diamond geezer

 Sunday, September 11, 2011

I can't go out at the weekend without thinking "ooh, I wonder if I can get six paragraphs out of this".

I went to Stratford. It's a bit of a mess at the moment, what with Westfield nearly open and the bus station closed. The driver of the 425 bus I took was a bit of a maniac. He got angry with a blue Volkswagen who tried to cut in front of him on Stratford High Street, so sought revenge by overtaking and then trapping the offender behind another bus. Then, in a completely separate bout of annoyance, he slowed down for a couple of minutes and crawled into town at a snail's pace. Incidentally, that online bus Countdown system I was enthusing about last week, they appear to have changed things a bit. Previously you'd see all the buses due for up to 30 minutes, and now you're lucky if you see anything over 10. I suspect TfL are trying to protect us from potentially inaccurate predictions of the future, but it feels like dumbed-down nannying to me. I certainly wouldn't have said anything so obsequiously crass as "it's a game-changer for public transport access in London" if this was the version I'd seen last weekend. Hopefully the lack of extended information is temporary, but I fear not.

I went on the new DLR extension. It's still rather quiet, Abbey Road especially so. Never mind, TfL have responded by significantly increasing the number of trains to Stratford International next week. Off-peak from Tuesday all the trains from Woolwich Arsenal will head to Stratford, not Bank, and the frequency of the service will be increased to one train every five minutes. They claim this shift is needed because Westfield will drive up passenger numbers, but I can't imagine any shopping rush requiring such a major diversion. No, this sounds very much like the DLR testing out their Olympic timetable, undercover, to check that it works. It's only for a week, for now, but expect this to be the Stratford-friendly network pattern next summer.

I walked the length of the Thames Festival. It took a couple of hours, partly because there was lots to see but mostly because the South Bank was choked with people. My favourite part's always down by City Hall and Tower Bridge, where the Blue Ribbon Village brings together rivery-environmental groups and participatory events. There's a bit more space to circulate here, and a slightly worthier feel than the food & craft emphasis along the remainder of the waterside. Indeed, once you've decided which ethnic dish-in-a-tray to eat for lunch, half the stalls suddenly become redundant. Whereas the Thames Festival under Ken would have had several public service elements present, under Boris it's much more of a commercial free-for-all. Never mind, there were thousands out enjoying their promenade, and only a few of them scattered when a shower of rain unexpectedly descended. It's on again today, if you're interested, rounding off with a grand firework display (so long as the wind's not too strong). And then it'll be taking place on the same weekend next year, as a grand finale to London's Games summer.

I popped into Tate Modern. I was walking past, and I realised I don't go inside often enough, so in I went. The Turbine Hall's empty at the moment, apart from several stacks of white blocks and some timber which will eventually form part of Tacita Dean's grand Unilever Series commission. I'll have to come back in a month to see that for real. Upstairs the galleries seem to have had a major reshuffle, at least since I was last here (which was ages ago). Now they all have highbrow themes, such as "Material Gestures" or "Energy and Process", and I was unduly bored by their contents. Have the curators archived all the good stuff, and rehung the walls with splattered paint and tedium, or have I become artistically less tolerant? I'm sure Cy Twombly's a great artist, but filling a room with three canvases of dripping red brush circles can't be showcasing his best work. A few galleries held my attention, but I walked round in record time like a bored teenager who'd rather have been somewhere else. And very soon I was.

I went to the ICA bookshop. I don't normally go to the ICA bookshop, although it's quite good for a handful of arty sort-of-quirky purchases. In this case I was after something witty and whimsical - a new publication entitled Curio City. I'd been trying to get hold of a copy all week, but made the mistake of visiting two other stockists before the official launch. Imagine an A3 sheet of brown paper, printed on both sides with words and images, folded down to the size of a small chocolate bar and secured with an elastic band. One one side are several descriptions of "hidden ways and places", from a Hampstead→Tower ley line to a game you can play following pigeons. And on the other, a map of the postwar London orbital inner ring road that was thankfully never built. Curio City is delightfully weird (a bisected Charlie Chaplin walk), but also obscurely informative (two places not to visit with/without a tie). And only £2, which is what endeared it to my shopping list. If you're interested in buying a copy, look here, and if you'd like to contribute a journey, map or encounter to the next edition, look here.

No, sorry, only five.

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