An Errand at Ealing and Late Evening at National Portrait Gallery

Friday, August 26, 2016


Today is the Friday of a long ‘Bank Holiday’ Weekend in the UK–not sure what the Bank Holiday is for…but everyone is in a jolly mood with three days ahead to veg out.

As for me, I have to admit that loneliness is beginning to hit me gradually coupled with the fact that my feet are issuing serious warning signals. I know the signs of plantar fasciitis and I dread them with all my heart. It is time to slow down and give my feet a rest. But that means, basically, staying put and at home. Not a very exciting prospect for me, to be honest, as finding things to keep me busy when I am home-bound is tough!

Still, I awoke at 5.30 am today (for some unearthly reason) and could not get back to sleep. I decided to work on my paper and edit it as it is much too lengthy. After more than a hour, I stopped to have breakfast (muesli with yogurt and coffee) and continued working some more. I also wrote a blog post and started to think of a query letter I need to write for a potential publisher that a friend in New York has recommended to me.

Getting to Ealing:

At 9.40 am, I stopped to get dressed as I had an errand to run in Ealing and some friends to meet. I left the house, on schedule, at 10.00 am for my 11.00 am appointment but as I was locking the door, a bus to Bethnal Green sailed past. Grrr! Since I am avoiding walking now, there was no choice but to wait for the next one which came in about 12 minutes. I took the Central Line train to Ealing and was there almost on time. I had a bit of a challenge trying to find their place but soon I was reunited with them–Greg and Cecil. I was meeting my friend Cecil after a few years, so it was great to see him again and to meet his son, Greg. They were lovely and we had a wonderful time before I left to explore Ealing Broadway.

Exploring Ealing Broadway:

Yes, just half a block (in New York terms) from their place is Ealing ‘High Street’ called Broadway here–filled with every conceivable kind of restaurant, shop, fast food place, bar, etc. Around the corner, there is Marks and Sparks plus the famed Westfield Mall and hundreds of people to-in and fro-ing, making it vibrant and truly ‘happening’. I entered Morrisons for the first time to see what the prices were like and got the shock of my life. Six butter croissants for 1. 20 pounds! That is 20p a croissant–how is that even possible? Soon I found that everything, simply everything is less than half of what I have been paying in Sainsburys or the Co-op–which, by the way, is the biggest rip-off. Everything is more pricey there! See? After a month, I am becoming proficient in comparison-shopping in the UK!

As I left the store, a vendor placed a coupon for McD’s in my hand–because the place is also fully surrounded by every American fast food outlet you can imagine (McDonalds, Subway, Burger King, even Five Guys!) I felt fully at home! By the way, there is also Tinseltown–my favorite burger and shake place in the UK on The Mall. I usually get a Ferroro Rocher Shake at the Tinseltown in Hampstead–so it was great to spot one here too. Naturally, I could not resist getting a Big Mac for 1.99 pounds with fries! So in I went! Yes, Into McDs!!! A place I never enter unless Llew and I are on the road, travelling by car in the US! I guess after about a month in the UK, I needed my American Fix! So I also ordered a mocha frappe to go with it–perfect on another sweltering day–and discovered that McD’s in the UK does not accept credit cards that require a signature!!! Good Job I had some cash on me (I usually do not!) Anyway, I sat and wolfed down my caloric American meal and called my Dad for a chat. By the time I finished my meal and walked about with my food shopping from Morrison’s, I decided to scrap the thought of wandering about M&S (anywhere where I could find air-conditioning would have been fine!) and go home instead.

An Afternoon Chez Moi:

I was in the train in 10 minutes and home about 40 minutes later. After I put away my shopping, I went up to my boiler of a bedroom, threw the window open because I though I would suffocate–it was so hot and airless–and left it open as I thought I would continue to work. But I simply cannot manage without a fan. The heat is getting to me so vilely that I cannot sit upstairs in this house during the day. Instead, after trying to work on my paper for about an hour, I had a video chat with Chriselle in California and then I made myself a pot of tea and had it with Coffee Walnut Cake. I then went for in a badly needed shower.

An Evening at the National Portrait Gallery:

I had to think of some place to which I could go that was air-conditioned and did not involve too much walking. And I came up with the National Portrait Gallery at Trafalgar Square–one of my favorite places in London and one that I had yet to re-visit. Fridays is also late-evening closure at the museum whose doors are kept open till 9.00 pm. Not that I wanted to stay out late or after dark as I am still hesitant to come back to this neighborhood after nightfall.

An Unexpected Recital in the Elizabethan Gallery:

As soon as I entered the Gallery, I looked for their ‘Events for Today’ and found that a duo were performing upstairs in the Elizabethan Portrait Gallery. Without wasting any time, I took the escalator to the second floor to find that a recital between a lutanist and a tenor had just begun. I had to wait for a few minutes for the first set to end before I was able to take a seat right in front and give myself up to the music.

It was just lovely! I realized that this sort of music would have been the ‘radio’ of the Tudor and Elizabethan periods–the sort of background music that would have been a constant feature at court. In so many movies and TV series, I have seen a pair of musicians seated in a corner in the antechamber of the queen and her ladies or in Banquet Halls where the king supped. The music is quiet, lilting and softly pleasing. The composers were Thomas Morley, John Dowland, Francis Pilkington and Thomas Campion mainly and they wrote music for lute and harp–again, the kind of instruments that provide a pleasing sound without being intrusive. The concert, entitled ‘From Dawn to Dusk: Musicke in the Ayre’ featured the Australian singer Daniel Thomson who has made London his home and lutanist Din Ghani who is not only a musician but a musicologist and a maker of lutes! Seated in the Gallery, just below the Coronation Portrait of Elizabeth I, I kept wishing they had dressed in period costume–for that would have enhanced the entire experience a thousand-fold. Still, it was simply enchanting and after an hour, when they were done, I began my exploration of the gallery.

Viewing Works at the National Portrait Gallery:

I love the National portrait Gallery for many reasons: the portraits themselves, of course, first of all, are among the best in the world. Secondly, for the significance of the portraits: The Portrait of Shakespeare, for instance, is the first one that the Gallery ever acquired for its permanent collection and the curatorial notes state that it is probably the only one painted from life–now this dispels the belief that the recently-unearthed Cobbe Portrait is the only one painted from life! Go figure! Thirdly, for the amount that I learn about the sitters with every visit I make. Fourthly, because viewing these works always provides a crash refresher course for me on British history and politics. The chronological arrangement of the rooms allows me to traverse centuries of British notables and to learn about them and the artists who painted them. Finally, I love the mood lighting in the Tudor and Elizabethan Galleries–it is kept soft in order to preserve the integrity of the pigments, but it adds to the atmosphere of the era. This was a very dark time in British History and as I gaze upon the faces of women like Anne Boleyn and Mary Tudor and contrast their portraits with those of bigger worthies such as Henry VIII or Sir Thomas More or Archbishop Cranmer and even lesser ones such as Salisbury and Cecil, I keep thinking how dangerous those times were for women, how they were ‘played’ politically by the men, how powerless they were in battling court intrigues that dispensed with them at the drop of a hat. These portraits truly transport me into another era and fill me with a deep sense of dread.

Even as one leaves the 1500s behind and enters more recent epochs, there is hardly a portrait of a woman. But for an occasional queen, the dominant faces are masculine: writers, musicians, politicians, architects, you name it…they were men. I got all the way to Room 10 and reached the 18th century–all those portraits of male members of the Kit Kat Club with curled wigs tumbling about their shoulders as was the fashion of the time. I looked aghast at the kings (Charles II, for instance) who fathered 14 children with different mistresses, brought his wife Catherine of Braganza untold misery and then claimed he truly cared for her!!! For far less transgressions, thankfully, today, royal marriages have broken up.

The Gallery is also experimenting with the concept of mixing a contemporary painting of current notables with those from the past–for some contrast and to allow the viewer to compare fashion, poses, etc. For instance, in the Elizabethan Gallery, there is a huge portrait of the two current princes–William and Harry–in casual conversation with each other. It is a lovely piece of work by Nicky Phillips. Although set in Clarence House (which I visited a couple of weeks ago), their home during their growing years and dressed in formal military garb (William wears the Order of the Garter), they are laughing as they converse and both look away from the artist–so casual, so unposed, so different from the stiff portraits of their own ancestors in the same room. Overall, I had a lovely time and so absorbed was I in my own contemplation of past history and past society, that I completely lost track of the time and was startled by the announcement that the Gallery would be closing in 15 minutes!

Trafalgar Square by Night:

Yikes! It was already 8.45–already dark! I finished Room 10 and then hurried out into the evening splendor of Trafalgar Square. I realized how beautiful it was as I was seeing the city at night for the first time since my arrival here. With the blue lights in the fountains of Trafalgar Square and the dome of the Colisseum where the English National Opera performs, the city was transformed into a magical place. There were crowds, simply milling crowds, all over as the warm night and the darkness contributed to keeping people where they were: tumbling down the stairs leading from the National Gallery to the Square, seated all around Edward Landseer’s lions, perched on the parapets that surround the periphery of the Square, etc. This is what I love about London–the sheer love that I have for this city is reflected in the eyes and movements of all the people who have come here because they so love it too. I also love the fact that I can wander into a museum and stumble upon a truly atmospheric concert that I can enjoy for free! Where else on earth could such things happen?

But I had no time to lose. I hurried off to Charing Cross station to take the Northern line south for one station and when I arrived at the Embankment, I hopped off, made my connection into a waiting train and got completely lost in The Evening Standard–the free paper distributed to commuters each evening (the free paper concept has never caught on in New York–probably because people there prefer to gaze at their phones!)

It was only when I reached the Barbican that I realized I was on the wrong train! Crumbs! I jumped off, raced to the platform on the opposite side, rode it one stop further to Liverpool Street and then took the Central Line from there for one stop to Bethnal Green. In a way, it was good I had made a mistake as this allowed me to take the 309 bus home for 2 stops instead of walking alone in the dark and taxing my feet. Luckily, my bus came along in 3 minutes and I was home by 10.00 pm–the latest I have ever come home (but this time all I had to do was cross the street from the bus-top and enter my house). Since I had eaten a big lunch and a substantial tea, I decided not to eat any dinner at all and I simply prepared to go to bed.

I do not think I punished my feet too much today but I did manage to accomplish a lot–despite the heat which I hope will abate soon.

Until tomorrow, cheerio…