Saturday morning, I did something I’ve probably only done once or twice in the last 20 years. I woke my husband up. He is an early riser and usually doesn’t even need an alarm. Even when we travel, he quickly acclimates to local time and wakes up before 5:30, pretty much in his own. I, on the other hand, am a late sleeper when given the opportunity. But this time I woke up first and early and got ready for the day before waking him up at about 8:30. The match was at 1:30, so we didn’t have much time for touring Sunday morning.
The Ashburn had a continental breakfast as a part of the room rate, so we took advantage of that. Typical continental breakfast–fresh fruit and juice, cereal, breads, cheese and deli meats. I had a yogurt packaged in a glass jar, very nearly the best yogurt I’ve ever had. Maybe it was because of the glass jar. Once I had sheep’s yogurt on Kangaroo Island in Australia. I’ve never had any that lived up to that. The breakfast at the Ashburn is set up in a pretty little room in the basement, many tables for two with white table cloths, and high windows through which you could see ivy hanging down from a trellis, swaying in the breeze and to the Vivaldi playing in the breakfast room.
We had decided to tour the Royal Albert Hall that morning. Albert Hall is a music venue built by Queen Victoria in the mid-1800s and named for her beloved husband, Prince Albert. The Royal Albert offers a “Grand Tour” that leaves every half hour during the morning and early afternoon as well as an architectural tour and a “Secret History” tour. Those tours are run less regularly, so the choice was easy. Before we came, we researched what was playing at Albert Hall hoping to maybe find a performance we could attend. Unfortunately, the only thing that we saw playing over the weekend that did not conflict with the Arsenal match was on Saturday afternoon and night, a screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark with a full orchestra playing the score live. We’ve learned that after a long flight and with the time change, we’re usually not up for anything that involves sitting in a dark, warm room.
We walked from the Ashburn down Cromwell, past the Natural History Museum. A long line had formed at the Natural History Museum of people waiting to get in when it opened. When I’m in England, I’m guilty of reverse nationalism, attributing only positive characteristics to the English. Everyone is nice, smart, funny, even their swearing and bad behavior seems polite, and their drinking seems harmless. So when I saw people lined up to get into the Museum, I thought, “Isn’t that great–all these people who want to go to a museum. You’d never see that in Chicago!” Then I laughed at myself, for the last time I went to the museum in Chicago, people were indeed lined up to get in. (Then it seemed a bother, and not great at all.)
We arrived at Albert Hall, bought tickets and waited 10 minutes for the tour to begin. Our guide was Andrew, and he had that particular tour guide lilt. “Hello, my name is Aaaandrew, and I’ll be your toooooure guide. This is a very big groooooup, but we’ll make it wooooork.” Andrew was a wonderful guide; you could tell he loved his job and knew everything there was to know about the Hall and how it was built and all the luminaries who had performed there. There is a large commissioned collage created by Sir Peter Blake, the pop artist who designed the cover of the Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, where the tour begins that shows more than 400 of the people who have appeared and performed at Albert Hall. Andrew went through many of them while we waited to go into the Hall. The Hall isn’t only a concert venue, but has hosted tennis matches, basketball, the Cirque du Soleil.
The day we were touring, the Hertfordshire schools were preparing their biannual gala in the Hall, and when we got to the upper level, absolutely beautiful choral music could be heard in the hallway. We were allowed to sit in one of the boxes, the one owned by the Earl of Spencer, Princess Diana’s brother, to watch the rehearsal. When the Hall was built by Queen Victoria there wasn’t enough money to complete it so boxes were sold for £1,000 each, with a lease of 999 years. When the owner chooses to attend, they may, but the rest of the time, seats in the box are available for public purchase. The box owner receives a check at the end of the year of the reciepts, minus expenses of upkeep.
The production being rehearsed involved an enormous choir of more than 1,400 children and an orchestra that appeared to be comprised of teenagers. There was also an actor who helped tell the story of the Wicked Lady, a Herdfershire legend, who was a subject of the production. The title of my post is a line he delivered in one of his soliloquies. A director was walking the singers and orchestras through the songs, his image projected on a giant screen behind the children. We had been put on notice that we couldn’t take photos with children in the Hall. I turned my phone upside down and took this one, blind, of the mushrooms hanging from the ceiling to improve the acoustics.
We also got to see the Queen’s box, two boxes that had been made into one. Andrew told us that the Queen’s box has special rules harkening back to Queen Victoria. There is to be no food or drink in her box, no dancing, and those in the box are required to be dressed up. He showed us a photo of Nelson Mandela standing in the box. He must not have been apprised of the rules or simply didn’t care to follow them because he wasn’t wearing a tie and he had jumped up when the performance began and started dancing. Queen Elizabeth is standing next to him in the photo. Andrew said that she got up when he did and swayed a bit, but as Andrew noted, she didn’t look very happy. Andrew showed us the place where a staff member enters a key that produces a red light to signal the Director that the Queen is seated and the concert may begin.
All through the hall are photos of performers the hall has seen as well as some royal paintings and photos.
When we left I had some regret that our many drive-by visits had allowed us to see much of London, but not to fully experience them. I suppose it is always true that you leave a place that you visit with things to go back for.
Someday, I would love to experience a performance at Albert Hall, where artists have turned old poetry into new songs–and back–for more than 150 years.