London, Part 2: The political shuffle

By Laura Grimes

A constant thrum of helicopters filled the air today. I know that sound, and when I hear it I look for it. It’s one thing when the helicopters are moving. It’s another thing when they’re hovering. It means something’s up.

The Pantsless Brother and I shared some van Eyck, Rembrandt and Turner together at the National Gallery and then he took off for Dublin to chase some Vermeer (seriously). After several hours he sent me a note asking what I did when he was gone and I replied that I had just posted this on Facebook:

Cool hanging outside 10 Downing Street today with protesters, tourists, black suits, reporters and police. It’s gotta be one of the weirdest political climates in British history since WWII — a hung parliament, mad party coalition negotiations that quickly flip-flopped, and a sudden change of tenants at the prime minister’s residence.

Here’s the biggest crowd I came upon:


I couldn’t get a closer shot with a better angle without risking being obnoxious or being in the middle of heavy vehicle traffic. (Now I wish I had done both.) However, just a little farther down the sidewalk I came upon a small group of people who were waiting patiently at an iron gate. It was the opening to Downing Street, otherwise known as where the British prime minister lives. This proved to be the more interesting spot, not that I saw much more than black cars with tinted windows and a security detail. The speeches came a few hours after I left. What was all the hubbub?

If I have this right, last week’s general election didn’t deliver a majority of votes to any of the three political parties, resulting in a highly unusual hung parliament and five days of uncertainty about who would run the country.

The two strongest parties, Labour and Conservative, suddenly needed to win more votes by wooing the Liberal Democrats, the party that traditionally has had the least amount of political clout but now held all the interesting cards.

One news account described them as speed-dating. Negotiations were fast and furious and came with surprises. Everyone expected Labour and Liberal Democrats to come to terms. But it didn’t happen.

Today, in stunning and swift developments that even the agile and assertive British press could barely keep up with, Gordon Brown (Labour) resigned as prime minister, and, as is polite custom (though it’s already negotiated), Her Majesty the Queen asked David Cameron (Conservative) to form a new government with the Liberal Democrats, making him prime minister and the first time a coalition has been formed since World War II.

This makes for strange political bedfellows because the two parties don’t agree on many issues. This should be an interesting ride.

So, besides that, what else happened today?


Like I mentioned, we hit the National Gallery:

National Gallery

A few notes:

I quickly fell in love with Rembrandt’s A Woman Bathing in a Stream (1654).

Rembrandt "A Woman Bathing in a Stream"

You can read about it at the museum site here.

The painting is so casual and genuine and intimate. Sure, paintings of the time showed nudes, but this one is so personal.

The woman is thought to be Hendrickje Stoffels, who was Rembrandt’s mistress. I found the last paragraph in the museum’s description the most interesting:

The handling of the paint is unusually spontaneous. The picture appears unfinished in some parts, for example, in the shadow at the hem of the raised chemise, the right arm and the left shoulder, but it was clearly finished to Rembrandt’s satisfaction since he signed and dated it.

Rembrandt captures such a quiet joy, a sweet heartfelt beauty. But it’s also lively. The raised chemise is particularly alluring, and I’m certain he didn’t intend to finish it. I think he said everything he was going to say. Sometimes you keep the best parts to yourself. And sometimes, that’s enough.


We had a nice chat with a friendly young guard. She had been at the museum only a few months because usually she works on theater costumes. We discussed how the museum was a great place to study costumes throughout the ages.

She said she was really glad she lived now and didn’t have to wear some of those outfits. She complained about the big skirts and held out her arms. We wondered how on earth they could be washed. As she put it,

I’m sure they just Fabrezed it.

She said she also used to work at the Handel House and that Jim Hendrix used to live above it. I haven’t verified this, but who cares when you can imagine Handel and Hendrix together. If Hendrix could do the national anthem, surely he could do the Messiah.


We looked at all the paintings by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851). Later, when I looked for postcards in the gift shop, I didn’t find ones for the two I found most interesting, probably because they were both considered unfinished. But that’s one reason why I found them interesting.

One is called The Evening Star (1830). That’s the title, but the star is one tiny speck of white on the entire canvas. It’s so tiny that it doesn’t even show up on the museum image. This is supreme minimalism. This is sublime impressionism. And, what little I know about art, I imagine this is long before either movements.

The other Turner that fascinated me was Margate (?) from the Sea (about 1835-40). The description on the card:

The painting, which is unfinished, is primarily a study in the atmospheric effects of mist and cloud.

In essence, a study in light, as you would expect from a painter. But just imagine, whole immersed study in the atmospheric effects of mist and cloud. Being particular about something so elusive. Capturing it. And then painting it in such a way so that it is elusive.


Now it’s JoJo’s turn. He wasn’t afraid of the big lions at Trafalgar Square:

JoJo and the Lion

JoJo loved Big Ben, but the photos with him in it didn’t turn out. The Wimpy Camera can’t focus on two things at once.

Big Ben clock

Big Ben

JoJo shot this just for the Large Smelly Boys:


We heard a rehearsal of a chamber orchestra at St. Martin-in-the-Fields (shown below). It sounded like a Vivaldi concerto that was on the program for that night. Afterward we ate lunch downstairs in the Crypt Cafe. With dead people.

St. Martin-in-the-Fields

JoJo thought Westminster Abbey was pretty, though it was late afternoon and it was closed and we have to go back:

Westminster Abbey

JoJo met a new buddy to play with! The pigeon had other ideas. The buddy suddenly disappeared and JoJo doesn’t know where he went. Bye bye!

JoJo meets a new buddy!

Read London, Part 1 here.