Sunday, 10 May 2009

Impression from London - day 1

Not a good start. Getting dressed in the morning (4:55am) and new shirt is too tight across my back. We’re talking buttons popping and a possible wardrobe malfunction here. I don’t even have a suitably pierced nipple. The only other shirt I have ironed is the wrong colour/ texture for the suit I’m wearing, but will have to do until I get to London. Oxford St is just round the corner from my hotel. A quick shopping trip and bobsyouruncle. In the airport I am asked to pack my mini-toiletries into a clear plastic bag and realise I have shaving foam, but no razors. Doh! Once seated (uncomfortably –even for a short arse like me there’s nae leg room) on the plane I realise I have also forgotten my cuff-links for the shirt I’ve brought to change into for dinner. Double doh!
The plane lands, I follow some people into the airport building. The guy in front of me trips up over the first step up into the building. I catch a snigger in my sleeve. I never know the etiquette. I tend to wait until I’m sure the person isn’t hurt and then allow the laugh to escape in a moment of shared empathy/relief that I’m not the arse that people are laughing at. At the top of the staircase I find the stairs stop before I expect them to. For some reason I think there’s an extra stair and leap into fresh air like I’m on the first hop of a triple jump. Totally thrown by this I then overcompensate by landing on both feet as if braced for an earthquake. The gang of people following behind me have no worries on the etiquette issue and laugh their heads off.

Get to hotel, dump my bags and head out for new shirt. It’s raining. We’re talking a downpour of biblical proportions and travelling light as you do in this new era of handluggage- only- flights I have no coat. I run from doorway to doorway like a cop in an action movie. Hot, sweating and soaked I eventually find a plain black shirt. Time is running out. The event starts in Canada House, Trafalgar Square at 11:30. I’ll just have to do without cufflinks later on. Besides I need a new pair like Gordon Brown needs a porn movie detailed on his expenses claim. At last I spot a newspaper stand selling umbrellas for £2.99. I buy one. Two minutes later the rain stops and the clouds clear, highlighting the best way to prepare for British weather. Get yourself kitted out for storms and you will get sunshine.

At Canada House it’s great to see everyone. Morgan, as I mentioned in an earlier post has decided this is the last event in the Petra Kenney Poetry Competition and he is anxious that everything goes off as planned. Being a perfectionist and knowing EXACTLY how he wants everything to be, he tends to make it work. We start off with an intro from Morgan who explains why he feels it is time to move on, he gives thanks to all of those people who have made it special for him over the years and then the winning poets read out their winning poems. As you would expect, they are of the highest standard.

Then its buffet time. I love to watch people at these things. There’s the nibblers, who are overly polite and shy about taking freebies. They take tiny bites and manage to swallow without chewing while still in mid-sentence. There’s the normals. They are a relaxed group and they manage the trick of biting, chewing and eating modest amounts while maintaining a conversation – no mean feat. Then there’s the wee woman in the hat who clearly hasn’t eaten since she was here last year. She’s all bug-eyes and elbows as she squeezes through the group in front of her. She is almost militaristic in her focus. She will eat as much as possible and if anyone gets in her way she will quite possibly eat them as well. But only after she's finished that last mini-chocolate eclair.

In the afternoon we have a poetry reading from each of the judges, any one of whom would draw a crowd. Danny Abse, Ian Blake, Alan Brownjohn, Alison Chisholm and John Whitworth. Class. And what’s even better is that completely unprompted, each of them pays tribute to Morgan and the work he has done over the years. One of them even offers the view that Morgan has done more for poetry than any other literary figure in the last 100 years. Morgan is quite overcome and there’s barely a dry eye in the house. We are always the last to know the impact we have on other people and often what should be said is said when we are absent or even dead. I can’t tell you how pleased I am that Morgan got to hear people he holds in such regard speak of him in such a way.

And breathe...back to the hotel for a shower and snooze before heading off to the restaurant at 8pm. I meet Molly, Edie and Danish Edie in Groucho’s in Dean Street. From there we will get a taxi to Le Gavroche. Some celebrities are noticed. Him off the telly that plays Martin Fowler, Danny Wallace and some young comedian who looks less chubby in real life. William Hurt is also spotted. At Le Gavroche, we arrive before Morgan and as we debate whether to go to the table or wait in the lounge I spot a dapper man entering the restaurant. He seems very, very familiar. I’ve met so many people through the day I’m now on over familiar mode. I say, ‘Oh hello,’ as if this guy is a good friend I’ve not seen in months. He smiles warmly and repeats my greeting. Only then do I realise its Raymond Blanc, chef extraordinaire. To his credit, he then ignores the nutter in the lobby (me) and goes to blether with the staff.

Recession, what recession? The (possibly) most exclusive restaurant in London is mobbed. Every table is full and manned by an army of waiters. Every move of the diner is anticipated; chairs slipped out of the way as you rise from the table, napkin deposited on your lap on your return, water and wine glasses continually topped up and the ladies are even escorted to the door of the powder room. Even such a solicitous group of waiters realise that this is one action people don’t need any help with and they don’t go any further. Mind you, if you were in your dotage, I’m sure they’d be in there wiping your arse once you were done.

Enough with the crudity and on with the crudities (see what I did there?) Food critics have written epics about the Roux brothers and their restaurant so I won’t even try to compete. Suffice to say the food was melt in the mouth, subtle, imaginative and just downright fantastic. I had a wee jolt of excitement as every course was laid in front of me. It was all I could do to stop myself from applauding every time the silver dome was whipped from my plate to reveal a piece of culinary art.

Relaxed and replete, hugs were exchanged in the doorway and promises made to keep in touch. That was just with the waiters. Then I bid farewell to my friends and got a taxi to my hotel. From the sublime to the poky. I could stretch out my arms and touch each of the side walls with my fingertips. But all I wanted was a bed, a pillow and a quilt...whoever Larry is I could have easily matched him in the happy stakes.

(in the photo above are Morgan Kenney and Molly Yeomans his North American director with Andrew Motion, former Poet Laureate)


  1. OMG it sounds fantastic. What a great report. But see that wee wumman in the hat athe buffet? That wis me.

  2. Great blog Michael. But, for all its self-deprecation, it outs you as the sophisticate you really are. Raymond Blanc? The Roux Brothers? The wumman in the hat? Earth hath not anything to show more fair.

  3. Gillian, if that wee wummin was you then you can add Master of Disguise to your list of talents. She was 30 years older, 12 inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter.
    Bill, sophisticate is my middle name. My other middle name is, pretending to be a.

  4. Great word picture of your wonderful day out, Michael.

  5. Cheers, Ros. Day 2 will be appearing shortly.