Thursday 6 October 2011

Seeing red: an act of vandalism

This week's gallery is 'colour'. Again I'm late to the party, and I'd like to think this is a grand entrance...but may be not! It gives me the chance to show my favourite artist...Anish Kapoor...I discovered him when I was in Madrid a million years ago, and have been an avid fan ever since. He used a deep blue pigment that was just compelling...if you stood close enough you lost all sense of where you were, seemingly disappearing into the work itself...unsettling and invigorating at the same time.

It gave me enormous pleasure, therefore, when he was chosen as the artistic director of the Brighton Festival in 2009. Here are some of his works in an abandoned building revived for the festival. That red is astounding.

"The Rotherhithe Tunnel is a road tunnel crossing beneath the River Thames in East London. which was formally opened in 1908 by George Prince of Wales (later King George V), and Richard Robinson, Chairman of the London County Council. It was originally designed to serve foot and horse-drawn traffic passing between the docks on either side of the river. Its route includes sharp, nearly right-angled bends at the points where the tunnel goes under the river bed. These served two purposes: avoiding the local docks on each side of the river, and preventing horses from seeing daylight at the end of the tunnel too early which might make them bolt for the exit.

It consists of a single bore, 1,481 m long, carrying a two-lane carriageway 14.5 m below the high-water level of the Thames, with a maximum depth of 23 m below the surface. Four shafts were sunk alongside the tunnel to aid construction and to serve later as ventilation and entrance shafts. The two riverside shafts, built in red brick with stone dressings, were fitted with beautiful wrought-iron spiral staircases to serve as pedestrian entrances. They are now closed to the public." (shortened from the entry in Wikipedia)

Every time I cycle to work, I cycle down and through it...along the pavement to avoid holding up the traffic which otherwise would not be able to overtake me. I've not yet run over a pedestrian, but I'm prepared to open a book on that one. It is with immense satisfaction I can report that since I got my road bike, I now go through the tunnel faster than the cars...especially as the average speed cameras restrict them to 20mph. It is known (by me at least) as the graveyard of wing mirrors - the road being so narrow that passing cars and vans are like jousting knights, and the entire length of the tunnel is littered with broken mirrors.

The wrought iron staircases are beautiful and mysterious, disappearing up into the darkness of the shafts. I'd love to ascend into that darkness.

Apart from the sharp bends, the one other feature of the tunnel are the white tiles which line the walls. They are functional, effective and I believe have been up since the building of the tunnel. In addition, they are everything else. Not surprising given the number of smelly cars and vans that go through the tunnel everyday. I've often thought it wouldn't be too difficult to wash them all clean...the shape of the tunnel means a giant loo brush with water sprayed through it would do the trick.

And this leads me to the vandalism. Over the last few weeks, the night time maintenance workers have been systematically removing the tiles. I guess about half the tiles are gone now, and the rest will disappear over the coming nights and weeks. I don't know what they're going to be replaced with...I've not been able to find out, but I suspect it will be the large panels omnipresent on most modern tunnels. It's a shame. It's an architectural tragedy. It's the sort of thing that happened all over Britain in the post modern world. Yet another piece of our architectural heritage taken away from our children. Another element of character that gives us our historical perspective gone.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Stubborn as a mule

I think I've become quite a fan of David Starkey - he was recently severely criticised for his comments about the summer riots when he said that "the problem is that the whites have become black".

In context what he said was that white youth had taken on board gangster rap culture...with all its negative connotations. If you listen to the street talk on the streets of London, you'll know this to be true. As reported by the Daily Telegraph and First Post Mr Starkey says, " "The question we were supposed to be answering was whether the riots were testimony to some sort of major cultural change in Britain. And I tried to answer that question. Nothing that I said on air could conceivably be construed as racist, but there is this hysteria about race. We have this situation in which we can't talk about it rationally or sensibly." Starkey also rounded on those who attacked him in August, among them Labour leader Ed Miliband and Tory MP Lousie Mensch, saying: "You know yourself by your enemies, and I'm quite happy with mine. Isn't it wonderful that I was attacked by Piers Moron, Louise Mensch and Ed Millipede?"

He's right...there are a whole raft of issues we cannot discuss because this country has become so PC that if you raise them you become an 'ist' It's a shame that I have to quote the convicted pedophile film director Roman Polanski who says on the BBC, "I cannot abide political correctness, which only hides the ugliness in all of us under a veneer,"

At the weekend we got to see the new production of South Pacific at the Barbican, which we were all very excited about - it was a birthday treat for The Cat. It was very enjoyable, but lacked some of the oomph it needed to make it brilliant. Fortunately the grumpy old man and the miserable old woman sitting behind us were making so much noise moaning, groaning and coughing and spluttering that they didn't hear me singing along. It's quite a period piece now, and the racist attitude that is portrayed is very much of its time...and something that the teenagers didn't reallly get - yes once upon a time it would truly have been shocking for a white man to marry a Polynesian and father two children by her. Times have changed.

We also watched Barefoot in the Park on DVD - I love this film of the Neil Simon play. It too is of its time - you can see that from the trailer alone. Simpler times, and very funny even after the umpteenth time of viewing

Back home I have lost a pair of Merrell Mules. They were at the bottom of the stairs, and then mysteriously disappeared. Tidied away by 'That Bloody Woman' to somewhere, and no amount of searching has uncovered them. No she doesn't know where they are..that may be because she doesn't really speak English so my attempts at describing them were met with a pretty blank stare. My hopes aren't that high - two framed photos of us all were tidied away before Christmas, and still haven't been uncovered. I know they'll materialise before the turn of the century, but I'd quite like to wear them now...I might like to watch Barefoot in eth Park, I don't want to experience it.