London and a bit of Oxford.
I am currently sitting on a train looking out at amazingly lush English countryside with overcast weather but no rain. I know that this is Englnad at it's best but it is a most beautiful country. Rolling hills golden cornfields, medieval houses, yellow rape, pretty colourful gardens, weeping willows over quiet streams......all gorgeous. OK, so at times I have to look beyond the cramped and badly kept estates, the graffiti, the peroxide blondes in tight skirts, tight white tops revealing pink bras (maybe i didn't look past her) and down-at-heal industrial estates, but let's not spoil the picture.
We are on our way from London to Oxford armed with some of the best snacks Marks & Spencer's Simply Food can offer. This is the end of 4 action packed and fantastically enjoyable days in London, catching up with friends and re-visiting old haunts.
London remains a truly fantastic city. It's buildings are magnificent, the tube a marvel (I didn't think that when I lived there, but having seen alot of other attempts at public transport and having to suffer the appalling system in Sydney, I now understand how good it is), the history incredible, the party never ending, and the wealth obscene. Best of all due to the Olympics, it works really really well. This is due to a combination of great organisation, an army of volunteers and that many Londoners are keeping well away. We didn't wait more than 2 minutes for a tube that was never packed. It is clean and shiny and for a short time only, customer service seems to be good. All fantastic.
We caught up with Damian and Amanda on Thursday evening in our £400 a night one bedroom squat near the Tower of London. A couple of months ago we had to decide if we spin the wheel of fortune, book something last minute and risk either getting a penthouse for a £100 or camp out in someone's backyard in Tooting Bec for £1000, or take the plunge on a ok looking place conveniently placed but obviously taking advantage of Olympic demand. We did the latter and the place was fine ish........... if you discount the shower hanging off the wall, the fact that two bedrooms meant one bedroom and a sofa bed in the living room and it felt just a little dirty. The best thing is this gave us loads of excuses to stay out. So we went straight out.
We took D&A to experience the delights of Le Relais de Venise, a small very French place off Oxford Street at the bottom end of Marylebone High Street. They do one thing only: thinly cut, lightly cooked steak with chips and a 'special sauce'. Salad and bread is the starter (and the maincourse if you are a veggie) and the house wine is great. Only one question is asked; 'How do you like it cooked?'. Options are rare (blue), medium (rare) and well done (nearly rare). A great place and very popular. Perhaps too popular as we had to queue after first going for a pint in the hope the queue would get smaller (it didn't). The upside of this diversion is that I found myself at the bar next to a guy who I used to work with in Canada. I think he thought I now live in a fantasy world:
Richard 'Where are you now?';
'When did you arrive back in the UK?'
'two hours ago'
'Crikey. You don't look too Jet lagged'
'We only flew from Tromso today'
'Crikey. What were you doing there?'
'Coming back from the Arctic'
Scoff was great, but eating at 9.30 was not great for D&A who had flown in that morning.
After a great nights sleep between polyester sheets in our sweaty noise box, J and I ventured forth to do all the things it is hard to do in Oz: get Cartier watch straps, buy Paul Smiths socks at a reasonable price etc before popping in to Fortnum's for a quick glass off their house Champagne (made by Billicart- Salmon). It was nice. So we had another. That was nice, so we got a bottle. We found that Phil and Bec's (who live close to us in Sydney) were in the area, so we stayed a while and met them (which was great: we don't see enough of them in Sydney). We were then joined by Bridge........so we got another bottle. Them D&A showed up, so we got another. We left after 3 hours and the world seemed rosy, too rosy for a man who was hosting 16 people in the Tower of London a few hours later.
A shower, a change into Black Tie and a glass of Champagne did the trick and we had a great night.
When serving, a man can get really spoilt by the privileges accessible to an Army Officer (not the living in holes, or the riots, or the nasty people with rifles or the pulling on a gas mask in the desert and crossing fingers that Tony B was wrong about weapons of mass destruction as the first Iraqi missile comes our way stuff, but the dinners in wonderful places, the invitations to Queens Garden Parties, Embassy Receptions stuff). Now out for a few years, I realise just how lucky I was and how lucky I am that "once a Fusilier, always a Fusilier" means I get to get a group of friends together and have dinner in The Tower of London. Not only is it a great place, it also means people come and see us!!
We had drinks of the roof overlooking the White Tower, with Tower Bridge adorned with Olympic Rings in the background, good scoff in the dining room surrounded by lovely silver and old Regimental Colours, served by the great staff (Paul, the Mess Steward knew me when I was serving and insisted on calling me Sir all night, which was very odd after all this time). At the end of the night a Yeoman of the Guard (the very funny David) came and told us the story of the Ceremony of the Keys, whilst flirting with Bridget and keeping us all in hysterics, before taking us to the gates to witness this historic event. A great experience but at the end, standing in front of British soldiers, most of whom would have seen active front line service, knowing the carnage our forces has been through in the last 10 years, how many have been killed and injured and how many are yet to take their own lives due to their experiences, listening to last post was emotionally difficult, but very very poignant.
Then we left and it got very very messy. First to Balls Brothers who had reserved us an area in their deserted bar. Which was perfect as our increasing noise filled it. Then to a night club around the corner where Balls Brothers had put us on ten Guest List and I thank my lucky stars that London does not have the same anal approach to drunkenness that Australia suffers. 50% of us at least would have been knocked back, in particular Paco, who on deciding he could not manage the 200 meter walk between bar and nightclub without a 'traveller' put a glass of red wine into his inside pocket, was knocked on the arm and arrived at the club looking like a stabbing victim. Who cares? He had money and could still walk and talk so of course he could come in. Even better I somehow managed to blag our way into the VIP area so had a huge area all to ourselves and we could dance our ridiculous dances to our hearts content without fear of offending strangers.
Parties such as this have their toll and when 8 of us met for breakfast the next day only Bloody Mary's kept some of our heads of the table (Jodie). We did keep the staff of Dawlanys entertained though.
By the evening I was off booze, sweating a horrible grey slime and feeling like death. Even dinner with D&A at the Ivy with a couple of glasses of wine did not stop me shaking and I was not looking forward to sitting in a packed theatre for a few hours. We went to see 'One Man, Two Governors" and it was fantastic. Not only did I not leave at half time, I stayed awake and we all laughed like banshees. If you get the chance, go see it.
12 hours off the booze ensured that Sunday could be enjoyed. A little light shopping, a healthy smoothly in Selfridges then meeting with Guy, Lou and Thomas for a Champagne Sunday Brunch at the Hyatt Regency in Portman Square. Not quiet as good as the Landmark (which was full) but about 2/3rds of the price, so good value. Seeing Guy and Lou again was fantastic. I had not seen them for over a year and for Jodie it was nearly 4 and is was like we had never been away. Lots and lots of fun. In two weeks they will be parents. I hope it is a girl. One Guy is enough.
Helan G joined us after lunch having just completed a long per marathon run and needing some booze. Christian, Sarah, the very bright and entertaining 10 year old Thomosin and her au pair joined us later. It was the au pairs 18th birthday and I think she may have been shocked by her entry into adulthood. I am sure she has met more responsible 12 year olds.
Helen, Jodie and I finished the day in a very good curry house around the corner where the manager complimented me on my shirt (yellow with pink sweet peas). He told me it reminded him of some of the great Bollywood stars of the 1960's. Not sure how I feel about that.
It was great to see so many friends. I won't say old friends as although we can be bad at keeping in touch, we have known so many for so long, meeting up again is seamless. Straight back to stupidity. We are lucky that we know so many great, fun loving and interesting people.
Monday saw us taking a train to Oxford, staying in the lovely Malmasion hotel which is in a very old prison in the center of town and shopping like demons in Bicester Village designer outlet center to take advantage of the strong Aussie $. Not fun but worthwhile,
07 August. The next part of the adventure has started and we are on the train to Liverpool to see Jodie's parents. It takes us close to the Wides/ Runcorn bridge, which I could see from my Grandparents house when I was growing up. I thought it looked a lot like Sydney Harbor Bridge. It doesn't. The mud flats underneath are a long way from the harbor as well. And lets not mention the chemical factory.
I am only staying a day before heading down to my mothers near Ludlow. Unfortunately Mum fell over and broke an arm so I am taking advantage of my presence in the UK to go and pamper her for 5 days. I would like to think I can also dry out but I have to remember my current behavior is derived from nature as well as nurture, so this is unlikely. And my brother Nic arrives on Thursday. Ho hum.