Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond …
In the afternoon of March 22 this year, a lone wolf terrorist with a car randomly mowed down scores of people along Westminster Bridge and murdered a policeman at Parliament Square. The motive, it would appear, was to strike at the heart of democracy, and cause fear, havoc and disruption to normal life. To that end, the attempt failed miserably. London bounced right back the very next day. Not for no reason is London also known as “The Swinging City”.
In the same spirit, I shall continue reminiscing about my good times in this other favourite city of mine. Take it as my way of honouring a city which has given me so much over the years.
The first sighting of the whole Westminster complex by my young bride and me that summer day 40 years ago was through the window of a red hop-on hop-off tourist bus. We chose to gawk from the bus rather than come up close and personal, so that we could see more sights in the limited time available. Remember that only one of us was really on a honeymoon, the other being on a busman’s holiday. That’s why till today, despite many repeated visits, she’s the one who knows the London landmarks better than I do. She had had much more opportunities to get acquaintned.
The place which holds the fondest memories for both of us is without doubt the Tower Hotel, newly opened that summer of ’76, We went back for our 20th wedding anniversasry, asking for and securing the same room as 20 years ago – and for one night only, getting, without our asking, the same room-rate as 20 years before. They even seated us at the same table at the carvery for dinner, with the exact same view of the Tower Bridge, with a complimentary cake for our anniversary dinner. The hotel had since been renamed the Tower Thistle, and, most recently, the Guoman. It had started to look a wee bit tired, though that was not the real reason we didn’t go back for our 40th anniversary. Let’s just say that I was a little under the weather last summer.
In more recent years, we tended to stay with family in various localities. As a result, we had become much more familiar with various neigbourhoods.
In Bayswater. we got introduced to, arguably, the most popular Chinese restaurant in London. the Goldmine. Hitherto, we had been familair only with the Lee How Fook in Gerard Street in Chinatown. We have now also learned of a Singaporean/Malaysian restaurant, that serves Hainanese Chicken Rice, Nasi Lemak, and Laksa, the complete works. We don’t know how the food is though – we haven’t been curious enough or greedy enough to check it out yet.
In Southwark, we got to sample the varied farmers’ offerings at the Borough Market, while at the same time literally watching the Shard, now reputedly the tallest building in Europe, inch its way skywards. The Old Vic is only a short walk away; I went there two summers ago to watch Kim Catrall of sex-in-the city fame in Tennesse William’s “Sweet Bird of Youth”. Not too far away, one can still go inspect the remains of the Marshalsea Debtor’s prison, in which Charles Dickens’s father was interned, as mentioned in his novel, Little Dorrit.
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is a little further away on the South Bank; and I had the dubious pleasure of braving the chill one wintry day to watch a performance of “A Winter’s Tale.” The South Bank Centre, along the same stretch as the Globe, has been the home of the London Literature Festival, for as long as I can remember. I felt specially privileged to be able to attend the bulk of the festival programmes for the years 2013 and 2015, On both occasions, it was a special thrill to attend readings by the Booker Prize nominees; It was a special treat in 2013 to listen to James Salter, reputedly the oldest man to be writing erotic fiction, read from All Of That ; he had since passed And to Anne Tyler (nominated for A Spool of Blue) in 2015 – I had been reading her since The Accidental Tourist.
At Finsbury Park, we had lots of opportunities to savour various ethnic cuisines, and catching a few small theatre productions at the Park Theatre, including a performance starring the gorgeous Anne Archer. While staying here, I got a special kick out of reading Nick Hornby’s “How To Be Good”, set in the neighbourhood. Also while here in September 2012, i was thankful for the opportunity to view at, the British Library, the legendary 120-foot long manuscript of Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road”; it was exhibited in London only for the first time.
In Islington, we are swarmed with trendy cafes and second-hand book-stores. The bulk of my reading supplies last summer came from the neighbourhood book-shops. Just a few tube stops away is Leicester Square, where one can shop for discounted same-day theatre tickets. There’s nothing that sounds sweeter to a couple of theatre lovers than reasonably good seats for good shows at reasonable prices. Still, we managed to blow a small fortune last summer, watching the likes of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.”, “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”, and “Motown the Musical”. The UK goes to the polls on June 8; I have been told on good authority that the next Prime Minister could likely hail from the Islington electoral district.
Our interests in checking out other theatre offerrings had taken us out of the usual orbit from time to time. I don’t recall where we went, but it was a long journey that we took by train one time to go see a South African adaptation of August Strindberg’s classic “Miss Julie.” Another time, we undertook a meandering journey somewhere, to a place we don’t remember, and which we probably couldn’t find again, to watch another classic production, this time one from, tada, Singapore! – Kao Pao Kun’s “The Coffin Is Too Big For The Hole.” I guess the point I’m trying to make is that these esoteric productions are frequently available on a London theatre evening – you’ll just have to work harder to get to them.
Much like New York, London is a city that makes a lot of claims on the Soh family. Our son makes occasional visits, singly or with his wife. In June 2015, he was invited as a member of Charlie Lim’s band to perform at Singapore Inside Out, a collaborative move by the Music Society of Singapore and the Singapore Tourism Board., as part of the SG50 celebrations.
Our daughter has given this London affiliation thing a more serious interpretation. Not only did she tranfer here to work some 10 years ago, but she had also grown roots and settled down. Today, she is the proud wife of an English gentleman and the devoted mother of two lovely kids. If that’s not commitment to the great City of London, and the UK, I don’t know what is.