We’ve just said farewell to our good friends Trish Espedal and John Sims, having had a great time together exploring, eating, discovering and eating some more. We’ve been busy enough to keep me off the keyboard til today, so I’m playing catch-up with a few random observations. To wit:
The Wednesday before Trish and John arrived, I had my first day alone — to wander around London while John toured the town of Rugby. I began with a stroll through Regent’s Park in the heart of the city. It was amazing that, despite the constant cacophony that is London, I could walk just a few yards into this lovely park of 395 acres and feel serenity. Black swans gliding on a peaceful pond; willows gently weeping; birds chirping and cooing; curved benches under wooden arbors arranged in graceful arcs. And roses. Thousands upon thousands of roses in Queen Mary’s Garden. One more beautiful than the next, in every color and size, practically as far as you could see. I didn’t want to leave.
But after a restful ramble of more than two hours, I was off to sleuth out the location of the Sherlock Holmes Museum — at 221b Baker St., of course. It was easy to spot, given the crowd of enthusiasts standing outside waiting to get in. The museum is really an old home, outfitted just as it might have been if Sherlock were really there. As visitors prowl through four floors of rooms set with period furniture, they’re treated to displays of everything from pistols and antique prints to the tools of the detective’s trade and wax figures posed in scenes from his famous cases. I was mostly on a mission to find a trinket for my brother (a Sherlock aficionado) — and that was more than easy to do!
Blustery weather turned to a torrential downpour that lasted the rest of the day. By the time I met John, I was soaked to the skin. I’d taken refuge in a great tapas bar for as long as I thought decent, and trolled through Selfridge’s and H&M long enough to buy some dry socks and warm up a bit. But I was worried. John and I had tickets to see “Kinky Boots” that evening, and I was still wet from the knees down. But once we were in our seats, I had on my new socks, and the lights dimmed, all was well. The performance was, by turns, hilarious and outrageous, pointed and poignant (I sobbed through the pretty much the entire singing of “I’m not my father’s son”). Theater doesn’t get much better than it is here.
It was equally fine a week later in Shakespeare’s hometown, Stratford-Upon-Avon. “Henry V” was on stage at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and it was a treat to see it so well-acted, from the foppish Dauphin’s pratlings to the earnest king’s stirring “band of brothers” speech on the eve of battle. It was a fitting end to a day spent mostly at Bletchley Park, where, centuries later, the British waged a different war, laboring in anonymity to unravel the ultra-sophisticated military messaging systems of Hitler’s Germany. The work, recently highlighted in the book/movie “The Imitation Game,” is thoroughly explained through various media, including interactive games and recorded interviews with those who were there.
While the movie focused on the tragic story of Alan Turing, the exhibit takes a sweeping view of the whole enterprise. We see and hear stories of the painstaking work done not only by the nation’s brightest minds but also by ordinary folks: folks like the women who listened for hours on end to the tapping of Morse code, translating it to pages and pages of seemingly meaningless letter combinations that were then decoded by other teams. All worked for hours on end in dark, cramped, often cold huts, most not having any real idea what they were doing, and all under strict orders to keep silent about their activities — even to those in other huts.
I wonder if, in these fractious, more cynical, some would say selfish times, so many would sacrifice so much for so long — trusting their government’s word that it was being done for the greater good.