‘The constant rendezvous for men of Business, as well as the idle people, so that a man is sooner asked about his coffee house, than his lodgings.’ Samuel Johnson.
If there was ever a need for a coffee house, a warm place, a sanctuary in the midst of winter, I am sitting in one. The London day of many seasons: bitter with sun, bitter with rain: bitter with sleet and … well bitter.
Waiting to take a tour in the bitter outdoors. ‘The history of London in 4 drinks.’ And it is wonderful, for it is history, and learning, and learning some more. Two and a half hours of meeting interesting people, being the drama queen, in and out of that doing I love – cold outdoors to warmth indoors – why do I love that so much? and when all is done, clients wooed and won, to early dinner with friends in Sloane (the place of blue Christmas lights and true selling of steaming chestnuts) to family. Grayson is leaving on a skiing trip to Austria – a first in many ways.
Some may feel sorry for me deep in the European gray, and as I know, I feel dreadfully sorry for myself most of the time in the living quarters scenario part of my life, but today I am witnessing a hundred different stories, and I can only say, I feel blessed. The morning tube ride began with the kindred Christmas spirit of wrapped up children and wrapped up canines, chatting, barking and breaking the normally austere silence of the carriage. The ‘day out’ thrill was tangible and I do so love seeing little people with fashionable clothes: he is country squire right down to the beret and she in French Rachel Rileyesque prettiness.
Alighting at Temple and a short walk to Somerset House, Christmas well entrenched. Contemplating a skating session (has the hesitation something to do with the fear of falling?) but veer towards Fortnum and Mason’s Christmas – 18th century particular for Tea and Marmalade. The combination of Wooden floors, fireplaces, baubles and truffles ideally suited to mood setting for the walk up fleet Street.
Have to remind myself that so much of London was bombed. Between the new edifice of the city lies so many buildings of old, of history with stories I plan to tell on the tour. If you take the small alleyways, turn the unknown corners, you will find them. One being St. Brides.
Built by Sir Christopher Wren, the three tired spire was the inspiration for a local baker to create … the three tired wedding cake. Truth, we get the idea from there. Close by, the Old Bell, a pub Sir Wren encouraged his workers to frequent to save time on going somewhere else and he could keep an eye on them. There still. St Brides was badly bomed, leaving only … the spiral. Restoration was to the original plan but also revealed so much more: an ancient Roman road and Saxon walls, which tells me this church has so many layers to her heyday stature. She has survived centuries of life. More poignant, the church is a homage to journalists – alone in her sanctum, I stood before an alter to all those of recent loss, kidnapping, giving their lives to tell the world what was happening. Haunting photographs of all, including Marie Colvin and now, Jamal Kashoggi. I light candles and think of their parents, their children, their loved ones. Life … oh what diaries we can create about her.
The tour today is about the history of London in four drinks. No, not wine. Wine is not quintessentially about London – if you think about it, mostly imported. It is about the history of coffee houses, afternoon tea, beer rather than the disgusting water from the Thames back then, and Gin. The mother’s ruin. About poor Judith Dufour. Pelting rain, gale winds that mock my umbrella, hidden pubs and secret squares. The black cat secret, pineapples and St. Pauls and all goes well. Interesting guests and new friendships, but I am soaked down to the woollen gloves and soggy socks.
Suitably sitting in warmth with gin – Sir Christopher Wren gin – I bid them adieu and leave for the tube. Still raining. Night. And I am Bridget Jones on the line, for home. It is the lights I see as the tube moves through the city, the Christmas lights that needs the dark to dance, on the river, in the puddles and sidewalks trodden by generations before me. One with it all, with my own story, and it is good. Christmas is ‘Love Actually’. Love shared in this season, with the bending to offer kindness to the homeless outside Waitrose, the carrying of Pointsettias on the bus. Passing those dragging the Christmas tree bought, the Father Christmas hats, flashing headbands, the patient faithful. Jingling songs, choirs in the station and the majesty of spirit at this time.
An ordinary day? I think not. An extraordinary day – I call it a London day. Missing the life past, the sun and sea, the easy life, but if I had to be anywhere to feel truly alive, I am there.
So why do Mince Pies have no mince? Well …