I had another slow start on Wednesday and headed out around midday. My first stop of the day was Chinatown. Being restricted by luggage limits and customs, I didn’t venture into any of the shops but, based on the picture menus, selected a lunch destination.
I ordered far more yum cha than I really needed. I was pleased to find that my order was actually misinterpreted and I received black bean and chilli rib pieces instead of pork buns, which I’ve eaten hundreds of times.
After lunch, I walked to the London Transport Museum in the least direct route that my phone had selected. (I have a feeling that not only am I misinterpreting the distances, the GPS positioning seems to be much less accurate here, taking a while to decide where I actually am.)
I was in my element at the London Transport Museum. Upon entry, you step into an elevator in which the “floor number” counts backwards from 2016 to 1800, where upon you emerge to find yourself surrounded by nineteenth century carriages, omnibuses and sedan chairs. I was particularly excited by the sedan chair after having completed a research assignment on it as a 10-year-old student. (Contrarily and typically, I had chosen as my assignment topic a form of transport that few other students had heard of.)
On the lowest level, there were more train carriages and trams in which I could pose. I was really embracing my solo traveller status by taking as many indulgent selfies with the public transport artefacts as I could get away with. I have decided to call this concept #tramtramp. It’s like traditional pin-up, except you do it with public transport if you don’t own a car.
As it was Saint Patrick’s Day, I had been given the mission to drink a pint in a proper Irish pub. I found one called Waxy O’Connor’s which allegedly has six levels. I found the back entrance and asked the bouncer if he wanted me to show ID.
“How old are you?”
“Hah! Don’t worry then.”
I’m sure that’s not how it’s supposed to work.
I found myself in an incredibly dimly lit, church-themed bar, complete with confessional and religious relics. I ended up ordering only half a pint of Guinness (to match my size) from a really lovely, green-glittered barmaid and tried to find somewhere to stand. After three failed attempts to stand somewhere which didn’t result in a security guard telling me I had to move, I skulled my drink and ascended back into the light.
I made several mistakes when visiting The National Gallery: I went too late in the day, I didn’t predetermine which paintings I actually wanted to find, and I was a touch tipsy (I’m largely alcohol-free these days after threats of high blood pressure from my doctor, so my alcohol tolerance is not what it once was).
Of the small proportion of art which I actually had the time to examine properly, my highlights were seeing the paint daubs on The Water Lily Pond, discovering a new Van Gough favourite (The Crabs), sitting in the dark to observe Leonardo’s Burlington House Cartoon – the inspiration for today’s featured image, and remembering my deep interest in biblical art which I had developed as a tween after being awarded a book on the subject by my art teacher. It was interesting to see which stories were the most popular with artists, especially those that allowed for the portrayal of female nudity which was perfectly acceptable because it was a religious context.
It was at this point that I recalled that Mr Bean used to work at the National Gallery. The reason my memory was jogged, was because I used to own a book in which Mr Bean “annotated” particular works of art. This one he captioned, “Dear Mum, Had a horrible time at the barber’s today…”
One of the other things I learnt was that a lot of landscape paintings were “jazzed up” with some mythological characters painted by a different artist, so that they’d have wider public appeal. This is one such painting:
And I saw my favourite of The Doctor’s lovers, Madame du Pompadour! She even ranks higher in my esteem than Rose…
And it was amazing to see The Ambassadors “in person”, and especially to view it from the side. I had a strange look from the other people in the room watching me looking at the painting until they reached the point in their audio tour commentaries which instructed them to look for the skull which can only be seen from the side.
During my whirlwind tour, I took a stack of selfies of my favourites to prove I was there, if only briefly.
I had pre-theatre dinner booked for 6pm, as a package deal with the ticket. It was an Italian restaurant, with Italian staff who struggled immensely with my Australian accent requesting soda “wardah, broosheddah and spageddee”.
I had booked tickets to see The Maids at Trafalgar Studios. It was a strange venue with winding corridors that couldn’t possibly meet fire regulations with quite a lecture hall feel due to the very steep, seating gradient. The play was staged both front and back and had an incredibly clever set that had all the props stored in cubbyholes under the stage which had parquet trap doors as access points.
The actual play was amazing. It began in a somewhat farcical style and was punctuated with realistic moments. The play is based on a French version, which echoed a tragedy in 1930s France, where a pair of sisters who worked for the same mistress, murdered the mistress and her daughter, possibly due to a mix of insanity and class struggle. It was actually much darker than I was expecting and was even more disturbing as I remember what I saw knowing the origin of the play’s content. All three actors were brilliant, but I had come to see Laura Carmichael, Lady Edith from Downton Abbey. Her nasal, New York accent was as over the top as it could be, without actually being over the top. I also loved her outfit of silver heels, black and white Tim Burton tights and grey fur.
After the show, I waited at the stage door to see Lady Edith, with a handful of other die hards, but unfortunately, she never emerged. I did get Chereen Buckley’s autograph though, and made friends with an English psychology student who had just been signature gathering at the Baftas!
By this time, it was incredibly late so I took the tube to Waterloo, took some photos of Waterloo, and then Ubered home. I say “home” because Woodmill Street is really starting to feel like home!