Relight the Fire

I’d bumped into Bill outside the dentist near my home during the week. It was presented as a coincidence, on his part, but I wasn’t convinced.

‘I’ve still not heard from her. She won’t return my calls. Do you think it’s all over?’ Bill rattled off his questions in quick succession without giving me chance to answer. This reminded me of my mum. She was also adept at that skill.

‘This has hit her hard Bill and I don’t know what’s in the future for you but we have to get her up, out and fighting again. I’d rather see her screaming at Mavis than this.’

‘Mavis has been trying to coordinate different members of our group to call on Lil to try and get a response. She suspects it’s time Lil went into a home. Mavis thinks she’s past it.’

‘Does she indeed,’ I said.

This was typical Mavis-esque behaviour. However this behaviour gave birth to the semblance of an idea. The strategy was highrisk but if anything was going to spark Lil’s fire it would involve Mavis. Lil had to be jumpstarted. Love, support and concern hadn’t worked. I think Lil’s fending for herself too often in life left her unable to rely on and accept the support of others. She blamed this event on her guard being down, and partly due to letting others into her life.

‘Perhaps we should meet up on Thursday Bill? Do you think Mavis would be up to brainstorming ideas?’

‘Yes of course she would,’ answered Bill sounding a bit more enthusiastic.

‘Good then why not come to Breakfast Club on Thursday. How does 10.30 sound?’

‘I thought you met at 10?’

‘Errrr, we do but it’ll give Armando and me a chance to catch up first.’ I spoke firmly and decisively and hoped for no more challenges.

‘OK – great in fact. I hope we can get my princess back to her good ole self. I’ve been so worried; I’ve not been eating… But you know what I’m going to get cake now and a proper dinner to build up my strength,’ said Bill.

I smiled and glanced down and noticed the buttons on Bill’s waistcoat as ready to explode as ever. I’m not sure his concern had dulled his appetite as much as alleged.

I went to the cafe and grabbed a quick word with Armando. The cafe was busy and we couldn’t catch up properly. I managed to ascertain that he didn’t want more trouble in his establishment. He was also looking forward to a date Thursday evening and wanted karma in all quarters.

I called Lil and as usual had to leave several messages, the last of which mentioned an impromptu visit.

‘Wayne I’ll get back to you when I’m up to it. You’re too pushy,’ said Lil as soon as I answered her return call.

‘OK, I wasn’t sure if you were worse –’

‘What did you want so urgently anyway. Sorry if I sound cross. I’m finding life very difficult at the moment,’ interrupted Lil.

‘I hope you’ll be attending Breakfast Club this week.’

‘I’ll have to see.’ The strength was gone from her voice.

‘I’m off to Santorini on Saturday and was hoping to see you before I leave, and even more importantly Armando has a date Thursday evening and I’m sure you’d want to wish him well.’ I nearly added ‘your honour’ as I felt I was pleading a case in court.

‘I’m sure Armando is capable of getting ready for a date without my interference,’ she said.

‘Come on Lil, give me a break,’ I said. I was running out of persuasive arguments and I wanted to see her in public again, at least once before I went away.

‘How will I get there?’ Lil’s voice was incredibly meek. Her will wanted her to attend but fear was disabling her.

‘I’ll come and get you en route, say about 9.45?’ I said hopefully.

‘All right. Don’t be early or late as I’m not answering the door at any time other than 9.45,’ Lil affirmed.

‘Then perhaps we should sync watches.’ I started to snigger as I finished my sentence.

‘Don’t be facetious Wayne.’ And with that the conversation was over.

Thursday morning soon arrived and Lil let me into her flat without incident. It was precisely 9.45 BST.

Lil was wearing a nice light dress with a floral pattern. I hadn’t seen this before but then again I’d only known her since the winter. Her hair was white and there was no sign of a recent funky-coloured rinse.

‘Is the trolley coming?’ I asked.

‘Why would I need that? I’m coming straight home,’ Lil responded.

We shuffled along and admired the beautiful blooms in the Crouch End gardens. It seemed that the front garden fleur du jour was Forsythia. We were surrounded by delicate yellow flowers.

The cafe was quiet and sedate and we shuffled to our usual table. There was a small vase bursting with daffodils.

‘For you Lil,’ said Armando as he greeted Lil with a tender kiss on the cheek.

We sat automatically and Armando stirred the pot.

‘I might just go straight home again boys,’ said Lil.

Armando put his hand across the table on top of Lil’s and looked right into her eyes and implored her to stay. Lil yielded and seemed to settle.

Everything was gentle and I wondered whether this was all Lil needed and not the shock therapy I had planned.

We chatted generally covering the weather, the spring flowers, and adjusting to our spring wardrobes. Lil ordered a Full English on the proviso that Armando wouldn’t be offended if she couldn’t clean her plate.

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Time was ticking by and I knew that immanently the door would open and Mavis and Bill would enter. What had I done? I wondered whether I should just up and leave. I reasoned that I shouldn’t leave Armando in the lurch.

Lil was eating slowly and had only lightly scraped butter onto her toast rather than the usual decadent lashings.

‘Have you been to your age group?’ I asked Lil.

‘No,’ she answered and looked forward. Her eyes widened and I knew from the sound of the door that my ill-formed plan was about to kick in.

‘Princess,’ Bill exclaimed with ecstasy as he surged forward forgetting to hold the door for Mavis.

‘Hello Bill,’ said Lil ‘moved on have we?’ She was looking behind Bill. Her voice was still quieter than it should have been and wore a defeated tone.

‘Morning Lillian,’ said Mavis before Bill had an opportunity to respond to Lil’s question, ‘how are you feeling dear?’

‘Not great Mavis to be honest. Thanks for the card,’ responded Lil.

Armando jumped up to allow Bill and Mavis to sit. The table seated four and another chair could have been added but he was making his escape in advance of any untoward behaviour. ‘Coward’ I uttered under my breath.

‘I’ll bring a fresh pot of tea,’ Armando said to give a smooth fluidity and reason for his sudden movement. He may have also heard my comment.

Lil placed her cutlery on her plate and looked across at Bill. She looked as if she would start sobbing.

‘You look so pretty,’ said Bill meeting Lil’s eyes.

Mavis shuffled in her seat and patted down her cardigan. Her body language suggested her resolve to help Lil was waning.

‘Do I? I don’t feel it. And I’m getting tired. I don’t think I can cope with too much company today.’ Lil looked away from Bill, and at me with longing. Her eyes yearned to be back at home, safely behind a locked door.

Goodness, I didn’t know whether to press on or assist her freedom plan.

‘I’m so happy to see you. Let’s just sit here for a while and rest,’ added Bill.

Mavis put her glasses case on the table in a rather heavy handed way. I wasn’t sure whether this was accidental, or a growing annoyance at Bill’s puppydog behaviour.

‘Well at least you’re out. You mustn’t let those ne’er-do-wells win,’ said Mavis.

‘Precisely,’ said Bill ‘and I’m not letting you go into a home.’

‘Why would you say that?’ ask Lil. Her sorrow had turned to bewilderment.

‘Mavis was concerned –’

‘I’ve seen so many fall victim of crime and end up in homes and was worried,’ interrupted Mavis.

‘Oh I see,’ said Lil accepting Mavis’ explanation.

‘No, you said she should go into The Arbours in Highgate last week Mavis. Remember at age club? Dotty and Hilda were there,’ added Bill helpfully.

‘Did you indeed,’ said Lil. The truculence in her tone was increasing. Was that fire I saw in her eyes?

‘I may have suggested it.’ Mavis picked up the milk jug and moved it to the side of the table. She put it down heavily. This time I knew it wasn’t accidental. ‘You have had a few funny incidents lately Lillian and perhaps you’re not capable of looking after yourself, and others, anymore.’

Lil looked at Mavis and had tear droplets starting to form in the corner of her eyes. I might have to intervene. Had the fight really evaporated entirely from Lil after a few lines of banter with Mavis?

Mavis continued ‘And poor Bill it’s not fair on him.’

‘I’m fine – ‘ Bill started to respond and was interrupted by Lil.

‘You are a beast Bellamy.’ Lil picked up her fork and pointed it at Mavis.

‘I’ve had a dreadful time and maybe you meant to help or maybe you didn’t, but to try and manipulate Bill is disgusting,’ said Lil. There was definitely fervour in her eyes now.

‘Here we go again,’ said Mavis, you’re a liability Lillian –’

‘Hang on Mavis.’ It was Bill interrupting this time ‘you told me that we’d have to replace Lil on the committee and you’ve offered to cook me dinner three times this week. You said something about the grass being greener and every cloud. I had no idea you meant Lil!’

‘You said what? Evil –’ Lil started to say.

‘I’m not having another public row Lillian,’ said Mavis firmly. Armando looked relieved from his station behind the counter. ‘All I do is try to help and it’s not my fault if people don’t know what’s best for them.’

Lil slammed down her fork and went to speak but Mavis held up her hand and continued ‘I’m leaving now, and you Bill need to learn to keep private conversations confidential.’

Mavis picked up her glasses’ case and pushed it into her handbag and was up and off before anyone could get another word in.

Lil picked up her cutlery and started tucking into the half-eaten breakfast which must have been cold.

‘Everything seems to be going to pot. I take a couple of weeks to get over a traumatic experience and anarchy sets in,’ said Lil. She sliced her sausage as if a woodsman chain-sawing a tree trunk.

Bill smiled, ‘that’s my girl,’

‘I’m not your girl especially as it seems you have been cavorting and two-timing me with her.’ Lil was starting to sound more Lil-like and was tucking into her cold breakfast as if it was the first meal she’d tasted in weeks.

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‘Wayne we’ll catch up on your Greece trip when you’re back. What is that round your neck?’ asked Lil as a mushroom plunged into the depths of her mouth.

‘It’s my spring scarf,’ I answered.

There was a semi-cackle followed by ‘spring scarf! I wouldn’t take it to Greece. I’m not sure they’d understand your London ways.’ Lil looked towards the counter and called to Armando ‘So where are you going on this date tonight? I hope it’s somewhere appropriate.’ Armando looked at Lil warmly and nodded.

Lil put down her cutlery. She hadn’t managed to clear the plate but there was definitely an improvement.

‘Wayne, could you walk me home please?’ Lil asked. She was looking tired.

‘I’ll do it,’ said Bill enthusiastically.

‘Not today thank you Bill, I’m with Wayne. I’ll consider calling you at the weekend.’

As we walked home we didn’t exchange a word. Lil gripped my arm tightly and kissed me tenderly as we parted. She suspected my part in this chance cafe showdown but would never be able to openly thank me for involving Mavis.

Arty Farty Lovey!

A good Boulevardier, however displaced, still views the arts as the air he breaths, and as such, I’m pleased to report a recent few days full of such activity.

I attended Boy George’s concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall at the Southbank Centre earlier in the year when he trialled some new music. He mentioned that he would be doing some more concerts later in the year once the new album was released, and that is how I found myself at Koko, formally Camden Palace.

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It was a rather cold evening which is expected in November, but still a little disappointing. Dressing for a concert is never easy as there will invariably be queuing outside, but you want to be able to remove outer layers as the auditorium heats up, without either resembling the Michelin man, queuing for the cloakroom or having them all draped over your arm. I settled on punk zip black and white trousers with a half denim half jersey jacket (sleeves are jersey), desert boots and a long woolly scarf. The scarf kept me warm when queuing and could be tied around my midriff once inside the venue. I hope you are impressed with my foresight and practicality! I bumped into a few people I knew in the queue and was able to gossip the wait to enter away.

Once inside I purchased a warming and revitalising large red wine and looked for my friend Tony who was there with his brother. Camden Palace really is an amazing building. It was originally a theatre built in the early 20th century and became a music venue in the late 1970s. It hosted legendary nights by Steve Strange, and Madonna’s first UK gig. My first visit was in the late 1980s when it was a busy and innovative nightclub. We went for a friend’s birthday. The main area which had previously accommodated the theatre stalls was now a vast dance floor. The upper levels containing all the boxes were areas to sit, dance and drink. I am pretty sure there was also a massive inflatable pink pig which hung from the ceiling but this could have been the effects of the large quantities of sherry consumed.

The venue has been overhauled since my first visit but still retains a lot of charm, character and the essence of a theatre. The warm-up band came on and other friends of Tony arrived and I had the chance to meet the lovely, gorgeous and fun Fiona, Monique and Emma. We stayed together for the entire concert and danced, laughed, clapped and whooped at all the appropriate moments.

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Boy George was excellent. His voice has matured and sounds very different to the earlier Culture Club records. I like both. He looked great and oozed style from the stage and peppered his performance with witty (and sometimes slightly bitchy) quips. This is Boy George after all. The new tracks sounded great among the classics such as Church of the Poison Mind, Karma Chameleon, and Bow Down Mister.

The concert was all too soon over and we were on a high. It was a great time for further chat and to catch up with other friends I had seen in the queue earlier.

The following evening I was due to meet Tony again as we had purchased tickets to see Ferret Up The Arts starring Miss Eve Ferret with Hazel O’Connor and a couple of other performance artists. This was held at The Arts Theatre in the West End. After a day’s work I quickly preened and re-quiffed my hair and journeyed to central London to meet Tony for a drink before the show. We tripped down the outside steps to the basement which houses the private members’ Covent Garden Cocktail Club. After being validated at the entrance as worthy patrons we entered the dimly lit, atmospheric bar full with West End trendsetters and Boulevardiers. These however, didn’t look displaced.

Cocktails were two for one on a Monday evening and it would have been rude not to partake. We enjoyed several ‘London Calling’ which were gin, Fino Sherry, bitters with a strip of orange zest for garnish soaked glasses, at a high bistro style table. Even the route to the conveniences was signed by Old Gin Street. It is a secret haven and a great modern speakeasy hidden from tourists in the West End.

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The show was a powerhouse of Eve Ferret’s quirky brilliance. Eve called it a Fabaret and it certainly had her stamp all over it. A mixture of song, dance and anecdote where peignoirs are once again the height of fashion (as long as they’re nylon according to Eve), mange tout are scattered at the audience like confetti, as a life size child doll is passed by Eve to crowd surf. Hazel O’Connor joined Eve on stage for several numbers, which was a real treat. Hazel finished with Will You. Her voice still holds the melancholy tune and it was inspirational to hear her sing it in a smaller venue, having already enjoyed her at Chillfest in the summer. Crazy Horses with Hobby-horses as props was genius.

This is what theatre really should be about – live cabaret steeped in tradition and talent, brought up-to-date. It hits you between the eyes and makes you sing along, laugh out loud and jump from your seat to applaud louder at the end of each number.

We had bumped into a couple of other friends; Jon and Paul, who seemed to have consumed a few more cocktails than Tony and I and we chatted with them in the upstairs bar after the show when all the performers (aside from Hazel who had an early recording session the following day) came to say hello. Eve is as engaging and witty in person as she is on stage a true West End diva. High on the evening, and after another drink, we said our goodbyes and travelled back to our various corners of London totally sated.

So the next day, fortunately not working, I awoke in my cold bedroom, lit a fire and climbed back into bed with a warming, revitalising cup of Assam tea and decadently watched the flames jump as they warmed the room. All Tuesdays should be days for just staying in bed, don’t you think?

TNW

Midlife Transition

The Boulevardier is hurtling through his 40s and facing challenges usually associated with a midlife crisis. In fact they are no longer called such and the politically correct term is midlife transition. I guess the word crisis is not politically correct and might offend some.

I thought that the main component to hit me was a return to punk which I had lived in my latter years at school. At 39 (nearly 40) my hair was dyed blue black and I shopped in Camden again, rueing the closing of Kensington Market.

This has passed but I still score 16/40 on the top signs of a midlife episode as researched by the Telegraph and added to the end of this post for your attention and amusement.

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Am I a cliché? I decided to check in with friends of a similar age, and potentially similar predicament.  Their responses and experiences are in some ways funny but also quite sad and delusional. However, this helps to put everything in perspective.

One glitzy friend who I have known for a number of years always strived for flashy and ostentatious cars, and sometimes when he could ill afford them. My dad often referred to him as trying to live life as a playboy! My dad also relishes opportunities to point out his greying hair which receives external and polite smiles but internal grimaces. My other friends subject to my study are in a similar type of situation but perhaps not as extreme.

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The main and recurring themes are as follows:

Forty seems to have been an incredibly difficult milestone to hit and attempts to reverse the effects have been avidly pursued since. Most are now plunging toward mid-forties.

This reversal took shape by weight loss and spending noteworthy time in the gym. The spoils of which are shared when hitting the town again on a Friday night; an occupation that most of them gave up in their late twenties. Are these social events to be enjoyable occasions with friends? Well yes in part, but also time to validate the success of the age-reversing project.

The need to corroborate with young men and women how old they look seemed to be an almost universal theme. The surveys have elicited responses from twenty six to forty three. To hear the numbers in the twenties fills them with ecstasy and motivates harder gym sessions to continue their successful age-reversal strategies. However, when the responses have hit forty and higher my friends get despondent and depressed. This surely is an unnecessary emotional roller coaster? One respondent said that if they give higher numbers he asks if they are joking and quickly moves on to the next one willing to engage with him.

To prepare for these events they apparently spend one and a half hours pruning and preening (not too excessive in the Boulevardier’s mind). They couple crisp shirts with Essexesque suits, highly polished shoes, don sunglasses and smother in St Tropez. The planning for Friday night events starts on Monday with the outfit planned and trialled by Wednesday.

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They long to be compared to celebrities. I have heard everything from Gavin Henson and Mario from TOWIE, to George Michael.

Another said that he even asks those surveyed ‘Do you think I’m sexy?’ This presumably evokes various responses which he was not keen to share.

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The celebrations are a mix of pouting, posing, drinking and dancing. The favoured drinks of Kahlua and diet coke, Malibou and Tia Maria scream the 1980s. Who do they think they’re fooling?

They stave off dad-dancing tendencies by practicing in the mirror. I’m not sure they successfully pull this off but I don’t have evidence either way to validate or dispel.

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They feel as if they are acting naturally and not doing anything wrong. But they are. These are crimes against forty year old men. They should wear their grey with pride, which I can now speak of without reserve as ‘Operation Grey’ (see earlier blog) has been successful. There is nothing wrong with enjoying a nice Oloroso sherry in residence with a freshly cooked Boeuf Bourguignon while in raptures about your new napkin rings.

We all saw older men and women at clubs when we were in the prime of youth. They were often sources of amusement and in their own world. Are my friends any different? Should I put them out of their misery? Will they still be doing this on their Zimmer frames?

I think another shock is that these are not a group of friends who are mutual friends. I spoke to five separately who have no common contact other than me. It’s a disease. And oddly enough they all wish to remain anonymous!

The saving grace was one friend who said he didn’t understand this obsession with constantly striving to look younger. This was also directed at me. I suppose I should be grateful to have a balanced group to look to and at.

I found the below study published by the Telegraph detailing the top 40 signs of a midlife crisis. I thought I was struggling at 16 but was reassured by Harry at 24. I asked on Facebook what people’s scores were and those that responded ranged from 5-27 with an average of 18.

When we are young we will and demand the future. We push forward with such vigour and excitement. I’m not saying that we stop pushing forwards as we age but we also take time to appreciate the moments as they occur. We miss this when we are young. We miss savouring the good times and good people and can look back years later and wonder and yearn.

We need to strike a balance of not looking back to the point where we force ourselves into a second youth but attack, whatever our age, with the appropriate level of dynamism.

My poor friends, their flash is fading. I think this Boulevardier needs to sit down with them and help them to accept the displacement age brings with grace and class.

TNW

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/10156725/Top-40-signs-of-a-midlife-crisis-revealed.html

The top 40 signs of having a midlife crisis

1 Desiring a simpler life

2 Still going to music festivals like Glastonbury

3 Start looking up old boyfriends or girlfriends on Facebook

4 Realise you will never be able to pay off your mortgage

5 Joining Twitter so your bosses think you ‘get’ digital

6 Excessively reminisce about your childhood

7 Take no pleasure in your friends’ successes

8 Splashing out on an expensive bicycle

9 Sudden desire to play an instrument

10 Fret over thinning hair

11 Take up a new hobby

12 Want to make the world a better place

13 Longingly look at old pictures of yourself

14 Dread calls at unexpected times from your parents (fearing the worst)

15 Go to reunion tours of your favourite bands from the 70s and 80s

16 Switch from Radio 2 to indie stations like 6 Music

17 Revisit holiday destinations you went to as a child

18 Cannot envisage a time when you will be able to afford to retire

19 Read obituaries in the newspapers with far greater interest — and always check how people die

20 Obsessively compare your appearance with others the same age

21 Start dyeing your hair when it goes grey

22 Stop telling people your age

23 Dream about being able to quit work but know that you’ll Just never be able to afford to

24 Start taking vitamin pills

25 Worry about being worse off in your retirement than your parents

26 Want to change your friends but don’t meet anyone new that you like

27 Think about quitting your Job and buying a bed & breakfast or a pub

28 Flirt embarrassingly with people 20 years your Junior

29 Look up your medical symptoms on the internet

30 Start thinking about going to church but never act on it

31 Always note when politicians or business leaders are younger than you

32 Contemplate having a hair transplant or plastic surgery

33 Take out a direct debit for a charity

34 Can’t sleep because of work worries

35 Hangovers get worse and last more than a day on occasions

36 Constantly compare your career success with your friends

37 Worry about a younger person taking your Job

38 Take up triathlons or another extreme sport

39 Find that you are very easily distracted

40 Realise that the only time you read books is when you are on holiday

Breakfast at Prada

Why was having breakfast at Tiffany’s so important to Holly Golightly?

She needed somewhere to escape where the pressures of life evaporated and she could dream. Looking at all the beautiful, shiny jewellery gave her a tinted view. Think Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and the feeling of rose-coloured spectacles.

Whenever Holly experienced fears and anxieties, or ‘the mean reds’ as she called them, she would jump in a taxi and head for Tiffany’s. She told us that ‘Nothing bad could happen amid that lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets.’ Her dream was to have breakfast in this safe and soothing setting.

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Can retail establishments do that for us? Do they need to have a glossy and exclusive appeal?

It is well documented, clinically, that we experience a rush of endorphins and dopamine giving us a natural high which we want to repeat and repeat and then repeat. But Holly was often not making a purchase. It was just being in that environment that washed her drama away, temporarily in any event.

This flashes me back to a beautifully warm morning in central Rome in late September 2007. Opportunities to enjoy al fresco dining were fast disappearing along with the temperatures in London. After a long morning on the tourist trail we stopped for lunch at a wonderful Roman café. It would have been foolhardy to sit inside, and from memory I don’t think inside seating was available. However, there came, with the collection of outside dining tables, chairs and place-settings,the threat of the dirty scavenging pigeons. My fear of birds kicked in at that time and thoughts of them pecking around my toes, or in fact anywhere in my vicinity always sends me into a virtual panic attack.

Where does my fear come from? Two of my cousins are equally afflicted. However, I suspect my mum helped, in making sure that we ‘ran from the chickens quickly’ when visiting my grandfather’s farm. This coupled with an early memory of sitting on my dad’s shoulders as he chewed the cud with my granddad outside one of the barns. I watched a brightly-coloured cockerel pull back on what would be its heels, as if tensing a catapult ready to fire to maximise the power of its forward momentum, and lunged at my dad’s leg. Dad wasn’t bothered. He had grown up on a farm, and was used to vicious birds and other animals overstepping their mark, and kicked it away. It didn’t come back but that made no difference to me. The vivid picture of brightly-coloured fast feathers, sharp-attacking beak and aggression was etched in my mind.

So we sat down in Rome and ordered a beautiful pasta lunch washed down with cold and refreshing Italian beer. I kept my eyes on the pigeon situation and we were code green and safe. I relaxed and then all of a sudden I spotted a couple of filthy pigeons below a neighbouring table. I made a loud gesture in the hopes of scaring the pigeons away. They did move but this also resulted in some odd looks from the people on the pigeon-infested table. My lunch company Catia (our host) and friends Marc, Martina and Florian were bemused at my activity. However, my senses were heightened, green replaced by amber, and within the next couple of minutes I had shoooooed a number of nearby pigeons away. Amber gave way to red and I was on full alert with an attack imminent. When I spotted the next heading towards our table, and my legs, I leapt up and declared in a panicked voice ‘This is ridiculous. The place is crawling with filth.’ This drew a lot of attention from my companions and neighbouring gormandisers. Catia, no stranger herself to dramatic outbreaks, jumped up too and emphatically told me to take a walk around the square while they finished their drinks and settled the bill. I needed no convincing and was out of there like a lightning bolt.

I walked around the beautiful ancient square and tried to settle on the inspiring architecture and warm sun, but it wasn’t entirely successful in removing my anxiety. I met my friends back at the café entrance and informed them that there was only one cure. We had to head to Prada.

It was only a short walk to Via Condotti. A beautiful old cobbled street leading to the Spanish Steps or as Catia likes to call them Scalinata della Trinità dei Monti. She disapproves of the term Spanish Steps as it’s not Italian (fair point), and was not impressed when I showed her a sign next to the steps calling them ‘Spanish Steps’. She threw her arms in the air and declared that she would write to the municipality. It was odd that on my next visit the sign had disappeared. Catia innocently contested it was not of her doing. I am not convinced.

Prada

Prada spans several shop fronts and we entered the men’s department. My breathing settled a little as I was able to feast my eyes on the chic and tasteful man bags, sunglasses and organisers before me. Accessories were at the front. We worked our way through the store. I paused at the clothing and was really attracted to a black woollen holey sweater. Unfortunately they only stocked children’s sizes masquerading as adult. Beyond the clothing was the footwear section where a pair of gold-coloured trainers sparkled at me. They were beautiful. I had to have them. Sizing was perfect and within an hour I exited the store with wonderful new trainers and another pair of oversized sunglasses. The Prada experience had washed away the dramatic episode with those darn birds.

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Holly, I am completely there with you and understand the need to have an inspiring, shiny, new and healing sanctuary to head to when needed. Prada, like Tiffany’s, comes with a hefty price tag and I am therefore reluctantly grateful that Crouch End does not yet host a Prada emporium.

TNW

Because Laughing Matters

Exercise is an important part of the Boulevardier’s routine, and to comply I am a regular at Virgin Active, Crouch End. A few weeks ago I went to the Saturday morning spin class, as usual. I was, however, incredibly tired and after about ten minutes started to feel dizzy. Mia, on the bike next to me, looked at me and said I didn’t look great and recommended I stop immediately. I left the class feeling a little dramatic. As I walked to Waitrose I started to feel a pain right across my chest. There was a familiarity to it. It was not as severe as it had been in January and I hoped it was muscular pain rather than more pulmonary emboli. I took to my bed for the remainder of the weekend.

I hoped Monday morning would bring a refreshing spring to my step. Once awake I took a deep breath and could still feel the pain. Eleven hours later I heard those fateful words ‘I’m sorry but there are more clots on your lungs.’

I thought my January episode was a one-off, and with clots dissipated by the anti-coagulant medication, my only reminder was a degree of tiredness, which had been a feature of the year.

This chapter means anti-coagulants for life, a lot more tests and the return of the debilitating weakness and tiredness. I was determined not to let it affect me the way it had previously and tried to press on.

After seeing a preview of Laughing Matters starring Celia Imrie with Fidelis Morgan’s direction, I purchased tickets as soon as they were available. I had been looking forward to the show and wasn’t about to let the blood clots ruin my enjoyment. They would limit but not destroy it. The only challenge was that the performance was five days after diagnosis.

Saturday evening soon came around. I felt tired and weak and needed to ensure I used my depleted energy reserves sensibly. I made quick decisions regarding my outfit and settled upon Ralph Lauren painter’s jeans, All Saints T, and H&M jean and jersey jacket.

The Revue was held downstairs at Brasserie Zedel, which is just behind Piccadilly Circus.

zedel

The Brasserie looks quite modest from the exterior. However, the downward sweeping staircase leads to a lovely restaurant, retro American bar, and an intimate and unique venue called The Crazy Coqs.

Crazy Coq’s oozes Art Deco with rich banquette seating along two sides, the stage and a Great Gatsby era bar occupying the others. The walls were lined with pictures from France in the 1930s. Chandeliers are draped richly from the ceiling. The room was filled with clusters of bistro style tables with red atmosphere lamps. 1930s Paris surrounded us.

Zedel - Crazy Coqs4

It was all very civilised, and while it was not possible to reserve seating, the  Maître d’ had our names and escorted us to our table. On stage were a set of drums, a coat stand and an ebony and sleek grand piano. The pianist enticed us to get into the spirit of the show with lots of Noel Coward numbers. I wanted to immerse and enjoy cocktails, served by blackuniformed waiting staff, but decided against it due to the state of my health.

I started to feel too tired already, but I was determined to ignore it. Stomach cramps were setting in too which added nicely to the way I was feeling. I was lucky to be surrounded by Michael, Alkan, Michael and Ange who looked after me.

Celia burst from the back of the room imprisoned by a straitjacket and launched into her version of Twisted made famous by Annie Ross which parodies the psychoanalysis of the protagonist’s insanity.

We were off and early signs were great!

The Revue combined music, dance and sketches perfectly and seamlessly. We were transported back to its golden years, the first part of the twentieth century.

This was going to be good and I wasn’t about to let my clots spoil the evening and popped a couple of paracetamol to lessen the pain.

The marketing for the show told us that Celia really believes that… laughing matters. It was true, she was clearly enjoying herself and we were too. Her classic training, pedigree and star quality shone through. However, she was not aloof. Celia was right there with us; yes on a stage, but if we were around a piano having a sing-song she would have been there too. And yes these evenings still occur. Only recently, after a few glasses of Prosecco at my friend Marina’s birthday, we retired to the home of her friends Patrick and Neil. They have a white, baby grand in the sitting-room of their terraced Islington Villa and we gathered around and sung show and popular tunes to our hearts’ content. Needless to say, we accompanied our singing with a few more refreshments.

One outstanding sketch for me was Common Talk by Alan Melville. It told the tale of a woman who had recently left the safety of central London and decamped to Wimbledon. Her vista allowed her to observe all the untoward (and mostly nocturnal) activity on the Common. It really is a common Common, or so she tells us a number of times.

I also really enjoyed ‘Smut’ where a rather well-to-do campaigner against double entendres tried to persuade us to reconsider hobbies to take our mind off of sex. She asked us to consider gardening and innocently delivered her own double entendres about her impressive melons and the like. I heard this piece, performed by Celia, earlier in the year at a Literary Salon where it was equally successful in having the audience guffawing out loud

There was a mass of nostalgia, of times lost, throughout the show and I for one would welcome back the Revue. We live in an age of auto tune and technical wizardry but none of that supplants the enjoyment received from raw and intimate performance.

I wish I had had the energy to laugh outwardly as loudly as I was inside. The show was all too soon over, but by this time I was really weak and needed to jump in a cab and straight home to bed.

The reviews of the Revue have been mixed, and perhaps I am not a professional, and therefore overlooked missing elements required to make the show a resounding success, but I thoroughly enjoyed its mix, and refreshingly new retro elements.

Laughing Matters

I can do no better in summary than to quote The Telegraph:

The evening is tinged with palest blue, but the allure is definitely more Anglo-Saxon than Gallic – saucy rather than sophisticated, more Marie Lloyd than Mistinguett, with overtones that are sexy, but also strangely comforting – as though your favourite auntie had dressed up in something sparkly and started twirling her knickers around her head.

We need more shows like this, and who knows, I might just be brave enough one day to put one on.

TNW

Here come the Fash Pack

The Boulevardier is displaced. This sometimes results in attempts to navigate the unfamiliar waters of advancing years while trying to retain cool, trend and panache. The days of uber fashionable parties filled with the fash pack of London were behind me. Or so I thought.

I rather fortuitously landed an invite to a rather fashionable magazine party in East London several weeks ago. I was pleased to see that my networking with media types still had bite when it was required.

First and most major consideration was what to wear. Leatherette jeans would have been perfect. However, they were snug when purchased, and with too much fine dining of late, the snug has developed into too tight. A trip to Brent Cross was required. I had ideas.

I wanted to achieve a hybrid of fashion and smart casual. And I am not talking about the boring smart casual of the corporate (non media) world i.e. keep your suit on but whoop-e-doo take your tie off.

I wanted a smart jacket perhaps with a 50s edge which I could couple with dark jeans and T. When combined with the quiff and jewellery I hoped I could pull it off.

I had seen some jackets which were varying shades of blue with a darker velvet(ish) lapel and collar. However, they only came in children’s sizes, well young men’s perhaps. The male body shape changes so much from mid 20s onwards. This idea was thwarted.

Fashion and grown up or bigger than sample sizing can create quite the challenge.

I looked in a number of establishments, but nothing said ‘Statement Jacket’. I finally found a black corduroy blazer with pink visible stitching around the collar and pocket flaps which was indeed unique, in Jeff Banks. Who knew the presenter of The Clothes Show still had ‘it’. I thought the jacket represented a portent for the impending autumn and would contribute nicely to my smart, casual, cool look.

New simple black jeans and an array of potential T shirts were purchased from All Saints and H&M.

Brent Cross has the ability to solve serious problems. It was like Breakfast at Tiffany’s but less glamorous.

Foresight works so well for me, and with the planned outfit on, complimented by blue and silver Prada trainers I set off. As I approached the venue with my good friend Justin it looked like an old man’s pub on a main road north of Hoxton. We double checked the address but it appeared correct. We were expecting a private members club. We strode ahead with confidence, as you do in these circumstances, and the doors opened and presented a wonderful oasis of vogue and elegance.

The ground floor was sumptuous with rich red velvet booths and banquette seating. There were chandeliers at every turn, and an intricately designed pewter ceiling. 90s swing was pumping from the DJ which is ironic as this was the music de jour when I lived in East London. An enormous stuffed taxidermic tiger pounced from the centre of the bar.

A winding Victorian staircase with heavy flock wallpaper led to an enormous lounge with further stuffed creatures in the shape of a massive polar bear and peacock.

We continued our journey upwards and found a flock of tropical stuffed birds perched on a wooden roost on the landing. I have a ridiculous and irrational fear of birds, which was heightened by the peacock a floor down, and dared not look up for fear of running from the building screaming.

We were unfashionably on time. The venue was more or less empty. We had broken the first rule of fashionable parties and not arrived several hours after the start time. Even the hosts didn’t arrive until 45 minutes after us. There was only one thing for it and we sunk into a red velvet booth seat and a quenched our thirst with a few Tanquerays.

The chic of London started to arrive from 9, from the trendy Hoxton/Dalston boys in tight chinos with baseball caps and sockless loafers to the artists, photographers, djs, drag queens and transsexuals, muscle boys in t shirts, fashionista females who only eat once a week draped around designers and even a couple of infamous 1980s party people.

There was no keeping up with this crowd. There were a few of similar age to me who were trying, and squeezed into child sized clothing. Maybe it’s ok to try when surrounded by your own peers, but not when attempting to play this uber stylish fash pack at their own game. Several other slightly more mature gents, of a similar age to me had opted for the jeans, suit jacket and t shirt and we looked cool damn it. We would look unique and original in our own peer circles and here we wished the young would look at us and hope they still had this degree of ‘it’ when they matured.

I headed out into the crowd, networked and made new friends. Even met a fantastic trendsetting and beautiful DJ known for her unique and outrageous fashion. Amy has already made a massive name for her Sink The Pink brand, and incidentally dates someone I knew when I was much younger and lived out in the provinces. He is cutting edge artist now.

I was really starting to believe that it’s distinguished to be a ‘displaced’ Boulevardier. I don’t need to wear clothes three sizes too small to be somewhat ahead of the pack. Those times have passed.

However with displacement came an early call for bed, and at 11.30pm my yawning had increased (been there since 7pm) and I decided to head home. As I exited the venue I rubbed shoulders with another of the moment Drag Queen DJ who just arrived to take to the decks. Unlike many of the young attendees I could afford more than the night bus, flagged down a black Hackney cab and headed back to the warmth and protection of Crouch End knowing that here I am the fashionista and Boulevardier combined.

TNW

Rules of a displaced Boulevardier

To celebrate over six months of weekly blogging I thought it was time to share with you the very essence of a displaced Boulevardier.

The trusty World Wide Web tells us that a Boulevardier is a man who promenades the fashionable streets of Paris. In other words an urbane, fashionable city dweller, who is usually of higher class and has knowledge of the city, and in particular how to find the best advanced cultural entertainment.

I do think that Crouch End is a suitable replacement for Paris. I also just about manage to replicate the criteria albeit in a displaced fashion.

I will now enlighten (and hopefully entertain) you by providing the seven areas of consideration in my self help guide.   

Hair

A Boulevardier, however displaced, should have a good head of hair. This should be coiffured into a chic style. The quiff is a good example of en vogue tresses, which equally retains a classic and classy element.

Regular visits to the salon are also required. Barbers do serve a purpose, but seem to deal more in volume sheerings than dazzling creations.

The most important part of the appointment is the initial consultation. It is not enough to provide the instruction

‘Just a trim please.’

The Tonsorial Artist will perform much better with a detailed description of each area of the how the cutting should take place for each area of the head.

For example ‘Please don’t cut any length from the front and top. The sides and back should be much shorter, and as short as possible without showing the scalp, and disconnected from the top rather than graduated.’

Healthy (some might say excessive) attention to clothing

Fashion is constantly changing and evolving, and while it would be fantastic to keep right up to the minute with every microscopic change it’s simply not practical. It is important to ensure sartorial sophistication exudes from your wardrobes and this can be achieved by developing your own essence of cool. Of course this will be wrapped around various genres, from hippie to punk, but it will be your own.

A cautionary note should be added. Please check with your friends and family first to validate your ability for natural panache, as without this creating your own style could lead to disaster.

Adding the right and the right number of accessories is vital. Think jewellery, manbag (to manbag or to not?), and shades. Shades are mandatory and the choice should be around which pair to wear.

And contrary to popular belief a man can never have enough shoes.

Social Media Presence            

Updating social media is an art. Each tweet, status update or photo should be interesting and make the reader or viewer wish they were in your world.

For instance if you wake feeling too tired to get up, then you post should read something like the following

‘Decadently lounging in bed savouring endless cups of tea.’

Timing your updates is also key and ensuring you still pay sufficient attention to any company you are keeping. It’s not wise to constantly update when you are in a social situation but sometimes needs must. Much will depend on the duration of your social intercourse. If you are meeting for a short lunch then it’s probably not prudent to be constantly tapping your phone or tablet, but if it’s a longer affair then it’s only reasonable to keep in touch with your wider circle.

Theatre, concerts and the arts

Regular visits to all manner of cultural events are required and enjoyed. Crouch End is vibrant with its own annual arts festival, and with so many nearby local theatres there is always something to watch and enjoy.

From the revue showings of new plays in bars to the acoustic music sessions in the cafes there is always something on.

These experiences should enrich your cultural conversational referencing.

We even had crocheted squares and woven pompoms decorating the trees and railings near the Clock Tower this summer.

Immergence and appreciation of all artistic expression is required.

Elegant Hosting

This is the area of Boulevarding (I think I just invented a new verb!) I struggle with most. The kitchen is not my natural sanctuary. If you think Carrie from Sex and the City, and her redundant kitchen you won’t be too far from the truth. However, I would like to protest that it is almost sacrilegious to stay in when there are global gastronomical opportunities minutes from my residence. Crouch End is bountiful with eateries. Everything from Caribbean fusion to Pan Asian via Spain, Italy, Turkey and Japan to name just a few.

The hosting at my home is finer tuned to thirst quenching and entertainment. My piano forte is often in use.

Drink Sherry and Tanqueray

A preferred tipple which coincidently sets you aside from the pack is also a bonus.

Sherry has certainly made a comeback in recent years, and our palates have been warmed to an excellent Fino or a darker Amontillado. Sherry is an elegant drink to enjoy and certainly raises the eyebrows of most bar staff when requested.

However, while it has been revived Sherry is not freely available. It is therefore important to have an alternate in mind. I oft for Tanqueray a lesser known London gin. My spirit of choice has long been gin, and I really don’t like the taste of the default Gordons. Amy Winehouse introduced me to the joys of Tanqueray when she sang of it in her track You Know I’m No Good.

If in doubt ask ‘What would Amy do?’

Replace ‘Amy’ with your own hero but it has to be someone qualified in style, cool and presence.

I hope my short and perhaps self-indulgent guide spurs some of you into the joys of Boulevardier hood.

TNW