An Easter trip to London, travelling First Class for the first time in my life, was the opportunity to um and ah over which of the many cameras I have that I should take on such a trip. In the end I settled on the Panasonic GF-1 with the 20mm f1.7 pancake lens and my M4P with the Voigtlander 28mm f3.5. Maybe I’ll post the B&W film at some later date but don’t hold your breath as I ended up mostly just shooting with the GF-1 a wonderful small digital camera and perfect for this kind of weekend break.
We stayed at great discount at the Andaz near Liverpool St Station. It is a hotel trying to be as modern as it can be with no traditional reception but smart young folks in suits armed with laptops manning the foyer. I feared that the City might be deserted over Easter and a bit of a wasteland for the weekend breaking tourist. As it turned out, it has changed a fair bit since the years I was a computer engineer with plenty of places to eat drink and be merry.
We had a wander when we arrived and I was reminded of how great it had been when London had been our home. The buildings, the river, the stupendous amount of stuff going on and the anonymity of being in this huge city just makes it a great place to live or visit. We for sworn off the ludicrously priced hotel breakfast for a Google discovered Sausage&Mash place that did breakfasts. It turned out to be a master stroke; the food and the service were excellent and we ate there every morning. The Italian running it greeted James like a long lost relative on our subsequent visits including free extra sausage. They have 4 or 5 places around the east side of the city and good luck to them on that showing….excellent.
We also ate at the ubiquitous Pizza Express, Giraffe, and Pizza on the Park (Pizza Express but with burgers). All top grub with a child in tow and leaving the car at home meant the red wine could flow.
I had a stroll down Denmark St where I had bought my mongrel Telecaster back in the early 80’s and wished James had allowed me the time to find a Gibson SG Classic, the guitar for which I currently pine. I escaped the family while they strolled Covent Garden – I visited the National Portrait Gallery and took in the recently deceased Irving Penn exhibition. This is the first time I’ve been to such an exhibition since I built the darkroom and the viewing of actual prints is such a quantum leap from looking at these things in books that I had goose bumps. Many of them had a beautiful contrast to them with perfect blacks and he certainly seems to have lacked current obsession with “detail in shadows” that I detect in modern advice on printing. It made me long to shoot such portraits and print in this style.
On the Sunday we did the tourist nightmare that is the Tower of London; a place after my last visit that I had vowed never to return. But with James showing an interest in history it seemed churlish to refuse his desire to see the place where those Terrible Tudors had done some of their finest work. Even on opening the crowds are daunting but this time we actually saw the crown jewels (look a bit naff to me) and enjoyed the White Tower with its collection of armour. In the Bloody Tower it was good to see the vote on who killed those Princes was running against Henry VII and we added our own 20 or so against the ruthless bugger. The chopping block I remember from my youth has been replaced by a sort of “artistic” memorial which I can’t say I entirely approved as it lacks the in your face brutality of an actual block. Still you have to feel sorry for 16 years old Lady Jane Grey who if ever there was a “pawn in their game” it was she. By the time we left, the crowds were queuing just to walk the walls.
I then visited another place I’d hoped to avoid, The London Dungeon, which is a great thing for a 10 year old but, oh my, the agony of queuing even with priority tickets. The “Beaster Bunny” was added as a holiday extra and you have to feel for the people who work there knocking out those tired lines hour after hour to every nationality on the planet.
All in all it was a great trip and gave me the chance to dabble in a bit of “street” photograpy something which by nature I’m not moved to do very much. The GF-1 is perfect for it being so small and discreet. This is in contrast to the battalions of digital SLRs I saw being carried by every Tom, Dick and Harriet we passed. In London you see everything on a grand scale including the modern obsession with gadgets. I’m as guilty as the next person but it is an extraordinary thing to see when confronted by it on this scale.
It was a trip that made me very nostalgic for a city I once knew like the back of my hand due to the jobs I had and I missed a lot when we first moved away. Still a great city for me and I could easily be tempted by those bright lights again as it has a great buzz.
Here below is a set I constructed from the images I snapped. I then converted them to black and white and did some cropping and tweaking in Lightroom.