No, it's not a storm but it does pack quite a punch... it's the Notting Hill Carnival!
Held the last weekend in August (traditionally a bank holiday weekend), the Carnival is Europe's largest street party. Anywhere from 300,000 to half a million people flood the area... in which I happen to live! The height of the two-day party is the street parade on Monday, full of eye-popping colour and heady beats you can't help but groove to.
While I'm not right in the heart of Notting Hill, I'm within a 10-minute walk of the festivities... which means I'm on what I've come to call the 'puke and pee' route. As much as I love the food, dance, costumes and music that come with the Carnival, I do not like the drunken noise all night, not to mention the piles of rubbish and vomit outside my front gate.
Strolling to our local video store, we couldn't help but notice the shop-fronts being boarded up with plywood, and the row of portable toilets that line the roads. Police cars cruised by, and the streets seemed devoid of life. It was liking the area was preparing for a hurricane, or something.
You could argue that the charms of the South Bank are fairly obvious. River, restaurants and culture: who could ask for more? But if you're looking for something away from the tourists and buskers, you can find it there, too -- without much effort.
As I've mentioned several (or a thousand) times, the South Bank has a very special place in my London. It's where I met The Man, where he proposed, and where we got married a few weeks ago. We have some great memories of Tate Modern, concerts at the Royal Festival Hall, and many, many riverside dinners. So where better to go to celebrate The Man's birthday?
Hot on the heels of receiving an invite to screen his film at Leeds International Film Festival in November, it made sense to nip into the British Film Institute for a drink at their relatively new Benugo Bar and Grill. This is a great place to grab a funky-coloured armchair and relax away from the legions by the river -- we didn't even know it was there until passing by the side entrance of the BFI! Surrounded by the buzz of industry people, heady with success, we downed our Passion Pushers (don't ask) and went off to the nearby National Theatre for a brilliant short play by Caryl Churchill (Three More Sleepless Nights).
With two hours to kill before our dinner at Skylon at the Royal Festival Hall, we headed to the Oxo Tower for some drinks and jazz. Although very visible from miles around (literally -- you can see it from Hampstead Heath on a clear day), you have to hunt a bit for the entrance. Once located, we were whisked up to the eighth floor for views that rival the Tate Modern's, not to mention great jazz. Our waiter bestowed nuts, olives and a great Medoc upon us, and time flew as we listened to two guitars while night fell.
Back out into the fray and down to the Royal Festival Hall to Skylon for dinner. Formerly known as The People's Palace, I've wanted to go to the revamped restaurant since the Royal Festival Hall reopened a few years ago. With a great offer from the Evening Standard in hand, we trotted over to the grill section and proceeded to devour some chicken liver parfait, duck legs and risotto.
Then back home for a decadent raspberry and lemon cream cake... with candles, of course!
Londoners drown in the choice of places to take tea. From over-the-top The Ritz to The Berkeley's Pret-a-Portea, where biscuits are shaped in the latest designer bikinis and handbags, there is a mind-boggling array of venues.
But this week's TimeOut profiled a new idea on the tea scene: taking tea in a stranger's living room. Although the idea of 'underground' eating isn't new to London, it's nice to see the concept extended to the age-old tradition of afternoon tea.
I have great respect for the UK press -- in particular, The Guardian and The Independent. I like their spirited op-ed columns, and their (mostly) thorough reporting on the world in general. But this must truly be what they call the silly season, for today The Guardian has sunk to a new low: commenting on Castro and al-Megrahi's shellsuits, with the riveting headline of 'Shellsuits Are Back!' Tongue in cheek? Yes, but still...
More hardly need be said, so I leave you with the following:
Eagle-eyed observers of the world stage have noted that the shellsuit seems to be making a return among men of a certain age. Namely, Lockerbie bomber Abdelbaset al-Megrahi on his flight back to Libya, and Fidel Castro in his first public appearance in 14 months.
You can see the attraction. Tracksuits are comfy. They have no annoying buttons, or tie-matching issues. You can make a nod to smartness by making sure top and bottom match.
Back at the desk today, I finished sketching out an outline for a new novel. Yes, it's number 5, and no, none of the previous 4 have been published (not counting my non-fiction). To some, this might be depressing. But strangely, it doesn't really bother me -- much.
Of course I don't want my fiction to waste away in the dust-laden corners of my desk. But I'm not giving up on them entirely. The last two still need some thorough editing; in fact, I just received a very detailed (and very helpful!) report from the Romantic Novellist's Association with some great advice for my latest effort. And sometimes I think novels just need to sit for awhile, so sit they shall.
It's always fun to let a new idea bounce around your brain, to see if it has legs. It's disappointing when it doesn't, but when it does... I love the buzz that happens as you sketch out the turning points, the conflicts; the tension when you finally sit down to begin chapter one.
Since Oxford-based pub The Perch was the only tavern open on a Sunday, this expression became common-place for the the inhabitants of the small village of Binsey, then on the outskirts of Oxford. We didn't go to church (well, it was a Saturday night, after all), but we did head to The Perch for a drink and dinner last night. Leaving the main road just outside of the centre of Oxford, a few minutes later it felt like we were in the wilderness even though we were smack in the middle of the city sprawl.
One of The Man's former work colleagues was celebrating her birthday (I won't say which one) and we decided to head up to Oxford for the night to join in the fun. With the speed of a race-car driver (and yes, this is how The Man drives), Oxford was only a mere 45 minutes from London. The night was clear and warm, but owing to the vicissitudes of the British summer the pub had set up a covered tent in the back garden. Filling our bellies with steak and wine, swaying to the tunes of a jazz trio, the night around us took on a magical quality and time flew by.
Photo courtesy of Flickr.
As with most British pubs, closing time came way too early. We took a final stroll around the grounds and down to the river, then back to the car. Five minutes later we were back in the twenty-first century and blitzing back to London, the age-old world of The Perch fading into memory.
Yes, I know, enough with the wedding already! Well, I'm almost done and then I'll be back to my regular boring drivel. Just one more item of business on the agenda: thanks to all the lovely people who helped make it such a great day.
John and Jessie Flowers, Kensington Church Street, who arranged and delivered our two big vases of calla lillies for the gallery and made me such a lovely bouquet that I refused to throw it!
Jo from Blush, who made me, Mum and my maid of honour look pretty! We got loads of compliments all day.
Marika Rauscher, our lovely soprano, who sang Casta Diva as I walked down the aisle.
Smoke, the wonderful duo of Nicky and Steve, who played cool jazz tunes as we drifted down the Thames.
Rob from Dali, who helped us organise the ceremony and stuck around to make sure everyone had champagne!
Before I get clogged in the routine of life on this island, I have to tell you about another island where life couldn't be more different from the UK if it tried: the island of Lopud, in Croatia. Although it's not exactly undiscovered --tourists from Germany, Scandanavia (oddly), Britain and France clutter its shores -- it is far away from the ugly concrete resorts that usually line such wonderful coastlines.
After scoffing down our first breakfast as husband and wife, The Man and I caught the Gatwick Express to Gatwick, hopped on EasyJet (remarkably on time and hassle free) and arrived in Dubronik a short two hours later. As we drove along the coast to our water taxi, we couldn't believe our eyes: the water and mountains gleamed in the setting sun, lights dotted the undulating shore, trees speared up into the glowing orange sky. Darkness fell and our driver wended his way down the hills to a small beach lit up by one light. Waiting for us was our speed boat and driver, Tomo. We jetted off towards what looked like a dark lump crouching in the water... with me wondering where on earth we were going and hoping some life (and wine) existed there!
We rounded a rock and the small settlement curving along the coast met our eyes. A monastery stood guard on one side, and houses rose up the side of the hill as if they had been planted there. Nothing moved on the main promenade; there were no cars and the only sound we could here was the low hum of the engine. Pure bliss.
Our penison, booked with little knowledge of what it actually looked like and with a lot of fervent prayers it would turn out to be alright, was a short walk from the boat, up a narrow stone staircase. As we made our way between the orange, banana and fig trees, the cloying smell of leaves, damp earth and something like lavender filled our nostrils. It was more than alright. It was paradise.
And the rest of the island did not disappoint. Stellar sandy beaches, clear blue water, great restaurants and friendly residents who refused to take payment from us for drinks, etc, when they found out it was our last day on the island.
Who could ask for more?
Getting there:EasyJet flies from Gatwick to Dubrovnik in about 2.5 hours. From the port in Dubrobik, Lopud is served by a ferry four times daily.
Sleeping: We stayed in Pension Tomic; great accommodation at a fraction of some of the other hotel prices on the island. They even gave us a free jug of wine on arrival! Transfer and booking arranged through i-reception.
Eating: Obala, Terasse Peggy and Konoba Dubrovnik were some of our favourites, along with our daily breakfast from Hotel Glavic.
Did you notice I was missing? My ego would like to think so!
Almost a month away from my desk -- hard to believe! I've got married, gone honeymooning... and come home to start a new chapter, this time in life! I'm busy getting the flat back in order (laundry, cleaning and all that fun stuff) and will make a strict return to life tomorrow. Or so I tell myself.
See you then! In the meantime, here's a wedding photo... it was actually sunny, if you can believe it!