Glug, glug, glug….

And so it came to this; sitting on the bus going into town after a night of five hours sleep, feeling dreadfully short of pep and joie de vive.  And all because I was in Claridges last night with family, drinking Armagnac.  Er…and port.  And then something that was related to the Chianti region.  And before that a cheery Muscat that kissed the tastebuds and cascaded down the back of the throat like nectar.  Before that there had been a Bloody Mary and before THAT a strangely antiseptic-tasting shaved ginger and lime and vodka concoction that was totally unnecessary but the law of Claridges Bar hath spoken and when Claridges Bar pulls you in, there is no escape.

Because the surroundings are splendid, you think that filling your stomach that everything else will be splendid, too.  That is the great sense of delusion that the comfort and apparent sanctuary of great London hotel bars lure you into.  I had a similar episode in the frighteningly posh Berkeley Hotel Bar several years ago.  You don’t realise until you leave that life is in fact, appalling, that having four gin slings is not actually a good idea and you are now going to go home and be unwell.  I do not know how I was not deeply unwell.  Or at least why I wasn’t lying in a puddle of my own sick in Mayfair.  The Armagnac glasses were the size of a man’s head. I can only imagine that the vast amounts of food we ploughed through in the dining room made some inroads in soaking up the above-mentioned mess.  Despite the vast quantities of nonsense we ingested, the evening did not deteriorate.  Although I did inadvertently lock myself in a Claridges loo and then had difficulty undoing the door to get out.  I am happy in elegant surroundings and can hold my own in the art deco splendour of London’s most beautiful hotel bar with the best of them, but what is this strange loo-flush thing?  Where you have to pull the lever up to get the loo to flush?  In 1930 this was probably an innovation of toilet-flushery.  In a heatwave in 2010 it’s just inconvenient to be stuck in a too-small lav pulling levers.   Also, I can’t do any serious business in a loo that has an attendant directly outside the cubicle, complete with lunatic uniform, poised with the proffered towel.  It’s off-putting.  Toilet time is private time, kids.  It’s sacred.  Don’t start overpopulating the bathroom with servile ladies.

Thank God it was private at 5.20am this morning though, when I rose from the bedroom, clutching my overful bladder and staggering drunkenly to the bathroom.  3 pints of water before I went to sleep.  3 pints to flush out the truffle oil and the wine.  3 pints to do battle with the riotous contents of my stomach.  3 pints to put me back into the land of the living.   3 pints to try to make amends with my own digestive system, and as paltry compensation for the manner of abuse it had suffered.  And now those 3 pints were making a break for the border by pressing against the sides of  my bladder in anger.  I tried to go back to sleep after the bathroom trip, but I started to think about the mammoth Claridges cheese trolley and then couldn’t get it out of my mind.  Swathes of brie and goat’s cheese were rolling towards me on wheels, as I shakily stumbled back to sleep at 5.30am.

Breakfast was porridge and ibuprofen.  Then I was back outside Claridges again, walking to the office and saying never, never  again will I do truffle oil and port at the same sitting.  It’s perverse.  I’m perverse and deserve to suffer.  My brain felt like there was a hedge inside it, prickly and green, with small woodland animals burrowing and scratching around in it.  I think I had a cheese-based hallucination.  I spent the remainder of the day feeling pious and drinking water and eating salads, wanting to go home, curl up on the sofa and watch “The Wizard of Oz” and have a little cry.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

Get out of town….


Island living is unsustainable, and sometimes those of us on London Island must take a boat to the mainland to forage for firewood, check out cultural activities and brace ourselves for the heather and bluebells of the counties.  The London Bluebird is a hybrid breed, who was raised in the country and is now nesting in the city, and has a great fondness for both.

So, there we were, me and my University Friend, rippling up the A1 in the Bluebirdmobile, a joyously-filled picnic basket on the back seat and my friend monitoring the hot flask of coffee.  We had an incident last year.  Enroute to Blenheim Palace to sample the delights of a Palladian pad Oxfordshire-style, my flask of coffee managed to empty over the Bluebirdmobile, University Friend and University Friend’s handbag.  We then got caught in a four hour traffic jam.  Twas not a very satisfying afternoon.   But this time, it couldn’t have been more delightful; the weather was gloriously warm and once we had turned off at Welwyn we were plunged into the 18th century.  University Friend was most excited by the appearance of horses.  This area, she pointed out, was Forster country, being where ‘Howard’s End’ was set.

I do love wheedling around country lanes.  It’s the only part of motoring where you really get to go hellbent for leather on your horn.  Many country dwellers think city people are derisive of the country; but we are not.  We have so romantic a vision of England, fuelled by childhoods of watching Miss Marple and adulthoods watching Midsomer Murders, that we think the English countryside a thing of inestimable beauty punctuated by the occasional corpse.  It is reality, with its crestfallen new towns, 1980s Tescos and brash industrial parks we find so disappointing.  But here, in an unspoilt pocket of northeast Hertfordshire, it was breathtaking.  We rocked on up to the hood known at Ayot St Lawrence, home of Bernard Shaw, to check out his gaff.   Ayot St Lawrence – and its sister village – Ayot St Peter, have not just not gone forward from the Edwardian times, but they have actually gone backwards.  Since Bernard Shaw tottered along Ayot’s lanes penning a new play in his head, Ayot St Lawrence has lost its village shop and its village Post Office.  This happened at least 40 years ago.  The village is therefore just another kind of Island Living.  Horses clip along the margins of unpainted, one track village lanes and are eventually tied up in the sunlight of the 14th century pub.   Fields roll out towards the horizon.  Occasionally modern life makes an ugly appearance; chaps in sports cars speed round the corners with their 1980s haircuts like extras from Ashes to Ashes.

At Shaw’s gaff the house was locked up as we were early.  The National Trust runs this place with its formidable iron hand.  A lady in a pearl choker gave us permission to eat our sandwiches in his garden, though.  I once did a play in this garden and I was a hysterical housemaid – typecast again – problem was the house had to be used for entrances and exits.  The door handles and doors had been repainted so many times that the handles were thick with paint and wouldn’t turn easily.  Everyone was late on their cues, whilst “Arthur”, “Beatrice”, “Gwendolyn” or whoever was adrift on the open-air stage making up bits of scenes whilst the doorhandle from the drawing room on to the lawn was rattled aggressively and kicked from the other side by an actor in period dress.  I had to emerge in tears and then exit into a hedge that stank of cats piss.    It was one of my first acting jobs and also one of the most glamourous, which should tell you something about the others. Ayot St Lawrence also now stands in the flight path from Luton airport, which is 25 miles away, so marriage proposals in Edwardian drawing rooms would be soundtracked by the heinous drone of an EasyJet plane hovering overhead on it’s way to Paphos.

The house of  George “They call him Bernie” Shaw.

After sandwiches and Pringles my University Friend and I headed up to the house.  Barely were we over the threshold than we were accosted by a volunteer chap wanting to tell us about Shaw’s bees and Mrs Shaw’s taste in furnishings (I’ve seen the house – she didn’t have any).  Small, Arts & Crafts National Trust houses like this one give little possibility for padding round the house in your own space and on your own terms.  It was only a four up and four down.   Presumably a larger house would have been inappropriate for Hertfordshire’s leading (only?) socialist.  We were never alone.  The National Trust drones followed us everywhere, reprimanding me at one point for wiping my hands “on a national treasure” when I deigned to use Bernard Shaw’s tea towel.  At least in some palatial pad like Blenheim you can wonder off-piste and have a moment of reflection amongst the housemaid’s boot polish cupboard, and abuse the facilities.  No such luck at Shaw’s Corner.

We went into the kitchen.  Another National Trust volunteer was there, clipboard aloft, telling us about the department stores of Welwyn in the 1930s.  University Friend and I struggled with well-meaning grins on our faces.  We see a copy of Shaw’s daily vegetarian menu lying on the wooden kitchen table.  Reading the list of this buffet of protein-rich roughage was enough to make my colon spasm.  Then there was a recorded message from Shaw’s maid, about how Mrs Shaw was a right bitch if her bath wasn’t hot enough.  The volunteer continued, asking whether we knew about the Shaws’ postal arrangements.  Slowly, we backed off towards the jelly moulds in the regulation 1940s brown cupboard.  But the volunteer wouldn’t stop, and was talking about what the Shaws’ housemaids used to squeeze lemons.  When we tried a quick getaway towards the scullery, she followed us.

A quick chat, then it’s off to found the LSE and complete a swashbuckling play.  That’s life as GBS, folks.

Upstairs, in the room next to Shaw’s single bed of celibacy, there was a range of spectacles, pens, telegrams, writing paper and a image of Vivien Leigh standing on the front lawn of Shaw’s Corner guffawing loudly at the camera.  Other exhibits included reports of the suspicions of the villagers when Shaw first appeared amongst them and his flagrant, somewhat stupid, refusal to obey “lights out” policies in the First World War.  By the time the Second World War rolled around, he had become an active member of the local community and was the Air Raid Warden for the area (we saw the hat).  He was in his eighties by this stage.  The sight of a eighty-something year old Dubliner in a ARP hat pottering slowly towards them with a walking stick urging everyone to take cover must have reassured locals.

Here is Shaw writing a letter to his homeboys and keeping it real with the Ayot St Lawrence massive.  His 90th birthday, and it looks like he got socks.  AGAIN.

The volunteers were not up in the exhibition rooms.  There was just a few hippies gazing at Shaw’s rude letters to fans in which he refused to enter into correspondence (too busy building an Anderson shelter?).   After gazing fearfully at the bee hives in the garden and wondering what the Cornish Tin Miners hat could possibly have been used for, we decamped to the pub.  Presumably, the abstemious playwright never came in here.  He should have done, for they have excellent, excellent home made coffee and walnut cake.  All hail to the landlady, I say.

We went in search of Forster’s bluebell fields of Howard’s End but came only face to face with a lame horse.  It started to rain. We were asked to leave a winding road as it turned out to belong to somebody else and we didn’t know.  Our coffee flask had got cold.   Island Living here was beginning to lose its charm.  We headed back to the 21st century, where our day of Shavian splendour dispersed at the first roundabout to Welwyn Garden City.  Relaxed, yet with batteries fully recharged with much-needed country air, we pushed back through the A1 to drop back into our places on our city island.

Next week: Bernard Shaw on Ice.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

Congratulations Mr and Mrs Cleggaron, it’s a coalition!

I didn’t know Parliament could do Maths.  I thought they just threw things at each other and aggressively pushed through white papers the rest of us didn’t understand.  But, heigh-ho, someone can actually do adding up and taking away (Cameron + Clegg – Brown = erm…what, exactly?) The reign of PM Cleeggeron of the Libservative Conocrats has begun and it will remain in place for five years.  Good God.  I’ve had enough.  The London Bluebird cares not who sups from the fine Denby china of Numero Ten and goes about bossing everyone else around, and finds them all deeply suspect.   And the old faces, Good God, those depressing old faces….William Hague looks about 100, Osborne is apparently 34 but looks like he’s ready for his bus pass, and, no matter how expensive his tailoring, Oliver Letwin still looks like one of those seedy men who comes up to you in Tottenham Court Road, saying “Wanna buy a laptop?”

Yesterday, The Times leader article proclaimed that the Brown / Cleggeron handover at Numero Ten was a “strangely beautiful” act of democracy.  This morning, following the playful and flirtatious rose garden press conference in matching suits,  the leader article states Cleggaron was “….casting nervous glances at each other like youngsters on a first date”.  I almost vomited into my Pret A Manger granola.  Nick looks like he wants to kiss Dave and Dave is cutely bashing eyelashes with Nick.  Apparently, the Cabinet Office in Whitehall, where the Lib-Con coalition was bashed out, is where the Tudors used to have cock-fighting contests.  If David Cameron is intent on a Great Repeal Act to undo those acts which curbed our civil liberties during the Labour years, he can do a lot worse than start with this one.  One of the great joys civilization has denied working politicians is the right to get their cocks out and let them wonder around the floor of the Cabinet Office.  Maybe Cameron and Clegg will get onto that next week.

And will somebody please explain to me the complexities of the domestic situation?  Are they going to live together at Numero Ten? (Cue montage of domestic footage, Nick in pinny while Cameron looks up from fiscal paperwork and smiles dreamily.  Clegg laughing lovingly as Cameron balls up yet another shepherds pie because he’s too busy thinking about the implications of raising the personal allowance for those with self-employed incomes).   A member of Cameron’s team was also reported in the paper today as saying : “They may squabble in the bath and argue a bit about their toys but they’ll present a united front to the world.”  That’s all right then.  Perhaps they can have a toy rota.  (“You play with Vince Clegg on a Tuesday and I’ll have George Osborne round for cowboys and indians on a Thursday.  Nick, where’s the soap?”)

What are the odds on a civil partnership before the year’s out?  I shall buy a hat just in case.  Perhaps one of those silly wigs that the Lord Chancellor wears.  Theresa May can do the catering. They can dish up all of this financial humble pie diet that Cameron wants to eat.  If its available in Waitrose, that is. 

David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Dave is the one on the left (Well, there’s a first time for everything, Dave)

Nick Clegg.  Him and Dave look forward to having a large family.  Enough for a majority anyway.

Nick Clegg.  He hopes he and Dave will have a large family.  Well, enough for a majority, anyway.

All this speak about “new politics” is really a load of balderdash, because what we really want to understand is how on earth Cleggeron is going to facilitate the recovery.  There is going to be £6billion of cuts this year.  Mind you £4billion of that goes into maintaining Cameron’s elegant Tory-quiff hairdo, artfully designed to conceal his bald patch at the back, so that’s most of it sorted out.  All this talk of Alternative Vote referendum is appropriate, but the timing of the referendum is not.  We’ve all spent the last week talking about the elephants lining the streets in London, and now’s the time for talking about the elephant in the room.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is updated every Thursday.

To sleep perchance to dream…

No one with a House of Commons entry card has been to sleep for three days, and they are all veering about, rambling sleep-deprived nonsense and trying to buy off the Liberal Democrats.  The London Bluebird does not understand what is going on, for she is too young to know about 1974 and Ted Heath’s odd hair-do and his attempted coalition with the Liberals.  All the Bluebird knows is : got up, got out of bed, voted, spent ten hours staring at the television wanting to slap Jeremy Vine, went to bed at 2am expecting a Tory landslide.  Woke up to find fucking mayhem. Meanwhile, are we lawless?  With no Parliament?  How very exciting.

Some people are predicting that a well-hung parliament would incite Athens-style rioting.  Brilliant.  Lets go out and smash things up for a bit, otherwise these talks between Tories  / Liberals / The Exhausted Labour will go on for 47 years and we will all be dead before they can agree on nuclear policy, and Cameron and Clegg, who have now merged to form Cleggaron, will finally agree about National Insurance.  You cannot trust a man to form a government who has not been to bed for three days.  It’s unconstitutional.  Everyone looks like a nutter.  Have you see Nick Robinson’s pupils?  Blimey, talk about pupil premium; the man is caffeined to the eyeballs.  Soon politicians will be stopped in the street to ask their opinions and just burst into tears like three year olds needing a hot glass of milk and a comfort blanket.  The nation, my friends, must sleep.

First of all, someone had to explain to me that coalition was not to do with coal.  Then I asked whether in voting for the Lib Dems, I had somehow enabled a riot of Toryism.  They are able to be in a gang and rule things without us, but we are paltry, tiny, weeny people who cannot run a gang without them.  They get to play with us at breaktimes in the playground, but only if they do something about budget deficits next year, not this.  They are allowed to copy our homework and borrow our conkers but only if they are nice  about committees bartering about electoral reform.  Then we get to swap stickers and go in for double geography.  That’s it, I think. Oh, and somewhere along the way we can club together and use our pocket money to buy David Cameron a top lip.  Then our Mums can turn up to collect us (unless we are staying for Dance Club).

Then they will get mean and fling paper pellets at each other and it will all fall apart.  Someone will initiate an ink fight.  Liam Fox will end up in detention (which, frankly, is the best place for him) and be the shame of the Fifth Form.  Then, at enormous expense, we all return to the ballot box within 18 months.  At which point, a vote is a dangerous thing.  If you vote for one person, you actually end up voting for another person.  Should I just become a ballot spoiler?  One of those people who turn up filled with injustice and rage at the ballot box once every five years and write swearwords next to the candidates name?  Perhaps I’ll be one of those novelty politicians who wear rakish hats and poll 19 votes for the Raspberry Jelly Party.  Either way, I feel I cannot not vote lest the ghost of Emmeline Pankhurst returns to haunt me (Scary lady. Big Edwardian hat.  Frightening.).

The London Bluebird waits with amusement for the next installation of the Cleggaron soap opera.   Will David Sillyband Milliband be the leader of the Labour Party soon?  He’s quite good looking but has scary eyes.

Mind the elephant

They’re all over the gaff, these baby elephants – painted primary colours and squatting in South Molton Street, in order to raise awareness for elephants globally (who are not, generally, in South Molton Street).  They are very sweet but someone will nick one of them, and deposit it outside Buckingham Palace for a giggle, so that David Cameron will trip up over it and ruin his perfect hair on his way back from collecting the seals of office. 

If they put models of politicians up around London people would just defecate on them, but I think people are quite fond of elephants.  There is an elephant shop where you can purchase miniature versions of the Disney-esque creatures clutting our thoroughfares at £75 a pop.  They are 5cm high.  Don’t the elephants know there is a recession on?

Meanwhile, I am distressed to discover that William Hill’s website has now stopped taking bets for the outcome of the political rigmarole.  Half of us (including the Bluebird) haven’t even cast our votes yet.  I just want to make some money out of the bastards before they destroy our liberty again and crap all over us.  If I can’t  benefit from the democratic process fiscally now, when can I?    Last General Election we had the Respect Dream party pop up on our ballot papers.  No one had actually heard about them but – astonishingly enough – 110 people in our London suburb voted for them.  Who on earth are the 110 people who vote for the Dream Respect Party?  That’s quite a lot of people.  That’s about the same amount of people who are in our Waitrose at any one given point in time.  All of them, hovering around the cottage cheese and fiddling amongst the pineapple juice organising a  furtive Dream Respect Party takeover of Finchley.  They are strangely absent this year.  Perhaps they have infiltrated the Greens.  Or the elephants.