…when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. So said Samuel Johnson in the 18th century. Clearly things have changed since then because I think it’s very easy to tire of the place; it only takes a day or two and I’m itching to be home, away from the noise, grime, hassle and sheer non-stopness of it all. Having said that, I like a short visit. London is undeniably one of the great cities of the world – and it doesn’t have to be hideously expensive.
Apart from the museums (free), art galleries (free), show-off buildings old and new (free from the outside), churches & cathedrals (not free unless you convincingly attend services) and green spaces, there’s very entertaining people-watching. All shapes & sizes, all cultural backgrounds and – it has to be said – degrees of wackiness. Last weekend I particularly enjoyed the sight of two young men wearing billowing white shirts and tight, shiny German lederhosen on the tube from Clapham to Vauxhall at about 4pm on Saturday afternoon. And no, not because I have a thing about dodgy Eurotrash style costume, or because I’m old enough to be a grandma and get my jollies from eyeing up the bums of scantily clad youths, but because of the sheer lunacy of it. Where on earth were they going, dressed like that? Why? Or is it their normal weekend garb? The mind boggles, but I’ll say this for them – in a city where it appears very little strange behaviour is remarked upon, they were attracting more than their fair share of attention. It takes something to make complete strangers stop and smile on the Victoria Line, but they managed it.
We were in London to celebrate Katie’s birthday. A big birthday. Sorry Sweetheart, but there’s no denying it – you are now thirty years old! And it’s been a wonderful thirty years. From the moment she was born Katie has made us all laugh and smile – as you can see from these pictures she was always difficult to resist!
And the laughter continues, though sometimes not in the way she intends. On a recent visit to the British Museum, Katie looked perplexed when we went into the Elgin Marbles room. When I asked her what was wrong, she murmured: “Where are they? The marbles?” Now I know that she’ll forgive me for this but I have to say that we were falling about when we realized she was under the impression that the famous, much discussed relics were the sort of marbles that children play games with. And last weekend when we played our customary game of Articulate (where a team member gives verbal clues to a person/object/action etc on a card) we enjoyed another moment of hilarity when, after clues to do with communism, musical instruments and comedy film-star brothers, Katie decided that the person being described was that well-known individual: Cello Marx!
Now I don’t want to give you the wrong idea here, because my middle daughter is actually very bright (with a degree in Italian from Bristol University), extremely capable (as she demonstrates in her job as a senior PA with a prestigious financial firm as well as her unfailing ability to sort out other people’s problems) and knowledgeable about all manner of subjects. She and her friends are regular pub quiz attendees – and winners – and bizarrely she can describe the national flag of any country on earth, along with naming its capital city. University of Bristol, July 2009
‘Studying’ at the University of Verona, 2007-2008 as part of her Italian degree
We spent an hour on Saturday afternoon watching Katie and her mates – including her boyfriend Garth – play tag rugby on Clapham Common and it struck me (not for the first time) that some of them had been friends since they’d met at the age of three. We met up with more grown-up nursery class-mates at Katie’s birthday party that evening, and I really felt the passage of time weighing down on me! There were also university friends (from Bristol and Italy), work friends and plenty of others that she’s met along the way. It was a really good night, even if it did begin with the slightly surreal experience of being ID’d at the age of…well, at the age I am now.
We left Katie, Garth, Lizzie and Alex to deal with the after-effects of the celebration and took ourselves back off to Wales the following morning, via Victoria Coach Station. We usually make the London trip by train but this time decided to avoid the longer journey around Gloucester caused by work being done in the Severn Tunnel and entrusted our lives to National Express and the M4. We were back in the house by 2:30pm, which meant that I was able to join my singing group in the local chapel that evening, where we performed an eclectic mix of songs at the last event of the Crickhowell Literary Festival, now in its second year. The festival seems to be going well but I think they should reconsider the website name – there’s something about cricklitfest that makes me wince…
Monday was a day given over to dentists and opticians so I’ll spare you that – except to say that I’ve decided to get rid of the accursed varifocals. There’ve been too many near-misses on steps for my liking so I’m going to revert to the annoying but much safer practice of having different specs for distance and close-up needs. What I really want is perfect eyesight but that’s an option which isn’t available.
Tuesday was much better – we plodded up into the lanes above Crickhowell, armed with plastic bags, wooden sticks and gardening gloves. For those of you who don’t immediately get this, I will explain; it is October and therefore it is sloe-picking season.Interested spectator – we decided not to trespass on her field…
It was a little frustrating at first, as we couldn’t find what we were looking for. Annoyingly, the hedgerows had been well trimmed back, denuding them of sloes. There were plenty of fat blackberries which at first we ignored, but eventually we gave in and tried one or two. If you saw my last post you’ll already know that blackberries shouldn’t be picked after Michaelmas (29th September) because it’s said that the devil has spat on them. I now know the real reason – they are totally tasteless. Don’t be taken in by their good looks!
After reaching the top of the lane into Llangenny we finally found the remains of a few blackthorn bushes in the skeletal hedges and managed to collect almost a kilo of sloes. And we didn’t get rained on – an overwhelming success!
We’d invited everyone from the singing group to the house for food after practice that evening and so whilst I was out with the group polishing our repertoire Michael cooked a pile of home-made sausages, as well as potato wedges. I’m not sure what was in the sausages (he makes it up as he goes along and never writes the recipe down) but they definitely featured pork, apple, spices and red wine. They were delicious and as it wasn’t a cold evening some of us sat in the garden to eat (admittedly around the fire-pit), though we gave up on the fresh air by the time we reached the apple crumble and custard stage (apple crumble provided by the lovely Angie).
And so a good week – lederhosen on the London underground was but the start of it. As always when we see the girls we had a brilliant time, but celebrating Katie’s birthday put the icing on the cake, if you’ll forgive the pun. It was also fun to see Garth experience one of our frantic board game sessions for the first time, with the rules being ruthlessly applied and dodged simultaneously by Lizzie. And then, back home to singing, sloes and sausages.
And as it was such a success, I’m sure we’ll repeat sausage night – though Alex tells me that I should probably reconsider that name!
With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come!
William Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice