Monday, December 26th 2016
We spent yesterday as a lazy day at home. We ate, we dozed, we watched videos, we kept warm, a good way to spend Christmas as far as I am concerned. Today, though, we thought we had better bestir ourselves and go out. We had no fixed plan but wandered, or took the bus, as we fancied.
We headed down to King’s Cross which is on our doorstep, so to speak. Between King’s Cross Station and St Pancras Station is a pedestrian lane or walkway with the rather pompous name of King’s Boulevard. (The posh name probably derives less from any qualities of the path itself than from the fact that the area is under development and the ‘boulevard’ will no doubt one way by lined with blocks of luxury apartments.) King’s Boulevard leads, via a bridge across the Regent’s Canal to what is now called Granary Square.
A feature of Granary Square is the fountains. These are formed of vertical spouts of water that change height and pulsate in a programme of changing rhythms. The pleasant open space or square is limited on one side by the canal and on the other by a big old warehouse. Together, square and building once formed the King’s Cross goods yard designed by Lewis Cubitt and completed in 1852. The modern name derives from the original use of the building to store wheat brought by rail from Lincolnshire to supply London’s bakers. Today, of course, the building has been converted to other purposes which include retail, restaurants and the Central Saint Martins art college, part of the University of the Arts London.
The Square has its Christmas tree but an unusual one: it appears to be encased in a block of ice! This is of course an illusion and the object in question is an artwork by Alex Chinneck entitled Fighting fire with ice cream. I don’t think the title fits the object particularly well but it’s great fun and very well achieved. There’s a little more information here.
All the businesses in and around the square were closed and the place was eerily silent. Walking here was like exploring a ghost town.
We walked down York Way, passing Kings Place. This stands beside the Regent’s Canal and from the road bridge I took the above photo because I liked the two swans sailing along together.
We caught a bus and disembarked in Oxford Street. The Christmas decorations were still in place, of course, though they are not shown to advantage because the low winter sun cast them and the whole street in shadow. Not that the shady conditions were of any concern to the crowds of people: all the shops were open, many displaying sales notices, and Oxford Street was almost as busy as it had been in the last few days before Christmas.
We took a coffee break in the Eastcastle Street branch of Costa and, not having anything in particular to do, tarried a while. I was intrigued by the metal panelling at the top of the staircase. (You can probably see it slightly right of centre in the photo.) We have Costa Coffee Club cards and during the year we pay for our drinks, collecting points on the card. At Christmas we use up the points, enjoying ‘free’ coffee. (Of course, we have paid for the points but the illusion of receiving something for nothing is pleasant )
Afterwards, we walked up Regent Street and into its continuation called Langham Place. Here is to be found the eye-catching Church of All Souls with its narrow pointed spire and round columned portico. It was designed by the celebrated architect John Nash and built in the years 1822-4. Though damaged in the Second World War and repaired, it is today a Grade I listed building.
Next door to the church stands Broadcasting House, famous around the world as the headquarters of the BBC. The Art Deco building, now possessor of a Grade II* listing, was designed by George Val Myer and built 1930-2. The outside is decorated with sculptures by Eric Gill (1882-1940) and these were to cause a controversy that endures to the present day.
The best known sculpture is probably that over the main entrance. It depicts Ariel and Propsero from Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. Ariel, described as a spirit of the air, was thought to be a fitting symbol of radio broadcasting. At its first appearance, the sculpture caused criticism and complaints, as described by the BBC’s site, History of the BBC:
After Broadcasting House was opened and the statues were installed (1933), concern was voiced about the size of the sprite’s genitalia. A question was tabled in the House of Commons, but the popular story, that Gill was ordered to modify the statue, is not substantiated.
Worse, though, was to come. Gill’s biographer, Fiona MacCarthy, discovered in Gill’s diaries meticulous accounts the sculptor’s adulteries, incest and bestiality with his dog. Calls for the BBC sculptures – and, indeed, all of Gill’s works – to be removed from public display have continued up to the present.
We continued on into Portland Place where the Royal Institute of British Architects has its home. The present building was designed by George Grey Wornum and built during 1932-4. It has a Grade II* listing.
The building is normally open to allow the public to view the many exhibitions held within but today it was closed. This gave us the opportunity of viewing the bronze door panels as a whole design. Usually they are folded back on either side of the entrance and therefore not visible as a complete picture. The design is said to represent ‘London’s river and its buildings’.
Continuing up Portland Place, one eventually comes to Regent’s Park. This was laid out by John Nash in the early 1800s. It is a large space, with many different features. Its perimeter is bounded by a road called Outer Circle and in the southern park of the park is an area called the Inner Circle. This has splendid gates of its own whose gilding shines becomingly in the sun.
The landscape of the park is very varied and the different views beg to be enjoyed and photographed. What appears here is just a narrow selection.
Lakes and ponds add to the beauty and wild-but-tame atmosphere of the park.
We crossed this open grassy area where people can stroll and play or sit on the benches and I was amused by the name of these roses, Doris Day. But why not? Her singing brought pleasure to many and I hope her roses will also do so.
This view, roughly west, across what looks like a river but which is really an arm of the boating lake, shows the minaret of the London Central Mosque.
We went down to the water which does resemble a gentle river at this point. There is an island and in its trees we can make out nests which, I think, have been made by herons. This is a splendid place for water fowl and there are many varieties here. My remaining photos are all of birds.
These Black-headed gulls are in their winter plumage which just has a dark patch or stripe beside the eye. In summer, the feathers on their heads become dark chocolate brown (not black). They are skilful flyers and can pick food off the water while in flight.
In other parts of the world, Canada geese still migrate but those that have settled in the UK no longer bother to do so: here they find everything they need all year round. They are a familiar sight in parks and beside canals, rivers and lakes. Unfortunately, they have settled in so well that in some areas they are beginning to be regarded as a problem.
Egyptian is name only, this species has also settled here and make a success of its adoptive habitat. Coloured patches make their eyes stand out like actors wearing make-up.
While I enjoyed watching all the birds, including those – such as the coots, moorhens and ducks – that I have mentioned specifically, today’s stars were the herons. Herons are normally solitary birds when fishing but conditions here must be good because we saw many herons stationed at intervals along the bank. They are curious birds and there is an ancient feel to them as though they once rubbed shoulders with dinosaurs. They sometimes stand as still as statues until you begin to think they are models, not living creatures, and then they will move in a slow stately fashion, stopping from time to time to strike a pose. Because of their size, they are impressive in flight and when they land, all broad wings and long legs, there is a balletic majesty to their movements. I think too, that they are the most dignified of the waterside birds.