Monday, 20 February 2012

Museum Musings

So, we have established that London and I are getting on quite well at the moment. It hasn’t always been like this – and I’m not just talking about my rants on this blog about rude people, crappy public transport and a general lack of space. When I was a kid I visited London a few times with my family. I remember walking over one of the many bridges crossing the Thames and thinking that I would never get to the other side, and trudging for what felt like miles to see Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guards – and being less that convinced that it was worth the exertion. Later visits involved museums – and lots of them. My sister was thinking about studying archaeology so a trip to the British Museum was inevitable. We walked around for hours looking at old coins, bits of broken pot and grisly mummies. I’m afraid to say, it didn’t float my boat – and, quite honestly, it still doesn’t.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t get looking at old things. Okay, so I understand that they tell us a lot about our ancestors and how human society has developed, but I’d much rather spend an afternoon in a gallery looking at things that teach me about the world around me through the means of artistic expression.

Last weekend I found myself at the British Museum once more. Greyson Perry’s The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsmen was showing, so I invited my mum down to the Big Smoke have a gander with me. I really enjoyed it. Not only was Greyson’s work thought provoking (he had plenty to say about contemporary culture, from gender issues, social media and the rise of surveillance) but his use and appreciation of ancient crafts bridged the gap between art and history seamlessly. It is on until the 26th February, so it you can, go and take a look – you won’t be disappointed.

After a spot of afternoon tea in the Great Court, we decided to wander over to the Foundling Museum. My primary reason for suggesting it was to see the exhibition by Quentin Blake. As a life-long fan of Roald Dahl, I have grown up with Blake’s quirky illustrations and was keen to see some of his more recent work. The images on show were copies of paintings commissioned by a range of institutions, ranging from clinics for those suffering from eating disorders to care homes for the elderly. The paintings of mothers swimming underwater with their new-born babies created for a maternity ward were particularly beautiful – and quite moving.

Whilst we were there we checked out the rest of the museum, dedicated to the Foundling Hospital opened on the site at the end of the 19th Century. It briefly told the story of how the charity now known as Coram was set up – and what it was like to be a child growing up in the institution. My work in Social Care has exposed me to the organisation before – and the important work they still do with disadvantaged young people. I firmly believe that by the time a child gets to their teenage years, damage done is almost irreversible – and charities like Coram are essential to steering them in the right direction.

Okay, so I admit it – museums are okay – as long as their subject matter is something that grabs my attention. Random bones and old cooking utensils? No thanks. The story of an interesting person, organisation or industry? Okay then. But, throw in a bit of social-commentating art, and I’ll definitely be there.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Labelling London

I have a confession to make. The name of this blog is probably, in reality, more than a little bit inaccurate. I don’t love to hate London at all. In fairness I love and hate London, and although its annoyances seem to become more obvious the longer I live here, it will probably always have a special place in my heart. Like I have said a million times before, its everything goes attitude is more than a little liberating after a childhood growing up in a small (minded) town, and it is an ethos that I have whole-heartedly embraced.

What is so interesting about London, though, is it is so diverse and vibrant, it and its inhabitants are almost impossible to pigeon-hole. Whereas other cities can be defined by an overwhelming majority when it comes to the ethnicity, political views or the wealth of its inhabitants (Bradford = Asian, Cambridge = well to do, Brighton = liberal), London is a mix-mash of everything and anything.

As an ex-sociology student, I find the society that we live in fascinating, all the more so because of my relatively sheltered upbringing. In a small town in the Midlands, “Equal Opportunities” was just a phrase that had little meaning to a population that was probably about 99% white. My studies at university did little to open my eyes – let’s face, most of my lecturers were white and middle-class, and, although they of course touched on “minorities”, everything that they said was from a white middle-class perspective. Even now when I pick up books about society many authors seem to forget about how people from other cultures and classes experience life here. Watching the English by Kate Fox is a good example. Yes, it is an amusing read and I recognise a lot of its observations in myself and the people around me. But, then again, I am white middle class - of course I do. Another example is The Middle Class Handbook published by Not Actual Size. A bold attempt to sub-categories those whose salary is fair to middling, I can certainly appreciate what they are trying to say. But then their examples do seem to focus on white westerners. Those who fit into a similar salary bracket whose cultural background differs from mine don’t really get a mention.

In London, calling someone English and Middle Class doesn’t really tell you anything, other than where they were born and what they earn - and even that category is wide and fuzzy around the edges. In fairness, I think it would be quite a feat to write anything that could pinpoint every Londoner into a specific sub-category, and I take my hat off to anyone who gives it a go.

Thank you London for continuing to challenging my understanding of you and your inhabitants, nearly eleven years on. I guess that’s why I still love you, and probably always will.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Something Old, Something New

I’m tired. Yes, it’s been a busy week, and I can’t wait for the weekend – even though, if I’m honest, the reason I’m so knackered is because of the last one.

It was a weekend of fun with friends, but with a couple of new experiences thrown in for good measure. It started with a Friday night in Angel – nothing new there, but a guaranteed good night all the same, with a more than adequate variety of places to eat – and, of course, drink. We went cheap and cheerful with Nandos, followed by beers at The Bull (Sierra Nevada and Kozel) and finished off for more beer and shots at Keston Lodge (um, I think there was Jaegermeister involved...).

On Saturday, there was no time for recuperation. My friend was in need of a new suit – and a good variety of high street shops in which to find one. We did consider a trip to Westfield, but with more friends coming over for dinner at 6, we didn’t have time to go west. Which meant one thing, and one thing only: Oxford Street.

To be fair, it wasn’t too bad, and my friend got his suit and a pair of jeans, plus managed to exchange a jacket that had fallen to pieces. Okay, so the dress I was hankering after was no-where to be seen, but I found a pair of much needed extra-long leggings and returned home a happy camper.

After another night of food (a la moi), drink (Crabbies anyone?) and silliness followed by a lovely brunch the next day to soak up any excess alcohol, I headed west to meet another friend – and to try something completely different; wall climbing. Well, it was certainly an experience – and one that I may try again without the hangover. With aching arms and a sense of achievement, we headed back to my friends’ pad to have a go at making beetroot and vanilla cupcakes (yes, you did read that right). Despite a lack of kitchen scales, electric mixer or liquidiser, they turned out very nice – in fact, a bit too nice...

We rounded up our fun-filled day with a trip to Queensway – and, according to my mate, the best noodle house in London, Noodle Oodle. I’ve never really been out in Queensway before, and was pleasantly surprised. The noodles did not disappoint, and the added excitement of seeing them being made before my very eyes added to the experience.

I guess that’s the great thing about London – there is somewhere for every occasion, whether it is drinking, eating or shopping – and, if you want to try something or somewhere new, there’s always going to be a corner of the capital that you have yet to explore. And if you don’t fancy something new? Well, you can return to a tried and tested formula.

Just make sure you give yourself time to recover...