I am a bit behind and taking a day to catch up… One reason I leave home is to get away from the frustrations of dealing with technology but I find it follows me. Last week I took my iPad to the Apple Store in Covent Garden where I had an appointment, I thought, to get the cracked screen replaced… they do not do that. They replaced the iPad with a new one! Pounds and dollars of course but not bad. That was great but the operating system in the one they gave me was several updates behind so I am tethered to it for the morning evidently while that update takes place.
We came to London almost two weeks ago.
Monday October 26. Leaving behind a working sump pump that will allow our basement, Shirley’s house, to flood if it happens to fail for any reason. That is a bit worrying but we have left it all in good hands with Paco and Shirley we hope… the water level is back up again today.
Our trip over was not uneventful. A delay getting off the ground in Charlotte meant dinner was served at midnight. My intention was to skip that and go straight to sleep but all of the announcements and delays kept me awake so I ate dinner .. got up at 2:30 to walk and go to the bathroom. We were in the bulkhead seats which give you more leg room but fixed armrests (will not to that again!) so we were not comfortable for the overnight flight. I had just gone to sleep… sort of… when I suddenly had the sensation of a waterfall coming into my lap and a flight attendant collapsing onto me and folding up into a pile on the floor beside me. She had tripped over the legs of the person behind me… they were totally across the aisle and the lights were all out. I was afraid she had popped her knee but she was standing the next morning. Fortunately I had two blankets over my lap and my feet were not “up on the wall” as they had been before I took my walk. She had been carrying a full tray of cups of water and orange juice and all of it landed on me… the blankets absorbed most of it. That pretty much ended any sleep I might have gotten..
Our delayed start meant we were late getting into Heathrow Tuesday morning but that was not a problem.. no one was waiting on us. The arrivals hall where we go through the immigration line was hot. Very hot. They waste a tremendous amount of energy on heat in this country. Theatres, hotels and stores of every kind and the underground are invariably so hot I am always having to take my coat off. Everyone in the immigration line was shedding.. That took about an hour but we were on the Piccadilly line into Leicester Square by 12:30 .. a good time to be traveling because there is plenty of room for our luggage on the uncrowded train. It takes about an hour to get in from Heathrow and we enjoy the ride. Traveling through the suburbs and getting to see the allotment gardens up close is always interesting. The daily papers are readily available on the train where commuters have left them so we get to catch up on the scandals and politics of the day. It is like coming home.
We travel about as light as anyone can when you are going away for five weeks. We each have a less than 30 pound small checked bag plus a shared carryon and shoulder bags. We can handle it .
Slow travel is our preference. Probably everybody’s but not always possible. We like to stay at least two or three days at a time in one spot but we seldom stay in the same hotel twice when we travel. When we were here in February for a week we stayed over Belushi’s Bar in Covent Garden. It used to be common for small bars to have a few rooms upstairs and we have often stayed in them out in the country here. Belushi’s has 4 nice rooms.. no elevator and tiny stairs so it was a bit of exercise every time we came home to get up to our 4th floor room then.. but this time we have a great elevator .. still on the 4th floor.
The staff is all Eastern European… pretty good English and very helpful when our room keys would not hold their data several times and we had to have them come open the safe or teach us to work the digitally controlled heat/air.. but at least we had it. Plumbing is always a learning curve.. no two showers in Europe work the same way… they are quite proud of their design awards and things look good but that is not always good for the consumer.
We took a quick nap.. not our usual habit but needed after our difficult night.. and walked over to St Martin’s in the Fields crypt for a bowl of soup and coffee. We bought tickets for the evening candlelight Vivaldi concert.. we knew we would not stay past the intermission but it would keep us up for the rest of the day. A walk about through Stanfords, our favorite book and map store and a gander at Trafalgar Square and we felt reoriented.
We first went to a candlelight concert at St Martin’s probably 30 years ago when we were here around the time of our 15th anniversary… on our way to work in Malaga, Spain for a few weeks. That was our first trip to London… we left the night after Kathi’s birthday dinner at Nakatos (???) .. she fell asleep at the table and when I made her sit up she had a big chickenpox spot on her forehead… and I went off and left her for three weeks! I digress…#
Wednesday… We walked through Charing Cross Station and over the Thames to Pain Quotidian at the South Bank Center… great coffee, creamed wild mushrooms on Brioche… we must be back in London! We walked to Upper Marsh to an Enterprise location to book a car for when we leave town on Saturday afternoon. Tom went back to Valentino’s to get his hair cut in our old neighborhood and I went ?? who knows where but we met at the Vaudeville Theatre to see David Suchet play Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest. Tom was in the play his senior year at Myrtle Beach high school.. he thinks he played a butler said only a couple of words. We think that when we saw it at Coastal Carolina many years ago that part was played by a wooden cut out they moved around the stage. He was listed as Ply Wood in the program… anyway, we love the play. To quote Lady Bracknell, “In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.“
Forgive me please for playing the part of my Grandmother Sadie again here. Every week for as many years as I can remember growing up we received a fat handwritten letter from her detailing almost every meal she had eaten for the last week. Wish you could skip reading this part but I can not skip writing it. I love Paul, a French chain cafe that is now all over town but the main shop is in Covent Garden. I love their strong coffee and absolutely everything else on the menu. We went there for a light supper between plays. Tom had a smoked duck plate with roasted beets, carrots, leeks and radishes and I had a salad with pears, toasted walnuts and forage d”Ambert (these details are for you, Carolyn Neese Jones). Too too good. And the strong coffee necessary to stay awake for…
Harlequinade and All on Her Own at The Garrick Theatre. That is two short plays written by Terrance Rattigan.. a mid-century writer we do not hear much about in the US but we have seen a lot of his plays over here. Harlequinade is a farce about what goes on with the performers while they are rehearsing Romeo and Juliet and All on Her Own is virtually a one woman show starting Zoe Wanamaker playing an actress whose husband has died – or possibly committed suicide – and she is giving him a good talk down… Both very interesting and kept us awake.#
Thursday – October 29
I am excited.. lots of big things today. We are meeting our former Rotary foreign exchange student for lunch today at the Victoria and Albert in the William Morris rooms for lunch. Lizzette lived with us during Kathi’s senior year in high school. She went to NMB High School with Theresa Lynch every day. Lizzette is from South Africa but has been living in London with her husband and two sons for many years. She is a social worker and we have met her family for lunch before but she has been transferred to an office in central London so it was easy for her to meet us today.
We are going to the V and A because I am going to a fabulous exhibit. The Fabrics of India is a huge undertaking being displayed in over several large rooms. I have really been looking forward to it since we are going to India in February… that will be the subject of another blog but let it suffice to say that I only got through about a third of the exhibit in 2.5 hours today… so I took out a membership and will look forward to coming back. William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement he helped to start have been favorite style interests of mine for many years. I have read many books on his life and work and visited all of his houses here. His style that emphasized practical furnishings made by Artisan craft persons who were well paid with attention to decent working conditions has stood the test of time. The large dining rooms furnished by his team are pretty much the same as they were probably a hundred and thirty years ago. Lunch was good.. roasted veg and soup.. and the conversation was lovely.
We had matinee tickets for Farinelli and the King at the Duke of York’s Theatre. This is a new play about an old true story. Mark Rylance, who played Thomas Cromwell in the original stage production over here and the TV productions we saw at home of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, plays King Phillip V of Spain who in the 1730s became enthralled with the music sung by an Italian castrato.. a man who was castrated as a young boy to keep his voice from changing. The King is depressed and only the music improves his mood and ability to function. The singer, known as Farinelli, gives up his career to stay with the king and they form a bond based on neither of them having been able to live a normal life… interesting. The lavish costumes and sets were as entertaining as the story…
Theatre over food is our choice these days… we picked up a couple of take-out salads and went back to our room for a nap before going to our evening play, The Father. We knew this one was not going to be uplifting… in fact, except for Earnest everything we are seeing this week is a oriented toward poor mental health and bad communication. The Father has received nominations for many awards and I would guess it will move on to New York. It is the story of the downward spiral of an elderly man who has Alzheimer’s disease. Told from his point of view it took us awhile to get what was going on as he interacted with other people and things did not make sense from one quickly changing scene to another. A good exercise for us to see how he must feel. I hope someone will be able to do a similar play about people with dyslexia.. Not a good way to end the day so we stopped into a little restaurant in China town where I had some fish and tofu and Tom had an egg something… and so to bed.#
Friday, October 30
This day got off to a bad start. Tom went out to get coffee and came back telling me I needed to look out the window.. I did not want to get up but he insisted. Our room is on the 4th floor with two big windows looking out to a walking only T intersection. Parked below was an ambulance and several police vehicles. A young man lay on a the ground – no shirt – lots of medical stuff going on around his head. It took them awhile to load him up and leave with him. Lots of blood on the ground. Over to the side were the broken up pieces of two sections of a large leather white sofa with tubular metal arms and legs. Crime scene tape was up all day with a police woman standing by. We doubted that he was alive and Tom thought he might have been a jumper…but how did that sofa get there? Did he throw it off the roof and jump down after it? This was at 9 am on a Friday morning? We asked a couple of people as we came and went but not until we got home tonight did we find out from the hotel staff that they thought it was an accident having to do with the window washers on the new building across the street from us. Somehow the sofa fell off the building and hit him… he was probably on his way to work. There did not seem to be anyone else with him from what we saw. There was something in the paper in a couple of days that said he was in critical condition. Tragic.
We walked to the British Museum this morning. Weather has been just as we like it.. neither hot nor cold. Very walkable. The BM has a new exhibit on the Celts: art and identity. It is about their influence on us today… We tend to consider them to have been from the areas we know as Ireland, Scotland and northern Europe but that is not really their origin. The term was first used for people from central and northern Europe and was appropriated over the years by those further West where we think of them now to distinguish themselves from the English and the French. Who would have thunk it. A LOT, as in hundreds and thousands of Torcs – neck rings. Many of them very heavy and ornamented. Must have been hard to walk around with. Beautifully made metal jewelry of all kinds and very interesting history. Women were treated as equals and were community leaders for hundreds of years in what we think of as the dark ages.. wonder what happened?
School is out this week and the museum was also featuring a lot of activities celebrating the Mexican Day of the Dead… Tom enjoyed that and we both walked through the center court exhibit that has just opened. Faith after the Pharaohs is the story of how Egypt was transformed by the coming of Christians, Jews and Muslims… very interesting. The exhibit is just opening and we will come back to do it justice with Kristi and Colin and the girls. They are all little Egyptologists..
We keep up our British Museum membership so we were able to go to the Member’s Room for lunch. Seating is scarce downstairs in the food service area normally and with school out it was nonexistent. We enjoyed the food and getting off of our feet for awhile before we walked back through the bottom of Bloomsbury and the top of Covent Garden stopping into Neal’s Yard (no small diffusers Kristi.. wish I had not taken mine out of my bag!), Base – my fav clothing store but no long black cotton leggings, Stanfords – our travel map store to buy a folding walking stick. We have stopped into five or six gear shops in the area looking for one that will fit into my suitcase. I have left one on a plane an another on a bus in the last year because they will not go down small enough to fit inside my suitcase. Not wanting to pay 200$ for a set (yes!!!) and wishing to find one that telescopes rather than folds (takes up more room…) I have finally given up and am settling for a folding one but it does have the “straight” top (as opposed to the right angled walking cane type top) and is short enough to fit in my small bag.. for 12 pounds. A steal of a deal in comparison. Tired… yes we are so we pick up our tickets for tonight and go take a nap…
Up in time for Fish and Chips outside on Leicester Square. Dark comes early here.. pretty dark by 4 and pitch black by 5. Our play tonight is Photograph 51 starring Nicole Kidman. These are the first ticket I bought for this ticket when I first read about it back in April. It is a stunning play. The first I can remember feeling strongly that it deserved a standing ovation and it got one.. the only one we have seen on this trip. The British are not overly expressive..
It is the true story of Rosalind Franklin, the British scientist who made the discovery of the double helix possible. Hindered by being a woman an lacking confidence in her own findings her research was hijacked.. sort of.. and she never really got credit for her work. She died in her late 30’s from cancer of the ovaries brought on by exposure to radiation while doing the photographs for her research. It was so so good. The setting was profound… the quadrangle of King’s College London after WWII with the bombed out arches of the underground area .. the research labs in the middle of the rubble. One of the most memorable plays I have ever seen… Glad to see you have already seen it Lynne Seaman! We can talk about it in a couple of weeks.
Back to our room to get the word that the young man hit by the sofa this morning is thought to still be alive.
Saturday, October 31 – Halloween! A big deal for adults in Central London. Glad we are leaving today. We are pretty packed – travel light and it all goes back in – we took a taxi over to Upper Marsh across the river to pickup our rental car from Enterprise and drove it to Stuart and Janet’s home on Theed Street. They have parking inside a courtyard behind their house so we were able to leave it there for the day. We walked over to a cafe in the lower level of the National Theatre and had a nice visit over breakfast – bangers and bacon, baps and coffee. We are such a bunch of healthy eaters! Good food and great company. S & J recently took a train trip to Paris and are off to Cornwall next week… plus they are preparing for a major addition to their house… plus life. We had a lot to talk about.
We are going together today on a tour of the Whitechapel Bell Foundry over in … Whitechapel. Tom and I bought our tickets when we were over here in February and they were able to talk themselves onto the same tour a little later. It is a hot ticket! Has to be booked months in advance as they only do a few tours a year on certain Saturdays. There are very few foundries left in the world anymore and all of them are in the UK or Western Europe. Whitechapel made our Liberty Bell (or, as the Gentleman owner said, “the bell that became the American Liberty Bell”) and the bell known as Big Ben.
We walked bit over to Waterloo Station and took the Jubilee line to the far East part of London. East London has become a very Middle Eastern area now. Part of it is a Little Bangladesh. When we were here last winter we had lunch followed by tea..since we were the only ones in the restaurant in the middle of the afternoon the server asked if he could bring us some tea and brought a glass with hot tea, whole cardamon pods and a whole bay leaf. It was delicious so I went to a market close by and bought two bags of whole cardamon seeds (now that I think of it that is why he offered the tea… I had asked him where I could buy whole cardamon since we can not find it at home and he asked if it was for tea.. no, it was for coffee cake…) to bring home with us. I already have a couple of bay trees so I often enjoy the tea at home now. I digress…
The bell foundary… was very interesting. It is a grade 1 (???) listed building that can not be altered in any way on the outside. It is on a main street, on a corner, and inside is an ancient working bell factory where they heat copper and tin in huge huge huge vats and pour big big bells into molds they make. All a very interesting process. We went up three flights steep narrow stairs in the long skinny building to the carpenter shop where they do the cutting and shaping for the many pieces it takes to make the forms and fittings. The wood floor up there is hundreds of years old with lots of trap doors, pulleys and winches and good wood smells. On the second floor they do smaller wood working and make the leather straps for the hand bells. There were probably 30 people on our tour all crowded tightly into filthy filthy (from the soot of the heat processes… not the housekeeping) tiny spaces full of hacksaw blades, goat hair and horse poop (used to make the stuffing or the mold making…).
It really is an interesting process. The tuning of a bell is a highly skilled mathematical process.. done with grinding and chiseling off bits until they get it right. Would you ever think of being able to do such a thing? The same family has been running this operation for hundreds of years.. a few centuries ago they bought their close competitors and shut them down.
Bells basically do not wear out. Their “hanging structure” might wear out and need to be replaced, a big part of the foundries business today, and big bells might need to be retuned maybe three times in a hundred years but the making of new bells is probably not a business many people are thinking of going into. We were glad to get to see this and Janet is thinking of bringing her Father to do the tour. I know mine would have enjoyed it.
We took the Jubilee line back to Blackfriars, walked across the bridge and back to Theed Street. We left a bit of the paperwork we have accumulated with Janet and Stuart.. it is so nice to know we will soon be living down the street from them again for a couple of weeks…said our good byes and then
we were off to Sissinghurst. Driving is always a challenge in the UK. It gets pretty tense in the daytime but Tom is good at it. After what seemed like Mr Toad’s Wild ride for about two hours over a lot of scary city traffic for awhile until we got to an M road I think for a bit then a lot of two laned roads in heavy fog… we were in Kent. I felt like we were driving into Midsommer Murders for a little bit of the time between the hedgerows.