Springfield Park and a mosque

Saturday, Arpil 28th 2015

We decided to have a leisurely in-town day today and so we took time over breakfast. For this we went to the Gallipoli Cafe & Bistro in Upper Street, where they serve a tasty Turkish breakfast. (For us pesky vegetarians they kindly exchange the sausage for grilled haloumi.) The interior decor of the cafe is very elaborate as the picture below shows.

Gallipoli Cafe & Bistro, interior
Gallipoli Cafe & Bistro, interior

The picture is made up of several photos stitched together so there is some distortion and a bit missing at top left but I think it gives a good impression of the cafe interior.

After breakfast, we set out to find somewhere where we could wander and explore. An idea came to mind: when, on those sad occasions, I have to take Freya to the cattery, our train crosses a green expanse studded with bodies of water. I had often wondered what it was. Today, I was able to find out by the simple process of going there!

Springfield Park in context
Springfield Park in context
Click for the Google Map

The green area is called Springfield Park and it is in Hackney, in Upper Clapton, to be precise. Click on the above map to see a Google Map of the area. It is easily reached by bus and provides a charming setting for strolls, jogging and athletic pursuits.

How did such a spread of pleasant greenness (it is also a local conservation area) survive amidst the inexorable spread of the city? Briefly, in Georgian times when the area was still open country, there were once three family houses here, each with its own land. The whole estate came up for sale by auction in the early 1900s, by which time the surrounding area had been built up. A group of philanthropically minded local businessmen bought the property to ensure its survival and the London County Council later took it over. It is now in the care of Hackney Council. Two of the houses fell into disrepair and had to be demolished. Of the three, only Springfield House remains and today houses a cafe. You will find a little more detail on the Wikipedia’s Springfield Park page.

Springfield House
Springfield House
Now a cafe

Today it is accepted that parks have an important part to play in the conservation of wild life. But wild life is not only to be conserved; it is also to be enjoyed. For this, a park has to be designed so that it attracts wild creatures but is also comfortable for humans to move about in. This requires a compromise between ’wildness’ and convenience, for example in the provision of pathways and benches.

Springfield Park

Springfield Park, it seems to me, has achieved a successful combination of rough areas where wild creatures can feel at home and tidier parts where people can walk and observe. The crow in the above photo was happy to pose… as long as I didn’t venture too close.

Here are some more scenes from the park.

A natural-looking lake - with a fountain
The fountain

A nice example of compromise: a natural-looking lake but with a fountain! The fountain probably helps aerate the water for aquatic creatures as well as looking pretty.

Once a bowling green...

This was once a bowling green but today the pavilion is boarded up and the grass has been cut by a machine following a spiral path. It is no longer a flat green but a spread of rough grass. Perhaps it is being allowed to return to a more natural state. (I wonder what happened to the bowls players, though.)

Old tree

This old tree stands still unclothed from winter, its muscular limbs showing its age and its successful weathering of storms. Will it burst into new life or has its day passed?

Trees in blossom

Other, younger, trees nearby were already covered with blossom which shines brightly in the sunlight.

The River Lee Navigation

The River Lea passes this way but where it runs through the park it is called the River Lee Navigation (note the change of spelling). That is because it has been modified and managed to make it suitable for sailing on. Large numbers of barges were to be seen, most moored and obviously serving as people’s homes. One must admit that it is a pleasant spot to live in.

The waterside pub

If ever one gets tired of the greenery and the water, there is always the pub on the other side of the river…!

The broad path

A broad path or track runs along the river. It is used by walkers and joggers and, less happily, by others (see below).

A apir of mating swans

We saw a pair of swans on the water. They were doing their mating dance, their heads rising and descending in unison.

A heron fishing

We also spotted a heron fishing in one of the quieter streams which abound in this area which is part of the Walthamstow Marshes.

Railway bridge

Looking back, I could see the railway bridge and the very trains that carry Freya and me to and from Chingford.

In the photo you also see what I referred to above as a less happy sharing of the path: cyclists. Now, I have nothing against cyclists provided they follow the rules and do not come into conflict with pedestrians. The problem is that local authorities are creating more and more shared spaces, that is, paths that are used by both cyclists and pedestrians. This doesn’t work. On tow paths and tracks such as this, there are notices saying “Cyclists give way to pedestrians” but, generally, cyclists do not give way to pedestrians. They may ring their bells (which, with my hearing loss I usually don’t hear, anyway) and blunder through groups of walkers. Far from “giving way”, they are likely to shout at you for obstructing them. Cyclists and pedestrians need to be on separate paths. When will government at last understand this?

After our pleasant walk through the park (and, to be fair, the cyclists we met on the broad track caused us no problems) we caught a bus to Dalston. It was time for a late lunch and we knew where we wanted to go. We had started the day with a Turkish breakfast and so we continued with a Turkish lunch at Evin Cafe Bar in Kingsland High Street. We have been here before (see Cornish fishermen and the William Morris Gallery).

Before catching the bus home, we walked up the road and photographed the spectacular Turkish mosque, Aziziye Camii. Yes, I’ve photographed it before (see A stroll along Ermine Street) but it’s worth photographing again!

Aziziye Camii Mosque, Newington Road

Copyright © 2015 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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Some art from the Saatchi Gallery

Saturday, February 11th 2015

I am not sure when we last visited the Saatchi Gallery but it must have been a while ago. We thought we would go there today and see what was being shown. The current exhibition is Pangaea II: New Art from Africa and Latin America but in addition there are some other works on view including one, a favourite of mine, that is on permanent display.

Street scene: near London Bridge
Street scene: near London Bridge

We went by a rather circuitous route, just for the fun of it, crossing the Thames at London Bridge and changing buses in Southwark Street where I took the above photo. Food enthusiasts might recognize that we are close to the famous Borough Market.

The Hop Exchange
The Hop Exchange, 1868

Opposite the bus stop is the imposing Hop Exchange (opened 1868). Last year we were lucky enough to see inside and take a few photos (see Saints, hops and a pavilion). Hops are no longer bought and sold here and the magnificent building serves as offices.

On arrival at the Saatchi Gallery, rather than view the exhibition in a systematic way, we did what we usually do, taking the lift to the top and working our way down. There was a lot to see and it would be impossible to cover it all, so what follows is a selection of samples.

CCasa Tomada
Casa Tomada
Rafael Gómezbarros, 2013

One small room was given over to an exhibit that we had seen before but which I like and was pleased to see. Though previously shown in other exhibitions, it fits in with the current one as the artist comes from Colombia. A crowd of giant ants swarms over the walls and the ceiling. Though their structure is simple – each is made from a pair of casts of a human skull joined together with a cloth-wrapped body with twigs for legs – they look realistic, if huge.

Casa Tomada (detail)
Casa Tomada (detail)

This work belongs to a class whose dimensions are given as “variable”. That is because the exact configuration of the work at any showing depends on the size and layout of the substrate, by which I mean the surface or surfaces to which it is fixed. The first time I saw it, the ants were swarming over the walls of a larger gallery but they have also been seen on the outside of buildings and in other contexts, dismissing the concept of an artwork of fixed shape and size. For more information on Rafael Gómezbarros and Case Tomada, see here. The title comes from a short story by Julio Cortázar about ants invading a house and means, literally, ‘house taken over’.

Nude VI
Nude VI
Alexandre da Cunha, 2012

Why a group of three hats would be called a ‘nude’ I do not know. On some days that would bother me and I would have to try to find out. Today I am not in a bothering mood so I will just let it be. And so, indeed, with the rest of the exhibits that I show, commenting if I have something to say about them and not doing so if I haven’t. Anyway, for some more about Alexandre da Cunha and his hats – sorry, nudes – and other works, see here. Incidentally, this work sits somewhere in between a painting and a sculpture.

Broken City
Broken City
Alejandro Ospina, 2012

Some of the paintings in this exhibition are rather large. When you photograph them, you necessarily reduce them to whatever size the format of your blog (or computer screen) permits. You inevitably lose a good deal of the work’s drama and impact. That is why in some of these photos I have included some of the wall and the floor in an attempt to communicate something of the size of the work. It probably doesn’t succeed but, hey ho, we try.

You perhaps know my reluctance to embrace non-figurative works1 but maybe I am becoming soft because I quite like Broken City. And it isn’t really completely non-figurative: I think if you look at it carefully enough you do see suggestions of a city. Or is that like seeing pictures when staring into the embers of a fire? More about Ospina and his art here.

Untitled heads
Untitled heads
Aboudia, 2014

There were a number of paintings in the exhibition by Aboudia but this set of heads particularly attracted my attention. There is a family resemblance to them all but they are all different, one from another.

Untitled tête
Untitled tête
Aboudia

I called the set Untitled heads but I don’t think they have a collective name. Each seems to be called Untitled tête. Aboudia is from the Côte d’Ivoire and presumably French-speaking, hence the ‘tête’. By why ‘untitled’? Doesn’t French have a perfectly good phrase for that (sans titre)? Or perhaps ‘untitled’ is considered a technical term that requires to be left in English?

Large gallery - now the shop
Large gallery – now the shop

This is one of the largest spaces within the Saatchi and used to be used to advantage in showing the more gigantic works or collections. It has the added merit that you can view it both from floor level and higher up. To my surprise, this premium space has mutated into a shop. All galleries and museums like to have a shop and these no doubt make valuable contributions to their income but it seems a pity to use this space for such a purpose. Perhaps it’s a temporary measure and that big works will make a triumphant return in the next exhibition.

Barco
Untitled
Barco and Untitled
Federico Herrero, 2008

A couple a bight and colourful paintings by Federico Herrero. The top one is called Barco (‘Boat’) and the lower one is untitled. Barco does look vaguely boaty but we have no clues to guide us in the second one. To judge for the Saatchi’s discussion of this painter (see here), it has something to do with jumbled and chaotic towns such as San José where the artist grew up. It looks a bit more cheerful than Ospina’s Broken City.

Tout doit disparaître/Everything Must Go
Tout doit disparaître/Everything Must Go
Jean-François Boclé

This is a gigantic work of art as you can perhaps tell from the relative smallness of the people grouped at the far end. It is a triangular heap of 97,000 blue plastic bags – the sort of bag that you may use to line your rubbish bin at home or in the office – each filled with unknown contents. The title suggests a clear-out, whether of rubbish or unsold goods, perhaps prior to quitting a business. Whatever the exact narrative, the meaning is clear, I think. The vast size of the heap suggests a catharsis of gigantic proportions. The artist, Jean-François Boclé, is originally from Martinique but currently resides and works in Paris (more here). For my money (and I am speaking euphemistically as there is no admission charge at the Saatchi), this was one of the more striking and fascinating exhibits, despite its simplicity of design. Of ‘variable dimensions’, it has appeared elsewhere in different configurations.

Perna and Woman with Dog
Perna and Woman with Dog
Eduardo Berliner, 2009

Eduardo Berliner lives and practises in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. His paintings are figurative and sometimes disturbing (e.g. see Handsaw on his Saatchi page) – not that I would criticize him for that because one of the jobs of the artist is to disturb us and shake us out of our complacency. The two paintings above intrigue me for their unconventional viewpoints and the realism of the treatment. The closeness of woman and dog is cosy almost to the point of obsessiveness and there is a strange feeling of eroticism, especially in the right-hand picture.

Gallery

One of the many things that can be said in favour of the Saatchi is that it provides plenty of space, as the above view shows. There is no overcrowding with works jostling for position.  Works may nestle together in close proximity if they are supposed to, otherwise they are spread out and given room to breathe.

Gambler 5
Gambler 5
Ephrem Solomn, 2012

I have chosen just one work from this  room, a characteristic example of the portrait works of Ephrem Solomon from Addis Ababa (Ethiopia). His figures are outlined in black, as though they were line drawings in paint, and the colour black abounds in their clothing, contrasting with yellow and grey backgrounds. They are watchful and unsmiling as though confronting an anxious present and a future without promise. (More here.)

Entre Dos Aguas
De mis Vivos y Mis Muertos
Entre Dos Aguas
and
De Mis Vivos y Mis Muertos
Jorge Mayet, 2008

These two artworks puzzled me at first sight. They looked so real that I was almost convinced that the artist must have dug up real trees and carefully brushed away the soil to preserve the root structure intact. On the other hand, they were so small, that it was hard to believe that they had developed such an extensive spreads of roots. Or were they perhaps the result of a sophisticated bonsai exercise? The fact is, however, that Entre Dos Aguas (‘Between Two Waters’) and De Mis Vivos y Mis Muertos (‘Of My Living People and My Dead’) are both fabricated out of wire, paper and some other materials. So are other pieces of a similar kind. The result is remarkably lifelike, though miniature, testifying to Jorge Mayet’s sharp eye for detail. (More on the Cuban artist here.)

Graphis - Loggia
Graphis – Loggia
Diego Mendoza Imbachi, 2014

The theme of trees is explored also by Diego Mendoza Imbachi but this time in the form of large painted canvases. The willowy yet strong trunks lead to eye upwards to branches, twigs and leaves that spread with the airy delicacy and intricacy of the finest lace. These drawings are as remarkable in their way as the three-dimensional objects made by Mayet.

Graphis - Natura
Graphis – Natura
Diego Mendoza Imbachi, 2014

Our gaze is drawn up (‘up’, in imaginative terms, deep into the canvas, in real terms) as to a glow of sun hidden behind cloud, a strange light of reverie. Are we seeing the present or the past or perhaps looking into the future? Maybe it is a mixture of all of these, of reality mythologized.

The Poetics of Reflection
The Poetics of Reflection
Diego Mendoza Imbachi, 2014

A tree turns into a space rocket. Or a space rocket sprouts branches. Which is it and does it matter, anyway? The hard categories of physics become malleable in the mind, and the grace of the artist is to make metaphor take shape before our very eyes.

20:50
20:50
20:50
Richard Wilson, 1987

While all the preceding works belong to the Pangaea II exhibition, my final work, Richard Wilson’s 20:50, also known by some as The Oil Room, is one of the few works that is on permanent display in the Saatchi Gallery. The title is a viscosity rating, that for a grade of engine oil. The exhibit consists of a room half full of used and discarded sump oil with a narrow metal walkway (not accessible by the public) leading into it. The black surface of the oil reflects the upper half of the room, causing a dizzying sensation when you first see it. Gradually you work out what it is you are seeing and thereafter it becomes familiar but (for me, at least) always extraordinary.

Our viewing of the “Oil Room” concluded our visit to the Saatchi Gallery but we shall return to see the next exhibition and, all being well, many exhibitions after that.

________

1For one thing, if the work is non-figurative then the artist, or his/her apologists, can recount any nonsense they like about what it means and you can’t contradict them. All interpretations of a non-figurative work are equally true and logic dictates that something that means anything you like it to mean actually means nothing at all. The meaning of an object is defined as much by restrictions (i.e. by what it cannot mean) as by what it purports to mean. Putting that succinctly: no limits; no meaning.

Copyright © 2015 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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Underground in Thanet

Monday, April 6th 2015

Today is a Bank Holiday and we are using it to make a trip to the Isle of Thanet in Kent. We are meeting a friend there who is going to take us to a couple of places of interest.

Isle of Thanet
The Isle of Thanet
Click for a Google Map

The Isle of Thanet contains the most easterly part of the county of Kent and three of its best known and loved seaside resorts, Ramsgate, Broadstairs and Margate. The title of “Isle” recalls a time when this region was entirely separated from the mainland by the Wantsum Channel and therefore was indeed an island. The watercourse became silted up long ago but the honorific endures. The origin of the name of Thanet is uncertain but thought by some historians to derive from a Celtic expression meaning “bright island” or “fire island”, perhaps indicating that there was once a beacon maintained here. Wantsum, as I discovered when researching the name of Norwich’s River Wensum, which is cognate with it, means “wandering” or “meandering” (see Viewing Manet in Narch).

Catching the HS 1
Catching the HS 1
The quick way to Kent

If, like us, you live in North London, the best way to go to Kent is to travel on the HS 1 from St Pancras. Strictly speaking, the name HS 1 or High Speed 1, refers to the special fast railway track that carries both the international Eurostar on the first leg of its journey from London to the Channel Tunnel and domestic services between London and Kent. By extension, the name is popularly applied to the fleet of high-speed blue-liveried trains that, for a little extra money, shorten your journey to Ramsgate and Margate. Having breakfasted at Giraffe in King’s Cross Station, we set off.

Ramsgate, the Royal Harbour
Ramsgate, the Royal Harbour

Ramsgate is a beautiful ancient town. Perhaps quieter now than in its 19th-century heyday, it is still a popular resort, not the least of its attractions being the large Port or Harbour of Ramsgate built over the century  from 1749 to 1850. King George IV bestowed the title ‘Royal’ upon it in 1851 and it remains the only Royal Harbour in the UK. The name has nothing to do with male sheep but is believed to derive from the Anglo-Saxon Hremmes, meaning ‘raven’s’ and geat (‘gate’), referring to a gap in the cliff.

A cabinet of curiosities
A cabinet of curiosities
Ship Shape Cafe

Before taking us to the first of our visits, our friend proposed having breakfast. As noted, we had had breakfast before we started out but, nothing daunted, we were happy to have another one! The cafe chosen by our friend was called Ship Shape and it is located in an archway under the promenade. Our table was near the back where we discovered these shelves crammed with interesting objects, forming a true cabinet of curiosities.

Along the prom...
Along the prom…

Suitable (re)fortified, we walked east along the seafront to our next destination. Ramsgate is a delicious combination of the old and the modern but even the modern sometimes has a nostalgically retro feel to it as in the frontage shown above. The tower on the right of the photo is the cliff lift.

Entrance to the Ramsgate Tunnels
Entrance to the Ramsgate Tunnels

This was our destination. It may look like a building site or a works of some kind but it is in fact more interesting than that. The Ramsgate Tunnels are a network of passages dug through the rock. They can be visited but to do so you must join one of the tours and at weekends and bank holidays all available places are quickly taken up.

The first and largest tunnel was dug in the 1860s by the Kent Coast Railway as a way through to Ramsgate Harbour Station. The line was later taken over by the London Chatham & Dover Railway and then by the South Eastern & Chatham Railway but closed in 1926. The tunnel was closed and, as far as anyone knew, would never be used again. But then along came Adolf Hitler and war was declared with Germany.

First glimpse: the main railway tunnel
First glimpse: the main railway tunnel
Lines of soot from the locomotives’ chimneys are still visible

In what turned out to be a far-sighted move (though many at the time criticised it as wasting money on a facility that would never be used) the council decided to develop the tunnel as a large-scale air raid shelter. It was modified for this purpose and extra tunnels were bored in order to provide entrances to the shelter at various points in town. After the uncertainty of the ‘Phony War’ period, Ramsgate found itself a regular target of Luftwaffe bombers. On hearing air raid warnings, people hurried into the tunnels where they would be safe. As bombing intensified, many took up semi-permanent residence in the tunnels.

Listen carefully... and mind your head
Listen carefully… and mind your head
Hard hats supplied

You pay the admission charge (£5 for an adult) and your name is added to the next tour that still has places available. When your time comes you are given a hard hat to wear as some of the tunnels are low and that, together with irregularities and outcrops makes it very easy for you to bump your head. You are taken along a route by a tour guide who stops at intervals to explain features and recount episodes in the history of life in the tunnel during wartime.

One of the narrower tunnels
One of the narrower tunnels

If you suffer from claustrophobia, this may not be an ideal place for you to visit. The tunnels are far underground and there is limited access: however far you go, you have to return by the same route. Some of the tunnels are quite low (in some sections I had bend to get along) and you have to pack together to listen when the guide is speaking.

One of the in-town entrances
One of the in-town entrances

Entrances to the tunnels were made in various places in town so that when an air raid occurred people in the streets could quickly gain shelter. Because the tunnels are underground, they would have to go down a flight of steps rather like entering the London Underground.

The tunnels are lit by electricity as they were when in use as shelters. Because of the disruption caused by bombing, the lighting could fail. As well as a hard hats, visitors are given battery operated lanterns, one between two of you. In order to demonstrate the effect of a failure of the lighting, we were at one point asked to extinguish our lanterns and the lights were turned off. For a few minutes, we remained in complete darkness as there was not even the slightest glow from anywhere.

The facilities were Spartan...
The facilities were Spartan…

Despite the care taken by the council to provide the necessary facilities, conditions were somewhat Spartan. At intervals along the passages alcoves were cut in the wall to accommodate toilet buckets. These would presumably be primed with Elsan fluid or something comparable. There would have been a modesty curtain also but no lockable door. Perhaps you were expected to sing or recite poetry to indicate your occupation of the toilet.

Family home, tunnel style
Family home, tunnel style

As the intensity of bombing increased, people found themselves spending long periods underground so they would bring furniture and useful items to make the long stay more bearable and to provide an element of privacy for themselves and the family group. The photo shows a mock-up of a typical underground home from home.

The council’s foresight undoubtedly saved many lives. It’s of course impossible to say how many but the scale of destruction of homes and workplaces suggests that without the tunnel shelter very many more lives would have been lost. Those who asserted that the scheme was a waste of money no doubt changed their minds when the bombing started and took shelter along with their fellow citizens.

Not many people on the beach
Not many people on the beach

We now walked back the way we had come to where our friend had parked his car and to travel by this means to our next destination. Though the weather was dry and bright, the temperature was not conducive to disporting oneself in a state of undress and even less to braving the cold waters of the Channel. In consequence, there were few people on the beach and those that were there were warmly dressed.

The Custom House
The Custom House
Now a coffee house

As we went, I admired some of the buildings which, though now familiar to me, still hold their attraction. This is the Custom House, built in 1893-4 and now Grade II listed. No longer required for its original purpose, it is now a coffee house.

The Queen's Head
The Queen’s Head

Though not listed, this Victorian pub, the Queen’s Head, has a charm all of its own. These buildings were designed by architects who deserve that name and who were concerned to create beautiful structures unlike those of today who care only to think up ghastly structures that impress the soulless corporates who finance them but degrade the environment for those of us who have to live in their shadow.

The Bell Inn, Minster
The Bell Inn, Minster

Our next stopping place was the quiet and neat village of Minster or Minster-in-Thanet, to give it is full title. in 597, Augustine of Canterbury landed at nearby Ebbsfleet, which was then part of the parish of Minster, though what Minster was then called I do not know because it really began, as its name suggests, with the founding of a monastic settlement in 670. The Bell Inn was first built in the 16th century and, despite being “reclad mid C19 and extended” (English Heritage), still contains enough fascinating and historic features to have attracted a Grade II listing.

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Minster
Church of St Mary the Virgin, Minster
‘The Cathedral on the marshes’

Undoubtedly, the jewel in Minster’s crown is the Church of St Mary the Virgin. It is so large and elaborate that it has come to be called ‘the Cathedral on the marshes’. A church was first built here in 670 both to serve the monastery and to act as the parish church. The original church was eventually replaced with what developed into the one we know and admire today. The oldest remaining parts of it date from Norman times.

Church tower
Church tower
Incorporating a Saxon watch tower

Minster is now well inland but when the Norman church first stood, the sea would have come up to its boundary wall. That may explain a strange feature of the tower. From the photo you can probably see a smaller tower that has been incorporated into it (see the centre of the photo). This is thought to have originally been a Saxon watch tower, perhaps set up to observe comings and goings on the sea.

The nave
The nave

The church is quite large (do they ever manage to fill it these days?) but, apart from that, seems a pretty standard old parish church.

Stained glass window Stained glass window
Stained glass windows

It has a number of stained glass windows of which I show just two…

15th-century misericords
15th-century misericords

…and is famous for its 15th-century misericords, 18 in number. Misericords, also known as mercy seats, were sometimes installed in churches where people had to stand for long periods of time during services. Each consists of a short shelf on which a person could perch, rather than sit, to take the weight of his feet while still seeming to be standing.

Medieval muniment chest
Medieval muniment chest
The lid and box are of different ages

Preserved in the church is a medieval muniment chest. In a somewhat dilapidated state now, it is obviously of a venerable age. Protected and strengthened by iron hoops it still possesses the important three locks. Such chests are not uncommon and look back to an age when storing parish records and perhaps other valuables posed a problem: who was to be trusted with the key? The answer was to have three separate locks, each with a different key, and to give a key to each of three parish officers. Thus the chest could be opened only in the presence of all three. Did that prevent theft and fraud? Who can tell…? This chest is something of a mongrel because box and lid are of different materials (elm and oak, respectively) and the lid is older than the box. Perhaps the box was broken (did someone attempt to steal from it?) and a new one had to be made to the same specifications to replace it. (It might be interesting to test the locks for age to see whether they are the originals that go with the hasps on the lid.)

St John's Cemetery Margate
St John’s Cemetery Margate

After a pause for refreshment at a local inn, we got into the car again and sped off towards Margate to visit a slightly schizophrenic graveyard. I describe it thus because is sometimes referred to as St John’s Cemetery and at other times as Margate Cemetery. Or are there two cemeteries that have fused together? I do not know. This graveyard opened, I believe, in 1856, though it looks a lot older. It has been well used so that one’s first impression upon seeing it is that the graves are scattered about in confusion. There are rows but then they are interrupted and graves appear to have been slotted in wherever space could be found.

John Sanger's grave
John Sanger’s grave, c.1889

We were in fact looking for a specific grave and, happily, because of its unusual nature, it was not hard to discover. The five members of the Sanger family are present in the group of graves but the equine memorial celebrates John Sanger, known also as “Lord” John, a circus proprietor. Mr Sanger, or ‘Lord John’, departed this life in 1889, aged 74 years.

John Sanger's memorial, detail
John Sanger’s memorial, detail

John Sanger was no doubt an admirable fellow (though, not knowing him, I stand to be corrected on that score), but what we had come to admire was the memorial and in particular, the horse atop it. There cannot be many, if any, graves that give such prominence to a member of the equine species.

The horse
The horse

The horse hangs his head and looks sad which, I suppose, is fitting for a horse on top of a tomb. Is he (and ‘he’ is the correct pronoun as is made clear by the depiction of the horse’s anatomy) a particular horse or a generic horse, representing circus horses or indeed circuses themselves? Whatever the answer, it hardly matters and English Heritage has decided that the tomb is fine enough and historically interesting enough to be awarded a Grade II listing. How could I not concur?

Another fine monument
Another fine monument

As for quality of artistry and workmanship, John Sanger’s tomb is not alone. Others nearby showed an equal merit, for example the one I show above, done in exquisite detail and finely worked. None, though, quite matched that of John Sanger which, I think, carries the day for showmanship and pizzazz, if one may use that word of a Victorian circus entrepreneur.

Time, however, was getting on. Our train would depart from Ramsgate and here we were in the outer reaches of Margate. Happily our friend could transport us in his car and duly did so. Having taken our leave of him, Tigger and I barely had time to draw breath before hurrying to the platform where our sleek blue conveyance awaited and soon whisked us back to the nosy embrace of London.

Cemetery chapel
Cemetery chapel
Margate Cemetery

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Three sculptures on Sunday

Sunday, April 5th 2015

Having spent the day out of town yesterday, we took things easy this morning, treating ourselves to a leisurely breakfast at Pret before dragging the shopping trolley round to Sainsbury’s. The shopping done, we returned home to put it all away and consider our next move.

Comptoir Libanais
Comptoir Libanais
Fine for a light lunch

By the time we had considered, time was getting on. More precisely, lunchtime was getting on. So we jumped on a bus and soon found ourselves in Wigmore Street and reading the menu of Comptoir Libanais. Many Lebanese dishes are suitable for vegetarians and we had no difficulty in choosing our lunch.

Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral
Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral
The Holy Family in Exile

After lunch we plunged into deepest Mayfair and in due course found ourselves admiring this obviously ecclesiastical building on the corner of Duke Street and Weighhouse Street. It turns out that it was designed by Alfred Waterhouse in 1891 and was intended as a Congregational church called King’s Weigh House for reasons that I won’t go into but that you can discover if you so wish by consulting this Wikipedia page. The Congregationalists sold it in 1967 to the Ukrainian Catholic community who renamed it the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Family in Exile. More about its story here.

However, something even more interesting (to me, at least) lies across the road. To explain what it is, let’s begin with a picture.

Brown Hart Gardens
Brown Hart Gardens
A raised park

Opposite the church was a large doorway, one of a pair, which I shall come to later, flanked on either side by steep steps. Whatever they led to was obviously public so we climbed the stairs to take a look. The above picture shows, in part, what we found: a sort of suspended park. It is paved but supplied with planters to add greenery and a park-like feel, and benches. But why would anyone construct a park like this, on the first floor, as it were?

One of the pair of massive doors
One of the pair of massive doors

I could not guess the purpose and reason for the doors and the suspended park and had to research the matter on returning home. As usual, the Web made it easy to find the answer and in particular, Wikipedia’s Brown Hart Gardens article which furnishes the following succinct explanation:

The gardens began life as the Duke Street Gardens where a communal garden was laid for what were then working class dwellings in Brown Street and Hart Street.

In 1902 the building of the Duke Street Electricity Substation led to the removal of the street level gardens. The substation was completed in 1905 to the design of C. Stanley Peach in a Baroque style from Portland stone featuring a pavilion and steps at either end, a balustrade and Diocletian windows along the sides to light the galleries of the engine rooms, and deep basements.

In order to compensate local residents for the loss of the old communal garden, the Duke of Westminster insisted that a paved Italian garden featuring trees in tubs be placed on top of the substation.

Marble Arch
Marble Arch
John Nash, 1828

We next found ourselves at Marble Arch, this name designating both the Arch itself and the district in which it finds itself. Passing this way after our last visit to Paris (see Paris 2008), I jokingly remarked to Tigger that this famous landmark looked like an architect’s model for the Arc de Triomphe. In fact, the opposite is true. When John Nash designed the Arch in 1828, as the intended forecourt entrance to Buckingham Palace, he looked to the Arc de Triomphe for inspiration. In 1851, the supposed gate was moved to what was then the north-east corner of Hyde Park. Since then, the piece of land containing the Arch has become separated from the park, leaving our Arch like an orphan stranded on an island surrounded with ever- busy roads.

Feeding the pigeons at Marble Arch
Feeding the pigeons at Marble Arch

Despite this relative isolation, the small park beset by the roar of traffic is quite popular and there are always plenty of people here, strolling, standing chatting, sitting on benches, lolling on the grass or, as above, feeding the pigeons. Since the feeding of pigeons has been banned from Trafalgar Square, Marble Arch seems to have taken over its role to judge from the number of avian diners ready to gather at the toss of a crust.

Marble Arch and its park
Marble Arch and its park

The above broader view of Marble Arch and its park shows what is for me and for many people, the island’s favourite inhabitant, the giant sculpture of a horse’s head. Below is a closer view and if you click on it, you will see a slideshow of the sculpture from various angles.

Still Water
Still Water
Nic Fiddian-Green, 2011
Click to see the slide show

This  remarkable piece – remarkable, I think, for its beauty as much as for its size – represents a horse taking a drink. Only the head is present but I think the observer’s mind imagines the whole horse and, if it were present, what a sight that would be! The sculpture has become part of the scenery and people sit on the plinth or  run around it and play games beside it. Though this can be annoying for the photographer trying to obtain a clear view of the sculpture, it is also pleasing because it means that Still Water has become a familiar and accepted part of the scene.

From Marble Arch, we walked down Park Lane. This famous thoroughfare is a dual carriageway whose two streams of traffic are separated by a long, narrow strip of parkland. As far as I know, the public are not prohibited from entering this parkland but, because you need to cross one or other of two busy roads to reach it, you are usually alone there once you arrive. This parkland is crossed at intervals by roads and beside one of these, Upper Brook Street, a large sculpture has been installed.

Animals in War Memorial
Animals in War Memorial
David Backhouse, (unveiled) 2004

It is the Animals in War Memorial by David Backhouse and was unveiled in November 2004 as part of the programme of events in remembrance of the First World War. The memorial consists of a curving wall with a gap in it. There is a pair of animals on either side of the wall.

Laden
Laden

The memorial stands on sloping ground and the implied movement of the two pairs of animals is uphill. On the lower side of the wall, the two animals are heavily laden and look tired and dejected.

Unburdened
Unburdened

On the upper side – having made the transition through the gap, we suppose – the animals, here represented by a horse and a dog, are free and unburdened. The horse seems to be galloping joyfully though the dog is looking back as though waiting for someone or for instructions. Is he looking for his handler, killed in action?

I must admit to ambiguous feelings about this monument. I think the use of animals in war is a crime and I can find nothing noble in it. The animals that “served” in war were used and exploited in a cause they could not understand and subjected to horrendous suffering and death. If nothing else, the memorial should stand as a blot on the human conscience for our abuse of other species.

Memorials, we tell ourselves, exist so that we may honour those who suffered and gave their lives for a cause. A memorial represents our grief and our gratitude. But it can serve a less noble purpose, allowing us to think that, having built a memorial and conducted some ceremony in front of it, we have paid our debt to the dead and can now get on with our lives. I must admit to seeing something of that hypocrisy in the symbolism of this monument with its implications of the animals moving from the stress of war to freedom and happiness. Many real animals never made that transition but ended their lives in agony in the mud of the battlefield. Not that you’d guess that from looking at this memorial.

Our third sculpture was also on the central strip of Park Lane, further down at Stanhope Gate, and was installed by the Halcyon Gallery.

Harmony
Harmony
Lorenzo Quinn, (unveiled) 2014
Click to see a slide show

This shiny metal sculpture by Lorenzo Quinn is a reinterpretation of the familiar yin-yang symbol (for example, see here). It is entitled Harmony and was installed as a public sculpture by the Halcyon Gallery for a period of six months “and is part of the Westminster City Council public sculpture initiative, in cooperation with Transport for London” (see this page).

The two symbols usually appear tightly conjoined to express the Chinese philosophical contention of the inseparability and mutual balancing nature of yin and yang but here the artist has separated them and turned the flat forms into three-dimensional physical objects capable of supporting two seated human figures, a male below and a female above. Each of the figures holds a globe in their hands which are resting on their drawn-up knees. There is a little bit of trickery here because the smooth slippery surfaces would not in reality support a pair of seated figures as comfortably as shown. Considerable muscle tension would be required to hold those positions on that surface. I suppose, though, that I should not be so picky and should simply admire what is a harmonious configuration. In these times when we are besieged with non-representational and “abstract” forms, it is a relief to meet a sculpture which shows clearly what it is about and unashamedly depicts the human form. Hurrah for Lorenzo Quinn!

That ended today’s expedition and Harmony lightened my mood after the conflicting emotions aroused by the Animals in War Memorial. That, of course, is what art is about. Art should please and entertain us but it should also shock us and even offend us in order to make us think and to shake us out of our comfortable but often dim-witted assumptions.

Harmony (detail)
Harmony (detail)
Lorenzo Quinn, 2014

Copyright © 2015 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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Viewing Manet at Narch

Saturday, April 4th 2015

We undertook today’s trip to a Norfolk city in order to see the exhibition dedicated to the painter Manet that was being held there. Unfortunately (though not unexpectedly), photography was not allowed in the exhibition and so I am unable to show you any of the works that we saw. If you are wondering about the mysterious “Narch” cited in the title, this is how Tigger and I refer to the fine old town of Norwich since our stay there in September 2010. To know why we call it that, just listen to the name as pronounced by some of the locals. The exhibition was entitled Homage to Manet and was held in the Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, itself a picturesque setting.

Norwich Station
Norwich Station
Opened 1886

We reached Norwich (or “Narch”, if you prefer) by railway, emerging from the rather fine Victorian station. I understand that Norwich originally had three stations of which one was called Norwich Thorpe. Only the latter now survives and is today called simply “Norwich”. It opened for business in 1886 and is a beautiful example of its kind.

Norwich is on the Wensum
Norwich is on the Wensum

The River Wensum runs through Norwich, adding appeal to the city as well as being navigable and therefore useful. Various small craft are to be seen sailing along it or moored along the banks. The name is said to derive from Old English wandsum or wendsum, meaning “wandering”, in reference to its winding nature. (Compare this with the name of the Wantsum, a tributary of the Stour in Kent.) From the station, we crossed into the main part of town via the Foundry Bridge from which I took the above photo.

Victorian pillar box
Victorian pillar box
On the corner of St Faith’s Lane

We started up the long, sloping Prince of Wales Road, which contains a number of interesting old buildings, not least this pillar box that bears the royal cipher of Queen Victoria. It is situated on the corner of St Faith’s Lane and, for all I know, has sat there patiently since the days when that queen was on the throne. I don’t know when this model was made but it must be at least 114 years old. It is a tribute to the quality of Victorian manufacture that so many of these boxes are still in use.

The Railway Mission
The Railway Mission
Built 1901-3

This striking little building is the Norwich Railway Mission or, rather, the former Railway Mission. “Railway Mission” is the name of both the individual mission halls and of the organization which supports them. The Railway Mission was founded in 1881 to serve the railway industry and still exists today (see here for more information) but the Norwich Mission Hall today belongs to the Norwich Evangelical Free Church. The building itself, happily, is now Grade II listed.

Hardwick House
Hardwick House
From bank to Post Office to estate agent

Further up the road is another Grade II listed building with an impressive set of pillars in the front. It is a little hard to photograph because of the continual flow of traffic and pedestrians along the street but it is worth the effort. It is called Hardwick House after the architect who designed it, P.C. Hardwick. It was completed in 1866 as a bank, though I don’t know which one. It later became a Post Office, as declared at the top of the building just below the garlanded crown. At a date unknown to me it came down in the world and is now an estate agent’s office. It remains a handsome building of character.

Anglia House
Anglia House
Previously the Agricultural Hall

Further up the road is a substantial structure called Anglia House for no better reason than that it has been for some time the home of Anglia Television. Completed in 1882 and designed by J.B. Pearse, it was the city’s agricultural Hall and has received a Grade II listing.

Approaching the Castle
Approaching the Castle

We took a refreshment break at the Castle Mall shopping centre and then, faithful to our original purpose walked up to the castle. In the above photo you see our first glimpse of it and, on the left, the glass skylights of the Mall which is built into the castle hill so that, even though it is several storeys high, its roof appears here, apparently at ground level. The castle is Norman and was originally built by William the Conqueror between 1066 and 1075 as a base for his campaign to subdue East Anglia.

The castle keep
The castle keep

The castle was a traditional motte and bailey structure and the castle keep – the part that survives today – stood atop a truly massive motte or hill. It too is huge. Today it has been turned very successfully into a museum and an art gallery has been added. This houses Norwich’s own collection of art and also hosts special exhibitions, such as the Homage to Manet that we had come to see.

One of the galleries
One of the galleries

There was an admission charge for the exhibition (£8.35 for an adult) but we were admitted on production of our National Art Passes. I have mentioned these before but it is worth reiterating that they allow you admission to many galleries and exhibitions either free or at reduced price so that if, like us, you pay a number of visits each year, they save you money.

As mentioned, photography was not allowed in the Manet exhibition but was allowed in the permanent collection. I am not all that keen on photographing paintings unless I find something particularly interesting and, to be honest, there was little here to really excite me. Instead, I concentrated on the sculpture and present a few examples here.

Bust of Lord Nelson
Bust of Lord Nelson
Peter Turnerelli c.1805

First is everyone’s favourite admiral (OK, not Napoleon’s favourite admiral, perhaps…), Lord Nelson. It is by the Irish-born sculptor Peter Turnrelli (c.1772-1839), a son of Italian refugees who made a successful career in his chosen profession. If you think that “Turnerelli” sounds a bit like a joke name concocted from English, you would be right. The family’s original name was Tognarelli but this was soon corrupted into the semi-anglicized form by which the artist is now known.

Jeremiah James Colman
Jeremiah James Colman
Thomas Brock, 1898

The name Colman immediately evokes that favourite hot, yellow condiment called mustard. Colman’s mustard began to be made in Norwich and its progenitor was Jeremiah Colman (1830-98) whose bust, by Thomas Brock, is shown above. As well as producing his tongue-tingling sauce, Jeremiah was a philanthropist, pioneer in social welfare and a generally good egg, fully deserving of a permanent remembrance in bronze.

The Babes in the Wood
The Babes in the Wood
John Bell, c.1842

This rather sentimental piece illustrates the end of the story of the Babes in the Wood who, far from living happily ever after, died and were buried in leaves by a compassionate robin. It is by the Norfolk sculptor John Bell who was very popular in the Victorian era. Indeed, Queen Victoria herself bought a copy of this sculpture.

Meleager the Hunter Meleager the Hunter
Meleager the Hunter
John Gibson, c.1847

This sculpture by John Gibson represents an adventure of the mythical Greek hero, Meleager the Hunter. He chased and killed a wild boar that had been damaging crops and being a general nuisance, but only after it had been wounded by Atalanta the Huntress. There’s a lot more to the story than that, of course, and if you really want to know the details you can look here. John Gibson (1790-1866) specialized in classical subjects and studied under Canova in Rome. An inscription incised into the base of Meleager the Hunter tells us (in Latin) that he sculpted it in Rome.

William Pitt the Younger
William Pitt the Younger
Joseph Nollekens, 1807

William Pitt the Younger is well known (at least to historians) but Joseph Nollekens (1737-1823) is today a less familiar name though he was greatly admired as a sculptor during his life. With regard to his bust of William Pitt the Younger, I think I can do no better than quote from the gallery’s label:

Pitt refused to sit for Nollekens when alive: as soon as Pitt died, Nollekens took a death mask from the Prime Minister’s face. Over the next decade his studio produced some eighty marble busts of Pitt.

Revenge is not only sweet but sometimes also lucrative…

A view from the castle keep
A view from the castle keep

The roof of the castle keep is accessible to visitors and from there you have splendid views over the town. I was tempted to make a complete panorama but that would probably have been overkill. I will include just two of the views I photographed, the photo above and the one below.

Another view from the castle keep
Another view from the castle keep

We had previously visited the castle museum which explains the castle’s history and gives insights into the Norman occupation so we skipped that this time. (See pictures and text in Norwich 2010.)

Viewing the keep from below
Viewing the keep from below

The quick way down to ground level is by taking the lift. The top of the lift is the glass cylinder you see on the right in the above photo. This piece of modern styling makes a delicious contrast with that of the 900-odd year old castle building. From here it glowers down at you, giving some hint of the menacing feeling that the Normans intended the castle to convey.

Gaol Hill
Gaol Hill

We walked to the centre and of course took a few photos along the way, including this view of Gaol Hill with the 15th-century guildhall in the centre, veiled by trees.

Wild Thyme vegetarian restaurant
Wild Thyme vegetarian restaurant

What we had in mind at this point was lunch. Happily, we knew a good place to go. It is a pure vegetarian restaurant called Wild Thyme. It has a good selection of dishes on the menu, with daily ‘specials’, and courteous table service. It is very popular and was crowded but we managed to find a table.

Wild Thyme
Wild Thyme in Labour in Vain Yard

Wild Thyme occupies the first floor of a building above the Rainbow wholefood retail outlet on the ground floor. It is situated in the picturesquely named Labour in Vain Yard. This yard has existed since at least the 16th century and possibly before. At one time a pub resided here which, after trying several names, adopted that of the Labour in Vain. The pub was leased to a succession of tenants by the Council but the latter came to regard the establishment as a nuisance. Accordingly, it ceased operating as a pub sometime in the later 19th century. The origin of the name of the yard seems not to be known.

Market and St Peter Mancroft
Market and St Peter Mancroft

This wide-angle view shows the market nestling in Market Place under the wing, so to speak, of the parish church. The market comprises about 200 permanent stalls (more like lightweight shops than stalls) and is open for business every day except Sunday. Like many ancient markets, this one grew up in the shadow of the Norman castle, part of the community that sprang up around  it.

Curch of St Peter Mancroft
Church of St Peter Mancroft
Dating “only” from the 15th century

The church above the market is known as St Peter Mancroft. It is a large and elaborate church that has attracted a Grade I listing for its architectural and historical importance. Compared with the market which dates from the 11th century, St Peter Mancroft is an upstart dating “only” from the 15th.

The Forum
The Forum
Norwich’s multipurpose centre

Facing the church with an intriguing contrast of styles is the Forum, opened in 2001 as a multipurpose centre which includes the public library among other facilities.

Before leaving the area, I wanted to visit my two favourite inhabitants.

Heraldic Lion
Heraldic Lion
One of a pair by Alfred Hardiman, 1936-8

The City Hall, with its impressive clock tower, was opened in 1938. Then as now, the steps leading to the entrance are flanked by a pair of bronze heraldic lions sculpted by Alfred Hardiman. I give a range of dates for their making because one is known to have been exhibited in 1936 though the pair appeared in their present position in 1938. It is said that the lions reflect the lion in the city’s coat of arms (see, for example, Heraldry of the World) but whereas that is boringly conventional, these are startlingly modern. Though stylized, they are elegant, proud and vigorous. The left forefoot posed upon a rock reminds me of the traditional pair of Chinese guardian lions which, male and female, each hold an object under a forefoot (see, for example, here).

It was time for us to return to the station and take the train back to London. My final photo was from the Foundry Bridge, this time looking north-east along the Wensum. The day had revealed some of Norwich’s treasures, though not all of them. More remain to be found on subsequent visits.

River Wensum from the Foundry Bridge
River Wensum from the Foundry Bridge

Copyright © 2015 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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Where am I?

Sunday, March 29th 2015

When I awoke this morning, for a moment I didn’t know where I was. I floated for a few seconds in what seemed to be a non-geographical space, an unidentified place… somewhere. This lasted only a few seconds before I knew I was at home in bed with the big window of our bedroom dimly outlined by morning light seeping around the heavy curtains. Everything was familiar but there was something missing – the slight weight of a sleeping cat against my ankles. That would be the first job of the day, to bring Freya home.

The Eurostar had slid into St Pancras Station at 16:39 yesterday afternoon and a few minutes later we had boarded a number 73 bus to complete the journey home. We had spent the rest of the day at home, unpacking, uploading photos and unwinding. Today we would have to get back into the groove of our usual life.

Tigger said she would accompany me as far as Liverpool Street Station. If we left in good time, we could have breakfast there before I took the train to Chingford. Disruption to bus services owing to building work for the Crossrail project has had one benefit: on its altered route, the number 205 bus takes us from a stop a few yards from our front door to a stop just opposite the station. That is especially useful on the return trip when I am carrying a heavy cat in a basket.

Right next to the station is a Wetherspoons pub that opens in the morning to serve breakfast. That is where Tigger was hoping to go because they serve a full cooked vegetarian breakfast. Unfortunately, it turned out that on Sundays they opened too late for us so, instead, we went back across the road to the Polo 24-Hour Bar and had breakfast there. It is a tiny cafe and was quite busy but we managed to find a table.

I was going to take the 10:33 train to Chingford and by the time we had eaten and paid the bill, there was still about an hour to go. What should we do in the meantime? In the end, we took the lazy way out and went to Starbuck’s! It’s as good a place as any to spend a little time waiting as long as you choose your drink carefully. Some time ago Starbuck’s coffee changed for the worse – in my opinion, at least – and I therefore prefer to drink something else, usually hot chocolate. Unfortunately, the name is a misnomer: it is never actually hot. It’s lukewarm at best. I don’t know why this is so but it spoils what could be a pleasantly warming drink on a cold day.

At the appointed time, I went to catch my train, leaving Tigger in Starbuck’s where we would meet her on the way back. The Chingford train is a shuttle service that runs every 15 minutes. The train is usually composed of old rolling stock and there are no toilets on board as the entire journey takes less than half an hour and there are eight stops along the way. The sixth one is called Wood Street and when we arrive here I call the cattery which then sends a car to meet me at Chingford station. The time it takes for the train to travel from Wood Street to Chingford is about the same as it takes a car to run from the cattery to Chingford Station.

When the car arrives, either Freya is aboard or she is not. If she is not, it means that she is in a bad temper and in that case they prefer to not handle her lest she react violently. It’s hard for me imagine the affectionate, docile creature that I know being violent but the cattery people are honest folk who care about their charges and I therefore believe what they say. Today was such a day and so I packed myself as best I could into the passenger set of the Smart Car (unless you are less than average height, getting into a Smart Car feels like getting into a coffin a couple of sizes too small for you) and was ferried to the house.

I arrived at the cattery and found Freya curled up in a basket. When she saw me, she clicked at me. This has become her personal greeting to me, a sound like the gee-up tongue-click people make to horses. My previous cat would get into the basket of her own accord to go home but Freya doesn’t do this. She just lies there looking balefully around, perhaps to let me know how much she dislikes being there. I scooped her up and plonked her in the carrying cage. We squeezed into the Smart Car – and this time I had a cat basket on my lap – for the return to Chingford Station.

Unfortunately, a cat in a basket acts like a magnet for self-styled cat lovers. They have to come and poke their fingers between the bars, telling you how much they love cats and how many they have a home. Tell them they are making the cat nervous and they ignore you. They don’t listen or, if they do, tell you they “have a way with cats”. For this reason, I usually sit right at the back of the last carriage on the train because I have worked out that on this route, most people get on at the front and in the middle of the train. Today, however, I got into the front carriage to be near the exit at Liverpool Street. I assumed that on a Sunday, there wouldn’t be many people boarding the train.

Mistake.

At the second stop, some people entered our carriage and I soon noticed a woman sitting across from us. She was staring at Freya in between trying to make eye contact with me. After a few minutes, she came and sat next to me and from then on engaged in an endless dialogue about cats – how she loved them, how she had one, how pretty Freya was, etc – while poking her fingers into the cage and showing me photos of her own cat. If this attention had distressed Freya, I would have moved elsewhere or got off the train but Freya ignored the woman, apparently considering her no threat. At last, the intruder left the train and between Bethnal Green and Liverpool Street, we could relax and recover our aplomb.

At Liverpool Street Station we were reunited with Tigger and made our way to the bus stop where we caught a 205 for home.

When we arrive home, I always put the cage on the floor and open it, leaving Freya to come out of her own accord. She must know that she is home by the sight and smell of the place but even so she always hesitates. She looks around carefully, rather like a tank commander cautiously raising his head out of a tank turret, before finally jumping out and taking possession of her domain.

Copyright © 2015 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

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Strasbourg 2015 – First day

Wednesday, March 25th 2015

Preface

You may or may not have guessed from the clues that I gave you in We’re off to S… that our destination is the ancient city of Strasbourg in the Alsace region of France. I had been there on numerous occasions in the past but not for a couple of decades. Tigger had never been there and while the city would be entirely new for her, I expected that much would have changed for me.

The modern name of the city is Strasbourg in French and Straßburg (Strassburg) in German. Today, it is a French city but one that retains its own unique character, derived partly from its history (see below) but also from the character of the people of the Alsace region to which it belongs. Alsace is a land of small farms, vineyards and forest. The Vosges, a low range of pine-forested mountains, offer fine walking, magnificent views and a peaceful tranquillity. Alsace is also a land of small towns and villages and even people who live in the towns often still have family in the villages and will serve you slightly cloudy wine or schnapps from bottles with hand-written labels.

Where Strasbourg spreads its mass today, the Romans built a fort called Argentoratum. The area was marshy from the local river called the Ill but the settlement thrived. By 1262 it was a free city in the Holy Roman Empire but in 1681 it was annexed by France because of its strategic importance. This is reflected in its name which is said to be formed from two particles, stras-, meaning ‘street’, and bourg, meaning a town or borough.

In the 18th century, Strasbourg became a major city and increased in wealth and importance. Though it suffered in the French Revolution, it recovered and developed in wealth and prestige during the the 19th century.

During the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), Strasbourg was annexed to become part of the new German Empire and remained German until the end of the First World War. With the fall of France to the German armies in 1940, Alsace, and Strasbourg within it, was once more made part of Germany until the Liberation in 1944. Today, it is the seat of the Council of Europe and of the European Court of Human Rights.

French is the official language of Alsace but alongside it a local dialect is spoken. This is characterized as a Low German dialect and is called Alsacien in French and Elsässisch in German. As with many local languages, the Alsatian dialect came under pressure in the 20th century, being regarded as the language of villagers and the ill-educated. It was threatened with extinction but has continued to survive and in modern times to experience a revival, though its future remains uncertain.


Our journey was to consist of two parts, the first by Eurostar from St Pancras to the Gare du Nord in Paris, and the second by TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse), France’s high-speed electric train service, from the Gare de l’Est in Paris to Strasbourg. We had booked our tickets online (it is the Modern Way, after all!) and would need to extract our travel documents from the machines at the station.

Our train was due to leave at 08:31 so we arrived at St Pancras good and early, knowing that there were formalities to complete. The first task was to have breakfast and for this we went across to King’s Cross Station and the Giraffe cafe-restaurant there. We ordered a solid breakfast, something that later turned out to be unnecessary, as I shall explain…

Back at St Pancras, we typed our reservation number into a ticket machine and inserted the credit card that we had used for payment. (This is to check that the person claiming the tickets is the rightful owner.) Then we made our way across the walkway to the Eurostar entry gates. Here, you present your ticket to an optical reader which checks it and, if satisfied, opens the gate for you to go through. Not everyone realizes that this is how the gates operate and there are no notices to enlighten you. You may, therefore, get stuck behind someone who needs convincing to present his ticket to the machine.

Once through the gate, you must queue to put your luggage, handbag, camera, coat, etc and any metal objects such a your belt, into trays which a conveyor belt transports through the X-ray machine. In addition, you have to walk through a detector gate which sounds an alarm if it detects anything suspicious. In that case, you are treated to an individual frisking by security personnel. When these security measures were introduced some years ago, they were greeted with a chorus of outrage and accusations of invasion of privacy but, today, people accept them as perfectly normal. I also noted that the security personnel directing operations did so quietly, politely and as unobtrusively as possible, in contrast to those in the airport in New York who had shouted at us and marshalled us as though we were convicts being transferred between jails.

Following the baggage inspection, we next had to show our passports to both French and UK officials. I wondered whether the officers of the French Police aux Frontières stay in London for a time or travel back to France on the last Eurostar service of the day. I will ask if ever I get the chance.

The baggage inspection is similar to what happens at airports. Similar too, is the way passengers are kept in a departure lounge until about 20 minutes before the train is due to depart. Apart from that, Eurostar travel is more comfortable and less fraught than air travel, which I cordially hate. Mind you, we did have a slight advantage: because of our long legs we had booked “Standard Premium” instead of plain “Standard” because this provides roomier seats and plenty of space for luggage. What we had overlooked is that Standard Premium passengers are served a meal, so we found ourselves eating a second breakfast! We could have saved time and money by skipping our visit to Giraffe, had we known.

The journey to the south coast was uneventful. We paused briefly at Ebbsfleet and then entered the Channel Tunnel. It takes about half an hour to travel through the tunnel but it always seems longer than that. Then, suddenly, you emerge into daylight and find yourself racing through the French countryside. Eurostar is a high-speed train but it doesn’t feel fast: you need to look at the terrain close to the track to gain an impression of how fast you are moving.

We had switched off our mobiles during the passage through the tunnel and now turned them on again. They latched onto the local network and we chose a new setting for the clock to bring it to French time. We accordingly shot forward through time by one hour.

I relaxed comfortably and alternately dozed and watched the view through the window. It was almost a disappointment to find ourselves entering Paris. I would have been happy to continue my high-speed relaxing for a while longer!

Gare de l'Est
Gare de l’Est

We left the train and crossed through the Gare du Nord to make our connection for the next part of the journey. On our last visit to Paris (see Paris 2008) we stayed in a hotel very close to the Gare du Nord and therefore know the area. We knew that the Gare de l’Est is but a short walk away.

Gare de l'Est
Gare de l’Est

We had about an hour to wait for our train to Strasbourg but didn’t feel like roaming around with our bags so we sat and waited. When the platform for our train was announced, we went aboard and found our reserved seats. Then came the announcement: owing to “technical problems”, this train was being withdrawn from service and we must transfer to another train on platform 1. It is not only in Britain, then, that such things happen, though whether this is reassuring or depressing I am not sure.

Disembarking at Strasbourg
Disembarking at Strasbourg

When we reached Strasbourg, we left the station and looked for the taxi rank. Our hotel – with the imposing name Ibis Strasbourg Centre Ponts Couverts – wasn’t all that far away but in order to find it for the first time and with bags to carry, taking a taxi seemed a good idea.

Gare de Strasbourg
Gare de Strasbourg

Our taxi driver was somewhat taciturn and unreactive, so much so that I wasn’t sure he had understood where we wanted to go. It seems that he had understood (and he cheered up later when I gave him a tip – though he had done little to deserve one) and conducted us safely to our destination.

Ibis Strasbourg Centre Ponts Couverts
Ibis Strasbourg Centre Ponts Couverts
Big name, small room

The hotel is large and of a fairly imposing design but when we reached our room, we found this to be tiny. The bathroom was like a cupboard and the “wardrobe” was a space behind a partition, barely deep enough to hang three garments. Fortunately, we were not intending to spend much time in the room.

Street view near the hotel
Street view near the hotel
Note the tram

After arranging things in our room and making a cup of tea, we set out on foot for a first look around. Strasbourg has a modern tram system and this interested us as a possible way to get around. We soon discovered that there was a tram stop close to the hotel and that one could catch a tram to the station – this would be useful on our last day when we needed to go to the station with our bags.

Strasbourg Station (part)
Strasbourg Station (part)

We returned to the station because we had seen a tourist information office there and wanted to know whether Strasbourg had anything like Lille’s City Pass (see Lille 2014) providing travel on public transport and admission to museums and galleries. We discovered that there is no combined pass like that in Lille but that there is a Strasbourg Pass, costing €16.90 which allows free or reduced admission to a number of important galleries, museums and other attractions, such as the Astronomical Clock in the Cathedral.

Strasbourg Station, main concourse
Strasbourg Station, main concourse

Strasbourg Station is very big and very beautiful. It was built between 1878 and 1883, when Strasbourg was part of Germany. (The photo above is a composite made from several shots and I have left the curly edges rather than trim them and lose parts of the picture.)

Strasbourg Station, interior
Strasbourg Station, interior

With its noise and bustle, its shops and restaurants, ticket offices, waiting rooms and offices, the station is like a small town and is very busy. Though it is big, it is not too big, considering the amount of traffic that passes through it.

The glass canopy from inside
The glass canopy from inside

A glass canopy has been added to the front of the station. This provides a second concourse and expands the area protected from the weather. The façade that was once the outer face of the station is now an interior wall.

The station canopy from outside
The station canopy from outside

The above photo shows the glass canopy from outside. As it is a composite picture, the curvature is somewhat exaggerated but if you allow for that it gives a good impression of the structure. While the canopy could be criticised for obscuring the original station façade, it does at least protect that from the elements and we can see still it (and photograph it!) inside the canopy.

The Ill from Rue du Maire Kuss
The Ill from Rue du Maire Kuss
Looking south-west(ish)

Strasbourg is quite a watery place as this map centred on Place Kléber shows. The river that flows through it, the Ill, splits into several branches and there is also a canal.

The Ill from Rue du Maire Kuss
The Ill from Rue du Maire Kuss
Looking north-east(ish)

There are therefore many bridges and many traces of warehouses and factories that once relied on the river for transport or for water. The above two photos were taken looking in opposite directions from the bridge that carries the Rue du Maire Kuss over the river. If the bridge has a separate name, I was unable to discover it.

Saint Pierre-le-Vieux
Saint Pierre-le-Vieux
Schizophrenic church

We came across this church and were intrigued by it. It is called Saint Pierre-le-Vieux (St Peter-the-Old) apparently to distinguish it from two other churches dedicated to St Peter, Saint Pierre-le-Jeune (St Peter-the-Young) and Saint Pierre-le-Jeune Catholique. What struck us was that Saint Pierre-le-Vieux seems to consist of two churches stuck together, one Catholic and the other Protestant. Piecing the story together is quite difficult owing to the paucity of information and the brevity of sources (see, for example, this French Wikipedia article).

Main door, Saint Pierre-le-Vieux
Main door, Saint Pierre-le-Vieux

The building visible from the street and shown in the above photos was added in the 19th century but the original church was built in the 12th century and was, of course, Catholic. During the Reformation, Strasbourg became a Lutheran city and Saint Pierre was converted to Lutheranism. When Strasbourg was taken over by the French, King Louis XIV decreed that the church be divided by a wall so that both Catholics and Protestants could use it but in separate parts. We could not go into the church and see for ourselves but I understand that this schizophrenic arrangement still obtains though a door was made in the dividing wall in 2012.

Maison des Tanneurs, Petite France
Maison des Tanneurs, Petite France

As mentioned in my Preface, there are many old buildings in Strasbourg, mostly well preserved and still in use. A good place to see examples is the part of the city known as Petite France (Little France). The half-timbered houses in the picture date from the 16th century and the large one on the right has a special feature. The presence of water made this district a good one for tanners and the building is called La Maison des Tanneurs (Tanners’ House). You may be able to see that the roof is not smooth and continuous as is usually the case. In several places there are openings. These were made to allow the circulation of air for drying the skins being worked by the tanners. The noisome tanneries are long gone, happily, but their buildings remain and serve other purposes.

L'écluse
L’écluse

The river Ill was once use for transport and wharfs and landing stages are still to be found along it, though only pleasure craft sail upon it today. Changes in level necessitate locks (écluse, in French) and the Petite France lock is shown above.

After this burst of activity, we decided to return to the hotel to rest, make tea and think about what to do next. One important thing-to-do-next was to have supper and so, as darkness fell, we ventured forth once again, this time in search of food.

The city at night
The city at night

Like most cities, Strasbourg is transformed at night. The lights illumine but they also obscure. Some features are revealed in all their glory and others disappear in deepest shadow. We quickly discovered two things that affect the diner especially the vegetarian diner.

They look open but may not be
They look open but may not be

The first is that, unlike London where you can get a meal at any time during the day, in Strasbourg there are fixed meal times and outside those hours, restaurants will not serve food. As the magical hour of dinner approaches, restaurants may look open but if you go in they will tell you they are not yet serving. The implication is “Go away and come back later.” The second is that Strasbourg is a meat-eaters paradise and makes minimal efforts to cater for vegetarians. A few restaurants offer a vegetarian dish on the menu, most do not. To be fair, though, I think this is a general problem in France, not just in Strasbourg. On the other hand, Strasbourg does loudly boast of its facilities for tourists and should therefore cater better for vegetarians.

We settled for a pizza
We settled for a pizza

After what seemed hours of wandering and reading menus, we settled for a small restaurant that served pizzas. It was a family-run business and we were the only diners. (It was still not quite the official dinner hour.) Service was polite and friendly and the food reasonably good.

Maison des Tanneurs at night
Maison des Tanneurs at night

Our search for food had brought us back to Petite France. allowing us a night-time view of some of the sights we had seen in daylight. In the above photo, the roof openings in the Maison des Tanneurs are easily visible.

L'écluse at night
L’écluse

At night, the lock is dark and somewhat sinister, filled with black water. You can hear the water rushing through the sluices and you would not want to fall into the eddying currents.

The Lohkäs, a typical bar-restaurant
The Lohkäs, a typical bar-restaurant

On previous visits to Strasbourg I had visited a bar-restaurant called the Lohkäs and had thought I might take Tigger there as it is a typical example of its kind. In fact, I failed to see it until I went through my pictures and found I had photographed it! The name, incidentally, goes back to the times when tanners were at work in this district. The restaurant’s own explanation reads as follows:

The name Lohkäs comes from the profession of the tanners, especially developed in this quarter of Strasbourg. The craftsmen used the vegetable tanning which is composed of oak’s bark and chestnut’s skin. When the residue which was used to tan the leather didn’t contain enough tannin, it was dried in a cheese mould and sold as fuel to many families of Strasbourg. This product is called lohkäs and was sold by the Lohkästreppler.

Water and lights
Water and lights

Having eaten, we roamed around for a while because everywhere we looked were picturesque sights that demanded to be photographed. The combination of water and lights is always fascinating.

River and mill race
River and mill race

This picture shows another important use of the river in the past: as a source of motive power through water mills. In the left background to can see the mill race of one of the old mills. Whether it was used for grinding flour or for some other purpose I do not know. The mills in town are no longer used and simply add interest to the scenery.

Distant view of the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain
Distant view of the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain

The coloured panels in the above photo belong to the Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain (Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art). This is very near our hotel and it therefore serves as a very useful beacon by which we can find our way back to the hotel at the end of the day! And that is where we headed now, having clocked up quite a few miles since our (first) breakfast at Giraffe, King’s Cross, this morning.

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