January 2023 Part Five (Jan 24-Jan27)

January 24 – New and Old things, New and Old Friends…

We got up late on Tuesday morning, but that was okay, we were already sorted for theatre for the evening – but more on that in a minute. Needing sustenance, Lin suggested a place called “Today Bread” for our morning’s brunch (yes, we’d gotten up that late!). To be fair, this wasn’t generally my kind of place. This is the kind of place where everything is produced on the premises and it felt a bit “hipsterish” for me upon entering, but hey, I’ll give anything a shot (remember my “capacity to enjoy absolutely everything”).

I am so glad I did. The staff was delightful and the food was delicious! The only slight hitch was I ordered some avocado for my sandwich, thinking it would be added to the sandwich itself. Nope. It was just dolloped on the side of the plate, which was fine. It was still tasty.

After food, Lin had to go see an apartment, so I was left to my own devices. This meant I got to go to the Natural History Museum – a place Lin had expressly refused to go with me. She’s been with me at least once, if not more, so I don’t really blame her. But I love the place. I love the building and most of the exhibits (I have a hard time with taxidermy – it really gives me the creeps) and it just fills me with inspiration. So since I was flying solo, I was heading off to Kensington to see dinosaurs and fossils and giant blue whales.

Being there, I texted Monki and asked if she wanted anything. Again, like in Disney, she asked me to send her pictures, but there were so many more things here, I ended up giving her a much wider selection to choose from. In the end, she asked for a new pencil case with dinosaurs on it “to have for second grade” so that was good. I left when the place closed and headed off to the Noël Coward Theatre to see Best of Enemies.

I’d wanted to see this one since I heard about it, both for the cast and the subject matter. It’s about the 1968 debates between William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal which, really, changed the face of television. And it stars David Harewood as Buckley and Zachery Quinto as Vidal. Interesting casting to say the least. Right in my wheelhouse for sure.

What worked out nicely is one of the clients at Lin’s agency is in the show and had offered to get house seats for anyone who wanted them (house seats are seats reserved for the house – cast, crew, etc. – in case anyone has someone who needs to come to the show. You still have to pay for them, but they’re generally pretty good). We hadn’t been sure he’d be able to get them (there are only a few per show) and it wasn’t until Monday that we finally got confirmation so here I was.

I had asked Lin about the appropriateness of thanking the actor and she said that would be fine and sent him a note to serif it was okay on his end. His reply was that after the show he was having drinks with his parents and some friends and why didn’t I just join them?

Sure, I could do that.

Not having eaten, I stopped at the nearby Theatre Cafe for a coffee and cake. The cake was huge and served in a to-go box, which I was thankful for. The place itself was fun, a tourist joint for sure, but covered with theatre posters and memorabilia, with a stage at the far end, for anyone who wanted to jump up and belt out a show tune or two. When I went into the theatre, they were checking bags and a big sign proclaimed “no outside food.” The guy looked in my bag, saw the cake, and let it pass, laughing at me. Fair play.

The show was astounding. The set and staging were incredibly clever, and the script was taught and pointed. The performances were spot on and yes, having a black man playing an arch-conservative who was probably a bit racist in reality was a helluva a choice, but Harewood pulled it off brilliantly. It was so good, I had to buy the script to bring back to for my classes and hope to see if I can get a copy of the filmed version they were doing for National Theatre Live.

But the real fun came after the show.

I went to the restaurant but didn’t see Tom, the actor. When I mentioned to the waiter I was there to see him, he directed me to a table where the rest of his party sat. I felt like Steve Railsback in that scene from The Stunt Man where Lucky crashes the birthday party. But it was fine. Chris, Tom’s dad, welcomed me with open arms and I also met Kat and Mike, old friends of Tom. I was part of the family before Tom even arrived.

Lin joined us at about that point and we had a great time, chatting and swapping stories. Over the course of the night, I met John Hodgkinson, who was also in the cast, and David Harewood stopped by so I was able to say hello and tell him how much I enjoyed his performance. We ended the evening on an absolute high.

January 25 – Soak-ed and Sorted

As today was Wednesday, Lin had to go back to work so I was on my own during the day for the next few days. Thankfully, I had made some plans with some friends in London (other friends outside of London proved to be just too difficult to get to, much to my chagrin).

Today, I was going to see Ian.

I first met Ian in Vegas close to 20 years ago (WOW!) as a member of the magic community (although he’ll be the first to tell you he’s no magician) and since then, we’ve become good friends. I would see him whenever he would come to Vegas (for a magic-related event, usually) and then, when I moved to Europe, I don’t think there’s been a trip to London which hasn’t included spending some time with him.

This time, we met outside the Apollo Victoria Theatre, home of Wicked and right outside the Victoria Train Station, hence Ian’s choice for a meeting place. He was convinced I wouldn’t get lost because it was so easy to find the place.

I got lost. I came up the wrong exit from the tube station and was completely turned around so it took me a minute to find where I was supposed to be. Thankfully, I was early since there wasn’t much to do at home, so, once establishing I knew where things were, I hung out in the station until we were to meet.

It took us a minute to find a suitable place to perch, eventually settling on The Soak, the restaurant/lounge at the Clermont Victoria. It’s a plush place for sitting back and having a couple of pots of tea, and the adjoining hotel is the kind of place where they offer you an umbrella to take with you as you walk out the door. We must have stayed there talking for a couple of hours before Ian decided I needed to be introduced to the magic that is a “Peroni.”

Not having any clue what this was, we left The Soak and headed across the street to a more common-style pub, The Victoria, where I discovered Peroni is a wonderful Italian lager. We continued our conversation, now with a more adult beverage than tea, and added some food as well, for another couple of hours, until the pub got well and truly crowded.

By the time I finally said good night to Ian, it was only because I had to get to the Phoenix Theatre for our evening’s show – Noises Off – and I was walking. Yes, I could have taken the tube, but you know me. I like walking and besides, it was only about 2km, no big deal and it would give me more steps for my daily count.

The show itself is one I’ve known for a while, but never seen on live stage. I have greatly enjoyed the film version, though. Turns out we were there on press night and Lin ran into a bunch of her friends from various other gigs. She had warned me ahead of time this was going to be the case so I would be prepared, but it wasn’t a big deal.

The show itself started out strong but was certainly showing its age. I laughed a lot during the first act but in the middle, while I could appreciate the comic timing and physicality of the cast, there was just something slightly off about it. Afterward, we hung around and chatted for a bit before everyone had to go – work in the morning.

Lin and I stopped by Walk to Wok to grab some noodles (I had pad thai again) before our train ride home.

There was one more full day left of my vacation and things were in the works which could prove to be exciting.

January 26 – The Ellises and a final night send-off!

Josh and Michelle and me

Thursday and I was set to train out to the Bushey/Watford area to see my friend Josh. I met Josh when I moved back to Vegas in 2003 and a couple of years ago, he met a nice English girl, Michelle, and moved to just outside London and they got married (I “attended” the wedding online). It had been years since I’d seen him (and I had picked up a few things for him in the States which I needed to deliver) so I was really looking forward to the visit.

The only slight hitch was in the amount of time I could stay out there. See, a few nights back, when we had gone to see Best of Enemies, Chris had asked me if I had seen The Unfriend, a new play written by Steven Moffat and directed by Mark Gatiss. When I said I hadn’t, he explained that Gatiss was a friend and he’d ring him up and see if we couldn’t arrange something. He and Lin exchanged numbers and we just waited to hear something. And if the tickets did come through, I would have to leave Watford in time to make a matinee.

So while Josh and I walked around the village and chatted, I was constantly checking to see if I needed to skedaddle. Eventually, with no call coming, we just continued our wonderful afternoon of visiting. I found out much later that yes, there were tickets put aside for me, but a lack of communication meant they didn’t get word out and so I missed the show. That was fine, though, it was really good to hang out with Josh, eat a really good burger, and just chill.

In the meantime, though, Lin had been working her magic and had secured us tickets to see Mother Goose. This was a weird one. We’d been seeing ads for it all over and knew little about it except it was a Panto and starred Ian McKellen. Both Lin and I had put it on our “maybe” list, if it happened it happened.

But then it happened. Turns out Lin’s agency has a client in the show and once again house seats were procured. More so, the show was on at Duke of York’s Theatre, which is Lin’s alma mater. This is where she started as a front of house usher, so she knew her way around (and knew people at the various bars who had nice, heavy pours when mixing us some G&Ts).

So I came back into the city from Watford and waited for her in a Caffè Nero across the street from the theatre (where the guy working was having a particularly friendly night as he filled up the stamps on my loyalty card when I only bought one coffee – or maybe he was flirting and I didn’t catch it). Lin arrived and we headed in, with her saying hi to everyone as we made our way around the building (we did try and get programs but since the show was closing in London just a few days later, they were out and hadn’t needed to order more). The Duke of York’s holds a special place in theatre history, too, as it’s the place where Actor’s Equity was founded (and where Ian McKellen made his West End debut).

When the show started, I didn’t know what I was in for. A Panto is something I’d been hearing about for years but had never actually seen in person. They’re usually a Christmas show, a retelling of some famous fairytale complete with updated and topical references, audience participation (“Look out behind you,” the kids shout) and often a prominent actor in drag. These are the shows schools take the students to when they don’t want to have actual lessons before Christmas break.

This one started with John Bishop, a stand-up who was the other big name in the cast, coming out to introduce the concept (and to reassure everyone that Sir Ian wasn’t dead). When the show proper began, I started laughing. I don’t think I stopped until the interval. McKellen was absolutely brilliant as Mother Goose, the supporting cast was funny as hell and the pop culture references were fast and furious (especially the Lord of the Rings comments).

With all the shows I saw in my three weeks, this was the perfect one to end on. It was light and funny; it was a joy to watch solid comedians able to wring all the laughs they could from whatever they were doing and it was a blast to sing and yell along.

But our night wasn’t over…not by a long shot.

After the show, we went backstage to meet Lin’s client, Richard, and maybe go out for a drink. While waiting for him to come out, we talked with Danni, the stage door keeper who was an old friend of Lin’s, who said something about the cast doing something that evening. When Richard came out, it was suggested we tag along to the cast thing, along with James, a theatre producer and one of Richard’s friends who had also come to see the show. So we all did.

Since this was happening on January 26, the “cast thing” was actually a Cèilidh, a celebration of Burns Night (which is January 25 and a celebration of Scottish Poet Robbie Burns’ birthday) organized by Mairi Barclay, the actor who played the Monkey in the show, and held at The Actor’s Church in Covent Garden.

After clearing the pews out of the way, the festivities started with Mairi and Sir Ian reciting poems (The Selkirk Grace) and talking about Burns Night (and the haggis! We can’t forget the haggis!) then it was time for the dancing. Mairi would teach everyone the moves and we all stumbled through it as best we could. And we laughed.

A lot.

It was so much fun to just let loose and hang out with theatre folk again. It’s been some time and while I don’t know that I’d want to go back to it full-time, I certainly enjoyed dipping my toe back into the festivities. And yes, I did get to shake Sir Ian’s hand and say hello.

By the time the night was over, I had met a lot of really cool people and really finished off my last full day in London on a very high note. As it turned out, though, it wasn’t quite over yet.

It was so late that we had to run to the tube station to make our way back home, rushing our good-byes to Richard and James so as not to miss the last train.

We made it, barely, but then, sitting across from us were two people, rather obviously inebriated, who were sharing a beer and struck up a conversation with us. Turns out the girl, Lara, was Estonian so when we mentioned Lithuania, she opened up even more. Her companion on the ride (not her date) was Simon, who was from Nottingham. Turned out they both worked at Camden Arts Center and there had been a big opening that night. Our conversation bounced between talking about the war in Ukraine to Lara (who was a community person) asking Simon (who ran the snack bar) to save her a salmon bagel in the morning. It was the perfect late-night encounter, made better by the fact that Simon now also lived in Walthamstow so we rode with him the entire way home (and got a picture before we parted company).

Simon, me, and Lin

It was an evening that put the ultimate cherry on the sundae of the trip.

January 27 – The Return

Friday morning, my last day in London. And I knew I must take this opportunity to extend a huge thank you to Lin – this whole trip wouldn’t have been possible without her generosity. So I did. I let her know how much I appreciated everything she had done before she headed off to work. Then I set about to organize my suitcases in preparation for the flight later on. The plan was to only fly with one bag and ship the other one. This way we didn’t have to worry about weight or extra baggage costs or traveling with a second large suitcase through the streets of London. I had picked up a second case in Vegas, taking one of mom and dad’s old ones so I didn’t have to buy one there.

It was a slight balancing act, making sure the bag I had with me wasn’t overweight and still had the stuff I needed to bring home personally as opposed to the stuff which could wait a few extra days but, in the end, I did it. I grabbed my one bag and, locking the door behind me, headed out to Victoria Coach Station to get the bus to London Luton.

There was one slight kerfuffle at the station, since I didn’t have the actual ticket (or at least I thought I didn’t) but instead had a screen shot of the QR code. I figured this would be fine, along with my ID, to get me on the bus, but no. The incredibly irate driver for National Express angrily turned me away, yelling at me that he couldn’t take a QR code because that’s how fraud occurs. I offered him my ID and everything else, but he just kept yelling at me, spittle flying, and pointing me back to the station.

Eventually, the woman working at the door explained I could get a reprint of the ticket from the information desk – which, yes, had the exact same QR code and information I had shown him ­– so I did and was able to get on the next bus heading towards Luton. This turned out to be fortuitous as there was no one else on the bus with me. I had a solo drive to the airport, which was kinda cool. We also had booked an early enough ride that even with the delay of missing my original bus and with some dodgy traffic, I made it to the airport in plenty of time for my flight.

I checked in (my bag was well underweight – Rasa has trained me well!) and the flight, while booked solid, was fine. When I landed, I was near the back of the queue for passport control so by the time I made it through, my bag had already come out on the carousel (and the one wheel which had been held on with tape had come completely loose) and I headed out to call a Bolt.

The Bolt app, though, was complete garbage. I booked a car from inside (it was cold out) and before I could walk to the curb, the driver had canceled that I was a “no-show.” From there, I tried to book others but no one was around and then there was a premium price, and I was getting very frustrated. I was going to take a cab but then he wouldn’t take a card and I didn’t have any cash. That driver then suggested the driver behind him might take cards and lo and behold, he did. More than that, when I gave him my address, he quoted me a price less than all of the Bolt drivers. And he didn’t even need to put the address into GPS. “After driving here for 30 years, I know all the streets,” he explained.

So yeah, 3 weeks after leaving, I returned home. Tired but feeling good. I’d had some great experiences, met loads of interesting people, seen friends and family, and was ready to face the world again.

It was definitely good to be home.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.