fourth plinth, Glenn Miller, Junius, London, Mail Rail, Monet, Mount Pleasant, National Museum of Iraq, Panther House, pavement entertainment, Penny Black, Postal Museum, Rowland Hill, Sainsbury Wing, Tommy Steele, Ulysses
I spent two days in London last week, and, quite apart from social time with my friend, Mary, I had three very different experiences. The timing of my trip was determined by the fact that the ‘Monet and Architecture’ exhibition at the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, was very soon coming to an end. Moreover, I was very glad that I had pre-booked my ticket as there would have been no chance of a walk-in ticket.
The ‘fourth plinth‘ in Trafalgar Square is currently occupied by ‘The Invisible Enemy should not Exist’. It is built entirely of the packaging of Middle Eastern foodstuffs (some sources say date syrup cans) and Arabic newspapers, and is a commemoration of the artefacts stolen from the National Museum of Iraq, in Baghdad, in the aftermath of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. It represents a determination to recover the more than 7000 objects still missing.
No photography inside the Monet exhibition itself was allowed, but I did manage to get these pictures at its entry and exit. I thought a better title would have been ‘Monet and Landscape’. But perhaps they’ve done that already.My other visit that day was to the Postal Museum, including a short trip on its Mail Rail, the underground post transport system, which opened in 1927 and closed in 2003. As there was no really convenient public transport between the two places, I decided to walk, and the 35 minutes estimated by online research turned out to be very accurate. I walked fast but made stops for a few photos and to check that I was on the right route.
It was a noisy walk with much traffic and many people, but once I turned off Grays Inn Road into Mount Pleasant (the road), it was totally quiet. I have tried to find out more about the Panther Building, and it seems that it is currently workshops and studios. Planning permission exists for the redevelopment of part of it.
Two big surprises awaited me just before I got to the Postal Museum in Phoenix Place: the beauty of the 1929 Mount Pleasant building, and that, while much shrunken, there is still considerable Post Office activity on the site – a great deal of redevelopment is going on there also. I had a bite of lunch in the café at the Museum, then crossed back over the road to Mail Rail, where likewise I had a timed ticket. This rather blurry picture shows the size of the ‘wagons’, ideal for postal parcels, packets and letters, but only just large enough for tourists to sit in!
There were four stops on the 15 minute ride, at which there were projections on to the walls about Mail Rail’s history.
After the ride, the exit was through a small further exhibition about it.
And at the end I watched a short film which I had not had time to see beforehand, from which the above is a still.
I then crossed back over the road to the award-winning Postal Museum, which opened in 2017. It was very well presented, with plenty to keep both adults and children interested. Here are just a few of the dozens of photos I took there. Firstly, why do we call it ‘the post’?
Post boxes have not always been red. They started – in the Channel Islands in 1852 – painted green, but people in the countryside thought that dreary, so from 1874 they were painted red. I think that splendid mail coach was the best, but here are some other forms of postal transport.I rather fancied this tunic, but my attempt to try it on reflectively was foiled by the height of its plinth. Is nostalgia the same as feeling old? I felt both as I recognised the famous ‘Press button B’ telephone booth.Near the end there was the chance to sit and watch an hour’s-worth of short PR films made by the Post Office’s Film Unit (founded 1933). The most famous of them all, ‘Night Train’ was just about to start as I passed, so I sat and watched it.
On leaving the Museum, I took a backward look to the splendid Mount Pleasant building. Then I wandered through quiet back streets to the bustle of King’s Cross, and took a bus back to Mary’s place. We had a very nice meal at a French restaurant in Camden Town, though I could have wished that the moules marinières I ordered for my starter had arrived instead of the spicy moules provençales!