Date: 12 May 2015.
Location: Train to Heathrow. Not for anything exciting I’m afraid. I’m being sent off to a two day international in-house lawyers’ conference. Sounds glam, won’t be. And, it’s certainly not set anywhere glam — it’s at an airport hotel next to Heathrow, which is far enough to be a royal pain to get to, and close enough not to be at all an adventure. Also, it’s basically where Bend It Like Beckham is set so I have spent a lot of time thinking about Jonathan Rhys Meyers in soccer uniform, which is nice.
Even a girl with a such a sensible head as mine can’t help but fall giddily in love with London. It keeps happening, all the time. I caught it happening at least a couple of times this week, this dizzying, headfirst rush:
Friday night. A dinner at Polpo, Soho. The downstairs bar is just impossibly Euro-cool, all wooden panels, tall bar stools and disheveled professionals drinking negronis. It smells like pizetti and milk. Downstairs, jazz music croons from hidden speakers in the leather booth-lined dive bar. The front restaurant is a perfect rendition of a particularly lively Italian cafe with a British accent. We order glowing red Martini bitters spritzes and settle (smugly, because my god it can be hard to get a table) in, and into Venetian tapas. On the other side of the windows spring rain batters Shaftesbury Avenue.
We eat languidly. Outside, theatre crowds flock, vanish, then reappear, buzzing, a few hours later. We move on to tokaji. Finally, we shrug back into coats and step out to hail a cab. There are none, of course, because it’s a drizzly Friday night in Soho and the streets are crammed with buses and black cabs heading elsewhere. This is annoying, of course. But it’s at the same time so classically London Movie Scene that it’s hard to actually care.
Saturday afternoon, meeting Twiggy and Paris to film a birthday video for their friend back home. It had been a brilliant day, the sky obligingly blue and the Thames obligingly murky and majestic. The girls popped a bottle of prosecco on film, Big Ben in the background and tourists streaming by. We filmed with the Gherkin in the background, the London Eye, Tower Bridge, a red phone booth. It all looked beautifully British. We sat by Temple station and polished off the dregs of the second bottle of prosecco tipsily — and quietly. The sun was starting to go down and to cast London into shades of gold. Though we’d seen similar scenes before, we snapped photos. I think we were all struck by the moment, drawn in unison into a reflection upon how we ended up here, drinking bubbles, in a foreign city, so far from home but with great friends, and felt blessed.
Then, thinking time over, we trooped diligently into the Walkabout for a Coopers.
Sunday. Kennedy — not often mentioned, but a very important friend — and I tilted our heads back against warm brick to catch sunlight on our faces. At our feet, rough-wrapped bouquets of tightly furled pink peony blossoms and smaller bunches of alienesque hyacynths in mottled pastels. I squished a Milli Vanilli triple chocolate brownie into two decadent halves and passed one to her. I stretched out my legs, she leaned back against a door. From knee height, we watched Columbia Road flower market go by.
“It looks fake, right?”
Funny, because the exact same sensation had begun to creep over me. “Like a movie set,” I agreed. The tableau laid out before us was implausibly perfect. The midday sun shone gleefully down on a wide cobblestoned lane. All around us, trendily dressed thirty-somethings and some small children (the hipsters are breeding) lounged: on velveteen armchairs outside a coffee shop, against walls with croissants or, like us, on a sunny step. A little girl danced to the busker’s Red Hot Chilli Peppers.
“Maybe we’re in our own Truman show?”
“But — which one of us?”
She shrugged. The busker switched to The Eagles. “Both? On separate channels. I often feel like I am at least.”
I don’t want to give the illusion that everything here is perfect. It’s not. Work is really stressful and I’m constantly wondering if I’m doing even ok, I have bills to pay, we all squabble sometimes, I get anxious about various things from stupid boys to where my life is going to the smouldering smithereens of my family and the way they each seem to have picked up a new family except me. It’s not perfect — and I’m not perfect. But London is pretty cool and so I can rely on the British magic to periodically sweep it all away and leave me enchanted again.