Tuesday 18 January 2011

Week in London Sun 9 – Fri 14 Jan 2011 for a course

Lots of interesting stuff in evenings - and my 1st go with Borisbikes.

My challenge was to find a cheap hotel (booked at own expense) within sensible travel distance of Middlesex Street (Petticoat Lane) at fairly short notice. The excellent Hotel-London did the trick. (I used them a lot c2001-2005 until Expedia proved better.) It found the City Hotel in Osborn St (effectively Brick Lane), just round the corner from the Whitechapel Art Gallery.

Before I left Repton I signed up for 7-day mambership of Barclays Cycle Hire (£5) as it might prove handy in the evenings.

One of the great attractions of London at this time of year is that pubs etc. are much quieter than the rest of the year - it's always this way during the first full working week of the year. For me this means that normally packed pubs can be visited. When combined with the rare treat of weekdays in London, I can visit lots of worth-visiting pubs previously unavailable to me.

The hotel room was huge, with double futon bed, sofa, fridge and the Gherkin directly ahead out of the window. I was expecting nighttime street noise from the emergency services in nearby Whitechapel High Street - that doesn't bother me and there wasn't much anyway.

I tried my first Borisbike as the way to get to the NFT. Getting one to undock proved a challenge. Then it took a while to get used to cycling it: they're heavy and they're awkward to walk. The latter matters as I often had to walk them past uncyclable areas, which are common in central London. Once I got past high-traffic streets, I cycled across Southwark Bridge, part of the cycle superhighways. After some more walking of the bike, I arrived at the NFT, after about 45mins total journey, with about half being walking. This is the crux for me: having to walk so much eats into the free 30mins time. To make sense, one has to be sure of a good route with minimal walking and clarity about the start and end bike racks. I've started making mental note of all racks likely to be of use.

I collected pre-booked tickets at the NFT and National Theatre. Sadly Frankenstein is fully booked into April - I'll try again once the next booking season starts.

My first event was at NFT2: Scarface (1932), a film which deserves to be better known. Howard Hawks directed George Raft, Boris Karloff and co. in a Chicago gangster pic inspired by the Borgias. Al Capone liked it so much he had his own print.

On Monday evening was On The Night of the Fire (NFT3), arguably the first British film noir to be released (Nov 1939). With much of interest, it features Ralph Richardson, Glynis Johns, Irene Handl, Terence Young (co-writer) and Terence Fisher (editor). It's supposedly set in the terrace streets under the road/rail bridges of Newcastle but the performances suggest the East End. After theft, blackmail and murder, the wife is killed in a car crash while being chased by the Press and the protagonist (RR) lets himself be killed by the police.

On Tuesday I went to the recently-refurbished Whitechapel Art Gallery for the retrospective of the groundbreaking This Is Tomorrow exhibition from 1956, which launched Pop Art and innovations in typography. I bought the reproduction of the 1956 catalogue.

Later was Make Way for Tomorrow (NFT1), a highly unusual film, the pet project of Leo McCarey. A painfully accurate portayal of how families cope with aged parents in modern times, without a happy ending.

On Wednesday the treat was Seasons Greetings at the National Theatre, one of Alan Ayckbourne's Christmas-themed plays. The ensemble cast were superb: an extended family at war over Christmas. They cast a lot of TV 'names': Catherine Tate, Mark Gatiss, David Troughton, Nicola Walker and Katherine Parkinson. Mark G was particularly impressive as an obsessive, determined to put on his annual lovingly-created puppet show, no matter how boring it is. The invited house guest is a classic dramatic interloper who disturbs the equlibrium and drives the plot.

On Thursday at NFT3 was a compilation of the Whitney Bros. early partly-computer-generated films (c1957-1972). I'd first heard of the Whitney clan via SIGGRAPH in the early 1980s. What they achieved with primitive kit is very impressive. On this showing, they'd thoroughly covered the possibilities of coloured geometric shapes swirling around the screen!

Afterwards I was determined to have another go on a Borisbike but the only worthwhile trip was from the Temple complex eastwards, finishing up south of St Pauls. Overall it only just faster than walking unencumbered.

I didn't have a chance to get to the Brick Lane Gallery or the famous Pride of Spitalfields. Of the Good Beer Guide around Aldgate, I did get to the Hoop & Grapes (disappointing), White Hart (good), Elephant (good), East India Arms (disappointing), and the Peacock (disappointing).