The D&O Diary is on assignment in Europe this week, with the first stop over the weekend in London. When I arrived at my hotel on Saturday morning I learned for the first time about the Friday night terrorist attacks in Paris, which had taken place while I was in transit. Since the primary purpose for my trip was to attend meetings this week in Paris (to which I planned to travel next after leaving London), these developments certainly put my trip plans in an entirely different and unsettling light. I spent most of my weekend in London trying to decide whether I should travel on to Paris from London or just return home after the weekend.
While I wrestled with these issues, I went ahead with my London weekend. Saturday in London, it rained. Actually, that is not quite right – it poured. So Saturday was very much of an indoor day. I started off with a visit to Harrods, in Knightsbridge. Apparently, the Christmas shopping season in London is very much underway. Harrods was mobbed. I stocked up on coffee, chocolates, and other treats in Harrods’s famous Food Hall (see first picture below), and then moved on to Fortnum & Mason (the royal grocer), in Piccadilly, which was also packed. Both stores were gaudily decorated for the holidays (as shown in the second picture below, at Fortnum & Mason). After the store crowds, it was a relief to head to Hatchard’s, London’s oldest book store, next door to Fortnum & Mason (see third picture below). I found a quiet chair where I read parts of several books while I dried off and recovered from the crowds.
On Saturday evening, I was back on Piccadilly for a concert at St. James’s Church. The London Lawyers’ Symphony Orchestra was performing pieces by Glinka, Sibelius, and Tchaikovsky. While I did not know any of the orchestra members, the friends with whom I attended the concert knew many of them. The musical selections were ambitious and the orchestra played with feeling and warmth, in front of a friendly and appreciative audience. I have to say, it was quite a lot of fun. Afterwards, many of us retreated for some Indian food, which was something of a triumph in its own right.
On Sunday, the rain was replaced by gusty winds. Out of solidarity with the people of Paris, Beirut, and Nairobi, I decided to attend Sunday morning church services. I chose to go to St. Luke’s, Redcliffe Gardens, in West Brompton, not far from my hotel. The congregation attending the service was surprisingly diverse. The service itself was very informal but also very long. I found the prayer for forgiveness, healing, reconciliation, and peace quite moving. However, I confess that I left before the service had concluded.
I have been to London many times before, and one thing I love about the city is its endless variety. Every time I visit, I seem to discover something new. On this trip, my new discovery was the canal district just north of Paddington station (first picture below) known as Little Venice. At the center of the area is a wide basin where the Regent’s and Grand Union Canals meet. Walking along the canal towpaths, it can feel like you are a million miles from the hustle and bustle of London’s crowded central city. After a lengthy stroll along the canals, I met a friend for coffee on Portobello Road, in Notting Hill (as shown in the second picture below). Portobello Road is a market street lined with antique shops, used clothes stores, and book shops. It was very lively on Sunday afternoon, and the people-watching was first rate. After our coffee, we strolled to Kensington Palace, at the west end of Hyde Park (as shown in the picture at the top of the post). By 3:15, it was already starting to get dark. It was fully dark by 4:30. November may not be the best month to visit London.
On Sunday evening, I joined some of my friends from the concert the previous evening for a pub crawl that started at The Pembroke Pub on Old Brompton Road (first picture below), where we watched the Philadelphia Eagles playing the Miami Dolphins while we enjoyed a pint. We then moved on to The Bolton Pub, at the corner of Old Brompton Road and Earl’s Court Road. For some reason, the Bolton Pub’s sign says “Since 1892,” though the pub has been there only for a couple of years after it replaced the Irish pub previously at that location. We then walked to the Earl’s Court underground station and took the District Line train one stop to the West Kensington station, which is adjacent to the Famous Three Kings Pub, where we watched a European Championship Cup rugby game between Ospreys and Exeter. Then we took the train back to Earl’s Court, for final stops at my two favorite London pubs, The Prince of Teck on Earl’s Court Road and The King’s Head Pub, tucked away on Hogarth Road. I have pictured several of the pubs below; I re-took these pictures in the daylight as the nighttime shots didn’t turn out very well.
Our pub crawl had a discussion topic. Over our pints of ale, we discussed what we might attempt in life if success were guaranteed. The initial suggestions involved learning to play the piano or writing a novel, and then moved on to more outlandish proposals, such as competing in the lottery or finding the elixir of eternal life. As the pints consumed accumulated, the suggestions grew more ambitious and worthier, including such possibilities as finding a cure for cancer, stopping terrorism, or instituting world peace. While this discussion amused us for a time, the conversation took a decidedly more serious turn when the topic changed slightly, to ask what we might do if failure were guaranteed. At first, we were silent, but very quickly we realized that the suggestions if failure were guaranteed started to sound exactly the same as our highest level suggestions made if success were guaranteed. We were startled to discover that the preferred possibilities remained the same regardless of the likely outcome. What had started out as an amusing pastime discussion topic managed to produce a rather profound revelation (or at least so it seemed after several pints of ale). I suspect this may have been the most philosophical pub crawl in West London for a considerable time. Perhaps Friday night’s events in Paris had made us more reflective.
All weekend I had been pretty sure I was going to go on to Paris. Somewhere between the Sunday morning church service and the Sunday evening pub crawl, I made my final decision to go. On Monday morning, I took the Eurostar train from St. Pancras station in London to the Gare du Nord in Paris. My findings on arrival in Paris will appear in a blog post later this week.