Friday, October 2, 2015

Day 33 - Churchill War Rooms, Four to Eight Restaurant and The Play That Goes Wrong

Breakfast at the Alhambra is in the building across the road. We have a pretty reasonable window from 7:30 to way beyond when we would be wanting to eat. No time for lazing about in London. We take the familiar path downstairs and are greeted with a flash of recognition by the man who’s still the same as on our last stay, of course. He and Hubby greet each other like long lost friends. He even remembers our routine. Hubby the full English, me the continental.  It’s great to be back. The Alhambra feels like our London home, it’s comfortable and good value and in a convenient spot.
Again we don’t leave as early as the ideal I had noted on the manifesto, which was to arrive at the Churchill War Rooms at opening time. To tell the truth I’ve gone right off the desire to go to the CWR. I’ve spent half my life reading military history but kind of put the demons to bed visiting the battlefields in France in 2012. One of my life’s defining moments I suppose. Anyway, Hubby’s driving the enthusiasm this morning as well as the logistics. We are further delayed by an important logistical task. We need to head into Kings Cross Rail and pick up our pre-booked tickets to Portsmouth. This is pretty straightforward using the machines provided and we’re on our way in no time. Did we see that gorgeous ceiling last time we were here? I don’t remember doing so. It’s glorious. Norman Foster seems to have sparked a trend with his roof over the British Museum. This one is like a giant fan vault. I heartily endorse the approach that insists that a train station doesn’t have to be ugly or harshly utilitarian.
We emerge from the tube at Westminster and we experience a miracle. Hubby’s studying the map on his phone trying to work out which direction is which. I on the other hand have a clear recollection of our previous visit and once I confirm the location of Westminster Abbey I know where we need to go.  As we walk away Big Ben chimes. We turn to admire him. Hubby tells me that they use penny's to adjust the timing of the mechanism.
We round the corner and make our way to the CWR entrance. Hubby’s a bit puzzled about where to go. He’s forgotten that last time we were here it was all construction hoardings. We head in and pay our entrance, buy the inevitable guide book, collect our audio guides and make for the first display room. This is mainly information about and video presentations of interviews with people who worked in the CWR during the war. They were sworn to secrecy and so pretty much all of them kept that secret not even telling their nearest and dearest what they were doing or indeed after hostilities had ceased, what they had done during the war.  One lady seems understandably amused that her mother asked her where they’d put her to work and she just told her “an office”. The mother then commented that she knew they wouldn’t give her anything important to do! We move on, listening to our audio guides and peering into rooms or swivelling around to look at things the voices in our head tell us to look at. I tend to listen to the voices between rooms and have a quick look to get out of the way of other people. Most rooms don’t have so much that you need to stand and stare.
As often happens with us in Museums, we tend to travel through at different paces and via different routes as we spend more or less time on aspects that interest us. I spend a good deal of time under the overhead speakers listening to excerpts of famous Churchill speeches. We detour into the Churchill Museum before we get to the Map Room which is by all accounts the most amazing and affecting of the underground spaces.
The Churchill Museum is an award winning display about the great leader’s life. The layout seems to be in priority order. First the material relating to WWII, then they go back to his early life and WWI etc.  There’s many quotes and interactive displays. The quotes are mostly very witty. That’s the thing that I always think of with Churchill. He’s a creature of a time when British verbal repartee was honed to an art and he was a masterful proponent of the craft.  Definitely my favourite exhibit was a touch screen where you follow a time line of classic Churchill wit throughout his life. Oh and I loved seeing his red zip up onesie.
The museum seems quite well balanced and the time flies past as we delve into the material provided. The section about his earlier career is interesting. He switched parties a couple of times which didn’t make him too many friends. Ratting and re-ratting I think he referred to it as. One angle they seem to praise is Churchill’s championing of improvement for the living conditions of the working classes and the poor. It’s an angle I’d like to know more about. I guess the motives don’t matter much, but Churchill was a very strong believer in Empire and one display mentions that he believed that such improvements in social justice was critical to retaining the Empire. The British upper classes have been extremely shrewd in managing issues like that, giving way just enough to keep the people satisfied and maintain the status quo in respect to power. Just an observation. Churchill was certainly a shrewd man.
The displays contain just the briefest mention of Churchill’s arguments with the Australian Prime Minister, Curtin. I was wondering how they’d handle that. They don’t basically other than to say they argued. Australian and British interests haven’t always coincided and Churchill didn’t much care for Australia putting her own interests first at some points during the war. It was certainly a turning point in Australia's relationship with Britain.
We’re happily exploring the museum but keeping an eye on the time. I’m keen to do the London Walk of the National Gallery at 2.30.  Hubby’s more concerned about getting there on time than I am. He’s thinking it’s 2 o’clock so he rushes his exploration of the last bit of the Churchill Museum and the Map Rooms. I’m just taking my time. Museum in the hand still worth two in the bush for me and CWR is not exactly cheap entry. May as well make the most of it while we’re here. The Map Room is amazing but I find I’m not much affected by it in an emotional sense. It reminds me of my Dad quite a bit. The artifacts and equipment remind me of stuff we cleared out of his garage that he’d hung on to for years.
Hubby had gone out and tried to come back in to find me but there were too many people and he was stuck waiting where he was. Now we need to move it and get over to Embankment quick stix. No dramas. We get to embankment and puzzle out where we’re supposed to be. Yep. We’re in the right place and well before time. Goodo. It’s raining steadily as we shelter under the awning and slightly inside the station entrance. Watching the juice stall and people coming and going. There’s a few other people who look like they’re also waiting for the London Walk guide to show up. We all wait in vain. After about 20 mins with no show, we give up. I’m really rather irritated because another half hour in the CWR would have been about perfect. Nothing to do but move on and make the most of our day.
We walk up Villiers Street. I take a detour to have a quick nose around in the entrance of the Victoria Embankment Gardens, where there's a couple of performance spaces but quickly decide to get back to business. I’m the one pushing for something to eat this time. Pret? Hubby isn’t keen. How about Herman ze German? OK. We wander in and adopt our best British queueing ettiquette. 
Hubby doesn’t care what we have. What do I want. Just get a schnitzel sandwich and we’ll share it. We’ve got an early dinner booked.  He pays. There’s a wait. I’m not really paying attention. We sit down with our number at one of the little tables and watch other diners who’ve chosen something quicker come eat and go. Eventually Hubby is summoned to the counter and he’s presented with a large box. What the? He’s ordered a schnitzel with chips and salad. Well, he asked for the sandwich but they must have misheard and he obviously didn’t notice he’d paid two pounds more. Probably because of the drinks he was buying as well. Never mind we get stuck in and share it. It’s all very nice and filling, but it’s really chewed up more time than I’d hoped.
What next? We um and ah and then decide we’ll walk over to the half price ticket stand in Leicester Square and get tickets to the Play That Goes Wrong for tonight if they have them available. This goes smoothly and Hubby sits down while I stand in the long queue. There’s a few newly opened shows I wouldn’t mind seeing but they aren’t coming to the half price stand as yet. Tickets in hand we resolve to head home for a nap. We have a sad history of finding it hard to stay awake after a long day sightseeing. This is definitely a time for remembering the adage “less is more”.
Best laid plans and all that. The ticket queue has sadly eroded our rest time. Half an hour’s quick kip will have to do. Our reservation is at Four To Eight, modern Italian right next door to our show venue, so that’s convenient.  Let’s get right down to business. We’re shown to our seat by a slim, pretty and heavily accented young lady who enquires whether we are going to a show. We have plenty of time and we have an option of the pre-theatre menu or the a la carte.  It’s a coincidence that my selections all come from the pre-theatre. Hubby’s from the a la carte. Cut to the chase I win. Easily, which is a surprise.
I’m not really into fish that much but none the less I go for the ... here is where we pay the price for being slack on the night and tardy in the catch up. We have no notes and they’ve changed the menu. Sigh. So what we do know now is that my fish – which we’re sure is mackerel fillets, was great. I’m not that into fish so it was a surprise to me that I enjoyed it so much. There’s a beautiful balance of flavours and textures on my plate and the tissue thin violet coloured crisps are delectable.
Hubbys large tortellini was full of a beef ragu. Nice, but not in the running against the fish.
Mains – Hubby had the trofie which is an egg free form of pasta and tonight is also served with a beef ragu. The waitress tried to warn him that they were very similar dishes but he was not to be deterred.
He’s in the mood for pasta.  I’ve played it safe with the confit duck and mash. I win again. Hubby’s assessment. His meal is a bit samey overall. So our waitress was right to warn you wasn’t she. He wishes there was more pasta options on the menu.  My duck is OK but to me if seems a bit dry. Hubby thinks it’s delicious. He finishes it off when I’ve had enough. Oh, our side of polenta chips were light as a feather with a salty tang.
Dessert – I’ve noticed stone fruit on the menu so that is the end of my deliberations. English Plums with Zabaglione. This is my first taste of zabaglione and it seems a lot like raw sponge cake mix before the flour! It’s a good match but I think I would have enjoyed it more if the plums had been sliced into more manageable mouthfuls.  Hubby decided to go for an iced dessert that had meringue with it. Yeah, that’s the best I can do on what it is. I think I won that round too. I take the hat trick. 

Our desserts are finished, we’re just waiting for Hubby’s cappuccino. And waiting. And waiting. A couple of separate times people come and enquire of us and then go to chase the missing beverage. It makes no difference. In the end we’ve had enough of bad service and request the bill. Then more waiting while we have them remove the charge for the cappuccino that never arrived. They clearly think we have enough time remaining to wait some more. Yeah, stuff it, we’re out of here. Not impressed. I want a leisurely entrance to the theatre not a stressful last minute dash. Overall our meal hasn’t taken long, but it’s been a bit disappointing really.
We head fairly smartly into the theatre. Our seats are up at the back of the stalls, but as the lady on the ticket booth noted before selling them to us, it’s a pretty small theatre so even the rearmost seats are very good. 
Before the curtain rises there’s cast members going through the audience calling a dog that is apparently in the cast but missing. They faff about seemingly putting the finishing touches on the set. I won’t divulge more here other than to say that the descriptions I have read of The Mouse Trap meets Monty Python are spot on. This is physical comedy in a murder mystery setting. It’s a fun evening of silliness.
We have an interesting time figuring out how best to avoid walking on the homeward journey. It’s probable that basing ourselves somewhere in the theatre district might have worked better considering our itinerary but not to worry. We’re happy at the Alhambra.

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