I had occasion, a couple of days ago, to recall a visit to London some years ago. It was for the christening of my goddaughter, who has just had her 23rd birthday, and was in late May.
It was one of the best holidays of my life, although it was only a few days. So I’ll have a happy time, if you’ll kindly bear with me, and tell you about it.
The Sage’s nephew lived in Hackney at the time and said that we were welcome to stay with him. His partner, now civil partner (I do hope, before long, that it will be accurate to call him a husband) tactfully went away for the weekend – we wouldn’t have minded in the least but, as I say, they were being tactful in case we did. Simon made us very welcome and I’ve a feeling that he gave us their bed. We had a very pleasant evening together and the next day we went off to St Martin in the Field in Trafalgar Square for S’s christening. Her parents lived (and live) in Tunbridge Wells, but that was the church they married in, so wanted their baby to be baptised there.
It was a wonderful service, made particularly memorable because of baby S’s behaviour. After the baptism, which she enjoyed immensely, the vicar carried her, at head height, down the aisle and she gazed with wonder at the lights, smiling, not feeling insecure in the least. Afterwards, we headed towards a Chinese restaurant that her uncle recommended for dim sum. And then we wanted to view a sale at Sotheby’s. Lynn (I have mentioned her before, she is one of my oldest friends – friendship of longest duration, that is), her husband and mother came too. The Sage and I fell for a teapot.
The next day was the auction. We arrived, the Sage and I, and next thing I knew was the Sage giving me a list and a bidder number. He had been given several commission bids and was interested in buying for himself too, and wanted to keep business and personal separate, for obvious reasons. I was quite alarmed. I’d never bid at a London auction before and had not expected to. However, I’m awfully biddable (hah haa! biddable! – Will you see a funnier joke today? Ahem.) and it didn’t occur to me to demur. My feelings show in my face even now, darlings (I’m often asked why I look so worried) and, once I’d anxiously waved my catalogue wildly enough to attract the auctioneer’s attention, I observed him casting a glance towards me to check whether I was bidding. I wasn’t helped by the Sage changing his mind on my written bids. A few times, having shaken my head, the Sage nudged me and I had to wave again.
I shall digress for a minute. Auctioneers are well used to people scratching, smiling, raising a hand to an ear, and will not take it as a bid unless they know that you want to be discreet (“I’m bidding for Lot 49 until I take my glasses off”) and, if in doubt, they ask. So don’t be afraid at an auction, and do wave if you want to bid.
We bought our teapot. It was our wedding anniversary present to each other.
The Sage had to be back for Monday, so returned home that evening. I went back to Simon’s flat. At the time, he was training to be an acupuncturist and the part he was having difficulty with was in gaining empathy with people, you have to feel their feelings and he was quite a reserved young man. So he asked me to help in some way – I can’t remember, I lay on a couch and he held my hand and had to get me to relax or something by speaking to me. He said he’d found it difficult, but hoped that it would be easier with someone he knew, I remember apologising that, as soon as I lie down, I relax totally and it would probably have been better if he’d eased the tension out of me (I’m sorry if this sounds a bit dodge, it wasn’t at all).
What I haven’t mentioned so far is the weather. It was blistering hot! I’d bought a new outfit for the christening, it cost about £80, which was the most I’d ever paid for any clothes, ever. It was very floral, a very busy, pretty, multi-coloured floral print, matching skirt and top, which I bought from a little independent shop in Norwich. After I bought it, the shop owner said approvingly that Esther Rantzen had worn it the previous weekend on That’s Life (not that very suit, obv, an identical one). I was slightly cast down. Still, I liked it very much and wore it for years. I also rented a yellow hat.
However, it was very much an *occasion* hat and it was so hot that I really did need something to keep the sun off. So I went into John Lewis and – shy and inhibited little Z that I was at that time – I was somehow empowered to try on about every hat in the millinery department. And I found a nice little straw hat that I loved. I still have it – the front wore through so I altered the straw ribbon so that I could wear it back to front – I haven’t worn it for a while but it would still do for the garden. It cost £3.95, about the cheapest one there, but the one I liked best. It was so hot that I didn’t eat all day, but bought some orange juice. In the evening, I caught a tube back to Liverpool Street right in the rush hour and was completely jammed into a full carriage. Even the railway station was jam-packed. Strangely, I didn’t feel claustrophobic, little used as I was to crowds, but quite at home because the atmosphere was calm – resigned rather than cheerful, I suppose. And I walked through the streets of Hackney, run down as they were, with various burnt items of furniture in gardens and people hanging about on street corners, feeling quite safe, as I was, no one took the least notice of me.
Simon cooked a trout and we shared a bottle of rosé and I said goodbye to him the next morning. I left early to go to the Chelsea Flower Show.
Darlings, I was small-busted in those days, and young so it didn’t show, especially with a loose top (although elasticated at the waist, it did give me some shape) and I wore no underwear. I had a little bottle of talcum powder from which I sprinkled powder into my shoes, and I wore my hat and was really quite comfortable, hot and airless though it was. I had a wonderful time. I rather love being alone, and alone in a crowd is a feeling I’m especially at ease with as long as it’s good humoured, and I arrived early, spent two or three hours in the marquee until it became both hot and crowded at the end of the morning, and then went outside to see all the exhibits and gardens there.
Later, I caught the train back and the Sage picked me up from the station.
And do you know, when I weighed myself, I’d lost half a stone! I’d hardly eaten and, at that, mostly vegetables and salad and a bit of fish. I took the opportunity to diet for a few weeks, lost another 12 pounds and – well, then and for the next couple of years was the last time I weighed a mere hundredweight. I’d be happy with nine stone now, never mind eight. Hmph. Anyway, we still have the teapot.