I’ve just returned from a couple of days in London. I went down primarily to see a few plays and managed to take in a couple of exhibitions too at the Victoria and Albert and National Portrait Gallery. I saw a double bill of David Hare’s “South Downs” and the sublime “Browning Version” by Terrence Rattigan, Joe Orton’s “What the Butler Saw” and “Hay Fever” by Noel Coward. They were all brilliant and almost worth the exorbitant cost of the tickets, the noisy train journey and the overheated poor night’s sleep in hotel in Kensington.
I was at a loose end for an hour before eating and decided to take a walk in St James’s Park. I love the pelicans. They amuse me and always make me think of that silly poem by Ogden Nash: “A wonderful bird is the pelican. His bill will hold more than his bellican.”
I strolled a bit, looked at the birds, looked at amusing people, avoided the pageantry stuff that was being set up for the Jubilee and meant I had to walk an extra half mile round to get to the park. The weather was muggy and as usual I was perspiring less than daintily (it’s the anti-depressants. They make me sweat like a navvy). I stopped on a bench to regain my composure and called Paul on my phone. I was telling him about the plays when I was pounced upon by a tramp who had over heard me talking about theatre and wanted to join in.
Now, where I live tramps tend to be a bit on the rough side mostly. This one was decidedly posh. She was wearing clean, if age inappropriate, clothes and carrying a huge pink leather handbag and had a look of a very aged Marianne Faithful. She had clearly been quite beautiful once and in spite of weathered skin and a faint nicotine yellow discolouration, retained some style. She only wore one shoe and I didn’t ask where the other one was. It was quite a nice shoe. Her make-up was tasteful.
She spoke with a cut glass accent and began to talk about the theatre as she sipped daintily on a can of Special Brew. It could almost have been a glass of Bollinger, the way she held it. She was extremely knowledgeable about modern drama and told me all the methods she uses to nab free tickets to plays and sneak into theatres without paying. She reckoned that they always reserve a seat for the Queen or the manager of the theatre and she often uses these vacant seats. I’m not sure if this was true but it sounded good and she certainly knew her plays. She’d seen a lot of good stuff and reckoned she was writing one of her own. I also wonder what the Queen might say if she did turn up and saw a middle-aged inebriated woman in her seat.
She didn’t ask for money, just one cigarette, which I gave her gladly. We sat and smoked and she told me about the time she was a dancer on “Ready Steady Go”, about her life living in Monaco, the mansion she once lived in next to Hyde Park and her many love affairs. She hinted at bitter relationship failures and told me about the fact that she was now in a hostel waiting for a housing association flat.
She was absolutely charming, funny and although a bit slurry, quite articulate. I actually believed all she said. Maybe I’m gullible or maybe she was telling the truth. Does it matter? She was entertaining and didn’t ask for much.
I set on my way and went off to dinner. I sat at a table outside next to a slightly drunk couple in business suits who were loud and annoying. I wished I was somewhere else as i ate my pasta and would have far preferred the lady tramp to have been beside me rather than these braying rich people and their over loud banal conversation. At least she had a little dignity.