Goin’ Home, HONESTLY

August 12.

Well, I guess its a sign that you’ve had a pretty good trip when a 16-hour flight delay turns into a lucky break. The extra day allowed for an interesting trip on the Thames and a lovely visit to the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew Gardens, enhanced by the beautiful Chihuli glass sculptures on display there. To be sure, the delay caused logistical challenges and additional expense (which I hope American Airlines will reimburse us for), but, given the choice, I definitely would have opted for the extra time. The girls,who were tired and prepared to go home yesterday, would probably have opted to do that, but enjoyed the day, too.

The overarching high point of the trip was being with the girls. Not only do we love our granddaughters because they’re our granddaughters, we love them for the people they’ve become. They are terrific travel companions–curious, game, flexible, grateful and enthusiastic. And just great fun, with excellent and sophisticated senses of humor. There’s nobody we’d rather take a trip with.

Through careful planning, Carol managed to combine three important aspects of our experience–the touristy things one should do on a first trip to London, a good deal of theater and music that the girls have particular interest in and visits with eleven friends, all in nine (really ten, as it turned out) days. Because it was just the four of us, we were able to make last minute changes/additions on the fly. As the girls would say, “kudos to Gee-Gee.”

We were extremely lucky with the weather. We had only a modest amount of rain that did not interfere with any of our plans. And even more importantly, the temperature was very moderate and even cool. A hot spell such as what England experienced earlier in the summer would have changed the nature and enjoyment of our experience dramatically.

Indeed, Carol pointed out that even her mistake in booking that required us to move a night earlier than she’d intended proved fortuitous, because it left us in a place where we could store all of our bags during our activities on our extra day.

I debated whether to take my good camera and a couple lenses, ultimately deciding to take them. And I didn’t use them at all. This was really a trip to record our experiences, not to make a feint at creating art. There were a very few times when using my better camera could have been advantageous. But having only the iPhone was rather liberating, and I’m not at all unhappy having decided to do so.

The four of us talked about our experiences, identified twenty separate experiences and each of us ranked them 1-20. That the process was not easy attests to the fact that we had many special experiences. We created a system of allocating points to the experiences based on our individual rankings and, while there were clearly differences in our levels of enjoyment, there was a rather high consistency between those ranked in the top and bottom six. I know you’re dying to know how they came out, so here they are:

1. Come from Away (musical play)

2/3. A tie–tour of Buckingham Palace/tour of The Globe Theater

4. Day in Chipping Campden

5. Tree (musical play)

6. The Mousetrap

And the bottom six were:

20. Thames boat ride (the very short one we took early in the trip; ride to Kew Gardens ranked much higher)

19. British Museum (probably because it was on our very first day, so that we were tired and had less than an hour to explore)

18. Covent Garden

17. Taming of the Shrew

16. Petticoat Lane and Spitalsfield Market

15. Sever’s House (House arranged as if it were in the 18th century)

The eight experiences not listed as top or bottom six were all excellent, and we loved seeing all of our friend (which we did not list as “experiences”).

To sum it up: this was one of the very best trips that Carol and I have taken (and we’ve taken some very, very good ones)

I’ll close with a photo of the two who made this trip so magical for us.

Take Off Aborted

August 11

Our flight back to Chicago is at 3:15PM today, but when we wake, I have a notice from American that that flight has been delayed 16 hours, until 7 AM tomorrow. At first I think there’s been a mistake or, worse, that I’ve booked the flight for the wrong day. A call to American confirms that the message meant what it said,

So, first, I book a Holiday Inn near the airport. A young Colombian, who has been gracious since we checked in to our one-day flat says it will be no problem for him to hold our bags for the day. When, on our way out, I give him $10 for his help and kindness, he says, sweetly, tucking the bill away, that this will be sentimental for him and that maybe he’ll see us in Chicago.

We decide to go to Kew Gardens, recommended by the Feldmans, where there is a Chihuli glass show. I insist that we take the boat on the Thames to Kew. Though it’s a bit chilly on the boat, we have great views of Parliament, bridges spanning the Thames and rowers and, as the guide on the boat says, “the luxury affordable apartments” that stretch along the river

.A different perspective on London and environs.

When we reach the Kew Gardens dock, we walk some distance before reaching the Gardens. We walk around and, after lunch in a garden cafe, take the chain of cars through the lovely gardens interspersed with stunning Chihuli glassware. Carol and the girls cut the ride short to see more of Chihuli’s work, which is housed indoors, while I finish the ride.

We take the tube back to our flat, collect our bags and Uber out to the Holiday Inn near Heathrow. We check into our rooms and go down to the small, very ordinary hotel restaurant, where we have a shockingly good, nicely-presented dinner. We have apparently happened on the Michelin Holiday Inn. After dinner, the four of us play gin rummy and banana grams in the restaurant, then retire to rest for tomorrow’s early getaway.

Painters, Plays and a Fancy Meal

August 10.

John Edwards is a Welsh painter, who we met when we took Jodi and Wendy to London in 1985. Shortly before we were scheduled to return home, I admired a painting of John’s hung in a London gallery window. When I inquired of the gallery owner whether she had any other works of a John’s she said no, but she would in a couple of days, because they were opening a show of his then. I said that we’d be gone by then, so the gallery owner called John and we were invited to visit him that afternoon in his home/gallery in a former biscuit factory in SE London. Carol and I, with Jodi and Wendy, hit it off with John and wound up buying six paintings, assuring the success of his show. We’ve remained friends of John’s and have seen him several times in Chicago and London. We love his somewhat zany personality, and his paintings, too. Here is John in 1985.

At 8 this morning, John came to our flat for breakfast, traveling an hour or more from Ipswich, where he lives in a remodeled tannery. (Yes, John has moved from a biscuit factory to a tannery, in which he seems very happy.). it was great to spend a couple hours catching up with John, hear about his many recent projects and introduce him to Zoe and Phoebe.

Here is a photo of one of John’s recent paintings.

He’s to send us photos of other paintings, and we may wind up adding to our collection of Edwards’ paintings.

Carol miscalculated the date on which we leave London (tomorrow), so we needed to pack up and move to another flat this morning. Not ideal, but that’s why God made Uber, so we called one and got the move done.

We tubed to Piccadilly Circus and walked along very fashionable, upscale Regent Street for some 45 minutes or so, before settling in to a very nice pub for lunch.

I’ve about had it with tubes at this point, so we taxied over to the Phoenix Theater to see a terrific musical, Come from Away, that had been very highly touted to us by our friends from Atlanta with whom we’ll be traveling to Japan next April, Robert Cook and Joseph Hanson, who had seen it in New York. The play is based on the real life story of a Newfoundland town that absorbed some 700 people who were diverted there because they were on flights when 911 occurred. We met Tom Handler and Judith at the show, and Judith arranged for us to get a backstage tour by a friend of her daughters who works on sets for the theater.

After the backstage activities, we spent an hour with Tom and Judith over coffee in a very pleasant old pastry/coffee shop, then said goodbye, as they were going to the Proms tonight

Carol had made a dinner reservation for us and the girls at a very good French restaurant in SoHo, called Margaux. Excellent meal, after which we took a taxi to our “newly-moved-into flat” and reviewed the trip together (more about this review tomorrow).

Tower and Shorthand

August 9

We started out the day at the Tower of London, learning about its storied and bloody history from our entertaining guide, one of the Tower Warders.Here are the girls, the Tower, the guardians of the Royal jewels and the impressive Tower Bridge.From the Tower, we went to meet our friends, Pat and Steve Hemmens at a cute restaurant that Pat chose near Covent Garden, which we found with considerable difficulty.

Pat was my secretary when I was a young partner at the Sonnenschein law firm, back in the mid-1970s. Born in England, but raised from age 4-20 in New Zealand, Pat has managed to maintain her feisty spirit and delightfully opinionated-on-everything personality over the years. Pat was very close to our daughters, Jodi and Wendy, when they were younger than Zoe and Phoebe are now and so has looked forward to meeting them on this trip. Periodically, when she was my secretary, Pat, frustrated at some new policy she regarded as outrageous that the firm had adopted, would tell me that she was going to leave the firm. I’d tell her that I’d be very sorry to lose her, but she needed to do what was right for her. After a while, she’d calm down, until the next outrage hit.

Eventually, Pat moved back to London and married Steve, who, until recently drove one of the classic, black London taxis. Pat and Steve have three sons, one of whom is a successful, professional magician, one a writer and one an academic. Here are photos of Pat and Steve, and two of their kids with me when Carol and I visited London with our daughters long ago. Steve’s taxi can be seen on the right.

Covent Garden, the old vegetable, fruit and flower market of My Fair Lady fame, which existed when I was there in the 60’s, ostensibly studying at the London School of Economics, where I got an LLM, has now been transformed into an upscale area of restaurants and shops. After lunch, we strolled through the market with Pat and Steve, encountering various entertainers.

We then walked down to the Thames with Pat and Steve and returned to our flat to rest a bit.

We walked to our nearby pub, intending to have a quick supper there, but it was too crowded and noisy and so we boarded the tube, deciding to eat near where we were going. As we ascended from the tube station we saw one of those sights that converts atheists to devout believers. Right in front of us rose a miracle

As has happened since Biblical Times, the Lord provided a meal. And we gave thanks, as we shoveled in our fries and peanuts.

We had tickets tonight for the Proms, a British tradition of concerts at the Royal Albert Hall. Tonight’s concert of music from movies was great fun and a huge spectacle, though too long by about half for my taste. Well worth doing, though.

After the concert, we encountered a heavy drizzle and after several blocks, managed to coral a taxi, which did a U-turn to pick us up. Our driver misunderstood our Edith Road address, thinking we’d said Edith Row. When he said we’d arrived, we told him we had not, and so he had to drive us to another part of the city. He quite kindly reduced the fare by ten pounds because of the mistake, which was as much our fault as his.

Back at the flat, we packed and retired for the night.

Tate a Tate

August 8

Breakfast at the flat (eggs today), stop at cleaners and then off, crossing London Bridge

To the Globe Theater, meticulously reconstructed to reflect its look 400 years ago. Ran into Poor Yorick and admired Christopher Wren’s St. Paul Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge across the Thames. Our guide for the Globe tour was both very funny and very informative, which made the experience a good deal more interesting and fun than I’d anticipated.

We met Tom Handler and his partner, Judith at the Tate Modern, where we peered at peregrine falcons through a telescope, then enjoyed a lovely lunch in the Tate dining room. Afterwards, we saw a wonderful exhibit of the incredible range of work produced by Russian painter, and clothes and set designer Natalia Goncharova, who worked in Russia and Paris during the first half of the 20th century. A bit embarrassing never to have heard of her before. Here’s a small sample of a few of the many works of hers that I admired.

After this, we took a short boat trip, which gave us a small taste of traveling on the Thames

Originally, we were going to take the boat up to the Old Tate, but wound up not taking it that far. Nonetheless, I left the title of this post as I’d written it–Tate a Tate–because I was proud to have thought of that devilishly clever title.

Judith needed to head home, but Tom joined the four of us for dinner at a C+ Indian restaurant.

The girls, Carol and I went to an outstandingly produced and conceived production of a play called “Tree” at the Young Vic Theatre. It’s impossible to convey the energy, movement and excitement of this production in a few photos, but here they are. The first two show a distinguished member of the audience, Zoe, who was called up on stage.

I tried inserting a short video that shows some of the energy and the way in which the company invited the audience to participate in the production, but, unfortunately, I failed, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

Tree was an outstanding theatrical experience. And we had a helluva good day, all around.