Sunday, August 19, 2012

Girly reunion in London, remembering George and Sanya, "Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all" and home again.

Sunday 19th August 201

Girly reunion in London,  remembering George and Sanya, "Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all" and home again.

The four of us in London on Saturday, from left to right, Sue, me, Adele and Sandra

Hi again

It’s Sunday 19th August and the summer is coming to an end, or rather my summer holidays are now over.  This week was my last trip of the summer holidays and it was to wonderful London for a three day girly reunion with my friends from Nottingham University, Adele, Sandra and Sue.  And what a wonderful reunion it was.  But let me start from last Monday when the week began.

On Monday we came back from Santa Pola, but as you know I wasn’t back for long.  Olivia had gone off to Valencia for the week and Suzy was not at home of course.  It was nice to see my Father again as it was to see our lovely dogs.  Norah had missed us especially, as this photo that Olivia sent me proves.  When we are not at home, I think she misses us and here you can see her lying mournfully on the tiled floor in the kitchen, probably trying to get away from the extreme heat outside.

Norah misses us when we are away

On Tuesday I went to the hairdresser, Marco Aldany, and afterwards I went food shopping with Ivanka, as the cupboards were literally bare.  Finally Suzy came home and joined us by the pool trying to cool off.  It was lovely to see her.  Later Eladio and I took her out to dinner and we sat alone in the De Brasa y Puchero restaurant in nearby Boadilla. 

Suzy by the pool last Monday

Wednesday finally came, the day I was going to London.  I left my car at the office and then took the taxi to the airport to catch my free flight with Iberia, thanks to my Iberia Plus points, which left at 12h.  The flight was fine but got me thinking that the last time I flew to London on my own was in October 2008 for Sanya’s funeral, the wife of my dear brother George. 

George and Sanya on their wedding day

That then got me remembering my frequent flights alone to London the 3 months before he died in May 2001 where I would meet my Father at King’s Cross and take the tube to Belsize Park where Sanya lived and go and visit George either at the Royal Free Hospital or latterly at the Eden Hall Hospice in Hampstead.  Those were very sad days and I have to admit remembering them and George, got me crying and then I just couldn’t stop throughout the flight. So I vowed that during my trip to London I would visit their grave in East Finchley which of course I did, and which you can read about later on.

I cheered up as soon as I arrived at the hotel Adele had booked for us, The Elysee, on Craven Terrace near Lancaster Gate. The hotel is in a great location, but the room I was offered which had to be a triple as Sandra was going to join us on Thursday night for one night, was minuscule.  It had one small bed and one small double bed with hardly any room to put our luggage, let alone to move.  As I was being shown the room, Adele arrived.  The Indian girl at reception showed us 3 rooms, none of which were much better but the one we settled for was acceptable.  I kept calling the hotel sleazy but perhaps the right word is seedy or maybe modest.  In any case it was cheap and in a good location and served its purpose.

The Elysee Hotel where we stayed

As soon as we were settled in, Adele and I went off to Hyde Park and had a coffee and a shared cake at the Lido café by the Serpentine.  I commented that standards in England had gone down when I saw that the milk jug was actually a plastic cup.  The coffee and cake would have been much more enjoyable if it hadn’t been for the dirty and greedy pigeons which kept trying to peck our food on the table.  

Our first engagement was meeting Sue at Covent Garden.  So with our Oyster passes in hand we took the Central line at Lancaster Gate to Holborn and walked from there to Covent Garden. 

Adele at Lancaster Gate on Wednesday evening

Covent Garden is a very popular spot with tourists and it was crowded as always.  The first thing I noticed in London was the amount of flags and of course all the aftermath of the Olympics.  I think the Olympic spirit lived on too as people were very friendly.  Maybe the weather helped, as London is not the same when it is cold and rainy.  We had great weather throughout apart from one very short shower which lasted 5 minutes, so we were very lucky.

There flags everywhere in London

We got to Covent Garden with time to spare, so wandered around.  At one point we got talking to a homeless Scot whilst resting on the pavement.  He told us about living down and out in London.  Right next to us was a British policeman (bobby) warning some of his “mates” about loitering.  I took a surreptitious photo which the very good looking “bobby” later remarked I had taken without his permission.

A bobby on the job in Covent Garden

Soon we were joined by Sue who we had agreed to meet outside the Apple Store.  Sue studied Spanish with me at Nottingham and lived with Adele and I in our last year at Cromwell Road in Beeston.  We left in 1980 and I think the last time we saw her was the year she married, when our girls were very small.  So the last time we had seen her was about 26 years ago.  Of course we recognized her as she just hasn’t changed.  Later in a pub where we had a drink, Adele showed us some photos of our times together in Nottingham and frankly I think at least I look a lot better now, if that is possible.  We went to dinner at a steak bar nearby called Sophie’s which had great food – loved my fish and chips, but it was  a bit loud and noisy as London restaurants tend to be these days.  Over dinner the three of us caught up on our lives since we left University and told each other in just a couple of hours the most important things.  You can imagine that our tongues didn’t stop throughout.

Adele and I wanted to walk back, so we parted with Sue at Trafalgar Square.  As Adele and I walked down Regent’s Street we came across a group of Eastern European night workers who were taking a photo of the group.  We quickly joined them and one of them took a photo of this memorable moment, although the photo is somewhat out of focus I am afraid.

A bit of fun in Regent's Street with Adele and a group of workers on Wed night

Adele and I didn’t have a bad night, despite our small room but opted for breakfast in the street rather than at the hotel.  At “Come Together” a hair salon and café next door we had delicious coffee and scones or croissants every day of our stay.  The latté was great, just like a big “café con leche”.

Where we always had breakfast

That was Thursday morning and after breakfast we made our way to Marks and Spencer in nearby Oxford Street next to Marble Arch.  We were to meet Sandra and Sue at 12.30 at the Punch and Judy pub in Covent Garden so had just 2 hours to raid M+S.  

We were late for our appointment and Sandra and Sue were already in the pub.  It was great to be all together and reminisce which is what we did though out our stay.  From the Punch and Judy, we went in search of a café for lunch and chose the slightly disappointing Café Rouge.

The four of us at The Punch and Judy in Covent Garden.  From left to right: Adele, Sandie, me and Sue

After lunch we wandered out and towards Charing Cross Station from where we crossed the bridge to make our way to the famous South Bank.  The photo illustrating this blog is of the four of us on the bridge.  We walked along the South Bank enjoying the views of London.  I had never actually been in South Bank and thought it was a great place.  We came across a square with lots of enticing little shops and went into some of them.  The place was called Gabrielle’s wharf and was charming.  Here Adele bought two lovely summer dresses which I can imagine she will be wearing next week in Rabat when the whole family goes out for her son Johnathan’s wedding to his Moroccan partner Salma.

Adele trying on a dress she later bought in a boutique in the South Bank

Tired and hot we stopped for a coffee and to write post cards.  Then Sue had to go back to her flat in Greenwich so we said goodbye until the evening.  Afterwards Sandie, Adele and I continued walking along the South Bank until we came to the Tate Modern.  Luckily we didn’t go in to see an exhibition as I was tired and hot.  Our next stop was to cross the Millennium bridge from where you can get a great picture of London Bridge and the Tower Bridge beyond it with the Olympic Rings.  You can also see the Shard, very visible from most points of the South Bank and apparently the tallest building in Europe.

The view from the Millennium Bridge of The Shard, London Bridge and in the background Tower Bridge

The Millennium Bridge leads to St. Paul’s Cathedral which I think I hadn’t seen since I visited it with Eladio in 1980.  I always love that Cathedral and remember it because of Prince Charles wedding to the lovely Diana but also from the Mary Poppins Film from the song “Feed the birds”.

St Paul's Cathedral from the Millennium Bridge

Once there we spotted an M+S Simply Food store and decided to buy some fruit for breakfast.  Here you could only purchase items at the automatic tills and whilst I did that I thought how England had changed since I lived there.

At the automatic till at M+S Simply food, Adele and Sandie

We carried on walking with the intention of walking back to our hotel but were tired and running late so took the tube for the rest of the way.  Soon the three of us were in our tiny room laughing at the situation which seemed a bit like being back at University.  We had to get ready quickly as we were meeting Sue and her twin daughters, Adele and Izzy for dinner in Soho.  But first we enjoyed a drink at The Mitre, the pub opposite our hotel.

The Mitre pub, our local in London this week

As we were running late  we decided to take a cab to Soho.  There is nothing like taking a black cab in London to enjoy the city.

Sandie in a London cab

Soon we were sitting at our table at the Carom restaurant in Soho awaiting the best Indian meal I think I have ever had.

Dinner in Soho on Thursday night with Adele, Sandie, Sue and her girls Adele and Izzy

Again the restaurant was dark and loud but I forgave all that because the food was so good.  It’s always great to have an Indian meal with Bombay born Sandra who manages the waiters perfectly and knows exactly what to order.  Over dinner we spoke about many things. One of the topics was the Hotel Marigold film set in India and Sandra reminded me with her perfect Indian accent of a very funny phrase from the film, pronounced by the young Indian receptionist.  For the records it was: “Everything will be alright in the end.  If things are not alright, then it is not yet the end!.  Good isn’t it?

After dinner we walked out of Soho and there said goodbye to Sue and her daughters.  Sue was returning to Australia this weekend after 6 weeks away and couldn’t join us the next day.  It was great seeing her, meeting her girls and who knows we may just visit her in Brisbane.  If not, maybe we can repeat the experience in London another time.  We wished her goodbye and sent our hugs and kisses to her husband Glenn who also studied with us at Nottingham and who she met at school!

Sue's twin daughters.  Izzy the physicist in blue and Adele the dancer in the striped jacket.  Lovely girls.

Adele, Sandie and I walked all the way back to our hotel and wow were we exhausted after the effort but keen to work off some of the heavy Indian dinner.  That night the three of us were sleeping together in our tiny room.  We tried to keep it tidy but it was nearly mission impossible.  I sent a photo to Olivia to tell her she would be proud of me for having such an untidy room in reference to the mess she normally creates around her in her own room or any hotel room she stays at hahahaha. 

Our small triple room, what a laugh and what fun we had.

The three of us were so tired we actually didn’t sleep at all badly, despite our worries and the next day were up early, eager to make the most of our last day together.  We had breakfast at the little café next door and then walked to Hyde Park.  We wanted to go the official Olympic shop there to buy t-shirts to take home.  To do so, of course we had to pass the famous Serpentine and here we stopped for a group photo a passerby kindly offered to take by the Ibis statue.  Unfortunately the passerby cut off half of the flamingo.

With my dear friends Adele (in the middle) and Sandie by the Ibis statue in Hyde Park on Friday morning

We were soon at the enormous Olympic shop where all the assistants were young, dressed in the official t-shirt and extremely helpful.  One of them took a photo of the three of us at the entrance.  Here we bought t-shirts and other memorabilia for our families.  I am pleased to say that my choices for Eladio and the girls were successful.

By the Olympic shop in Hyde Park

Our next stop before lunch was a quick entry into M+S to change some things we had bought the day before.  Then we were on our way when I spotted a Gap store and dragged my friends willingly in. You see there are no Gap stores in Spain and I love their clothes which are casual and right up my street.  You won’t be surprised to hear I bought a blue and grey striped long sleeved t-shirt which was marked as Gap’s most popular piece of clothing.  I also got a “hoodie” (hate that word and would prefer hooded sweat shirt) with Gap and the British flag on the front which I can imagine wearing on our walks in the winter.

We then made our way to a lunch appointment with another Nottingham student of our times, Jayne who was actually Sandra’s friend as Adele and I had never met her.  Jayne had made the excellent choice of Villandry in Great Portland Street.  It was easy to connect immediately as we had all studied at the same University and are roughly the same age.  A bonus for me was that Jayne who lives in London, works in a similar field to mine, marketing and social media so we had lots in common.

Jayne and Sandra at Villandry in Great Portland Street on Friday

The restaurant was very civilized with white table cloths and air conditioning and served a very good gazpacho.  After lunch Adele had to leave to catch the Euro train back to Paris and Sandra was to accompany me to North London, where she was staying with her Mother, to visit George and Sanya’s joint grave. So we said our goodbyes and took our different ways after a very pleasant lunch.

Sandie and I took the Northern line from Warren Street and were heading to East Finchley.  I had heard from my Father, through Eladio that their grave was located in the cemetery there.  Bad luck would have it that when we found the cemetery we were told that he was not buried there but would probably be buried at the other cemetery in East Finchley called St. Pancras and Islington but did I know the grave number.  Well of course I didn’t as I had only been there on two occasions, for the two funerals, and had arrived there by hearse and had no idea where it was.  I am not a one for visiting graves, even of the people close to me, but on this visit I was determined to find it.  I had a sudden need to as I explained at the beginning of this post.  So we walked from the huge “wrong” cemetery to the other one which turned out to be quite far away. We got very tired walking in the sun and carrying our bags but finally found the right cemetery. Then we had to find the grave which took some time as first we had to find the office which is far inside the cemetery and not really near the entrance.  After much heartache and searching, we did eventually find it.  For the records it is in 1X and is numbered 192.  And there it was in that beautiful green parkland, with its red headstone and gold lettering which I read over and over again as I stood and cried and remembered.  It was wonderful to have Sandie with me and not to be alone at that sad moment.  My last trip there was when dear Sanya died, after having been found dead in her flat in October 2008.  The grave then didn’t have her part of the inscription but now it does.  I realised later I should have taken some flowers but never thought of it. I also noticed two red candles on the grave and wondered who had taken them there.  I cannot think who that could be.

George and Sanya's grave which I visited with Sandie on Friday afternoon in East Finchley

As I looked at their grave, I was thankful that these two damaged people had actually found love at the end of my brother’s life.  That was the best thing that ever happened to them.  Of course when Sanya died, she told me she had nothing to live for and I remember when I comforted her on my visits to London thinking that that was so true.  At the Olympic closing ceremony a week or two ago, when the greatest British statesman appears in the show, Sir Winston Churchill, above Big Ben, there is an inscription of a line from a poem by Lord Tennyson which is famous and I hadn’t seen or heard for years.  It is: “Tis better to have loved and lost, then never to have loved at all”.  Apparently this poem was of great comfort to Queen Victoria when her husband Prince Albert died.  These lines gave me great comfort too at the sad little spot at St. Pancras cemetery on Friday afternoon and I wanted to share them with you in this week’s blog.

It was at the closing ceremony of the Olympics that I spotted these famous lines by Tennyson:  "Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all"

After some quiet time at their grave, Sandra and I walked back to the entrance where her dear 87 year old Jewish Hungarian mother Magda, who survived the Nazi invasion of Budapest by being hidden with her mother by friends, was to pick us up.  I hadn’t seen Magda since our University days but she is still elegant and glamorous as I remember her.  We had a cup of tea together in East Finchley before they drove me back to the Tube Station as I had to hurry back to London for an engagement at 6.15.

Sandra with her mother Magda in East Finchley on Friday

I was late to meet Gillian for a drink at The Mitre opposite our hotel. Gillian studied law at Nottingham and lived with Sandra and I in our second year at our house in Church Avenue.  I have seen Gillian over the years but I think the last time could well have been 20 years ago. We had 1.5h to catch up and we did a great job of it. 

With Gillian at The Mitre on Friday evening

At 8pm my beloved nephew Miguel was picking me up at The Mitre and we had a table reserved at a fish restaurant in nearby Notting Hill at 8.30.  I wanted fish and chips and Jayne had recommended Geale’s which turned out to be a superb place with great food the only downside being the slow service in between courses.  It was great to see my favourite nephew again as he had been one of the few people missing at the annual gathering in Montrondo this year.

I had dinner in Notting Hill on Friday evening with my nephew Miguel

Miguel is living in Brixton and works as a broker for a global financial services firm specializing in bond trading.  Imagine he sells government bonds from countries all around the world to big banks and cannot even get up from his seat whilst doing so or otherwise he may miss out on a big operation.  I have forgotten the name of the company he works for in Canary Warf but he told me it is famous because it lost all of its 800 employees in the Twin Towers on the 11th September.  

To work off the calories we walked back to Lancaster Gate and Miguel being the gentleman he is accompanied me to my hotel where I was to spend my last night in London alone.

If felt funny to have the room to myself.  I decided to pack as I had to check out at 10, although my flight wasn’t until 3pm.  And there I had a bit of a problem, getting everything into my expanding case with all my purchases.  In the end I had to leave my feather pillow behind, the one I take on all my travels, but I had to make some sacrifice in order to shut the case.

On Saturday morning I had London all to myself and after a quick breakfast I left my case and pc (that goes everywhere with me too) at the hotel in the left luggage room, checked out and then wandered out into the street.  I decided to walk to Notting Hill.  To do so, I went past the Russian Embassy as this is Embassy area and also past Kensington Palace Gardens where Embassy staff live.  I remember distinctly as a teenager going there with my Mother and eating Russian caviar on sliced white British bread with a Russian musician friend of hers, Slava.  I have never liked caviar since.

Once in Notting Hill I came across the famous Portobello Road market.  But it was so hot and so full that I had little inclination to buy anything but of course I couldn’t as nothing else would fit in my case.  I did though manage to buy a Union Jack t-shirt which I had been wanting to buy since I landed in London.

I was back in the hotel by 12, got a cab in the street and was soon at Paddington and on the Heathrow Express destination Terminal 5. I had plenty of time at the airport and decided to have lunch at the Sea Food bar. This is a great little place to eat where they offer lobster, salmon, peeled prawns, caviar, oysters or my favourite, dressed crab.  All Heathrow terminals have a Caviar House bar and, if I can, I always eat at one. I was not disappointed with my choice.

Dressed crab at Caviar House in Terminal 5 at Heathrow on Saturday.  A good end to a remarkable trip and reunion.

My flight left on time.  It was 32ºc in London, the hottest day of the year or so I heard. But of course it was much hotter in Madrid when I landed: 38ºc and even more in Alcobendas where I picked my car up from the office car park; 41ºc.  I was home by 8pm and happy to greet my Father, Eladio, Susana and her friends Rocío and Elena and of course Ivanka, not to mention our lovely dogs.  Dinner last night was a treat, on the table in the garden outside the kitchen.  Even better was sleeping in my own bed and using the huge bathroom which I commented to Eladio was probably slightly bigger than our triple room at The Elysee Hotel.

And today I woke up in my own bed, had breakfast with Eladio and my Father and gradually settled in after my time away.  As I always say; there is no place like home.  Olivia was back from Valencia just in time for lunch so we had a family lunch in the comfort or our dining room with the air conditioning on at full blast.  Ivanka had cooked some great stuffed peppers the Bulgarian way.

I hadn’t seen Olivia since we came back from Montrondo, so it was good to see her. She has been practising adventure sports with her new friend Miguel in Valencia.  She did surfing but also paragliding, imagine!

Olivia went surfing this week in Valencia AND paragliding. 

So now we are all back and life is back to normal and I will have to catch up with my work tomorrow Monday and work hard until the end of the month on our up and coming activities in Santander.

And, that my friends, is the tale of this week with the highlight being our wonderful reunion in London, truly one of the greatest cities in the world.

Until next week,
PS you can see the full set of photos of my trip to London here

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