The indignity of the empty room

Towards the fag-end of one of the recent rainy Bank Holidays, I’d wanted to see the exhibition at RIBA about British architects, tied in with the BBC series Brits who Built the Modern World. One of my preferred listings sites showed it as open, but it wasn’t. There was a man nearby, protesting stolidly. When RIBA had a late opening event, I thought I would indeed go along. There was no chance of a mistake there. I hadn’t really planned what I’d do when I arrived, and I attached myself to a tour of the building (later on the guide expressed surprise at the growth in his audience –

You seem to be many more than signed up originally).

On the way, we saw Ken Livingstone, just after he’d propounded his favourite London building. In a large room serving as a café, the guide was (rightly) reluctant to compete in vocal amplitude with a band, particularly as his voice was ebbing a little. One of the rooms we were shown was where the exhibition I’d wanted to see had resided, now entirely empty. Hmmph.

After the tour had finished, I saw someone ask one of the band for advice –

I’m just playing music. I’m not an architect at all. There’ll be somebody here.

The questioners seemed to be in search of architectural work when they did grab a Real Person. He gave them the names of various practices –

They’re not my favourites, but I know they do loads of work. Do you read the journals?

George Costanza would have been proud of this aspirational dedication. Upstairs, above the small exhibition on planned developments at various CrossRail sites, there were good views of the architecture of other buildings:

Late Tuesday: London's Greatest Buildings

Flickr set for London’s Greatest Buildings at RIBA

Two days later I saw a cinema showing of the Richard Eyre’s recent production of Ghosts, at the Barbican. A little early, for once, I had time to stuff my face with a Greek salad, while a self-important woman wanted assistance with her large suitcase. Once she’d been advised that assistance would be rendered, she kept accosting people she thought looked like the kind who would deal with a case –

Is it this man?

repeating the query, until the blessed case was safely hidden away. One of my forlorn, uncompleted tasks last year was to see Ghosts, so I was glad of this opportunity, even though it may have been a completely separate production than the one I’d intended. Lesley Manville was tremendous, and she did look wracked at the curtain call. The Pastor was also very good, a compelling combination of pride and assumed piety. On a self-referential note, I think the recording was made at the Trafalgar Studios, venue of the earliest comedy incident reported here.

Two days later, I thought the exhibition at the Guildhall Gallery marking the anniversary of Tower Bridge was due to end, so that was my first stop of the day (in fact, it’s open until 28th July and opens again in September). I think my favourites here were some of the unrealised designs for the bridge, which were endearingly eccentric in their wayward sense of practicality.

120 Years of Tower Bridge

120 Years of Tower Bridge

120 Years of Tower Bridge

Link to Flickr set for 120 Years of Tower Bridge

One show that was indeed closing that day was about the Architectural Review, at the WORK gallery in Islington. I had to wait ages for a 17 bus to come. So long in fact, that two Japanese tourists were concerned enough to ask me if it would be stopping there. It did arrive, and after a couple of stops a group of “Hens” boarded, all wearing Brownies uniforms, replete with a traffic cone. Their day had already been full of incident, the only explanation for their question:

Is there anyone here called John?


Dear Fabian. We’ve renamed you John, as part of our Hen Party Challenge.

They discussed which parts of That London they wanted to see. One thought they should

look out for Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament

while her friend pointed out that they were

kind of connected.

The unwelcome clarion telling us that “the destination of this bus has changed” meant we all had to alight and wait for a replacement bus, going all the way to the promised terminus. I explained this to the Japanese tourists, who had again looked worried. The “Hens” weren’t quite livid, but they were Disturbed. Aboard the new bus, the “Hens” were describing their lives as teachers, and the need for Differentiation, which I remember from a temporary job involving OFSTED reports, two decades ago… When I did get off the bus, the two Japanese thanked me, which made up for the “Hens”‘ inanity.

The exhibition was The Architectural Review: A Cover Story, mainly comprising covers from the 1940s and 1950s, plus some supplementary material. The cover art was often quite polemic, and sometimes at odds with the (arguably) conservative intent of the publication’s contents. There were several references to Brazilian Modernism, which was new at the time of the magazine, and which I had slightly noticed amongst the mass of World Cup cash-in articles in the past couple of months. They did have a gallery innovation, one which I mentioned to the staff, namely that the blurbs alongside the items were on miniature clipboards, so you could detach them and read them easily, instead of having to squint, awkwardly. I’ve added it to my Gallery Circuit, which never seems to decrease. Indeed they have something about Kubrick coming next.

By this time, I’d gone nearly 48 hours without entering a cinema, so I headed to Curzon Victoria, aiming to see the latest by Agnès Jaoui, whose films I always like. Again, I was quite early, so I went upstairs to the sort-of mezzanine area, where I could charge for a bit and eat my apple and banana. They have big tellies connected to Steve Pads, with which members can watch films. Given the time of year, the tellies were showing the World Cup. A father and daughter came up, initially spurning the tellies. Enthusiasm overcame them and they moved closer, putting on headphones. The father started emitting Man Football Noises, even bursting into actual words on occasion –

that was brilliant.

I went downstairs to screen 4 and was on my own for quite a while. Eventually, someone else came in, followed by an annoyingly natter-y couple. The film, Under the Rainbow, was a very funny urban fairy tale, the young female protagonist being someone who would fit very well into a Rohmer film. Jaoui’s character seemed to have a whale of a time with the young kids, building up to a school play.

On the way home, two men opposite me on the Central Line sprayed each other with Man Scent and then sprayed something on their hands, having asked their near neighbour if it was okay so to do.

It’s so smelly in here.

One of them had his Steve Phone dangling around his neck, on a lanyard, which is a more eloquent comment than any I could make.


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