|The National Gallery|
On our arrival, we took the time to wander round Trafalgar Square and look at the street entertainers, puzzling over how they had created such striking optical illusions (the clue's in the sleeve).
We looked up at Nelson's column and I told Charlie a little about Nelson's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.
But then we saw this:
I'm not sure what Charlie made of it, but I love it. It made me laugh out loud. Sculpted by Katharina Fritsch, a German sculptor, the cockerel is titled 'Hahn/Cock' (Hahn means cock or weathercock in German). The artist said that her cockerel was meant to provide a humorous counterbalance to the formal equestrian statues on the other three plinths, as well as being a feminist sculpture ("I, a woman, am depicting something male") which contrasts with the male characters depicted in the Square and the male-dominated culture of the business world in London. Naturally, the unveilling of the cockerel in July 2013 led to a plethora of punning 'Carry On' style newspaper headlines.
Once inside the National Gallery, we started in the Sainsbury Wing, browsing through paintings from the 13th to 15th century and then moving into the 16th century. Many of these paintings were unfamiliar to us and, although we stopped and stared in wonder at some (such as Titian's 'Bacchus and Ariadne'), Charlie was overwhelmed by the sheer number of paintings on display. Sensing him becoming restless, I asked him what he particularly wanted to see. "Van Gogh's 'Sunflowers'", he replied.
It was wonderful to see the look on Charlie's face whenever he spotted the originals of his favourite paintings. We passed 'The Arnolfini Portrait' by Jan van Eyck, 'Mr and Mrs Andrews' by Gainsborough and 'The Fighting Temeraire' by Turner, to name just a few. But, suddenly, we were standing in a roomful of Monet's paintings, and right in front of Monet's 'The Water-Lily Pond' which Harry had used as the basis for a collage last week.
Then we turned round - and there was Van Gogh's 'Sunflowers'. It was incredible to see this picture close up, as well as all the other Van Gogh's on display. Charlie had read about the thick oils that Van Gogh painted in and had tried to emulate it in his own painting by mixing PVA glue and acrylic paint, so it was fascinating to see the actual brush strokes of Van Gogh on the canvas.
We then told Charlie we were going for lunch, but what we didn't tell him was what we had planned for that afternoon: a surprise boat trip on the Thames. So, after lunch, we told him we were going for a walk down to the river. On our way down to Westminster Pier, we stopped to listen to a brass band playing in Victoria Embankment Gardens. My paternal grandfather used to play the trumpet in brass bands, often playing in London and seaside parks in the summer, and I always think I'll spot him when I see a brass band playing, even though he's long dead.
Charlie beamed when we told him that we were now going on a boat trip down the Thames. We boarded a boat with City Cruises at Westminster Pier, near Big Ben.
The skipper gave a humorous and interesting commentary during the trip and we all learnt a thing or two about the London landmarks.
We disembarked at Tower Pier.
Before starting our walk to the station, we had a look at the Tower of London and Michael told Charlie something about its history. Charlie was intrigued by Traitor's Gate.
It was not surprising he felt tired. During our day out, we had effortlessly covered aspects of history of art, architecture, geography and history, not to mention life skills (such as buying railway tickets and spending money in the gift shop). We had also enjoyed a musical concert and walked unfathomable distances through the London streets.
Charlie brought home a small memento of his day out.*
* Unfortunately, not the priceless painting, but a £4.99 miniature from the gift shop.