[Photo: Dave Tett]
Three retired Londoners are attempting to visit and blog about every museum and gallery in the city. Alexi Duggins grabs his thermos flask and joins two of them en route.
In the venerably radical East End institution that is the Whitechapel Art Gallery, a twinkly pensioner opposite me smiles. ‘I got a lovely comment from a bloke on my blog,’ she says. ‘He said: ‘What you need is this website, Artybollocks.com.’ Sure enough, it was full of useful words!’
Jo Hunt and Linda Smither are a year into a serious cultural education, one which requires more than a few ‘arty’ words. They’re currently on week 67 of their attempt to visit and blog about every single one of the city’s 240-or-so cultural institutions – a task they estimate will take them half a decade at their current rate of visiting one place a week. What’s their reason for spending their retirement traipsing to the far corners of London’s cultural world? ‘We’ve always been completists,’ says Linda. ‘Even if it does sometimes mean visiting places like the Motorcycle Museum.’
Impressively enough, this isn’t even Jo and Linda’s first London marathon. For the five years before they became culture vultures, they wrote their way along every single London bus route – accompanied by co-blogger Mary Rees (absent today due to family illness). It was such an impressive feat that they ended up becoming quite the celebrities. ‘We were very famous for 32 seconds,’ says Jo. ‘We were on that peculiar youth programme: “Russell Thingy and His Good News”.’
As we make our way around the Whitechapel, Linda scrawls notes while the pair chatter. ‘Why would you want a dead fish on your living room wall?’ asks Jo of a moody cubist painting of flowers and fish corpses. ‘I think a real gardens a bit muddier than that,’ chuckles Linda of a pristinely composed floral scene.
And as we pause in front of a vibrant Hockney still-life of sunflower-filled vases, Jo decides to capture its beauty with a photograph. ‘I’ll just make sure I turn the flash off,’ she says, seconds before a burst of bright light bounces off the painting. ‘You always do that,’ says Linda, sighing. ‘Go to the menu!’
They’re normally pretty tech-savvy, though, having sharpened their computer skills with more than 600 blog posts since 2009. Jo’s a big fan of Guardian London blogger Diamond Geezer (‘he’s the best’) and ex-Time Outer Peter Watt’s The Great Wen (‘excellent’), while Linda has no trouble navigating a digital back office (‘The blog seems simple compared to the system I had to use when I was a social worker.’). And both of them are no strangers to internet sexbots.’We keep getting: “I am sexy woman from Bombay, please contact me,”‘ says Linda. ‘For some reason it’s always in the comments on our P12 bus review.’
We leave the gallery, which means another one down, only 170 or so to go. Well, unless they fancy adding another marathon blog quest to their to-do list after they’ve finished this. ‘We’ve just got so long to go before we can even think about the next one,’ says Linda. ‘You know, I was once asked that question by a young person when we were doing our bus blog,’ says Jo with a grin. ‘I said: “We might be dead by then.”‘
Somehow I can’t see that happening. After all, it wouldn’t be very completist of them, would it?
To follow Jo and Linda’s museum marathon, visit londonbusesonebusatatime.blogspot.co.uk.