I hope you have had a fantastic Christmas – if you’ve been celebrating. Mine was quiet, but very very happy; in London, with Mum and Dad, and my neighbour Maggie, yesterday; and a superb carol service at St. Paul’s Cathedral on Christmas Eve – one of the memorable moments of the year will be the remarkable peal of bells that rang out across old London as 2,500 people were leaving the cathedral that night. And tomorrow off to my brother and his family in Bath for what will be a really happy and long overdue and doubtless rather overfed catch-up.
It’s great having a London Christmas. Have you ever been? Of course the inevitable question for weeks was ‘when are you heading to Dorset?’ but in fact there’s nothing nicer than not going anywhere in a hurry. So much so that I think I might spend a few more days in London in those quiet days when the city feels abandoned; when you can walk the streets and feel closer than at any other time to the great London of previous decades and centuries—as Maggie said on Christmas eve, can you imagine what remarkable Londoners have made their way to St. Paul’s to hear carols on Christmas Eve, and who have felt the excitement of that great cascade of bells ringing across the ancient city?
Today, catching a rare brief morning (in this flooded Christmas) of pale, chilly, watery sunshine, we left after breakfast for Greenwich.
When I was about 10, my Dad, who was in the Navy, had the job of running the Royal Naval College – Britain’s only set-piece Baroque Palace, that remarkable assembly of Portland stone classicism facing the wide River Thames – and for 3 years, which in retrospect I think might have been quite influential, those amazing buildings were home. I will always remember my grandfather, himself a Greek scholar and schoolmaster, walking that very young me around the buildings and explaining, in his brilliant, inimitable way, the origin of the Corinthian Order or how to recognise a Doric column.
So it was a bit of a trip down memory lane. I have been back of course; a few years ago my friend George and I found ourselves teaching a random measured drawing course to some students from Greenwich University in these handsome buildings. But I haven’t been for a long time, and not for ages with my parents. There was something particularly special about spending an hour or two at this remarkable part of the city, reminiscing together. For Mum and Dad, I think their thoughts were on past friends, and a somewhat fading part of their lives, 30 years ago. For me, it’s weird – I really mean weird – to have such visceral flashes of memory; intense recollections of the buildings and places of my young childhood, which through a prism of practice today take on an altogether stronger meaning. And then we went to Blackheath, and to the beautiful Paragon, startling in its London-stock-brick and white stucco delicacy against the broad, green swathes of the common ground.
I often find the turn of the year a time for gentle retrospection, no more so than on a trip down memory lane. I think it was a quietly inspiring morning for all three of us.
The building on the left was where we lived. Bonkers, and possibly explains a lot.
Inigo Jones’s sublime Queen’s House.
And the towers of Canary Wharf glimpsed through the colonnades of old Greenwich.
Perfection at the Paragon, Blackheath.
Mum and Dad, reflecting on 30 years. A perfect day together.