qatsi: (baker)
I pass Old Oak Common depot on the way to work every day. Sometimes I'm getting a little extra shut-eye, but sometimes I look out of the window, and one day, a few months ago, I saw a banner advertising an open day at the depot just outside Paddington. I decided it would be something a bit different to do, and bought myself a ticket for the event, which took place yesterday. Billed as celebrating 111 years of the depot, and featuring "Legends of the Great Western", it was in fact something of an inflection, with the imminent introduction of the IET electric trains on the Great Western line, and the re-purposing of the site to function as the depot for the Elizabeth Line (Crossrail) trains.


The website proclaimed "We expect demand for this event to be high" and the directions for getting to the depot suggested "we expect queues to form in two directions". They weren't wrong. After catching the train in to Paddington and backtracking along the Bakerloo Line to Willesden Junction, I found myself shortly after 10am in a slowly moving queue. There were some disturbing people who knew the Up and Down speed limits as we crossed the bridge over the West Coast Main Line, which also passes nearby. There was also the guy who worked for Network Rail who observed the irony that he has to fly from London for meetings in Edinburgh because the train is too slow and expensive. All in all it was a half-hour shuffle to get through the gates.


Once inside, the main attractions were, obviously, the locomotives, mostly from the BR diesel era but with some older steam locomotives, and one, very special, visitor: 60163 Tornado.



Those who take these things more seriously were constantly jostling for photo positions, and didn't hold back from instructing others to "get out of the way". For the most part, I think it was good-natured, though obviously some would have preferred access to the site without the inconvenience of other people. At the modern end of the spectrum, there was one of the new Class 800 series, Queen Elizabeth II. I do feel there's something missing. Just painting the name on the surface feels a bit indifferent from a polished nameplate, but that's the modern rail system for you. We weren't allowed inside, so it remains a mystery for a little while longer.


All in, it was a fun few hours, and we were lucky with the weather.

Inter alia

Aug. 20th, 2017 04:46 pm
qatsi: (sewell)
I had a short-list for filling time in the afternoons prior to the Proms, quite literally for a rainy day. The forecast for Thursday wasn't good though it turned out fine in the end. The Bank of England Museum is only open during the week, so I haven't generally had the opportunity to visit it, but it's not far from work. I generally avoided the interactive exhibits, though from what I could hear, there weren't many budding economists among the younger visitors trying them out. Nonetheless the story of the Bank is well laid out with some interesting prints and artefacts, and I did try out lifting and holding the carefully monitored gold bar (value somewhere around £400,000) - as well as the novelty value, it makes the point that at 13kg it can't simply be thrown around the way it often has been in crime films.

Conversely, Friday's forecast kept changing and in the end it was a wise move to spend time indoors, so I headed to The Queen's Gallery Canaletto exhibition. This was quite busy, but the ghost of Alan Coren can be assured that it did convey the feeling of being in Waitrose rather than Sainsbury's. There are works by a range of artists in the exhibition, which celebrates the collection purchased by George III from Joseph Smith in 1762. The highlight of the exhibition is the room containing the twelve views of the Grand Canal, Venice, as well as a series of views of Rome, but there are also pencil drawings (some of them quite rough in style, attractive but different to Canaletto's well-known style), capricci fictions, and sketches for the stage.
qatsi: (sewell)
We'd known the Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum would be popular and we'd booked in advance; just as well, as advance tickets have now sold out, and day tickets had also sold out when we arrived. There were long queues for the museum as a whole now that the bag search has become ubiquitous - having a pre-booked ticket allows you to fast-track through some elements of this, but it's still hassle. Sadly it's an arms race of security theatre - if one place does it, they all have to do it for fear of being left behind, a softer target. It's job creation all right, but I rather doubt these are quality jobs.

We had allowed plenty of time and wandered through the free, smaller exhibitions of British Watercolours, which was a mixed bag but had some interesting pieces by Paul Nash, his brother John Nash, Ravilious and others, and Pacific North America, marking the 150th anniversary of the foundation of Canada in a possibly rather awkward way, but at least acknowledging the indigenous culture.

The Hokusai exhibition itself was very busy, essentially a slow-moving queue from end to end, which didn't make for the best experience, but it was worth it to see the range of works, starting with the summoning of a dragon, proceeding through many views of Mount Fuji (including the Great Wave itself), but also flower and bird paintings, a few portraits, and two unusual aerial views of Japan and China. It was interesting to compare with Hiroshige's slightly later paintings of Mount Fuji; on the whole, Hokusai was more monochromatic, frequently using (the then novel) Prussian Blue for his main colour scheme. At the end of the exhibition there are also one or two works by his daughter; sometimes these were passed off as by Hokusia himself in order to increase their value.
qatsi: (urquhart)
We were on holiday in Portugal when news of the Grenfell Tower fire broke. As such, we probably didn't get the wall-to-wall coverage a major incident in London would provide to a domestic audience, although we certainly gleaned the grim details and the abject failure by the Prime Minister in visiting emergency services but not victims. (In contrast, the Queen did visit; but I don't think that's especially comparable. She's explicitly not a political figure and her privilege - like it or not - stems from a different provenance. Though I do wonder whether the folk memory of the bombing of Buckingham Palace in World War 2 - and the 1992 Windsor Castle fire - might have played their part.) Blair or Cameron, or even Brown, would have done better.

May's role, however, just reminded me more and more of Francis Urquhart in The Final Cut. When it was first broadcast in 1995, I felt it was a weak final instalment of the trilogy; the contemptuous attitudes of Urquhart and his government had gone beyond satire. I re-watched it this weekend, and it no longer seems so unbelievably bitter, because we all know that life itself has gone beyond satire in the last year or so. Urquhart's undoing is the death of a schoolgirl in a shoot-out between British troops and a paramilitary group in Cyprus, in a situation brought about directly as a result of his orders to the armed forces, which in turn is indirectly intended to benefit himself financially.

Neither the poor owner of the faulty fridge-freezer nor the manufacturer can be held responsible for the resulting inferno beyond a single flat; what idiocy produced a process that allowed the building to be refurbished with the materials that were used? I imagine the local council's motivation was cost-cutting rather than malevolence (and, as I don't know the chronology, they may be able to claim they were using cladding on the basis that other councils had used it too); but it inevitably brings to mind the corruption of T Dan Smith. The council plainly had no effective plan for a major incident that required re-housing, either. Unlike Urquhart, this tragedy isn't May's fault personally; but May has played her part in creating the culture that has allowed it to happen. It seems to me that her legacy is already set: the wheels are coming off, one aspect of the country after another (security, housing, NHS) falling apart after years of austerity and weakening of safeguards.
qatsi: (gatherer)
Book Review: City of London - The History, by David Kynaston
This is something of a doorstop, but it is also the distillation of Kynaston's four-volume history, and therefore presumably represents the edited highlights. The book covers the period 1815-2001, and I think that is symptomatic of one of its Achilles heels, that it assumes quite a lot of the reader. The Royal Exchange dates from 1570, and Lloyd's of London and the Bank of England from the end of the seventeenth century, and there is only a cursory preamble in the first chapter of the book. Likewise, the terms accepting house, discounting house, and issuing house are introduced without explanation; the book could really do with a glossary.

Setting these misgivings to one side, the book focuses on the increasing financial aspect of the City of London, while also highlighting that, historically, it was also a mercantile and more broadly commercial area. The rise of the Barings and Rothschilds families in particular is noted, while the Stock Exchange contributes Railway mania, and a series of less successful institutions produced a number of banking crises in the mid- to late-nineteenth century. It's striking that the City has always been international in character (initially, offering and managing sovereign debt for other monarchies), and often criticised for it (as a distraction from providing a useful financing service for domestic industry). Private banking slowly gives way to joint-stock banking companies; the First World War deals the fatal blow that governs the next fifty years or so, a largely futile battle to reinstate and maintain the Gold standard. Labour nationalises the Bank of England in 1946; mergers, acquisitions, and asset-stripping become rampant in the 1960s and 1970s; the Stock Exchange slowly introduces new technology, only to discard it a few years later; and so on. The discussion of the "Big Bang" of the 1980s is interesting: it was forced upon the Stock Exchange as a deal to resolve a restrictive practices investigation in the early Thatcher years; indeed, one gets the impression that careers in the City were distinctly leisurely until relatively recently. The overall impression is that the City is apolitical, stridently demanding independence from political interference but rarely able to regulate itself effectively.
qatsi: (sewell)
Due to several busy weekends in March, I'd left it a bit late to go to the Royal Academy's Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 exhibition, so I set off early on Saturday morning. Once again GWR demonstrated their failure to match supply with demand, with a train busier than at "peak" times on an average weekday.

It's a large exhibition, marking the centenary of the 1917 revolution and taking as its scope the art of the USSR's first fifteen years (approximately). Mostly the exhibits are paintings, though there are also photographs, films, domestic and commemorative artifacts, and physical reconstructions. There is a political element to many of the works; some, of course, appearing rather kitsch nowadays, and the airbrushing of Trotsky out of early Soviet memorabilia is funny-but-not-funny. I found a number of highlights: Boris Kustodiev's Demonstration On Uritsky Square (note the young Jeremy Corbyn at the bottom right, studiously reading his copy of Pravda), The Bolshevik, and the chocolate-box-esque Carneval; two contrasting portraits of Stalin, by Isaak Brodsky and Georgy Rublev; the technological Globe at the Moscow Telegraphic Central Station and Leonardo-inspired Letatlin; the weird colour palette of Pavel Filonov; in the style of war art, Alexander Deineka's The Defence of Petrograd and Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin's After the Battle; but also the timeless Day of Annunciation by Konstantin Yuon and Blue Spring by Vasily Baksheev. The exhibition culminates in a room marking the start of Stalin's cult of personality, with a vase commemorating blimp flights between Moscow and New York, and a model of the Palace of the Soviets.

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