Tag Archive | West End Theater

Last Day of Colloquium, Albee at the West End and Long Walk in Whitehall and Westminster

Friday, June 23, 2017

Meeting my Former Concierge Arben:

I did not wish to leave our accommodation in Holborn without saying hello to Arben, the concierge at the former building in Holborn that I had occupied, a few years ago. And so, on my way to the colloquium, I set out just a little early in order to walk to 7 High Holborn. I was delighted to meet him and spend about ten minutes chatting with him and finding out about his family’s successes. Then walking quickly towards Bloomsbury, I arrived at our campus at NYU.

Last Day of Colloquium

            The last day of our Colloquium at NYU dawned in what seemed like a heartbeat. The final panel was as absorbing as the others had been—plus we had a fine summing-up of the day’s many lessons and the things we would take back to our teaching practice. By the time it ended, my head was simply swimming with ideas that I would like to experiment with and include in my own pedagogy. Plus, I had made friends with some really fascinating colleagues whose research interests were a real eye-opener. All of us felt that it had been a very successful conference indeed and we were far richer for having attended it.

Lunch at Pisq in Fitzrovia:

Although many of our colleagues had already started making their steps home-ward, quite a large contingent of us were present for the farewell luncheon that was held at a Peruvian restaurant called Pisq. Now I had never eaten Peruvian food before and did not know what to expect. But being a foodie and always ready for a new gastronomic experience, I looked forward to the meal.

We were offered a few choices from a set three-course meal that was very impressive indeed. I started with the Sea Bass Seviche which was my first time trying seviche. I found it absolutely delicious—soaked in lime juice that had ‘cooked’ the fish to a tender consistency, it was terrific. My ‘main’ was actually two choices—as my colleague Afrodesia and I decided to split two of them: I opted for the Steak Tips and she had the Pork Belly—hers turned out to be better than mine, but they were both palatable (if not outstanding). For dessert, I opted for the Chocolate Mousse served with Matcha ice-cream (the mousse was glorious, the ice-cream was the blandest, most tasteless kind I have had—it was not even sweet enough for my palate). Still, as meals go, it was a treat to share it with my colleagues who were all filled with the sense of recent accomplishment at having made presentations that were so well-received.

Off to the Royal Theater Haymarket:

I did not waste much time after lunch, but walked with Brendan to my office at NYU to meet Quentin from the IT Helpdesk who was helping me send a grant application online. As soon as I managed to get the task done, I left our Bloomsbury campus and took the bus to Piccadilly where I was scheduled to meet Shahnaz who had spent the entire day at the National Gallery taking Highlights Tours, attending shorter gallery lectures and even learning to sketch. Best of all, she had managed once again to get us day tickets to see The Goat or Who is Sylvia by Edward Albee at the Theater Royal Haymarket which she had reached at 10.00 am.

A Drink Before Dinner:

I was much too stuffed with our three-course lunch to even contemplate dinner but Shahnaz was starving (not having taken a break for lunch during her day at the British Museum) and when I spied a “Two Drinks for the Price of One” deal at the Kitchen Market, a restaurant at Haymarket, I suggested we go there for sundowners before the show. How annoying it was to find out that we could not have one drink each for the price of one—we had to each have two drinks and pay for just one!!! The cocktails we chose are far from memorable but Shahnaz did tuck into a Chicken Cesar Salad (which I also nibbled) before we rushed off to see the play.

Damien Lewis, Sophie Okenedo and Jason Hughes in The Goat or Who is Sylvia?

All I knew about this play is that Albee wrote it and Damien (Brody of Homeland fame) Lewis was in it. That was enough for me to feel determined to see it. And at five pounds (yes, five pounds because apparently our seats offered ‘restricted’ views), we were in the theater and seeing what I think is probably the best drama I have ever seen! Seriously! The play itself is perfection in terms of construction, writing and wit. As might be guessed, it is about a middle-aged architect with a very successful marriage and a teenaged son who falls in love with a goat! The consequences of his infatuation threaten to tear his marriage and life apart until the awful and quite unexpected denouement.

The performances were simply unbelievable. Lewis, of course, stole the show…but he was ably matched by his co-star Okenedo (who, I believe I have seen in Selma). Jason Hughes whose performances as Sergeant Ben in Midsomer Murders was also excellent (although he has put on heaps of weight and I had difficultly even placing him). The young chap who played Lewis’ son was amazing for his age and shows all the makings of a future star. Truly, we could not believe that we were enjoying such stupendous theater for the cost of a cup of coffee in Starbucks! It more than made up for our previous night’s disappointment over Annie.

A Walk Along Whitehall and Westminster:

Flushed with the joy of seeing a really superb piece of work, and finding that it was still very bright when we emerged from the theater, Shahnaz and I decided to take a very long walk—we arrived at Trafalgar Square (its fountains and Edward Landseer’s lions beautifully illuminated), turned down Whitehall and stopped to take pictures at the Cenotaph. Across the street, we admired the lovely military and memorial sculptures along Whitehall before we arrived at Charles Barry’s beautiful buildings that comprise London’s Houses of Parliament where we took many pictures with Big Ben in the background. Not content with reaching the banks of the Thames, we walked along the Embankment past Westminster Pier and took more pictures with the London Eye and the Royal Festival Hall in the background. Past Charing Cross we strolled until we arrived at the Theater District. We entered Covent Garden which wore a strangely deserted look and jumped into the Tube for one station as Shahnaz was so pooped, she could barely take another step. She is learning rapidly exactly what it means to take a trip with me! No doubt, when she gets home, she will need a vacation from her vacation.

It was about midnight when we arrived in our room at the hotel—thrilled with the last night of the first lap of our travels. We would be leaving early the next morning for Devon—so we showered super quickly, got our things all packed up and ready, set our alarm for 5.30 am to leave our hotel at 6.00 am to catch the 7.30 am coach to Devon.

Until tomorrow, cheerio.

Surviving Record-Breaking Heat Wave in AC-ed Comfort at Colloquium and Sensational Audra McDonald in the West End

Tuesday, June 21, 2017


After spending a virtually sleepless night (I stayed awake till 3.30am and then took a pill to lull me to sleep), I awoke at 7.30 am.  Having reviewed my presentation last night, I felt thoroughly wired for more than half the night and wondered how I could possibly make my presentation with no sleep.

Light Brekkie and Departure for Colloquium:

Shahnaz suggested I eat some yogurt before leaving and I crumbled up a granola bar into it, downed a cup of decaff coffee, dressed and left by 8. 15 am.  I needed to do some urgent work at a PC in the Faculty Lounge at NYU-London before the Colloquium began at 10.00 am. It took me less than ten minutes to walk from our hotel to campus. I got a lovely warm welcome from the porters (Dave and Mark) before I ran into Ruth who also gave me a hug. Her husband Joe was with her and it was great to see him again too.

Then I was down in the basement where the Faculty Lounge is located and where I found a PC. I managed to get my work done quickly enough (although it took me forever to figure out where the @ key is on a British keyboard—I had forgotten how to find it!).

By 9. 45, I was upstairs in the room where coffee and cookies were laid out. As conference participants came trickling in, we greeted each other and continued getting acquainted. By 10.30 am, Welcome Remarks were made by our Dean and the panelists began making their presentations. From the get-go, each presentation was very absorbing indeed and I found myself fully engrossed in them.

We stopped for Lunch at 12. 30 (the platters of tiny finger sandwiches which is what lunches are all about in the UK at Faculty meeting have not changed), did some more socializing and discussing of the presentations we had heard and then returned for the afternoon session—which was when my panel was scheduled. My colleagues Kevin and Peter presented before I did—and then it was my turn and I was off and away. The focus of the colloquium was Politics and the Classroom—and indeed we have so much to talk about and think about in terms of this topic that there was no dearth of items to dissect. I have to say that I enjoyed presenting information on the tools and techniques I have used to balance discourse in the contentious classroom and going by the questions and feedback that followed, the entire panel was very well received. I was pleased to find out that a lot of my colleagues use role-playing as a technique in different ways and that it seems to work for all of them.

The final sessions of the afternoon followed after a break for tea and cake. Again, everything was deeply stimulating and participants got into the spirit of the colloquium with great enthusiasm.

Hottest Day in 34 Years in London:

As it turned out, today was the hottest day in 34 years and the United Kingdom was sweltering. People were wearing practically nothing and for the first time in my professional life, I made a presentation in a T-shirt and sandals as I had brought the wrong wardrobe altogether for this befuddling heat wave. One of my colleagues was telling me that this is the most informal outfit in which he has ever seen me. But almost everyone was dressed in like manner (so I was in good company).

Outside, on the street at Bedford Square, when I got out of our building at 4. 30 pm, it felt like walking into a sauna after spending the entire day in blessed air-conditioning. I walked towards my hotel at Holborn, stepped briefly into Sainsbury to buy a new Lebara SIM card and top up my phone, called my Dad in Bombay and then got to my room for a cup of tea and a biscuit and a good helping of Tiramisu which is one of my favorite things to buy from Sainsbury. I ate a huge helping of it and got rid of my craving in one go.

Off to Leicester Square:

Not too long after, I left the hotel, walked to Holborn Tube station that was mobbed as commuters tried to get into the tunnel during peak hour rush. The trains were so packed and so hot that it was like walking into an airing cupboard. In ten minutes, I was at the Wyndhams Theater at Leicester Square where Shahnaz was waiting for me. She had managed to get into the queue at 10.00 am to get us tickets to see Audra McDonald play Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill which transferred from Broadway to the West End only a few days ago. For 20 pounds, you could not go wrong and it was thrilling to be able to see this sold-out show in this city.

Both of us were too full to go out in search of a bite—so we decided to postpone it until after the show. And because it was so hot, we very gratefully escaped into the theater to cool off.

Watching the Inimitable Audra McDonald at the West End:

Shahnaz not only managed to get us day tickets, but they were actually on the stage itself as the set was a reproduction of Emerson’s Bar and Grill in Philadelphia where Billy Holiday made her lasing reputation. I had no idea what to expect—but for the fact that one of America’s greatest live performers was the star of the show, Audra McDonald, I knew nothing about it. So I was delighted to discover that she would be playing the One and Only Billie Holiday. And was she phenomenal! The life of ‘Lady Day’ that she spelled out through her blues performance was so sad, so moving. McDonald was simply splendid in the role. That she is a sensational singer, I had taken for granted. But that she could act as well as she did simply took me by surprise.  I had no clue that for most of her shows, Lady Day was drunk as a skunk. And yet she charmed her audience night after night by the sheer power of her talent. And McDonald got it just right. There was not a false note—and I do not mean literally. I mean her emoting was just spot on—neither overplayed nor underplayed. It was just perfect. Her accompanists were a pianist, a drummer and a double bassist and between the three of them, they were a fantastic counterpoint to her monologue. What a great night at the theater!

Dinner at Busabu Ethai:

We walked past Leicester Square for dinner at Busabu Ethai—a chain I have been meaning to check out for a long while. So I was quite pleased that Shahnaz suggested it. We decided to split a bottle of Thai Change beer—with the weather being what it is, we could drown in chilled beer—and an order of Classic Pad Thai. This was probably the worst Pad Thai we had ever eaten. It was insipid and served cold—such a terrible disappointment! However, the beer was refreshing and as we went over our day, we decided that despite the let-down we suffered at dinner, each of us had a very satisfying day indeed. (Shahnaz spent most of her’s at the Victoria and Albert Museum where she studied Kalighat paintings in the South Asian section).

Until tomorrow, when the heat will, hopefully, wave goodbye, cheerio…

‘Funnest’ Last Day of Vacation for Chriselle: Abbey Road Crossing, London Eye, Afternoon Tea and Seeing Kenneth Branagh at the West End.

Thursday, October 6, 2016


It was Chriselle’s last day of vacation and she was delighted to have the opportunity to spend it in London. She decided to do all the things she had never done before—or mostly. After a rather leisurely start to the day, we had brekkie (croissants and peanut butter with salmon and dill cream cheese and decaff coffee). It was her idea that we should discover my new neighborhood of Ealing Broadway together and I thought it would be great to have her company as I scoured it.

By 11.30 am after showers, we left the house and made our way past Morrison’s (my new local supermarket) to Broadway—which is basically the High Street. How thrilling to see a huge Marks and Spencer on the next block! We walked to the local branch of HSBC to get some money out of the ATM machine and then found a thrift shop from which Chriselle wished to purchase a paperback for her return flight home tomorrow. By 12.00 noon, we were at the Tube station and I was buying my monthly Travelcard. Much to my delight, I was served by an Anglo-Indian railway employee named Clayton who was delighted when I asked if he was an Anglo-Indian. He said that from my name he was about to ask if I was a Goan from Bombay! How cool was that! We had a lovely chat and then I was off with my new monthly Tube and bus pass.

Off to the Beatles’ Crossing at Abbey Road:

We took the Central Line to Bond Street from where we switched to the Jubilee Line as our destination was St. John’s Wood as Chriselle was keen to get her Abbey Road Beatles Crossing picture. Once at the subway, we walked down Grove End Road (I knew the area well as I had lived there on two occasions during previous stays in London at the home of my friend Raquel on Abbey Road). Chriselle had such a blast as she strode across the street in imitation of the Fab Four. There were a lot of other tourists around with the same idea but because the day was windy and it was uncomfortable to stride in the cold, most people got their snaps snappily. I took her picture while she strode across and then we had a passer-by get the two of us. It was a really fun way to start our day.

After I took a picture outside Neville Court, the building where I had stayed and that overlooked the crossing, we left. We took the Tube next to Westminster for the next item on our agenda.

Off to Ride the London Eye:

At Westminster, Chriselle was enchanted to catch her first glimpse of Big Ben as we emerged from the Tube. As we were both peckish, we picked up samosas (veg and lamb ones) from a local Indian shop and munching those, we made our way across the bridge to arrive at the booking office for the London Eye. It was great fun to be part of the tourist energy in the city and to get into queues for tickets when the place was not quite as mobbed as it had been during the summer. In about ten minutes, we got our tickets (25 pounds each) and were directed towards a theater to watch a short 4 minute 4D film on London which was a fantastic experience for both of us.

Less than a half hour later, we were in a pod in the London Eye and we thoroughly enjoyed our experience. The light was perfect—it was a very bright day with blue skies and fluffy clouds and a sun that popped in and out of them offering picture opportunities in varying light modes. Of course, we took a ton of pictures together of the city from varied angles. After waiting for years to ride the London Eye, I can say that it was certainly worth the cost and the wait. An hour later, we were back on terra firma again and striding off to our next location.

Afternoon Tea at the Welcomm Collection:

Both Chriselle and I love tea and we both love the very British concept of Afternoon Tea. Having been to the Welcomm Collection which is a museum in Euston, about a month ago, I had discovered their Tea Room called The Welcomm Kitchen on the second floor. Afternoon Tea there is quite definitely the most reasonably priced in the entire city and I had resolved to take Chriselle there when she visited London.

Accordingly, we arrived there just before 3.00pm and ordered the Afternoon Tea for Two people which included the works: scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, a selection of finger sandwiches (ham and cheese, smoked salmon, cucumber and cream cheese and egg salad) and a lovely array of tiny pastries). Chriselle chose the ginger and lemon tea while I had the elderflower and lemon tea and they were both superb. Sipping tea in a lovely quiet atmosphere was the perfect way to chat about our recent travels and our plans going forward. It was grand to have this down time—quality time that we do not often get to spend together. About two hours later, we were leaving the museum and getting into a bus opposite University College, London.

Examining the Auto-Icon of Jeremy Bentham at UCL:

Since our bus stop was just outside UCL, I took Chriselle inside the main campus of University College, London, to show her one of the most curious sights in the city—the auto-icon of economist Jeremy Bentham. As most folks know, he was the 1ate 18th-early 19th century economist who propounded the theory of Utilitarianism that advocated ‘The greatest happiness of the greatest number’. Well-connected with UCL, he was one of the Trustees and greatest patrons of the college. In his will, he stipulated that his body should be embalmed and preserved in the premises of the college. Hence, his body is seated on a chair clothed in a casual outfit and gazing at generations of students that have gone through the portals. At one time, students had vandalized the case, taken off his head and played football with it. The head is now stored in a safe and a wax head had been placed on his body in the side corridor.

Chriselle was absolutely dumbstruck by what she saw and upon hearing the story, she wanted to leave right away. She found the entire story “way too creepy”—just as I had done the first time I had seen it.  Hence, we did not spend too much time there, but hopped into the first 29 bus that trundled along to take us to Trafalgar Square.

Off to see Museum Highlights:     

We still had time to kill before the final item on our agenda—the Big Surprise I had in store! Since we were at Trafalgar Square, it was a no-brainer to jump into the National Portrait Gallery so that Chriselle could see some of the newer portraits—she was keen to see Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. Sadly, there was a special Picasso exhibition on and so the portraits had been squirreled away. However, she did see the new one of the Duchess of Cambridge by Paul Emsley—which, like so many folks, she thought was terrible for it made her look so aged and so grey. We also looked at a few other portraits before moving on next door.

In the National Gallery, I showed Chriselle some of my special canvasses—the entire room devoted to Carlo Crivelli, for example, in the Sainsbury section; my very favorite painting in the museum (Courtyard of a House in Delft by Pieter de Hooch); Van Dyck’s equestrian portrait of Charles I; the Wilton Diptych; The Ambassadors by Hans Holbein.  By this stage, we were both tired and decided to go somewhere to rest.

Hot Chocolate at Amorina:

Chriselle had never tasted hot chocolate from Amorina—one of my favorite things to do in Manhattan is to get hot chocolate from there. She got a Caramel one and I got an Aztec-studded with cinnamon and chilli. Since it was a cold night, we were both grateful for the pick-me-up and about an hour later, we made our way towards the big surprise

Seeing Kenneth Branagh in The Entertainer at the West End:

By this time, since we were hovering around the West End, Chriselle guessed that the surprise had something to do with a play—however, she did not know which one. When we walked just a few steps ahead and entered the Garrick Theater at a little past 7.00 pm, to see Kenneth Branagh take the lead role in John Osborne’s The Entertainer, her joy knew no bounds as Osborne is one of her favorite playwrights and Branagh is one of her favorite actors. Suffice it so say that we spent an absolutely fabulous evening in the theater especially after I discovered that two other well-known actors were also in the play: Greta Sachhi who has been a permanent fixture in several films by Merchant-Ivory and Sophie McSheara who played Daisy in Downton Abbey. They took the two female leads in the play and they did a fine job—although McSheara’s voice is much too thin for such a powerful role. Overall, we had such a great time together.

On the Tube Back Home to Ealing:

I was keen to see how long it would take me to get home to Ealing from the West End and how crowded the train would be by the time we came to the last stop as I would likely be going to the theater on my own and was afraid of being the only one on the train at that late hour. As it turned out, I need not have worried. The trains were packed and at least 1/3 full by the time we reached Ealing Broadway. In fact, the area outside the Tube station was buzzing although it was almost 11.00 pm and my spirits soared. Since my flat is just across the Tube station, I need not worry at all about getting home after dark as I had done when I lived at Bethnal Green. It is great that I had Chriselle to accompany me during this experiment and that I had her company while I broke into my new digs.

By the time we fell asleep for our second night in my new home, I was convinced that I had made the right decision in moving. I was certain I would adore my new home and neighborhood and to get to know it really well as the weeks passed by.

Until tomorrow, cheerio…


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…

Lambeth Palace, Wolsley Tea, Savoy Drinks, Love Never Dies

Friday, August 26, 2011

If I could combine every wonderful ingredient to create a perfect day in London, it would turn out like the one I had today. Despite the day-long drizzle, I refused to allow my enthusiasm to be dampened and onwards I pushed towards one of my favorite kinds of London days. Awaking at 6 am on an adrenaline high to the tolling bells of St. Paul’s Cathedral in my Christopher Wren bedroom complete with twelve foot high ceiling and a marble fireplace, I arose to embrace a weepy morning. Ever the thoughtful hostess, Cynthia woke with me and over a shared Weetabix breakfast, she chattered with me after I’d showered and changed. Then, I was off within the hour on a bus to Waterloo Bridge to tick off the first item on my agenda.

Breakfasting with a Friend:
At the appointed hour, I met Murali, a friend, who had chanced upon my blog while I had lived in London two years ago and had become a faithful Follower. A mathematician by training and a financial whiz by profession, Murali and I settled down at Paul Patisserie over an almond croissant and a hot chocolate (two of my favorite London treats) and caught up on our common passions: poetry, travel, the art world, writing. Crumbly marzipan and liquid cocoa fuelled our peregrinations as the hour flew, we took photographs and said Au Revoir.

In Archbishops’ Territory:
Up on the grand concourse of Waterloo Station, I reconnected with Shahnaz and Azra and off we went to our next appointment at Lambeth Palace on a bus along the south bank of the Thames. Lambeth Palace, one of London’s most closely-guarded secrets, is not open to the public and visits are made strictly by appointment. There is currently a year-long wait list to get inside. Thanks to high connections in the Anglican Church, I was able to snag us a seat (or three) for an insider’s private tour of the premises at merely a few weeks’ notice. Past the Tudor Morton Gate, we were met and greeted by Gill, an administrative assistant, who also served as tour guide.

Not really equipped to handle my questions, Gil declared apologetic ignorance. Who built this place? When? Is that a Van Dyck? What building lies across the Thames in that 18th century painting? She tried really hard and what we did gather was this–Lambeth Palace is and has served as the London residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury (currently The Most Reverend Rowan Williams) since the 12th century. Its initial Tudor architecture was added to over the centuries to incorporate a few modern bits. It vast grounds and gardens are beautifully maintained. They include 500 year fig trees that continue to remain fruitful.

Inside, Gill showed us the pink Drawing Room (where my friend Cynthia attends monthly Bishops’ wives’ meetings), the formal Dining Room in which the Archbishop dines with the Queen, the grand Reception Room, the crypt and the Archbishop’s private chapel where the choir stalls contain enamel plaques to represent varied parts of the globalized Anglican world including a Bengal tiger for India. Having suffered massive damage during World War II, the roof was completely rebuilt and painted with garish contemporary figures which clash awfully (in my humble opinion) with the reverential ambience of the space.The spacious rooms and massive stone corridors are filled with historic artifacts, displays of gifts collected by the Archbishop on his international visits, loads of oil portraits of the most significant prelates and sculpted busts of the most eminent of them. Overall, the space–a working series of offices and several private residences–was hushed and reverent and we almost felt like intruders as we strode the wide corridors of ecclesiastical power.

Inside Lambeth Library:
The piece de resistance of our visit was the Library with its splendid hammered timber oak ceiling. Here we were met by librarian Mary who proved to be an excellent tour guide and answered all my questions: Where is the King James Bible stored? (In one of two strong rooms on the premises). Can one handle the leather-bound volumes in this library? (No, they are much too fragile). Are there archivists on the premises? (Yes). She gave us a ton of material–literature, postcards, posters–to carry off with us and armed with these goodies, we made our delighted way out of the imposing walls of this fortress of religiosity and returned to 21st century London with its red buses plying along the Thames Embankment. All three of us agreed that it was an awesome experience and we were very grateful to my connections with Bishop Michael that made such an extraordinary privilege possible. Outside Lambeth’s Tudor Gatehouse, we parted company having made plans to regroup at 4 pm at Fortnum and Mason.

Serious Retail Therapy:
It was time for shopping and, climbing into a bus, I headed off to Oxford Street where I spent the next couple of hours acquiring a new fall wardrobe for the new academic year. When my Mastercard was declined at Marks and Sparks, I seethed in frustration and resentment (having taken the trouble to inform them that I would be traveling for three whole months). Refusing to let that hiccup shatter my soaring spirits, I consulted the helpful folks in Customer Service and within an hour, I had it sorted.

Laden with bags, I walked out into the drizzle, tried to find Inspector Lewis DVDs in the HMV store, had an another disappointment when I discovered that the store does not carry them, then clambered into another bus to deposit my belongings at home. Barely did I dump my bags down than I was out the door again, heading to my next appointment–at Fortnum’s.

Shopping at F&Ms and Tea for Three at Hotel Wolsley:
However, seriously seduced by retail therapy, we were all running late. Regrouping via mobile phones, we decided to press on towards our next appointment–Afternoon Tea for Three at the Hotel Wolsley. However, I managed to buy an oak tea caddy filled with F&Ms assorted teas and a top hat-shaped tea strainer which, after I grabbed the last one, went right out of stock! Armed with my newest tea accoutrements, I popped in next door to the Wolsley where Shahnaz had already reached.

For the next two hours, we gave ourselves up to the very propah English delights of Afternoon Tea served to us on a private balcony overlooking the grand but very noisy dining hall. On a sugar high, we nibbled at fluffy sultana scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam, a selection of yummy finger sandwiches and an array of pastries: chocolate mousse petit fours, Battenburg squares, coffee eclairs, fresh strawberry tartlets, pistachio and chocolate macaroons–the treats kept popping themselves as if by magic into our mouths in between bracing sips of the Wolsley’s Afternoon Tea House blend with lemon and honey. And just when we thought we could not partake of another morsel, no matter how seductive, I went on to my next appointment.

Drinks at the Savoy:
Rosemary, an English friend whom I know affectionately as Roz, was awaiting me in the lobby of the Adelphi Theater. As we hugged and kissed, a perfect rainbow formed high above the steeples of St. Mary in The Strand. There was nothing for it but to hop across the street to one of the city’s classiest watering holes for a drink–the newly refurbished Savoy Hotel. Having been shrouded under scaffolding for the entire term of my London tenure, I was keen to see what the 600 million pound refurbishment had acomplished. And we were not disappointed. As we swanned through the lobby, we passed the exquisite cuppolla-ed Palm Court and entered the swanky Beaufort Bar where we settled down with drinks–chilled Sauvignon Blanc for Roz, cider for me and a selection of nibbles comprising Marcona almonds, candied cashewnuts and miniature olives–as we caught up on our lives. Time, as you know, flies when you’re having fun. We had soooo much to talk about…but the hour flew. We made plans to meet again at her place in Battersea for dinner when I am in London in January of next year and then we parted company to go our separate ways–she to dinner with friends in Kensington, I to a musical across the street at the Adelphi.

We Saved the Best for Last–Love Never Dies:
Just when I was convinced that my day could not possibly get any better, we were joining the ranks to enter the theater to see the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera called Love Never Dies. For the next couple of hours, we gave ourselves up to the magic of Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber as the composer simply swept us away. There was everything one expects of stupendous West End theatrics–stirring musical virtuosity, incredibly lush sets and costume design, magical performances, superb choreography and a plot line that tugged repeatedly at the heart strings. As someone who has long believed that no musical will outshine the perfection of The Phantom, I have to say that this one comes pretty darn close. No, it does not have the hummable arias of the original, but this was vintage Lloyd Webber and showed convincing evidence of his musical genius. Combined with the lyrics of Glenn Slater, it made for the most scintillating hours in the theater and we were thrilled to pieces that we had managed to get seats–even if they were nose-bleed ones way up in the rafters, just on the eve of the show’s closing. If there were just two elements missing, they were Llew and Chriselle. How I wish I could have shared this amazing experience with them.

On the way back in the bus as we headed home, we giggled helplessly over nothing and kissed goodnight promising to try to make tomorrow surpass the brilliance of what had been a Phenomenal Day.