A Trip to the V&A

I finally got to visit the new V&A museum and gallery which opened on the riverfront of Dundee recently, which included an enjoyable train trip up from Edinburgh, which takes you across both the massive Forth Rail Bridge and the Tay Rail Bridge to cross both huge firths. The Tay Bridge, while not enjoying the iconic status of its southern cousin on the Forth, has an eerie side to it – as you cross, if you look out the south side of the structure you can clearly see the line of the remnants of piers, which once held up the first Tay Rail Bridge.

Vid - Crossing the Tay

I snapped these two out of the train window, so they’re not the sharpest

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Bridging The Tay 03

That bridge was an engineering marvel of the age, the designer was knighted for his works, Queen Victoria even travelled over it returning on the Royal Train from a stay at Balmoral. However on December 28th, 1878, a huge, gale-force winter storm struck the Tay, and it transpired that it hadn’t really been designed to take that force hitting side-on to bridge and train. A passenger train was lost as the bridge collapsed, taking sections of bridge and the train with it, seventy five people plunging into the cold waters below, all lost. The replacement bridge runs right alongside the original’s route, but was, as you can imagine, built to be far sturdier, and remains in service to this day. The remnants of the first bridge’s piers now remain like tombstones, a ghostly reminder to all who cross the bridge of the one that was there before.

The V&A Dundee is a striking building, right on the riverfront, next to the famous polar exploration vessel Discovery and its own museum, and right across from the train station, so pretty perfect for visitors to the city.

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The V&A Dundee 03

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The V&A Dundee 08

It’s an impressive space inside, two main wings, with a lot of open space, windows often giving sudden glimpses of the bridge, the silvery Tay (the most powerful river in the British Isles) and the tall ship, Discovery.

The V&A Dundee 05

The V&A Dundee 06

Vid - The V&A Dundee

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There are permanent exhibits, many global, but also a good selection that reflects the culture, arts, crafts, industrial, scientific and engineering history of Scotland, with some there drawn from its host city Dundee’s own history, as well as travelling exhibitions (the current one is on tartans).

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(above: the Oak Room designed by the great Charles Rennie Mackintosh for Miss Cranston’s tea rooms. Below: the Kinloss Psalter, a beautiful illuminated work though to date from between 1500 – 1530 CE)

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A very cultured cat

Yesterday since it was so unusually nice – bright sunlight, actually warm too (no biting, Arctic winds for once!) – instead of heading off to the cinema I decided to go for a long walk with the camera. Just a few minutes from my flat is an old train line which is now a cycle and walkway, which then connects to the Water of Leith. Once a busy river used heavily for industry it is now cleaned up, wildlife returned to it, very desirable homes along the banks and offering a lovely countryside walk right in the middle of the capital city, trees offering green-filtered shade, the sound of the water, singing of birds, squirrels playing around (sadly I didn’t see the heron who is usually around, was hoping to get a pic but denied). I was heading to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, but rather than go through the streets took this route – rather nicely as you walk along the leafy river there is a bridge over to a steep set of stairs cut into one side which take you right up from this pleasant walk and into the grounds of the gallery. Nice way to combine ‘country’ walk with visit to the gallery, all without leaving the city centre.

I came up the top of the high steps (yes, panting a little, I do a lot of walking but not as fit as I was in my cycling days, and these are very steep stairs up quite an incline) and out into the back of the gallery. Walked under some cherry blossom trees, finally after the unseasonably bad weather now groaning heavily with flowers and petals. And as I turn around the corner of the building to the front, walking past some of the open air sculptures, I see a very small, very young kitty walking over to sit in the shade right in front of the gallery by a Henry Moore sculpture. Not what I expected to see in the grounds of a major gallery in the city.

gallery kitty 01

Then this rather gorgeous, beautifully tiger-striped little cat sees me and lets out a loud couple of mieows before running right over to me. As I kneel down she comes right up to me, head out for a scratch between the ears then tilts up so I can scratch her wee furry chin. Then obviously deciding I was suitably cat-trained she lies down, rolls over and assumes the ‘tickle my soft, furry tummy, you know you want to’ position that all clever cats (and dogs too for that matter) know to use to help train humans to do their bidding.

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This was the first time in months that I stroked a kitty, and the first time I heard contented purrs as I tickled that tummy – even better, I could feel them, purrs vibrating right through my fingertips. I miss that so much without my own furry girls to give constant attention to, and I suddenly felt so much better about the world, for a few precious moments just lost in that simple happy feeling that comes from interacting with a trusting, friendly animal who wants to play with you and get attention and love. The simple things that can make us feel so much better…

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She was a very young, small kitty, guessing no more than a couple of years old. I was slightly worried she might be lost, perhaps walked away from her garden and somehow got to the gallery but not sure how to get home. She did have a collar on so obviously part of a family (or I might have been so tempted to take her home with me to take care of!), but when I checked with gallery staff they said it was okay, she came around most days and was very friendly, often sitting with some of them for their lunch and going up to visitors with a loud mieow and happily getting attention from them, so I was relieved to know she obviously just comes from a nearby home to this spot on her rounds and wasn’t lost and looking for help.

While she was curled up she noticed the end of her own tail and promptly tried to grab it. Of course as she reached forward to grab it her back end moved and so did the tail so she couldn’t quite get it, but was having fun trying (reminded me of my darling Dizzy when she was very young, doing much the same when she saw her own tail and tried to grab it). Since my usual ball of wool cat toy (best fun for a cat, the old ball of wool) was at home I improvised, managed to pluck a very long blade of grass to use as a toy, dangling it over her head as she clearly wanted to play, and she went mad for it, up on hind legs reaching for it, trying to grab and bite at it and having fun. Eventually satisfied she went off for a prowl then eventually spotting some new visitors sitting down on a bench by the path she ran over to them, standing up on hind legs to reach their arms with her paws as if to say mieow, here I am, pay attention to me…

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In the gallery I saw a modern exhibit and also some of the older works such as the gallery’s Picasso, Duchamp and Dali works, all very enjoyable, but nothing made me as happy as ten minutes stroking and playing with this friendly little cat and hearing her purr. I do miss having my furry girls badly, amazing how much they helped me cope with life and all its slings and arrows. I have been looking at a couple of the websites for animal rescue shelters near me, but they all want any potential owners to have a garden for the cats. Since I live three stories up in a Victorian tenement this is a problem – it wasn’t a problem with Cassie and Pandora though. When they were kittens we were renting my friend’s place while he worked down south, and it had a nice garden for them – but they wouldn’t go out into it. Once they had been neutered and had all their shots the vet said right, safe to start letting them out now. But they refused to go outside. They would watch me from the window out in the garden, but wouldn’t join me. I tried carrying them out one day, they ran around in little circles in panic, yeowling, then leapt onto me, digging claws in and holding on to me, shivering. Okay, you really don’t want to go out, I won’t make you. So when I bought a place a little after that I thought well I don’t have to restrict myself to a ground floor flat with garden for the cats… And this was fine for oh so many years as my furrykins enjoyed being queens of their own little indoor domain, quite content. But it may be a problem now when I finally get myself ready emotionally to go down to the shelter and talk to them about rehoming one or two of their kitties. Which is a shame as there are so many animals badly needing a new home and love and attention, and I really need some animals in my life again.

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Poet’s Pub

I enjoyed a visit to the Scottish National Portrait Gallery this afternoon, the first time I have been in for years as it was closed until recently for a huge refurbishment. Many spots now much more open and lighter, including the nice room they have an old friend of mine, in an old favourite from before the refurbishment, Sandy Moffat’s Poet’s Pub. Always loved this piece depicting some of the most important and influential writers of mid 20th century Scottish culture (including, as you can see on the far right, Captain Picard!). In the new display room it is in an airy, light filled space with a comfortable big padded seat right in front of it so you can sit there and regard it, with a touchscreen interface angled into the armrest so you can tap it for more information while sitting comfortably in front of the painting, touching the individual writers lets you hear them reading some of their own work in their own voice. Lovely.

The work itself is a composite as they were never all in the same pub at the same time and the location itself is a combination of elements from three different Edinburgh pubs, the Abbotsford, The Cafe Royale and Milnes. All still exist, although sadly Milnes these days is an awful chain-operated place with lousy service that I long since gave up on (complaints to company who runs it made it clear they never gave a damn about standards or customers so sod them), although the Royale and Abbotsford are still firm favourites of mine. In fact I was in the Abbotsford just a few nights ago and bumped into a number of contemporary Scottish writers I know, including two of our bestsellers, Ian and Iain:


An Iain and an Ian go into a bar

More of the Louvre

Since blogger is grudgingly and slowly letting me upload some pics tonight, some more pics from Paris, still sticking with the Louvre theme:

I.M. Pei’s glass pyramid which now functions as the entrance to the Louvre, descending down into the pyramid to a vast space with the ticket desks, information and entrances to the various wings of what is probably the world’s most famous museum. Turn the other way and walk through the Jardin de Tuileries and you come out into a square leading your eyes up a line straight to the Champs Elysees and L’Arc de Triomphe.

heading into one of the wings with some of the Louvre’s astonishing amount of Classical material

Which includes the world’s original supermodel, The Venus de Milo. Who I believe is now romantically linked with Paul McCartney 🙂

La Joconde – the Mona Lisa, smiling for the many tourists. While photography seemed to be fine in most of the Louvre they did ask – as is the usual case in any gallery – not to use cameras in the rooms with the paintings, probably because so many idiots don’t know how to switch off their flash which damages them. Despite the fact I rarely use the flash I still kept my camera in my pocket for this wing, despite masses of tourists – especially the many Japanese – merrily ignoring the rule and firing camera flashes off right in front of the paintings which made me want to slap them round the head, bloody idiots. There were so many the curators didn’t even try to stop them. I broke my rule and did take one painting pic for this (no flash so I don’t feel to guilty) as people were standing right there in front of curators snapping away.

One of the things I really liked in the wings with the paintings was the fact that several artists had been allowed to set up their easels to paint their own versions of some of the works, something I found to be rather satisfying to see. Actually La Joconde wasn’t the most impressive painting there, famous as she is – the best work I saw (and there were many we didn’t have time to see properly, it is vast) was one that annoyingly I can’t remember the name of, but it reminded me of one of the Venetian paintings I raved about on here a few years back when there was an exhibition on at the Royal Scottish Academy. I wish I could remember the name or artist, but like a couple of the works I saw there it leapt out the frame at me, the colours, especially the blues, so amazingly bright and vibrant it was like the artist had painted Mediterannean sunlight right into the canvas, still pouring out of the painting centuries later.

In the Richelieu wing there was this terrific open space, essentially a sculpture garden indoors, with this amazing glass and steel roof (like a smaller version of the brilliant one now on top of the British Museum in London) shielding us from the elements so it felt like being outside but sheltered. Natural light floods this space and its twin further along the wing (these are the ones in the video clips from the other day) and a lot of artists were making the most of the light to sketch some of the friezes and sculptures; I’d imagine the statues would afford a great class in how to portray human anatomy and form and what a terrific space to draw in. Or take pictures in.

I love this space, I think I could sit here for ages

Inside the glass pyramid – I love the spiral staircase with no visible means of support (not even thin suspended wires); the column it is wrapped round is actually a lift. Its open at the top and the entire column sinks down – it doesn’t telescope down, the entire structure actually slides down into the floor, very cool!

As usual click the pics to see the larger version on the Woolamaloo Flickr stream (only 184 in the Paris set so far, still a ton to add; no doubt many more Paris pics and vids to come!)