Since retiring over 4 years ago, I have been pretty diligent at making and tracking progress against annual New Year resolutions. Progress this year was patchy. I met my alcohol-free days and alcohol unit reduction targets. I also exceeded my target of an average of 15,000 steps a day, and my weight has just about stayed within the target range. However, intentions to step up organisation of the vegetable garden and composting facilities have remained unfulfilled and I read a woefully small number of books this year.
This time last year, Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) and I made a new, joint resolution to travel around the UK more. Covid has, of course, restricted overseas trips and our sons are now living all around the UK – in Belfast, London and Edinburgh. So perhaps inevitably, we have done more travelling around the UK than in the past, culminating in our Christmas on Skye, Scotland.
Our joint New Year resolution this year is to step up and renew our familiarity with the UK even more. We have already started with a few trips this January and are lucky enough to have the prospect of many more this year.
We had to travel up to London briefly to prepare the Barbican flat for sale. There is another such trip later this week. London is always a pleasure for me; there is so much going on to see and do (even in a pandemic). This time, as well as seeing Middle Son and his partner for dinner at one of our long-time favourite restaurants (Moro), we went to exhibitions in the Barbican and in Tate Modern. Plus, I managed a couple of hours in the Imperial War Museum.
Lubaina Himid’s exhibition at Tate Modern was substantial and well done. The vibrant colours and range of work were impressive but I can’t say I was entirely convinced or entranced by the pieces on show. The pictures sometimes captured movement but didn’t generate dynamism for me and the sonic works, while interesting and atmospheric, weren’t arresting. However, we both liked the bright colours and thought it was an exhibition worth seeing – especially as LSW is a member so tickets were available and felt free.
We both thought that the Isamu Noguchi exhibition at the Barbican was much more interesting. The Guardian newspaper review of the exhibition rather poo-pooed the exhibition as being more like a luxury lighting show room. Certainly there were a lot of lovely lighting exhibits on show but there was so much more. I enjoyed a lot of the sculptures, some of the ceramics and, especially, the way the exhibition juxtaposed these with the light-based works.
As usual, too, the Barbican had put together a clear explanation of the progression of Noguchi’s ideas as they developed through his life. I thought it was an excellent exhibition.
A friend in our village recently recommended a visit to the London Imperial War Museum. So, when I found myself nearby, while LSW was shopping near Borough Market, I took myself off there to investigate the recently commissioned Holocaust Galleries. These build up a picture of the Second World War Holocaust through hundreds of photos and the telling of many stories of Jews and other minority groups persecuted by the Nazis in run up to the war and then during it.
This bottom up approach required time to absorb but had a layering and relentlessness to it that I found very powerful. The portrayal of the seemingly inexorable drive to horror, from before the First World War to the Final Solution, was well done and did not shy away from the relative indifference of the world until it was too late. The history is well known but, nonetheless, rather depressing and the exhibition’s intermingling of the stories of individuals with items indicating the sheer scale of the atrocities was as shocking as ever. My brief tour of some of the other sections of the museum showing uniforms, planes, tanks and rockets felt a bit trivial afterwards and I’ll have to revisit those another day.
Prior to our London trip we made our first visit of the year to The Newt Garden in East Somerset. As readers of this blog will know, we have been a few times before. We love it because it is already a spectacular garden and it is continuing to evolve so there always seems to be something new to see (this time, a Japanese Garden and a ‘Beezantium’ – an exhibition about bees). There is also a lovely restaurant.
We are now members and to justify the cost of membership we will have to go a few more times this year – what a hardship!
Then, after London, we had a day out at Compton Verney which is an exhibition space and park that we had not visited before. LSW had seen a recommendation on one of the many social media connections she has. Specifically this was for two exhibitions that were coming to a close. One was of Grinling Gibbons, a master woodcarver (2021 was the 300th anniversary of his death) the other was of paintings by John Nash (younger brother of the more famous wartime painter, Paul Nash).
Both exhibitions were popular, a little crowded and worth seeing. Grinling Gibbons’s background (initially around the docks in Holland) and his drive to network and commercialise as he built up his business in England was described clearly and interestingly and the pieces on show were terrifically detailed and impressive. However, the full impact of his work would be best appreciated in the houses where his carvings still decorate walls today and I’d have liked to have found out more about how the work was done.
The John Nash exhibition was also well put together and illustrated carefully how his career developed through the First World War, through his love of the countryside, then as a War artist in the Second World war and finally as a retiree travelling the UK and settling in his rural surroundings (as, among other things, a seed catalog and gardening book illustrator). Unfortunately, apart from a few notable exceptions (see ‘Over The Top’ below), I didn’t like the paintings as much as I had hoped (or expected); insufficient liveliness of colour in too many of the works for my liking.
The house grounds, designed by Capability Brown, were lovely in the sun (though muddy underfoot) and the lunch in the restaurant was very reasonable. It was another good day out very much in line with our New Year resolution to get out of the house and our immediate locale rather more. Later this week: London and Edinburgh!