So it was a pleasant change to be able to make a couple of trips up to London in late January and early February, one a flying visit just for a few hours and one for a couple of child-free days. The flying visit a couple of weeks ago was to pick up a new car, one of the perks of Hazel's "other" job as a distributor for Utility Warehouse. You might have seen the odd UW Mini around the place; well, distributors of a certain level of seniority are eligible to have one - not for free, but as part of a leasing package whose rates are quite good, and since we wanted to get rid of the old Focus the timing was pretty much ideal. Here's Hazel getting the official ceremonial key handover from Network Director Wayne Coupland outside UW Network HQ on the Edgware Road.
Another UW jolly a couple of weeks later, this one being the equivalent of the Paris trip last year. In theory this was supposed to be a trip to another European destination, but since Hazel's now 7 months pregnant and would have been ineligible to fly at the time of the trip we persuaded the company to give us a personal jaunt to London instead, which they kindly agreed to.
Our last proper trip to London was in June 2011, a few weeks before we got married, and we replicated part of that trip by having a jaunt on the London Eye. It was worth the repeat trip because the London skyline has been changing a bit lately, what with the appearance of the Shard, the Cheesegrater and the Walkie-Talkie.
We also took a trip to the theatre to see The Book Of Mormon, Trey Parker and Matt Stone's satirical musical. I have a bit of a problem with musicals in general, and it's a fundamental structural problem: we're meant to suspend disbelief in the usual way and engage with the drama in the non-musical bits, accepting that these are real people doing real-people stuff, but then also somehow accept that some of the principal people are going to occasionally burst into song with full orchestral/rock band (delete as applicable) backing, in a way that real people, in my experience at least, just don't tend to do. And then, worse still, drop straight back into the drama without any of the other protagonists going: erm, wait a minute, what was all that singing about just then? The more po-faced and gritty the drama (think Les Miserables, for instance) the more grating and ridiculous the effect.
So the only sort of musical that works (in my head, anyway) is one that subverts the ludicrous campery of the musical genre by being ludicrously camp and knowing throughout, not just in the musical bits. In other words, what I suppose I'm saying is that it's really only comedy that works in musicals, but, paradoxically, it only works because it's got a long history of serious drama being delivered in the same format to satirise. Book Of Mormon certainly delivers on the comedy front, as well as delivering, as you'd expect, some general mockery of religion in general and Mormonism in particular. Basically if you liked the South Park movie, which was, despite all the Saddam-Hussein-bumming-Satan stuff, itself basically a musical, you'll like this.
Just as an aside, there's an argument that Mormonism is just Scientology plus nearly 200 years of normalising, the underlying space-based nonsense being very nearly as wacky as Scientology. It's just gained a thin veneer of respectability because the loony that made the whole thing up in his head died in 1844, not 1986.
Anyway, back to London: we had originally intended to go and have a look round the Natural History Museum, but as you might (in hindsight) have expected on a rather wet Saturday afternoon there was a queue a gazillion miles long and an apparent wait time of about an hour and a half, so we decided to go to the pub instead and have a rethink. What we ended up doing was going to the much more sparsely attended Hunterian Museum just round the corner from Holborn tube station in Lincoln's Inn Fields (the largest public square in London: FACT) - the "secret London" article we looked up on the internet that recommended this described it as "The Museum Of Body Parts", which is a bit lurid, but, as it turns out, pretty accurate. As long as you aren't squeamish about seeing cocks in jars then this is a fascinating place.
Things I have seen in jars today: a rabbit's vagina, a horse's nipple, several foetuses, and the diseased rectum of the Bishop of Durham.
— Dave Thomas (@electrichalibut) January 31, 2015
That's the FORMER Bishop of Durham, obviously.One of the most celebrated exhibits is of the startling skeleton of the Irish giant Charles Byrne, whose corpse John Hunter allegedly acquired in slightly dubious circumstances and then boiled the flesh off. No word on what he did with the resulting meaty soup, but, you know, it would have been a shame to waste it. A loosely fictionalised version of Byrne features in Hilary Mantel's 1998 novel The Giant, O'Brien.
— Dave Thomas (@electrichalibut) January 31, 2015
After a hilarious failure of research resulted in our attempting to visit Borough Market on the Sunday only to find it's closed on Sundays, we instead did some rather more touristy stuff, including walking across Tower Bridge, which I don't think I'd done before. We also passed the Monument, which I was unable to resist the temptation to climb (311 steps!) to the top of, just so I could say I'd done it.
One of the great joys of London is just wandering around and occasionally nipping off down a side-street and encountering an interesting pub or restaurant. Here's a couple we popped into:
- Shaws Booksellers, just round the corner from St. Paul's Cathedral. Nice little pub, draught London Pride, bish bosh, sorted. It turns out it's also just round the corner from the London HQ of the Church of Scientology.
- The Hoop & Toy, round the back of South Kensington tube station. This is the pub we adjourned to after the abortive attempt to get into the Natural History Museum. London Pride again.
- Beirut Express just a couple of minutes away down Old Brompton Road, where we went for a Lebanese lunch. Nice lamb-y bread-y things, free olives, vast bowl of houmous.
- Cabana just a few minutes from Tottenham Court Road tube station. Great Brazilian grub including possibly the rarest steak I've ever eaten. Not quite as epic, I'd have to say, as the Brazilian food we had at Bem Brasil when we were up in Liverpool back in July (and which I seem to have forgotten to mention at the time), but pretty good.
- We did attempt a nostalgic re-visit to Ye Olde Mitre in Holborn after visiting the Hunterian Museum, just to sluice away the memory of the Bishop of Durham's diseased rectum, but unfortunately (and slightly bizarrely) it's closed at weekends.