The Paris Hilton of Berkeley Square or not…

I do honestly believe that being a Boulevardier was in my blood. And it’s about time I told you all why.

My extended family on my mother’s side were once the proud owners of several central London hotels. I say proud as I can not imagine having such a legacy and not feeling a sense of accomplishment.

I do not know which hotels exactly but the word ‘Berkeley’ is often bandied around. Whether this relates to the Berkeley Hotel, a hotel in Berkeley Square or both I do not know but I am not sure this finer detail is important at this stage. My grandfather was born in one of these hotels.

Unfortunately, or so the story goes, they were all lost as a result of gambling…

How unfortunate! I should be a hotel heir, but instead have to make do with the middle name Berkeley. Don’t get me wrong it’s not something that bothers me daily, or that I have undergone extensive therapy for but crops up sometimes in my dreams both conscious and unconscious.

I love having the middle name Berkeley. It wasn’t always that way though. As a child my uncles, on my father’s side, always made fun of it. I was called ‘Barkers Sausages’, usually accompanied by a lot of sniggering, which my cousins readily joined in with. And our family is large in number. I don’t even know if there was ever a company named thus, but I hated it as a boy. I really only started to appreciate it once I was a young adult, and then it gave me a sense of unique, and class. I also only understood the relevance when grown up. Prior to that I understood only that the eldest male in each family was given the middle name Berkeley.

I developed such a love for the name I wished it was my Christian name or even double barrelled surname. Does that make me slightly pretentious!

As a child though I lived the life of a hotel heir, which was fabulous. Not in the sense of living in palaces and having maids and butlers to attend to my every need, but with doting and generous parents who didn’t allow me to lift a finger or want for anything.

Gifts were constant, despite the fact they had little money. This was the 1970s after all. Each morning I was woken with a cup of tea in bed (this actually continued until I moved out in my 20s), and after leaving the warm of my covers and headed for the bathroom, my bed would be made. When I went downstairs breakfast was waiting, and my shoes were polished daily. I never ironed, cleaned, washed (other than myself) or made any meals expect the odd sandwich.

When I wanted to be in a school play, I was ferried to and from rehearsals. When I wanted to learn piano I had the best teacher in the locale (this is a story in itself which will appear here at some point in the future), and when I got a car it was regularly cleaned both inside and out. Some might say spoiled, but I prefer to say loved…

The downside however, is when you do head into the big bad world its rather a shock to the system. I remember ironing several shirts and a friend called in to ask if I was about to start ironing looking at the various hangers around the room exhibiting my handiwork. I confirmed that I was just finished. She roared with laughter and told me that you had to let the iron know who was boss. My first and only ever lesson in ironing ensued.

Repeat this for all other daily tasks as I gradually learned. I still to this day hate cleaning, ironing, and am incapable of fixing anything! Don’t you just throw clothes away when a button falls off!

I actually think it’s in my blood. Other memories flood back as when I was offered seafood as a child I didn’t want cockles or whelks, I only had the taste for prawns. I didn’t really take to cod but loved plaice! If it was more expensive I loved it, even before I knew or understood the differing costs. I just knew my taste buds.

I have bewailed the lack of ‘trust fund’, rather tongue in cheek, but have to confess to also being guilty of many a true word spoken in jest.

Would it be so wrong to seek out which hotels were part of my legacy, and go see if they are waiting for me to arrive? Surely a Boulevardier however displaced with a love of sherry, snowballs, Battenberg and French Fancies would be an asset to any such establishment!

And so I drift back into my dream world yet again!


Virgin (Active)

Crouch End has a number of options when it comes to trying to keep the Boulevardier waistline in check and biceps appropriately pumped!

Park Road has a local authority run centre with swimming pool, gym etc. Rather regular but for the outdoor lido which becomes awash with bathers, both sun and water, in the summer months. However, this tends to attract the family crowd, so if you are happy to conduct your Boulevardier bathing activities amongst hoards of SCREAMING and excited children then this is the place for you. For me, not so much.

There is a Fitness First for Women on Crouch Hill. Again not really so good for me!

A new small centre opened on Park Road, which advertises ‘Burn 1000 calories in 20 minutes’. I am not sure how this could be achieved without inducing a coronary.

YMCA. I have never been, but not really sure how anyone can work out seriously in an establishment thus named without erupting into the Village People and associated dance moves.

I attend Virgin Active, previously Holmes Place, which is right in the centre of Crouch End and housed within an original opera house. A befitting location for a Boulevardier. ‘Yes my gym. It used to be an opera house you know…’ may have tripped across my tongue on occasion. It looks quite small and unimpressive from the outside, saddled between Marie Curie Charity and Red Shoes shops, amid the main parade.

Once through the entrance it extends up and out to house a massive studio (for floor classes), cafe and crèche (this is family central after all). The changing salons, spin studio, pilates studio and Heaven V Spa sit on the first floor, and the main gym, and yoga studio on the second. There is little in the decor to remind me of its grand operatic beginnings, but I know and that is sufficient.

It is quite usual to come face to face with a celebrity in Crouch End, and this also applies to Virgin Active. I have spun with Nigel Harman and Silas Carson (Star Wars and Waterloo Road), body pumped with Narinder from Big Brother, seen Sarah Cawood with her personal trainer and Jimi Mistry pumping iron.

Does anyone else plan what to wear to the gym or is that just me? I do like to make sure I am not wearing the same outfit again and again, and so mix and match various ADIDAS t shirts, of the drifit variety, Abercrombie and Fitch neon pink and green t shirts. The only staple are black Nike shorts. I do believe black shorts look smarter. I always attend to my coiffeur before leaving the house, with extra squirts of spray. The quiff could easily fall mid spin class which would result in not only my having to leave the class but probably being too ashamed to return again.

There are a number of spin instructors but my favourite by far is Kathy. She is of Greek descent, and mixes music between house, pop and rock. An eclectic collection. She motivates without becoming a drill instructor. Those skills are left to military Mel, who takes absolutely no prisoners. I have seen her force attendants to increase their weights, against their wishes in Body Pump, and woe betide an individual who ignores her chant of ‘No drinking while you’re sprinting’ in spin, and ‘I SAID FASTER’. She is petite but would not need a microphone even if performing at the Hammersmith Apollo!

Back to Kathy, she is funny and engaging with the members. I sit at the back in the corner with my friend Mia. Mia is the original Camden gothic punk, fully made up, tattoed from the neck down, corset making, bodybuilder. However, she does like to have a little or rather long chat, and we quite often receive a shriek from Kathy suggesting that our energies from mouths should be put to better use. Mia is a story in herself and I can not do her justice with just a few words in my blog…

Kathy quite often has the room in hysterics, especially when arriving at the front of my bike. I try to look serious and intense and hard working, whilst it has to be said puffing and panting like a rhino.

‘WOW! Feel free to join in at any point Wayne!’

I mop the sweat from my brow and double my efforts.

How do people go to the gym and manage to not even break into a sweat. There are a constant group of guys (it has to be said) who parade and peacock around the mirrors, tensing their biceps and congratulating each other. Do they have somewhere private where they actually work out? They don’t break a sweat, and seem to barely touch a weight in Crouch End, but maintain pumping huge muscles.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to become a body builder. I look to maintain my waist size, and keep my chest biceps and triceps defined and toned. It allows for a Boulevardiers clothes to hang properly, and maintain my Boulevardier persona.

So an aria to the Active Virgin of Crouch End!


Smoking – A Dying Art

I used to smoke. I started when I was 15 years old. It was part of my teenage rebellion. My parents ‘never knew’, or never owned up to knowing. I am not sure if they ever thought my rushing to the bathroom as soon as I got home to wash my hands and brush my teeth was odd! There were also the times where I had a lovely yellow tinge on my fingers, and had to bleach it off. Domestos usually sufficed.

It was the mid 80s and very common to smoke then. There was simply not the same stigma we see today.

What did we have on our screens to help us decide?

Audrey Hepburn throwing the ultimate in chic parties in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, with her long slender cigarette holder setting fire to a partygoers hat! I never watched that and thought of the fire risk and safety. I focussed on wanting to be at the coolest party and a guest of Holly Golightly.

James Dean was the iconic young cool and anti authoritarian smoker.

Right through to the 90s when The Mask aka Jim Carrey uttered ‘Smokin!’

So is it still cool to smoke today? I don’t think so, and a packet of fags and lighter should not be part of the modern Boulevardiers kit.

Historically the stylish Boulevardier would choose his brand of cigarettes based on what matched his outfit (I always was a marketers dream).

At 15 I was a gothic punk, and almost everything had to be black, with the odd dash of red. I smoked Raffles predominantly because they were in a black packet, and matched my look. Secondary was the price and at £1.13 for 20, a bonus being a young man with limited income. It didn’t seem right to ask my parents to increase my pocket money to pay for my habit!

At some point in that year it became sophisticated to smoke Consulate, because of the classy menthol flavour and the filter which was white rather than the common beige . I hadn’t realised the cool feel of the menthol sliding down your throat would only last a while and I was soon back on Raffles, stating to anyone that asked ‘I really always was a Raffles smoker, and only ventured into Consulate for a change’.

I smoked Benson & Hedges for a while whilst a soul boy. Raffles seemed too schoolboy then and I was maturing.

I was happy with my B&H until my first full time job, and I was teamed with a sophisticated older lady (23) who smoked Embassy No 1. She looked so experienced and cool and oozed charm as she drew on her cigarette, so I followed suit hoping to look as cool as her. She was also quite the cigarette nazi, and I wanted to offer her one of mine but she would smoke nothing but Embassy.

Whilst I am sure I looked every bit as cool as the enigmatic Diane, being able to afford more cigarettes meant I smoked more, and smoking didn’t like me very much and I started to get very regular or rather daily sore throats. There was only one thing to do! Switch to Silk Cut. Dianne was disgusted but I had to save my throat first and impress my work colleague after.

I gave up smoking at 21 years old due to a religious calling, and didn’t smoke again until I was 32!

I stupidly started again, but at least went with the Silk Cut and was welcomed into the world of cigarette breaks! How weird that people bond because of 2-3 5 minute sessions, outside a building, Monday to Friday. Secrets were indeed spilled due to our shared addictions. How times had indeed changed. When I gave up the first time I was working at an Insurance Company in Southgate, who had introduced the radical measure of only allowing staff to smoke for two 30 minute sessions at their desks during the working day, rather than whenever they needed to. Previously I had worked where you could smoke all day in the office.

Smoking was banned in the workplace during my abstinence, which I welcomed (being an ex smoker – apparently the ‘worst’ variety), but I had not enjoyed the cigarette break and the unfolding secrets until I went back at 32.

I didn’t really enjoy smoking, and it certainly wasn’t as cool as it used to be but couldn’t seem to give up. In the end I went for a single session of hypnotherapy recommended by an ex boss who used to smoke 40 a day, and had this solo session and never smoked again (this did not however affect her cocaine consumption). My office was based in Croydon and the Hypnotherapist was based in Willesden Green. I smoked as much as I could during the day, knowing my giving up was imminent. As I exited the train station and walked towards his treatment room, or rather his front room I managed to consume at least 4 cigarettes. It was a 15 minute walk!

His home was on the wrong side of Willesden and an almost cottage oasis amid the low local authority rises…

I was not sure whether it would work, but didn’t want to go in with my 1 solitary cigarette in my last packet (just in case needed), as it seemed a defeatist attitude. There was a litter bin ¾ full on the street, and I therefore delicately balanced my last packet with its sole survivor at one corner of the bin, where I could easily access it again later should the necessity arise.

The session was 2 ½ hours long and the first hour and a half  was talking about why I smoked, when I smoked and how I smoked along with some simply horrid facts about cigarette production. Then he gave me a crocheted blanket and asked me to sit back in the armchair, which he duly reclined, and make myself comfortable. I covered myself in the blanket. My eyes were closed and the next time I heard his voice, it was over a microphone! I almost sat up shocked and burst out laughing… I managed to contain the shock and the laughter. This was a serious session after all!

The actual hypnotherapy was about 40 minutes in length, and I found my thoughts drifting sometimes thinking about what I wanted for supper and trying desperately to snap my way back into the session, as it was pretty costly and I could worry about supper later. I wondered whether I had truly ‘been under’ and whether it had worked… Then as he brought me round he suggested firstly that I move my fingers and toes, and I knew then it was for real. They moved slightly stiffly as if awaking from sleep. I could not stop smiling and really felt like a non smoker. The power of positive thought both conscious and sub conscious had worked! I didn’t go back to the bin to fish out my carefully placed packet. It was a disgusting thing to do in the first place, a show of desperation, and a sign of an addict.

I have never smoked since, and over 8 years have passed.

Long gone are the days when smoking is an accepted pastime or cool. The smoking ban in enclosed public areas in 2007 really changed a lot of attitudes, and we non smokers no long had to accept smoking in our presence. It’s odd how we just accepted smoking in pubs, restaurants and clubs, accepted the potential passive danger and our hair and clothes stinking.

It’s now frustrating when walking into a building through a fog of smoke as the workers or patrons have come out to ‘get their fix’. They really should move further away from the building. Or whilst walking along the street casually holding the cigarette away from themselves, blowing the smoke over their shoulder and out of their own face, straight into mine.

Pub gardens soon will have to have smoking and non smoking sections as its just wrong to feel happier inside in the summer because of the sheer number of smokers outside.

And I have to say outside hospitals is the utter worst particularly for those trying to get into the building to get well. It’s selfish and needs to stop.

There is absolutely no way that smoking should be part of a modern boulevardiers styling on any level.

My mother has always been a strong anti smoker. This extended to active action in restaurants (before the ban). If someone on the next table started smoking mid meal, and held the cigarette away from their fellow diners as an act of manners, not wanting the smoke to go in their parties space, my mother would respond with a handheld fan, which was extracted from her handbag, switched on and blown straight at them! A few grumbled and gave disparaging looks. My mother would inform them unfalteringly ‘I am sorry, but if you chose to smoke whilst others are trying to eat you can keep it to yourself!’ – The delivery was such that few argued and many extinguished their smouldering sticks and attitudes at the same time!