Sunday, 22 February 2015

At The Marina

It was a dull and grey for the morning. We did not have a demanding agenda for the day. In the morning we walked down to Yiewsley to join with the congregation at St Matthew's Church for their morning service. We thought we were going to be later, even though we did not plan to get there much before the advertised time as we knew from past experience that they tend to start very late! As before, when we entered there was quite a sparse number there but by the time the service ended, with some of the youth groups having joined, it was pretty full.

Afterwards we picked up a few items from Morrisons and walked back to the boat along the towpath which was not as muddy as Mike thought from looking at it on the way past yesterday.

Time then for lunch and as we enjoyed another portion of yesterday's soup rain arrived along with a chilly wind. However, Christine found that she had a £4 discount voucher from Tesco which expires today. Not wanting to waste it - we had to spend at least £30 - she suggested that we stocked up on box wine (OK, so we confess: when we are one our own and for 'ordinary' meals we often use a box wine!) It was too unpleasant to walk so we took advantage of having the car.

On return we had a few chores to do, including setting up the water hose pipe which was rather chilling! We did not feel especially guilty at retiring inside the cocoon for the rest of the day and to enjoy the warmth from a good log fire and prepare a lamb roast - together with a good bottle of wine!

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Back to the Marina

Today's Canals - Grand Union Paddington Branch and Main Line

Today brought our brief but stimulating visit to central London to an end. we slightly slept in so it was not until after 10 o'clock that we left Little Venice after a quick stop at the rubbish and elsan disposal. The slow tap meant that we opted not to fill up with water - just as well as a large barge conversion was already there with a huge tank to fill - he expected to be there for some time!

The weather was rather chilly and overcast. Only an occasional glimpse of sunshine all day. When it did occur it was much warmer but all too infrequent.

As a result, it was not a good day for many photos and, in any event, we have been this way several times!

We called at Alperton tesco for a few items, some to help add to our pizza with salad planned for tonight (just as well we avoided that last night!) This stop is about half way along the Paddington Branch so helped to break up the trip.

Lunch was 'on the go' - fortunately a really warming soup from Christine, especially tasty, even if it was described as a left over soup!

On the last straight section before the main line, a bit more blue sky arrived and at Bulls Bridge it looked rather warmer than it felt!

Nevertheless, there were some further brighter moments making for more picturesque photos. At this time of the year, the leaf-less trees give a rather particular appearance to the landscape.

Just after 4pm we arrived back in the marina. Mike was looking for nb Chance to show him the turning point for our spot on the pontoon - we have been next to them all winter. However, they had just left and Mike headed for entirely the wrong place. By the time he realised what Christine, on lookout duty, was trying to tell him, he had overshot the mark and ended up in a hopeless mess. This meant he had to reverse back out and try again - this time doing rather better. Once firmly tied up it was time to warm through!

16.9 miles - 0 locks

Courtald Gallery

We had a slow start: with tickets booked for the concert at St Martins in the Fields again tonight we decided to go into the West End after lunch, visit a museum, have a meal, not returning to the boat in between.

We did, however, need some milk as well as the daily paper so we walked down to Paddington Basin to see what it is like - Christine had not seen the new fountain and bridge just before the end. From there we went to the adjacent Tesco before returning back to the boat along the opposite side.

After lunch we decided to visit the Courtald Gallery - Christine did not know of it and it is several decades since Mike last visited, well before it moved to its current home in Somerset House, a short walk along the Strand from Trafalgar Square. Sometimes it is strange to spot the real location of a firm or organisation that has hitherto only been known about. Down one back street we could see the RSA and then, on the busy main street, a name well-known in our youth to all would-be stamp collectors! Many an hour was spent looking up the supposed value of stamps, hoping that somehow just one would be worth a fortune. Alas, no such luck.

We arrived to discover hordes of people, many photographers, making it hard to move and to find which entrance we needed. It was the first day of London Fashion Week which is held in the central area of Somerset House, with the leading fashion houses having their own invited guests in the exhibition facilities on the ground floor of the old building.

Eventually, we discovered where we should be and entered the calm of the gallery. The gallery is best known for its collection of impressionist paintings but also because it does not try to cram too many items into each room.

Despite its main aim, the first room is devoted to medieval and renaissance art - many of them combined a religious purpose with the artistic. Also, these were mainly small scale items, probably intended for private use. (No flash allowed so photos vary in quality!)

What drew our attention was how detailed and life-like some of the portraits were.

The Crucifixion with Saints set of panels seems to show the saints totally unaware of the horror that was taking place in the middle.

The main floor begins with the Renaissance painters, including Cranach's Adam and Eve.

And also Rubens' portrait of his friend Brueghel and his family.

Eventually we arrived at the start of Impressionism - what is startling when you can compare a few examples from each phase of this period is just how quickly ideas and techniques evolved in not much more than a couple of decades.

Boudain's Beach At Deauville Low Tide was followed by Pissaro's Lordship Lane Station Dulwich. This one drew Mike's attention, not least because his teenage years were spent living only a short distance away. The line has long since closed (1954) and built over, although Mike does recall walking along the old track bed. A side road nearby is where he first tried doing a hill start!

Not all of the rooms have a few pictures as this one, but nevertheless it can be seen how it is possible to really take in each one as an individual painting.

At the end of this floor we were in need of a cup of tea, down in the basement. Christine, despite Mike's best efforts to stop her, could not resist the temptation of a chocolate brownie. It certainly was a superb example of this particular art form.

The top floor covers the early part of the 20C, although there is nothing much after the early 1920's. Fauvism was well represented here - something at least one of us knew nothing about before today!

It was not until almost at the end of the gallery that we first spotted a work by a female artist - Vanessa Bell.

And then this striking image by Gabriele Munter. We have not shown photos of the most famous of the gallery's paintings, partly because they can be readily seen on information about the Courtald, but also because none of them came out even tolerably well!

The final room is a recent addition and used to display a few examples from the over 2000 drawings which the gallery holds. This last photo is, surprisingly, done in chalk.

Back outside it was quickly turning to dusk as we wandered around the courtyard - with still many people hoping to catch a glimpse of a well-know model. Others or their designers were being interviewed by one of several tv crews.

Leaving Somerset House we walked back along the Strand, checking out places to eat but it felt a little early so we continued back to Trafalgar Square and up St Martin's Lane where we had seen a couple of interesting places earlier in the week (there were plenty of chain restaurants - mainly pizzas and burgers). Alas, both were already full with the earliest table now at 7.30! We were beginning to wonder if we would have to go without (or even, worse, succumb to a burger!) when we did find a place that had a range of items on its menu and also a couple of tables free! In the end we did have an enjoyable meal.

The concert - an even larger audience than last night - was given by London Octave, mainly a chamber group but also with a substantial choir. All of the items were by Mozart. The first half included the third horn concerto. The soloist, Anna Douglass, was winner of the Young Musician Brass Category in 2010 and was a superb performer.

The principal reason for coming to this concert was for the main work in the second half, Mozart's Requiem which the Wadebridge Choral Society is currently rehearsing. Mike found it quite strange to hear the work 'from the front' as well as accompanied by an orchestra.

The four soloists were quite young by most impressive, especially the soprano and contralto.

Another excellent musical evening which we thoroughly enjoyed - our third visit to St Martin's.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

London Museum of Docklands

A while ago we discovered the London Museum of Docklands, not far from Canary Wharf when we were exploring the area with grand daughter Alice. However, we arrived just as it was closing for the afternoon and had to make a note to return some time. Well, Alice is in Barbados at the moment so it was just the two of us that set off equipped with our Oyster Cards to make it our main target for today.

It was fine when we awoke but with cloud gathering rapidly and a forecast of rain later, we did not want to be outdoors too much! Just after 9.30 we walked to Paddington and made our way via the Bakerloo and Jubilee lines to Canary Wharf.

Everything in that part of the world is much larger than life - sometimes it seems just for the sake of it. The Jubilee Line station is enormous and could easily be mistaken for a main line station!

The museum was not far away and well signposted. Few of the original warehouses that once surrounded the West India Dock now remain but the museum is in the far left part of this shot.

A few boats are moored in the dock - although it is not obvious if they can now get in and out without the aid of a crane! One of them is now established as a church.

Outside the museum is a statue to one of the founders of the West India Dock and the trading company which it created. Its main aim was to serve the growing market in sugar products from the West Indies. As the trade grew, the labour intensive production needed a much greater cheap work force than the islands could provide and so started the infamous African slave trade. (One of the facts that surprised us later was that when the African trade was abolished, it was replaced by a similar operation from the Far East)

The museum does not allow flash photography so most of what we saw will have to be conveyed in words. We began in the exhibition about the sugar trade.

One display - you can, dear reader, just about see it in this photo - claims that the abolition of the slave trade was as much about economics as morality. Indeed, through the whole of the museum, crossing several centuries of trade and industrialisation, we came across messages that have strong contemporary resonances. In one case, a statement from a Cardinal Manning about conditions in the docks at the start of the 20C were a close replica of the recent statement by English bishops about the impact of the welfare state changes.

OK so it is not a great photo but it is included to illustrate something which at least one of us did not know before. We have seen in exhibitions at stately homes sugar cones but the display today explains why they are that shape. The inverted cone jars receive the boiled product of crushed sugar cane. Much of the sugar crystallises in the cone, allowing the dark molasses to drain out into much smaller cups below. It is then put into separate barrels before transportation and the sugar cones kept whole.

After completing this gallery we felt in need of refreshment so returned to the cafe area on the ground floor for a coffee. After that we went back up to the main gallery where there is an excellent re-construction of the narrow and gloomy streets that once surrounded the dock areas, providing accommodation and working places for the myriad of low paid workers that kept the system going.

Although the rooms are necessarily small to fit into the museum space they are probably a good feel for how crammed in everything was - including the drinking places where many sailors would quickly lose all their earnings after returning from a long sea voyage.

The repetition of arguments about how wealth creation needs some people to suffer was alluded to above - here a dock boss claims that dock strikes were the result of the media filling people's heads with false claims and unrealistic demands that would, if met, hopelessly undermine the over-riding demand to grow the economy. Never mind that the economy only grew for some people but without that growth all these poor suffering workers would have no jobs at all.

After several hours looking around this fascinating museum (NB free entry!) we had a late lunch snack before leaving to retrace our steps back to the boat. We needed to eat quite early tonight as we have tickets for a concert tonight.

Not sure how popular this is a place to work just right now! As can be seen, it was by now rather wet and miserable afternoon. we walked most of the way back to the station through a shopping mall - not that there was much to tempt us.

This is supposed to be a talking statue but we failed to get either of the his or hers side of the story to play to us. But it looks impressive!

We should perhaps have said earlier that we really did enjoy our Lebanese meal out last night. Even though we opted for the smallest of the set meals (not knowing how to make choices from the menu) it was plenty. Very varied flavours.

In the evening we returned to St Martin in the Fields for the first of the two concerts for which we bought tickets yesterday. Tonight's music was provided by the Feinstein Ensemble, a small group of up to nine players, although sometimes only a quintet played.

The performances were excellent - the headline billing had been Bach Brandenburg Concertos but there were also pieces by Telemann, Vivaldi and Mozart.

The two Brandenburgs (nos 4 and 5) bookended the concert. An amazing highlight of the first half was a Sopranino Concerto by Vivaldi with Martin Fenstein as the soloist. An impeccable bravura performance.

The same soloist opened the second half with a Recorder Concerto by Telemann. this was followed by a cello concerto by Vivaldi. Not only did the soloist have some work do to but also the young bass player had some really sparkling sections to accompany him

Overall, a remarkable concert which we very much enjoyed. The quality of the musicianship from mainly quite young performers was outstanding.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Rembrandt Gardens at last

Today's Canal - Grand Union Paddington Branch

Another bright sunny morning, not quite as cold as yesterday and by the time we set off, before 9.30, it was a very pleasant temperature.

Before leaving our overnight mooring, Mike popped to Sainsbury for a newspaper and a couple of other items. Another chance to look at the new buildings alongside the canal which have sprung up since we first brought Take Five this way.

We had a two hour run into Little Venice where we hoped our mooring was still available for us!

Looking at the map recently, Mike realised that the River Brent passes under the canal just before the North Circular Aqueduct even though we had not noticed it before. This time we kept a close eye for it. No wonder we had missed it as the best we could do was to imagine what lies behind this thick hedge! (It is just beyond the far end of the aqueduct in this photo)

The plot just after the aqueduct is being cleared - whilst we cannot recall what was on the site before we certainly have not seen such a good view of the Wembley arch, even with a zoom. The name can just be seen on the outside!

The next photo was meant to be another entry in our unusual boats gallery (although we have seen a couple like this) but we only spotted the damsel in distress when we downloaded the photos later!

London may be under pressure to use every nook and cranny for living accommodation, but this seems to be taking the idea of a caravan park almost a bit too far.

A little later we were passing through the site of the former Acton Power Station. According to Wikipedia and also the photo here the original complex on the north side was extended to the opposite side which no doubt explains why there are so many bridges across the canal. It opened in 1899 and ceased generating electricity in 1983 although some of the derelict buildings have been used as film locations. There is now just a substation.

Another new building. Not sure why it has this unusual form of structure but a longer view suggests that it continues much of its length.

There must be a reason why Mary Seacole is remembered on this almost inaccessible road bridge, but we have not yet discovered it. There are better memorials elsewhere, giving testimony to her complex and multi-dimensional life.

The Bauhaus Barge claims to be 'Solar-Powered Bauhaus Barge Offers Luxurious Living with a Low Carbon Footprint' and that it was built by Jurgen Huber, the zero energy Barge is designed to offer carbon neutral cruising & living at its finest! At least all those solar panels should be doing well this morning.

We arrived at the Little Venice service point just before 11:30 - long lines or moored boats on the approach slowed us down a little. After the usual servicing - the water tap is especially slow - we finally found our name tag on the allocated mooring ring and turned our thoughts to what we might now do!

Before lunch we walked into Paddington Station to find out about Oyster Cards. On past visits to London we have managed on day cards but, as the credit stays on the card indefinitely, we decided to try this method.

These are Rembrandt Gardens which give their name to these moorings.

Let's hope it works!
After lunch back at the boat we set off again, taking the tube to Charing Cross, the nearest stop to Trafalgar Square. We had seen information about a couple of concerts in St Martins in the Field and wanted to check out the ticket situation, In the end we opted for both the Bach concert tomorrow and a Mozart one on Friday.

After a wander around the local area, up to Leicester Square (alas, Christine turned down the option to see Fifty Shades of Grey) we returned to the church and cup of tea in the crypt before attending Choral Evensong. A small choir of nine Choral Scholars were just amazing. The anthem was an eight part piece by Tallis - fantastic.

We then returned to the boat before going to a nearby restaurant for a Lebanese meal.