Saturday, 29 November 2014

London review - from a windy post

"It's weird to think we sailed in winds this strong," I say to Alex, thinking of our passage years ago from Noumea to Coffs Harbour. In the past 24 hours, vicious rain squalls have been roaring in from the west. Our instruments have clocked maximum gusts of 45 knots. And in Arrecife we're on the lee side of the island. Under the volcanoes. A late autumn Atlantic gale makes its point forcefully. This is something important to know.

Lanzarote landscape - volcano and solidified river of lava

We'd just come back from London when Oliver, who runs a small sailing school in the Canaries, dropped by to warn us that bad weather was on the way. He was taking his boat to another marina further south. As it turns out, the gale has wrapped itself right around the archipelago.

On the east coast, north of Arrecife

It's been interesting to gauge how accurate the various forecasts have been, from 96 hours out. After three years on the inland sea (nostrum mare), we are back to an ocean, thousands of miles of water over which polar and tropical air masses build up momentum, or fluff out, veer off track or come bearing relentlessly down on you. Much as the waiting about in marinas becomes tiresome, there's never going to be enough time to learn about the Atlantic.

The list grows....the matey slows

The Royal Academy's offerings
We're waiting now for our new sails to arrive in the Canaries.  Back when an Atlantic crossing seemed something we might do, rather than would do, we said "the beginning of December will be fine". That timing now seems rather elastic. But, if the Scandinavians and UPS live up to their reputations, we should have them on board in a couple of weeks, and after that we'll be "looking for weather" (as the saying goes). Of course in the mean time there's a list of jobs, some of them vital, but others more in the nature of diversions. For me, London was the perfect diversion. I could have stayed a month. Why don't you? my mother asked. The siren.

Autumn in Green Park

Story seller

Titian and me

He's had it for today

London hadn't been one of my favourite cities. As a young woman, living in London got the better of me, ground me down, made me sick (or so I said).  In the intervening years, I whizzed through a few times, for work mostly, and didn't change my mind. London was exhausting. There was too much traffic, too many people, too much noise And it was expensive.

King's Road, Chelsea

On the Tube

Old Bond Street

Modern museum goers

London streets (and below)

Rent a bike - a pound an hour, or 50 quid for 24 hours

London girls

Fleet Street

Take home message - from the bus window

Money is freedom - queue for it

The Shard - the most arresting of the new London sights

More new London skyline buildings to the east
The Eye seems kinda old hat now

None of that has changed - except perhaps the traffic which seems less gridlocked in central London, probably as a result of the congestion tax.  London is bigger than ever, more crowded and even more devastatingly expensive (after the first day we agreed not to talk about the cost of anything). But now I get it. To truly enjoy London you need energy. Loads of it. A lot of money helps too. Money buys you time. What unlocked London for me this time was not having a job. The truly rich in London are those who have the run of the city during the working week. We had time, and we had enough money to keep us out of trouble. So we went hard! What other way is there to go in London? 

Trafalgar Square - always a drama

The jazzed up British museum

Waterstones' customer - all the time in the world

The Plough on rainy Sunday afternoon

Greek statuary, lifted from Xanthos, southern Turkey (and below)

The Almeida Theatre, Islington - set for Our Town
Charing Cross Road

On approach to Sloane Square

The blockbuster which disappointed

Taking a breather in Bloomsbury

Joshua Reynolds meets his match at the Royal Academy

Anselm Kiefer's installation in the courtyard of the RA

The Wyndham Theatre - our choice of show in the West End

Boutique food, Chelsea
If we agreed not to talk about the cost of being there, we also agreed not to gripe about the food which was either precious or dismal. That goes for pub food too. I know I'm being opinionated and categorical, but food is one of the few areas in this new life of ours where I have some currency. We went north to Islington to see a play at the Almeida Theatre  - a smart production of the American classic Our Town, by Thornton Wilder - and right there at end of Almeida St was Ottolenghi. Swoon. THE Ottolenghi, with a window display you could cry not to be able to devour on the spot. Perfect food. Of course the restaurant was full. But surely there were other eateries in fashionable Islington to tempt us...places which had taken their cue from Ottolenghi's success with fresh ingredients put together with intelligence and a dash of cheek?  No, sadly. So mostly we cooked for ourselves in our Airbnb nest in Chelsea - though so much of what passes for fresh food in the supermarkets is wrapped in plastic. Ah London. So contradictory.

Pub food, Soho

Richard Tuttle installation, the Tate Modern
What London offers in ridiculously large and varied quantities is culture. Anyway you choose. Raw or refined, bespoke or mass-produced, cellared or fresh off the vine. We gobbled up as much as we could - bookshops and bus travel, museums and autumn colours, coffee in Chelsea and jazz in the Purcell Room, window displays and cinema bills, Rembrandt and Tuttle. Nothing was dull, even the weather. In late November when the light begins to fade from about 3.30 pm, London streets and the big department stores are lit up like a Christmas tree. The silvery dazzle distracts you from the drizzle and the chill.

The Parthenon's missing marbles

Bubble blower on the Southbank

At the National Gallery (and below)
Titian's Allegory of Prudence
Trafalgar Square - giant blue rooster by Katharina Fritsch

London is past, present and future - but we tend to look backwards, I guess. Perhaps it's just being the age we are. You have to choose and of the big shows we chose German history at the British museum, Rembrandt and William Morris at the National Gallery, Moroni (a contemporary of Titian's) at the Royal Academy. Nothing prepared us though for the impact of the Anselm Kiefer show at the Royal Academy - if we had seen nothing else, that alone would have been worth going to London for. But we left so much unseen. So much unheard. So much unvisited.

Anselm Keifer  - inside the RA

Next time - St Paul's Cathedral

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