Thursday, 31 July 2014

Love and War, London Style

One of the many things I love about being English is the juxtaposition. Take our famed obsession with the changeable climate. I don't suppose many people in Oman or Quito or Corfu greet their colleagues with a detailed meteorological breakdown of the probability of rain between now and lunchtime. Don't like the weather? Wait five minutes.

It's the same reason I remain so entranced by London; the great melting pot where a five minute walk that might take you through grimy estates, sprawling parks, cobbled mews and fancy high rises. And couple of weeks ago I got to see it in its full, fickle glory; from conception to death in one short afternoon (obviously not literally, for a start I'm pretty sure we still have obscenity laws although it's sometimes hard to tell walking through an aforementioned park in the summer...). 

Fear not though, if you thought I was about to get all serious on you, there was plenty ice cream and beer involved in my adventures, too.

The day started off in one of my favourite places in the world, the Southbank (it actually started in my office, but that's far from one of my favourite places, although it does have the benefits of aircon). Despite the noise and the crowds and, on occasion, the shameless tourist-focused cynicism, the sight of a Waterloo sunset or walking over the Thames and seeing to the London Eye on one bank and the Houses of Parliament on the other never gets old.

On this particular afternoon I had two goals; to secure myself a lobster roll at the Festival of Love before a preview visit to the reopening of the Imperial War Museum. And while it did seem rather sad, in both senses, to be going to the Festival of Love solo, I reminded my self of Woody Allen's famous words onanism, and reasoned I'd also save myself the expense if having to spring for lunch for the Ewing as well. 

Bob's Lobster van found - look for the VW splitty with the retractable roof under the Hungerford Bridge - and lobster ordered, I snagged a deckchair tucked in the shade behind the van and kicked things off with a (not quite cold enough) can of lager while waiting for my roll to be toasted and assembled to order.

While they also peddle prosecco on tap, beer was the ideal choice with the mercury still steadily rising, and a Hobo fitted the bill perfectly with its easy going honey and hay aroma and gentle carbonation (read: it was fizzy and alcoholic, it hit the spot).

A few minutes later and I was acquainted with the main man; a buttery brioche roll, toasted and stuffed with copious amounts of lobster meat and finished with a sprinkling of secret herbs and spices.

It was a triumph, quite one of the best things I have crammed in my mouth recently (and there's been a few...). The lobster was poached gently to stay soft and buttery, the brioche superlative - I'm still imagining what it would be like heaped full of crispy smoked bacon - and the secret spiced stuff on top pleasingly Old Bay-ish without being overpowering.

Yes it wasn't cheap - 14 bucks and without even a pickle spear or a few crisps on the side - but it was beautiful. I was already in love.

Bob's Lobster on Urbanspoon

Next up was a wonder around the Festival of Love, which is celebrating the Same Sex Couple Act  with a programme of free events based around the seven different types of love. Differently-themed weekends, performances, poetry, talks and pop-ups including the Bloody Oyster double decker bus and the Look Mum No Handss cafe, jostle for space along the river. 

I particularly enjoyed walking through the Temple of Agape a 'celebrating the power of love over hate', and walking through the Museum of Broken Relationships, for when love goes bad. on the weekend 30-31st August you can even particpate in the Big Wedding Weekend where all couples, gay or straight, young or old, are invited to marry or renew their vows on the stage of the iconic Royal Festival Hall. Nothing like a good old mass matrimonial knees up.

To finish, a visit to the Snog bus was due. Gargantuan crowds - unsurprising, given the heat - moved pretty swiftly and soon I was in possession of my medium Snog, original vanilla flavorful, served with passion fruit, raspberries and, lest it should seem too healthy, crumbed chocolate brownie chunks.

I eschewed sitting on the top deck in favour of enjoy my snog under Waterloo bridge. Not quite as racy as it sounds, although a tub of fro-yo, brownies and berries is probably about as exciting as you could hope for  while still fully clothed (despite the fearsome heat I didn't want to scare the horses...) on a weekday lunchtime.

I've got a soft spot for frozen yoghurt, and this went down a treat in the heat. I especially liked the lip-puckering combo of classic fro-yo mixed with zingy passion fruit - which I convinced myself was contributing towards my five-a-day - and with an added dollop of protein and calcium for good measure.  For traditionalists, or those not wanting to part with the best part of a fiver for a tub there are classic Mr Whippys and orange lollies available from a several ice cream vans along the way.

Snog Pure Frozen Yogurt on Urbanspoon

Fortified and full of amore, I left the Southbank and headed down the Waterloo Road to Lambeth for a rather more sobering afternoon of reflection and commemoration. As a representative of the WW1 Centenary Partnership, I had been lucky enough to be invited to a preview of the reopening of the Imperial War Museum in Southwark.

With its new glass atrium, built by Foster and Partners, the former site of the notorious Bedlam hospital looks more magnificent and sobering than ever.  A V-1 Doodlebug and a Harrier Jet join the iconic Spitfire and Sopwith Camel suspended in the skies above, while other exhibits on land include a Reuters Land Rover damaged in an attack in Gaza, a bombed out shell of a car recovered from a Baghdad market  and a menacing, Czech built, T-34 tank.

The Holocaust galleries remain as powerful as ever, while the surrounding rooms house a variety of exhibits and stories from conflicts of the last century that range from the Maggie puppet featured on Spitting Image, to imploded glass bottles and tiles found at Hiroshima, to a twisted window frame from the World Trade Centre.

The primary reason for my visit was to see newly configured Great War galleries, featuring over 1,300 objects and including an overhauled trench experience that attempts to evoke the difficult, and often brutally short, life of a soldier fighting on the Front.

The display runs on two sides of a u-shape, with the war – including the war at sea and campaigns in the Middle East, Africa, Gallipoli and the Western Front represented on the outside wall, and the home front – including Germany’s – on the inside. Here you can find out what life was like at home during the First World War in Britain and its former Empire. Discovering the reasons why men signed up for service and the contributions women made to keep the troops fed and fighting.

Reopen fully as of the 18th July, the exhibition, like the museum itself, is a poignant commemoration to the brutality and senselessness of conflict, asking us to question the ‘three Cs’: Cause, Course and Consequence. It also leaves you with the hope that love really can conquer all.

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