The Eaton Diary of London    2001  

Earnest at Savoy

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Monday, 9 April

You know how some days just stand out in your memory. Weddings, funerals, special birthdays, graduations, baptisms and the like. Well we've had a few outstanding days since arriving in London, and by all accounts today had 'red letter day' written all over it from the outset. Speaking of Baptisms, it's interesting also, how that theme keeps coming up. Our Baptist background again seemed to play a significant role as our day unfolded.

I'd had my baptism of fire a couple of weeks ago at Chalk Farm School, but today we were looking forward to a resurrection of sorts. We were eagerly anticipating the visit of some familiar and friendly faces of folks from home. Deane and Margaret Woods, friends from Edwardstown Baptist Church, flew in to Heathrow this morning and we arranged to meet them in the beautiful hotel that was of a part of their airline package. What a treat.

We arrived in the hotel foyer at about 3.30pm, having given them time to unpack and rest after their long flight from Australia via Singapore. We called their room, but finding them out, we decided to enjoy a cool drink with peanuts and olives in the ground floor bar, as we waited for their return. Margie availed herself of the restroom facilities and reported that, after our recent experiences, it was such a delightful restroom that she felt she could have happily lingered longer, enjoying the refreshing surroundings. Fresh and clean, light and bright, refreshing and fragrant, are not concepts that have sprung to mind lately - and certainly not in reference to restrooms.

This was especially brought home to me just this morning, when I witnessed how the contract cleaners of our building remove the rubbish. On each of the 4 floors in this old Nurses' hostel, bins lined with plastic garbage bags are provided and are supposed to be emptied every weekday. Today they were removing the weekend's rubbish. I observed the cleaners dragging 20 or so big plastics bags of rubbish down our stairs, spilling all sorts of rubbish as they went. 'Charming!' I thought. They did come back and mop the stairs a little, but the stains remain on the foyer carpet. Having come from that, imagine our delight as we sat in the hotel foyer, awaiting Deane and Margaret. They joined us before long for a joyful reunion. They seemed rested enough to tackle a little of London's delights, so we planned to really make this a red-letter day. Deanne was celebrating a significant birthday, so we had to make it memorable, and London and the Eatons weren't about to let him down.

A Chicken and French Champagne dinner with silver service, and London cab to the Savoy for some extraordinary theatre would seem appropriate for a man of Deane's status and station. Well, we did our best at short notice and came very close. The chicken, we managed, because Deane and Margaret had picked up a hot chicken at the local supermarket. The Champagne - well it was a party of Baptists after all, so orange juice from plastic cups 'borrowed' from the airline did the trick quite nicely. As for the silver service – well the service was excellent, and plastic bags on our laps in the hotel room worked just fine. The meal tasted just the same anyway, and we didn't even feel obliged to tip the waitress. So far so good, our evening's celebration was going well.

Having booked 4 seats at the Savoy to see Patricia Routledge in Oscar Wilde's 'The Importance of Being Earnest', our next trick was to get there. London cabs are so efficient and reliable, we thought 'How boring is that - we need something memorable for this red-letter day.' So we headed for King's Cross Tube station to give Deane and Margaret their baptism of fire. Thirty minutes to go just 3 stops and short walk through Covent Garden Markets to the Strand should be tons of time, and it would give them a taste of the real London that we have grown to love these last few weeks - Tube stations!

We headed underground, following the signs for the Westward Piccadilly line. The platform seemed unusually crowded, but we found some space and waited patiently. Shortly the silence was broken by the all too familiar announcement, 'Due to a security alert at Gloucester road station, we are experiencing serious delays on the Piccadilly line. The next train is expected in 10 minutes.' Margie starts thinking a London cab is looking really good, but we've bought the tickets now, and Deane and Margaret need to experience London underground. We wait and eventually a very full train arrives. We've subtly moved ourselves closer to the front, to give ourselves a fighting chance to get on. Some hot and bothered passengers force themselves off the train, including one brave musician with his double bass, so that gave us some hope.

All four of us manage to get in the doorway along with many other hopefuls. The driver is very helpful, because he announces that 'due to the security scare, another train won't be coming for at least ten minutes, so if you want to go anywhere, you'd better get on this train now'. So another hundred or so try to get on. Margaret in particular is beginning to question the virtues of this system, which is now so dear to our hearts. There was one saving grace. A young Japanese man was willing to sacrifice his place on the train, to help all of us get on. He had obviously experienced the professional pushers who spend their lives pushing bodies onto similarly crowded trains in Tokyo. He graciously used all available hands, feet and hips to push as many butts as he could through the closing doors. Deane just managed to duck his head to ensure all essential parts made it safely inside. Baptism symbolises death to self, and this certainly felt like it.

I was reminded again of that cute children's song I'd done with the Junior Primaries at Craigmore about a baby sardine who encounters her first submarine, and is comforted by her mother with the delightful line, 'It's only a tin full of people'. Sardines and submarines have already become familiar images for us seasoned Tube travellers, so I was pleased that Deane and Margaret could witness that I wasn't making it all up, and that they could share in this classic example of 'a tin full of people.'

I suspect we'll only get Margaret back on a Tube train between 7 and 8 am on a Sunday morning, but we did all survive and made it to Covent Garden station by 6.55pm. The box office was holding our tickets until 7pm, so I ran on ahead following the 'A-Z' to the theatre on the Strand, and Margie led the way for the others, asking directions where necessary. (Asking for directions! - now there's another story we'll need to pursue sometime later.)

With tickets in hand and reunited with the others, we proceeded into the lavishly appointed, intimate Savoy Theatre. The empty seats filled up surprising quickly and the curtain rose. From the outset, we all enjoyed the experience and the performance. The baptism theme kept recurring however, with the play's amusing references to the adult christening of the two young men, and the passing references to dangers to one's health, if one were to receive more than a mere sprinkling. This has been proven, it seems, by the 'morbidity among the Baptists'. With this fresh in our minds, the curtain fell for Intermission. As if on cue to heighten the dramatic effect, the four of us fully immersed Baptists, were singled out to receive a special sprinkling between the Acts. We had joined the crowd in orderly lines up the Dress Circle steps to purchase some refreshments, when suddenly the four of us were liberally sprinkled with a refreshing shower from above. We quickly looked heavenward for some sign of this baptism's significance, only to see a very embarrassed young lady fretting over her liquid refreshment now spilt over the balustrade above us. Our spontaneous reaction to this unexpected blessing was uproarious laughter. We just hope that it doesn't get out that Principal Dr Woods and party, whilst in the midst of a diligent quest into the matter of being earnest, received a symbolic sprinkling from on high, dispensed by an unknown female celebrant in the Savoy Theatre, London, and that just hours before the close of his sixth decade. If you hear any such rumours, be sure to let everyone know that Principal Woods’ position on Baptism has in fact not changed, and he is not starting any movement known as the ‘Savoy Blessing’

The memorable celebrations continued through the rest of the performance and back to the hotel, where Margaret W continue to promote the Baptism theme by insisting that Margie and I should feel free to avail ourselves of their lovely ensuite facilities and follow our previous sprinkling with total immersion in a lovely hot bath. (Discretely of course.) You see, it had come up in conversation that the boilers in our Hostel had broken down and we were now in our 5th day without a hot shower. We were not sure whether her kind offer was for our sake, or for their sake and all the others who were forced to invade our personal space in that 'tin full of people.'


All in all, another memorable day.


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