I live within easy travelling distance of London. Those of you out in the tundra, or elsewhere, may think this would mean that one would be up to date with all the latest shows, shopping and exhibitions. But no - I am Katie Countrymouse.
However, within the last fortnight I've been into London three times, meeting friends and family and taking in a number of exhibitions.
First, the Celts, at the British Museum. Now, I have a passion for so-called Celtic design: interlaced knotwork of various kinds, and grotesque animals - Ive knitted plenty of it, one way and another. I expected to be amazed. And, curiously, the gift-shop was pretty amazing. The exhibition, less so.
I think this may have been because the definition of "Celt" seemed to cover everyone in Europe who was not Roman, and for hundreds of years. So - lots of ceremonial buckets and brooches from all over the place, three very impressive crosses and an astounding cauldron. The soundtrack to the exhibition was provided by a film loop of eerily slow-motion vignettes from a contemporary Celtic gathering: sword-dancing, folk-dancing and costumes. At least there was space in which to look and ponder.
Not so at the Goya exhibition at the National Gallery. My friend and I arrived towards lunchtime - exactly the time for which half of Europe had also booked their timed tickets. There were at least seventy portraits by Goya , from every phase of his career, running through the days of the old aristocracy, Napoleonic occupation, the Peninsular War and beyond into France. Almost all of the pictures were of a single individual, gazing out at us through time, their dress and accoutrements suggesting their status and preoccupations. Goya certainly gave no quarter on beaky noses, broken veins, heavy eyebrows and more than a suggestion of moustaches, even where expensive lace mantillas were deployed.
But the crowds! Each room was already eight deep when we entered it, so we had to duck and dive to even see the paintings. The smaller rooms were seriously clogged with people. Why do they allocate so many tickets to each time-slot? Can it really be simply a question of profit to be made?
We retreated to the National Café where we enjoyed a very civilised lunch.
My third visit was to the Portrait Gallery where we ate in the Portrait Restaurant, a remarkable venue with extensive views. We moved on to the collections of portraits thematically linked by Simon Schama in his tv series. No problem with over-crowding and over-heating here. I'd really recommend it.