Happy New Year, dearest readers, and welcome back to y’all after a three week hiatus! May 2011 be gracious, kind, a little bit saucy and very splendid to you. Slowly, we are emerging from the fuggy-headed richness of Christmas and facing the New Year with the usual resolve to be better, to be kinder, thinner, less toxic, more sober, less extravagant, more financially conscientious. Everybody, bar none, was sneezing on the bus this morning. There was a man who had two hearing aids in and one of them shot out across the aisle when he sneezed at Swiss Cottage. All of this grisly, early morning nastiness was conducted to the usual January pale turquoise skies that looked thoroughly fed up and belched rain.
Of course, my nutty madness for Christmas has meant that I am fumbling through January with a few shekels in my pocket, wondering what nutritious lunch can be purchased for 35p. The feverish hell of the sales is not an option, so it’s quite a relaxing time. There is no question of resisting a purchase when there is very little to purchase it with. I mean, I am a persuasive character, but even I can’t persuade the manager of Steinways to part with a white grand piano on the strength of a Bluebird smile and a promise to “pay in 10,000 weekly instalments of £2.50 per week please?” Every year it’s the same, although every year we tell ourselves it will be different but it isn’t. I so enjoyed shopping for others during Christmas that I insisted on shopping for myself at the same time. This means that things. Get. Out. Of. Hand. I tell myself it’s only money that will be spent at other times, and yes, actually, I DO need a fourth pair of black suede shoes, and suddenly I can’t stop and I’m buying coats and festive bottles of fizz and glamorous chocolates from Selfridges and I don’t know how.
This explains why I today, like many of you I suspect, am at the end of the first week of ground-breaking parsimonious penury, that my dinners have been jacket potatoes with salad (and very tasty they are too) and my working lunch has been packed in advance the night before, with homemade soups and apples and nice crisps so that I don’t go Away In A Pret a Manger. It won’t last, as by January 23rd I’ll be justifying buying wild salmon and caviar again, ordering singing telegram boys and bathing in Arabian ewe’s milk. But heigh ho, I’m trying, and it’s a great way of cleansing the soul in the New Year. And it gives you something to do when you’re avoiding ringing your bank to find out what your balance actually is. During the long, white stretch between New Year’s Day and Pay Day we have to find richness in other things than money. I have deviated from my usual route to work for the last two days and got off the bus one stop later. This means that instead of hopping off at Oxford Street and trudging down past the street cleaners and those mysterious, luminous-jacketed men who stand outside Selfridges daily at 7.45am, presumably waiting for a sale on luminous yellow clothes comprised entirely of nylon, I hop off at Park Lane. Once there, I loom into a different London.
Strolling down Park Street and Green Street, the extravagant heart of Mayfair, I may as well be a world away from the shopping face of the West End. This is still a largely residential district. It’s the twelfth night tonight, and discreet Christmas trees still glitter politely in marble halls. Well-to-do poshies are putting their kettles on. Very tidy bins with lids that actually fit, hide the remainders of terrines and empty gin bottles. Copies of Mayfair Resident are strewn on doorsteps so clean you’d have thought the Christmas elves had been cleaning them all night. Intensely manicured plants sit outside the pied a terres of tenth generation Harrovians and Middle East oil barons. The roads are silent and gracious. Dropping round in Grosvenor Square, the queue for US visas already loops past the Eisenhower statue at 8am. This morning the person at the front of the queue was holding an umbrella with the national flag of Canada on it. Probably not the best move for the ol’ yankee doodle dandies. Maybe they were at the wrong embassy. In Brook Street, the Claridges bar is shuttered and curiously walled in by a pretty wrought iron gate. This was a shame as the current weather is driving me to drink. “NOOOO! I must have one of your delish Stolichnaya with shaved ginger and lime drinkies, you Claridges lovely people!” I hollered, beating my head against the railings and shouting “Why God, WHY?” If there was ever a justification needed for consumption of hard spirits in the morning, it’s my job. The Claridges barman would drop his crystal cocktail shaker if he heard about the asinine tomfoolery that goes on in the office every day.
And then it all went wrong, because, as I carried on walking, I found myself at the site of former mentioned employ. This was very annoying, as I had hoped to continue my reverie. Alas. Even those ginger and lime drinks cost something, and Pay Day is still too far away in the deeper trenches of January. It was restorative, however, to take a morning stroll through a beautiful district admiring the views. I don’t drool at the doorsteps of the rich (not since they caught me and I got tagged) but I do appreciate the prettiness of them. It made my day pleasanter. My job may involve instructing a grown person on how to redeem an I-Tunes voucher code, but at least I can see Mayfair from here. And that costs nothing.
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