Today we have plans for the afternoon and evening, but leave the morning to look after itself, heading in the general direction of Covent Garden. For people who usually know exactly where we are going – and how long it will take to get there – it is an unusual experience.
We wander into the Banqueting Hall on Whitehall – open to the public for free today – and lie on bean bags to gaze at the Reubens’ ceilings, commissioned by a king who literally lost his head in the building.
Across the road at Horse-guards Parade we watch two lines of mounted guardsmen stand around doing nothing – apart from the soldier at the end of the row who looks like he’s taking the opportunity to catch up on his sleep.
Trafalgar Square is alive with yet another cultural treat – today it is Japan’s turn. I dabble with graffiti on the ‘Journey to London’ board, although, aware of my artistic limitations, I decline to enter the competition for the best drawing. In Covent Garden, we plunge into Jubilee Market and do some (very) early Christmas shopping before joining the crowds around three very different street performers: a French soprano delivers Puccini, Verdi and Delibes with ease and gusto while her husband works the crowd. He tells us they do very well here, often picking up bookings for weddings along with the coins thrown into the hat.
Next is a cockney West Indian juggler who persuades three young men – well two youths and a child really – to lie on the floor while he juggles knives above their heads. At the end, he gives the child a fiver – as a lesson to all of us that performers need payment – while the older volunteers seem grateful just to get away unscathed.
Finally we watch an African acrobat balance upside down on a precarious pile of building blocks. He is skillful, but mainly remarkable for his choice of volunteer from the crowd – a child of five or six called Joshua, who is the best showman we have seen so far – and is surely destined for a career on the stage.
Lunchtime in Covent Garden is not a good time to search for food, especially on a day when the sun has brought not only the late summer tourists but also the jersey and strange head-wear wearing rugby fans crowding into the capital for the World Cup. We head for quieter side streets and find Mishkin’s, a New York-style diner serving gin cocktails, cod-cheek popcorn and salt-beef sandwiches which we eat at a tiny pavement table.
Our play today is the farce The Play That Goes Wrongand if ever there was a case of ‘it does what it says on the tin’ this is it. It is hilarious, in a laugh-out-loud, wipe-the-tears-from-your-eyes sort of way. As the billboard says: it’s as though The Mousetrap was taken over by Monty Python.
We walk back to Westminster via Waterloo Bridge. Later still, we take to the streets once again, this time heading for St James’s and the smart new premises of Chutney Maryan Indian restaurant where the staff come from all over the world, including a few from the sub-continent, but where the turban-wearing doorman is African. A multi-cultural evening of superb food to finish a multicultural day – with more than a little of that walking we were planning NOT to do!
Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.
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