I’m sitting in the departure lounge at Gatwick Airport after a hectic ten days in London.
I divided my time between Jude’s family at Bromar Road and Kate’s at Red Post Hill, starting at jude’s.
How lovely to see the girls, who grow taller and maturer every time I see them. My first day I went down to see years four and five at Belham Primary perform a nativity production (written by teachers and children) . It was brilliant. I have never seen so many children perform with such energy and enthusiasm. They have an excellent music teacher (the benefit of being a newly created academy – much as I am against them). Ella, tall, serious and distinguished looking, was one of the three kings. She sang her solo beautifully I’m sorry I missed Maddie’s show – I think she was the back end of a camel .
After three nights I moved on to Red Post Hill. In the following days I went to three shows with the grandchildren . First Grimms Fairy Tales with Kate’s family. When Otto, who was sitting next to me, said in a loud voice that he was bored and wanted to leave, I rather agreed with him. I’m not keen on adults bounding around pretending to be children but after the interval the tales got blacker – and better. Still, I was a bit disappointed, given the reputation of the company , Philip Pullman.
We then had lunch in Cote Brasserie, on the Thames Path, beside the river. I remember this area in the fifties when everything was derelict. I used to step through bombsites to sing in a madrigal choir near Southwark Cathedral. Now this part of the south bank is dominated by luxury flats and restaurants. The place is buzzing with life. I can see why this stretch of the south bank of the Thames has become a play and strolling area for Londoners and visitors.
Then, while the Gillies and friends went home, I moved on to my next appointment: Rumpelstiltskin with the Bennion Pedley and friends. (This was my first visit to the Queen Elizabeth Hall complex. The architecture may be brute concrete 60s style but what a comfortable theatre to visit – modern bars, loos and open spaces and seats with leg room.)
The reviews of Rumpelstilskin have been a bit sniffy, but I loved it. It was completely bonkers, better appreciated by the grownups than the children maybe, full of fast moving wit and bizarre pantomime, wonderful modern lighting effects and excellent music. The children seem to have enjoyed it, even Maddie, sitting next to me seemed rapt.
On Christmas Eve I went with the Gillies to the East Dulwich cinema for an afternoon of popcorn and musical – Mary Poppins Returns. It was slickly produced, with some enjoyable cameo roles for Meryl Streep and Colin Firth, but to be honest I preferred the loony Rumpelstiltskin to Disney.
At last, at last, Christmas Day arrived. I don’t think Otto in particular could have borne the suspense of much more anticipation. The BPs arrived and there was a morning of feverish present opening, excitement, frustration when things didn’t work (or parents had forgotten the batteries!) and pleasure at giving. However, as I watched the feverish ripping open of a mountain of packages, I found it so difficult not to descend into censorious bah-humbug mode, remembering the smaller, more abstemious haul of our childhood. That did not stop me wearing my new clothes with great pleasure for the rest of the day!
Christmas lunch, cooked by Ed, was of course delicious. A traditional affair, turkey breast and trimmings and a rich assortment of vegetables. And later, a superb Christmas cake. As usual, I ate too much….
For the two families the evening was somewhat blighted by the need to prepare for their departure, at the crack of dawn, for a sun and swimming mini-holiday in Tenerife. Sad for me, as I would have liked to see the children for longer.
A day of technology
Kate, Jude and I had given Deb a much needed replacement iPad, a refurbished, two-year-old model (the same as mine).
Bringing it into service and transferring all data from her old one proved a lengthy exercise. Deb had forgotten her Apple password, so trekked across London to hunt it down in her house. First I had to bring her old iPad up to date, which required several mobile phone conversations with Deb, always a major challenge, complicated by her popping in and out of underground stations! In the end I decided to create a new password for her, and by the time she returned, her new iPad was up and running. Given that Deb has neither a truly operational phone nor a computer, the iPad is essential to her – and to us, as it is the only way to get in touch with her!
The next day I went to Richmond to see my two oldest friends: Christine for lunch and Sally for tea. Both visits merit a blog post of their own, but suffice to say that these are two very special people for me. And happily I’m also fond of their spouses!
Christine has not been well, with a bad attack of shingles, and Roy beat me in the medical drama stakes, describing with gusto, his self diagnosis of a heart attack and the dramatic trip by taxi to the Royal Free, where he still an Important Person, in preference to an ambulance trip to Kingston hospital.
I even fitted in a trip to Finchley to have lunch with Deb and her friends Kay (who was at Oxford with her) and Alan and their daughters. Nice food (Turkish restaurant) and good conversation. But what I will remember was an extraordinary little exchange.
The woman at the next table came across and said, very apologetically, that she was sure she knew Kay from some time in their past. They eventually established that they had been to the same primary school in Hampstead. I fail to recognise people from last year, let alone from over 60 years ago!
Yesterday I continued my meeting up with old pals. I had lunch in the Tate Modern with Mimi, who ran the information department of Citizens Advice for England when I was doing the same thing in Scotland.
She may be in her eighties now, but Mimi is still an astute, energetic and amusing friend. The food in the Members’ Room was indifferent (Mimi is going to pursue this!) but we sat for hours nattering, and then wandered round some of this huge gallery and took the lift to the top to gaze (with mixed feelings) at the rapidly changing landscape of London. We were somewhat baffled that people could have bought at huge prices the apartments beside the Tate. I wonder if they knew that the Blavatnik Building would give people a prime view of their sitting rooms. I’m not a fan of the architecture of the Tate Modern and many of its rooms leave me cold, but we whizzed through these and concentrated on a few with old favourites or new discoveries.
We talked of our love of travel. I confessed to Mimi that, despite my daughters’ misgivings – health permitting – I wanted to visit Iran and visit beautiful towns like Shiraz and Yazd. It seems a logical next step having loved the Islamic architecture of Rajasthan and Istanbul. “Ah yes,” said Mimi. “A good idea – I went there a couple of years ago”! She has given me the contact details for her excellent guide, so maybe I will manage to set this up for the autumn of 2019.
Brexit and Uber
Like my last trip to London I indulged in several Uber trips, in an effort to conserve my energy. I hit particularly lucky with the three drivers, from Bulgaria, Rumania and Poland, who were all interesting to talk to. All three said how much they enjoyed being Uber drivers, because of the flexibility in working hours and the people they met.
Inevitably conversation turned in all three cases to Brexit. All three were Remainers, although interestingly the Bulgarian was the most diffident. He had studied economics before coming to the UK he said, and if he found it difficult to understand the complexities of the Brexit possibilities, how could other people make informed decisions? So he was for leaving such decisions to elected representatives rather than referendums.
The Pole divided his time between being an Uber driver and builder. He would personally be OK, he said, as there became a shortage of Polish builders (he has the right to stay already), but he reckoned it was a complete and utter catastrophe for Britain.
Given the problems with the Gatwick Express, I took an airport minicab back to Gatwick. This was not an Uber driver and unlike the others, he was not particularly friendly and drove too fast.
Whatever the wrongs to the Uber system, I have to confess that I do find using it greatly aids my rushed visits and I enjoy my chats.
My habit of talking to strangers
I’m finishing this entry in the evening, after a very long day – the plane was held up for over an hour with a mechanical problem. Having opted for Special Assistance, I was in a warm bus beside the plane. I felt sorry for other passengers possibly standing in an overcrowded departure lounge.
I was sitting beside a French couple who had been on my plane to Gatwick. As usual I got into conversation with them… … Two of their children live here, so they have just had a complicated Christmas with some relatives who spoke spoke only English, others who spoke only – not quite sure which – Indian language, and her husband who speaks only French. We have exchanged contact details so I look forward to meeting up with them again.