A Flying Visit to London

At the moment I’m on a placement block, which means I’m working three long shifts a week. I’m really enjoying it and learning absolutely masses, but it’s also completely exhausting. I leave the house before dawn and get home late enough that all I have time to do is get changed and roll into bed. The upside is that I have four days off each week, which means I can stay on top of everything else I need to do.

This week, I seized the opportunity of two days off together to go down to London to visit my friend Heidi. Last year we spent a lot of time visiting nearby historic houses together and cooking elaborate vegan dinner parties, so it was only logical that we’d do the same this time! We must have walked miles around London over the two days: we visited the British Library exhibition on Georgian England (a moment of high drama occurred when another visitor collapsed and I spent a few fraught seconds panicking about whether or not I should go over and put my emergency first aid training into use, but when I got there I found that she was conscious and able to talk to the exhibition staff, so there wasn’t anything I could have usefully done) before having lunch in their extremely nice restaurant. Heidi had emailed ahead to check that there would be vegan food for me, and they were astoundingly helpful, promising to make sure there was and even asking if there was anything particular I’d like!

The exhibition guide contained a map of a walk around Georgian London, so we set out to walk some of that but quickly got sidetracked by various interesting distractions including a beautiful burial ground/park and the numerous blue plaques. I insisted we stopped in at the park in Bloomsbury to pay homage to one of my heroes, and we also stopped off to say hello to a few other inspirational figures.

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By this point my legs were starting to ache – I was lugging around my enormous opera score for a rehearsal I thought I had on Wednesday evening (actually, I had found out before I left for London that I didn’t need to attend, but my sleepy 7am brain hadn’t registered that this meant I didn’t need to pack the blasted thing) so we headed back to Heidi’s house on the outskirts of the city to get cracking on our other favourite activity, cooking elaborate meals. To be completely honest I didn’t contribute a lot to the vegetable curry, other than a diced onion with added blood due to my general clumsiness with sharp knives. Then we settled in for an evening of biscuits, hot chocolate, and A Bit of Fry and Laurie in front of the wood-burning stove. Eventually exhaustion drove us both to bed for an early night.

On Wednesday I was feeling a bit more human after getting a proper night’s sleep, so we had breakfast and then set off back into London on a quest for art in the form of the National Portrait Gallery, excellent coffee (for Heidi, not me) and vegan cake (for me, not Heidi). Unfortunately and somewhat to my amazement considering the size of London we only managed to find the first two, but we made up for it by having a delicious late lunch at a Mexican restaurant where we were given complimentary guacamole and chips to make up for a delay in serving our food that I honestly hadn’t even noticed.

I’d never been to the Portrait Gallery before, but I will definitely be going back. We only had time to visit one floor, so we chose the Victorian and 20th Century galleries and I played “spot the women”. The early 20th century room was my favourite; I’ve been interested in the Bloomsbury Group for several years now and enjoyed putting faces to the names that keep recurring in the biographies and memoirs of that set. I liked the gallery so much that I bought the visitors’ guide from the gift shop, which is now sitting on my bookshelf beside a similar guide from the Henry Moore exhibition I visited in Paris. I like to think of the guides as a sort of investment in my education and the education of my future hypothetical children; I can’t afford to keep popping back to London or Paris to have another look at my favourite paintings or sculptures but the photos in the guide will always be to hand if I feel in need of some visual nourishment.

It was just a flying visit as I had to be back for placement the next day, but we managed to pack a lot in. I’m hoping to go back soon and visit a few more places (and possibly go back to the gallery, there are so many more paintings to look at!) but next time I shall make sure not to pack quite so many unnecessary heavy items in my bag!

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