Just got back from a lovely day out in London, where the theme was not masterclasses or concerts but seeing the city and having a day off. I had a wonderful time catching up with friends – one of whom I hadn’t seen in about eight years -, getting a bit of Christmas shopping done, and having some chill time at the National Gallery. While I should perhaps have done a little more on the Christmas shopping front (remember our normal weekly civilisation is Tesco), it was great to just have some time away from the isolation of Elmsted/Hastingleigh and our tiny group here.

We left Hastingleigh bright and early at 8am, and the coach arrived in London at 10. I spent an hour or so wandering round the National Gallery, and finding myself particularly drawn to all the Dutch masters; Rembrant, Rubens etc. I love the detail with which they render landscapes and yet the intimacy with which they focus on the internal as well as the external when it comes to painting portraits. It felt almost strange at first to be going round a gallery – I did it so much during my European trip over the summer but have not been in one since the Musée de Cluny in Paris back in mid-September. By then, I could spend hours drifting from piece to piece, totally oblivious of the time and totally focused on the art. I would try to pick one work to sit and copy, picking out ever-increasing detail and marveling as the work grew richer before my eyes. I do think it’s a state of mind. Today I was drawn to the works, but too fidgety to loose myself totally.

I met Cara in the gallery cafe, and we caught up on years of news over coffee and cakes. Then we went off to do some Christmas shopping, though seemed to spend a little more time enjoying all the little shops in Seven Dials than sorting out gifts! Cara has become a Londoner, and knows the ins and outs of where to go for what. She’s still so bubbly, and I feel like we could have gone on talking for hours!

My one touristy photo or the day! Me, Peter and the afternoon sun on Big Ben.

My one touristy photo or the day! Me, Peter and the afternoon sun on Big Ben.

Then I met Peter, and Aussie composer who’s studying in London. We walked and talked, winding our way through the Christmas market outside the Royal Festival Hall (with a cup of mulled wine of course!), along the river and up to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey. Then back up to Soho for a (very) late lunch at a little Japanese place where the thick, gingery savoury pancakes were cooked on the table in front of us. We talked music, student living and the reality of being torn between home in Australia and the buzz of Europe.

The coach home wound through central London, taking in all the bright Christmas lights of Oxford and Regent streets. I wasn’t really a tourist today – I still haven’t seen St Paul’s or the Tower of London, or even gone inside Westminster Abbey! Friends, conversation and laughter were much more important, and I’m feeling wonderfully refreshed despite the chilly temperatures back here in Elmsted.

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