Travels: London: Friday 12th May 2000

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Highlights

First morning open for the Tate Modern; Leicester Sq.; Covent Garden; St Paul's; Baker St. Metropolitan Bar; Euston Head of Steam

Main purpose: be there for the Tate Modern's first morning open.


I got my One-Day Travelcard from a ticket machine, paying via Switch. I'd expected to have to enter my PIN but didn't. Presumably this is a candidate for biometrics such as a retina scan for the coming era of smartcards.

The train was supposed to be non-stop but had to halt at Welwyn North at 09:53 as someone had pulled the emergency cord. We were off again at 10:04. After a short Northern Line Tube journey I emerged from London Bridge station at
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10:38 and walked along Stoney Street past the rear of Vinopolis and Borough Market, along Clink Street, past the Anchor pub. The refurb. of the Riverside Walk has moved here, the area near the Globe and Tate Modern now being complete.

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I went into the Tate Modern from the north at 10:50, arriving on the first floor platform across the turbine hall, alongside Louise Bourgeois' Maman (giant spider). The previous day I'd watched the fascinating programmes on BBC covering the official opening by the Queen and later on the party for celebrities.

Even though the building only opened 50 minutes before, it already looked fuller than the 2,000 and 4,000 people at the respective events the previous day. I later heard that queueing started at 05:00. My guess is that by 11:00 there were around 10,000 in already. The lifts were full of people, as were most galleries.
[A striking comparison with the pathetic attendance figures for the Dome. More...]

It's strange to have a building opened twice by the Queen - in this case in 1962 when it began as an oil-fired power station, lasting until the oil crisis c1974. The Tate intends to make use of the vast underground oil tanks in a future phase of development.

The Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron have done a superb job adapting Giles Gilbert Scott's building.

I went downstairs and then down the wide entrance ramp to the floor of the hall. The bookshop (said to be the largest art bookshop in the world) was full. I took the stairs to floor 3 for the Landscape and Still Life galleries and then went up to floor 4 for the displays there. Half of that floor was a ticket-only temporary exhibition Between a Cinema and a Hard Place. My Art Fund membership entitled me to a reduced price but I'd had enough for the moment. Most of the galleries were full. I planned to return on the 10th June when the Millennium bridge opens.
[London SE1 has a major feature on Tate Modern, with reviews.]

One key element of Tate Modern was the decision to display art by themes rather than chronologically by artist or movement. I'm sure the latter approach deters non-specialists from appreciating the works. For me the thematic displays were a triumph, producing far greater levels of interest and surprise and suppressing "gallery fatigue". The juxtaposition works.

The physical spaces were neutral white, with technical details successfully discreet. The plain, unvarnished floorboards also fitted perfectly.

One excellent detail: there are small rest areas adjacent to the galleries extending into and overlooking the turbine hall. In the first one I came across I saw some bored-looking teenagers taking refuge.

Some of the works which particularly stuck in my mind:

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I left at 11:50, mainly as the place was so busy, and tried the Founders Arms (Youngs), the nearby pub.
[See London SE1 article.]
On my previous trip this seemed to be closed but it was filling up rapidly now. Ten minutes later I wouldn't have found a seat. I had a half of Triple A (4%, 1.05). The pub was built in 1979 but has rather languished in the intervening time till the recent revitalisation of the area.

[See BBC News's Scooter Chic? Push The Other One!. A February 2001 edition of Trouble at the Top revealed that a Hamley's buyer spotted it at a U.S. toy fair and thought it would be a winner.]
As I left I saw my first Micro Skate Scooter - the trendy gadget of 2000 so far.

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Carrying on upriver along Riverside Walk, I came to Gabriel's Wharf again. There's a large wooden hut there operating as a quality pizza parlour (Gourmet Pizza - already full) and a good range of small shops and stalls. There's a real community buzz to the place.
[Gourmet Pizza] [Row of shops] [Southern end] [Central stage]

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Via Upper Ground I returned to Riverside Walk and then went up Concert Approach Road to Waterloo station. I travelled to Embankment station and walked out along Northumberland Avenue to Craven Street and found Craven Passage.
[See the article on Craven Passage in A guide to the alleys, courts, passages and yards of central London ]
The eastern branch of it led me to the Ship and Shovell - unusually the tiny pub is on both sides of the passage, which is about 3m wide. It was already full (I returned on the next trip) so I carried on, finding the Passage led down to Arches Arcade, which in turn leads up through a small Collectors Fair (every day) to Charing Cross railway station.

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I took the Northern Line to Leicester Square and found the area is now largely pedestrianised.
[I was last there at the Odeon in 1977 for the first week of Star Wars (Episode 4) via a CUSFS minibus trip. The film showed there for three weeks before coming to the Victoria in Cambridge and we couldn't wait. When we came out from seeing the film, we helped someone in the Square whose car was blocked in by others - it was still a normal Square with a road on the four sides of the central grassy area. We carried his car out of the line of parked cars into the roadway.]

I was surprised at how the area has changed: the Odeon is an ugly black edifice, there's another giant cinema across from it, the Empire, and just off the Square is a large Warner Village cinema. Most of the shops around there seemed to be various fairly seedy or naff emporia, such as cafes, pubs, slot arcades or video game parlours - that sort of thing (I don't remember any specifically). On the southern side of the central grassy area is the Half Price Ticket Booth. That part of the Square was redeveloped around 1990/1 as an underground power substation.

I noted Wyndham's Theatre is alongside the Tube station entrance as I was thinking of seeing the comedy Art there, having read good reviews.

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At 13:15 I travelled on to Covent Garden - my first time there. Following James Street down led me to the square and I walked around it clockwise. In the south-east corner is the London Transport Museum.
[The LT Museum arranges occasional tours of disused railway facilities - see some examples.]
An opera singer was warbling in the middle of the covered market in the middle of the square. There seemed to be a great variety of shops - even a "New Age Gift Shop". To the west side street performers were entertaining a large crowd in front of St Paul's Church. Nearby was a "Dr. Marten Dept. Store".
[East side] <- east side looking south
[Street ents.]
[Dr. Marten Dept Store]

I carried on to Holborn where I changed to the Central Line for St Paul's Cathedral. This journey and the previous one were the only Tube journeys of the day on full trains, it being lunchtime.
[At one station around this point there was a notice comparing use of the lifts with stairs: the latter is equivalent to 15 flights of normal stairs. On a previous trip I experienced this myself at one station - the lifts were out and I had to walk down. Some stations have signs cautioning people against walking up.]

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[View down St Peter's Walk] St Paul's is one of the few tourist attractions I'd visited before leaving London in 1972. On this occasion I just wanted to walk around the churchyard and then down the walkway, St Peter's Walk, which looks very recent and doesn't seem to match even my 1998/1999 maps. It leads straight down to Millennium Bridge and is going to be a superb sight - from the south entrance of the cathedral down to Tate Modern.

[Surrounding area] I turned left (eastwards) and went along various narrow lanes: Distaff Lane, Queen Victoria Street, Huggin Hill, Little Trinity Lane, College Lane, Dowgate Hill, Cannon Street,
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Laurence Poultney Hill/Lane, Arthur Street/Martin Lane. I came across a curious object in a wall in a lane leading eastwards into Martin Lane: it seemed to be an offertory (a place to make donations/offerings).
[Curious object] [Close-up]

Next I rode from Monument station to Tower Hill and the train terminated there. I popped up to the viewing platform for the Tower and then went back into the station. Whilst waiting for a train I saw in the distance an inscription on the tunnel wall saying that part of it was a section of the Roman city wall c200AD.

Then I took a Circle Line train to Baker Steet (arriving 15:15) but I exited from the station the wrong way, arriving on the south side of Marylebone Road, so had to cross to the main station. Next door is the entrance to the refurbished Metropolitan Bar - now a JD Wetherspoon.
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The decor is stunning - gilding, "Wedgewood-style" (inspired by Robert Adam?) decorations in the vaulted ceiling and much more. I remember hearing a few years ago that the grand booking hall of the Metropolitan Line Station was being refurbished. However the beer choice was pathetic and I ended up with a half of Courage Directors which turned out to be the end of a barrel and foul (1.00). The place was fairly full but mainly of non-suited male groups - people who should have been at work?

Next up was the Head of Steam at Euston (15:55) - at long last.
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It was smaller that I expected but cosy and welcoming. There was a reasonable number of beers on but the most interesting one was Shepherd Neame Master Brew Bitter, which doesn't say a lot. 90p/half & OK (nothing special). The clientele was similar to the Wetherspoon's.

I caught the 16:03 train back from Kings Cross, arriving at 17:40.

There was a little light rain around 14:20 and 15:10 but it was otherwise dry, with occasional sun.

The ten Tube journeys would have cost 10.50 without my Travelcard, nearly doubling the overall cost.


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