By Friday, August 15 we were tired, to say the least. Partying past midnight after a work day ending with a recital: not for the faint of heart. We took our time in the morning, assembling a small group of friends to spend the morning at Victoria & Albert Museum, one of the best-loved free sights in London. We’d come to London with a long list of possible fun and had quickly trashed the list. We didn’t take a night-time bus tour, we didn’t try to get tickets to the ballet, we didn’t step foot inside any of the major landmarks. We were still holding out to get Proms tickets for Saturday night, but that was it. We even ended up scrapping our Friday night ambition, to hear a live jazz pianist in the Royal Albert Hall Italian Kitchen. We didn’t see London like most visitors see it, but by the time we left it we felt that we knew it on a very satisfying level. Still, it seemed a shame to come and go without a single “cultural experience,” so we hopped on a red double decker around 9:30 a.m. and crossed town with three companions.
The Victoria & Albert Museum was completely overwhelming, as anyone who’s been there will know. We flitted quickly from room to room on the first two floors, covering a lot of the exhibits of the Far East, Asia, and the Middle East. We saw some Renaissance sculpture and some Enlightenment-era sculpture and managed to venture far enough onto the third level to see a bit of Georgian England (including the Handel statue), a phenomenal room full of jewelry, and a massive exhibit of stonework, some dating from the Roman era. By then our feet were tired and our eyes had seen their fill and we abandoned the last two-thirds of the museum, heading north on foot to Kensington Gardens & Hyde Park. We wandered through it, stopping at a cafe by its lake for some light lunch or snacks, eager to rest our feet. I really enjoyed the Hyde Park gardens and told myself I’d find time to come back to them on Saturday morning during some downtime.
Like magic, the predictable afternoon rain started right as we were descending into the subway to cross toward Southwark. And thus ended our brief moment of tourism. At Southwark we grabbed some more lunch from Borough Market and set to work for the afternoon. It was Mike’s one day off, in which he was playing no part in the service besides that of a chorister. I had only to conduct the Smith Responses and the anthem, Gerald Near’s Salve Regina. It was nice to have the pressure off a little.
After Evensong we offered to anyone in the group our unwanted reservation at the Italian restaurant, and left alone, leaving behind our heavy bags full of work, hand in hand, looking for rest and quiet. We were exhausted and missing each other, after a week of endless company. We talked about the work behind us as we sat on the river’s edge – about our colleagues and ourselves and how we’d grown through the week, about the patient and good-humored choristers, about our own strengths and weaknesses and how we saw them developing, about our high points and low points throughout the week. It was a perfect chance to decompress and prepare for a good ending to the week. On our walk along the river, from Southwark to the London Eye, we saw all kinds of interesting things, most notably a collection of gangsta-looking boys, break dancing “gangnam style,” ringed by a large, delighted audience. This, too, art in its own way, and a pleasure to watch. After taking the tube back north, we stopped in at the tiny Tesco Express near our dorms and assembled yet another bread-and-cheese-and-wine picnic, which we enjoyed in our room.
One funny aspect of this week bears remembering: One morning I plugged my hair dryer into our power adapter. Most days I’d just styled my hair wet and gone about the day. When I plugged it in the whole thing sparked and shut down. Not knowing whether I’d damaged the appliance, the adapter, or both, we didn’t attempt to use either again. Later we borrowed a friend’s adapter and systematically charged our various devices in our green room at Southwark as we worked. Eventually we figured out that our adapter (in fact, even my hair dryer) were still working, but we’d blown the fuse in our room. From then on we settled for using the power in the kitchen down the hall whenever we wanted to Skype the kids from our computer. The computer’s battery was too weak to handle Skype predictably without crashing, so it made things quite complicated for the remainder of the week.
Friday 15 August, 9:45 p.m.
This morning we took a bus to Victoria and Albert Museum with BS, DH, and SM. Lunch in Kensington Gardens/Hyde Park and down to work. After Evensong we had a lovely, quiet, beautiful time strolling and sitting by the Thames, getting from Southwark to the Eye of London as sunset and night fell. Now we’re eating dinner of bread and cheese and wine after a hello to the kids. We miss them so much. Tonight was a perfect, satisfying sampling of London all alone at just our pace.