Thursday, October 20, 2016

Roundhead Church and the Scottish Play

Sept. 14

An all-around good day today, in spite of the heat. 

It may have reached a high of 85 today, and it is never supposed to be that hot in London, especially in September. According to, the average daily high temperature for this time of year is 66. 

Yesterday was hot too. I have had to leave tie, vest, and hat behind when I go out. I am wearing cotton khaki trousers instead of wool flannels. 

It’s supposed to get back to normal in a few days. At least, Accuweather says so.

This morning began late on purpose. I got up, had some corn flakes and coffee, looked at the Times online, checked e-mail, and went back to bed. It was going to be a late night.

It was about one when I hit the pavement. Having been reminded of St. Giles Cripplegate, I looked it up. It’s near London Wall in the general neighborhood of St. Paul’s. 

I took the Underground to Paul’s, but decided to skip the cathedral today. I’ve been there a few times, and didn’t feel like dropping $25 to spend an hour inside.

I walked up Cheapside, which is still a thriving commercial street. “Cheap,” I have read, originally meant “trade.”

I got as far as Wood Street and remembered that was supposed to take me to St. Giles Cripplegate. And it did. (I lost my nerve and stopped to ask directions about 50 yards from the goal.) 

For me, St. Giles is a spooky place, both for its age and for its connections. 

It is believed to stand on the site of a Saxon church that disappeared entirely. Maybe like the first pig’s house, it was made of mud and straw.

The first stone church on the site was built in 1090. That, I think, burned down, and a Gothic style church rose on the site late in the 14th century. Chaucer and Gower were both still alive then.

Fire destroyed that church in the 1500s, along with a lot of parish records. A new St. Giles went up after that. 

I’m not sure, considering all the fires, but the Great Fire of London may not have reached St. Giles.

The Germans, on the other hand, did get there. There was one bomb explosion right outside the building that did some damage. But something like hell broke loose one night in 1940 when the whole area was drenched by a rain of fire bombs. 

The plans for the 14th century reconstruction were discovered in a library somewhere and used by an architect to restore St. Giles sometime in the 1960s.

A little guide book at the church says the tower may contain some stones from the original 11th century stone church. It didn’t say, though, which stones.

But the spookiest, most entertaining thing about St. Giles Cripplegate is the roster of people associated with it. Famous Roundheads, for instance.

The most famous is probably John Milton, who is buried next to his father under the floor in front of the chancel. 

Oliver Cromwell was married at St. Giles to a parishioner.

Martin Frobisher, the explorer of the Arctic seas and the Northwest Passage, is also there. I don’t know if he’s under the floor or set in the wall, where his plaque is.

Few of the furnishings and none of the windows survived the blitz. There is a new stained-glass window, which may replace an older lost one, dedicated to Edward Alleyn. The name sounded vaguely familiar.

I looked it up in the guide book. Wow. He was Henslowe’s partner (and an actor who married Henslowe’s step-daughter) in the Rose Theater.

He is honored for his contributions to the parish. The window shows him holding an almshouse. 

In one panel is a rendering of an Elizabethan Age theater, which is identified as the Fortune. It was another partnership with Henslowe and was built in London, north of the Thames. Maybe in St. Giles parish.

He also ran bear baiting pits and brothels. So he had plenty of money to support pious works. He funded a couple of schools, too.

Hey, I know about Henslowe, and the Rose. Small world, right?

It gets smaller yet. Among my favorite books, after the plays of Shakespeare, and right up there with “Canterbury Tales,” is the 1611 Authorized Version of the Bible. 

Authorized by King James I, it is largely a politically corrected edition of earlier, illegal translations by William Tyndale (New Testament) and Myles Coverdale (Old Testament). It also contains some of the most exquisite turns of phrase ever turned in English lierature.

One of the rectors of St. Giles Cripplegate, Lancelot Andrewes, became the bishop of somewhere and was one of the editors of the King James Bible.

London Wall today is a street that runs roughly next to where the original city wall stood. Most of the wall is gone now, but a section of it and the remains of a medieval tower stand outside St. Giles church.

I was returning to St. Giles after 20 years, my first trip to London. Hell, my first trip to Europe.

I had read about the church and the neighborhood in a book called “The Victorian Underworld.” The parish was known as the St. Giles Rookery. It’s where thieves on the run would go for safe haven.

According to the book, the cellars contained passages with traps and deadfalls, so only the initiated could travel them safely.

Outside St. Paul’s I had noticed signs pointing to different sights nearby. One was Temple Bar.

That’s not a saloon, but a gate of sorts. It marks the border between the cities of London and Westminster. Traditionally, the sovereign had to stop at Temple Bar and ask permission to enter the City of London. 

I have no clue what was expected to happen if somebody said no.

Temple Bar, though, meant Fleet Street and the Cheshire Cheese, a pub that has operated in one form or another for about 500 years on the same site. It burned down, like most buildings in the neighborhood, in the Great Fire of 1666, but it was rebuilt the next year.

Dickens, Dr. Johnson, Oliver Goldsmith and a lot of other literary hacks used to hang out there in their times.

The place has a great feel—black (possibly false) beams, white-washed stone walls, lots of stone stairs, small bar rooms. It may be authentic, but what do I know.

Seeing that I was at the Cheshire Cheese, I had a cheese sandwich and a Samuel Smith bitter. Like the Crown over in St. Giles, this seemed to be a Samuel Smith pub. The brewers do that here, buy up pubs and run them.

It was a cheese sandwich, but they still don’t serve cheese from Cheshire. I actually tried something years ago that purported to be from Cheshire (bought it in New York) and it was very good.

I walked down Fleet Street, which after the Temple Bar becomes the Strand in Westminster. I passed the actual Temple, and went down Inner Temple Lane to the church. 

I got there about five minutes before closing and got a quick look at the effigy tombs of the knights on the floor. 

Not a whole lot is known about the Knights Templar. 

They were powerful and rich, like most religious orders. They were fierce, especially in defending their prerogatives, and they were independent as hell.

Some of the effigies have crossed legs. There is a suggestion (not confirmed) that crossed legs signify that the knight served in a crusade.

Outside the church is an obelisk. At the top is a statue of two Templars on one horse. I read years go that it’s an allegory of brotherhood and personal poverty.

Back at the hotel, the Internet connection failed, but it came back in time for me to get a Skype call through to Joanna. Such a sweet lady, it’s a joy to talk to her.

I made it to the Globe in plenty of time to have a half pint at one of the many pubs called the Swan. If you take your drink in a plastic cup, you can carry it to the theater. How civilized is that?

I didn’t take mine to my seat, but did take it to the theater courtyard. You can stand there and look over a wall onto the Thames and the Bankside walk.

I’ve already talked about how much I love that place.

This was my third visit to the New Globe. The play was “Macbeth.” The production, like the others I have seen here, was both unusual and intriguing.

Years ago, I got to see a fantastic production of “As You Like It,” in which the main piece of scenery was a cargo container that served as house, hiding place, palace, and whatnot. 

The actors were dressed in an early 20th century fashion. One character wore a vest, jacket, trousers, and shoes that were identical to pieces that I owned. I have worn them together like a suit ever since.

My second visit to the Globe was with Joanna in 2012 to see a production of “Henry VI, Part 2.”

This is the play in which the Duke of York starts plotting to take the crown and Jack Cade leads his rebellion. In one scene, Cade sits on London Stone (which is  on present-day Cannon Street) to talk to his followers. 

London Stone was represented by a piece of polished log that was rolled across the stage. Very traditional staging, I think. 

London was in Olympics fever at the time, so the Globe was showing international productions of Shakespeare. The most unusual feature of the performance was that it was in Albanian.

“Macbeth” was equally creative. It had a small band that included percussion, viola, and cello, and several voices. 

The Weird Sisters did not speak. Their lines were delivered by singers in the band.

There were times when the percussionist sang, apparently through an electronic voice-altering device that created a very basso drone.

Many of the lyrics were in (I believe) Gaelic. Others were in Latin. The theater runs captions on the wall, for the deaf and the half-deaf, like me.

There were black and white players playing Scots. One of the players was missing a forearm. She was one of the Weird Sisters (a trio that somehow had expanded to four) and did a fantastic job improvising the porter during the knocking scene. 

At one point, she is swearing by Beelzebub that the knocker should wait, and then swears by the “other devil,” casts about for the name, and then comes up with Trump.

She lets MacDuff in, finds him attractive, and then starts making lewd gestures and suggestions.

One of the attractions of live performances is the interaction with the audience. After the intermission, MacDuff came out and spoke a soliloquy which became a conversation with the audience. At one point he asked for an “Amen” and got it. At another point, it was “Hell, yeah.”

I was out of the theater by 10:40 and back to Russell Square by quarter after 11.

They are about to close the Night and Day, so I have to go.

Life is good, everybody. 

And to all a good night.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Collections and Crime Scenes

Sept. 13

The adventures started this morning at breakfast. You get cold cereal and white bread, if you can handle it, for free in the morning. It’s 5 pounds for the English breakfast buffet, and I wasn’t in the mood for eggs, tomatoes, and baked beans today.

I was working on corn flakes and reading a story in the New York Times about some strange title Cameron had to take in order to get out of parliament. 

A 17th century law forbids members of Parliament from resigning. 

To get around that, they have to take some royal sinecure that renders them ineligible. 

A man saw me looking at the computer and said, “Work never ends.”

Yes, it does. I don’t work. I play.

He asked if he could join me. OK.

He introduced himself as David, but added that David wasn’t his real name.

He was very jumpy and spoke rapidly, sometimes going into a stutter as he gathered his thoughts. He apologized and explained that he was trying to quit smoking cigarettes. 

That led to brief discussion of the distinction between habit and addiction. Habit is psychological. Addiction is chemical and physical.

Caffeine, nicotine, and opiates, for instance, work their way into your system and become almost like essential nutrients.

The topics of conversation kept bouncing around.

He was interested in invention and technology, in philanthropy, in learning more about life in America from me.

We got run out of the breakfast room a while after ten and he wanted to continue the conversation in the lobby of the hotel. 

Fine with me. He asked for my e-mail address. I consider that public information anyway and gave it to him. I also gave him the address of the blog. 

Can’t hurt. There’s always a spam filter.

I’ll see what happens.

First stop for the day was Sir John Soane’s Museum at Lincoln’s Inn Fields. 

I didn’t know about it until a couple of weeks ago. Joanna’s son Christopher told me about it and recommended it. Thank you, Chris.

Soane was an eccentric personality and a very successful architect of the 18th century. He collected all manner of things, but concentrated on Classical Greek and Roman sculpture and architecture.

When he died he willed his house and its contents to the city. 

He had bits and pieces of ancient buildings. Many are decorative details. There are replicas of Classical statuary, including a plaster reproduction of the Apollo Belvidere, copied from the original in the Vatican Museum.  There are also bones and a human skull mixed in, along with several life masks of different people.

Soane’s own bust is on a pedestal in a cellar-to-roof atrium under a skylight. Below him on one side is a small bronze Michelangelo and on the other a corresponding Raphael.

The house is so crowded with artifacts that I had to walk sideways much of the time to keep from hitting something precious.

Apparently, Soane had an imaginary friend who was a monk. As the docent explained, it is socially acceptable to have an imaginary friend if you are a little child (Soane wasn’t) or if you are very rich (Soane was).

The basement of Soane’s house, which occupies numbers 12, 13, and 14 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, contains the Monk’s Parlor. That looks out a window to the Monk’s Yard, where there is a Classical looking double arch.

Apparently Soane floated a story about how it was discovered when the foundation of the house was being dug. The docent said that it really came from a building that Soane was hired to restore. He replaced the weathered stone with new and shiny substitutes. 

He brought the old stones home and built the arch. Now, that’s putting construction debris to good use. It makes having an imaginary friend worthwhile.

The basement also has the sarcophagus of Seti I, and other funerary memorabilia, much of it Roman.

Soane had Hogarth prints (Rake’s Progress) and paintings (The Election), as well as pictures of the Grand Canal in Venice and ancient temples. They are in what’s called the Picture Room.

Lincoln’s Inn Fields is in some ways reminiscent of New York’s Gramercy Park. It is surrounded by homes and properties of the elite, and bounded by a black iron fence.

But the Fields are a park open to the public. People are even allowed to bring barbecue grills there.

Directly across the park from Sir John Soane’s Museum is the Royal College of Surgeons, which houses its own museum, called the Hunterian. The museum grew out of the personal and professional specimen collection of John Hunter, an anatomist, doctor, and member of the Royal College.

The collection today largely consists of jar after jar of perserved animal and human body parts, fetuses, and organs, some dissected to show internal details, like the electric organs of an eel or the digestive tracts of bees.

No, I’m not kidding.

The museum was crowded with students sketching body parts.

The collection includes the skeleton of a man named Byrne, “the Irish giant,” who stood 7 feet 7 inches tall. He had a hunch that his body would be confiscated after he died, so he paid to have himself buried at sea. Instead, his body was confiscated.

As much as there is today, much more was lost in the Second World War. The building housing the collection was hit by Nazi bombs in 1941. The display includes part of a mastodon jaw blackened by the fire.

Two or three hours of museum crawling can build a thirst. So it’s lucky for me that the Ship Tavern is two blocks from the Royal College of Surgeons. I headed to the Ship for a little recovery.

When I was there on Sunday, I saw a tap for Tribute Cornish pale ale.

I’ve had American pale ale, India pale ale, and plain pale ale. But Cornish? Ah, bring it on.

It was malty—that is, a little sweet—but not too much. It was light on hops, but had enough. I could try that one again some time.

I had a little bag from Soane’s museum and wanted to get rid of it, so I walked back to the hotel. I had a postcard, too, for Karl and Jeanie, and needed to learn how to mail it.

That was simple enough. I went to the souvenir shop in the Imperial Hotel and bought the appropriate stamp. The lady directed me to the mailbox. 

Well, almost. I had to stop at another hotel to confirm my directions. The man at the desk walked me to the door and pointed to where the mailbox was. 

The mailboxes are actually hard to see, if you don’t know what to look for. They are red enough, indicating that they are royal, but they look like royal trash cans. I had forgotten that.

I wandered for a while, passing the British Museum and making a couple of turns in a feeble effort to get lost.

I stopped at the Crown for a couple of half pints while I looked at my map.

I was in an area called St. Giles, but it wasn’t the old robber’s roost of St. Giles Cripplegate from Victorian times. That’s nearer to St. Paul’s I learned.

This Crown, it seems, is associated with the Samuel Smith brewery in Tadcaster. It had a couple of selections I haven’t seen in the States. 

The Old Brewery Bitter is a pleasant, nutty mix of malt and hops. The Sovereign Bitter is not so much so—a little sweeter, but still palatable.

I went upstairs where they serve food. I had a pie of pulled pork made with cider. This was not North Carolina pulled pork.

It was too sweet for my taste, but OK. I had that with something familiar, Samuel Smith India ale.

I started walking in the general direction of the hotel after dinner. Then I saw a local map. I was in Covent Garden, and the Seven Dials neighborhood was within a 15-minute walk. 

Hot damn, I had a destination. It was positively Dickensian.

The Seven Dials at one time was like St. Giles. Even the police were cautious about going there. The neighborhood is named for a pillar with seven sun dials on it.


A rumor once spread that someone had hidden a hoard of treasure under it, and there went the original Seven Dials. 

If I remember right, the current set is a replacement given to Queen Elizabeth by Queen Beatrix of Holland.

I was doing a video of the place and speaking to the camera. When I finished, a man tapped me on the shoulder. Having heard me discuss my interest in antique crime, he pointed to one of the streets that meet at Seven Dials. 

That, he said, is believed to be Gin Lane, the subject of a Hogarth print of dissolution and drunken debauchery (some of my favorite subjects). According to some people, he said, details in the background identify it.

I have no idea if it’s true, but he seemed sincere enough. Hell, fact or fiction, it’s a worthy story anyway.

Somehow, I actually found my way back to the hotel by a reasonably direct route. I am not traveling hard enough, gang.

I am writing this at the Night and Day, but can’t get online to send it.

I’ll dispatch when I get back to my room. 

Love to everybody. And stay out of bad neighborhoods.


Drinking With Dick Turpin

Sept. 12

I slept almost around the clock Sunday night. I think it was 
close to 11 when I fell into bed and I stayed there till 10 Monday morning.

When I finally got into gear a little past noon, I took the Underground to the Embankment station, and walked across the Golden Jubilee Bridge.

This takes you to the Southwark side of the river near the National Theater, way west of where I was headed. But that’s more than all right. 

I find the walk along the Bankside, as they call the southern bank of the Thames, to be among of the most interesting in the world. 

It ranks up there with Nathan Road in Kowloon, the Champs-Elysees, Fifth Avenue, the Rambla in Barcelona, the ancient Forum in Rome.

You see the dome of St. Paul’s, spires of countless other churches, many designed by Christopher Wren. You see the tops of fanciful towers in the financial district. Ancient buildings stand beside the river on the north side. 

You walk on a pedestrian thoroughfare that takes you past the Tate Modern, the New Globe, Bear Gardens (which leads to the site of the old Rose Theater), the Anchor Bankside pub, the Clink prison, Southwark Cathedral, and a replica of the Golden Hind (Sir Francis Drake’s pirate ship). And they are just highlights of all that is going on.

At the Globe, they had tickets for a Wednesday night performance of Macbeth, so I bought one.

On the way out of the Globe, I turned right and went to Park Street. A left brought me to Bear Gardens and a few steps more to the door of the Rose. I couldn’t believe it. The door was unlocked. So I went in.

A man in the ticket booth said the theater was in use for rehearsals. They were, however, staging a series of readings of Restoration plays written by women. I got a ticket for a performance Monday night.

So, after signing up for culture, it was time for gangsters. 

But first, I had to stop at the Anchor Bankside (like talking about the Ship, or Wellington, you have to say where it is, to distinguish it from all the other London bars with the same name) for a couple of ales. Last time I was there, I stood shoulder to shoulder with the crowd, and had to fight to get a drink. It felt like New York.

This time it was empty, even emptier than the first time I went there 20 years ago.

I started with a Punk IPA, which bills itself as “post-modern.” This was not a cask ale. It was floral and full of hops, nice and sharp.

Greene King London Glory was the second, a bitter that was perhaps the best cask ale I’ve had so far. It felt soft rather than flat. It had a sweet malt fragrance but the flavor was well balanced by the bitterness of hops.

I got directions to the nearest Underground station (London Bridge), which it so happens, has a train for the Northern Line that would take me to Hampstead.

I had read about Hampstead Heath and Dick Turpin the highwayman. He is said to have hung out at the Spaniard’s Inn at the village there. This is my fourth time in London and I still haven’t had a beer where Dick Turpin drank.

Google told me how to get there. I knew it was steep. In the old days, there was a toll road (I believe charged by the bishops of somewhere or other). It involved a significant climb, and drovers used to rest their horses in the village.

The climb from the Underground station wasn’t too bad, although there is a heat wave here. The temperature rose almost to 80, and with the humidity, it had me sweating. I had to take my hat off. The Underground map in my shirt pocket was stained with sweat.

But I found the Spaniard’s. It was tricky getting across the road at the top of an even steeper hill, on a sharp curve. But as you can tell from this e-mail, I made it. 

I had a few good ales there, but the hit of the place was the Cumberland sausage and mash, which has some kind of wine gravy.

I asked the bartender about the term “bangers and mash.” (That’s how you order it at Egan’s in Montclair, and at several Irish style pubs in New York.) 

Is that an Americanism? 

The lady who brought it asked if I wanted mustard. Sure, why not? Never had bangers and mash with mustard. 

Wow. Or maybe whoa. It was like the runny mustard in a Chinese restaurant. 

I dipped a bit of sausage into the mustard and it nearly blinded me. My sinuses burned open and my eyes teared. It was that good.

The time was pushing five when I finished eating so I headed back toward the hotel. 

Instead of following the road, I took a trail through Hampstead Heath, which is an extensive wooded park. I was in little danger of getting lost because the trail followed the road and I could see the traffic through the trees. 

Nonetheless, the place had a strange feel. There were large spreading trees standing by themselves on clear patches of ground. One either side of the trail, there was a tangle of underbrush. It felt almost like something out of Tolkien.

On the way down the hill, on Heath Street, I ran into Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill sitting on a bench. They were cast in bronze, but looked chummy enough.

At the hotel, I called Joanna and left a message. It was 6 in London and 1 in Montclair.

Then I had to head to Bankside again.

It was cooling off, but still warm. So I waited outside the Rose for the performance to start. They told me it would take about two hours, with a short break.

I don’t know where they got that idea. The show started about on time, maybe a few minutes late. But hey, I fly out of Newark. I expect times to be approximate.

I think it ran at least two hours before the intermission. I desperately needed the break. I was in pain from sitting so long. 

And I had to behave. I was one of maybe two or three dozen people in the audience. And everybody, including the performers, could see everybody. 

I didn’t want to be rude. I want to go back to that place. You sit on a folding chair on a wooden stage. Next to the stage there is a pond of water in the dark. 

When the building was under construction, they discovered something that nobody expected to exist. There were the wooden pilings of the foundation of the Rose Theather.

They had been preserved for 400 years in the watery ground. They were studied and sampled, and then covered again with water to preserve them.

The building was raised around the ruins, with a huge ground-level space that protects the site, and where the preservation group holds performances.
This is the theater that Henslowe owned. It’s the theater represented in  an ingenious movie called “Shakespeare in Love,” which I recommend to anyone who is a Shakespeare fan.

The play for the reading was “The Feigned Courtesans” by Aphra Behn, a Restoration gender bender, a highly independent woman who was among the first to make a living as a writer.

It had an all-woman cast. Women played men’s roles with a red sash over their shoulders. Women playing women tied the sash around their waists. Characters showed up in disguise, some women posing as men with the sash signifying it, and once with a false moustache.

The basic idea is that a woman, accompanied by her sister, has run away from her small-town home to Rome to avoid an arranged marriage. For some reason, the two women pose as courtesans to protect their true identities.

They are wooed by fools, ruffians, braggarts, the man one of them wants to marry, and their own brother. None of them recognize who the two women are.

Needless to say, it was a bit exhausting, but fun, too.

Anyhow, the two-hour reading lasted more than three hours. I got back to the Anchor seven minutes before closing, just in time to get another Greene King.

I found the subway station without too much trouble, although I did have to walk through a meat and produce market that I had never noticed before. 

I got to Russell Square station with no trouble.

When I was walking past the Friend at Hand on the way to the President, there was a group of kids (German, I think) looking confused because all the chairs inside were on top of all the tables.

I stepped among them and said, “The Night and Day Bar in the Imperial Hotel is open till one.”

I mean, that’s where I am now when I’m writing this down. Why not share?

Love to all and to all a good night. Also, remember when your bars close.