Did You See Any Celebrities in London?

The most frequently asked questions upon my return from London were:

  • Did you go to an English pub?
  • Did you see the Changing of the Guard?
  • Did you see any celebrities?

Answer to Question No. 1. Je regrette that the answer is No. Technically  I did not visit an English pub. At the Dickens Museum, I may have  seen a jolly illustration  by Phiz of a fat man  drinking ale. The character may have been Mr. Pickwick, but I have not read The Pickwick Papers, so I cannot say for sure.  I do know that it was not Oliver Twist holding up his bowl for more porridge. (“Please, sir, I want some more.”) Technically, an orphanage is not a pub though some may call it a Porridgery.  I did eat fish and chips across the street from what may have been an English pub. 

Answer to Question No. 2.   Je regrette that the answer is No. You must get up early in the morning to see the Changing of the Guard.  I believe the ceremony is at 11 or 11:30 a.m., and I do need my sleep after drinking tea and staying up till the wee hours to finish my book. No, I prefer to skip the ceremony and visit the used bookstores when they open at 11:30 or noon.

Answer to Question No. 3.  Je regrette that the answer is No.  The prime minster, mayor, actors, actresses, writers,  owners of famous restaurants, musicians, intellectuals, and  columnists were all at the English Pub.  I nearly met a quasi-celebrity when I admired the “puffy coats” in a painting and was told the artist was “hanging around somewhere.” He was probably at the English Pub. The only people who looked like celebrities were shopping at Daunt Books.  Well, Mayfair is very glam, and what is more glam than glam readers? Perhaps they were on the way to the English pub? 

 Maybe next time!

The London Diary, 10/8 to 10/12

“If you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life.”   On my first trip to London, a taxi driver thus quoted Samuel Johnson, and then admitted: “I’m tired of London anyway.”

I felt equally tired during a recent whirlwind trip to London. I was not at my best – I may or may not have caught  Covid on the plane. I coughed and hacked at night, recovering somewhat during the day, after waking in a panic – was it 9 in the morning or 9 at night?

The trouble with being sick on vacation is that you can only admit to an interesting malady. You are not allowed to admit you are sick. I was leaving the hotel room later and later. Each day  I flipped the sign with the “going green” housekeeping option mainly so as not to be disturbed by the maid.  Huddled under a blanket and reading The Complete Short Stories of D. H. Lawrence, I eventually stepped down to the lobby to order a latte.  In the U.S. I opt for plain American coffee, but I guess you don’t know what American coffee is unless you grew up watching Maxwell’s and Folger’s coffee commercials and then made the transition to Starbucks and the indie coffee shops . The British equivalent of our coffee, the Americano, is too harsh for my palate.

By the way, my fellow Americans were in England. The NFL football team, the Buffalo Bills, were in London to play Jacksonville, which, it is rumored, may move to London permanently so as to plunder a new market.  When I heard the Bills were in town, I thought maybe I’d check it out, grab a hot dog and crash a tail party. I never go to ball games, but hey, this was England:  show some team spirit! Later, I saw three guys in Bills Mafia t- shirts (don’t ask: it’s merch ) smirking and tossing around neck pillows, and I think maybe juggling them, which is always entertaining in the customs line.

A typical day for an American Woman of a Certain age and Health Profile (is that older or younger than I?) on vacations goes like this:  TAKE cold pills, use inhaler, read while gently coughing and make more tisane while the pills kick in.   Then check guidebook.

SHERLOCK HOlMES MUSEUM: No, no, no. Guide dressed as Sherlock Holmes. Creepy.

MADAME TUSSAUD’S WAX MUSEUM. Too much violence and creepy concept.

ART MUSEUMS. Great paintings, the thrill of seeing originals. And there are benches to sit on while one sniffles and blows one nose. Pretend to cry into your handkerchief. So much sensibility! Don’t admit you’re ill!

I did feel moments of exhilaration at the Wallace Collection, a gorgeous house with a famous 18th century collection of furniture and painting. There are two portraits side-by-side of 18th-century women holding small adorable dogs.  I was enthralled by a replica of the King’s desk.  I think it was Louis the XVI’s desk; at any rate it was laminated black and etched and carved with gorgeous birds and flowers.

From there it was a few blocks to Daunt Books, located in a gorgeous Edwardian shop in Mayfair.  Because of the unseasonable temperatures, people were sunning themselves at the sidewalk cafes.  I entered the magic portal of Daunt Books and gave myself 10 minutes to browse:  I could have spent a day there, but I was in a rush, and realized what I bought had to fit in my suitcase.

There’s no place like home! I still have the interesting malady though. I had the latest Covid shot before the trip, so I pray this malady is NOT Covid!

Tourism at the Cathedral & Other Middlebrow Dawdlings

There is a checklist in my London guidebook:  London Eye (a ferris wheel), The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Carnaby Street, etc.  Guess how many of these I have checked off?  Very few.  I’m not much of a sightseer.

I do describe myself as a tourist, though.  I am an aficionado of the museums and shops in Londons.  Are there any museums better than The National Gallery and The National Portrait Gallery ( the latter is, sadly, closed  for “a facelift”)?  And the bookstores!  I recently visited John Sandoe Books, 10 Blacklands Terrace, which must be the best bookshop in the world:  there is a magical system of sliding bookcases attached to the front of other bookcases, so that there are literally layers of books as you slide the shelves.   I also recommend Foyles (an enormous bookstore with a brilliant selection of books), Any Amount of Books (a used bookstore curated by geniuses), and Hatchard’s, a beautiful store founded in 1797. 

We see some sights, and we find ourselves getting better at stairs.  Where’s the lift, I wondered at the Victoria & Albert Museum.  I kept coming across glass elevators with crime scene tape exed on the doors.  Was there actually a crime, or were they simply out of order? I climbed the stairs. (Great medieval sculpture on the ground floor, by the way!)

Finally I made it to St. Paul’s Cathedral.  I felt such joy.  How could Christopher Wren have designed this fantastic cathedral and so many other gorgeous churches?  He began to design it in 1666, and construction began in 1675.  It took 35 years to finish it.  Hard to imagine all that time.

But talk about stairs:  there’s no way I would climb up to that balcony around  the inside of the dome, even on a guided tour.  It gives me vertigo to think about it.

The first time I saw St. Paul’s, it was a slushy winter day.   I shivered as I sat in in the beautiful nave, consulting a multi-media guide, and later wandering around the crypt with my coat zipped up.  This  time I was happy to appreciate the exterior on a warmer day.

I am more comfortable in Christopher Wren’s smaller churches.  His own favorite of his churches was St. James’s Church, completed in 1684.  And I love it, too.  It’s cozy, almost Barbara Pymish, I think, and according to the guidebook, “it contains one of the finest works by the master Grinling Gibbons…, an ornate limewood screen behind the altar.”

The relaxing thing about smaller churches is that you can sit down with your shopping bags and take a break from the hubbub.  There sre so many exquisite yet comfortable old churches.  As you rest, you will feel like a character in an English novel, perhaps the woman in Monica Dickens’ “The Winds of Heavens,” though she probably rests at Harrods or perhaps somewhere less fancy over tea, come to think about it. 

winds of heaven dickens.jpg