History two ways
Some time ago, we received an invitation to attend a lecture about the Zulu Wars, to be held at the Royal Geographical Society in Kensington Gore. Not exactly my kind of thing but rather more appealing to the historian in the family, who accepted his father’s suggestion to take my place without too much persuasion.
I wasn’t going to forego the chance to spend a day in London though, so began to make a plan or two. At first I was tempted to schlep across the city to Spitalfields and this year’s Origin exhibition, but thinking about the balance of time, effort and reward, I reconsidered.
Especially when I came across this. After all, I had never been to Kensington Palace and the exhibition sounded intriguing.
So, after a spot of lunch in Kensington High Street, we made our way to the entrance, walking three sides of the rectangle to get there.
There is plenty of work going on and that part of the park is looking a little forlorn.
At times we thought we’d never get there but there were reassuring messages on the fence.
We weren’t sure what to expect, but making our way through a side entrance we found the way in and were handed exhibition guides and a pencil each. “The exhibition is very interactive,” we were told.
We began our tour by “sneaking up the WRONG stairs”, to the Room of Beginnings where an atmospheric installation was designed as a kind of signpost to the three parts of the tour. We followed the instructions to the letter, I solved the puzzles to name the seven princesses and can say that we both enjoyed the experience on the whole. Having said that, some parts were more successful than others, some of which we felt didn’t work at all.
We were lucky that there were not many visitors there and questioned what it would be like on a crowded weekend. The first room in particular was challenging with just the pair of us and another couple in it (though they were pushing a sleeping child in a buggy, too) Named the “Room of Royal Sorrows”, the lighting and installation in there was beautiful if a little bewildering, unless you knew a little history/background. Thankfully I was with “he who did”, because there was no way I could read the guidebook in the dim light!
Following the route through a series of clever and intriguing (if somewhat sparse) “sets” we encountered other visitors responding in a variety of ways. One group of women were happy enough but were more interested in the “real” palace beyond this imaginary world. Another family had teenagers along with them, who were clearly bored and resistant to playing along. Though most appeared interested in the exhibition, we did wonder if anyone really understood it all – ourselves included, for though it was clever and well executed, it was also a fine example of that rather ethereal, other-worldly triumph of style over content. Ultimately, we both felt that we would have gained so much more had there been just a smidgeon more concrete information – the kind of background story the warder was regaling to the group of ladies at the top of the staircase, in fact. The exhibition is on for another year, whilst the Palace renovations are completed in time for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
After all of that, a cup of tea was needed but as we sat in the Orangery, the rain began to fall. With Oyster cards in hand, we hopped on the next bus heading for Hyde Park Corner and made excellent use of our English Heritage membership cards at Apsley House. Offering a straight take on the man and his life, this was as traditional an historic visit as they come and the glass cases and walls were full of precious things to see.
(not my photo but a Wikimedia Commons one – the sky was far from blue yesterday afternoon!)
Whether the Duke of Wellington really enjoyed having so many representations of Napoleon in his home, I have no idea, but here was a man defined by one immense life event. It made a fascinating end to the afternoon and was the perfect foil to The Enchanted Palace.
Whilst the chaps went to their presentation, I had planned to go to the Science Museum which was holding their monthly “late opening”. But, not only did I not fancy trekking through the rainy streets for just an hour or two, I can’t say the subject matter was exactly enticing either! So, I pottered around the shops of Kensington High Street and took up residence in WholeFoods with a pizza and a glass of red…