Plus ça change on Mars and Venus

IMG_1023In the Nineties, dare I say so, we all read it.  In fact we read two of them: ‘Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus’, and ‘Mars and Venus on a Date.’

This was a hotly anticipated ‘sermon’ at The School of Life: An audience with John Gray – author of those books.

Back in the day we’d looked to him for guidance in a dating world where we were all a bit confused. As working women we’d been told we could have it all – however those paths to high flying careers had been littered with obstacles, one of which was a conundrum re our relationships with men – or more specifically male and female ‘roles.’

My cousin smiled: “I wonder how he’ll address it today – we’re twenty years on; we didn’t even have the internet back then, let alone smart phones and app dating.”

Conway Hall was busy, sun flitted momentarily past large paned windows on the ceiling.  Hundreds of women (and a few men) sat on the edge of their seats.

After the customary sing-a-long hymn, he came bounding onto the stage. The applause was heartfelt before he said a word – an indication of the bond created by so many conversations back then in a world where we lived in rented flats, had drinks after work, and attended multiple parties on a Saturday night.

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Zen and The Act of Kindness

IMG_0772“Seriously?  You have a bath and a kettle in your room?” I said to new Club Med friend Els. “It must be a deluxe one: I was told they’d done away with most of them in the refurb – part of an economy drive around water. I agree with that – but I do love a soak in the bath after a hard day’s table tennis and lounging by the pool.”

It was the first of many changes I spotted during my week at Da Balaia. It seemed that like some of its guests and the world at large, Club Med is also partial to an identity crisis: Rooms are refreshed; a newly decorated bar upstairs is all blonde wood; the nightclub area bright and airy, however in the communal areas the same old comforting carpet greeted me – a little tired around the edges now.

I followed crowds of beards from a tech company visiting for a conference to the dining room for lunch.

Ines, a Gentil Organisateur (G.O.) tore me away from frowning at chipped plates and cups, and the large round table next to me of eight French bloggers superglued to their ‘phones.
“So, how was your morning?” she asked, smiling. I told her what I’d done and hadn’t done and we found shared experiences to bond over.

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Japan Calling

IMG_0390“I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m on holiday, not in Maida Vale” I said to The Brunette – my dinner companion for the evening. Contemplating the decor of our newest local restaurant  immediately imbued a sense of relaxation and calm. Dark wood, mirrored strips on walls – a nod to Japanese lacquer – minimal tables and a soupçon of light jazz to be heard in the background provided the comfort of the traditional with the frisson of the new.

A Gordon Ramsey type restaurant this isn’t.  If you’re after cooks shouting orders: ‘SERVICE! NOW!!’ you won’t find it here. Instead, sitting up at the kitchen bar – possibly the most action packed location of any restaurant – Ken and Masato Nezu noiselessly and respectfully went about their business creating exquisitely simple, wonderful to behold dishes.

fullsizeoutput_27a0Manners maketh man and most certainly add to the enjoyment of dinner out on a Wednesday night.  Politely we were asked what we’d like to drink.  We discussed the options with Toru the owner: “Try the sparkling Sake” he told us, “It’s light, not too strong, I think you’ll be okay.” He was right; gently floral, the colour of effervescent water it was to be relished for itself rather than any unwanted effects.

IMG_0377We took our food recommendations from Ken: “This is nothing special” he repeatedly told us. Yellowtailed carpaccio with truffle oil, grilled asparagus with sesame dressing defined with threads of chilli as a starter told us otherwise.

Venturing into the territory of the mains our reactions seemed to surprise him; but when sushi and sashimi plates are this good it’s hard not to express delight. The smoked eel sushi took me out of my comfort zone into a new level of enjoyment. This is not the challenging eel of cockney lore, rather a super tender smokey hot mouthful with the delicate crunch of cucumber, wrapped in rice so good the entire experience was synergy personified.

Finishing up with sesame and Yuzu fruit ice cream followed by a cup of Genami tea, Toru gave us some backstory: “Our chefs are from a sushi family, we invited them from Nobu. It is an art to create this food.  In Japan an apprentice doesn’t touch the fish for three years – they just watch. How you cut the fish alters the flavour; knives have to be sharp. How you press the rice requires just the right amount of pressure; the temperature is vital. Everything has to come together – into one. It takes time.

We left ‘Japan’ light but replete, warmed but refreshed: “How appropriate that two friends from choir should have such a harmonious evening” The Brunette remarked as the Murasaki team bade us ‘Good Night.’

Many thanks to Toru, Ken, Masato Nezu, Piyumi and Kauri for a delightful evening. Murasaki, 12 Lauderdale Road, London W9

Sneaker Time

fullsizeoutput_2791Tom from Crepe City shoed us in. My niece led the way up urban stairs of concrete and steel into a cavernous room made of similar hard stuff.  Music boomed so loud we had to shout at one another to be heard.

IMG_0316A sea of black hoodies, baseball hats, rucksacks and box-fresh super trainers adorned the majority of attendees at this Crepe City convention.  I followed H’s Inter Jordan All Stars past rows and rows of sneakers for sale and asked for some explanation, some clue as to what all the fuss was about.

IMG_0354 “The thing is, the Yeezys for instance – they’ll launch a new style in store, but the queues will start the day before so the chances of getting a pair at the retail price of £150 is slim. The fact that they’re limited in production ultimately increases their value for re-sale. That’s what this is all about” she informed me. “See?”  I glanced at the trainer she held up for me to appraise.  The price tag attached read ‘£750’ – a punishing price to pay for your inability to be one of the first in line on launch day.

IMG_0321I remained intrigued as we wandered on past the special Back to the Future Part II self-lacing Nike Air MAG trainers and other £3,000 pairs to be envied, admired, and coveted by some, if not all sneaker enthusiasts.

I shamefully looked down at my Ecco Terracruises. “H, I bought these for £12.99 in a charity shop the other day: I feel a bit embarrassed.”
‘It’s okay Auntie Sarah, they’re actually so rare that nobody knows what they are” she said with a wry smile.
I burst out laughing, loving the fact I have a niece with such wit.

IMG_212646C32E07-1At a sneaker-friendly watch stand – finally comfy sofas and a free nailbar.  I sat down and took full advantage; neon pink with a lavender heart, mindful of mother’s day ahead.

To my right a girl sat with two watches decorating a heavily tattooed arm. “I had an original one of those in the late 70’s” I said pointing to her gold Casio, “We all did. Wish I’d kept it now – be worth a fortune.”
“Really!” she said.  “This is the waterproof one, I wear it all the time and nothing ever happens to it – just keeps on going.”

IMG_0349Heading towards the exit we passed a gentleman wearing a pair of Adidas Hardcourts. “I’ve come from Sweden especially to be here today” he told me. His newly-met companion shifted from one of her SB Dunks to the other, smiling at him admiringly.

I turned to H. “I think I get it now. Time for lunch” I said, walking out into fresh air and sunshine; E Bay on my mind.

Thanks to @hayles45 for manicure photo.

A Schooling in Life

img_0198To my great cost, literally, I have discovered The School of Life.  Wandering into their home on Marchmont Street in central London last night I was in no mood for a pre-booked workshop on ‘How To Realise Your Potential’ but, in for a penny, in for another £55 hole in my bank account.

Earlier on in the day, attending a funeral service, I’d heard a reading from Ecclesiastes – A Time for Everything: Joy and pain, laughter and tears, speaking and silence.  Each emotion has an opposite; the only thing is sometimes one loses touch with the positive ones.

I sat at the front, despite my mood, tricking myself into participating. We were given an icebreaker to start which entailed talking to the person next to us about what underlies our desire to reach our potential.  My heart inwardly sank.

“Death and ageing” I reluctantly said to a smiling face sitting opposite me.  “There’s so much of it about, there’s so much illness, it makes me panic about not realising my potential in time.”
“That’s beautiful” my School of Life class mate responded.
I looked at her askance. “Really?”
“Yes, it’s brave of you to vocalise it, to me a complete stranger. Mine is that I feel I’m in the wrong job and I don’t seem to be able to leave it.”

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A Conversation Piece

peter-lanyon-witness-1961

‘Witness’ by Peter Lanyon. *

January. Not the easiest month to make a break for it and get out there. However, a kind invitation to an evening at Home House with René Gimpel from the renowned West End Gallery debating all things art collecting roused my curiosity.

His talk was gently informative and afterwards his answers to the assembled audience on questions ranging from “What’s the difference between cinema and video art?” to “Should I buy Keith Haring now?” were compassionate and eloquent.  “Anyone can become an expert – that’s the great thing about art” he stated, “You just have to enter into the conversation.”

The mood in the elegant drawing room was relaxed and energised. The chat flowed amongst cushy sofas and soft lighting: The aftermath of a season of goodwill infused with some urgency of new year intent.

I approached René, curious to learn more:  “Did you see Bowie’s collection at Sotheby’s?” I asked – somewhat naively.
Rene looked at me, as a smile came to his lips. “Yes, he was a client of ours. I’ve got a lovely story about him if you’d like to hear it.”

My excited expression prompted the tale:

“Well, he came to me in the 80’s.  He was interested in starting to collect art. He wanted to learn everything about it. He told me of a particular Peter Lanyon painting he liked and asked if I could get it for him. So, I rang Sheila, Peter’s wife, and she sent it up.  Bowie came in and I took him down to the basement to fetch the picture.  It was dark and dusty so I offered to bring the painting up to the gallery.  ‘No, let’s just sit here and look at it’ he said, motioning to the stairs.

We sat on the steps and contemplated the piece in silence for some time.

After a while he pointed to the right side of the picture and said: ‘It’s got a tyre mark on it’.  I looked at it aghast and thought – gosh that’s my eyesight; I knew Peter kept his pictures in the garage at home and immediately thought he’d backed into it. I started to apologise, but he interrupted me and said: ‘No, no, this is the one I wanted: Peter ran over it deliberately – he thought it looked better that way.’

I introduced him to high art collectors and those in the middle – he was particularly interested in the latter and I remember a trip to Richmond with him to visit one. He was extremely knowledgeable about modern British art – hence his knowing of Peter’s ‘tyre’ painting” he concluded.

I basked in the warmth of the story, reluctant to leave my place on the stairs at Gimpel Fils with René and Bowie; such edifying company on a freezing cold winter’s night.

* ‘Witness’ by Peter Lanyon. Dated April 1961. From the BOWIE/COLLECTOR sale at Sotheby’s, London, November 2016. Image copywrited to Sotheby’s.

 

Sunday School

img_4733People smiled at each other in the lengthy queue for an early cuppa at the Cecil Sharpe House café.  Earthy wooden tables decorated a sparse room warmed by the buzz of conversation and the bang-bang of the barista’s coffee work.

“Is that the door to sorrow or are my eyes deceiving me?” I turned to look at the owner’s voice and noticed him glancing towards a handwritten sign above a door not too far away.  I followed his gaze and burst out laughing.  “Um, I don’t think so!  But having said that I can’t work it out either – is it ‘Storrou’”?
“Time for an eye test I think” came the reply. “Anyway whatever it is, I don’t want to go there.” Between more joking and laughter, we discussed the virtues of our morning venue and the talk we were about to attend there. “I’ve heard Ruby speak before in Ross on Wye. She was good” he said. img_4724

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The Middle Bit

img_4623“Don’t look in that mirror!” I said to T as he wandered back from the Gents, “It’s a ‘fat’ mirror, and Lord knows I don’t need to add any extra pounds to the ones already gained over the last week.”

He looked into the mirror anyway – emblazoned with a superlative drawing of the movie we’d just seen: The latest in the Star Wars, um, series, it was perfect viewing for the middle bit – that bit between Christmas and New Year where no one knows what day of the week it is, much less cares.

We’d met at 8 to go to the local Everyman cinema. At the top of a bustling queue T requested the tickets: “I booked two for Rogue Nation”, he said to one of the Bartenders. I smiled standing beside him, noting the hot rum punch merrily steaming on the bar. “You mean, Rogue One” came the reply.  We looked at each other, “Yes, of course, Rogue One.”

“I was sure it was called the former, T” I whispered, clutching my winter warmer as our eyes adjusted to the darkened theatre and we attempted to locate our small but perfectly formed sofa.

Special effects reigned supreme in a movie where the laughs came from K-2SO – all minute mannerisms coupled with a dry wit easily a match for C-3P0 – and Peter Cushing was raised from his rest via CGI to be morphed into some notable character or other.

As the lights came up I turned to my actor friend: “What was all that about the antennae not being aligned?  Was that Leia at the end – if so what have they done to her face?! And was Princess Jen supposed to be Leia in an early life? And the big retro controls? I’m confused.”

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Farmaceuticals

img_4357There was a time, not so long ago, when the word that a new restaurant in town had opened, had you hot footing it down there to steal the ashtray and collect the matches while dining on all the alcohol you could possibly manage and shooting the calorie counter up to eleven. The naughtier and more generously appointed the dish the better.

As the years have gone by however the courses, as opposed to the prices, have gotten smaller: We had nouvelle cuisine morphing into bacon and egg ice cream, and eventually just bits of air floating about in a clear glass dome on a plate.

So, just when the menus of hip and happening restaurants had become so absurd and gone beyond you even asking for the chef’s recipe book for Christmas – solely for coffee table decoration – we finally pulled ourselves together and decided what was interesting was what actually might be good for us to eat.  Good in a kind of ‘I am superhuman, I live in the Noughties (are we still in those by the way?) I am immune to any new disease mankind may throw at me.  Bring on the kale! Bring on the bizarre South American herbs! Bring on the sense of worthiness/smugness I will obtain just by looking at this food on my plate!’

Farmacy, one of the latest restaurants currently fascinating London town fits this particular bill.

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