Having arranged some well-earned respite from the meeting-mania, I decided that I ought to put it to some good use, and that meant visiting a gallery. So I took the tube to Piccadilly Circus, then meandered down towards County Hall with a view to perusing their new exhibition of Picasso - all rare and exciting stuff, apparently - of which more anon. I know it's a fair old walk, and that I could have got the train down to Embankment or Charing Cross or Waterloo, or even Westminster, but I quite like the walk, and it does me no harm, seeing as how I'm a fat, and generally lazy chap (definitely chap, I'm told), to stretch my legs, and besides I had promised myself some reward later...and I'd already had a face-full of brekker at a favoured greasy spoon near here, "breakfast number seven, bubble not hash, tea and toast, ta". I'd sat on the train as far as Piccadilly plugged into some sounds and having the odd chuckle as I read the paper (Telegraph, natch, where else does one look for upmarket ladies?) but knew that the walk was what was needed. Anyway, I was wandering down Haymarket when I became aware that the ball-and-chain was buzzing. Is there no escape? Then down via Trafalgar Square and Whitehall, past the adoring hordes craning their necks for a glimpse of His Tonyness the Holy, demonstrating his faith in his policies of freedom and liberty by keeping the lumpen proletariat at ever-further distance behind increasing quantities of fence, barrier and weaponry. To Parliament Square, and a quick shake hands with the demonstrators there, not because I agree with them but because you have to admire them for gaining permission to demonstrate at all, and then onto that wonderful place which is Westminster Bridge.
When you get through the onslaught at the road crossing, through the mayhem of the souvenir stand by Boadicea ( I know we call her Boudicca now, I went to school too) and the hot dog trailer, then you can get across the bridge itself. Jimmy Saville, or at least, a five foot six lookalike in white blouse, white trainers and kilt, was setting up to busk with bagpipes, and I hurried along. To County Hall.
There followed some negotiation with the two nice ladies at the counter as to my intention not to look at the Dalis, I only wanted to look at the Picassos, so they only charged me the additional £3.50 to get in, which I think is really kind of them, and I went to get an eyeful of the pictures and ceramics and tapestries. It has to be said that a large number of the pictures are prints, which is perhaps a little naughty, but as I'd not spent a lot to get in I can't beef, and there were some beauties. I loved the ceramics, the pitchers with owls, and there were a number of pictures, one of a nude face down on a bed, oh the simple way he captured the beautiful curves, and the print of the two lovers kissing...and the tapestries, wow, what colour. Anyway, you can tell, I got my moneys worth, and more.
So what next? A plan had formed, I haven't been pub crawling for a while, seeing as the Greek Genius has put the mockers on my old mate alcohol, and the days of rampant dipsomania are probably gone forever, so I thought a tour of some unknown watering holes, with a discreet half in each should make it an afternoon to enjoy, complete with the paper and crossword. First stop, back in Whitehall, was the Red Lion. Nice, definitely a boozer, only the presence of panini rather than sarnies to suggest a poshness which was undermined by the stickiness of the woodwork where many a pint had been spilled, and the beer was fine. Then on, up Whitehall to another pub, the name of which escaped me, and which by its faceless non-descriptness will probably not trouble me again. On the way up there, I was amused by the presence of a bloke walking around with a placard proclaiming the presence of a nearby hamburger shop (they're not restaurants, are they?). But that's not a threat to public safety, so that's alright then. Anyway, whilst in this faceless pub I did get into a conversation with two guys from Defra, one a civil servant, one a scientist, and was delighted to discover that they too are victims of the e-culture at work. They too are expected to respond instantly to e-mails, and form opinions without the benefit of reading the report put before them, without the consideration required, and to advise a numpty ignorant minister on a subject. No room for thought, then. So it's form an opinion, and justify it later.
Onwards up to Trafalgar Square, and a slow stroll around the lions avoiding the tourists photographing one another clambering all over the great cats and ignoring the big man on the top of the column. I took the opportunity to have a good look at the Fourth Plinth, as I was in an artistic frame of mind, which is currently occupied by Marc Quinn's 'Alison Lapper Pregnant', and decided that it is art, and it is beautiful. I believe that there are those who've suggested it was about time public art celebrated disability, and that there are those who think it is distasteful to make a show of it. To all - Trafalgar Square is a monument to a man with one eye and one arm. Anyway, I like Mr. Quinn's sculpture, but I like the use of the plinth in rotation even more, so let's keep it like that.
Now for a serious quandary - to stop off at the Chandos for a swifty, or to press on up to the Bear and Staff? Press on won the day, and I was reminded of why I like that boozer - it's convenient and cheap. There was a young bloke in there with his dad, discussing whether to buy a bus or a van. He was in a band, and they were obviously just starting to get gigs which involved serious travelling, but which did not involve serious money, so my quandary over which pub seemed a bit small, really, and I wish him well, whoever he is. I didn't ask.
Across the road to the Porcupine, again cheap and convenient, but a little, well, grubbier, really, but they do have Barnsley chop on the menu, and you don't see that as much as you might, and as I was supping on my half of bitter, I was engaged in conversation by a man who turned out to be Czech. He wanted me to help him find an employment agency somewhere, I was unable to assist, but he then carried on telling me what great stuff Guinness is. He really enthused, non-stop, jabber jabber jabber, I'd never thought that it was that good. But then, if I did, I'd have been drinking it instead of bitter, no?
Next, a couple of the second hand bookshops, to purchase a book for my sister, and a book for my brother-in-law, and then a traipse around the new bookshops to find a book for me. The reading group which I belong to wants to read a book called 'The Road Less Travelled' by M. Scott Peck. I eventually found it in Self-Help. Oh the irony; I joined the bookgroup because my shrink suggested it would be a good idea...
The rest of the evening was spent zigzagging across Soho, from the Carlisle Arms to the George (a shed) to the Blue Posts and thence to the Crown, via that old standard, the Ship. I was stood next to a bloke in the Blue Posts who was telling his friends that he had just come off the 'phone to the wife of a colleague; the colleague had been killed in a rta that morning. The man did seem a little distressed, he was struck by the complete randomness of it, the unpredictability, the chance, and the sudden devastation left around it. I could empathise. I hope they recover, more, I hope he doesn't just desert his friend's family.
In the Crown there was a young couple kissing. It seemed to close the day after the Picasso. They too were as oblivious as a painting to being watched, totally self-absorbed.