Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Evensong at Salisbury

In the weekend, we visited Salisbury via Shaftesbury. The latter is billed as a 'Saxon hill-top village' and to be sure it has a very photogenic cobbled steep street complete with thatch, bulgy stone walls and all the other 'Ancient Britain' trademarks. But nowadays the hilltop is crowned with a Tesco's supermarket and car park: not what the Saxons would have favoured, I suspect. A gloriously eroded St Peter's church on the side of the hill - more gargoyles and beasties duly photographed. More shibui.
Salisbury, on the other hand, is quite a delightful town. Grid layout, no less - no more easy to get lost in mediaeval twisty narrow streets. Lots of quite old houses and shops: mostly intact/restored above the ground level floor, better not to comment on that ground floor level though. Imagine, if you can, a Mr Minit below and a 15th century half-timbered three storey house above. Salisbury is full of these and the overall effect isn't nearly as clash-filled and unfortunate as might be expected.
Salisbury Cathedral is an amazing church. It was put up (as is usual) over several hundred years, starting in the 11th century, but it was when they started adding the 6,300 ton tower (123 m high) that things got interesting. The columns inside hadn't been expected to carry that weight, and they bowed. There was much hasty buttressing and lightening, in two goes, over the next three centuries, and it is now stable, we are assured. Inside, the bowed columns are very obvious: they have bowed towards the body of the church by around 15-50cm (by eye-ometer) and the tower centre is around 75cm out to the south-west as a result.
We did the usual tour around, then noticed that Evensong was at 5.30pm. So after shopping and looking round Salisbury a little more, we attended.
It's been perhaps thirty years since I attended church except for weddings and funerals, and we were seated in the quire (choir) stalls. The Cathedral itself is of course massive - 147m long on the nave - a nativity scene under the tower at the crossing (there is a technical term for that bit of floor space but the booklet is packed) and room for several hundred people in each part of the cross layout.
So, apart from the choir (people), the organist, the clergy (it took six or so), there were precisely 20 other people there, of course. Seated in the quire stalls, the choir was literally alongside, clergy either end, organ right above, and the celing was 30m up in the dark. Full Evensong service, complete with two lessons, intro organ and a voluntary organ piece to end. And a collection. We put in, to make sure that tower doesn't fall in the near future. But considering we are rather rusty at Church ritual of any sort, it was easy to follow (standing and sitting were clearly marked in the Order of Service) and of course, so close that it was all very real and moving. Evensong is sung every night in a well-ordered cathedral parish, and is quite a happy service. Keeps those gargoyles away for the night (not that Salisbury the building has many, certainly not like Notre Dame). We left into a light rain, strangely uplifted. Must have been that closing organ voluntary, an all stops out affair with rolling bass.
Then off to a playhouse with a light-hearted Xmas production: funny and the music (they all played instruments) very well done. And a meal, then home to Wincanton through the dark, sweeping curves of country A-roads. A great night.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Xmas and Brunel in Somerset

But first another little London vignette:
After the theatre in the West End, we were waiting (and waiting...) for a Picadilly line tube. Everyone on the platform suddenly noticed all these mice running around in the trackbed. We saw one with a suspiciously short tail. Then, in the usual deadpan manner of London Underground announcements, came this. "Ladies and gentlemen, your tube will be here in about five minutes. In the meantime, please do not, repeat, do not feed the mice, They are specially imported Patagonian fighting mice and are trained killers. Thank you".
Xmas Eve night, we had an amazingly fast bus trip out to Wincanton (roads were unaccountably empty). Xmas day was just marvellous: turkey, champers, a choice NZ red and white, pudding, chocs, more turkey, beer. Presents, including many books. Much reading. Missed the Queen's message. Bugger. And then a Nurofen or two in the morning....
And so to Bristol on a Brunel expedition: we've found that two things in a day are about the limit, so Brunel's SS Great Britain was #1 and his Clifton suspension bridge was #2. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was a rather driven man but an engineering genius. Think, Great Western railway, for starters. And so it was, in that order.
Bristol city centre was badly bombed during the war (there were aircraft factories, docks, other juicy targets) and so is rebuilt in Glorious Concrete style. The river is flanked by abandoned factories, warehouses and lots of industrial archaeology, with some apartments on the water, multicoloured on the high rock terraces to the north. The Rustbelt.
SS Great Britain dates from around 1844 and is the first 'modern' steel ship: screw plus sail propelled. It was rescued in 1970 from the Falklands (where it had called in for repairs that never happened and was subsequently used as a hulk), and was docked in the dry dock where it was originally built, 127 years to the day since it was launched.
It has been being lovingly restored ever since: it now has most masts, decking, rooms and will have replica engines soon. It was (can't make this up) chain driven - the engine couldn't make more than 18 rpm and the prop needed 53. So a bike-chain type gear-up (suitably massive, of course) was the solution. Amazing stuff - it carted over 15,000 Australians during the Gold Rush era. It still retains a lot of Brunel's egotism in its lines, size and general air of Victorian confidence.
Then on to the suspension bridge, a very delicate affair with multiple plates as the suspension chains, slender rods holding the roadbed, and suitably slim, tapered masonry towers. It just leaps across the gorge just west of Bristol centre. The Avon is a lot more muscular than Christchurch's one: the tidal bore in the main Severn channel (well west of Bristol) can be up to 40 feet, and even here the Avon looks to have several tens of feet of tide, to judge by the silted walls through the town. Light is fading but photos are still possible. A beautiful piece of engineering.
Finally, we head back through the centre of town to find Briavels Grove: the pre-war family home. Found the Grove, as usual in Britain, the houses look all the same when built in a row as they so often are. Then, back through still surprisingly uncrowded roads to Wincanton. Dark at 4.30 pm, of course. Great day.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Another London weekend

Back from Harrogate, a little stuffed - exam on the Friday and then 4 hours travelling.
An expedition to the British Museum (off Tottenham Court Road, in Bloomsbury). The architecture is very massive and plain on the outside, but inspiring on the inside. There's a large central court, once clearly open, now enclosed with a geodesic structure roof, and the Reading Room - a very large elliptical floor plan - in the centre of the enclosure. Very impressive inside - vaulted ceiling and books stacked around the outside, and reference and reading space on the floor and in a gallery at second fllor height.
The Museum itself - we started just wandering through with only a map - was initially disappointing. There seemeed little organisation or themes - there was a ' living and dying' themed exhibition in the ethnographics section with the usual encomiums to 'spiritual cultures', but a lot of other items were simply stacked up in cabinets with only a vague chronology.
Then, on a whim and after a coffee, we went Rosetta-stone hunting and found the Egyptian wing. Big difference. Big pieces. Old stuff - some huge statues were 2360BC - that's 4363 years ago. Beautiful carving and scripts. The Rossetta stone was impressive - it is inscribed very clearly and deeply, in Greek, demotic (common script) and hieroglypics, and was the key to deciphering the latter. By an Englishman and a Frenchman. Some of the old stone columns had a palm frond top, were made of granite and have aged very well indeed. Very satisfying. Some of the smaller animal sculptures were positively modern in their stylisation - there really is nothing new under the sun.
Onwards to an Italian pizza just off Leicester Square and then the Odeon theatre and Rings III.
What an amazing movie. A three-hanky affair, with the best battle scenes we've ever seen. The audience spontaneously cheered at Legolas' little run (no scene giveaways here) and stood up and clapped at the end. Theatre was packed to the rafters, too. The sunsets and NZ scenery brough on a bit of homesickness, naturally. A lot, actually.
Monday, after a day's work, another little treat: a performance of Handel's Messiah at St Martin-in-the-fields. We had gallery seats right over the orchestra (mostly a string section, a couple of flutes/oboes/brass), and a drummer. The drummer was something of an obsessive: he constantly tuned, tightened, listened, tuned, loosened, listened. Couldn't leave those damned skins alone for more than two minutes at a stretch. There was a choir, naturally: mostly singing the words in roundelays. If you can imagine a religious version of 'Row row row your boat' with slight variations for two hours you have it. However, the church was beautiful: very plain outside, faded but massive and elegant inside, with a glorious pipe organ (not used for Handel, unfortunately). Not the biggest we've seen (that would be the 5,300 pipe one at York Minster, with a 32 foot bass pipe that had to be seen up close to be believed), just a 16 ft bass, but polished and with little angels carved right at the top of the pipe ranks. Despite the obvious talent of the performers, especially first cello who got a lot of work to do and was visibly enjoying herself, more memorable for the setting than the work itself. The singers were very good, but the content was just too labouredly religious for us unbelievers. With a drummer, double bass, cello and small brass section we did hope for some light jazz to finish off. Ha. Didn't happen. Walked back to the Westminster tube station in gripping cold. Need more possum fur.

Sunday, December 21, 2003


Talking to the guys at Coda (on the course) it seems that my stress-out experience with traffic is actually quite common. It's not unusual to take 4 hours to go 85 miles here in the Midlands, and accidents, fog, general congestion all compound that. Route-switching is needed quite often, and the A-roads clog very quickly. Sounds like traffic densities in some areas have reached the 'knee of the curve' - a fundamental of queuing theory - waiting time goes up quite linearly with increasing desnity until around 70% of capacity is reached. Then, quite suddenly, waiting times go through the roof. That certainly explains things here. Flying is very expensive, so the usual NZ city-hop is not on, and trains while great on the main city routes, can be sporadic elsewhere. Hard to get in and out of some cities and do a day's work. So driving it has to be, and they (other consultants) generally hate it. They are amazed that in NZ it's possible to average 90kph start to stop in most parts of the country. We don't know how lucky....

Retail Rant

We are quite bemused by retailing in the UK: there's a lot of low-paid jobs (around 5 pounds/hr) and a fierce job demarcation ethic: you cannot persuade a waitress or a cook to take the money if there's a cashier etc. Not my job, you see. A far cry from NZ. And there's a delight in petty officialdom and status in both government and retail. And queuing. We don't do queues as a rule but sometimes they are unavoidable.
The reach of EFTPOS is very small - cash is the norm. It feels very last century. The banks take 3-4 days to clear (transact) even electronic payments: you pay a high premium for 'same-day' transactions (!). Definite lack of competition here. Internet banking is in its infancy - a lot of suspicion (well-founded - read on...)
Back in London, doing a server changeover at a client, I get talking to the Kiwi IT manager and he confirms my low opinion of electronic preparedness here: their equivalent of a debit card (Cashflow etc in NZ) is a 'Switch' card.
I still cannot quite believe this - Switch cards do not have a PIN! Signatures are needed but are widely ignored. So if someone else gets your Switch card, or knows the number (like, you tell them over the phone while buying goods), they have an open door to your account! The banks have elaborate pattern-tracing software and will call you if there are for example transactions in two cities in one day, or an unusal rate of use. But talk about insecure! That's like ringing the stable and asking if the door is open. It certainly explains the hesitancy to wider adoption. PIN's are on the way - but the reluctance born of all the present Switch card fraud will be an inhibitor for quite some time. It takes a certain sort of genius to come up with the notion of an instant-debit card unprotected with a PIN, and the Brits have done it.

Harrogate, Half-fonged

After a grand Italian meal in Harrogate (yes, it seems like a contradiction in terms, but the proprietor - Luigi, what else? - has a very fine voice and we have had a very drinkable Montepeluciano red), the blog beckons.
I'm (W) up to Harrogate for an intensive training week. We've come to really like Harrogate: old stone buildings with a very human scale, that wonderful Northern Yorkshire accent everywhere along with a no-nonsense attitude to life, people who stop and talk (it's mostly heads down and keep walking in London) and good shops and amenities. Including Italian restaurants. And a totally disproportionate number of antiques shops. We wonder if we've stumbled across a money laundering scheme for the Russian Mafia or something - there are way too many for the immediate population. It's a former spa town (springs, spas, bottled water etc) and has an elegance and grace as a direct result. The firm (Coda) is right on the side of a hill facing south, so I walked there (half hour walk) three days in a row: up Cold Bath Road through the graceful old stone houses and shops, over the top of the town (Querns found here, according to an 1849 map of the area), down to Coda. Tom Waits, Dylan, Dido, Chris Rea, and Bic Runga accompany me on the MuVo. Certain music tracks have always meant places to me, and I have the feeling that some of these are going to stick, too, already.

A London weekend Dec 13/14

Two plays, a Victoria and Albert (VA) museum expedition and a shop-up on Oxford and Regent streets.
The plays:
Jumpers (Tom Stoppard, an early 1970's one revived to good effect) and Sweet Panic, a drama by Stephen Bukianski(sp?). Jumpers was the clear winner. Tom Stoppard's play is in some measure even more relevant now than then: he rails against the relativism that in the 70's was making inroads into philosophy, and that now is still excusing aspects of other ways of life even as those same 'other ways' are actively seeking our own culture's demise. Sweet Panic was billed with Jane Horrocks ('Little Voice') leading, but she wasn't there on the night, which doubtless contributed to our lower opinion. Jumpers was very verbally and gymnastically clever, and the lead actress (Essie Smith) turns out to be Australian. A great night. Both productions were in West End theatres, one near Picadilly Circus, the other near Trafalgar Square. There was a circus nearby in Leicester Square, with a large traditional merry-go-round and...dodgems! Hadn't seen those since I was a kid. Short movies of each were in order. Picadilly Circus has the statue of Eros, but the greater interest there is a magnificent statue in one corner of the Circus itself - horses leaping from a fountain.
VA: it's affectionately dubbed 'Britain's attic' - it certainly is. There were two exhibitions mounted when we went in: a Gothic (14th to 16th centuries), and a Zoomorphic one (natural world reflected in architeture). VA is just huge: we concentrated on the Gothic and the paintings, but there were another 6 wings we didn't look into at all. There's only so much one can take in: we've found 4-5 hours is it. You'd need a week to get around VA alone at that rate, and it's only one of a row of three: Science and Natural History are the other two. Then there's the British Museum up in Bloomsbury. It just goes on and on. Samuel Johnston said something to the effect that 'if you're tired of London, you're tired of life' and that's so true. Mind you, he hadn't seen Shadwell or Wandsworth.
Oxford and Regent streets are a strange mixture of high-end stores and absolute tat: we went to Hamley's, the famous toy store on 5 floors, but it was crammed to breaking point. Wonderful ship models. Looked in on quite a few shops but nothing memorable. However, Virgin Megastores had a good DVD deal so we accumulated a few old favourites and got an airline voucher too. The choice of CD's was simply the best we've ever seen anywhere. And the obligatory gadget buy for W further down the street: a Creative MuVo memory stick/music player. A 128Mb stick with track hop and volume controls, powered by an AAA battery. Depending on compression used, can fit a couple of hours of selected tracks on this.

Friday, December 12, 2003

Paris back to London

Early train - and it's dark again! Well it is winter, but we haven't seen anything of the French countryside or houses. Just Calais-Frethun which is forgettably industrial. And there are delays through the Channel tunnel too. Congestion. Must be cows on the track or something. Back to dear grimy old London. Grump. Over all too soon. C'est la vie.

Paris - Musee D'Orsay

The Musee is a conversion of a former railway station, which itself is a work of art. Rivetted steel beams with very elaborate infill panels, in a huge, soaring arch. C'est magnifique.
And the art! It's the first Sunday of the month and entrance is free. So a lot of people are there. We head up and away (there are three levels) but there's really no getting away from the crowds. The good stuff (Manet, Monet, Sisley, Renoir, Gaugin, Cezanne, van Gogh.....and so much more) is truly appreciated by most present. We spend a very happy late afternoon there.
Then back over the Seine, with the moon setting over the Louvre and everyone taking pictures (with flash - like that'll help) of this conjunction. We have an expensive but superbly cooked and presented meal at Hotel d'Louvre, and a Line 7 Metro back to Gare L'Est.

Paris - Le Metro et Tour Eiffel

A day Paris pass is only Euro 6.50! Much better than London's Tube equivalent. I manage 'what is the line for St Michel' in French and am told 'It's line one'. But of course. The lines are numbered (London's are named). We find the right one and our stop without problems and notice how clean the Metro is compared to London's tubes. Obviously they employ more cleaners below ground than above, it seems.
Onwards to the Tower! But it's an RER train there, and we spend some time figuring out which platform and which direction. Asking helps, as always.
The Tower itself (we get off early and walk down the river to it) is simply magnificent. Photos don't convey just how big a footprint it has, and how tall it is compared to the rest of Paris. It's very delicate, not massive - curliques of ironwork everywhere.
The queues are very long already (it's 11 o'clock by now) so muttering 'we don't do queues' we buy a ticket for the stairs and walk up to the first platform. Not too quickly, but steadily. Queues duly bypassed.
This platform is only 1/3 or so up (100 metres of perhaps 330) but the view is very impressive. We have to go to the top now, and queuing for the lift is inevitable, so we do. The original stairs (there's a piece preserved) were spiral, narrow and 'became dangerous' so were removed. They looked damn dangerous to begin with, to our risk-averse, OSH affected eyes. And they used to go all the way to the top...
The view from the top is amazing. Paris from this height is white, and the gilded domes of the Invalides (soldiers hospital), the other church domes and the woods, make an entrancing panorama. It is extremely cold, with a biting wind, and many of the people up here are badly prepared for this. We aren't - possums have given their all for our comfort. But somehow the slogan 'Come to Paris and freeze your sorry ass off' (it's 1 degree C at midday, fer chrissake) hasn't occurred to copywriters.
Down again, and back around the river for a dose of Impressionists at Musee D'Orsay.

Paris - Louvre and Opera house

Meal at a chain restaurant on Boulevard St Michel - the waiter is tolerant of our French, and is heartened when we recoil from the 'sauce' he offers (tomato ketchup!) to go on our steaks. It becomes a standing joke (M'sieur, is zis alright weethout le soss?). Of course it is. Mais naturellement. Exit, well satisfied and exchange Bon soir's with our waiter. But he probably still thinks we're Aussies.
We walk back to the North Bank of the Seine and along the Louvre wing on that bank. It is one very long building. And it's only one wing of three. We get into the middle (the bit with the pyramid of glass in the centre of the three wings) and realise just how vast the place really is. As a demonstration of the power of the kings, by using so much physical space, it's very effective. If a little overbearing. British royal buildings that we've seen so far feel more human scale.
Up to the Opera House, and more photos. The Metro (tube) stations increasingly intrigue us: gorgeously curvaceous art-nouveau railings, arches, and lights. It's a cross between Isadora Duncan and 'Alien' (the first, best one).
Then a loong walk back up to Gare L'Est and our hotel. We will definitely try the Metro tomorrow and save our achy hips.

Paris - the obligatory 'oh shit' moment

Walking back from Luxembourgh gardens to the Seine, I check the traffic (to my right), step off the kerb... Shriek of tyres, Maddy yanks me back, I wave the motorist on my left on... my dear brother had warned me about precisely this moment but it seems I'm a slow learner.

Paris - Cluny

On to Musee Cluny - a mediaeval museum built on the ruins of (from the bottom up) a Roman bath-house, an early abbey, and later churches and outbuildings. It's just beautiful: lots of early, primitive carvings, truly ancient beams in the mid storeys, painted stonework in one of the chapels (a lot of early stome was in fact brilliantly coloured, not scraped clean as we so often see it nowadays).
And of course the tapestries - weavings dating back between 300 to 800 years ago. Lots of pix (no flash allowed, but I'm getting quite good at long-exposure, hand-held stuff). Lots of what the Japanese would term 'shibiu' - a sort of dilapidation which has become beautiful and artful in its own right. Example: a statue head (probably of a king) which has eroded so that the lips form something between a sneer and a genetic defect. Ozymandias, indeed. And an 11th century newel post (for a stair) carved to look like thin, long leg-bones jointed together. Great, morbid stuff.
Then, senses sated, off to the Jardins of the Luxembourg Palace - where Parisians are at play. We buy hot roasted chestnuts and love the taste (but others bought later are not nearly as nice). A lot of schooldays French is returning - and it's enough to make an effort - the locals respond and we don't have one problem all weekend. I find myself back in London nodding at shop assistants and murmuring 'Merci'.

Paris - Pooh and Piglet

Yes, all you've ever heard is true - the streets of Paris are somewhat littered in merde-du-chien - that's dogshit. The Pooh of the title. Not at every step, but every now and then there's a quick sidestep. And more frequent are the dried and not so dry trickles running from a doorway or corner to the kerb. We aren't sure of the species (man or dog) which produced these - both, probably. Compared to 'our' part of London, Paris streets are very dirty.
We walk down to the Seine - a long walk down Rue Sebastopol past increasingly classy shops, the Pompidou Centre off to one side, looking quite squat and ordinary. The doors onto the street fascinate me: a great variety of massive doors, generally in arched openings with decorated stonework, and often with ground-level corner protectors of very ornate cast iron. Very beautiful.
As are the houses - mostly 5-7 storey apartments, but with appealing roof detailing (lots of round windows, reverse ogee curves) but of course at street level, the frontages have often suffered the usual appalling retail conversions.
Paris - The Island on the Seine - we arrive opposite Ile de Cite which contains Notre Dame, so that's the first stop. Queues everywhere, so we content ourselves with pictures and a gargoyle hunt. Notre is absolutely infested with them, and there's a spare parts yard out back with even more bits. Coincidentally, there's a pair of ex Notre gargoyles for sale back at a London antique shop for a cool 75,000 poounds, dating from the 13th century. One wonders - how did they get there? Fly? Those early mediaeval minds were surely possessed by the thought of all the dark things that could happen, to have festooned their churches with the variety and quantity of gargoyles that they did. Or perhaps it was just a release. Whatever, if God ruled inside and during the day, these little creatures surely rule the outside and the dark even yet.
All churched out, we wander east to Ile St Louis, which has some of the more exclusive housing in Paris. These islands are quite forbidding at river level: we walk around a quay and observe a lot of barred windows at a sub-ground level. Certainly, the Conciergeries at the far end of Ile de Cite had been an infamous prison and generally unpleasant place since the 13th century. The history lingers. We have a fabulous cafe et glace (coffee and ice-cream) at Berthillon in the south of the island, cross over to the South Bank proper and wander down Boulevard St Germain, just window shopping.
And here we find Piglet. At a food market with, in one cabinet, rabbits still in full skin, poultry with feathers intact, and Piglet. A whole, baked one. Piglet's bottom is being hacked off and sold off as we pass. Our own health gestapo would have conniptions at the general state of the market, but to us there's a healthy display of food in its natural state. I have to say - the salads we get (in UK and France) are very good: none of the browning lettuce and tired look we expected. Quite fresh, a surprising variety of ingredients considering it's mid winter.

Paris - a shaky start

We decided to have the obligatory weekend in Paree. Eurostar train, of course: gets there fast and to a central station (Gare du Nord). So we book and start off.
Eurostar leaves from Waterloo, and it was nearly ours. Normally, to get there from Victoria, one would take the eastbound District or Circle tube, then change to a southbound Jubilee/Bakerloo/Northern (all go to Waterloo). So unaccountably, I (W) first choose a westbound platform.... Not a good start. Which I compound by losing M while crossing against the flow of Friday commuters to the Eastbound platform. We eventually arrive at Waterloo (all of 3 km away) somewhat frazzled.
Eurostar itself is a very fast train - well over 150mph at peak. Doesn't really feel like it at night, when we leave. We have to stop (that's zero mph...) for 'permission to enter' the Channel Tunnel. So that blows the 100+mph average. And it's dark, a characteristic of night everywhere it seems, so the only thing we observe about France after we exit the Channel Tunnel is that they have orange street lights and neon signs, too. Not very exotic.
Then, the train is ordered to 'come to an immediate halt' somehwere north of Paris, at some sad looking wayside station. This in itself is never a good sign, and is confirmed when the local losers start throwing whatever's handy - bricks, bottles - at the train! We exit south at some speed.
We arrive in Paris without further ado, and find our hotel, down Rue Magenta then up a typically quaint and tiny street (Rue Luciens Sampaix).

Friday, December 05, 2003

London Sounds and Smells

The roaring of the tube trains over certain (ancient) sections of the track, (Todays news flash - a rail broke in the Tube today, and they've chained it together (!) and made the trains run at 5 mph. You couldn't make this stuff up.)
The distinctive smell in the deep tubes: iron (from the steel on steel) and low oxygen content (pre-breathed).
Everyone in the car, swaying in exact unison in the tube trains as they go over that old track (alright, that's a sight).
The musical 'ching-chong' we hear with every train that leaves Victoria, as they negotiate a certain stretch (probably points) - we're right by the Elizabeth Bridge, over the tracks out.
The brilliant blue flashes from those trains as the pick-ups arc over joints. Like lightning, and it probably plays hell with electrical devices close by, too.
Buskers in the tube tunnels - snatches of music that's generally very high quality - blues, sax, a capella are the favourites. The sounds carry for ages and can be very eerie.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

National Gallery night

All work and no play etc, so we take ourselves off to look at some pwetty pixtures and then a meal.
NG is right on Trafalgar Square, which has Nelson's Column, Nelson way up there, but those four massive bronze lions that guard the base are what stays for me. Kids love them too - they get climbed all over. And St Martin in the Fields looking over the Square from the side - a plain, massive looking old church.
NG is free and has art from the early mediaeval period (1200 or so) through the early 1900's. We confine ourselves to the latter - the middle period (we sample quickly) is mostly boring portraits.
There are some familiar works: Van Gogh's Sunflowers, Monet's Bridge at Giverny, a slew of Constables, JWM Turners and (earlier) Gainsboroughs. Canaletto (earlier again, early perspective drawing) is a particular delight. Funny how many notes about paintings, views etc have little asides like ' the tower depicted in this view collapsed suddenly in 1744' - obviously the solidity of the structures left now, is the result of a rather darwinian survival race over the centuries.
What sticks are three impressions: the main movements in painting were often anticipated very early on: JWM Turner's Great Western Railway (1844) is pure impressionism, 40 years before the main body of this style was produced.
Seeing the actual works allows some insight into the techniques: you can see the slashes and scrapes and layers. Not possible in any reproductions.
And the sheer size of many of the works is never conveyed in books: some of the Gainsboroughs are fully 10 feet tall and exquisitely detailed in aspects like foliage and sky.
It would take days to explore this one Gallery, but that's Britain all over: everywhere has a story and it really is one big museum. We leave, visual senses satisfied.

Work, Rugby Ads and the Kiwi Invasion.

It's the middle of another work week, so mostly head-down, tail-up during the week. Work is just off Sloane Square, in Chelsea - a fashionable yet not expensive (lunches, pubs - clothes are another story) part of London.
At work, Kiwis are all over: one is in IT, another sold me a raffle (which yours truly plus the IT guy promptly won prizes in...) and yet another in the reprographics area. And that's only the first two floors. We are regarded as workers in the best sense - more of a work ethic, perhaps, and a tradition of just getting on with it.
Rugby ads for the British team, sponsored by O2 (a local telco), are still up in the big screens at the major stations round London, and are very clever. Two in particular:
'15 thorns in one side'
'It's been 200 years since we sent men this dangerous to Australia' (my own favourite)

Monday, December 01, 2003

And so to Dorchester and Judge Jeffrey

After the obligatory view of the Roman wall fragment and a wander down the main street and market, we stop for lunch at Judge Jeffrey's Restaurant. And what a history.
We get the story and a full guided tour from the new proprietor when we ask to see the Judge's bedchamber.
It (the whole building) has been around in some form since the 12th century - the front beams were a canopy for stalls, and shops behind. Then other buildings grew up over the next 300 years, and by Tudor times it was a priory for Glastonbury Abbey (a very rich abbey, which made it too dangerous for abbots to actually stay right there...)
There are allegedly secret tunnels through to the Antelope Walk (now a market lane) behind, the court chambers, and probably a lot of other places. Judge Jeffreys is infamous for the severity of his sentences: in dealing with the aftermath of the Monmouth Revolution (when the Duke of M attempted to take the Crown of England by force), the good Judge executed 72 of 292 prisoners and transported most of the rest to Virginia, which at the time was equivalent to life in a state of slavery.
And those executions weren't nice: they mostly took place in the cellar under the premises. There is a garroting post in the cellar (which we didn't see) and a local sport amongst the locals was to place wagers on how many garotte-revive-garotte-revive cycles a given prisoner would withstand. Par for the course for the times, evidently.
So it has the local reputation as an unquiet house - ghosts, things moving. The proprietor has only lived there 6 weeks, but has wanted the place since he was 5, and is just passionate about its restoration. He told us about his CD player switching on and off unaccountably when he was up a ladder painting, until he told the spirit to knock it off. Whereupon the CD starting playing and didn't stop again.
It has a monk's cloister, a bell tower, Tudor panelling carefully painted over (!) in the last twenty years, and enough restoration plans for the next twenty. A great meal and a spooky place. The personal tour was very unexpected (and he won't be able to keep that up) and very welcome. We hope he has an permanent understanding with the unseen residents.
The trip back to Wincanton has brilliant sunshine so some photos: a signpost series. Older Somerset signposts are cast iron, with a cast triangular weather cap and all picked out in black lettering on white. Very local: the weather cap has SCC (Somerset County Council). Within a few miles, there is Dorset, and Wiltshire in the other direction, each with their own signpost styles.
Sunday is Stourhead day: a National trust property with gardens by Capability Brown. And we have an NT card....
It rains quite heavily while we are there, but we are equipped. The gardens are of course winter season - leaves gone (which opens out the views). The walk around (we stay on the short walk) is designed to reveal successive views and with transition points through grottoes (with statues) and buildings. And a little house with a roaring fire halfway, with the usual retired volunteer as a staff member. Very restful and great photos.
We wander up to the main house (closed until March) - a park vista out front (the gardens are in a valley off to the side). There are many people here - and we meet a couple with Cairn terriers that are just like our own two, down to colours and temperaments. A photo, naturally.

Somerset weekend

Usual Berry's bus out to Wincanton to see Trev and Jane. Rapturous welcome from dogs. And relatives, it goes without saying.
Saturday is Judge Jeffrey's day.
We go with Trev or on the standard service-bus run he takes, to Dorchester. The trip is through back lanes, far from what tourists ever see. And it is raining very heavily at times.
The lanes are down to single lane at times, all are sealed, and there seems to be two basic rules:
1 - don't go straight for more than 200 metres
2 - dig them into the landscape by 1-3 metres
Rule #1 means overtaking is practically impossible, and passing by head-on trafiic is fraught.
Rule #2 means that the lanes become the de facto drain for the surrounding catchment, and mud from the dug-in-ness under these conditions is inevitable. Plus, there is literally nowhere to go if trouble occurs. Those banks are unyielding.
Narrow, twisty, muddy: that's Somerset country lanes. 20-30mph max, on the single track bits: there's just too much risk of not being able to negotiate a bend or execute a passing maneouvre otherwise.
But needless to say, this also makes the lanes quite beautiful in their own way. And, of course, almost impossible to change or improve: they're too embedded.
The little villages (Stallbridge, Sturminster, Plush, Mappowder) start to blur into each other: they share similar features: a twisty, narrow road through them with buildings crowding the road, a pub, a few houses, a crossing or central open space with a signpost or monument. Repeat every 3-5 miles.
Passed the River Piddle, and took a photo on the way back for Ike. Toilet humour always goes down well at age 6.

A London working week

First working week: routines established. Only 'trip' has been a Tube excusion to Waterloo (because we will go to Paris on Eurostar from there) - then out to South Bank for yet another walk around.
Work routines are a little different from NZ: many staff do not arrive much before 10 (transport issues, usually), have the occasional 2 hour pub lunch, and work till 6-7 at night. The pub lunch will take some practice to perfect.