Saturday, 9 April 2011

London Again!

Students at UEA basking in the sunshine.
This week involved a bit of tidying up loose ends - handing in a 400-word proposal for my dissertation, writing a small piece to submit to the UEA Anthology, and of course the wind-up party for the Autobiography module, which was great fun. And now to the essays. But first I'm taking a short break to show Sally around town. She arrives from Vancouver tonight for a ten-day visit and I'm looking forward to a nice diversion before I really have to buckle down with the writing - 25,000 words altogether.

Heading to Holroyd's talk.
Yesterday I took the train to London with Thea to attend Michael Holroyd's presentation on Biography and Portraiture at the National Portrait Gallery. It was a sunny day in London with a warm breeze blowing - the sky incredibly blue and surprisingly fresh, and the trees are just coming into leaf. Before meeting Juliet at "The Crypt" restaurant across the street from the gallery - a fascinating subterranean eatery with ancient memorial stones in the floor dating back hundreds of years - we had a chance to zip through the NPG and look at some of the modern portraits. I could easily spend a day there and look forward to going back and visiting the upstairs where the older portraits are hung. The Crypt is a good place to eat - very reasonably priced and good food presented buffet style. I had a pork chop with polenta, grilled eggplant and red onion, and said yes to the delicious gravy the man generously poured over it all. Thea and Juliet enjoyed a creamy mashed potato and cabbage pattie with grilled vegetables - "bubble and squeak."

Speaking of squeak, Thea and I noticed a small mouse running around under the tables, adding to the authenticity of being in a crypt. Years ago, I took Darin to the wax museum in Gastown. It was in a below street-level, dark cellar-like space. He was only around eight years old and like all young boys was quite impressionable. He kept whispering to me that he was getting scared and that he was sure one of the wax figures had moved. Then we saw a rat run along the edge of the brickwork surrounding the crypt and yes, he was right, I spotted a small movement from one of the wax models - an actor dressed up to look like a wax figure. We both screamed and ran out the exit, which was luckily close by. I remember thinking that an older person could easily have suffered a heart attack after a trick like that. Maybe that's why the place closed.

Portrait of Thea by me.
After eating, Thea, Juliet and I walked across the street to the NPG and followed the crowd down some stairs to the Ondaatje Wing, a small, very comfortable tiered-seating theatre, beautifully designed with slat cedar walls. View it here:

With Michael Holroyd was Michael Barclay, host of BBC's "Private Passions." They talked about how writers or painters approach biography or portraiture and how they are influenced not only by their subjects but by their own life experiences. Holroyd emphasized his point by showing a slide of his portrait by Michael Reynolds. In the painting, Holroyd's expression is very sad and resigned - not at all the impression one gets when meeting the man in person. Holroyd learned later that Reynolds was dying of cancer when he painted the picture, and the expression Reynolds brought to the portrait reflected that. An excellent way for Holroyd to illustrate his point.

National Portrait Gallery

When we left the theatre around 8:30 pm, it was still light outside - a warm, pleasant London evening, with a sliver of new moon hanging above Lord Nelson's statue in Trafalgar Square. Thea and I jumped on the #11 bus for the short ride to Liverpool Street Station and the train back to Norwich. We had time to grab a coffee and a tea at the station before the train left and, once aboard, settled down to reflect on the day, read our books...and sneak in a wee snooze.
Portrait of me by Thea.

Tombs in the restaurant.

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