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Wednesday December 27, 1995

Nine something p. m. after a day in Westminster and the British Museum, back at the hotel, in a new room, this time LG2 in the basement, the hotel staff having moved our stuff from #21 while we were out: poor people, a large suitcase bought by James on Christmas Eve, almost full with books . . .

Yesterday a dismal day, me still feeling my cold (slight sore throat, sniffles, snorting, etc.), the weather cold & rainy, and everything closed, transit running very slow due to Boxing Day —

[image ALT: A small shopping mall of late nineteenth-century appearance. It is Covent Garden Market, in London.]
The heavily restored market
of Covent Garden.

We left anyway, thinking bookstores at least might be open near Charing Cross Road; nothing was, including the box office at St. Martin's Theatre, until well after eleven. James wound up walking me thru Covent Garden Market, where I ate two pastries in the brick-vaulted basements (about the only place open at all, a pair of disgruntled Frenchwomen who'd apparently booked a 3‑day Christmas trip from Paris only to find everything closed here —), then around up to Oxford Street where we bought a couple hundred pounds of books, stuff not available in Chicago almost exclusively; then back to St. Martin's Theatre where we took seats for the 8 P.M. showing of the Mousetrap (in its 44th year, that's absurd), then to Blackwell's and about 2 hours in there, fairly disappointing in its low selection of classics and antiquity, but a few books anyway, which lugged back to the hotel, where James took a nap; then watched My Fair Lady on TV together which by coincidence of course takes place in Covent Garden then involves St. George's in Hanover Square which we'd also briefly seen the outside of on Christmas Day (but did not go in, there being a rather dismal-sounding small congregation singing its way thru the morning service) — then up and back to Covent Garden, a dismal dismal meal, a quick sharing rather of fish and chips in a horrible cafeteria, then at 7:45 P.M. after a port (me) and a dry sherry (James) at the theater's crescent-shaped bar, settled into tiny but very comfortable red plush seats in the cozy hall of St. Martin's Theatreº to watch Mousetrap: not in the least spoiled for me by the fact that about a third of the way I had enough dim remembrance of having read it in book form to know whodunit — the play is mildly amusing, the actors were pleasantly fun — James sez the acting was somewhat campy, I wouldn't know: acting is all kind of artificial to me. Anyway it was fun; even if, apparently (I shut off every distraction automatically, as always) the Russian couple behind us were doing a running translation and commentary in Russian, and the people to our left were popping potato-chip bags: again, this is all from James, I was sublimely unaware of any of this.

Inside the warm Tottingham Court Road station at 10:33, and the platform getting more and more crowded; at 10:50+, an announcement about a "loose dog" and a "delay", the only words I could pick out; at 10:59 we exited, walking to Oxford Circus and back into a station: finally at 11:21 our train to Victoria. Light snow flurries off and on thru the evening, altho' with some accumulation: Soho Square after we left the theater was blanketed in a half-inch or so of white, although asphalt and sidewalks not.

To bed late —

This morning I woke up after a very sound sleep, around 8; still occasional snow, me almost fine but James a bit sick now — We walked to Westminster and wound up spending well over two hours doing the paying portion — the Henry VII Chapel, the transept. Lots and lots of famous dead bodies; extravagant monuments blazoned with whole rainbows of escutcheons; busloads of tourists being gallivanted thru by their guides at a horrific pace. As we stood at the very moving Royal Air Force window in the very axis of the church, maybe three hundred people passed behind us! That window showing airmen in uniform kneeling in adoration before the Crucifixion, the Ascension, etc. — young obviously Air Force-type male angels spreading their protective wings over the window — heraldic badges of the various squadrons, flags of Commonwealth and other nations, incl. the United States — and good glass, too.

Fan vaulting seemed quite unstructural but decoratively very beauti­ful and, oddly, appearing restrained rather than exuberant as I would have thought —

Elizabeth buried with Mary Tudor in one tomb, although only Elizabeth's effigy on top: a modern inscription encouraging us to look at the two of them together and be reminded that many died for Christ according to their consciences in those days.

Mary Stuart with a rather defiant inscription by James her son, stating that she was certainly and undoubtedly the rightful heir to the throne of England —

The Coronation Chair, with graffiti carved all over it and supposedly protected from theft by laser beams: two Frenchwomen, trying to touch it thru the grillwork cage around it, quite panicking a woman Abbey guard who rebuked them rather sharply . . .

Poets' Corner,º incl. Dryden and Gerard Manly Hopkins, SJ — also Edward Lear of nonsense fame, portrayed as a silhouette with glasses, and Noel Coward down the S aisle with "A talent to amuse" as his tag — I don't think I'd like to have that on my tomb in Westminster Abbey, no matter if true.

The museum of Royal Effigies, of definite interest: wax effigies and real clothes of the monarchs and some others, hundreds of years old; Nelson (the only one not buried in the Abbey) said to be remarkably like by people who knew him when, St. Paul's receiving his body, the Abbey fought back in 1806 with the effigy . . .

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The towers of Westminster Abbey as seen from the Abingdon Street Gardens near the Houses of Parliament (on a previous walk); in the foreground, Henry Moore's sculpture "Knife Edge" (1967).

And just before two, off by tube to Holborn and the British Museum.

Egyptian stuff — so what, except for the Rosetta Stone — Mesopotamian stuff, surprisingly more human, altho' too many arrow-dead lions, the cat lover in me rebelling — Greek stuff, lots of it: the Elgin Marbles interesting in spots, here and there very beauti­ful, but often disappointing: still, thank heavens they were saved from further neglect, depredation, and pollution; and it's too bad the English didn't take more and earlier, before the 1687 explosion — Some rooms of Roman sculptures, nothing really tiptop — and closing time at 5, way too soon for the mind, but a bit late for the feet: I was glad to leave, finally.

Walked to Charing Cross and searched a few bookshops both of new books and used for the Robin Cousins autobiography, to no avail, Foyle's, alone, closed: as we'd been told they "always are"! Covent Garden to try to get tickets to Aida: none available, 'cept for £14 a head to stand — no. Got two tickets for the ballet (Peter Rabbit and Les Patineurs) for 7 P.M. on the 29th, £49.50 apiece. . . .

Dinner at a mediocre Indonesian restaurant the Batavia; then pastries coffee and grappa at the Cafe Amalfi and home to bed at 9. It's now 11:35 and I'm caught up — having also washed underwear and dancebelts and hung them to dry on the radiators. . . .

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Page updated: 23 Feb 22