Playing It by Ear; or, "What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?"

Well, luckily we are not in Glasgow in the middle of a storm, a misfortune that befell us last New Year’s Eve. The festivities having been called off due to fierce winds, we ended up back in our hotel room shortly before midnight. This year, we are in London and, without having made any definite plans or arrangements, determined to see a show in the West End, go out for a meal, and watch the fireworks along the Thames. To be sure, this is not the time of year to be playing it by ear; but, even without reservations, there is always plenty to see and do in a big town like London. While I don’t like to come to town without a clue about what is on offer at museums and in the theater, I prefer not to have our days all planned out ahead of time. History tells us that getting lost is a great way to discover something new.

Yesterday, heading out from our hotel near Pudding Lane, where the Great Fire of 1666 got started, we took the wrong bus and ended up at King’s Cross. Being there, we decided to have a look at the recently reopened St. Pancras Station. The old Victorian terminus has been turned into a memorial to poet John Betjeman (1906-84), whose words you will find under foot, where they might be drowned out by a stampede of travelers. How wonderful it was to stand there, not having to rush anywhere, taking in the sights and sounds of the old yet new and ever changing scene.

“Imprisoned in a cage of sound / Even the trivial seems profound.” The words my camera captured ring true today. On New Year’s Eve, those cages (the bells with which Betjeman was fascinated) are going to rattle all over the world. And the trivium of a few seconds passing will assume the utmost significance in the eyes and ears of billions.

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