Sunday, 27 April 2014

April Evenings

I enjoy the low slanting sunlight of April evenings and the light fall of rain. Sometimes I use my mobile phone to take photographs of moments I like, reflections on the wet streets, the orange glow of brickwork, an umbrella walking by. Houses and tombstones tell stories; I enjoy these too. 

Looking at being looked at.
A zebra crossing with its Belisha beacons is one of those subliminally comforting sights, as warming as a childhood cup of cocoa.  The orange globes flash on for a second, off for a second, on for a second, and when there are two on opposite sides of the road they flash in alternation so that one beacon is always alight.  They are named for Leslie Hore-Belisha, minister of transport in 1934, who introduced them to increase the visibility of zebra crossings.  They have been going on and off every second of every day and every night ever since.

A zebra crossing with a Belisha beacon.

April evenings are illuminated by bright flashes of sunlight.  

Or they are warmed by an intensity of colour before the sun goes down.

The London home of Sidney and Beatrice Webb.

One of the places I pass quite often during my evening walks is the London home of Sidney and Beatrice Webb.  As the Blue Plaque on the facade of their house says, they were social scientists and political reformers. If blue plaques were a bit bigger this one might have said more.

The Blue Plaque at the home of the Webbs.

Along with others, including George Bernard Shaw, the Webbs were founders of the London School of Economics and the Fabian Society which worked to bring socialism gradually but inexorably to Britain, which for a while it did.  The Webbs were also enthusiastic supporters of the Soviet Union throughout their lives. They visited Russia in the early 1930s and despite all evidence to the contrary they pronounced the forced collectivisation of agriculture which caused widespread famine, misery and millions of deaths to be a wonderful social experiment; they supported the Moscow show trials, used by Stalin to humiliate and liquidate suspected rivals in politics and the military; and they also approved of Stalin's introduction of the gulag system. Their book Soviet Communism: A New Civilization? was described by A J P Taylor as 'the most preposterous book ever written about Russia'. Two of the silliest and most dangerous people of their age, it goes without saying that Sidney and Beatrice Webb became national treasures and are buried in Westminster Abbey. 

Evening lamplight.

Towards the end of an April evening, as the last of the sun was going, I came upon the tomb of the painter John Constable and his family. He most expressed his genius in his wild and dramatic skies, very English skies, bursting with sunlight, lashed with rain, drifting with clouds like flocks of sheep.

Tomb of the painter John Constable.

When I first read the inscription on this tomb I realised that John Harrison was one of the most important men of the eighteenth century.  His means of determining longitude at sea opened up the world more than any conqueror or king.

John Harrison's tomb.  His clocks opened up the world.

I return to this house again and again; it is one of my favourite houses in London.  Called The Hermitage, it was built in 1862 for George Dighton who has been described as 'a painter of much promise and a distinguished rifle shot'.  Though the house is perfectly suited to London, its romanesque arches encourage me to imagine inhabiting its loggia and travelling to another time and a faraway place.

The Hermitage.

One of the best things about a light rain are the umbrellas which blossom on the streets of London, like elegant dark flowers.