Yes, just in time for 'Réveillon' or New Years Eve; the emphasis here being on obscene amounts of food rather than drink that seemed to feature in most UK parties I can remember (or not).
I went back to spend Christmas with Mum in her home; a quiet affair along with the other residents dressed in their best, and silently sporting the required silly hats, etc. A handsome Christmas lunch and attentive kindly staff still wasn't enough to dispel the sadness for Mum and the others at not being in their own homes, but . . . c'est la vie, and as these places go, she's in a very fine one.
A couple of days after, I packed my stuff, said goodbye to my generous UK family and departed for LONDON. Yes! A whole day on my own to wander lonely as a cloud, urban pigeon or enthusiastic traffic warden.
Equipped with over-insured hire car, I ventured into the West End; past favourite buildings and parks, expecting the usual traffic-snarls, but was amazed to find it was QUIET. Of course, post-festive slumber and rest from shopping; but surely the sales would be in full madness along Oxford Street? Nope, pretty quiet there too. Great. An easy drive around London, stopping like bemused pensioner at any recalled shop front or familiar road: Oh . . . that's where the police stopped me, driving down a one way street the wrong way with a styrofoam cup and bacon sandwich in one hand, and the A to Z in the other.
First nostalgia stop: Titian house in Nassau Street, just off Goodge Street, where I lived for a couple of years in the mid 80s
My flat, about the size of a Transit van, and a filthy pit, was at least hyper-central; the area oddly village-like in the early mornings and at weekends.
Jasper, a character in my book Going out in the Midday Sun, enjoys the delights of the same flat. I may post an extract, if I can figure out how to patch Word into this blog.
Next stop, Spitalfields: mainly as the lead character in my current book lives there in a church (Christchurch).
Unfortunately, the Vicar wasn't around and his housekeeper\wife\? was not full of festive help and told me to go away (more or less) when I knocked on the rectory door. I did however find my ex-employer/stylist, Sue, was still in residence at one of the beautiful old houses on Wilkes Street; we had tea and a chat, and she gave me a parking permit, allowing me continue my 'flanning' around Brick lane and the now-ruined Spitalfields market. I say ruined from my perspective, as someone who loves 'real' places and hopes hopelessly that things will stay as they are.
When I worked as Sue's assistant, the market was a magical place full of exotic smells: tropical fruit, stacks of lilies, earthy veg . . . and sounds: barking vendors, birds foraging endlessly for discarded fruit, and lorries arriving and departing loaded with world-wide produce. Now it's a vast cavern of arty gifts, cafés and expensive clothes shops, that looks like a lot of the rest of London.
Shop fronts/landmarks from around the area.
The fabulous blue of the Sandy's Row Synagogue
Below, the London fruit exchange.
I went in and asked if they would like to take a very brown banana I found in the car in exchange for a nice ripe mango, but they weren't interested.
I then got lost as The knowledge what I once had, has been replaced by bits of Toulouse and Marseille. Ending up somewhere in Shoreditch, I spied another magnificent church (St Leonard's) and risked a residents parking area to go and look in more depth. The church in my novel, and in my mind, became replaced by this one as I looked around. Christchurch, Spitalfields - pah! St Leonard's - Mm . . . yep.
While lurking around the back and checking out the graveyard, I met one of the Church trustees, and, along with two other visitors, was given a guided tour of the crypt, the highpoint of which, for me, was the monstrous old oil boiler, and the complex, rusting electrical system - apparently this was the second church in Britain to run on prayer, candlelight and electricity.
Deciding I was harmless, Robin (above) the trustee let me in and introduced me to Paul the vicar - it was his birthday and was marking it by playing the organ at that point. The building is beautiful, and in need of some restoration; if my book ever propels me towards fortune, I will give them a large donation for their kindness in letting me amble about - even in the vestry, as I planned where my character and her horse would live.
Stomach protesting, I headed off in a vague direction towards Hackney, where I thought I could remember a wonderful old formica-infested café; alas it had long gone, but I did stumble across 'The Broadway', Hackney's colourful market street, stuffed with interesting shops and cafés. So stuffed in fact by the before-mentioned and a riot of happy arty/middleclass folk enjoying the afternoon sun, that I thought I had stepped into a film shoot; Hugh Grant about to appear at any moment hurrying along to the pub he would be drinking in for Take Five of Three weddings, a funeral and a pot of jellied eels. Talking of which, after a stroll along the canal to admire the giant latticed-metal gasometers glowering in the distance, I remembered I was hungry and so to F. Cookes eel and pie shop sitting unbudgingly on the Broadway.
It was just like the one I recall in Greenwich: all tiles, strip lighting and ancient posters about how EEL is good for you. I'd always ducked out of actually ordering the fish, opting for PIE, but in the light of - what the **** is actually in a meat pie, I opted for the hot eel and liquor.
I'd so love to be able to say it was delicious, but it was truly vile. I had to hide most of the gelatinous/spiny stuff under the spoon, much to the delight of my neighbour- a local man- who said, and I quote: 'Fuck! you didn't try ve EEl did yer?' Well, it was worth it for the mug of Creosote, and the happy knowledge that F. Cooke's emporium would withstand any amount of planning applications from Costa's or Starbuck's who would be met with a resounding FUCK OFF from themselves and all local residents.
After a quick tour of the Barbican, I got stuck in a huge traffic jam in Islington, got totally lost and eventually arrived at my friend's flat keening for a cup of tea, and to put my feet up.
In the morning, duly refreshed I made my way to Stansted, returned the car and fought my way through the crowds to customs.
I was glad to see Ryanair have now introduced a 'Menopausal Women' fast lane, complete with cold air misters, free ice cube-full drinks and gentle doe-eyed young men giving shoulder massages; thus avoiding all the sweating and swearing of and from wild-eyed women (like myself) removing and re-doning layers of clothing throughout the whole preparation-for-flying process.
Happy New Year.