Merry Christmas everyone! I’d hoped that by visiting something called Gingerbread City, I’d have a nice cheery Christmassy post for you today, but I wasn’t reckoning on what a disappointment this exhibition would be. Still, since we’re probably all settled in to some kind of Christmas food (or if you’re like me, far too many Celebrations) coma, let’s discuss it anyway.
Gingerbread City is an exhibition sponsored by the Museum of Architecture where teams of designers create buildings out of gingerbread and the money from exhibiting them goes to fund the museum (which, rather ironically for a museum about architecture, doesn’t actually have a physical location). Last year, this was at the V&A, and my friend was upset she didn’t get a chance to go (neither did I, but I wasn’t that bothered), so when we were trying to plan a festive outing, I suggested this year’s Gingerbread City, which has moved to Somerset House. Time Out and Londonist had both really been pushing it, and the pictures made it look cool, so we met up with another friend (and former colleague, who has managed to move on to a much bigger and better museum) there, parting with the hefty £9 admission fee each (no discounts available for Art Fund, Museums Association, or anything else we had between us).
Having pre-booked, since we were going at what we assumed would be a popular time after work (it didn’t end up being all that busy, which was good, because it would have been almost impossible to look around if more people were there), I was sent not one, but two emails from Somerset House telling me we had to go in the Waterloo Bridge entrance, which would be clearly signposted. Now, if you’re not familiar with Somerset House, it is absolutely massive, and there are about a gazillion entrances, including at least three that could be said to be “Waterloo Bridge entrances”. And there was no clear signage. Cue the three of us all turning up to different entrances and comically wandering around separately whilst WhatsApping the others to try to find the right one. Eventually, I spotted a miniscule sign next to a side door I’d never noticed before, instructing us to queue up for Gingerbread City (there was no queue), and was able to direct my friends with some difficulty, as they had no idea about the entrance I had stumbled on either.
The staff there were all very nice once we actually made our way inside, but as they led us into the room housing Gingerbread City, we were all immediately and distinctly underwhelmed. To begin with, it was a whole hell of a lot smaller than we were led to believe – the size of two of those big tables that people set up model railways on. Also, although Somerset House is a gorgeous building, the room Gingerbread City was in was grim! The paint was peeling off the walls, and it didn’t even seem to be heated, though that may have possibly been to preserve the gingerbread. And, although I know the house builders weren’t professional bakers, it’s a bit worrying actual architects couldn’t have designed better looking buildings than this (and it explains a lot about the hideous skyline the City is in the process of developing)! I think most of them were meant to be replicas of London buildings, with punny names (Battersea Sugar Power Station, Victoria Sponge Palace, etc), and though some, like Sugarset House above, were actually pretty good, others were just a bit of a mess, frankly (the Tate Modern (I can’t remember the pun they used, but if it wasn’t something to do with Tate & Lyle sugar, it should have been, since that’s who it’s named after anyway) looked like it was ready to topple at any second).
I also have to apologise for the poor quality of my pictures, but the lighting inside the houses made it really hard to take a good photo. The theme this year was meant to be transportation, but since literally everything in here was a building except for the actual (non-gingerbread) train running through the city, I’m not sure how that theme was reflected in the gingerbread. You were meant to vote for your favourite one at the end, but since I was generally so underwhelmed, I didn’t bother (though looking at the pictures, obviously I should have picked the Gingernut Cracker). We seriously spent about 15 minutes here, and that was with us talking the whole while and taking time to really examine the houses. No way was this worth £9, but at least we learned a valuable lesson: never go again.
Fortunately, Somerset House isn’t all Gingerbread City terrible. Although we did not want to pay to see another exhibition after this one, we did have a wander through the very posh Fortnum’s pop-up shop and tried to order delicious sounding Chocolossus hot chocolates from their pop-up café, but as it was standing room only (full of people doing the apres-skate thing from the skating rink. Somerset House has an ice skating rink before Christmas), we opted instead for the much quieter but also much less fancy normal Somerset House café, where I had a cheaper but also much less exciting (and lukewarm) hot chocolate. We did still have a nice evening, because we hadn’t all managed to get together since August and had a lot to talk about, but that was very much in spite of Gingerbread City, not because of it. It is much more Christmassy just strolling around the free bits of Somerset House and down the Strand to Trafalgar Square (though what is up with them attempting to rebrand the Strand as North Bank? It’s not bloody North Bank, it’s the Strand), and visiting some of the less busy Christmas markets in London (Winter Wonderland is to be avoided like the plague, but I’m obsessed with Meltsmiths’ spicy cheese toasties from South Bank Christmas Market, which is sort of Marcus’s and my special place because that’s where we had our first semi-date over eleven years ago). Hope this was a suitably Christmassy post despite my complaining, and that you all have a lovely Christmas!