Night unfurls its splendor
Grasp it, sense it
Tremulous and tender
Turn your face away
From the garish light of day.
Turn your thoughts away
From cold, unfeeling light,
And listen to the music of the night.
It's late afternoon in London and we are suffering from jet lag! I don't even want to think how many hours we have been awake, but we need to keep going until it is bedtime here.
We meet Barrie's son, Tony, for an early dinner, then a walk up to Trafalgar Square. The London night air hits me: windy, damp and cold. Tony tries hard to keep us awake by showing me the Square and some of the very old and beautiful lamp posts surrounding it. He thinks if he talks long enough, I will be enraptured with his history lessons and forget about bed, a pillow and sleep. I am having difficulty paying attention to Tony's personalized tour or showing any interest in the sights this night. I am just cold and tired.
Instead of a heavy coat, I had decided to layer for this trip. Wrong decision. Even three layers are not sufficient coverage for the late March weather, which is still "going out like a lion". Our walk around Trafalgar Square quickly became an excuse to seek out the nearest pub for warmth! After sharing a nice bottle of wine and the ever present British chips, my ears were finally thawed out and we had kept ourselves up until 8:30 London time. Hello bed! Crash.
Day #2 - The Music of The Night
Somewhat rested, we head out for breakfast and that first beautiful cup of strong European coffee. Cream and sugar do nothing to take away the strength and the wonderful bitter flavor that coats your tongue and puts hair on a man's chest. Pair it with a fresh buttery croissant and the angels sing.
Dear nine pounds that I lost , please don't find me again in London!
As the best part of our European adventures have always been the walking, we take off across Trafalgar Square and end up in Leicester Square, down the streets and into the theatre district, looking for Her Majesty's Theatre where we have tickets for Phantom.
The Phantom - tortured, beautiful, passionate, brilliant, crazed, in love - Phantom. To hear Andrew Lloyd Weber's music in Her Majesty's Theatre, in London - was a gift from my husband! The significance of being here, hit me during the standing ovation and I cried. I cry a lot these days - because I am happy - not because I am sad!
As tears must be offset by laughter, we decided to stop for a drink at "our" little pub after the play. When we travel, it takes only one trip to a pub, bar or restaurant for it to become "ours" if we like it. "Our" pub this time is The Sherlock Holmes, which is just around the corner from our hotel. I had wanted an Irish Coffee to warm up after a walk in the cold London night. Barrie came back with a glass of whiskey on the rocks, explaining that the pub had no coffee! Since straight whiskey and I are not a good pairing, I was dubious about how this would go down.
No need to worry! Four young, rowdy people came into the pub and asked to share our table. Many drinks seemed to have been consumed before they arrived in "our" pub that night. The most outgoing fellow, J.C., gave me a kiss and a hug and grabbed my whiskey and took a drink. I loved it! We gave him free rein over my glass of whiskey (which I was told was a top end Scottish malt whisky) and he was not shy about accepting it! After passing the glass to his companions - they all agreed that it was a great whiskey! We talked, found out he was a personal trainer who had lived all over the world. Raised in Wales with a Scottish father and an Irish mother he had a joy of life that was definitely enhanced by several drinks and was very contagious! He reminded me of old times and old friends who loved to party and never knew a stranger. Friends, laughter and wonderful people are universal and should always be treasured. Even if only for a few hours.
Our "Music of The Night" began with Phantom and ended in a pub, with four young adults who thought we were pretty "cool". After hugs and kisses, we made our way back to the hotel for a good night's sleep. I love the music of the London night! It is full of many voices.
Day #3 - Nirvana in Huevos Rancheros, a Shop, and a Tea
If you know me very well at all, you know that good Mexican food can cause drool to run down my chin just by thinking about it. On our second waking day in London, Barrie had a surprise and we headed for one of the best breakfast joints in London: The Breakfast Club. It is a tiny restaurant with close quarters and tables meant to be shared with strangers so everyone can find a seat. The rest of the folks wait outside in the cold and damp until a table becomes available. If you were a Seinfeld fan, think "Soup Nazi". Is any restaurant worth this? Yes! The best Huevos Rancheros I have ever had in my life! Neither California nor Arizona can beat these! So in the middle of London, I have found the Nirvana of Mexican food! Happy sigh!
Since I had found out on our first night that layering was not going to keep me warm enough, after breakfast we went in search of a coat! We were in and out of several little shops and large department stores and finally, in a tiny store off Carnaby Street, I found a gem - both the store clerk and the coat! A friendly gal who had lived in Florida for a time with her "ex" boyfriend, spent an hour trying to find the right coat for me. She happily chatted about Florida and Paris (where her Mother lives) while climbing up and down a ladder to bring coats from the loft to see if they would fit and I would like them (two very different things)! Coat selected, Barrie now has a list of restaurants she recommends in Paris, a final haggle on the price and we arrive at a price that is more than fair! Now - I have traveled with a big fleece wrap since 1999 and it was time to get rid of it. She had her eye on my wrap since we came in the store and gladly accepted it as my little donation to her. She was more than happy to have this wonderful warm wrap for her cold London days and I was more than happy to leave it with someone who was so appreciative of my relic! I LOVE THIS CITY! How many places do you shop that you end up hugging the clerk when you leave? Nirvana in a clothing shop!
Barrie had promised me a surprise when we got to London, but he gets too excited about telling me. He had broken down before we left home and told me that we were going for an Afternoon Tea while in London. . .so my "surprise" was a wonderful experience across the street from Buckingham Palace. A full Afternoon Tea, served by a charming lady and more food than I could eat at 4:00 p.m. (remember the Nirvana breakfast?), yet too beautiful and tasty to leave behind. I had to compromise on tasting a bite or two of the pastries so that I didn't have to roll out the door! Nirvana in a British Afternoon Tea!
Dear nine pounds, you are stalking me in London! Go away!
Near the end of the Tea, I heard my name being said by the piano player. He then started playing my favorite song, Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World"! Barrie had requested it for me. I cried - again! (I told you I cry a lot these days!) It IS a wonderful world! I try to never forget that!
Day #4 - Meeting a Great Man
Since I have known Barrie, there is one person that I knew had clearly influenced his life as a no other person had: Geoffrey Lancashire. Geoff was the mentor/father/friend that Barrie and many other young men were so lucky to have in their lives when they were Sea Cadets. On our other trips to London, Barrie had met with Geoff and some of the old Cadets for drinks in a pub and I had always done something else during those times as I didn't want to be a fifth or sixth wheel with a group of "mates" when I would have nothing to talk about and be the only woman.
This time, we met Geoff alone - and I at last had a chance to get to know the man who meant so much to my husband. Three hours later, after a lunch of fish and chips and three London Pride ales, Geoff was still ready to keep going (he's 91). Barrie & I were the ones who were getting tired and thinking about the long train ride to get back into London and our hotel. God bless anyone who has his strength of body and mind at 91 years of age. His mother lived to be over 100, so we have promised to be at his 100 birthday celebration!
Before we left, I had a chance to tell Geoff, "Every good thing that is in my husband, is because of you". As one would expect, he reacted in a very humble way. Because THAT is what makes a great man - they never think of themselves as doing anything extraordinary!
Day #5 - The Real London "Underground"
Tonight we went to The 100 Club - an iconic "underground" music club that has been in existence under this name since 1964, but the venue has been the same since 1942. It was and still is a place for the "musicians' musician". If you play here, you have already made it. Some of the names who have played in this club: The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Chuck Barry, Louis Armstrong, and the list goes on. We were here to listen to Ben Waters. He is regarded as the best boogie woogie piano player in the country - I would argue the world! And, by a great chance of life, I offered an extra chair next to ours to an older woman I saw standing. She turned out to be Ben's mother and manager: Ann Waters. A lovely, kind lady who has managed his career for 25 years. At the end of the first set - she went to get Ben and brought him over to meet us. I got two kisses (actually four - European style) from Ben! I love this city! I feel like such a Londoner now! I was part of the music underground for a few hours!
Day #6 - Palm Sunday - Time for Reflection
After the performance we saw last night from a man who can make the piano do things I've never seen before (he actually plays too fast for the drummer to keep up with him) - it was time for some inner reflection and the melancholy organ music that always sounds like a death dirge to me.
We walked to Westminster Abbey for Palm Sunday Service. It was surprisingly quiet and solemn, in spite of hundreds of people attending. The service was a traditional Church of England service, with a fair bit of Latin that was meant to coincide and reflect the Holy Week that is coming.
I came to the service this morning after a disquieting message from the USA, so I had a bit of sadness and a pity party going on in my head and heart.
It is hard to look around this vast Abbey and think that our little problems are big ones. The clergy led the congregation into the Abbey at the beginning of the service and we walked past many tombs, but the one that stood out for me was that of Sir Isaac Newton. We were walking where great men and women had walked. We were mere steps from the tombs of Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. We walked the path that Diana and Kate both walked as brides. We walked past the spot that held Diana's coffin. All images imprinted in our minds from television screens watched across the ocean in the USA. We walked the same path that many heads of state have walked with heavy hearts and crowns. The history puts it all in perspective. We are all only passing through here.
We are here for a finite amount of time. Let's not waste it on being mean and petty. Life and love are meant to be celebrated.
And so our time in London is drawing to a close and I am sad to leave. Each time I visit I love it more. At the end of the service today, we took communion and it was a lovely way to send us on our way to our next adventure and a nice start to this Holy Week.
Thanks for the memories, London and for the beautiful Music of The Night.