Sunday, December 14, 2008

London Calling

Last Sunday I took the train down to London. I had some time to kill, so I roamed the south bank of the Thames. I feel that I've done quite a few of the more obvious attractions in London, so I've set myself the goal of finding a Banksy painting in the wild.

I expect you've heard the name before. Banksy is a graffiti artist. He's also renowned for sneaking his works into art galleries where they've sometimes hung for several days. I've read his latest book a couple of times and recommend it. I don't have a lot of respect for artists who just create a random mess and call it art: I reckon I create the equivalent of a Jackson Pollock every time I blow my nose. But despite being stylistically simple, Banksy's work is really pretty clever. One of the ones I was looking for is a stencil piece on the Thames wall across the river from Big Ben. It is one of the more photographed spots in London, and Banksy stencilled the wall with the phrase "This is not a photo opportunity".

The problem with finding his works is two-fold. Firstly, the London councils tend to take a dim view of all graffiti and paint over them. Secondly, now that he has achieved notoriety, his work is extremely valuable. When a new piece appears, the owners of the wall often cover it with boards to protect it and then sell the entire wall. On a recent visit to London, Christina Aguilera spent 25,000 pounds on his work.

There used to be quite a few pieces around the south bank, but I couldn't find any. Actually, I couldn't find any graffiti at all. Since it is pretty much "tourist central", the cleaning seems pretty comprehensive.

The reason I was in London is that my brother is over here at the moment. We went to the World Press Photography exhibit at the Southbank Centre and then had GBK for dinner. It was good to catch up.

I took Thursday off work and spent another day in London with him. We went to St Pauls, which was a good visit but very expensive. The quality of the acoustics in the Whispering Gallery was the high point. I then took my brother to Bride Lane, which supposedly had a surviving Banksy. Like fun it did. All the walls were clean, and you could see the patches where works had been cleaned off. Nuts. I'm going to have to go further afield. Stay tuned for more Banksy-based exploration.

We caught the DLR out to Greenwich. We went to see the Cutty Sark. It was seriously damaged by fire recently, and is now completely walled off for repairs. Still, we managed to find a crack in the wall and could see a small portion of the boat's framework. I'm going to tick that one off my list, because to a non-nautically interested person such as myself, that's about as interesting as the Cutty Sark is going to be.

We then went to the Royal Observatory, the Planetarium, the Queen's House, and the National Nautical Museum. The Nautical Museum was most impressive - they had Nelson's uniform from Trafalgar, including musket ball hole and blood stains. England: Once again the quality of your preserved relics has knocked my socks off. Speaking of which, they also had Nelson's bloodstained socks. Incidentally, can anyone answer this: I thought Nelson was missing an eye, an arm, and a leg, but my brother says only the eye and arm. Who's right?

So, that's the current state of play. It was brilliant hanging out with someone from home. Normally, I'm the only one on the Tube carriage who sniggers when the voice announces "This train terminates at Cockfosters". My brother's currently in Ireland, but he'll be back on Friday to be my first guest here in Cambridge, before we head to Belgium on the Eurostar train for Xmas. This will be my first proper trip since I got here. I can't wait. If we're lucky, we might even get some snow.

I'll try to post again before we go, but just in case I don't, I hope that those of you in NZ for Xmas also get snow. Lots of it.

More photos after Belgium, I promise.


Anonymous said...

Gidday James. You should be very careful what you wish for. My wife's cousin's husband, Michael, drove from Christchurch to Wanaka on Saturday, and encountered 2" of snow on the Lindis. Doubtless your fault.


Anonymous said...

To reiterate - if the museum had both socks, how can he have been missing a leg?

James said...

But the museum also had his singlet, which he was not wearing when he died. Obviously, they went into his cabin and collected the undershirt and the unused sock that was balled up in a drawer somewhere.