August 20: my last full day in London
Tomorrow morning it's early rising and heading for Heathrow and a long flight. Today, my last scamper.
Just about the time I left the hotel this morning it began to drizzle and soon I had to get the umbrella out. By the time I got to the Serpentine cafe, it was raining steadily with a strong wind which would have made staying dry impossible. So I went inside for a second cup of tea. The cafe was full, probably partly because of the weather, and I read a bit while drinking the tea. After maybe thirty minutes the rain tapered off, so I mushed on. The clouds began breaking apart, though they never fled, and we had only scattered sunshine and a very strong wind until 3:30 or so.
I walked past through the Wellington Arch and along Constitution Hill Road toward the Admiralty Arch and then Trafalgar Square. I stopped in at the Mall Galleries, toward the eastern end of the Mall. The exhibited work was all considered crafts rather than fine art, though I don't know that I make a big distinction. A woman name Sarah Core had some really beautiful pottery on display, and there was a group of very nice "paintings" by a name I can't fully remember--something like Amiramahdi. The artist applied watercolor to fabric, for a kind of hazy, washy look, then stitched the lined details in, like someone drawing with black ink on watercolor washes. Very nice work.
Just past the Admiralty Arch, a woman with two boys and a map in her hand stopped me to ask directions. At first I thought she was speaking French, but it was Spanish, so once again I was able to use some Spanish conversation. She and the boys were wanting to see the Horse Guards, but couldn't quite place themselves on the map in order to get there. It took me a minute too. Then I sent them down Whitehall Road rather than on the back side where the stable is, because I wasn't sure if they could walk there and because I remember seeing Horse Guards in their stations along Whitehall. So I hope I steered them right.
By this time I was ready for morning snack, and the nearby Pret had no seating, so I went back to Costa Coffee inside Waterstone's bookstore. While there I did a couple of drawings of other patrons along with my green tea and croissant. Then--yes, yes, don't yell at me--I went downstairs and looked at some of their poetry again. And yes, yes, I bought a tenth book for this trip--a poetry volume on display, by a poet I've never heard of: Quennets by Philip Terry. It looks very interesting, and I think I will take it on the plane with me, along with Roberto Calasso's skinny book on publishing. I also had an interesting talk about poetry with one of the sales crew who came up to put some books on the shelf. She said she had majored in poetry at the university.
After the bookstore I had a quick lunch of ham and chips while standing in the uncertain sun at the square. People were coming and going everywhere; a man with a bicycle whose front wheel turned right if you turned the handlebars left and vice versa was challenging pedestrians to ride it from one chalked line to another (no one succeeded); and there was a big stage near Nelson's column getting ready to perform for London Jesus Day.
Then I went to the National Portrait Gallery, to get out of the wind, to do some drawing maybe, and to see portraits. One of the most interesting aspects of the museum right now is their juxtaposition of paintings from the past with contemporary paintings in the same vein--for instance, recent writers alongside portraits of writers long dead or twentieth century military leaders in the same gallery with kings or other war leaders from the past. I sat and sketched my own version of the portrait of Seamus Heaney, and a couple of rooms over a "bouquet" of busts, displayed together on a couple of circular surfaces. I took a few photos too, posted at Facebook: the British humorist Jonathan Miller, the novelist AS Byatt, the author and painter Mervyn Peake, whose Gormenghast is such a fine work.
I went back to the National Gallery and browsed some more and snapped a few photos, including one of a tiny (4x6, I'd guess) painting of the wall of a house in Italy (by Thomas Jones?), and had afternoon tea at the very busy Pret-a-Manger right near St Martin in the Fields church. Zillions of classical recordings have been done there (if I have my facts straight), and they have a really cool crypt with lots of burials in the walls and a cafe. I stood outside the church for a few minutes, a little bit blocked from the wind by a pillar, and drew a sketch of the little plaza scene there.
We were still having what I call scattered sunshine, but it was very very blustery and chilly. So I worked my way back through one street or another till I reached the "western" Marks & Spencer on Oxford Street and had an early supper: yep, jacket potato and apple. My final Marks & Spencer supper for this trip. The clerk at the cafe had already seen me enough to remember me and what I ate, so I told him this was my last supper before going back home and thanked him for their taking care of me while I was there.
On the way back to the hotel I detoured and went into Piccadilly Station so I could make sure about the various Heathrow Express departure times in the morning. And then on to the hotel. Packing things up, organizing what's packed, you all know that routine!