I’d loosely scripted a day in the city for the kids on Wednesday that would take in the South Bank, a gallery, maybe a museum and most definitely Hamleys toy store. I got the 6 year old to walk miles with the promise of that shop. All streets and sites just incidental. For him maybe. Not me though. I hadn’t realised until on the day how loaded that patch is for me. We disembarked at Waterloo. It must be over two years ago that their dad and I went to hear Jimmy Carter in conversation with Jon Snow at The Royal Festival Hall. They talked about the White House years and a lot more besides as Carter accepted unfiltered questions from the floor. What a performance and for a man in his eighties his recall and comprehension on current world events was incredible. And what a gift when Peter Gabriel enters stage right singing Happy birthday and wheeling in a sphere globe inspired cake with lit candle ( uncannily resembling a bomb if truth be told).
After the talk we spilled out of the auditorium and on to the riverbank high on the sense of occasion. We were in the presence of Greatness. There have been other nights, other years and other talents. Same spot though. Ray Charles, Ian McEwan, Joseph Heller. My dates can remain nameless.
The kids and I walked across Jubilee bridge to Embankment and site of my first kiss with their dad in a nook in Gordon’s wine bar. A few hundred meters on took us by St Martin’s Crypt and I remember the limber before the kiss. A performance of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons preceded our embrace. The kids got a kick out of my account. Their father might tell it differently. We don’t agree on who made that first move. The lunge. Both of us claiming it.
The kids and I stopped at the National Portrait Gallery and narrowly missed getting on a Tudor “Ruffles and cuffs” workshop. Half term you see. We settled for the art trolley and a hat making activity. I recalled my father’s first meeting with DH,here in the gallery’s cafe. DH on his lunch break, dad and I out sightseeing. Staged. It went well.
Hats finished we took our leave. For my son the cutting and sticking activity was only a hoop to jump through in order to get closer to Hamleys. Chinatown wowed. Lanterns and dragons. For me, I remembered dates in bars and restaurants around Leicester Square (Mexican buffets, Greek plates and a disappointing Tibetan meal). Rendezvouses at Eros. Long before mobile phones bought you time if you got delayed. A glance down Haymarket to see that Her Majesty’s theatre is still playing Phantom of the Opera. Now in it’s 28th year. I was an usherette during some of those earlier years when that musical was relatively novel. Performances with as much talent in the aisles as on the stage. Everyone a wannabe. Front of house is only paces and a lucky break away from the stage.
Once on Regent’s street I was determined to get a picture of the kids outside Cafe Royal. Big smile for Daddy, I directed. And forwarded the pic to him. “Funny. Point well made” he shot back. Three week in to us dating he tried to dump me over drinks at the Cafe Royal. I bamboozled him with words and dreams. It worked.
Hamleys is association-free though a memory was made on Wednesday. My son and daughter’s faces lit up as they took in the scale of the toy emporium. Seven floors. The world’s biggest toy store. We ducked low flying paper airplanes and walked through a wall of bubbles. We were there on a mission. Inspiration for the santa lists. We found plenty. An hour later we spilled out of there toy-saturated and ready to draft the santa letters.
We’d just enough time left before our train departure for a stop at the Royal Festival Hall. The singing lift is vocal again so we take the elevator up and down the six floors moving from a baritone’s bottom E to a soprano’s A sharp with all the scales in between. We love it. Artist Martin Creed has redeemed himself with that stroke of genius. I wasn’t impressed with another of his art installation’s (the light switch in an empty room) though the Turner Prize judges must have been.
Finally we disembark on the fourth floor where we had a wander and root amongst the books in the poetry library. I read aloud Seamus Heaney’s “Blackberry-picking”. My daughter and I take our picking very seriously – this wasn’t a great year for our berry harvesting – and we both love this poem. We’d looked at Heaney’s portrait earlier at the National Portrait Gallery. With regret, his was a reading I never got to.
Back at the cafe I ordered hot chocolates for my pair as they set about penning their missives. Before mentioning toys my son thought it good to come clean about his conduct (see below). We make it to Waterloo just ahead of the evening’s commuter traffic. A good day was had by all. London rocks.