Tuesday, 30 March 2010
Sunday, 28 March 2010
I've just been reading Italo Calvino's Mr Palomar, and I found that one of the most enjoyable of the 27 short pieces that make it up was the one called "The Cheese Museum." This is a detailed observational piece about queueing in a specialist cheese shop in France. It seems to borders on the encyclopaedic - "Bleu d'Auvergne", "Brin d'amour" - and claims that status for itself:
This shop is a dictionary; the language is the system of cheeses as a whole: a language whose morphology records declensions and conjugations in countless variants, and whose lexicon presents an inexhaustible richness of synonyms, idiomatic usags, connotations and nuances of meanings, as in all languages nourished by the contribution of a hundred dialects. It is a language made up of things; its nomenclature is only an external aspect, instrumental; but, for Mr Palomar, learning a bit of nomenclature remains still the first measure to be taken if he wants to stop for a moment the things that are flowing before his eyes.So that seems to me to be a good enough reason to celebrate a very different encyclopaedic approach to cheese:
This is the version from one of the Amnesty concerts, and actually, as encyclopeadias go the Monty Python version is far more, well, encyclopaedic...
as if it might have been written byT.S. Eliot
Because time will not run backwards
Because time will not run
In the last minute of the first hour
I saw the mouse ascend the ancient timepiece,
Claws whispering like wind in dry hyacinths.
The street lamp said,
'Remark the mouse that races toward the carpet.'
And the unstilled wheel still turning
Thursday, 25 March 2010
Tuesday, 23 March 2010
Sunday, 21 March 2010
Friday, 19 March 2010
It's a hard read, not least because it is sometimes poorly written, and when it compares Christianities with, say Marxism (which it does several times) it is quite shallow. But I stuck with it, and it had its rewards. However, I was nearing the end when I came upon this passage:
Moreover, in the social democracies in Europe and to some extent in America and other English-speaking societies, the new postwar prosperity, distributed not of course with anything like utter fairness but sufficiently spread around, had brought a situation where many of the grossest problems of hunger, shelter, poverty and worklessness were allieviated. In principle (it was often felt) the various social agencies should be able to mop up residual problems, and it was easy for the Christian Churches to see themselves as playing something of this supplementary role. It was traditional enough for it to be concerned with the poor. But of course, important as such a social task is in mending lives and helping those who are in despair, it does not represent an adequate destiny for a movement of such richness and power manifested so diversely over two thousand years. (p.306)
I have to say this made me quite cross. Not so much because he is essentially arguing against the church doing good works, but because of his avowed reason for so doing: "... it does not represent an adequate destiny for a movement of such richness and power...".
Well tough. It seems a perfectly fine and laudable result to me. And it doesn't detract at all from the myth, the numinous, the ritual (the magic) which he is quite taken by elsewhere.
Sigh. But maybe that's just me.
Thursday, 18 March 2010
To-morrow I will tell you about the eyes of the Chrystal Palace trainShe is almost certainly referring to a train on the old railway line from Nunhead to Crystal Palace High Level station. This line ran from Nunhead Junction (actually a station on the other side of Gibbon Rd from the current Nunhead platforms), through now-demolished stations at Honor Oak (on Forest Hill Rd), Lordhsip Lane (on Lordship Lane opposite the Horniman Gardens), Upper Sydenham (South of Wells Pk Rd) to Crystal Palace High Level. There are several Web sites which tell more of this branch, which opened in 1865 to provide an easier journey to the Crystal Palace. The station ran alongside the Palace, and there was a subterranean passage that lead directly into the gardens from the station. The line finally closed in 1954.
Looking down on us, and you will laugh and I shall see what you see again...
I've also seen a posting (where? I can't find it now - maybe I imagined it) that suggests Charlotte Mew's brother might actually have been buried in Camberwell Old cemetery (which the line also passes). I somewhat doubt this, but it is possible. Certainly, I don't know exactly when Nunhead Cemetery became generally known by that name (as opposed to All Saint's, its original name).
Anyway, the path of the Crystal Palace branch line between Kelvington Rd and Forest Hill Rd is now Brenchley Gardens, a long thin strand of park. So I went there for a mooch around.
This sign is busy and confused. You are welcomed in many languages, then told what not to do in lots of shouty icons. Help!
It was something of a grey day, but the squirrels were out in force.
These two shots were taken firstly beneath and then from the side of a rich stand of evergreen trees.
The trackbed of the old railway can still be clearly seen:
And the tangled, darker, older woods of One Tree Hill lurk just the other side of the road.
The views, particularly from the Kelvington Road end of the Gardens, where there are fewer screening trees, can be quite stunning. Today was a trifle misty however, so visibility was limited.
In the photo below, Canary Wharf can just be made out in the distance. Ivydale School is partially obscured by the tree on the right. The neat green in the foreground is Aquarius Golf Club, which covers the Beechcroft Reservoir. The latter is a fantastic engineering achievement - a huge man-made reservoir - and was once a World-beater, I gather. But of course it is mostly underground and hence hard to get to see.
A better view of the Golf Club below, including the odd golfer. The trees in the distance show where Nunhead cemetery is; to the left of that, in the centre of the picture, are the allotments covering Nunhead Reservoir. The blocks of flats further towards the left are in the Rye Hill Park estate.
Further along, the Gardens look down on the backs of houses in Marmora Rd (parallel to Mundania).
On other days, there have been superb views into Central London - The Post Office Tower (as I still call it), The Eye, Parliament, and the horrible new tower near the Elephant can all be clearly seen. But not today.
Another view down the old trackbed:
The Kelvington Rd end of Brenchley Gardens is a little wilder and less cultivated...
however, as you walk towards Forest Hill Rd, they become more formal and managed.
(What? More cultivated as you move away from Nunhead? That can't be right!)
Spring flowers seem to be very much the in thing in Brenchley Gardens at the moment...
Along with gnarly, windy trees...
But now I must confess. I really took this walk to go and see one of my favourite road signs, at least locally:
Yes, that's right. It says U turns only.
And there is more than one of them!
An explanation of the signs at least seems called for. These directions are by the bus lane. And they instruct any buses taking that path (in practise only the 63) to make a U turn because it is the end of their route.
Hence the unlikely sign.
I suppose the other aspect of the photgraph is that to the right hand side it shows where the old Honor Oak station used to be.
Although the pub has been enthusiastically refurbished, the grandest builing in Mundania is this glorious art-deco block, Mundania Court, on the corner with Forest Hill Rd:
Opposite, the Forest Hill Baptist Church seems to be being converted to flats.
Further down, some more basic deck-access blocks are enlivened by small touches such as this:
(I've just been told by an otherwise reliable authority that "All's Well" was the motto/strapline of Camberwell Borough Council. When we were all in Camberwell).
Towards the far end, Mundania changes and declines to these rather samey pebble-dashed semis.
Before ending at Homestall Rd, unmetalled and (I have to say) seeming somewhat unloved:
The road must be named for Homestall Farm, which was bought and incorporated into Peckham Rye Park in the 1890s. Homestall itself just means home, homestead or farmyard, and goes back before 1000 AD. Mundania - and several of the other unusual Rd names nearby - Marmora, Therapia and Scutari - are named after locations in the Crimean War.
...And the title of this posting comes via translation from Duck Soup.
So. The discoveries I've been making are probably obvious and not that original, but I thought I'd record them anyway.
The first thing is, Top Gear isn't about cars. It really isn't. Nor about driving, roads, mileage or any of that stuff. Mostly its about the relationship between the boys.
Now that could be read to imply that I'm seeing a homoerotic subtext to TG. However, while that level is clearly there, it isn't what the show is mostly about.
Fundamentally, it's a sitcom. And quite a conventional, blokish one. The easiest way to see this is by comparing it with similar shows. So:
Here are the Top Gear presenters:
... and here are the original stars of Last of the Summer Wine out in the bucolic Yorkshire countryside:
See what I mean? And the individual characters also match pretty exactly:
James May = Blamire/Foggy
Richard Hammond = Cleggy
Jeremy Clarkson = Compo
Uncanny. It's obvious when you look at it isn't it?
Lets try another:
... and for comparison, wearing the famous "G for Gear" overalls, the Top Gear lads:
and again: Graham=May; Tim=Richard and Bill=Jeremy (isn't funny how he keeps matching the little lower class hairy oik? Anyway...)
Case proven. Top Gear is a rather cartoonish sitcom.
You can play this game yourself (eg Father Ted = May, Father Dougal=Hammond, Father Jack=Clarkson).
And not just with sitcoms. Try The Wind In the Willows (I'll start you off: Ratty=Hammond, Mole=May...).
Wednesday, 17 March 2010
This is a place miles away from Nunhead, you understand, and very, very different. There is a river there, and boats and fiefdoms, cathedrals and castles.
and very silly, wonderful bridges...
Shad Thames. A dark narrow street between converted warehouses. I love the crisscrossing overhead bridges.
Jokes about City Hall leaning to the left on a postcard, please. But it isn't true any more with the rotter in charge...
This is inside Hay's Galleria. A strange metal sculpture inside moves and surprises...
The replica Golden Hind. I stopped here for a much needed cappucino and Panini (thank you Mr C Nero). The ruins of medieval Winchester Palace on Clink St.
Where the Thames path goes beneath Southward Bridge, there is a mural about the Frost Fairs that were held on the Thames long ago.
The reconstructed, heritage, Globe.
Across the River, another Cathedral.
And I believe Christopher Wren lived here, on the South bank, and was rowed across to work on St Paul's each day. Or maybe not...
And this is what will forever be known as Norman Foster's Bouncing Bridge, even though it doesn't any more since Arup have fixed it.
Now, imagine someone made the decision to take all of the famous art in London that I don't particularly like and put it all together in a converted power station so I wouldn't have to see it. I personally think that that would be a very helpful and pleasant thing to do.
But imagine that they didn't quite get it right, so that there are maybe half a dozen works that I quite like, that have been put in the power station by accident. And one I adore. So sometimes I have to go there anyway.
I give you: Tate Modern.
Full of people looking seriously at arbitrary splashes of abstract colour; discussing 'masses' and 'form'; bandying '-isms' around. Lots of them dressed like arts students (you know what I mean) - including the obligatory stupid haircut.
But because this is abstract, modern, contemporary art - and therefore quite old-fashioned - there are a number of elderly stalwarts circulating around as well, who've been 'into' (I think they would say) this stuff for years.
I went midweek, so there was also the depressing sight of primary school children being forced to comment on and be impressed by painting than which they themselves could do much better. 'Look at these red swirly paintings: who likes them because they're red? Hands up. Good. And who likes them because they're swirly? Great. Now hands up who likes them because they're red and swirly?' I kid you not. This in a room of red swirly paintings, as you may have guessed. Not once were the class asked 'Who thinks these are a bit rubbish, and not worth wasting wall space on? Hands up. Higher. Goood...'
Now, having got that off my chest, I'm going to try to be positive (I had, after all, chosen to go in the place).
This is the current Turbine Hall installation. A huge metal box, several stories tall, lined with black felt. You enter at one end and struggle in growing darkness to find the back wall.
Despite its pretension, this does kind of sum up the feeling of being inside the crate:
Elsewhere, this is a gallery you can take quite quickly. The organisation is to a scheme I don't really understand, and the material on display does not excite (well, me, anyway).
Mostly, little arrested me apart from works I already knew from other contexts - like Rodin's The Kiss, some Georges Braque, Roy Lichtenstein's Whaam!, Dali's Narcissus.
And the one work I sat and enjoyed and revelled in for around twenty minutes: one of Monet's Water-Lillies (on loan from the National Gallery).
The gallery does at least offer a smashing view. Everyone takes the same picture:
Like I did:
Outside, this gorgeous stand of trees helpfully obscures the gallery.
... and as if in some spirit of dogged, hold out, figurative recidivism, the Royal Watercolour Society is right next door...
Because of all of the building works around Blackfriars Station and Bridge, the Thames path cuts briefly inland. Past this odd building
... and this building site.
... which was handily reflected in the shiny plaques for the offices opposite: Titan Books and Forbidden Planet?
Back past Dogget's, the River view is marvellous.
I really like these buildings. The middle one, with the steep roof and tower, was originally built for the City of London Boys School, although they have since moved and I think it is now occupied by J P Morgan. I'm still trying to find out about the brown building on the left.
The building on the right - and better seen in the picture below, beside Blackfriars - is Unilever House, 100 Victoria St, currently undergoing a major internal reconstruction while retaining its marvellous facade.
I continued on to the National Theatre (nice coffee and sandwich, browsed the bookshop, hung around, and then mooched at the NFT (they've messed around with the cafe again!).