London, City of Stories

Early each day to the steps of Saint Paul’s
The little old bird woman comes
In her own special way to the people she calls
Come, buy my bags full of crumbs

Mary Poppins sings “Feed the Birds” when she takes the children to Saint Paul’s Cathedral. When I visited the Saint Paul’s with my wife, we found that it was indeed the home to many massive pigeons. So many, in fact, that I realized I developed a temporary fear of getting hit in the face with a pigeon. My wife, Courtney, got hit in the hand with one.

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As a structure, Saint Paul’s was massive and imposing. I wanted to go inside, but we came during mass. I did catch a hint on the breeze of the powerful organ inside. We’ll have to come back another time.

As I mentioned in a previous post, almost everything I knew about London prior to coming was from books and movies. So, I thought it might be fun to take you on a tour of all the places from stories that we went.

First up, the London telephone booth. These show up in just about any movie where they want you to get the message that the story is set in London. And rightfully so. The red boxes are everywhere. Sadly however, most of them are empty and just for show. Nostalgic relics of a bygone era. Some people do use them as private spaces for talking on their cell phones, though.

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Next, there’s Kensington Gardens. Kensington Gardens is the place where Peter Pan escaped to as a child in The Little White Bird by J.M. Barrie. The story talks about how Peter Pan lived on an island in the middle of the gardens with the birds.

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While I didn’t see many islands, there were plenty of geese and swans, a buoy-marked area for swimming, and a mountain of multicolored tubes, most likely for setting up rowing lanes to tune the Serpentine Lake into competition waters.

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The Poet’s corner in Westminster Abbey paid tribute to several authors and poets I love including Lewis Carol, C.S. Lewis, Jane Austen, and Shakespeare. Charles Darwin, (who is also technically an author, but wasn’t with the others) is buried there too.

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One of my overall favorite places in London was the Globe theatre. The Globe was the name of the theatre where Shakespeare put on plays. The original two Globe theatres were lost (one by fire and one by a Puritan-controlled government edict), so this is a new Globe theatre, built as closely to the original as possible.

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It’s a round structure of wood, held together with pegs and plaster, open to the sky and elements. Plays today still run (two a day) with tickets starting as low as 5 pounds (if you want to stand in the peasant area around the stage, which sounds awesome.) There was a hole in the ceiling leading to heaven and a trapdoor leading to hell and a balcony area for the musicians. I had never thought about how different it would be to watch a play, say Hamlet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in the middle of a rainstorm.

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I did notice that London was full of lion statues. There were so many that I started to take pictures of them.

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It made me think more about C.S. Lewis’ choice of a lion for the character Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia. While I’ve grown up with stories about the lion being the king of the jungle, I’ve never really thought of the lion as a political symbol. I’d be more prone to put and eagle or a bear or some other predator in that role. But, to see the lion as Britain’s symbol of governance lent a whole new layer to the symbolism that I had never seen before. A whole new pride.

Of course, we stopped by 221B Baker Street, residence of the illustrious Sherlock Holmes. At his address you can find a museum dedicated to Sherlock Holmes and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the guy wrote Holmes’ stories) and a tourist-happy gift shop. I mostly just wanted a picture of the street sign.

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We didn’t make it to Paddington Station (sorry to you teddy bear lovers out there), but we did stop for some fish and chips and ride the underground. I was shocked to find out that fish in chips is a bunch of chips (French fries) and ONE fish. I had believed my whole life that it was fish (as in many fish, like fish sticks, batter-fried fish strips, but no.) It was just ONE large fish. And it was delish, if a bit greasy.

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Oh! And I’ve neglected to mention our outstandingly traditional British breakfast of jam and toast. Each morning at the hotel, they brought out a rack of toast for Courtney and me. A rack full of toast triangles. It was mysterious and incredibly British. I ended up making triangle sandwiches with the toast because they gave us so much and saving them for snacks later in the day. They kept well, and it felt like a meal from a story each time I at one.

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The crowning story experience of Paris was going to see The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre in West End. I had never seen the production before, and it was amazing. I think I’m still humming tunes from the show. They did it all: the mirror scene, the chandelier, the masks, the fire and explosions on stage, the mists, the candelabras, and the cloaks. And they did it while singing in perfect British English. (Except for the few characters doing French accents to remind you that the story actually takes place in Paris.) Magical.

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Remember how I was talking about back pocket blessings and meeting my friend from school at the airport? Well, as we left Phantom, guess who we ran into—my friend! We traveled all the way to London on the same plane and happened to go to the same show at the same time on the same day! We took a picture next to a nearby sign that advertised for a show called “Close Encounters” for memory’s sake. The back pocket blessings don’t end.

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Though her words are simple and few
Listen, listen, she’s calling to you,
“Feed the birds, tuppence a bag
Tuppence, tuppence, tuppence a bag.”

—M.M.


You’ve probably noticed that I left a huge gap in this story tour; I haven’t said a single thing about Harry Potter, which is highly uncharacteristic of me. That’s because there was so much that I’m saving it for a separate post about Harry Potter in London.

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