Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Kew, Strawberry Hill and Leighton House

Saturday's walk was the relatively short one of Kew to Richmond along the Thames (my Aunt and I went to see the orchids at Kew again this year. No good pictures I'm afraid, although the displays were stunning.)

I was also up that way 3 weeks ago. That was a longer walk from Kingston to Kew via Strawberry Hill and Richmond, even colder and more empty, especially contrasted with last summer when it was absolutely heaving. There were some dog walkers along the whole route of course – there are always dog walkers and occasional cyclists, you’re never completely out of sight of others for very long.  It was bleak though, and dark as well by the time I got to Kew station. It's lighter in the evenings now.   

Strawberry Hill House itself was actually closed, although you can walk around the gardens and the exterior of the house, so it was still worth a nose at. 

This time, coming from the other direction, we mostly noticed the flooding on the other side of the Thames path, the height of the tide on the river side, and a large and beautiful building which we later identified as Syon House, the gardens and greenhouse of which I think I stumbled upon when I was living in Hounslow and walking to Kew.  Or at least, in the vague direction of Kew.
I can date that walk surprisingly accurately as September 2000 because I only lasted 3 weeks in Hounslow, mostly because I had no door key the whole time, so had to wait for the landlord to get in before I could, which meant sitting in the world’s most depressing shopping centre; but also because I found out the room I was renting had actually been prepared for a relation of his who was taking up a place at Guildhall or Goldsmiths, and when she delayed coming over he’d rented it out in a fit of pique. (She eventually arrived a fortnight after I did and moved out about the same time for broadly similar reasons).

Returning to this Saturday’s walk though: Somewhere between noticing but not recognising Syon House and reaching Richmond Lock it finally occurred to us that the river was high because the tide was coming in

Of course we both knew that the Thames is tidal up to Teddington – it’s part of the general knowledge about London learnt so early that I no longer remember where I first learnt it. H V Morton? G E Mitton? Jerome K Jerome? One or both of my parents? – and I was once flooded out of a riverside cafe in Richmond in my teens, and my Aunt trapped in a pub on another occasion, but this was exceptional, with water running over the path both in front and behind us, flooding the ditch and across the grass beyond. Wading was the only option. 

I later looked it up and found that this was the second highest tide predicted this year - there's another in October - but it wasn't just us caught out.

There was even a couple with a pushchair, who I think gave up at Twickenham Bridge, but we waded on – in deeper water now - under the railway bridge and then up the side of Richmond Palace, clambering and moving crabwise on top of the wall to the Old Deer Park and hanging onto the railings.

Flooding also at Greenwich apparently, captured on twitter and here: http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/london-flooding-river-thames-bursts-banks-swamping-waterfronts-across-capital-10061480.html which won't hyperlink for some reason, which is annoying.

The only other thing I've done in the last week is gone to the late night opening at Leighton House. I’ve been wanting to see the house for a while, since I work in Kensington, but not wanting to go in my lunchbreak and only have 20 minutes to spend. It was a plus that there was also an exhibition of what I think of, broadly, as pre-raphaelite art (but the internet tells me is aestheticism) on at the moment, but I could tell that I was out of kilter with other visitors. Most people were there for the exhibition alone, whereas if the exhibition had been held in a different space I wouldn’t have gone to it.

Why? Well, it was all a little too beautiful for my taste. Perhaps it’s because I studied Ancient Greece but I’m suspicious of the cleanliness of the marble and the brilliance of the fabrics and the beauty and health and youth of everyone in the pictures and the fact no-one is ever working with the possible exception of musicians. I know it’s not meant to be real, but there’s not real and there’s ‘this bears no resemblance to any human life ever’. It bothered me less when the people were meant to be nymphs than actual ancient Greeks.    

Turner is more my thing and his recently closed exhibition at the Tate was excellent, showcasing his later works. I’ve seen some before at the maritime museum, and of course 'upstairs' in the Tate, but there's a real sense of him trying to capture light and movement in this period, in paintings that apparently didn’t make sense to his contemporaries.

As with Leighton House, I’m always amazed by how many people pre-book tickets, take a special trip to London, pay the exhibition prices, survive the crush (although actually LH was very civilised), and then look at nothing else. With the Turner exhibition it was especially noticeable because the Tate has a stunning permanent collection of paintings by Turner.
There were about 8 people up there, footsteps echoing against the high ceilings.  

Fewer in fact than at another recently visited art exhibit in the Orleans House Gallery which I stumbled across in that walk from Strawberry Hill to Kew. That was also very good, entirely free, and if I had about £900 there was at least one picture I would have bought there and then.

The exhibition itself is of paintings and photographs of Richmond, both old and new, abstract and accurate, and according to the website is open until the 31st May: http://www.richmond.gov.uk/home/services/arts/orleans_house_gallery.htm.
I’d urge anyone in the area to go. 

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