Illuminations

I’m going to miss that wheel. I liked it during the day – but I loved it by night. It didn’t matter which angle I looked at it, however little of it I glimpsed, it never failed to delight. Yesterday it was just a sad stalk, waiting to be trundled off to its next location.

But over the last few days, as the nights really start to draw in, illuminations and the concept of them have been seeping into my consciousness.

I love to see things lit up. The Queen’s House, the Old Royal Naval College, St Alfege’s – they all look great at night – especially if you approach Greenwich by boat in the winter.
I know there are issues – not least environmentally. I don’t know if the illuminations we’ve got dotted around Greenwich are eco-friendly – I’m guessing that given how soft they are, they probably aren’t yet. Eco-friendlies always seem a bit harsh, not that I don’t like them too. And the problem of light-pollution that banished the Observatory is ever-increasing. Apparently we could have seen the International Space Station over the last few days if we could have actually seen any stars at all.
But I’m not really blaming the lighting-up of beautiful architecture for that. Street lamps, industrial security lights, offices – they all play a part and aren’t nearly as pretty. Oh – and interestingly, apropos to nothing, we have one of the largest areas of unlit ground in London – Greenwich is a Royal Park and has no lights, and Blackheath has only the lights on the A2.
Hey – I’m waffling. It’s Friday morning and I’m punch-drunk. What really spawned this post was two things. Firstly the odd sight I saw last night – Admiral Hardy’s tomb, of all things, illuminated from inside, its arched interior glowing eerily from deep in the locked gardens outside Devonport House, the exterior curiously dark.
It’s a nice idea. After all, they’ve just spent a considerable sum on paths and plants – if you haven’t been for a stroll round there yet, you should – it’s ten minutes spent pleasantly, looking at the few remaining memorials (the drunks have already found it – I found a small colony of empty vodka bottles by one of the benches.)
What I find a little odd about the illumination of Hardy’s tomb is that it’s so far away. The gates are locked at about 5.00pm, if memory serves, and you can’t get anywhere near the little Hawksmoor building anyway. Which makes lighting it, a very long-distance thing. It’s nice – but just a little creepy. A bit – well – Buffy. It looks like there’s some strange ritual going on in the local tomb, but humans can’t get anywhere close. Maybe they should have a small scary shadow puppet display too, to be watched from a distance, to send shivers up the spines of people on the far-away pavement. Actually, thinking about it, I’d pay good money to see that…
Don’t get me wrong. I like it – very much – it just strikes me as slightly random. And long may Random live…
The other thing that prompted this was reading the Telegraph article about the Cutty Sark the other day. Now generally I don’t have a huge problem with the commercialisation of how they’re preserving the poor old ship. They’ve had £35m of donations and funding; I suspect that they aren’t going to get much more in the way of giant gifts. So they have to turn to big business (I wish them luck in this financial climate…) and if the only way they can have enough money to keep this truly important piece of history metaphorically, if not literally, afloat is to turn it into a set of function rooms, then frankly I would rather have something than nothing.
But I’m intrigued by the lighting plan. Richard Doughty, CEO of the Cutty Sark Trust, is quoted as saying “If we have a corporate partner we could turn the ship the colour of their logos or we could name some areas after sponsors.” Is it just me or is the idea of Carphone Warehouse ‘Tween Deck or McDonald’s Poop slightly alarming?
The Telegraph goes on to say ” In an audacious flourish bound to infuriate purists, event organisers will be able to beam their company logos on to the ship. The masts will also be lit up each night in a ghostly aura, courtesy of the lighting designer Patrick Woodroffe, whose CV includes light shows for Rolling Stones stadium concerts, international fashion shows and a permanent installation at the O2.”
Eek.
Now, I love illuminations as much as the next Phantom. But isn’t this going a bit far? Sure – have an area under the ship for lovely corporate events. Sure – hold product launches and executive lunches there. The glass bubble-thing it will float on isn’t to everyone’s taste, but I’ll buy it. I don’t even care too much about turning the whole ship Orange for the night or a ghostly pale blue if a certain other phone company wants to hire the joint. But logos? Ick. Why not go the whole hog and paste posters over the sides of the hull? It’ll look like a racing driver’s jacket.
But maybe I’m being a bit fastidious. What do you think?
In the absence of pictures of either the Cutty Sark lit up or Hardy’s Tomb playing an extra in teen vampire shows, I’ve added a pic I took during that weird night of fog last Christmas, just for atmosphere…


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