Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Sunday in London

£2 to park all day at Solihull station, 102 minutes to Marylebone, then half an hour to South Kensington Tube station, where there's a feast of museums, and, like a trip through Gringotts' vaults, you go straight from the ticket barrier into the tiled tunnel that connects them.

The Victoria & Albert's  tea room is a sensual, secular temple - more stained glass, ceramic workman's mottos and erotic goddess-like sculpture than you can take in at one go. Someday we'll do lunch there - the hot food looks top quality - but this time coffee and a scone were enough. Then up to Level 6, passing some absorbing interactive displays in the wood furniture section and a richly ornamented virginal, to arrive at the ceramics rooms. Some things were familiar - De Morgan tiles, Wedgwood, the 1957 design Homemaker plates (we have a well-used couple), some deceptively modern - a tiny, vigorous vase in the shape of a ram's head that looked postwar but was classical Greek (400 - 300 BC), and the one that astonished me this time was a huge blue alien - an ancient Egyptian "was-sceptre" seven feet high and 3,500 years old:

V&A link
You can't read a library, so we broke off and went to the Natural History Museum. Sunday being sprog day, the place was packed with children seeking dinosaurs, and they were rewarded from the off:
Pic source
The architecture alone is worth a visit, built as though it takes a delight in itself and the staircases could move about as in Hogwarts. Sit by the loos and look through an archway into the main hall, catching the slant of a stair and a brick-pilastered gallery hinting at more space beyond, in the way great buildings have that make them seem bigger than the open air.

The mammal collection was full of things that were safely stuffed, as I suppose we are these days. Standing by hippos and polar bears, I thought if it's them or me there's no question. And the blue whale made the neighbouring elephant look undersized and vulnerable: just a good mouthful.

Undraped, the walls echo so that on a busy day you can't really follow the talking displays, and for a venue so attractive to the young there doesn't seem to be enough to engage them actively - unlike at Bristol Zoo, which has put a great deal of thought and imagination into making things for children to poke their heads or fold their bodies in, clamber on, push, turn, squirt (there's a telltale puddle by the lion's-backside board, but kids don't anticipate) and so on. Still, they'll have enjoyed their dinos. We shoved a fiver into the perspex donation box and left.

And on up the Brompton Road, past the gloriously-interiored Oratory to turn right into Beauchamp Place for the Maroush Bakehouse, one of a chain of Lebanese restaurants.

Baker Street, the Edgware Road, Knightsbridge, the Temple area - Lebanese is popping up everywhere. Delicate spicing, deliciously fresh salads, mint tea, Mediterranean-style coffee and shisha pipes in many places, the odd piece of hot charcoal falling off the tinfoil and scorching the tablecloth as the girls suck and giggle. Organic-shaped pots, jugs and lamps, arabesque music, modern Dubai-style consumerist TV, all good for an hour's worth of playing the Oriental.

This Maroush didn't play up to the hokum smokum, but the food was excellent. We went for the set meal for two and could have fed at least another person, while an Australian couple in sports gear ("size matters" said the stripe on his sweatpants) talked business strategy on the next table and their neighbours examined kid pictures on granny's boasting-iPhone. Anyway, stuffed again, but in a good way this time. They do breakfast too, and the bakery section does takeaway; we like.

And so to walk it off, passing Harrod's (open till 6 on Sunday and the Food Hall is another place of worship, packed with Arabs and Japanese) and Knightsbridge Tube Station (which may well have been built specifically to exit smack by the store). We cut left a couple of times to enter Hyde Park and head north across its expanse, crossing an earthen ride and skirting the Serpentine (where Shelley's wife drowned herself) to pause at Speaker's Corner. There, a black man in a police sergeant's jacket and jackboots was using an England flag as a pointer as he listed races that he alleged "they don't like"; his patter palled with repetition, so we walked on past various Christian evangelists and the horse's head sculpture that I thought was a reference to the 1982 bombings, but not necessarily so, through Marble Arch and across the road island - where banner-holding Egyptians were protesting to the traffic against the military government - to Marylebone, and home.

Pic source
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Paddington said...

Brings back some happy old memories.

CherryPie said...

When I last visited the V&A I was short of time and focused on the ancient antiquities sections which were fascinating. I too had a scone for lunch on my visit.

The Natural History Museum has improved greatly since my first visit with school many years ago. All they had then was the stuffed animals you mention and I was rather disappointed apart from the blue whale. Way back then you could stand underneath the skeleton and look up in awe at the size.