January 2023 Part Four (Jan 21-Jan 23)

January 21 – Once more unto the Breach

Weirdly, in past times, this is where my trip would start. I would arrive in London for a week of theatre and museums and being able to understand what I overhear on public transport and in coffee shops. This time, I had two weeks of travel behind me so I felt like I was at a slight disadvantage energy-wise.

Lin, however, was not to be deterred!

She had arranged tickets for & Juliet for the evening (the only specific theatre arranged for the week, relying on providence for any other shows we might see) and decided that seeing the Portobello Road Market was something we needed to do. Since I had only seen it in the movie Notting Hill that seemed like a fine idea to me.

But first, we needed to stop at the post office so she could return something.

For some reason, the line was abnormally long for a late Saturday morning and the worker was exceptionally slow…which all would have been fine except for the shrieking child several places behind us in line. Now, Lin and I disagree in general about children, but in this we were agreed – This kid did not belong out in public, especially not being coddled in tacit approval of this shrieking. This wasn’t crying about something gone wrong, hunger, or poop in a diaper. This was a shriek designed to get attention or summon demons from the netherworld. After a few minutes of this, neither of us could take and we left, figuring we’d find someplace along the route to mail the package (which, to spoil the suspense, we did).

Now at last we could grab a train to the Portobello area, spotting the famous Trellick Tower (a masterpiece of the Brutalism architecture style – if you’re into that sort of thing) along the way. The market itself is something else. I thought it would have been winding down late in the morning on a Saturday, but boy was I wrong! It’s not your typical street swap meet. It’s an institution. We just meandered slowly along, looking at the various stalls and stands, admiring the antiques and laughing at the obvious crap. Several times I had to remind myself that I was getting rid of stuff, not bringing more home, and walked right on past things I might, in other times, have bought or at least tarried over.

There was a street food market which was a bit overwhelming, and we only went down one aisle! (Truth be told, we didn’t realize there was a second until we were consuming the food we got) I ended up getting a kebab and Lin got something she’d never had before (this is her MO in places like this, to get some new, authentic food she’s never tried before – I am not nearly that gastronomically adventurous).

From there, we walked off the food we ate. Yes, we could have taken public transport, but the day was nice and I could certainly use the steps. Besides, think of all the adventures we would have missed!

Like seeing the famous Blue Door and the Notting Hill Travel Book Shop from the film, the completely shitty coffee place who couldn’t get the simplest beverage correct, or the overly crowded and complicated shop where I wanted to find out the price of a piece of art, which later on seemed to just show up in my bag under no suspicious circumstances whatsoever.

We walked through the Dutch Garden at Holland Park (including the Kyoto Gardens) which were so lovely. Then Hyde Park where we saw Kensington Palace and the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain and the remains of the Winter Wonderland they were in the process of dismantling for the season. We walked all the way to Marble Arch and then down Oxford Street (stopping at Marks & Spencer to grab a bit of dinner) on our way towards the Shaftesbury Theatre for the evening’s show.

Our one bit of extraordinary excitement came when we hit Tottenham Court Road and the streets were blocked off by a number of undercover police making an arrest. It screwed up traffic for a while, the busses not knowing how to get around the various squad cars just parked willy-nilly in the road.

Getting to the theatre we were treated like royalty. That’s the thing about going to see shows with Lin – she knows everyone! Here, we found the DM (which means Duty Manager, not Dungeon Master, as I so often confused it) Claudia, who had arranged our tickets for us (and seriously, talk about great seats!) to say thank you. She, in turn, gave us a fun little tour of the facility as she walked us down to where we were sitting.

The nice thing about this show was that I knew absolutely nothing about it. When it started I was just transported away and had a fabulous time during the first act. Lin would lean over from time to time to give me a tidbit of information or something about one of the actors or about the theatre and I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

At the interval, when we were walking back to our seats, Lin suddenly shouted “Gavin!” and told me to wait while she ran off. Turns out, a mate of hers, who she worked with at Lyceum, was ushering this show and he invited us for a drink afterwards to have a catch up. And then he said something about a chicken.

The second act started, just as good as the first and after the curtain call we hung out for a bit, said our good-byes to Claudia and headed off to The White Hart to meet up with Gavin. And the chicken.

The thing about the chicken is this: There’s a service you can subscribe to in London (and evidently Lin had turned Gavin on to it) where you can get unsold food at a deep discount. In this case, they had a chicken on offer and, as we understood it, it was too much for Gavin so he offered it to Lin, and she accepted. It was in a bag which we then carried with us for the rest of the night.

A night which included Edward, who just graduated with a degree in film, joining us at the White Hart for a drink and then the four of us all heading over to the Phoenix Arts Club where even more people were hanging out, including Andy, Wen, and James and then I met Tony and Agata at the bar. It was a fun night, the kind I haven’t had in a while, and coming off a 6-mile walk with some dancing thrown in, my legs were beat by the time we stumbled back to the underground and home.

It was only when we got back to the house we actually looked at the chicken. What we were expecting, a roasted bird which could be nibbled from, turned out to be a whole, raw chicken, packed in a plastic bag and ready for cooking. Certainly nothing Gavin could have chowed down on during his lunch break and something we would need to actually prepare.

Lin with the chicken!

Well, that was dinner for tomorrow night sorted.

January 22 – But Is It Art?

With everything else going on, Sunday seemed like a good time to take a down day. This didn’t mean we didn’t do anything, it’s just that what we did was a bit more low-key. Sunday, basically, was art day.

We started off by walking through the Walthamstow Street Market for breakfast before heading into town for Lin to show me The Barbican. Surprisingly, I’d never been there before, and even though I’d heard of it, I really had no idea what it was. It’s a fascinating place, similar to the arcology concept I first heard about in the science fiction novel Oath of Fealty. Inside the city with in a city there were apartments , shops, performing spaces, an arboretum, and galleries. The one we visited was called “Curve,” mostly because it filled a weird piece of space that curved around. The artist on display when we were there was Soheila Sokhanvari and while I could appreciate her talent, I wasn’t really moved by her pieces. Lin, on the other hand, loved her work and really felt a connection. This is one of the things I love about art – the way it can affect different people.

More my speed, in general, was the Guildhall, where we went next. Here, the exhibit was organized around overarching themes of “Inspired” and I really enjoyed a lot of the selected works. Lin also told me some great stories from when she had toured the building in the past.

From there, it was off to the Tate Modern, housed in a former power plant. The building is great, and there were some works I’d known about but never seen in person, like one of Lichtenstein’s larger pieces of pop art, but a lot of the modern art went a bit over our heads (but did prompt some interesting discussions on the purpose of art).

It was dark by the time we finished at the Tate so we figured an early night was in order. We had no theatre booked so we headed back to the flat, where an evening of Bo Burnham’s Inside and cooking that chicken from yesterday awaited us!

January 23 – Back to the lights of the (nostalgic) Future

Monday morning, with no concrete theatre plans, Lin hit up an amazing website for “rush” tickets – deals and sales for the evening shows – before either of us got out of bed (we were yelling back and forth from the bedroom and the living room, deciding on which shows I might want to see and if she would want to join me.

In the end, we ended up with great seats for Back to the Future: The Musical and I would be going by myself since Lin had seen it and had no desire to see it again. With that sorted, we needed to figure out what to do with the rest of our day. We decided another day of art was in order so, after a quick stop for a so good greasy McDonald’s breakfast we headed out to the Tate Britain.

I’d never been to this smaller museum before so it was a nice little surprise. Unlike the Tate Modern, the art here was more classically based, even the newer pieces. And it’s not so big it’s overwhelming. We wandered around for a bit and then I had an idea! A few years ago (about 8 or so), one of the early trips Rasa and I took together was to London to go to the 2014 WorldCon. Right before we were heading out of town, we decided to make a very quick visit to the National Gallery to see “Sunflowers” by Van Gogh. We rushed in, went right to the piece, snapped a picture of Rasa there, and then headed off to the airport.

I figured I should take a complimentary picture.

Turns out, the National Gallery was only about 2km, not too far of a walk from where we were (okay, to be fair, nothing is too far to walk if you have the time) so we headed off. In the Gallery, I played a game designed for kids visiting the museum featuring augmented reality in the various exhibit halls. Made me really want to bring Monki there to see some of these artworks up close and I know she’d just love the game.

We wandered a bit, I got my picture and by that time we were getting a bit hungry. Again, since we weren’t far, Lin suggested a combination restaurant/supermarket called the Japan Center where we each ordered donburi bowls. I’d never had one before, and it was quite yummy – although we probably could have easily split one. They were huge.

Finishing, we were in a bit of a quandary. It was dark out but I still had several hours before my show was to start. However, we had heard about an exhibit near Canary Wharf called Winter Lights, but we knew nothing about it. Lin looked it up and decided we had time to see it before the show, so off we went.

To be fair, we had no idea what we were getting involved with, nor how far apart these artistic light installations really were, but what we did see was amazing. It started (or ended, depending on how you circled the route) with a floating globe in the middle of a concrete pond. From there, we grabbed a walking map and set out. The various bits ranged from fairly representation art merely lit up creatively to wild light and sound installations. There was one (which we had to miss) that had a line dozens (if not hundreds) of people deep. In the end, we saw about half of the pieces (and Lin discovered a new, urban garden/lounge area) before we separated.

I headed off to the Adelphi Theatre and made it in plenty of time. Lin had suggested I see this show specifically for the special effects, which were indeed stunning. But for me, it was also a bit of nostalgia. It really brought little new to the original 1985 film (some necessary changes and updates, sure, but the overall plot remained exactly the same), but the songs were fun, the dance numbers energetic and Roger Bart, the actor playing Doc Brown, was fabulous. In fact, the whole cast was good and while I doubt it was anything different than any other night, it certainly felt like they were having a great time, sometimes appearing to come close to breaking. It upped the energy of the performance for sure.

However, we really need to talk about the car.

The effects of making the car drive and hit 88 miles per hour were just incredible. It really looked like it was driving around the stage, skidding to halts and crashing into barns. And at the end, it 100% flew out over the audience. I left the theatre just giddy. This show had been on my list and I was really glad I’d had the chance to see it.

When I got back to the house, we discussed it while eating more of the chicken from the night before. Lin, of course, had no nostalgia for the original film. For the most part, anything from before 2000 for her is too old so this movie was way beyond the scope of what she enjoyed watching. As we discussed the plot details, though, she noted that “it was a bit…pervy” in regards to Marty and his mom.

To which I replied, “sure, but pervy-ness aside, it’s a great family show!”

This became our go to phrase for the rest of the trip.

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