|Monday in Docklands
||[Dec. 28th, 2017|12:12 pm]
And in honour of helenraven's birthday, a report of the day we spent in Docklands, before our dinner date with her - which was last Monday: not Christmas Day, which, by virtue of being Christmas Day, I think of as not actually attached to any one day of the week, but Monday of last week, the last day of our visit to London. When we had seen helenraven on our same-time-previous-year visit, we had enthused to her about the Museum of London, and she had enthused right back at us about the Museum's Docklands branch. A day when we were due south of the river in the evening, and had agreed to meet for an early-evening drink with a professional contact who is based in the vicinity: it all fitted together.
We may not have found the most direct route to the museum, but I'm always happy to wander about and see what's to be seen. Here's the landmark at which we turned to cross the footbridge:
away from the cliffs of glass, and onto a waterfront lined with warehouses converted into bars and restaurants and finally the museum itself, No 1 Warehouse of the West India Docks.
The Museum, short version: I'm still suffering from information overload. Longer on exposition and explanation, shorter on shiny objects that the main Museum of London, and looking at a shorter historical period (the meta text of its website may talk about "from the Romans...", but the timeline starts 1600 - 1800). The building itself, a warehouse opened in 1802, is wonderful, and the gallery of which I feel I have actually retained something is the top floor exhibition, about the work of the docks themselves:
Unexpected fact: the docks were at their busiest in the 1960s - which, on reflection, makes sense: they didn't just fade out, the traffic peaked to a degree which brought in a new way of working, the introduction of container freight. And unexpected etymology: an object labelled 'tobacco garbling knife' (used to cut away damaged tobacco before weighing, so that duty was not charged on unsalable goods. "The damaged tobacco was then burnt by Customs Officers." I'm sure it was...) Anyway, it turns out that this is the original sense of 'garble', to pick out impurities from spices; the sense of mangling and misrepresenting meaning by being selective is later. I was less charmed by an adjacent case, carefully positioned at child's-eye-level, displaying a mummified cat and rat, with an explanation that they had been found when a panel was removed, ending with the question: What do you think they died of?
Much of the rest of the third floor considers the part played by the London docks in the sugar trade, and so both directly and indirectly the slave trade. (I thought it was hard on the campaigners for abolition, who were criticised for their lack of 21st century values in a way that those who took their profits and looked the other way weren't. But I should maybe check my white liberal privilege). A parallel display looked for (and found) evidence of Black people living in London throughout history, who were not slaves and who were sufficiently numerous not to be particularly remarked on. Downstairs, we found ourselves in the 1980s, with the regeneration of the Docklands as a shiny new business area, and then, round the cornwe, we were in the Blitz and then welcoming immigrants on the Windrush... Clearly we had gone wrong somewhere, and it may be because I was getting weary that I felt the information was coming at me too fast and in too concentrated a form...
We exited through the gift shop, where I found the book about the Cheapside hoard, which I had lusted after last year, left over from a past exhibition and marked down to £10. Outside, it was sunset, and the Christmas decorations had been switched on:
The way to our rendezxous was back across the footbridge, back past the two men on their bench, but this time straight ahead, across the road and up the steps into an unexpected landscape of bright lights and sparkling fountains, shining buildings and totemic figures:
No, not a Henry Moore, but a Lynn Chadwick - and I'd have said that I'd never heard the name before, and maybe I haven't, but he was the sculptor of Trigon, which used to (and as far as the internet is saying, still does) stand in the centre of Harlow New Town. At the far end of that fountain behind them is another sculpture:
and this one is a Henry Moore. I was already feeling that I had stepped into another country, one where there was just more money around, even before I read the Guardian's account of how Moore sold the sculpture to the council at cost, to be sited on a housing estate. The past is another country...
Ah, well. It was also, I admit, a country where an East End pub would not have sold me a pot of Earl Gray tea. We had a very enjoyable hour of conversation about Rainham Marshes and the new Top Level Domains, and then tool the tube to helenraven's flat, and this time we did not get lost or embarrass ourselves by forgetting her address (and therefore not knowing which bell to ring). She welcomed us with sherry and stew and conversation and the third Alexa of our trip, and it was an excellent evening all round.
And we still had most of the next day in with the Bears before it was time to come home...
This entry cross-posted from Dreamwidth: comments always welcome, at either location.