At the end of the rainiest February on record, a trip to London beckoned, a chance for some culture and fun. Although it’s only an hour and three quarters by train, we barely go more than twice a year, but it always holds an air of excitement. The first highlight was just outside Victoria Station where a guide was positioned who could tell us exactly which bus to catch down to Tate Britain. It’s only a short hop but hubby’s legs are not up to too much walking.
My favourite exhibit this year was a Maggie Hamblin painting. The colour here doesn’t do it justice. The sea should be much bluer. It drew me to it and I knew immediately what she was trying to convey. The empty boat is sinking amidst the downdraught of a hovering helicopter. The refugees have hopefully been rescued, but how many have drowned over the last few years? I used to teach Vietnamese Boat People. Refugees at sea hold a special resonance for me.
Once again a helpful guide told us how to catch the bus to Trafalgar Square and we finished our journey to north London by bus, really appreciating our free passes.
The Park Theatre at Finsbury Park is one of our favourites. It’s small and hosts interesting plays. The first one we saw this trip was Time and Tide, a new play set in a Cromer café on the pier. It was claustrophobic and pent with emotion and pathos. I can’t say that we enjoyed it – it wasn’t that kind of play, but it unsettled. My highlight was that the wonderful actor, Miriam Margolyes, sat in front of us and I plucked up courage to say hello.
The next day dawned cold and wet. Luckily a bus was waiting for us when we arrived at the bus station and it dropped us outside Kenwood House on Hempstead Heath. Armed with our English Heritage membership cards, we were taken aback to find it was free to everyone. It’s full of amazing old masters and interesting stories. We were struck by the volunteer guides, all retired residents of north London who were passionate about the house and its contents.. I am sure it was a retired judge who was telling us about Lord Mansfield the renowned chief justice whose portrait hung in the library. It’s a gem of a house and just a shame the rain was pouring down so we couldn’t explore the grounds and the heath. I most wanted to see the portrait of Dido Belle, the black daughter of Lord Mansfield’s relation, who lived at Kenwood House. You may have seen the film about her. The original painting is at Scone in Perthshire, a place we hope to visit later in the year.
The play on our second night was La Cage aux Folles, you may have seen the film with Robin Williams. This production was suberb, the acting suitably outrageous and a laugh all the way through. This time Simon Callow sat directly behind us and he too was laughing. It was a star studded couple of days for me.
We chatted in the interval to the couple sitting next to us, slightly younger, Londoners. As we are toying with the idea of downsizing, they asked if we had thought of moving to London. I said no. Why not? It’s the constant scream of noise from traffic and sirens. It’s the litter and sacks of waste on the pavement, its the many young men and woman sleeping rough underneath the railway arches, their expressions defeated, exhausted. It’s the traffic and roadworks, the building sites and the crowds who swarm around you, trying and failing not to bump into you. London may be exciting but two days is enough.
However, in the research for my new book, I have been reading about London in the nineteenth century and know that London then, was just as busy, just as noisy, the poverty would have been worse and the stench from abattoirs, tanneries and glue factories would have been unbelievable.
All the same, it was a relief to get home to peace and quiet after a hectic few days.