Sunday, 27 April 2014

Highgate pubs

Before I came to live in England, whenever I thought of the country, it was in black and white. Maybe because when I visited aged 6 (my mother was English and we came over to see my grandparents - in those days, there was none of this jetting back and forth for shopping weekends: It was a huge undertaking, cost a lot of money and was on a par with, say – I was going to say, 'visiting the moon', but that isn't true, as people don't actually visit the moon. It's also not true that it would be like going to the other side of the planet from New York, because even that's pretty straightforward these days. The simple truth is, that if you're under 40, you probably can't conceive of how big a deal international travel used to be, but suffice to say, that as a family we only ever made the trip once) and, when we got here, TV was only in black and white. Or maybe it's because the photographs we took of our trip were all in black and white. I don't really know. All I know is, that as I lay in my childhood bed before coming here to study, thinking about how soon I'd be in London, I pictured everything in black and white. So my black and white picture, looking out over the plain of London, is my homage to that preconception.

Now, London is full of color. Mostly green, as all the trees are in fresh leaf and the park I live by is at its best. I was thinking last night, as I looked out my kitchen window at it, stars (yes, even in the city) twinkling above, that I'm very lucky indeed to be in a capital city, but surrounded by so much greenery that it feels positively suburban.

On a completely different note, the other evening, we visited the Gatehouse Pub ( for the first time. So what? You may be asking. Well, I mention it because I've been to every single one of Highgate's other pubs - some many times - but for some reason have never been to the Gatehouse before. So, we made it our mission. It's one of those places that look bigger from the outside than they are once you're in, and it has the knotty-pine decor of pubs refurbished in the '90s. Having said this, it feels more like a 'local' than many of the others, which are often filled with barking youths who want the whole place to know they speak yah (as in, "Oh, yah, it was, like, so amazing..."). So, small groups of friends – one playing cards – older folks having a quiet pint, and the TV showing football with the sound down. Best bits: the semi-private booths round the edge of the room; change from a tenner for three drinks. Back story: claims to be the oldest pub in the village (possibly 14th century, though clearly heavily remodeled in Victorian times) and a ghost has been seen there. For the record, it didn't give off any spooky vibes. Recommended for: a quieter pub for when you actually want to talk to the people you're with.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Good Friday

Not confetti - well, unless you want to call petals nature's confetti! It's that time of year when the blossom starts to rain down and collect in drifts on the sidewalks.

Also seems to be the time of year for a terrible cold, that's had me – and plenty of others – knocked out and feeling low most of the week. And, in truth, that's just added to the general boo feeling that's been lurking around. First there were various ridiculous things going on work-wise which I would love to elaborate on but wouldn't be worth it. Then to see a preview of possibly the worst film I've seen this year. It starred a man who, while he may be very clever and occasionally very funny is still, himself, the embodiment of the antisex. Overweight, spex wearing, galumphing... However, in his movies, he always pairs himself with a hot woman. Even in these more (ahem!) enlightened times, I still don't think there are many gorgeous women running around who can't wait to get hooked up with guys who look like they spend their days sitting in front of screens wearing lounge pants and eating ice cream straight from the tub. However, there is probably a big market for movies starring guys like this who look like they can still score the hottest babe in town. Fantasy films, I guess... But not for me. Just a big yawn.

But, hurrah! A four-day weekend over which to restore, refresh and rejuvenate. Just in the nick of time! And, mighty exciting, have just learned brother and family are flying to France in July, so we will go join them for the weekend they're in Paris. Can't be bad!

Monday, 14 April 2014

April in London

British people often scrunch up their faces when I say it, like they're not really believing me, but I still stick to it: The best months in the English capital are April and September. Really! When I first arrived, it was a September and I remember coming armed with my mother's warning in my head: "It rains ALL THE TIME." As she was English, I figured she knew. And yet, what did I find? Day after day of blue sky and sunshine. Yes, it got completely gloomy and grey once October rolled around, but those first weeks stuck with me. Then April came and, phew! Out came the sun again, along with the cherry and apple blossom, the daffodils, the tulips and the camillias. Lovely!

The trouble with a nice April though, is that it fools people. Year after year I see this happen: Folks come out smiling, saying how nice it is and how it looks like, this year, we're finally going to have A Good Summer. No. What we're having is a good April. It happens every year. And then the summer comes and, with it, maybe a few nice days where it feels surprisingly warm, but mostly it will be cool and grey, and folks will say, "It wasn't like this when I was young. I remember how good the summers used to be." They don't seem to understand that, when they were children, they probably didn't really notice the weather that much, that their parents put them in shorts regardless of the temperature because it was summer.

Then, along comes September and out pops the sun, and then people will go around saying, "It wasn't such a bad summer, was it? Look at all the good weather we're having!", somehow selectively forgetting all the crap weather that came between April and now....

At any event, as it's now April, we're all basking in glorious spring sunshine here in London. The green is fresh and bright on the trees, the bushes and trees are blooming, and it's fab. Enjoy it while it lasts!

Friday, 4 April 2014

Sahara souper

Probably hasn't made the international news, but England - and in particular, north London - has been suffering from a Sahara souper. That is, a smog made up of exhaust fumes, European emissions (let's blame the continent!) and dust blown in from the Sahara. Yes, the Sahara. As in sand, north Africa, yadda, yadda. On a pollution scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is as bad as it can be, north London has been registering 10 for the past three days. Not good! And, also, when you lick your lips, there's a dry, dusty coating. All the cars have a light dusting on them, as do other surfaces. Is a strange thing and ought to be really alarming, but somehow is just another sort of interesting phenomenon. And, in a funny way, doesn't even seem that peculiar. After all, London is often sort of grey and gloomy.

Meanwhile, and after much delay, Friday has finally arrived, after what has felt like an extremely long week enlivened, thankfully,
by a fairly cheap (by London standards) and cheerful meal at O's Thai CafĂ© ( in Crouch End. My two friends and I had our usual order: satay mushrooms on sticks, vegetable spring rolls and vegetable tempura to start; followed by us all ordering the same main – pad thai with beancurd – and the same dessert: the coconut sponge cake that's both sweet and savory. We are what's left of a group of about a dozen women who all met through the NCT (that's National Childbirth Trust) when our (now grown-up) children were babies.

And now to relax - hurrah! It's the weekend.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

North London

In that lull that comes after a late-winter break (Fuerteventura) and a spring get-away (Scottish Borders - can't wait!), I have been planning more escapes. The French Alps are nicely waiting in mid-summer, but there was an inviting gap before then which - fingers crossed - was filled last night.

Ever since a conversation with a woman who told me about her trip to Montenegro, Albania and Bosnia a few years ago, I've been considering heading that way. It looks beautiful, isn't (yet?) over-discovered by the likes of my ilk and I feel like going a bit off the beaten track. However, could I interest anyone in going to Albania with me? I could not. Montenegro, however, looked like a goer and fairly easy to navigate (though the driving sounds a little hairy!). I've just discovered there may be a ferry from Dubrovnik to the area I'm hoping to stay though, and as I love boats, this could be the answer. Will keep you posted.

On other fronts, the bicycle has been serviced and is back in use. Monday I did the 7-mile downward trip to Shoreditch: refreshing, easier and quicker than I remember. Tuesday (yesterday), I did the 7-mile uphill return. Not terrible, but had to get off and walk at two points: Crouch and Muswell hills. I know that, as I get fitter, I will be able to stay in the saddle all the way, but it will take a while.

Today's picture, by the way, is of the road I would choose to live in if money were absolutely no object. It's in north London, has a tube station at one end, but is surrounded by woods. Also, my favorite house is on it. Best of all worlds! Will I ever live there? Who cares! It's just fun to dream.