Monday, 8 October 2012

Fly the Thames

I get mountains, I really do. There is nothing quite like standing on the top of an Alp on a cold, bright, crystal clear day, where you can see further than the average city dweller can even imagine. Of course, it helps if there is a discreet little cafe up there with you, where you can sip a hot chocolate, perhaps dosed with a hefty slug of the local hooch, and accompany that with a decent sized slab of tooth rotting, waist spreading, sachertorte.

What I don't get is mountain climbing. Why would anyone subject themselves to the pain and misery of clinging to a sheer rock face, not to mention the exhaustion and the ever present danger of plunging hundreds of feet to your death or ending up dangling on a rope with several other climbers like party bunting in a Tim Burton film.

 Fortunately, human ingenuity has come to the rescue, and we are able to ascend in various degrees of comfort thanks to cog railways, ski lifts and cable cars. Even more fortunately, we can descend without ropes and snow axes, or the need to slide down uncontrollably on planks of wood or sleighs the size of tea trays. I don't know why every mountain worth visiting isn't so equipped!

We're a bit short of Alps in London (except in Beckton, of course!) but we do have a cable car. Considered by many to have been another of the Mayor's vanity projects, it apparently would have the massive advantage of its proposed £25 million being entirely financed by private enterprise. In an alternative universe that may have happened. However, back in the real world, the budget kept climbing and in the end has cost the taxpayer in excess of £24 million. The rest has been coughed up by Emirates Airline who, in exchange, get a heavily branded, high visibility, animated advert and a plug on the tube map.

Anyway, whatever your feelings on the whole project, it is there and it is running, so we may as well use it. So a few weeks ago I did.

The northern terminal is just a short walk from Royal Victoria station on the DLR and is located alongside the Crystal, which is the extraordinary Siemens sustainability centre. It was quite busy on the day I was there and, unless you had an Oyster Card, there were two queues to negotiate before you were able  to climb aboard. The first was to buy your "boarding card" and the second to get into the terminal itself. Using your Oyster Card allows you to enter the terminal in the same way as you'd enter a tube station and has the added advantage of saving you £1.10 on the cost of a single fare. Sadly, Freedom Pass holders will have to buy a boarding card but they do get it at the reduced rate.

Although the queue was quite long, it moved quickly. The loading and unloading of the pods was efficiently handled by the team on the platform and you are very soon on your way. As you gain altitude you get a good view of the Crystal and over the sanitised remains of the docks on which, during my trip, there were a couple of guys water skiing using an overhead drag line rather than a powerboat. They were pretty good on the flat but useless over the jump. I say that as someone who has never tried his hand at this particular activity, but you don't need to be an expert to know that when you hit the ramp you are supposed to stay upright and not end up with your head under the water!

I recommend that as you approach the river it's best not to look down, this isn't because it's likely to trigger a bout of acrophobia (if that is likely to be a problem, then what the hell are you doing up there anyway?) but because it is just plain ugly down there. With all sorts of industrial stuff and piles of scrap, it can hardly be described as scenic! Anyway, there is plenty to occupy your visual senses. If you are on the Royal Victoria to Greenwich Peninsular leg, then most of the action is on your starboard side. Looking back you can see over to the Olympic Park and looking forward, you can peer down on the approaching O2 complex and beyond that the towers of the Isle of Dogs and on to those of the City. You could also see the Shard, but then again you can see that from pretty well anywhere. The weather was fairly miserable on the day of my visit, but it was still worth seeing.

Finally you plunge down towards the Greenwich Peninsular Terminal and the end of your "flight". Disembarkation runs smoothly and you are all too soon back on Terra Firma

I think that it is one of those trips that is worth taking several time, varying the direction, time of day and season of the year. I suspect that, given the right conditions, sunrise and sunset could be spectacular. In my case, a sunrise trip seems unlikely but a sunset flight is a distinct possibility.

A couple of other things to consider. If you travel at off peak times the trip will last a little longer, as they run at a slower speed and, if you don't like the idea of sharing your trip with strangers, for a mere £86.00 you can hire a whole pod to fill with friends, or if you are feeling completely self indulgent (and have more money than sense) keep entirely to yourself. 

Finally, do keep an eye on the weather forecast and check with the TFL website before travelling. This form of travel is affected by high winds, it is also a potential target for a lightning strike during a thunderstorm. Both of these conditions will lead to the service being temporarily suspended (no pun intended) which could force you to hang around (I meant that one ;-) waiting for your flight, not the end of the world if you are just sightseeing, but it could be difficult if you are either commuting or have a very expensive ticket to an event at the O2.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

More North Pole News

As a follow up to my last post, the North Pole is currently decorated with these signs following a gathering of protesters on Saturday. I'm slightly surprised that the banners were still there on Monday afternoon, but perhaps Tesco were not aware that a protest had taken place.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

The North Pole Goes West

Yet another local bites the dust!

The North Pole is/was a Victorian public house located on the corner of Latimer Rd and North Pole Rd W10. There has been a pub on this site since about 1839 when the Globe was built near the north west corner of the Hippodrome racecourse.

Later renamed the North Pole, the original single story building was replaced by the current three story building in 1892. Until the 1860's this area and was mostly given over to market gardens but the failure of the Hippodrome in 1842, which led to the expansion of the Ladbroke Estate, and also the construction of the West London Railway inevitably changed its character.

The Pole has had its ups and downs over the years. It was even relaunched as the New North Pole at one time after a particularly bad period. However, more recently it had settled down and become a decent and trouble free pub.
Sadly, the lease has now been taken over by Tesco who intend to open it as a Metro mini market. I was surprised to find out that no planning permission is required for change of use from a public house to a retail store, however they do need permission to change the signage. That application is now with the council and will no doubt be granted without too much trouble.
There is quite a lot of resistance locally to the change of use, with particular concern for the future of the established businesses in North Pole Rd.
Pubs are closing at an alarming rate these days, so why have I picked this one to write about? I can't claim to be a regular but in a strange sort of way the Pole has always been a part of my life. I was born less than two minutes walk away and grew up only two or three minutes further away than that, and whereas the character of North Pole Rd has changed in recent years, it is still the place that my Mum sent me to buy a pint of milk and a loaf of bread. It is also the where I had my schoolboy jobs as a paper boy in Ellingtons news agent (now long gone) and later in Bowen & Williams chemist shop (now My Pharmacy), both of which are directly opposite the North Pole pub.
As a shopping street, North Pole Road is not big and it's not glamorous, but it has served the immediate needs of the locals for well over a hundred years and in all of that time the North Pole pub has been at the heart of it. Now, it seems, that is about to end for ever.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

When There's Something Strange........ your neighbourhood.

As any rational person knows, the whole horoscope thing is complete nonsense (although other views on this subject are available!) but just as long as it is not taken too seriously it can't do any harm.........can it?

The entrance to 107 Cheapside is surrounded by the signs of the zodiac. Carved by John Skeaping in around 1955. I have no idea why they are there. I'd like to think that there is some mystery to them but I suspect that they are purely decorative. Anyway, nonsense or not, I quite like them and they are a slightly surprising thing to find on an office building in the City.

As well as recording this slightly quirky architectural detail, I took this photograph to illustrate a moan about one of the blights on the 21st Century cityscape. I mean, of course the warning sign. I accept that in this less than enlightened age we all need to be warned that it is advisable to look right (or left) before crossing the road, that it is not a good thing to drop your litter on the pavement, that it is only reasonable to clean up after your dog, that poisonous substances are not good for your health and that there is the "danger of death" should you chose to poke around in an electrical sub station. However, these signs are deeply unattractive, largely unread and, I suspect, are really there simply to prevent the "victims" from sueing the the "authorities". A sort of "I told you so" clause.

The ban on smoking in public and commercial premises has led to the unhappy sight of clusters of smokers gathering in the street to get their nicotine fix. This issue is dealt with in various ways. Some chose to corral their smokers in draughty and secluded shelters, like latter day lepers. Others hang those ugly, and usually overflowing, butt boxes outside their premises in the hope that their decorative and expensive planters won't be used as giant ash trays and then there are those that just put up no smoking signs in the hope that their smokers will move away and gather in front of someone else's property!

The management of 107 Cheapside have apparently chosen the latter method. I'm sure that it will help to keep the front of the building (and the planters) free of dog ends, but the signs are obtrusive and ugly.................and just as offensive as a carpet of ash and soggy filter tips.

It wasn't until I got home that I noticed what appear to be demonic eyes, like burning coals, deep within 107 Cheapside, glaring across the road at the church of St Mary-le-Bow. So, perhaps the original creators of this building did have a serious reason for the zodiac carvings. Maybe, just maybe, they knew that something malevolent lurked in the bowels of the building and were trying to warn us in a backhanded sort of way to look to the future. Of course, it could simply be a trick of the light and  slightly over active imagination but where's the fun in that?

Anyway, just in case there is somethin' weird an' it don't look good, it may well be worth giving some thought to who you gonna call!

Saturday, 25 August 2012

It's That Time Again.

Carnival kicks off tomorrow and the preparations are well under way. Many businesses seem to have given up on Saturday trading altogether and are already boarded up for the duration..

I'm not sure why Barclays Bank on Ladbroke Grove found it necessary to close for the day, not even the ATM's were accessible. The boarding up could easily have been carried out at close of business but I suppose that an extended Bank Holiday weekend seemed more attractive than providing a service to their customers........

........and you were also out of luck if you wanted to return your library book, but hey, you can always dispute the fine for being overdue!

Finally, let's hope the weather improves for Sunday and Monday. We really don't want anymore skies like this. We've been fairly lucky for the last few years, but the best you could say about today's weather was that it was unsettled. We've had the odd spot of sun, occasional blue skies and an unreasonable amount of rain, thunder and lightning.

Whatever the weather have a happy and peaceful Carnival.

More pictures here.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Car Parking......the BMW Way!

As a result of my usual lack of ontheballness (check out the next addition of the OED, ontheballness will be in there!), I nearly missed out on this one.

For the last couple of weeks the Great Eastern Street NCP Car Park has been taken over by the ICA to present Art Drive! The BMW Art Car Collection 1975 - 2010. Sadly, it closes at 9.00pm today, so the opportunity to catch it is now quite limited.

For the last 35 years BMW have been commissioning prominent artists to decorate their cars and in that time 17 vehicles have been added to the collection. All but one of those vehicles have been on display in this innovative location since the 21st of July.

The origins of the collection lie with auctioneer and racing driver Hervé Poulain, who had always wanted to add "artistic beauty to an already perfect object such as a racing car". In 1973, he invited his friend, the sculptor Alexander Calder, to decorate such a car, which he enthusiastically accepted. The only fly in the ointment was that he didn't have a suitable race car to play with.

3.0 CSL by Alexander Calder (1975)

Fortunately Poulain was referred to the head of BMW Motorsport by Jean Todt (at the time a rally co-driver and now President of the FIA). A 3.0 CSL Coupé which was to be entered in the 1975 Le Mans 24 Hour race seemed like the perfect canvas. The design was worked up on a model by Calder and was applied by Walter Maurer in Munich. Sadly, after a promising start, the car was retired due to a technical fault but the connection between BMW and the art world was established and continues to this day.

3.0 CSL by Frank Stella (1976)

The collection consists of both road and race cars, but to my mind the best of them are all racers. These cars are not just trailer queens either. Most, if not all, have been raced and raced hard.

320 Group by Roy Lichtenstein (1977)

Just what constitutes good art is, of course, in the eye of the beholder but some of these cars just don't work for me. In particular, I don't like the M1 painted by Andy Warhol, but what do I know. If it had been my car I would have been tempted to have it stripped and resprayed. That would have been a huge mistake of course. A little research has shown that these days a good M1 would probably cost you about £150,000. In the unlikely event that the Warhol car should come onto the market, I'm guessing that you could add another zero to that figure at the very least. It is amazing what the daubings of a prominent name in the art world can be worth!

M1 Group 4 by Andy Warhol (1979)

Whatever our views on the individual vehicles, BMW should be applauded for their continuing to add to this collection. Also a huge thanks is due to the ICA for bringing the collection to London.

635 CSi by Ernst Fuchs (1982)

Rather than comment on each car, I'll just throw in a few photographs and allow you to make up your own mind but just for the record my personal favourites are the batmobiles by Alexander Calder and Frank Stella, the V12 LMR by Jenny Holzer, the M3 GTR by Sandro Chia and, especially, the M3 GT2 by Jeff Koons,which looks as if it's doing 100MPH.......even if it is sitting in a multi-story car park!

635 CSi by Robert Rauschenberg (1986)

Just one final thing, what about the missing vehicle? In 2007 Olafur Eliasson took a record holding hydrogen powered H2R research vehicle and replaced the body with a reflective steel and mesh shell. With the vehicle in a custom made refrigerator unit, it was sprayed with water over several days to gradually create layers of ice!" A sight to see I would imagine.

"Lit from within and glowing in its frozen atmosphere, the resultant work measures more than 5 feet high, 17 feet long, and 8 feet wide. Viewers enter the environment in limited numbers to enjoy an intimate, immersive, and social engagement with the artwork - a fundamental aspect of Eliasson's art."

This was first shown at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and subsequently at Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, in 2008. Not exactly the most portable of artworks, I'm not sure if it has been shown any where since.

M3 Group 4 by Michael Jagamara Nelson (1989)

M3 Group A by Ken Done (1989)

535i by MatazoKayama (1990)

730i by César Manrique (1990)

Z1 by A R Penck (1991)

525i by Esther Mahlangu (1991)

M3 GTR by Sandro Chia (1992)

850 CSi by David Hockney (1995)

V12 LMR by Jenny Holzer (1999)

M3 GT2 by Jeff Koons (2012)

M3 GT2 by Jeff Koons (2012)

M3 GT2 by Jeff Koons (2012)

Sunday, 22 July 2012

I'll Have A Large Formaldehyde.......

.............and make it snappy!

I finally got around to seeing the Damien Hirst exhibition at the Tate Modern. I'm not a fan of Mr Hirst but it cost me nothing but time to check it out (that's the joy of corporate membership).

All of the familiar elements were there, spin paintings, spots, skulls, cigarette ends, gemstones, flies, butterflies, rotting meat, sharks and other assorted dead creatures and substantial quantities of the aforementioned formaldehyde. No jewel encrusted skull though, that moved on towards the end of June.It obviously had a better place to be.

That about covers it.

No photographs from inside the exhibition of course, it wouldn't do to deprive Mr Hirst of the post card sales in the gift shop, so I've had to make do with some shots of Hymn which stands in front of the Tate staring towards St Paul's. This twenty foot, six ton, painted bronze statue explores another of Hirst's recurring themes, the anatomical figure.

This is art as a business, nothing new in that of course, it always has been. After all, artists have to make a living, they just do it in a different way to the majority of us. The great masters usually worked to commission and/or lived very comfortably under the patronage of the rich and powerful and lesser artists (in stature but not necessarily in skill and creativity) sell directly or through galleries. Of course, some are better businessmen than others. It is claimed that Vincent van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime, but to be fair he did have other things on his mind.

Damien Hirst, however, has taken the art business to a whole new level. He has become more like the creative director of a major corporation than a working artist. In 2008 he took the decision to avoid the traditional route of selling his work through a gallery and presented 244 new works for auction by Sotheby's. The two day event took in excess of £111,000,000. A good couple of days for Mr Hirst then

Just as a matter of interest, here is a selection of the gift shop goodies.

Love of God T-shirt Adult - £46.00
Love of God T-shirtChild - £30.00
Love of God Pencil - £2.05
Spin Painted Skull (plastic) - £36,800.00
Skateboard Deck - £480.00
Deckchair - £310.00
Umbrella - £39.50
Charm Bracelet - £11,000.00
Cufflinks - £250.00
Wallpaper - between £205.00 and £675.00 per roll



Friday, 6 July 2012

Sparking Up The Shard

I failed to make it to the much hyped inauguration of the Shard. Reviews of the event have been mixed but lean heavily towards disappointment, so it seems that I didn't miss much. Perhaps they needed a few tips from the French!

Although the Shard is completed externally, there is still much work to do on the interior. Topping out at 1,016ft (309.6m, that 0.6m really counts for something in the tall building world!), it is actually only the second tallest free standing structure in the UK. The concrete tower at the Emley Moor transmitting station stands at 1,084ft (330m), but to be fair, you can't live in it, stay in it or get a view over London up there in West Yorkshire.

For the record, La Dame de Fer is 1050ft (320m) high but again, you can't live in it, stay in it,or get a view over London. The view over Paris ain't bad though!

Speaking of views, the Shard's observation platform is due to open in February next year, but be prepared to pay an eye watering £24.95 for an adult ticket. If you plan to take a child with you, it will cost you another £18.95. So, not a cheap day out then..................but it is a long way up.......and, eventually, the temptation will probably be too great to resist. Will power is not my strong point.