It’s over a year since my last foray to London - time to return! So when 1) there was an TE Lawrence-Middle East presentation by Rory Stewart, now a MP, at the Army Museum, 2) my niece, Linda, was willing to accompany me, 3) my colleague was available so we could plan our December Rajasthan trip and 4) the Royal Ballet had a new Wheedom piece - well, what could I do but take off. And to add to it all, just before leaving I was notified the Army Museum was showing a film about TEL with Michael Asher, my camel trekking leader.
It was a full five days and I didn’t get a seat for the Ballet performance - it had been sold out for sometime. But I and my colleague waited it out at the National Theatre and eventually got seats for Frankenstein, an absolutely stunning theatrical event. And we used our waiting time to sketch out the Rajasthan excursion.
And there were two other performances I attended, but not nearly as spectacular. Priscilla was a very Las Vegas type musical while Rattigan’s Flare Path was a WW2 drama, directed by Trevor Nunn.
And in lieu of the sold out Ballet performance, I spent the evening with another traveling companion of yore. While we’ve met in London before, we keep missing each other on trips. She was on one tour ahead of me In Georgia, I keep hoping we’ll met, for she is a good company. If I can arrange a Balkan trip next year, she may be interested.
Impelled by my niece’s enthusiasm, I got to the both the House of Commons and House of Lords. We heard a bit of the debate of Woman’s Issue (Commons) and Falklands (Lords). It is rather overwhelming to walk about the buildings, housing the traditions preceding our democratic system.
I chatted with a Security Officer about how it all worked for there was security personnel backed by unarmed and armed (Heckler-Kochs?) police. All were from the Metropolitan Police - no privatization here.
The Army Museum was in Chelsea, much smaller than the Imperial War Museum, but well designed. There was a nicely presented exhibit about the Afghan Wars - I couldn’t help but think of George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman, as the first of the series for me was the one on Afghan War #1, which I had picked up in Kabul. It was almost a full house for both film and presentation.
The film, In Search of Lawrence, was well done: about the effort on Asher’s part to verify two of TEL’s desert journeys - he was successful with one but unsuccessful with the other. Conclusion was that TEL exaggerated - probably not for the first or last time. The real delight was meeting Michael’s son, a really nice young man who is studying in the UK.
Rory Stewart was on a fast schedule. Quick trip from Cumbria and an equally quick return. A engaging and facile speaker, he talked about half an hour - with slides - about TEL as one of the mavericks (my term) who were active on Britain's behalf in the Middle East during and after WW1. The theme seemed to be a need to have new, knowledgeable personnel in the Foreign office. The discussion ended with comment on the current Libyan conflict and whether Britain should be involved. Not unilaterally but with UN sanctions appeared to be the consensus. With Stewart’s schedule, no chance to chat. A hail and farewell, and barely that.
We got out to the Wigmore for the Sunday morning chamber concert and then, lunch. I did see the office of the Palestine Exploration Fund,a rather dingy exterior quite hidden away with little identification in a rather small mews. The PEF are another link in the Lawrence legend for it was at their behest, Lawrence and Leonard Woolley mapped the Negev desert pre-WW1.
I did pop for the £10 to see the magnificent Afghan exhibition at the British Museum, probably much safer here than in Kabul. In fact, both times I was at the Afghan Museum in Kabul, they had more photos of their precious artifacts than artifacts for most were out of the country, on display. This was a much more elegant presentation than the one I saw awhile back in San Francisco. Well worth the cost.
I did stop by The Traveler to see about going through Saudi Arabia as part of following the Hejaz RR from Syria through Jordan to its ending in Medina. Not much optimism there about that. They had tried to combine Jordan and Saudi Arabia in a tour featuring he Nabataean sites with no success.
It worked out, traveling with Linda. We did some things together and then, went out on our own - she was into riding the tube and checking out various tourist sites while I was more into walking about, taking care of odd bits of business and checking out performances. The weather held: just a few sprinkles and even some sun!
Meals: Mostly, picked up bits and pieces along the way, at the National Theatre and Pret A Manager. Linda and I did have two proper meals, one at the Wigmore and another at the West End Kitchen on Panton street. The Wigmore was at the going rate while the Kitchen was less expensive.
Accommodation: We stayed at my preferred B/B, the Hotel Celtic at Russell Square, Cost for the two was £88 per night: for a small insuite room. Breakfasts are great!
Airfare: I flew United as I could cage an Economy Plus seat for the price of an Economy seat. $707.40 SFO-LHR. (And on the return flight, a kind steward gave me a glass of champagne to sip!)