From Longoio to London

 

When I packed my suitcase on the 10th of this month to attend a family event in London I was made to realize that I’d left out an important item but as he had no passport I had to leave Napoleone behind.

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Stansted airport’s architect must have been partly inspired by Liverpool street station’s architect as the roof supporting piers declare:

Anyway, both of these ports of entry into the UK are worthy of its great history of engineering skills in a way which Heathrow airport and Victoria station are not!

What is less worthy are the train fares in the UK. Either one spends six pounds on a terror Terravision bus or twenty-four pounds on a railway single ticket! When I gasped at the price for a thirty-six mile train journey the ticket issuer agreed with me saying it was disgustingly high and would only please the likes of share-holders. However, since there were major traffic hold-ups around London (I’d taken an early (6 am flight) from Pisa to save on fares and, of course, arrived just in time for the rush hour!) I took the train instead.

I was glad to see that there were still station platform whistle-blowers around.

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Not having visited the UK for three years, but having been born and having lived and worked in the great wen for most of my life, the culture shock was only slight. The countryside was beautifully green:

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Liverpool street travel centre was helpful and suggested that with my time in London I should get an oyster card, a sort of travel debit card. Indeed, as I write this now all money seems to have been banned from changing hands between passengers and conductors on London’s public transport system. No wonder they are closing down most ticket offices…

No, this is not a picture from Banaras but from a North London inner suburb I was travelling to, quite near Neasden town centre. How could “Private Eye” have belittled that place with its marvellously executed Hindu temple?

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If one has just five days to spend in London then one should clearly spend them wisely. On our first evening we attended a triple bill at the Royal Ballet (booked beforehand, of course).

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The evening was an absolute delight. First was Ashton’s “The Dream” based on Shakespeare’s “Midsummer night’s dream” with music by Mendelssohn and arranged by Lanchberry. A modern minimalist piece followed with transcendental music by Arvo Part. The final ballet was a hilarious take-off of a serious Chopin piano recital with the wandering thoughts of the audience, whether they be malevolent or romantic, actually personified in the ballet. I realised that, in Italy, not only was I missing live Wagner but also a great dance company.

Covent Garden’s foyer always has some interesting ballet costumes on display:

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 It’s amazing to think that this area was a working fruit and veg market until well into the nineteen-seventies (indeed, the opening scene of Shaw’s Pygmalion takes place there). I wonder what happened to that extraordinary venue called “Middle Earth” where I heard Captain Beefheart and the Pink Floyd perform. Here is a historic picture of the market’s last vendor:

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Covent Garden station still has lifts instead of escalators and two of these were being replaced. So to return home we decided to take the Piccadilly line from Green Park and hopped on a bus to get there. Armed with my oyster card public transport in London was no problem and on the front seat of the top deck of a new “Boris” bus I got nice views of London by night.

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The best thing about the Boris Bus is that you can board and alight without difficulty as the rear end of the bus is a hark-back to the old days of the Routemaster. Here are the two compared:

It seemed almost unbelievable that I had started the day so early in a remote Apennine valley, making sure the ducks and cats were adequately catered for with food and water and finished up in the upper stalls of the royal opera  house delighting in the performance of the best ballet company of the world.

Must do this more often. I thought.

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(Stephen McRae as Oberon in “The Dream”.)

 

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