12 March 2007

The world's biggest urinal?

An update on the weekend's exploits:
 
I've still not received a paycheque yet, having only been working for a single week, but there was obviously no way I'd turn down the opportunity for a Friday night in the West End!  Fiona and Patrick were dining at the Cork & Bottle in Leicester Square, and invited me along to catch up.  I had a little trouble finding them at first, because they were secreted in a subterranean niche at the back of the downstairs bar, perhaps part of an old wine-cellar.  There was plenty of room as long as you didn't stand up: the roof was just over five feet high, and the bar owners had thoughtfully installed handholds loops in the entranceway, to facilitate a paratrooper-style swinging entree.
 
McLean and Pond are both in good form of course, and enjoying their new flat in Vauxhall.  (I love how the Tube announcements pronounce it "Vawx...hall", generally preceeded by an emphatic "This!", so the whole phrase emerges in the style of a RADA-educated thesp declaiming to the back rows: "This!  ...is Vawx...hall...  Alight here for The Oval Cricket Ground".  None of this "Voksill" nonsense, never you fear).  It was great to catch up with them and have a good old chat.  Soon enough they'll be jetting off for a holiday in Morocco, which may well include a stay in the beautiful Atlas Mountains.  And Patrick's father was there too, so I can say I've met a proper English grown-up now.  Apart from Anne, my boss at the BOA of course, who is fairly grown-up herself.
 
On Saturday I zipped into town to visit the TNT Travel Expo near Holborn.  There were several dozen stalls advertising backpacker tour companies, hostels and destinations, and all were absolutely thronged with hundreds of backpackers - some of whom had even remembered to remove their daypacks before pressing through the crush.  All of the maximum-occupancy backpacker flats in Putney and West Hampstead must've emptied out for the day to come to the Expo.  I gathered a helpful selection of pamphlets, including a free mini-Rough Guide to Wales and some interesting guff on backpacker tours in France, Spain and Egypt.  As I wasn't exactly pressed for time, I also attended a half-hour talk on travel in Egypt by an Aussie woman who has lived in Cairo for the past six years.  It was fairly informative and had the overwhelmingly positive benefit of being free, but I was itching to say something when she claimed that the Nile is the world's only northwards-flowing river.  (What she meant was it's the world's longest northwards-flowing river, or that it's probably the only one people have heard of.  Here's a list of northwards-flowing rivers if you desperately need to read about them.  You know you want to...). 
 
This morning being cleaning time, I attacked the bathroom in flagrant contravention of generally recognised policies on chemical warfare.  Having never given much creedence to the need to polish glass, the task of cleaning the shower-stall proved to be a major challenge.  In the end I settled for a perfectionist's approach - a minute centimetre-by-centimetre approach to polishing that would've done the Royal Household proud.  Well, there's a first time for everything, isn't there?  
 
After that outburst of excessive hygiene, I ventured forth into London's balmy warmth.  By late afternoon the temperature was topping 16 degrees.  And that's not a mis-print.  Naturally I managed to completely misread the way the weather was shaping up, and over-dressed for the occasion - nothing like a good winter perspiration attack.  In any case, I decided to make use of the splendid weather and take a turn through Hyde Park.  Starting at Hyde Park Corner, I ambled past neatly-trimmed hedges, small fountains and the well-trodden turf of the horse-riding track: the old Rotten Row where high-society Londoners used to dress to the nines and ride in their open-topped carriages to see and be seen:
 
Forsooth, and on a livelier spot,
The sunbeam never shines
Fair ladies here can talk and trot
With statesmen and divines
Could I have chosen, I'd have been
A Duke, a Beauty, or a Dean.
 
- Frederick Locker Lampson (1821-95), 'Rotten Row',
 
Given the gleaming sunshine, it was also a good opportunity to take in the Albert Memorial, just across from the Albert Hall.  I attended the re-opening of the memorial in 1998 (I think) when the Queen stood in the cold night air barely 50 metres away from me and gave a nice little speech about her recent ancestors.  Now Albert is surrounded by fields full of multi-cultural Londoners playing football, frisbee golf, roller hockey, softball and a myriad of other sports.  The Memorial is still an explosion of architectural grief that's out of step with all around it, with lamenting golden angels serenading a gilt-drenched prince, but it certainly stands out amongst the other much more restrained monuments around London.  
 
Before I left Hyde Park it seemed churlish to miss out the memorial fountain dedicated to Diana, Princess of Wales.  Problem was, I had no idea where it was or what it looked like.  I knew it had proved controversial when it was unveiled in 2004, again by the Queen, but that was about it.  The supposedly handy signposts at the major path intersections weren't much help either, as several of them contradicted each other.  (Mind you, I'd not be surprised if idle London youths make a point of redirecting the signposts to confuse tourists...)  I eventually located it, and was instantly underwhelmed.  The fountain is an 80-metre concrete oval sunk into a slope facing the Serpentine.  Water is pumped into the races at the top and flows down each side of the oval, until it reaches the bottom where it collects in a reflecting pool and is then pumped back up to the top to start the journey anew.  It's meant to symbolise Diana's supposed 'inclusiveness'.
 
But, at the risk of appearing disrespectful, what it really puts you in mind of is the world's biggest urinal.
 
Yours,
Architecture critic eT 
 
p.s. For photos of the Albert Memorial and the Diana fountain, see the Flickr link.
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