Thursday, 23 November 2017

London: Not London

I was recently trawling through the weekend broadsheets - this process usually takes till about Thursday - when I came upon a headline above a restaurant review. It read something like: "A new star - not London". The restaurant is in Leeds, so I can only assume that as far as the national press is concerned, there is now: 'London' and 'Not London' i.e. the rest of the United Kingdom. Actually there is probably also 'the Home Counties' where people who used to live in London now live but to all intents and purposes, that is also 'London'.

When I read the national press, I note that ever fewer mentions are made of anything outside London. This either has the effect of making me irritable - do they really think that London is the only place where stuff happens? Or smug - we like it here and we like that perhaps the quality of life we have is our best kept secret. Whatever, it does serve to remind me that the North/South gap is the greatest it has ever been in my lifetime and the resulting rush of our young people to experience everything London has to offer is the net result.

Which brings me neatly to my London double-header - not sure what that actually means but think it might be a sport-related expression - i.e. two trips to London in quick succession. All three of our beautiful girls live in London now and I suppose at least it means I can see multiple daughters at once, or all three in a short space of time. And indeed, all that was achieved last week in part one of the 'double-header'.

Number 1 always meets me from Kings Cross because, I think, she is convinced that I can't manage the Underground. And, it has to be said, I am more than happy for her to continue to think exactly that as she always meets me at the barrier on arrival and waves me goodbye at the barrier on my way home. Let's not tell her that senility hasn't quite crept in yet!

Last week's jaunt starts outside a very nice bar in Kings Cross. Once the haunt of prostitutes and ne'er-do-wells, Kings Cross is so smart now and a great place to meet friends when I am fresh off the train. Number 1 and I are on a mission to meet up with my fabulous godson who is very dear to me and we are hoping to meet his lovely girlfriend too as we were only briefly acquainted at a wedding a couple of years ago. And so we sit outside under the heaters (not great for global warming but the trend for hard surfaces in bars makes it virtually impossible for number 1 to hear inside) having a massive catch up with godson, girlfriend and number 1 and her husband. Happy me! In fact, very happy me after a glass or two of rioja!

It is all going so well so... it is bound to go awry. We are due to meet up - 3 daughters, one husband (not mine!) and me - at a nice Italian. We are a bit late, number 2 is on time and therefore not impressed with the rest of us and number 4 works late and therefore arrives an hour and a half after everybody else. It never works, this family getting altogether thing. And then it is off to the new home of number 2 where Mr Milton (furry friend and ex-lodger) is waiting. This new home is a work in progress so it is sort of camping out i.e. me on a blow-up bed. Absolutely fine for me but this isn't going to work for part 2 of the double-header when my beloved joins us!

Up early and it's off to meet another godchild for pre-work coffee. This is the marvellous red-headed goddaughter who insisted I speak at her wedding and, of course, redheads are not to be denied. So another fabulous catch-up before the two redheads - godchild and number 2 daughter - dash off to run the world and number 4 child pitches up so that we can make our way to the grand excuse for the whole visit - the ATP Year End Finals at the O2.

We are privileged to watch some sublime and very closely contested doubles won by the eventual winners of the whole thing - Kontinen and Peers - followed by an absolute belter of a singles with Marin Cilic and Jack Sock. I now have a tennis crush on Jack Sock who threw the absolute kitchen sink at the match and happily won.

Then it's one of my big treats to myself - the Thames Clipper. I love this way to see London from the water; to admire the sights and see the modern towers of Canary Wharf and the stunningly atmospheric Tower of London. Imagine being rowed in to the Tower and stepping off at Traitor's Gate with little hope of ever leaving alive! Number 4 thinks my enthusiasm for this rather chilly, sitting-in-the-back-of-a-boat-in-the-dark trip is a bit bonkers but she plays along. Equally, I play along when we get in the tube at London Bridge packed like sardines whilst two woman have an argument that almost comes to blows. I want to intervene and suggest they might both chill out but apparently, had I done that, I would probably still be in a high dependency ward in London - aggression or what!

My final morning is spent visiting a cemetery. Sounds weird perhaps but actually it is Highgate Cemetery and definitely worth the trip. Yes, Karl Marx is buried here and loads of others too including some of the artistic giants of the 20th century. I am intensely moved by the poignant messages on the World War 1 graves and fascinated by the extraordinary range of the great and the good, the unknown and forgotten - from the mastermind behind the Great Train Robbery (yes, really) to authors like Douglas Adams (A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) where, like Sylvia Plath's grave which I visited a few years ago, people leave pencils rather than flowers. Apparently George Michael is or yet may be buried at Highgate where his mother is already buried. A fitting resting place for a great artist.

So it's back up to God's Own Country now but only for a few days as next up is the sport and music weekend - England v Samoa at Twickenham followed by Phil Collins at the Royal Albert Hall. Well, life is for living and as the Scottish proverb says (and it's probably on a headstone somewhere at Highgate): You're a long time dead.

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