Shopping in the Morning, Culture at the End of Day

Saturday, January 14, 2012

I suppose I should add a couple more items to my London To-Do List–the sort of tems that make me feel as if I’ve never ever left: braving the Middle Eastern throngs at Harrod’s post-Christmas sales, haggling for reproductions of hotel silver at Portobello Road, tucking into a steak and ale pie at a historic pub (like The George, London’s oldest galleried inn, now managed by The National Trust in Southwark) and, last, but certainly not the least, sitting on the edge of one’s seat during a drama at the West End. We did all this and more today!

The Pleasures of a Full English Breakfast:
So, with sleep still fixing my eyelids tightly together, I managed to awake at 8 am, showered, got dressed and descended into The Brasserie which is the restaurant in our hotel, The Grosvenor, for a full English breakfast–my American students understood why it was so named when they could scarcely get out of their seats at the end of the meal. They described it as “awesome” but stuck to the known and familiar: it was only at my insistence that they tried some of the black pudding on the menu and pronounced it to be an acquired taste!

Braving Harrods’ throngs:
Since they had the morning to themselves, they disappeared in order to go their separate ways after brekkie…but I took the Tube to Harrods where I’d made plans to hook up with my friend Bashir who arrived from Wembley to spend the morning with me. The crowds at Harrods were insane especially since this weekend they’re offering a ten per cent discount over and above their unbelievably low prices. I made a beeline for the cosmetics and toiletries section and was pleased to walk away with Woods of Windsor lavender soaps for a song–not to mention tea cozies that were priced at a pound each! I mean how could I possibly go wrong?

On Portobello Road:
Then Bash and I took a bus to Portobello Road because it was a Saturday morning and, although a Londoner for his entire life, he had never been! I had warned him that the place offers nothing remarkable these days-those days are long gone when I had bought a superb Imari umbrella stand and a porcelain Shelley jelly mould . There was some hotel silver, but I have to say that hallmarks are so easily faked that I was reluctant to believe anything was genuine, leave alone antique! Still, we enjoyed the Notting Hill neighborhood on a really lovely morning. I was afraid we’d get nothing but grey skies throughout our stay; but although temperatures are bracing, there is golden sunshine following us persistently everywhere.

We didn’t stay on Portebello Road for long: throngs were rather daunting there too. It is hard to believe that it is not really tourist season in the UK for every second voice is speaking a foreign language. We got back on the Tube to Victoria so that I could drop off my buys and pick up my opera glasses from my room: I never go to the theater in London without carrying them along.

“In Southwark at the Tabard as I lay…”:
A large number of my students met us in the hotel lobby at the appointed hour of 3.00 pm to make our way on the Tube to Southwark to The George Inn for a very early supper. I was rather hungry by this point–my very filling English breakfast having been long digested through the energy required for my manic walking tour of the city. At London Bridge Tube Station, I paused to give my students a short literary history of Southwark and its associations with Chaucer, Shakespeare and Gower before we trooped into the pub to be directed to a private room with a whole lot of ambiance–thanks to exposed beams on the ceiling and stucco walls. Our three-course menu kicked off with a Tomato Soup and was followed by a Steak and Ale Pie with Roast Potatoes, really delectable Taro Root chips and Green Beans. For dessert (or more correctly, pudding), we had a choice of Chocolate Bavarois (no marks for guessing that it was what I opted for) or Apple Crumble that swam in a piping hot custard. Indeed our meal could not have been more English and we did enjoy it.

On Foot to the Monument:
Then, we were crossing Southwark Bridge on foot to get across the Thames and at Christopher Wren’s Monument, I paused to give my students yet another mini account of the Great Fire of London of 1666 and Wren’s role in its reconstruction. Needless to say, several felt tempted to climb the 350 odd steps to the gilded urn of flames at the top and probably will do so soon. Unfortunately, I lacked the time to take them to neighboring Pudding Lane to show them the spot where the fire is alleged to have started–but they did get the idea.

The Lion in Winter at the West End:
At Monument Underground station, we took trains to Piccadilly and then spent the rest of the evening marveling at thespians like Robert Lindsey and Joanna Lumley who took the roles of Henry II and Eleanor of Acquitaine in The Lion in Winter at the Theater Royal Haymarket. A truly witty script kept us chuckling throughout and the sets, music ( mostly Gregorian chants) and performances kept us absorbed.

I said goodbye to Bash (who had joined us for dinner and the play) right before the majority of us got back on the Tube to the hotel. Because we are still on New York time, none of us felt ready for bed–so it was not surprising that the ‘chaperones’ congregated at the Reunion Bar for cocktails. I had a chance to say goodbye to my colleague Mahnaz’s friend Tessa who was visiting her from Florence (as she returns to Italy tomorrow) before I decided to call it a day.

Tomorrow will mean an early start as we head for a day out on the river to Greenwich. I am energized by the vivacity of this city and still rarin’ to go…

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