Thursday, March 24, 2011

Postcard from the tunnel

Greenwich is famous for many reasons. Its wealth of viewpoints which showcase the beauty of London is one of them. That's not what you're seeing here. Another thing Greenwich and the rest of south east London have historically been known for is lack of bridges and poor transport links, for being the land where cabbies fear to tread because of the dearth of return fares to the West End.

Even now the DLR has arrived, the Greenwich Foot Tunnel which burrows under the Thames to link south London to the Isle of Dogs is a lifeline for commuters and provides aural delights to groups of foreign students testing out the echoes. I was lucky to catch it so deserted for my photo. Equally lucky not to be mown down by a cyclist 'not riding' their bike through it.

While central London's bridges and the planned cable car crossing to east London may deliver scenic vistas of the iconic skyline, they don't have the frisson of danger the foot tunnel delivers. You're under water down there! The work in progress to prop up the roof just confirms the potential for it to come crumbling down around your ears. Sadly the lifts are currently under refurbishment, but no flashy cable car or convenient electric train can compete with the delight of being escorted 50 feet underground by a lift attendant accompanied by fading reception from his transistor radio before you promenade under the river.

OK, so it doesn't make for an attractive postcard. Here's the view towards Docklands from Point Hill in Greenwich to make up for it.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Postcard from the Lunar Society

It wasn't the night of the full moon when I attended a Lunar Society lecture this week. The original one in the late 18th century always met on the lightest night of the month to minimise the chances of its members being robbed on their way back from an evening of stimulating debate.

This week's talk at the brightly lit Ikon Gallery took the theme of 'Heritage and the role of art in contemporary society'. It brought together folk such as a modern art curator from the National Trust (I loved seeing a big blue Jeff Koons egg in the conservatory at Waddesdon Manor last summer; sadly they didn't allow photography) and the Guardian's cartoonist Steve Bell.  The original Lunar men met in 'an age of miracles' (the Industrial Revolution - as described by Josiah Wedgwood). Imagine what he'd have thought of the pace of today's technological advancements.

So what role does art and heritage have today? As befits a good debate, there were differing views. Art allows imagination and challenges assumptions so that change can occur. Heritage (eg having a history of such things as the Lunar Society) allows change to be put in context. Both should be valued. At least that's my take on it.

And don't worry, Birmingham is now so well illuminated by street lights and monitored by CCTV that I made my way home without incident.