Sunday, 27 September 2009

Some things never change

When when Sebastian was just a baby,
 until about three years ago,  there was hardly a day when I didn't go across the road to Holland Park. That's over 25 years of enjoying one of the most lovely parks in London. 

My children spent their childhood in Holland Park. They both went to Playgroup in the park where they forged lifetime friendships.

They thought the park was their back garden.

Both of them are still closest of friends with the children they befriended at playgroup. From playgroup, to primary school
to secondary school, to this day they still have their Playgroup friends. (my oh my, how they've grown! - can you see who's who?)

And I made wonderful friends, some of whom are still the closest and most trusted people in my life. We spend endless magical days and wonderful summer evenings bringing up our children in what really could be described as in idyllic city life. The cafe was run by an Italian family and all the food was home made, so we ate there as much as we ate at home. My kids (well Dani actually) must have eaten more spaghetti than the average Italian child living in Naples.
Even after our children grew up, we still met for coffee and catch up at every opportunity. Yes, the group got smaller, friends moved away, some to the other side of the world. But when they came back to visit, you can bet one of first things they'll suggest is meeting at the cafe in Holland Park.
Even when I didn't have anyone to meet, I walked my dogs, Poppy (left), then Oona in Holland Park every day.

That was, until 3 years ago, when my soppy Golden Retriever Oona went to stay with my inlaws while I went on holiday. And then I got ill, so they kept her a little longer. And then they couldn't bear to give her back and I was so busy at work that I thought she'd have a better life with them.
So I got out of the habit of going to Holland Park every day. I had my new patio where i could sit and take the afternoon sun and it just seemed easier and lazier than going across the road to the park. Yes I go through the park when I go shopping, but I'm always in a hurry, so it just became the quickest way to the High Street.
And then this week, we have been treated to the most glorious Indian Summer.
 It's been just beautiful the last few days so yesterday my Italian mate Dina and I went for coffee at the cafe, which for so long was literally my second home. I grabbed my camera and off we toddled.

And how some thing never change. It was like going back in a time capsule. We weren't the only regulars at the cafe back in the 80's and 90's. There was a group of guys who were there every day playing chess. Just like us - every day, come rain or shine. And to my astonishment yesterday - there they were.  Still playing chess, still making one cup of coffee last 3 hours. Talk about blast from the past.

 Just twenty years older - just like me. God, isn't ageing beastly (this really is (was?) me)

Then Dina and I took a leisurely walk to the Japanese Garden, it was always a favourite place to go with the children.

OH MY GOD - are those my kids on the bridge? There, with my sister?
And there's Lara on the little bridge. Don't get too close to the edge Lara.
No of course not - I saw her last week and she'd just turned 30 (she still loves the water).

And there's the playground which our girls thought they owned.

Hey, they've got a new slide, but not much else has changed.  One day Lillan and I got severely reprimanded by another mum for taking Dani and Kerensa there when they were 3 and had chicken pox.
'Kerensa, stop picking the scabs, you'll make them itch more'.

And I can't believe those funny flowers are still there.

We never knew what they were called, but Dani used to love blowing them and seeing if she could make fairies in the wind.

I don't know why I'm so surprised that things haven't changed much in Holland Park. Why would they? - it's us that changes, not the things around us. Yet I felt quite emotional - it really was as if I'd gone back twenty years.

It even smelt the same - but I'm really sorry,  I couldn't photograph that.

More Holland Park photos from yesterday

Saturday, 12 September 2009

In England 9/11 is the 9th of November.
At least it used to be.

For over 40 years my birthday came and went pretty much the same as everyone else's. But all that changed in 2001.
I was sitting chatting to a friend who called to wish me a happy birthday. Sky News was on the TV with no volume and I wasn't really watching it.
Gill, my business partner had been to the dentist and was on her way back to work, via the nice cake shop on Melbury Court I hoped. I'm a bit partial to their squishy chocolate cake. And although our friendship was on a bit of a rocky road, I knew more than likely she'd stop by and get me a birthday cake. Couldn't afford to buy it on the company back in 2001. She have to fork out from her own purse.

As I chatted to Joe about this and that, I subconsciously and gradually became aware of the silent TV screen. There was a building on fire; it was a big fire and come to look at it, it was a bloody big building as well. I glanced at the subtitles which Sky news annoying run along the bottom of the screen 24/7. A light aircraft had crashed into a New York building. In fact it looked awfully like the World Trade Centre.
'Have you got the TV on?' I asked Joe. 'A plane has crashed into a building in New York. It looks pretty bad.' As I said those words, the second plane hit the South tower.

My last eight birthdays have fallen on 9/11 and still the emotions of watching the footage are as terrifying and moving as they were on the day the live images beamed into our lives.
Just this week we watched 2 documentaries about 9/11. I even started to question why I was watching them. Whether it is morally wrong and morbid to watch the devastating footage year after year, or is it our moral duty to re-watch those images so we never ever forget? I think I can understand a little of what Monica talked about in her blog about working in a newsroom

The defining moment of 9/11 for me (and millions I'm sure) was the moment the second plane hit that South Tower.  In that split second America and the rest of the world who were watching knew this was a momentous, historical moment which would change the world for ever. The documentary footage highlights this so clearly; capturing live on camera people in the streets and buildings of New York who are watching the North Tower burn with mesmorised human curiosity, which in a split second turned to raw human terror.

In that split second my birthday ceased to be 11/9.
It became 9/11

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Guilty Pleasure part II, strictly no vegetarians.

I never really got to the best bit of Guilty Pleasure (below), because it was written for Monica's Great Experiment competition and it was limited to 300 words. So for those 4 of you who voted for me here's where that story was going....

Not only did my Dad put my mortally wounded little patients out of their misery, so I just found 'sleeping beauties' (hope he didn't do the same to his patients!), he and my mum took us on amazing holidays through the interior of France and Spain every summer. He'd pack all five of us and luggage into our very swish Hillman Minx convertible

 (it's the only car I remember from my childhood, apart from my mum's Bubble Car (we once got 7 in it (albeit 1 adult, 6 kids),

And off we'd go. Right through rural France, across the Pyrenees and then we'd take about 5 days to drive right through Spain, stopping in little off-the-beaten-track villages and staying in pensions or paradors that had never had foreign guests before.
But then came the exciting bit.....
We'd get all dressed up for dinner and then head off, exploring the local streets and history. But always with one thing in mind. Dinner! My mum and dad would stop at every restaurant. Firstly they'd take large deep sniffs and if those met with their approval, my mum would peer through the window or door to see you many people were eating there. If it was packed with locals and smelled good, in we'd all troop.
That's how you did it in the 60's. No internet, Fay Machler or iPhone to tell you where to eat, how much it'll cost and who's eaten there before you.
No, us intrepid food explorers used our senses, we literally smelled out the good grub, and if the local tribesmen were eating there, we knew it was good food at a fair price.

So, it was Spain where I got the taste for my 'Guilty Pleasure'.
Because in Spain, they have no ethical guidelines about serving suckling pig, lamb, kid. And awful as it is, those milk fed babies tasted just delicious. Sweet, melt in the mouth, delicate flavour, full on delicious. If you've never tasted one, I really don't think it is fair for you to comment or condemn me.
I didn't know I was eating a lamb that had been killed before being weaned from his/her mother. All I knew was that it tasted so much better than roast lamb in England. I thought it was because they lived in the sunshine and were happier than English baby animals who lived in the rain.
So it was suckling lamb in Zaragoza, suckling pig in Seville and sweet roast kid in Santanyi.
My parents sniffed them out, I only ate what was on my plate. Like any good child in 1964.

Sadly, but not for the baby animals, as Spain succumbed to the tourist trade, the demand grew for sausage, chips and beans, fish and chips and for the brave few Paella  (always pronounced incorrectly). Suckling babies were in decline and definitely off the menu anywhere that a Brit or German might holiday.

You know, I do have amazingly fond memories of these fabulous holiday and many old dog-eared photos taken on my trusted Brownie camera (8 photos per roll of film and 2 films for the whole 6 week holiday, mind you), still survive to tell the tale.
We did eat fabulous food, stay in amazing places and have very unusual holidays for that era, but if my dear old dad were still alive, maybe he'd tell a different story. Considering a fair amount of the holiday consisted of long boring hours driving hundreds of miles (no in-car entertainment the likes of Nintendo Lite, iPod or DVD player), it was good old 'I spy, with my little eye...' for us.

I suspect Dad may remember it more like this.....

'Daddy, I feel sick, no really I feel sick. Please can you put both your cigarettes out'
'Are we nearly there yet?'
'Chris keeps kicking me'
'Mummy, I'm thirsty'
'Daddy, Chris keeps elbowing me'
'Are we nearly there yet?'
'You know I don't like water'
'I'm hungry'
'Chris says I'm stupid Mummy, tell him I'm not'
'I need a poo'
'Billie's leaning on me and I can't feel my arm. Tell her to move'
'Stop Daddy, stop, there's a gorgeous donkey/baby lamb/pony/baby kid'
'I hate you, you never stop'
'Are we nearly there yet?'

Where exactly is there?  - that's what I'd like to know

My little story has recently come full circle. I haven't eaten or even had a whiff of a suckling anything for several decades. They just disappeared off the menu.

But when we went to Zaragoza a couple weeks ago to photograph these guys...

I ended up photographing these guys.... What'da you know - the suckler is the 'comeback kid'

Did I eat it? - did I heck.
Well, actually, no I didn't, but not for want of trying. We took a bus to the far side of town for me (I must stress Paul had no part in this mission) to eat suckling lamb (or pig, I wasn't fussy) in the most famous restaurant for this speciality.
And guess what Manuel said?
Qué?  Lo siento, Cordero lechal no estå en el menu de hoy'

He's kidding me, no? I fly all the way from London, get pulled for a body search at Customs and nearly miss the plane, the only bad weather we have is the 2 hours that the band were supposed to be playing, AND there's no bleedin' suckling lamb on the menu today in a restaurant that specialises in suckling lamb. When's it back on the menu - a week on Monday?

I want to go home. 
'Paul, I feel sick, are we nearly home yet?'