I live in an English market town, similar to dozens of others, large enough to have a good range of employment opportunities and amenities, but small enough to avoid most of the scourges of today's big cities. Every now and then, however, I feel the urge to plunge into London and replenish myself from its abundant if slightly hazardous waters.
Taking the train to London, and then the tube, my first stop is the City for the walk down to the river and across the formerly wobbly bridge. It is of course a shining reminder of the perils of engaging fashionable architects, but it gives access to a magnificent view of the south facade of St Paul's amidst the jumble of City buildings - so many new since I worked there in the 80's.
There are a lot of people wandering around for a workday, some purposeful but others totally relaxed, quite a lot of men are wearing a smart suit with an open collar and no tie. Is this the new office fashion, or is it a nod to casual Friday ?
Crossing the bridge leads conveniently to Tate Modern in time for lunch, where both food and service are surprisingly good for a public institution, although it seems expensive, but then again in London everything seems to cost so much that it is hard to tell the difference between normal and expensive. Unfortunately there is not enough time to look at the pictures, although the crowding suggests it might not be a very pleasant experience in any case, but there are a few minutes for a shufti inside the Turbine Hall to admire its brickwork and the exposed frame of I-beams. There is something noble about it, as so often in buildings designed rigorously around a narrow purpose.
The afternoon's entertainment is 'Comedy of Errors' at Shakespeare's Globe. I saw this once on TV and was not greatly impressed, but it is a completely different experience when you are standing right next to the stage, and for the first time I find myself laughing at the Tudor jokes about twins being mistaken for each other. Being open to the elements inevitably means you get wet when it rains - Is such a degree of authenticity really a good thing ? and it also means from time to time the actors have to compete with the non-Elizabethan noise of helicopters going to and from the City. All in all, it is a very intimate arena, and for me the play works very well, as the cast ham it up almost in Morecambe and Wise style.
Intellectually refreshed, it is time for a brisk walk back over the bridge and across to Piccadilly via Fleet street and the Strand, to get some Japanese cakes at the Minamoto Kitchoan, as snacks for the train ride home, before meeting up with an old friend from University days. We find a quite pub in north-west Soho which a couple of hours later is jam-packed and incredibly noisy. This seems to be normal for central London, I suppose there are no quiet pubs there on Friday evenings, but it does not matter because it is time to move on to the evening's entertainment. This is the rock band Porcupine Tree, supported by the Swedish band Paatos. On the way in my bag is searched, presumably for drugs, and I wonder what they will make of some of my stuff - the wine from M&S for the train-ride home, the bottle of aspirin and codeine, the pork pie. However the search is barely cursory, and after being asked what is in the package with the Japanese writing on it - answer Tsuyaguri - I'm waved through. Paatos are playing and are quite good, and while Porcupine Tree are on stage Paatos stay in the bar to sell their CDs, sign autographs, and chat to their fans - but mostly chat to each other because it is cruelly obvious that the fans are only here to hear Porcupine Tree. The main show falls into two halves, firstly an hour of new material that we are told will be the basis of a new CD, followed by a second half consisting of favourites from the current CD going right back into the past. There is a good atmosphere, with the crowd alternately singing along and listening in respectful quiet.
Finally it's the last train home, with banter from a group of people on a birthday outing arriving at 2am in good humour to ride the bike the final leg of the journey home, tired but excited.
© steve_roberts 2007