Another damp Saturday

Saturday, November 28th 2015

It was, as the title says, another damp (and cold) Saturday. We had a couple of things to do, as I shall explain, but we were seriously in need of cheering up. What better way of getting off on a cheerful note than to have a good breakfast, cooked and served by someone else?

We plumped for Giraffe inside King’s Cross Station, as we had eaten here on several previous occasions. You may know your local Giraffe as a restaurant where you are shown to a table and the waiter comes and takes your order. The King’s Cross branch is a little different. You queue at the counter, give your order, pay and receive a number on a stand which you place on your table when you eventually find one.

Tigger chose raspberry and banana porridge and scrambled eggs on toast while I plumped for the Vegetarian Breakfast. I have had this before but today it was disappointing. It was barely warm and the fried eggs were solid. I don’t think we will be coming here again, not for a while, anyway.

If breakfast had failed to lighten the mood, would our other activities do so? The first of these was a visit to the British Library to explore their Alice in Wonderland exhibition.

Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) wrote both literary and mathematical books, all of them unusual and fascinating, but is chiefly known for his novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and, to a lesser degree, its sequel Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. Carroll belongs to that group of writers who, though writing for children, produce books that adults can also read with pleasure. Alice was first published 150 years ago – the exhibition commemorates this anniversary – and has remained popular ever since. Though very much a creation of the Victorian era, these books have a timeless quality about them and remain as immediate to the reader as when they first emerged from the printing press.

The books, though, are one thing, and the exhibition is another. Was it any good? Firstly, I have to tell you that photography was not allowed and so I cannot show you any pictures. As we approached the exhibition, I saw that it contained a number of large boards, displaying information and quotations. I consider this is a bad sign in an exhibition as it often means that the exhibits lack visual appeal and the boards are there to give you something to look at. So it was here.

To be fair, it must be difficult to mount an exhibition on the theme of Alice in Wonderland. After all, what is there except a few manuscripts and some odd items of memorabilia? Not a lot, really. I think we spent more time in the exhibition shop than in the exhibition itself.

We took a bus to Somerset House, the setting of our next exhibition. First, we warmed ourselves up with a cup of tea which we drank seated on a comfortable settee in the main entrance hall. I like Somerset House; it’s always busy but it is a friendly sort of busy-ness and there is a pleasant atmosphere to the place. Thus fortified, we proceeded to view TINTIN: Hergé’s masterpiece. Admission was free but photography was not allowed.

Hergé’s hero, a young and determined reporter rejoicing in the name of Tintin, surely needs no introduction. He first appeared in 1929 in a strip cartoon version of his adventures in Le Petit Vingtième (‘The Little Twentieth’), a weekly supplement for young people of the newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle (‘The Twentieth Century’). Tintin eventually escaped from these rather narrow accommodations and his adventures have been circulated in books, films and TV programmes ever since. As in the case of Alice, the stories of Tintin, though intended for young people, are also read with enjoyment by grownups.

I liked this exhibition more than the one on Alice but that is perhaps because I like Tintin more than I like Alice. I admit to prejudice. There were original drawings and layouts from Le Petit Vingtième, and models of scenes from the stories. There were looping videos and large-scale reproductions of Hergé’s pictures. As with Alice, there were information panels but they didn’t bother me as much as those in the British Library had, though I know that is unfair. Curiously, there were a number of small green panels entirely in French and without translations.

Hergé (the penname of Georges Prosper Remi, 1907-83) was born and brought up in Brussels and wrote in French. His stories of Tintin really need to be read in French to get their full flavour but they have been translated into 70 languages. Graced with an array of eccentric characters, the stories combine drama and humour to narrate the exciting adventures of the intrepid young reporter and his canine ally, Milou. Each generation of children discovers Tintin anew.

Brasserie Boulevard
Brasserie Boulevard

From the Strand, we walked into Covent Garden, looking for somewhere to have lunch. Coming from the Tintin exhibition, we perhaps unconsciously chose a restaurant with a French name, Boulevard.

Silver Reindeer, Covent Garden
Silver Reindeer
Kitsch in Covent Garden

Covent Garden was once the home of London’s wholesale fruit and vegetable market. The market moved out to Nine Elms, leaving the handsome building to find new use. It now accommodates a set of up-market boutiques, a pub and some restaurants. As Christmas approaches the whole has been tricked out in seasonal decorations.

A large silver reindeer forms a centrepiece of the pretentiously named Piazza. This piece of kitsch perhaps refers to the live reindeer that have been brought in for ‘petting’ by the public, to much criticism from animal welfare organizations.

'Deck the halls...'
‘Deck the halls…’

In the main aisle, the lights, with their white globes, have been disguised as sprigs of giant mistletoe.

Under the mistletoe
Under the mistletoe

‘Oh, look,’ said Tigger. ‘We’re under the mistletoe.’ So we were, and I leave it to your imagination what happened next Smile

Copyright © 2015 SilverTiger,, All rights reserved.


About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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6 Responses to Another damp Saturday

  1. Shannon says:

    Though I can think of several valid reasons for disallowing photography at exhibitions, I can’t help but feel that it’s a shame. Not only because you don’t get to capture your memories of the event, but also because (selfishly) I don’t get the little glimpses into the places you’ve visited! 🙂

    I’ve always loved Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (and its sequel). I’m not familiar with Tintin, though I have definitely heard of him. I’m not sure why I’ve never taken the time to get to know him, but I think perhaps I might now. It is a real delight when you find books and authors who survive time. (And aging).

    That’s some huge mistletoe decorating the lighting. A nice excuse for large amounts of affection. 🙂

    • SilverTiger says:

      Public museums and art galleries in the UK usually allow photography (without flash) of their own holdings but when they mount exhibitions, these often contain materials lent by other individuals and institutions who may have stricter rules with regard to copyright. The museum or gallery has to honour that.

      Alice is great fun. As well as telling a story that amuses children (and adults), it also explores some of the paradoxes and logical problems that Carroll pursues in his non-fiction books.

  2. WOL says:

    The Alice books are particular favorites especially the fabulous John Tinniel illustrations. My copies are facsimiles of the first editions with the original Tinniel illustrations. They are also “annotated” with footnotes which explain things a modern reader unfamiliar with Victorian culture might not know, like the dormouse in the teapot thing. I actually was exposed to Disney’s version first, and didn’t actually read the books until I was in my teens. The books were way better. Disney played fast and loose with those other great Victorian children’s classics — Pooh and company and The Wind in the Willows, too. The “Disneyfication” of those wonderful books was a travesty. Disney reduced a lot of the humor and charm to simple mania and silliness.

    I’m not familiar with TinTin, but I am a big fan of that other great Belgian cartoon strip, Asterix,which I discovered when I lived in Germany in the 1970s. I love a good, well-drawn cartoon strip.

    • SilverTiger says:

      John Tenniel soon established himself as THE illustrator of Alice and all others fall short.

      I’m sure that Disney has a place in the hearts of millions but for those of us who knew the stories before he got hold of them, the result is a travesty.

      Astérix the Gaul is another justly famous character, so well loved by such a large cross section of the public that calling the books ‘comics’ or ‘graphic novels’ hardly does them justice. They are much more than that.

      Like Rupert the Bear In the UK, Tintin and Astérix quickly outgrew their humble beginnings and became figures of international fame.

  3. Blathering says:

    “What better way of getting off on a cheerful note than to have a good breakfast, cooked and served by someone else?” – indeed, I think we can both agree on that! Although of course it’s a real let down when the breakfast served up is luke warm, and possibly even worse when the eggs are hard. After all, if we wanted to eat luke warm, hard poached/fried eggs, we could just make them ourselves, couldn’t we?!

    It sounds like a great opportunity to see 2 exhibitions in one day, both of literary characters that, as you say, were written for a young audience but are still enjoyed by an older audience. I recall reading Tintin books when I was in about grade 6 at school, and loving them. I’ve always liked Alice in Wonderland too. There was a great exhibition in Melbourne, many years ago, of art works inspired by Alice in Wonderland, and I liked it so much at the time that I bought the catalogue of the exhibition – something I rarely fork out for!

    Some historical exhibitions focussed on a particular theme, like the Alice exhibition you went to, can be really interesting. For example, the exhibition could have included pictures and information about the time and place where Lewis Carroll wrote the book, what his peers were writing at the time, what ideas had currency amongst artists and writers at the time, etc. What was the inspiration for the Cheshire Cat, the Queen of Hearts….etc. All of that can make a really rich exhibition experience for anyone with even a passing interest in history and culture, when it’s done well.

    So it sounds as if this just didn’t quite cut it!

    • SilverTiger says:

      I was possibly a little unfair on the Alice exhibition. It was mounted by the British Library and so the emphasis was quite naturally on books and editions. If you like this approach then that’s fine but, camera in hand (even if I can’t use it!), I tend to look for pictures that will speak to the viewer. Perhaps that’s why my favourite exhibitions are art exhibitions.

      We used to go to France every summer and pillage the family’s book cases to read the latest Tintin and Astérix books. Lucky Luke, too. I have it in mind to pop down to the Tintin shop in Covent Garden where they stock the French versions and see whether the magic is still in them.

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