Down at the V&A

I have a thing about the Victoria & Albert Museum. Going there on a quiet wet afternoon feels less like visiting a major public institution, more like sneaking around someone’s very big house. It’s stayed true to its Victorian roots, with many exhibits retaining the typewritten index cards and Dickensian orthography of a century plus ago. Exhibits are piled up, heirloom style: walls plastered with close-packed Gainsboroughs and Constables and halls decked with casts and models, a full-size David next to a quarter-scale Egyptian column. One room west there’s nothing but silverware; another looks like a library, but when you pull out a shelf you find examples of Venetian textiles circa 1625. It’s a strange and wonderful place.

Two things prompted my visit today (well, apart from having a few slack hours, anyway); the architecture hall has a corridor of photos detailing the refit of the Royal Festival Hall, and the ironworks section has a parade of watercolours of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Both are interesting little snippets of London life.

It’s a crime that the Crystal Palace was disassembled; it could have been London’s Eiffel Tower, another intricate structure erected for an exhibition. But the great thing about this town is that you can still get a taste of what life was like back then. For Victorian architectural ironwork, just visit the breathtaking palm house at Kew Gardens… or walk down any upmarket street and look at the railings.

My last few weeks before leaving London for a while are falling into a pleasant pattern. Mornings I concentrate on finishing up projects and keeping my business humming at a level I can sustain throughout a year of study; lunchtimes I’ll head for the gym; and afternoons I’ll do some pre-study, preferably in an exotic location. All with the goal of not losing what I feel for my city, however many months (or years) I’m away for.

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