In Sickness and in Health

I received a phone call from Lil on Saturday afternoon. It wasn’t from her usual number. There was unlikely to be a Breakfast Club this week.

‘Wayne, it’s me. I’m at the Whittington.’

‘What’s happened? Are you OK?’

‘Yes I’m fine although a little shaken up. Any chance you can come down?’

‘Of course.’ And before I had a chance to ask which ward she was in, she’d gone. I telephoned Armando, but he was short staffed and couldn’t get away. The cold snap was continuing and I wrapped myself up in my faux fur hooded Parka. I slipped my leather, cashmere lined gloves on and locked the front door. The 41 bus didn’t want to come and the wind whistled along Topsfield Parade. I took one of the last remaining seats on the lower deck. The journey seemed to be taking forever. There was no urgency as people got on and off the bus. There was an incident with an oversized pushchair which wouldn’t fit between the seats. After several minutes of easing and pushing, the male passenger disembarked and re-joined via the back exit doors. The pushchair was finally and successfully set in the wheelchair area. I wanted to scream ‘collapse the damn thing’ but instead I tutted. The tut I had inherited from Lil. If she was attending a routine appointment and she wanted support, she would have arranged it in advance. I deduced that she must have been an emergency admission.

I battled through the sea of smoke in the area outside the hospital as visitors and patients, some of which were wrapped in pyjamas and dressing gowns, sucked on their cigarettes ignoring the no smoking signs above them.

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I explained my situation to the middle-aged woman on the front desk. She understood my plight and sought the location of Lil on the screen in front of her, but couldn’t find her name. There was a slim chance, or so I was informed, that if she’d entered via Accident and Emergency her data wasn’t yet uploaded. I walked swiftly through the building to the casualty department. The waiting room was packed with slippers and trippers – victims of the icy conditions. I was given a similar story – she was not an inpatient at the Whittington. I replayed the conversation with Lil in my mind and I was sure she said the Whittington. I could think of no other than the one in Highgate. I dialled the number Lil had called me from and got the automated welcome message for the hospital I was standing in. At least I knew I was in the right place. I walked back to the front desk, and resolved to not budge until they found her. As I put one foot on the descending escalator I heard my name called from behind me and turned to see a vanishing Lil. I tried to scramble up the moving stairway but it was futile. I walked down and whipped round onto the up travellator. As the mechanical transporter rose I got my first proper view of Lil. She was dressed, which was the first shock, and didn’t look too unwell. A little pale and cold maybe but nothing more.

‘I couldn’t find you.’ I hugged Lil – hard.

‘Yeah, sorry I forgot to tell you which ward, and I thought I’d better come and find you while she’s sleeping.’

‘Who?’

‘Mavis, who else.’

‘Is Mavis in hospital?’

‘Yes – don’t you listen to a bloody word I say?’

You didn’t tell me it was Mavis.’

‘Yes I did.’

‘Well it doesn’t matter now. I’m glad you’re OK. What happened to her?’

‘I wouldn’t exactly say I was OK. It’s been quite a shock. She had a stroke.’ Tears started to appear in the corners of Lil’s eyes. She wiped them away quickly.

‘When?’

‘Last night.’

‘Why are you here?’

‘Because, I’m her next of kin.’

‘I didn’t know that.’

‘I know you didn’t.’

‘It’s about time you told me what this is all about. If that’s OK?’

‘Yes. I knew I would have to. I’ll just nip back up to the ward and check everything is stable. Why don’t you go into the canteen and get us some tea and cake and I’ll join you there shortly.’ I gave Lil a kiss on the cheek and watched her move towards the stairwell.

Hospital canteens are more modern affairs these days. I could choose between three different franchises with a common seating area in the middle. There is an outside seating area but it was too cold to even think of sitting there. I purchased teas and slices of carrot cake. The portions were enormous and layered thick with white butter icing. There was a small, orange, carrot shaped iced decoration on each slice. I carried the tray to a quieter looking area and sat down. As I was stirring the pot Lil re-appeared and slipped out of her winter coat and hung it on the back of her chair.

‘I needed that,’ Lil said as she sipped the refreshing and all healing tea. I passed her a plastic fork and napkin to aid with cake consumption. I peeled the carrot from the icing and popped it in my mouth. It tasted sickeningly sweet. Lil was still busying herself arranging the napkin on her lap. I would not hurry her. She played with her fork and continued supping her drink. She wore a pensively melancholy expression.

‘Is Mavis stable?’

‘Under the circumstances yes. It was a warning shot. She’s resting at the moment. The doctors are undertaking more tests.’

‘Will she make a full recovery?’

‘They’ve said there is no reason why she won’t.’

‘How do you feel?’

‘Confused.’

To be able to help I had to understand why Lil was here. She wasn’t sharing the meat of the story and I’d been cut dead on previous attempts to get her started.

‘I don’t understand why you are her next of kin. You haven’t mentioned it before. Are you related or something.’

‘Thank god it’s only the or something.’ Lil sliced into the soft layers of dough. A blob of icing dropped from the fork and splatted on the floor.

‘I’ll get a cloth,’ I said.

‘You might as well get another couple of teas while you’re at it. It’s a long story and you seem determined to hear it.’

Once the floor was wiped we settled down with our fresh drinks and she began. It was a story I hadn’t expected and to do it justice it has to be told from Lil’s point of view…

 

 

It all started with my Aunt Vi. She was the one who took me in and raised me. We were a happy, tight-knit unit. I was an orphaned 14 year old trying to survive and study in a post-war London. We had a lot more than most. I would often hear the other women in the shops moaning about a lack of tea, soap and other items, however, we never seem to be short. We weren’t rich or living in a lap of luxury but Auntie Vi had a way of always making sure we didn’t want for nothing. I wasn’t allowed to talk about it outside of home, and I just about managed to stop myself boasting to the other kids. It was fear that immobilised me. Aunt Vi was loving but she had quite a temper too and I suffered a number of wallopings which she called necessary and character building. She always seemed to know everyone and had fingers in every pie. She kept me away from her dealings and never conducted business at home. I’ve often thought back and wondered what she was involved in. It had to be some kind of criminal activity or she was at least known in the underworld, but I never felt under threat, either from her other associates, who only ever called at night, or the police.

One day Aunt Vi sat me down in her front parlour which was reserved for important visitors and serious discussions. She had even got me a bag of sweets to soften the blow. An old friend of hers was in trouble. I never worked out what that trouble was, but she needed to disappear for a period of time and we was to look after her daughter. Aunt Vi explained that it would be like having a temporary sister and as we were the same age, she hoped we would have a lot in common. I was to share my bedroom and was given the special task that very afternoon of helping set up another bed. My bed was pushed against the wall to make way for the new mattress on the floor. It didn’t bother me sharing half the wardrobe and drawers as I didn’t have enough to fill them anyway. So that was it, Mavis arrived, but it wasn’t transitory – she never left. I don’t know what happened to her mother. She never returned for her. I asked Aunt Vi several times and she told me to stop being a nosey parker. I wondered whether she was a lady of the night on the run but I never knew for sure. That would have been great eh; Mavis’ mum a hooker.

That evening a brassy girl appeared in the kitchen after dark. I can’t remember who delivered her. She always said she was a year older than me, but Aunt Vi said we were the same age. She lit up a cigarette, right there. I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t have dared. I wouldn’t have risked smoke anywhere. Aunt Vi told her that she could finish that one as it was her first day, but if she ever saw her smoking again she’d knock that fag right out of her mouth. I remember Mavis drew on her cigarette, blew out the smoke and said she was bored. When we showed her the bedroom she said she wasn’t used to sharing and as the older one she should have the bed. Aunt Vi suggested that I take the floor mattress until Mavis settled in. I objected and Aunt Vi said ”Lillian” in the way which meant not to plead my case any further.

Mavis wasn’t conservative in any way and there were always boys. They called, they wrote, and were generally much older than us. She knew how to handle herself. We used to fight and argue, although not in front of Aunt Vi. She didn’t tolerate dissention in the ranks.  A couple of times she caught us battling and gave us both the slipper. It makes my bum hurt just thinking about the stinging feeling now.

I got my bed back mind. She had it for about a week and then I put my foot down. Mavis gave in. To punish me the next day she stole my best friend Ronnie who lived on our street. Mavis always had an answer. She was streetwise and I think Aunt Vi struggled to control her. After about a year she pretty much came and went as she wished. Until one day when everything changed. I remember it so clearly. Mavis hadn’t gone to school as she was feeling sick. Aunt Vi called me to the front parlour as soon as I got in and gave me a bag of sweets. Mavis was sitting on one of the armchairs, swinging her legs and smoking – defiantly. Our guardian wasn’t stopping her. It was on that spring afternoon that I learned that I had to go away to the country for a few months. Mavis was going to have a baby. I didn’t understand why we had to go away or why I had to leave my friends and my home, but I got the slipper that evening for being selfish. Aunt Vi knew someone who would take care of us and was experienced in dealing with Mavis’ sort of problem. They lived in a small village on the edge of Berkshire. I wasn’t allowed to say goodbye to anyone; not even Mrs Tomkins who ran the corner shop and always gave me an extra toffee. All movement had to be in the dark, and we were ushered into a car the following evening. Even Mavis was crying and looked scared. We eventually arrived in a lane. It was pitch black. I remember I couldn’t even see my shoes. We were ushered straight upstairs. The room was cold and we had to share a bed. Mavis cried and cried and we huddled together as we went to sleep. Auntie Doreen, as we knew her, had a small cottage. I wish I could go back and see it. There weren’t any other houses for miles and we weren’t allowed to go any further than the fields immediately surrounding the house. We didn’t go to school and had to work from early in the morning and scrub the house from top to bottom. Mavis was often crying now. I suspect she missed her London life. As she started to get fatter she had to share clothes with Auntie Doreen, who wasn’t a small lady. The bigger Mavis got the more work I had to do and the more rest she had. I only complained once and got a walloping which would put those administered by Aunt Vi to shame. One of the downstairs rooms had a big table in the middle. We weren’t allowed in there unless it was to clean and it had to be the cleanest of all, and sometimes cleaned twice in a day. Whenever Aunt Doreen was expecting visitors we had to hide in our bedroom. They usually came at night, and I could often hear girls’ voices until they closed the door. Mavis said they were the lucky ones and she wished she’d got there sooner. It actually got to the point when Mavis was too big to do anything. She waddled around the house until her waters broke. I had to assist Aunt Doreen deliver the baby. Mavis was propped up with pillows and blankets on the big table. Once the baby, a boy, was born, Mavis gave him a feed and a name – Tommy. A man in a big overcoat then took him away. We never saw Tommy again.

We stayed at Aunt Doreen’s for another couple of weeks and then returned to London and Aunt Vi. Everyone asked Mavis how she was. They all thought she had something wrong with her lungs and had to get out of London for a while. Mavis’ wild ways calmed from then on. She saved all her wildness for me. She hated me passionately for the next couple of years. I hated her too mind. I blamed her for taking me away from all my friends and schooling and she held me liable for losing her baby. When the chips were down and she’d given birth and held Tommy in her arms, I think she actually wanted to keep him. She never said so of course.

As we grew up we started to focus our energies on our own lives and became less bothered with what each other was doing. That didn’t stop her flirting and throwing herself at my husband at every opportunity. He used to ignore her. By then she had a respectable reputation but I knew the real her. She eventually married, but he wasn’t that good to her. There were endless rumours of his infidelity with every skirt that crossed his path. He tried it on with me one Christmas and I sent him away with a flea in his ear. He wasn’t even that good looking.

Aunt Vi lived a good life and then suddenly got ill and died. Mavis and I thereafter drifted further away and only stayed in touch loosely. We were the only family each other had after all. She was the sister I never had. Her venom has lost some of its potency but it’s still there as you’ve seen from her recent behaviour. We promised Aunt Vi we would look out for each other, and so we always have. We know that when push comes to shove we’ll drop everything to provide whatever is needed. Why do you think she was one of my biggest supports after the break in?

I often wondered what happened to Tommy and whether he would come looking for his birth mother. I think he was sold which was in part to cover the cost of our keep at Auntie Doreen’s. I don’t even know if the birth was ever correctly registered. I doubt it.

 

 

 

And with that I finally knew the entire history of Lil and Mavis. We had long since finished our tea and I got us another. We sat in silence for some time as I attempted to process the revelations and Lil processed telling someone the history which had been buried for so long. It meant a lot that she told me and it would help me when trying to navigate the Lil/Mavis minefield in the future.

‘You ain’t got much to say,’ Lil said.

‘I wouldn’t know what to say after that.’

‘I can’t live with her, but I made a promise and she’s the only family I’ve got left.’

‘You’ve got us too.’ Lil put her hand on mine but didn’t speak. ‘Are you coming back to Crouch End?’

‘No, I’d better stay here for a while yet.’

‘Do you need anything? I could nip back.’

‘Na, it’s fine. I’m glad you came today. It was about time I expelled those demons of old.’

I hugged Lil. She hugged back harder than ever before. I descended the escalator and watched Lil’s shape disappear from view.

 

 

Locked in the Loo

For five wonderful days I’d been basking in the Algarvian sun on a late summer break with some of my closest friends. The heavenly mix of sun, sangria, and laughter still lingered in all my senses. My marginally darkened tan would be on show at Breakfast Club this morning. The venue had changed to provide Lil with home comforts as she was feeling under the weather. Armando had text to confirm so earlier after a call from Cyril.

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I met Armando at the café door at 10am. We were due at Lil’s fifteen minutes later. Armando held a wicker basket which delivered a promising aroma.

‘Nice tan man,’ Armando said.

‘Thanks,’ I replied. I didn’t mention the layer of bronzer I’d added to my visage to heighten the impact.

‘How’s your week been?’

‘OK I guess. Café has been busy and I’ve been on a couple of dates,’ said Armando.

‘With the Brazilian?’

‘Yes, although I’m not sure how much further we can go. I can’t talk to him about anything of importance – matters of the heart are difficult on my phone translator app.’

I touched Armando on the arm as an outward demonstration of support.

‘So what did Cyril say? Is she OK?’

‘He said she’s got a splitting headache and feels sick, and doesn’t think she can leave the house today.’

‘Let’s hope it’s nothing serious.’

‘Indeed,’ said Armando as I pressed the door buzzer.

‘Good morning,’ came an Oscar Wilde-esque voice.

‘Morning Cyril, it’s Armando and Wayne.’

A vibration from the door informed us that our entry had been granted.

A lacklustre and pale Cyril opened the door, ‘she’s in the sitting room.’

‘You not feeling good either eh?’ asked Armando.

‘I’m rather delicate too. We overdid it at the funeral yesterday.’

Armando disappeared behind the kitchen door and I moved towards HRH Lil. She was propped up in her armchair with her slippered feet on a pouffe. Her housecoat hung limp protecting her modesty. A wet flannel was folded across her forehead.

‘Do sit,’ she said weakly.

‘Armando’s just preparing breakfast Lil. Are you sure you can manage it. What happened? Cyril said you overdid it yesterday,’

Lil opened one eye and glared at Cyril before saying, ‘I must try and eat something. I was sick when I got home yesterday and have a throbbing head. I think I’ve a bug or something.’

‘Perhaps it’s not wise to eat a rich breakfast in that case. Shall I just get you some dry toast?’ I asked.

‘No, no. I must try and it might make me feel better. I’ve taken some painkillers and they work better with food.’ Her motionless arms rested on the sides of her chair. She had a hot water bottle over her stomach.

‘Do you think you have the same bug?’ I asked Cyril.

‘Definitely,’ Cyril said with a smile on his face.

Armando appeared with a tray holding a pot and cups and placed it carefully on the coffee table. I set about the stirring process to hasten the brewing.

‘Lil, here is plate on tray. Can you sit up please,’ said Armando.

‘Thank you. I’ll try,’ she responded as the flannel fell. Lil readjusted her position and received the steaming tray onto her lap. Her eyes widened and she set about consumption. She was marginally more delicate than usual, however, it was clear that the sight of breakfast had enthused her appetite.

Armando was soon before us again with three side plates, each carrying a blueberry muffin. I was going to miss my solitary sausage this morning.

‘How was Portugal?’ asked Lil.

‘Fantastic thanks, the villa as always was lovely, the sun shone, and sangria consumed as if it were going out of fashion.’

‘You’ve been before?’ asked Cyril.

‘Yes, my friends have a six bedroom, seven bathroom villa which we visit periodically.’

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‘A bit posh…’ said Lil.

‘Yeah we were, until we hit the karaoke in an English bar.’

‘That’s not very Boulevardier-like now is it? Are you a singer or a writer?’ said Lil. She let out a weak cackle. The grilled flat mushroom was assisting in her recovery as she popped another sliver into her mouth.

‘Both thank you Lil. We shared so many laughs. We were off to a great start when my friend Sammy Jo got stuck in the downstairs loo.’

‘Was she pissed?’ asked Lil. Cyril nearly choked on his muffin.

‘I don’t think so, although the alcohol consumption across the holiday was vast. In fact one day we went out for a late breakfast and didn’t get home until 11pm.’

‘What a bunch of bloody lushes,’ said Lil.

Cyril coughed nervously.

‘Something stuck in your throat Cyril?’ said Lil through pursed lips.

‘We played parlour games too,’ I said.

‘What? Between drinks?’ asked Armando. Lil laughed and then threw her hand to her forehead.

‘Yes, and I had a mishap.’ I said.

‘Now this I want to hear about,’ said Lil as she carved her sausage with gusto.

‘There is a neighbourhood dog who always comes to say hello. We call him Saucisson, due to his shape, who was scurrying through the villa. I smiled at him and his tinkering bell as he trotted passed me. I entered the downstairs cloakroom, closed and locked the door, despite my own personal bathroom only being the other side of the wall. After washing my hands I turned the key and it stuck. It would only turn 45 degrees. I tried half a dozen times.’

Lil let out a cackle, ‘please don’t tell me you were locked in the loo, I can’t cope, I might wet myself,’ said Lil. Cyril didn’t look too pleased at the thought of Lil having an accident.

‘Let me carry on,’ I said, ‘a modicum of panic set in. Was I stuck in a small windowless room with a single functional purpose?’

‘Here comes the drama,’ said Lil and winked at Cyril. Armando was shaking his head and grinning.

‘Fortunately in a villa of this magnitude the downstairs WC is still sizeable – I’ve seen box bedrooms smaller, however, they usually have views to the outside. Several beads of sweat formed on my forehead. I dabbed them away with the hand towel. I stopped dead and listened. I could hear my fellow sun-seekers chattering by the pool in the distance. We were separated by several thick stone walls. They would never hear my cries for help.’

‘It sounds terrifying,’ said Cyril.

I took the opportunity to pause and extract a deep sip from my tea before continuing, ‘I turned the key more frantically now, and it wouldn’t give any encouragement that my freedom was closer. I tried to lift the door to the left – nothing, to the right – nothing. I pushed it in, and pulled it towards me. My valiant efforts were futile. Perspiration had multiplied and my breathing became quicker. I was gasping for air. I was convinced I was in a sealed cell and my lot was up. The metal slats in the ceiling assured me otherwise. I rotated the faucet and splashed cold water on my visage and hatched a plan.’

I took another gulp of tea.

‘Come on,’ said Armando impatiently circling his hands to encourage perpetuation of my tale.

‘I sat on the convenience, lid down of course, and listened intently for sound recognisable as one of my potential saviours inside the villa.

Nothing.

I grasped the key, firmer, with renewed and forced positivity – no negotiation.

“Hello,” I called out. I wasn’t sure if the welcome footsteps had registered my greeting.

“Hello, can you help me please? I’m stuck in the lav,” I’d called more urgently and this time “What?” came an acknowledgement. I repeated my statement. “Oh, hold on for a couple of minutes,” came a cool and calming response. I’d hoped Dan had gone for tools. The ascending roars and cackles from the pool confirmed his primary mission one of information rather than rescue. I dabbed the moisture from my brow again, which was forming faster and in greater quantity.’

‘If you’d have spent less time dabbing and more time trying to work the lock-‘, started Lil. Cyril interrupted and said, ‘I feel claustrophobic just listening Wayne, which is making me feel even dizzier, please hurry up and tell us how you got out.’

I continued, ‘I heard a female voice “Babe, pull the key back and try again. It needs to be nearer you.’ It was Sammy Jo, an expert in cloakroom escapology. “I know it’s in the right place. I’ve tried every position,” I answered while attempting again.

Quiet.

“Are you sure it’s in the right spot?”

“Yes I can sense it turning about 45 degrees and then it sticks.”

“OK. Hold on.” And with that I was in my solitary space again. The footsteps were quick and the many voices varied. I couldn’t isolate a single one but knew Jane, Karen, Sorrel, Claire and Sammy Jo were there. Their laughter was loudest of all, and cackles that would match yours Lil.’

‘I doubt that,’ said Lil.

‘My friends – every single one of them – were seeing a funnier side than me. The next three quarters of an hour were filled with keys being levered under doors, shrieks, drills, and despairs before I finally saw the bolt release and facilitate my freedom. In the absence of Sherry to settle my shattered nerves a double white Port was a suitable substitute.’

I sat back. All of my breakfast companions were amused. Lil relaxed in her chair and put the flannel back on her head.

“Feeling bad again?’ asked Armando.

‘It was probably the mention of Sherry,’ said Cyril.

‘Please shut it Cyril,’ said Lil.

‘Perhaps you tried to eat too much,’ said Armando.

‘Or maybe she drank too much Sherry at the wake yesterday, as did I,’ said Cyril.

Mine and Armando’s mouths dropped open.

‘Lil, are you nursing a hangover?’ I asked firmly.

‘For a polite man, you have a flappy gob,’ said Lil glaring at Cyril from beneath her wash cloth.

‘I’m sorry, but I couldn’t let these lovely gentlemen continue to wait on you hand and foot when it’s self-inflicted and you are rather overdoing it,’ said Cyril. Hopefully Lil was too hung-over to blast him for exposing her duplicity.

‘Well, what else do you expect when I was caught up talking to the boring Gloria and Roger,’ said Lil.

‘Who are they?’ asked Armando.

‘We had been to the service at St Joseph’s on Highgate Hill, and to East Finchley crem before we went back to the home, and Cyril, Gisela and I were caught by the deceased’s niece and her husband. Gloria is a large woman with obviously dyed blonde hair and was wearing a black dress which wasn’t suitable for her size. We’d just visited the buffet, which incidentally wasn’t bad; fresh egg sandwiches and chicken and shrimp vol au vents. Anyway I said a polite hello, you know the one where you don’t expect conversation. She respected that for all of 30 bloody seconds before she started with “lovely buffet” which soon moved into their having driven from Dorset and that she had a bad back and couldn’t drive. Roger apparently was a slow driver. Poor Roger kept on going to speak but she’d cut him off. She’d been on a bus to visit an air show. The bus was inching forwards towards the stop, so she got up and started down the stairs when the driver decided to hit the brakes, and she bashed her back on the step behind her – twice. It went on and on. It was only the refills of Sherry which kept me going.’

‘They don’t sound like the best company, but I’m not sure that was excuse enough to get hammered,’ I said.

‘Perhaps Cyril’s a bad influence,’ said Lil.

‘Hardly,’ said Cyril.

‘Are you sure it wasn’t that Marty person,’ I said through gritted teeth.

‘Nah he was at band practice,’ said Lil.

I dare not even ask what type of band he was in.

‘Gisela unwell too?’ asked Armando.

‘No, she only had the one Sherry,’ said Cyril.

‘Perhaps you two should follow her example in future,’ I said.

 

The villa belongs to good friends and is a fabulous place for a holiday. Winter rates are pretty reasonable and Portugal is divine. If you want more information please take a look at http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/VacationRentalReview-g776012-d2120092-Villa_Laranja-Luz_Faro_District_Algarve.html

Here’s a view from the balcony and all the photos in the post are from the villa

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Nude with Violin

It was one of the hottest Saturdays in July. It was beautiful.

The summer of 2013 was certainly turning out to be the best since 2006. UK summers over the last 6 years have been a let down. Much was promised by the ever optimistic weather diviners, but few of their predictions had come to pass.

2013 was proving much better with long days of constant sunshine and temperatures regularly hitting 30 degrees. A Boulevardier should never demonstrate a physical manifestation of overheating or worse sweating so it was important to select suitable clothing and activity.

I had a beautiful lunch with my friend Jane at Melange in Crouch End, where we respectively enjoyed walnut and Roquefort and tuna steak salads, while sitting in the lovely sun. As the temperature rose we moved inside to maintain a cool appearance.

Jane left and the afternoon was spent relaxing in the garden with another friend Michael. We were barely moving and relished conversation filled with art, books, music and theatre. We were indeed off to the theatre together that evening.

Late afternoon we made the short journey to Highgate, and partook of a late afternoon drink at The Flask, which incidentally is across the road from George Michael’s London home. Unfortunately he was nowhere to be seen either to star spot or sing us a song. After several glasses of refreshing Malbec (me only) we consumed some pre theatre food and took the few steps to the Gatehouse Pub.

Storms were brewing, temperatures were going up and the humidity hung in the air creating a tropical atmosphere.

The theatre named ‘Upstairs at the Gatehouse’ delivers exactly what it says on the tin, and is in fact on the first floor in the Gatehouse Pub. I am sure many of you will have seen the Gatehouse, as it sits at the top of Highgate Village, next to the junctions heading to Kenwood and Hampstead. The appearance of the pub externally is Tudor, and I believe to be one of the oldest in the area. It is also allegedly haunted, although I saw no phantom apparitions.

The bar area was disappointingly generic, lots of light wood panelling, coupled with loud carpet and banquette seating. We headed upstairs to the ‘green room’ which was a fabulous mixture of props, posters and furniture, appearing as a spare room where everything is shoved that you don’t want to display. In the corner we eyed with anticipation a regular domestic chest freezer with signed promises of ice cream.

At the appointed time we, with the other patrons, were called into the theatre, which was a mid-sized auditorium set in the round with rows of stadium crushed velvet seating. We sat in the middle on the back row.

The temperature was going up.

The play was a little known Noel Coward piece called Nude with Violin, which is set in Paris in the mid-1950s. It’s a beautiful comedy of manners set in the drawing room of a recently deceased world renowned artist, Paul Sorodin. His estranged but most immediate family have gathered to sort out the estate in the absence of a will.

As the drama unfolds various characters turn up with letters signed by the artist confirming that they indeed painted the pictures of various periods of his career. In fact we are left wondering whether he actually painted anything himself.

To avoid the scandal the family and the art dealer set about trying to contain the secret with the assistance of the ever present, ever listening, multi skilled valet.

It’s not particularly fast paced, and the entertainment came from the clever and witty one liners.

The theatre itself has not yet been able to invest in air conditioning and the 3 fans and one portable unit could not stop the ever increasing temperature, and despite the claps of thunder (I wondered whether they were indeed part of the production), the air did not cool.

In the interval we headed for ice cream and some air. While it was cooler outside of the auditorium it was far from cool, and the rain was heavy so rather than risk flat hair we had to stand by the open outer pub doors and try and cool down. The creamy vanilla ice cream helped.

Things seemed to get hotter in the second act. By the end I was sticky beyond belief and feeling a little dizzy, which was a shame as it was a wonderfully funny tale ridiculing the world of modern art, with which I agree.

It reminded me of a visit some years ago to Flowers East on Richmond Road in Hackney when I lived there. I had seen some beautiful paintings on the first floor, and took some very arty friends, Rita and Andre, to view. The ground floor contained what I like to call ‘paint splodges’, and when we headed to the first floor I was aghast to realise that my favoured exhibition had been replaced by more paint splodges.

‘Oh no! These paintings are the same as downstairs!’ I exclaimed.

A curator appeared and informed us in an irritated manner ‘These have absolutely nothing to do with the exhibition downstairs.’

‘They look the same to me.’ I said

‘To the untrained eye maybe.’ He replied with an ever increasing patronising tone.

‘If that’s training my eye, I would rather stay unpretentious and untrained.’ I added, and at this he scurried back to his room. Rita, Andre and I nearly fell to the floor laughing.

It is ridiculous, and I am well aware that I don’t ‘understand’ some modern art, but I am not sure I want to. Educating Rita springs to mind (and not the aforementioned Rita).

I guess a good Boulevardier has to maintain a pretence of being in tune with the art world, but maybe I am more independent and happy to confidently assert my own opinion at the utter rubbish which can be defined as modern art.

So Mr Coward I am right there with you in ridiculing something so easily set up to be mocked.

TNW

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