Thursday, July 18, 2013

Mind the Weasel, My Mom was My Date to Proms, and Other Stories

Track 7/17: Elliott Smith: "Biggest Lie"
Track 7/18: Richard Strauss: An Alpine Symphony

I departed Dalkeith bright and early, and wrestled my 50 pound suitcase and 30+ pound backpack down 2 flights of stairs in order to then walk up the somewhat lengthy drive (at a slight incline) that leads out to the entrance of the estate. Goodbye Dalkeith, you're beautiful and everything, but I'm sorry things just didn't really work out between us...
 I wasn't entirely certain the driver was actually coming as I could not for the life of me understand the guy on the phone the night before when I booked the 7 AM taxi. I thought that he said something to the effect that I was 'all set' but I really couldn't be certain... A car did arrive at 7:03, and I can't tell you how relieved I was! I had an 8:30 train, and while I arrived about 20 minutes before they even posted the platform my train would leave from, I already needed the rest from wrangling the luggage from the car. So I sat on a bench and people-watched for a bit. As soon as it was posted I booked over to the train as I wanted to be sure I could fit my massive load of luggage in the tiny baggage area of my car. The ride back to London thankfully took half as long as the journey to Edinburgh and I arrived at King's Cross by 1 PM! Of course I then had to wrestle the bags through the station, into a gated bathroom (having to pay 30 pence for a bathroom is irritating enough, but that meaning one needs to squeeze through a turnstile with an entourage of baggage to enter the bathroom after 5 hours of travel is simply cruel), and wait in a line to add a week to my Oyster card all before finding the taxi queue to get a ride to my B&B. It must have been a slow day for that cab driver because I'm pretty sure he did several unnecessary loops around different areas on our way to my destination to rack up a £30 fare. It certainly would have been quicker and cheaper to take the tube, but I didn't think I could manage the luggage on the tube, or more importantly on the walk from the stop to the B&B. FINALLY I arrived, and there was my mom standing at the door! (Okay, look, these past few days have been especially trying, and capping it off with another exhaustive morning of travel was making me cranky to say the least, so if I shrieked out 'mommy' and ran for a hug I feel I deserve no judgement).

A view out of the window where 'visitors' might enter
My mother was apparently having her own trying morning waiting for me to arrive. After flying to London on her own (despite an intense fear of flying), her car was not waiting for her at the airport as it had broken down, when the driver did arrive he argued with her that she wasn't waiting where she should have been (although she was exactly where they told her to wait when she called the company), and following her miserable ride she arrived at the place we booked where the proprietor would not let her have our room until we were both there. SERIOUSLY?! So she had been trying to nap in a chair in the living room while this woman flitted around the house. Come to find out, we didn't really have a room as she overbooked. Her plan was to have us stay in her room (with one bed) and have me use an air mattress on the floor... but of course the air mattress was broken. The worst part was actually that the room was 3 floors up a TINY winding staircase, and by the time you arrived, what with the current heat wave, it was all you could do not to pass out from heatstroke. I can't say I was looking forward to bringing the luggage all the way up there, but I wasn't given that choice as she insisted the bags should stay in the living room overnight until our actual room was vacated the next day. Bringing the bags up was then a real fun time as she supervised so as to make sure we CARRIED them and they didn't touch the walls or drag on the carpet. She seems to greatly enjoy hovering over everything you do. There are certainly a lot of rules at this place. And it is hot. There is no air conditioning, and she doesn't believe in fans as they just 'move the air around' (yes, that is the point), and the most amusing of all, we are not allowed to leave our windows open in our actual second floor room when we go out as she thinks "visitors" will come. I didn't exactly know what she meant by this, I thought maybe there was a wayward pigeon problem, but that actually might have made sense - no she expects that thieves will scale the front facade of the building like 30 feet in the air, in broad daylight, in full view of all neighbors and passerbys, and come through the second story windows. Right. I've tried at least leaving the shades down so that the room doesn't bake while we're out during the day but she comes in and opens them. Nothing like coming home to a bright sunny oven. We are also not allowed to have any food in the room so my cache of Cadbury must stay well hidden in my suitcase... and then when I do eat it in the room, I then have to stuff my pockets with wrappers and packaging to get rid of outside, Shawshank Redemption style. What can I say, I'm a rebel.

Wednesday evening we escaped our jailer and went out and ate at a pub called the Argyll Arms, then started our shopping and hit a few Oxford Street department stores. I'm so happy to be reunited with my shopping partner, London shopping is really a team sport, and now I have my doubles partner to conquer this city with. We returned with our first collection of shopping bags and rested up for the excursions we had planned for Thursday.

Weasel Voyage
We packed our Thursday with a couple of pretty awesome activities, the first of which was a trip out to Old Spitalfields Market. We're staying over in Parsons Green, and it was quite a far ride out to the stop nearest the market clear on the opposite edge of London, but Thursday is antique day at the market and we were determined to find treasures. We soon narrowed in on our targets, my mother's a taxidermy starling in a small square glass fronted case, and mine an adorable little taxidermy stoat. We finished out the market and had some lunch before returning to make our purchases, but my stoat was gone, and it did not take much prodding for my affection to quickly transfer onto the stoat's larger friend at that table, a gorgeous antique German taxidermy weasel. It was so much bigger than the stoat... but I was not leaving this weasel behind. He was tied up in a black garbage bag, and off we went. Unfortunately, that meant carrying him back to the station which was a ways from the market, and then holding him, while standing on the tube the entire trip back as it was especially busy, and I had to keep glaring at anyone who came in range of bumping into me in the packed car as I was holding my rather large precious cargo whose nose and tail I did not want harmed. Mind the gap? Forget the gap, mind the weasel or I'll push you into the gap. We rode all the way back to Parsons Green and hiked back to our lovely B&B, where I ignored her curious stares at my oddly-shaped parcel. This was when we were tasked with hauling the bags up to the second floor (it was soooo hotttt) and then trying to remain alive and not reduce ourselves to pools of sweat so we could change and get ready for our evening activity.

Then we were off as I'd been planning for months to attend the world's greatest classical music festival: Proms!!! Proms (the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts) is a summer-long schedule of classical music programming held in London, and the day that tickets went on sale in May I made sure to snap up a pair; there were a lot of concerts that I wanted to go to but I was at the mercy of what I knew about my schedule here at that point so I thought I'd be safe with a date during mini-break. We rushed off to South Kensington to make our way to Royal Albert Hall to attend Prom 9, and the experience was certainly not disappointing.
Photo Credit: / Bjarke Johansen
Prom 9 featured the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under the baton of Thomas Søndergård. The BBC National Chorus of Wales and tenor soloist Michael Weinius were also on hand to lend their voices. BBC NOW were just so incredible, and Søndergård is one of those conductors that is really fun to watch, but not so distracting as to take away from the gorgeous sound that he's achieving from these talented players. Now, if you ever have the opportunity to hear a performance of An Alpine Symphony, GO. The Alpine journey that Strauss takes you on is so beautiful and the performance by this orchestra truly brought the sunrise and meadows and storm to life in such an exquisite way. Of all pieces this was certainly one of the most ideal to experience at Proms. The Vienna Philharmonic played it for Prom 75 last year which I'm sure was okay (yes, yes, more than okay, that's the performance in the video I linked to at the top of the post, it is beautiful but definitely slower that BBC NOW's which had such intensity, and come on, VPO still only has like 6 women in the entire orchestra - I'm not a feminist, but still... ). I have a feeling my orchestra will not ever have the numbers to attempt this work, have the chance to hire a dozen offstage horns, or get a hold of both wind and thunder machines so performing it probably won't pan out for me, but the BBC NOW performance was so powerful that it's close enough! I cannot say enough about their brass section, they were all amazing, strings still have my heart, but the brass players of BBC NOW are really something special. This was also my first Royal Albert Hall experience and it is such a cool structure and aesthetically impressive. While it is famous for over 130 years of terrible acoustics, the renovations in 2004 tackled this issue and I did not notice any of the legendary echo that used to plague this venue. The organ is massive, boasting 9,999 pipes (second largest in the UK) and it was neat to see. Overall it was just like a fantasy to attend a concert there. You're not allowed to take pictures here, but again, rebel, so after the performance was over I tried to snap a few quickly, so they are terrible photos but I'm posting them anyway.

And now for some professional shots to make up for my hasty ones: 

Photo credit:
Photo credit: Chris Christodoulou

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