My Last Night in London 

A night at the Opera


I met my niece Meg amongst the thousands of predominately young people in a frenzy of noise, alcohol and aimless meandering. One may question the juxtaposition of “frenzy” and “meandering”, yet to my mind that is the best way to describe it. 

Meg works as a physiotherapist at one of the London metropolitan hospitals in the acute assessment section of the Emergency Department.She has accepted a permanent position till 2018, so is committed to Britain for a few years. 

We had a memorable meal at a Peruvian Restaurant in Covent Garden a stone’s throw from what are arguably two of the main attractions of my materialistic existance: the Royal Opera House and the London Apple Store! Covent Garden is the centre of the Theatre world in London and on this evening, could well have been the centre of the universe. 

Several events took place today in London that drove crowds to fill the streets to capacity: the Annual Head of the River (women) and the release of the Apple watch. Finally there was the other quality that brings every Londoner out of the woods – the sun. I am reminded of the witty song about the English weather by Flanders and Swan “January brings the snow..” which describes weather conditions each month and that for July goes “In July the sun is hot, is it shining…….? No it’s not.”

The Apple Store is as packed as the Tokyo Underground. People are drawn like iron filings to a magnet by the Apple Watch. I have not worn a watch for almost 30 years. Can I resist the temptation?
Back to the Opera at Covent Garden and the Royal Opera House. I had a seat in the front row of the Grand Tier (left) for the opening night of that joyful Rossini opera buffo  ‘Il Turco in Italia”.  It was beautifully sung and the orchestra was more than a match but….. I had attended the same opera last year in Melbourne, the Australian Opera  production directed by Simon Phillips, his staging was  extraordinary, world class, beating the ROH offering by a country mile. The Australian singers not only sang their hearts out, but had been thoroughly coached in acting and had perfect timing in both singing and their comedy acting. The Melbourne  production was set in the 1950s on the beach in a bustling Italian trattoria and coffee shop. Vibrant primary colours and those blue, green and pink pastels so reminiscent of that time. The star was the dark handsome macho Salim the Turk who acted his high camp heart out. An outrageous and uproariously funny, unforgettable evening. In summary though the London experience was  not without its moments and as an opera tragic, I had a great night out.
 

part of Covent Garden market

  

the Crush Room at yhe Opera where you may eat your lobster and champagne at interval

  

the auditorium

  

the modern addition to the Opera house

 

The Last Day in London

It is Saturday. The morning newspapers describe an episode of road rage, appropriately outside the Waterloo Underground station. A male pedestrian attempted to punch and beat up a driver through his car window. The driver accelerated away and knocked over another 2 pedestrians and collided with 3 other cars as he sped away. The headlines attributed the temper tantrum to the ‘heat wave’. The maximum temperature yesterday was 17 degrees centigrade!
This, the final day of my symposium, promises such stimulating topics as “Systemic mechanisms of anti-epilpetic protection” which is the opening lecture at 8am. It can only get better. The highlight of Thursday was ‘Animal models of status epilepticus: persectives on predictability and translation”. Surely I can be forgiven for heading to the Royal Academy of Music on Friday? I made sure that I arrived back in time for the plenary session on “Intramuscular and rectal therapies of acute seizures”.
The opening lecture today was, if possible, worse than I anticipated. The blameless Professor was from Russia with an accent so thick as to be unintelligible. Obviously aware of this impediment to audience understanding, his talk was completely subtitled in English as PowerPoint slides. This attempt at improving communication was sadly negated by content. All the studies he presented were from the 1980s and I have a strong suspicion were the results of his own endeavours when he was an enthusiastic young researcher in the Siberian hinterland 3 generations ago.
By contrast I could quite easily have spent three full days dipping into an amazing summer programme of free recitals, lectures and masterclasses at the Royal Academy of Music. A simply stunning London musical institution. Visit their web site.
In summary and to be brutally frank and truthful, I would have gained much more if I had stayed at home and taken a week to read UpToDate. So what were the take home messages? Firstly that status epilepsy is VERY bad for the brain. The genesis of prolonged seizures is basically still unknown and finally that midazalam is the drug of choice squirted into the nose rather than the rectum.  All points that were not exactly revelations to me.
A few observations on shopping in London. Don’t bother! Windows is better, and I am not talking computers. Bargains don’t exist especially since the fall in the value of the dollar. That said all the iconic streets and shops crawl with consumers. More numerous than date palms in the Sahara, black burkha clad women cut a swathe through their scantily clad young western equivalents, heading to Harrods where they hover around haberdashery before a furtive dash to lingerie. A whole wall of delicate lace G strings confronts  them. They snap them up and like a Model T Ford, they can have any colour they like, so long as it is black.
I am on a never ending quest to buy some “grandpa collar”shirts. I enter one of those shops with loud music playing, bright Hawaii surf shirts, acres of designer sunglasses and board shorts. The alarm to detect shop lifters as they leave in these stores is inavriably camouflaged in wood that is dressed up to look like so much shipwrecked  timber, flotsam washed up on a sandy island.
A young woman sales assistant at the entrance asks me “Can I help you Sir?” The tone of the voice and inflection is not in anyway taken as an offer to help me choose. No it is definitely more of an oblique reference to the fact that I am at least two generations past the profile of their average shopper. Indeed  it is a kindly way of paraphrasing “Good morning, sir, you are obviously rather lost and confused and I am here to help and show you the way out and point you in the direction of Marks and Spencer’s.” 
  

Unashamed iPhone food photos

Birthday coming up?

Happy to organise a cake or two from Selfridges, given sufficient warning 

 I acknowledge that some of you may find these “over the top”. I agree and certainly the little cup cakes on the top of the large cake is taking things a little too far.

Finally 

The Entree at the Kensington hotel restaurant 

 

London – St Pancras Station

In retrospect a conference on the rather specific subject of Status epilepsy (in other words a seizure which persists and does not spontaneously abort) lasting 3 whole days, was not surprisingly, confusing and far too esoteric. It was for the most part very research based with lots of complex slides showing the histology of various brain cells from slaughtered rats or cats. There was much talk on nerve cell channels involving sodium, chloride and calcium.  Again there were multiple mind numbing histological slides of nerve cells. The only fascinating aspect for me, is  that on this occasion, the sacrificial beast apparently was a wombat, specifically the nerve cells and synapses of the wombat epididymus. ( part of one’s testicle) . If only someone could inform these scientists in their ivory towers, that there woud be much less flak from the anti animal vivsectionists if they were to switch to possums.

The Imperial College is an University complex in Kensington and is surrounded by imposing buildings housing museums of every sort. There is a Royal College of Music behind the Royal Albert Hall. The College of Music has a Museum of Musical Instruments. To my grief it was closed for Easter! I was dumbstruck as Easter had passed a week ago. I am far too British to argue or question this explanation and meekly left. 
There is a Royal Academy of Music as well with a Museum and it is open! I looked up their syllabus and to my delight found that I could enroll in “period historical instruments” (the Recorder). As well I could have also taken lessons in the SACKBUT! It has a certain appeal. The head teacher is one Margaret Faultless. So I decided to set out via St Pancras Station, to visit the Academy Museum.
The St Pancras Station has a very special place in my distant memory as it was how I entered London for the very first time, more than 30 years ago. I had, on the first attempt, successfully passed Basic Physician training exams. Some may scoff that it was easier in those days, well I hastened to state that it was not! Dare I say it but the clincal exam at least was much more demanding. Anyway this is a good subject for debate upon my return. 
Be that as it may, I took a year off, what is now called a ‘gap year’ and travelled Europe. I left Sydney and flew to Nepal, India and thence to London. For Nepal it was my third visit, the outcome of an affair of the heart, worthy of another chapter of the book of my life. 
So I was about 26 and I suspect rather hippy in appearance with the mandatory Tibetian jacket and rather longish hair. I was mortified when I was pulled over at Heathrow on my arrival and subjected to a very thorough search of luggage, I recall they squeezed my toothpaste. My body was left ‘intact’, nothing squeezed or penetrated thankfully. What made it all the more unfathomable was that then in the 1970s we, Australia, were in the Commonwealth and so Aussies were privileged to enter Great Britain via the GREEN lane, nothing RED about this young man. It was definitely not British to be cut out from the flock like this as far as I was concerned.
So I took that train from the airport and it arrived at St Pancras Station. A beautiful edifice that reminds me of some of the unique buildings hidden in the hotch potch that is Hindley Street, Adelaide, although 10 times bigger. Hence I revisited this architectural wonder, now a National Trust Heritage site. My very first night was spent in a sort of back packers appartment very near the station. I am sure it no longer exists as the station is overshadowed by modern tall buildings.
Serveral photographs of the timeless facade and building that is St Pancras Station, London, the entry point for my first trip to London all those years ago.
   

       

London Wednesday

 After the almost 30km of foot slogging yesterday, I had a more relaxing day – 12.3km. As I saw all the sights of central London on Tuesday so today I spent time in the gardens. I did end up at Buckingham Palace again. As the flag was flying I assumed Her Majesty was at home. There were at least two Land Rovers parked in the main quadrangle so suspect the children were doing their filial duty and visiting mummy. 

Any plans to upgrade my cycle were seriously set back today as well : at least two years if I stick with carbon and three if moving across to the dark stiff side – titanium. I came across Burlington Arcade and was drawn to the Penhaligon shop. Perfumes by appointment to royalty and then there was the man from Australia…… 
Secondly I booked a ticket to the opening night of the Rossini opera “Il turco in Italia” on my last night in London.  As my financial planner has an alleged heart condition (my diagnosis -he lacks one) I will not be so lacking in Hippocratic qualities to mention money in specific terms lest I make things worse.
I also spent a few minutes in what is the third most popular tourist attraction in London: Harrods. The very first thing Mr Harrod sold was tea! The store is not too far away from its 200 th birthday. Again words cannot describe the excesses of this iconic store . Those of you who have been, know what I mean, the rest of you just need to see it -as simple as that. I have a sneaking suspicion that many years ago David Jones tried to emulate Harrods but failed dismally.
The cost of living in Britain and especially London, as my financial planner would no doubt say, is “heart stopping”! This revelation, added to streets clogged with vehicles and people, again irritates and unsettles me. I don’t think it is that I am tired of London. It was Samual Johnson who said 

Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.’
I think rather than tired I am restless, although the bit about all that life can afford is a moot point.
Wandering through the parks  I came across a garden bench seat with a delightful brass plaque screwed  on the top rung. I was instantly reminded of the sad demise of language education in our schools, specifically punctuation. It read without a much needed comma, 
“WITH FOND MEMORIES OF OUR FORTIETH ROGER LOVE AMANDA”
The hotel has a reasonable gym so I have been working the upper body and core . I am sure the legs are more than adequately worked  out. I also have practiced a few times in the bathroom… My Recorder.!
 
  

the seafood section of Harrods

London Tuesday.

It is a fabulous day. The first day which I would describe as Spring, weather wise . I am booked into the Kensington hotel in Queen’s Gate . It is 5 minutes from the Imperial College,the venue for my conference on Epilepsy. More importantly it is 10 minutes to Harrods. Today is Tuesday after the Easter break and the city is in gridlock. I walk through Hyde Park via Knightsbridge now a rather forlorn shopping precinct with many vacant buildings. As I meander I have a constant feeling that I am trudging on a giant Monopoly board! Prices here are exorbitant so it’s case of “do not pass go, do not collect 2000 pounds.”

At 8am traffic is at a standstill which intensifies the allusion of speed and number of cyclists who weave helmet-less across red lights and between red London double decker buses. Despite the hype I did not at any time have the sense that London is cycle friendly. Moreover there are hundreds of thousands of people which provokes a constant degree of anxiety in me. There are obviously groups of school students not only from the UK but I surmise from the continent. The South Bank called the ‘Queen’s Walk’ is seathing with people of all ages. They are especially plentiful around a giant ferris wheel that takes almost an hour to travel one revolution. The queues to ride on this eye sore on the banks of the Thames snaked for miles. I undertand it is called the “Millenium Wheel”. The name is derived from the 1000 minutes that the rider must wait from time of ticket purchase to time of entering the cabin. So as the time for one turn of the ‘screw’ is about 50 minutes, that equates to waiting in a queue for 20 times the duration of the ride itself.
A smiling and ernest group of obviously British adults attempted to offer me a free pamphlet  with the title : “What is wrong with a liitle discipline?” Quite I muttered to myself, noting that they unintentionally or possible even intentionally, were assembled outside London’s Number 1 tourist drawcard: the “London Tower Dungeon and Torture Chamber”.  Special School Holiday Family Ticket 50 quid! ( 2 adults and 2 children). I eventually decided that the take home message was that if Jesus coped with a little discipline, then it must ipso facto, be quite acceptable indeed mandated, for mere mortals.
I walked some distance today and with my newly discovered iPhone app, here is proof  positive. In summary almost 29 km!  The other confession is that I did not take that many photographs as one has seen postcards of all the cathedrals, monuments and ancient relics that I walked to and around, without me needing to take a picture. However the one museum that I did decide to pay good money to visit was the Churchill Museum and Cabinet  War Rooms. These were the underground bunkers near the Palace and 10 Downing street. Fascinating recreation of the bunker as it was in 1940. 
  
 

Prince Albert Memorial

  

The Royal Albert Hall

  

My attempt at an arty night shot

  

Self explanatory

  

Westminster cathedral and part of parliament