It’s time to celebrate London
by Jan Wheatcroft
London has weather. I often stood at my window or on the street and just watched the weather enter, move and change from one extreme to the other. Living here in southern California, I am used to “what you see is what you get” for the day. In London, the changes happen almost every minute.
One dresses to shed as the day progresses, or to add on. Clouds drift by or gallop at a ferocious speed. Their colors range from white to gray to black in almost the blink of an eye. A raincoat is a fashion statement. Umbrellas must not only keep one dry but withstand windy gusts and for one not used to carrying an umbrella, I nearly always left mine either at home, in a cab or at an unremembered somewhere.
I came to London this year on the fourteenth of June, a summer month, as it was already warming up here in Claremont. There in London it was cool and wet much of the time and the fashion police were busily checking out the boots, jackets and raincoats. For me, it was perfect weather as I positively droop in the hot weather, but locals were not happy.
I was visiting London and my good friends on my yearly pilgrimage of pleasure as well as to find all the special pieces I use in my jewelry. This was also the year we celebrated the memory of a dear friend who had recently passed away with a 90th birthday party and a memorial gathering. This visit was built around those 2 happenings. It was very satisfying to connect with old and new friends who had known my friend, Leah, and share our personal experiences, sing and dance, remembering the joy she brought to all of us.
I am especially lucky. I rent a flat from a dear friend right in the center of London, close to everything on foot, by bus or by underground. There are plenty of coffee bars near by, a good grocery store, restaurants, small shops and 3 museums within walking distance. Walking a bit further brings one to lovely delis filled with exotic foods, bakeries, bookstores and all the bars one could crave. The street is quiet and the flat is small and complete and has become my second home.
My days were structured around friendships and antiques and flea markets. For antiques, I have my favorite markets and can spend hours poking about the stalls looking for just the right find for my jewelry remakes. I have been doing this for years and, luckily, many of the same people still sit in the same places. They chat among themselves and are as entertaining as what they have placed on the tables. Prices are higher and many of the pieces are no longer as old as they once were.
On Mondays, Covent Gardens Jubilee Hall is an antique paradise and this year I went twice. On Saturdays, Portobello Road is jammed-packed with tourists looking for a treasure. A jumble of languages can be heard, and one is pushed and shoved because the area did not expand to accommodate the population increase.
Never mind, it is great fun and full of high expectations. Along one side are all the shops and small antique malls filled with tiny booths, each filled with hidden treasures just ready to be discovered. In front of these shops are tables filled with sellers, and across the street are covered stalls filled with other things, usually not so old and of less interest to me but stimulating to the eye.
Towards the bottom of the road are the stalls selling cheap clothing and tourist souvenirs, and then comes the market and ready-food booths filled with wonderful smells and lovely fresh fruits and vegetables. I also spend one morning at the Kempton Race Track antiques fair that is held on a Tuesday, twice a month. This is comprised of one very large interior space and an outdoor space, all filled with sellers of wonderful surprises. One always hopes for no rain on these days as the outside has many great things to see.
London is a city of many changes (as is every place really) but the changes here seem to be visible at a faster pace. The faces of the people and their languages have become totally international. The choices of food has opened up not only to variety and global appeal but to freshness and local availability. A trip to the local supermarket can entertain me for hours and for most every commodity there is a wide range of choic, with an emphasis on spices, herbs, greens, cheeses and the tastiest fruits in season. I always overspend and overbuy, having very little control over myself when it comes to food.
I was, however, saddened to see that many of the wonderful television programs no longer exist and more of the familiar American programs have inched their way into the TV menu than ever before. Of course, British TV is still British TV; it just felt like it had gone on a diet and I missed programs that I had found tantalizing.
This has been London’s year. The Queen’s Jubilee, Wimbledon Tennis and the Olympics.
The have been lots of festivities and local street gatherings where Londoners celebrate with happy block parties, the streets and houses decorated in festive buntings. I missed a lot of this, having arrived just a tad late, but could still feel the buzz in the air. I did have one of the best fish and chip plates I have ever had, and this brought me back to celebrate the pleasure of the traditional London that I remember.