“Dark bluebells drench’d with dews of summer eves”: 2017


The words of this title, taken from Matthew Arnold’s poem ‘The Scholar Gypsy’, head this beautiful tea towel from Kew Gardens.  The tea towel reminds me of two people.  Firstly, @MrTimDunn who often posts photographs of vintage railway posters on Twitter.  I will often post a reply, along the lines of ‘That would make a good tea towel’.  @MrTimDunn’s usual response is that I should tell the London Transport Museum, or whoever holds that particular poster.  On this occasion I have no need to inform anyone about what a great tea towel this poster would make, because Kew Gardens have already done that.  It is a beautiful, gentle, somewhat romanticised view of railway travel to Kew Gardens but I love it.  I saw it in the shop at Kew Gardens and couldn’t resist it.  There is no question that vintage railway posters make a great subject for a tea towel.

That is not the only reason I bought it.  Whenever I see pictures of bluebells, I can only think of Lyn and her mother, Dorothy.  I’ve seen a lot of photos of the two of them walking amongst swathes of bluebells.  Dorothy always used to talk about her love of walking amongst the bluebells; this tea towel makes me smile at that memory.  The fact was that the bluebells had just started to come into bloom when I was at Kew Gardens a few days ago; it seems a couple of weeks early for bluebells, but maybe I have got that wrong.  They looked beautiful, underneath the trees, inviting you to stroll amongst them in their deep blue.  Dorothy loved flowers of all kinds but I will always remember her amongst the bluebells; for her, they were a sign that winter had passed and spring was really on its way.

It is probably nine years since I have been to Kew Gardens; when I last was there the Treetop Walkway had not been built, nor had The Hive.  What I love about Kew Gardens is the way that it is continually evolving, changing; it isn’t just that the trees grow bigger or get blown down or that the flowers change with the seasons and therefore the gardens look so different; it is that new elements can be introduced, new features can be blended in so that you almost do not notice.  This visit I wanted to see the Treetop Walkway and The Hive; I’ve heard so much about them.

The Treetop Walkway was designed by the creators of the London Eye; 18 metres above ground level, 200 metres in length, made from 400 tonnes of weathered steel, rusted so that the columns blend in with the surrounding environment.  The idea is that you can walk through the tree tops, see the environment from a different angle, take in views across London.  When I arrived at Kew Gardens I followed the signs for the Treetop Walkway.  The signs didn’t mention distance; I seemed to walk for sometime, looking around to see if I could spot it and I couldn’t.  Must be going in the wrong direction, I thought.  But that is what is so clever and so beautiful about the Treetop Walkway, it blends in amongst the trees, the rusting of the steel means the pillars look like trees.  Suddenly, it comes upon you, so high.  I had that sinking feeling in my stomach.  There are 118 steps up to the walkway and fortunately for me there is also a lift.  I happily get in the lift, I watch from the lift as the horizon changes.  The lift stops.  I am supposed to get out and I realise that I hadn’t thought this through.  I am not a keen fan of heights where you can see through the flooring that you are walking on.  The walkway is a metal mesh and a little wobbly.  I tell myself that I haven’t heard of anyone falling from, or through, the walkway; what is the worse that can happen?  Isn’t that what CBT therapists ask?  The worst that could happen is that I fall off, of course.  Am I going to make myself look like a prat? I don’t care.  I can’t move.  I want to scream “Get me down and get me down NOW”.  Then I see small children walking, even running, with confidence.  I can’t just hold on to the lift, trying to look cool, because it doesn’t work.  As long as I didn’t look through the mesh I was fine.  I managed to walk round the full length with aplomb.  The views were amazing, better than I expected.  There is a strange feeling of being somewhere like Kenya and the Treetop Hotel, where I have been.  High up you get such a different perpesective.  I am so glad I tried the walkway; I am so glad that I didn’t ‘chicken out’ and I even think I might try it again (but don’t hold me to that).  I think I would sum up my experience as loving and hating it, in equal measures, but a brilliant piece of construction.

I moved on to The Hive, designed by Wolfgang Buttress and inspired by scientific research.  The Hive invites you to explore the extraordinary life of bees in a multisensory, three dimensional way.  As a work of art it is beautiful, intricate and inspirational.  You can view it from the ground, looking up into it; you can walk around a slope that travels up the side of the Hive and you can walk inside it at the top, standing on a transparent floor and be able to look down.  Oh no, not another floor you can look through.  There are adults and children sitting on the floor, listening to the noises and watching the delicate flicker of lights and there was I, at the entrance, too scared to walk across the floor.  The reality is that you have to go inside to experience what Wolfgang Buttress was trying to achieve.  Eventually I did but it took a while; maybe it was that child saying “You’re not scared are you?” That made me go in.  Again I am glad I did.  It is an experience not to be missed.

Having bought this tea towel, promoting travel by Underground to Kew, I am ashamed to say that I have never travelled to Kew by Underground: by car, by bus, by bicycle and by boat but never by train.  This time I travelled by boat from Westminster Pier; it takes one and a half hours and it was delightful, seeing London from the river is a whole new world, walking past Strand on the Green (I have an oil painting of Strand on the Green, that was given to my mother in 1960, hanging on the hall wall and it looks no different) was great, being able to buy two lovely tea towels and returning by boat on a beautiful sunny day is a memory that I will cherish and as I use this tea towel a whole myriad of memories distract me from wiping up.

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