Thursday, June 01, 2006


Second diary extract from 31.5.05
Copthorne Hotel, London Gatwick, UK

Buongiorno, Londra!

Had a lovely breakfast here at the hotel – at last plenty of fresh fruit was available. So I had that, salame and toast. Thought I’d leave a “full English” till Thursday morning – a last one.

Oh, god! I am in the bar and they are playing “Moon River”.. “Two drifters off to see the world” – Simi and me!

Then got the 09.30 courtesy coach to South Terminal, whence the Gatwick Express to Victoria. (Bought 2 tickets, one for today and one for tomorrow, which allow me to use the G Ex and zones 1 and 2 underground all day.) I had previously determined not to venture out to Pinner [where I used to live] or anywhere connected with sadness.

My first port of call was “Books for Cooks” (where else?!) Had a tea and a muffin there ( this despite the fact that I had had breakfast!- Well, it’s been my tradition for several years on trips to London and I see no reason to change that routine now!) To my disappointment they had no new “BFC” collection out and I had to limit myself to one paperback. So bought an interesting little tome about the food of the Papal courts through the centuries.

Stopped at the “Spice Shop” for a packet of Garam Masala to take with me, then browsed in the “Travel Book Shop” where I stopped myself buying anything at all! I even passed on a luscious looking specimen entitled “Palaces of Sicily”!

Decided to go to Westminster, my idea, as it was a nice day, being to go on a river cruise. But coming out of the underground there was Big Ben opposite me looking particularly lovely in the sunlight, as was the Abbey and I decided to have a wander. I duly wandered up to Trafalgar Square and on the way, saw the Cabinet War Rooms signposted and remembered hearing on R4 that they had been moved back to their original location and that the exhibition had been improved. Decided to visit it on the way back. I was amazed at the number of police around, even given today’s high security requirements and didn’t realise why they were there till later.

At Traf Sq., I said, “Hello, Nelson, me old hearty. You’re cleaner than I remember but don’t you get fed-up up there?” Then wandered along the Strand in search of a link machine , found a hairdresser and booked a blow-dry for 12 pm tomorrow.

On, then, to Covent Garden as I needed an M&S: my black petticoats are either packed and at sea or have been left behind somewhere! Having bought a replacement and needing to sit down for a bit, I had an ice cream at an outdoor café in CG. Yet again, what is wrong with this country? Why can’t you get a simple ice cream that is not smothered in an unnecessary sauce? Actually, when it eventually came, after a good 20 minutes – how long can it take to dollop chocolate sauce on an ice cream, for god’s sake? – it wasn’t bad. But I’d still rather have had a nice, flavourful ice cream in itself. Then I noticed the girl was telling people who only wanted a drink and not something to eat that they would have to trudge up to the second floor! How welcoming is that?! I could have understood it had the place been full, but it was not. In a French or Italian establishment such as this, you can have anything you bloody well want anywhere on the premises you bloody well want!

Somewhat refreshed, I wandered back through St James’ Park, part of Horse Guards being closed off, and then I realised why; a full-scale rehearsal for “Trooping the Colour” was in progress – hence the strong police presence. It was very pleasant to watch this from various vantage points in the park and the atmosphere was good as people had not expected this treat. It would have made me proud to be British if I weren’t a republican!

Got to the War Rooms and they were very interesting. You really got the sense of danger and claustrophobia down there. There were sound effects, too, and the audio guide was very informative. I couldn’t help wondering what old Winnie would have made of the cheerful chappie in the gift shop who, putting a CD on as I left, announced,"Oooh, I think we’ll ‘ave some more raids now, luv”.

Finally I decided to pay my respects in the Abbey, which I’ve only ever rushed around before. Got in on the last admission at 15.45 and briefly greeted Elizabeth 1 and Mary 1. Strange that they should be entombed together. I hope they are reconciled now. I hate walking on tombstones: poor, forgotten people. Yet I hope that our footsteps give them some comfort, for even though we didn’t know them or of them, most of us would not be there if we didn’t have a sense of history. What I really went there for came almost last; a “goodbye” to the poets who have so influenced my life: a special farewell to Tennyson and of course to Browning, dear poet of Italy, my “land of lands” and “open my heart” man. I also had a special few words for Dickens, the king of effervescent prose.

I did not leave without lighting a candle: I’m a terrible one for the sentimental gesture! Italians,in particular, understand the need to do something physical in remembrance sometimes. To my down-to-earth friends I do not apologise. I think it is entirely appropriate that Mum and Dad, for whom I have lit candles in places of beauty all over Europe, and who loved London, should have a candle burning for them in Westminster Abbey tonight.
Present day note: "Why are you writing so much about London on a site that is meant to be about Sicily?" you may ask. Well, as I said, it's to do with the time of year. This is how I felt and what I did two days before my departure and it is the way I chose to bid farewell to my country.

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