South Bank Poetry Tour

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I love the Southbank Centre and I love poetry, so the Poetry Tour was an obvious choice. I went along with some friends and we met inside the Poetry Library for 6pm.

The tour was led by Chris McCabe, librarian and poet. It began beside the sculpture of Dylan Thomas’ head, situated inside the library. It is the only sculpture made from life, by Oloff de Wet, and was discovered in the basement several years ago. It was unveiled on the 50th anniversary of the poet’s death in the Poetry Library as a natural home for it. Chris read out some of Thomas’ words about the South Bank as a fitting tribute.

We headed outside, gathering by the poetry stones that were laid in the pavement when this area was constructed. These include some words from Wordsworth, who didn’t particularly like the area, preferring his native Lake District.

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We also heard about the Lion Brewery that used to occupy the site, and about the murder committed here by William Chester Minor. Minor was committed to Broadmoor, and became one of the most prolific contributors to the Oxford English Dictionary, responding to an advert asking for help – let’s face it, he had plenty of time on his hands. The creators of the dictionary had no idea that their helpful contributor was a notorious murderer.

Heading inland from the river, we heard about poet Arthur Rimbaud, who lived nearby (where the BFI Imax is now) in 1888. Stabbed by his lover Paul Verlaine after an argument, he left Camden and returned to France before coming back to London.

We were given audio headsets at this point, and listened to poet Tom Chivers as we explored the area south of the river. We walked by the Waterloo International section of the station, no longer in use, and passed under the station through a graffiti-strewn tunnel.

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Along the way we stopped at the point where the former Necropolis Railway depot still stands. This station took coffins and mourners out to Brookwood Cemetery near Woking, with first and second class carriages for both the dead and the living.

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A little further on and we were standing outside the location of William Blake’s former home in Lambeth, where he lived from 1790 to 1800. His time here was one of great personal happiness for Blake, though he was still deeply concerned about the state of the world: he created his Songs of Experience here. In a nearby tunnel are some utterly stunning mosaics, based on Blake’s poetry and illustrations. They are incredibly detailed and really show the range of his imagination.

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A short walk and we were back to the river. We stopped by Westminster Bridge, because the lion statue from the Lion Brewery is now here. The brewery was bombed during the Second World War, but the lion somehow survived.

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We continued on the south bank, stopping at the final poetry stone with a quote from TS Eliot, before returning to the Poetry Library.

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It’s my birthday, and I’ll eat a massive pot of frozen yoghurt if I want to

So, the day after my friend’s wedding was my birthday. I’d expected to be a little the worse for wear, but for some reason I wasn’t too bad. Still, I went out for brunch with a couple of friends and the Bloody Marys were particularly welcome (as well as being extremely spicy).

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Most of the day was spent in the pub, but I did make a detour to West Brompton Cemetery. I’ve visited West Brompton before, but today was their annual Open Day, with the chance to tour the catacombs. I didn’t want to pass up this chance, so joined the last tour of the day.

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The catacombs were dark and cool, in many ways not much different from other catacombs I’ve visited. Some of the spaces had plaques placed in front of them, but in most of them the coffins were still visible, albeit in varying stages of decay. We saw one “fish-tail” coffin, where the base of the coffin splays out instead of narrowing, and different kinds of ornate embellishments. The most eerie thing was that the floral wreaths placed by mourners over one hundred years ago were still present: much decayed, but the moss and the basic structure were in place.

Then it was off to the South Bank for a massive pot of frozen yoghurt from the Snog bus.

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I’d arranged to meet a friend outside the Udderbelly and we were planning to see Knightmare Live. If you didn’t see Knightmare as a child, you seriously missed out. It was an amazing game show in which a bunch of kids directed one of their friends, wearing a giant helmet that covered their eyes, around a fantasy world. The graphics look terrible today, but it still has a unique charm. Lots of episodes are available on YouTube should you wish to inspect them. The best thing about the live show was that they actually brought on the original Dungeon Master, Treguard (Hugo Myatt).

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Finally we decided to go on a carousel outside the South Bank, because carousels are awesome. My horse was called Stephanie. I have decided that I should go on carousels more often – it was so much fun.

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Light Show – The Hayward Gallery

Light Show, the current exhibition at the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank, has been enjoying enormous popularity since it opened on 30 January. Tickets are selling out well in advance, so I decided to buy my ticket a couple of weeks ago in order to visit the exhibition yesterday. Setting my alarm for 8 am on a Sunday morning was torturous, but certainly worth it.

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The exhibition explores the use of light to shape space and experiment with different forms. Installations encompassed clear and coloured lights, fluorescent strip lighting, bulbs (including one designed to represent moonlight), mini LED lights, sparkling effects and continuous illumination. Some of the installations were enclosed in different rooms. I was amazed, impressed and enlightened (excuse the pun) by the exhibition.

I had a number of favourite exhibits. One was the very first one I saw – Cylinder II (2012) by Leo Villareal. This consists of strips of LED lights (19,600 in total) arranged in a cylinder, which move in hypnotic and evocative ways. The lights are actually controlled by a computer programme, but they are stunning. Another was Anthony McCall’s You and I, Horizontal (2005). This is in a room of its own and a projector throws out a beam of light – essentially a light sculpture that you can walk through.

Another favourite was Ivan Navarro’s Reality Show (Silver) (2010). This is a small room with four doors, around the size of a telephone box. When you are inside you can look up or down and see mirrors reflecting rows of light endlessly, as if you are in a long column or pipe. You can see yourself in the doors, but outside the sculpture, others can see you inside – a claustrophobic and unsettling experience. Navarro grew up in Chile during Pinochet’s dictatorship and the installation echoes the surveillance and control inherent in the system.

One thing that both surprised and impressed me was the extent to which children seemed to be enjoying themselves. Personally it wouldn’t occur to me to take a small child to a modern art exhibition, but there were loads there on this Sunday morning and they were fascinated by the exhibits – from the small baby amazed by the twinkling lights to the little boys excited by the rooms of coloured light.

Light Show is on until 28th April. You will almost certainly have to book in advance, and I also recommend booking the first slot available and turning up as soon as possible – in theory you can arrive at any time during the hour stated on your ticket, but even with visitor limits the space can get very crowded and early arrival gives you the best chance of beating the crowds. I’m so glad I came here – I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy it, but I really did.

The Genius of Hitchcock

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As a huge fan of director Alfred Hitchcock I was excited to see that his films were being shown at the British Film Institute over the summer in a celebration of his work, The Genius of Hitchcock. I knew immediately that I wanted to see one, and decided to pick my favourite – Rear Window. I would have liked to see more, but at £10 at a time I couldn’t afford it, especially as I have several collections of Hitchcock films on DVD already. I know some people don’t see the point of going to see a film in the cinema when you can watch it for free at home, but I liked the idea of seeing it on the big screen without distractions: at home I always seem to end up tidying my room or checking my phone while I’m watching a film.

Rear Window is a brilliant film. It’s so clever, set entirely in the apartment of L.B. ‘Jeff’ Jeffries who has broken his leg after a photography assignment went wrong. Bored, and stifled in the New York heat, he is reduced to spying on the neighbours whose windows back onto the yard. This yard is the focus of the entire film, which lends a claustrophobic and tense atmosphere to the proceedings. Jeff becomes obsessed with watching the neighbours and is soon convinced that murder has been committed.

I love the actors in this film. I really like James Stewart and he is great as the restless photographer, convinced that something suspicious is going on in the apartment opposite. Grace Kelly is fabulous as his society girlfriend Lisa and her clothes in this movie are simply stunning. One thing I like about this film is the development of the couple’s relationship. At the beginning of the movie, Jeff is convinced that Lisa is ‘too perfect’ for him and wouldn’t be able to fit in with his nomadic, adventurous lifestyle travelling the world. However, her actions during the course of the film go some way to proving him wrong as she falls in eagerly with his plans and goes outside the apartment to investigate for herself, something that Jeff with his broken leg is unable to do.

I love the way the characters living in the surrounding apartments are portrayed. Including a struggling musician, a woman looking for love, a newly married couple and a ballet dancer, many of them have few or no lines but their personalities and lives are conveyed through their behaviour. I liked how there was some sort of development or resolution to each character’s story. Another great character is the nurse, Stella (Thelma Ritter), who is initially sceptical about Jeff’s claims but comes round to his way of thinking and is enthusiastic about solving the mystery.

Watching the film in the cinema was a brilliant experience. As well as the obvious – the picture and sound – I enjoyed seeing it with people who were clearly enjoying it as much as I was. There was laughter in all the right places and a palpable sense of tension as the film moved to a climax. It definitely beats watching a film on my small laptop screen.