Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Gordon's Wine Bar.

It's Saturday, and we’re planning to meet some French friends in town for an early evening drink. They're in London with a party of school children, from Arras, and they have some time off.

“I thought we could meet them in Gordon’s Wine Bar,” says Husband, as I’m making the lunch.

“I don’t like Gordon’s Wine Bar,” I say, cutting slices of avocado to put in bacon sandwiches (not mashing them, and that’s not a proper recipe, Nigella). “It's a basement, there's no view.”

“Yes, but French people like old pubs,” says Husband.

“You met them in an old pub for lunch yesterday,” I say.

“Where do you think we should meet them then?” says Husband.

“The Skylon bar,” I say, “on the South Bank.”

“Not the Skylon Bar again?” says Husband. “Why do you like that place so much?”

Why do I like that place so much?

“Because of the view," I say. "Because it's cool, with a lovely bar, because of the service, because it’s in the Festival Hall, because we can get there and back easily, because then I can get home quickly to cook dinner, because…”

“I don’t get it,” says Husband.

“That’s because you have a different set of priorities," I say, "with good beer at the top."

At the Skylon Bar I scout for a table in the window, but all I can find is something set back a bit, with low stools, so I sit there.

“What are you doing?” says Husband. “We need a table for four."

“I know," I say, pointing to a couple who are reaching for their coats and bags. "That table over there might become free in a moment."

It does, and it's perfect: the perfect table, in the perfect position, looking out at the river. There’s Hungerford bridge and the London Eye over to the left, a Waterloo sunset to the right, lights coming on all across the city as the day fades away. It's beautiful. 

Husband studies the wine list. “Have you seen these prices?” he says. 

“It’s beautiful here,” I say.

“I think it’s provincial,” he says, still looking at the wine list.

“Provincial?” I say. “It's on the South Bank.”

Our friend arrives. We’ve known him a long time, since Husband was an English assistant in the same school where he was a History teacher. I lived in France with Husband then too, briefly, for the whole of one freezing February. All the young teachers hung out together, and we hung out with them. There was a lot of drink driving (not by us, we couldn’t drive). Husband rented a tiny garret room at the top of a narrow town house. Really. There was no hot water. In lieu of a shower we heated pans of water and threw them over each other in the bath. But I’m digressing wildly, that's a whole other blog. Or possibly a French film I once saw.

Our mutual friend has another teacher in tow. She's ludicrously young, with a wide-eyed innocence that makes me feel like Mae West to her Judy Garland, especially when I suggest she orders a champagne cocktail (I tell her Husband will pay) and she replies that she’s never had one.

“I only had champagne by itself,” she says.

Of course you have, I think, you’re French, and young, and I press a raspberry and lychee Bellini on her, feeling like a crack dealer cornering a teenager on a housing estate.

Husband and our friend speak in English for my benefit, as the young teacher quietly drinks in the atmosphere, and the raspberry and lychee Bellini.

Years of living with a fluent French speaker - and dossing in a garret in northern France for a month - has hardly left a French scratch on me, although I can usually follow the conversation if I know the context, and I get very animated in the language after a couple of drinks. But who doesn’t?

The view from the Skylon is so beautiful I find it distracting. My mind floats free, far away out of the window and down river, as our friend starts talking about British politics. Where has Ed Milliband gone? he wants to know, and will Britain stay in the EU? I realise he’s addressing me.

Me? My head has drained. I have no opinions. And why does everyone keep asking me about the EU?

“I really don’t know,” I say. “In particular I have no idea what’s happened to Ed Milliband.”

He looks taken aback, I guess because I usually have a lot to say, even (especially) on topics I know nothing about. He turns to his young female companion for in-put but she’s still awestruck, gaping at the room, so he looks to Husband.

“He won’t know anything about Ed Milliband,” I say, answering for him (we've been married a long time), “and he thinks we should leave the EU. Nowadays he reads the Telegraph online.”

Our friend looks even more surprised. He wears a lot of home-knit jumpers, this friend, the wool dyed in socialism, and he hates Germany, all to do with what happened to both his grandfathers in the war. He'd like Britain to stay in the EU and Germany to leave it. 

He swivels back to me. “You don’t read the Telegraph online as well, do you?”

“Not habitually,” I say.

“Ma femme refuse de coucher avec un Conservateur!” says Husband, genially, because that’s a joke, an old one, of mine. And everyone laughs, including me, because I get that.

The young female teacher suddenly snaps into
life. “I love it here!” she says, to me. "What is it called again?"

"Skylon," I say.

"The sky's the limit!" says our friend, which, I think, is very impressive English, for a foreigner.

"It's beautiful," says the young teacher, "thank you for bringing me here.”

I try not to look smugly over at Husband, but I fail.

They all decide to go on to Gordon’s Wine Bar for one more drink before parting ways. I don’t much like Gordon’s Wine Bar so I head home to cook dinner. Plus ├ža change.

Love E x


 P.S. It was a curry. 

Gordon's Wine Bar.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Lovely things.

A lovely thing happened to me this week, actually three lovely things. I was just coming out of a cafe with a friend when she suddenly turned to me and said, "I've been thinking about your birthday."

"My birthday isn't until March," I said.

"I know," she said, "and I know you said you don't want to do anything but I wondered if you'd like to come to us. We'll host something for you, if you like. You can choose the guest list."

Wow. So kind, I thought.

"Wow, that's so kind," I said.

Then the next day a different friend said, "Have you thought about your birthday at all?" 

"Umm… " I said. "It's not until March."

"Because," she said, "I thought you might like to come to our house for a lunch. I'd invite everyone."

That's so incredibly kind, I thought. And then I said it as well.

Then on Wednesday evening when I was writing on my laptop in the kitchen as the boys and Husband were clearing the table after dinner (I reckon if I cook everything the least they can do is stuff some plates in the dishwasher), I got a lovely text from a friend.

"Hi!" it said. "Long time no see. Where have you been? I've been thinking about your birthday. Would you like us all to go out? Or we could host a dinner at our house for you, if you like."

"Wow," I said, out loud.

Husband and the two boys suddenly looked over at me.

"What?" said Husband.

"I have lovely friends," I said.

Love E x


P. S. Actually it's four things because when I returned home from talking to the lonely old ladies for a couple of hours on the phone, a few days back, there was something waiting for me on the doormat. It was a glossy brochure. "Your birthday treat at Ragdale Hall Spa!" it said, and it was from my mother.

Wow, I thought, I'm so lucky. And my birthday isn't until March.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Hunky Dory.

First thing Monday morning, in bed listening to the radio. No, scratch that, I’ve forgotten something. I need to rewind, to the weekend, to Saturday, mid-morning, when Eldest sends me a text, “I’m listening to Modern Love on my new turntable,” it says. It makes me smile. Lovely boy. 

“Lovely boy!” I reply, thinking of him in his room at uni, listening to Bowie on ‘vinyl', all happy. "Speak tomorrow,” before realising with something of a jolt that I forgot to respond to a message from him the previous evening. That’s weird. Never done that before. Been so busy.

Eldest loves Bowie. Spent most of his uni interview talking about him, apparently. Hunky Dory is his favourite album. And he loved the Bowie exhibition I took him to see at the V & A. Incredible. I hope you managed to catch it too, if not, it might make a come back - if they have any sense - and if it does, go. Grab the chance by the scruff of the neck, get a ticket, post-haste, straightaway, don’t look back.

But back to Saturday. I’m busy preparing for the party. Need to get things done. I’m making a large potato dauphinoise, marinading a side of salmon: olive oil, soy sauce, wine, garlic, chilli, all the usual things. Also doing a trifle because everyone loves a trifle, all those lovely layers, and so easy to make. Friends are bringing the rest, a dish each, so there'll be lots to go round. A table covered with food, more than we can possibly consume in one go.

Later, I’m doing the lunch now as well, about 12.00 o'clock, and Middle One appears. He’s going to stay in today, he says, also get things done: revision for his mocks. I tell him about the text.

“I don’t know that track,” he says, despite playing lots of Bowie himself lately: Under Pressure, Oh! You Pretty Things, Changes, Rebel Rebel, Heroes.

“What?” I say. “You don’t know Modern Love? It’s the best. Don't miss it. It's a throwback from the 80s, from when I was your age, it's brilliant, clever, sexy. Sexy because it's brilliant and clever.” Like Bowie himself.

So I play it in the kitchen, through the posh ceiling speakers (not that posh really, cheap, not enough bass). “Let’s dance,” I say, and so we play it, loud.

“That’s amazingly good,” says Middle One. 

“Yes it is,” I say. 

So then he plays Bowie tracks for the rest of the weekend. The whole catalogue, front to back. When his friends come round later, I go to the door. “He’s in the basement,” I say, “playing Modern Love.”

Then evening, setting up for the party. “I want hair like this,” Middle One says, coming into the kitchen again, showing me a picture of David Bowie from the mid-eighties, peroxide, blonde quiff. He says he'll use the picture as his new screen saver, on his phone. 

"Cool," I say. “I had peroxide blonde hair like that in the 80s for a while, just after uni. It was fine at first but then each time I had the roots re-done at the hairdressers, it hurt. If the bleach was on for a long time before the colour took, I had to grip the arms of the chair. The result was always worth it though.”

Wish I had a pic to show him - and you - but I can’t find one, and there were quite enough pictures of me on last week's blog. 

The birthday party is wonderful. Great friends, great food, great atmosphere. Middle One and Youngest come down to chat to people, which I love, but it makes me think about the boy who’s not here, about getting up the Saturday morning before, at 6.30 am, driving together through deserted London streets, zooming up the empty M1 to rendezvous with his friend, who was giving him a lift back to uni in his little Ford Fiesta. I didn’t mind taking him, I offered. Our time alone as mother and son is special, and rare.

It was a magical drive. A dark, crisp morning, dawn breaking as we turned down a pretty Belgravia street, towards Eaton Square. Smart shops: Baker and Spice, Jeroboams, Poilane. Twinkling Christmas lights up above.

“Wow,” said Eldest, looking up through the panoramic roof. “I know this road. This isn’t real - it's lovely - but not real.”

“I know what you mean,” I said, "but it is real. There’s a lot more to London than you think. Good and bad, and lots between.”

We're chatting and listening to music together, of course, in our comfy new car. Eldest’s choice of music, of course. So I’m happy on the way there, but miserable on the return. The empty seat beside me, only the music left to linger, me playing it over and over, the tracks he likes, Hall & Oates, for some strange reason. His clever jokes lingering too, making me smile all over again when I think of them. Bittersweet.

Finally, back to Monday morning. Remember? That’s where I began, lying in bed, listening to Radio 4. David Bowie comes on: Starman. "He'd like to come and meet us, But he thinks he'll blow our minds."

“David Bowie was…” says the presenter.

“He just said ‘was,'" I say to Husband, who is dashing round the room, getting ready for work.

“What?” says Husband, "Who? When? What are you talking about?"

“On the radio. David Bowie. The presenter just said ‘was.’ Past tense." 

I don’t want to hear past tense. I want to hear present tense. I want to hear future tense. It hits me: David Bowie has died. Just.

"He’s died!" I say, "So sad! I can’t believe it, the timing, just when both the older boys are really into him.”

"Don’t tell Middle One," says Husband, "not until he’s had his breakfast. It won't be in the papers at least, too soon."

I hope not, I think. If he is dead I don't want to read about it. Not now. Not ever. I want to keep him alive in my head, singing, clever, sexy. Forever.

I go downstairs to catch the paper boy.

Love E x


P.S. I loved Bowie when I was a little girl too. The Laughing Gnome might be best forgotten but it was one of the first records I remember playing on my dad’s record player (an old copy!), that and Don't Give Up On Us by David Soul. Embarrassing. But I was only about ten. And it was a huge hit.

Friday, 8 January 2016


One of my friends made this cake, she knows who she is.

January: a fresh start, and I'd like to begin 2016 by paying tribute to someone. Warm, patient, understanding, mature, puts other people first… She knows who she is, at least she will in a minute. 

She knows who she is.

It was this friend who suggested I write a blog. "You love stories, Elizabeth," she said, one day over coffee in a local cafe, before she moved away from south London, "you should write a blog."

This is true: I love stories, especially short ones. Telling stories, chatting, joking, writing, reading, heart dangling precariously off the end of my sleeve, that's me, a 'what you see is what you get' kind of girl, when I get round to it, because I can be a bit crap at getting round to stuff, as my friends will attest, except for the stories. Stick with me for 2016 and I'll tell you some more right here, one a week.

Women are lucky to have close female friends: a lifeline to sanity in a world that can sometimes seem a complicated place. We help each other out, we pick each other's kids up from school, we drop each other's kids off at activities on Saturday, we grab an extra bag of shopping for each other when someone is ill or has just had a baby, and someone is always having a baby, at least they were. We offer our washing machine to wash each other's dirty laundry in privately when our knackered old one has gone on the blink, which unfortunately it always seems to.

And I'm fortunate to have wonderful friends near by, as well as the one who moved away, a whole coterie, one of the closest living in the house directly opposite. This is because I suggested she rent it shortly after she had her fourth baby and the house she was living in at the time was bursting at the seams with children, a lovely husband, and a large quantity of musical instruments. I recall they had a drum kit in their bedroom.

No one should have a drum kit and a baby in their bedroom, I thought. So I proposed they rent a slightly larger house that had recently become available across the street, and they did. Later they bought it. Now I have her on tap day and night. We see each other all the time as we nip in and out of our homes. We're always scrounging things off one another. I had some rosemary from her the other day because I had most unusually run out, she countered with cinnamon sticks last night. Sometimes we wave to each other from our bedroom windows. She’s one of the loveliest people I know, and I know a lot of lovely people.

With one of the loveliest people I know.

There are other friends I should mention, in particular one who said, “What’s happening about that novel you were writing?” when I had given it up and shoved it in a drawer. She put me in touch with a friend of hers who knows a literary agent, who took me on and has encouraged me to keep writing, which, you will be pleased to hear, I will. So that favour is one of the sweetest things anyone has ever done for me. 

Then there are two friends who make me laugh out loud, both northerners like me who laugh at everything and anything but especially themselves because above all else life can be funny, and fun, and we should never forget that (I think I did forget it there briefly, in the bonkers run up to Christmas), I love hanging out with them. 

And then there's the friend who dragged us off camping and skiing for the first time, when I had given up hope of ever going camping or skiing because Husband wasn’t keen (no photo of you, sorry!). And the friend who is brilliant at arranging things for us to do together: theatre and cinema and stuff. And the friend who sends me out of the blue text messages that simply say, "Coffee?" so that I invariably reply, "Wilco," and drop what I'm doing and go, if I can.

Lovely coffee friend, who speaks fluent Russian.

And the one I went to Ghana with, where we conducted an illicit sex education lesson together for a group of teenage girls under a tree, unwrapping condoms we got from the local clinic and pulling them down over our fingers - and that sort of thing bonds you to a person. A friend who’s preternaturally energetic, gets up at the crack of dawn and runs at weekends, the sort of friend every woman should have, up for anything and everything day or night, top of everyone's party invitation list.

I'm lucky to have such amazing friends, too many to mention in one post, all of them much loved and appreciated.

I’ll be seeing some of them tomorrow as it happens, when a few of us gather at our house to celebrate a significant birthday. Not my own, but the birthday of the mate I mentioned at the top, the one who suggested I write this little blog, which I'm amazed anyone has ever taken notice of but apparently they have, if the stats are anything to go by. 

Sorting the venue was the easy part, I'm ever-ready to host a party, the date was more tricky. I haven’t seen her since before Christmas when we were both flat-out busy and I had to cancel our plan to meet. I can’t wait to catch up. It promises to be a happy and memorable occasion.

So, wherever you are tomorrow at eight o'clock, when it all kicks off round our gaff, raise a glass of bubbly with us to female friendship, and in particular to my friend in a million. Happy significant birthday V.

Love, as always, E x


P.S. Two new year's resolutions: swim more (so addicted to it), and make my own bread, off to have a go at that now.

Some friends in sunny Italy, which wasn't.

A wonderful friend who moved to Australia, and I still haven't got over it.