Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Museum Hopping, Pub Crawling, Seeing Felicity Kendall at the West End

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Chrissie is slowly getting into the swing of London life--and loving it! I an thrilled at her reactions for I am certain she will now leave part of her heart in this, my beloved city!

I awoke at 7. 30 am--possibly the latest I've woken up in a year! Sat grading a few papers while allowing her the luxury of a long lie-in. When she did awake after 9 am, we hurried through breakfast (pain au chocolate with tea for her, cereal with yogurt and then coffee for me) and then we were off.

The Wonders of the NHS:
It was while we were at the bus stop that my cell phone rang. It was my GP calling from his clinic (or 'surgery" as they say here) on Red Lion Street to find out why I had called earlier that morning. I told him that I needed a prescription filled for my thyroid deficiency and that my American medical insurance company was unable to help as they do not ship medications outside the USA. I wondered if he could write me a prescription which I could get filled locally. I could not believe how willingly and promptly he responded. A few questions later, the job was done. All I had to do was go by the clinic, pick up the prescription, have it filled out at a local pharmacy and then apply to Aetna Global (my American medical insurance company) for a reimbursement. The doctor was courtesy personified and I stood amazed by the ease with which he catered to my request.

Right enough, ten mintues later, after Chriselle and I had walked down to the clinic, I had my prescription in hand. Later in the day, at Boots, the pharmacist took a look at it and informed me that I was entitled to an exemption--this meant that I did not have to pay for it at all! I told her that I needed the medication desperately as my supply would soon run out. She gave me more forms and told me to take them to the clinic, have the doctor sign them and return them to her for a reimbursment! The thing about British bureaucracy is that though it is infuriatingly long-winded, it really does work! Don't you just love that about the British? For me, the wonders of the NHS will never cease and I truly believe that the American President who manages to create a national health service in the US will truly leave his mark on history. Mr. Obama, are you listening???

Browsing Through Persephone Books:
I just had to take five mintues to introduce Chriselle to one of my favorite places in London--the Persephone Book Shop on Red Lion Street. I told her the story of its founding, a tale she loved. How amazing, she said, that the movie Brief Encounter would inspire a viewer to obtain reprinting rights for the kind of feminine fiction that was produced in that era (the 1920s to 1950s). The paperbacks are beautifully produced in a uniform grey with end papers that are based on contemporary wall paper and fabric designs. And each one comes with a matching bookmark! If you wish to have the book gift wrapped, the wrapping is always a fushia pink tissue paper and the raffia binding includes the book mark which can then double as a gift tag! How very clever! Someday I shall write a blog about my favorite London things and Persephone Books will be right at the top of it!

More Highlights at the National Gallery:
Then, we were hurrying to another bus stop to catch a bus to the National Gallery to finish seeing the remaining Highlights on the curator's list. I provided background information on such iconic paintings as Constable's The Haywain (readers of my blog will recall that I had actually visited Suffolk and stood on the very spot on the banks of the River Stour which forms the backdrop of this enchanting painting).

The Haywain at the National Gallery

Placing myself in Constable's Landscape

She loved Turner too--though she professed less of a fondness for the Impressionists whose hazy depictions of reality she finds rather trying. We recalled and laughed over a line from Seinfeld in which Jerry's father, on viewing a work by Monet, states that he believes the artist painted without wearing his glasses! Through the Gainsboroughs and the Stubbs and the Gaugins and the Seurats we traveled, taking in the magnificence of the Baroque interiors of the Gallery as well as the superb mosaics on the floor at the grand main entrance with its twin urns filled with arresting spring flowers.

The National Portrait Gallery:
Then, because the National Portrait Gallery was just next door, I suggested we take in the Highlights there as well and we headed straight to the top floor to get a peek at the Tudor portraits many of which were by Hans Holbein. This is certainly my favorite part of this museum for the paintings never fail to bring alive for me the intrigues of the era about which we chatted as we took in the serious faces depicted in oil on canvas. We walked quickly then through the rest of the galleries, pausing occasionally to take a look at more contemporary canvases such as those of Charles and Diana by Bryan Organ soon after their engagement, Judi Dench by Alessandro Raho and Salman Rushdie by the late Bhupen Khakar. No, we did not give the Gallery the length of time it deserves. We merely hurtled through the rooms to get an idea of the variety of personages portrayed within as well as the multi media forms in which they are depicted. It was at this point that I began to feel sorry that my stint in London is drawing to a close (though I still have nearly 3 months to go). I feel a certain comfort in knowing that these institutions are just down the road from where I live. Once I cross the Pond and return home to Connecticut, I know I shall miss dreadfully their nearness, their sheer accessibility.

In and Out of Harrods:
Out on the sidewalk, we sat and people-watched as we ate our cheese and cucumber rolls, then walked quickly to Piccadilly to catch a bus to Knightsbridge as I wanted to return to Harrods to buy some more gifts and claim another free London Pass holders gift--this one based on a purchase that Chriselle would make. She, poor dear, wanted to get home and take a nap before logging on to begin work. I managed to twist her arm to accompany me, she easily agreed and off we went. We were literally in and out of Harrods and back on the bus home in the next hour--though the traffic can get frustrating when you have deadlines to meet and the bus just lumbers sluggishly along!

While Chriselle worked at her laptop communicating with New York and the rest of the world, I sat grading student papers. It was peaceful and quiet in the flat as we each worked separately but still together-an atmosphere that made Chriselle remark: "What a nice life you have created for yourself here in London, Mum. I feel so envious!" She wished she could stay longer and soak in some more of it, but we are doing rather well in terms of how much we have managed to pack into her visit so far.

The Last Cigarette at the West End:
At 6. 15, the two of us closed shop and left for St. Martin's Lane where we were meant to pick up free tickets that had suddenly landed in our lap to see The Last Cigarette at Trafalgar Studios, a play by Simon Gray that stars Felicity Kendal. Now apart from the fact that American TV viewing audience know her well through the many re-runs on American PBS TV stations (Good Neighbors, known as The Good Life in the UK and, more recently, Rosemary and Thyme), I know Felicity Kendall through my Bombay connections for her late sister Jennifer was married to Bollywood actor Shashi Kapoor and their children, Kunal, Karan and Sanjana are active in the Bombay theater scene through their family-owned Prithvi Theater at Juhu which I used to haunt during my college days in Bombay and in my later life as a Theater Critic for The Free Press Journal. So I was doubly pleased to see her on stage in real life.

The play was deeply absorbing and ingeniously staged. Three individuals (Kendall, Jasper Britton and Nicholas Le Provost) play a single individual, a writer, who is deeply addicted to nicotine and has received the news that he has malignant tumors on his lung. With just 18 months to live, the play is constructed around a monologue in which he talks about the influences that drew him to tobacco even though it killed both his father and his mother. In quite a brilliantly conceived production that demanded the utmost split-second timing in terms of delivery of lines, the three persons on stage blended into one being echoing each other's movements and mannerisms rather wonderfully--though as Chriselle pointed out (with her astute and trained histrionic eye), that Kendall's fussing with her hair detracted from the masculinity she was meant to portray and struck a rather odd note.

A Late Night Drink at our 'Local':
It was about 9. 30 when we left the theater, took a bus towards Ludgate Circus and decided to go to my 'local'--Ye Old Mitre Pub at Hatton Garden--which dates from 1532 as I really did want Chriselle to see it. We ordered our drinks (a light beer for her and a Guinness for me) and sat ourselves in what we believed was a quiet corner of the quaint little pub. All went well for the next ten minutes until we were joined by a old man called Charles who was nice to talk to and rather friendly and interesting. It was when his anonymous friend joined us that things got more hairy and I have to say that I did not fancy being forced to make conversation with a stranger who had already had one too many!!! Chriselle later told me that my face spoke volumes of my irritation at his unwelcome company and it was not long before we bid them goodnight and beat a hasty retreat!

Back home, Chriselle wanted me to watch an episode of Arrested Development, an American TV series that she has been watching and having brought the DVD over, we did watch an episode before we both fell asleep about 11. 30 pm.

1 comment:

Fëanor said...

You're totally packing it in, aren't you? Excellent. The National Gallery is a wonderful treasure, and I've visited it often, although perhaps not with as much discernment as the time I followed a curator around. Please see here if you like, where Constable's bucolic painting is mentioned.