Every day life, food & strangeness in a big city

Month: December, 2012

London Birthday Weekend

It was my birthday the day before yesterday. 30 down, hopefully a lot more to go.  I am so dang tired I am typing with one eye closed. This is why my post will look a bit like this…

Friday evening flight to London, long “birthday weekend” 3 hours to get from Gatwick to friend’s place in West London. Jolly good start. Saturday morning breakfast – “rustic” bakery Le Pain Quotidien. Lovely sun, window view, oven-warm scones crisp buttery almond croissant. Fragrant Earl Grey in red bowl cup. How to tell when strong enough? Big mystery. Frothy coffee for Mr. B. National History Museum – loooooooooooooong queue. Lots of children. Harried-looking parents. 10.30 am. Frosty. Jaw-dropping building. Mostly free. Not the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition though  (yearly ritual). Entry fee for that, and more crowded than tube at rush-hour. Gorgeous photos. Especially this one, of a green turtle – body and water like diamond-cut surfaces. Dinosaurs next – children screaming to get in, and then screaming to get out. Little boy convinced the T-rex model would eat him. Clutching older sister’s arm. Shove. “Gerrrooffffme.” Wail.

“Mind the gap”. Picadilly Circus. Exit 1, Exit 2, Exit 3, Exit 4. Pick a number, any number. It’ll be wrong anyway. Boots. 40p ibuprofen, no more than 2 packs per customer. Through the queue, and back again. Still cold. Now looking for insoles. Key cutters, Northface, Russell & Bromley’s. Jackpot at Jones’s Bootmakers. Shopping. Shopping. Shopping. Holborn’s Sainsbury’s, looking for coffee. A 6-pack of Taylor’s strength 4. Take the cardboard box, too. We’ll have a bag, the Union Jack model. Red stripes made of strawberries. Freezing. Late lunch. Soup of the day. Egg mayo sandwich and butter wrapped up in thin white paper and sealed. Veggie haute-cuisine. Orchard, on Sicilian Avenue. Quietfriendlydelightful.

Bus to Tottenham Court Road. Foyles. Threefloorsbutwellstayonthegroundoneasusual. Browsing browsing browsing. Freezing outside now. Quick stroll to Abeno. Irasshaimase! Hot plate. Hot yuzu sake toddy. Wait wait wait. Friends late. Friends there. Okonomiyaki. Only mayo and brown sauce , no bonito flakes or seaweed please. Itadakimasu. Chatchatchat -crap. Too late Aldwych too far will never make it to Top Hat in time. Step out. Flag down cab. Arrive with minutes to spare. Music. Lights. Silk. Glamour. Jokes and romance. Old-school Hollywood. Home by midnight.

Late Sunday morning. Marks&Spencersbaconfriedeggsprolattemachiattofreshbuns. My friend got them especially for me because I like buns you can bake in the oven. My friends are the best. Lazy. Red sofa. Serenity. Fox spotted in the grass outside. 3 green parrots. Geese. Blue frost. Sunshine. Indecision. What to do today?

Bus, tube, tube, boat. Boat ticket office French farce. 6 Gallic women with no pounds and no English between them. French excited chatter. Managed to get tickets anyway. And steal the employee’s pen. Small price, his face said, small price. Lovely ride from Embankment to North Greenwich. Peaceful. Last rays of the sun. Off at the O2. Through the white alien bowels, to the giant clam stuck with orange pencils by a naughty child. Walking around. No place to have a drink, all damn eateries. Blue neon stairs up to cinema. Sky bar tucked away. Prosecco. Yum.

Dinner at Gaucho’s. Black shiny tables chandelliers poor lighting draught. The taster selection of 3 cuts. Meltinyourmouthmeat. Die happy. But not yet. Time for the concert. Support band like two unoiled metal cogs. Then Elbow. Beyondblissbeyondhappybeyondwords. Happy birthday, Marcus, you wanker. I wanted that guitar. Reverse Mexican wave. And again. Alexander, you sing like an angel. Stringshighlowsoothingyearningmovingwarm. Twenty thousand people singing in one voice.

One day like this a year would see me right.

Little Bday Gingerbread Muffin

Little Bday Gingerbread Muffin

the cutest presents

the cutest presents

bday card - crane is regarded as a symbol for happiness and eternal youth throughout Asia

bday card – crane symbol for happiness and eternal youth throughout Asia


The Nun, the Hipster, and Baddie

The London tube traveller’s first commandment is “Thou shalt not make eye contact with a fellow passenger.” It is, however, perfectly acceptable to surreptitiously study someone, and it can provide an entertaining way of passing time, as long as you don’t get caught.

Last Saturday morning, as I got on at end-of-the line station Ealing Broadway and settled in for the 20-minute ride to South Kensington, a weak sun was doing its very best to shoo away the frothy white clouds. I gazed outside leisurely, enjoying the views of orderly terraced houses and trees still sparsely clad in green and gold, too stubborn to acknowledge the calendar’s first day of winter.

Chiswick Park, Turnham Green, Stamford Brook. Mind the gap. Doors open, doors glide shut. “The next station is” – infinitesimal pause – “Hammersmith. Change for the Hammersmith and City lines.”  Doors open. I close my eyes. And in those seconds of darkness, I become aware of an unusual presence standing nearby. I glance to my right, and sure enough, it’s like a powerful black hole, effortlessly attracting the attention of every child, adult and quadruped in the carriage. Sensible shoes, long, flowing dark robes, a strong-jawed face, slightly bloated but amiable, and a wimple.

She peers at the colourful Tfl map above her head, and then around her. The small movements of her neck tell me she is slightly puzzled, yet her body posture exudes confidence, and it seems like she would not welcome any help. I watch her doing a little involuntary sway, and wonder why she won’t sit down. There is a free seat opposite me. And if there wasn’t? Is it a sin not to offer your place to a nun?

At Baron’s Court, everyone facing me gets off, and she gracelessly collapses into the seat furthest to the right. Two men sit down next to her, one in his fifties, plump, and soft-spoken. The other one at least three decades younger, slender, and profoundly unattractive. His pasty face is framed by a mop of fine, colourless hair, and a few wisps of pretentious beard. A pair of very dark sunglasses, the type usually worn by the blind, rest atop his thin, straight nose. He talks animatedly, in a manner belying his casual, insouciant expression, and his voice is as melodious as steel wool sliding against a large sheet of metal.

I look away, then my attention is caught by a small flurrying movement. I glance back, and surely enough, the young man had taken an old scruffy paperback out of his leather satchel, and in the process, something came flying out. This round little something was now on a serene downward path to the linoleum floor. I feel my heart give a little skip of indecision. If there is one impulse which could override the commandment of not meeting the eye of – or speaking to – fellow travelers, that is the almost unavoidable British compulsion to be helpful. I almost bite my tongue trying to hold in the pressing “excuse me, have you dropped this?”

The object has finished its descent and is now lying on the floor, equally distanced from the oblivious youngster, his religious neighbour, and myself. I peer at it, trying to understand what it might be, and notice her eyes fixed on the same spot. Slowly, our gazes lift, and meet unflinchingly. We stare at each other candidly, and a mutual understanding passes through our exchange. Neither of us will say a word about the dropped item. Miraculously, it now seems like it is not even there.

Shortly before Earl’s Court, the young man breaks off his conversation, stoops, and collects the unidentified flying object (which Mr. B later informed me was a yellow guitar plectrum) tastefully decorated with the image of a black mons veneris. It looked a bit like this:

OOO (obscure offensive object), drawn by Baddie

OOO (obscure offensive object), drawn by Baddie; imagine sexier, less masculine body (damn you, Windows Paint!)

“I almost lost this” he screeches to his companion “almost lost it.”