Sunday, 10 February 2013

Weekend in England. Maybe I'll return more often. It's cool.

I went back to England at the weekend to have a kind of postponed family Christmas and to see two of my last remaining friends in London, relics of another life. 

How do the English seem to me after living so long in Romania?

Modest. Unsmooth. Grown-up. Uncool. Not flash. Homespun. Very teutonic, of course. A race of great poets but they seem prosaic, or at least down-to-earth. Comfortable in their skin is wrong, because the British are so embarrassed and tentative, but they seem to know who they are and have the courage of their convictions. This goes with being modest.

In fact after fifteen years away from England and more than twenty away from London, intimations of mortality are unavoidable. Was it January 1986 that I left Chelsea, the first place where I lived on my own, not counting university? Yes it was and this was my first time in Chelsea since Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister, consule Planco, in the days when hereditary peers sat in Parliament, vicars and almost all MPs were men, there were 11 Liberal MPs and marriage was between people of the opposite sex.  

I felt guilty liking the 1980s because of the terrible unemployment but I did like it. Yet I remember that like every decade it was very newfangled, despite some partially successful attempts to put the clock back (class distinction came back, hereditary peerages were very half heartedly reintroduced, architects suddenly started building things that looked nice). Anyway, how Edwardian the 1980s seems now.

Chelsea is still wonderful and not, as I had been warned, all about faceless money. The Phene (in my day, The Phene Arms) now serves (very good) food and admits state school men, or at least state school women. The Surprise, in Christchurch Terrace, is still a mythical and wonderful pub. I think it is so called because it is almost impossible to find. I lived very close to it in 1986 in Cheyne Row and could never get there except by losing myself -  a bit like entering Narnia, you could never get there by the same route twice.  A beautiful pub and the menu looked great: black pudding, game pie, rice pudding. I shall eat there next time. It boasts an enchanting barmaid named Francesca, who is playing truant from Oxford, as well as good wine (pub wine 25 years ago was generally a sin against the light, though this was not true in Chelsea even then). Gratifying  that I still know my way around and that the women are still beautiful and feminine. In these postal districts the English have chic and joie de vivre, √©lan and all those other French words for things the English usually lack. 

I shall save my recollections of Chelsea for another post.

Yesterday began with breakfast with an old friend, rich and pagan, and then a novena at Westminster Cathedral. Westminster Cathedral is my favourite church in England and, by a long way, my favourite spot in London but I do know why the fellow said it reminded him of the bathroom department at Harrod's. Westminster Abbey is a much more beautiful Catholic church, but it moves me less. It's a shame the barbarians removed the tomb of the Confessor from the Abbey. I suppose the Protestants of the mid 16th century were the Al Qaeda of their age.

Book shopping. Lunch and Claudes at the National Gallery, Mooching in Jermyn St.  I thought book shopping was the only shopping I enjoyed, but buying cheese at Paxton and Whitfield's and finding bargains in the sale at Harvey and Hudson are also fun. Perhaps I am finally being corrupted: it may be so.

I took my sister to Peter Konwitschny's wonderful new production of La Traviata at English National Opera. See it if you can. Great singing and I liked the way the opera was performed in two hours without an interview and with an almost empty stage. The setting was the 1930s and the production was fast-moving and spare. It felt like a pre-war film and would make a very good film.

Then dinner at the river restaurant at the Savoy. I do not like the way the Savoy was renovated and its ghosts expunged but the food was very good. The clientele were ungrand but so I suppose am I.

Everywhere I went from the flight with BA to the flight home, in shops, pubs, restaurants, the National Gallery and everywhere, I found myself talking to chatty people who poured themselves out for me enthusing over wine or salted butter or the decor at the Savoy. I applaud this effusiveness and lack of British reticence which makes life much more pleasant but I do not think it is completely spontaneous and I suspect it may be linked to training courses. If so good for training.

1 comment:

  1. That's great.Happy it was a happy time. Around a couple of weeks back , linenonthehedgerow had a post about how some pubs got their names.As I recall about twentyish listed.It's a nice post.