Sunday, 19 December 2010

Skating on black ice.....

I was amused whilst watching Miranda last night ( I honestly don't really like the show but I honestly really do like her....go figure) when her Dad, deliciously played by Tom Conti, kept referencing the treacherous black ice. The treachery of black ice was of course my own Dad's first fear, the moment snow flakes appeared in the sky and, as a child, I eagerly awaited it, imagining it to be much like the blanket of oh-so-wanted white snow. Except black. It's fear spread throughout all plans and events, curtailing trips after dark, cancelling carol concerts, pantomimes and parties, my Mum's brow furrowed as my Dad looked skyward, weighing up the possible outcome of any journey anywhere and deciding staying in would be best, while I tearfully looked on. Now, Miranda calls upon her own experiences I believe, and is a good deal younger than me, so therefore I must assume that all Dads, of all ages, fear the treacherous black ice, above all else. And it made me laugh. Perhaps that's why I like having her in my home.

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

Being good ....for goodness sake....

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 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!!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow....

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!