Saturday, 16 April 2011
Well, I’m back from London Book Fair -- I was supposed to go last year but, as some of you might remember, the eruption of an Icelandic volcano cancelled all air travel here for a while. This year my day job sent me there on business, and when my colleagues went home I stayed for a holiday.
The first night after the Fair, I headed for Picadilly Circus for a performance of Lillian Hellman’s 1934 play “The Children’s Hour.” I was also fortunate to find a hostel in the middle of Picadilly, only a few blocks from the theatre. I love hostels, excellent Spartan accommodations for tightwads in an expensive city.
I wanted to see this particular play; to my knowledge, this was the first time it has been performed since I’ve been alive. I’ve never had a chance to see the 1936 version with Miriam Hopkins, Joel McRae and Merle Oberon, but I did love the 1962 version with Shirley MacLaine, James Garner and Audrey Hepburn. This production carried a surprisingly prominent cast of Ellen Burstyn, Kiera Knightley, Elizabeth Moss and Carol Kane, all famous television and film actresses who proved their stage presence here.
The next day I took London’s open-top bus tour, drank coffee and oxtail-flavoured crisps on the banks of the Thames, and visited the Garden Museum – a small but beautiful volunteer exhibit across the Thames from Big Ben. They have a collection of gardening instruments from centuries past, finely-crafted instruments whose names most people would once have recognized – dibblers, spudders and netting shuttles.
I recommend the Imperial War Museum to London visitors as well, particularly for its focus not just on the guns and machines, but on neighbourhoods and families. In its depths English rooms from the 1940s are recreated – books, music, utensils – just as it would have been in the Blitz. In the middle of the living room was one of the cages families would hide inside, and along the wall are the stories of the children – native Londoners and refugees – who were evacuated and who stayed. I appreciate learning about war through the eyes of most people who see it, rather than through political speeches or generals’ memoirs.
I was not able to see the one museum I most wanted to, however -- the Natural History Museum. Hopefully I can return soon and see it properly, with The Girl.
I cannot highly enough recommend London’s transportation system; between the Underground, the buses and the very walkable streets, you can go anywhere quickly and easily. Locals complain about the Tube and the crowds, but I would rather have a system with a rush-hour crush than none at all. I was left wondering how, and how long, such a system can be maintained.
Photo 1: Big Ben across the Thames.
Photo 2: The West End at night.
Photo 3: Garden implements from decades past.
Photo 4: The artillery guns outside the Imperial War Museum.