BY ANN RENNIE
I love the way travel frees you up. You are divested of the trappings of your day to day life: the nine to five routine, the evening meals, the folding out of washing, the meetings where A.O.B becomes torture as you mentally replay the day and wish you were anywhere else in the world.
And then after a year’s planning, with travel brochures and email confirmations, and with long service leave cobbled together with annual holidays, you finally get back to London.
This is the London where you spent the wilderness years of your twenties. In Wimbledon and Wembley, you sold designer kitchens, charred and chamber maided, cooked and sang, did the odd jobs that only travel opens up and being away from home invites. This is the London where you grew up enough to return home.
Samuel Johnson reminded his readers in the 18th century that if a man was tired of London he was tired of life.
And who could ever be tired of this great heaving historic city? I am pulled again into the spell that this metropolis casts, enchanted and beguiled and wanting to see as much as I can, rummaging through its offerings excitedly, wondering what new discovery will charm me as I sidle through ancient doorways and clamber into big red buses and finally see the Gherkin close-up. I reacquaint myself with the Underground and its tiled and cavernous corridors and enjoy my anonymity and the freedom to visit galleries, to stay late at coffee shops, to have no-one expect me home at a certain hour.
I’m happy to be on my own, a week’s grace spent wandering down unexpected alleys and bumping into history at every turn.
I find myself at Covent Garden, thrashingly alive with trade and tourism. I seek refuge in St Paul’s, the local parish church built by Inigo Jones in 1662. On its internal walls are hung numerous plaques commemorating those whose working lives unfolded on the stage – thespians of great stature and minor roles, of fame and infamy, of soliloquy and song. As I wander along the aisles I am instantly reminded of the great movies and musicals of yesteryear and the stars who shone in them.
There’s a plaque for one Tony Simpson, an inspired player of small parts. I pause to think of those who play such small parts, all contributing in their inimitable and inestimable way to the whole ensemble production of daily life.
I’ve always preferred the wonderful cameo, the great line uttered by a minor character, the unexpected song that steals the show, the small part that shines and is quietly noticed while the main action briefly absorbs and is later forgotten.
I notice the plaque dedicated to Alan Jay Lerner which is inscribed one brief shining moment, Camelot. I am reminded of the beautiful song, “If ever I should leave you” and remember the joys of maidenhood when I had a brief movie star crush on Franco Nero who played Lancelot And of course that leads me straight back to Covent Garden and Eliza Doolittle dropping her aitches and selling her small posies as her feckless father Alfred P. finally gets to the church on time.
In this quiet temporary refuge I am grateful for the buzz of London, its wonderful West End shows, its teeming life, as it hums excitedly towards the Olympics in a few weeks.
And I give thanks for our exits and entrances, the small and occasionally inspired roles we are all given to play in the unexpected script of our lives – and for the many walk-on roles still to come before that final curtain closes and the stage goes dark, forever.
Ann Rennie is a Melbourne writer who also teaches senior students in a Catholic girls' school. Her book The Secret Garden of Spirituality (Reflections on Faith, Life and Education), was published last year by Michelle Anderson.
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