12th July 2014 I began the day by posting yesterday’s entry. This afternoon Jackie drove me to New Milton where I boarded the train to Waterloo for a trip to Shampers, Simon Pearson’s wine bar in Kingly Street, where Michael was holding his second 50th birthday celebration. To walk my normal route to Green Park, turn right along Piccadilly, cross this thoroughfare into Air St, turn left up Regent St, and right then left into Kingly St, on a Saturday afternoon in midsummer, is definitely not to be recommended unless you are intent on recording the experience. But I was. So I did. The walk along South Bank and up the steps onto and then across Westminster Bridge was like taking on the combined international rugby forwards of the Six Nations and those of the Southern Hemisphere. A packed speedboat sped under the bridge while cruise ships unloaded one herd of passengers and took on board another. Tourists were wielding every kind of device capable of taking photographs, a good number of them being selfies, two of the subjects of which claimed to be Absolutely Fabulous, and the other Knight Style. No-one appeared to see the huge notices closing the crossings at Whitehall and Palace St instructing people to use the underpasses. But perhaps that was just for runners in the 10k run that featured in the small print. St James’s Park was a little easier, but still packed with people lovingly basking in the sunshine.
In Aire St a group were perched on the pavement sketching the view of Regent St through an arch. Having arrived at the venue 90 minutes early, I walked around the corner and sat for a while in Golden Square where two low-flying aircraft had come to grief; spectators communed with the sculpture; and table tennis was in progress.
The assembled company at Shampers were Michael, Heidi, Alice, Emily and her boyfriend Sam; Louisa and Errol; Mat and Tess; Eddie and his wife Rebecca; and two other friends whose names I can’t recall, but whose faces I know well.
Eddie is Michael’s lifelong friend who often stayed with us in Soho in the 1970s, as, of course, did Matthew and Becky. It was natural with that grouping to recount Soho stories. One I haven’t featured before is the tale of the mechanical digger. One afternoon I was horrified to peer out of our first floor window and see one of these clanking its steady way across the yard, its grabber reaching out like something from ‘War of the Worlds’. The cab was empty. Michael and Matthew were vainly attempting to bring it to a halt. I am not sure who reached up and turned it off. Perhaps it was me. This evening Mat revealed that this parked municipal vehicle had been started with the birthday boy’s front door key. Then things began to teeter out of control.
This narrative prompted Eddie, who had also stayed in many other places with us, to confess about the ride-on mower in Wootton Rivers. He had apparently gone for a ride on this sometime in that same decade, had approached the church, lost control, and crunched the stone wall. Eddie’s recollection is that the wall was undamaged, but that the mower was rather crumpled. It still worked, however, so the miscreant parked it in the garage and hoped that Jessica’s father would not notice.
Eddie’s optimism was not entirely misplaced, as was demonstrated by Matthew’s next story. The owner of the mower, you see, was not exactly in complete command of his vehicle. One day our son was playing in the garden with a group of Pearson cousins. Suddenly panic, and cries of ‘Clear the lawn, everything off the lawn’, set in. Small and medium sized children rushed to and fro, hither and thither, grabbing toys, balls, you name it. ‘And Louisa’, someone yelled, and scooped up the crawling infant. It was then that Matthew saw the mower hove into view. ‘The beach ball’, someone shouted.
Too late. The mower steamed over and flattened the large round beach ball. It is believed that the driver remained unaware of the tragedy.
These, and many other stories were enlivened by various excellent wines chosen by Eddie, the professional. I was particularly taken with the chilled Brouilly.
I walked back to Piccadilly Circus and took the Bakerloo Line to Waterloo, and thence to New Milton and from there home by a Galleon taxi.
Sitting opposite me on the train from Waterloo were a young Chinese woman attempting to sleep, and an older Englishwoman attempting to talk. I returned the conversation for a while then indicated my desire to return to my book. Soon peace reigned as my companions slept. They departed at Southampton Central, but very soon afterwards I had to abandon the book, as the train filled up to capacity, and a drunken, acknowledgedly ‘chatty’ young man full of Jameson’s sought to entertain us all. Giving up, I closed ‘December’ by Elizabeth H. Winthrop.
The taxi firm is to be recommended. They operate from a shed outside New Milton station.