On 22 December 2016 I went with family to see the play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. What I would describe as “3D” extras made the play interesting to watch. These included lighting that danced across the walls, audiovisuals that reflected the main character’s state of mind, a moving model train to simulate a journey and (spoiler alert) a real live puppy that elicited uninhibited “aahs” from the audience. A lovely experience.
But the actual act of going to London’s West End at that unimaginably
The wonders of underground station advertising. Photo: Brenda Daniels
busy time of year was also part of our atmospheric evening out. The theatre at which the play is being staged (until June 2017) is the Gielgud in Shaftesbury avenue. To get there from home we took a tube (or three) and stepped up onto the heaving pavement of Charing Cross Road. Being London’s bookshop street Charing Cross’s first offering for us was Foyles bookshop. We squeezed into the store and wormed up and down six storeys, just managing to get a coffee before staggering out again. I can’t understand why some writers support the notion that writing in coffee shops is romantic and inspirational. I found it completely distracting.
A gingerbread city we stopped to look at in Knightsbridge. Photo: Brenda Daniels
Next up on our journey was dinner – McDonald’s (limited budget you see) which is apparently on the site of the original bookstore of 84 Charing Cross Road. After our feast we crossed the road and passed the Palace Theatre at which Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is being performed. Theatregoers enjoying a feast of their own had come out onto into the open for a breather; the play is in two parts and, together with two intermissions, runs for a whopping five hours and 55 minutes. I read in The Telegraph that marathon theatre sessions like these might catch on as a new trend. Phew.
We turned off Charing Cross Road and jostled our way to the Gielgud
Christmas lights at Knightsbridge in London, December 2016. Photo: Brenda Daniels
passing Christmas lights and “Mulled Wine” signs. Our booking was for the cheapest seats in the house (budget, remember) which had warnings like “obstructed” view and on the computer seating plan looked like we would need opera glasses just to see the stage. No fear of that. The Gielgud is quite small and spacious and the “obstruction” was merely a roof overhang which really didn’t spoil our view at all.
Back out into the cold air after the show we fought our way back to the tube station, past runners in Father Christmas gear, buskers in the underground and pedestrians everywhere sporting Christmas jumpers. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was for us an entertaining theatre event indeed.
On a single day in London in December 2016, the written word and time formed an interesting theme for our tourist travels. The first port of call for my daughter and myself was the British Museum which was founded in 1753 (according to britishmuseum.org this museum was the first national public one in the world).
The museum’s clocks and watches gallery was for us a fascinating account of the development of timepieces. I was amazed that this one (see picture), dating from as long ago as 1763, ‘goes for one month on a single wind’, and has a ‘central disc that rotates back and forth throughout the year to show true solar minutes (sundial time)’. The aperture at the top shows the date.
Next, a free tour of the Ancient Iran (Mesopotamia) section of the museum revealed a culture, sadly unlike today, that had centuries of peace and therefore the continuity to develop a rich cultural life. This picture below shows a section of an ancient stone library which, thanks to the translation of cuneiform, is now able to be read.
From the British Museum we walked ten minutes to Charing Cross Road. This road houses a number of book stores. (I noticed elsewhere the practice of putting similar stores together in one place; in Southgate for instance I walked along a whole section of road full of dentists and orthodontists; and in one part of the East End was a supply of hairdressers and barber shops [see this one below in the famed Jack the Ripper area]).
Of the five shops we visited in Charing Cross Road my favourite was ‘Henry Pordes Books’. Displayed in the window was the book 84 Charing Cross Road. This delightful book comprises a series of letters written between American writer Helene Hanff and an English bookseller. The story captures the nostalgia of the 1940-1950s era and is well worth a read. When I asked the book enthusiasts in Henry Pordes Books if this store was the original number 84, they replied in the negative. The ‘real’ site was now – gasp – a McDonald’s. But Henry Pordes was most like the original they claimed. Whatever, the shop was full of ancient editions, first editions, books I remember from my childhood (such as Beatrix Potter), and a whole section of J R R Tolkien books I didn’t even know existed.
As the sun set before 4pm on the eve of the winter solstice I pocketed some of the books I had felt compelled to purchase. I was delighted with the feeling that I had stepped into 84 Charing Cross Road itself, and into my childhood memories. What a wonderful time we had enjoyed.
All photos by Brenda Daniels.