"We're going to London tomorrow," enthused B.A., and my heart is glad that he is glad because like many Scots, he is wont to say, "I don't care for London. It is too big."
This, incidentally, is what non-Toronto people say about Toronto. What non-Warsaw people say about Warsaw I will not repeat. Objecting to the biggest, most important city of one's nation seems to be a widespread phenomenon. At any rate, due to this reluctance of B.A. to care for London, plus the inordinate expense of travel within the UK, I have not set foot in it since the Megabus took me from Victoria station to Edinburgh in 2008.
When I was a child, London seemed to me the most glamorous city in the world, not that I had been there since I was four years old. And my understanding of it was not rooted in reality, for my primary sources of information were Miroslav Sasek's This is London (1959) and Ronald Searle's Looking at London (1953). My surprise when I finally returned in the 1990s: men with Cockney accents and briefcases loudly discussing the stock market; a similarly accented Chinese bus driver; Africans sweeping the ticket-strewn Tube stations; the rapid pace of Londoners of all colours and their palpable impatience with lost tourists lugging suitcases. The 2008 morning I travelled from airport to Megabus, the grey dawn revealed endless stretches of vernacular English buildings apparently occupied entirely by South Asians, and Victoria Station had, for some inexplicable reason, complicated signs in some crazy-looking Slavic language. London is more a city of surprises than of childhood dreams come true, but all the richer for that. Graham Greene's novels make it sound like it is forever grey and rainy, a city of ghastly food and forgotten umbrellas.
So I do not know what to expect of London, other than that the train really will take us to King's Cross and that the hotel really exists and has our reservation. I assume the British Museum will still be there, and that there exists the Victoria and Albert Museum, too. Presumably there really is a Westminster Cathedral and a Brompton Oratory. I have believed for some weeks that Polish Pretend Son lives there, and Seminarian Pretend Son assured me over Facebook that he will join us all on Sunday after Mass, so I am expecting some jollity. And, since I have spoken to Fiorella de Maria over the phone at some length, I believe in the existence of the Saint Paul's Book Shop, which purports to be right near the alleged Westminster Cathedral.
As far as London goes, I think one can safely believe that the buildings stay more or less the.... Oh, I suppose not. There's that gherkin thing. Never mind. The important thing is that when we arrive at Saint Paul's Book Shop, it will really be there for Fiorella and me to read in.
The Saint Paul's Book Shop reading will involve Fiorella reading from Poor Banished Children, and then me reading from Ceremony of Innocence, and then Cecilia will play the harp. Then we will wait expectantly while customers rush to buy our books. This done, Fiorella will read from Do No Harm, and I will read from Ceremony again, and Cecilia will play another evocative piece on the harp. Then there will be another happy moment of unbridled capitalism again. Repeat.
And now I see that it is time for Pilates class, so I must fly.