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 was 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 exhibition 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, 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Museum’s The Great Picture Book of Everything made up of Hokusai‘s drawings commissioned to illustrate the eponymous unpublished encyclopedia.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 Perhaps the clue was in the ‘unpublished’ description.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.
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.
And 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.