I have decided that I have been blogging long enough to allow myself the indulgence of a post about all the things I miss about the UK (yes, my life is full of arbitrary self-imposed rules and censorship, it's tremendously fun). When I started blogging, I vowed to myself not to stray into whining for Boots and Marks and Spencer on a weekly basis. Internet, you can take my longing for Boots and Marks and Spencer as read. I defy any expat not to miss them and their seductive promise of free access to embarassing quasi-medical products** and decent knickers/sponge cake.
Here, instead, are some of the more obscure and personal ones.
1. The Evening Standard ES magazine on a Friday. Walking home on Friday night and picking up the Standard magazine was the official start of the weekend for me. I hate the Standard. It's dreadful. The magazine is not much better - it's full of hedge fund millionaires and vapid women standing around at fundraising parties for David Cameron. But it's the ritual of the thing, dammit.
2. Carluccios in Fenwicks basement on Bond Street with Violet. Violet works at an august (and deranged) institution nearby. We would often meet up here for tea and biscuits, after Violet had dragged me kicking and screaming out of the wrapping paper and presents section, clutching ill-advised purchases. We did this especially often when I was off work and in group therapy. Poor Violet has put up with a hell of a lot from me over the years, including hideous group therapy tales to put her off her Earl Grey and macaroons. Sometimes we would mix it up and go to Liberty, or to Postcard Teas, or even Sketch or Yauatcha if we were feeling really festive, but Fenwicks was our local. I miss her so much. I want tea and macaroons and giggling, and mooching around the shoe department with my best friend.
3. Russell Square. Russell Square holds so many memories for me, misty cold winter ones, and fountain splashing summer ones. Non-Londonders, Russell Square is a small patch of greenery very near the British Museum full of mature trees, ninja squirrels and a great modern fountain. It has a no frills café for English breakfasts, or tea or coffee. It's a great mix of students from nearby UCL, tourists, and Bloomsbury eccentrics, and it feels like a place where things should happen. You often overhear good conversations, or see people reading fascinating books. It used to be a prime spot for cottaging, but I don't think they've left enough greenery for it still to be.
Lashes learned to walk here and drenched himself in the fountains over and over again. I often brought both boys for breakfast here with baby Fingers in his pram. I met my mum here, heartbreakingly, one of the last times I saw her alive, and Lashes staggered towards her grinning. She brought him a wooden Noah's ark that day; I still have the odd animal kicking around that I can't bring myself to throw away. He's nearly 7. She died when he was 1. That seems impossible when I type it.
The Space Cadette and I have sat in the grey wintry cold outside the café and talked hopelessly about the mess our lives are many many times. Prog Rock Step Dad has joined me for plenty of espressos. The CFO would have a bacon sandwich and Lashes would follow the gardener around trying to steal his tools. I love Bloomsbury and Russell Square is the epicentre for me. I whiled away two lots of maternity leave, bored and lonely around these streets but this place always cheered me. I want to go back and have time to waste drinking strong tea out of styrofoam surrounded by buses.
4. The Tuesday lunchtime magazine crawl. Ah, happy Tuesday. Grazia and Heat both come out on a Tuesday, and I would hole up in Patisserie Valerie in Spitalfields in my lunch hour with a giant cappucino and my magazines. Bliss.
5. Daunt Books on Marylebone High Street - the BEST book shop. Just, the best. I love the smell of it, the staff, the excellent selections they put out on table tops, the old crazies that wander around in the back room. Everything.
6. Brick Lane. Generally, the fact of Sunday trading seems extraordinary from here in the 1970s (uh, Belgium), but Brick Lane seems like a miraculous shiny beacon of wonder. Bagels! Ten pomegranates for a pound! Knock off Balenciaga! Stuffed owls! Packets of biscuits stolen from hotels! Stolen everything, actually. Mar Mar Co. Labour & Wait, Shelf and the rest of Cheshire Street. ON A SUNDAY. A Sunday. Here, you'd be hard pressed to find bread on a Sunday. Sigh. Sigh sigh sigh.
7. Paul at Academy Framing. Violet and I had a terrible crush on him. He was small and sarcastic and full of clever ideas for framing pictures. Apparently he has now left. Sob. No more withering looks.
8. Pre-packed, environment-flaying fruit and vegetables. I know this is treasonous, but oh, lord, the convenience of pre-packed stir fry, and mango, and sugar snap peas. Shit, I said I wouldn't start weeping for Marks & Spencer.....
Do you live away from home? What do you miss?
* This came from a discussion with Zeno about what represents London for us. He said a pigeon with a withered foot. I said a crushed Benjy's styrofoam cup. We both agreed on the old copy of Metro.