My relationship with London is a diffident one. When I am going to London I am both a little excited and a little nervous. There are parts of London I know quite well but fitting the jigsaw of those parts together and filling the pieces in between is beyond my country mouse skills and I remain dully attached to the familiar and not brave enough to go beyond. But that doesn't factor in the presence of my far more streetwise beloved who can find his way round as if remotely guided by food and drink radar - or perhaps a Michelin Guide!
Bath hats on display in Fortnum's - where else!
This weekend was the first of two in London on the bounce and this is numero uno - aka the sporty one. The purpose of our foray south was to attend, and entertain guests, at The Rugby. Obviously we've been to the Temple of English Rugby before but never to see England play Wales - that most bloody and embittered encounter - the latter even more so since Wales' last minute despatch of our boys in white at the Rugby World Cup. But first we have some proud parent moments to relish.
On Friday evening, replete from moules and frites at one of our favourite haunts, the Wolseley (this choice from my beloved after he had berated me for always going to the same places in London and not being braver) we set off to the National, not to see number one child perform but to meet her afterwards for a drink - and as it turned out, collect a bridesmaid dress for number two. We got to the South Bank and there's a great buzz there - restaurants, roller disco, bars, the Festival Hall and, most importantly, the National Theatre.
Oh dear...you may (or may not) remember l did some flyering for The Solid Life of Sugar Water in Edinburgh during its run at the Fringe, going up to groups of complete strangers and saying: "You must see this. Five stars in the Guardian and my daughter is in it!" whilst the aforementioned daughter slunk away in embarrassment. So inside the National, whilst number one is doing her thing in one of its theatres I want to rush up to the people who have come out of the Lyttelton for the interval and do the same thing!!! I didn't, you'll be pleased to hear but, boy, was I tempted! Next weekend, when we return I can't promise to be so controlled!
The main gig for the weekend was, of course, Twickenham. And you can't start preparing too early for a clash like that so the first stop on Saturday morning was the Champagne Bar at St Pancras. We walked there from our hotel in Piccadilly, with a little light breakfast on the way and I had no idea that the two places were relatively near so at least one piece of the jigsaw filled. En route, I owned up that I had thought until recently that St Pancras was actually St Pancreas which amused my beloved no end. I merely commented that even his nearly perfect wife had some tiny flaws.
At St Pancras we met our two guests for the day - the lovely Mark and my very old friend and godfather to my niece, Adrian. It was a joy to see him and catch up and indulge in some good natured banter about my brother who generally takes himself way too seriously. Then on to the ground in a packed train where everyone had just one thing in mind - the score.
We were being treated to hospitality so we made our way into an enormous marquee for a very good sit-down lunch and rugby banter from Tim Stimpson, Paul Grayson, Mark Regan and Tim Payne - and a couple of Welsh legends who were equally warmly welcomed as there were nearly as many Welsh in the tent as English - if the shouting was anything to go by. Was I excited?, Tim Stimpson asked me. Beyond excited, I replied, at which point he looked a little alarmed but then we chatted about Newcastle Falcons and I think he thought I was OK by the end.
My only complaint about Twickenham is that it is so far out of London that there isn't any buzz on international day in the city itself. But once near the ground it's there in spades. Plenty of England white shirts and a goodly number of dragons, daffodils and leeks. It was always going to be a tight one. Not that it felt like that in the first half when Wales looked sleepy and England calm and unflustered and uncharacteristically sticking to the plan. But of course, in commentator's parlance, it's a game of two halves and the second half was a very different story. However, before we get to that, we had just one song at half time, sung by the 82,000 strong crowd - and it's mine! As Sweet Caroline echoed round the ground, I felt the need (after a Guinness or two) to conduct the entire North Stand. I know, I'm sixty and it's time to grow up... or it will be one day!
Did I mention there was Guinness?!
So all was going well until the last 20 minutes when Wales played like they can and England went walkabout. But we squeaked it though it was very tight and English hearts were pounding right to the last second. Phew!
Then it was back to the big tent for more hospitality (that came up as hostility on my spell check and I suspect one or two of the Welsh contingent felt like that!). And then we elbowed our way onto the train back to our hotel to bask in the rare joy of an England win over Wales.
So that's round one of our double header in London and on Friday we're back to indulge in two nights at the theatre, some out of control proud-parenting and a massive catch up with the Salcombe team. And perhaps a glass of something... or two!