When you’re tired of London…

Samuel Johnson famously said that when you are tired of London, you are tired of life.

But I do tire of London. Its busy, polyglot, loud and smoggy atmosphere do get to me. But it’s always exciting, with so much to do.

Again I stayed close to the British Library, because the problems with getting everything at Boston Spa meant I had re-ordered a number of items for London. And it all showed up! Looking through the journals, I discovered two more Wellsian pieces that aren’t in the bibiliographies. It’s almost annoying now. Almost, but not quite.

Because I was also able to mention it while attending the H. G. Wells Society’s Annual General Meeting. I am a fairly new member, and have published in their journal, but I had not actually met any of the other members. I was meant to, on an outing to G.B. Shaw’s house planned for September (Wells’ birthday is in September). But it had cancelled.

I was tentative about attending the meeting, because I knew that several people whose work I admire would be there (I’m actually not nearly as confident as I appear in print — well, almost). And indeed, it was a small meeting with all the folks I wanted to meet. Everyone was very kind, and I was introduced as someone engaged in digging up articles by Wells no one knows about. Many of the members study Wells’ literature, rather than history. I very much enjoyed the paper Eric Fitch presented, which reaffirmed how very deep and wide is the interest in Wells. There was a discussion about how to get younger people more interested in his work, but of course there are perennial movies and exhibits based on his science fiction going on all the time.

But man cannot live on Wells alone. One also goes to London for the art museums, and there was a major Van Gogh exhibit on at the Tate Britain. Although the tickets were timed, each group allowed in was huge. It was very difficult to see the pictures:

Can you see any Van Goghs? It wasn’t easy. Everyone wanted in particular to see Sunflowers, which is funny because it’s usually at the National Gallery anyway. There’s quite a rivalry between the Tate Modern and the National Gallery. A couple of years ago I attended a talk at the Turner gallery at the Tate, which has a huge selection of Turners, but not my two favorites, The Fighting Temeraire (soon to be on the £20 note) and the Great Western Railway. They were rather defensive about the fact that those are at the National Gallery.

Not a lot easier to see paintings there, is it? But I am really glad that everyone is so enthusiastic about art!

One also goes to London for theatre. It’s been trickier in recent times to find good, local plays. Over the years, the selection has become increasingly dominated by Americans and big musicals, most of which I’ve already seen. There was Thorton Wilder’s Old Town at the Regents Open Air, and Arthur Miller’s All My Sons with Bill Pullman and Sally Field. Kelsey Grammar is starring in Man of La Mancha, for goshsakes. If I wanted to see American works and performers, I would have stayed in America. My visit was before Present Laughter with Andrew Scott opened, and it was impossible to get in to the only truly British show, Only Fools and Horses (based on a TV show of which I am not particularly fond). But there was one delightful production, at the mysteriously hidden Charing Cross Theatre (it’s under the station bridge): Amour. Music by Michele Legrand (so stunningly beautiful) with a very British libretto by Jeremy Sams, who wrote a charming introduction in the program of what it was like to work with Legrand.

Apparently Amour was on Broadway for only two weeks in 2002, but got five Tony Award nominations. Here it was supposed to run until mid-July, but was closing early. The theatre (audience on two sides, like in-the-round but square) was small, but full. The cast was excellent, the music delightful, the staging original. It was the story of an ordinary clerk, the one who everyone hates because he does his work precisely, who suddenly can walk through walls. Trying to impress the woman he loves even though he’s only ever seen her from afar, he begins committing Robin Hoodesque robberies to get her attention. The ending is sad, but also charming.

So why hasn’t this delightful show done well? I think it’s timing. People want their theatre these days to deal with the social and political trends of the day if they’re going to see something other than Phantom of the Opera. They want Come from Away, or something about family relationships that don’t work. Or they want deep, meaningful stuff like the Pinter series that’s been going for a year (also sold out). I heard one man, who’d seen Amour three times and was sad it was closing early, say he thought it was the title. Or perhaps its continental focus doesn’t work in a time of Brexit.

Here’s something very English from the window of the Transport for London Lost Property office. They’ve not only promised to take care of Paddington; they’ve given him some marmalade.


The new buses are retro, I noticed. When I first returned to England, in 1981, you could board a double-decker bus at either the front or the back. At the front the driver took your money (they used money then), or at the back the conductor would. The back was the quickest way to the top deck. Then for years, as they cut the bus staff in half, they didn’t have a conductor, so the back staircase wasn’t built anymore. But now, thanks to “cashless” technology (use your Oyster card or your contactless credit card), the back is reopened. You can wave your card and go up top.
And last, a photo showing life finding a way, even on the Hungerford Bridge.
I shall miss London. I shall miss England. I always do.

2 comments to When you’re tired of London…

  • jmm

    Your photos make me all soppy for that very particular city, one of only four* I’d even consider living in if I could afford to, which I never will. 🙂

    *Boston…San Francisco…DC.