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Hagiography Today visits London

Started: 2016-12-09 08:46:36

Submitted: 2016-12-09 16:09:16

Visibility: World-readable

Sunday 23rd October: In which the intrepid narrator spends one more day playing tourist in London

On my last full day playing tourist in London, I had a couple of things I wanted to see: the Churchill War Rooms, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Elizabeth Tower (aka
Elizabeth Tower (aka "Big Ben")

I emerged from Westminster Station in a throng of tourists and joined them gaping at the Houses of Parliament and Parliament Square. I made my way down the street to the Churchill War Rooms, also known as the Cabinet War Rooms, the bunker-turned-museum where Winston Churchill and the rest of the British government ran their part of the Second World War. The bunker was in the basement under a random office building on the back of Whitehall, protected from bomb blasts by a thick layer of concrete -- though that may not have been enough to protect the bunker from a direct hit.

I picked up an audio tower and descended into the bunker, which had been abandoned at the end of the war, then restored relatively recently into a museum. I saw the cabinet where Churchill presided over meetings, cramped kitchens and bedrooms and offices, and various other support rooms.

Part of the bunker had been given over to an exhibit on the life of Churchill. His recorded speeches were inspiring ("we shall fight them on the beaches" and "never in the course of human history was so much owed by so many to so few") but the exhibit quickly devolved into a great-man hagiography, suggesting that only he could have done what he did; even when the exhibit mentioned that Churchill might have put himself in the best possible light in his own own memoir it was in passing.

Door from #10 Downing Street
Door from #10 Downing Street

I was amused by the door from Number Ten Downing Street during Churchill's time at the residence preserved on the side of the exhibit. It was the closest I expect to get to the Prime Minister's official residence, with the current Number Ten Downing Street fenced off at Whitehall.

Pacific Theater map at the Churchill War Rooms
Pacific Theater map at the Churchill War Rooms

(Alternate caption: "But sir, they'll see the big board!")

I did enjoy the rest of the bunker-turned-museum, especially the map room with its hand-updated map of the world showing the current front lines, as they existed in the middle of 1945; the bunker was abandoned on VE day in favor of better office space above ground.

Chindit memorial and the Ministry of Defense
Chindit memorial and the Ministry of Defense

In the time leading up to my trip to London, I spent some of my idle time panning around maps of London. I stumbled across a spot labeled Chindit Monument, which I recognized as the Second World War campaign in northern Burma trying to dislodge the westernmost advance of the Imperial Japanese Army and provide a land frontier to build the Burma Road. I found the monument on the Embankment, on the lawn behind the Ministry of Defense, a single obelisk capped with the guardian beast of Burmese temples that formed the Chindit badge.

Text on Chindit memorial
Text on Chindit memorial
Chindit memorial and Major General Charles Wingate
Chindit memorial and Major General Charles Wingate

I continued walking north behind the Ministry of Defense, past an unknown soldier monument. I stopped to look, and a Scottish guy carrying a large rucksack told me to "tell my president" that we'd all know his name someday. (This was before the election, so I took "president" to unambiguously mean Obama.)

I caught the sub-surface tube line from Embankment to South Kensington, (one stop before Gloucester Road, which was my tube stop for ten days in 2006). The tube stop had a long subway leading north to the Victoria & Albert Museum, one of London's great free museums.

Sculpture gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum
Sculpture gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum

One thing I didn't fully realize until this trip was precisely what the V&A actually did: it's a museum dedicated to industrial design. It still collects fine objects, but curates and explains them in the context of their industrial design: how and why was the object produced, in the context of the period it was from.

Inner courtyard at the Victoria and Albert Museum
Inner courtyard at the Victoria and Albert Museum

I ate lunch at the V&A, then wandered around the galleries, starting with silver-working, then jewelry from the past 400 years (including a set of Victorian memorial pins that reminded me of Ancillary Justice). Even the building itself was a work of art, with elaborate glazed porcelain tiles in the stairways and impressive Victorian brickwork.

Stairway under restoration at the Victoria and Albert Museum
Stairway under restoration at the Victoria and Albert Museum

I looked at reproductions of classic works of sculpture, most of them Victorian-era plaster casts from the originals, then walked through a gallery studying the development of wrought iron, presenting each piece of railing and fencework as a museum piece when it could have been on someone's front step -- which made me thick twice when walking down the street. I looked at a gallery of modern acquisitions, including a "£350 million a week for NHS" pro-Brexit pamphlet. The small modern design gallery had a bunch of weird modern industrial design pieces, including commercially-available furniture and iconic electronics from the past 40 years. (I was a little disappointed to see a later-model iPhone rather than the original groundbreaking first-generation iPhone -- or even a complete set of iPhones in a big ethnographic display.) I did enjoy seeing the wreckage of the toaster project (in which a British designer tried to make his own toaster from scratch to try to discover why he could get one for £5 at Tesco).

I spent an entire afternoon at the V&A and barely saw half of it, but by the time I left I had seen enough for one day.

Royal Albert Hall
Royal Albert Hall

I walked north to Hyde Park, where I found the Royal Albert Hall (and wondered how many holes it would take to fill it). Right across the street was the impressive Albert Memorial, with a gold-leaf statue of the Prince Consort in a large neo-Gothic pavilion, surrounded by statues representing the world's continents (and, presumably, the reach of the British Empire in the nineteenth century).

Albert Memorial
Albert Memorial

I walked around the memorial, studying the statues that surrounded the monument until I figured out how to use my new speedlight to take well-lit pictures of the statues that weren't dark in the fading light or washed-out by the flash.

"Europe" group statue at the Albert Memorial
"America" group statue at the Albert Memorial

I felt a little silly carrying around a large SLR with an over-sized lens and a large speedlight -- as if my camera wasn't bulky enough before getting a new flash -- but I could see it let me take better pictures so I figured I could make room for it in my bag.

"Africa" group statue at the Albert Memorial
"Asia" group statue at the Albert Memorial

I walked through Hyde Park, along the lake known as the Serpentine in the middle, past the fountain built as a monument to Diana, Princess of Wales. I gave directions to an European tourist (she was trying to get to Harolds, somewhere on the south side of the park, and was walking in the right direction, but she didn't have data roaming and was having trouble figuring out where she was).

I took the tube back to Pimlico, ate supper, and packed for my return home the next day.

The Journal Entries must continue.
- Me, in 01 November 1997 entry
(written 08 November 1997)