I’ve had a short break in London. I used to live there, many years ago, while I went to college. I loved it then and I love it every time I go back. I wouldn’t want to live there now as the pace is far to hectic for me. But I like the break.
This time, my main reason for going there was to see the fantastic Ansel Adams exhibition at the Greenwich Maritime museum. I stayed in a hotel nearby and walked out to Greenwich pier every morning. A friend had recommended using the water bus to get to and from Central London, and that’s what I did. It was a great experience and a cheap way to sight see.
The Ansel Adams exhibition was well worth the visit alone. I’ve always liked his work and he has been an inspiration to my photography so to actually see his prints – mostly made by Adams himself – was an incredible experience for me. He emphasised quality and was reluctant for his images to be published in books as the printing process wasn’t up to his standards. In later years he relented, mainly because printing standards got higher. I have several portfolios of his work but the prints are the thing, more so with him. Visitors were asked to write what inspiration they had gained from the exhibition, and to place the card in a special display. My card read “to see rather than look, to seek quality over quantity and to take more time making my photographs”. Cheesy and pretentious – maybe. But that’s how I felt at the time.
I spent the rest of the morning at the Maritime museum and I was particularly taken by the display of the uniform Nelson was wearing when he was shot. It would have fitted me and I’m not the biggest person in the world. The bullet hole is in the left upper shoulder and the ball tore a wad of fabric from the coat and buried it in the wound. There were some chilling exhibits from the slave trade but they were partly redeemed by accounts of the Royal Navy capturing slave trader’s ship after Britain had outlawed slavery in the early 19th century.
Then it was off to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich park. I wanted to see the Meridian line and did so. But when I went into the observatory building, I was surprised to find that the original meridian line was some 4 yards to the west. It was altered when a new telescope was installed to measure the time. Time was calibrated by the passing of several particular stars across a set line (the meridian) and so when the new telescope was sited, the meridian line was redefined. Only in Britain!
The next day I set off for The Victoria and Albert museum and their photography exhibition from the Middle East. A completely different look and feel to the landscapes of Adams. These were full of emotion and contrasts between Western and Eastern culture. Although there was a theme of individuality and identity, there was also an underlying hint of wanting to imitate or emulate Westernisms.
Back at Greenwich, I toured the Cutty Sark. A tremendous effort has been put in to restore her, from here rotting state when she was saved in the 1920s to the intense work put in after the devastating fire in 2007. She is dedicated to all Merchant Seamen who made Britain what it is today, and particularly to those who died at sea. I was surprised at how few crew were needed to sail her – 29 to start with, dropping to 19 by the time when was nearing the end of her ‘tea clipper’ career. The radical (for its day) design of long and narrow reduced her cargo capacity but made her much faster. The crews quarters were small to help make up the lost space and she carried high value cargo whenever she could.
I spent my last morning in London wandering around the old haunts from when I was in college. The Regent Street campus had been updated (it was where the students always had an occupation protest every year because the heating had to be left on. I was a member of the rifle club and there was a 20m range in the basement). The Riding House Street building was unrecognisable – at least I didn’t remember it being like that. And the fantastic sandwich bar that we all used to frequent was gone. Around the corner, my hall of residence in Wells Street was exactly the same. and the back streets on the way to Goodge Street station were all familiar. The Dianetics place, where a few of us went for a session (and were afraid of being brainwashed, as we’d heard the stories) was also still there, though closed today.
Some great experiences, a lot of walking and some nice memories of nearly 30 years ago!