Date: 21 April.
Location: The train to Manchester. 7am.
The past week has been a colourful, hectic crunch. The relevant double-page of my diary looks like three drunken spiders had bathed in ink then played Holi there: ‘mum arrives’ is scrawled in blue next to the smudged black ink of ‘print Alice tickets!’ near ‘Wales? 1pm?’ in hesitant green. I had my first real visitor and I was determined to show her as wide a spectrum of London as I possibly could. Apologies if this post reads like a shopping list of London activities. That’s how it felt.
My mum arrived in London on the sunny Saturday afternoon and I was delighted to have a nearby coffee shop about which I could honestly say ‘I come here all the time!’ (Appestat, Angel) to which I could take her. Double caps downed, I brought her back to my place and settled her into my ‘guest suite’ ie the kitchen, dining area, lounge of my little 1 bed London flat. A sofa bed has been by far my best investment this year. (Aside from 1 ticket to London, naturally.)
The Oxford v Cambridge boat race was on so it was as if London had tilted west, and everyone had funnelled down to the pubs of Hammersmith for the day. This left The Albion relatively civilised. The Albion is my local and it’s everything you could want in a London local: a cave like, warm dining space, picnic tables out the wisteria-ed front, a greenery-decked beer garden out back, English ales on tap and a proudly gastropub menu that boasts a whole roast pig, steak and Guinness pies and fish with chips. My mum and I caught up over the latter two, a Sav Blanc (her) and a golden ale (me). We’ve never been very good at communicating and this visit was unlikely to change that, but we had a lovely dinner, came home and collapsed — her into my lovely sofa bed, me into my very cheap bed. One of these days I’m going to invest in a mattress that doesn’t actively jab you with its evil springs and feels more cloud, less bag of rocks, but I fear that day may be once I’ve run out of European cities to visit. Besides, after 5 years of sleeping on an IKEA monstrosity, I’m well conditioned.
On Sunday we took a flying visit to the luscious Columbia Rd flower market (a must for any female in London) and had breakfast on Bethnal Green’s Paradise Row. My mum hasn’t ventured further east than Tottenam Court Road before so this jaunt into London’s proper east end was eye opening. After this, I took her back into the safe comfort of West London: to Paddington Station to board the train to Wales. I love trains. I love shopping for train snacks just as much. We stocked up on M&S crudités, dips, olives and got on board. The countryside greyed and got grimmer as we headed towards the border. By the time we reached the tiny station of Bridgend, past Cardiff, it was spitting and sad. Thankfully, our welcome was warm. Mum had arranged for us to stay with Welsh friends in their Tudor Farm Turned Palatial Party House, Church Farm. Our brief Welsh trip was everything you could want: pub dinner in a crumbling 1700s establishment, a roaring fire and snugly hunting dog at the rustic home, sheep everywhere, a windy beach cliff stroll with the dog, beach pub lunch with Brains (the local beer!), castle ruins in abundance, green hedgerows, Welsh accents. I was only disappointed that not a single Welshman could offer up an explanation for Welsh rarebit. An appetite for Wales just whetted, we were back on the train to London — mum bound for bed, me for a Monday night concert in Brixton (I’ll leave you to speculate on that, and pick it up up in later entries).
Tuesday dawned and I forced mum to share my pain and walk me to work in sunny Bloomsbury, where I pointed her in the direction of Liberty and the British Museum and wished her well. We met again at 7pm at Waterloo. Funny how our roles felt reversed: all those times she waited to pick me up after a party, hoping I’d not get lost or otherwise fail to show, and now it was my turn to pace anxiously and hope that her lack of response was because she was in the Tube’s 4G Black Hole and not because she’d ended up in Hackney and been mugged. She hadn’t been mugged and turned up with wallet intacto. We headed to the vaults below Waterloo station for an immersive theatre experience, Alice’s Underground Adventure. There we wandered through a darkened library, jumped out of our skin when a wall exploded, followed a book tunnel down into Wonderland, met the Cheshire Cat, frightened ourselves in the hall of mirrors, took (strong, gin-based) teacup cocktails at the glorious underground tea party of the glittering Mad Hatter. Finally, we played flamingo croquet and sipped on a final libation in the Queen’s Bar, where we were joined by a truly creepy mock turtle. When we finally emerged back to the surface we felt truly like we’d just come back from the edge of madness, up a rabbit hole.
Wednesday we had dinner in trendy Smithfeild with Paris and Twiggy, Thursday we saw Cats (which was impressive for its costumes and set dressing but, as I heard a lady in the loo afterwards sigh, “That’s three hours of life I’ll never get back!”) Friday was a night of alone time. Saturday we wandered Kensington High St (my credit card on high alert) and then had dinner in Michelin House, at Bibendum. Mum had brought her date — her boyfriend had arrived — so I got to bring mine: Joey. The meal, and the accompanying martinis, did not disappoint. I had to bid mum a very swift farewell in front of our respective dates, with an Uber to take us to Fulham house party on route.
On Sunday she flew out. I, too, journeyed off to Heathrow. To pick up my dad. And import my cat!
Not even a double Pret coffee could keep me awake on the long Piccadilly line ride out. Now, dad’s here and I’m afraid I have another week of hostessing/playing good daughter ahead. But I’m so exhausted that I find myself falling asleep whenever I sit down. I’ve set my alarm for 9am, when this train is due in Manchester, but I have no idea how I’ll survive today’s meetings. Coffee like jet fuel will be the first step.