Coming at the world through its side doors
Updated: May 27, 2022
We had no plans for today. And after a slow start (which sometimes happens with us quadriplegics) we made it out of the hotel with only the slightest of delays (comparatively) caused by the intermittently functioning platform lift. We went in search of breakfast.
The best idea I could come up with was the Tate Britain café, fifteen minutes away from the hotel, on the north bank of the Thames. It met two of our needs -- food and (more) art. So we wandered through the quiet streets of Pimlico about which I knew almost nothing, except it was the setting for a quaint, whimsical post-war Ealing comedy called Passport To Pimlico starring the magnificent, extraordinary Dame Margaret Rutherford.
Food and art in one of the great galleries of a great city. What more could one ask for?
As is often the case with great old public institutions -- art galleries, museums, concert halls, theatres, opera houses and the like, all over the world -- the wheelchair entrance is round the side. The grand staircase entrances at the front of buildings like the Tate are preserved in aspic for posterity or heritage value or designation as Grade A or B listed buildings. It's tedious at times but better than it used to be when such buildings were simply off limits to folk like me.
The Tate, at least, has made a feature of its side door wheelchair access which is as busy as the front door. Maybe you don't have to be a wheelchair user to find those statement staircases irritating.
What used to be a simple side door at the Tate is now rather grand in its own right. It has a name -- the Manton Entrance on Atterbury Street. There is a foyer in what might have been, once upon at time, the basement. There are ticket counters and queues for the temporary exhibitions (both sold out the Saturday we visited). There is a cloakroom, bookshop and there are lavatories not far off. The only thing there isn't is a flight of pesky stairs.
You know? Not once in my whole life have I ever heard anyone say, "I really wish this easy access entrance to the building had more steps to climb up."
A minor benefit of entering by the Manton Entrance on Atterbury Street is that you are on the same floor and close to the delightful Djanogly Café where we had our late breakfast. You can skip all that art n culture stuff and get straight into the food n drink.
I don't want anyone to think I am a cultural Philistine, but ... If you are in London, go the Djanogly Café at the Tate Britain. Order the Portobello mushroom and cheese Toastie. I think it may be the best toasted sandwich I have eaten in my whole life. Ever
Other benefits (at times) of entering great public institutions through the side door, wheelchair access entrance are often unavoidable and / or unintended.
You sometimes see behind the scenes, so to speak: staff entrances, storage rooms, essential services corridors and the like. It can be illuminating and fascinating. Like seeing the strenuously paddling webbed feet of the proverbial ugly ducking before you see the gracious, beautiful swan gliding serenely above the the water line.
You also make your first approach to the statement art from a different direction to most visitors. You enter the building via the Manton Entrance then take the ginormous lift (I mean dinosaur big) to the ground floor (actually above ground thanks to the pesky staircase) then roll yourself into the central exhibition corridor -- not from the front door as most folk do -- but from the side, half way along the building.
This morning, not paying proper attention (as is usual for me when on holiday) I found myself in the middle of startling, vibrant, weird and wonderful giant installation by Hew Locke (born in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1959). The Procession. Just ... fantasmagorical.
But there are quieter, more contemplative places to reflect on what and who it is in life that matters.
And then -- before you realise it -- the gallery is closing and it's time to make your way back out into the real world. You wander once again through Pimlico, pick up some spicy noodles from a takeaway and sashimi from the nearby Japanese because you're tired and hungry, uplifted and satisfied, happy with life and need to do no more this day.
Except for this, of course ... the intermittently functioning platform lift at the bottom of the stairs.
Friedrich Nietzsche -- the German philosopher -- once wrote, "that which does not destroy you makes you strong." That man had no fucking idea what he was talking about.