The purpose of the visit was to catch up with Beth and Matthew, after Joan had already been in the London area for work. It was great to see them both doing well. We also spent a fair bit of time in the company of our good friend Tim, who is still really enjoying his studies in English Literature.
Like Dublin and Edinburgh, London is largely a capital city built on Empire, but so much bigger, so much grander. Every street brings new excitement – architectural, sociological, economic, political. Sometimes even artistic, as we did cram a year’s worth of cultural activity in a weekend:
The Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition at the Natural History Museum: what a treat. Some stunning photos if you follow the link. My favourite below:
The sublime Mozart and his ‘Marriage of Figaro’ at Covent Garden – great fun, but only for an occasional visit! What a fantastic overture – it really gets the juices going:
A cold Sunday afternoon walk round the famous cemetery at Highgate, crammed with many dead who still live. What an irony that Marx in death should lie opposite Herbert Spencer, the man who applied Darwin’s ideas of evolution to society (social darwinism): a crude summary would be that ‘it’s natural that the fittest survive and get wealthier, while the incompetent go to the wall: it’s simply nature’s way of ensuring that the human race continues to thrive.’ Having said that, Marx is surrounded by some fine Communists of the recent past, such as Claudia Jones and Yusof Dadoo, so he may not be too uncomfortable with some of his neighbours.
The quotation in gold letters at the bottom of the monument comes from Marx’s 1845 Theses against Feuerbach, an early indication that he was turning his back on intellectual activity which did not attempt to change the world for the better. I found much of Marx’s later writing, in particular Das Kapital, difficult, irrelevant and wrong, but some of the earlier work (such as these Theses, not published at the time) and his journalism (in particular his fantastic accounts of the 1848 revolutions and the Paris Commune) is among the best political writing of the 19th Century.
We also saw George Clooney acting his socks off in ‘The Descendants’, heard Indonesian Gamelan as it should be played at the Union Chapel, Upper Street, visited the ancient history collections of the British Museum and in between times had some great meals and chat. Just going around the city is exciting in itself: always interesting everyday encounters on the London bus, with the tone and plurality of our complex world.
On the train back up, I enjoyed reading an old colleague’s affectionate memoir of growing up in 1940s / 1950s Glasgow, Pies Were for Thursdays. It’s not overly sentimental and, since it is set in Glasgow, it is often very amusing.