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When Plans Go Astray

January 10, 1988|BOB O'SULLIVAN | O'Sullivan is a nationally known travel writer who lives in Canoga Park

Sometimes no matter how much you plan, things just don't work out.

We had finished a tour of the continent and had planned to stay a few days at the Cunard Hotel, in Hammersmith, which is just outside of London.

The only problem was that while we had been on our tour, the hotel had been sold, renamed and not one of the new employees was able to find our reservation.

One of the girls at the desk was so swamped by other people whose reservations could not be found she was on the verge of tears.

Need for a Cab

"Perhaps," she all but pleaded, "I could call you a cab?" While I was thinking up a smart answer, my wife, Joyce, was patting the girl's hand and telling her it was all right and that we would, indeed, like a cab.

I felt betrayed.

"Now, let's be tolerant. All these people are new here."

I picked up our bags and moved to the stairway, muttering as loudly as I could about not caring if "all these people" ever got old.

The cab was waiting almost before we got downstairs.

"On holiday, are you?" the driver asked.

We told him we were, and I asked if he knew of any good hotels in London.

"Why London, sir? It's a nice place to visit, but you don't really want to live there. It's noisy, old, smelly, like any big city, full of lorrie fumes and tourists. If you'll pardon me, why not Chiswick?" He pronounced it Chiz-ick.

'No Fumes, No Tourists'

"Where's Chiswick?"

"A few miles out. No noise. No fumes. No tourists. Easy commute to the city. I know a nice clean little hotel. Manager's boys go to school wif my boy. Close to trains and about a furd the price."

"A furd?"

"That's cockney for anyfing wif free in it." He held up three fingers. "Actually, I suppose, I should have said 'alf the price."

The Chiswick Hotel was less than half and, for us, it was perfect. Don and Julie Carlin, the managers and part owners, were full of enthusiasm and information.

"Just 10 minutes from here," Julie said, "down on the river there are some wonderful pubs. You've heard of the Dove, the little pub where Princess Margaret and Anthony Armstrong Jones did their courting."

"And then," Don said, "five minutes away, Hogarth's house."

"Well," Joyce said, "we were actually going to go into London and see if we could get some theater tickets."

"Oh no," Julie said. "That's my job. I'll get you your tickets. You've got to see our local treasures."

"We'll make you a map."

I confessed that I didn't really know who Hogarth was.

"Except that he was a painter, neither do I," Joyce said. "It's one of those names you hear all your life but. . . ." She finished with a shrug.

"You've got to go there," Don said.

"Ask to see 'The Politician,' " Julie said. "I love it. For me, it's the one picture that ties it all together. You'll see."

After we'd unpacked, Don drew us a map.

We followed it, down Chiswick Road into the tunnel under a motorway, and came up on an island of peace.

The house, with its typical English garden, was behind high walls and looked as if it belonged in the 1700s.

The curator gave us a thumbnail sketch of its former owner.

Ahead of His Time

William Hogarth was one of the first and best of the political cartoonists of the early 1700s and an artist so far ahead of his time that he actually painted people the way they looked.

The walls of his house were covered with copies of his work, the most famous of which were a series he called "The Rakes Progress," "The Harlot's Progress," "Marriage a la Mode" and "The Election."

Since we were the only guests, the curator showed us around.

"We live together, you know, Hogarth's ghost and I. I have the apartment on the third floor here. It's part of the government arrangement. The apartment, not the ghost."

We stopped in a well-lit room.

"He sketched at this window," the curator said. "And I imagine he used to pause in his work and stare out at the fields and forests that were here. This was a country home then."

Joyce asked about "The Politician." The curator led us to it.

"A favorite of mine. Do you like it?"

It was a print of a politician sitting at a table holding a lighted candle closely so he could read a newspaper. The paper, according to the caption, told of the problems in Europe. But the real point was that, though the candle had set fire to the man's hat, he was so intent on the problems abroad he was unaware of the more immediate danger.

"You see?" said the custodian, "things really never change."

"I like it very much," Joyce said.

Though the curator had no prints to sell, he gave us very careful directions to the Sir John Soanes Museum in London, where many of Hogarth's original paintings were on display and where, he was absolutely certain, we could get the print we wanted.

Steak and Kidney Pie

We stopped at the Dove for lunch and a little refreshment while we waited for a table.

It was a 30-minute wait. I got so "refreshed" I almost went to sleep, face first, in my steak and kidney pie. English beer is sneaky. Excellent, but sneaky.

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