And so, for my first time this year, I made a pilgrimage to the Imperial Capital—and resplendent the old girl looks too in her much-delayed Spring sunshine finery. Having lived there for a number of years on-and-off, it’s a place I feel as much at home in as I do in any major city. Add in friends even more at home than I am and the novelty of metropolitan socialising can be so much fun.
Redevelopment around the Pool of London has added much variety to the more familiar haunts of Soho, Islington or King’s Road. Where once HMS Belfast pointed her big guns almost in self-defence she was so isolated, now a warren of quayside walks, refurbished warehouses and sundry bars and cafes gives the whole Southwark shore a cosmopolitan feel in contrast to the tourist ruck surrounding the Tower across the river.
Tucked into corners are a variety of places to discover, such as the Design Museum at Shad which is showing the definitive shoe designer Christian Louboutin’s work. Full of macho skepticism at first, I trailed round after the others, making quite a discovery in the process. Brought up in the rural-Scotland-functional school of footware, it took me until university before I strayed from conventional brown-or-black-with-laces orthodoxy.
This man is a sculptor: not just any sculptor but a man who obviously mainlines women’s psyche and has a sense of humour thrown in for good measure. His success could be tracked by the gasps, sighs and giggles emanating women of all ages taking their time to examine each and every creation. Just as well there was only one of each or the security nightmare would have been unmanageable.
Many of shoes must be regarded (even by women) as un-walkable (but not necessarily unwearable)—especially in the fetish section. But the huge majority on display seemed to inspire attendees with ambition and fantasies a-plenty. For people-watching as a male, it was one of the best venues I’ve ever come across.
The craftsmanship was obviously superb and the subtle selection of materials that complemented it gave me my first understanding of this whole shoes-as-psychology thing that women of my acquaintance failed to explain to me. It seems a combination of physical poise and psychic projection that makes emphatic statements to those who would hear.
Though there was whimsy aplenty, the quiet competence of shapes and styles demonstrated infinite variations on what is basically a very simple shape. One evening pump had small wings of the vamp that must make the wearer look like Mercury’s mistress; and otherwise standard gleaming black thigh boot had small pockets skillfully attached for the schoolmistress’s pencils, chalks and—perhaps—things less innocent.
Coming back upriver, we hopped on to one of the new river catamarans which now ply Putney-to-Blackfriars and Embankment-to-Woolwich. These are huge, fast maneuverable and a splendid new way to see London. Along with a variety of river cruises, private party boats and fast RIBs, the options available are quite bewildering. But they are easy to access at the half-dozen piers between Westminster and Tower Bridge—and with a frequency that you start to treat them as you would the Tube.
Catching Spiro Mirabilis at the Queen Elizabeth Hall was a concert like none I had attended before. Hardly a music buff, I’m nonetheless familiar with most of the classics and that includes Beethoven’s Pastoral. But it was laid out before me anew by the forty or so young Italians, Germans, Poles, etc who make up this conductorless orchestra. Much became clearer in a fascinating Q&A session after the performance.
Apparently, they rehearse together intensely, working out their approach to each phrase as a team. It takes much longer when there is not the single driving vision of a conductor leading the debate. But the net result is astonishing. It was the difference between canvas and lace. Whereas even a good orchestral performance drives at a steady pace through its phrasing, this was lyrical—groups of phrasings passed among members as they layered such ethereal tissues of music that billowed together only to float apart in a way Ludwig would surely have admired.
So, tucking in to duck and halibut al fresco just across from the Burlington Arcade wrapped the whole day up in a rather golden light (although the second bottle of Pinot Grigio may have had something to do with that). Despite some abrasive articles on its political dimensions over the last couple of years, it was uplifting to rediscover its world status as a destination after my varied travels. London did not disappoint—in fact it rose to exceed my jaded and hostile expectations to be a delight.
Shame it’s going to be a foreign country soon.