A fine day in London with as little planning as possible.
12-11-09 11:00 PM
When I was first planning this day I was thinking to take it in two pieces. Go out in the morning and look around (which I did), come back to the residence around lunch and maybe use the wifi at Prett Manger (sp) to catch up on some things (which didn’t happen), and then go explore more in the afternoon and evening (which I did). I never made it back to the residence mid-day. I left the residence and stayed out until after I came home from seeing Les Mis.
I don’t want to make an overly detailed description of this day. It was a wonderful day, but might have been more wonderful with my wife and some more family and friends along.
In the morning I took the tube down to Trafalgar Square. I had seen this on Thursday evening, but wanted to look it over in the day time. All the environmental protesters were still camped out. The National Gallery opens onto Trafalgar Square and I made a much-too-hasty visit. It was Art made by Artists you studied in Art Appreciation. (Caps intentional.) I would think you could spend several days there if you had the time and interest. Then I walked down towards Parliament. I passed 10 Downing St. and saw the Queens Life Guard. (Here is someone else’s’ video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FV0NigoxITQ I didn’t actually see the guard changing.) I got a picture of myself with one of the guards on horseback. The guard was on horseback, not me.
I took a picture of the Clock Tower of the Palace of Westminster (Big Ben is actually the name of the bell) and then I walked to Westminster Abbey. Since I was limited on time, I decided that Westminster Abbey would be the one place I would take my time and really try to see. There is a recorded tour that is free with admission narrated by Jeremy Irons. Probably the high spot for me was to see Handel’s memorial… He is buried there along with other composers and authors and, of course, British Monarchs. When I walked out the door after the tour I snapped a picture of Methodist Central Hall, although I did not get any closer than that. I have heard the Sunday morning music is excellent.
From there I walked over to the Thames and walked back in the direction of Trafalgar square (as far as I could tell) both enjoying the view of the sights along the river and looking for a place to have lunch and visit the lavatory. I snapped a picture of the London Eye. I ended up eating at Garfunkel’s.
After lunch I proceeded to Leicester Square (short tube ride) and, after some consideration, bought a ticket at the discount booth for Les Mis later that evening.
For the next bit I hiked around that part of London. I found the Queen’s Theater, where Les Mis was playing, and I headed towards St. Paul’s Church Covent Garden (WC2E 9ED ) to meet Paul Ayers, the conductor of the City Chorus, for dinner. St Paul’s Covent Garden is known as the “actors church”. Paul Ayres was playing harpsichord for a performance there. He had to leave the City Chorus concert early and I had gotten there late, so we never had a chance to visit. We decided I would catch the end of his rehearsal and then we could find some place to eat.
I had quite an adventure finding this church since I managed to walk past it twice. I could not print anything on the computer at the residence so I had a hand drawn map that turned out to be correct. But the entrance to the church, which was a large structure on the satellite map online, was actually a smallish gate out on the street. I got frustrated and stopped a cab, figuring I would just pay him to take me there. He smiled and told me it was right up the street. So I figured I must have missed the entrance. I am not a very visual person, and it is entirely possible for me to miss something much more obvious than the church entrance. In the meantime I had an extensive (though rather unplanned) walking tour of the Covent Garden area and the West End.. I passed a number of bookstores on Charing Cross Road, took a stroll through China Town, passed a number of theaters, and just enjoyed the ambiance. I don’t know how anyone else reacts to London, but I felt like I might run into the ghost of Charles Dickens at any time. It all looks so… so British everywhere.
When I (finally) arrived at the church I listened to the final part of a rehearsal for the Christmas portion of Handel’s Messiah. It reminded me of home. I thought it was odd the trumpets were out of tune until I saw they were for real baroque trumpets. There were some ensemble problems that were dealt with (just like home). I found out afterwards that their rehearsal space was acoustically dead and putting the entire group together in a worship space with typical hard surfaces was challenging. (This happens at home too.) I managed to take a picture inside before an official looking man asked me to stop.
After the concert he asked if I would like to eat with some of the singers. I was more than happy to do this. One of the singers had a number of tokens for a personal pizza for five pounds at Pizza Express. I had passed a couple of these during my wanderings. I said I was good with it. We hiked to three different Pizza Express stores only to find them all packed full . Perhaps everyone in London had a token for a pizza for five pounds… Paul and I talked during this entire time about all manner of things musical and not. While we were checking on the last Pizza Express, we were crowded into the door by a large group of people dressed as Santa (Mr. and Mrs.) who were making merry, to say the least. More about this later.
We had just passed a Thai restaurant that appeared to be deserted. So we had a committee meeting with the group and decided to eat Thai food. It was a little disconcerting to enter an empty restaurant. The little voice in the back of one’s head keeps suggesting that there must be a reason, and not a good one, for the place to be deserted. As sometimes happens, the little voice was completely wrong about this. The food was excellent and we had a great meal and excellent conversation. I have not been able to figure out where this was, in spite of some creative Internet searching. I was glad to get to know Paul a little bit, since his decision to program my piece had led to this adventure. I also enjoyed getting to know the singers. One of them has a music publishing business that involves making modern performance editions of early music. I got his card.
One of the women, a soprano, was recounting her experiences as part of a group of younger singers that were joining forces with an older, perhaps established, group for a performance. Some of the more senior singers were making a lot of noise about the younger singers necklines and hemlines and dangly earrings. I told her about the alto that was in our church choir when I first joined who was very possessive of her seat. When the new choir director came in (before my time in the church) he swapped sides with the sopranos and altos. Rather than move to the other side, my friend decided she would just sing alto and keep the same seat. The singer said, “Do you mean she actually refused to move to the other side of the choir loft and instead switched parts?” She was a very sweet lady and friendly as can be, but, yes, that is exactly what she did. It looks like these sorts of problems can happen anywhere.
After dinner, Paul took me to a corner on Charing Cross Road so he could point me in the direction of the Queen’s Theater. I probably could have found it by this time, but I didn’t want to be late for Les Mis. We had our picture made by a double-decker London bus and parted ways.
I have never been to a musical of any sort by myself before, and this made for a different experience. I really enjoyed Les Mis. It is a great show, in my humble opinion. I thought the cast was a little slow warming up to things in the beginning, but the energy level kept unfolding in a marvelous way. As in all Cameron McIntosh shows, the pacing is excellent. The cast was wonderful top to bottom, as one would expect. Anyone has seen this show is going to remember the moving set piece(s). The story, as in the original prose, has a lot to say about redemption, love, giving of one’s self, and persistence in well-doing. As in all great works of art, it left me a lot to think about This and several other things that happened before, during, and after this trip have left me with the idea that I am going to have to write some things down about my current life philosophies and theologies at the end of this journal. Life is so full of miracles that we tend to accept them as a part of every-day life and don’t even notice them. That is all I will say for now.*
For some unknown reason, I turned to the right when I left the theater and walked to the corner. Looking down the street I saw a holiday lighting display over the street. I knew that this would lead me to the advertisements for A Christmas Carol that were suspended over the street at Oxford Circus. I knew it would be quite a hike at the end of a long day of hiking, but I decided to make it my last experience as a tourist in London. It was just the best end of a long day. I saw more lights, more people, more London architecture, and altogether had a very satisfying walk. I was grateful at this point for all the time I have spent in the past year trudging on a treadmill at the fitness club. My body just kept finding more cardio-vascular capacity. According to the map, it looks like it is almost 1.5 miles from St. Paul’s Church, Covent Garden to the residence at 9 Deans Mews if you actually take the shortest path.
Sister Eva heard me come in and came to my room to talk about getting a taxi in the morning. We talked about the timing of things and decided that I would need to bounce out of bed at around 5:45 AM to get to Heathrow the recommended time before the flight. I called for a taxi, using a number Eva gave me, to take me to Paddington Station to catch the Heathrow Express.
This is Eva Heyman, my amazing host. She is amazing. It is worth googling her life story.
I have a lot of gathering and packing to do. I have an extra tuxedo with accessories to fit in the same two bags with the rest of the stuff I brought. Ah well…..
*The Happy Rock Way blog is partly the result of this trip. I began to see that I needed to write things down. I don’t journal all the time. But I find myself referencing the same stories often when I talk to people and I thought it would be nice to have them available online for after the conversation was over. I hope you enjoy reading.