Monday, February 19, 2007

A fun weekend

If variety is the spice of life, then I think I’ve had my share this weekend just gone! It is rare that I get to do and enjoy so many of the things that I actually like or want to do. This year I am making a conscious effort to get out and about and go places and do things that I’ve long wanted to do or thought I would enjoy.

Saturday started with my OU Tutorial at Kings College, London. I do enjoy these sessions because it is nice to meet the other people on the course and our tutor, Andy, puts across the material in an interesting and engaging manner. This section of the course has been on political theory and ideology, not exactly for me at least, the most riveting of subjects. Dry as dust, would be a more apt description of how I’ve found it. But Saturday’s tutorial was actually quite interesting because instead of talking about abstract theories of social justice and freedom, we were talking about them in context of the everyday. It certainly made things clearer for me anyway.

After the tutorial, I took a rather circuitous route via the tube to Mile End in East London. Why I hear you cry! Because Mile End was the starting point of a walk along the Regents Canal that I’ve been planning to do for a few weeks. It comes from a book borrowed from the library, which I enjoy so much I really don’t want to take it back, which has about twenty different walks around London’s docklands, canals and rivers. I’ve always been interested in canals and not just because some of us are going on a canal holiday in May. My earliest interest in canals was I recall sparked while at school and we had a day trip visiting the lock gates and following the route of the Portsmouth & Arundel Canal. Much of that canal has long since been lost but the most significant reminder of its existence is the cutting between Fratton and Portsmouth & Southsea railway stations, originally part of the canal until the railways took it over. The railways were the death knell for the canals, providing a much quicker and more efficient means of transferring goods around the country and between the ports and the major industrial centres.

Anyhows, back to Mile End and this is where I started my walk along the Regents Canal. The first picture (left) is looking back towards Mile End Lock, in the distance you might just be able to make out the tower of Canary Wharf. The Regents Canal runs from the Limehouse Basin in Docklands to the Paddington Basin, linking up with the Grand Union canal. The Regents Canal was thus a vital link between the docklands and the Grand Union, which meant barges and their loads can easily reach the industrial Midlands. Before the opening of the Grand Union canal navigation was by a rather indirect route to Oxford and thence by the Thames into London.

The second picture (right) is taken from Bonner Bridge and you can see the magnificent Victoria Park on the left. If I read the information board correctly this was the first municipal park in the world. As the tow path was closed along here I had a pleasant diversion through the park and it is easy to forget that this is London, so bucolic is the setting.

In contrast to this rather nice scene, most of the route along the Regents Canal is of an industrial/semi-residential landscape. The third picture (below, centre) is typical of most of the route, although some of the warehouses have now been turned into rather smart apartment and office blocks. One thing, which is particularly interesting about the Regents Canal is that all the lock’s are doubled up so that boats travelling in either direction could use the lock simultaneously. My guide book tells me that the twin locks were abandoned after the Second World War when an unfortunate incident led to the flooding of Kings Cross station.

The final picture along the canal (left) is taken looking at the City Road Basin (to the right), which covers an area of 4 acres and would have been considerably more substantial in the heyday of the canal. A smart office block is also seen on the right. Not far from here the canal comes to an abrupt halt (at least for pedestrians) with the Islington Tunnel. This was where I decided to quit on my trip – I think the journey (including a rather torturous diversion through Dalston to account for another towpath closure) was about 3 ½ miles. It is possible to rejoin the canal at the other end of the half-mile Islington Tunnel, which brings you to Kings Cross and then follow the canal through Regents Park and past the zoo, down to its termination at Little Venice (Brownings Pool) and Paddington Basin. I’ve the short exploration of the latter towards the end of last year.

What was particularly enjoyable about this walk is that it took me through previously unknown parts of London and it reflects a changing and fascinating urban landscape, which it is impossible to appreciate from the road. I hope to do more of the walks in the book over the coming months and certainly complete the other 4 miles of the Regents Canal.

Sunday was another immensely enjoyable day as I took myself off down to Brighton for the Modelword show at the Brighton Centre. It has been many years since I’ve been but as kid my dad would take me every year. It was kind of an early birthday present. Two things really stick in my mind about those days. One was the torturous bus journey of almost three hours from Portsmouth to Brighton (which thanks to Stagecoach it is still possible to endure!) and the other was the model boat display.

Lets be blunt, Modelworld is an event for anoraks and men that are still little boys at heart. Yep, it attracts its fair share of the downright strange and weird but no more so than your average Star Wars convention! Modelworld, as I remember it, was always primarily an exhibition for model railways. That is what I loved as a kid and still love now. I admire these men, for all their eccentricities and knitted jumpers and cardigans because they are so passionate about it. It is with pride that the groups and societies often have the word ‘engineer’ somewhere in their titles because often they will have built from scratch or kits the locomotives and rolling stocks that run. Even the wiring of a large scale layout still leaves me completely baffled! The best layouts are always the ones which reflect, as closely as possible, the practice on the real railway. It isn’t just about trains running around a loop of track, it is about the faultless attention to detail about how trains are run, the landscapes and buildings, the way the complete layout is assembled.

I was pleased to see that the model boats display was in attendance and the star attraction was Titanic. Hopefully from these pics of the model and you can get some idea of the scale of the ship from these I hope. Unfortunately the pool was too small for her to get a good cruise around and Titanic spent most of its 15 minute turn being pushed around by the tugboat. Again, the attention to detail is quite amazing, these are men (invariably it is men) who are deeply passionate and committed to their hobby.

But it wasn’t all model railways and boats, in fact there was rather too little of the former in my opinion. There were lots of sales stands – even saw some Star Wars models for sale – model tanks, some astonishing large scale models of Southern Railway locomotives, various societies and guilds, model hovercraft, a ‘Robot Wars’ style arena and even full scale Daleks in the foyer chasing children!

Sunday finished watching the South Bank Show profile of W H Auden, one of the few – well the only poet if I am honest – whose work I have any time for. I’ve always liked Auden’s ‘Night Mail’ but knew little else of his work or the man himself. Still didn’t feel like I’d learned a lot by the end of this programme other than some tantalising tasters of other Auden poems and a sense that he was a grumpy old man! Alan Bennett described him as a ‘bully,’ ‘a shambles’ and an ‘unlovable man.’ The most powerful praise was from Andrew Motion who as young man described meeting Auden as being like meeting God. One of the more interesting comments was about the relevance of Auden’s work today – his poem 1 September 1939 was apparently used as the mourning song for 9/11. His work was described as being a sound track to the twentieth century and in particular war and tragedy, which I thought was rather depressing.

It is a mystery why this programme was shown in the graveyard slot of 11.10pm on a Sunday night, perhaps that is indicative of ITV’s attitude towards the arts? It is disappointing that in this year, the 100th anniversary of Auden’s birth, that he is being almost completely overlooked. There was some suggestion that this could be due to Auden’s decision to flee to America at the outbreak of the Second World War, something which was deeply contentious at the time and remained so throughout his life. It would be nice to think though that events of 70 years ago could be put behind us and we could celebrate one of the great Britons.


Carla said...

What a great post--fab pictures!

jamie said...

good lord,the boys gone canal crazy!!!
plenty of calories burnt off,though. good lad.

Derek said...

That sounded like a great weekend! Hope you had fun this weekend as well.

I finally managed to update bloggy tonight! :)