Today our friends Henry and Val–whose apartment we are now occupying–came in from Manchester en route to a hiking trip in Austria. So we were able to have breakfast with them, and then take a walk in Regent’s Park. We have known them for some 43 years, since I found a forlorn Henry waiting for a plane in a foggy California airport. He & Val are Scottish, and that summer of 1973, before he had married Val, he had just finished a short summer internship in Wisconsin and had come to California hoping for lots of sun–there wasn’t any, but I promised him that if he got off the plane with me in Santa Barbara, there would be sun! Why I did this, I do not to this day know, since I was coming home to meet George before I set off for my Fulbright year in Germany–we were seeing each other to plead our troth, or whatever that phrase is. So I get off the plane with a strange man! Anyway, we have stayed in touch over the years and have shared some other humorous adventures that I will recount again some day. Meanwhile Henry has gone on to be a leading gynecological oncologist. They have stayed with us in California and in Australia, and it’s always fun to see them. They are mad keen hikers (the reason for one of our most amusing family tales having to do with an unbelievably arduous trek in the Blue Mountains, which I will not go into here), and think nothing of walking 20 miles in a day. I’m afraid that my legs are starting to feel the effects of all this schlepping after only three days, so there’s no way I could keep up, but we tried!
After H & V hit the road, we finally took the Tube to South Kensington Station, where we walked through the enormous tunnel leading toward the museums and music hall, and had a nice lunch at the grand old V & A Museum
–one of Prince Albert’s projects after the immensely influential Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851, during which Albert determined to enhance popular cultural life by building museums and concert halls. The V & A was one of the first museums in the world to emphasize improvement in design of products and functional objects. I find it so amusing that what we now see as over-the-top googaw and florid ornamentation in this building was at the time seen as streamlined and clean and simplified. Lots of tile work, and varied surfaces, but out of these efforts grew the Aesthetic Movement of the 1870s, the Arts & Crafts Movement of the 1890s, and indirectly, the Wiener Werkstaette and the Bauhaus of the 20th century. Along with the gillion articles and objets of every sort and every culture, the Museum had a current exhibition on Shoes, which was downright fetishistic.
After our lunch there we walked over to the Royal Albert Hall for a tour of the building.I would have loved to go to one of The Proms, which are still on, but the cheaper tickets were all sold out, so we settled for this back of house tour–a bit silly, perhaps, but informative, and with a very enthusiastic guide.I was most impressed with the stencils on the walls, which the guide informed us had been found underneath layers of paint when the Hall was renovated in 2002; they’re pretty sure these were part of the original design of the interiors when the Hall opened in 1871. While we weren’t supposed to take photos of the Royal box, nor in the Queen’s “Retiring Room” (we managed to sneak a few images of Victoria for our obsessive Victoriaphile friend!), we were allowed to take photos up at the top floor down into the hall, and of the funny rounded roof. We learned from the guide that when the building opened in 1871, the acoustics were awful, and immediately they had to baffle the echo caused by the beautiful glassed dome with a huge curtain; this arrangement lasted for decades, until 1941, when they added the aluminum (aluminium, please!) baffles which worked well for sound. Then in 1968 they added the round “mushrooms”, which created a perfect acoustic space.
This tour required a lot of walking, a lot of climbing, and after our morning trek trying to keep up with Henry, we were knackered, as the Brits would say.We are happy that we’ve been able to keep up as well as we have, but we’ll be happy to have a few less walking days coming up!