A Feast for Eye and Ear

I haven’t forgotten that I promised you all a report on my annual visit to London. 2 plays, a West End musical, 2 art exhibitions, and a concert is the score on my "Cultural List" this time around, with a whole day at the Regent’s Park Zoo for good measure and several sunny (and not-so-sunny) days in various parks with my brother. Not bad for 10 days, I think you’ll agree.
1st and foremost – since I’ve already mentioned my brother –  I should  say that the vacation gave me a chance to read his latest book, No Way Out. I started it on the plane and had already devoured 150 pages by the time we landed. It’s one of those books that once started, are almost impossible to put down. The book, ostensibly a thriller, deals with such controversial subjects as inter-racial rape, legal ethics, the morality of vengeance, repentance, forgiveness and the possibility of redemption. Read it. You won’t regret it!
One of the things I love about London (otherwise one of the most expensive cities in the world) is the sheer quantity of things to do for free! Whether it’s walking along the South Bank of the Thames and enjoying the many street theatre performances,
listening to a lunchtime organ concert in the Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, a beautiful, late Baroque jewel of a building –
                                 or whiling away a pleasant hour or so in the National Gallery (or in this particular case, its neighbour, the National Portrait Gallery) when the rain starts. In fact, while I make a point of dropping into the National Gallery whenever I’m in London, I have, until this trip, sadly neglected the N.P.G.  I have now remedied that and discovered some interesting contemporary portraits of the present Royal Family, as well as some fascinating ones in unusual media – such as LCD screens, which appear to live and breathe and wink at you!
Then, when the rain stops, I can return to Trafalgar Square and indulge in one of my favourite activities: people-watching.
But even Trafalgar Square has its surprises. This year, there was a Maze, with each new turning embellished by a London street sign, and a brief description of the history and importance of that particular street.
It never ceases to amaze me that, despite having been born and bred in London, on each visit, I manage to learn something new. For example, did you know that Trafalgar Square is home to the smallest police station in the world? In one corner of the square is a hollow pillar, with just enough room inside for one policeman. 
3 of the 4 corners of the square are embellished by statues, but one corner, on the National Gallery side of the square, had, until recently, only an empty plinth. Lately, however, the orphan plinth has been home to various pieces of modern art. I don’t know how often these change, as I visit only once a year, but each visit, there is something different. This time, there was a giant "ship in a bottle" – Sir Francis Drake’s ship, The Golden Hinde.

British weather, is, as everyone knows, unsettled – to say the least. After a scorchingly hot June and early July, temperatures had dropped to around 20 – 22 degrees Celsius by the time of my visit, with every day, at least the threat of the "possibility" of rain. The day I chose for my visit to the Zoo, however, was hot and dry and I knew that even if it did start to rain, I could always make a dive for one of the indoor exhibits. It goes without saying that I have visited the Regent’s Park Zoo on countless occasions, but there is almost always something new to see. I had learned, from giant posters on the Tube (that’s the Subway, for those of you across the Pond), that there was a new rainforest exhibit and that was my top priority this visit. Adult entry to the Zoo is, ostensibly, £18. However, at the ticket office, it transpires that there is also a "voluntary" contribution of £1.80 for conservation etc. I doubt if anyone, visiting the Zoo, has the moral courage (or the chutzpah) to refuse to contribute to animal conservation, so why don’t they just charge an entrance fee of £20 and be done with it?!
Anyway, the rainforest exhibit was quite delightful. You walk inside on a raised walkway, special equipment provides the

moist, steamy atmosphere of the South American jungle, small monkeys, such as tamarins, which make up a large part of the exhibit, jump into the branches of trees which overhang the walkway – so close, one could reach out a hand and touch them (although this is not advisable), and in the central well of the building, trees, simulating the forest canopy, are populated by iguanas and brightly coloured tropical birds. 




Downstairs in the same building, one can explore the nocturnal world of bats and other such creatures. I have always found bats quite fascinating – but frightening, nonetheless. Fortunately, the Bat Cave is behind glass…

Another relatively new exhibit – for me, at least – is the Butterfly World.  Here too, in keeping with modern concepts of "up close and personal", one walks among misted foliage as hundreds of tropical butterflies and moths dart and hover about one, sometimes even landing on a lucky visitor’s head or shoulder. Have you ever seen something so lovely, you just wanted to cry at the sheer beauty of G-d’s creation? That’s how I felt amongst the butterflies.  




Whenever I go to the Regent’s Park Zoo, I make a point of visiting the meerkats – possibly my favourite animals (after cats, of course!). These are adorable little mammals, as I am sure anyone will agree.


Their next-door neighbours, the otters, are also among my favourites:


I could write much, much more, about my day at the Zoo, but time is pressing so I will leave it at that.

As usual, I spent a lot of time in the park – or rather, parks, of which London has many.

Regent’s Park (my favourite):  






St. James’ Park, favourite lunchtime picnic spot for many a Whitehall civil servant:







Golder’s Hill Park, a lesser-known green haven bordering on Hampstead Heath, where, one Friday afternoon, after stocking up with egg-and-onion salad, gefillte fish balls, chopped liver and other traditional Jewish delicacies in Golder’s Green, we had a memorable picnic lunch amid rising winds which culminated in a cloudburst:




Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park’s swankier neighbour, famous for being the home of the Peter Pan statue, where nannies still take the children of the upper-crust for walks  and to sail toy boats on the Round Pond, although these days one is more likely to see the children of well-to-do Saudis accompanied by burka-clad females (mothers or maidservants, one would be hard-put to tell),  

        and, of course, Hyde Park, where my brother and I lunched in the rain on my last day in London: 



I mentioned art exhibitions. Besides the annual Summer Exhibition, the Royal Academy regularly devotes exhibitions to individual artists. This summer, I was able to enjoy the seascapes of American artist John Singer Sargent – and, incidentally, escape from a sudden torrential downpour which hadn’t quite finished by the time I had .

The highlight of every trip to London (apart from seeing my brother, of course) is always the theatre. As I already mentioned, I managed to squeeze in 2 plays and a West End musical – all 3 of which, I approached with a certain amount of trepidation, although in each case, for a different reason. The first play was "The Comedy of Errors"  by none other than William Shakespeare at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park. No, it wasn’t the fear that it might rain that bothered me. It was the knowledge that the director had chosen to update the plot and set it in 1930s Casablanca. As my regular readers will no doubt recall, in general, I shun this kind of updating of the classics like the plague. However, I needn’t have worried. The Bard is  well-nigh indestructible and can take whatever whimsical directors choose to throw at him. In this case, in fact, the transfer worked pretty well. The plot is the kind of farce that works in more or less any cultural setting, what with long lost relations, 2 sets of twins and a plethora of comic situations resulting from mistaken identities. My brother and I enjoyed it and the various school parties present had the opportunity to learn that there is more to Shakespeare than the weighty historical tragedies painstakingly studied for A-levels. In fact, Shakespeare can be very, very funny. Oh, and as for the weather – it was glorious!

The next play was an adaptation of E. Nesbit’s "The Railway Children". This was one of my childhood’s favourite books, so I felt jealously protective of it. How would it adapt to the stage? Remarkably well, in fact. Staged at the disused Eurostar terminal in Waterloo Station, with the audience seated along the former platforms on either side of the railway track, a moveable performance space on the track itself and incorporating a real steam engine, the play managed to recapture all the magic of the book and of the classic 1970 movie starring Jenny Agutter. Bobbie’s climactic, heart-rending cry, when her missing father finally returns home –"Oh, my Daddy, my Daddy!"  –  has lost none of its gut-wrenching power over the years. Neither David nor I were ashamed to admit that at that moment, we both shed a tear.

Last, but not least, was the new Andrew Lloyd – Webber musical, "Love Never Dies",  the long-awaited  sequel to the immensely popular "Phantom of the Opera". Rarely has a musical engendered such controversy, its detractors claiming it deprives the Phantom of the "salvation" he achieved at the end of the original musical by his renunciation of the heroine. Furthermore, they claim, it debases the characters of Christine and Raoul,  while that of the "new" Meg Giry simply isn’t credible. I won’t spoil things for those who haven’t seen it by revealing the plot. I will  say that the music, the sets and everything else were wonderful – not least the sexy and talented Ramin Karimloo as the Phantom!

That’s it for now. This will probably be my last posting on Live Spaces. I hope we shall continue to meet, somewhere in the Blogosphere, as soon as I manage to transfer The View from from the Palace  to whichever blog host Possum, Pixie and I decide to honour with our presence .



About Shimona from the Palace

Born in London, the UK, I came on Aliyah in my teens and now live in Jerusalem, where I practice law. I am a firm believer in the words of Albert Schweitzer: "There are two means of refuge from the sorrows of this world - Music and Cats." To that, you can add Literature. To curl up on the sofa with a good book, a cat at one's feet and another one on one's lap, with a classical symphony or concerto in the background - what more can a person ask for?
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3 Responses to A Feast for Eye and Ear

  1. GreatGranny says:

    That certainly was a good trip for you and your brother. By your photos and descriptions I wanted so badly to see London. I never will of course. Thanks for sharing your lovely trip. Kassey and I will be looking for you and Possum and Pixie. I transferred all mine to WP and I have Blogspot as well. See y\’all soon. Happy Hanukkah !!

  2. Shimona from the Palace says:

    But why say "never", Ann? Maybe, some day, you will. But first of all, you should come and see Jerusalem :-).

  3. rambling1on says:

    I love what you said to Ann. The same might be said for me. Of all the places in the world I have been, England was not one of them, nor Israel and that is a regret. I would not have really had much opportunity to come to Israel but England..it was just a step away in a manner of speaking.

    Beautifully captured scenes and so glad you posted about your trip.

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