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 a hotel in Hammersmith, which is just outside London.
The only problem was that while we had been on our tour the hotel had been sold, renamed, and none of the new employes was able to find our reservation.
One of the clerks at the desk was so swamped by other people whose reservations could not be found she was on the verge of tears.
"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 loud as I could about not caring if "all these people" ever got old, here.
The cab was waiting almost before we got downstairs.
"On holiday, are you?" the driver asked.
I asked him if he knew any good hotels in London.
"Why London, sir? It's a nice place to visit but you don't really want to live there, noisy, old, smelly, like any big city, full of lorry fumes and tourists. If you'll pardon me, why not Chiswick?" He pronounced it Chiz'ick.
"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."
"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," said Julie, "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," said Don, "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," said Julie. "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," said Joyce. "It's one of those names you hear all your life but ... " She finished with a shrug.
"You've got to go there," said Don.
"Ask to see 'The Politician,' " said Julie. "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.
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 series he called "The Rake's Progress," "The Harlot's Progress" and "Marriage a` la Mode."
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-lighted north room.
"He sketched at this window," he 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 man, an early 18th-century politician, sitting at a table holding a lighted candle closely so he could read a newspaper. The paper, according to the caption, told of a problem 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," said Joyce.
Though the curator had no prints to sell he gave us very careful directions to the 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.
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, into my steak-and-kidney pie. English beer is sneaky. Excellent, but sneaky.
By following the directions the Hogarth House curator had given us, to the letter, we arrived at Lincoln's Inn Fields and followed the signs to No. 12 and 13, a four-story brick residence, with an ornate marble fac ade. The John Soanes Museum faced directly on the green, which was filled with people out enjoying the sun.
Neither of us had ever been in a place like the Soanes before. It was actually a fully-furnished early 18th-century townhouse as well as a museum and there were dozens of paintings, many of which we'd seen in cartoon or etching form, on the wall of Hogarth's home.
Additionally, the great English architect, John Soanes, probably second only to Christopher Wren, appeared to have brought just about everything he'd collected on his world travels with him. It was a fascinating house.
When we asked about buying a print of "The Politician," the curator told us he couldn't help us but that we just might find one at The Old Curiosity Shop, "just across the green."
Lincoln's Inn Fields backs onto the area adjacent to the Courts. As we were crossing the green, a man who looked like he might have been an attorney stepped off the path and onto the lawn. He put his briefcase down and began taking off his clothes. He stopped when he got down to his undershorts, lay down on the lawn, put his head on his briefcase, his hat over the front part of his shorts and closed his eyes.
An old lady who'd stopped next to us to watch, shrugged, "Well, we don't get all that much sun, you know."
"Old Curiosity Shop?"
She pointed on ahead. "Around the corner, but I should think this would be enough curiosity for one day."
The Old Curiosity Shop, on Portsmouth Street, is not a museum; it is a working store, but almost a miniature. So small and compact that customers are asked to leave their coats and cases downstairs, not because of possible theft but because, even unencumbered, it is difficult to turn around without knocking something off a table or a wall.
"It's not original, I'm afraid. It's only a copy, made in 1802, but it's very faithful, don't you think?"
Back at the Chiswick, Julie had left a note on our bed. She'd managed to get tickets to "Cats," "Barnum" and "Me and My Gal."
Joyce propped her picture of "The Politician" up on the dresser.
"It's been a big day," I said. "Tickets to three top shows, good hotel at about 'a furd the price,' lunch at the Dove, went through two museums, saw an Englishman take his clothes off in public, found the Old Curiosity Shop and got your 'Politician.' "
We were propped up in bed, ready to put the light out. Joyce stared at her print. "You know how you tell me that when you lean on the rails of old bridges or touch some of the old buildings you feel the history creeping into you, up through your hands? This picture does that for me. Julie's right. It ties it all together. We're the same as they are. And 'now' is not so different from 'then,' I mean 1713 and 1987. We do the same things now, make the same stupid mistakes and even laugh at the same things. It's like it's really all just one page in the history book."
Things don't always turn out the way you plan them. Thank God.
"Turn out the light."
"Yes, ma'am." Bob O'Sullivan, a retired Los Angeles sheriff's lieutenant, travels extensively with his wife.