Saturday, August 13, 2016

Brunch with Friends--and a Day of Marvelous Music (at Canary Wharf and BBC Proms)

Saturday, August 13. 2016

     Today was all about Music--of the most marvelous kind. And in listening to truly great stuff, I ticked an important item off my Bucket List, namely, attending the BBC Proms. But I am getting ahead of myself...

Beginning Work at Dawn:
     I awoke at 6.30, lazed until 7.00, then sternly told myself to get cracking. I intended to spend much of the morning at work on the paper I will be presenting at the conference in Edinburgh, Scotland, that I will be attending early next month. While Bethnal Green lay fast asleep on a Saturday morning and before it stirred to life, I used the quiet stillness of dawn to start drafting my paper. In-between I stopped to fix myself a breakfast of muesli with yogurt and coffee and then I was at it again. Before I knew it, the hands of my watch had crept to 9.30 am. When I received a text from my friend Edward informing me that our brunch appointment would need to be postponed by an hour--from 11.00 am to 12 noon--I actually welcomed the delay as I could continue working without breaking my trend of thought. Within three hours, I had six footnoted pages ready and was well on my way. It was, therefore, with no guilt whatsoever that I could goof off for the rest of the day and spend it as the whim took me.
          One quick shower later, I had dressed and was out the door heading for Stepney Green Tube station to take the District Line to Victoria from where I changed to the Victoria Line to get off at Vauxhall--for it was at Vauxhall that I had my brunch appointment.

Brunch with A Very Dear Newly-Married Couple:
     Edward is the son of my dear friends Cynthia and Michael. Very recently, he married a lovely girl named Lavanya and had moved into her beautiful flat right outside Vauxhall Bridge. Their location could not have been more appealing. I was meeting them for the first time since their wedding and was very excited to discover that Edward's parents were also invited. I had about an hour catching up with the newly-weds before Michael and Cynthia arrived.
     Brunch was soon served--and my young friends had a superb spread laid out most enticingly for us. There was couscous studded with raisins and olives, dolmas (Greek vine leaves stuffed with rice), a salad made with mixed greens and mozarella cheese, a selection of cheeses, tomato bruschetta (brought by Cynthia), olives with feta cheese, three bean salad, falafel, crispy baguette--everything was vegetarian (as Lav is vegetarian) but so delicious. In the cozy company of these lovely young people with whom I have a special rapport, time flew. It was about 2. 30 when we left St. George's Wharf--a massive complex of apartment buildings overlooking the Thames. We had the most pleasant time and I look forward to seeing them again soon.

Off to Canary Wharf for A Country Music Festival:    
     My friends got tired just listening to my plans for the rest of the day: I traveled West from my home in Bethnal Green to Vauxhall. From Vauxhall, I would tube it back East to Canary Wharf. Later in the evening, I would travel west again to the Royal Albert Hall for the BBC Proms and at the end of the day, I would travel east again back home to Bethnal Green. Only I did not think I was being crazy. All I thought I was doing was ticking off items on my Bucket List and, in the process, making the most of every second of a splendid Saturday.
     So, when I arrived at Canada Square Park at Canary Wharf, the glass and concrete jungle on the curve of the Thames that now houses London's financial district, there was a substantial sprinkling of country music fans--all assembled on green plastic ground squares to participate in a free concert entitled 'Nashville Meets London'. British and American country musicians would be featured over the next two days playing some of their own compositions as well as country classics. By the utter grace of God, I found myself a corner seat on a bench complete with broad arm rest! This eliminated my having to squat down on the grass--as position I am no longer flexible enough to achieve--not without suffering the severe result of such contortions the next day! Most people had made a picnic of it with chilled wine, beer, cheese and strawberries in evidence on the grass. There were also several of my own countrymen in sight--wearing Stetsons and star-spangled waistcoats to proclaim their national allegiance.
     The music was great. When I arrived at 3. 30 pm, a York-based UK group called 'Pauper Kings' were just about to start their set. They were superb--having just arrived from a trip to Nashville, Tennessee, they were bursting with inspiration and their compositions reflected it. After a whole hour,  an African-American singer took the mike. She was sultry and soulful--a very different sound from Pauper Kings--but her voice was compelling. I listened to her for about 20 minutes and then decided to move on as I had an important item on my agenda--and I did not want to miss it.

Off to the BBC Proms at the Royal Albert Hall:
     The BBC Proms are an essential feature of London's summer 'season'. I had never attended and was keen to be a part of at least one performance. From the end of July until early September, every single evening, the BBC presents classical music at the Royal Albert Hall--itself one of my favorite buildings in the city of London. Although a few years ago, Chriselle and I had taken a guided tour of the building, I had never attended a performance there--and I could not wait to do so!
     Day Tickets for each evening's performances are available for 6 pounds each but the queue is so long, it has to be seen to be believed. Having arrived at 6. 15 pm, I was in despair, fully convinced that I was not getting in. In the queue that snaked all the way down the steps of the grand rotunda of a building, I made friends with a man named Jonathan and a woman named Pru (short for Prudence). They basically gave me the low down on the procedure for obtaining tickets and Jonathan who described himself as a "Prom Junkie" certainly knew the ropes. By 6. 50, we were in the hall, paying for our tickets (cash only) and taking our positions in the Arena--the standing space in front of the stage. The alternative position is way up high in the Gallery where standees have the opportunity to look down upon the stage from 'nose-bleed' heights. The protocol is informal and if, at any stage, you feel tired, you are welcome to sit (or even lie down) on the floor.
     Although it is customary to listen to some of the world's best classical musicians during the Proms, this evening it was a Big Band in attendance--The John Wilson Orchestra playing the music of George Gershwin. I had lucked out mightily. Entitled 'George Gershwin Rediscovered', the program featuring a fulsome orchestra whose rendition of favorites were well known to the packed audience seated on five circular tiers in the grand environs of the Royal Albert Hall whose acoustics are awesome.
     And so it was that I ticked two items off my Bucket List: I attended the Proms and I attended a concert at the Royal Albert Hall where some of the world's most talented and most famous people have performed. It was not just the music that was stirring--it was the entire atmosphere: the palpable excitement of the crowd, the terrific lighting, the stage and sound quality, the virtuosity of the performers, the style and substance of the conductor--and, of course, Gershwin's incredible music. During the 15 minutes intermission, when most people piled out for a beer, I got to know my new friends a bit more and hope very much to see them again as we exchanged contact details. The Prom queues are famous for nurturing friendships--and I hope I nurtured some this evening.
Home for Dinner and Bed:
     Although the show was supposed to go on till 9.20 pm, I left at 9.00 pm after thoroughly enjoying myself all evening. I was not sure how long it would take to get home and I did not want to be out on the street alone too late at night. Taking a No. 10 bus from across the Hall (after I had admired the superbly illuminated Albert Memorial in Hyde Park), I hopped off at Marble Arch and got the Central Line Tube straight home to Bethnal Green--it took less than 20 minutes--and right outside the station, there was the bus waiting to drop me off literally at my doorstep. At ten minutes to ten, I was walking through my door, organizing some dinner for myself (rice with Chicken Tikka Masala and Cauliflower) and getting myself ready for bed.
     Because tomorrow I have another fully planned day--church, then a trip to Kent to visit Chartwell, country home of Winston Churchill, I intend to set an alarm for myself.
     I went to bed satisfied at the fact that the day brought a happy combination of fruitful work, reunions with fond friends and the most abundant music--almost all of it for free.
    How fortunate am I?
     Until tomorrow, cheerio...

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