Friday, October 31, 2008
When Llew rang my doorbell on 9.30 this morning, he brought me the best Halloween treat of all time--Himself! Plus, a big bouquet of autumnal blooms in the color of the holiday--yellow and orange chrysanthemums all gathered together in red tissue! It was an entrance to remember!
After we'd brought each other up to speed on our six weeks apart, we had a bit of breakfast, then set off by bus for Leicester Square to meet Ian who had arrived there earlier to grab half-price tickets for Billy Elliott-The Musical. Alas, that was not to be and between the three of us, we'd seen most of the others. Since the day was so sunnily uplifting, we decided to get away from the bustle of the city and to return to it at sundown. So, we leaped on the Tube and got to Angel with the idea of checking out the Regent's Canal of which I had heard so much.
A few minutes later, we found the stairs that led down to a quiet, serene strip of water that reflected the blazing leaves of yellowing maples that lay strewn like a carpet bordering both sides. We found a quiet bench and sat chatting as we watched people walk their dogs or jog by. House boats lay moored silently on the far side, their bright colors--navy blue and fire engine red--bringing visual exuberance to the scene. Ian and Llew left me in quiet contemplation of the season's bounty to the fat squirrels who kept me company as they embarked on a walk along the Canal's Tow Path.
But because the spot was far too quiet for Ian who wanted to be part of the London action, we took a bus to Euston Square passing by many interesting landmarks such as St. Pancras Station at King's Cross and the new British Library building. Hopping off in search of Little India hidden behind on Drummond Street, we had a meal--" A Set Indian Lunch for 6.50"--at Masala Hut. There, over Lamb Bhuna and Chicken Tikka, Saag Aloo and Sabzi, Saffron Rice and Naans, we felt as if we were back home in the States at one of our many parties! But soon Ian wanted to get back into the thick of things, and we hopped on to a bus once more to alight at Marylebon High Street so that I could introduce them to one of my favorite shopping venues in London.
Far from the craziness of high street shopping chains such as TopShop and Russel and Bromley on Oxford and Regent's Streets are the more exclusive "boutique" stores and restaurants of Marylebon High Street. Here, famous English designers such as Cath Kidson and Emma Bridgewater have set up their own retails stores selling everything delightful--vintage reproductions of flowery aprons and neat sewing sets at the former and striped and polka dotted dog bowls and pasta platters at the latter. There is Roccocco Chocolates, one of my favorite chocolatiers who do unusual flavor combinations, tucking chilli and powdered dried orange rind into their truffles. At Patiserie Valerie, the cakes and pastries that adorn the display window are so irresistible that I rarely walk by without selecting one of their goodies to carry home. I love The White Company with its luxurious cashmere throws and crisp bed linen and Daunt Books with its announcements of forthcoming author readings--on November 26, for instance, actor Julian Fellows whose novel Snobs I had enjoyed and whose performance as Killwillie was fun to watch in Monarch of the Glen, will be reading from his new novel Past Imperfect. He has the wacky sense of humor and ironic eye that in poking fun of his countrymen's own eccentricities makes reading his work a lot of fun.
Then, we were out on Oxford Street where I chose to do something I rarely do but which my foot condition now forces me to indulge in--people-watching--as I made myself comfortable on a bench. Despite the fact that it was a freezing evening, armies of shoppers were raiding the stores or so it seemed if one went by the colorful bags hanging from their arms and proclaiming, "Selfridges", "M&S" "Waterstones", "Dorothy Perkins", etc. Now whether these were tourists or local Londoners it was hard to say--but they seem none the worse for the credit crunch. As for us, Yankees, we couldn't be more pleased that the pound has (finally!) taken a plummeting and the dollar is actually fetching us enough in exchange currency to not make us feel as if we are a Third World Country too! It is a great time for Llew to return to Old Blighty!
Not too long after that, we were in the cafe at Debenham's, far from the madding Christmas crowd--yes, it would seem that it is Christmas already if one goes by the the display windows of the big department stores--and sank down into the roomy sofas with comforting pots of English tea. By the time we emerged on to the street again, night had fallen--yes at 5 pm. and it was time to go out in search of the city lights!
That's when we had something of a memorable adventure. Having decided to take Bus 139 to Waterloo Bridge so Llew and Ian could sample the hi-jinks of the South Bank, we saw a bus cruise right by us. When the middle doors opened to disgorge a few passengers, I hopped right on assuming that Llew and Ian who were right behind me would hop on too. Well, it turned out that the stop wasn't a scheduled one and as soon as I hopped on, the driver closed the doors leaving the two guys out on the road running madly after the bus and hoping to get on at the next bus-stop, leaving me trapped inside waving frantically to them! It was a bit like the climax scene of Doctor Zhivago with Yuri waving madly to an oblivious Lara on the snowy streets of Moscow! Except that the guys outside were not oblivious to me! Though the bus merely crawled through the traffic, at the intersection, it made a sudden right turn into Regent's Street leaving me crestfallen. Soon enough, it came to a halt. I jumped off and set out in search of the two guys. They had abandoned the attempt to race after the bus and had chosen a spot on the corner to wait for me, where, despite the enveloping darkness, I spotted them and we had a hysterical reunion!
When the next 139 arrived, knowing where the bus stop actually was, we caught it, found seats upstairs and continued laughing at our little adventure. The route was wonderful. taking us through the bright neon lights of Piccadilly Circus which has developed into an imitation of New York's Times Square what with its gigantic bill boards and entertainment hoardings. Waterloo Bridge was rather dead until we took the stairs that led to the Thames Embankment where all the cyclists in London seemed to have assembled for what appeared to be a rally. Werewolves on bicycles reminded me that it was,in fact, Halloween, a holiday that is so huge in America but passes by almost unnoticed here in London. I did not see any little trick or treaters raiding the shops of all their candy nor did I see anyone in costume. In the restaurants that line the Thames' Banks, the waiters were wearing horns and had blood streaming down their mouths, but that was their only concession to Halloween! We did, however, receive free candy bars from one vendor on Oxford Street, but whether that was a promotion or a Halloween giveaway was unclear.
I left Llew and Ian to explore the South Bank and its cultural offerings while I saw down on a bench and started a conversation with a cyclist. It seems that on the last Friday 0f every month, a bunch of London cyclists gather at the South Bank to embark on a free style pedal all over the city. Because it was Halloween, a few of them had carried along boom boxes and put on costumes and were partying! It was fun to be a part of this mad melee and I absorbed the atmosphere as best I could thinking of the trick or treaters who'd be at our Connecticut front door begging for goodies in their scary costumes and of the many years during which we devised costumes for Chriselle who went candy-hunting with her own pals.
The cold prevented us from spending more time outdoors--it had turned rather vicious by night--and as we awaited a bus to take us back to High Holborn, it felt as if winter had arrived with a vengeance. At Holborn, Ian and Llew hopped off near Sainsburys, so Ian could buy his stock of English chocolates to take home to New Jersey (his flight leaves early tomorrow) and to pick up some dinner--they returned with a Thai boxed meal contained spring rolls and steamed rice with red and green chicken curries! I have to wonder who has planned these boxed meals--why two curries and why both chicken? Why not one chicken curry and one salad or (as in the case of the Indian dinner), one lamb and one sabzi? Still, you can't beat the convenience of the boxed meal. Over wine and stout and diet Coke, we made ourselves comfortable back home and had a very nice dinner, thank-you.
We called Chrissie a little later--Ian congratulated her on her engagement while she told him excitedly about her shooting stint last week with Keira Knightley in the film Last Night. I also described our day to her and she ended up sighing and saying to me, "And Mum, I suppose this was you trying to take it easy, right?"
Ian spent a while checking email on my laptop and then it was time to say goodbye to him and clear up the kitchen. Llew did a bit of unpacking--his suitcase was full of the things I had asked him to bring for me--and then we were too pooped to do anything else.
It promised to be a boooooo-ti-ful Halloween night!