Features Australia

Letter from London

30 June 2018

9:00 AM

30 June 2018

9:00 AM

If the crescendo of cranes towering above development blocks represents a city’s prosperity, then Manila and London are prospering. Setting out to fly to Russia to cheer for Australia in the World Cup, a ridiculously cheap  business class ‘promotional’ return fare on the internet from Sydney to London with Philippines Airways for $4,500 was too good to resist. Was it too good to be true?

Well, inevitably, there was a catch; the connecting flight from Manila was cancelled, so PAL put me up for the 20 hours stopover in Makati. Never having previously been to this wall-to-wall shopping mall interspersed with major finance houses, trading companies, hotel chains, nightclubs and 24-hour traffic jams, it was a welcome surprise. And having no Philippine currency, 87-year-old legs and a walking stick, my exploring involved kilometres of pavement and mall-pounding – without exercising my hip-pocket muscle. As the flight to Manila involved the most comfortable flat bed I’ve ever experienced and the London flight the least, on balance, PAL was a pal, even providing wheelchair assistance when my ancient knees rebelled about the route march required at airport terminals these days – especially Heathrow.

London’s fine weather meant plenty of sunscreen was needed for those of us in the eastern stands at the Trooping of the Colour. The Queen’s energetic standing/sitting/standing routine as hundreds of dead black bears adorning the heads of Guardsmen, along with a fair proportion of women, especially in the horse artillery, passed by her saluting stand (long gone are her days on horseback) was an  indication that she may well be continuing in this role for quite a few years yet. In keeping with Her Majesty’s preference for the company of horses to that of some of her PMs, much more space was given in the event program to the four major equine stars of this parade than to their distinguished riders. For his premier role as the centre horse, Royal Blue (he is really a grey) got 12 lines of type; his birth date, height and personal details (such as how his ‘fizzy nature’ needs to be worked out of him before parades) were all detailed; the commanding officer who rode him got only one line – and his nature, fizzy or otherwise, remained unremarked.


Although the great majority of London theatres are boringly occupied by revivals of long-running musicals performed by casts bearing little relationship to the talented stars that initiated them decades ago, there are nevertheless plenty of real plays and music to choose from. Lohengrin at the Royal Opera House with the renowned Wagnerian tenor Klaus Florian Vogt and a fine chorus made up for the lack of arias to sing to yourself on the way home (apart from ‘Here Comes The Bride, Fair, Fat and Wide…’). Hearing another great chorus work, William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, involved travelling west to Guildford, where the dreadful acoustics of the pseudo-Gothic post-war Anglican cathedral (which stands aloof and isolated, a bit like the C of E itself, from its people living in the town below) did not prevent the Guildford Choral, the Chichester Singers and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra from providing an exciting performance that made up for a pedestrian version of Elgar’s sublime cello concerto that preceded it. Then back to London for the heavenly Fauré Requiem at Cadogan Hall.

So much to do, so little time: Monet and Architecture at the National Gallery, a clever play, Pressure, by David Haig about the Scottish meteorologist who successfully persuaded General Eisenhower to ignore other advice and defer D-day by a day, the scandal of the ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’-cheating major in Quiz, David Hare’s fascinating history of Glyndebourne in The Moderate Soprano and rounded off with sitting through the inevitable disaster at The Oval where Australia’s ODI cricketers ended up the worse of two poorly performing teams.

The last time I visited Surrey’s home ground was to watch Australia lose the Ashes (without Glenn McGrath who damaged his ankle by treading on a ball). Until then, I had loved the hymn Jerusalem; hearing it repeated ad nauseam in triumphant tones from victorious Pommie supporters has somewhat spoiled it for me.

So now to the serious stuff: supporting Australia’s footballers in Russia.

Subscribe to The Spectator Australia today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Subscribe – Try a month free


Show comments
Close