It’s a half-hour walk through Trafalgar Square and down the east side of St. James Park to the Churchill War Rooms. Along the way, we note eight or so elegant horsemen with horsehair plumes on their helmets mustering before a crowd of onlookers on the vast, pebbled Horse Guards Parade grounds. Our 11am ticket time is fast approaching so we can’t linger.
In the late 1930s, the War Ministry, anticipating conflict, began the construction of an underground command center in Whitehall below what is now the Treasury Building. It became operational shortly before the Nazi invasion of Poland and subsequent declaration of war. This complex of rooms and the Churchill Museum have only been open to the public since the 80s.
Everyone gets an audioguide, which is paradoxically helpful and annoying. I dutifully follow the numerical schematic until I become befogged by too much information in the Churchill Museum. Consequently, I turn off the fucking device and wander happy as a cloud through conference rooms, communications rooms, map rooms, and sleeping quarters. It’s terribly claustrophobic, and one can almost smell the awful stink of cigarettes, BO, and petrol exhaust. Even Clementine Churchill had a bedroom in this warren, poor dear. The four of us breathe easier once we’ve resurfaced.
Our next destination is the Tate Britain, the national repository of British Art. We’re all eager to see the great store of Turners therein. The Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey pass by: Westminster Abbey impacted with gawkers and Big Ben encased in a full-body cast. We move along, strolling next the Thames for the first time. Joss leads us, as she’s done brilliantly on most of our forays.
One of the quirks of British museum-going is that site maps cost an extra pound or two. Somehow, this always feels like an extravagance, so we rarely spring for one, only to dwell in perpetual frustration and regret. In a triumph of aimlessness, we chance upon the Turner rooms, which are organized thematically – Landscape, Seascape, Portraiture, etc. The great, late, radiant Turners are all mixed in. Chronology lets us down again.
We break down as a foursome, taking our own individual sweet time. Independently we each discover the William Blake rooms, where his spooky, nutty, prosaic, incomprehensible work flummoxes and entertains. A gallery of Henry Moore’s sculpture is a tonic after all this two-dimensional stuff. We retreat to the café for noontime refreshment. There’s a l-o-n-g line and no visible empty tables. Alas, no fucking trays either. Nevertheless, we persevere and ultimately score a table outdoors in the mild overcast.
The Tate is presenting a special exhibit of the work of Edward Burne-Jones, a Pre-Raphaelite master. It costs extra, but we’re game. Like a lot of his Pre-Raphaelite colleagues, he paints the same goddamn broad over and over and always in mythological extremis. There were a few eerie portraits of lovely, individualized young women, but mostly – meh. Before attending to Mr. Burne-Jones, I forgot my phone in the loo. Mild panic. It had been returned to the cloakroom by an honest Brit. I don’t think I’d been in a cloakroom since third grade.
Back at 6 Broad Court, everyone naps while a load of darks spins in the washing machine. Our dinner reservation is at a classic British establishment called Rules. It’s very antlers-and-aquatints in décor and Shepherd’s Pie in menu. Kif and I order cock-a-leekie soup which turns out to chicken broth with chicken, leeks, and prunes. Weird in-name-only. Unhappily, Ali gets mis-gendered (called ‘Sir’) twice. Some turmoil develops, spills into the street, and is resolved.
Tonight, we have tickets at the Donmar Warehouse for a show called Berberian Sound Studio, a dark ‘comedy’, based on a movie from a few years ago where a dorky sound engineer (from Dorking) tips into insanity while working on an Italian horror movie. The production is ingenious, but the play itself is too fragmentary to truly be interesting.