September 2016

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!



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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:


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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:

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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!


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Hurricane Party!


Last week we got all the dire warnings — including a “code red” evacuation order that was issued by an over-eager emergency management pin head — regarding the havoc which would be wrought upon the Isle of Long when Hurricane Hermine blew our way. But as you might already know, the old girl veered east, out to sea, after she hit the Carolinas, so what else could Top Cat and I do but throw ourselves a little Hurricane Party? We headed out to the nearest  tiki bar on the Long Island Sound and I had my first ever Long Island Iced Tea (see above).

We all know that Yours Truly is not much of a “foodie”. I’m more of a “drinkie”. So, when I travel, eating out is not a high priority. . . but drinking out is huge.

Naturally I put some serious designated drinking on my 4-page To Do List for London (see last week’s post to catch up) — as well as a few Must Eats. This week’s post is all about how I dang near accomplished everything I set out To Eat and Drink in the UK, in true epicurean style. Starting with breakfast.

If you look carefully at the photo below, you will see my dear Top Cat doing some food prep for his salmon baguette while I, on the other side of the table, indulge in my favorite English breakfast of Eggs and Beans on Toast:


We were sitting in our Earl’s Court cafe, on the morning of Day Two, when I observed my dear Top Cat pull a small Tupperware container from his daypack. He pulled off the top, removed a tomato from the vessel, and proceeded to cut it into fat, juicy slices.

I furrowed my brow. “Is that. . .”, I began, but stopped because the idea was too stupid to articulate. But then I decided to go through with it: “Is that from our tomato patch at home? That you brought to London?”

Of course he had. The tomatoes were peaking when we left Long Island and Top Cat couldn’t bear to let them all rot on the vine while we were away. So he packed one for exactly this occasion. I like a man who has priorities.

BTW, I would recommend this breakfast spot to all travelers:


See how the nice guy behind the counter is smiling for my photo? THIS NEVER HAPPENS IN PARIS.

Our breakfast spot is called Gusto and you can see its red awning cosying up to the massive Prince of Teck pub next door:


Ah, the Prince of Teck. I have known this pub since 1976, when Earl’s Court was so packed with Australian ex-pats that it used to be called Kangaroo Court, and the Prince of Teck was the neighborhood dive bar. I mean, it used to be really divey; full of of boisterous Aussies and grungy back packers from the nearby youth hostel and the bums who pretty much lived in the tube station a few yards away. The pub smelled very strongly of stale beer and very faintly of puke. But things have changed, even from when it had got slightly less crummy by 2001 (the last time I popped in for a drink, see below):

Prince of Teck

photo credit: Me, 2001

I stopped in at the Prince of Teck after our Gusto breakfast and holy cow, was I shocked by what I saw:


I don’t ever recall seeing sunlight in the Prince of Teck before. Or anything close to decor. Or such blinding cleanliness. I don’t even remember ever seeing the floor — this place always used to be crowded with low lifes. See that banquette way in the back, on the right? In the late ’70s I watched a drunk (or stoned) Australian pass out and slump over that table, which attracted absolutely no special notice in those days.

As I stood in the 2016 Prince of Teck all I could do was exhale, “Wow.” I asked the sweet bar maid if I could take a photo, and she said “Of course” and she even smiled for me. THIS NEVER HAPPENS IN PARIS.

I couldn’t help myself: I then said to her, “I remember this place from the seventies, when there used to be a stuffed kangaroo hanging from the ceiling right there,” and I pointed to a space at the far end of the bar. (How many years did I watch that stuffed kangaroo molt, year after year, and shed its ears and become so threadbare that it looked as if it had mange, which it might have, considering the context? Way many years.)

The sweet girl just kept smiling. And then I shut up because, really, do I seriously think that this sweet girl wants to hear what The Prince of Teck was like 20 years before she was born? No. (P.S. to my Aussie Dear Readers: Does anyone else remember Kangaroo Court? Or Ye Olde Prince of Teck? How about the youth hostel that used to be urther down on Earl’s Court Road, near Bolton Gardens?)

BTW, the urge to exclaim to clearly uninterested present-day people, such as Top Cat, what a certain place used to look like 40 years ago is something that I had to reign in, often, during this trip.

I have already mentioned that it was later on, on Day Two, when we went to the top of the weirdly-shaped sky scraper Walkie-Talkie building, at 20 Fenchurch, for lunch at their sky-top brasserie called Darwin’s (here’s a view of it from the foot of Tower Bridge):

Shot with DxO ONE

Top Cat and I met up with my sister and her husband to hear all about Oxford and their ramble through the Scottish Highlands — fun lunch! The cocktails were super cute:



Tiki in London!


I didn’t have a drink because I wasn’t here for the booze: I was here to cross off Item #1 on my Must Eat List, Darwin’s  Red Onion Tarte Tatin:


That’s a carmelized red onion baked in a pastry shell topped with a hunk of Rollright cheese from the Cotswolds (mild, soft-rind; this cheese won Supreme Champion at the 2016 Artisan Cheese Awards), served atop a salad of wild rocket and walnuts drizzled with two dressings: one balsamic, the other a creamy garlic. It was heavenly, and a bargain at £11.25.

P.S. When Top Cat was about to sign the credit card receipt he noticed that the server had rung up the £115 tab as £155.  Travel Tip: always read your food and bev receipts.

For Item #2 on my Must Eat List, Top Cat and I had to head to the Borough Market south of the Thames in Southwark:

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What brought us to Borough Market was this: If you love grilled cheese sandwiches as much as I do, then you’ve heard of Kappacasein, home of the most outrageously delicious grilled cheese sandwich IN THE WORLD:



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That’s a big hunk of an Ogleshield cheese wheel there (above), in prep for the raclette. The grilled cheese sarnies are made by scooping the 4-cheese shred (see: below) between two slices of artisanal bread:


I have to confess that I wimped out on the famous Kappacasein toastie because the fragrance of the Ogleshield was so overpowering that I lost my appetite. I just don’t care for stinky cheese at all. You might be thinking that only a real dope would pass up a taste in a lifetime: I totally agree. But, seeing as I’m not much of a “foodie” anyway, I think I can live with being a dope. I just couldn’t get past that Ogleshield.

The third and final item on my Must Eat List was Authentic Fish and Chips. Lucky for me, our AirBnB room in Hampstead was just around the corner from The Flask:


A Yelp reviewer from Australia wrote: My partner is still raving about the fish and chips he got here a year and a half ago/ I think it was the mushy peas that made it particularly special for him.


This is cod, deep fat fried in a batter made with a premium ale called London Pride, served red hot with pea purée, chips, and home-made tartare sauce (£13), served on artisanal newsprint, and it is delicious. P.S. I discovered that I DO NOT LIKE mushy peas.

And so it was that on my last night in London I was able to fulfill my Fish and Chips fantasy. But wait, there’s more:

Top Cat and I spent Sunday morning wandering around crazy Camden Town where, at the Camden Market we could have had a beigle. . .

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. . . or a bowl of cereal at the  Cereal Killer Cafe:

Shot with DXO ONE Camera

Shot with DXO ONE Camera

Cereal Killer Cafe is the world’s first international cereal cafe, which only serves cold cereal. Fun, right?

photo credit: The World Wide Web

Meanwhile, out on Camden High Street, the Mad Hatter was holding his Tea Party:

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Mad Hatter, Tea Party: This is how I will segue to the part of this blog post that I call: The Must Have Teas.

My #1 Must Have Tea was going to be at the  Victoria & Albert Museum:

Shot with DxO ONE

I used to be a paid member of this museum through most of the 1980s, back when the strict economic policies of Margaret Thatcher repudiated the socialist system of yore and cut back on government aid to national museums. Because of this, all the previously free museums had to start charging admission for the first time in their history. During those Thatcher years, museum attendance dropped by as much as 55% and I was totally fine with that. I mean, the admission was only a pound or two — cheap! —  but it was enough to keep out tons of people who really should not be visiting museums in the first place and no, I’m not being snotty. You know exactly what I mean. Young parents with screaming kids in strollers! Single dads who don’t know what else to do with their tear-away kids on custodial weekends. Grubby backpackers, bored teenagers, entire clans of foreign tourists herding through the galleries in a daze, etc. These are the people who now clog up all the museums, now that they are all free again.

So I set out to the inner sanctum of the V&A, my heart full of fond memories of all those nearly-empty galleries and cafes spared of the 55% of people who didn’t want to pay a lousy pound to get into the V&A, and a keen, heart-pounding anticipation at seeing, for my first time, the finely renovated grand tea rooms by Gamble, Pointer, and Morris:


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These photos can not convey the din and fury of the V&A on a Saturday afternoon during the tail end of the school holidays in August. The rooms were as welcoming as a Chicago O’Hare airport lounge during a fire drill. Oblivious parents with screaming kids, herds of tourists, and one severely annoyed V. Swift. It was a nightmare. So I  admired the appointments of these great rooms and got the hell out, hot-footing it back to the peace and quiet of the Piccadilly Line.

My #2 Must Have Tea would have taken place in Oxford, where I wanted to take a table in the “Garden” bit at the Vaults & Garden Cafe where I would sit with Top Cat and our Pot of Tea for Two and gaze upon the Radcliffe Camera (reading room):


But it was drizzly and chilly, and neither of us felt like sitting in the somewhat cramped “Vaults” of this 14th century church building:


So we just walked around the town for a bit and got on our tour bus for our special private inner-circle Sun Set at Stonehenge encounter.


Photo credit: Top Cat, August 16, 2016

Sun set at Stonehenge was very cool. But that’s another story.

So, as for tea: I had one cup of tea each morning with my eggs and beans on toast, and it was perfection. But I never found a place for a nice afternoon sit down, due to the infestation of people everywhere and the fullness of my To Do List. If I had had one more day, I would have made a bee line to The Muffin Man near the High Street Kensington tube, on 12 Wrights Lane:


photo credit: Me, 1987

This is the self same Muffin Man that was featured in my Tea Time Memoir in Five Minuscule Chapters in When Wanderers Cease to Roam:


I also would have stopped in at The Ritz.


photo credit:

There are several Afternoon Tea experiences to choose from at The Ritz, starting at £52 per person. However, I don’t care for sugary cakes, or any kind of meat sandwich, or an undue amount of unctuous pomp that hints, ever so slightly, of insult — and you get all of that at Afternoon Tea at The Ritz. Used to be that you could sit in the lobby and order a fairly inexpensive pot of tea and enjoy being at The Ritz without the shenanigans of their Afternoon Tea, which is of the kind that I can’t stand, but I didn’t get the chance to check out that possibility because I never found myself in the neighborhood.

At least The Ritz hasn’t capitulated to calling it High Tea. High Tea sounds fancy, but it’s not: High Tea refers to the height of the table on which it is served, in this case a kitchen table. High Tea is the working class name for their evening meal, usually served at the un-chic hour of 5 PM. But because so many tourists (it’s usually blamed on the Americans) want a High Tea, thinking it’s the fancy one, many English outlets have started calling the Low Tea “High”.

The really fancy afternoon tea, Low Tea, used to be served on a low table in a lady’s drawing room at 4 o’clock. There would be only very light snacks served with the tea, in order to ward off hunger until one dressed for dinner, usually dished up at 8 PM.

When I worked for an English company (Christie’s auction house) I was shocked, at first, to hear my fancy co-workers call their evening meal  “suppah”. Yeeesh. Where I come from, only hicks call it “supper”. But then I learned that that’s what the upper classes call the meal after lunch; only the dreaded middle class calls it “dinner”.

High Tea, Low Tea, Supper, Dinner . . . class-climbing in the UK is hardJulian Fellowes ( that is, Julian Alexander Kitchener-Fellowes, Baron Fellowes of West Stafford, the creator/writer of Downton Abbey) explains it all in his irresistible novel, Snobs; A Novel of Modern Manners.



I hope Snobs will tide you over until we meet back here next week, when I tell you about the cocktails I hunted down in London, in underground speakeasies and roof top apothecaries and garment store basements. There’s more than one cat involved.

Have a great weekend, my Wonder Ones. I hope a hurricane, or a hurricane party, is heading your way!

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It’s so good to see you all again!

One too may vodka tonics for Taffy.

Come to think of it, “One Too Many Vodka Tonics” would be a good way to summarize my August vacation.

While you were gone we got a good old fashioned heat wave here on Long Island, 99 degrees for days on end, which necessitated the numerous inhaling of ice cold refreshments because, duh: health. Also, Top Cat’s tomatoes started to ripen in force, I found 6 more Blue Jay feathers, and I got at least 12 more bad ideas for books that I won’t write.

I also had a great adventure, which I am going to tell you all about in the post that immediately follows this one. Yes, it’s the one titled: Is That, Or Is That Not, a Corgi?   (see below)


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You know how it is, when you’re deciding whether or not to go to London, which would be a great trip except for it taking so much effort and you’re in a funk that makes “effort” so very tiring even thinking about it, so you take a walk into the village with your Top Cat to discuss the possibilities and in the back of your mind you’re thinking, OK, Universe, Now’s the time to give me some kind of sign, and then you’re walking down Main Street and your Top Cat goes, Hey look over there, and you think, Well, That could be a Sign . . . 


. . . but you’re still in a shitty mood about having to do all the packing and thinking and doing that it takes to “do” a trip to London, so you taunt the Universe with the challenge OK, I’ll off to London if I find a Blue Jay feather. And not just any blue Jay feather. I want a tail feather, you got that? and so you stroll all the way around the village and start to make your way back home when something on the ground catches your eye. . .


and yeah, it’s a Blue Jay feather . . .


. . .  and yeah, it’s a tail feather. Sure, it’s a ratty, skanky, Blue Jay tail feather left over from the last time a lawn mower ran over it, but still: The Universe has spoken and the message is clear.

I’m going to London.

Immediately behind that message is another message, which is that the Universe, She doesn’t like it when I make Her double-down on the giving of the signs. That Blue Jay feather is without doubt the plugugliest one I’ve ever found. But there you are. That’s my Going-To-London feather!

This story truly happened on a walk I told you about in my post of July 22, when this is what I was wearing:

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Well, obviously, I couldn’t be wearing that kind of schmatta in London:

Shot with DxO ONE

Weird thing is, this was a bright, warm day.

That’s me in my ever-faithful black cashmere sweater draped over my shoulder (the one I took with me when I went on Le Road Trip, 10 years ago, back when this sweater was only 15 years old). But my new purchases especially for Going to London include: a better-fitting sheer long sleeved shirt to pull over a black tank top; a pair of sturdy but very comfy Michael Kors leggings; Michael Kors black suede loafers; and a slim little shoulder bag to carry my To Do List in.

Top Cat took this picture of me on our second day in London, as we walked across London Bridge towards that doofus-looking fat skyscraper in the background (known locally as the Walkie-Talkie building) to take our reservation for lunch at Darwin’s Brasserie on the 36th floor, above what is called The Sky Garden:

Shot with DxO ONE

From which one has incredible views of The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, City Hall, HMS Belfast — etc:


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I haven’t been to London in 14 years, way back in 2002, so this Walkie-Talkie building is new to me, along with The Shard (the pointy thing seen below). . .

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. . .  the Cheesegrater and The Gherkin:

Shot with DxO ONE

But I am getting ahead of myself here.

The reason this whole “Go To London” thing came up is because my little sister was spending a Summer term at Oxford, studying for part of her LLM degree, and she had the idea that it would be fun to, at the end of her term, all get together in London! When she first mentioned it, I was pretty busy, moping all day and being miserable about not having a book to write seeing as I have the kind of personality that wallows in self-pity. So it took me a while to change my focus and get on board with this “having fun” concept. (Thanks, Universe, for all your help!)

Then I had to convince Top Cat to come too. That done, I spent about 10 days happily doing what I do best — plan. For London I came up with a 4-page To Do List:


I like To Do Lists. In a travel context, they become my outline for a fabulous treasure hunt. Top Cat and I were in London for 5 days: I am going to give you a day-by-day run down on our To Do List which, no brag just fact, is a perfect blend of tourist sights and insider secrets.


Arrive Heathrow at 8:45 AM. Discover that there is nothing to fear from the scrum of Immigration and Baggage claim; we are out of the airport and on the Piccadilly tube by 9:30. Take tube directly to Earl’s Court. Drop bags off at the Garden View Hotel on the delightfully green and calm Neverns Square:



Next, seek victuals. Find a cute, tiny caff on Earl’s Court Road. Order the local delicacy.

Beans and egg on toast — I am home, baby!


Walk (because you’ve misjudged the distance) towards The Chelsea Physic Garden, by way of the surprisingly semi-abandoned Brompton Cemetery. . .


. . . 39 acres (16 ha) of very pleasantly weird scenic decay, used by a scant number of local joggers, dog walkers, and meanderers as a way to escape far, far from the madding crowd:


We wind our way along the Thames on the elegant Cheyne Walk, which is where former New York City Michael Bloomberg has his London pied a terre (he bought the historic mansion that used to belong to the novelist George Eliot):


And then past the house boats and the Battersea Bridge so beloved (and painted) by James Whistler:


Small point of fact: The wooden bridge that Whistler painted was knocked down in 1885 and re-built to look nothing like Whistler’s quasi-Japonesque half-moon transverse, but still. . . we were walking in the footsteps of Whistler’s Mother’s Son!



Top Cat with the Albert Bridge in the background.


Sunny days wreak havoc on photos — too many shadows. But that middle Sphinx was all dolled up so that her boobies had red nipples. BTW, this is a GREEK sphinx; the Egyptian ones were male. See? Any old walk in London is a lesson in history that makes me LOVE LOVE LOVE this city.

Whereupon at last, we arrive at the Chelsea Physic Garden:


I’ve already written about this garden in my book but I’ll have more to say on the matter of gardens that might be getting too big for their own britches — a Vivian Blog exclusive! — in a later post.

For now, jet lag is catching up on us and we head back to Earl’s Court via a walk up the famous King’s Road . . .


Sand. The dog is made of SAND.

. . .which is not quite as swanky as it used to be. We take the tube from Sloane Square back to Earl’s Court and Top Cat naps while I read the Daily Mail on my iPhone until 4. Shower, tidy up, and we’re ready to hit the second half of my Day One To Do List.

Tube to Covent Garden:


My fave tube ad. For OBVIOUS reasons.

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Covent Garden is no big deal, but Top Cat had never seen it and we had to pass through it anyway  on our way to visit the nearby Hospital Club:


The Hospital Club was founded by Micro-soft co-founder Paul Allen and Dave Stewart of the band Eurythmics in 1996.

The Hospital Club’s raison d’être (it’s true: Dave Stewart speaks French) is to support the creative industries by providing an inspiring environment that actively encourages its members to create, connect, and collaborate. Its private, by-invitation-only membership includes designers, writers, creative entrepreneurs, performers, producers, musicians, and film makers.

I had recently read Dave Stewart’s autobiography, called Sweet Dreams Are Made of This, about his immensely exuberant,  wayward, and successful creative life and he had written rather proudly of this club (which used to be an actual hospital) so I wanted to check out the club’s public gallery to see an exhibit that sounded very promising: Twelve Tall Tales.

12 artists, makers and designers have been selected by guest curator Onkar Kular (never heard of him) to tell stories through an object they have made.

Stories told through objects! This show sounds right up my alley! I love material culture! I used to sell Faberge objects at Christie’s auction house so I know all about the depth and quirkiness of the stories that are embodied in the items that our culture decides to cherish, as well as those they deem unworthy! I am dying to see what context-heavy objects these 12 clever craftspeople have come up with!


First impression: Well, this doesn’t look like fun. Looks more like a high school shop class exhibit.


Uh-oh. “Beyond conventional approaches.” I don’t like the sound of that.

You see, our kind has been telling stories and making stuff for, I don’t know, 6,000 years, and to me, that seems to hint that we have pretty much perfected the object/story format.  But this is a curated show at the Hospital Club, so I guess I can’t complain that the artists were forced to come up with the most convoluted, narrative-smashing, lo-fi/hi-brow manner of justifying the space that they take up in this gallery. You know, to make it “unconventional”.

But I’m going to complain. My chief complaint is that, without exception, the objects that were created, specifically to be as sui generis as possible, were all so god awful dumb.

Example, The Politics of Shoes:


This is by Dash MacDonald and the curator, Onkar Kular. They are probably very nice guys. This is not a personal critique, although really, how can it not be?

First of all, I consider this display a cheat.  A truly profound object should, and can, stand alone; that is, present itself in splendid isolation to let the viewer decipher it herself. But this object — those red shoes — has too much support material scattered around it, to much context”, to serve as clues as to its creator’s intent, clues which include a George Bush mask, a 1907 pamphlet by H. G. Wells called The Misery of Boots, and a video of the artist, dressed up like a medieval shoemaker making these shoes, intercut with scenes from the social unrest of the 1930s. All this surrounding clutter only points out how weak and/or didactic the object is, that it needs so much mediation from its creator. Also, the stuff is unattractively arranged. Also, the shoes are stupid.

What makes this show even more disappointing was that it was co-sponsored by The Crafts Council, the national development agency for contemporary craft in the United Kingdom. It was the participation of The Crafts Council that made the show a must on my To Do List, but  The Crafts Council of 2016 is a totally different creature than what it was when I first fell in love with it in 1985, when it was housed in a spiffy set of rooms on Pall Mall and had a gallery and a shop and a nifty showcase of the fabulously hand-made crafts of its members.

In 1985 I was 29 (on my 5th or 6th visit to London), and I moseyed into that exhibition space on Pall Mall by accident. There I discovered a space that was filled with thought-provoking and connoisseurship-level handmade objects in glass, ceramic, textiles, wood, and metal. Most significantly, I discovered the work of fabric artist Janet Bolton. She had one piece on display in the gallery:


This object was called Bird, and it did not have any “support” documents attached to it. This allowed me to establish my own relationship to the object, and I was quite intrigued by it. I got the feeling that this object embodied a very personal iconography and esthetic that I was just on the verge of understanding. There was something delicate and brave about this piece that I wanted to live with. So I bought it.

I asked the young woman (whose name I remember to this day for obvious reasons : Vanessa Swan) who was on duty that day in the Crafts Council gallery about the possibility of my seeing more of Janet Bolton’s stuff. Ms. Swan contacted Ms. Bolton personally. That’s how I got invited to visit Janet Bolton in her home studio the next day:




I bought three of the works that are in this photograph (directly above):




Then Janet Bolton made tea and we sat in her breakfast nook that overlooked the back garden, and watched as the friendly neighborhood red fox obligingly trotted out from amongst the bushes for a wander around the flower beds. I mean, does a visit to a London fabric artist get any better than that?

Like me, Janet Bolton has gotten famous since 1985. Unlike me, she’s actually pretty well known.

As for the Crafts Council, it has undergone several re-iterations since 1985, becoming ever more diminished in the process. It was moved out of its pricey Pall Mall digs in the 1990s and now it exists, as far as I can determine, as just an address in Islington that storehouses stuff and sponsors exhibits similar to Twelve Tall Tales. Which breaks a little tiny bit of my heart.

The reason I have gone into such a lengthy digression is because this is how I experience London: very, very digressively, because almost everything I see and do London links me to an awareness and consideration of my personal history in a way that, for example, Paris does not. This is because I have never lived in London; I’ve only visited it about 20 times over 40 years. This means that my experience of London, as opposed to that of Paris, is not on a continuum.  My experience of London is quantum: My visits to London have happened at specific, short-term intervals in my life, so that after 40 years I have a collection of memories of London as so many discreet packets of time, after time, after time, etc.

So, while you and I mosey on from The Hospital Club in Covent Garden towards The Strand, keep in mind that it’s been 14 years since I’ve been in London and my head is whirling with all the quantum memories that such a trip down Memory Lane arouses (for the most part, I will spare you the ruminations). It’s now 6 o’clock on a warm and clear Summer evening on August 17, 2016, and we’re at The Savoy for a martini:

Shot with DxO ONE



At first I was drinking my martini alone because Top Cat objected to the concept of having a martini at the Savoy. Long story.

But this martini was a MUST on my To Do List while, to someone whose name rhymes with Zop Bat, having a martini at the Savoy seems stupid when martinis are so easy to get AT HOME. Well, too bad: I didn’t want to have to justify having a martini at the Savoy by going into a whole other long story along the lines of The Crafts Council in 1985, so Top Cat and I parted ways (some strong language was involved) and I was fuming until he showed that he was the bigger person and joined me and we bickered until we came to a decision about our future handling of the To Do List, and the cocktails were divine. We came to refer to this as “The Attitude Adjustment Incident.”

We then wander up on Shaftesbury Avenue past the Palace Theater . . .



. . . and through back alleys — it seems that all of London is taking advantage of this delightful break from what has been a cold, wet Summer so far in the British Isles. . .

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. . . and we stop in at two casinos in Leicester Square so Top Cat can suss out the poker room action (for later) before we fetch up in a narrow alley called Rose Street for a pint and dinner at Charles Dickens’ favorite pub, The Lamb & Flagg. . .

lamb and flag


lamb and flag

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Then we moseyed to Piccadilly Circus, which neither of us photographed because it was almost 11 o’clock and we were tired and the place was horribly packed with people. We got the tube to Earl’s Court, dragged ourselves to the Garden View Hotel, and called it a day.

Total miles walked:  11.79

Total items ticked off the To Do List: 13

The next morning we pack up again to head for our AirBnB room in swanky Hampstead, on a tiny little mews — our room is above a bakery!



But that’s a story for next week, when we break down the To Do List into things that you can eat and drink.

See you!

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