Conflict! So early in our trip – what to do?
Ben was treating us to a West End matinee of The Book of Mormon on this drizzly Saturday, and we planned to meet him and his friend Jen for lunch at 1:00. This necessitated being at the Windsor train station no later than 11:30, and the opening of the Coronation Arch ceremony, at which there was a 20% chance of Her Majesty’s presence, was at 11:00 on the other side of town.
I had to stifle all thoughts of providing an impromptu lecture on establishing priorities, because I knew that Elizabeth R would crawl through burning coals laced with broken glass in order to get within 50 yards of a QEII finger wave. Still, I couldn’t let go of the fact that she had already told me that …
Ben said the Queen was in Scotland.
Stuart, who has connections with Royalty among his other accomplishments, said he wasn’t sure who would be there, but a car could be arranged to take us directly to the restaurant for about 40 pounds if we wanted to attend the entire ceremony. I am a royalty groupie, but I am also cheap, so we decided on a quick foray to the Arch site just to see who was there, and then scurry off to the station.
Ah, so that’s the determinative factor. Pounds predominate passion! I shall remember this, and in the future will employ that tactic sparingly but, hopefully, profitably.
The gates to the castle and the Arch had been cordoned off with police crime scene tape. There was a small number of people milling about the inner sanctum, and a somewhat larger one hovering outside, replete with the ever present dogs and opened brollies. No one appeared particularly royal, but the official Windsor Town Crier was working the crowd, trying to enhance the air of festivity.
While Elizabeth R scouted for royalty, I was amazed at the number of well-behaved dogs on the premises. Neither a bark nor a poop emanated from any of them. Even the smaller breeds dressed in outlandish costumes muted their protests. Puzzlement no doubt clouded my face as I wondered: what is this secret about English dogs?
Ol’ P hung back, bored but stoic, while I sidled closer to the cordon, and noticed an elderly lady conversing with another woman on the other side of the barrier. Aha, someone who might know what’s going on!
“I beg your pardon,” I politely interjected at a lull in their conversation, “Do you know which member of the Royal Family is coming?” There were quite a few bowler hats floating around, and I admit I would only recognize the Royal Family’s first string, as it were.
“Oh, no Royals at all,” she chuckled. “Only Alan Titchmarsh. And of course the Queen is in Scotland.” Hmmm. Scotland again.
“Of course,” I nodded sagely. “And, uh, where is Mr. Titchmarsh?” Hoping, whoever he might be, he wasn’t standing right in front of us.
“Oh, under the Arch, wearing the light blue jacket. It’s grand that he’s here, isn’t it?”
“Yes, indeed,” I enthused. I couldn’t wait to Google Alan Titchmarsh to find out who the hell he was. (turns out he’s an eminent gardener and author who has a column in The Times and a show on the telly)
So, after noticing that the castle gates and the sapling elms, but not the Arch itself, were all charmingly bedecked with roses, we strode briskly off to the station and easily made our train.
The sapling elms in their willow tubs, and the castle gates with their rosy buds (well, it almost rhymes)
I should make a brief comment here about transportation in England. First, as everyone knows, motorists drive on the left side of the road in England. I have driven on the other side for over fifty years, so I’m pretty confident that this is what I would eventually revert to if I tried to drive in England. So I don’t – try to drive in England, that is. This means we have to seek alternate forms of transportation.
For longer trips, we opt for using the train system. Our experience is that the trains generally keep to their schedules, but if they will be so much as a minute late, you are subjected to computer generated voices constantly decrying the train’s lateness. Hey, we’re from New York. We expect inefficiency. Stop pillorying yourself about your tardy train! On this occasion, the train to Paddington was 4 minutes late, which meant that for close to ten minutes we listened to a computerized mea culpa. However, the train did arrive – four minutes late, as predicted – and then a worse scenario presented itself. The train was full.
When I was in college, one of the things we did for entertainment was try to see how many people would fit in a confined space, such as a phone booth (remember them?) or a VW Beetle. They still play that game in England, only they use train cars. Since we were heading to London to see (1) our son, Ben, and (2) a musical, there was no way that Elizabeth R would be prevented from boarding that train. So she did, which meant I had to follow, though almost without my left arm, which kept impeding the closing of the automatic door, a door which was even more stubborn than Elizabeth R. Fortunately, I managed to wedge my arm inside the door before it became destined to spend the journey involuntarily waving to the countryside, and we got underway. As the train was an express, we only had to imitate vertical sardines for a half hour.
Then came the next phase, how to get to the restaurant. As a compromise between quick but underground (the Tube), or slow but above ground (walking), we settled on a cab. Since Elizabeth R knew where we were going and I didn’t, I let her handle the negotiations. It’s a good thing I did, because it wasn’t long before I was suspicious that our ride was spinning out of control in ever increasing concentric circles.
Ol’ P needn’t have worried. As with every other taxi ride we’d taken, our driver was friendly, professional, and obviously knew where he was going, even if I was unable to read my own handwriting and couldn’t be sure it was Penton St. or Panton Street. He figured it out. At each turn, he would explain why we were here instead of there – the Triathlon diversion, road construction, escaped orangutans from the zoo. The only way we would have noticed anything untoward would have been if we were actually in the zoo! He dropped us at our destination in a timely manner and with a reasonable fare.
Early as usual, we wandered about the environs of the restaurant, noting Piccadilly Circus in one direction and locating the theater a mere block away in another.
Jen found us first, having walked all the way from Shoreditch, which even I recognized as an impressive hike, and Ben emerged from a tube station a few minutes later. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch, and made our way to the theater.
The Prince of Wales Theatre – a Royal venue for an irreverent musical
Ben had already seen The Book of Mormon and loved it, thus choosing it for our West End show for this trip. Jen had missed it on an earlier occasion, and was excited to be finally seeing it now. Ol’ P’s previous West End experiences had been “Blood Brothers” and Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap,” both quintessentially British shows. He knew nothing about the Book of Mormon.
I, however, like to know the music before I go to a musical, so had purchased the CD and listened to it several times over the summer. You can learn a lot about a show from its soundtrack, and what I had learned, in addition to the facts that it was gleefully irreverent and that I loved all the songs, was that it was – filthy. Ol’ P is far from being a prude, but I was a little worried, especially when Stuart had blanched when told what show we were seeing. He mentioned that he didn’t think he would care to take his wife to that one.
When I am with Elizabeth R, I try to “act properly.” But I have spent considerable chunks of my formative years participating in the immature hijinks of locker rooms, viewed “South Park” with my sons, and actively promote the “sixty is the new sixteen” movement. Heck, I’ve even written a book around the theme that seniors should practice “retro-adolescence.” So, my thoughts on sophomoric and scatological humor are this: bring it on! (Just don’t tell Elizabeth R how much I enjoy it – she thinks I’m a grownup.)
In the event, my niggling worries were for naught. We had terrific seats, the show was hilarious, and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. In addition to the general good time, Ol’ P and I were most impressed by our cosmopolitan young people, who “reserved” and paid for our intermission refreshments before we even took our seats.
“It just saves so much time and you can avoid the crush,” Jen and Ben both informed us. Who knew? We felt like the country mice, but who cared?
After the show, it was time for yet more refreshment. It was also time for an old coot to first show that he was “with it,” then just as quickly prove that he wasn’t. Because I think that a major part of the English experience involves visits to pubs, and because Elizabeth R’s taste in beer is definitely lager, Ben and Jen suggested that we adjourn to a lager pub on Brewer Street. However, being slightly disoriented, they weren’t sure which way to proceed. As they thumbed their smart phones, I whipped out MY MAP, found the theater, triangulated in on Piccadilly Circus, and was the first to proclaim “it’s northwest of here.” Score one for the Ol’ Coot!
Once sure of our route, the youngsters moved to the front and led the way. We marched up Wardour Street before turning left onto Brewer Street. Recognizing that we were in a big city, and that the proliferation of stores could lead to an unexpected shopping opportunity, I intently peered in each store window in hopes of spotting my coveted wax cap. Instead, I gazed at massage parlor after massage parlor until my progress was brought to a complete halt. Inside a full length store window stood a male mannequin wearing nothing but what I would call a leather jock strap studded with metal spikes and brass balls. There may have been some waxing involved, but it sure didn’t have anything to do with a cap. Hmmm, I mused, must be an outlet for the “Fifty Shades of Gray” underwear. Then silently, I fixed my gaze firmly on the backs of our guides, and marched in search of that looming lager. The wax cap could wait for another day.
Once again, my stumpy little legs did me a disservice. I was so busy trying to follow the elevated and quickly moving heads of husband and son (Jen is a native – she was on her own) that I completely missed the sideshow entertainment. Except for a pair of Union Jack tights.
Them I had to have. Another time, another place.