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Discovering London

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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

The Greenest Pub in London?

I posted about the National Gallery's new Van Gogh living wall the other day. That is enormously clever and a great temporary feature for Trafalgar Square. My favourite living wall in London is this one though:

Really well established now,  the walls of The Driver Public House, at the corner of Killick Street and Wharfdale Road in Islington, heave beneath foliage and flowers.

The work is the brainchild of the owner Billy Reilly who has also opened a roof-top terrace there, ideal for us smokers. This pub is well worth a look if you don't know it already. More details from their site here.

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A Bigger Splash in Tachbrook Street

Coming out of Pimlico Station cross-legged folk might find themselves drawn to this new addition to the street scape.

On closer inspection it becomes clear that is not only a free, kiosk style toilet,

but is also a double pissoir! This high-tech version updates that, rare for London, idea of permanent site for the relief of Gentlemen in nearly full public view. The Victorian pissoirs in Star Yard and Horseferry Road do provide much more privacy but they don't self flush like this one. The other modern examples in Theatreland are just vile and are only open for use during peak periods! This one is open 24 hours a day throughout the year.

They have helped to solve a local problem and Westminster City Council should be applauded for introducing them. The air certainly smells sweeter in key points since their introduction. However there is one problem.

In the interests of research I recently tried them. Not in full daylight and certainly not as the nearby Pimlico Academy was ringing the home-time bell! I chose a discrete moment. As I stepped up to the task a sensor in the floor detected my arrival and immediately began to flush. All very hygienic. It continued to flush at a rate that outpaced me for my entire visit. Small water droplets hit my face and I noticed them too on my hands and elsewhere. 

I had been wearing a blue cotton shirt and chinos that day. Only when I returned home, a short distance away, did I realise that I had been horizontally showered by the machine! Little spots of damp from calf to collar were abundant.

I can only suggest that if you do need to use them, before the council turn down the water pressure, you do so only if wearing black all over, and preferably in synthetic fabrics, to avoid potential embarrassment.

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Sunday, 29 May 2011

Monumental Children Return to Meet Their Saviour at Liverpool St

Flor Kent's much admired sculpture "Fur Das Kind" has returned to Liverpool Street Station.

These two haunting figures are a memorial to the WWII Kindertransport rescue of children, partly made possible by Sir Nicholas Winton's  missions, during which 669 children of mostly Jewish origin were saved.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the “Winton Train” which brought children from Prague to London. 

Last Saturday, the 21st May, Sir Nicholas Winton was met at Liverpool Street station by descendants of the real-life rescued “children” together with their families who had arrived on a special steam locomotive that had just retraced the original route. He duly rededicated the statue in the week of his 102nd birthday! An amazing and inspirational man, more about him and his work here.

The original statue was dedicated in 2003. In that version the girl stood next to a glass suitcase, which  contained objects that the real children had brought with them to England. Problems with conserving the objects and the need for planning permission to be granted to add the figure of the boy have caused the delays in it's return. Photos of the statue in it's 2003 incarnation from "The Poor Mouth" Blog here.

The statues are part of an international network of commemoration, which also includes Für Das Kind/ For The Child- Vienna in Westbahnhof Station,  Pro Dite / For The Child- Prague in the Central Hlavni Nadrazi, the Für Das Kind Collection of Original Objects at the Imperial War Museum and  the Für Das Kind International Travelling Exhibition.

The very high winds last week damaged an exhibition also timed to coincide with this event. "Winton's Trains" was due to have opened for a month in the Bishopsgate entrance to the station. It is currently being rescheduled details here

I think we owe it to all concerned, to visit the exhibition as soon as it re-opens.

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London Prepares for the Arrival of Another US President

This little building site in the south-west corner of Grosvenor Square in Mayfair will be the site of a celebration on July 4th this year.

The footing for a new statue of Ronald Reagan looks to be complete. The new statue has been paid for by The Ronald Reagan Foundation and is not a US government initiative.

The unveiling is just one event marking the centenary of President Reagan's birth. Details of other events from the Foundation here. The festivities have been partly sponsored by GE.

The cost of the statue, including  a payment to Westminster City Council for maintenance, is expected to be around £250, 000.

The sculptor of the ten foot bronze is Chas Fagan, this will be his only London work. More, on his website, here.

The statue of President Reagan will join two other Presidents in the Square, Eisenhower and Franklin  D Roosevelt.

The magnificent Roosevelt statue, which dominates the centre of the Square, is the work of William Reid Dick and was unveiled in 1948. The audience for the unveiling by Eleanor Roosevelt and the dedication by U.S. Ambassador Lewis W. Douglas, included the Royal Family, PM Clement Attlee and Sir Winston Churchill.

The remarkable thing about the statue was the way it was funded. Individual members of the British public responded to a radio appeal. Such was the public grief in Britain over Roosevelt's death that 160,000 individuals purchased a small souvenir brochure for 5 Shillings, equivalent to 25p. It took just six days from the first appeal to raise all the funds and that in a country still on rationing.

I wonder, if the Reagan Foundation had adopted a similar fund-raising strategy, just how long it would have taken to raise the funds for their new memorial?

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Saturday, 28 May 2011

Plug into Soho

In St. Anne's Court in Soho today I noticed this realistic plug in a socket.

On closer inspection I could see it was a small ceramic sculpture.

Another example of the area's rich street art. I have no idea who the artist is, if you know please drop me a line.

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Royal Beasts at the Tower - Opportunities Missed

The new Kendra Haste Baboons have arrived at the Tower of London in time to mark today's official "opening" of the summer's Royal Beasts exhibition.

The baboons are magnificent and now join a fellow baboon, a polar bear and the three lions at the entrance. I have posted on all these before, click on the Kendra Haste label for images.

However the elephant will not be installed until July and the original commission was for 13 animals. Even when the elephant is installed there will only be 9 animals in place. Will the other 4 ever be displayed?

Historic Royal Palaces have already started promoting the exhibition but it is far from complete. With a standard adult ticket now costing £19.80 and a child's ticket £10.45, I think this is grossly unfair.

The exhibition on the fascinating story of the Royal Menagerie's history dating back to 1255 is actually very small indeed. You can read almost all the text direct from the website and the only real exhibits are Kendra Haste's wonderful wire animals.

Due to the inflexible attitude of staff one cannot even go straight to the exhibition up the Jewel House stairs to the Brick Tower but must backtrack, some distance, to the entrance of the East Wall Walk first. I can understand the one-way, conveyor belt system when the Tower is busy but today I was there at 9.30am and nobody at all was using the broad staircase I wanted to go up. I was however able to visit the shop a few yards away using a similar staircase. H&S rules are different if you are purchasing souvenirs apparently.

Inside the shop I checked to see if there was any merchandise connected with the exhibition. There was nothing. Were there any books I might have liked to purchase about the Tower Menagerie? No. Not even copies of Daniel Hahn's interesting "The Tower Menagerie" let alone a brand new work to tie in with the exhibition. When any other museum or gallery puts on a new show the bookshop is usually filled with items related to the exhibition. HRP buying policy is peverse.

Needless to say there is nothing about the artist who has provided the only valid reason for visiting the exhibition - Kendra Haste. No video, no biography panel, no photo, zilch.

Signage to the exhibition is either non-existent or is so poor that I didn't see it. The animals themselves stand with no interpretation boards nearby. You can see bemused visitors just glancing at them, unaware of why they are there at all.

Of course the Tower of London is a magnificent, must see, place in its own right. Nearly £20 is probably a fair price for a full day visit. But £20 for a very small exhibition promoted like a blockbuster at the RA, The British Museum and The Wellcome is far too steep. All the above not only display far many more exhibits, they document their exhibitions superbly and their book and gift shops are full of genuinely interesting connected merchandise. All the above are also far cheaper and in the Wellcome's case completely free.

If you have never been to the Tower, then do so and I am sure you will have a great day, check the sculptures as you walk around. I really wouldn't want to put you off.

If you have been before, are not a member and particularly want to see this exhibition then I really would give it a miss until at least July when the life-size elephant arrives.You can do the whole exhibition in 20 mins.

Such a shame,a fantastic story to tell, superb new sculptures to accompany the history and yet the whole thing has fallen flat. As I left the Tower, a bus plastered with the exhibition posters passed me and I felt really cross.

I will post the elephant when it arrives and note any improvements that have been made.

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Van Gogh's Living Wall in Trafalgar Square

Over 8,000 plants have been planted on a hoarding outside the National Gallery recreating Van Gogh’s Wheatfield with Cyprusses as a living wall.

You can see the original painting inside the National Gallery and the living version will be there until October.

The project is a collaboration between GE and the National Gallery, more details here.

UPDATE: August 2nd 2011 I have found a little film, made by GE, showing the wall being created. Follow this link to the new post. 

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Wednesday, 25 May 2011

An Unhinged Memorial

The Hunterian Museum at The Royal College of Surgeons England is full of amazing and often macabre exhibits and is completely free.

My favourite object in their collection is not in the museum proper but is near the foot of the main staircase.

The Macloghlin Memorial, Mors Janua Vitae (Death is the gate of life) by Sir Alfred Gilbert, 1908
Mr and Mrs Macloghlin are staring lovingly at a small casket. The casket contains both of their ashes. Mrs Macloghlin commissioned the unusual memorial from Alfred Gilbert.

As he worked on the sculpture he and Mrs Macloghlin started a love affair. So enamoured was she by his charms that she arranged for her bronze head to be fitted with a hinge, so that when Sir Alfred died his ashes too, could be added to the memorial!

Unfortunately the affair ended, Mrs Macloughlin's scalp was never hinged and when the time came Alfred Gilbert needed to settle instead for a memorial in St Paul's Cathedral.

Best known for his Shaftesbury memorial,

Alfred Gilbert had most interesting, albeit turbulent,  professional and love-lives. An excellent brief biography can be found at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography here. Most libraries have a subscription that you can access from home, if yours doesn't I would badger them to do so, it is a magnificent resource.

If you haven't been to the Hunterian you can find more details of their incredible collections at their site here.

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Einstein Cycling Along Strand

I know this has been up for a long time now but some of you may not have seen it and I wanted to capture it before it gets even more damaged.

This wonderfully adorned phone box is on the north side of Strand just near the Lyceum pub. The image is taken  from the famous photo of Albert Einstein riding his bike in Santa Barbara, California, on February 18, 1933.

It is so well liked that even BT, the owners of the box, have made no attempt to take it down.

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Diana and Neptune in Half Moon Street

At the junction of Half Moon Street and Piccadilly are these four sculptural reliefs. From top to bottom:
An Owl In a Tree
Neptune With a Boat
A Harlequin and Guitar
Diana the Huntress
Pevsner tells us that the building dates to the early 1960's and that the sculptor is Keith Godwin (1916-1991). I couldn't find any other images of these panels on the net, any information about why Reed (the company who commissioned the building) chose these themes, or much information on Keith Godwin beyond his teaching posts and a few statues.

Most of his public work appears to be in Manchester. Public Sculpture of Greater Manchester by Terry Wyke, Harry Cocks has a very brief biography for those of you who are interested.

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An Outdated Trafalgar Square

I wrote a little while ago about the practice of some London postcard companies endlessly recycling old images and selling them as new. Here is another notable example, purchased yesterday for a whole 10p in Trafalgar Square.

If you click on the image you will see more detail. Even without zooming, if you have visited London in the past decade, you will be able to tell this is a period piece.

The pedestrianised terrace and grand stairs leading from the National Gallery into the square have not yet replaced the road and the Sainsbury Wing extension to the National Gallery hasn't been built, so the view must be at least 20 years old. When you look in detail at the traffic I think it is more likely to be nearer 50 years old!

I suppose that as long as people keep buying old images, assuming them to be current, the postcard sellers will continue recycling them. At least I can build a collection of vintage views on the cheap.

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Saturday, 21 May 2011

Elephants in London - A Quiz

The streets of London are full of elephants. Here are 21 random pachyderms, can you identify where they all come from? The prize for exhaustive elephant knowledge, or assiduous research, is a copy of "Animal Freaks" by Jan Bondeson. I will post the book, with great admiration, to the first person who can identify all the locations. They are all in central London  and all can be seen without special permission.

Elephant 1




Elephant 5

Elephant 6

Elephant 7

Elephant 8

Elephant 9

Elephant 10

Elephant 11

Elephant 12

Elephant 13

Elephant 14

Elephant 15

Elephant 16

Elephant 17

Elephant 18

Elephant 19

Elephant 20

Elephant 21
Happy hunting! Full answers will be revealed at the end of June, or whenever I have received one complete and correct entry. Please post entries to me at


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Shopping and Religion Nailed

When I read about it, I was a bit sceptical about Gavin Turk's new 36ft-tall rusty nail at One New Change in the City.

After seeing it in person I was actually very impressed. It doesn't obscure the new view of St Paul's. The symbolism of the nail viewed against the cathedral is striking from the east and from the west the humble nail's background is the high-tec shopping centre by Jean Nouvel.

The nail seems to me to act effectively as a much needed bridge between these two very different structures.
Much more on the background to the work here.

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