Monday, September 30, 2013

Postcard from Cardiff

Unexpected highlight of my trip to Cardiff: the wall which protects Bute Park from the traffic-clogged Cowbridge Road. Perched on the coping stones are delightful animal sculptures some with glass eyes making them seem so alive I imagined them poised on the point of escape into the city centre. I may start a campaign for all walls everywhere to be fitted with these.

The actual purpose of the trip also mixed the imaginary and real worlds - I went to see a painting which featured in Margaret Forster's book 'Keeping the World Away'. The book is part fictionalised biography of the artist Gwen John and part story of other women who've encountered one of her paintings. It's the one on the right below and is called 'Corner of the Artist's Room'. You can see she used the corner as backdrop for other paintings, there are even several versions of the 'Corner' itself and a print of it hangs in my own house. Cardiff Museum and Art Gallery are lucky enough to own an original, well worth driving 100 miles to see. I love the picture because the dormer window is similar to that in my 'book nook', although my view is of south Birmingham tree tops rather than Parisian roofs.

Another unexpected delight in the Cardiff area is Dyffryn Gardens. You know how much I enjoy sitting in a garden and how much I dislike actual gardening. Popping into each differently themed garden 'room' at Dyffryn was fascinating and attempting to select a favourite impossible. What's that? You're not interested in the plants, you want to know about the cafe? Come on, it's National Trust, of course they do good cake!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Postcard from the Library

Queues have formed outside the new Library of Birmingham every day since it opened last Tuesday. Millions of photographs have been taken by thousands of visitors. And, this weekend, the city centre buzzed with celebrations to welcome the new building. Which is why I've posted you a picture of a singer from the brilliant Birmingham Opera Company presenting Mussorgsky's Songs and Dances of Death in the library amphitheatre, rather than a shot of the building. Other photographers have taken better pictures than me. Google it if you haven't seen it. It's the kind of architecture you'll have an opinion on.

The folk at the Library were kind enough to let me have a go on their blog in which I expressed how keen I was to get inside and start working there again. From my first visit, I'm impressed. I like the layout of space, the light, the gardens, the views. I enjoyed rounding a shelf to discover an intriguing artwork. I loved seeing Brummies expressing their surprise at how much information and entertainment was freely available to them. But I can't work there, not yet.

A pedestrian thoroughfare passed below the old Central Library. Everyone walked under it on their way somewhere else; very few went inside. The fanfare around the new Library means the entire city want to see inside so, for now, it's a destination as much as a library. When I visited there were queues at almost every librarian's desk. I bet they've never been so popular and it's great to see people interested in books of all kinds. Fortunately I'm at the stage of plotting ideas for my next novel so people watching counts as research. Maybe the crowds will have dispersed by the time I want to sit down and write. I've spotted the window-facing desk I fancy and I don't need the library to be silent in order to work there. I'd just prefer not to queue!