Paris… finally

Last month i realised a long time ambition to travel to Paris by Eurostar. What had took me so long? More than the cost it was the perception that Paris was far away. I couldn’t just nip over on the train for the day; yet that is exactly what i ended up doing. It was disorienting to find that this strange city, so different from London, wasn’t far away at all – at least not via high speed train: St Pancras International to the Gare du Nord took just over two hours. Not the most thrilling of journeys, mind: grass, concrete and barbed wire mostly.

I’m not sure what i expected Paris to be like but i know i approached it in a spirit of trepidation. Would it be too big, too busy to be enjoyable? Would the people be as unwelcoming as their reputation suggested? Would it be all Tourist Sights? Or would it feel just like anywhere – that is just like nowhere, just another city full of shops and streets?

In the event it was neither as overwhelming as i’d feared, nor as different as i’d expected… and yet in some ways more different. Walking down from the station i first passed a fifty-something man clad in slit-sided white pantaloons and a tight fitting gold lamé top and then found myself in a street full of Asian shops – that’s Asian in the British sense, i.e. South Asian. There were places with names like “Wembley Foods”. For a moment i felt as though i’d got on a train going the wrong way and ended up in Birmingham or Manchester instead!

But no, i truly was in Paris. Little Pakistan gave way to Middle Eastern shops and then i began to see signs to the Pompidou Centre. This houses the Museum of Modern Art and was on my list of probably-must-see sights. First though it was time to get coffee. When i’d visited France back in the 80s as a teenager cafe owners never seemed to speak English; but this time the proprietor switched to my language the instant he heard my accent. Nor did he seem particularly self-conscious or resentful about this (my other memory of communicating with the French in the 80s was that when they did speak English they gave the impression it was a great concession on their part).

On to the Museum which had some magnificent sculptures by Giacometti, Arp and Calder. The big discovery however was a sculptor i hadn’t heard of called Etienne-Martin: his work included strange sculpted ‘coats’ which reminded me of the armour that Samurai used to wear. In an immensely pretentious section celebrating porn as art i came across a poem i liked. I wrote down a fragment of it:

My image leaves the city… It crushes the fruit against its breasts / It spreads sand over its stomach / It slides fish in between its legs

Love the line about the fish. The artist (and poet?) was called Evelyn Axell.

After the museum i went to see the Seine. To my eyes it was a rather ordinary looking river for such a magnificent city but i did like the way the main road ran alongside it, much lower down than the city itself. The traffic seemed to flow by the city, rather than through it. And the bridges decorated with the heads of lions: wonderful. There were also pet shops – lots of them. I found that amazing, charming even. Think about it: can you imagine coming across streets of little neighbourhood style pet shops in a street right in the centre of London?

Notre Dame Cathedral is on one of the islands in the Seine. It was a disappointing place. From the salvation candles which were available at varying prices depending on the quality of the saint through to the priest waiting in a booth which resembled one of those cubicles you see at banks the whole thing felt like a money-making enterprise. There was nothing spiritual about the cathedral; it felt more like an IKEA store or garden centre, especially with the crowds snaking through the aisles.

The Louvre wasn’t disappointing, but it was bl**dy frustrating! I spent most of my time there lost. Still, i did get to see the Mona Lisa which isn’t as small as i’d been told. The bright colours of the Renaissance paintings in that part of the museum are wonderful but it was far too packed with tourists. I preferred the serenity of the Ancient World – even if, as with the British Museum, the wealth of exhibits is really a testament to colonial looting. Best of all were the turquoise tinted friezes in the Assyrian section. I also visited the special exhibition which traced the history of Saudi Arabia: from prehistoric stone tools through to early Islamic gravestones and beyond.

Then it was back to the Gare du Nord to catch the train home. So much remained unseen! Yet Paris did have one last surprise in store for me: the Gare du Nord has the most extraordinary installation – part sculpture, part machine, part dance, part dream. Impossible to describe, impossible not to watch.

Two more hours or so and i was back in London which felt like a much bigger, fiercer city than Paris despite being much more familiar to me. In fact, what struck me about the latter was that it felt less like a big city and more like a blend of small towns, most of which i never got to see. Next time though…

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A happy day

For the past week i’ve had the hay fever from hell. So extreme did it become that on Wednesday morning it woke me from my sleep and on Thursday evening i had to abandon my plan to attend Bridget Riley‘s lecture at the British Museum. She was going to be talking about how figurative drawing eventually evolved into abstract art. It was a bitter disappointment.

The peak seems to have been reached however and now, thankfully, the blight is subsiding. On Saturday i woke feeling… well (yes, it took me a while to identify the feeling) and headed off with a friend to see the exhibition of Henry Moore‘s sheep at the Hertford Museum. It was only one small room but perhaps all the more delightful for that. At large exhibitions you tend to develop exhibit fatigue by the time you’re half way round and individual pieces, particularly the smaller, more delicate ones, get lost amidst the masses of objects you’re trying to experience, analyse, appreciate. I think there were no more than twenty-five etchings and a few sculptures at yesterday’s exhibition.

henry moore - lamb & mother

The fact that they were etchings was a surprise in itself. I have the book Henry Moore’s Sheep Sketchbook* and i’d assumed what we were going to see were the original ballpoint and pencil sketches from it. Not so. It seems the popularity of the sketches inspired Moore to produce a group of etchings from them. My two favourites: one of a black-faced sheep, its eyes fixing you with a suspicious glare, and one of lamb suckling from its mother, its legs bent as it twists its head beneath her belly to reach the udder. I love the fact that Moore is able to create pictures which are so touching and individual from animals which are usually experienced as blank, anonymous white blobs on the landscape. He says in the “Sketchbook”:

I began to realise that that underneath all that wool was a body, which moved in its own way, and that each sheep had an individual character.

Another advantage of small exhibitions – but also a disappointment – is how few people seem to visit them. You can wander back and forth between pieces, making new connections; whereas at major exhibitions the experience is often more like queuing at an ATM. I suppose a lot of it comes down to the lack of publicity but i think it also reflects the fact that most of the time people rarely look further than a few national museums when they’re searching for things to see. I include myself in those people. Londoners also tend to have a kind of mental block about venturing outside London, unless the event is a really big name affair.

River Lee - Hertford

After the sheep, the walk. This i did by myself as my friend doesn’t do long walks. My aim was to follow the River Lee as far as i could towards London. I made excellent progress, helped by the fact that the walk is all on the flat and, even more, by the fact that navigation is largely a no-brainer: you follow the river; where it goes, you go. It’s been canalised and a towpath runs along its edge. I missed the twists and turns of a natural river, but not as much as i’d expected and the reason for that was the river – and often the towpath – was crowded with ducklings, goslings, cygnets and baby coots. Plus their proud parents of course. At first it was mainly geese, who – be warned – are very protective of their young (one nearly ran me off the towpath); but later on i saw what looked like a duck nation: i have never seen so many at once and almost all of them had a fleet of ducklings in tow.

At Ponders End i was forced to accept that the light was fading and call it a day. A happy day.

* Henry Moore’s Sheep Sketchbook; ISBN: 978-0-500-28072-0; pub. Thames & Hudson (1998)

Trip 2010: Greece part 1 – Thessaloniki & the journey to Xanthi

Saturday 10 April

Arrived in Thessaloniki at around 11 am and was relieved to be able (finally!) to withdraw some euros and have something to eat and drink. Thirteen hours (the train ran slow) with just half a bottle of water – nightmare. Hotel: OK but grubby; still, beggars can’t be choosers. I’d paid a deposit when I booked, although neither I nor the hotel manager could remember how much this was and it took her ages to find out. When I took out my credit card to pay the outstanding balance she smiled and asked: “You don’t have cash?” This, i was to discover, would be a recurring experience in Greece: everywhere you go there is a reluctance, often even a refusal, to take card payments. According to an article i read (in The Economist i think) this is to avoid having to declare the income for tax purposes.

Walked up to the old city walls. There’s a platform where you can get a great view of the city. You don’t seem to be able to go up on the walls themselves though.

View of Thessaloniki from platform next to the old city walls

Walked back down via the Vlatadon Monastery where i saw a fenced off area containing graves (of monks?) and found a ‘bookshop’ which had very few books but was instead full of lots of disappointing icons (why does the Orthodox tradition depict Jesus and his mother looking as though they’re suffering from jaundice!?). The shop was presided over by a plump, worried looking woman who never stopped knitting as she listened to a radio programme that sounded suspiciously like a soap opera.

I was unsure whether to go into the church as (a) I don’t know the Orthodox etiquette (I was trying to watch the visitors to see what they did); and (b) I felt bit of a hypocrite since i’m not Orthodox. In the end I went as far as the vestibule and peered in from there. The church was quite full, despite there being no service in progress; and as people left, more would arrive. I don’t know if Greek people are always this religious or whether they’re visiting because it’s Holy Week (according to the Julian Calendar). The one thing I didn’t see, but had expected to, was monks.

Greek Orthodox roadside shrine in Thessaloniki

Next I visited the house where Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish republic, was born. This is in the grounds of the Turkish Consulate and isn’t accessible from the street; instead you use the intercom system at the Consulate’s main gate to request entry: a strange experience – like i was sneaking into some secret sanctuary. I half expected to be asked for a password! A smiling man came down and let me in. He took my passport, explaining he’d give it back when I left, and then told me to wait at the entrance to the house for his colleague who would unlock the door. I wondered at the emphasis on security. Are the Greeks hostile to the museum? Or is the caution just a product of the difficult history that Turkey and Greece share? Certainly, I never noticed a single local so much as glance at the place as they passed outside. In a way this is strange as the building stands out from those around it: apart from being pink it’s also the only old building in the street. In fact, there are very few Ottoman houses in Thessaloniki it seems. If the Turks hadn’t insisted on the house being retained as a museum there would be nothing to show the current generation of Thessalonians what this area of their city used to look like. Ironic in a way.

At first I was the only person in the House (except the official), which was unnerving as he followed me around, observing me the whole time. It was a relief when some Turkish tourists arrived half way through my visit (he watched the Turks too, which was interesting). The house had been nicely restored to look much as it must have done when Atatürk lived there – except for the many photographs, newspaper article reproductions and books about the Great Man (I assume he didn’t collect memorabilia about himself).

Most interesting was a bedroom in which some of Atatürk’s clothes were displayed in glass cabinets. They looked smaller than i’d expected. A few of the shirts were slightly stained with age, one pair of trousers was frayed. There was also a collection of household utensils such as spoons and tea glasses. It was touching to see these things; it’s when we see objects from someone’s everyday life that we realise they were real, a flesh and blood person like ourselves and not just a character in history. I liked the school report cards on one of the walls too: he seems to have struggled with his German and Russian studies a bit.

Rotonda

Later I walked along the road to see the Yeni Hamam (from the outside only) and the Orthodox church next to it. I walked into the latter by mistake, thinking it was somehow connected to the Hamam. This is a mistake that is easy to make as, unlike a Catholic (or Anglican) church, an Orthodox church doesn’t have a steeple and is topped with a domed roof not unlike that of a mosque – or at least this was the case in northern Greece. Another difference is that the church is decorated with paintings (icons), rather than statues, of saints. It must still have been Lent according to the Julian calendar, yet the images of the saints weren’t shrouded (is this only a Catholic tradition?). On two tables lay odd displays of pink things: flowers, toys, sweets.

Also had a look at the Rotunda, the Arch of Galerius and some very impressive ruins, before continuing down to the seafront where I saw horse-drawn traps and the famous White Tower.

If i’d had the energy i’d have liked to have explored the seafront area more as it was a very interesting, not to mention attractive, looking place. I didn’t have the energy however and i was extremely thirsty: it was time for a teahouse. Alas, unlike the Turks, the Greeks aren’t great tea-drinkers and take a ‘homeopathic’ approach to the beverage. Still the bar-cafe in which i ended up had attractions of its own, in particular a friendly cat who wandered about the place, acting for all the world as though he were the proprietor: leaping up onto bar stools, examining the customers, inserting himself into conversations. An equally friendly lady (who seemed to be the actual proprietor) brought me a little dish containing a few pieces of ‘Turkish delight’ (although I’m sure they don’t call it that here!) with each pot of tea. I didn’t recognise it at first. When i asked her it what it was she thought for a moment and said: “It’s like cheese”. Like cheese? Incidentally, the public presence of women is one of the big differences between Turkey and Greece. In Turkey you are largely served by men, apart from in governmental settings or very modern shops and cafes. Not so in Greece.

Thessaloniki seafront

All in all, Thessaloniki was actually a pleasanter experience than i’d expected (i’d been given the impression there was little to see there, which is definitely not true) and there was only one disappointment: my failure to find a bookshop selling contemporary Greek fiction in English translation. All i was offered was Homer!

Sunday 11 April

Woke relieved to find no creepy-crawlies had appeared in the night (yes, it was one of those hotels). Breakfast didn’t seem to be included so I washed, dressed, packed and left hoping that the Starbucks I’d spotted the previous night across the road would be open. It wasn’t: Greece observes Sunday closing, predictably I suppose. Shame: i was curious about what sort of food Starbucks serves in Greece. The stuff on offer at their coffeeshops in Turkey was much better than in the UK.

Arriving at the Railway Station i immediately hit a snag: the lady behind the counter curtly informed me that the next train to Xanthi was full; I would have to wait till 3.41 pm to travel which meant that i wouldn’t get there till nearly 8 pm (assuming the train got there on time which in Greece seems rarely to be the case). It was a good job i’d given myself two nights in the town.

On the plus side, the man at the cafe where I bought breakfast was thrilled when he discovered I was a Liverpool supporter. Good job he doesn’t realise how nominal that support is! There were about 6 cafes at the station, along with a mini-market and… an Orthodox chapel! I’ve never seen anything like it. As I was buying my ticket I noticed a service was underway: going to church in a railway station – how bizarre! Mind you, there are roadside chapels everywhere you go in Thessaloniki. Icons are even more ubiquitous; you see them displayed all over the place: hotels, shops, cafes. It’s like a Greek version of the photographs of Atatürk you see in Turkey. I wonder if the Kemalists got the idea of having people display those photos from the Orthodox tradition of venerating icons? Two definite parallels with Turkish culture: the love of worry beads/rosaries and the display of the big blue eye which is supposed to ward off evil.

So, this turned out to be a day spent sitting in railway station cafes, drinking (a memory of) tea and watching Greek television: a black and white documentary about the German invasion of Greece during WWII, a report on the Greek economic crisis (not that there’s any sense of crisis on the streets of Thessaloniki), a programme about Greek folk music and how the instruments used for it are made. Old problems, new problems, no problems.

Thessalonki-Xanthi train journey

When the time finally came to get the train to Xanthi i found that it had already been standing at the platform for ages. Everyone else evidently knew this would be the case and so most of the seats were taken. Mind you, i seemed to be the only foreigner on board. The train was quite comfortable: blue padded seats with metal footrests. I found it disconcerting that i couldn’t find the places we were passing through on a map but they were just villages. This is a sparsely populated part of the country: very green and very flat but with mountains in the distance. One thing i noticed for the first time was the amount of graffiti in Greece. Interestingly, this is often in the Latin alphabet. Also, on a hillside in the middle of nowhere: a shop with a big sign saying – in English – ‘Cash & Carry’. The Greeks tend not to transliterate English words, which makes them stand out more; i could never work out if there was more English used in signs than in Turkey or whether the English was just more noticeable.

Towards the end of my journey i got talking to the nice Greek girl sitting next to me (whose name was Yulia). She helped me decipher the station announcements which i found unintelligible; i dread to think where i’d have ended up without her assistance. I wish we’d got chatting earlier as she was very interesting to talk to. She’d visited England twice as her brother was a student at Cambridge and she’d also been twice to Istanbul. However, whereas she’d liked England (despite the rain) she wasn’t keen on Turkey at all. We were just getting to her reasons, which appeared to be mostly to do with the male-dominated nature of Turkish society, when we reached Xanthi and I had to depart (scrambling across the rail tracks). From the station I took a taxi. The driver spoke no English but barked at me in fragmentary German: “Aufsteigen!”, “Vier. Halb. Euro.” Still, he got me to my hotel: cleaner than its Thessaloniki counterpart but with all the charm of a multistory carpark.

Trip 2010: arrival in Turkey and the first two days

Tuesday 6 April

After a tortuous journey to Heathrow Airport (everything that could go wrong did) it was such a relief to be on the aeroplane that i barely noticed it taking off.  The meal was the usual Turkish-Cuisine-As-Recreated-By-A-Race-Of-Androids but airline food has its own particular magic. Perhaps it lies simply in the wonder of the fact that we are eating in the sky or perhaps it’s down to the mysterious allure of the little tin foil covered plastic pots in which it’s served. Four hours or so later and we were there – well, theoretically; but of course there was the ordeal that is Atatürk Airport to negotiate first. Once again i managed to choose the queue containing the dreaded Person-With-A-Problem-With-Their-Passport, although thankfully whatever the problem was it was soon resolved.

Grabbing my luggage (yes, it was there!) i made my way to the Metro Station, trusting (hoping?) that i would instinctively remember how to get to Sultanahmet. Half way there though it dawned on me that it would be better to change at a station called Zeytinburnu rather than the one i’d changed when i’d come last year. Near miss number one: i almost got on a train going the wrong way. Thankfully, two Turkish men guessed where i was going (to the area where all the foreigners go!) and guided me to the right platform.

I found the hotel itself without too much trouble. It was more upmarket than the hostel i’d stayed at the year before but less friendly. I guess you can’t have it all.

Wednesday 7 April

Awoke and realised i was in Turkey! After breakfast (this was the only day i managed to beat the Germans to the buffet) i first had to recharge my phone. Bizarrely my room had no power outlet so i had to sit in the main reception area and wait. As soon as it was done, i set out to reorient myself. I walked down towards Eminönü, following the tram line, and crossed Galata Bridge. It was a lot colder than when i’d been in the city the year before. I made my way to Beyoğlu and withdrew some cash – i’d brought only 25 TL with me. Then, after a stop at a cafe i set off to look for the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art. What a mission it turned out to be! I found my way down to the main road along the Bosphorus without problem but then couldn’t locate the Museum. Where the map seemed to be saying it should be there was nothing. An old Turkish man insisted it was inside the university building a bit further on. This seemed doubtful but i went there anyway. The security guards (Turkish universities are obviously tough places!) looked at my guidebook and shook their heads, pointing further along the road.

A building near the museum of modern art

Finally i found it the Museum. I was relieved but also, irrationally, angry. I felt somehow as if someone had been playing a game with me. Inside it was – truth be told – very much like modern art museums the world over: all white walls and glass. Most of the paintings on the main floor did little for me, although i did marvel at the pretentiousness with which they were described. Downstairs however i found the work of Erol Akyavaş* (1932-1999). His work fuses Islamic calligraphy with modern art and is stunning. The one i found most interesting seemed to incorporate views of a wall. The paintings of Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu were also interesting; he used lots of brown and the finished works often resembled calligraphy (in case it isn’t obvious by now: i love calligraphy). Finally, in an exhibition of photography i found a fantastic and grotestque (or fantastically grotesque if you like) panel of photographs by a Russian photographer called Petr Lovigin: masks, wheelchairs, cows, sheep, kites and fishing rods.

When the Museum closed i made my way back up to Beyoğlu to meet my friend Ö. We met last year when i was walking in the south of Turkey and apart from a brief email exchange we’d had no contact since so i was a bit nervous. Would we even recognise one another? In fact, i did recognise him but i was astounded to see how different he looked in his business suit. Somehow it was as though i’d expected him to show up in the shorts and t-shirt he’d been wearing when i’d last seen him. He led me through a maze of back streets to a small cafe where we ate and then we walked about the city chatting. We finally parted company at eleven o’clock. He had a two hour journey back home, which he’d have to repeat the next morning to get to work.

Thursday 8 April

Finally BF Day had dawned – the day on which i was finally to meet my my internet buddies, B and F. After breakfast i took up my post outside the hotel wondering how i would recognise B when she arrived and how she would recognise me. Soon a beautiful lady in a bright pink coat appeared. Instinctively i thought to myself: “This is her”, but as my instincts are far from infallible and i had no idea how i would extricate myself from the situation if she turned out to be some random Turkish woman (who in accordance with the Law of Sod would of course not be able to speak English) i stayed where  i was – even when she started looking about uncertainly. Sultanahmet is Tourist Central; Turks rarely seem to venture to the district unless they work there, but still… maybe she was here to meet someone else. I briefly imagined hordes of British tourists all meeting up with internet buddies for the first time. Only when i saw her dial a number and heard my mobile ring in my pocket did i know i was right: this was B.

Tiled wall in Topkapι Palace

She too had guessed i was the person she was looking for but like me wasn’t quite confident enough to take the plunge and approach me.  When my phone started to ring she rushed forward to greet me. It was an amazing moment, meeting after a year’s correspondence. F was going to be late because at the last minute someone had called and asked him to write out 200 wedding invitations (apparently his calligraphic skill is legendary amongst his friends). In the meantime – after buying my train ticket to Thessaloniki – B and I repaired to a cafe near the Haghia Sophia where we chatted over tea warmed by a heater which one of the waiters pulled up close to us. Predictably her English was much better than she’d suggested; it only made me feel worse about my lack of Turkish. She gave me a CD by a musician called Stephan Micus as a present. I’ll have to wait till i get home to listen to it though.

Topkapι Palace corridor

When F appeared we drank more tea (my kind of country!) and then headed over to the Topkapı Palace Museum to check out some Ottoman history. The most interesting part of the museum was the harem – not the steamy sauna of Western imagination, but instead the living quarters of the Sultan and his family. The tiles which decorate the walls are pretty spectacular: shades of blue, turquoise and red in flower-like patterns. F told me that the tiles are extremely expensive to make; enough for a wall would cost thousands and thousands of pounds. The red dye is especially costly. As F pointed out it, it stands out from the rest of the tile;  if you run your hand over the top, you can feel the bumps it creates. I preferred the turquoise colour though.

Topkapι Palace - another view

Most of the rest of the afternoon was spent in cafes: eating, drinking and chatting. Eventually B had to leave us (sadly). F and I took the tramway and funicular railway to Beyoğlu, where he showed me the best places to buy English language books. I found a book called Living Poets of Turkey, which has some excellent poems in it and a collection of Nazim Hikmet‘s poetry in English translation. F also pointed out some novels to me. I hope to go back to the shop to buy them when i return to Istanbul at the end of my trip; i didn’t want to carry them across Greece**. Later we went to a restaurant where we talked about everything under the sun (he is one of the rare people on this earth who can talk as much as me!) till it dawned on us that we were the last people left in the building and that the staff were waiting to close up. All in all, a great day!

* Unfortunately, i was unable to find a link to a page with a good selection of his artwork. This one at least has plenty of information about the artist himself.
** As it was, i had to leave the book of engravings and photographs that F gave me as a present with the staff at the hotel in Istanbul. I have to hope they’ll hand it over when i return!

My perfect museum: ‘A living house’

This morning on the way to work i found myself thinking about museums: why they are always unsatisfactory and what they ought to be like. In my notebook i wrote: “A living house: 1940s”. What did i mean by that?

***

You begin out on the street looking at the house from the front. What you see as you look through the windows is a modern-day home in the midst of every day life. It’s film footage: the windows are screens, though this isn’t apparent. Likewise, the faint sounds you hear from within are recordings.

You meet your guide – incapable of speech it seems – who ushers you into an adjacent house. Here the windows are blacked out, front and back, and the building is soundproofed. Looking around, you see you are in a waiting room: nondescript and devoid of anything but chairs (along the walls); and a great clock, which ticks, yet whose hands do not move. A bare bulb flickers uncertainly. The guide motions you to be seated and disappears through a door which locks behind them. There are no other doors. You wait.

Your guide returns. Now he or she is dressed in the fashions of the forties. You are led through a door that had been concealed from you: down into the cellar and along a tunnel. When you emerge at the other end you are at the bottom of the garden – a long garden with high walls – of the house through whose front windows you had earlier gazed. Washing is on the line. Voices can be heard indoors.

You enter through the back door, straight into the kitchen. This is no longer a modern house; the furnishings, all the contents, belong to the 1940s – or earlier still of course. What do you see? Maybe a table with butter and other ingredients laid upon it – as though someone had stepped out partway through baking a pie. Or perhaps the table is set for tea. You must smell it too: reality always has an odour. You must also touch it. There can be no ropes draped around the scene, sealing you off from it. Go on… pick up the fork, taste the butter if you want and place your hand against the side of the kettle – you may be startled to find it’s still warm. All the rooms are like this; each contains a tableau suggesting life in motion, arrested only upon your entry. Whichever room you are in you hear sounds from one or more of the others: a wireless; the voices of people discussing the war; laughter; rows. But as you turn the handle of the door, that room falls silent.

In the front room you go over to the window and when you look out you see the road – the very one in which you’d stood earlier, gazing across at this room; but this time you see it as it looked then. It’s quiet and still, there is no-one around. When you look from the upstairs windows the scene is still that of the past, but now there are people going about their business. The guide – how long have they been there? – is standing behind you, watching you watching. You’re led across the landing into the back bedroom. Through the window you see a woman come out to remove the washing.

Suddenly, you hear the sound of air raid sirens… BANG!!! The house is felt to shudder slightly. The lights go out. The guide produces a candle, lights it, and leads you out of the room and down the stairs. More explosions can be heard, thankfully this time at a distance. On the ground floor you smell burning and, glancing through the downstairs windows as you leave, you can see the house across the road has been hit. Sometimes you may hear the sound of a woman crying.

The guide leads you back down the garden path. The washing is gone from the line.

Back into the tunnel you go and into the waiting room. The bulb has failed. Ushering you through the darkness the guide points urgently at the door. You emerge and find yourself back on the road, which is just as you left it. As you pass the house the people inside are watching TV.

***

Ideally, there would be multiple scenarios, for different parts of the day – and perhaps for different days of the week: so there wouldn’t always be a bombing for example. One thing i wouldn’t have is live actors. Seen close up modern day people never convince as citizens of the past: too big, too brash, too obvious that they know how the story will turn out.

In any case, the key is the house.