Monday, July 3, 2017

UK Day 11– That Time We Were In A Political Protest March, Went to a Circus, And Had Dinner at The Cheshire Cheese

I have long wanted to spend Canada Day in London. Canada House, on Trafalgar Square, usually puts on quite a party and this year’s was meant to be even bigger than usual due to the Canada 150 hoopla. We arrived at Trafalgar Square with great anticipation but ended up arriving early (for once in our lives). Fortunately the National Gallery is also on Trafalgar Square and is free so I dragged everyone in for a quick 30 min Potter’s Tour of the Galleries where we enjoyed observing how certain artists seem capable only of one face, no matter who they are painting:

No wonder she looks so annoyed – she looks just like her husband.
These three were definitely not expecting the painter when he showed up.
We also had a Ferris Bueller moment, of course, until it was time to make our appearance for Canada 150.
London is definitely on high alert after all the incidents here, but no one here lets any of that stop them. Apart from barriers that have been installed on bridges between the sidewalks and the roads, and a few more police and soldiers on the streets, the city is as full of people and as alive as ever. That said, huge public gatherings still cause a bit of concern for everyone and so we all felt very reassured when a disinterested looking security guard basically waggled his baby finger in our bags and waved us on.
Inside the square, it quickly became apparent that the place was doing its best, but not really succeeding. I had a bit of a sinking feeling as I looked around and saw what seemed to be a showcase for Canadian businesses rather than a celebration of Canada. It’s always interesting to see how other countries view your own country and I guess I was hoping for a little more than just hockey, poutine and maple-scented toilet paper. No I’m just kidding about the toilet paper. Around the square, booths were set up with banners saying things like ‘Nanaimo Bars The Original’.
What exactly are Nanaimo Bars The Original? I will admit to buying some but when they offered me a choice of peanut butter or original I had to say something:
Paul: Will it be plain or Peanut Bootah
Me: Oh, what? Did you say Peanut Butter and Nanaimo Bars in the same sentence?
Paul: Sorry wot?
Me: It’s just that Peanut Butter and Nanaimo Bars don’t go together. That’s like, terrible.
Paul: So just plain then?
Me: Yes please.
Me again (feeling pleased with myself): I live an hour and half from Nanaimo
Paul (over the din): You wot?
Paul: Just on one o’clock, I should think.
Paul: ‘Ave a luvly time won’t you. Next!
Me: Have you even heard of Canada?
There was also a ‘Canadian Wild Blueberries’ tent (which of course they aren’t, unless you consider Abbotsford ‘wild’),  the requisite poutine tent with a line that went around Trafalgar Square, waffles with syrup (are we known for our waffles?) and a beer tent selling Sleemans and A&W Root Beer, which I also didn’t realize was Canadian… On stage there was someone who was obviously once Canadian but has clearly spent just enough time in the UK to acquire that annoying faux-English accent to which Canadians seem especially susceptible.
We walked around for a few minutes, then had a collective realization that, really, we would prefer to experience London over this half-baked take on our beloved country. We took a half-hearted selfie and buggered off.
Zoe and Terra had arranged to meet their school friend Abbey in the afternoon and with a couple o hours to kill before then we wandered over to Piccadilly circus. At one point while simultaneously crossing the street and trying not to get hit by a bus, I was distracted by a crew filming what looked very much like a Bollywood star doing a song and dance routine in the middle of the crosswalk. I’m pretty sure I stood there long enough that I am in the entire scene. I considered offering my services as a dancer but another bus was bearing down so I reluctantly crossed to the sidewalk but not before taking this picture. So if you are watching a Bollywood movie with a man in a dashing brown jacket and not-matching blue turban dancing through an intersection in Piccadilly Circus, be sure to look for me in the background.
We had also heard that Miranda Hart, aka Chummy from Call the Midwife, is starring as Ms. Hannigan in a west end production of Annie. I thought I would try and get tickets at the theatre but there was only one single seat left which I considered, but that seemed a bit mean. When I made my way back to the others they were engrossed in a scene unfolding across the street, which had been closed off by motorcycle police. It turned out to be one of the largest protest marches against the governing Tory (or Conservative) party since the election in May. Tens of thousands strong, it passed right by us as we stood, slightly trapped, on a pedestrian island in the middle of the road. Of course, it didn’t take long for someone to pass me a sign which I gave to Travis, and before long, we were all singing “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” with the rest of the crowd.
We had to leave after ten minutes as the girls were meeting Abbey, but I heard later that it went on forever.
Our meeting place was to be the Southbank Centre across the river but Abbey caught up with us while we were crossing the street and after hugs all round, I was too busy taking out my camera for a photo of the three of them to notice that they had already left. I’m sorry, Elsie, I was going to surprise you with a picture but I was too slow. Abbey looks great, by the way!
Travis and I were on our own for a couple of hours and we used that time to check out the Underbelly Festival playing Bankside. We were lucky enough to catch a small circus troupe from Quebec, FlipFabriQue, who were performing at the festival. These guys are nothing short of amazing and if you ever have the chance to see them, you must go. Travis and I were blown away – it was a great way to celebrate Canada on Canada Day after the disappointment of Trafalgar Square.
We hung around the festival bar after where again we were reminded of the many uses for Astro-Turf.
Travis may or may not have guzzled a large Pimm’s.
After meeting up with the girls (where I again failed to get a picture of the three of them as Abbey had to go), we set out for a roof-top terrace located beside St.Paul’s Cathedral that we had heard was the place to go for great views of St.Paul’s and around London.
It was hot up there and we were all blinking in the sunshine like bats out of a cave. But the views were fantastic and there was a great vibe up there as part of the terrace was given over to a huge party with a DJ and the whole works. Never a dull moment in this town.
A couple of years ago I had heard about a pub in this neighbourhood that had been there since the 1600’s in one form or another and had been a favourite haunt of many of London’s great literary figures over the years including Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Dr. Jonson, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Mark Twain etc. The trouble was that I could not remember the name. So I dragged everyone up and down Fleet Street going in and out of pubs until one of us suggested The Cheshire Cheese. Of course that was it and in we went.
There was no room upstairs and so we descended down the narrow winding steps to the cellar/dungeon where many little rooms with absolutely no natural light were filled with people tucking in to plates of food and large pints of lager or ale. We soon joined them and ordered our own plates of bangers and mash, and fish and chips. The girls also got into the spirit with Terra ordering a cider, and Zoe getting into a lager shandy. It was an extremely authentic experience and I loved every second of it. I could just imagine Charles Dickens down here finishing up a steak and kidney pie while penning the pages of a Tale of Two Cities, or Yeats and his crew swilling their way through pint after pint hoping the muse would visit.
I finally agreed to leave and we made our way back up into the light. It still felt early to us as we made our way up town to Covent Garden and Leicester Square where we decided to see the move Baby Driver. We were once again early and so sat and people-watched for half an hour during which time a fellow showed up with a huge amp and started playing dance songs for whoever wanted to dance. Refreshingly, he wasn’t asking for money and there was soon a huge crowd gathered around. After some encouragement/badgering, Travis joined in and danced up a storm. We were enjoying the moment too much to film the whole dance number but Zoe got the last few seconds.

The movie, which was somewhat relentless in its assault on the senses but still worth seeing, was our last act of the day and we were an exhausted bunch when we staggered into bed around midnight.
More tomorrow as we leave London and fly to Copenhagen, sadly without Travis, but with great excitement.
Shanks for heaving,

No comments:

Post a Comment