England

December 1996

 

 

Sunday, December 1, 1996

 

One thing is clear -- the only possible downside to the daytime flight to Europe is boredom in the air.Getting out early on the busiest travel day of the year was a piece of cake, even if it meant sharing the American terminal with the San Juan flights.On board I risked sleeping for a couple of hours, then was pleased to find that a tailwind brought us in an hour early.Evening at Heathrow is quiet -- I had only carry-on bags so I sailed through and grabbed the last -- 8:49pm -- Airbus into Victoria.Can you imagine NY closing up so early?From Victoria I found the Eccleston Hotel about three blocks away.Itís very pleasant, a twin room with two beds, thank you, unlike the Savoy Palace.The budget aspect is the bath, one of those pre-fab bathroom-in-a-corner jobs.Triangular shower one half the size of me.What on earth would a normal sized person do?I made a nice cuppa tea and was off to sleep by 11pm.

 

 

Monday, December 2

 

Woke up to a lovely clear day with reasonably mild temperatures.Woke up also feeling totally adjusted time-wise.A nice bennie of the daytime flight schedule.Breakfasted at the hotel then walked over to Westminster.Big Ben looks particularly spiffy with fresh gilding so I crossed over the bridge and admired all from the south bank as the sun went in and out of clouds.From there I walked up to Leicester Square for tickets to John Gabriel Borkman with Eileen Atkins, Paul Scofield, and Vanessa Redgrave.(Oh my!)Lunch at Covent Garden then tube to Hyde Park for a walk along Rotten Row before turning down to Knightsbridge.Skipped Harrods but browsed along the stores before pulling into Richoux for a lovely tea.

 

Back to the hotel for mission impossible:washing my hair in that mini shower.Amazingly I succeeded without getting violent or flooding the entire room.Truly a miracle.Light dinner at the hotel then tube to the theater.

 

Ibsen play and a rather dreary, seriously dysfunctional family of characters.All impressive, but it never took off.Scofield in particular seem monotone and stilted.Redgrave somewhat mannered.Atkins grim.All could be analyzed as right for the various characters, but deadening all the same for the audience.This is, however, carping.Lots of fun lines (Ibsen surprised me!), clean set, good pace, crystal clear natural voices, and solid enjoyment.

 

Home across Waterloo Bridge with glorious floodlit visions of St. Paulís.Iíll come back with the camera if thereís another nice evening.Longish walk along the Strand to tube and home to tea and bed.

 

 

Tuesday, December 6

 

Rainy morning and windy.I strolled over to Westminster Abbey in mid-morning for yet another tour of the worlds most over-the-top memorial park.I always feel new there and always enjoy it, but I CAN remember memorials from somewhere below the conscious level of knowing where the plaques and tombs are.

 

Then tubed to Leicester Square for tickets, Cherry Orchard for tonight and Art for tomorrow.Some browsing along the bookstores then lunch in Covent Garden.After lunch, even though the rain was gone, I went to the National Theatre Museum.Thoroughly enjoyable.Costumes and memorabilia, stage make-up exhibit, and a show on the Wind in the Willows production of a couple of years ago.Lots of fun.

 

Afterwards I missed tea, but walked across Waterloo Bridge and along the south bank for dazzling night views of St. Paulís and Big Ben.All the way guided by the festooned lights lining the walk.Back across at Westminster and tube home.

 

Cherry Orchard was super:Alec McCowen, Penelope Wilton, David Troughton, Kate Duchene.Dandy.One query:Is lack of heat a prime way to keep London theater ticket costs down?Brrr.

 

 

Wednesday, December 4

 

Lovely day.Sunny and upbeat.Tubed to Waterloo and walked along the south bank -- happy strolling -- to the Globe.Iíd though only to snap some pictures, but of course I took the tour again.More is completed than a year ago, theyíve finished most everything but the stage section, but more scaffolding around for finishing work in process.Itís going to be such a kick when it opens.The guide described this yearís test performances with such excitement, audience in full view, hissing, hooting and hollering with full participation.Theyíre even talking about opening in June with Henry V.Iíd kill to be here.

 

From there I wandered the couple of blocks to the original site of the Globe, now the service yard of a brewery.Then on to the Anchor, an olde riverside pub.I ate upstairs in the real restaurant and had a delicious and charming meal.Much better than the touristy pub lunch Iíd expected.

 

On afterwards past a replica of the Golden Hind parked in a cul de sac.Still strolling in sunlight, then across Tower Bridge.Tubed to Knightsbridge for another tea at Richoux, then a walk in evening dark through Belgrave Square and Eaton Place back to the hotel.

 

Changed and headed out to the theater.L(Guess what?Who needs dinner?)Art.Brilliant.Tom Courtney, Albert Finney, Ken Scott.Written by Yasmin Reza.Three men, friends, one buys an all-white painting, leads to modern art, deconstructionism, friendships unraveling, a brilliant riff on wedding invitations, more disintegrating, then a magnificent scene with a little cartoon skier being drawn on the precious canvas as a proof of friendship.Performances all fit like a glove.Courtney fussy, Scott cringing and placating, Finney blowzy but the sparkle untouched.Great great great.I cant think when Iíve hear a London audience react so freely.Shared sustained laughs, spontaneous applause, even cheering at the calls.Loads of fun.I even had a box which was limited view (not bad) and made me a close-up spectator to both play and house.Home happy.

 

 

Thursday, December 5

 

Another comfortable day.I canít believe I leave London tomorrow.Last day in London.What would I ever do if I though it would be my last chance to be in London?I treat it as I do NY, comfortable, ruts and routine.A tiny bit of indulgence -- nice restaurants, modest food -- mixed with just tramping around outside, eavesdropping and a night/day at the Theatre.No. make that a lot of indulgence.Fun for me.

 

Started this morning with a stop at Westminster Abbey shop to get Xmas gift for Johnny, traditional hymns, tapping into his retro taste.Then walked through Green Park to the BTA office to book a hotel in Stratford.Done.Then on to Leicester Square (gee!) for tickets.Stood behind pompous but informative guy who works the TKTs booth in Times Square.Listened happily to his gossip, then got a ticket for the matinee of Martin Guerre.Lunch at Covent Garden then on to the 3pm show.My seat turned out to be second row center and the show was fun.Maybe not at the Les Mis level, but slick, moving, and good music.Iíve seen the lead Iain Glen somewhere else.Canít think where.Others also good.I went out really charged up.

 

Walked up Regent Street admiring Xmas decorations and lights while ignoring the shops.There was a tube accident ďpassenger under a trainĒ at Oxford Circus so I walked to Bond Street and bypassed the mess.

 

Out to Gran Paradis for dinner, a great (well, fine) Italian restaurant just around the corner on Wilton Street.Quiet when I got there around 8:15, but crowded up later with a urban crowd.Yuppie couple impressing her parents on one side (all dressed in black), and patronizing older man with early twenties guy.Young man talked about live-in girl; older man advised, sourly, against being ďhitched.ĒCreepy.A bit of seduction perhaps?Home happily to relax and pack.

 

 

Friday, December 6

 

Another nice one.Went to Mass at 8am at Westminster Cathedral.Gloomy, cold and obviously a small crowd of regulars.No heat.Then puttering around and Airbus to Heathrow.Picked up the car and despite the Philadelphians obviously traumatic driving experiences, tootled off comfortably to the M25 and M40.Lunch on the road, then Stratford around 3pm.

 

Went first (gee) to the theater to get tickets -- Iíd seen that the theater was dark on Sunday AND was rotating repertory plays and would be dark early in the week -- then just to the outskirts to my guesthouse.(Main roads and not too hard to find on the map.)Brook Lodge.Light, very pleasant room and even the built-in shower is reasonable.

 

Good dinner at the Opposition Cafe, then on to Henry VIII in the Swan.Good clear production, Paul Esson, Jane Lapotiare, Ian Hogg.Play made sense and I enjoyed it.Home latish with hints of a possible cold.

 

 

Saturday, December 7

 

Foggy, dark day.Met a nice couple from Cambridge over breakfast and chatted for a bit.It was still fogged in by 10 so I drove cautiously over to Warwick for the castle.A mostly indoors exploration.Madame Tussauds has take oven and done quite nicely.More emphasis on the Victorian house party stuff rather than the Elizabethan era, but I suppose thatís driven as much by which part of the castle is more extensive than by a general breakdown in the intellectual capacity of the visitors.

 

Thorough tour, then lunch in the on-site restaurant.Spent the early afternoon meandering around the town of Warwick, still in the fog.Came back to Stratford for tea then a nap.

 

Dinner in town, then Much Ado about Nothing with Alex Jennings and Siobhan Redmond.Lots of fun.Missed the terrible sadness of the middle section, but the watch clowns were right on and the sharp-tongued jesting stayed away from petulance.A good time.

 

 

Sunday, December 8

 

Seriously Shakespeare day.First mass just across the road. Then around the corner to Anne Hathawayís cottage which, I think, Iíd never visited.The postcard view fades a bit in December, mostly into dank chill.Still itís got the olde quaintness.There were some old photos circa 1890 when it looked rougher and more overgrown.Now itís thoroughly manicured.

 

On to town for the birthplace and exhibit.Nice to visit when itís so quiet.Not that I was alone, but there might have been only ten or people there.From there I walked over to Nashís house/New Place, another site Iíd missed in the past.Itís where W.S.ís daughter ended up living.Clearly more upscale, bigger rooms and windows.An elaborate knot garden and grand garden out back.The ďNew HouseĒ owned and lived in (in retirement) by W.S. was next door, but torn down by an owner with tax problems.Bah.

 

Lunch, then walked over to Holy Trinity to pay respects at the grave.Then nice warm tea.

 

All of the sites are a bit sterile -- a bit like the cleaned up Ellis Island -- but worth the effort of visiting slowly if only to put you in mind of the plays.Itís nice too to see that Shakespeare wrote apparently without too much trauma.No suffering artiste stuff.Back again to the Opposition Cafe for dinner.

 

 

Monday, December 9

 

Gray and foggy to start out.I drove off through the Cotswolds and promptly headed off course to Banbury, further east (and north!) of where I want to be.Canít blame the fog, I just missed a route sign.Slanting back took me to Stow around 11am.Asked the tourist office to book a hotel for Bath, then wandered around town browsing while they worked the phones.Circled back to pick up my reservation, then had a pleasant lunch and hopped back in the car.

 

Iíd thought of driving through Broadway but decided that would be too much off course.Just as well.As I headed south I noticed a sign for Bibury and made by detour there.Maybe ten miles round-trip along dirt tracks, but glad I did it.Funny that Iíve missed it before.Village is tiny and pretty.The Bibury Court looks grand, especially with the expanses of fields and grounds all around.The hotel even backs up on the row of ďNational TrustĒ cottages.Wish I could conjure a visit with Cynthia and Chuck!

 

Back on the road having lots of fun in my little stick shift Escort.Weather lightened a little, even providing a burst of sun glare at one point coming into Bath.I was searching desperately (well, carefully) for street signs, couldnít find a one.So I just went with the flow of traffic.Turns out I was on the exact route and the first sign I recognized was for the hotel itself, Siena Hotel on Pulteney Road.Not bad for blind (!) luck.

 

Hotel is dandy.I have a huge room in front with a double and twin bed, ten foot ceilings, and a bath with -- hallelujah -- a real English tub.And an armchair.Who knew?Iíll use this as base until I head back home.Modest hotels donít get any nicer.I was settled in by 4-ish so had time for an aimless walk through town.It feels just right to be here.Lights over the shopping streets.Otherwise Xmas is low key.One thing I canít forgive Bath:the Disney Store on Milsom Street.Tell me it isnít so.Otherwise very appealing.

 

Back to the hotel for a hairwash, tub soak, and cuppa.Dinner near the Theatre Royal, a ten minute walk back to the hotel.

 

 

Tuesday, December 10

 

Lousy day for weather.Otherwise fun crawling around Bath.Stayed dark, gray and drizzly all day.Dar (lights on) by 3:30pm.Not exactly postcard weather.Early morning at Bath Abbey where I happened to hit a rehearsal preview of the Christmas choral service.Started walking all over, especially the Circus and Royal Crescent.Grand, even with the cars and drizzle.Wanted to sweep along in a non-Regency gown feeling elegant.Settled for jeans and rain parka.I have trouble keeping my eras straight.Late morning I ended up at the (Upper) Assembly Rooms and Costume Museum.Iíd love to do an event -- filmed -- in the Assembly Rooms.Itís work great and be an absolute hoot.Only sympatico types invited.

 

Good lunch at an Italian restaurant followed by more strolling.The museum at the Royal Crescent is unfortunately closed for the winter, so I went back to the hotel around 2:30 for a nap.

 

Out again along Great Pulteney Street, Laura Place, etc.Easy to picture Jane Austen scenes all around.Out once more for dinner and now dropping off.

 

 

Wednesday, December 11

 

Low key day.Still gray and almost drizzly.After breakfast, took pleasant drive to Wells.Itís only about seventeen miles.Walked a bit around town and the market, but focused mostly on the Cathedral.Overall itís flat, low and square (compared to, say, the French cathedrals).The fabulous hourglass arches supporting the central tower are still wonderful.I wish theyíd been left open, but itís closed off by the organ and quire.

 

The Chapter House and the flowing stairs up to it are the most dramatic and moving bits of architecture around.As a benefit of being here in December, I was alone, truly alone, in the whole Cathedral, Chapter House and cloisters.

 

Lunched in the cafe in the cloister.Itís quite beautiful with stone arches, vaults, white and clear paned glass on one side, polished wooden tables and benches.It must be a big luncheon stop for the retirement crowd -- I was a good twenty years younger than the crowd.Delicious food and modest prices.

 

Back to Bath by mid-afternoon and classic tea at Canarys.Then a nap and some laps in the tub.Dinner at an excellent restaurant on Pulteney Bridge, new with gay and fashion connections.Food was delicious and the staff friendly.Not much business yet.Hope they do OK.

 

 

Thursday, December 12

 

Used the day to just hang around Bath.Weather still as dull as it has been.Walked all morning, north over the bridge to the London road, up over the top to the Royal Crescent, back and forth through the gravel walk and Victoria Park, around the Circus, then browsing through the shopping areas.THEN along the riverbank.Lots of fun to be moving moving moving.Lunch (mediocre) at the Empire Hotel in the conservatory next to a radiator.Atmosphere fine, food, blah.

 

Back for a nap and to drop off the camera.Not an appealing photo day to say the least.Teas in the tasteful grace of the Pump Room.Dinner at Sally Lunnís house, the oldest -- 1680 -- in Bath.Food was good despite the tourist status.Service was very pleasant and the atmosphere emphasizes candlelight.Got crowded around 8:30.Sophisticated Bath dines late.

 

 

Friday, December 13

 

Last day, boo hoo.Raining a bit when I drove off from Bath after breakfast.Headed east, not sure where Iíd stop along the way.Noticed signs for Avebury along the way so I took a detour for a visit.Almost rain when I got there, but I liked it much better on this return trip anyway.The ditch is astounding in scale, while at certain points the standing stones seem to run off into the horizon.If Iíd planned it all differently, Iíd have walked to Silbury Hill -- a man made mound -- or some of the other barrows and henges in the area.As it was I walked a good bit around the rings and village.Off off off season the village becomes almost invisible.There was a stillness and wildness today that fit quite well.(It rained and was deserted on my other visit so who knows how the mood or MY mood was different!)

 

Weather cleared somewhat as I left, clouds breaking up, but raw and cold.Drove on to Marlborough where I had a pleasant leisurely lunch.Stayed on the A4 until Reading where I reluctantly joined the speeding hordes on the M4.Maybe 45 minutes later -- less -- I was lucky enough to find the back entrance to Heathrow and returned the car without having to tensely weave my way past the Concorde roundabout in front of the terminals.

 

Checked in before 4pm which meant a long wait in the Admirals Club before my 6:30 flight.Security keeps getting thicker and slower with every flight.Lots and lots of hand baggage checks, but after a second x-ray check they let everything through.No taking out batteries, etc. so I guess thereís no particular alert on right now.Home soon.

 
     
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