Kage Baker liked to get out and wander the streets of London during Dickens. This was a harder proposition than it sounds – simply getting the time to leave our Parlour was difficult, as the Green Man is a hoppin’ joint all day.
As housekeeper Mrs. Drumm, Kage took it as a personal responsibility to bus tables, change out lunch settings and hover over Mr. Pickwick and Mr. Dickens during their gigs. She and her inestimable parlourmaids were a storm of petticoats and aprons, stripping the table bare and completely re-dressing it in a matter of minutes. When Mr. Dickens strode in (as he does 4 times a day) she was always waiting by his chair, his book for the reading in her hand, a fresh cup of tea steaming at his place.
But one must at least visit the necessary from time to time, and she’d take advantage of that to don her Spanish shawl and her coal-scuttle bonnet and go sight-seeing. It was one of my only chances to get out, too, so we’d sneak out together. (As much as one can sneak when one wears purple skirts 3 feet wide, and is swathed in black velvet, as I am.)
But off we’d go, giggling together, to look at the shinies and the sparklies and the glitteries; to smell the wonderful food smells, to see the shop fronts lit up like the Mall of the Gods. You know how fascinating Diagon Alley looks, in the Harry Potter films? Imagine that, and then make REAL: add holly, snow, evergreen garlands and shopfronts full of gorgeous things you can really, actually buy! There is a chocolate cart in front of of you – you can pick up a truffle and bite into it! You can sit at a wooden table and dig into something real and hot and savoury, like a plate of bangers and mash or a Greek salad! And it is all real, in total sensory 3-D wraparound sensation.
As we rustled and swayed through the streets, we would admire the glass and gems shining in the windows – from a cart full of exquisite glass ornaments, to one filled with beads and polished stones, to yet another where the jewels are carved and polished bone and jet. Pottery in every shade and texture; glass vessels made so one can see the designs imbedded in their walls as thin as flower petals. And clothes …. oh, the clothes! The gowns you wanted when you were 16 and made all of moonlight and dreams; the frock coat you hoped your prince would wear, and shed on the foot of your bed …
There is even a wand shop. And they are pretty good wands, too.
There are drinks available from lemonade to imported champagne, and just about everything in between – wine, whiskey, beer, ale, mead, cider; hot, cold and garnished with whipped cream. There is wonderful tea, and excellent coffee. There is even an Absinthe Bar, dispensing that notorious intoxicant in tiny sips of fatal-looking green. You may indeed see faeries, but don’t worry: that’s not due to the absinthe, they live around the corner.
There are rides and games. There is adventurous sport to be had in the Fencing Academy. There is sportive adventure to be risked down at Mad Sal’s, where the rougher denizens of London lean and leer from shadowed doorways. We, respectable women, never went there- but we would linger near Passiflora Perfumes and listen to the grand music flowing up from Sal’s.
The Docks of London are full of singing sailors and mercantile pirates, and the Legion Fantastique, where there is a live squid on display! Or so they say. I’ve only ever glimpsed the tentacle. At the Adventurer’s Club intrepid explorers will tell you stories of far-away lands, and some of them have actually been to them! And there is the gorgeous Victoria and Albert Theatre, where you may take in the Pantomime for your children – a splendid production of The Mikado for the whole family – or, for, ahem, adults only, the French Postcards: once you have sent the kiddies off to the Painting Garden or the Carousel.
Eventually we would return, happily laden with new gloves or a silk scarf or a sextant (Kage had nautical leanings), munching roasted chestnuts. Sometimes someone had fallen down or burst into flames in our absence, but usually the family was sitting happily round the fire eating gingerbread. I remember walking up the lane through the perfumes and laughing crowds, arm in arm with Kage, seeing the warm Parlour full of our loved ones slowly materialize behind the windows of the Green Man: a miracle never to be taken for granted.
And we would stroll in between the potted palms at the door, and help one another off with our shawls and bonnets. And we would be home.
Tomorrow: where to eat, maybe