I walked over Battersea bridge today smiling. Two reasons, the first being that my face in repose, with its down-turned mouth, has the look of a depressed camel – ever since I saw myself in a shop window and wondered who the miserable mare was staring back at me, I decided to smile even when there was nothing to smile about. Not inanely, you understand, because I could be mistaken for a wayward lunatic, but gently with just a hint of a smile playing on the lips.
A smile ‘playing’ on the lips. As phrases go, a particularly ridiculous one, don’t you think? Playing what exactly? A round of poker? A game of Tiddlywinks? A card of Bingo? Anyway, I always try to remember to effect a smile just in case there’s a hidden camera in the hedge or somebody is watching from the top deck of a bus.
The second reason for having a hint of a grin was the weather. It wasn’t sunny, to be sure, (Sorry to sound Irish. It just slipped out) but it wasn’t cold either. The grey clouds were only thinly veiling a rather delicious blue sky, and the boats moored on the Chelsea side of the river had the look of Amsterdam about them. The water was high, as were my spirits. I dug my hands deep into the pockets of my dalmatian dungarees from ‘The Inn at Little Washington’ (I believe I have already told you about that particular establishment), that wee smile gamboling on my gob, when before I could say ‘pass me the camphor balls’, a moth flew out of my pocket. A little silvery grey moth, or ‘merth’, if you’re talking Clouseau-ese. I thought Peter Sellers would have said ‘A merth has flown out of my poche’ which made the smile play just a little bit harder.
I walked over the bridge, down Beaufort Street and right onto the King’s Road to meet Rob, the agent, who every time I meet him looks ever so slightly younger. It’s probably because every time we meet I am ever so slightly older.
He takes lots of short breaks, which I am reliably informed is better for you than three long weeks in the summer when you are meant to put it all to rights. He’s off to Dublin tomorrow, Thailand in a month, not to mention countless mini breaks when he’s off jogging to raise money for his various charities.
I had run for 35 minutes myself so the walk down King’s Road was relaxed and ambling. La Rue du Roi has lots of independent shops, from Rococo chocolate to R Soles boot makers but still many are closing down because of the steep rate rises. One of my favourite haunts, ‘Steinberg and Tolkein’ is shutting for good on September 24th. As a famous vintage emporium, well-known warblers have bought many a whimsical outfit from them. Every last inch is jam-packed with gorgeous gowns from genuine Flapper frocks to Chanelle, not to mention shoes, handbags, jewellery and hats. A sad pall hung over the rails today.
‘Picasso’s’ is half-way down the road, bang opposite Whittards tea shop, and next to Starbucks. It does the best breakfast in London and has some of the rudest waitresses around. I love them. They are efficient and deadly. Most of their customers are loyal regulars like the masseuse I met today.
Sascha Sorokin, born in 1942 of Russian Gypsy parents, all 6’3″ of him swathed in black: shorts, a Palestinian Liberation Front scarf wrapped round his massive neck, four rings the size of Anglesey on both hands and a line of patter that wouldn’t have been out of place in Petticoat Lane. He lives on a yacht in France when he isn’t here in Hendon in a warden-controlled flat living on a pension that he himself admits is a swizz. One of his clients was Bush Senior. Sascha blames himself for not killing the old man when he had the chance, and thus holds himself personally responsible for the Iraq war. ‘If only, if only,’ he said as he handed me his business card. He is known amongst his fraternity as ‘the stranglemonger’.
I think I may just stick with my cranial osteopath in Tunbridge Wells.
Rob and I caught up on the week and he told me about several projects that had my name attached to them. I can’t say anything because nothing is concrete and I am also beginning to get superstitious about telling people about my prospective employment. The last job I bragged about fell through.
I did, though, have a full day of voice overs on Tuesday.
I got into Soho with time to spare so I went to Bar Italia for breakfast. It was a tiny and a bit chilly, but I still opted to sit outside. Frith Street is designed to people watch. It has got Hazletts on the site where the essayist Hazlett lived 400 odd years ago. It’s the best little hotel in town. When Jim and I are flush, we stay on the top floor. The rooms are wonky and the baths are big. At least, I think the rooms are wonky, although it could be the vintage champagne on tap.
Bar Italia, like Picasso’s, has its regulars and is right opposite Ronnie Scott’s, who still book the best jazz acts in town. I ordered beans on white toast and a cup of Zen tea. A daft combination but it was too early for coffee.
Bar Italia is the only place to be when there is an important international football tournament being played. A big screen hangs on the wall in the back of the cafe, the crowd mills around on the pavement and is at least six man deep. Italian speaking, overtly demonstrative, passionate and, dare I say, Latin. Whatever you look like, as a woman, for 90 minutes you *are* Sophia Loren. I have had more hugs there than is decent.
So there I was huddled up in my cardigan, holding my cold hands round the hot zen tea when I looked up and realised that the man at the next table but one was Suggs from Madness. Oh, he is just as delicious in real life as he is on vinyl. He’s slightly craggy now but has a good head of hair and a face that looks like it’s just about to smile. Maybe he saw his reflection once?
He rolled one fag, had a think and a couple of puffs, put it out, looked around, had another think then dipped his hand into his drum pouch – that’s the name of the tobacco, not a holder for his tom-tom, and rolled another fag. I so wanted to say how much I loved his Baggy Trousers but I lost my bottle. I was half hoping he would ask me for a light, which I don’t have, but he didn’t. He paid, got up and walked off with that damn swagger that made him and his band so sexy.
I finished my beans and a crowd had gathered outside Ronnie’s. A guide was talking at them and pointing to something up on the wall. I have been working in the industry ever since Germaine Greer graced our shores and have had more coffees in Bar Italia than there is pasta in Pisa, but I had never looked on that wall in Frith Street. There it was, the blue plaque dedicated to John Logie Baird, who first demonstrated television in 1926. JLB had obviously sat in the very spot that I had taken my toast and beans.
Once you start on the blue plaques, you’ve had it. A short walk can take forever. As I was contemplating London, Suggs and John Yogi Bear, to nick Eleanor Bron’s gag on this weeks ‘1966 And All That’, the Dutch Eel Co. Van drove past, all the way from Lincolnshire. They had just delivered a batch of smoked eels to the restaurant opposite. Soho was waking up.
I thought they probably delivered elvers, or is it de-elvered livers, when the Marquee was in Wardour Street and fresh bagels could be had on St. Annes Court. After that musing I went and earned a decent day’s wage doing four voice overs for Auntie.
On Wednesday night I went to the new Marquee which is now next to Stringfellows in Covent Garden. One of B’s friends, Rob, was playing. He’s a hot hot drummer. Four bands pitched very loudly trying to get record deals. The A&R men hung around the walls watching the acts like slave traders waiting for a good catch. It made me sick. It was too noisy, the mixing was lousy and the greed was seeping out of the manager’s pores like cheap after-shave. Either the musicians were too young, I too old or it was just rubbish. B said it was rubbish and that my ears were as good as ever they were, although she knew that her dad’s lobes were growing. They do that on men until they’re seven times their original size.
Ear Ear! I bet you didn’t know that.
Tonight I was meant to be back in Trafalgar Square listening to Nitin Sawny accompany an Indian film, but it was cold and I have another voice over tomorrow, not to mention a trip to Tower Hill where I am watching the National Youth Theatre put on a musical.
It’s 1.29, B’s in bed, Jim’s installing something on the laptop and I am going to read Prue Leith’s novel in preparation for Saturday.
To you who wanted to know who I would have as Prime Minister if not Anne Widdicombe… Well, I think it would be Suggs. That’s who I would have. Suggs and his team of merry men that would put the bounce back into Britain. Until then, good night.