Monday, July 13, 2015: London
Messin’ About On Red Buses:
I have had a restless night and I am awaking to a full-blown cold—with a streaming nose, a heavy head, awful lethargy. I know where it has come from but I cannot believe how quickly the germ has incubated in my body—in about 24 hours—and how horrible a strain of it I have caught. There is simply nothing else to do for it, but get medication—and fast!
Furthermore, it is not just grey, dull and dreary today—it is actually raining. Any hopes we might have had of getting to Henley-On-Thames, the pretty riverside town that comes alive each year at the annual Royal Regatta, are dashed. I do not intend to explore it, for the first time, in such terrible weather. We decide instead to stay put in London and do the one thing we both love to do—ride the red buses up and down and from side to side: the cheapest, easiest, most interesting way to get reacquainted with the city. I am glad Llew shares my love of London’s red buses. That decided, I pick up my brand-new phone to make a call and guess what? We discover that it is not working. There is simply no connection. That lovely Josh who had seemed most helpful last evening had probably forgotten to connect my plan to the main network or whatever it is they have to do to get me on.
I am grateful for the cup of coffee that Barbara made me at the crack of dawn—for I awoke before 5.00 am and have started blogging. When Llew awakes, at a far more civilized hour, we set out straight on the Tube for Oxford Street. By the time we get there, I am feeling faint with illness and must eat quickly. We are the first customers at BHS (British Home Stores) when the doors open to rush into their first floor cafeteria for their Full English brekkie. It is the cheapest breakfast deal in town. We get a choice of any four items for 1. 89 pounds! How can you go wrong with that: we request scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon and mushroom and huge lattes for the two of us and I am instantly re-energized. Granted it is not the Ritz but who’s asking?
Across the street is a Boots and now that I am no longer on an empty stomach, I buy a packet of Sudafed for I am determined not to let this monster cold take over my limited London time. Then well-drugged, we can face the salesmen at Carphone Warehouse in the basement of Selfridgesand get the phone deed done. It does not take too long. They potter about on their computer and hand me my phone back. This time, I am determined to try it out to my satisfaction—so I dial Barbara’s office number and voila! She picks up instantly; so I know all’s clear.
Sightseeing By London Red Bus:
It is still raining by the time we are done with our chores and I am still feeling wholly lousy. All I can think of is curling up in bed and sleeping the sleep of the dead. But I soldier on. We hop into a No. 9 and ride it on to Aldwych. Rain in streaming softly down the big picture window and the bus makes excruciatingly slow progress, but we are in a hurry to nowhere. At Aldwych, we switch to the 15 that takes us all the way to the Tower of London—by which time the sky has cleared itself of rain. It will remain grey for the rest of the day but at least there is no rain.
At the Tower, we cross the street to take the 11 and begin the long, See London for Free bus journey all the way to Fulham Broadway. Llew sees the Shard for the first time and takes several pictures of it juxtaposed against the millennium-old Tower buildings. I feel sorry that I never got to see the moat filled with those gorgeous red ceramic poppies—they might have been an unforgettable sight!
We trundle through The City—Llew is intrigued by a pub named The Hung. Drawn And Quartered. We discuss the reference to gruesome Tudor death sentences. He is horrified! He cannot believe a pub would carry such a name. I tell him it is significant as such deaths occurred in the vicinity of the Tower. He does not buy it and wonders who would want to drink in such a place in this day and age. The bus moves sluggishly through building sites that are gaping holes as their foundations are being re-dug to make room for new spiffy glass and concrete towers such as The Gherkin and The Walkie Talkie and The Cheese Grater.
We enjoy the ambience at St. Paul’s Cathedral and I decide I will try to catch at least one morning Mass there at 8. 00 am—I love this building and I have many affectionate associations with it through my friends the Colcloughs who now live in Chelsea/Kensington. Down Ludgate Hill, we ride and through Fleet Street. At all times, I am pointing out to Llew things we should notice—he tends to miss a great deal of detail. We arrive at The Royal Courts of Justice, turn the corner and ride down the Strand. We pass Simpson’s and I point it out to Llew. I tell him to remind me to make a reservation there for Saturday when we will take our hosts for dinner to this London institution that is referred to as “Simpson’s On The Strand”.
At Trafalgar Square, I feel nostalgic. Should I drag Llew to the National Gallery? I have never left London without making a visit there. Could he stand it if I suggested we go there—yet Again??? I am not certain and will play it by ear, methinks. We sail down Whitehall. Renovation at Inigo Jones’ Banqueting Hall is not yet complete—the scaffolding is off but it is still encased in a mock setup of the building. The Horse Guards are wearing long black cloaks. I do not remember seeing them in this guise. I point out the Cenotaph, one of Lutyens’ great memorial landmarks that gets TV time each year at the 11thhour of the 11th day of the 11th month on Armistice Day!
We arrive at Parliament Square and we say Hello to Big Ben looking very snazzy. I point out St. Margaret’s Church in Westminster Abbey Yard where King Henry VIII married his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. Tourists are milling about everywhere for there is now a distinct glimmer of light in the sky—the sun is bravely attempting to peep through. I point out my friend Michelle’s office building on Victoria Road—she is a lawyer for the British government. We were college class mates in India. On to Victoria and Buckingham Palace Road. Llew remembers the many coach trips we have taken from Victoria Coach Station through the years. This bus ride is not just about re-visiting London’s Landmarks—it is evoking nostalgia and memory for both of us in ways we could not have expected.
We turn the corner at Chelsea Royal Gardens and find ourselves in London’s ritziest region amidst the Sloan Rangers in ultra-chic coffee shops sipping their lattes. We arrive at Sloan Square and ride down The King’s Road, once our stomping ground for Llew’s brother used to live in the area—many moons ago, when we had taken summer holidays in their gorgeous terraced house by the Embankment. I look with longing at the thrift stores (American for ‘charity shops’) from where I have picked up, through the years, vintage scarves, jewelry, knick knacks by Swarovski and Steuben. This is not something I will put Llew through on this visit—noooo siree!
At the end of the King’s Road, we edge towards Fulham. By this time, the rain is history and it is a full three hours since our brekkies. We pass all the industrial warehouses of Chelsea that are now upscale art galleries. We are sorry to find that one of our favorite Anglo-Indian restaurants called Chutney Mary has been replaced by a Masala Grill. (I will google it later to find out Chutney Mary has relocated to St. James’). Thankfully, it has not disappeared altogether for with it would have gone a bit of our past in London!
At Fulham Broadway, just before we alight, we pass the Fulham Town Hall. I dig up, from the back of my memory storage bin, the trivial fact that in one of my favorite TV series As Time Goes By, Lionel and Jean were married in the Registrar’s Office and that the Fulham Town Hall was used as the location site. I am thrilled as I have one more location from the series to tick off my list!
Lunch Time near Stamford Bridge:
It has been a bus journey to remember and we are both thoroughly thrilled we found a way to beat the weather. But lunch beckons—we look for something light and find scores of sports bars and pubs for we are in Footie Territory—just a few blocks from Stamford Bridge, home of the Chelsea Football Club: a place of Serious Pilgrimage for Llew who spends most of our Sunday mornings at home in the UK watching Premier League matches! I had even tried secretly to get him tickets to a game—but sadly the season had ended by the time we arrived in London.
Llew suggests we pick up food from Whole Foods and eat it in their cafeteria upstairs. It is a good idea, we think. Armed with Creole Jambalaya and Goan Vegetarian Curry with Rice, we climb the stairs, get to the café and eat while overlooking the bustle below. In a little while, we are ready to leave—the food has been good, tasty and wholesome. We have done well.
At Chelsea FootBall Club:
It is time for Llew to get to the Highlight of his Day. We walk briskly to the Britannia Entrance to Stamford Bridge and take in the lovely navy blue and white décor of the outside—its souvenir shop, its wall that is decorated with life-size team pictures. There is a convenient seat left empty in the middle of a team picture—so that fans can take the seat and pretend they are coaches of the team. Llew and I clown around. It is a lot of fun. He is jubilant. I can see how much this visit means to him. I suggest we take a tour—they are given hourly. But he is not so enthusiastic. We spend a good while in this area. We take pictures on phone and camera.
Back on the Bus Heading Home:
It was good to stretch our legs—to walk a little—to feel Mother Earth beneath our feet. But we are now ready to get on the bus again and we take it down the Fulham Road. We enjoy its lovely shops and one-of-a-kind boutiques. This part of London is pricey but what a visual delight! How much pleasure I derive from life merely by looking–by opening, as Alexandra Stoddard put it, my eyes. You do not need to live above a waterhole in an African National Park (as we were fortunate to do) to derive pure pleasure from looking—you can simply Open Your Eyes no matter where you might be.
We arrive at Albertopolis and I point out the various Victorian Museum buildings to Llew. He would like to see the Alexander McQueen exhibition called Savage Beauty at the V&A (I had caught it, three years ago in New York at the Met). We sail past the Brompton Oratory where we had once seen royalty—the Duchess of Gloucester, an Austrian Roman Catholic, was once at the same Mass that we had attended there on Easter Sunday.
We alight at Fortnum and Mason to look for bargains at their mid-summer sale. No dice. We take the Tube from Piccadilly Station and get back home for quick showers and a change and to prepare for the last part of our day.
Dinner with a Former Student and Her Family:
Back on the train, we head to Kensington High Street for our dinner date with my former NYU student Elise who married an English lawyer named James. They live right opposite Hyde Park in an apartment in a lovely old manor-like building whose living room overlooks the park– I have met her and her family before—son Thomas, daughter Elektra. This visit is a Meet Llew Affair because although they have heard a lot about him, they have never met him.
It is always a delight to meet Elise whom I love dearly for she is not just the single, most brilliant student I have ever taught but because she has a heart of gold and a nature to match. She deserves every bit of happiness that has come her way and it is abundantly clear whenever I am in her home that she is happy. And that makes me hugely happy too.
Introductions are done and the children are wildly excited. Little Thomas remembers me from a two-year ago visit. He and Elektra are eager to bring out bowls of nuts as their parents take requests for drinks. This a well-traveled couple and we have much to talk to them about: our recent safari (turns out they went on safari for their honeymoon and did another safari a few years ago). You name a part of the world, they have been there!
The meal is both fun and delicious—there is monk fish tinged and flavored with saffron. There is zucchini in pesto (what an ingenious idea!), there is back rice. I have never eaten black rice before. In addition to everything else that she is, Elise is a great chef. She and James love to do dinner parties and still manage them despite having two toddlers to look after. I have never had a bad meal at her place. Dessert arrives: meringues, chocolate peanut butter cookies, grapes. There were wines to go with our meal. There is laughter, there is stimulating conversation.
Time flies and we need to get back home as tomorrow is a working day for our hosts. The children have long gone to bed and the parents long to follow. We say our thanks and our goodbyes and are out the door.
Harper Lee Book Launch at Waterstone’s at Piccadilly:
But we have one more item on our agenda: Llew is keen to attend the midnight launch of Harper Lee’s new hyped-up novel, Go Set A Watchman which is a major event world-wide. Not since the launching of each new Harry Potter novel has such excitement been tangible in the publishing world. Waterstone’s at Piccadilly Circus has a whole program planned before the witching hour when the book will officially be available for the world to buy. Llew wants to be a part of the event.
When we get to Waterstone’s, we are directed o the third floor where a screening of the Gregory Peck film To Kill A Mockingbird is in full spate. A sizeable crowd of bibliophiles is sipping hot drinks, munching store-provided popcorn and watching the courtroom manner of Atticus Finch. I am falling in love all over again with Scout. We stay for about half an hour but then fatigue gets the best of us and we reluctantly decide to move on. It is still only 11. 30 pm and we do not have the motivation to wait for another hour. My cold has played havoc on me all day and I cannot wait to curl up in bed.
We are on the Tube in a trice and at home before you can say Harper Lee. Another memorable day has come to an end for us in London and we have enjoyed it as only we can.
Until tomorrow, cheerio!