I spent Tuesday to Friday last week in our over-heating capital. The purpose of my visit was the conference mentioned in the title but I also found time to do a few other things. The title of this post is a little misleading - this part will talk about London and the second part will discuss the actual conference. So...here goes.
Me being me, I got myself worked up into quite a state before I left. My first 'job' was meeting the lovely Laura (@HistorianLaura on Twitter). We had a late lunch at Pizza Express which I thoroughly enjoyed. Nice and easy conversation with someone on my wavelength - perfect!
That evening I was fortunate enough to have a cheap theatre ticket. I've wanted to see Merrily We Roll Along since I heard Jenna Russell had been cast and Maria Friedman was directing. Thanks to a last minute deal I found myself in the second row of the stalls gaping up at the stage. What a performance! Sondheim is never easy and you really have to concentrate - especially with a show that moves backwards - but the production was gorgeous and the acting sublime. Clare Foster and Jenna Russell's versions of 'Not a Day Goes By' were probably the highlights for me but 'Old Friends' was up there too, along with 'Franklin Shepard, Inc'. Now, here's the thing. On the performance I went to the role of Charley was taken on by the understudy, Matthew Barrow. I wasn't going to comment on his performance at all because it was the embodiment of what I felt Charley should be. He was outstanding, particularly in 'Franklin Shepard, Inc', which requires energy and a certain connection with the audience. Jenna Russell's Mary also needed this and there was no doubt she succeeded. I know Sondheim isn't for everyone and the woman sat beside me asked what the hell was going on at the interval. But, for me, it was a perfect first Sondheim for me and I'm grateful I managed to land a ticket I wouldn't have otherwise been able to afford.
On Wednesday morning I had a few hours to kill before the start of the conference. So where better to spend it than the Charles Dickens Museum on Doughty Street? I did get told off by one guide for not lingering to listen to her rehearsed introduction but, really, I knew enough about Dickens to proceed without help. It was a wonderful little house and I thoroughly enjoyed looking round. I also had an excellent chat with another guide about my PhD before I left. Then I went down to the cafe and had a cup of tea in the back garden. As you can see from the pictures it was a gorgeous day out there.
After I'd finished my tea I inevitably stepped into the shop. As well as a keyring, I bought the book and postcards below. The postcards are just beautiful and, really, anything that mentions Wilkie Collins I can thoroughly justify...right? I do love Hesperus books - I always get the sense they're lovingly created.
For now I'll skip over Wednesday afternoon and all day Thursday and skip straight to Friday. I had to go to Foyles to pick up a Proms book for my grandmother. Naturally, with the music department being on the top floor, I got a little sidetracked as I progressed. I'm sure the saleswoman thought I was a bit mad: a Proms guide, a self-editing book, a Katharine Hepburn biography and a Stella Gibbons novel? Well, I'm certainly varied!
My next shop was The Tea House in Covent Garden. I've recently gone a little nutty on loose leaf tea so I decided to indulge my new obsession and I bought the below teas. I've tried all of them. The Moroccan Mint is luscious, light and still lovely. The Tutti Frutti smell nearly knocked my socks off but thankfully the taste is less intense. However, it's the Calming Tea that looks like wood-chip that really astonished me - because of the ginger, I think, it has a little kick to it making it, remarkably, the tastiest of the bunch. Also, the prices were extremely reasonable and they should last me a while. I've got no reason not to be relaxed with these in my possession!
So that was the so-called 'fun' part of proceedings. I'll tell you almost all about the conference tomorrow...