After five days of entertaining family, neighbours and friends, and feasting on a succession of Christmas dishes, we decided we needed a change of scene. So on Saturday morning we drove down to London, from the motorway we could see the sun illuminating the distant sky scrapers of Canary Wharf, the Gherkin and Tower 42.
We walked through the deserted streets of The City towards St Paul's Cathedral, the windows of the offices reflecting shards of sky and architecture, and joined an international throng crossing the Thames on the Millennium Footbridge and admiring the quintessential London view of Tower Bridge and the boats on the river.
The South Bank had a bright and breezy atmosphere – everyone seemed to be stretching their legs and striding out wrapped in warm coats and Christmas present hats and scarves. We strode past the gigantic Louise Bourgeois spider looming over the entrance to Tate Modern and on to Gabriel's Wharf (one of my favourite corners of the South Bank). Sensing a definite fall in the temperature we decided to turn back – stormy clouds we racing down from the north and the dome of St Paul's was shining against a dark backdrop of rain clouds.
On Friday evening we had checked out the 'what's on' listings and found that a few seats were still available for Saturday afternoon's concert at The Barbican – we booked online for "The Four Seasons by Candlelight" a concert of baroque music performed by The Mozart Festival Orchestra in full 18th century costume. There was just time for a hazelnut brownie and cup of tea before we took our seats in the concert hall to relax and enjoy a beautifully performed concert of music by Handel, Purcell, Bach, Albinoni, Pachelbel and of course 'The Four Seasons' by Vivaldi including some virtuoso violin playing by David Juritz (all the more amazing as he was wearing a heavily embroidered coat and a yak-hair wig!!).
Before driving home we decided to look around the newly renovated St Pancras station. Having watched the TV series following the building of the new extention and restoration of the splendid Victorian gothic station building, we were curious to see it for ouselves. The exterior still looked like a building site – scaffolding and cladding very much in evidence, and as there was no lighting to show off the outside of the station, it loomed darkly over the Euston Road. Inside we followed signs to St Pancras International and emerged into the lower level shopping mall area. A few shops were open – Accessorize, Body Shop, a selection of coffee shops and sandwich bars in an area much smaller than it had seemed on the TV. I was interested to see the 9 metre tall statue by Paul Day 'The Meeting Place'. I think this must have been a incredibly difficult commission – with so many people to please and a deadline and budget to meet, it was inevitably going to be controversial.
I'm not sure that I like the finished sculpture, but it does seem fitting for a station – it reminds me of 1930's poster art.
The other new statue in the station is a bronze of John Betjeman by Martin Jennings , I think this is a joyful depiction of the poet and lover of architecture who campaigned to save the Victorian station building. Slightly larger than life size the bronze Sir John holds onto his battered hat and his crumpled mackintosh looks as if it has been caught by a gust of wind as he gazes up in boyish wonder at the sweeping arched roof now re-painted in sky blue. The statue stands on a circle of Cumbrian slate beautifully carved with a quotation from Betjeman's poem Cornish Cliffs:
And in the shadowless unclouded glare
Deep blue above us fades to whiteness where
A misty sea-line meets the wash of air
If you have never seen films of Sir John Betjeman or heard recordings of him reading his poems, this statue perfectly sums up this national treasure.
Of Smoke and Smog
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