Grosse Pointe friend Henrietta Fridholm invited me to join her in London. She’d first attend a wedding at Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle in Hampshire to the cognoscenti). She planned to stay in the city for a few more days.
I had just finished Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour. The book rekindled my admiration for the brave people who saved the world for democracy. I wanted to revisit the Churchill War Rooms and to reconnect with old friends. Coincidentally, Burton would be playing in a golf tournament with Roger, Henrietta’s husband.
The St. James Club treated us like chums and we could walk to the tube in 5 minutes. We caught a boat up the Thames to the Tate Modern. (The Cy Twombly room alone is worth the trip.) We tried on fascinators. We saw and loved Noel Coward’s “Relative Values.” Friends Janet and Michael Brent insisted I order melt-in-your-mouth wagyu steak at the Oblix. (I wasn’t a tough sell.) Whilst (Don’t you love British speak?) there we enjoyed breathtaking views of the city at the top of the Shard, Europe’s tallest building, by star architect Renzo Piano.
One morning we took off through Green Park to walk to the War Rooms. A huge crowd blocked our way. “You couldn’t have picked a worse day,” said 2 officers. It was the queen’s official birthday parade. We surrendered to the pageantry. Horse hooves rang on packed stone as battalions of red uniform-clad cavalry trotted by. Mounted musicians played. The queen rode by in an open horse drawn carriage, wearing a white bowler hat. (That sartorial detail provided by Henrietta, who has about 6″ on me.)
We dined with Henrietta’s friends banker Rupert Humbro and her old BBS colleague Peter Evans. (His film editor wife Kate worked on “The Girl with the Pearl Earring.”) And with stylish caterer Sissi Jackson, sister-in-law of my sorely missed late colleague Marj Levin. (A lovely meal at neighborhood restaurant Assaggi–Italian for “taste.” But of course you knew that.)
Still determined to see the War Rooms, on our last day I ventured forth on my own. (Henrietta headed for a country garden with her school friend Trish.) I marveled again at what a statesman Churchill was. I learned he’d been a war correspondent, soldier and escaped p.o.w. aside from holding every important cabinet post and being twice prime minister.
As a writer and speaker, I am awestruck by Churchill’s wit and wisdom. I trust you, savvy reader, share my zeal. As a reward for being my true blog companion, savor these…
On his military training: “Although always prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it should be postponed.”
In 1919: “The United States invariably does the right thing, after having exhausted every other alternative.”
On a rival politician: “He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.”
Churchill loved good food and drink. General Montgomery was a teetotaler whose victory at El Alamein marked a turning point in WW2. The P.M.’s opinion of Montgomery: “In retreat indomitable; in advance invincible; in victory insufferable.”
Replying to his grandson, who asked if he was the greatest man living: “Yes, now bugger off.”
He was surely one of them.
(This column is dedicated to my oldest friend, Bobbye Levy Goldburg. In our youth, she was the coolest, most popular, most athletic. She’s a brilliant designer and adoring wife, mom and grandmother. And she’s fighting for her life. Happy Birthday, dear friend. God bless.)
(Please send me your Godsigns stories–wherever they occur.)