And so, darling readers, did you miss me last week? I do hope last Thursday wasn’t too much of a disappointing day for you all, as it was the first Thursday this ‘ere bloggery has been unadorned with a flashy write-up since February 2010. I had a deeply disorientating week, in which I moved house with Mr Bluebird (without the aid of a professional removals company – ill-advised, do not attempt it), inherited a fishpond, argued with a boiler, got tipsy and walked into a bedroom thinking it must be the kitchen and have now arrived at the stage that should I see another box of brown cardboard I will weep and throw it at the wall. That, of course, is ill-advised too, as these are the first walls I have owned and therefore have a new-found respect for. Rented walls are treated like slatterns – we pass through them bleary eyed and slightly supercilious, bashing, sliding, leaning and uncaring. Owned walls are items to be treated with trepidation; objects must be suitably and gently lain upon them. Minutes later, dusters arrive to soundlessly clean these cream-painted areas recently touched by human hand.
All of which is utter bollocks of course, because I don’t really own the walls, some bank in Yorkshire does. But I have to keep the walls nice for the bankers in Yorkshire. If the walls depreciate then the bankers in Yorkshire will get their money back (when I die) but I won’t have much profit to speak of, not if the walls are covered with bits of spaghetti bolognese. It’s a deeply enchanting process, going home to a place you actually own after years of renting, but it’s also quite a stupid process. I had difficulty locating the water meter, before I realised it was in front of me. And I don’t know one end of the arsey buildings insurance cover from the other. I am acutely aware that there are holes in my learning. At some stage in life, some kindly, avuncular figure who cares deeply for you ought to draw you into a velvet-draped corner of their gentlemen’s club, creak back into the aged leather, dump two gulps of brandy into a tumbler with a satisfying gloopy sound and say : “This is how it is. These are the things you have to do, at some stage, poor, unaware, deliriously inept child.” Then they would tell you what an endowment policy is, what LTV on mortgages means, how stamp duty is calculated, what the distinction is between a Homebuyers Report and a Standard Lenders Valuation, and generally assure you regarding life assurances.
But no one does diggity.
No one does nothing. And you are left, flailing in the shitty waters of your own incompetency, thinking “Oh, rent book…. give me back the rent book. I know where I am with the rent book. He is my friend.”
Then I went back to stroking the clean walls of the kitchen again. Before I realised I wasn’t actually in the kitchen. Because I still don’t know the way to the kitchen.
At times where belongings are uncertainly dumped in boxes placed in the corners of my peripheral vision, I need to take Evelyn Waugh’s advice and draw “healing draughts from the waters of Edwardian certitude.” The delirious comfort of the tea-tray called me, rattling along the corridors of life, ready to soothe and placate with splashes of Darjeeling, tidily poured. A life-affirming, comforting, solid, old-world experience was called for. Yesterday afternoon, I answered to that deep-rooted desire for all things Edwardian (and cream cakes) and took Mother Bluebird for tea at Brown’s Hotel, Mayfair. It was the first day of spring and Albemarle Street glistened with hopefulness and sunshine.
Brown’s is London’s first ever hotel. It was founded by Byron’s valet, James Brown (not that one) in 1837 and in 2009 it trumped all other London hotels with the Tea Guild’s Top London Afternoon Tea Award. The expectations therefore, were as high as the price. Both the Roosevelt American Presidents liked staying here, and in 1876 Alexander Graham Bell popped into the hotel and secured its position in posterity by making the first successful telephone call in England. To Room Service, perhaps. Basically, it’s 11 Georgian houses meshed together to form a rock-solid bolthole for the internationally wealthy desiring utterly English, utterly understated classic glamour, which now restles smoothly under the Rocco Forte Luxury Hotels banner. Rudyard Kipling wrote The Jungle Book in the English Tea Room. I didn’t write The Jungle Book there. I just drafted my blog on the iphone.
Despite the hotel being Georgian houses clubbed together, I was blown away by the Jacobean ceiling of the Tea Room. I felt that I had been scooted back- soundlessly and brilliantly – to another London ; a London of langour and elegance, of seclusion and money. The hotel is personal, but smart. I particularly enjoyed the TripAdvisor comments: “Recently stopped off at Brown’s to celebrate my investiture. We enjoyed a couple of bottles of fizz in The Donovan Bar..!” and class totty like that. Rocking on up to the hotel yesterday, I was forced to change my footwear in a shop doorway as my shoes were pinching my toes into fat, pink sausages. This was not very classy. Browns Hotel exudes restrained politeness. The old, pale red mosaic of the hotel insignia when it was Browns and St George’s Hotel still remains on the outside wall.
Americans are terribly fond of Browns. It sells a particular type of self-effacing Englishness. I think of Browns as a “Hello, Charles!” sort of hotel. You know in the first scene of Four Weddings and a Funeral, when Charles, our loveable and tardy hero, arrives at the first wedding in deepest Devon and rushes past the bridal party? The bride, debecked in Fulham flounces and due to marry a landowner with a receding hairline called Angus, glances breezily over a horsey shoulder and chirrups “Hello, Charles!”. Well, Browns is full of wide-eyed SW10 girls who have attended inferior public schools and who are constantly saying “Hello, Charles!” to somebody. Because everyone in their circle is called Charles. Even some of the women. The tea room is haltingly smart, and immediately reminded me of the neo-Georgian wooden panelling of our headmistress’s study. An effusive waiter, sparkly eyed and slightly theatrical, in a suit clearly two sizes too big for him, ushered us to our table, where the chairs were bolted to the floor and designed to swivel about. This was slightly peculiar. I kept trying to draw the chair tighter towards the table but of course it was bolted down and immediately swerved in a little circle towards the right instead, nearly depositing me onto the lap of a Japanese woman at the next table. The waiters were fabulously attentive, explaining the varieties of the 20 different leaf teas on offer, and easily accommodating vegetarian preferences. The strange thing was, tea is charged per head, not per tea. We therefore ordered two set afternoon teas, but although two sets of sandwiches soon arrived, there was clearly not patisserie on our sterling silver tray for two people.
The scones were a delight. Sweet, slightly crisp and served with generous bowls of clotted cream and real fruit jam. The jam was tart rather than over sweet. Five small scones soon disappeared, and were replaced with five more. The tea was excellent – I had second flush Darjeeling – and served in silver service that seemed to remain hot for an age. The pianist was rippling away on a baby grand behind us, going through the usual repetoire to accompany tea for two (like the song Tea for Two and, dreadfully, something from Chess : The Musical). Requests for soya milk and extra hot water came quickly, in the hush of pinstriped excellent service. One waiter was particularly helpful with a broken digital camera. I resisted the urge, when the bill came, to fill in the section on the bill charging “Room Number” and pretend I’d just checked into Suite 316. Bear in mind, Browns is not cheap. But it is better than the Savoy or the Ritz who charge similar prices in a less atmospheric and elegant setting. For those of you braying for raciness, I direct you to the Donovan bar at Browns, named after Terence Donovan, and it’s range of pornographic prints on one side of the bar.
The people who arrive at the open door of the English Tea Room look delighted and content : Americans in white trousers and over-dressed young ladies out to tea. This is horsey-country, so the average woman in the room was about half a foot taller than me, bedecked in glorious hosiery and smelling of Penhaligons. However, this does not have the laid back relaxation of Claridges. The tea seating is not as luxurious, the sofas not as deep. There was something slightly terse in the atmostphere. Perhaps it was the headmistressy-type walls, but I felt I had to be on my best behaviour and was unable to completely relax and loll about and have a light snooze, which I think is necessary after high tea.
Eventually, we hauled ourselves out of our velveted, swivel chairs as the rush hour tube home called. I resisted the urge to bray, SW10- like, into the bathroom. The black and white tiles in the hall were covered with footmen who, I think, bowed at us. The hush and Edwardian certitude would have pleased Evelyn Waugh – that is, if he had managed not to fall off his swivel chair onto a fellow diner.
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