It was overcast and dark driving up on the motorway towards London on Friday afternoon, dense traffic moving slowly but no accidents or hold-ups. The fisrt set of traffic lights we hit after Hay was at Hammersmith and then we were into the stop/start traffic of a major city on the verge of weekending. By the time we left the garden flat to walk to Khan’s in Westbourne, the skies were clear and the evening cool but notdamp or windy.
Khan’s is an institution, a converted Lyons tearoom, airy and pillared with palm tree mouldings in dark green and murals of idealised Raj landscapes. Pale green and cream, a railway station atmosphere as Pakistani and Indian families come in together for meals, mustered and herded by efficient waitors. A plasma screen showing the football finals the only discordant note. We ordered pasandra, chicken with almonds and cream, a miscellany of sag, raita, bhjali brinjals and pilau rice accompaniments and a bottle of refreshing elderflower cordial. Excellent but I wished I had been bolder and tried hotter dishes. Spooned up an ice cream flavoured with pitachio and saffron — then we were out in the dark noisy streets, people relaxed and windowshopping, walking dogs, hanging out with friends.
And we woke to clear skies, brilliant sunshine. Sat and had cappucino and read the Guardian in Holland Park — I didn’t altogether admire the Dutch garden with its boxed borders of bedding red and blue salvias and centrepieces of cardoons. Rambled around the orangery and ice house — a friend of S from Earl’s Court talked to him about a campaign to get housing for single fathers.
And off we went again, past housing trsut and council housing streets, neglected or poshed-up, renovated and rose-bedecked terrace houses, on to a meeting in Pimlico, my first experience of AA in London. The familiar rhythm of the meetings, the semi-liturgies of readings and sharing, the opinons heard without comment, the crowded group in a small room right at the back of a Catholic church hall. Very happy to be there. Afterwards out for a Mexican cantina lunch with Jan, chatting like old friends, the pleasure of meeting another cyber friend in the flesh. Strolling along the South Bank, a festival atmosphere, hazy golden light on the river.
Brief shower of warm spring rain in Portobello Road and the performativity and street theatre unhindered by a down pour. Looking at cheap crockery tagine in mustard-brown, passing Moroccan, Lebanese and Portuguese shops and delis, Somali stalls, hearing the shouts and joking, the snatch of revved up Porgy & Bess from Gershwin, Nina Simone singing perhaps, Rap and global music pouring out over the rails of secondhand clothing, scraps of velvet and toile, trilby hats, oxhorn bracelets, enamelled turqouise and amber pendants. Transgendered and proud of it, the beauty and flaunting, the perfumed cleavages of West African women carrying baskets of mangos, talking on cell phones while fingering pashminas and copper/bronze bangles. Off to a long intimate and amusing supper at Galacia’s, served by old Spanish waiters with hauteur. A restaurant where Lucien Freud pops in from time to time, locals standing around the bar eating chunks of bread with serrano ham, or sitting down to tortillas and pork dishes with paprika and olives. Delicious food and an exceptional starter of squid in ink, pungent and delectable.
Waking again to sunlight and empty streets around Notting Hill on Sunday morning — walked from Ladbroke Grove down to Portobello Road, across to Goldburne Road and Cafe Oporto, where there was strong European coffee and bread rolls, hot, with bacon. Caramelised custard tarts afterwards which Roger insisted we try. Talk about Frelimo and Mozambique, the drak days of Portuguese East Africa, the upcoming June 16 celebrations in South Africa, Franco’s fascism in Spain in the 1930s. Sunshine hot and the smell of espresso from tables of older Portuguese men sitting around with rolled-up shirtsleeves nearby.
Then the day flashed past — down to Spitalfields market and my admiration for a Hawksmoor church. a drive through busy Brick Lane, less trendy these days despite Monica Ali’s book. Out to pick up S’s son in a terraced house in Peckham, lunch at Lordship Lane in Dulwich, French restaurant in a butcher’s shop serving up duck, salmon, steaks with sauces and a wild rocket salad, dressing too sweet.
And finally we were driving home through teh gilded countryside around Oxford, dipping through the Cotswalds, thatch and warm pinky-brown stone, gentle rolling fields and copses. On past the Forest of Dean, down into the twisty lanes of Wales, sun setting and flaring over the hedges, arriving home tired and just about enough time for cheese and a pear before bed. Birds loud and the buzz of London still with me, the squares of deep green, the flowering old roses, musky and full-blown, the punnets of ripe strawberries on sale, the Georgian and Victorian facades of London city, the glittering sun on the lazy curling loops of the Thames. All night flying through the city, recalling the streets and shopfronts and pavement cafes and ancient churches, the cherry trees in Roger’s street, the children playing crocket in Holland Park –
And so the love afair continues, tha passion I have had for that city over so many years — always an outsider, often wrong, gleaning scraps of information, never able to think of London as a home — but it contin ues to enchant me.