No Chance of Reform

Monday, April 28, 2014 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Day 7:  London, UK

After a solid ten hours of sleep, we awoke to the challenge of visiting London's Reform Club, the real place where the fictional character Phileas Fogg made the wager that began his trip around the world in 80 days.  When we appeared at the club door at 104 Pall Mall, the doorman was no more impressed with our claim to circumnavigate than Fogg's comrades were with his boast.  In our case, there was no entry to this very exclusive bastion of London's privileged, though Ken made a valiant effort to secure an invitation.  ("But sir, we're friends of Phileas Fogg!")

It was clear that no amount of pleading or begging would get us in the door, so we moved on to our other critical task of the day:  dumping some of our excess clothing.  Around the corner from the RC, we located a post office, whose personnel were a bit more accommodating that the club.  We mailed two packages of clothing back home, high fiving and fist bumping our way back to the streets of London, knowing we had just dropped a total of about six pounds from our backpack weights.  What were we thinking?

"Yes, we understand the contents are worth less than the postage."
With our newfound freedom, we strolled over to St. James Park to seek a letterbox planted last August.  Unfortunately, it was hidden under a bit of bark at the base of a large tree in a busy, well manicured public space.  We saw no trace of it.  We looked around for places to plant a box of our own, but like three years ago, we found no hospitable letterbox home in the city. 

Near St. James, we stumbled upon the daily 11 a.m. changing of the guard ceremony at the Horse Guards Parade.  Catching the end of the ceremony, we chanced into the perfect spot to see troops head out from the parade ground toward Buckingham Palace.  
Never a smile is seen on duty.
Horses used by the Royal Horse Guards are called Cavalry Blacks, a crossbreed of Irish Draft and thoroughbreds.  Most stand well over five feet, four inches tall and are predominantly black with some white markings.  The horses are purchased in Ireland and Wales at three years of age and undergo a year of intensive training to be steady on parade and accustomed to dealing with large crowds and heavy traffic. 

Hole in the wall deli with great food
After watching the horses' controlled cadence, we walked over to Whitehall, greeted Big Ben, and continued north past Downing Street and Trafalgar Square and toward Leicester Square.  Along the way, we found Gaby's Deli on Charing Cross Road.  Gaby's was founded by an Israeli immigrant in 1965 and stands alone as the West End's single independent restaurant.  A framed poster in the restaurant depicts a 2011 newspaper article about the restaurant's rescue from the brink of extinction by theater goers and actors when the property owner threatened nonrenewal of Gaby's lease in favor of a chain restaurant.  The Middle Eastern foods displayed in the window drew us into the homely but cozy diner, where we enjoyed a reasonably priced, full-flavored meal.

Later we scouted the neighborhood a bit more—for a place to plant a letterbox (still a bust) and for a place to buy some supplies for breakfast.  Heading back toward a large supermarket we had noticed on Regent Street earlier today, we glanced up a side street and saw a Whole Foods Market.  A Whole Foods Market!  After convincing ourselves we were not hallucinating, we visited this palace of healthy foods, just 0.3 miles from our hotel.  The store looked very familiar, including many products Whole Foods sells in the U.S., and was extremely busy.  The friendly cashier informed us that WF entered the London market in 2007 and has expanded to seven stores.  Not only were our breakfast issues solved, we filled plates from their food bars for dinner as well.
Tom Conti (L), and Robert Vaughn in Twelve Angry Men   space 
As wonderful as our post office experience was this morning, we had to agree the highlight of the day was this evening's outstanding theatre performance of Twelve Angry Men at the Garrick Theatre, just a short walk from our hotel.  In 1950s New York, closing arguments and jury instructions have just been delivered in the case of a young black man accused of killing his abusive father.  In a straw poll taken when the jury retires to deliberate, all jurors except one vote guilty.  This lone dissenter, portrayed brilliantly by renowned Scottish actor Tom Conti, plants seeds of reasonable doubt, causing other jurors to reconsider their convictions and examine their own prejudices.  The remainder of the cast was excellent as well, including Robert Vaughn, the intrepid TV spy of the sixties, now typecast as an octogenarian.  The tension among jurors was palpable, and the audience was easily consumed with the drama until the electrifying end. 

Seeing a British production of a play set in the U.S. afforded us a new and interesting perspective.  We found ourselves complimenting the actors' authentic American accents.  In fact, the locals sitting behind us were convinced that Tom Conti had to be American.  Vaughn was joined by only one other American actor in this production. 

Tomorrow, we'll fly to Lisbon for a few days before continuing south to Morocco.
Enjoying the spring weather in Leicester Square
Spring has arrived in Golden Square.