Author's Posts

The last time we saw Candy, our calico cat who came to us 9 years ago, was when she went on walk-about on September 1.

This is the last photo I took of her, napping with her boy Taffy in their favorite place for nappage (the leather love seat in the den):


Last Friday, on November 18, Candy showed up on our back doorstep. She’s much thinner, very dirty, and very wary of us and the house. So far, in 7 days, she has not left the kitchen — her favorite spot is by the dining room door, from where she can keep the entire room and its hallyway entrance in sight:


It took me four days to get her to use this little towel, instead of curling up on the cold hard floor.

Baby steps. We’ll get her back, in baby steps.

I’m making my way back in baby steps. Very angry, very vengeful, very disgusted baby steps. I don’t have many positive thoughts to share lately, which is why I am keeping to myself these days. I am still pretty damn pissed off. And it just gets worse — how did I miss the news that Mike Pence was such a self-righteous pious-mouthed slime-ball ass-hatful-shit-stain?

Tea. I need tea:


That’s Taffy, posing with my big box 0’P G Tips tea (“240 lovely cups of tea”) and the quart-sized jar of honey we get from a local beekeeper who delivers that stuff to our door.

My best advise to you all, WonderOnes, is to treat yourselves to a good cup of tea as needed.

Taffy also advises, it’s better when you can share it with a friend:



Read more

I’m sorry, Wonder Ones, Dear Readers, and people who searched “One By One The Penguins In My Backyard Are Stealing My Sanity” and ended up here. I have nothing soothing, enlightened, hopeful, or mature to say today. Nope. Can’t even fake it. And I can hardly type this because of the tears in my eyes.

And here’s a warning to the world:

This is not the time to fuck with me. I am full of rage and I don’t mind sharing it up close and personal.

All I got is something that my No. 6 cat (in order of acquisition), Bibs, gave me yesterday:


You could hear him purring all the way down the hall.

I hope you find your sunbeam today.


Read more

Fall, before it’s been Vivianized:


Fall, after Vivian has made sense of it:


Not just in my backyard. I take my Capricornian love of order out into the wilds of Long Island, too:


I did this (below) in Virginia:


This week should be the height of Fall color here in the American Northeast, and I should be hunting for my sample of Fall Leaf Perfection:


Because this is the time of year when I paint my annual awesome Fall Leaf Landscape:


(P.S. The real leaf is always on the right.)




Group portraits:







But this year, due to a very dry Summer, the colors of Fall are late blooming. Compare this view (below) of November 4, 2015 . . .


. . . to the same scene exactly one year later in 2016:


Compare this photo also from November 4, 2015 . . .


. . . to what it looks like exactly one year later :


So, although I have not found my Perfect Fall Leaf of 2016 yet, I did cross off Item #1 from my Winter Prep list:


Stock Up on Champagne-O-Meters.

So, ’tis the season when your favorite stores start asking for a point-of-purchase donations to their preferred charities (food banks, hospitals, the like).

Being harassed by a cashier at your favorite store for a charity donation: Do you love it or hate it? And can we start a Move On petition to put an end to it forever?


Read more















I have to say that curiosity has the opposite effect on me.

Curiosity is what keeps me energized and ornery, in a way that is generally known as “being alive”. It’s the lack of curiosity that I find exhausting.

This is a picture of my desk that I took in June 2015, when I finished my last book, Gardens of Awe and Folly:


And this is how it looks today . . .


. . . still waiting for the Goddess of Curiosity to grant me one thing that piques my interest, or even half a thing on which I can elaborate. Or a third of a thing that I can pad with footnotes and one-sentence chapters (for page count).

As of this chilly, dreary, edge-of rainy October morning, nothing in the intervening 16 months has lit the proverbial light bulb, nudged the envelope, out-thought the box, or slapped me upside the head with a transcendental “Doh!“.

There is a hash tag trending in London these days (“hash tags” are how the kids mind meld these days) called #winterprep and I am all for it.

Winter Prep is on my mind today. I’ll be sharing my brilliant #winterprep ideas with you all soon (without the annoying hash tag and with proper capitalization, since we here are not illiterate millennials) but in the mean time, let’s let Taffy, Alpha Cat, take us out, looking forward, on a once-perfect Autumn day:


Have a perfect weekend, Wonder Ones.

Read more

Patricia, Jeanie, Kirra, Deb, and Magan all voted Yes to that chair last week. So I went back to take another look at it, but (as oft happens in the Home Goods World) it was gone. I am really not too upset about missing the chance to enthrone myself on a chaise a la Montgolfiere because if you look closely, the hot air balloon depicted in the splat was a tiny bit deflated compared to the original at the Musee Carnavalet:



But Home Goods never disappoints. I came home with this:

86 rue de Rennes

Wine bottle for scale.

It’s  “Wall Art”, a taxonomy that in itself I found thought provoking. When did we start modifying the word “art” with the surface from which it is to be regarded?

I jest. For Home Goods shoppers, “Wall Art” makes a ton of sense. This bit of Wall Art was captioned 86 rue de Rennes.

I was captivated by this hi-res reproduction of a photographed gussied up to look like a painting because I know the Rue de Rennes in Paris:


The Rue de Rennes is in the heart of the Latin Quarter’s 6th arrondissement.

I had to know: Is there such a place as 86 rue de Rennes???? A quick check of Google Earth confirmed it:



THAT’S THE DOOR!! I don’t know how “they” (whoever produced this piece of Wall Art, who I cannot locate on the inter webs with the info that I got from the Home Goods packaging), as I was saying I don’t know how “they” got away with plastering this image of a private home on a commercial product to be sold in the U.S., if not the world. The French are highly , not to say neurotically touchy about their privacy and I bet there are laws against this (which makes owning it seem even more exciting). I will have to ask my French friends about this.

In my house there is not a wall that is currently available to host this view of 86 rue de Rennes, so its fate it as yet TBA.

And speaking of finding a familiar face in the strangest of places. . .

. . . there I was, last week, sitting at my computer, watching Super Mensch, The Legend of Shep Gordon  on Netflix (because I recently heard him interviewed on NPR):


Shep Gordon is a music industry legend, beginning when he rocked up to a Los Angeles motel in 1965 and got punched in the eye by Janis Joplin. Jimi Hendrix told Shep that since he’s Jewish, he should be a manager — a suggestion that put Gordon on his fabulously successful career path. As a manager his clients have included Alice Cooper, Blondie, Teddy Pendergrass, Luther Vandross, Ann Murray, and Emeril Bagasse to name a few. Along the way, Gordon became friends with just about every celebrity you can name. Mike Myers was so bowled over by this man’s life and stories that he put this project together to make his directorial debut.  Supermensch, a love letter of a documentary, that proves Myers’ opinion that Shep Gordon  “is one of the most loved, if not the most loved person in show business I’ve ever met”.

So I’m watching this documentary, wondering how one person could have so many lucky breaks in life and be lucky enough to make utmost use of those lucky breaks (in my experience, luck is nothing unless it’s matched with gumption and a willingness to forgo the self-sabotage), when a black and white photograph flashes on the screen:


Shep Gordon is the guy in the terrible jacket, on the set of an Alice Cooper music video in New York City in 1974.

And, standing next to him in the glasses wearing a the Keystone Cops uniform and fake mustache, that’s me:


Boy, was I surprised. I did not know that there was photographic evidence, no matter how fuzzy-focused, of one of the worst hair cuts I’ve ever had. It was supposed to be a very cool, with-it,  rock and roll shag. . .

Susan Saint James, ca.1971. (Photo by Universal Television/Tribune/Getty Images)

Susan Saint James, ca.1971. (Photo by Universal Television/Tribune/Getty Images)

. . . but what I got was a bowl-cut country and western “do”:


And the short bangs killed me. Good lord, I hated that hair cut. And now, just because I was in an Alice Cooper music video because my aunt was married to the directo, the whole world gets to see my terrible ’70s face for all of the 1 seconds that the image flickers onto the eyeballs of a totally indifferent viewing audience.

I know that we all have our own reasons to be glad our 20s are over. You now know mine.

Have a great and lucky weekend, Wonder Ones.


Read more



Sure looks like the Champs-Élysées to me:


Guess again!


Right: That’s the Empire State Building as seen from 29th Street in New York City, which I viewed on my walk to the Dutch Reformed church on 29th and Fifth on the evening of Sept. 29. I’m going to see Elizabeth Gilbert!


Life is so unfair. Liz Gilbert gets to do an author event on a stage such as this (see above) while I, on my first author event EVER, got the children’s department at a Barnes and Nobel store in Yonkers where I had to stand under a poster of Captain Underpants. Obviously, someone there had judged my book by its cover . . .


. . . and decided it was a children’s book.

Well, that’s what you get for not selling 20 million copies. But I’m not whining. Well, not much. Because I’m going to see Elizabeth Gilbert in person!

Elizabeth Gilbert’s very cool historic church event was ticketed and, OF COURSE, sold out :


Yes, you found him: that guy in the rainbow serape did get up to ask a question and he was crazy: mostly he wanted to tell Liz that she had called on him before at another event a year ago!!! and then complain how hard it is to make people love you.

Liz handled this guy with gentle humor and decisive kindness (got him to shut up without embarrassing him), which is how she spoke about her own struggle to stay engaged and productive while coping with all the demands of living an aware, open, adventuresome, and truthful life.

If you ever have the chance to see Elizabeth Gilbert speak about putting Big Magic to work in helping you deal with adversity, frustration, sadness, fear, perfectionism, and all those other things that prevent you from breaking free, you must go. Hey! Bainbridge Island! Liz is coming your way in March!


This evening at the Collegiate Dutch Reformed Church of Manhattan was made possible by the newly released paperback version of Big Magic (the book):


If you go to Liz’s Facebook page you can find a delightful and insightful video of her talking more about Big Magic . . . and, if you are very eagle-eyed, you will spot something quite  fabulous on her bookshelf:


See it now?


Yep. That’s my very own, un-related to Captain Underpants book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam.

In the past, Liz has said and written very nice things about my books — she even blurbed my second one, Le Road Trip. And when my recent book came out in March, she graciously included it on her Spring Reading list:



OK, now I think I’ve accomplished everything I set out to achieve when I became a writer.


I was in my “Happy Place” (Home Goods) last week when I spotted this:


I love, adore, cherish, and covet this chair!

I loved it back in 2013, when I saw it in Paris, on display at the Musee Carnavalet:


And I loved it back in 2006, when I first saw it in my New Orleans hotel — the St. Louis (in the French Quarter) :


I loved it so much that I made an illustration of it in 2009 for a book about Adventures in Tea Time that I never did:


So, if you happen to come across this chair in your “Happy Place” (your local Home Goods), now you will know that it is a Chaise a la Montgolfiere,  so called after the brothers Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier, who ushered in the modern era of flight in 1783 when they demonstrated their invention, the hot-air balloon, at Versailles in the presence of King Louis XVI and his court. This successful exhibition before royalty made the Montgolfier brothers national heroes, and started a mania for all things baloony. The term montgolfière was applied to decorative arts, hair fashions, and dresses:






But getting back to the chair at Home Goods: This is not a cheap chair. It cost $249.99 at Home Goods, which is not in my budget even though it is the only one I’ve seen that comes with arm rests!!!

Vintage 1020s or 1950s reproductions of this chair are even more dear: they go for around 645 Euros ($710.11 American) each.

But I’m not whining. Well, not much. Because as soon as I sell 20 million copies of my books, you all know what I’m forking over an insane amount of money for:


And so, my Dear Readers, Remember: this blog comes to you free every Friday, so please support my continued presence in this totally gratuitous endeavor by giving everyone  on your Christmas, Hannukah, and Kwanzaa list a copy of a V. Swift book. Tell them Liz Gilbert’s bookshelf told you to.

I’m just 19,999, 950 copies away from getting my dream dining room!


Read more

Cafe Rouge on Hampstead High Street

Nope. We are not on the Rue Saint-Dominique in the 7th arrondissement.

Look at this next pic carefully, there’s a clue to our where-abouts:



Right! We are on the quaint and old-worldy Hampstead High Street in London :


Hampstead High Street is the main drag of Hampstead Village, in the London Borough of Camden, and is known for its intellectual, liberal, artistic, musical, and literary residents (past and present), and for Hampstead Heath,  a large hilly and comparatively wild expanse of parkland. Hampstead Village has more millionaires within its boundaries than any other area of the United Kingdom. So we, of course, should feel right at home.

The main commercial road of Hampstead Village (Hampstead High Street) is unspeakably cute:


This (below) is a rare sight in much of inner London but, here in adorable Hampstead Village, these delightful totems of Britain’s glory days abound:

Hampstead High Street red phone box

I know! That’s a real, red, old-fashioned, cultural icon pillar box [mail box]  with a real, red, old-fashioned, cultural icon telephone box behind it, on the quaint and old-worldy Hampstead High Street!

This (below) a screen shot from Google of  The Coffee Cup , which became our favorite place for breakfast on Hampstead High Street. On our last breakfast there, a little girl on skates rolled in and asked if Nicco, her favorite waiter, was working because she wanted hot chocolate without whipped cream the way he made it. She was about 8 years old and already had standards. I approve.

The Coffee Cup in sunlight

This (below) is Gail’s cafe, where we went once for breakfast on a local’s advice. It was OK, but it’s usually crowded and you have to wait and wait for a table because there are regulars who feel entitled to buy one cup of coffee and spend all morning at a table reading the paper. At Gail’s I sat next to a guy who turned out to be a lecturer of philosophy at Oxford who was very interested in talking about China with a young mother at the table next to his. I thought their conversation was insipid. I expect pith and insight from an Oxford don, not observations about what a big country China is and how difficult its language is for foreigners.

If you look at the pic (below), you’ll see that there’s a small white shop under that big tree. It’s called Mary’s Living & Giving Charity (thrift) Shop and it was on my To Do List because, hello: Hoity-toity Hampstead hand-me-downs! (Turns out, it was not all that.)

Gail's, Hampstead
That little passageway is called Oriel Place; Oriel is also the name of the oldest royal college (established 1324) in Oxford. Get it? Like the guy with the really lame small talk at Gail’s?

As my literary hero, Bertie Wooster, would say re:  such unexplainable confluences in life, “Wheels within wheels, Jeeves; wheels within wheels.”

Directly across from Gail’s on Hampstead High Street is a small black building:

Gail's and Paul, Hampstead

That black building is Paul Bakery . And behind those windows that you see on the top floor is our Air BnB on Hampstead High Street:


There is nothing finer, I now believe, than living above a bakery in London.

The entrance to our Air BnB was around the corner from the bakery, on a little alley off the High Street called Flask Walk:


From our corner window we had a fine view of Gail’s and Hampstead High Street:

And yes, I did stand for hours and hours at that window, my camera at the ready, waiting for a London double-decker bus to pass so I could get the perfect souvenir shot.  I love these great London double-decker buses so much that I am now going to take you on a ride with me as we sit in the upper deck, front row, for a hair-raising raise through the back streets of Hampstead village, starting with a London double-decker bus-shaped cut-out of the foliage on Hampstead Heath:


It takes nerves of steel to herd these monsters in and out of these narrow, 18th-century roads:


If you notice, the bus takes up the whole lane, so the motorists on the on-comping lane move over to give it a wide berth.


The next few photos are stills from a movie that I played, over and over in my mind, called HOLY FREAKING SHIT! THAT BUS IS GOING TO SLAM INTO US HEAD ON!


Riding in the front row, upper deck, of a London double-decker bus gives you a renewed and keen interest in not dying. It also gives you some perspective on life, in general, which, as I am not an Oxford don (Philosophy Dept.), I am not going to get into because I have much more important things to enlighten you on, such as this awesome advert I spied from on high in a bus shelter:


I have had a long-standing interest in the British usage of cats in advertising. For example, this is a snapshot I took 40 years ago, in London, in 1976, with my crappy Kodak Instamatic :


Then I moseyed into the countryside and in Hastings I snapped this:


Can you believe that it ever used to cost 43 pence (65 American cents) for 20 cigs? Today’s going rate is £9.40 ($12.22 American). And as of 1993 there are no more Black Cat cigarettes on the market, which is a pity.

BUT WAIT! WHAT IS THIS THAT I HAVE COME UPON in my London double-decker bus??!!


So here I am, tootling through Camden, London, in 2016, and I come across this extraordinary Art Deco building that I recognize instantly! I can’t believe my luck!


This — if you can believe it — is an old cigarette factory in Mornington Crescent . . . this is the famed  “Arcadia Works” where Black Cat cigarettes were manufactured from 1928 to 1959, when the cig-making business moved out of London to cheaper digs in Essex and the building was sold to become office space and re-named Greater London House. For years afterwards, it was just a drab office block, but in 1996 it was restored to its stunning Art Deco glory.

But wait! There’s more!

All along the facade of this wondrous building are rosettes containing the image of the Black Cat himself!


That’s the cat that used to be on every box (I think the Brits say “packet”) of Black Cat cigs!


This is from my 1976 scrapbook — no, I never smoked a Black Cat cig but yes, I saved a magazine ad for Black Cat cigarettes for my 1976 scrapbook because isn’t that the kind of ephemera YOU save from your travels???

So, back on the bus, I am so excited to be seeing this marvelous, amazing, heart-thumpingly-awesome cat that I turn to the kid sitting next to me in the front row, upper deck and I say “LOOK! It’s all cats!!”

He looks scared and says something in Spanish. “Gatos! Gatos!” I say, waving towards the window infant of us; but he seems to think that the only way to handle a crazy lady on a London bus is to look away and play deaf. HIS LOSS.

I was thrilled beyond words that the bus stopped at a red light because I was already running late for a dinner date and could not jump off to get a good look-see, and it was just about to rain anyway, so while the bus idled I could take my time and aerial view to take the whole building in, to grok it with all my heart. Especially these guys:


The building’s design was inspired by the pharaonic tombs (1330s BCE) at Amarna, on the Nile River in Upper Egypt. So, natch, dominating the entrance to the building are eight-feet-tall statues of the ancient (c. 2890 BCE) Egyptian cat-goddess of war, Bastet, from Lower Egypt — don’t look for stylistic continuity here; it’s just supposed to look very pharoh-y and I LOVE IT.


Not my pic — photo credit goes to J. Anna Ludlow, 2011. This shows you the beautiful detail of these cats.

Who knew (not me, I can assure you), that I would, one distant day in the next century, meet my beloved black cats from 1976 in a serendipitous happenstance from the upper deck, front row of a London double-decker bus in 2016?

Wheels within wheels, I say.

Wheels within wheels.

And that’s my philosophy of life.

And travel.

Have a wheely fine weekend, my Wonder Ones, one and all.

Read more


Steve, giving me the stink eye, Oct. 2016.

I’m mad at the internet today.

I spent hours — HOURS — crafting my latest tale of travel and revelations and just when I was 3/4 THERE . . .

. . . I hit some mysterious button and the whole post was wiped out.

I am pissed (and not in the good, Brit, way).

So I am taking the day (Thursday) off so I can fully investigate why the world is against me before I sit my ass down on Friday (or Saturday, if you are so lucky to be in Australia) and re-type the whole shebang.

So check back here around noon Friday Oct. 7 (Eastern Daylight Savings Time) and I will tell you all about a certain suave black cat . . .


. . . that I met in London.

See you soon, my Wonder Ones.

****Hi! It’s me again! And I’m still working on your Oct. 7 or 8 post! Give me until 1 PM Eastern time, ok?****


Read more

Here it is, exactly 5:51 PM September 21, the official final setting of the sun on Summer 2016 on the Long Island Sound:


But the best was yet to come! 23 minutes later, at 6:14 PM, the sky lit up like this:


Oh, it was a joy to behold. Let’s hope that the meaning that we dredge out of this play of light illuminates  our way as we head into the deepening darkness of Fall and the Winter Solstice (you now, some meaningful something about the amount of brilliance left in the year and being present when it presents itself, yada yada yada).

But I still have a bit of Summer left to show you today — so let’s all get into the Way Back Machine to August in London:

Once upon a time in the Chelsea Physic Garden, specifically in 2001 back when the place was not one of the Top Ten Gardens in the UK (and overrun with visitors might I add), “refreshments” meant a cup of tea and a slice of home-baked cake, at the cost of one pound, provided for sale by the lady volunteers who pretty much ran the garden.

This is what the fluorescent-lit tea room, complete with oil cloth table coverings, looked like in those long-ago times:

Chelsea Physic Garden 2001

Chelsea Physic garden tea room, 2001

Here is what it looks like now (“Now” being August 16, 2016):


The tea room is now a fully-liscenced gourmet cafe called The Tangerine Dream.

Back in those simpler days of yore, this was the full extent of the menu options:

Chelsea Physic Gaarden 2001

Now-a-days, this (below) is the kind of thing you chow down on for “refreshments” at the Chelsea Physic Garden:

This is a goat cheese tart with two Sumer salads.

This is what the north side of the Great Lawn looked like back in the days when English people (c. 2001) did not crave a goat cheese tart during their stroll in the Chelsea Physic Garden:

Chelsea Physic Garden 2001

Chelsea Physic Garden, 2001

And this is what it looks like now:



The average tab for a single lunch with a glass of wine at the Tangerine Dream is £25  ($32.50). This is now called a bargain, considering the venue and location (in the swanky Royal Borough of Chelsea) and the fact that London is getting terribly terribly chic all over.

The Chelsea Physic Garden and The Tangerine Dream, and in fact any other nifty piece of business in London, or, for that matter, in any little po-dunk at home or abroad, is described over and over as “a hidden gem“. I object to this usage. First because the term “hidden gem” is stupid. Secondly because gems are not, as a rule, “hidden”: gems are universally treasured as status symbols throughout the world and as such are usually flaunted in front of others, shown off in glittering settings such as reality stars’ engagement rings, Elizabeth Taylor necklaces, royal tiaras, scepters, sacred reliquaries, and the like. The only reason that a gem would ever be hidden is because it is either stolen or cursed. So what on Earth does it mean to call something a “hidden gem”???

This “hidden gem” thing is a case of something sounding good — it does, after all, have two great buzz words, “hidden” and “gem” in it — so it gets used frequently by people who like the sound of words but don’t pay particular attention to their meaning. In other words, amateurs, and bad writers.

So, people, unless you can come up with an example of a literal “hidden gem” that would make sense of this term, stop annoying me and delete “hidden gem” from your vocabulary and find some other way to describe a pleasure or instance of beauty that is out-of-the-way, over-looked, under-appreciated, or simply new to you.

Thank you.

The Chelsea Physic Garden is now a well-known tourist attraction and the Tangerine Dream is often so packed that the only way to get a seat under the gazebo is to make a reservation several days beforehand, so neither, by any stretch of the imagination, is hidden.

The main attractions of the Chelsea Physic Garden are, for me, the Wollemi Pine (see: Gardens of Awe and Folly, Key West chapter) thriving near the fernery on the north wall (which I neglected to photograph for you; sorry about that), and this:


That is how I got it in my brain that my visit to London would not be complete without a glass of English wine. As you can tell from my previous post (You’re Never Too Old For A Pub Crawl) I had many opportunities to ask after a glass of English wine, but I never found on on the menu as it is not commonly served in London pubs and speakeasies. So on my final day in London I headed to my trusty wine shop in Earl’s Court and asked for a bottle of Britain’s finest.


The gracious staffer at Odd Bins on Earl’s Court Road explained that English wines are not that easy to find because the locally produced vintages are rather expensive compared to the continental stuff, which is really cheap. He searched his inventory and offered me three choices, a sparkling white wine and two kinds of rose. I of course went with the bubbly:

English Champagne (1)

Since I am used to the high price of imported wines, I did not flinch at the £19.50 price tag of this excellent Brut Reserve Sparkling from Lyme Bay winery in Devon (West Country), a “fruit-driven sparkling wine that displays refreshing lemon and green apple notes, with a vibrant and creamy mousse finish.”

No. 2 Top Drinking Experience in London: I brought this special bottle to the Last Night in London Toast gathering of me, Top Cat, my sister, her husband, and the unbearably cute cats they were babysitting:




I highly recommend the Odd Bins on Earl’s Court Road and the Lyme Bay Reserve and the company of cats to make your London visit complete.

Which brings me to my No. 1 Top Drinking Experience in London:


Yes, we are back at the Savoy, sight of the infamous Attitude Adjustment Incident. But I’m bringing you back here because I did not tell you the real story as to how Top Cat and I fetched up at this 5-star watering hole (just in time to have our first fight on our first day in London).

Back in the early aughts (sometime in 2000 or 2001) I had come here, to the Savoy’s famous American Bar for a martini. At that time, it was hard to imagine how a martini cold be worse than the one I got at the American Bar at the Savoy. It was tiny — no more than a 4-oz dollop of alcohol; it was room temperature; and it was served in a very dinky parfait glass:


That’s why, when I went to the Dorchester the next evening, I grilled the bartender before I ordered a drink: Do you know how to make a martini? Can you show me the glass you serve it in? 

Well, it’s been 15 years since I ordered a martini in London and I was very curious to see if the Savoy had changed with the times, and was capable of serving a decent martini. As I have already discussed, the answer is yes, and yes.

I might mention that ordering a drink at the American Bar is daunting. The drinks menu, which was completely re-vamped in January 2016, is a fat little pamphlet describing 24 drinks that pay homage to London landmarks such as the studio where Alfred Hitchcock filmed some of his classics, Abbey Road Studios, and the original 13th-century estate that eventually became the site of the Savoy.

“With these stories, what we want is to set up a day for a guest who is visiting London for a day or two by having a cocktail at the bar,” head bartender Erik Lorincz says, “and then recommend that they visit the actual place where we took the inspiration from.”

Well, I rather doubt that. But they did go to a  lot of trouble to make a little silent movie about one cocktail called “Pickering Place”:


Getting a martini at the Savoy is complicated because you have to call your gin or vodka, but not without reading a full description of each liquor’s place of origin, bouquet, pedigree, favorite movie, most recent book read, and how long its last relationship lasted. In other words, it’s as grueling as a first date.

I chose a homely and inexpensive little potato vodka for me and Top Cat. Two drinks plus a tid bit dish came to £38 ($49.40). The Savoy is not for the feint of heart.

I also got a great photo of two ladies inspecting the earrings one of them had bought at Harvey Nichols (with the pianist in the background):


I also wanted to come to The Savoy because I had read that there was a Cocktail Museum near the America Bar:


It’s actually only one cabinet of old bottles, if the ilk “Marlene Dietrich’s favorite scotch”.

But mostly I had to go back to the Savoy because of the cat it keeps in its lobby:


This cat:


This is Kaspar, the cat that lives in the lobby of the Savoy, who was, luckily, not engaged in saving lives when I came to visit:


Here’s the story:

In 1898,  the diamond magnate Woolf Joel held a dinner party for 14 guests at the London hotel. One invitee had to drop out at the last minute, reducing the number of diners to 13, an unlucky number that prompted one one dinner guest to warn that death would befall the first person to leave the table. Mr. Joel scoffed at the idea and, to prove his disdain for superstition, he left first. Weeks later he was shot dead in Johannesburg.

Shocked by the news, and anxious to avoid a repeat of such ill fate, The Savoy decided to always provide an extra guest for every table of thirteen. Initially the hotel had a member of staff sit amongst the diners, but this proved unpopular. Guests felt unable to discuss their private matters freely in front of the help. Thus, in a stroke of genius, Kaspar was created – sculpted into life by architect Basil Ionides in 1926 —  a 2ft-high feline sculpture to become the permanent 14th dinner guest.


You can also see Kaspar at the entrance to the Savoy, on the only street in London where cars drive on the right (making it easier for guests to exit their limos and enter the hotel):


The American Bar is one of the rare examples of Art Deco in London, a city that did not embrace the style during its heyday of the 1920s and 30s. And, in fact, Kaspar himself is very much an Art Deco kitty also. . . but is he the only Art Deco kitty you can find in this city?

In fact, he is NOT the only Art Deco kitty you can find in London,  if you know where to look. And, Dear Readers, I know where to look!

But that’s another cat story.

Here’s another look at the last sun set of Summer 2016 on the Long Island Sound:



Here it is reflected in the windows of the neighbor’s house:




And this is the last delivery of a 2016 Blue Jay feather (on my driveway):



Thank you, Summer of 2016.

As far as the Summer of 2016 is concerned, our Australian friends are just starting theirs (or is it the Summer of ’17 already?) — and I hope all our wonderful Aussie readers in the southwest are safe and dry! We are watching the weather reports about the 50-year cyclone about to hit and are very concerned — hold on!



Read more


I didn’t show up here last week because I was in Boston when my blog failed to publish and I did not have the password with me and was thus  unable to access the damn thing to re-set the command to Let Rip.

This is me, Letting Rip at the Boston Public Library last Friday night (attending the lovely wedding of Top Cat’s nice and new nephew):

Oh yeah, I still got the moves. And, as I had about three pints of champagne in me on this particular eve, I’m still in keeping with the theme of this week’s last week’s story.

So here, in full, is the Blog Post That Shudda Happened When Vivian Was in Boston Being Super Groovy:

Top Cat says that this was my characteristic pose in London:

Shot with DxO ONE

That’s me, figuring out our next 1,000 steps in my handy Mini London A-Z (updated for 2001). Yep, I still use maps on paper instead of my smartphone.

This is Top Cat’s London Look:


He upgraded his footwear to leather loafers because I insisted that his usual ratty sneakers and droopy socks would not do on this trip. (I let him keep his beloved day pack.)

What I’m saying is, I don’t think our 20-year-old selves would be crushingly embarrassed by our 60-year-old selves. No, I’m not talking about our looks. I’m talking our outstanding ability to quench a thirst.

We only had 4 days in London (because we took one full day to visit Windsor, Oxford, and Stonehenge at sun set — see how important that Oxford Comma is???), yet we were able to see The British Museum, The Geffrye Museum, the Museum of London, and the V&A  AND take in 10 — TEN– drinking experiences.

London’s 7,000 pubs outnumber its 200 museums, so I’d say we got the ratio just about right.

I’ve already blogged about our visit to the Lamb & Flag (see: Is That, Or Is That Not, A Corgie?), Charles Dickens’ favorite watering hole in Covent Garden:


P1080828 (1)

So here, in order, are our 9 other Memorable Tipples:

No. 9: The Lamb, on Lamb’s Conduit Street, Russel Square:



We were there at the stroke of noon on a quiet Saturday. The Lamb is more of a bustling weekday hangout for the local regulars, in operation since 1729.  The pub was updated to its current look c. 1890. You can see in the photo (above) the rare and famous etched-glass “screens” above the bar, which were put in place to shield Victorian upper-class drinkers from the rabble on the other side of the “public” bar. If you’re into etched glass screens in pubs, well then, this is your kind of place.

No. 8: The Cross Keys, on Endell Street, Covent Garden:



London Time Out likes The Cross Keys a lot because this pub “makes zero effort to appeal to tourists. Sort of ironic really, as standing outside in the failing sunlight, sipping a pint, taking deep lungfuls of the aroma wafting down from the nearby chippie, is one of the most perfectly English experiences you’ll get in the West End.”

I liked The Cross Keys because Top Cat had wandered off to check out the fading sunlight of an unseasonable warm and clear Thursday evening, so as I was on my own I began a chat with the English guy sitting next to me on the banquette and I really enjoyed talking to someone new. It was a nice break from the non-stop one-on-oneness with my significant other, which is is one of the hazards of traveling deux. 

No. 7: Discount Suit Company on the backstreets of Shoreditch:


Top Cat and I split up on Saturday afternoon so he could go to a Premiere League soccer match (home game for Tottenham Hotspurs v. Crystal Palace) while I checked out The Geffrye Museum and gardens and the V&A. But first, I made a detour along Bishopsgate. . .


. . .  to pop in at this 5-star speakeasy known as The Discount Suit Company because it’s in the basement of the Discount Suit Company!!! Some people have trouble finding the unmarked black door on the Wentworth Street side . . .


. . . but I spied it easily, and descended a narrow stairway the led into a wood-lined room that is instantly comfy:


It was just 2:00 in the afternoon, so I only had a vermouth on the rocks and a delightful discussion about English wines with a very handsome Millennial bartender, who told me about a place in the Spitalfileds Market that might have some plonk from Blighty. Everyone under the age of 35 looks sooooooo appallingly young to me.

I liked this place because I actually went into the Discount Suit Company on the ground floor, which is a going concern that sells — wait for it — discount suits and had a chat with the father and son who run the place. I really wanted Top Cat to come back and buy a shirt or two at discount. . .


. . . but alas, that’s one of the things that we just ran out of time for.

P.S. I did stop in a the Spitalfields Market, because it was on the way to the Geffrye and because Spitalfields.

No. 6: French House on Dean Street, Soho:



Top Cat picked this place mostly because of its name, which he thought would please me (being the Francophile that I am) but it is also a very well-known watering hole. It was opened by a German called Schmidt in 1910 who was deported at the start of the first world war. The name was changed to the French House under its subsequent Belgian owners because during WWII it was a home base of the Free French. General De Gaulle was supposed to have written his famous rallying call to his occupied nation, A Tous Les Francais, here.

Top Cat and I nabbed a great table in the cubby . . .


not my photo: credit goes to

. . . which gave us a good view of the clientele, which is young and trendy. The management does its best to nurture the art of conversation; no singing, no TVs; beer is sold only half pints; and if you dare to talk on your cell phone, you will swiftly be told to hang up or clear out.


Gifford’s Guide for Discerning Drinkers notes that The French House is the U.K.’s top consumer of Ricard Pastis, a French licorice-flavored liqueur. The wine list at The French House is superb and prices are reasonable, which is why this pub is always crowded with an army of regulars.

Outside in the “patio” (sidewalk area)  I saw this young lady with her gray hair:


Millennial gals with gray hair is quite a thing in London these days. I happen to really like the look — it looks very fairy-tale-ish, IMHO.

***This Just In: I just learned that the correct term for what I called “gray” hair is lavender. FYI: Lavender is the new IN color.

No. 5: The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town.


photo from the world wide inter webs

The actual address of The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town is: Inside the Breakfast Club’s fridge:


There are three Breakfast Clubs in London. Each one is a casual, hip place for great breakfasts and fine comfort food the rest of the day and night. . .

Shot with DxO ONE

. . . and each Breakfast Club has its own speakeasy. But I had to come here for obvious cat-people reasons.

The rule is that when you get to this Breakfast Club you have to tell the hostess: “We’re here to see the Mayor” because, duh, it’s a speakeasy and there are rules. So that’s what we did, and after a very short wait we were let into the fridge:

Shot with DxO ONE

Shot with DxO ONE

We had a bottle of Pinot Grigio and poutine (dinner, because we’d forgotten to eat since lunch):


Cute couple at the next table and their waiter smiling for my camera. THIS NEVER HAPPENS IN PARIS.


I can’t tell you exactly why we had such a good time here, but both Top Cat and I enjoyed sitting in this little basement, but maybe these notes from the menu will give you an idea of the “vibe”:




Naturally, I could not get the great old XTC song The Mayor of Simpleton out of my mind for a week.

No. 4: The Mayflower in Rotherhithe:


Rifles, ropes, model ships and pulleys clutter the ceilings and sideboards, evoking images of explorers and drunken sailors. Dickensian scribbles above the chunky black beams read “poverty and oysters always seem to go together.”

This nautical-themed pub sits on the site of the former Shippe pub, built in 1550, making it the oldest pub on the River Thames. It’s famous for its connection to the Mayflower that set sail to American in 1620 — the ship’s original mooring was just off the back deck, which is on the actual bank of the Thames:

Shot with DXO ONE Camera

This pub is very convivial and well off the tourist track, and it’s in a section of London that I had never even heard of — so it was fun to venture south of the Thames for a Saturday night out!


I love a pub that has a big tent over the deck lets puppy dogs drop in for a beer.


After a quick diner of pub grub and a drink or two, the rain had stopped so we — me, Top Cat, my sister the brilliant Oxford scholar and my brother-in-law the brilliant head of congressional liaison for the Dept. of Justice — headed out to a place right around the corner:

No. 3: Midnight Apothecary at the Brunel Museum, in Rotherhithe:


The Midnight Apothecary is a roving party that hits select venues in London — I picked the one held at the Brunel Museum because that’s the one that the Evening Standard (the dominant London newspaper) called “the hottest pop-up bar in town.”  Also, I had to see The Brunel Museum, which is the kind of place that gives me hope that the London that I loved for being a tad quaint and behind the times has not totally disappeared: it’s a museum about a tunnel. That’s it. A tunnel. A rather short tunnel, at that: it’s only the width of the Thames River.

The museum exists to tell the “fascinating” story of the world’s first underwater tunnel, namely, the Thames Tunnel, nearby, built 1825 – 1843. In its time, this tunnel was called “the 8th Wonder of theWorld”, which I know because we got to hear a very enthusiastic lecture down in the old entrance shaft of the “wonder” itself:



But the main reason we were here was for the Saturday night rooftop garden party called Midnight Apothecary. Well, “rooftop” was stretching it, because the museum is mostly underground, hence the “roof” is on top of a one-story building.

First, there are excellent cocktails flavored with unusual (apothecary) herbs:



And Second, there’s a garden, and lots of people, and a  campfire over which to roast marshmallows and meet friendly Londoners:

P1090060 (1)



I really liked the towering thistles.

I’m going to stop here at No. 3, for now, because Top Cat always complains that my blogs are too long and the stories I have for the final two Drinking Events (# 1 and 2 in the Top Ten) are so good that they deserve their own posts. Really. You’ll like them. One’s about a cat and a martini and the other is about The Chelsea Physic Garden.

So, my Dear Readers, get out there and live it up this weekend — the LAST WEEKEND OF SUMMER — and meet me back here next Friday.

And I mean it: get out there and do something fun before the Summer of ’16 becomes just a memory!


Read more