Sunday, January 10th 2016
The morning had, as usual, been occupied with shopping and in the afternoon, although the weather was still cold, we set out on a ramble that took us to places on both sides of the Thames.
We stopped off first in Piccadilly where the Waterstone’s bookshop chain has established what it claims is Europe’s largest bookstore in a building that was built in the 1930s by and for the Simpson’s retail clothing company (architect Joseph Emberton). It consists of a steel frame clad in Portland stone and is considered fine enough to be given a Grade II* listing. A notable feature is the grand staircase whose stairwell claims my fascination on every visit.
Strolling on down to the Mall, we went into ICA (the Institute of Contemporary Arts) and to take a look at the art on show. I was slightly surprised to be given permission to take photos of the works but in the event, there was nothing that appealed to me.
Just across the road is St James’s Park whose lake is home to a huge population of waterfowl. I can’t imagine I will ever see so large a population of coots crowded anywhere in the world as here.
Coots usually live in pairs along the banks of rivers and canals and are very territorial: if a coot blunders into the territory of another this provokes furious displays, pursuit and even fights. I find it quite amazing to see hundreds of coots packed so closely together both on the water and on the land beside it.
The reason for this large population and their unusual tolerance of one another is that people feed the birds. Coots are not the only birds to invite themselves to the feast: among them are ducks, geese and blackheaded gulls, with pigeons in attendance on the land.
In shape, the lake somewhat resembles a single-headed spanner with a narrow body and a head (see a map here). It is crossed by a bridge and this provide the above pictured view which was taken looking roughly NW.
This a is panoramic view of the lower ‘jaw’ of the spanner-head. It forms a quiet backwater which some of the occupants seem to prefer to the hurly-burly of the feeding grounds.
The most famous, but also the most notorious, of the park’s bird population are the pelicans. Pelicans are often represented in cartoons as figures of fun but this misses the point that in reality they are predators and both aggressive and pitiless. Many times visitors to the park have watched in horror as a pelican has scooped up a live pigeon and swallowed it still struggling.
Two of the friendlier species on the lake are the geese and the swans. This particular goose is a Greylag but there are other species as well. There is something appealing about the way they come to greet you but we know it’s really only cupboard love!
We crossed over to the south side of the Thames via Westminster Bridge and discovered this object in front of the Park Plaza Hotel. Is it art? I could see no explanatory label but I suppose it could be art. If you know, please let me in on the secret.
This definitely is art, though. It is a bronze sculpture called The Dance and was created by Nasser Azam, artist-in-residence at the County Hall Gallery. It captures the swirl and rhythm of dance in the immovable solidity of bronze. It was first installed in 2008 in front of County Hall (just across the road, relatively speaking) and was moved here in February 2010.
So is this. Definitely art, that is. It is by Mexican artist Jorge Tellaeche who has created several works along here, at South Bank, where we went next. Find Jorge’s Website here.
One of the more famous institutions of the South Bank, along with the Royal Festival Hall and the National Theatre, is that market for secondhand books. Vendors have to put away their stock at night and put it all out again next day. It exercises a great attraction over visitors and it is sometimes difficult to get to the tables to see what’s on sale.
The weather had been cold all day and as the sun was beginning to sink, the temperature was going to drop even further. That seemed like our cue to make for home. First, however, a scene we had spotted…
The sun was going down but it was still illuminating the upper levels of buildings along the river, giving them a warm golden glow.