Archive: comedy

This is part 1 of 4 in the series London trip (February 2012)

Last weekend I took a trip to London for the weekend. I arrived on the afternoon of Friday 10 February, and left on the afternoon of Monday 13 February. London is the sort of place I could keep going to. I go about once every two years, and every time I go away feeling like I needed much more time.

Typically, whenever I go to London, it is normally a last-minute deal — something I’m squeezing in around something else. This time round, it was still similarly last-minute, but I took the time to schedule everything in advance. Unfortunately, I was too optimistic and would have needed at least twice as much time to do everything I wanted to.

Day 1 map:

London day one map

Royal Observatory, Greenwich

My first stop was in fact the last addition to my itinerary. But as I kept refining the schedule up until the moment I arrived in London, I ended up deciding to come here first. It was the most out-of-the-way place and I couldn’t check in to my hotel yet, so I thought I’d get this done first.

Being an observatory, it is reasonably high up. So you get some pretty cool views of the area, which I wasn’t expecting.

London panorama

THAT photo on the prime meridian

I stood on the prime meridian line, which is something I wanted to do as a child. I took that picture. I guess you have to.

The Meridian Courtyard itself is surprisingly small. But not to worry, because the main action is to be found in the time galleries. It’s a good place to visit if you’re a time geek or interested in astronomy.

It charts the development of timekeeping over the years. There are lots of early experimental clocks on display. At the other extreme, there are modern-day atomic clocks and GPSs. In between, there are displays about the BBC’s pips generator and the speaking clock.

The nearby astronomy centre, which is free to enter, was a bit of a let down in comparison. But I suppose you get what you pay for.

Cutty Sark

On my way back I decided to take a quick look at the Cutty Sark. But there is a lot of work going on there at the moment, so it’s almost impossible to get a good look at it. But the photo I took of it is reasonably good, considering.

All photos from Royal Observatory, Greenwich:

Tate Modern

The Friday night was the one evening of the weekend in which I didn’t have prior plans. Tate Modern is open until 10pm, and is within walking distance of my hotel. So it came together quite nicely.

I think it’s really great that a place like this is open so late and free. If I lived in London I would probably go quite a lot!

Modern art is controversial, but at least it is interesting. Of course some of it is toss, and there is no way you will like everything on display. But to expect to like everything surely misses the point. Good art should be challenging and thought-provoking, and inevitably that means hating some of the stuff along the way.

It’s the same with experimental music, which I love. If you liked it all, there wouldn’t be much point.

I much prefer to visit a gallery like Tate Modern than a gallery of traditional art containing portrait after portrait after portrait.

I was disappointed that the Mark Rothko’s Seagram Murals are no longer on display. I was looking forward to seeing them, and it turns out they were removed from display in October.

Among my personal highlights was the display Architecture and Power, which explores modernist and brutalist architecture. It offered a lot of the social and political commentary that I found was lacking in the Brutalism book. Very thought-provoking.

I also enjoyed the Dark Humour display.

But my favourite individual piece was Fall by Bridget Riley. I have not been particularly struck by op-art before, and nor was I particularly keen on the other Bridget Riley paintings on display. But physically standing in front of Fall was a real experience. It is very eye-catching, almost literally, as the waves appear to pop and fizz when they are in fact clearly stationary.

I ended up buying a print of Fall in the shop, although when I got home I wondered where it would put it, because looking at it all the time would surely drive me mad. It is now hanging up behind the sofa.

The shop was brilliant, with loads of books about art and design. My wallet was partially destroyed here.

Look Around You is a hilarious pastiche of programmes for schools, public information films, and 1970s television in general. Made by Robert Popper and Peter Serafinowicz, it is beautifully made and packed with silly jokes. It’s one of my all-time favourite comedy programmes. This is the final episode, Brain.

There is also this film, Birds of Britain, made at the same time and included as a DVD extra. It is one of the funniest videos around.

To celebrate the tenth anniversary of Look Around You, Peter Serafinowicz and Robert Popper made a new film, Intermission. It is sublime.

Thanks Peter. Theter. Thanks Robert. Throbert.

Old fashioned television set

I have decided that my new year’s resolution is to watch more television. It may seems odd, since most people’s resolution necessitates getting off the sofa.

There are a couple of drivers for my desire to become a couch potato.

Views of the news

One reason is that I have come to realise that I have surprisingly little knowledge of pivotal visual news events. I get almost all of my news from the radio or from reading articles on the web. In fact, if I’m honest, a lot of it is gleaned from Twitter.

This is easily enough to have an idea of what’s going on in the world. But I don’t have the full picture because, well, I don’t see the pictures.

This hit home when I was watching some of the end-of-year review programmes and realised I was basically about to see everything for the first time. For instance, I knew all about the footage of Muammar Gaddafi’s capture, but had never seen it. I had no idea what Paul McMullan looked like, even though I knew all about what he was saying. I hadn’t seen much footage of the London riots. And so on.

Feeling detached

The other motivation is the increasing sense that I am detached from society. I just can’t take part in those water cooler conversations.

It may be no bad thing that I have never seen an episode of The Only Way is Essex. But my lack of popular culture knowledge means I am veering dangerously close to the territory inhabited by the mythical high court judge who asked who the Beatles were.

The problem is that I stopped watching television for a reason — mainly because I don’t like it very much. There was a point where the only programme I regularly watched was Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe, a programme about television. When I thought about how ridiculous that was, I gave that up too.

I didn’t stop watching TV completely. I mainly used it for watching motorsports. Apart from that, there were just be a handful of TV series that I would watch.

I’m not terribly sure how to watch more without ending up watching crap that I can’t stand. I stopped watching TV because I didn’t want my brain to rot. Is there a way to participate in water cooler conversations without your brain rotting?