I am, after all, here to work. That’s what I thought to myself yesterday with two days of working, not poking around London ahead of me. I had to remind myself, because I might be rather taken with this business of wandering the city, and although I failed in my mission to go to a pub last night (the jetlag got me. I made one pathetic attempt to find Laura when I came in around seven- discovered her already out, and then promptly knit two rows on my shawl and fell asleep. Party animal.) I had decided yesterday, should it not rain, that I might be ready for a coffee in a cafe alone. (I’m a work in progress.) Instead, I found myself sighing over my breakfast, reminding myself that I am here to work, and resolving to be cheerful about it. Turns out I should have been way more positive, because my day was really, really great – despite the work. (Is it possible that everything is fun if you’re in London? I think so.)
First up, meet the London publicist in the lobby for tea and go over the plan. I have many interviews scheduled this day (along with one the day of arrival, and I can’t even remember what I said on that one.) There are knitting magazines, then a lunch with the UK distributor and publisher, and then three back-to-back BBC interviews (one of them Live, how terrifying.) First though, we will troupe over to the hall where I’ll be speaking, find Gerard and Craig from iknit, and do sound check and get the lay of the land. The day, Claire-the-UK-publicist assures me… will be fun and easy. Somehow, it turns out that she is right – though mostly about the fun, rather than the easy. First up…this is the space I’ll be speaking in today. Lindley Hall. I don’t mind telling you that when I saw it, some element of me said “Well. I won’t be doing that.”
I broke it to Gerard and Craig. I don’t think they believed me.
From there it was lunch (gone to lunch in a London cab, very neat. Four seats facing each other.) right next to the opera house, and then off to the interviews, all of which were charming, if harrowing. (I admit a special fondness for the interview with Laura from Let’s Knit. She’s a knitter, and I always get on better with knitters. I held her sock. We understood each other.) After all of the interviews, I found myself in St. Marylebone (assuring Claire that I would be entirely fine if she left me there) within striking distance of The Button Queen – but after 5, when they close. (A thousand curses. My last chance to have buttons for Hey Teach for today… thwarted.) I was briefly sad – and then made the most of it by walking back to my hotel in near Vincent Square, rather than grabbing a cab. It was definitely the slower way, but by far the better one. With my map clutched in my hands, I went down Regent Street, across Oxford… past hundreds of fancy shops.
I took a turn down Swallow Street, really no more than an alley, but filled with restaurants with real furniture out to sit on, chesterfields, chairs.
At the bottom of the street, starting onto Piccadilly, the promised rain appeared. First what Joe would call a drizzle.. just dampness hanging in the air. Then a light rain, and then the heavens opened and it poured with a violent wet sincerity. Everyone in London pulled an umbrella out of nowhere (where are they keeping them?) and their mushroom tops in all colours were everywhere, marching along. Me, I had my raincoat, but nothing more, so I ducked into a doorway to wait for the worst to pass, sharing my map (and terrible french) with a clutch of Parisian teenagers who had the same thought as I did. “Le Palais?” they asked me, gesturing in the general direction. “Oui” I said, and showed them the road to Buckingham Palace on my little map. They laughed then, and said “Vous êtes Canadien!”
“Oui” I said again… “how can you tell? Comment pouvez…” (my french failed me entirely there.) and they burst out laughing again. “Le bruit d’un canard” I think they said then, but for sure I caught the word “Canard”…. for duck. Sigh. All I said was “oui” and they pegged my nationality. They fled, giggling and waving into the rain, and I stood there then in a doorway for Lloyds of London, and peered around at everything. I looked across the way and saw a grand building. Beautiful, with statues and carry on all over it, and big words inscribed metres tall across the top. Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolours.
And that’s just what London is like. I wish I could take a picture of a feeling, because I can’t convey to you what it’s like for every moment to be like this, it isn’t a good thing found here and there, long walks between sights…
It is a constant wonder and awe. You can tell the difference between me and Londoners because they aren’t falling over cracks in the sidewalks as they read the tops of buildings and take pictures of everything they see. I wonder how long it takes to build immunity?
I kept on down the street, turning south (?) onto Queens Walk (?) and took the path along the backs of grand buildings, headed for St. James park, I thought.
I took breaks to peer down lanes and examine the architecture of grand houses, letting my curiosity have free rein.
I read the inscriptions on sculptures…. read signs…
At the end of the walk I looked around, and suddenly realized where I was.
Buckingham Palace, looking toward the big statue of Queen Victoria and the statues of Victory, Constancy and Courage.
Surrounding this are three gates, the gates of the Dominions- Australia, Africa and Canada. Naturally, I went to the Canada Gate. (I happen to think it is the best one, and I’m confident that I’m properly objective there.)
It inspires something in me, though I’m not sure what. Something that goes beyond knowing all the words to God Save the Queen, seeing her on our money and noting the presence of our Governor General. Seeing the Canada Gates invokes all the history of my fine country, and how much of it – our history, system of government, money and tradition all stem largely from this place.
I dodged traffic then, crossing to the front of the Palace, and peered up at the windows. My grandfather, Lt. Col. James Alexander McPhee, was the Queen’s Press Agent in Canada, and he walked in this place, dined with the Queen, was knocked over by corgis. The flag was flying, so I know the Queen was home, but I didn’t see her, but I stood there in the rain, thinking about all the times he reminded me of my manners, saying “Careful now, or you’ll never be invited to the palace” and I remembered how as a little girl, I thought that was an entirely possible thing.
The rain reverted to a drizzle, and I walked along Buckingham Gate road,
eavesdropping on conversations in at least 4 European languages – wondering if the £2 I had in my pocket was enough for a pint, and gradually making my way back to the hotel – thinking this all the way.
Every time I see something beautiful here, I think “Oh look. I’ve found the most charming thing in London”, and then I take another step and find something more. This city is like a jewel box. It may only hold charms, and you might never see all of them.
I love it here.
Off now to speak at iknit. Nervous as all get out.