This afternoon, I read an article with the above title by A. A. Gill, published in the Sunday, April 29, 2012, New York Times. A good article and it has 150 and growing comments by people from London or from elsewhere who want to chime in and talk about "their" London. So I thought, why not? I have been up to London on several occasions though not as many as I would wish. My lasting impression of London is positive and I would go back again at the drop of a hat, though not during the Olympics; one can see them better on the telly.
London is what your favorite book about it tells you, and more.
I was first introduced to London by my mother, who had never been there and A. A. Milne, who had. They were changing the guard at Buckingham Palace and Christopher Robin went down with Alice. A child of three or four has a picture of that, to go with Milne's charming illustrations. Of course, the picture is indistinct and yet children are impressionable. One wants to go and see what all the fuss is about, and I have done so and am glad to have been there. Whether I bumped into Alice or Christoper Robin or the guard whose life is terribly hard, doesn't really matter, there were plenty of others crowding the palings at the Palace and it was worth it to stand in the crowd and see the pomp and circumstance. There may always be an England but there may or may not always be a changing of the guard. On our most recent visit there, we happened back to St. James Palace after the changing and had a much more intimate view of the guard amid only a smattering of onlookers and it was delightful, right down to the martial music they played. No one tells you about that, and perhaps I should not, since the crowds will be larger now. But do go. It will be more A. A. Milne than A. A. Gill, anyway.
London is what your favorite book about it tells you, and more. My first "grown up" books were The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, so yes, I have an image of horses' hooves over the pavements and a cloak and dagger perpetual twilight image of London and you can still find it, without really trying. Even amid the crush of traffic and the babble of languages it is not impossible to conjure up someone in a deerstalker in many a corner of London. If you wish. If not, don't fret. London is what your favourite book about it tells you, or your favorite author, and more.
On one visit we were not sure where to have dinner and ended up in a pub whose name I cannot recall, in a room upstairs that was a tad out of the way. There were many old framed engravings on the wall, none of them looking all that spruce, but when we looked them over we found that they were telling a story and the long and the short of it was that Charles Dickens was a regular of that pub (among many I am sure) in his London famous perambulations. So we had a perfectly adequate and authentic pub supper amid reminders of one of my favorite authors. If Mr. Micawber did not happen in on that particular night, well, I am sure if you stuck around something would have turned up. London is what your favorite book about it tells you, and more.
E. Phillips Oppenheim, the Prince of Storytellers was to one hundred years ago London what Margaret Mitchell is to antebellum Atlanta. Whole worlds were recorded accurately by E. P. in his more than one hundred novels of international intrigue and if you go glamorously Edwardian at The Savoy Grill or The Criterion (the Most Beautiful Room in London) for dinner you are following in his footsteps, into a kind of real life "Downton Abbey" glam. They are still there and still worth a visit and even in pricey London, a bargain in terms of what you get in atmosphere, which is what you are after, anyway.
London is what your favorite book about it tells you and more. You can visit the grave of Isaac Watts, who if he is not your favorite dead hymn writer (I know dear reader that yours truly is your favorite living hymn writer) then you can look near by and see the final resting place of Daniel Defoe (Robinson Crusoe's creator), or go across the street and visit John Wesley's house and not far from there the church where John and brother Charles both held forth. You can see Charles' organ, which was smaller than you might imagine considering his voluminous hymn output, perhaps hum to yourself something of his ("Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus", "Jesus Lover of My Soul" and so forth). Since Charles wrote over 8000, you might be there a while.
You can pop into St. Paul's (for a rather stiff fee) and if you keep your mouth shut as I did the first time you go, you can tag along with a tour group of French high school students and get to be part of a special tour up into the dome and whisper from one side to the other and hear what is being said and then climb onward to one of the towers where you can gaze down Fleet Street and ponder about Lord Beaverbrook and his publishing empire and how all of that got mixed in with Edward VIII and Wallis Warfield Simpson, the woman he loved. All the while you may be thinking of this same dome towering over the Blitz, of Winston's famous words about never giving up, or perhaps you will focus on the architect of this and so many other London churches, Sir Christopher Wren. Those who seek his monument, look around you. Or maybe you will just hum the song about the "Little Old Bird Woman" from Mary Poppins, and her bag full of crumbs, all from a film based on yet another book that reminds you that London is what your favorite book about it tells you, and more.
H. M. The Queen is a busy modern monarch and you may just catch a glimpse of her or one of the many colorful members of her Royal Family going about their many duties. Judy's sister Karen saw H. M. as she slipped in or out of Parliament one day (none of us were with her at that moment, though we were all in London, and we envied her the Royal spotting). We four (a phrase made popular by her father George VI, aka Bertie, but suitable to our own family when abroad in 2006) had a nice royal encounter of the first kind when at Windsor, which, to be accurate, is NOT in London but an easy commute. We had just finished our tour and were in the area that overlooks the large courtyard at Windsor when I overheard a guard say to a woman standing next to him, "She will be coming out in a few minutes." Knowing that at Windsor there is only one "She", I rounded up Judy, Anne and John so we could have a nice view of the courtyard and yes, indeed, all the Royals came out like rays of sunshine after a shower, and got into their collected limousines for the drive over to Ascot. "The prettiest sight in this fine pretty world is the privileged class enjoying their privileges," Republican minded Americans may not want to bother looking for Royalty but there they are, even so.
My London and Welcome to It will continue...see latest post above...