Monday, July 30, 2007

Trip Report: London Theatreland

No poker this weekend, as I'd whisked K off to London for her 30th birthday treat.

We eschewed the budget airlines and perils of the Stansted or Gatwick Express, or the bus from Luton, in favour of BA flights from Glasgow direct to London City Airport in Docklands.

The early afternoon flight had been subbed out by BA to Titan Airways, and their cosy BAE-146 was only about a quarter full.

The sparsely populated aircraft, and a friendly and attentive crew - complete with requisite attractive blonde stewardess - lent the flight a pleasingly indulgent feel, reminiscent of the 'Catch Me If You Can' era.

It wasn't enough to completely relax K however, and her fingerprints on my tightly squeezed thumb bore witness to a few bumps and jolts as we climbed through the clouds to our cruising altitude.

Dermot Desmond - prime shareholder in Celtic - recently sold London City for about £500 million after buying it for £25 million just a decade previously.

Which bears testimony to the remarkable growth of what is a brilliantly convenient arrival point into London.

Departing from the plane, we boarded a small bus to whisk us the short distance to the arrival hall. There was a very short delay, as a member of the ground crew collected an unaccompanied minor from the plane.

The 'minor' in question was a dusky girl who looked like she had Mediterranean or Middle Eastern roots.

Almost as tall as me, and dressed in designer jeans and tummy skimming top, she ambled across the taxiway, laconically chewing on her gum. Painted nails, makeup, and jewellery completed the image.

Minor and staff member boarded the bus alongside K and I, which gave me the opportunity to do some snooping at the clipboard clasped by the ground crew.

I mentally shuddered, and filed the info away for later discussion, as we were rapidly deposited at the arrivals hall. Our bags already waiting on the belt.

A 200 yard walk took us to the Docklands Light Railway station, located within the airport grounds, where a £4 ticket was enough to transport us into the centre of London, and onwards on the tube system.

Having left Glasgow at 12.30pm, we were checked into our hotel near Tottenham Court Road, by 3.00pm.

As the DLR train clunked it's way through the East End - taking us past the Millennium Dome (now renamed the O2 Dome) - my thoughts strayed to one of my favourite movies, The Long Good Friday, and I wondered what Harold Shand would make of the new landscape of Docklands. It probably matches his vision rather well.

I quizzed K about the unaccompanied minor. What age did she reckon she had been? 'Sixteen?', speculated K. My own guess had been fourteen. The clipboard told a different story. Twelve!

Is it really only ten years until we can 'look forward' to the you're not wearing that/going there/staying out that late type debates that the outward persona of our fellow traveller hinted at? My mind is still boggling!

We spent the remainder of Friday and most of Saturday pottering around the sights, shops, and bars of Soho and Covent Garden. Doing the usual touristy stuff.

The 'main event' of the weekend was K's choice of Joseph and The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, starring reality TV show winner Lee Mead.

Two good seats having been procured as a side benefit of booking flights with BA, we found ourselves sitting behind a couple who appeared to be the proud parents of one of the kid's chorus, judging by their frenzied waving prior to curtain up.

She was glamorously dressed and had hair somewhat bigger than that you wish to be seated behind in an old fashioned theatre, but I was willing to forgive her that, given the obvious excitement and pride she was emanating.

He was a sort of cross between Pierce Brosnan and Frankie Dettori. I could see how they ended up with a kid on the stage!

I'm not so passionate as K about musicals, but I was converted by a previous trip to see Chicago at the same theatre, and generally enjoy them.

My mindset is more from the 'here we are now entertain us' school of audience participation, but I have to say I was blown away by the first half of the show. K agreed the second half dragged slightly, and the ensemble numbers could have done with some tighter editing, but on the whole it really was an amazing show.

Of course it always helps when there's some eye candy on display, and while K was ooohing over the loin cloth clad Lee (a man who has definitely been on the protein shakes recently) I was admiring the female narrator, whose stunning voice was matched by her looks. Happy days.

Afterwards we retired to the Nelly Gwynne pub directly next door to the theatre. Football on the TV, a brilliant heavily early 90's oriented jukebox, friendly bar staff, and reasonably priced (by London standards) booze, made for a great way to round off the night. So we stayed for quite a while.

The pub is under threat from property developers. Sign up to Save The Nell. Even if the steps to the cellar toilet are a challenge of Everest proportions after a few pints.

Role reversal moment of the weekend. Me enthusing about musicals. K avidly watching the darts on TV. That's what drink does to you!

Sunday was very much a lazy day, which ended with return flights from City Airport - a flight option I'd definitely recommend for visiting London. The only blot on their copybook being a scandalous £3.80 charge for a pint of Becks.

The last time I paid a comparable price for a drink, an extra £20 was enough to persuade an Eastern European Cameron Diaz (circa Something About Mary) lookalike to gyrate her scantily clad body within inches of my nose. No such services are on offer at LCY.

The flight back was busier, yet still only about 65% full I'd reckon. The check-in staff obviously had a sense of humour - depositing us in a full row with a third person, while the row two behind remained empty. Grrr.

All in all, a very nice weekend, made all the merrier by the absence of a toddler to drag us from our bed at an ungodly hour.

By Sunday evening we were both eagerly anticipating seeing her, and were greeted by a joyous explosion of bouncing, smiling and waving, as we made our way up the path to the house. All of which abated within a few minutes, as a comforting normality was resumed and a return to early mornings and work beckoned.

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