looking for a few good ideas

  amongst the irregular verbiage

Shopping in Oxford

We woke up and went downstairs for breakfast to find M waiting for us, having picked out a table and eaten breakfast already. At the Airways Hotel you can decide whether to have the "continental" or "full english" breakfast. I chose the full english, which consisted of poached egg, toast, sausage, and baked beans. I think M was hoping for fried black pudding. He didn't get it.

C mugs in front of the Queen Victoria MemorialThe plan for the day was to walk up to Oxford Street and do some shopping, hopefully ending up at the meeting point for the Old Bloomsbury Walk at the entrance to the Holborn Tube station. Specifically I wanted to hit the bookshops and see if I could find some John Wyndham, whose novels for some reason are not in print in the US. We set off the same way as the day before, up Buckingham Palace Road. Unlike yesterday, though, the sun was out and we walked through the gate and up to the Queen Victoria Memorial. We got a good view of the palace.

M watches people enter the palace gatesSomething was going on, because there were helicopters and people in hats and other finery arriving, and police officers were checking over each car to go through the gates. They ignored all the tourists such as ourselves milling about, though. Of course, we couldn't go through the gates but we could stick our cameras through the bars and take pictures of the palace guards.

Looking East towards the Thames. the London Eye is clearly visible.Suzy the Squirrel?As it was such a nice day, we walked through St James's Park, watching the birds on the lake. So many different kinds of ducks. And squirrels! There was one old guy who appeared to be permanently bonded to the park bench feeding them peanuts. "Here Suzy! Come on, Suzy!" he'd say, and the squirrel (who may or may not have been Suzy, because there were at least two of them taking advantage of the situation) would run up and take the peanut, climbing over the chap's head if necessary. He was attracting quite a crowd. L and I made up stories about him as we continued walking.

Nelson on the top of his columnPast the Old Admiralty buildings, through the Admiralty Arch, and then there was Nelson on top of his column. (I say this like he's familiar icon, which he is, but somehow I think this is a feeling that I'm not entitled to. I seem to have a built-in affection and recognition for "old country icons" that I'm not sure I'm comfortable with.) Trafalgar Square seemed smaller than I expected. And I didn't expect the view of Westminster all laid out to the South. We're climbing a hill!

We walked up Charing Cross Road towards Oxford Street. I distinctly remember seeing a Pizza Hut. I mention this because that is apparently 84 Charing Cross Road, or so I read on the Internet. We found several bookshops, one of which had a copy of The Chrysalids to sell me. We also found a comics store, which also had stuff to sell me, but I resisted the temptation. (It wasn't like the things I wanted there were unobtainable in the 'States.)

Suddenly we were at Shaftesbury Avenue, in front of the Palace Theatre. L had the brilliant idea of getting matinee tickets. "But we have no idea what is showing!" I protested.

"It's The Woman in White," said M, practically. I'd never heard of it.

"Who cares what's showing!" replied L. "It's the Palace Theatre! Where people got to see The Mikado for the first time ever! It's history. Let's do it!"

We walked around the corner to the box office and found that we could indeed get tickets for the 2:00pm show. It seems that "The Woman In White" is the most recent Andrew Lloyd Webber production and it has been getting very good reviews as "a return to form".

We had an hour or so before we need to be back at the theatre, so we had lunch in a pub - fish and chips in my case, along with some very fine local ale, the name of which I never bothered to write down so I don't even know why I'm mentioning it.

We did make it up to Oxford Street, where we found a Virgin Megastore. It was a good one, too. They had a great science-fiction DVD section upstairs. We found a DVD copy of Firefly as a present for M, in region 2. They had other wonderful BBC sci-fi stuff on DVD as well: The Tomorrow People, Timeslip, even Quatermass. Unfortunately they were all Region 2. Perhaps that is just as well - I would have bought them all to bring back if they were Region 0!

Then we walked back to the theatre, where people were already lining up to take their seats. Seemed quite crowded. (I found out later that the show opened on September 14 this year, and is getting such good reviews, that in hindsight I'm surprised we got in so easily. Midweek matinee, cheap seats, I guess.)

It was very exciting to walk up the stairs to the not-quite-very-top and take our seats on what felt like a 50-degree slope. No problem with visibility as far as other people go, but there were some railings that we had to look through. The upper balconies are decorated with little cherubs, each with their own source of illumination. They almost seemed like little fireflies hovering around the stage.

Inside the Palace Theatre, before the performance of The Lady In WhiteSpeaking of the stage - initially all we could see was some huge round panels with clouds projected on them. We had no clue how the actors were going to deal with them. I almost don't want to describe what happens in the show because it was so cool... but I guess it isn't giving anything away to say that the stage sets are completely virtual, computer-generated, and projected on to the curved panels - and that the panels move around, quickly and silently, for each scene. It worked brilliantly.

I am not familiar with any of the actors except Michael Crawford, who played one of the major supporting characters, but basically stole the show every time he came on. Superb. I would actually go and see it again if I could, and I am not a fan of musicals, generally.

(I have to say, that Lloyd-Webber sure can fashion a pretty tune when he wants to. I thought he must have been in a bit of a slump, because no melody of his has ever stuck in my head since Phantom of the Opera (which was some time ago - '86?) but the music was really good, and melodies from it have been popping into my brain many weeks later. In some cases driving me batty because I couldn't remember where the melody was from. Eventually I sang the tune to L and she said, "It's from Lady in White and it's been bothering me too".)

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