131. The Bright Lights of London

The header today is of a Cornus controversa ‘Variegata’, otherwise known as the wedding cake tree. Keep reading to find out the relevance.

Over the last couple of months, we’ve spent quite a bit of time in London, enjoying diverse events and restaurants as well as wandering around the streets before it’s all stopped again. At the moment, 2022 doesn’t look too promising.

We went to Cottons Caribbean restaurant and enjoyed Ebony Royal and Trelawny Royal cocktails as well as good food. We encountered both opera and folk music, the first at the International Opera Awards (followed by a very late meal at Osteria delle Angolo on the way home) and the second at Cecil Sharp House listening to Granny’s Attic (where the girl in front of me not only shared my name but also my book mask!), followed by another late meal at Dolsot Suchi, a fast food place that was just up the road. Another evening was spent at an enthralling lecture by Helen Sharman at the Royal Institute, courtesy of The Royal Osteoporosis Society. If she’s speaking anywhere near you, get a ticket.

Safety first at the Royal Institute!

We listened to the new Abba album, their first for 40 years. Some of you reading this will not remember the release of their last one. If you’re interested you might be able to get tickets for the show, which is not your usual pop concert:

We can’t be going out all the time, so back to my reading material. Barbara Pym was an English novelist in the mid-20th century who has rather fallen out of fashion, despite being nominated for the Booker Prize in 1977, three years before her death. I think her books reflected a way of life that (maybe?) no longer exists.


They are not exciting action thrillers or science fiction but rather gentle satires on normal life (as it was then). They are reminiscent of when I first moved to London at the age of 18: I lived in a bed-sit (one room with a bed, chair, baby grill with two rings for cooking): the shared toilet and bathroom also served four other rooms down the corridor. There was no TV, no fridge, we’d put the bottle of milk outside on the window ledge to keep cool. Luckily the loo was separate from the bathroom: once someone was in the bath (no showers in those days) they could be there for ages, till they got fed up with the knocking (increasingly frantic) on the door. I moved from there to a flat share: from memory, five bedrooms with eight of us, plus a lounge, kitchen and bathroom to share. We each had our own kitchen cupboard and beware the person who ‘borrowed’ some milk or baked beans if they’d run out! Don’t ask what we did for entertainment in those long-lost days before the internet and mobile phones (and very little spare cash). Lots of walking, chatting to pals over a coffee, a cheap café if we were feeling extravagant. Once we went to the Spaghetti House where there had been a six-day siege. Looking at the date, October 1975, it was all very fresh as I started to live in London in 1973. Almost 50 years ago? Surely not.


Wandering around, I wanted to see if 108 Cambridge Street Pimlico had a Blue Plaque to Barbara Pym. I’m afraid (annoyed) not. I found one nearby at 114 Cambridge St to Aubrey Beardsley, the artist of weird illustrations (grotesque is the word in the Tate link).


I think I need to contact the Barbara Pym society and ask how we get a Plaque erected. Another day. If you’ve never been to London, or if you are particularly unobservant, you might not have noticed these blue circles on lots of walls around the place. They were first started in 1866 by English Heritage (or whatever it was called then). There are almost 1000 around London, commemorating famous (‘notable’ according to the website) people. Ooh, I can propose one on the website! Only 14% are of women so I might have a chance. First, is there one to her somewhere else? NO! Right, as soon as this is posted, I’ll be doing more research. I’ll let you know how it goes.


I couldn’t find a blue plaque on or near Old Marylebone Town Hall, which is famous for holding celebrity weddings and has been called ‘the coolest in the UK’ and ‘the most popular celebrity wedding venue in the world’. People who have married there include Paul McCartney twice (first and third weddings), Ringo Starr, Liam Gallagher (also twice), Antonio Banderas, Sean Bean, Claudia Winkleman, the list of the great and the good goes on. At least two of my Blog Followers were married there and most recently, another two, in the persons of George and Yangtze!



Can you see George and Yangtze?

A quick reminder: George and Yangtze met in Cape Town in November 2019 when the Clipper race stopped there. Yangtze was joining the Qingdao boat to sail to Fremantle as one of the Chinese ambassadors for that leg. That had been Plan A but before they got to Freo, the two of them had formed a friendship they wanted to take further. Yangtze signed up to re-join the boat in Seattle. As we know, that didn’t (has yet to) happen, thanks to the pandemic. (I’ve heard the latest iteration referred to as Omnicrom, O’Macron and Omigod recently). Instead, she came to live with George until international travel started to become too difficult so returned to China to sort out her old life. Luckily, she was able to come back to the UK last Autumn and we now have an addition to our family.

A good race to participate in

Back to November. The marriage had to take place in a specified place as Yangtze was not a UK resident and only the four of us (plus photographer) were present for a low key but very eventful day. A big bash with family from both sides is planned one day sometime in the future, when such things return to normal. The nearest we got to a wedding cake is thus the tree featured as today’s header.

Meanwhile, we had a car for the day, one of my trusty drivers who’d been taking me to and from the airports during the Clipper race. After the ceremony he took us to Regents Park then Primrose Hill. JD and I stayed in the warmth while the young ones (photographer and newly-weds) braved the cold and took some photos. The arrival of a puppy and of parrots are not some obscure custom but purely fortuitous! Memories to treasure for sure. If you want to see more of either the photographer (whose photos are reproduced here) or the parrots, here are the links.



For the evening, the four of us went to the Helene Darroze Michelin-starred restaurant at The Connaught Hotel. I chose this partly for the food but also as a return to George’s youth: his first year at university was in Connaught Hall (no relation and certainly no resemblance in food!). The staff gave us a tour of the kitchens and by some miracle they were playing the Qingdao anthem of The Nights by Avicii as we walked towards the kitchens. I was enjoying myself so much I took no photos so you’ll just have to go and eat there to experience the menu. (Actually, Yangtze took some so here’s a shot of the canapes before the start of the eleven courses).

If you’re missing boating stuff today, here’s a link to the history of Clipper, sadly with no photos of OBB.


Finally, to cocktails: I’ve reached the very last letter in my alphabet, W, for whisky. I found a Preakness cocktail which combines my idea of using up the xx bottles of Benedictine (very slowly) and the letter W. Mix 20 ml sweet vermouth, 45 ml blended whisky, 3 ml Benedictine (I told you it was going down slowly) and a dash of bitters. It made me realise why I’ve been holding off making a whisky cocktail: it’s a winter flavour. In our house, anyway. Preakness is the name of a horse race for three-year-olds in America, run in Pimlico Baltimore, allowing this Blog Post to come full circle back to Pimlico London! I only discovered that in researching the cocktail after we’d drunk it: spooky.

Anyway, now I’ve reached the end of the bar, I need a New Plan. I am going to arrange all the bottles by height and work through them once more. It’s a bit worrying that I’ll be on my own from February 21st, I’ll just have to soldier on and do the best I can. I had considered by height of contents but reckoned I’d end up with Benedictine (See Blog Post 126 dated 26th September for the reason we have so much) and nothing else. Also, I’d face JD coming off the boat and asking why we had so few bottles left, with no consideration of the fact that some only have enough for one tiny drink. I might try to get rid of those before he goes.

Jumping for joy!