Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The London Trip Report

This is one of those mornings when I say to myself, "Self, it is time to shut down your Singles blog because in the seven and a half years you've been blogging, you've been married for five. There are good Christian Single gals, like the Orthogals and the Dzielne Niewiasty (Brave Women), who have already taken up the cause of Single dignity. Time to do something else. Start another blog, one in which you report on the actual work you've done that day."

"But I want a million hits for Seraphic Singles," said Self. "So far I have only 800,000."

"That," I said, "is a trivial concern."

I had this conversation with myself because instead of posting the letter from the Single reader who is worried because she looks 24 when she is really 29, I want to write about going to wonderful LONDON. And the story of going to London is inextricable from the fact that I am married because travelling when married is so different from travelling when Single.

For starters, there is less panic and, if you are happily married, no loneliness, although, paradoxically, more temptations to bite the person next to you. Groups of tipsy young men are less likely to invite you to join in their sprees, and you can walk back to your hotel through darkened European streets at 1 AM without worrying about your personal safety. If anything you snatch alone time where you can so as to write in your journal.

Of course, married women with small children probably have no idea what I am talking about because travel for married women with small children is just one more obstacle course in their exhausting lives. Fortunately, if they live to see those kids out of the house, then they are free to travel, like my globetrotting mother of five.

So my trip to London is totally from the perspective of a married woman with no kids and a genial husband who enjoys chatting and art galleries. Be warned.


On Friday B.A. and I triumphantly claimed our seats in the First Class carriage because I had booked months in advance, when they were actually affordable. Train fares in the UK are so expensive that if you're going to go by train at all, you might as well go First Class. First Class entails leg room, a meal, constant offers of hot and cold drinks, crisps and biscuits and protection from any soccer riots and drunken sprees breaking out in the carriages behind.

And there's wi-fi. I felt tremendously sophisticated as I booked us a table for Saturday lunch in South Kensington on my tablet while beside me B.A. attempted to reserve tickets for the William Kent exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Four and three-quarters of an hour flashed by as I exulted in First Classness, read a Polish novel (in English), obediently looked at the Great Cathedrals of Northern England as we passed them and napped. And then we were in King's Cross station, which now has a modern glass canopy through which the rich warm southern English sun shone. It was about 5 PM, and the station and streets around were full of happy Londoners sunning themselves and thinking gleeful weekend thoughts.

B.A. made loud Scottish remarks about this being a terrible area and to hang onto my bag, but if anything the area around King's Cross looked cleaner, wealthier and jollier than I remembered London being. I vaguely seem to recall that King's Cross-Pancras used to be full of grunge and vice, but those days are clearly over. We walked down a busy street to our hotel which, though itself modern, was inside a smart Art Deco building.

Our room was weeny and windowless, immaculately clean and with excellent fittings. It cost us 90 quid a night which is an amazing bargain for London. We dumped our stuff, answered a text from Andrew Cusack, brushed our hair and rushed out into the glorious sunshine to walk to Bloomsbury and the British Museum.

Very weird things have been done to the British Museum since I was there in the mid-90s, but it still has a great collection, including the history of Scotland written by the late Lord X, most celebrated owner of the Historical House, whom B.A. and I fancifully consider our landlord. We were tremendously excited to find it there. Oh, and there was the Sutton Hoo treasure trove too, of course, although what most impressed me were the wooden Roman British implements found in a bog. Two thousand year old WOOD--how miraculous! And I drooled over various objects produced by Mr Wedgwood.

Next we had a very long search for supper hampered by mistakes in my research. In the end, we ordered supper in the same pub in St Pancras Station where we had arranged to meet Mr Cusack. Mr Cusack fetched up at 9:30 PM, rather tired out from his extensive social life which, the night before, had included a book launch at Ralph Lauren.

I felt rather jealous and envious about this book launch at Ralph Lauren. I don't get to have book launches at Ralph Lauren. But Andrew explained that his friend had produced a coffee table book on rowing blazers, which explained its significance for Ralph Lauren. How very Andrew, I thought, to have a friend who cares that much about rowing blazers. The pub meal, incidentally, was much better than I expected, based on my experiences of the mid-1990s.


I woke up an hour before B.A. and so sat in the teeny but perfect loo with my tablet so as not to disturb him. When he awoke and we were ready to go, I led him across the street to an amazing little French bakery I had read about. There we ordered the most delicious pains aux chocolats et amandes in history and B.A. exchanged pleasantries in French with the bearded Frenchman behind the counter. We gobbled these pastries in the sunny street outside, making noises of pleasure and greed. And then we took the Tube to South Kensington.

In South Kensington we went to a French cafe, choosing seats outside, and when rain exploded over London, B.A. rushed off to the V&A to buy our William Kent tickets. I happily remained behind to pay the server and write in my journal. Then I crossed the street, passed the Ismaili Centre, and joined B.A. in the V&A, which is so much more lovely than the British Museum, I don't know where to start. I wish we could have spent all day in the V&A, but all the same at 12:45, I dragged B.A. away from the Melville Bed, so as to be on time for lunch.

Lunch was in the (wait for it) Polish club, which is to say, in its restaurant Ognisko. I don't know how the Poles got their hands on the elegant building, but at any rate it has been the Polish clubhouse since 1940, when the Free Poles escaped to Britain from newly occupied France. Apparently the restaurant had been sliding from faded grandeur into squalor when it was rescued by a smart modern Polish restauranteur, who had the walls painted white and turned it into a neo-classical jewel with slender waitresses in black shift dresses. When we arrived, the bar was full of Polish Londoners between the ages of 30 and 80, the men in ties--often club ties-- and jackets and the ladies in day dresses or skirt suits. They were seated after us, and were great fun to watch as we ate. B.A. was very glad he had worn a jacket.

The food was amazing. First we had pork cracklings, and if I wanted to commit slow suicide the nicest way possible, I would eat them non-stop, between gulps of vodka, until my arteries closed and I died of heart failure. (Good retirement plan?) Then I had chlodnik, which is cold beet soup with dill. And then we both had potato pancakes, I with goulash and B.A. with black sausage. Too full for pudding, B.A. just had a second beer and I ordered a shot of pear vodka. It was so cold there were shards of ice in it.

And then we went to Westminster Cathedral and St Paul's Book Shop, where, after greeting Fiorella de Maria, B.A. abandoned me to see the inside of Westminster Cathedral. I do not recommend the loo in St Paul's Book Shop, which is all I can decently say about that. Let's just say it rather ruined my prep time and any chance of coordinating with book shop staff. At any rate, we had a respectable turnout of friends and blog readers (hello Mary and Simca!) and various shoppers were attracted to the strains of Cecilia de Maria's beautiful harp and Fiorella's and my readings.

Naturally I began with the dancing-with-Krishna-at-Mass scene, which out of context could be considered terrifically offensive, and sure enough I soon felt the glare of an East Asian girl who suddenly disappeared and returned with her South Asian boyfriend or husband. By then, however, it was Fiorella's turn to read, and nobody could have found anything offensive in her selection. My next reading, however, was also controversial, as it was the scene where Suzy meet Dennis, Silke says something anti-Semitic and Anna Maria attempts to clear the air by talking about sex. Out of the tail of my eye, I saw Polish Pretend Son disappear. He hasn't read the book, so he had no idea.

"Only Jesuits," he boomed later, "would publish such an INDECENT book!"

As a matter of fact, as I read, I found myself leaving out the indelicacies that are so much of a part of authentic modern-day speech and yet are so inappropriate to Catholic bookshops. There were, like, a hundred covers featuring Pope Francis staring at my back, which made it rather difficult to channel jaded old Silke and coked-up Anna Maria.

Then we had a break, and then we had the last go of readings and harp playings, but by this time the bookshoppers had lost all interest and the most loyal of our friends were shifting from weary foot to weary foot or sitting on the floor. Bless them. From now on, I will stick to a bookshop-MUST-provide-chairs policy. And then we went off for drinks.

When the De Maria and Cummings McLean factions went their separate ways, B.A. and I followed Polish Pretend Son through the streets of London to supper in Chinatown, visiting Jermyn Street--spiritual home of the Dandy branch of Young Fogies since 1700--and Piccadilly Circus on the way. Polish Pretend Son said the former was usually full of Spaniards, but I heard a lot of Polish. I was terribly surprised to hear a girl clad only in black underwear address a gaggle of prostitutes as "Dziewczyny" until I realized that they were not prostitutes but "regular girls" on their way to have a fun night on the town. B.A. observed that the girl who wore least was also the least pretty. Compensation?

We ate in a dark and atmospheric Taiwanese restaurant, splashing out on a bottle of plum wine, and then set off on a long and bantering search for Bar Polski. Alas, by the time we found it, it had closed. And so we went to the nearby "Shakespeare's Head" instead and drank ale. Then Polish Pretend Son went to look for bus or (failing a bus) a "Boris bike", and B.A. and I walked back to our hotel. There were certainly a lot of cars on the road at 1 AM!


B.A. and I dragged ourselves from bed at 9, so as to check out by 10 and go to the 11 o'clock Mass at Brompton Oratory . We left B.A.'s rucksack in the hotel's storage room (2.50 quid) and went to King's Cross station for breakfast. The fantastic French bakery was shut for Sunday morning, which only increased our reverence and awe. And after we ate our not-as-good-but-perfectly-adequate pastries, we took the Tube back to South Kensington.

The 11 o'clock at Brompton Oratory is a Latin language, High Mass, Novus Ordo, if you can get your minds around that. It features an absolutely splendid choir, and our Catholic friends always go to that Mass when living or staying in London. And, lo, we spotted two people we knew as soon as we got there and chose a spot with a good view of the sanctuary. And then, to my great spiritually maternal joy, Seminarian Pretend Son arrived from Oxford and sat down beside B.A. Hooray! Polish Pretend Son lurked, I believe, somewhere near the back.

It was a very bright, warm morning, and the sun sparkled on our friends after Mass. And after various greetings and chattings, Seminarian Pretend Son led Polish Pretend Son, B.A. and me through Westminster to a gentlemen's club (now open to ladies, btw)in Pall Mall. There we had Sunday lunch in the grandest, most intimidating circumstances possible to an almost empty room, and then decamped, with drinks, to the rooftop terrace, where the Pretend Sons smoked cigars. Big Ben rang four, and we turned to see the spires of Westminster Abbey over the buildings and trees. That was tremendously awesome, as was ringing a bell for a club servant to come and bring the Pretend Sons more sherry. But then--alas--B.A. and I had to rush off and get his rucksack before catching our 5:30 PM train.

All the way home, I thought of delicious pork cracklings and vodka, while B.A. explained why we will never be able to afford to live in London. Ah, London. Sigh, sigh.

Edinburgh was damp and cold.

Update: On further reflection, some thanks are in order. So many thanks to Fiorella for approaching the book shop, and to Andrew Cusack, Anthony, Adela, PPS, Mary and Simca for coming to our event. Adela gets super-special thanks for buying the book! And thanks also to Rafal, who could not come but sent others. And naturally I thank B.A. for heavily subsidizing this glamorous jaunt.


Heather in Toronto said...

Sounds like you had a lovely time (for the most part anyway) and I'm glad to hear it!

The Brompton Oratory Mass sounds very much like what the Toronto Oratory used to have before they switched to the EF, so I think I know exactly what you mean. As Latin Masses go I think I actually prefer it, mainly because while I love the solemnity and the transcendent quality of the Latin, I prefer hearing the readings in the vernacular and my attention deficient brain has an easier time following along and remaining recollected with the newer form's simpler and more (not sure of the word - explicit maybe?) structure.

Oratorians tend to take their liturgy seriously, regardless of which form they are using, and the result tends to be wonderful.

MaryT said...

Hi back to you, Dorothy!! It was so lovely to get to meet you in person and to have a bit of a chat. London is a place of Magic, I always tell everyone, and I am so glad you had what sounds like a perfectly wonderful time. Hopefully you will get back soon, and if you do you MUST read Quiet London first. It's the discovery of a whole new side of London - http://www.amazon.co.uk/Quiet-London-Siobhan-Wall/dp/0711231907

c'est la vie said...

It sounds so sophisticated and delightful. It's lovely of you to tell us about it. And pork cracklings with vodka! How deliciously decadent.

Domestic Diva said...

Seraphic, I for one enjoy posts like these and hope you don't stop the single blog just because you are married. Besides just enjoying the story of your adventures, it gives me a sense of what I can look forward to, if God so wills that I marry. More specifically, since I am about your age, it's showing me that married life can be very good even if childless. Thanks so much for sharing.

Margaret O'More said...

Please, please don't stop Seraphic Singles! You fill a niche that no one else does, and your posts are always so much fun to read! I really don't know what I would do if deprived of your unsolicited advice and perspective on the Single Life. Your experience does not cease to be relevant merely because you are married now.

A devoted reader

Julia said...

Sounds like a super fun trip!

"I vaguely seem to recall that King's Cross-Pancras used to be full of grunge and vice"

Haha! Sounds like Sydney's Kings Cross! It can get pretty rough there.

'"Only Jesuits," he boomed later, "would publish such an INDECENT book!"'

PPS reminds me of one of my Young Fogey, Latin Mass-going friends! Do not get him started on the Jesuits.

And finally, I'd like to echo previous commenters. I enjoy reading Seraphic Singles a lot!

Julia said...

"Fortunately, if they live to see those kids out of the house, then they are free to travel, like my globetrotting mother of five."

I feel sad for my own mother of four. I think her globetrotting days are never to return. Us kids, aged 15 to 23, all still live at home, and both my parents work full-time. We were chatting the other day about my future, and we agreed that I'm going to have to stay put at home for quite awhile, as will my siblings, because property prices and rent in Australia are INSANE. For context, an extremely average little house in my suburb went for $1.9 million the other day. And my suburb isn't even the priciest in my city.

Leah said...

Wow, that is nuts, Julia. How can anyone possibly afford that?

Jeth-ka said...

Don't get us started on Sydney house prices! Julia, I have recently moved from the not-quite-inner-west to a much smaller, more beautiful (I think) and undoubtedly more affordable city. Sydney is tough!

Aunty S, I loved this post. You make me want to go to London again and you also make me very disappointed that in my three visits there I've never been to the V&A.

Cojuanco said...

Did someone say pork cracklings and alcohol? The sentiment that fellow Catholics are eating my dream food warms my cockles.

Julia said...

Jeth-ka, I'm actually in Melbourne, not Sydney, but I think it's pretty bad in any major Australian city.

Jeth-ka said...

That's so funny, I thought it was Sydney, for some reason! I'm just a little south of you (where it actually isn't so bad, house-price-wise). Cue smug-Tasmanian-ness ;)

Sheila said...

I don't think my parents are going to get to globetrot anytime soon. When I was 14 and left for boarding school, they gleefully started planning their European vacation that they'd been waiting for for so many years. (I was the second of two.) And then they got pregnant again that very year. My mom's last baby was at 45 ...... not sure when they will ever get to go to Europe!

On the other hand, they did get to live abroad in Asia for my dad's work, so that was an adventure even with four kids along. But I do hope someday they will get to see Paris together. At least they are in excellent health.

Is the beet soup the same as summer borscht? That is one of my favorite things in the world -- beets, cucumbers, dill, a bit of vinegar. Usually a dollop of sour cream. It's all I ever want for lunch in the summer!

Anonymous said...

I was sooooo sad not to be able to make your signing in London! Was not a terribly practical jaunt for us without massive amounts of planning, etc, as small children don't generally appreciate readings much. Ah well, your next book, then. :)