Thursday, 15 January 2009

Two Londons, two Nottinghams

Susan and I were in London from Sunday to Wednesday. The visit came about because Susan wanted to visit the new Jewellery Gallery at the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum and the 'Byzantium' exhibition at the Royal Academy in Piccadilly. I wanted to visited the Tate Modern and walk across the Millennium Bridge. Then, no visit to London is ever complete with spending some time in the National Portrait Gallery by Trafalgar Square. Add to this a chance to spend some time with Laura, my eldest grand-daughter, who is at Veterinary College in Camden, a short bus ride away from where we were staying in King's Cross, and to meet up with friends, one of whom goes back to my Young Socialist days in the early-1960s, and you can see that there was a lot to do.

So, how did it go? Well, we did all of these things and a few more besides. We ate well and collapsed, exhausted, at the end of each day. We spent a large chunk of Wednesday walking with Ivy and Keith from the Tate to Trafalgar Square, exploring passageways and buildings, some of which I knew from my days as a child, when I regularly explored London on a half-crown 'Red Rover' bus ticket, and previous visits with Susan. The City of London is a wonderful place to get lost.

London, like Nottingham, is a series of parallel worlds. You either walk, or bus, between them. Nottingham will have to wait until another day, for this blog is about London. I could live in London, somewhere like Camden, or in the quiet squares and streets around stations like Euston, King's Cross and St Marylebone, venturing out for food and walks, with occasional sorties into the other world of museums, theatres and relentlessness. My pictures try to capture the flavour of both worlds. I will be putting more about the open spaces and private gardens I saw in the Parks section of my parkviews.org website in the next few weeks.

Percy Gardens, near King's Cross, was a minute's walk from where we stayed. At 9am on Monday morning it was very quiet, despite being no more than five minutes walk from King's Cross. As you can see, the 'garden' was actually what we would call a roundabout, but in London they call a 'circus'. I prefer the latter.

About 200 yards beyond Percy Gardens, I found Lloyds Terrace, which overlooks Lloyds Square, a private garden which you need a key to enter. The building at the end (top right) is a block of council flats. Not a car in sight, despite the terrace having no rear parking.

I took this picture of Lloyds Square over the locked gate, with the houses in the picture above behind me. Two sides of the square had private housing and two sides had council flats.

As I was taking the pictures, a gentleman came across the road and very kindly asked me if I would like to go inside. He then opened the gate for me. His name was Mr John Murray-Brown. He apologised for the fact that he could only spare a minute, but it was enough time to take pictures inside the gardens, which I will put onto parkviews.org.

We found a little café close to Kings Cross Station on the Pentonville Road, where we had breakfast every day. The eggs were perfect and the atmosphere wonderful, with the owner remembering our order on subsequent visits. There was seating for sixteen customers and most were taken by workmen and old timers. Another couple also found their way to the 'Modern Café' and came in Wednesday morning trailing their suitcase behind them (we had left ours back at the hotel). It was from here that we set out for the V&A, where we spent a good few hours looking at jewellery and eating a lovely lunch. I spent time looking at a ever-changing light feature in the V&A's courtyard. I liked the juxtaposition of the old and the new.

In the mid-afternoon we made our way to the Royal Academy, which also combines high-tech architecture and water features with the old. I enjoyed our two hours going around the Byzantium exhibition, which I left feeling exhausted. I now know what it is like to overdose on icons! If I had religion, I would prefer plain and simple, but I am glad others like it gaudy and intense, so that I can go and visit once in a while.

On Tuesday, after breakfast, we made our way to the Tate Modern on a 63 bus from King's Cross to Blackfriars Bridge, from where we walked by the Thames to the Tate and a cup of coffee, whilst we waited for Keith and Ivy to arrive. The Turbine Hall is its most impressive feature. When we arrived at 10.30am it was still quiet and there were very few people about. What the building lacked for me was intimacy. I saw no quiet corners which spoke to me or drew me in. Perhaps I didn't look hard enough. Next time I visit I will spend more time there.

Outside the Tate, it is only a few steps to the Millennium Footbridge, which may not wobble anymore, but, I'm glad to say, does sway a little. I rate this as one of my best pictures ever. At the weekend, I'm going to strip the colour out. From here we walked and walked, down alleyways and across cobbled courtyards, through Lincoln's Inn Field, into the Temple Church, down Fleet Street and The Strand, having an excellent lunch along the way in the old Bank of England building, now a Fuller's pub, before arriving at the National Portrait Gallery beside Trafalgar Square. When we were thrown out at the end of the day, we walked along Haymarket to Piccadilly and Regent Street, then Oxford Street and a No.10 back to King's Cross.

Susan took this picture of me posting this blog. There is nowhere like home.

The world of London shops is one I would prefer to avoid. Once I would have enjoyed the bustle and the rough glamour of it all, but not now. Even the V&A and Royal Academy seemed noisy. If I lived, like Laura, a few steps from the Kentish Town Road and its myriad small shops with food and faces from around the globe, I could be very happy in London. The gardens and squares where I began this blog would also be a great place to live, with the No.46 to take me direct to Camden to do my shopping and to eat out in back street cafés, which would pull me in with their smells, the warmth and the chatter, which escapes through their entrances as customers come and go.

But then, I have all this already in Lenton and Nottingham, in the Crocus and Rosie's cafés. Hyson Green is as close to Lenton as Camden is to King's Cross, even if I don't have a direct bus route to take me door to door. So, why at my age, hanker for something somewhere else which I already have where I am? No, Lenton suits me just fine. I might manage Beeston in a few years time. We shall see.

The Tories have responded to the Government's decision to allow a third runway at Heathrow Airport by promising to fight the plan 'every step of the way'. The Liberal Democrats have also expressed their opposition to the expansion, as have 50 Labour MPs.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

A Nottingham I don't recognise

Saturday 10 January 2009 and skaters are still enjoying the temporary ice rink in the Market Square.
Also last Saturday. A tram pulls away from its Market Square stop and heads for its terminus at Station Street. A Nottingham tram with The Council House in the background tells a great deal about what the city is and aspires to be. It must be the best tram backdrop there is in England, apart from Blackpool Pier.

This blog was actually posted on www.parkviews.org last Saturday, but I had trouble with the web at the time and was unable to upload this version. We've been in London since then and just got back (more in next blog tomorrow):

Anyone who regularly reads my blog (and I apologise for the long gap since my last posting) will know that I don’t hold back when it comes to criticism, especially of those who like to control us, but, but, I have to say there is a world of a difference between carping on about how bad things seem in Lenton and Nottingham to complaining, then suggesting what can be done to address the problems or issues raised.

There is a blog called ‘Nottingham is crap’ and last week the General (discussion) Forum of the ‘Warseer.com’ website was full of emails from students saying what an awful place Lenton was to live. This morning someone gave me a copy of The Spectator from 6 December 2008, which devoted a whole page to saying what an awful place Nottingham was. Radford, St Ann’s, The Meadows, Bilborough, Basford and Broxtowe were described as ‘pockets of deprivation, crime, drug addiction and third-generation welfare dependency, where you can smell the stench of hopelessness (and) the city’s plight is exacerbated by the lack of imaginative regeneration’. The article was full of this kind of invective and created an image of Nottingham I do not recognise.

There are plenty of other English towns and cities I find far less appealing than Nottingham, which have had their centres isolated by dual-carriageways and new housing and shopping developments. We drove through one of them yesterday on the way to a friend’s funeral in Sheffield. It is called Chesterfield. Mansfield to the north of Nottingham is the same. So are Derby and Leicester. My list could go on. By any measure, Nottingham is a far better place to live. We have the best buses outside London and a tram line which should have been extended before even the one and only line opened. That this hasn’t happened is not the fault of Nottingham City Council.

Of course we have problems which need addressing and I hold some of the city’s councillors responsible. I also blame council officers and managers for the plight of many parts of the city. All too many of them show no respect or regard for the communities they serve — I have to look no further than Lenton for evidence of this fact and I have cited plenty of examples in this blog since I started nearly two years ago.

However, all these things are relative, for I would far rather be living in Lenton with the problems I see around me than living in any of the places I have named. My ideal city would be Nottingham and Lenton by Sea — a kind of Brighton and Hove in the Midlands, with a large inlet following the line of the Trent and cutting across to The Wash. A thousand years from now, maybe (if you’re around then, remember, you read it here first!).

It’s one thing for me to criticise Nottingham, its city council, and, yes, the Labour Party, but I take the view that I can — because I am part of them. When I have the time I will write about the good things, but not until the bad and annoying things have been sorted and put right!

Labour is fighting back in the battle of the blogs, with a new website to be launched this week aimed at sparking an online debate among what it calls "Labour-minded" people over thinking inside the movement. It forms part of Labour plans to "take the fight to the web", with ministers fielding questions in online forums.