If Gin’s your thing….

House Mill

… here’s a little-known, but unique, place in London you might be interested in.

It’s House Mill and it stands – literally – on the River Lea in Bromley-by-Bow in east London (close to the Olympic Park).

For centuries gin was distilled there, and when the distilling finished, it was still bottled and stored there until the early 1990s.

But it’s why gin came to be made there that makes House Mill so fascinating. Not just for gin tipplers, but anyone interested in engineering, innovation, baking, quirky places and more.

Basically, gin-making started at House Mill because the grain, needed to make gin, was already there, because House Mill was, er, a mill. Not just a bog standard wind or water mill, though, but a tidal mill – ie, it was powered by the ebb and flow of the tide on the river (the Lea flows into the Thames which flows into the sea not so far away).

House Mill date plaque

Although it’s a long time since any grain was milled there, much of the mechanism remains; while it doesn’t work like it should, the long-term plan is to restore it to working order – and even while it’s not working it’s still the largest surviving tidal mill in the world.

People were milling flour on Three Mills Island when the Domesday Book was compiled (in 1086). The current House Mill was (re)built in 1776 and, obvs, is open to the public; the other surviving mill, Clock Mill, isn’t – it’s now part of a film and TV studios, 3 Mills Studios.

Clock Mill

Even though the mechanical stuff in House Mill isn’t working, it’s still really beautiful to look at, in a time-worn, patina-ed kind-of way. Plus, it reminds us of the ingenuity of our forebears, and how clever they were at harnessing the power of nature in a fossil-fuel-free way.

Clock Mill, and entrance to Three Mills Island, from the River towpath

House Mill was (another) one of the places I found while exploring the nether regions of the River Lea when I was working in London. That’s quite a while ago but, looking at the website, I’ve no reason to believe it’s radically different to when I went there – apart from being better.

I took these pictures for myself, as a reminder of my visit, not for public consumption, so they are rather tat. (mind you, I’m such a tat photographer, even if I had planned on making them public they’d still have been tat!)

Thankfully, though, there are lots of pics on the House Mill website that aren’t tat: http://www.housemill.org.uk/gallery/

And, for mill nerds, a fascinating website called Mills Archive has some good information on House Mill, and Clock Mill, here:


and here:



Eye-to-eye with a dead king

THINK last resting place of a king. Think London way. Think Abbey. Think begins with “W”.

But don’t think Westminster, think “Waltham Abbey”.

West Front and main entrance

OK, so it’s technically no longer an abbey but a church that’s what’s left of an abbey, but it was almost as important in its day as its more famous cousin a dozen or so miles south, and a king is buried there – or is assumed to be.

That king is Harold II, as in our last Anglo-Saxon king and the bloke felled by a Norman arrow in the eye at the Battle of Hastings.

Even apart from the whole arrow-in-the-eye and not being king stuff, you have to feel a bit sorry for Harold.

Years before he became King he was struck down by some mystery illness (mind you, 1,000 years ago most things would have been ‘mystery illnesses’). Someone recommended he make a pilgrimage to Waltham, to pray before the Holy Cross there. He did, was cured of his ills and in gratitude re-built the existing church into something altogether bigger and fancier.

After his violent death he was buried in front of the altar of ‘his’ church.

Within a hundred years or so, though, ‘Harold’s’ church had been replaced. After it had been replaced (again), extended and then partially demolished (after the Dissolution of the monasteries) and genuinely played about with over umpteen centuries, Harold’s (presumed) grave ended up no longer inside the church, but in the grounds. To be fair, it’s by the East Wall and so pretty much behind the current altar, but it’s still outside, and big and fancy it certainly is not.

Still, it’s there, and when I visited I was surprised by the number of floral tributes it had placed upon it, considering Harold had been dead for nearly a millennium. But it’s only now, more than five years later(!) that I’ve realised the most likely explanation: I happened to visit on 13 October – ie the day before the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings (14 October). I’m thinking the flowers may have there because of that?

King Harold’s (supposed) grave

Waltham Abbey Church is worth a visit any time of year, though, not just around the anniversary of the death of its most famous ‘resident’. It’s a very pretty, peaceful church, and aside from Harold’s grave, there’s lots of interesting stuff to see, from 13th Century wood carving to 19th Century (Edward) Burne-Jones stained glass; from remnants of the Norman church building to a 1960s statue of King Harold by Elizabeth Muntz.

There’s lots more information about the church, and visiting it, here: http://www.walthamabbeychurch.co.uk

Waltham Abbey was one of the places I explored when I was working in London a few years ago and would spend my weekends cycling along the River Lea Navigation, and it’s actually quite a pleasant place to amble round of an afternoon .

According to my map, the town wasn’t just home to an historic church (and grave) but some pretty important gunpowder mills as well – mills important enough to be called the Royal Gunpowder Mills.

I lost count of the number of times I came off the towpath and cycled round and round the park-type area where, according to the map, the gunpowder mills should be. All I ever found was a couple of brick walls that looked like they had once been part of some large building, which, I finally decided, had to be the gunpowder mills, or rather, what was left of the gunpowder mills.

Some time after I’d left London, I was procrastinating and I found this: https://www.royalgunpowdermills.com. Maaan, it’s a scheduled monument; it’s got 20(!) listed buildings; not just one little train but two; even a sodding powder boat and a ballistic pendula (whatever that is). Not only does it look incredibly interesting, it’s bloody huge as well – more than 120 acres! How is it even possible to miss something that big? Seriously? Well done, me.

Smoke on the Water

Apologies to anyone who will now have: “Duuh, duuh, duuh, duh-duh duh-duh, duuh, duuh, duuh, duh-duh…” stuck in their brain for the next few hours (the unsurmountable wall of bass that is the first few bars of Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water), but I couldn’t help myself…

Last night I was clearing photos off my phone and I realised that some of them were taken exactly one year ago today and/or this week, when the moors above my house, on Winter Hill, were all over the news – and on fire.

To mark the anniversary of the start of the Winter Hill fire, I thought I’d post a couple of my (rediscovered) pictures.

The first was taken from Blackrod, about three miles (maybe) as the crow flies from Winter Hill, in the evening, just when everyone was starting to realise that the moors were on fire:


These next two, taken a couple of days later, show what sunset looked like over Lower Rivington Reservoir, which is something like two miles (maybe) closer to Winter Hill than Blackrod:

(I wasn’t being a disaster ghoul, by the way, I just happened to be staying in Horwich, which is the town closest to Winter Hill, and the reservoir, was a good place to walk. Although, I admit, probably not with all that smoke floating around.)

I remember taking this picture below, but the date stamp on it took me completely by surprise: 9 July – ie while Winter Hill was still burning. It’s a surprise because when I took it I was actually closer, as the crow flies, to Winter Hill than I was when I took the pictures at the reservoir:

How much clearer does the sky look? Yet Winter Hill was still burning, to the right of the picture; the wind must have been in the other direction. I didn’t take the picture because of the fire, but because I thought that cloud looked like a pillowy human figure – the Michelin Man, say,  – bobbing over the moors face down, having a good look at what was going on.

With this summer being – until very recently – such a washout, it’s less likely that the moors will suffer another such fire this year, thank goodness. Every cloud …. and all that, I suppose.

From Kalimantan to the canal

“WHY have I just passed a bloke dressed as a monkey?” I asked myself as I cycled along the Leeds-Liverpool Canal in Adlington today.

So I stopped and asked him.

His name is Dave Eells, and he’s walking the length of the canal from Liverpool to Leeds to raise money for the Orangutan Foundation. And he’s doing it because a couple of months ago he saw this video on YouTube (https://youtu.be/R4zzbwM07bw), of an orangutan having to escape from a tree that was being logged.

So affected was Dave by: “seeing an innocent animal being forcibly removed from its own habitat”, that he decided to take a week off from his job in HR and do a sponsored walk along the canal for the orangutan charity, even though he’s not into walking – “I do go to the gym in the morning, though.” Nor is he that into wildlife, either. “I like my Rugby League”, he said.

He’s doing the 127-mile walk over five days. When I saw him he was half-way through his second day, and he’d already had “a cranky half-hour” because of blisters, but buoyed by a donation from Retreat restaurant in Adlington, where he stopped for lunch, he was “cracking on”.

What happened to the orangutan in the video is happening to countless other species, around the world, every day, said Dave, but he decided to help orangutans because their situation “is solvable now”, largely if we reduce our use of palm oil. It’s an ingredient in everything from biscuits to shampoos, but one of the main threats to orangutans is having their forest homes cleared to make way for oil palm plantations.

So far Dave, from Keighley, has raised more than £1,000 for the Orangutan Foundation, which works in Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo – where that heart-breaking video was filmed – rescuing displaced orangutans and collaborating with the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry to protect the forests where the orangutans (and other creatures) live.

Oh, and if you’re wondering why someone who is walking for orangutans is doing it dressed as a monkey, it’s because an orangutan costume was ridiculously expensive. “So I bastardised a money one instead,” he said.

Don’t get stuck in the split-ticketing trap

OK, so this is only the latest news story extolling the virtues of “split ticketing”:“Split ticketing” is when, instead of buying a train ticket valid all the way from your starting point to your destination station, you buy individual tickets for each leg of your journey. It’s hard to believe but – incredibly – “split ticketing” usually costs a lot less than buying a through ticket.

However, what the Telegraph, and others, either don’t know, or choose not to tell you, is that you risk paying an unexpected price for this so-called “money saving hack”: either being stranded in the middle of nowhere, or (best case scenario) paying top-dollar for a regular train fare.

Why? Well, by selling you a train ticket, the train company is committing itself to getting you from your starting point to the destination on your ticket.

So if you buy a ticket from, say, Manchester to Aberdeen, the train company is required to get you from Manchester to Aberdeen, regardless of any hiccups the train/s may encounter on the way.

I’ve just looked on nationalrail.co.uk and to do such a journey leaving Manchester at 10.26am this Thursday would cost you £126.00 (ouch!)

If, however, you “split-ticket” and buy individual tickets from Manchester to Edinburgh and Edinburgh to Aberdeen, catching the very same trains as above – the 10.26am from Manchester and the 1.39pm from Edinburgh – it’ll cost you £51.40 to get from Manchester to Edinburgh and £25.70 to get from there to Aberdeen; near enough a whopping 50 quid less.

However, if you do this (v tempting, I know!), if the train from Manchester to Edinburgh is ridiculously late, or even cancelled, the train company only has to get you to Edinburgh to fulfil its side of the contract – which is, of course, to get you to the destination on your ticket. The fact that they have caused you to miss your connection to Aberdeen in not. their. problem.

Nor is it the problem of the company due to take you from Edinburgh to Aberdeen, because they have fulfilled their side of the contract with you, by running the service; it’s you who have broken your contract with them, by not turning up in time to catch it.

OK, so it’s not unknown for kind rail staff to let split ticketers use their ticket on a train other than the one they are booked on. But a) they are in no way obliged to do so especially as b) they could well get in big trouble from their big bosses for letting them do so.

So if you choose to split ticket, don’t bank on there being above a one per cent chance of you being allowed to use your ticket on another service.

Which leaves you with the option of buying a ticket on the spot. Which, when you’ve bought one in advance to save money, completely defeats that particular object.

Or – even worse – you actually miss the last train of the day to your destination, leaving you with the choice/s of a) a night in the railway station – not always possible, especially at smaller stations – or a local hotel/b&b; if you can find one, or b) a taxi, which – even an Uber – could well cost more than an un-split ticket for your entire journey. So much for saving money!

Working in London a few years ago taught me a hard lesson about the pitfalls of split-ticketing, but after seeing all the hype about it recently made me wonder whether the rules had changed of late.

But they haven’t. Because here’s what Virgin Trains (the operators featured in that Telegraph story) told me only last night when I asked about travelling from London to Chorley, which is on the Manchester-Preston-Blackpool North line:

Hi there, we don’t recommend split ticketing for this reason. If you miss your train because of delays but don’t have an individual ticket that says London to Chorley, then an Advance ticket wouldn’t be valid if you missed your booked train.

If you do want to go for split-ticketing, I won’t try to stop you (how can I when I still sometimes use it myself?). After all, there is a fair chance that all legs of the journey run to time and that you make all your connections and you get to your destination on time, in one piece and having saved yourself a pretty penny in the process.

But as there’s also a fair chance that it might not, how can you minimise the risk of something going wrong while maximising your savings (by split ticketing)?

A couple of ideas:

Leave lots of time between trains: try to book on a train that is due to arrive a couple of hours before your connecting train is due to leave (yeah, yeah, I know – killing time in a cafe will eat into your savings, but either take a picnic or, using the example above, how much is a brew and a cake going to cost? Certainly not £50.)

Try your absolute best to make sure that the last train of the day doesn’t feature anywhere on the route. If it does, well, don’t risk it! Or, rather, “not-split” that leg of your journey.

For example, when you’re coming back from Aberdeen, you want to go to the station of Lostock, near Bolton. If you miss the last train from Manchester (or Preston, if they’re sending you down the West Coast line), you’re stuffed. Until something like 6am the following day, anyway.

So if you want to split ticket, do it Aberdeen-Edinburgh and then Edinburgh to Lostock. That way, once you’re on that train from Edinburgh, the train company has to get you to Lostock, even if that means putting you in the CEO’s chauffeur-driven Bentley after the train breaks down just outside Edinburgh…

Taylor-made travel inspiration. Or in praise of my header image

When I was searching for a header image for this blog, this was the obvious choice. It’s part of a map that forms the endpapers of a vintage book, The World’s Greatest Wonders.

The book itself isn’t dated, but the map is – and signed, too: “A E Taylor ‘37” it says in one corner; I assume “’37” has to be 1937, which would certainly make sense, given the modes of transport that feature on the complete map.

I love a couple of things about the map. The first is the evocative little sketches of some of the “world’s greatest wonders”, which make the world look such a magical and fascinating place.

Secondly, to me, anyway, is that it reminds us of a time when travel really did involve adventure (no 360˚ tours of the hotel you’re thinking of booking on t’internet, or Facetiming your sister from the beach, for example/s), done almost always by boat rather than plane, and – if you were lucky enough to have the time and money to do it – it was ever so stylish and glamorous.

(Mind you, the book belonged to my grandparents, who lived in a tiny terraced house in a backstreet in the North West of England and definitely didn’t have the resources to travel, not beyond Blackpool for a day, anyway, and within a couple of years of it being published, my grandad was doing lots of travelling to exotic places. Only not by choice, and not in comfort, as he was serving with the Army in WWII, and wherever he went, people were trying to kill him. So, basically a world away – literally – from the experience suggested by the map.)

It wasn’t easy finding out more about “A E Taylor”, not at first, anyway. I got as far as “Alfred Edward Taylor” and that he was an artist and illustrator who seemed to have produced all manner of illustrated maps. Odhams Press, the publisher of The World’s Greatest Wonders, seemed to use his work quite a lot, illustrations as well as maps. (Odhams published books – fact and fiction – on all sorts of subjects during the 20th Century. I reckon every family in the land must have owned at least one Odhams book at one time. Find out more about Odhams here: https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Odhams_Press and here: https://www.history-pieces.co.uk/Docs/Odhams.pdf)

I searched for several years off and on, and then, a couple of years ago, I discovered this brilliant blog all about AE Taylor, by map dealer, Roderick Barron:

I don’t know where – or how – Mr Barron got all this information about Taylor, but I’m so glad he did. And, even more brilliantly, he includes some lovely examples of Taylor’s work as well; bonus!

(If you’re into maps, and people who make maps, Barron Maps’ blog has lots of posts about maps and their creators, and the site itself features some totally covetable maps and related items for sale.)

And if you’re wondering what the book itself is like beyond the endpapers, well here’s an idea:


On the down l’eau

We’re in a glorified bath hovering 50 feet above the water, but all is calm.

That’s probably because we’re experiencing the marvel of Victorian engineering that is the Anderton Boat Lift.

The boat lift was built in the 1870s to transport cargo vessels between the Trent and Mersey Canal and the River Weaver Navigation 50 feet below. It wasn’t the world’s first boat lift, or even Britain’s first – there’d been one on the Grand Western Canal since 1835, for a start. But, as far as I know, it was the first hydraulic boat lift, and it’s now definitely the world’s oldest operational boat lift (even if it was closed for something like 20 years).

I first heard about the boat lift years ago – probably when it re-opened in 2002 – and I’d wanted to go on it ever since but never got round to it. So when I read that a local travel company, Tyrers, was doing (ta dah!) a coach trip to the lift, I had to take the chance, didn’t it? And take along my pre-teen niece, Lis, as well.

Like so many coach trips, ours included a stop for lunch at a ‘destination’, in our case, Blakemere Village, at Sandiway. It’s not a ‘proper’ village, but one of those visitor attractiony-ones; you know the score – craft, gift and antiques and collectables shops, eating places, entertainment for children, that sort of thing. Mind you, Blakemere had falconry as well – yes, really, falconry – although I don’t think it was ‘on’ while we were there.

Blakemere wasn’t my personal cup of tea but it was all right in its way, and as some of our fellow passengers got back on the coach laden down with bags, I’d say they probably found it more than all right.

Even with an hour and a half at Blakemere, we still had a couple of hours to kill before our slot on the boat lift. Lis and I took a pleasant ramble along the canal towpath and through the Anderton nature park then headed for the visitor centre.

The information centre in the visitor centre is well worth checking out. It’s there that you can learn why the Trustees of the River Navigation, basically the organisation that modified the River Weaver to make it more boat-friendly, decided to invest more than £4 million in today’s money in building the boat lift (which has not a little to do with the difficulties of getting Stoke-made pottery down from the canal to the Manchester-Ship-Canal-linked Weaver Navigation in a saleable condition). And about how salt in the Weaver scuppered the innovative hydraulic design of the first lift (conceived by engineer Edward Leader Williams and designed by Edwin Clark), causing it to be replaced with an overhead, electricity-powered mechanism.

You can learn, too, about the massive public effort that helped get the boat lift restored and re-opened after it closed in the 1980s.

And then you can – like us – go on to enjoy coffee and cake in the visitor centre cafe while you wait for your turn on the lift.

And what was that ‘turn’ like? Well, I won’t ruin the experience for those who may take a trip in the future, but what I will say is that our 50-foot descent was a lot less hair-raising than my niece had been steeling herself for it to be, ie not an industrial heritage version of the log flume in Blackpool. And it is rather bizarre to watch another boat appear from beneath you and glide upwards past you to the top of the lift.

View of the lift through the glass roof of the boat

Our ticket also included a cruise on the River Weaver, which is well worth the extra couple of quid and 45 minutes or so, because it gives you a chance to see the legacy of the time when the Weaver was a cargo route rather than a leisure facility – including the former ICI factory where, for good or ill, polythene was invented in the 1930s. (Did you know, for example, that before it was turned into that scourge of wildlife, the plastic bag, polythene actually saved countless lives during World War II?)

The only downer (‘scuse the pun) about our fascinating day out is that I’ve learned since that it is possible to “WALK the lift” – as in walk along the top of the lift! (on certain dates). If going down in the lift was cool enough, imagine how much fun walking on top of it would be. Something for a possible future visit, maybe?

My Jeremy Kyle experience

Never, ever let on to my dad that I have made this public, as he would probably kill me for outing him, but he used to be a big fan of Jeremy Kyle.

By “big” I mean that he would record the programme every morning to watch it back when my mum wasn’t around (she actually switched the electricity at the mains once to stop him watching it!).

Several years ago, to either sort-of call my dad’s bluff, or show we were happy to embrace this side of his life, I’m not sure which, as his Father’s Day present we applied for – and got – tickets for a recording of The Jeremy Kyle Show.

With the tickets, when they arrived (paper ones, in the post – this was the pre-smartphone era), was an appeal/threat that, having been lucky enough to get tickets, we should jolly well make sure we turned up for the recording. And when I contacted the production team to choose the date we’d be using them, I was reminded, again, that we were obliged to keep our word.

However, we came up with a small problem – despite being such a major Kyle fanboy, my dad flatly refused to go to the recording. While we could have just not turned up, my mum and I decided it wouldn’t be fair to the production team to let them down, so off the two of us set for Manchester.

This was when the show was still being filmed at the Granada studios on the edge of central Manchester. Even though we’d got there around the time we’d been told, there was already a substantial queue ahead of us. Earwigging, I gathered that we, arriving from the Lancashire/Manchester border, had probably travelled far less distance than many of the people around us; the group in front of us were from Stoke, for example.

It was a blisteringly hot, sunny day, but where the queue was, along at least one side of the building, there was absolutely no shade. There was a small canopy over the actual entrance to the building, but only the six or so people at the very front of the queue could benefit from that. The rest of us were in blazing sunshine, which had been hot enough when we’d arrived mid-morning, but was only getting hotter as Mid-day approached.

It’s several years ago, so I can’t remember exactly how long we were in that queue, but it was at least two hours. Several times, members of the production team walked down the line, clearly counting how many of us were there. But not once did anyone ask us (or anyone around us, at any rate) if we were OK, despite the blazing sun.

We’d been told to bring something to drink, as filming would take a while, but no one had warned us to bring some kind of sun protection. And even if, having been warned about the drink situation, it was our responsibility to remember to bring something, surely it was only common decency to check that everyone did have something to drink, especially in such hot weather? OK, so I’m sure that if someone had actually passed out, they would have been given help, but no one seemed too fussed about stopping them getting to the point where they would pass out, or about keeping us comfortable as we queued.

After ages and ages, someone came and told the people a long way behind us that they might as well leave as there was no chance of them getting in to the recording that day.

A considerable while after that, the queue started to move, and Mum and I started to get a bit apprehensive about what we were going to encounter once we got in the studio. But we needn’t have worried.

Because as a group a little ahead of us got to the doors, they were told the audience was full so their presence was no longer needed. Nor was ours. Or that of the goodness knows how many people behind us.

We were offered “priority” tickets, which would give us guaranteed seats at a future recording, but we turned them down, because we felt we’d kept (more than kept, in fact) our side of the bargain so we were free to leave.

But while we were relieved, we were also really angry. We’d taken seriously our responsibility to turn up, but it looked like the producers couldn’t have given a toss about us, or anyone else in the queue – including those who had travelled quite a while (in distance and time) to get there.

Fair enough, they didn’t want to risk being left with empty seats in the audience, but it must have been obvious when they sent the first batch of people home that they still had left far, far, far more people than they needed (we were half-way or less down the queue that was left after those people had gone, suggesting that they’d kept at least double the number of people they actually needed – plenty enough to cover for those who might give up and go home).

OK, so you could argue that people who get entertained by other people washing their dirty linen in public – and often very confrontationally – don’t deserve a right lot of respect, but, surely, by volunteering to take part, members of the audience are (were) doing the producers as much of a favour as the producers were doing them by providing them with free ‘entertainment’? And deserved to be treated with some respect and consideration?

“I wonder if they treat the guests better than they treat their audience?” I asked my mum as we walked away to do something more rewarding. Even now I’m still wondering….

I know this isn’t exactly travel-related, but I thought it was worth adding my own two penn’orth to the current Kyle-related controversy.

Rivington Roots

We came down from Rivington Pike on Good Friday via Lord Leverhulme’s “Chinese Gardens”. (That’s not their official name, but it’s what everyone called them when I was growing up, maybe because they were rich in glorious rhododenrons and looked terribly exotic.)

One day I’ll do a proper post on them, but for now I thought I’d post these pics, of sun-baked roots in the “Chinese Gardens”. I am, as we all know, the world’s worst photographer, but maybe the roots are cool-enough looking to make up for my crap photography ‘skills’.


The Wonderbra-on-Tay

If you type the word “Scotland” into the search facility on the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) website, you’re told that the museum holds 13,761 objects associated with that word. And if you type “Scottish” it’s 2,199 objects.

So considering that the V&A describes itself as “the world’s leading museum of art and design”, and if you visit the site in South Kensington, London, you find what must be miles and miles of cabinets ram-packed with all manner of objects, I was banking on setting aside a day – at least – to check out the ultra-hyped V&A Dundee.

From the bridge over the Tay from Fife, the museum, designed by Kengo Kuma (above) is truly, truly stunning. Once inside, however, I was reminded of that old (pre-#MeToo) joke about the Millennium Dome in London: that it was like a Wonderbra – looks impressive from the outside, but once you get inside there’s nothing there.

For while the interior of the building is as impressive as the exterior, it boasts just two – two! – galleries: the permanent Scottish Design Galleries (sic) and a gallery for temporary exhibitions. There are also (like all the best conference venues) at least two seminar rooms and an auditorium, alongside a revenue-raising cafe, restaurant and (of course) gift shop.

The most noticeable feature has to be the central atrium, which extends the full three floors of the building. It’s a lovely space, but should the entrance-atrium of a museum really be larger than the space devoted to the objects the museum is exhibiting?

The temporary exhibition during my visit was Videogames: Design/Play/Disrupt, which makes sense, given Dundee’s reputation for games development. I can’t tell you what that was like as, having zero interest in videogames, I didn’t see the point of paying to get in.

The Scottish Design Galleries is/are indeed a celebration of Scottish design. I think the exhibitions will change, but the idea will stay the same – to showcase Scottish design. Right now, that showcase ranges from clothes designer Christopher Kane to architect and furniture designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh; from tartan fabric to Nairn linoleum flooring; from antique firearms to innovative medical devices. The centrepiece is Rennie Mackintosh’s “Oak Room”, one of his famous tearoom interiors, which is so beautiful it made me want to weep for the fire-ravaged Glasgow School of Art.

But despite being the (first and only) Scottish branch of “the world’s leading museum of art and design”, a museum that seems to hold nearly 14,000 artefacts relating in some way to Scotland, something like (at a guess) 40 per cent of the exhibits currently in the Scottish Design Galleries are on loan from other institutions in Scotland, from the Kelvingrove in Glasgow to Blair Castle. According to the Museum guide, the exhibition features around three hundred V&A objects. Did I mention that the (national) V&A collection includes nearly 14 thousand objects associated with Scotland?

The exhibits were nice to look at and/or informative about design in Scotland, but, boy, were the descriptions annoying: “Ooooh, look at the Scottish people; they may be Scottish, but they can be clever too!”, that kind of thing. OK, so I’m not Scottish, and maybe Scottish people don’t read them that way, but I took umbrage on behalf of my nieces, who are Scottish, and are, I know, just as capable as English people, even English people from South Kensington.

There’s nothing wrong exactly about V&A Dundee, but it’s not as right as it could have been. V&A Dundee certainly is glorious, but for its architecture rather than its wealth of art and design treasures, or, for that matter, as a celebration of Scotland.

It’s great that the V&A Dundee is attracting visitors to the fab city that is Dundee, but if you really want to see what Scottish people are capable of, you’re better off popping next door to the RRS Discovery or nipping up the road to Dundee’s very own McManus art gallery and museum, which might not have the fancy branding but is definitely more about celebrating Scotland.