London: We arrived as usual at Heathrow after a long drive from Norfolk, turned in the hire car and struggled with our bags back to the terminals to get the Tube to Gloucester Road Station. A short walk with ever more heavy bags to a quiet back street, Rosary Gardens, found us at the Aston - a converted Victorian red brick terrace house with the rooms turned into hotel rooms. Like all London hotel rooms, it was so small that you had to go outside to change your mind, but this one's big advantage was that it had a small kitchenette with a sink, cook-top and fridge. Not only is eating out for every meal expensive, but there comes a stage where the last thing you want to do is eat out ... again. Unfortunately we scored room 12A (room 13...) - the number didn't bother us, but six floors and 64 stairs up after wearing out our feet all day did.
London is a city where the shows are the big attraction for me - especially the musicals. This time we saw the stage production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert. We saw the movie years ago and it was great fun. This production is terrific - the costumes in particular are unbelievable and it deserves every award it has won for costume design.
One of the things we like to do in London is 'London Walks'. You grab a program, decide what you want to see and meet the guide at the right time and place - no booking required. The guides can be experts such as historians or archaeologists, or actors between jobs. A small fee takes you on a walk around an area with a theme. We have done these before and enjoyed them, so we did no fewer than three this trip. First up was 'Londinium' with an archaeologist who had worked on Roman excavations in London. There's actually not a lot of Roman London left - a few stretches of walls, often topped by Mediaeval or later additions - or indeed only the foundations of walls. Second was an evening walk 'Regent Street Lanes and Pubs'. This meandered from the Mayfair side of Regent St (read posh) to the Soho side (read downmarket) and stopped at old pubs in back lanes along the way for an obligatory pint. The last was a tour around the Inns of Court in 'Legal and Illegal London'. We learnt a lot about the court area of London about which we knew nothing before. It ended at the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand and we had time to duck inside and look around. Unfortunately it was too late for any courts to be inn session but anyone can sit in on any court hearing.
The big thrill of the sojourn in London was catching up with a school friend whom I had not seen since 1965. Michèle, who had come to our school for a couple of years while her father was posted to Australia, was part of our "group" at school and we were all desperately upset when she and her family moved on. Over the years I had lost touch, but one school friend told us at a reunion recently that she had maintained contact all these years and that she was living in London. So Michèle and I arranged to meet for lunch. I have to admit that I would not have recognised her, though a picture of her face at school is vivid in my mind. However, she told me that I haven't changed a bit! Lunch extended to all afternoon and later her husband, Graham, joined us. It was simply marvellous to catch up and exchange old memories, and we will definitely keep in contact now.
And what does London have an abundance of? Museums. I had a wander around the Natural History Museum, and took in the special dinosaur exhibition. Another day I went to the Geffrye Museum of the Home in an old almshouse where the displays are of rooms set up and decorated as they were from the 16th century to the 1960s. The gardens are truly beautiful, also set out as they were in the same eras and with the same plants that would have been grown at that time.
And what is Sunday without a visit to Hyde Park and, in particular, Speakers' Corner. As expected, there are only a few 'speakers' now, but they can still be entertaining. One was quite looney though, the greatest bigot we have ever heard. A so-called Christian with a huge wooden cross around his neck, he thought, amongst other outrageous claims, that all homosexuals are child molesters and this has only been a problem since homosexuality was legalised! After a bit of heckling from us, he declared with all seriousness that all Australian are homosexuals and depraved. That was bit of a revelation to say the least - it's amazing what travel can teach you...