LONDON CALLING – Thursday, 14 February 2019

I don’t have Google Maps on my phone: I have Moron Maps. My children have expanded my deficit awareness. Today’s a sleep-in day. We’re pretty whipped. One of the consequences of sleep-in day is no breakfast; this could set a tone for the conscious part of sleep-in day. 

I’m pretty fucking excited because today we get to tour Sir John Soane’s House on Lincoln’s Inn Fields. When I was a college ‘student’, I spent the month of January 1974 on a London Theater program. We saw 23 plays in 18 days. Because I was free during the daylight hours, I could tag along with Art History nerds on the concurrent London Architecture program. The 45-year-old imprint of Sir John Soane’s House is permanent. It’s one of my go-to daydream locations. Now I’m going to show it to my family. 

The House is the most sophisticated, most intricate, most dazzling example of over-the-top domestic clutter in the known universe. Soane loved his stuff, loved his self, and loved showing off them both. Over time, he combined three town houses into one great, infinitely complex warren of amazement. One surprise after another. Floors and ceilings float, then melt away. Mirrors and skylights play ventriloquist with light. Antiquities cover just about every surface. And on every chair, there is a teasel.

Soane was an early exemplar of the 18th Century Neo-Classical style of architecture. He rose from the standard humble beginnings to become a Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy, an official architect of the Office of Works, and a Knight of the Realm. His supreme achievement was the Bank of England building whose interior of vast domed banking halls was gutted in the 1920s. He also designed the Dulwich Picture Gallery, opened in 1817, the first public art museum in England. His scheme of a series of rooms lit from above by skylights has been the template for gallery design ever since. A wacky side note: When his wife, Eliza, died, he designed her tomb, which subsequently became the model (long after his death) for London’s iconic red phone box. 

We are booked on the noon tour led by a perky guide named Philip whose enthusiasm and knowledge adds a welcome human element to Soane’s astonishing, occasionally wearying, contrivances. How did Sir John get the three-ton alabaster sarcophagus of Seti I into the fucking basement? One is too gobsmacked to ask, but Philip’ll tell you anyway. By the time we step into the sunshine, we’re almost too stunned to realize we’re famished. 

A ‘Belgian’ restaurant provides us with a hearty lunch and we’re ready to search for Charles Dickens’ House. While he lived many places in London, all but this, his first home on Doughty Street, no longer exist. The over-riding theme of this museum is Dickens & Food, a topic on which he could talk endlessly. In fact, his wife, Catherine, wrote a popular cookbook called What Shall We Have for Dinner? Satisfactorily Answered by Numerous Bills of Fare for from Two to Eighteen Persons.

On a personal note: It’s time to wash some of our more grim clothings. Stopping at the superdupermarket on the way back to 6 Broad Court, we stock up on detergents. Now the trick will be finding time to actually do a load of laundry. No big whoop. Dinner’s at a Laotian restaurant. Dining options in London have been cosmopolitan and often excellent. After dinner and before listening to classical piano concert by ‘candlelight’ in St Martin-in-the-Fields, we share a slice of Lemon Drizzle cake in St Martin’s crypt. The ideal combo of spooky and delicious.

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