Paul Healy’s Week

Thursday

A 9.15 am flight to Stansted, from the excellent Ireland West Airport. Half an hour on a train, then the first of many suitably expressionless trips on the London Underground – and we arrive at our hotel.

The buzz and atmosphere in London is brilliant. We take in a few of the landmark sights (Buckingham Palace, Westminster, 10 Downing Street) while naturally indulging in some fascinating people watching in this city of breathtaking vibrancy, diversity and culture.

A woman with an ‘I Love London’ bag draped across her shoulder is also wearing a GAA cap as she walks under one of the many ‘McDonald’s’ signs which the clever company has strategically located directly in front of rival chains!

 

Friday

In full ‘Hop-on Hop-off’ bus mode, we are whisked to and from London’s top attractions. It’s a great way to savour a city. We stop at the Tower of London. Our guide is one of 33 Yeoman Warders (nicknamed ‘Beefeaters’), many of whom live on the Palace grounds. Our ‘Beefeater’ turns out to be a very witty, slightly eccentric and extremely knowledgeable man. The tour is excellent. I didn’t realise three Queens of England were held here, before being executed in public in front of partying crowds. Many more famous people also met their end here, back in the day. Happily, the Tower of London is more famous these days as the home of the Crown Jewels (yes, we cited Rowan Atkinson as Johnny English in the comedy movie).

When he posed for a photo, our Yeoman Warder seemed delighted to hear we were from Ireland. “North or South?” he asked, to which our son Matthew very accurately replied “West”. Yeoman Warder: “Are you going to be a politician?”

When South was confirmed, he asked which county (in truth, Roscommon didn’t seem to register with him, but the West of Ireland did).

“Absolutely love that part of the world” our own private beefeater enthused.

 

Saturday

Halfway across the Tower Bridge, the designers created a feature inset, a space maybe just less than six foot in width. Today, inside this architecturally attractive gap in the famous bridge, lies a burly, weather-beaten rough sleeper, who, being about six foot himself, has crouched accordingly, so that his head rests against the stone and both knees rise awkwardly in deference to the prevailing dimensions.

The burly, weather-beaten man had a large, weather-beaten red beard, and an indifferent expression above it, one that’s unlikely to change for any of the thousands of passing tourists (mostly pedestrians).

As he caressed his considerable belly, and briefly cast an apparently disinterested eye on the passing multitudes, I couldn’t quite work out if he was broken, or defiantly philosophical about how life has taken him from the possibilities of childhood to the feature crevice in one of the world’s most famous bridges.

 

Later on Saturday

It’s funny the things you hear people say as they pass you or you pass them. In Kensington Gardens, the doorstep of the late Princess Diana’s world, hundreds of people walk and relax in the beautiful sunshine.

In one small group, a young chap is in full flow. “I don’t actually think Italy makes the best pizzas in the world”.

A slightly earnest businessman into his mobile (nicely): “I just feel we always need to be conscious of that possibility”.

Best of all, a clearly wealthy American man seems to be over visiting his daughter (presumably she’s attending college in London). They’re having a mighty chat, when he very casually says: “I’m going to Seattle next week…do you want to come?”

We’ll never know…!

 

Saturday night

We took the plunge, and booked tickets for a West End show – ‘Life of Pi’ – in the quaint Wyndham’s Theatre in Leicester Square.

Unlike our children, I wasn’t even aware of the book or movie. ‘Life of Pi’, a 2001 novel by Yann Martel, tells the fictional story of how a 17-year-old Indian boy survives in the Pacific Ocean after the cargo ship his family were travelling on sinks.

Pi continues the crossing on a lifeboat…in the company of a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan, and – most problematically of all – a hungry and untamed Bengal tiger.

Along the way, the hyena, zebra and orangutan fall victim to nature – one way or the other – leaving the traumatised teenager and the uncompromising tiger in dangerously close proximity!

What makes this award-winning stage adaptation of the book pretty astonishing is the sensationally creative puppetry, whereby the animals are ‘brought to life’ by a combination of technical wizardry and actual actors ‘operating’ the puppets. The stage design/choreography is extraordinary, with the action seamlessly switching from a hospital scene to the perilous journey across the ocean.

Actor Hiran Abeysekera – on stage for the entire two hours plus – is dazzling in the lead role. This was a memorable night of theatre. If any readers get a chance to see this adaptation of ‘Life of Pi’ they should grasp it.

 

Sunday

A first ever visit to the Emirates Stadium, and what a great experience it was. Fantastic! On arrival, the quaint streets, aroma from hot dog stands and friendly faces behind the ‘merchandise stalls’…then, a short distance on, the fabulous stadium (capacity 60,260) suddenly appears in all its magnificence.

Thanks to Fiona’s great (and patient) planning, our son Matthew (obsessive Arsenal fan) and yours truly (long-suffering Leeds fan) had two great seats for…Arsenal v Leeds! (The former chasing a Champions League place, the latter now mired in a relegation struggle).

There was a great atmosphere, the Arsenal fans in full voice. Within ten minutes, the home side were 2-0 up.  As ecstatic supporters rose around me, I had to do some quick thinking, and pretend to be a slow-to-react home supporter. It wasn’t easy, lamely clapping Arsenal goals, while privately mortified at how bad Leeds were.

A treat at half-time, as Arsenal’s surviving stars of the 1970-71 season – they won the double that year – were honoured, Bob Wilson looking particularly hale and hearty, the great Frank McLintock addressing supporters.

A few minutes into the second half, the few thousand Leeds supporters corralled into the away end section  suddenly began the most remarkable and sustained chanting, while waving special shirts (honouring injured star Stuart Dallas) in the air. Sensational support. It was almost hypnotic, and the home fans just couldn’t match it. On the pitch, Leeds – now also a man down after Luke Ayling was red-carded – rallied fairly well, pulling a goal back and applying some late pressure. Arsenal won 2-1. Bragging rights to our son…but I loved the experience.

 

Later on Sunday

Camden Town is amazing…an entrancing merging of colour, coolness, art, individuality, fun, eccentricity, fashion, food, nostalgia, creativity…and lots more.

In the fantastic markets, the chap selling wallets and purses and such quaint things is wrapping up for the day.

A sucker for a nice wallet, I check one or two, which naturally commands his attention. He delivers a quick sales pitch, and reveals the price. Holding my nerve, I invoke the ‘Never fail to negotiate in a market’ rule, and ask what’s the best price he can do.

“For the last Irishman, I take off ten pounds” he replies, with an expectant smile. I hadn’t told him I’m an Irishman. Obviously our accents literally speak for themselves!

Anyways, I pretty much emptied my wallet to purchase a new wallet.

Presumably he meant the last Irishman of the day.

 

Monday

Coffee in bustling London city centre after noon, a nerves-settling contribution to the ‘Hennessy family’ at Stansted Airport at 2.20, rain in Knock at 4.30 (after a 3.15 flight), tea in Roscommon before 6 pm. Happy memories stored. London is great.