When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life, for there is in London all that life can afford.
Although we lived two hours from London we only visited a few times. After our seven day tour of Europe at Easter we stayed at our daughter’s house in Shepherd’s Bush for one night before checking into the Regent Palace Hotel in Piccadilly (built 1915). We had an enormous room with single beds at opposite ends so John and I had to shout to communicate. The shower rose was missing but a handyman fixed the problem when requested.
We had been told the best place to get tickets for shows was the Half Price Ticket Booth so we turned up at 9.45 am to find a long queue already established. After half an hour we had our tickets for Jailhouse Rock at £22.50 each. Although well back they were good seats.
Our fellow exchange teachers had been giving us advice after their stay in London. They too were watching their budget. The Tescos near our hotel supplied sandwiches and fruit salad for lunch.
We already knew a little about Samuel Johnson as his house was in Lichfield. We found a 1997 bronze statue of his cat, Hodge, outside Samuel Johnson’s London House. Hodge is sitting next to a pair of empty oyster shells (his main food) on top of a copy of Johnson’s famous dictionary and the inscription, ” a very fine cat indeed.”
With a free day ahead of us we strolled along Piccadilly, Regent Street and Carnaby Street. The last of these was a disappointment as it seemed to be an ordinary street with a few clothes shops and a pub called The Shakespeare at the end. John said it had changed since the 1960s when it was THE place to shop for fashionable clothes.
Speaking of clothes, John had to pose with the most elegant dandy of them all, Beau Brummell, the arbiter of men’s fashion in Regency England. I wonder what he would have thought of John’s gear?
We wandered around Fortnum and Masons looking at food until we became hungry and went back to the hotel for our lunch.
A little rest and we were off again, this time in the other direction towards Trafalgar Square and St Martin in the Fields, past St Marys and then to St Clements where we could see the shell marks from the bombing in WW2. St Pauls Cathedral was undergoing restoration and one side was completely covered in scaffolding. A picture of the cathedral was drawn on part of the scaffolding to show what it was like underneath.
I always thought St Pauls was the inspiration for the tiered wedding cake but found another little church called St Brides, also designed by Christopher Wren, which claims to be the one. It certainly looks the part. From St Pauls we walked down to the Thames where a new bridge has been built over to the Tate Modern, apparently one of the biggest tourist attractions in London, along with the London Eye. The riverside walk was interesting, with the tide coming in strongly, bringing with it a salty smell and lots of rubbish. We examined Cleopatra’s Needle, given to England in 1819 by Muhammad Ali, the ruler of Egypt and Sudan at that time, bombed almost 100 years later in 1918. Big pieces are gouged out of the base of the column and one of the sphinxes.
Nearly back to our hotel we bought sushi, wine and prawn salad and took it back to our room. Dressed up for the theatre we walked for two minutes and were there. I found this written about the show from thisistheatre.com.
Previewed 26 March 2004, opened 19 April 2004, closed 23 April 2005 at the Piccadilly Theatre in London
The major new stage musical Jailhouse Rock in London featuring Mario Kombou as Elvis Presley.
Featuring a rich catalogue of 1950’s rock’n’roll classics, Jailhouse Rock The Musical tells the story of Vince Everett, a young man from the wrong side of the tracks who discovers his own unique musical talent whilst doing time in jail and emerges to become the world’s greatest rock’n’roll star, only to discover that he isn’t ready for the pressures that money and fame can bring. Jailhouse Rock The Musical is a new stage musical version of the classic 1957 Elvis film Jailhouse Rock. The show also charts the development of rock’n’roll from its roots in blues and country music and will feature a mix of musical styles alongside a host of popular rock’n’roll hits which will appeal to all theatregoers, with plenty of classic hits to satisfy Elvis fans!
Whilst we enjoyed the evening we were a little disappointed to find the song “Jailhouse Rock” was not included!
We had previously spent a week in London (in 1998), but I had never been in the Tower of London so the next day was ready to explore.
The Tower is famous for its display of Crown Jewels, its ravens and its Beefeaters. Looking back over time my most vivid memory is the execution site of Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard and Lady Jane Grey. We were told that the exact spot is halfway between the entrance to the Crown Jewels and White Tower. We also visited Sir Walter Raleigh’s room where he lived in relative comfort, growing exotic plants and writing his book “The History of the World”. Both Elizabeth 1 and her successor James 1, imprisoned him a total of three times for displeasing, reckless behaviour. His luck finally ran out and James 1 had him executed outside the Palace of Westminster in 1618.
Carina was keen for us to go to the “Classical Spectacular” at the Royal Albert so we booked into a moderately priced hotel in Hampstead for a weekend in November with the intention of seeing the show on Sunday night.
That left Saturday to do some exploring. John enjoyed visiting the haunts of his youth and watching a Rugby game where he once used to play as a young man. Not far from the hotel we saw a small theatre advertising a play called “Love Me Tonight” so we booked for that night and obtained seats two rows from the front.
The play was memorable, not because of the brilliant acting, but for the incredible rudeness of the girls in front of us. Every time a certain male actor spoke they did their best to distract him. John and I were astonished, especially as the actor did his best to ignore them and ploughed valiantly on. At intermission I overheard them laughing in the ladies’ toilets. Apparently they knew him and for some reason were punishing him by sabotaging the play. Fortunately they left for the second half and the play proceeded uneventfully to the final curtain.
The next day we met up with our daughter and explored the Victoria and Albert Museum. That evening after we took our seats at the Royal Albert, Carina and her flatmates arriving in the nick of time.
The evening was hugely entertaining and splendidly “over the top”. Popular classical music was accompanied by multi-coloured laser displays, other special effects plus singing and dancing. Traditional English songs such as “Land of Hope and Glory” were played alongside the old favourites, “Pomp and Circumstance” by Elgar and “British Sea Songs”. The climax was the 1812 Overture with thundering cannons and indoor fireworks.
The worst part of the weekend was getting up at 5.00 am on Monday morning and driving straight to school. It took two hours and fortunately for me I was able to sleep all the way. John was driving in case you were wondering.
Our third visit coincided with preparations for a terrorist bomb attack. Although it did not happen until 2005 there were plenty of signs that the authorities were expecting it.
We caught the bus from Lichfield to London and checked into our hotel. Assuming we could leave our luggage, we were surprised on Sunday morning when we were told, because of the terrorist precautions, that we would have to take our luggage to the nearest railway station. There we found long queues of people doing the same thing. Although we were queried about the batteries in our bags we finally got them safely stowed for the day.
On the Saturday night we saw the musical production The Rat Pack – Live From Las Vegas at the Strand Theatre. The show featured actors playing the parts of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr and Dean Martin. With a 15 piece orchestra they sang songs such as Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime, I’ve Got You Under My Skin, Night And Day, Strangers in the Night and That’s Amore.
We enjoyed it very much. So did Carina, her childhood friend Elizabeth, and Ben, formerly known as “the interested one”, who can now be identified.
This might be the end of our time in London but we have 14 more letters to go so don’t worry, we have a lot more of England and Europe to see yet. Also we must not forget to talk about the reason I was in England in the first place, to teach children!