People are amused when I fly posh to London and then take the long underground ride to the centre with all my (overly cumbersome) luggage. What better way to enter this huge metropolis of 8.7 million, to experience its passing parade, the tide of humanity, than on a packed peak hour tube?
On one side, a young woman is reading Facebook in Polish, on the other a screen of Chinese catches the corner of my eye. These are the multi-cultured tired and the weary travelling from the outskirts on the Piccadilly line on a Thursday evening. (Mid-morning Monday the tube has a different profile from Paddington back to Bloomsbury, more polished, affluent, possible Tory voters.)
Since every shop, hotel, restaurant I visit is staffed by people from outside Great Britain, you have to wonder if the retail and service industries will simply implode if Brexit is carried to its extremes as some wish.
After a quick re-group I visit the somewhat disappointing John Sloane museum on Lincoln’s Inn Green. I find it claustrophobic and the Roman pieces badly curated; the Hogaths and the Canalettos were a pleasure though. After a quick visit to the British Museum’s Exhibition Room, I left – the crowds were stifling.
The 4pm to Bristol on Saturday was spent trying to follow the Oz elections on wifi courtesy of western rail though no result would be known for more than a week. Sunday saw a more than generous lunch catching up with 14 of the extended Bristol family, a pleasure to see the young ones had grown into fine young people since my last visit 5 years ago.
Back to London Monday morning. I lunch at Fortnum and Mason on a sardine pancetta salad. I first visited here wide-eyed in the 70’s and am underwhelmed this time. Perhaps the sophistication of food in Oz or perhaps the economic contingencies of the modern world…but this place has shrunk. The once glorious variety of delicacies seems to have been replaced by pre-packaged food. And the great indicator – the coffee – was not as good as the cup my local serves at home.
Indeed the coffee in London (except in Store Street) was definitely not up to scratch. Next to my hotel in the grounds of St George’s Church Bloomsbury (designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor), I found a passable brew in a small pop-up but wondered that that they have the gall to charge nearly $5 a cup.
Out and about
A visit to the Wallace collection becomes an odyssey as the teachers are demonstrating and the buses down Oxford Street have been stopped, so I walk from Bloomsbury to Marylebone detouring to Bond Street and a schmick gallery. Left me cold.
Then a sentimental visit up river all the better to see the distinctive glass boxes both sides of the river near Tower Bridge.
A special time
One highlight of the trip and one of life’s unexpected small gifts…… I wandered into St Paul’s Cathedral. By chance it was time for Evensong . I was ushered into the choir stalls. The famous St Paul’s choir sang. Their voices soared into Christopher Wren’s ceiling and the purity of sound filled my head. Joy.
My old, dear and now dead friend, Dick Hall urged me to walk walk walk and look up when visiting a new city and I’ve always followed his advice. The street snapshot can give a clue as to the nature and energy of a place.
In London the tube also gives me much stimulation, not just people watching but the huge satisfaction in conquering it. The underground is like a complex 3 dimensional, often overwhelming, strategic game. This day there is a sign saying the temperature is 21 degrees and if you are “suffering from heat let someone know”. They have to be kidding! (Today in winter in Oz it is 24 degrees).
Wimbledon at last
Sunny though at Wimbledon. It’s a tick off the bucket list when I enjoy the famed strawberries and cream and score a seat at the men’s quarter finals.. not the big one between Murray and Tsonga but just as much fun, Berdych beats Pouille in 3. Besides who can resist an event that produces a 29 page booklet titled A Guide to Queueing?
Friends and paintings
Our friend Abi is a gracious London host. We have a few meals, see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night at the Gielgud Theatre and spend my last day in London in a feast/frenzy of art – the National Portrait Gallery for the Annual Portrait Prize, the Courtauld where I saw my favourite Modigliani and the new wing at the Tate Modern where I have no time for the paintings but enjoy lunch in the new restaurant with its terrific London views. Thanks too, to Abi for the detailed tour of St Pancras station.
Last night in London I catch up with my old mate Jo the CEO who is ever soaring to new career heights in this big metropolis. We eat at the Holborn Dining Room and knock off a good bottle of red as well as….
A great city, so much to see and do, such business, some memories.…..
POST SCRIPT – three weeks later
On the way back from the Arctic, I spend a few more nights – this time out near Heathrow. On the Sunday I make my first ever trip to Windsor. The bus to Slough is a League of nations and the train to windsor packed with Chinese tourists. Perhaps it is because it is high summer but the crowds are fearsome and the queue for the Castle daunting so I put it off until late afternoon bring just a trickle of tourists.
The town is clearly “quaint” but still charming
I wander round this cutesy tourist town, past the restaurant/hotel of a famous chef who is smartly cashing in, and find some calm down the hill on the massive playing fields of Eton. I spend some time wandering the outskirts of that famed institution and contemplate the privileged people who have been schooled here, a metaphor for the inequality in the world.
When I finally get into the castle, the one surprise is the art work. Here for example is a Bruegel, there a Canaletto. The ceiling of the reception room is inlaid with gold worth Aus $40,000. The Royal collection has more than 30,000 pieces. I am not a Royalist and I see these riches as being held in trust for the nation.
Time to fly home!