Kings Cross, a place to arrive and leave as soon as possible. At least that has been true of the place until about five minutes ago. Now cranes dominate the landscape, the dodgy and downright dangerous have been moved on elsewhere. There is even a viewing platform from which to view the transformation from urban wasteland to creative hub. Just a little to the north, on the banks of the Grand Union canal, is the House of Illustration – the nation’s only public gallery dedicated to illustration. Head that way until the end of September and you will be rewarded with a trip down memory lane as Ladybird books are celebrated.
Learning to read and learning to live were Ladybird’s strong points. Peter and Jane were the stars of these books. Peter would do manly things such as help his Father clean the car, whilst Jane would assist her stay-at-home Mother with domestic tasks and they all lived happily together with Pat the dog. Quite how we grew up to be go-getting career girls and metrosexual urbanites is anybody’s guess. The physical books were appealingly child-sized. Priced at two shillings and sixpence they were beyond my pocket money but just right for kindly Aunts to buy for birthdays.
Once released from Mother’s apron strings the imprint had several instructive series to widen our horizons. History and Achievements includes a magnificent introduction to nuclear power. One person of my acquaintance read ‘Understanding Maps’ and decided there and then that he wanted to make maps for a living. This exhibition offers a wonderful trip down memory lane for grown-ups of a certain age. The children that I bought with me were frankly bemused by the Hobbies book that suggested making a caterpillar out of cotton reels.
We took a picnic with us but were not really hopeful that the once shabby area would present an appealing venue. How wrong we were. There is a new courtyard fountain, for which it is possible to download an app to give you control, offering endless distraction to youngsters with phones. For grown-ups there is a flight of deep astroturf covered steps over-looking the canal to sit on whilst drinking coffee from the conveniently situated van.
LADYBIRD BY DESIGN 10 July – 27 Sepember 2015
House of Illustration
Open: Tuesday – Sunday 10am-6pm
Admission: Adult £7.50, Child £4