So far so good. We’ve yet to see any duds. More importantly, Julieanne and I are getting much needed rest. We’ve eagerly awaited this trip quite some time; since 2010, a year of disasters and distractions, prevented us from getting away. Last January started off with Julieanne all but totalling her Prius in the snow. My mother passed away in October, after a month or so of hospice care, which had me driving up to Northern Kentucky/Cincy at least once a week. My siblings and I still deal with estate matters and preparing the house for sale. Then Julieanne’s mom died at Thanksgiving; followed by her brother having heart bypass surgery the week after. All quite draining. London, so long delayed, is a welcomed luxury.
Today I chose to walk to The Royal Court to collect our tickets for THE HERETIC which we see next week. Naturally, it rained. But only a drizzle of minor nuisance. Not having done this perambulation in years, I foolishly embarked without a map or consulting one. Once past Buckingham Palace, I ducked into Victoria Station and referred to a tour book in a shop there. My sense of direction confirmed, I continued…slowed by my aching knees and calves. Was this just being out-of-shape or was I starting to get my mother’s arthritis?
As I neared Sloane Square, the peaceful poshness of the neighbourhood took my mind off my pains. One sees why the well-heeled dwell here -- quiet streets with lovely green squares and well-appointed homes – just the opposite of the West End’s surging pulse. Still having been ensconced in the heart of St. James and Westminster since my first visit, I’ve always preferred it. I love being able to walk out your door and have all you need no more than a 15-20 minute stroll away – shops, theatres, movies, green space, groceries, whatever.
It is somewhat ironic that The Royal Court, with its reputation for producing Angry-Young-Man/ Rebel/ Common-man theatre should be located in such a high-tone square with both Tiffany and Cartier among its exclusive shops.
I got our tickets and strolled back to Victoria Street in about 15 minutes. Uninterrupted this is probably a 45 minute walk from our flat, but it’ll be unlikely that we’ll attempt it.
I enjoyed Victoria Street, my old stomping grounds from my Sherlock Holmes days, after they moved me from The Dukes to a great high-rise flat on Buckingham Gate. From it, I could see St. James Park and watch the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace. A favourite memory was listening to the hooves of the police horses clip-clopping along the cobblestones late at night. All my old touchstones were still there…The Army-Navy Department Store, the Sainsbury Grocery, and the Albert pub. My route led me out in the square by Westminster Abbey and Parliament, past the Churchill Statue, and up Whitehall and home.
Because of the weather…and my throbbing legs and feet…I stuck close to our flat until theatre time – GREENLAND and press night. The National was hopping with live music in the foyer, crowded bars, and, roped off in a secluded corner, someone’s first-night private party.
As Julieanne and I headed for a pre-show browse in the bookshop, she heard an abrupt, strangulated “ooo-eerrr-ahhh” behind her. It was me…drooling and grunting in inarticulate awe.
The reason: Sir Richard Eyre, once artistic director of the National, press through the crowd toward us. Movie stars rarely set me agog and gaping. But theatre greatness reduces me to a gushing, dribbling fan. As Sir Richard passed us, I desperately searched for something to say, but my brain became an abyss of blankness. Although I could tell he saw me and realized he had been recognized, the moment (probably much to his relief) was over before I could conjure anything half-intelligent that didn’t sound like a blithering ninny.
Of course, the instant he was gone, I realized what I should have said. “Why do we do it, Paul?”
This phrase was a mantra for me and my pal, Rick St. Peter, when he was Artistic Director for Actors Guild and we both struggled to get the theatre over the hump and make it an Equity status Small Professional Theatre (I won’t rant here about all the forces that undermined that noble but vain endeavour). In Eyre’s book of theatre diaries when head of the National, NATIONAL SERVICE, he relates a story Paul Scofield told him. Scofield was confronted by a man on a train. “You’re Paul Scofield, aren’t you?” “Yes,” Scofield warily confessed. Man: “I’m a bit of an actor myself. Scofield: “Oh…really?” Man: “Yes.” PAUSE. Man: “Why do we do it, Paul?”
I fell out of bed laughing the first time I read this. Whenever Rick and I slammed up against the amateur mindset or just the travails of theatre, one or the other or, both in unison, would sigh: “Why do we do it, Paul?”
While Julieanne meandered through the bookstore, I went back to search for Sir Richard to drop my bon mot on him to see if it would have the desired effect. Alas, he had disappeared into the ethers.
A few moments later, however, I encountered the Guardian critic, Michael Billington…at least this gent resembled Billington’s photo that always appears along side his reviews.
Before GREENLAND started, they had pre-show “talkeoke” in the foyer. This consisted of an irritating fellow on a blaring microphone, trying to stir up audience participation about climate change -- the topic of GREENLAND. I was inclined to mutter something about noise pollution. And was it a tad ironic that the audience, going into a play about climate change, clutched plastic water bottles and drink cups in their paws?
GREENLAND, like all National shows, is expertly mounted and produced. For what it was, it was entertaining without being too didactic or preachy, but I don’t know if this piece written by four playwrights ever coalesced into cohesive whole. It was done without an intermission and mercifully short, which helped. The animatronic polar bear was the highlight of the evening.
I was struck by the difference in audibility and pronunciation between the generations of actors. The older, more experienced actors I never had trouble hearing or understanding. Not so, the younger ones. Lack of projection and articulation I’ve come to expect in the training of young actors in the States; I’m surprised to encounter it here. I thought speaking the speech, “trippingly on the tongue” was still emphasized.
The show ended with a blizzard of paper falling from the stage grid and being blown into the audience by huge fans. Julieanne picked up some of the scraps…pages of old scripts. Rejected ones, I assume. I’d sure hate to be the cleaning crew who has tidy up the auditorium every day. They must recycle it every night….one certainly hope so.
So GREENLAND was enjoyable, but I doubt it will be storming into the West End. I’ll be curious to see the reviews. Back in the lobby, “talkeoke” was gearing up again. The poor interviewer seemed to be having a hard time flogging up any enthusiasm or potential participants from the emerging audience. We certainly weren’t going to play and took off for home.
That night I called St. Peter to regale him with my Richard Eyre close encounter. Rick, now getting his doctorate in theatre at Texas Tech, quizzed me on the Hall shows and relayed all the accolades he was getting for his direction of THE WEIR and, in general, from his professors and colleagues . Good. He deserves it. He was treated shabbily during his term with Actors Guild and, with him, probably left the last hope for professional adult theatre in Lexington in my lifetime (we have a very good professional children’s theatre).
WEDNESDAY – FEBRUARY 2nd – DAY EIGHT
Speaking of Eyre, today we went to a matinee of the FLEA IN HER EAR he directed for The Old Vic. We lazed about the house until time to amble over to the South Bank. Arriving early at the Old Vic, we walked the half-block down The Cut to the Young Vic on the chance there might available tickets for VERNON GOD LITTLE. Lo and behold, there were…they were separate seats…one a few rows in front of the other for tonight’s performance. We took ‘em. Again, since the show is in previews, the price was great.
We had our usual front row center Dress Circle seats for FLEA IN HER EAR. The translation was the John Mortimer version that had been used in the early days of the National and was the same one that Julieanne and I did a zillion years ago at the University of Kentucky when she played my wife Raymonde and I did the dual role of Chandebise/Poche. We thought we were pretty hot stuff at the time and memory has only magnified our magnificence.
Ah, the folly of youth…This production put us to shame. What an absolute delight! Tom Hollander headed an exquisite ensemble. Having done so much farce in dinner theatre, I’m an absolute sucker for it, admiring the great skill and timing it takes to make it flow and keep the laughs peppering along and building. The cast was just brilliant.
After the performance, we dashed over the Thames for a quick nap (we’re old…we need our naps) before venturing back to The Young Vic for VERNON GOD LITTLE. Our seats, though separate, were both excellent. I’ve been here twice before (Moliere’s MISANTHROPE with Ken Stott and TIS PITY’S SHE’S A WHORE with Jude Law and Eve Best.) Its stage configuration is delightful different every time I come.
The play, based on a novel, was bizarre and funny. Julieanne and I both were thinking, unbeknownst to each other, how the piece was right up the alley of our young friend, Eric Seale, the current Artistic Director of Actors Guild. He would love this play. I was privileged to see Eve Best make her impressive debut here, and tonight the young man playing Vernon, Joseph Drake, made an equally impressive professional debut.
We were very happy with our day’s double-header. This is shaping up to be a very good theatre trip. Not counting Sunday, the only day we don’t have anything booked is the upcoming Saturday.
THURSDAY- FEBRUARY 3rd – DAY NINE
I woke early, in the midst of the screwiest dream. I was performing LEAR, directed by Rick St. Peter, and with some stalwart actors I have met in my last few years since I returned to occasional acting…Adam Luckey, Jack Parrish (Jack and I played Polonius and Claudius respectively to Adam’s Hamlet in Rick’s production) and Scott Wichman (who played Tartuffe to my Orgon in my own adaptation/translation of TARTUFFE, which Rick also directed). Scotty was playing the Fool, Adam was Edmund, and Jack either Kent or Gloucester. All damned good casting…with the possible exception of me as Lear, a role in which I’ve never seen myself. It was one of those dreams where I did not know my lines but, unlike the anxiety that usually accompanies such a predicament, I seemed blithely unconcerned.
|HAMLET with Adam Luckey and me, directed by Rick St. Peter. This photo appeared in American Theatre.|
The day was clear until CLYBOURNE PARK tonight at Wyndhams, a ten minute walk from the flat. I went a-booking, back up to Skoob above Russell Square. I picked up IRONHAND, another John Arden, a translation of a Goethe play, GOTZ VON BERLICHINGEN, about a medieval robber-knight that appealed to my theatrical archeological taste for the obscure, forgotten, and rarely done. I also found a pristine first in dust jacket of MUST YOU GO?, Antonia Fraser’s memoir of her life with Harold Pinter. I had actually intended to buy this new for 20pds. Got it for half that.
From Skoob, I ventured over to Sam French on Fitzroy, found nothing. I also came up empty in Cecil Court, where I stopped by to see David Drummond, now open. As much as I love sleuthing the stacks of old bookstores, I’m realizing it’s much easier to just purchase this stuff on the internet and not worry about cramming heavy tomes into suitcases. Of course, the hunt always brings discoveries one would never be aware of, like the Arden stuff. But so much that I intend to buy, I could probably do online.
Stopping to get some grub, I tried to pay for it with a twenty pound note that had been taken out of circulation. It had been folded in my wallet since my ’09 trip. I was informed any bank would change it for me.
My legs, knees, and soles of my feet were feeling much, much better. Tingling with tightness, but no pain or aching anymore. So I guess it was just being out of shape and not arthritis or something more dire. I doubt I’ll be flopping over in some mews or pitching off the embankment into Thames from a heart-attack. There’s also been a positive change in my waistline. I’ve easily lost a pants size. I can slip the damn things off with out unbuttoning them.
CLYBOURNE PARK in the lovely Wyndhams Theatre was another winner! This Royal Court transfer by American playwright Bruce Norris won The Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Play last year. Another brilliant ensemble with impeccable American accents and incredible timing had me weeping with laughter. Very funny and smart.
FRIDAY – FEBRUARY 4TH – DAY TEN
This morning I exchanged my bum 20pd note at a bank on the Strand. Then it was off to Regent Street and Hamley’s. Once the greatest toy store in the world, it’s now like any Toys Are Us at any mall and I found nothing to delight on any of its five floors. They used to have wonderful section of the metal, hand-painted soldiers…Romans right up to modern warfare. (a hobby that has oft tempted me). Now it’s all the same plastic crap and movie tie-ins you find anywhere.
From Hamley’s, I ducked down Carnaby Street and the narrow by-ways of Soho, stopping at the Vintage Magazine Shop, trying to find a back-issue of EMPIRE magazine which had interviewed me for an article on Conan and Robert E. Howard films. Though I’ve seen the interview (where I discussed the disaster that was KULL), I missed the magazine when it hit the newsstand last year. The shop didn’t have a copy of it.
That afternoon Julieanne and I went to a platform discussion with three of the actors in TWELFTH NIGHT -- Amanda Drew as Olivia, Simon Paisley Day as Malvolio, and David Ryall as Feste. This was fun and informative. When the floor was opened for questions, I asked, that given Peter Hall’s very distinctive ideas about the play expressed in the programme notes, whether he had imposed a concept on the cast or tried to steer them in a specific way. Apparently none of them had read the programme notes and said that the whole process had been very collaborative. Julieanne complimented Amanda Drew on her vocal qualities which greatly pleased her, as apparently some critic had carped about her voice.
After the platform, Drew and Julieanne did the show biz lovey embrace and animatedly talked for awhile. She kept asking Julieanne’s advice about what she could do with her wig, which she didn’t like…as if Julieanne’s opinion was going to sway the NT’s hair and wig department.
We returned to the flat for a brief respite before toddling back to the NT for Ayckbourn’s SEASON’S GREETINGS at the Lyttleton, starring Catherine Tate. The show is a tight ensemble piece, droll and expertly done. Ayckbourn, while hysterically funny, also has dark undercurrents running through his work. I recently read an assessment of Ayckbourn by Harold Pinter who apparently loved his work: “What a good-natured man! He loves his characters. No one is totally derided.” I agree with this. His meticulously-designed clockwork plotting and stage business, often working in simultaneous counterpoint is a marvel to watch. The puppet-show given by one of the characters is guffaw-inducing.
As usual, we swung through the NT bookshop on the way out. I bought a book on Michael Gambon…The Great Gambon, as Ralph Richardson dubbed him…a series of interviews with Mel Gussow over a period of years. I stayed up late devouring it.
SATURDAY – FEBRUARY 5th – DAY ELEVEN
We both slept late and didn’t rumble out of the flat, except for an around-the-corner foray for newspapers until afternoon. Our destination was down the South Bank toward The Globe Theatre. Though nothing was playing there, I like to pay homage and visit the gift shop. I picked up a small card and copies of a magazine entitled, AROUND THE GLOBE, published under the auspices of the theatre, dealing with it and matters Shakespearean. We also tried out the camera on the new phone, snapping shots all along the way. Coming back via the Wobbly Bridge (which doesn’t wobble since it’s been retrofitted), we returned along the north side of the embankment. We debated going up to the Barbican and getting tix for the Guildhall production of DEAR BRUTUS, but figured that the trek there, going home, and then returning that night was simply too much of a project. So the evening would be sans theatre tonight.
|Pogue at the Globe|
|The queen of my heart posing with the Queen of the Nile.|
Seven o’clock found us passing the Jermyn Street Theatre where the Rattigan rarity, LESS THAN KIND was playing. At Julieanne’s insistence, we went in on the unlikely chance that there had been some returns. And there were…two separates again. One seat supposedly had a restricted view…not really the case, a slight lean forward made visible the otherwise obscured stage corner. The other return was in the front row. Julieanne insisted I take this seat, as the one who was particularly intrigued by this play (my theatrical archeology again). The restricted view was a ten pd ticket; the other 18pd, which would go into the pocket of the man who had initially bought it.
The theatre is the size of an Equity-waiver theatre…I counted 75 seats. My feet were all but in the living room set. The man whose extra ticket I bought arrived with his party and cheerily said, “Thanks for the money.” “Thanks for the seat.” I replied.
Both play and actors were a delight. Michael Simkins I had seen in DONKEY’S YEARS a couple trips back and in the terrific Simon Gray play, THE OLD MASTERS. Sara Crowe had been very funny in British TV comedy, HAGGARD, that I had on DVD.
The play’s history was interesting. Initially submitted to the Lunts, Alfred kept making “adjustments” and requesting rewrites, so that by the end of the rehearsal period, the play had been completely re-written and entitled LOVE IN IDLENESS. Critically deemed poor stuff, the Lunts’ presence made it a hit on both sides of the Atlantic nonetheless. This was the first production of the original, free of the Lunt “improvements”.
We both enjoyed it. Our luck has certainly held. We’ve now gotten all my first choices. Three more to go and we will have seen thirteen plays in all. That may be a record for us.
At home, we popped the bubbly our flight attendant had bestowed upon us on the trip over and I once again stayed up to the wee hours, reveling in the Gambon book. They spoke of a moment I remembered vividly in the play CRESSIDA. In it, Gambon is a Jacobean actor, training boy actors. At one point, a gauche young actor declaims a speech with all the expected stock gestures to terrible effect. Gambon then does the same speech with the same gestures (but much more fluidly in speech and gesture) and it is magic. It was one of the most brilliant acting lessons I ever saw, not only in the context of the play, but also outside it. I’m glad to hear others speak of this to know it is not just some exaggeratedly coloured memory of my own. I really did see what I saw.
SUNDAY - FEBRUARY 6th – DAY ELEVEN
Another late-stirring morning with the Sunday papers and their supplements. I read a front-page article in the Daily Mail ranting about some highly-paid BBC nabob in charge of an office/staff relocation to Manchester who, though British, actually lives in Midway, Kentucky, with pictures of the house. The Mail was fuming over the money the BBC was supposedly wasting. I just wondered why anyone would prefer Midway, a one-street town divided by railroad tracks (it’s one town over from Georgetown where we live), to London. Horses, apparently.
We rolled out at two and found Trafalgar overflowing with Chinese New Year celebrants, watching native dances and music performed on a temporary stage at the base of Nelson’s column. We edged around the periphery, but could only see what was happening on one of the giant TV screens erected in select areas.
We pushed through to The Mall, headed to The Dukes for our traditional “last Sunday drink”. The bar didn’t open till four, so we trooped down to St. James’ Park. We dallied along the lake, feeding Julieanne’s stash of hazelnuts to the squirrels that scurry up bold as brass and snatch them from your fingers. We also doled out nuts to little kids who realized nuts were a far better temptation than the bread with which they fed the ducks.
Julieanne had learned her squirrel-feeding techniques from a master -- an old gent she met every year in the park and who called all the squirrels “Suesies”. Julieanne had assumed the mantle now and she must star in the vacation snaps of many foreign tourists who click away with their cameras while she and her squirrel pals do their dog and pony.
|Julieanne learning squirrel-feeding frm the master on an earlier trip.|
The Dukes bar was vacant when we arrived, quite to our liking. We sat at our favourite table that looks out on the secluded courtyard entrance and chatted with our genial Italian bartender (all the bartenders we’ve ever had here are Italian…and genial). Since The Dukes is known for its martinis, I decided to have my first one ever. This is probably odd, given that the martini was my father’s preferred nightly cocktail. But I’ve never been much of a spirits drinker (usually some vodka concoction). In fact, I’m not much of a drinker at all and when I do indulge, it is usually wine. I can’t say I found the taste thrilling, but the kick was potent. Julieanne stuck to her Glenlivet and after two drinks apiece (61pds), we both weaved out a bit wozzled. I’ve not been that light-headed in sometime. These days, booze mostly makes me sleepy.
|Martini-virgin loses his cherry...or would that be an olive?|
MONDAY – FEBRUARY 7th– DAY TWELVE
On our way to the Covent Garden antique market this morning, Julieanne told me she didn’t want to go home, that I could just leave her behind. I told her fine, but she’d have to fend for herself, I couldn’t support the lifestyle. “That’s okay,” she said. “I’ll just sell the Big Issue.” This cracked me up. The Big Issue is a magazine, written by professional journalists, but sold by homeless people as way to earn income and help reintegrate them into society. A nobly laudable endeavour, but still amusing when it conjures up an image of my wife in a silly-looking wooly cap, bundled in blankets at the end of some bridge (probably with a scruffy-looking dog by her side), hawking in cockney, "Big Issue, Gov, 'Elp the 'omeless!"
The Market was a bore. We split up and I returned home, stopping again at a place on Villiers that I discovered last week, Herman Ze German, which sells authentic and delicious German sausages. This time I got their fat-free fries as well. Good stuff.
|Herman Ze German Sausages|
It was also interesting to learn that director Peter Hall demands that everyone know their lines from first rehearsal. Simon Callow mentioned that he had actually caught Hall, the Shakespeare expert, get a line wrong…and then Hall changed it because he preferred his version.
After the platform, as Callow signed his memoir for me (I had bought a signed one, but I wanted it personally inscribed), we asked what line had Hall got wrong. In rehearsal, Callow said, “Approach, Sir Andrew.” Hall corrected him: “ ‘Approach, Sir Andrew, approach.’ There’s another approach.” It turns out there wasn’t and Callow had spoken the line correctly. But Sir Peter liked it his way better and changed Shakespeare. The line now had two “approaches”.
That night it was back to the NT to see FRANKENSTEIN. Julieanne stopped by the artists entrance to leave a note for Amanda Drew, then it was up to the Olivier lobby.
This being only the second preview of the show, we had no clue which actor would be playing what role tonight. Benedict Cumberbatch or Johnny Lee Miller alternate the roles of Frankenstein and the Creature. While we waited for the house to open, Danny Boyle…the director…popped in and out of the lobby several times.
Entering the theatre, we were met with a strange, upright cloth disc on stage. This womb-like thing soon began to pulsate with life. As the play began, it pulsated even more until from its folds emerged…The Creature, stark naked, flopping and jerking around as it came to life and slowly, awkwardly mastered its body and limbs. This probably took fifteen minutes before the Creature unsteadily scrabbled to his feet. Benedict Cumberbatch, almost unrecognizable in his make-up, was playing the creature tonight and this opening moment was mesmerizingly brilliant.
It remained the most arresting moment of the play. Though the audience seemed to love the play, it was still rough. Hopefully, it will jell during previews. Its strengths were its two leads, particularly Cumberbatch. I think Frankenstein’s role is somewhat diminished, in that we stay with the Creature through almost the first half of the play before Victor Frankenstein and his story pick up.
As usual, production values and stage effects were impressive, but scene changes were still rocky and jarring and took you out of the piece. At one moment, revolve trouble stopped the show cold (but one expects this at a preview). More problematic was that, once past the two leads, most of the supporting cast was one of the weakest I’ve seen on the Olivier stage. Nor am I sure it’s Nick Dear’s strongest script. But it was still an impressive show and, as things tighten, I hope it will get stronger and my quibbles disappear. NT LIVE will be broadcasting it, so I’ll have a chance to see how it’s evolved and maybe get to see the role reversal as well.
The show ran with no intermission. So getting out early, we went down to The Young Vic and bought the script of VERNON GOD LITTLE for Eric Seale. As a script in a book shop, it’s 9pds; as a programme/script at the Young Vic, it’s 3pds. Go figure.
TUESDAY – FEBRUARY 8th – DAY THIRTEEN
This morning I walked to the Embankment Tube Station at the end of the block to check the tube to Sloane Square for the Royal Court tonight. It turns out to be an 8-10 minute ride. Once Julieanne was stirring, we bustled over to the NT to make our final book purchases. I bought plays: After The Dance by Rattigan; Habit of Art by Bennett, the Frankenstein script; Clybourne Park, The Knowledge (getting good reviews at the Bush); and The Painter which just opened with Toby Jones playing Turner. We also picked up some DVDs, since we have a small screen all-region DVD player (often the small cheap ones cut corners by not installing the regional technology…It seems to me everyone would sell lots more DVDs if all DVD players did this). The DVDS were an RSC Miss Julie with a young Helen Mirren; The Making of the War Horse; and a psychoanalytic study of Iago from a series called Shakespeare’s Characters on the Couch (this one Julieanne wanted) featuring the great Simon Russell Beale
It was a beautiful, brilliant sunny day. After lunching together at Herman Ze German, we parted company. Julieanne off to St. James for a rendezvous with her squirrels and I up Charing Cross Road to pick up any tome I might have missed. Other than another play, Bedlam, which had played at the Globe last summer, I returned empty-handed.
It was a quick and easy tube ride to Sloane Square that night and the station is right next door to the Royal Court (In fact, you could occasionally hear the trains rattling underground during the performance) . Some day, I must exploit the tube more than I do, but I’m usually located within walking distance of my haunts. And I enjoy walking in the city. Arriving early, we window-shopped in the posh shops.
The Royal Court shares the same young vibe that the Almeida and the Young Vic have…different kind of energy. Rick St. Peter recommended the book shop, but I found it small and so crowded I really couldn’t browse it. The theatre itself is stunning. Leather seats!
THE HERETIC was also stunning. Again, a fine ensemble cast headed by Juliet Stephenson and spectacular performance by a young actor, Johnny Flynn. The only thing that marred it was a group of American students in front of us. At one point, one girl’s phone vibrator went off and she pulled the bloody thing out to scan a text message. All their phones came out at the interval. All this obsessing over being connected and not connecting at all to the moment. Apres moi, le deluge.
But maybe “le deluge” is already here. In one of the most legendary theatres in the world, these young Philistines would rather be squinting at a two-inch square of light. I blame their teacher/chaperones who were present and apparently incapable of imparting any sense of etiquette, good manners, or sense of wonder to them about how privileged and lucky they were to be seeing theatre in London. Of course, one chaperone, in his twenties, seemed more interested in trying to be a part of “the gang” and not being an example to his charges.
Nonetheless, it was still a great experience. This was my first time in the Royal Court and I don’t know why it took so long. Once home, we began to do a little preliminary packing.
WEDNESDAY – FEBRUARY 9th – DAY FOURTEEN
It’s our last full day here. Julieanne spent the morning at Westminster, lighting some candles for some friends who have had recent bouts with cancer. I got cash needed for the cab to the airport and incidentals, and did more packing.
Julieanne and I had one last lunch at Herman Ze German, because I had filled up my stamp card and we were entitled to a free Bratwurst. Man, they were good.
Our last show was a matinee up off Leicester Square at the Garrick Theatre. It was a revival of a J.B. Priestly comedy, WHEN ARE MARRIED. It starred a host of apparently venerable and beloved actors, but the only one I knew was Maureen Lipman. But they were all skilled troupers and everyone got their moment to shine. The Garrick is another theatre that I have never been in. Like at the Royal Court, one could hear the trains running under the theatre (in and out of the Leicester Square Station).
After the matinee, we almost finished packing before going down to the lobby to have coffee with the family of a young hearing-impaired girl Julieanne had befriended at the hotel computer. Very nice people…Australian…world travelers.
Then it was back to the room for the final packing. I am known as Master Packer in our house and my mosaic designs of book placement in our luggage for best protection and weight distribution were things of beauty.
At about eight, we did our ritual last night walkabout. Over the Jubilee Bridge and down the South Bank, up past the London Eye (still haven’t gone up in it.), over Westminster Bridge, past Boadicea’s Statue on the right, The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben on the left, then a leisurely amble along Whitehall. Halfway up Whitehall, Big Ben bonged nine.
Reaching Trafalgar, we zipped through the Tesco Express for a last supper. After dinner, we totted up our expenses for customs declaration. As usual, we’d have nothing to declare and would be way under the dollar limit of goods allowed. Each person is allowed $800 bucks. Together we barely had half that and books don’t count in that financial commutation. Since books are always our biggest expense (my only one), we had next to nothing. The single most expensive item was a bottle of perfume that Julieanne can’t get in the states anymore.
We went to bed early…
THURSDAY – FEBRUARY 10 – DAY FIFTEEN
…and I slept badly, as I always do the day before leaving-taking. I was up at six and quickly showered and dressed. As we packed our last items, things started to go awry. Julieanne, cramming toiletries and cosmetics into an already overstuffed piece of luggage, busted the zipper on one of our bags. Though we couldn’t fix it so it would lock and be secure, we got it zipped after a fashion so that it was closed and then we put a locking luggage strap around it. A determined thief could still get in it.
The hotel had arranged for a cab to pick us up. I usually just go out on the street and hail one. The problem with arranged cabs is you begin to fret if they’re late…and I’ve never had a problem hailing one in the morning.
The cabbie arrived on time, but it turned out to be a mini-cab, not a black cab. I have always heard such horror stories about mini-cabs that I utterly distrust them. So I dismissed this guy and hailed a black cab. Just as well I did. Traffic was the worst it’s ever been due to roadwork (the impending Olympics would be my guess). Fortunately, my black cab driver, armed with “the knowledge”, skillfully evaded the delays with a detour through a part of Kensington that I had never been through. He also got us there at 9 for an 11:40 flight.
Once arrived, everything was hunky-dory. We found a place in the terminal that wraps damaged luggage in plastic for seven pds. This plastic shroud secured our unlocked bag. Soon luggage was checked; bodies through detectors; belts, boots, and belongings were back where they belonged; and we were in the BA lounge, enjoying an array of beverages, breakfast goodies, and British papers.
BA’s business class is even more luxurious than American’s. Seats were like little secluded pods of privacy. The attentive crew quickly plied us with 3-4 glasses of champagne, nuts, newspapers, and moist cloth towels in rapid succession. They kept topping off the bubbly. My God, what goes on in first class—orgies?
This was all fabulous until the food arrived -- the stereotype of what you always hear about British cooking (but isn’t really true). My steak was tough and overdone. I cut myself off the champagne, as I was already developing a conk, and stuck with water the rest of the trip. I transformed my seat and ottoman (you heard that right – ottoman) into a full length bed and went to sleep. I didn’t even open up my Bose headphones and only looked at the TV screen to check the flight progress after I woke up. As we were somewhere over Canada, I must have slept five or six hours. I was out until about tea-time.
“Tea” was an offering of bizarre British sandwiches…one ham and piccalilli I believe it was called; the other some inedible cheese that tasted like paste with cucumber slices in it (never been a fan of cucs). All up and down Villiers Street, I can find an array of delicious British sandwiches, but not in luxury class on an airplane. Despite the food, I found the flight grand. Julieanne was suffering from a headache (probably too much champagne).
Landing in Chicago, we reclaimed our luggage, got through customs, and then to the AA Baggage re-route without a hitch. It was just as easy catching the tram to the next terminal, going through the detectors again, and finding our boarding gate for our flight to Cincy. Julieanne got a cola for a caffeine jolt to ease her headache.
The flight home on the American Eagle puddle-hopper was fun, because the plane never got so high, you couldn’t see the landscape. Lots of snow stretching out to the horizon, glistening in the sunset.
We arrived in Cincy at dusk. By the time we gathered our luggage and helped a rather confused Frenchwoman find her meeting party, it was dark. Though cold, there was little snow here and, unlike last time, we didn’t have to dig our car out from under a mountain of ice in the long term parking lot. We were home in an hour, dragged the suitcases inside, opened only a couple to gets some books, checked our emails, and then to sleep in our own bed.
One hates leaving, but once you’ve left, you’re just anxious to get home.
FRIDAY – FEBRUARY 11th – DAY SIXTEEN
We were up early, ate an obscenely huge breakfast at the local Crackerbarrel, then into Lexington to Pets Suites to pick up the critters. As usual, Nigel was overwhelmed to see us, Mosby was initially sulky and punishing, but subdued, and the first in the door when we got home.