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Wednesday December 20, 1995

0440h, having woken up, apparently for the day, twenty minutes ago. My cold is still pretty much the center of my life, although it seems to have turned, for the better I think. Still a lot of mucus and cough and sniffles and slight throat pain, another reminder of the loving beneficence of the Creator —

Yesterday schedulewise a fair repeat of Monday: we woke around 7:30, I went skating, we walked around, came back to the hotel at 5, went out again at 6:50 and had dinner and that was it. In detail:

We didn't manage to leave any earlier than I had Monday morning: 9:15 because this time we had chatty Canadian messmates, a middle-aged woman and her husband, she mostly talking about the vineyards of Canada where they live, an unspecified town south of Toronto. Whites mostly (of c.) and look for "VQA" = Vintners Quality Association, they apparently are much better.

Anyway we stepped out at 9:20 maybe, James only leaving me at the Bayswater tube station, turning left as I turned right rinkwards.

Thru the dust and debris of the "rink's" expansion (they're putting in maybe 12 lanes of bowling) and onto the ice. The ice was much better than Monday: and between 10:10 when I finally got on and 10:45 my lesson I warmed up then did much of my meager repertoire. For some reason I continue having problems with my half-flips on this rink, bringing a desire not to quite complete them: a few degrees short of rotation, a hesitation on grabbing the ice with the forward foot, a lack of height, etc. I think I've put in my head that there's not enough room vertically to do the jump, which is absurd, except possibly under the eastern overhang.

At 10:45 I went and grabbed who I presumed, rightly, to be Betty Loach my teacher, the essence of the British matron, a plumpish well-coiffed partly silver-haired woman of no-nonsense appearance; who was immediately discombobulated by my description of my level: she said that we don't teach any half-jumps here nor two-foot spins, and that my three jump being fine it was not understandable that I shouldn't be doing jumps of the same level such as the salchow and the cherry flip and even the toe salchow. a

This unpromising proemium being delivered, we got to work, if diffusely, on 'my' one-foot spin and trying to get it centered, etc. I was much reassured that the instructions were exactly Les's. We also spent a fair time on trying to give some precision, clarity, and line to my three-turns; a useful lesson but that made me appreciate the concentration Les and I put into ours: and of c. the lesson eventually undid any rhetoric of accelerating my progress to full jumps, since in fact she too would have me get my basics perfectly clean before moving on . . . .

Lesson ended at 11:30, there may be more possibly — to be scheduled thru the office, but I asked if she'd have any objection, she doesn't. Skated another forty-five minutes, playing but thinking of line on that trailing leg, and left the rink at 11:25 to meet James at Harrod's at 11:45.

Which I did succeed in doing thanks to the terrific underground system: I surfaced at the exit at Knightsbridge just opposite our corner of Harrod's at 11:45½ but James was not angry, despite being there first; he's obviously been trying very hard.

We did what we'd planned to do this time (unlike our Monday walk which was supposed to have started at Holborn, covered Bloomsbury, and finished in the British Museum, and where we never so much as saw any of these places). We walked to Brompton Square, the site of Lucia's inherited house with the music room up at the roomier end of the crescent and Olga's smaller dwelling around the bend; and it turned out to be similar enough to what each of us had imagined. The center grilled-in private garden with its 22-point regulations and citing of 1854 ordinances, put me immediately in mind of "No Barking" from Mrs. Ames. . . It turns out that Benson lived in or next to Lucia's house — there was a plaque — and I suppose this was predictable.

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The bend in Brompton Square where Lucia lived, complete with commemorative plaque.

From this tucked-away corner of columned Georgian houses and its impossible-to‑photograph park with its large trees and solid greenness, across the street to Pâtisserie Valérie, one of the few places remaining in London where you can supposedly get a pot of tea and tea things. In fact you can't really. I had a little metal pot of hot water with a teabag (which I desperately needed, I squeezed 3½ cups of tea out of it), plus an excellent lemon tart called a tarte au citron; James had an average-looking meal of turkey, although the potatoes looked very good, with an equally average glass of wine. As we left (£13) the woman behind the counter, French and possibly Valérie herself, at any rate with a rather proprietary air, chatted with us in Froggish; James reported that the waiters were saying "m'sieu" — I'd failed to notice, abstracted as I was in my cold — and in fact, most are French. A disappointment; apparently the English tea shop is a thing of the already somewhat distant past: we've been told that for all their horrors Lyons' and ABC's went in the fifties or sixties. More's the pity.


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Two streets down the road to the Victoria & Albert Museum, where I checked my skates and we did — very slowly — the "Medieval Treasury" room where the late-antique ivories, the Coptic and Byzantine textiles are, also various later medieval enamels and ivories. About half of the older stuff looked familiar, almost certainly photographed in one or another book back home. In terms of beauty, nothing was up to the level of the Treasury of San Marco (which I have not seen) or that of Conques (which I have), although there were some very nice pieces — the Veroli casket) and some items of rather venerable antiquity: a Merovingian thing and several 8‑9c Anglo-Saxon enamels, a couple of large and pretty much intact late Roman glass pitchers (not particularly nice, but there they were, anyhow). Egyptian 4‑8c cloth, some of it strikingly well preserved; nice stuff, too.

Another room behind that had some medieval statuary, including four columns with intricate historiated capitals and two of them with lion bases, from Sicily, but — a thing I'd never seen or heard of — of wood; beautiful, too.

An Islamic room with the usual stuff although very high quality of it; especially nice the smaller pieces (a little blue duck lamp among others), some wonderful large bowls from 15‑16c Turkey, and some glorious Turkish tile work, the peak seeming to be the polychrome stuff (blue with a fair amount of brownish red and other colors) dated to 1570: before, the refinement isn't quite there; after, slightly too refined and the stuff becomes bluer and bluer, although the tile work stays very attractive thru the 18c.

These essentials seen, we wandered thru the English Renaissance — beautiful embroidery, quilted and drawn work; and a lot of very dark carved furniture and panelling, incl. a gigantic Bed called the Great Bed of Ware, which as far as they surmise was never really a functional bed so much as a piece of advertising and a tourist attraction in an inn there: it is referred to in English literature from time to time — Also, a thing called the Oxburgh Hangings, a group of embroidered panels depicting animals, surrounding a larger central panel of a highly charged heraldic design, worked by Mary Queen of Scots and her friend Bess Hardwick. The animal selection designs and captioning (A. Poole Snyte and a comical wading bird) are odd. About a yard on a side.

More stuff but by now quickly, our feet were starting to hurt; never did find the silver and the church plate, possibly that section was closed. Finally, left — tube to Victoria and walk to hotel in the drizzle in the dark.

At the hotel we did not fall asleep; James watched the news — I occasionally peered at it — which seems to be every bit as parochial as U.S. news, and a marked contrast to Italy, so widely informed. I tanked up on tea and more tea.

Dinner at Chimes again, down Warwick Way to Belgrave Road then right to Churton Street, although, irritatingly, we turned left towards Victoria first, retracing several blocks in cold light rain.

Another good meal. We both started with black pudding in Stilton sauce — a small appetizer casserole of apparently blood sausage extended with flour, steamed then gratinéed under a very mild Stilton. James then had a steak & mushroom pie with a lovely crust: I tasted it, good. I had an excellent cidered cod and haddock with tomatoes and mushrooms; washed down with West Country bottled perry although transferred to a glass jug: a disappointment, much like fizzy cider although much lighter in color and flavor; only careful tasting showed it to be not apple but possibly pear, although maybe my cold was interfering — I think not, I've been tasting things fine — For dessert, I had the raspberry syllabub, a cold fresh raspberry mousse with a lot of cream (I'd been expecting something like a trifle, but James said no, that's what it should have been) which was particularly good with the crunchy champagne biscuit accompanying it. James had an elderberry wine: red, OK; I had a ginger wine, virulent chartreuse green, slightly syrupy, and really excellent. A very good meal (£31.95 and I left £37 total)

Back thru the rain to our room and one more cuppa tea and most of a TV program "The Country Christmas": a cook, looking very ordinary and very English in a frock and an apron, doing nasty things to a turkey — carving off the legs and making sort of involtini with a suet-onion-parsley stuffing with them and serving the bird for Christmas minus its drumsticks. . . but also an excellent-looking 2‑week-long preparation of corned beef: crushed juniper berries, pepper, brown sugar the main ingredients, also mace and one or two other items plus the saltpeter required to cure it: rebaste twice daily, looked wonderful. Also, a male chef doing a box-shaped chocolate-chestnut pudding that looked simple and good.

Then to sleep, easily enough and without too much snorting, coughing, sniffling or sore throat . . . .

It's now 6:20, and it has thus taken me 1h40m to write up the day yesterday. The day thus described seems much fuller than it was. I'm OK —


Later Note for the Web:

aNonskaters will find it helpful to know that "toe salchow" and "cherry flip" are never heard in the United States: the latter, furthermore, being utterly incomprehensible and unguessable. (Also, the "three jump" is called a "waltz jump" in American English and thruout my diary.) In turn, I was presenting her with the standard program of a low-level American skater.


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Page updated: 13 Feb 03