I must admit that leaving the house just after 7am in the dark and the freezing rain made me almost call the whole thing off. By the time I boarded the train for London, my hands and feet were so cold that I spent the entire train journey bundled up in my coat, scarf and gloves, trying to warm my fingers with lots of tea. But then the sight of the magnificent St. Pancras station never fails to lift my spirits and I hurried down the platform to meet Amanda and Sharly by the statue of the great Sir John Betjamin. The first time I met Amanda it was in the same spot but during one of the hottest weeks ever. This time, the contrast in the weather couldn’t have been greater but we still had a wonderful day in spite of the rain. The Winnie the Pooh exhibition at the V&A was sold out but we went to the new Ocean Liners: Speed and Style instead which was just fabulous. I’ve always had a soft spot for vintage photos and posters from the golden age of travel and there were plenty here, along with gems such as The Duke of Windsor’s Goyard trunks which straight away made me think of my friend Jan, Marlene Dietrich’s suit, socialite Emilie Grigsby’s Paul Poiret satin trousers and dresses, a Louis Vuitton vanity set, plus beautiful furniture, panelling and music by Fred Astaire and clips from classic films like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes to enjoy.
After lunch, we headed for Harrod’s, then Fortnum’s, then Hatchard’s where my energy flagged and I collapsed on a sofa in the art section with my bags full of exhibition merchandise, makeup and tea around me. We said our goodbyes in Burberry where Amanda was trying on a beautiful coat. It’s a shame we don’t live closer but I’m already looking forward to our next meeting in Berlin, Paris, London, New York or somewhere different.
I’m always critical of the UK for being poor at certain things other countries do well, such as providing affordable and reliable public transport and producing decent bread. But then again, the tea is superb and the museums not only have amazing collections but are a real pleasure to visit. Never have I been told off for eating a sweet, not carrying my handbag on my arm instead of my shoulder, getting too close to paintings or even just having a camera. There is simply a relaxed atmosphere to enjoy the art.
The courtyard of the Royal Academy where I called on my way to the NPG.
I’ve been going to the National Portrait Gallery for many years and have lost track of the number of wonderful exhibitions I’ve seen there: Henri Cartier-Bresson, John Singer Sargent, Russian portraits, Man Ray, Giacometti, Audrey Hepburn portraits etc. But I have fewer opportunities to visit the permanent collection which is really a shame because whenever I return there, I realise just how magnificent it is and see how much I still need to discover. There are familiar paintings and photos to visit again, almost like old friends. Perhaps a portrait of a favourite writer or someone I admire, or others where the subject is less important compared to the extraordinary face or the beauty of the fabric. And then you see something new and find it impossible to tear yourself away from that particular room. Needless to say, however much time you spend there, it will never be enough to see everything you want to and there is always a little sadness and frustration upon leaving this wonderful place.
No visit to London would be complete without refreshments though and I knew I had to return to Maison Bertaux in Soho which I discovered thanks to my friend Jan. This was my second time there and I enjoyed it even more than the last. The staff are lovely – finding you the best table, waiting patiently while you agonise over which cake to choose because there are so many and everything looks amazing. In the end, we chose a wonderful chocolate one as well as some cheesecake and devoured the enormous slices, accompanied by a huge pot of delicious tea. They really were some of the best cakes I’ve ever tasted. My only regret was not having lunch there because the range of quiches was truly mouthwatering.
At the end of each visit to London, there is a little sadness and regret at not living closer but also the promise I make to return very soon to discover more. And you really can’t ask for anything better than that.
Some impressions from my walk around Mayfair.
Dreaming of my future scarf and handbag at Hermès.
The Burlington Arcade.
Some Manolo Blahniks.
At Maison Assouline on Piccadilly.