After a summer reluctant to end, London has entered its winter delivery of mist and rain, with darkness creeping in earlier each evening. When we return from spring on the bottom of the world, it will be dark here at 4.
Inlaws Tom and Ruth arrived amid the second tube strike in a week and took two hours to crawl through traffic from Heathrow, but Dutch and wife Barb chunneled back from France in comfort with us on the Eurostar. We love sharing our city with family and friends-and would that we had more than one guest room and one bath for us all! While we were away, our niece Katie stayed here, and got engaged immediately afterward in Paris. Oh la la! She’s our third bride-to-be niece recently. By mid October, suddenly faced with the first break since August with no guests on the doorstep, we sat in the living room reading for the first two nights, repeatedly saying, “Isn’t this remarkable?” What a peaceful feeling!
Our pub and the new Indian restaurant at the end of our mews have gotten many visits from guests. The Duke of Kendal also opened for singing on Wednesdays, with Paul at the piano with his cigarette and smiling June on Sundays; we still prefer the latter… how often can you hear, “Who do you think you are kidding Mr. Hitler, if you think old England’s down?” or “…you get three meals quite regular, and two new suits beside, thirty bob a week, a wife and kids to keep, come inside you silly bugger, come inside!” The latter is the lunatic asylum song, usually sung by John, a retired headmaster. (A school principal, lest you've forgotten.)
Other wonderful singing is from the angelic little choirboys at Westminster Abbey at the 11 am service, wearing white neck ruffles under scarlet gowns. We often take guests, astounded to sit in ancient carved wooden quire with the singers; we send them off to the museum in the cloister afterward. Ask the usher to sit there next time you go to London.
Encouraged by my friends, I bought an Armani gray wool beret at a fashion show to benefit breast cancer. The men’s fashions were more outlandish than the women’s, but the peach bellinis and hors d'oeuvres were tasty, served by young staff in black. I learned that the emporium near Harrod’s caters to the younger set, and that there is another entire store for um, my type. Hmmm. It was fun, and sister-in-law Ruth and other military wives were there too. My goal is to buy as little as possible here, since I’m constantly horrified by prices. France’s VAT is even higher than England’s 17.5%, a tax that misses few purchases.
Mike and I attended The Lieutenant of Innismore at the Garrick Theatre, which offered two for ones in the best seats: fourth row center for us. This Irish black comedy offered an earnest torturer, who’d just removed two toenails from his prisoner’s foot for selling marijuana to schoolkids. He announced he’d lost his train of thought; the prisoner, bare-chested, bloody, chained upside down in a dark warehouse, observed that it must be a slow train indeed! His right nipple was saved from the razor by a call from Da announcing that Wee Thomas, the torturer’s cat, was ailing. A comedic search for another cat, dyeing it with shoe polish, and shooting some patriotic gangsters was funny, terrible, gory, and we had a great time adding dinner before the Portrait Gallery nearby to see American paintings on loan from the Smithsonian. A great London day. Alice Neel, Matthew Brady, John Singer Sargent, and Gilbert Stuart added to our pleasure.
We continue to read about the Washington DC sniper and the carnage in once peaceful Bali. London is expecting awful things in the next month, up until Christmas. Firemen vow several lengthy strikes, so the army will take over with a fraction of the personnel and ancient equipment, the 800 Green Goddesses, last used in the seventies. (We wonder who owns the three thousand new trucks in the stations. The firemen?) The tube, stores, chunnel, trains, and many others will be unable to protect users. The deepest tubes will close, and some schools and shops will reduce operations. We all are disgusted, even though the firemen indeed deserve higher pay. But 40 to 60 %? I’d guess it would take the other unions about 5 minutes to put their own new demands on the table. Blair has demanded this not happen, and we’ll miss all the excitement by being away.
What’s your favorite term for money? The Scots use dough and everyone here recognizes bread or readies, but the favorite is dosh. (Doss was the cost of a bed at night.) There is wonga, lolly, brass, or wad. Quid, used like buck, came from Latin “what one needs” over 400 years ago as in quid quid pro. A pony is £25 and a grand £1000. Bookies and punters call a pound a bleeder, as in losing cash or blood. Cockneys use rhyming slang, as “trouble and strife” for “wife” so a fivah (fiver) is a Lady Godiva, and dosh becomes “orange squash” which some of you know as a summer drink. We say orange soda.
The phone company politely wrote, “The bill we sent you does not appear to have been paid. Could you please now make payment using the slip below. If you have paid recently please accept our thanks and apologies for having troubled you.” Women may go to the Post Office for a free bus and tube pass at age 60, but men must wait until 65. (note:This later changed when men complained.) Train fares too are cheaper for seniors, and cheaper for all ages “after half-nine” in the morning. Public transport is used by all.
Past shops and chadors nearby on Edgware Road lies the Church Street market, the oldest daily street market in London. Under umbrellas foods, clothes, plants, antiques, and kitchenware spewed from boxes, crates and colored tents for several blocks. We bought plants for the roof and passed on a set of 12 fish knives and forks from Victorian India, with ivory handles. Did we save £200 or pass up a treasure? A babble of half the languages of the world was interwoven with Cockney. “Help you, dolling? ‘at’s a good un, ‘tis. Tyke it home wif you, Madam!” The British don’t say “ma’am” and a Cockney counts “one, two, free, four.” When we bought a small plant, the lady said she'd "tart it up" and put it in a pretty paper wrap with a ribbon. One one visit we passed kitchen utensils and vegetables "to venture into a shop where we bought Mike a handsome "Scottish" antique dresser. I hope it really is since I'm think the drawer pulls may not be period.
Ireland has voted yes, finally, on expanding the European Union. They have grown 20% richer than the rest of Europe, thanks to massive inpouring of money, which will now be available for Poland and others. Ireland has even become expensive to visit. There will be 25 countries and 450 million people in the EU--bigger than the US population. The British wonder why their taxes buy Spain large new mechanized boats while they’re forbidden to fish their own waters! Note: firemen, fishermen, and actors are all part of the 46% drop in marriages in English churches in the last ten years. Some of my chapters are short because they speak of time abroad, in the Foreign Travels section. Happy Hallowe’en