lure of the New Forest again and if there’s one thing I’ve learnt about holidays it’s not to try to replicate them so I booked a few days in London in an aparthotel around the corner from Tate Modern. Once settled in we set off to explore Southwark, which neither of us knows very well, before crossing the river to the Victoria Embankment Gardens where I can never resist visiting the Imperial Camel Corps memorial.

We had a lovely breakfast with friends the next day which neatly segued into lunch for us. The afternoon’s outing wasMuseum of the Home Gardens to the Museum of the Home, formerly the Geffrye Museum, housed in a terrace of eighteenth-century almshouses overlooked by the Shard. Rather than take Geffrye’s statue down, the museum has erected a plaque explaining that much of his money was made from slavery which seems a better way to deal with it to me. Tear the statue down and future generations won’t know about those connections.

The main part of the permanent exhibition is a series of contemporaneously furnished rooms, beginning in the seventeenth century through to the late twentieth. It’s been extended over the past three years, with much more made of the gardens than when I last visited. The use of the extra 1970s Feminist Cartoonexhibition space seemed a bit random but there was a great series of prints from the See Red Women’s Workshop, one of which – Right On, Jane -made me laugh out loud with its swipe at Ladybird’s sexist stereotyping in their Peter and Jane reading scheme.

Thursday was Japanese culture day, kicking off with a visit to the Noguchi exhibition at the Barbican where we had the usual experience of getting lost and cursing the signage, or lack of it. Isamu Noguchi was an extraordinarily versatile Japanese-American artist who worked for six decades. Both creative and practical, he designed stage sets,Isamu Noguchi sculpture sculpted, painted and produced everyday items including the paper lampshade familiar from a zillion student flats. Clearly a man of principle, he chose to be interned after Pearl Harbour despite an exemption, hoping to teach art and design in the camp to which he was assigned.

It would have been hard for our second exhibition to live up to that but I had hopes for the British Museum’s The Great Picture Book of Everything made up of Hokusai‘s drawings commissioned to illustrate the eponymous unpublished encyclopedia. Sadly, it didn’t hit the spot for either of us. Perhaps the clue was in the ‘unpublished’ description. We walked back via Temple, London’s legal district, a quiet rather lovely bit of London, not much visited by tourists.

Our last dose of culture was the Fashion and Textile Museum‘s The Boutique in 1960’s Counterculture exhibition showcasing the likes of Apple, Biba and Granny Takes a Trip, names perhaps familiar to British readers of a certain age. It was both fun and informative, and the clothes were wonderfully flamboyant. A young woman dressed for the exhibition was clearly loving it. I wish I’d told her how great she looked in her psychedelic flares. The museum’s in Bermondsey which is fast extending the boundaries of hipster gentrification if the warehouse conversions, delis and cafes are anything to go by. Hoxton deli display

It was a very different London this time around from the one we visited in May just after the initial lifting of pandemic restrictions. Borough Market was teeming with early evening drinkers as we walked to supper on Thursday evening, social distancing a thing of the past. We steered well clear.

Cover image for Ohio by Stephen MarkleyAnd the book? I was in two minds whether to bring Stephen Markley’s weighty Ohio home with me. Set over one evening in 2013, it follows four smalltown high school friends visiting home for one reason or another a decade or so after they’d left. I like the premise which puts it in state-of-the-nation territory but it’s a tad over written.

We arrived home late Friday afternoon, tired but happy, just in time to stop Mischief sitting in the window casting yearning looks across the road at our friend who feeds her when we’re away. Back to books on Friday.

37 thoughts on “Three Days in London and a Bit of a Book”

      1. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of this museum either, definitely one to look up…

        Funnily enough, I was in London quite a lot last week for the London Film Festival, and while it wasn’t as full-on as usual for me, I still saw some excellent films. The Embankment Gardens are lovely, aren’t they? Such a peaceful spot in the midst of a bustling city. It sounds like you had a lovely break, Susan. Happy belated Birthday!

        1. Glad to hear your Film Festival was satisfying this year, Jacqui, and thank you. I often walk through the Embankmant Gardens on the way to somewhere else but this time took a more leisurely stroll.

  1. Sound like you fitted a lot in to your break! I do agree about putting up plaques rather than pulling down statues. Erasing history seems counter-productive – how can we know if we’re progressing if we’re not allowed to know about our past?

    1. Google tells me we walked 27 miles! Absolutely – I also feel tearing down the statue plays into racists’ hands, allowing them to brush what happened under the carpet again. We need a more nuanced approach.

  2. You’re right, it’s never a good idea to try to repeat much-loved holidays. I’m glad you had a nice few days to celebrate your birthday. Mine was over all too quickly, but we’re calling this weekend’s posh lunch and evening gig a continuation.

    I was keen on Ohio, but the length put me off. All too often these days I will think a book looks appealing, then see that it’s 400-600 pages and decide, nope! I have Tenderness by Alison Macleod out from the library, but it’s 590+ pages of small type so I fear it will be a nonstarter even though I’m very interested in DH Lawrence.

    1. Oh, I think you should! We made the right decision given the weather which was gorgeous for last year’s New Forest jaunt.

      My Tenderness proof is sitting on the shelf unopened and I suspect that’s where it will stay until I decide who to pass in on to.

  3. This sounds just amazing. I enjoyed reading about your travels and your observations of how different it felt since May. Just the thought of dressing for an exhibition makes me tired, but I would have loved to have seen her too, I”m sure. Heheh

    1. She looked so great and was so thrilled by the exhibition, it was a pleasure to see her. Wish I’d told her so! A bit too much caution thrown to the winds since May. That said, we had a great time.

  4. Sounds like you had a great trip Susan – the fashion exhibition sounds wonderful! I read Ohio last year and enjoyed it, but agree that it was overwritten and trying a little too hard.

  5. I’m not sure which I’d go to first–the Home or the Camel Corps Memorial–both are totally my type of thing. Ohio–meh…I live there, the book is meh, too! So interesting that I find myself fascinated by UK books and here you are reading about my rust-belt state full of Trumpers. LOL

    1. If it’s any comfort, I wish I’d left it in the hotel room! You could easily fit in both if you were wearing your walking shoes. The Camel Corps Memorial doesn’t take long.

  6. You always seem to find such interesting and lesser known places to visit. The Museum of the Home sounds fascinating, Shsll we now see yiu sporting bell bottom trousers once more?

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