Date: 9 July 2015.
Location: ‘working’ at Sunday cafe. There’s a full tube strike on and London has just sort of ground to a halt. Everyone is ‘working’ from ‘home’.
“So much candy!”
I can’t tell if Paris is referring to the parade of pastel dresses and blazers passing us, or to the bearers of broad shouldered that fit so snugly into those lovely blazers. Both, probably.
The sun is beating down on the main road of Henley-upon-Thames.
It’s the second to last day of the Henley Royal Regatta and it’s pleasantly, Britishly mad. The races take place about a mile from the tiny train station. Thousands of people have come though that station already today. Before that they will have made their way to Paddington Station, queued amongst the other regatta-goers — and confused tourists fresh off the Heathrow Express — to buy to ticket, crammed into a train for Twyford, drunk canned mixed drinks or napped (if you’re me), changed and crammed onto another train bound for Henley. It’s exhausting, but the buzz is exciting. I think I’d have been better equipped to deal with it had I not endured similar for Ascot just two weeks ago. These mass events can be profoundly unpleasant because they tend to involve a whole lot of factors designed to make especially me really uncomfortable: crowds, endless queues, waiting around — causing patches of sleepy sobriety in the midst of otherwise happily tipsy days — the manifest expectation of joviality (all very well when expectation is met, painful forced merriment when not). That said, there’s a lot to like and there’s a reason everyone ventures into the wilds of Berkshire for these summer events.
As at Ascot, the spectrum of different British classes are laid out like a rainbow. If I was on the very royal Violet end of that rainbow Ascot, I’m at the cheap and cheerful Red end for Henley. We’ve made the decision to simply picnic by the Thames rather than buy a ticket to one of the pricey official enclosures or riverside bars. At first this makes me twitchy. However, once we settle, and set to work draining the one litre bottle of Pimms Paris has had Chuckles haul all this way I feel a lot more at ease. Time flies. Monica & Chandler (and Monica’s identical twin) turn up. We roast in the surprisingly hot British summer sun. Paris burns. Charles asks Paris if she made her blue and white dress — as it looks like the same fabric as her bedspread. We drink all the Pimms, all the gin, all the prosecco. The occasional race rows past, including a team from Melbourne Uni, for whom we cheer loudly. We dangle our feet in the cool water. We throw strawberries at Chuckles and even get a grin — and return fire.
An hour and half before the last race we navigate the very crowded, very narrow footpath back towards town and, more importantly, to Mahki, the pop-up tiki-themed riverside bar. Our plan is to pay the ten quid to get in then dance the night away. Problems are: (a) so does everyone else and (b) the bar knows this. The cover charge has shot up. We hear one bouncer quote thirty pounds, another forty pounds. Eek. After some unsuccessful negotiation, during which I prop my tired self up against a helpful tree, we trek back along the narrow footpath to a field with food trucks and watch the last of the day’s races in the flecks of sun left.
Then madness descends upon us. At some point between Henley and London we all manage to get separated. No doubt some members of the party get more sober. Twiggy, her cousin and I get more drunk on beers from the Sainsbury’s in Henley (classy). Drunk enough, in fact, to pause at Paddington to squish into a photbooth and take 16 mini photos of ourselves for no particular purpose. Clumsily the three of us head east. Our iPhones are all, of course, dead so I have to work out how to use my work blackberry for something other than work emails. It doesn’t go well and we get lost in the labryth of warehoused streets around Old Street (The next day I will wake up with a sinister feeling and nervously check my sent blackberry’so items to ensure I hadn’t done any 2am work emailing.) We need a leash for Twiggy’s cousin who’s in fine form and determined to drift away to meet up with somebody.
Finally we end up at a Shoreditch penthouse party but none of us really have the energy for it and we guzzle prosecco we don’t need and enjoy the breathtaking starry panorama of London city lights. We call it quits around 2 am and run for the night bus. A little piece of us dies upon seeing that the golden arches on City Rd are dark. I come back to life as I recall the 24-hour McDonalds in Chapel Market. I get nuggets and they are amazing,
An unrelated post script: London has been all Go Fast recently. Maybe it always is. This week I received a parcel from Wolfgang and I ripped it opens its. Childlike glee. It was a mindfulness colouring book and a pack of sharp coloured pencils. A perfect reminder to Go Slow a bit more. So, this week I’ve resolved to dig out my linty Lulus and get back into my much neglected yoga practice.