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.
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.
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.
In the main aisle, the lights, with their white globes, have been disguised as sprigs of giant mistletoe.
‘Oh, look,’ said Tigger. ‘We’re under the mistletoe.’ So we were, and I leave it to your imagination what happened next