diamond geezer

 Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Random borough (15): Hounslow (part 3)

Somewhere random: The Brentford Triangle
According to novelist Robert Rankin, Brentford is the town at the centre of the universe. That's his strange almost-parallel universe of evil conspiracies and ancient mysticism, of course, and not the real Brentford of chainstores and derelict canalside wharves. Rankin's written 30-odd books by now (or should that be 30 odd books?), and they're much beloved by his devoted readership. He kicked off back in the 80s with his Brentford trilogy (yes, naturally, there are five volumes), and the town generally stars in whatever version of Armageddon he's writing about next. Rankin is a master of the alluring and punny book title ("The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse", "The Witches of Chiswick"), and brussels sprouts often play a starring role somewhere. I read one once.

The Brentford TriangleHounslow Council have now gifted Brentford's favourite author a very special tribute - his own exhibition at the local museum. Fans should make tracks to the Large Mansion in Gunnersbury Park, which once used to belong to the Rothschild family but is now a sadly-peeling council repository. One large room on the ground floor has been given over to sproutlore, piled-up paperbacks and all things Rankin, in a comprehensive exhibition which runs until next June. There are several informative wall displays (just which seven Brentford pubs make up the constellation of the Great Bear?) but the highlight of the show is a collection of weird and wonderful models created by the author as cover illustrations. Deformed heads, grinning skeletons in jester costumes, mobile phone coffins, that sort of thing. Rankin disciples will appreciate the ensemble. It's by no means a busy exhibition (the only other people I saw were looking for the toilet), but the dark chandelier-lit drawing room provides considerable atmosphere. Maybe there is something unworldly about Brentford after all.
by tube: Acton Town  by bus: E3

Somewhere pretty: Chiswick House Gardens
The gorgeous Gardens at Chiswick House are widely considered to be the birthplace of the English Landscape Movement. Unfortunately they also close at dusk. So I went nextdoor instead.

Somewhere pretty close: Hogarth's House
Hogarth's HouseWilliam Hogarth could be described as the first ever political cartoonist (so could lots of other people, but he'll do for now). An 18th century satirist with a razor-sharp eye, he painted and engraved his way to fame and fortune in Georgian society. Hogarth was a Londoner born and bred, but in his late 40s he fancied a cottage in the country and so snapped up a summer retreat in Chiswick. His three-storey house still stands, just about, although William would find it hard to recognise the surrounding area. Long gone are the fields and Thames-side meadows, and the A4 now runs directly past his front door. The three-storey house is overlooked by the featureless office walls of the Hogarth Business Park, and at the end of the road is the roaring concrete hub of the Hogarth Roundabout. William would not be impressed by his modern namesakes. Quick, step behind the redbrick garden wall and screen them out.

Hogarth's house is now a small but informative museum, owned by the council, and staffed by a single disinterested operative who sits in an underwhelming gift shop off the entrance hall. Only 5000 visitors a year ever get this far, which seems a damned shame. Grab your free leaflet and take a look round. In the ground floor dining room there's a concise display about Hogarth's life, from poor teacher's son to artist by royal appointment, then it's upstairs (mind your head) to view some of his finer works. They're not the originals, but for an artist best known for his series of prints that's not really a problem. Take in the exquisite detail of The Harlot's Progress and A Rake's Progress, both pictorial fables of moral decline in six/eight all-too-easy stages. Reflect on the alcohol-fuelled despair of Gin Lane, alongside its less well known counterpart Beer Street (moral: gin bad, beer good). Smile at Hogarth's pointed political cartoons, and his treatise on the Line of Beauty, and a considerable breadth of other work. Clever bloke. And if you peer down out of the oriel window towards the 300-year-old mulberry tree in the garden (and blot out the buzz of the dual carriageway), you can almost imagine he's still here.
by tube: Turnham Green  by bus: 190

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