Random Observations in London

17 07 2005

This Sunday I am back in London. Yesterday was an idle day at home. For the first time in England I have been indisposed with cold and fever. A much needed rest precluded an earlier plan to visit Banbury, just north of Oxford. The doctor thought it was a common indisposition, declined to see me and gave necessary advice over the phone. With so much of my salary going to National Insurance I expected free medication. Instead I had to drop by a neighbouring pharmacy to purchase the recommended tablets. In Singapore, any doctor will be more than willing to see you no matter how trivial the ailment. Appointments are not needed. Their livelihood depends on your visit. It appears that in the UK there are more sick people than the system can handle.

Three weeks after my visit to Cornwall, the beauty of the county and her jagged coastline is still submerged in my consciousness. On Friday I had my lunch, took my tablets and slept a sleep that comes rarely, dreamt a dream like Coleridge and his Kubla Khan. Before me lay a vast coastline, the sea sparkling with turquoise blue and the waves breaking onto a sandy beach. The cliffs upon whose grassy tops I walked descended gently by rustling green abundance. Among these sang some birds a heavenly tune. In a far field there danced little children in a circle joined by hands. A sinuous path bent this way and that, open to the sun or sometimes under the shades of overhanging branches. All these beauties to my left were matched by the green cover and shade that stretched endlessly to my right. All that human eyes could not see gave impulse to fancy and imagination. A stream flowed somewhere and only its energetic flow could be heard. It was as if it sang to the music of a santoor. All of a sudden I said “Why, Goa is so much like Cornwall!” Now, this is a strange comment for I have never been to Goa and neither have I been so vividly told of its natural beauties.

Today in London I am once again confronted by the many images both old and new, that have become the icons and fame of the city the world over. Once again I attempt to write, like many others who have come, seen and lived before me, about this capital city. With more such visits I may succeed in capturing the diversity that is here and perhaps a common thread that runs through its multicoloured fabric. With a city as diverse as this any common narrative will be difficult to find and keep. As a result, I must present disconnected thoughts as and when they appear.

  1. The visit started with lunch at a Polish restaurant at South Kensington, named Daquise. I hardly remember the names of what I ate but they made a perfect beginning. A soup of beetroot and bean rightly flavoured with lemon and vinegar was followed by the main course: paprika stuffed with buckwheat accompanied with mashed potato. I could taste the world’s culinary excellences in London alone.
  2. After lunch, I was at the Victoria and Albert Museum for about an hour. This is not my first visit here and will not be the last either. It has much to offer. On an earlier visit, I had been enthralled by the plaster casts of masterpieces scattered all over Europe. Today I focused on the vast collection of exhibits from Japan, China and Korea. Search as I did, I could not find “Tippoo’s Tiger”.
  3. If a man is deprived of all the five senses save that of smell, and if he were to inhale a draught of perfume-rich air, he should without doubt conclude a nearby presence of the fairer sex. The sensation would be thick and heady. He would then wish to relinquish his last sense as well. Where there is no fresh air, loss of the sense of smell must relieve the ordeal.
  4. As part of the BBC Proms, a film adaptation of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was shown at the Royal Geographical Society. It was difficult to decide who deserved the greater praise – the stellar cast or the Elizabethan playwright. And what poetry! It was difficult to leave without feeling that life is a dream in which strange and wonderful things can happen. Love that is persevered can never fail and even the ugliest can be loved.
  5. The last note for the day was by Purcell with his operatic composition “The Fairy Queen” at the Royal Albert Hall. The start was disappointing. The acoustics were poor, perhaps because I was at the far end of the Circle. The lutes and the harpsichords looked all beautiful but could hardly be heard. Only the violins, violas and cellos seemed to lend their sounds. The many coughs and one handphone destroyed any mood that had been attempted. The heat of summer was too much for the air-conditioning. The greater concert was to be seen in the audience fanning themselves with the programme notes. As if these were not enough, a mouse crawled at my feet foraging someone’s half-eaten bag of crisps left open on the floor. He even repeated his cameo appearance after the intermission. Yes, the London of Charles Dickens has moved from the dark alleys of the Southbank wharves to the modern concert halls of posh South Kensington. Progress in London has not been limited to humans alone. The rest of the concert was fairly enjoyable but it was never touching or inspiring. Opera is not my cup of tea. Yet I had to put up with the tradition of a triple-fold applause; and the crowd shall have the encore whether I wish it or not. I seriously wonder if the audience liked it so much or they just wanted maximum value for their tickets with an extra piece.



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