Thursday, July 9
Today’s plan is for Linda and me to make our own plan. She is fighting a bit of a cold and plans a day of laying low and re-energizing herself.
I had one must do for my time in London. Marthe (Mike’s Mom) had lived in London as a girl and remembered the number of that house. In the strangest turn or fate, the flat where Linda and I are staying is a mere five or so blocks from Marthe’s childhood home. Our landlady had left a great street guide and the pages for this bit of geography were loose from the binding. I pocketed those pages and set out to find and photograph 5A Elgin Crescent. It was an easy walk down Portobello Road, which is the flea market capital of London. I found the house and took a couple of great shots.
Now my question was what else did I want to do on my own. It’s a sad thing to say but I had been scarred for life by being lost in Toronto a few years back. There is a bit of the small town girl in me and I get a bit panicky when I am in huge crowds and I don’t know where I am. So, I decided that I wasn’t quite ready for prime-time subway (tube) hopping. Instead, I would only go somewhere that I could stay above ground and be on foot. That meant a trip back to Harrods. I had to do it. I recalled that the food court had a sushi bar, so I would go for lunch.
Well, the street guide was small help. I only reversed my direction seven times. I am sure that the police were following me because I kept passing the same houses as I retraced my steps, back and forth, looking for Kensington Gardens. A brief side note about the police – there are no trashcans on the streets of London or any other public place such as a tube station. This is because the danger of a bomb being placed in them is too great. People seem to carry their trash with them until they get home. Isn’t that civilized? And there are police walking beats everywhere. So, my planned route to Harrods meant crossing through Kensington Gardens and then taking a diagonal route through some mews to emerge at Brompton Road. There was further zigzagging through Kensington as I tried to spot the Albert Memorial, It is a wonderful park and there are many commemorative spots to Princess Diana. The Gardens are also known for their connection to Peter Pan, as this is the neighborhood where the author lived and wrote.
Finally, I spotted the Albert Memorial and Royal Albert Hall directly across the street. Now, I had been saved from on-coming traffic on two previous occasions as Linda yelled at me to step back onto the curb. It is hard to reverse your eye and look for oncoming traffic in a country where they drive on the other side of the road. But, I safely managed to cross Kensington Road without Linda’s coaching. I chose an interesting set of side streets to make my diagonal way through to Brompton Rd. The mews are great fun, but unfortunately one can find oneself at a seeming dead end. I was in an area that had been the back alleyways and stable gates for former mansions. It is wonderful to see these charming former stables and cottages with their flower boxes and colorful doors. But, the alley appeared to end. I pulled out my street guide and began to study it. Just my good fortune, a lovely young (40ish) man stopped to ask if he could help. I gave him my most charming smile and told him I was headed to Harrods but it appeared that I had run into a dead end. He told me not to worry, there was a small gate in the wall and he was heading that way and we could walk together. As we exchanged histories, I learned that he is the music director of a local church and spent childhood visits in Ocala, Florida. BTW, Ocala sounded like O-call-a. How charming! By the end of our walk he had invited me to a free choir concert on Saturday night at his church.
Ah. Harrods. First order was a yummy sushi lunch served at a marble lunch counter in the Food Court. Then on to some shopping for gifts for family and friends. That was all fine and dandy, but I had now been walking for close to two hours and still had to get back home. I managed to keep putting one foot in front of the other till I returned to our flat. I needed a nap before dressing for the theater.
Our plan was to have an early pub dinner and then take the tube to the theater and a taxi home. The first part went well. There was an ancient pub on our road. We ordered our dinner, enjoyed a pint and headed to the tube. We made one small miscalculation on our route and ended up transferring to the wrong line. No worry. We just made our way above ground and hailed a taxi to the theater for the evening performance of Billy Elliot. It was fabulous! Our seats were great. We were seated in the stalls, which equates to orchestra seating in the US. I bought a program and read about the process involved in finding children for the demanding roles in this production. There are five boys who alternate the role of Billy and more boys who play Michael. In one scene, Billy is visiting his friend Michael who enjoys dressing in his sister’s clothes. As the two boys dance, it is performed as a song and dance routine from an old Vaudeville show. The boys are tap dancing away and the stage fills with dancing dress. Billy says, “Michael, the dresses are dancing.” Michael replies, “You should see what my underpants are doing”. I laughed till tears rolled down my cheeks. But, my favorite moment was after Billy had performed an amazing solo that was part tap, part ballet and a lot of gymnastics. The dance ends with Billy running up a wall and doing a black flip. Billy froze in the final position and the audience went mad. As the cheering continued, Billy broke character and turned to the audience and looked out over the house with the biggest grin on his face you have ever seen. He was still in the frozen position but it was a charming moment to see a 12-year-old boy finding such joy in his performance.
We jumped into a taxi and called it a night.