Sunday, 19 December 2010
However, I did not let the treacherous black ice, white snow and inevitable gray slush stop me from venturing out this weekend. Oh no. I travelled in the blizzard to Gypsy Hill to admire my friend, the Doctor's, enormous conifer. We drank small black coffees in his large, newly decorated, open plan kitchen. And while cars scudded and slid gingerly down the hill, we walked through the squeaky, fresh snow to the Dulwich Picture Gallery to see the Norman Rockwell exhibition. Our friendship was forged in New York, so the paintings of apple-cheeked-Americans in milk-bars and on front porches, set against the bleak midwinter setting, suited us perfectly. It got dark and we stayed out, drinking whisky & ginger in a wood-panelled pub while the Doctor mused on how much it looked like upstate New York. I thought it rather more like Dorking but no matter. Then we snow-ploughed our way back through the empty streets, to Gypsy Hill, to eat tapas, alone, in an empty restaurant. It was delicious, it had effectively been cooked....just for us.
Sunday brought more fun in the snow. I met my mate Dave for our annual Christmas do. Once, many years ago, whilst between careers, we came up with a sure-fire-quick-fix business idea, called 'Done & Dusted'.....but that's a whole other story. The business never really got beyond the planning stage but we did implement the office Christmas party and we make sure we never miss it. This year we decided to meet for brunch at the feverishly fashionable, A Little Of What You Fancy, much recommended by Fashion's Most Wanted, in Dalston, the 21st century, uber-hip, cutting-edge home of all that is mad, bad and the next big thing. And it was delicious: creamy scrambled eggs with slabs of excellent bacon and spicy Bloody Marys fortified us for a walk to Brick Lane, popping into the Geffrye Museum, because we never had before and it seemed churlish not to. Then we fought our way through the dazed Sunday tourists and confused leftover-clubbers, to 18 Folgate Street, Dennis Severs' House. It has taken me 6 years to finally get here having walked past it forever. We were told to leave our 21st century selves outside, and so we said goodbye to all that is hip and groovy and Spitalfields, and entered the 18th Century, Huguenot home of the Jervais family. Lit only by candle and open fires, we wandered alone (unheard of in these days of health and safety) and in silence, although the urge to whisper did overcome us on several occasions. Amusingly, there are notes dotted about the rooms reminding those of us unable to shut up to do just that. It is the most brilliant experience. The house is a time capsule of it's day, appearing untouched and as if the various family members have just left the room, their meal interrupted, a half empty glass of wine on the table, a guttering candle in need of replacing, a log spitting in the grate and outside the sound of horses hooves as a couch drives by...... every one should go.
Top tip: If you haven't sorted it by now, forget it, because the tree tops are glistening and even if the children aren't listening....I think I hear sleigh bells in the snow.....
Monday, 6 December 2010
I knew the game was up when waking one Christmas morning, the pillowcase at the end of my bed did not bulge jubilantly with miss-shapen, hastily wrapped gifts but instead sagged limply, a few small packages nestling forlornly at the bottom.
'Less presents, yes,' my mother said, thoughtfully, 'but more expensive.'
And of course she was right. The garish, colourful craziness of kids' toys were replaced with smaller items comprised of silver and semi-precious stones, heady smelling scents and citrus-enfused potions for bath and body replaced Kerplunk and Mouse Trap. No more the hardback annuals of youth, instead Twiggy by Twiggy and the Vogue Book of Beauty, a chocolate-brown, fringed shoulder bag in softest suede, a starter-pack of mini-Mary Quant lipsticks and a bright-yellow tin emblazoned with the Mary Quant flower logo, full of fat, waxy colouring crayons for eyes, lips and cheeks.... I couldn't have been happier if Mary Quant herself had climbed out of my pillowcase.
I can still remember the bitter taste of loss as the train where I'd left my bag, replete with my Mary Quant booty, pulled out of the station. Feet frozen on the platform, the sense of something-wrong-but-not-sure-what hanging low in the air and then the shattering realisation that my fabulous day out in Brighton with my best friend, had ended in the certain loss of my much prized macquillage....
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas and last week, despite the weather outside being frightful, I went to something called a 'Holiday Singalong' at the Purcell Room on the Southbank. Billed as an evening of festive merriment with Harry Shearer (legendary base player with Spinal Tap and the voice of many characters in The Simpsons), his jazz-singing wife, Judith Owen, and .......friends. We were surprised to find the place was packed, cheek by jowl you might say, with gays in chains and uber-hip chicks in strange headgear and vertiginous heels. Who knew this was their fan base? It turned out they were there to see John Waters, appearing in the Queen Elizabeth Hall.... which made more sense. No matter though because we were soon rocking around the Christmas tree. Audience participation is not my first choice for a night out but, fuelled with a pint of wine, I was soon singing from the same hymn sheet as Richard Thopmson and Ruby Wax....it was nothing if not an eclectic cast. We listened to hip-harpist Lucinda Belle and the gorgeous Jacqui Dankworth (who looks and sounds just like mum Cleo Laine) sing a fabulous version of 'Baby It's Cold Outside' to her new husband pianist Charlie Wood.....just like her dad...... and yes, outside it was a winter wonderland.
Top tip: check out this fabulous emporium of all things vintage: Detail, and from now until Christmas just enter XMAS on the checkout to receive 15% off!! http://www.detail.bigcartel.com/
Thursday, 2 December 2010
How do you know you're getting old? When the sight of snow flakes makes you groan with with fear and alarm at the thought of so many undone tasks, delayed trains, potentially twisted ankles and bruised butts rather than whooping with joy and punching the air in the certain knowledge that chaos plus cancellation equals untold fun. I'm still in the 'isn't it pretty' phase but it's early days. I remember my first winter in NY. We'd spent Christmas in Jamaica (so brilliant...but that's a whole other story) and got back on a Monday.
'Has it been snowing?' I asked the cab driver, fearful we might have missed the magic of a snowy Manhattan.
'Nope, not much.' he replied.
On Friday it started and didn't stop till April. April!! I kid you not. It was the coldest/biggest/whitest winter since the beginning of recorded time. But it was great. Well the first couple of months were. I even saw my one and only ice storm which is quite and extraordinary sight. But the thing is, everything worked. Snow ploughs cleared the city's avenues and streets, dumping tones of snow and ice in the river, everyday. The subways worked, the city schools stayed open, taxis came and went, the side walks were cleared. We'd go out in the evenings, all dressed up in full arctic kit (I still have my oh-so-horrid, green puffy coat, $25 in an Old Navy sale, glamorous it may not be but it works). We'd drink martinis and make snow angels on the way home. And the heating....oh what joy when the clank of those pipes herald the arrival of the heat, controlled from some distant boiler-room, buried deep in the bowels of the building.....
But life is very different here. A bit of rain and it floods, a couple of hot days and people are dropping in the streets, government health warnings are issued. And now it snows and everything stops. It's as if we've never seen anything like it before. Hello...was everyone on holiday last winter?
I have a friend..... waxed, plucked and packed for a quick trip to an Indian beach ....hoping to fly this weekend who's panicking big time. And were I in that enviable position I too would be cursing the weather Gods. However, I'm not. North London hasn't so far taken much of a hit, not compared to my friends in the south who assure me they're still trying to shovel a path to the tube. So I'm lucky. I'm lucky I can pay the bills again so the heating is set at Bombay, I can walk to Waitrose and the cinema, I can bake Nigella's scones for tea, my needs are few...... And the city is half empty as everywhere else is claiming a white out. It's quite nice really.
Top tip: check out this fabulous emporium of all things vintage: Detail, and from now until Christmas just enter XMAS on the checkout to receive 15% off! http://www.detail.bigcartel.com/
Friday, 26 November 2010
I was invited to spend the weekend at the home of a much loved, mildly eccentric, very dear friend who, pre-empting the rush for tartan blankets, has bought a house in Worthing.
'It's called the Dylan Project,' he said, 'In Shorham, we've got tickets, you must come down, it'll be great.'
And why not...... I bought my ticket to the gig online and, in order to avoid the vast sums demanded at stations, I bought my train tickets ahead of time too. Then my dear friend announced he was sick and being a bloke he wasn't just ordinary sick he was super-sized-dying-almost-dead-sick.
And so it was, I found myself alighting at the railway station in Shorham-by-sea. Alone and in the dark, I trundled my weekend-away sized wheely case down the deserted road. We weren't in Kansas anymore. Despite it only being 6.30 I was panicked on the streets of Shorham. Freezing cold, I found a pub and, resisting the urge to shout, 'I'm from London, I'm just visiting', to the six locals who'd tuned as one to stare, I ordered a whiskey and ginger ale, for medicinal purposes, the price of which would barely buy you a coke back home. Result. And waited for my dear friend's lovely girlfriend to rescue me.
And she did, whisking me away from the hinterland and into downtown Shoreham's heady nightlife. If not by the sea exactly we were definitely near water and the strip was buzzing, they even have a shop which sells fine chocolates and fancy clothes. Together. In the same place. An interesting and bold move I thought. They have a wine bar, and a woodeny-looking gastro pub and a lighting store that sells giant disco balls. We ate delicious crispy whitebait and triple-cooked chips in 'Chambers', housed in the former Town Hall and were waited on by possibly the friendliest, young staff I've ever encountered. Honestly, if ever you're in Shorham go there. Then it was off to ........ Ropetackle.
It may sound like a Dutch nightclub but Ropetackle is an arts centre. Getting in was our first challenge as the front doors had 'no entry' stamped across them. Interestingly, once inside I noticed they had 'no exit' stamped on the other side. But that was not the only odd thing about the evening ahead. Uncharacteristically for a gig, the 8pm start time appeared to have been diligently adhered to and as late entrants we were told, by the octogenarian who took our tickets, we would have to wait till the end of the song before we could sit down. Sit down!?! Once behind the closed door we were greeted by the sight of a sea of gray-haired couples sporting fleeces and high-waisted jeans, sat in the brightly lit room, enjoying the band. Struck by an attack of nervous hysterics, I stuffed my scarf into my mouth while my friend steered me towards the trestle-table-bar-facility, nestled at one side of the room.
And the band played on.....
An avuncular crew, dressed in relaxed fit denim and with only the keyboard player sporting sunglasses, but they may well have been prescription, they were all men of a certain age. Indeed, at one point the guitarist suggested they do a song they'd already sung. The lead singer, dressed in regulation rock'n'roll black, came with more than whiff of past excesses, as all good lead singers should. A wiry gent, one Steve Gibbons, late of The Steve Gibbons Band of the 70s, (think one of those blokes from a Never Mind The Buzzcocks line-up) and who, according to wikipedia, would most definitely have a few tales to tell about the glory years, blew with confidence into his array of harmonicas. They were indeed a competent team and a good deal more coherent than Bob ever is, choosing, it seemed, songs mainly from his back, back-catalogue. I'm a fan of the great man and I only new about half.....'Signore' I shall single out for a special mention. But if Dylan had become a wedding singer I think this is what he'd sound like.
To add to the Twin Peaks meets Spinal Tap: the sequel, experience, we noticed a handsome youth with streaky blond hair and a wispy goatee, sat centre front, his eyes fixed lovingly and not a little alarmingly, upon Mr. Gibbons throughout the performance. And after, he leapt to his feet, clutching his vinyl collection, requesting autographs and photos. He can only have been about 26. I blame the Internet.
The band certainly seemed to enjoy themselves and the packed house loved it, despite being told to stomp their feet and rattle their dentures during, 'Everybody Must Get Stoned', and even gave them a standing ovation....well, those of them who could stand. Surprised I may have been, and closer in age than I like to think, at how old these revellers were, lest we forget, these over-sixties, with their flowing gray-locks and M&S hippie-summer separates, were at the coalface of the festival scene. These were the naked, dancing peaceniks with flowers in their hair, the pot-smoking, afghan-coated students of the summer of love that spawned the Glastonbury's, Latitudes and Big Chills that we now take for granted. We owe them our festival fun.
Despite the on-site bar facility, during the interval, an elderly lady with a large badge bearing the title 'Volunteer', came around the seated audience selling tubs of ice cream. She sold out. The times they are a changing......
Top tip: check out this fabulous emporium of all things vintage, Detail, and from now until Christmas just enter XMAS on the checkout to receive 15% off!
Saturday, 20 November 2010
Friday, 12 November 2010
Monday, 8 November 2010
Tuesday, 2 November 2010
Tuesday, 26 October 2010
Of course the meds only mask the symptoms, what I need is a hot water-bottle and bed. Instead, I forge on in a gentle fug, everything seems a little other-worldly which isn't bad, in fact, it feels like Christmas, traditionally the time I fall ill. However, this feeling of being out of it does not just preclude the use of heavy machinery, opportunities can be lost too. Once, way, way back in the early 80s, mid-way through a summer cold and heavily medicated, I was seated at a cramped table in a subterranean London restaurant: Food For Thought, a popular emporium of fine vegetarian cuisine ..........still in Covent Garden ..... it might have been a storage cupboard in a former life. A woolly-haired man with a big nose and glasses sat down opposite me. He wore khaki shorts and a khaki T-shirt with the words 'Temple Of Doom' emblazoned across it. He unfurled a large copy of Variety, looked straight at me and said:
I glared wearily back, nodded politely. Being unfamiliar with such familiarity I continued to peruse the listings pages of my Time Out whilst working my way through a large bowl of unevenly cooked brown rice. I was far more interested in a devilishly handsome boy at the adjacent table who bore more than a passing resemblance to a young Michael York. The boy was deep in conversation with a small, elderly man who had something of the Einstein about him: his old piano teacher, his Latin master, Oskar Schindler? I would never know. By now the nods and smiles of my wannabee, khaki-clad, lunch partner had increased quite alarmingly and he'd begun to irk as I felt the space between me and my spicy tofu being invaded. My blatant staring at the boy next door (a subtle technique I employed to attract members of the opposite sex in my youth) had gone unnoticed. I lost interest and turned my attention to the nodding man in khaki. But by now he'd given up on me. He shook his Variety for the last time, smiled, and bid me farewell. I looked again, said good-bye, vague recognition flooding my mind. As his sun-kissed limbs gambolled up the stairs the light dawned...............it was Steven bloody Spielberg. Like a moment from a movie the lights flared, the violins soared and I basked in the reflected glory of a close encounter of a celebrity kind. If only I'd engaged in conversation, smiled, tap-danced, just acknowledged his existence ........ who knows what might have happened. At worst a trip to the 'Temple Of Doom' set, a glance at Harrison Ford? At best a few million in alimony. If not for that cold I could have been Amy Irving........
I have subsequently discovered we've all got this cold, well almost all of us, certainly everyone in London. Friends are coming forward with their own favourite cures, I'm currently swigging All In One during the day and doing the hot toddy by night in order to complete the gruelling schedule of work and entertainment. I feel so out of it now, for all I know I could be better. Last night I went to a screening of The Kids Are All Right which was excellent. I went to bed with hot whiskey and lemon, thinking about lesbians but dreaming of the ex-that-broke-my-heart ......... looking remarkably like the lion in The Wizard of Oz ........ what a nightmare.
To tip: Laugh and cry in The Kids Are All Right......oh Annette do I hear the sound of Oscars?
Thursday, 21 October 2010
But the thing is....... maybe it's an age thing, maybe it's a seasonal thing..... I just want to stay home, under the duvet, on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket, anywhere with a TV, watching winter telly. Because even with modern science allowing me to watch whatever whenever, it's hard to keep up. And everything makes me cry, whether it's Ann Widdecombe (clearly getting the Michael Portillo make-over and fast becoming a national treasure lite), almost whirling around the Strictly dance floor, or Dame Maggie scoring points over Penelope Wilton in Downton Abbey, ITV Sunday 9pm, which I'm loving for all it's stand-aside-madam, pre-war-Sunday-night-pomposity and the excellent Jim Carter whose nose must have it's own agent by now, entering ever room as it does, several minutes before anyone else. And now I have a supersized crush on Hugh Bonneville to deal with too. Not to mention Single Father, at the same time on BBC1, to which I have now become hooked. Is it just me, or is David Tennant rather vulnerably cute? I think he's very good, who knew? I missed what I believe was his masterful Hamlet, opting to see Jude Law instead when they were both strutting their stuff upon the stage (there is only so much Hamlet anyone person can take....) which I now rather regret. Jude's was OK, from the squat school of acting, as in he would randomly squat down on his haunches to deliver any given speech as if eyeing up a particularly tricky boules movement. And then of course there's Mad Men, Don Draper what are you doing? So many shows, so little time.......
Top tip: stay in and listen to Jarvis Cocker's Sunday Service, 6 Music Sundays 4pm
Saturday, 16 October 2010
Friday, 8 October 2010
Friday, 1 October 2010
Tuesday, 28 September 2010
Friday, 24 September 2010
Forty Not Out
A Rose Beyond the Thames