London weekend, art and protest

It had been a while since I had last visited London after a spell of working there last year.

This weekend was a time to visit my daughters and see an exhibition or two and the date turned out to coincide with the People’s Vote march – an event that had passed me by in the blur and Groundhog Day noise that Brexit has become.

I did not join the march, but witnessed some excellent placards and did enjoy a good conversation and an expression of solidarity on the topic with a marcher I met on the tube.

Last year my spell of working in London was brief, but during that time I felt I had, like millions of others before me, been welcomed as a temporary Londoner.

Now back home working in Edinburgh, I do sometimes miss the vibrancy of London, and the diversity of people and experiences that were an everyday occurrence.

London is ‘always on’ and can be a hard place to work & live – keeping up with the energy and pace can drive you to weariness, but that energy is also exhilarating and challenging in a good way mostly.

This weekend trip was not about challenge but more about family and a chance to discover new places. With my grown up children living away from home, I was looking forward to spending time with them in their new neighbourhoods.

We had art on our agenda but also time for chatting and wandering, eating & drinking and catching up on news.

In between and by accident almost, I visited three different art exhibitions and as is often the way, the best one was unplanned.

Despite being a fan of pop art, I had not heard of Corita Kent – Sister Corita – and my visit to the House of Illustration was prompted more by wanting to see an exhibition of drawings by Ludwig Bemelmans – from the Madeline books.

The ticket included entry to 2 other exhibitions – Journeys Drawn – illustrations from the Refugee crisis and Corita Kent Power Up. A trio of very contrasting exhibitions.

Journey’s Drawn was a powerful and moving testament to the experiences of refugees seen both by observers and drawn from experience.

Moving on to the Ludwig Bemelmans exhibition felt like a more innocent interlude after the reality of Journey’s Drawn – a brief glimpse into how the stories and characters evolved and a window into his approach and style of Illustration.

Carita Kent was a revelation for me – I had not heard of this pop art nun – whose art combined messages from Holy scriptures with advertising slogans. A mash up of Los Angeles billboards and mass media, creating motivational and uplifting messages screen printed in day glo.

She talked about her art being like the original books of illumination – where Illustration ‘throws light’ onto a message.

Was a joyous, colourful exhibition and a new discovery for me.

On Sunday – we all visited Pierre Bonnard – The Colour of Memory exhibition – at Tate Modern. His was a different use of colour and his ability to recreate landscapes from memory created beautiful paintings and his skilful way and modern composition of painting nudes and landscapes was very evocative.

I liked the paintings but whether because I was overfilled on art or my expectations were on the high side, it did not have the same impact as any of the exhibitions I had seen the day before at the House of Illustration.

Before visiting either of these exhibitions my first exhibition visit was to see Dorothea Tanning also at Tate Modern.

On Friday evening after a long and tiring day travelling – I took advantage of late opening at Tate Modern and decided to visit the Dorothea Tanning exhibition.

I think as a canny Scot and with my annual membership of the Tate coming to an end, I was trying to use it to the max by seeing as many exhibitions as possible!

I can’t say I really enjoyed the exhibition save for a few pieces, ( e.g. her sketch of tango below ) maybe I was just too tired. I whizzed round the galleries desperate to get beyond the Surrealist paintings and fur fabric sculptures so I could sit down and have a cup of tea.

Although I like visiting exhibitions, I am not a true art aficionado and sometimes whether through tiredness or just sensory overload, I find it overwhelming to process the visuals and grasp what the artist is trying to convey.

Walking out of the Tate onto the riverside picture of night time London, hearing birds singing in the midst of the city was perhaps the best painting for me.

Sundogs, samplers and serendipity.

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In between the mostly grey January days, there has been the odd bright interlude – a winter gem of crisp, eye-watering cold – blue skies, glistening pavements and low winter sun that almost blinds you.

Just as my summer memory is filled with long soft sunny days of peachy light ( yes, even though I grew up in the north of Scotland), the winter I remember is always frost filled with steamy breath clouds and icy air that catches in your throat.

When I first moved from Inverness to Glasgow to study, I was surprised at how warm it was in winter and wet. It took me a while to adjust – and I missed the easterly cold.

Last week I was out in Edinburgh on a proper east coast winter’s day and looking up saw what seemed to be a circular rainbow around the sun.  I took a pic with my phone and thought it might just be sun flare but on checking with Google I found out my half rainbow was a parhelion or sundog. 

The name parhelion comes from the Greek ‘parelion’ meaning beside the sun and sundogs so called because they follow the sun like a dog follows its master. How sweet is that? The rainbow effect is caused by sunlight being refracted through ice crystals.

I took a few more pictures and added this to my encyclopedia of meteorological facts, then spent quite a bit of time looking upwards for a better example – or as I had understood might just be visible on these cold icy days – nacreous clouds.

It was a bit low level for proper cloud investigation and I did not have the time or if I am honest the footwear and knees to climb Arthur’s seat – so I stopped off at the Museum of Scotland on Chambers street and headed to the rooftop.

On my way, I came across an exhibition on  Scottish embroidered samplers – framed samples of stitches cross stitch, french knots etc. creating alphabets, motifs, and family pictures.  It was serendipitous that I came across this exhibition, as I had opted for a quiet side stair to quickly reach the roof. I imagine the museum building was designed in this way to encourage accidental discovery.

What incredible skill was evident in the samplers produced by girls as young as six. The craftswomanship and patience in evidence was a reminder of how young women often had to channel their skills and intellect in different ways when not included in formal education.

Well, that’s one thing I took from it – but mostly I was in awe of the dexterity and neatness of the handiwork. My own attempts at embroidery or any sewing being rather slap dash.

No more sundogs spotted when I reached the roof but the views across Edinburgh and the skyscape from the building were worth the trip to the top.

grace and gratitude

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Went out running this morning –  earlyish. I could say it was with a spring in my step and vim in my vigour but that would be fake news.

The grey mist and drizzly gloom of yesterday had lifted and the air was fresh ( funny how quickly we wish the hot, hot temperatures would return after only a few days of rain). I was listening to a good podcast – an episode of the Food Programme featuring chef Marcus Samuelsson*  The story of his life through food is full of twists and turns and distracted me from my niggly knee and cranky outlook.

As I reached the turning point in this 3-mile run – it’s beyond half way and feels like the home straight- I saw a favourite tree against a background of watery sunlight and blue and white sky. On a summer evening, this is a good place to watch the swifts and house martins swoop and glide.

Today as I ran past the tree, I saw a small feather flutter slowly down from the branches above and running, caught it mid-flight and mid-stride in a rare elegant move.

Graceful even.

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*BBC R4 Food Programme – Episode with Dan Saladino featuring Marcus Samuelsson  ‘Keep it Sticky’

 

 

Train dreaming and place name poetry

 

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For the past 6 months or so I have been working in London and commuting weekly between my home city Edinburgh and London. Travelling for around 4 and a half hours each way on the same route – gives plenty time for train window dreaming and watching.

Maybe because I spent my early years on a farm – I notice the crops and farming circle of life more than what might be happening through glimpses of windows or back gardens. My ‘seen from a train window’ novel –  would be short on drama and deeply lacking in Girl on a Train tension.

My Oct to June photo feed is packed with seasonal variations on a theme of east coast skies, fields, sea, distant cooling towers, tiny houses, trees jumping into focus, blurry videos and the odd sunrise and sunset. Watching how the colour of ploughed fields changes – from the reddy brown earth of Dunbar to almost black of the Fens.

There are familiar punctuations that mark the journey passing; southbound – out to sea on the East Lothian coast, approaching the Scotland – England border at Berwick, counting the bridges over the Tyne, the light at York station, and then non stop from York as London draws nearer – the big  flatlands of the south.

And the poetry of place names

Balderton Barnby, Norwell Cromwell, Temple Hirst, Chapel Haddesey, Appelton Roebuck

Rattling on…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

London life – rekindling a love of reading

It’s a sad admission but I think that come the end of this month I may have read more books in January 2018 than I did in the whole of 2017.

My rediscovery of books has undoubtedly been helped by me having a 4 and half hour commute twice weekly between Edinburgh and London, not to mention a couple of nights in hotels where I am that lone diner trying to perfect the pose of nonchalant reader and eater ( whilst really not reading anything but earwigging on the conversations around me).

Late to the party I was given a Kindle for Christmas, and although I love proper books and everything about them – the paper, the cover, the typography, the smell, the craft, the mystery- my new electronic library has got me ticking off an oft-stated but rarely achieved new year’s resolution to read more, and managing it with aplomb and joy over endurance and forbearance.

Like a child in a sweet shop, I am dangerously addicted to the ‘1- click’ ordering and immediacy of Kindle downloads.

And alongside my newfound love of digital over analogue books,  I am slowly mastering the art of vertical reading in close proximity to many others – reading while commuting on the London Underground.

Here the Kindle comes into its own- as even while standing and swaying, I can hold it in one hand and turn pages with the gentlest inflection of my thumb. Rattling through pages as the Central line rattles through London.

I feel so modern

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I am not a fast reader but so far my 2018 reading list has included: Ann Cleeves – The Seagull ( crime drama featuring detective Vera Stanhope), Catherine Gray – The unexpected Joy of being sober ( true life account of reformed drinker – uplifting & enjoyable read from the self-help genre), Bernard MacLaverty – Midwinter Break, (poignant and beautifully observed tale of a long marriage). 

Now switching between Dr Rangan Chattergee – the 4 Pillar Plan ( prescription for balance and health and importance of relaxation ) and Tina Brown’s the Vanity Fair Diaries ( enjoyable page-turner telling the story of her time as editor of Vanity Fair ) 

 

Day 2 – first Santa sighting, gold shoes outing and a small graveyard detour.

 

Bit of a cheat as this Day 2 roundup headline says more about what I did after my run rather than tales of daily running – but on this year’s December run streak I am adopting more of a devil may care – new rules for old traditions mindset – so who knows what I might write about next ? 😉

As to the run, with it being a Saturday, it meant day 2 of running was just the regular weekend fixture and at more of a relaxed pace with Alison.

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new shoes

Lots of good chat and observations, including navigating a few detours due to ongoing works along one of our favoured routes.  I gave my new running shoes their first outing ( Mizuno Wave 20 bought in Black Friday sale ) – and ‘almost’ managed to avoid the mud. At this time of year, it is pretty nigh impossible to keep my running shoes mud free – but I do try to scamper over the deepest muddiest sections of paths when my shoes still have their shiny newness about them.

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New Gold Brogues

After my run, I headed into town wearing another pair of new shoes – lovely gold brogues I had bought on impulse a couple of weeks back.

I stopped off to visit a local craft market – and spotted Santa – as you do.

 

 

Then before hitting the town proper, I wandered into Greyfriars Kirk – historically interesting church and cemetery in Edinburgh and resting place of Auld Jock – Greyfriars Bobby’s master. And it turns out last resting place of many other notable figures some worthy, some unworthy who knows – but certainly names I had heard of.

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Edinburgh skyline

Despite me living in Edinburgh longer than I have lived anywhere else ( 30 years), like many residents I don’t take as much interest in the local history than I might if I was a visitor.

 

Something else to add to my ‘to do’ list of self-improvement.

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Day 2 miles: 5.06

December total: 8.32

Weather – grey and overcast 3 degrees C

 

 

Two for joy

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One for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl and four for a boy  MAAAAAG PAYAYAAYYYY

For those of us of a certain age, this 70s interpretation of the nursery song is, along with many other TV theme tunes and advertising jingles, embedded in our collective hard drives – or is it just me who can recall and recite verbatim TV advertisements and public information film lyrics – 40 plus years later?

I was mostly a Blue Peter fan, but I did occasionally venture across to the other side to watch Magpie – partly because I had a bit of a crush on the male presenter – Mick Robertson and his incredible hair (quite a contrast to John Noakes that’s for sure). And also because the pop graphics of the titles and theme tune were pretty memorable.

Maybe an early indication of a career in marketing 😉

But it would take more than a trendy hairdo and tight jeans to shift my loyalties from the land of sticky back plastic, silver bottle top appeals and of course the quest for a Blue Peter badge. ( successful ).

MAAAAAG PAYAYAYAAYYYY ….

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Summer running – having some fun

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I have not been running much this month- truth is since the marathon I have not yet got back into a proper running groove.

It is only 3 weeks since the race, so early days  – but knowing of other marathoners who have struggled to find the motivation to run again after training for a big event- I hoped this would not be the case for me.

I thought it unlikely, as one thing that kept me going through the latter stages of marathon training ( aside from the fear of running the marathon ), was the thought of getting back to just running for fun. Running with friends, running punctuated with stops to take pictures, running without the dread of speedwork and just running without it feeling like I was doing my homework!

But it is funny that when the pressure is off and there is no ‘reason’ to run, no plan to tick off, no specific session to complete, how it can be very easy to find lots of reasons to just not bother.

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Late afternoon today, after another day of not running – with the sun shining and the bees busy in the garden –  I  heard the running sirens calling.

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Turns out, when running motivation is in short supply the best cure is a run.

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Short London run with art bonus

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Last week in London I slept so well in my hotel room that I almost ran out of time to run, but having trundled running shoes in my trolley bag through underground stations and pavements – it would have annoyed me to not take them out for a spin.

My biggest challenge when running in London, or in any new destination I find myself in for that matter, is my rubbish sense of direction. This can result in a planned 30 minute 3 miler taking almost twice that time to complete,  time keeping not helped by my tendency to easy distraction and to scurrying  down lanes to take a picture of this or that, of crossing roads to look closely at something or other, and  of generally deviating from my planned route.

Sharing these tales of how I always seem to get lost wherever I go with a friend, he told me to just keep turning right (or at least I think that was the instruction). I guess the idea being that you should eventually return to where you started, something I accidentally achieved on a previous London visit when trying and failing to find the River Thames.  I know that I passed the same  group of  Chinese tourist visitors on  three different occasions at roughly the same spot.

I just hope I made the cut for their London holiday movies  !

So back to this run –  destined to be short and sweet as having overslept I did not have much time to spare before the start of day two of the conference I was in town for. Fortunately I was staying in Covent Garden – so even a short run would provide lots of interest and require just enough effort from me to kick start the day, get the heart rate up and make the carrying of running kit worthwhile.

From the hotel, a run down Drury lane and then a right turn into the Strand took me close to a landmark I know – Somerset House. From there I crossed Waterloo bridge to the South bank so I could run both across and alongside the Thames. The light was grey and sky was flat, a palette that suits the London landscape and murky river. I crossed Blackfriars bridge then looped back along the embankment to Somerset House.

I did not have much time to linger, but time enough to check out the exhibition in the courtyard -a collection of figures standing as sentinel, part of the 1:54 Contemporary African art fair . Then after a short view and a few snaps I retraced my route without diversion or digression to be  back in time for breakfast.

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