I have to admit that my relationship with London is mixed. My mother and her sister and parents came here after escaping Germany in 1939, thanks to Lotte Passer, my cousin who passed away earlier this year at age 99. My first time was when I was six during a year we spent in Germany (my father was a specialist in German politics) and I have come many times since then. Sometimes I stayed with family friends, sometimes with my own friends (one, in particular, whom I first met in Sierra Leone, and had a lovely house in Clapham), sometimes at conference venues, sometimes at hotels for special things (say the NT production of His Dark Materials), and so on. There have been places and experiences I’ve enjoyed, but quite a few that I have not. This time has been no different.
What I like about London are the parks, the smaller neighborhoods, the eccentric little experiences and museums. What I dislike hugely are the noisy, busy, and increasingly global parts. I already live in a big noisy city and so I have absolutely zero interest in spending time in another one. And so there are increasingly parts of London that feel identical to New York and I do not like them at all. Every time I come it seems worse.
Fortunately, if I am strategic in what I do, I can still have an enjoyable time. As mentioned in my previous post, there are the parks. And so, the day after our time in Kensington Gardens, we visited Queen Mary’s Garden in Regent’s Park which was splendid and the small, but charming Lauderdale House, with its park, in Highgate (where we had a lovely day with Lizza Aiken, Joan Aiken’s daughter, whom I had also visited last summer in London).
As for eccentric museums, I was delighted that Pollack’s Toy Museum, which I’d gone to often years ago, was unchanged. It is full of fascinating and somewhat dusty-feeling toys. I wouldn’t recommend it for children (unless they are the sort that enjoy dusty sometimes creepy old things), but for those adults interested in old toys displayed in a very old-fashioned and charming way, I highly recommend it.
One day, after lunch with friends at the Cheshire Cheese pub which I’d been to last year we visited the Charles Dickens House which was interesting, but oddly missing depth given his literary output. We also wandered the South Bank which I can’t say I enjoyed — far too crowded with tourists. I was intrigued how changed the skyline was from my last time doing this in 2006. Sadly, the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern was not accessible (they are building more there), something I’d wanted Tyner to see.
Other enjoyable museum visits included the glorious Sir John Soane’s Museum and an evening at the Victoria & Albert where we were bemused to see a group of servers pick up the grand piano in one of the indoor cafe rooms (the exquisitely beautiful original rooms of Morris, Gamble, and Poyntner) and go off with it. When we went outside we saw why — music (and paddling children) at the fountain!
We saw the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical and, sadly, I have to agree with the mixed reviews. Pretty meh. My favorite characters were Mike Teavee and his mother and the number when he gets his was a lot of fun. So are the Oompa-Loompas, I should say. But, for all the impressive staging, it felt very ephemeral. Too bad.
The highlight of my time in London was an afternoon and evening with Mark and Catherine Richards of the Lewis Carroll Society who have a remarkable collection and are a complete fund of information. They not only spent the afternoon pulling out treasures and providing me with massive amounts of helpful information, but they then went on to host a fantastic dinner party in my honor. They invited a couple who are also Carrollians (and the wife was also hugely involved in other children’s literature societies —both were wonderful) and the charming actor, Kevin Moore, whom I’d seen many years ago perform Crocodiles and Cream, a terrific one-man show about Lewis Carroll. The meal was outstanding (especially Mark’s surprise extra cheese course — wow!) as was the company. Definitely, a white stone day!