December 29, 2022

Dateline – London, UK

Day two of the trip dawned a few degrees colder but a good deal clearer this morning. After a breakfast, with passable eggs benedict and without baked beans, it was time to hop on the bus for a quick guided tour of the city (covering a good deal of the same ground walked yesterday) made entertaining by a rather witty tour guide who eventually dropped us off at Trafalgar Square as we had not opted for the days extension to Windsor Castle. After some conferring the Alabama Theater Seven split up and went various ways. David Pohler and I headed down Whitehall and toured Churchill’s underground war cabinet rooms (a place to which I had never been) and the small Churchill museum attached. The relatively untouched interiors of the various offices which were rapidly abandoned with the end of the war in 1945 were fascinating – a combination of spartan efficiency and attempts of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances to make things just a little more cheery. I knew the broad outlines of Churchill’s pre World War II career but it was interesting to see them filled out in some detail in the various exhibits. David and I decided our favorite was his burgundy velvet romper. The man had style.

Then, as we still had a few more hours before meeting Kathy McMullen and Bill McMullen for dinner, we wandered back to Westminster Abbey and headed inside. I had been there several times before but it was David’s first time to explore the various royal tombs, Poet’s Corner, 13th century architecture, and the various royal tchotchkes in the gift shop. An added bonus was the choir rehearsing for the Evensong service later in the day. Choir rehearsals are pretty much the same the world over but I can’t say I’ve ever participated in one inside a major tourist attraction in the middle of the day.

We walked back to Covent Garden and met up for chicken biryani and a couple of gimlets at a very good Indian restaurant before departing for our first night of theater. For David and I, it was the long running production of The Woman in Black. I of course have often heard of it but had never seen it (although I had seen the Daniel Radcliffe film version some years ago about which I remembered next to nothing). It’s extremely effective relying on two versatile actors, some simple visual effects, some sharp sound cues and audience imagination to create a chilling tale with a number of jump scares. Then into the crush of the Leicester Square tube station to head back to the hotel.

This is my fourth trip to London. I’ve seen a lot – both in the city and in the theaters. It’s changed some from my first trip nearly forty years ago. It feels cleaner, richer, and more embracing of the full panoply of human experience than it used to. I suppose this is due to the huge shifts in population to more cosmopolitan demographics over the last few decades thanks to immigration from Commonwealth nations and the European Union. And I suppose it’s a reaction to this by the smaller towns and countryside that led to Brexit. I like what it has become. It feels safe and tolerant and vital and full of a young energy that didn’t use to exist there.

The city has definitely decided that the pandemic is over. I rarely see masks, no matter how crowded the underground and there’s none of the checking of vaccination documents and Covid testing that was so prevalent on my last trip to Europe fifteen months ago. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not a good thing. It is what it is and we all have to deal with whatever human behavioral changes will bring when mixed with viral replication. I hope I don’t come back with Covid as I did a year ago the last time I traveled with David. But if I do, I’ll deal. Just like I usually do.

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