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LONDON CALLING – Monday, 18 February 2019

Joss barfs on her birthday.

This may be the saddest sentence in a person’s lifetime. Poor Jocelyn. She texts me at 7:30am. “Good morning. Come see me in my room when you are up.” She’s abject and miserable. I help remake her bed with her in it, because she completely mauled it puking all night. I leave her tucked in and go upstairs to make coffee. Ali and Kif appear around nine o’clock and so does Joss. She’s kitten-weak. She shoos us out. “Go without me. I can’t go anywhere.” Sadly, therapeutically, we depart, heading for the Tower of London in the drizzle. This is our first rainy day. 

Tickets are purchased. We walk right in, bypassing the vacant maze of crowd fencing that anticipates a frightful mob. This is the first hyper-touristy British site we’ve visited. Wandering through turrets of the Tower, we encounter many stories, many lives; it’s been in operation for a thousand years and something serious happened there involving just about every monarch. A fortress, a palace, a prison, a treasure house. The rain is doing its annoying best. That wet wool smell coming from my overcoat seems appropriate. 

A twisty line of damp automatons snakes in front of the Crown Jewels. Getting wetter in order to gawk at bijoux is foolhardy. So, we search and search, discovering an even more pointless line to join which eventually manipulates us into a tiny room where we shuffle around a hexagonal photo display of all the ‘famous’ prisoners held in the Tower. It’s still raining when we exit. Crossing the yard, we can’t help but notice a mom having her photo taken by her young daughter dressed as a knight. “You have to hold the phone UP so they don’t see my double chin.” “I didn’t know you had a double chin.”

WAY OUT. There has to be a Way Out. It’s through the gift shop, of course, but first we detour to the gift shop that specializes in souvenirs bearing the raven theme. Six of these birds inhabit the Tower on the pretext that if they leave for any reason, the Tower will fall. Never-fucking-more, I say. I buy a fucking mug after scorning the Beefeater neck pillow constructed so two pink demon faces tuck under one’s chin. We escape, parched and famished. 

Following some excellent curry, we continue to hoof through the mist destined to locate St. Paul’s Cathedral. It’s a grand, gray edifice and inside it praises God. We’re too late to attempt the climb to the Whispering Gallery. Thank Fucking Christ. A boys’ choir is warming up, filling the dome with glory. We exit through the crypt. It’s where churches get all mercantile, down there with the dead bodies.

If we cross the Millennium Bridge, we’ll approach the Tate Modern, that hulking what-the-fuck. The Bridge has a striated surface that makes a kick-ass noise when one slides across it. Children love this. And the bridge used to wobble, but not anymore. As we stride across the Thames, The Globe theater is visible in its half-timbered, humble majesty. 

This is the upstart Tate, the one with the cutting edge supposedly. The exhibit in the Turbine Hall (one staggering space) is a horrible low-frequency hum that means something sensible to its creator, but behaves like a profound nuisance to everyone else. The three of us navigate some galleries, for better or worse. The verdict is the Tate Modern is cool. The shops sure are. I am immediately smitten by a lovely, modest, horizontal print by sculptor Martin Boyce. The words, ‘Remembered Skies’, drift across what seems to be a reproduction of two facing pages from JMW Turner’s watercolor notebooks of cloud formations. This is my souvenir.

When we get back to 6 Broad Court, Joss has rallied. A less-than-24-hour bug or food poisoning or something. The dining consensus is take-out. An attractive ramen joint on Great Queen Street has appeal. Ali is beginning to cough. We call it an early night.

LONDON CALLING – Sunday, 17 February 2019

Okay. Okay. We really ought to take the damn Underground while we’re in fucking London. It’s a straight shot from Covent Garden to the V&A, the Victoria & Albert Museum, Britain’s vast treasury of decorative arts and design. Ali’s been touchy since last night and takes some post-Tube comments to heart which results in us splitting up for the day. J&K stay at the V&A, while V&A depart. Ali and I walk for a long time through South Kensington. It’s a gorgeous day, clear blue sky filtered through the winter superstructure of the plane trees, and the neighborhood feels decidedly chichi. There are classy, five-story apartment blocks that all carry a plummy name – Whatsitshire Mansions. Is this wishful thinking, or is the real estate here a breed apart. We stop for lunch at a corner café and immediately feel better. 

Ali and I arrive at The Design Museum in Holland Park. It was founded in 1989 by Terence Conran, he of the wonderfully quirky shop in the Citicorp Building during the wild 80s. The structure is elegant and dramatic, however the collection feels sparse. The Museum appears primarily to act as an educational institution. A special exhibition of the work of Anglo-Ghanaian architect David Adjaye is stirring and profound. Adjaye designed the African-American History and Culture Museum on the Mall in Washington, DC. This exhibit features his designs for monuments, either high cultural venues or commemorations of historical events or personages. We feel that sort of chastened feeling one gets from powerful and original art. We have learned something.

After poking around the gift shop (always) with some success, the two of us head down Holland Park Road to the Leighton House, where Sir Frederick Leighton lived and painted. Leighton was not quite a Pre-Raphaelite, because his training was European and not Royal Academy. Anyway, he built a grand showcase for himself, suitable for man of his pedigree and reputation, adding on to it over and over again for thirty years. This beautiful, elaborate house filled with light and treasures has but one single bedroom (not counting staff). Fred was not a snuggler. We are just in time for the three o’clock tour. There must be thirty-five or forty people waiting for this fucking ‘tour’. The docent, however, is knowledgeable Scots woman with an abruptly mild sense of humor, but after about an hour our eyes have glazed over and we duck out.

We hail a taxi on Kensington High Street giving the driver our usual address – Royal Opera House, please. Our flat is just a block away down a footpath. I suggest a nearby restaurant for dinner, Barrafina, a tapas joint. It has counter seating so the four of us split up again. Joss & I and Kif & Ali. Now this is the weird part: Joss and I have what will perhaps be our most memorable meal, while Kif and Ali sitting thirty feet away are deeply underwhelmed. “All that meat and seafood, Dad.” No theater tonight. Bed. 

LONDON CALLING – Saturday, 16 February 2019

The Churchill War Rooms are a half-hour walk through Trafalgar Square and down the east side of St. James Park. Along the way, we note eight or so elegant horsemen with horsehair plumes on their helmets mustering before a crowd of onlookers on the parade grounds of the Household Cavalry Museum. Our 11am ticket time is fast approaching so we don’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 the site maps cost an extra pound or two. Somehow, this always feels like an extravagance, so we rarely spring for one, only to dwell forever in 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. We each discover the William Blake rooms, where his spooky, nutty, prosaic, incomprehensible work both 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. 

There’s 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 left 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 is created, 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. 

LONDON CALLING – Friday, 15 February 2019

Today we are sufficiently motivated to step outside 6 Broad Court for breakfast. There’s a decent coffee shop a ways up Drury Lane. And, no, it is not called The Muffin Man. Eggs, finally. Poached. On Toast.

It’s a long walk from there to the British Library and we have an eleven o’clock Conservation Studio Tour, so we hail a taxi. The tour is subtitled ‘An Audio Tour’ which turns out to be geared for the visually impaired. So, we wait by some signage with a blind man and his wife for someone from Conservation to gather us. Liz and Wendy appear. Liz is put together in slacks and blouse, while Wendy wears a faded red hoodie and blue (possibly denim) trousers.

They escort us into a conference room where Amy, a conservator, demonstrates the steps she has taken to restore a fire-damaged diary of the wife of a British magistrate in India immediately following the rebellion in mid-19thcentury. The burnt edges have been reinforced with a very fine Japanese tissue that’s glued with reversible gelatin to prevent the brittle, charred paper from fragmenting further. The diarist had also tipped in newspaper clippings and other ephemera into her book, some of which have gone rogue. They’re collected and bound into a supplemental volume. The repair process seems laborious, but apparently can be accomplished relatively quickly. These people are highly adept and efficient. They are given time constrained assignments from the curators. Alice asks many questions. After spending 45 minutes with Amy, we’re taken to visit Gavin, whose skill it is to affix gilt lettering to restored or replaced covers and spines. He gives a thorough demonstration of his art and quietly bemoans the slow disappearance of formal bookbinding. Gavin is patient and attentive to the blind gentleman who is completely engaged.

Then, Wendy says, “Liz, show them your flag.” Liz is a fabric conservator (besides every book ever published in the United Kingdom, the Library contains countless artifacts). The flags are two almost completely disintegrated silk banners belonging tothe East India Company’s London office. They seem beyond saving to me, but Liz has devoted months to their restoration, which will be unveiled with great ceremony next month. 

The British Library is the largest library in the world. Until 1973 it was part of the British Museum. In the center of the building, stands a six-story, free-standing glass tower containing the King’s Library, 65,000 books amassed by George III, its foundational collection. The Library displays its treasures in a series of rooms on the first floor for all to see. Hundreds of books, documents, maps, and letters make for a fascinating adventure. There’s a copy of the Magna Carta, a First Folio, Beatles lyrics, Handel’s Water Music score, and on and on. We spend more than an hour pouring over the pages. My sneakers are making their customary, mid-afternoon farting noise, which thrills and embarrasses the girls in equal measure. I lead the group out of the Library, tooting all the way to our next destination – the Grant Museum of Zoology.

I zeroed in on this unusual repository because of a guidebook’s tantalizing mention of ‘a jar of eighteen preserved moles’. Who could fucking resist! The Grant Museum houses thousands of zoological specimens, either taxidermied, pickled, skeletal, or on slides. There are some pretty disgusting items, but also glories like the display called – A Collection of Brains. And rarities, too, like a Quagga skeleton (a long-extinct antelope-y creature). This being one of seven in the world.

There isn’t much down-time at 6 Broad Court before we’re off to dinner and the theater. The Southbank beckons. I booked a window table at Skylon (not a Battlestar Galactica-themed restaurant) where we got to watch twilight descend across the Thames. Five minutes away, in the Council Chamber of London County Hall, we have tickets to a production of Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution. It’s a spectacular room, where for over half a century, London’s local government met and the perfect setting for a courtroom drama such as this. 

LONDON CALLING – Thursday, 14 February 2019

I don’t have Google Maps on my phone: I have Moron Maps. My children have increased 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 in 1974 on a London Theater program. We saw 23 plays in 18 days. My days were free, so I was able to tag along with Art History nerds on the concurrent London Architecture program. The 45-year-old imprint of Sir John Soane’s House has never faded. I had never seen anything like it. 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 disappear. Mirrors and skylights play with light. Antiquities cover just about every surface. And on every chair, there is a teasel.

Soane was an early exemplar of the 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, to be the first public art gallery in England. His scheme of a series of rooms lit from above by skylights has been the template of 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 Soane 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 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. 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.

LONDON CALLING – Wednesday, 13 February 2019

It turns out the four bedrooms in Flat Number Three at Number Six Broad Court contain four beds that each possess a ‘wrong side’. No one is devoid of grumpiness. Not even two cups of coffee can soothe the savage communal breast of La Famille Hansmann. And the cardamom buns suck. Nevertheless, we rally and head towards Buckingham Palace with the faint hope of seeing the guard change. Change is Good.

We traverse the muddy paths of St. James Park (or perhaps its companion, Green Park) as faintly audible martial music intimates that The Change is taking place. The closer we get the more obvious it becomes that they are indeed playing the Theme from the Magnificent Seven. I am assuming they’re trying to have fun with their job. The black and gold palace gates are several hundred yards farther off, yet the towering black fur headgears of The Guard bob above the bare heads of the hoi polloi. Suddenly a cohort breaks rank, escapes the palace gates, and heads down the Mall passing obstacle-free right in front of us. It’s like being given a photo opportunity without having to be Ace Reporter.

Sated now, we move laterally toward the Queen’s Gallery where I expect the Royal Art Collection to be. Nope. A small but opulent show about Russian Royalty beckons. Memorable are a most restrained and beautiful Fabergé egg, a full-length portrait of some noble dude boasting a startlingly robust endowment, and a string quartet from the London School of Music sawing away. The Gift Shop features all the Buckingham Palace swag you could ever imagine an Anglophile tourist could possibly want, for instance, a tube labeled Handbag Shortbread for Emergencies and a corgi-emblazoned sleep mask. God Save the Queen!

Gotta get lunch. There’s peakedness all around. The Laughing Halibut Fish and Chips is a ten-minute walk. Formica tables! Malt vinegar! Mushy peas! Four kinds of fish!

Our customary sightseeing routine consists of a morning thing, then lunch, then an afternoon thing, then nap. It’s after lunch and we’re sort of far afield, so I ask my GPS app to find us a nearby taxi stand. It does and we follow the erratic blue dot, picking up a cab to Handel-and-Hendrix-in-London, two adjoining buildings inhabited by two musical giants two hundred years apart. Handel owned 25 Brook Street, while, for a year in the late 60s, Jimi rented a flat at the top of Number 23. The juxtaposition is delicious. Each dwelling has been restored to its time. I am over the moon. The walls in the Handel house have been painted Historically Accurate Gray. The floors creak and nothing is original, yet the place has a certain resonance. Jimi’s flat was decorated, then redecorated for this restoration, by his then-girlfriend. A fringe-y shawl canopy protects a mattress on the floor. A full ashtray sits by the bed. A three-foot tall knitted stuffed animal called Dog Bear lies in a heap next to a bowl of fruit. A stereo and several stacks of LPs line the wall. 

Handel’s operas, oratorios, and instrumental music are some of my dependable playlist favorites and my memory of attending Jimi’s Band of Gypsys concert at the Fillmore East on New Year’s Eve 1970 will never fade, despite two tabs of Orange Sunshine.

This nutty, exhilarating experience buoys us and we’re all game to track down the Faraday Museum housed at the Royal Institution on Albemarle Street. It’s an easy walk along Bond Street, the Fifth Avenue of London. We pass some remarkably decked-out Londoners, carrying off high fashion with cool brio. The Royal Institution, despite its vague name, is Britain’s premier scientific laboratory. Countless scientific discoveries have been made there and over a dozen Nobel laureates have worked there since its founding in 1799. In the basement, Michael Faraday’s magnetic lab remains as it was in the 1850s. Faraday is a true rock star. His fundamental work on electromagnetism provided the basis for the practical application of electricity, the foundation for the modern life we take for granted.

Dinner and theater tonight. I booked us into a fancy restaurant in Somerset House called Spring, and, yes, the meal is lovely. The chef has an eye for ingredients and a light touch. The theater, not so much. Out of pop curiosity I had purchased tickets for the West End rendition of Sam Shepherd’s True West, starring Kit Harrington (Jon Snow). It’s not a good play, here rendered even more turgid by the hard-working actors’ struggle with two hours of combative and self-indulgent American dialogue. 

Note to self – following Google Maps at night is infuriating. Don’t do it.

LONDON CALLING – Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Oh, No! Consciousness! The price of sleeping poorly in a cold, cold room. The electrical failure appears to be both ongoing and include everything that’s not an overhead lightbulb – heating, fridge, electric teapot. I guess I have to ask for help. Meekly, resentfully, I pull on yesterday’s travel garb and present my dilemma to the desk clerk at the hotel next door where we picked up our keys. He encourages me to locate the fuse box or circuit breaker. “It’s up there somewhere on the left,” says the clerk, airily flapping his hand. With baleful tone, I promise to return should my attempt at problem-solving prove unsuccessful.

Without much trouble, the circuit-breaker is found and tripped. The fridge turns over, beeping and flashing, cryogenic cyborg that it is. Electronics can now be charged thus ensuring that we will not get lost, GPS-wise. I brew a French-press pot of coffee. I love stimulants. The croissants we bought at Maison Bertaux are colossal. Stupendous, even. The girls appear at the appointed time – 9am. Breakfast is merry; sleep be damned. Semi-ambivalently, we marshal our energy and wander off to the National Gallery on Trafalgar Square. 

The riches there very nearly overwhelm this guy. Being Europe, there’s a surfeit of transcendent work by artists not much represented in the US, like Raphael. The first marvel is the Wilton Diptych, a medieval painting from the 1400s representing Richard the Second kneeling before Mary and Baby Jesus and their backup singers, the Blue Disgruntled Angels. Other unforgettable paintings: The Arnolfini Portraitby Jan van Eyck which depicts a tender, somber couple standing in a bedroom. It has been long-suggested that the woman is pregnant, but she may just be holding the bulk of her voluminous green skirt in front of her. Her husband, it has been noted, bears an unfortunate resemblance to Vlad von Putin.The Rokeby Venusby Diego Velazquez is a gorgeous 17thCentury nude. Her back is to the viewer as she gazes into a mirror which in turn shows her face to the onlooker. Her hips are keenly observed. Very sexy for being complicated and very old. The focal point down a long series of rooms is George Stubbs’, Whistlejacket, a magnificent, life-size portrait of a rearing, thoroughbred stallion painted on a neutral background. A mesmerizing Turner called Rain, Steam, and Speedis wild, all brush strokes and atmosphere. According to the card, a ‘hare’ is theoretically visible not getting run over by the locomotive.* 

There’s much more to puzzle at, for example, what we’ve come to call, ‘The Pickle Painting’. In art history it’s known as The Annunciation with Saint Emidius by Carlo Crivelli. However, the large pickle in the foreground adds an element of What-The-Fuck to what was merely a hideous painting of the Virgin Mary being zapped by a golden laser beam while a saint with a Lego metropolis in his lap looked on. Adding confusion to the hogwash symbolism, a pale apple appears next to the giant pickle. Oh, and let us not forget The Dream of Saint Josephpainted by a French dude depicting Joseph’s swoon upon realizing that he’s been cuckolded by God. 

We lunch in the Gallery’s lovely cafeteria, then wander gamely off. Behind the National Gallery lies the National Portrait Gallery, a long and illustrated meander through British history, from kings and queens to celebs known and unknown. 

Broad Court naptime. At four o’clock the mission is to search the neighborhood for less-enormous croissants. Fabrique in Covent Garden yields cinnamon buns AND cardamom buns. Hey! Now let’s find Foyle’s; it’s the London bookstore of record. Alice leads the way: she’s the epic reader of the family. We separate, and soon we’re all book-in-hand or, in Ali’s case, pile-in-arms. I buy a way-posthumous authorized biography of the current Queen’s grandmum, Queen Mary, who was evidently a piece of fucking work. Blurbs call it ‘hilarious’. On our amble through Covent Garden and Soho, we had passed a restaurant near the Donmar Warehouse called Flesh and Buns. Inexorably, we are drawn back. A most excellent Asian fusion meal, though the buns, as always, are odd. Window shopping, then home. An early night.

*Among the 18thcentury paintings housed in The National Gallery is one that really resonates for Joss and me, a large, scientific tableau called, An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump by Joseph Wright. In 1999, the two of us saw a most excellent play based on it. 

LONDON CALLING – Monday, 11 February 2010

We land at Heathrow the following day, of course. Nobody sleeps very well and the ‘food’ has not been too pleasant. It’s a l-o-n-g walk through the place to get to that other place where passports become stamped and bags retrieved. We wave at Julie on another line and connect briefly with her and her husband, Matt Fraser, once we have emigrated successfully. Bags in hand we line up for a taxi. It has jump seats, like the old Checker cabs in NYC. 

Our destination is a Mailboxes Etc. where, for a fee, we can park our luggage for a couple hours until the four-bedroom apt. is ‘ready’. This cockamamie procedure involves the digital manipulation of my mobile device. In the interest of efficiency, I relinquish it to Joss. Then we duck into a nearby coffee shop for caffeine and actual digestible food. Flat whites! Killing time is best accomplished by walking toward a destination. We aim for a patisserie called Maison Bertaux. It’s not far and its croissants are huge. Breakfast tomorrow has aligned. Next door to the pastry shop is a store that sells printed Harry Potter memorabilia. The people who created all the HP graphics have their own store. It’s actually cool and we purchase some un-HP greeting cards, e.g. A Movement of Moles. Time lingers, refusing to die. More coffee only aggravates the need for a WC. We recover our baggage from the Mailboxes and proceed to 4 Broad Court, where our residence will be. We roll past a market where some busker is coercing a youngster to limbo. We roll past the Apple Store, which brings back memories of fried hard drives in Western Australia. 

Our rooms are ready. Schlepping my ponderous suitcase up three flights requires balance and stamina. Ha! There’s a moldy smell coming from one of the baths, but the layout has four bedrooms and three baths, plus kitchen and living room all split between two floors. I think we’ll manage. Ali and Kif retire immediately. I prevail on Jocelyn to join me in a search for a superdupermarket. There’s a Sainsbury’s nearby. Beverages and snacks are required in order to sustain life. She then retires. I putter lamely. 

At six o’clock we assemble to walk to Veeraswamy, a highly recommended Indian restaurant. The meal’s delicious, but I practically nod out in my mulligatawny. The return stroll to Broad Court takes us back through Leicester Square, a hubbub and a half. Tsunamis of high school groups present navigational obstacles that nimble New Yorkers should be able to take in their stride; semi-comatose ones, not so much. London is ablaze with light and activity. We aren’t. Back at Broad Court we discover that all the baseboard electric outlets have ceased to provide juice. Bummer. 

LONDON CALLING – Sunday, 10 February 2019

Alice and I spend the day bandying pitiless non sequiturs and rude noises back and forth in preparation for this evening’s flight to London. Kiffi and Jocelyn will meet us at Terminal Four. Family Adventure Time!

The nonpareils I bought yesterday are gone. How? Plus, I need a pair of dress trousers, I decide at the last minute. Banana, maybe. Will they accommodate a chunky-ass fellow like me? Let’s find out. Yeah, the waist works, but the pants pool at my ankles. I buy ‘em anyway. If I wear my chacha heels, I might carry it off. At Li-Lac I score another box of dark chocolate Valentine-inflected nonpareils. In the entire history of candy these are the best candies. On the way back to 54 Bleecker Street, I poke around the superdupermarket with the idea that we may want a light something to tide us over before the flight to London, which departs at 11pm. Tomato soup and cheese.

I’m packed. Ali’s packed. So, we futz. Ali, of course, reads a book, while I perform nontasks of complex inutility on my reluctant computer. At a quarter to eight we prepare for departure, just like a flight crew. We sit back down. 

Then we get up, bundle into our winter coats, and drag our suitcases to the elevator. A cab appears. The driver gets out to help with our luggage. The taxi’s trunk does not open fully. I smack it closed catching the cabbie’s index finger. Blood. He has a roll of paper towel for occasions just like this. There’s no real traffic. And there’s Kif. In minutes, there’s Joss, all leopard print and black Converse hi-tops. 

At the ticket agent, our bags are weighed. My little guy registers 33 pounds. This provokes snickers from the women, whose dainty valises barely tip the scale above 20. Security offers no resistance. We must kill time, so if we can locate the Sky Lab; perhaps they’ll let us in. Snacking on cheese cubes and party mix, we babble in the animated pre-exhausted way of unembarked travelers. Nosh. Nosh. Nosh. Joss looks up and remarks, “That’s my friend, Julie,” and off she goes. Soon enough she returns with Julie, one of her performer colleagues. Julie lives part time in London and is returning to attend the second wedding of her sister-in-law. We board.