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London's razzmatazz

D. HEMANT KUMAR looks at ...


TWO types of tourists visit London — the first, the obvious tourist who comes to see the Buckingham Palace, Madame Tussads, the Tower of London, London Bridge, the Museum, Hyde Park and other tourist attractions.

Then there is the other — the one who visits the City year after year; the one who has already seen the usual tourist attractions, and will not see them again; the one who does not have business to transact, yet the one London beckons to unfailingly. His attractions are the theatres, book shops, cinema-plexes and shopping centres. As per English "standards of culture", a visit to the theatre is "a sign of good breeding" not to mention impeccable taste. The "Londoner" would like to "see and be seen" watching a play and dressed to kill for the occasion. Everyone is all courtesy and etiquette and even the ushers are spectacularly dressed. A visit to the theatre is perhaps the last salute to a "Victorian Era". After the event, the applause is appropriate without being boisterous and the smiles in moderation. And horror of horrors — no one makes a bee line for the exit. It's a standing ovation for the artistes. If the play is a hit, the applause continues, the curtain rising and falling until a voice informs you that the artistes are definitely leaving.

The musicals and the bookshops certainly top the list of the second type of tourist. Imagine having to make a choice from 40 musicals! When this writer was there, the rage was "My Fair Lady", Abba, "The Sound of Music".

And of course, continuing unabated are the evergreen hits — "Phantom of the Opera", "The Mousetrap", "Les Miserables" "Miss Saigon", the latter an absolute topper — head and shoulders above the rest. Watching it is fast paced enchantment, with a change in setting every few minutes, fast and lively background music, a lovely story line — and — borrowing a phrase from Saddam Hussain, the "Mother of all musicals".

As for bookshops, those lined on either side of Charing Cross road are an absolute "treat" for the book lover. Topping the list is either the Foyles, a huge book shop across three storeys and one that calls itself the biggest one in the world, or Waterstones with its multiple branches in London. Borders is another treat opposite Foyles. And here's another one. Watkins specialises in philosophy, mysticism and the occult and has books on these subjects from around the world.

And then of course there are the other ones that specialise in women's writing, second hand books, out-of-print books, military history and so on. Should you need any book published anywhere in the world the best place to try for them is here, with many of the outlets specialising in shipping publications across the world.

Numerous cinema houses dot the Tottenham Court Road area, and you can be rubbing shoulders with celebrities at any given moment.

Oxford Circus will satisfy the avid shopper. Malls like Selfridges, Marks and Spencers and Dobenhams stun you with their array of goods. In another direction at "Kinghtsbridge" is the most sophisticated mall in London — Harrods — where royalty once did its shopping. Spread across five-storeys, it's perhaps the last word in quality, style and taste.

London is host to a diversity and is a melting pot of culture. So, this brings me to the subject of food. Do try out this London delight — the "jacket potato" with different fillings of your choice — both vegetarian and non-vegetarian.

A couple of years ago there was this comedy — a runaway hit — "If it is Tuesday, this must be Belgium". In the same vein, the avid London lover will say: "If it is a holiday, it must be in London".

O! to be in London!

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