I am thrilled to be back in this city, a city I lived in from 1982 to 1985 and left somewhat reluctantly at the insistence of the Home Office, who felt it was time that I returned to the country of my birth. The main hook that brings me back is the friendship that has endured with two lovely lasses who lived in the same apartment block as me – but London itself also calls to me. I love the history in every street; the architecture (old and some of the new); the secret gardens and mews; the shops and their wonderful window displays; the pubs; the galleries and museums; the theatre; the people; the bookstores …….. and so my list goes on. There are of course things I don’t like – the traffic; the crowds of tourists; the train cancellations; the ageing tube system, especially the stairs when you are encumbered with a suitcase; the rubbish out in bags on the street; the fact that I can’t understand anything the bus drivers or cashiers say to me; the frequent grey skies. But, these things are minor quibbles. I can’t even complain about the food now – it’s certainly improved since the 80s, although finding a good coffee remains tricky.
I arrived on a Sunday afternoon, at Gatwick. Not the best welcome as there were hoards of people at Gatwick train station, and train cancellations aplenty. General chaos basically, and I longed for the calm efficiency of the trains in Spain. After being shouted at by a rail person manning the ticket machines “Next”, and struggling to work out which train I needed for Clapham Junction, I finally arrived on the appropriate platform to find that the next 2 trains had been cancelled so had to wait 40 minutes. But, every cloud ……… I got talking to a lady on the platform, the where have you been, where are you from type of conversation. She had been in Corfu for the past 4 days for work (that’s a good job I thought). When she heard I was from Australia she said, I might be coming to Australia later in the year. Business or pleasure, I asked? Well, she said, it’s rather a strange reason. My nephew is marrying Kylie Minogue and they’ve decided to get married in Australia. That’s right folks, Kylie is coming home to be married this year, and you heard it here first!! Take that Hello magazine. I stuck to her like glue getting onto the train, settled myself opposite, ready for further chats and revelations but she buried her head in a book and refused to engage further. Drats.
The gorgeous Sue and Stuart were waiting for me at Clapham Junction, and whisked me the short distance to their lovely little pad in Battersea. They are a block from the river, and easy walking distance to the King’s Road and other delights.
After lots of talk and laughing we walked to The Woodman, their terrific neighbourhood pub for a very good Sunday roast of half a chicken (literally – it fed not only me but their lovely daughter Alice who joined us later) and all the trimmings. I do love a good English pub.
Walking back along the river we watched the geese with their goslings putter about in the muddy edges of the Thames. There is a large colony of them – Stuart says they come each year to have their babies, then disappear until the next year. Roast goose anyone?
We popped into the local church, circa 17something, to hear evensong – gorgeous voices, playing to a crowd of 10 (not including we three). A spread was waiting at the back of the church, it was obviously a bring a plate event. I was tempted, but still stuffed to the gills with the roast chook. The church once boasted Samuel Pepys as a member of the congregation, and is the resting place for the bones of Benedict Arnold. That’s history for you.
A walk across the Albert Bridge
then a wander up the Kings Road to the Saatchi Gallery. It is the Chelsea Garden Show at the moment and like Girona’s Temps de Flors, many of the shops and restaurants get into the groove with their window dressing:
I found the exhibition fascinating, and easily filled in 3 hours reading all the information, listening to videos, playing with mixing the songs, reading about the guitars, laughing at Keith Richards and falling just a little bit more in love with the scallywag. The end is spectacular – a 3D concert version of Satisfaction (I stood through it twice!). But, I gather it may not be the raging success the organisers were expecting as I had no trouble getting a ticket a few days before, and I came across young people handing out flyers to encourage a visit. You are not allowed to take any photos inside the exhibition, so had to content myself with the lips outside.
Our 3 in Battersea became 4 later in the afternoon when the lovely Joycie joined us from France. It was so very very good to have the 3 amigos together once more (plus Stu of course). Stu proudly sheparded his harem to Club 606 for dinner and a band. No idea what the band was called but there was general excitement amongst the largely female audience as the singer and the pianist are from the band that plays live for Strictly Come Dancing (that is, the show we call Dancing With the Stars). They were very good – playing a mix of funk, soul, blues and jazz. We had a terrific night.
Tuesday morning the three of us went off to Liverpool by train to admire Sue’s new little baby granddaughter, Ava Rose. Sue had booked us into a Quiet Carriage I.e. One where mobile phones and the like are banned. We three, who all like a chat, were of course nattering away to each other. The conductor came around about an hour into the journey to collect rubbish. The very sniffy woman opposite, with her lunch packed neatly into Tupperware containers, loudly asked the conductor: Is this a Quiet carriage or is it not? Yes it is Madam but that applies mainly to mobile phones and music was the reply. Well, I think it also means loud conversations as well so it would be good if people took notice of the fact was the very huffy response. We felt like naughty school children, and couldn’t contain our giggles. I thought Sue was going to deck her.
Liverpool was a bit nippy for this Aussie girl, but there was Sue’s Scouse daughter-in-law in a sleeveless frock “sunning” herself on the restaurant deck – in what I considered to be an Artic gale. On my urging we retired indoors for lunch. Amazingly enough, in my 3 years living in London, I had never been to Liverpool so we played at being tourists after lunch. Lunch itself was upstairs in a modern building that has been built near the Mersey docks, and gave us a perfect view of the Peter Blake painted Mersey Ferry:
A lot of money has been spent in the past 5 years rejuvenating what was a very run down and bleak downtown area. The docks have been restored and are full of shops (touristy), cafes, offices and a hotel.
Of course, no visit to Liverpool is complete without worshipping at the altar of the Beatles – but first we paid homage to another famous son, Billy Fury.
We finally staggered on to the 7.45pm train, thankfully not in a Quiet carriage – mind you, even we had run out of steam by now, and were to be found fast asleep, with our mouths open, as the train approached London. It was a big day, but worth it to meet the newest member of the Dowden clan, bless her.
Poor Sue had to work all day Wednesday so Joyce and I were left to our own devices. We had a slowish start as Joyce had to sort out her return journey to Brittany as the French rail workers had decided on Tuesday afternoon to do random strikes and had cancelled her one and only train from Lille to L’Orient the next day, bless them. And of course Eurostar wouldn’t give her a refund on that part of the journey as they were running. Poor love ended up buying another Eurostar ticket, but this time departing St Pancras at 8am, and then having to change trains at Lille for Paris and then waiting for a train to L’Orient. It took her 12 hours to get home. Yuck. Plus it meant that I missed out having brunch with her the next day, double yuck and merde.
Anyway, that sorted we headed off under a grey and gloomy sky for the Chelsea Physic Garden. We arrived just in time for a tour, which was just terrific – thank you Kate. Funny and informative, she really brought this fascinating garden alive for us. It is a beautiful oasis, hidden away behind its walls – a veritable secret garden.
The only problem was the weather – after an hour of wandering the garden we were chilled to the bone, so decamped to the cafe for a warming lunch. Revived, we headed off to the V&A for their Undressed exhibition – the history of underwear, and its influence on and by fashion.
An excellent London day ended with drinks at a friend of Sue’s, in their apartment overlooking the Thames, the church and the goslings.
Next morning we were up at 5.30 to wave Joycie off. So sad to see her walking off trundling her wheelie bag behind her. The plan was to then go back to bed but of course that didn’t happen, so I was up, washed, dressed, breakfasted and ready to hit the road by 9. I decided to walk from Battersea to Shaftesbury Avenue, so off I set on a glorious Spring day. Wandered along the King’s Road, popping into shops as the mood took me. Past Peter Jones. Through Sloane Square and Eaton Square (more huge Mercs than you can poke a stick at, plus the occasional Bentley and Roller dear). Then on past Buckingham Palace – was that a silly idea, it was changing of the Guard and the place was PACKED with tourists. Had to bring the elbows out to get through the crowd. Into Green Park, where I collapsed onto a deck chair to get my breath (I was the only one sitting in the shade mind you):
Quick stop into Hatchards, my favourite bookstore, before legging it to Nopi – one of Ottolenghi’s restaurants. No booking but they could fit me in at the bar. I was seated next to another lady on her own, so of course I started to chat to her. She was from New York, visiting because it was her birthday and her husband (lawyer with an international law firm – money no object I’m guessing) couldn’t come in the end. So, I drank to her health and we ended up sharing our lunch! Which was yummy: the roasted augergine , the octopus and then the zucchini fritters. All washed down with a glass of rosé.
I parted ways from my new best friend and legged it to the Wyndham Theatre for the 2.30 matinee of People, Places and Things. Reviews had said the play wasn’t great but the performance by the lead actress, Denise Gough, was amazing. An opinion I agree with – iffy play, wonderful acting. For £17.50 I was a very happy girl. It isn’t a visit to London if you don’t catch at least one play.
It was then on the 19 bus back to Battersea, agog at the traffic and the daring do of the cyclists, who take their life in their hands, particularly around the Wellington Arch. Bloody hell, what a long, but terrific, day.
Goodness being a tourist is Exhausting. I did not bounce out of bed on Friday morning, but the sun was shining, Sue was at work, Stuart needed his office (which was doubling as my bedroom) so needs must. I walked towards Clapham Junction and caught the 344 bus to London Bridge – my destination being the Fashion & Textile Museum for a Missoni exhibition. You certainly get your money’s worth on the 344, thought I’d never get there. There is so much building going on all around the Battersea power station, which is being made into apartments and will essentially be its own village – with a new tube stop. Opposite is the construction for the new American embassy and a residential and shopping precinct. Wall to wall cranes.
I hopped off at London Bridge, right below the gorgeous Shard:
From there I thought I would have a wander through Borough Market but it was absolutely jam packed with people – horrible. So off to the bus stop I went, only I couldn’t find it. Turns out that the 344 does not retrace its path. I went up various streets, all to no avail. Asked a fellow and he pointed me down one road. Nope. So the next bus that stopped I asked the driver. Had no idea what he said, so got off. He tooted his horn and beckoned me back. We tried again – he said stay on this bus for 2 stops then you can catch the 344. But no luck at stop 2. Another 2 stops he said. No luck. Bloody hell, I thought I’m going to end up at Dulwich at this rate. But a fellow passenger took pity on me and said he was getting off and he was changing to the 344. Well, he was not getting away from me – I clasped his arm and held on for dear life until he got me safely on to that dratted 344! You may have gathered by now the only drawback of Sue & Stu’s place is no tube, only buses. My saviour was a bit worried as he was getting off before me, but I assured him once on the bus I was fine, he could rest easy, and indeed I got myself home in one piece. Phew.
The day ended with a drink at another local pub followed by a curry at the Indian. Marvellous.
Saturday morning we all had a very slow start to the day. Lovely. Then Stu escorted me to Clapham Junction to buy my train ticket for Gatwick for next week, but not before we stopped for a coffee and a Portuguese tart at a tiny little cafe in the Battersea High Street. At last, a great coffee. Bliss.
Back home, Sue was ready for us to head off to the Farmers Market in the Duke of York Square on the Kings Road. We treated ourselves to half a dozen absolutely wonderful Maldon oysters, washed down with a glass of Prosecco. What’s not to like?
Supplies bought for our picnic supper for tonight we walked to The Surprise pub hidden in the backstreets of Chelsea – another wonderful London pub, with a lovely ambiance and good food. We were meeting Sue’s friend Vicki, an Aussie bird who has lived in London since she was a child, for lunch. I catch up with Vic each time I visit, so I’m pleased I managed to see her this trip.
We staggered home along the riverside, and ended the day sitting in the waning sun in the little back garden. It has been a wonderful week in London, but tomorrow we are off on a new adventure – the taxi is coming at 7.30am to take us to Heathrow because we are off to the Orkney Islands!!! How exciting is that.