London Diary—Jan 2017
Saturday, January 21, 2017
Accomplishing London To-Do List! And Packing (Yet Again!) Plus Ed Harris at the West End.
Terribly jetlagged, I awake in a 6-bedded dorm in the London youth hostel on Bolsover Street at 3. 30 am. I manage some more shut eye, then awake at 5. 30 am. It is eventually 7.00 am when I drag myself out of bed quietly so as not to awake my sleeping roomies. It is time for a wash, a shower and a tick of another item off my To-Do List—Brekkie at the Wolseley Hotel.
Posh Full English Brekkie in a London Institution:
I find my way to the bus stop on New Cavendish Street, realizing that I could not have chosen a better location for 2 nights’ accommodation in London. My office at NYU, where my cases are stacked, is only a hop, skip and jump away. The YHA is homely, clean, relatively quiet, safe and central—oh and very reasonably priced. In the dead of winter, it is still packed solid. Fifty percent of my roomies are women my age or over! I feel right at home. It is the perfect solution for the solo traveler. I contemplate the sagacity of my decision to stay here as I await my bus in the dead quiet of a Saturday morning while it is still semi-dark. There are a couple of other people waiting with me—I feel the sense of safety in numbers. In five minutes, a 453 trundles along and on the top deck, front and center, as is my wont, I am transported along the still gorgeously illuminated shopping strips of Regent and Oxford Streets, to be put down at Piccadilly Circus.
Walking along this iconic road, I am struck by the fact that I have it all to myself. I pass many familiar landmarks—Waterstones, the bookstore. Fortnum and Mason, purveyors of fine foods. Across the Road, Burlington House, home of the Royal Academy of Art. Fancy shops selling fancier goods—Maria Novella perfumes from Florence, fine cashmere from Scotland, Maille mustards in posh packaging. I get to the Wolseley Hotel, which every guidebook has extolled as the best value in the city for a full English breakfast or Afternoon Tea. The latter I have tried already—a few years ago with my friend Shahnaz and her daughter Azra. It is time to find out what the fuss is about re. Brekkie. But first, I peruse the menu pinned to glass cases outside. It is value for money at 18 pounds for the works: eggs any which way, bacon, sausage, black pudding, tomatoes, mushrooms, baked beans. But just to be sure I am making the right choice, I pop into the Ritz next door. I would like to find out what they offer for brekkie and at what price. I walk through the ritzy pink and green lobby, past Reception and the utterly grand Palm Court (where Llew and I once were treated to Afternoon Tea by a family friend) and get to the back Dining Hall where I am handed a menu. Price for the Full English is an eye-popping 39 pounds. No contest. I will return to the Wolseley and pig out.
I am seated courteously by a lovely hostess. I do not have a reservation, but I am early enough in the day to snag a table for two which I might keep for an hour and a half. It is enough for me (as I have a full day ahead and much to accomplish). The waitress wants to know if I would like a newspaper. Yes please, I say. Which one? she asks. How about The Times? I respond. A copy is promptly placed before me and, had I already eaten, I’d have had instant indigestion. There is a full frontal photograph of La Famille Trummmmmphhh! I sit down, place my order and take in the full printed show. As a mark of protest (on a day when millions of women would be marching in protest against the new President’s declared policies), I decide not to read a word about his inauguration (just as I had refused to watch any of it on TV, the previous day, as I wished to hit him where it hurts—in the ratings!). I move towards the Op Ed columns and read what British journos have to say about the tamasha!
Soon enough, my brekkie arrives and I give myself wholly to the delights of the English table. My only disappointment is to find streaky (American-style) bacon on my plate where I adore the English back bacon which is made from Pork Tenderloin. Still, I have no choice—so gobble it all up, I do, with gusto. I have a decaff cappuccino to sip in-between mouthfuls and I am a happy camper, for I have fueled myself up well for a day in which I will probably eat very little else. The black pudding, by the way, is creamy and delicious. I was asked if I’d like toast and I had said yes—I got a slice of brown and a slice of white (I did not realize that I had to pay more for it—I thought it was part of my brekkie platter). No matter. I decided to pack it up and take it home for a very late lunch or early supper. In the Wolseley Hotel, I am surrounded by beautiful people. When a very ostentatiously dressed woman sits beside me, peroxided to the nines, wearing dangling sparkly jewelry at 8.00 am, I wonder if she is a cross-dresser. All eyes turn to her as she makes her dramatic entry and waiters pause in homage to kiss her on both cheeks and call her ‘Darling’. I am enthralled. It turns out she is not Ru Paul—just another ‘regular’ apparently at the hotel.
Off to Trafalgar Square for Theater Ticket:
It is about 9.40 when I pay my bill and leave. Piccadilly is slowly coming to life but F&M is still closed (so I have no opportunity to find out if there are any leftovers from their post-Xmas sale). I walk towards Haymarket and find my way to Trafalgar Square. London is so different when it is stripped off humanity. Only the architecture grabs your eye at this time of day—undisguised, as it were. Landseer’s Lions at the Nelson Column are slowly roaring to life as traffic joins them in a slow crescendo. I get to the Trafalgar Studios at 9.55 and chat with a couple of Americans from Minnesota who have come to see their compatriots (Ed Harris and Amy Madigan in Pulitzer-Prize winning Sam Shephard’s masterpiece). I have heard a lot of good things about this play (Buried Child) and decide to see if I can get a single ticket for the evening show. Five minutes later, I am the proud possessor of one such gem (for 35 pounds). I have a brilliant seat, three rows from the front. No doubt I shall see some spit fly!
I walk along Whitehall, past the Horse Guards, who have emerged to begin their duty for the day—those must be the most photographed horses in the world. My bus comes along and I take it to Tottenham Court Road and at exactly 10.45, I enter NYU and get straight to work.
Packing—Again–and Weighing Suitcases—Again! (And Hopefully for the Last Time!):
The premises are closed today except for workmen and decorators who are busy in the lobby. Dave, the Porter, who was expecting me, lets me in. I drag my cases from the Porter’s Room to the Ground Floor Student Lounge, pull out my weighing scale, and begin the process of getting everything out (the better to decide what to discard and what to take back home). I have given myself two hours to accomplish this daunting task. I throw away a pair of black patent leather shoes that have seen better days and that were replaced by a new pair I’d bought just before Christmas from Next on Oxford Street. I put aside items I can give away as gifts. I wade through masses of sheets of paper and discard about 60% of them. I give away two books. I have simply no weight allowance for them. After I rearrange my stuff, I weigh each case carefully. I can put a pound more in one of them and five pounds more in the other before I reach full permitted capacity. There will be room for some food goodies—favorite biscuits, cakes, and my stock of underwear for the year from M&S. I will have to forego bottles of marmalade and chocolates for American Airlines is stringent and I have no desire to pay excess baggage charges. Oh well! At least I had enjoyed them fully while I lived in the country.
Time to Go Shopping:
I find out that Dave will remain at his post till 4.00 pm. This leaves me about 3 hours to get to Oxford Street to the M&S to tackle my To-Buy List. I take the Tube from Tottenham Court Road to Marble Arch, walk to the department store, pluck the items off the shelve in the Food Hall (there is an offer on the bikkies—oh joy!—wish I could take 6 packets). In the Ladies Lingerie section, I find exactly what I need quite easily. Armed with my buys, I march to the cashier. Outside, on the street, I made a quick dash into Selfridges for samples of Byredo Pulp perfume—but they have run out. They direct me instead to Liberty’s which is a 15 minute walk away. I have the time—but only just! I hussle past determined shoppers, get to Oxford Circus and take the back street towards Carnaby Street and enter the lovely Tudor structure that is Liberty’s of London. It is, thankfully, not a wild good chase. I am smilingly handed my samples. I want to see if I will like the fragrance enough after a few weeks before I splurge on a whole bottle myself. Silk scarves and classic perfume—they are my long-enduring weaknesses!
There is little time to linger. I have no intention of lugging my purchases with me to Oxford and Essex—I simply must pack them in my suitcases and then lock them safely away until I am ready to leave London this coming Friday for home. Off to the Tube station I race for one stop and a brisk walk back to campus. I have a few minutes of uncertainty as Dave does not immediately respond when I buzz—he is somewhere in the building locking up for the weekend. I call Reception but I get the machine. I am about to leave, having waited for a full ten minutes with growing dejection, when he appears and opens the door to me!!! I stash my buys, rearrange and lock my cases up and say goodbye to him. I will be back or the last time in a few days to retrieve them and leave.
Off for a Nap:
The good thing about staying so close to campus is that I can nip back into bed for a nap. It is 4.00 pm which is 9.30 pm in Bombay and jetlag is making me sluggish. If I am to stay awake through the play, I need a nap. I walk back to my empty room, get into bed, place my alarm for 6. 15 pm and try to get a few zzzzs. But, annoyingly, sleep eludes me completely. After an hour, just before the alarms goes off, I get out of bed and make myself a sandwich with the Wolseley’s toast and some Waitrose onion jam that I love. Fifteen minutes later, I am on the bus and off to Trafalgar Studios where I reach in about 20 minutes, well in time for the play.
Buried Child at the West End:
Ed Harris, one of America’s iconic actors, is sitting on stage smoking when I take my seat. He coughs occasionally as he gets into characters long before the curtain rises. For the next three hours, we learn about the misgivings of a dysfunctional family in middle America—the kind they say voted for Trump! It is a dark comedy with a seriously stark denouement that leave the audience staggering. Excellent performances, a brilliant script, perfect timing make it memorable. It is a brilliant night at the theater. It is worth every penny of my money.
Back home on the Bus:
It is about 10. 30pm when I stand at the bus stop at Trafalgar Square which is still buzzing with Saturday night revelers. In five minutes, I am in my bus and ten minutes later, I am walking through the streets to get to my dorm. I am sleepy and can barely keep my eyes open. It is with difficulty that I stay awake as I brush my teeth and then get straight into bed.
It has been a marvelous return to my favorite city—a homecoming in every sense of the term. I am happy that I am making the most of every second and still ticking items off that disappearing Bucket List.
Until tomorrow, cheerio…