The Seven Stars, Covent Garden and Oopsie Mamushka
When in London – actually when anywhere – I prefer to walk, you get more of a feeling for the place and the people when on foot; second to walking I like to take public transportation, that is particularly true of London where the Underground and the train stations are a never ending source of people watching and unexpected architectural gems. However, on this day there had already been a lot of walking and I was kind of turned around so I allowed myself a luxury: a taxi cab (plus plopping into one of these cabs is also exploring a bit of London).
All I had in the way of an address for the cabbie was, “The Seven Stars, somewhere near the Royal Courts”, fortunately that was all he needed; in only a few minutes I was set out exactly where I wanted to be
The Seven Stars, Carey Street, London, WC2
It was a little past the lunch hour and a little before the having a drink after work hour, so the pub held only a few drinkers which was good because it’s not very big: a bar right in front as you enter and on either end of the bar small rooms with tables. Didn’t see Tom Paine – the cat which legendarily sits somewhere near the bar – but did have a nice lunch tucked cozily into a table in front of a left side window. Visited the upstairs toilet (if you say bathroom you will often get a quizzical look as though you had eaten and were now planning to bathe) at the top of a flight of stairs narrow, steep and curved even by British standards. No music (which I much prefer), slightly brusque service (which doesn’t bother me as long as it stops short of rude) and a good meal in the early afternoon, fine by me.
Plus, there was the delightful sight of a be-wigged barrister dashing either to or from court just as I left the pub – reminds me of the BBC America tag line for Law & Order UK, “The show you love…with wigs.”
After a meander through the tangle of buildings that make up The London School of Economics, it was off to Covent Garden a little more than half a mile away. The Covent Garden neighborhood is on the far side of the West End and is surrounded by theatres; the following evening I would return to the area for a play but tonight I was headed for the market which most tourists associate with the name.
Jubilee Market is a calmer, covered version of Petticoat Lane. At first walk through it seems, although crowded with stalls and customers, rather sedate with the same eclectic choice of goods from every conceivable ethnic background seen in most markets of this type. The longer I walked through it though, the more taken I was with it and the more personality it took on; particularly when I was accosted – in the politest and best humored way one could be accosted – by a salesman who was positive I was in need of a long leather coat.
After visiting Jubilee, it was back to the more traditional store set up in The Market Building – my time and eye being most captured by Benjamin Pollock’s Toyshop and its fine selection of toy theatres, some of them small enough to fit in a match box. After climbing back down one of those British staircases from Pollock’s first floor abode (remember in England, the ground floor is where…on the ground and the first floor is the floor above the ground floor), it was on to look for food and drink which is when I happened upon the wonder and delight that is
I wasn’t looking for Oopsie, who unknowingly looks for Oopsie? But you couldn’t miss them, people were hanging over the banisters looking down into the open eating area below while members of the group plied the onlookers for tips – which most willingly gave. Cameras were out everywhere – although still photography in no way captures how entertaining Oopsie Mamushka is; the only folks unmoved by the group’s mix of classical music and slapstick clowning were the family by whom I eventually sat down (after, of course, ordering a glass of wine). Imagined back stories are a talent of mine and to my mind this family had discovered either that the daughter had dropped out of college, was planning to drop out of college or had changed her major from business to art – the three of them absolutely refused to be drawn into the fun.
The members of Oopsie Mamushka (there are more than were present the night I saw them and on different nights they rotate in and out of the lineup) are all talented and trained classical musicians and if all they did was play background music for those dining in the courtyard they would probably earn a number of tips but they aren’t background, they are the show – like Harpo Marx one of the members will shadow an unsuspecting guest while the others play and then lure that guest into briefly becoming part of the act. Another cast member will unashamedly work the crowd for money (I would estimate a couple of hundred pounds filled baskets that lay along with CDs for sale on the ground in front of their playing area) and all of it is done in such good humor that it doesn’t offend. Indeed, the crowd didn’t want their revelry to stop. Violins tucked under chins, cellos carried they dance in time to their music – not sway, not move – they dance, often in unison like Motown – they are the show – I wouldn’t go back for the food or drink but I would most assuredly go back for Oopsie Mamushka.