Monday, 18 August 2014

What we learnt in London: books can be benches, but, mainly, they are things you buy in gift shops.

We've just got back from the annual long stay in London to look at stuff.  I try to make this looking at stuff which is inspiring and enriching. I like to attempt to ensure that we spend at least twice as long looking at the actual exhibits in a museum than we do in the gift shop.  Sometimes this works. Rather wonderfully, my struggle to make our trips about the culture, rather than about the shopping, was exemplified in a visit to Lucy Sparrow's Cornershop art installation at Bethnal Green.  Lucy's shop stocks items entirely crafted from felt.  She explores the objectification of art, and the concept of gentrification through the replacement of traditional useful shops with art galleries and workshop spaces in traditionally working class areas.  Obviously to show off our understanding of this concept, we bought a felt Boost bar.

We were mainly outside on our first day, dipping our toes in the fountain at Hyde Park and sheltering from the wild winds at the Princess Diana Memorial park in a rather wonderful wigwam.  We did venture into Kensington Palace though, where I bought the Historic Royal Palaces Guide to Kensington Palace and a rather wonderful guide to the Georgians, which I am not convinced even really exists, because I can't find it on Amazon.  The Historic Royal Palaces books are all rather well written and interesting - a rare find in a guidebook, and help to bring the places wonderfully to life.

On our second day, we visited an exhibition about the Russian Revolutionary artist Malevich purely because BabyM was getting fractious, it was 10am and I knew that the exhibition would be virtually empty, given that the gallery had just opened.  I had a membership of the Tate for my birthday, which was wonderful, as it means we go and see as much as we can, in order not to waste it.  Malevich turned out to be pretty interesting, and BabyM was placated.

We went on in search of the National Literacy Trust's Books About Town benches.  There were some rather wonderful ones.  My favourite was "Great Expectations". We did feel that the benches were not very well spread out, however.  There seemed to be about five in one place, and then none for rather a long time, which is a little tough on small bench seekers. I am disappointed to say, that although I should have preferred these to the Wenlock and Mandevilles that were in London for the 2012 Olympics, given that they were all about books and reading, I felt that the Wenlock tours were somewhat better thought-out.  Having said that, they were probably a bit better funded, to the tune of a few bijillion pounds.  There was no gift shop here, but I did manage to go into the Tate bookshop without buying anything at all, which was an achievement.

We had never visited the V&A Museum of Childhood before, but will definitely be going back.  It is absolutely wonderful. Currently, there is a touring exhibition about the writing of Jacqueline Wilson there, among many other attractions. It's free, and really interesting, even for Mummies and perhaps brothers, who are not really all that into JW.  There's a great deal about the process of writing, and about imagination, and the set is interesting and inspiring. We took part in a brilliant story-building session run by the talented people at Discover! in Stratford, which is well worth a visit.

The highlight (well for me anyway) of our cultural adventure was the British Folk Art exhibition at the Tate Britain,  (Actually, that's not strictly true - the highlight was drinking some extremely exciting cocktails and eating a rather lovely French meal with my in-laws, but that's not really relevant or appropriate for a blog about children's books). British Folk Art is a paid exhibition for adults, although children go free, and are presented with a leaflet on which they can record their thoughts.  Not for teeny children, but this was a wonderful illustration of human ingenuity, and what effort and time can help people to achieve.  Highlights include a cockerel carved from button bones with rudimentary tools by a prisoner of war, and a huge quilt crafted from Crimean War uniforms by ex-soldiers. It was wonderful to see craft celebrated. I loved it so much, I even bought the book (British Folk Art by Martin Myrone and Jeff McMillan), so that I can remember it forever.  Time well spent.

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