New London Architecture Museum, Reunion with NYU-L Colleagues, Research at Queen Mary Library

Thursday, September 1, 2016


Waking up in Battersea:

Although I had one of the most comfortable nights (with a fan in my room!) in a month, I did awake very early in my friend Roz’s guest room on the third floor of her lovely home in Battersea. The railway line that passes right behind her house brought sounds into my room that I actually find quite romantic: train journeys always conjure for me the sense of exiting, exotic travel probably because I did so much of it across the length and breath of India with my parents during my growing years.

Awake at 4. 30 am, I began re-reading On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan that I found on Roz’s shelf. It is a truly astounding novel: how much McEwan is able to convey with the sheer economy of a few, well-chosen words. I was able to see in my mind’s eye, the vast expanse of broad Chesil Beach–all 18 miles of it and of the pretty Dorset coast. I realize also that since more of the book is set in Oxford, it is really an Oxford novel. And so, of course, I could visualize every aspect of that lovely university town that I so adore and which I am looking forward to treading all over again next week.

A shower soon followed: it is funny how little things like this make you realize how much you miss your own home. Roz’s shower was fat, voluminous and, therefore, luxurious–such a far cry from the spindly jets of water under which I have been bathing is a cramped bath-tub. It made me long for my rain-shower at home in Southport that I had Llew install for me because I love a generous flow. It is a good job I had a shower at Roz’s as the gas man is still tinkering with the boiler out here and for yet another day, there is to be no hot water. Still, I know that everyone is working hard to address the issue–so it will not be long now before normality in resumed.

Brekkie followed with Roz–such a joy to have company to eat a meal! See? These are the little things one misses when one lives alone. We had granola and cereal and really good decaff coffee–I must remind her to tell me what coffee she used (I am not entirely pleased with the Lavazza decaff I have bought here).Her partner, Christie, joined us a little later for a natter and at 8. 45, both Roz and I left together to take the bus to Vauxhall from where we took the Tube to Victoria. She carried on to work at King’s Cross and I switched to the District Line to get home by 10.00 am.

Home Again:

Back home, I began drafting my monthly newsletter and a blog post and dealing with some email correspondence when I heard the sounds of the cleaner Eve who had arrived with her husband David to do the house. It was an opportunity to meet them and chat with the two of them–they were wonderfully friendly and David was very chatty indeed!

By 1.oopm, I went down and fixed myself one tongue and one peanut butter open sandwich with a cup of soup which I ate as I began watching Victoria, the new ITV series that my friends Michael and Cynthia and Roz and Christie had watched when it had been screened here in the UK, two days ago. I did not realize that I could pick it up on my computer, so it was a lovely surprise to be able to catch up with it (as indeed with a lot of new BBC TV shows such as Porridge and Fleabag that I am enjoying before I get to bed).

Off to the New London Architecture Museum:

Since it is Orientation Week at NYU, I have a couple of meetings there and some lectures that I would like to attend. I also had some printing to do in my office, so I decided to find a museum that was close to campus.  I have a list of 50 Museums in London that I am trying to get through gradually (most of which I have now seen); so today I decided to spend the afternoon in Bloomsbury at the New London Architecture Museum which is on Store Street just one block from my campus at NYU.

So I took a bus to Bethnal Green station and the Central Line Tube to Tottenham Court Road. From there, I took a bus for just one stop (I am trying to avoid walking and standing as much as possible after all) and arrived at the Museum by 2.30 pm. I did not know what to expect, but I was delighted by two exhibits. Most of the museum is given to a showcasing of the kind of materials that are available today for home and commercial building: tiles, flooring, roofing, heating, cooling–that sort of thing. But there is one permanent exhibit there that is astounding and makes the museum a Must Visit for anyone who loves maps or spatial surveying.

In the New London Architecture Museum:

The outstanding display here is the vast 1:2000 scale reproduction of the entire city of London. I know that my friends often poke fun of my ability to discern the exact location over which I am flying when we are touching down at Heathrow airport. Well, it is my passion for surveying places from great heights that made this exhibit really fascinating to me. As you view the model, you feel as if you are thousands of feet up in the air looking down upon the city. The Thames snakes through it, offering perspective and exact location. Major skyscrapers including the newest ones such as The Shard, the Gherkin, the Walkie-Talkie and the Cheese Grater, are all included as is the Millennium Dome in Greenwich, the concrete jungle of Canary Wharf, the London Eye and the new Olympics Park with the Acelor Mittal Slide. On the river, there are all the bridges, including Tower Bridge and then the Thames Barrier. Every park is beautifully delineated. Tube stations and major trunk roads are likewise marked. I took so many pictures because I was able to pin point the locations exactly my former home at Holborn and my current home at Bethnal Green. It was simply amazing!

The rest of the exhibits on this floor dealt with the massive new construction that is completely altering the skyline and the face of the city. There was a fabulous installation on the new Elizabeth Tube Line and on the Cross Rail that is going to connect the outer peripheral areas such as Harrow and Ealing with Central London in 15 minutes flat! I mean, this is what is meant by intelligent and sustainable urban planning. I loved every second of it. Already, I am able to see what the closure of Tottenham Court Road Tube station for two years has done: the station is now open and it is spiffy and bright with stainless steel walls, brand new escalators, superb new lighting. The creation of Canary Wharf as the new financial hub is further proof of what great architects can do for and to a city. Similarly, as it turns out, right now Ealing Broadway station is under refurbishment. I can just imagine what the end result will be–all this became evident to me at this museum to which I would urge everyone to see.

Viewing the work of ‘Capability’ Brown:

The museum had one more lovely exhibit on the lower basement floor: A Tribute to the great landscape architect, Sir Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Having been an admirer of this designer for years and having traversed with great pleasure so many of the outdoor areas that are a result of his vision such as Blenheim Park in Woodstock, the parks and gardens of Highclere Castle (of Downton Abbey fame) and St. James’ Park, here in London, I fully understand his aesthetic. The exhibit is filled with beautiful pictures of the parks he designed, the concept of the ‘ha-ha’ that he created to demarcate planted gardens from natural park land and other such aspects of his designing philosophy to which I have been exposed (pun unintended) for a very long time. Hence, I thoroughly enjoyed perusing this exhibit at leisure as I paused to read curatorial notes as well as ponderings from the pen of Brown.

Work at NYU Campus:

By 3.00 pm, I was in my office at NYU and since classes begin next week, suddenly there is a flurry of activity around what were really quiet corridors for the entire month of August. I was absolutely delighted to re-unite with some of my English colleagues whom I remember well from the time when I had taught here: Matt and Hagai and others who were not only surprised that I recognized them but that I remember their names! They were warm in their welcome and seemed really delighted to know that I will be in their midst again. They personally introduced me and gave me a tour of the new buildings we have added to our campus by renting the two adjoining houses on Bedford Square and the ways and means by which I can get speedily from one part of the building to the next. Hagai also took me to a new faculty lounge that is available for use if the original one is too busy. Wow, there really are so many spatial changes in eight years!

I got my printing done, reviewed some material on which I was supposed to comment and left at 4. 30 pm.

On the Tube to Queen Mary College Library:

I walked back to Tottenham Court Road Tube station and jumped on to the Northern Line to Embankment where I changed to the District Line that brought me to Stepney Green station. From there, I took the 205 bus for 2 stops to Queen Mary College Library.

Since the Library only closes at 7.30pm, I was my intention to spend the rest of the evening reading and researching in my favorite corner of it. I found the book I wanted and got started with Elizabeth Buettner’s account of trans-continental imperial travels which completely absorbed me. I would have liked to stay right until 7. 30 pm, but my stomach began growling with hunger until I could ignore it no longer. So, at 7.00 pm, after having accomplished a substantial amount, I left the library and because I had a sudden craving for chocolate ice-cream (I really do miss good American ice-cream when I am in London) I stepped into Sainsbury Local and picked up Chocolate Fudge Brownie Ice-Cream from Ben and Jerry.

I stood for the bus to get home and realized after 10 minutes that something was wrong: all buses were on diversion and none came by. So, I walked home–it took me precisely 7 minutes–and within no time I was fixing myself dinner: cheese scone with salmon cream cheese, a selection of cheeses (cheddar and blue), pork sausages and soup. Since I have just a week left before I leave for Scotland, I am now at a stage when I am trying to finish up everything in my fridge in order to clear it out. Odds and ends will, therefore, comprise my next few meals.  And for dessert? Why, my ice-cream, of course, which was like nectar from the Gods!

I continued watching Victoria and finished the first episode by the time I fell asleep after what had been another very fruitful day for me. With Orientation activity on this week at NYU, I have a lecture to attend in the morning, more museum scouring and more research planned for tomorrow.

Until tomorrow, cheerio…