By Briane Nasimok
(TOTNES, ENGLAND) – First, for anyone who missed the previous chapters, as part of a Festival of one-person shows, I accompanied five other Canadians (all women) to Totnes, England, an amazing community that is twinned with Narnia. I’ll let you make the leap from there
After two nights in London and seven evenings at my Festival lodging, what I believe could be referred to as a “F and F”, floor and futon – four of our party, got back on the train to London, a three hour and five century trip.
Train travel in the UK is amazing. I was fortunate enough to be advised to buy a first class ticket, on-line, so not only did I get a “deal” on the price and a comfortable, roomy seat, the refreshment trolley came by three times during the trip.
I wasn’t exactly certain what was being offered free of charge from the cart. Neither was my seatmate, a former BBC producer who had travelled this route before.
Tea and water were definitely complimentary and so was the fruit I found out, after she obtained an apple. She also asked for a received a biscuit – so I did the same and followed that with a pear. All the food groups covered!
But the man across the aisle was stopped when he thought that the cheese sandwich he picked-up, was part of the deal. It wasn’t.
I liberated a pair of water bottles before we disembarked at Paddington Station and I awaited the rest of the team to join me. Being first class means you get off at the front of the train, fancy that.
On assembled, the troupe parted company as we were all staying in different areas of the city. Fellow thespian Marj and I tempted fate on the Tube and Tracey and her mom opted for a taxi.
The London Underground transit system is a wonder. Clean, usually efficient but there are a few improvements that could be made – like air conditioning, more elevators and working escalators, air conditioning – especially as we were travelling during a summer heat wave.
Dragging a suitcase and a backpack through this consistently, crowded system, is more of an Olympic feat than a commuter adventure.
One transfer and six staircases later I arrived at Victoria Station, allegedly a five minute walk from my accommodation. I think that measurement was given in Fahrenheit.
For the last three or four years I have done a majority of my travel booking through hotels.com and have been happy with the results. I even received a free room night for being such a loyal supporter.
This trip, however, my lodgings in London weren’t exactly the best – no fault of theirs.
To borrow from a very old joke – my first hotel room was so small – how small was it? – it was so small I had to go outside to change my mind.
And the Grange Rochester Hotel wanted to charge for Internet – five pounds for thirty minute I believe!
Luckily I found a phone booth on the street, two blocks away, that offered free WIFI and my cubicle and I had a lovely, two-day relationship.
Had I actually read the not-so-fine print for my second hotel, the Georgian Bower House, I would’ve realized that I was booking a room that came with a map to my shared washroom. Silly, cost-conscious me.
I thought that maybe room 25 would be on the second floor so I wasn’t too worried when I discovered there was not lift. But as this is a house, really two houses adjoined, my little chamber was a mere six flights and 81 steps away from the lobby.
At least there was free WIFI in the room.
Enlisting the help of their on-call Sherpa to lug my bag upstairs, when he passed by a washroom two flights before my penthouse lodging, he suggested I use this facility for showering.
When I saw the washroom that was a mere 22 paces from my hotel room door, I observed why he made the suggestion.
The removable showerhead had been removed from its casing and the coupling unit was broken – meaning that I would have to use one of my hand to guide the stream of gushing water.
And as the closer facility was in constant use that first day, I did shower there.
The tour of my room lasted about 20 seconds – which included pointing out my central air – also known as the open widow that faced the street.
This room seemed a little bigger than my first lodging and had a double bed that even allowed my feet to rest on the mattress.
But there was no time to waste. I had places to go – first to my old hotel, some ten blocks away – to reclaim my toiletries bag that I had left there a week earlier.
And then it was off to dinner and the theatre, with a quick stop by my old WIFI phone booth, to reminisce.
Nicky, a local graduate student and a future theatrical power-to-be I believe, had gotten in touch with Smile Theatre, to inquire about our programming. (I am President of the Board of this great organization that takes live musical productions to homes for the elderly – please check it out on-line)
She will be coming over to the New World in September and I had corresponded with her about our organization – and somehow arranged to meet with her for dinner and the theatre.
Nicky had stood in line earlier that morning, while I was enjoying a piece of train fruit, and obtained two seats to one of the hottest shows in London, “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night”,
Yes, the seats were in the theatre, but strategically placed so we could not see all of the stage. Nicky took the poorer ticket in the balcony while I was in the lodges seated behind a gentleman who I believe had received the second runner-up title, as Guinness’ World’s Largest Head.
The theatrical piece was dazzling and I hope to see all of it when it crosses the Atlantic.
Day Two I set out relatively early to the TKTS discount ticket booth in Leicester Square with a short list of shows I wanted to see. I arrived an hour and a half after it opened and discovered one of the titles on my list Stephen Sondheim’s “Merrily We Roll Along” was still available.
Totnes performing pal Marj had Facebooked me that she wanted to join me at the musical but was nowhere to be seen, so I got into line.
The Sondheim show had a relatively unsuccessful theatre history compared to most of Stephen’s work. Eighteen months ago I saw it for the first time in New York at an “Encore” Production – costume, lighting, small band but some of the performers still carried their scripts as learning all their lines was optional.
I had since bought the original cast CD recording (for you younger types – a CD is a disc that you buy from a store and put into a player or you laptop) and I knew the score quite well – although some of the songs had changed since that first production.
I obtained a single ticket, M17 centre, for a mere 29 pounds, a savings from the regular 59-pound price and was quite proud of myself.
I found another free WIFI spot and checked my Facebook. Marj had slept in and asked me to buy a ticket for her.
The WIFI spot was right next to the Harold Pinter Theatre, home of the production, which boasted the most five star reviews in London theatre history. I noticed a sign that informed the public that at 10 am front row seats went on sale for a discount, so I formed the line and waited two minutes.
Ten pounds later I had front row centre. A conundrum. Who gets what ticket?
Being the honest chap that I am, I decided we would split the costs and the seats. I would take one act up front and Marj the other.
I returned to my free WIFI spot and messaged her the good news, arranged to meet her at 6:30 that evening and headed out to the Tate Modern, what looked to be a mere 30 minute walk. Not so.
Let me say of all the museums I visited, including Canada House, the Tate impressed me the most. And like many of the state run museums, it was free.
After lunch with Harris, a bright, young, recent graduate lawyer and a colleague’s son, fish and chips of course and dinner with David Shore and ex-pat who is doing wondrous theatre in London, it was back to Leicester Square to find Marj.
The place was packed and both of us were late and didn’t connect until each of us found a free WIFI spot to dialogue.
Marj hadn’t eaten so I joined her for a beverage while she dined. Her bankcard was rejected so I fronted her the “poundage”.
“Merrily” was a good show but somehow I enjoyed the New York Production better (they used projections to set the stage when they journeyed back in time).
On the way to the tube we visited two bank machines to settle-up, but neither would give her access. I was leaving the next morning so I withdrew some cash for her and gave her most of the British currency I had not yet spent.
I had decided I would tempt fate and a heart attack and take the tube to Heathrow the next morning, so I only needed five pounds for that.
Returning to my room to pack I discovered that my favourite hat, was missing. It had vanished. I’ll put that on the comment card.
For some reason I Googled “transport from Victoria Station to Heathrow” and discovered a bus that went non-stop from there to the airport for a mere six pounds.
A taxi would’ve cost over 50.
The morning of my departure came earlier than expected due to the traffic outside my window so after my bag made its way to the ground floor and a brief five minute drag to the Victoria Bus station I obtained my ticket and boarded my relaxed, air conditioned transport.
Less than an hour later, I disembarked at the Heathrow bus terminal, picked up my bag – took an elevator up a flight and with never a stair in sight, I made my way to Terminal 3 and International flights.
Returning with an exquisite bottle of scotch from duty-free, orange chocolate flavoured Kit Kat, some Earl Grey tea of course and my “Totnes twinned with Narnia” tee shirt, I boarded my Air Canada flight to return home.
Thank you United Kingdom, I shall return. Maybe not to Totnes, though.