A Crouch End and Hampstead jolly jaunt

‘You look knackered.’ said Lil.

‘I am. I had a fantastic but full-on weekend, and the working week didn’t afford any recovery opportunities. How are you Lil?’

Lil was sitting at her usual table. I took off my Parka and joined her. Our friendship had grown to the point where we could share the same table for our weekly catch up.

‘Yes I’m fine. I’m thinking of redecorating my sitting room. It’s not been done for 15 years and styles change you know.’

I longed to see the space Lil inhabited. This wonderfully funny, older lady had experiences aplenty, mementos of which must flavour and spice her residence.

‘I’ve just been discussing with Armando whether I should re-paper or emulsion the walls.’

I glanced at Armando behind his wooden counter rearranging the display of healthy option muffins, if healthy and muffin don’t present too much of an oxymoron when in the same sentence.

‘Anyway why are you so tired?’ asked Lil.

I needed some sustenance and ordered an Assam and a vegetarian breakfast with one sausage. This made Lil and Armando both snigger. Lil thought it rather odd that I wanted the vegetarian option and then pollute it with meat. I pointed out that if eating meat caused pollution then her crime was greater than mine. I didn’t want masses of meat, just a taster.

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I then swerved the conversation swiftly into the previous weekend to steer their attention away from ridiculing the Boulevardier. This should be a banned sport.

The previous weekend had been great. A really good, longstanding friend, Alison, was visiting. She resided in the Cotswolds and needed a slice of North London, having previously lived in Hampstead.

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Alison arrived on Friday evening and we had a table booked at Banners, the local Caribbean-Fusion restaurant, a Crouch End essential. We had a refreshing Oloroso to whet our appetites before leaving the flat. After all it would be ill-mannered to leave home without a taste of Sherry. We were to be a party of four, however, one was held up at work. Alison, Michael and I took the short walk to Banners. We were all in light spring jackets and remarked that it was remarkable to be thus adorned in January. It is wonderful and comforting to talk about the weather. It’s a skill the British always manage with grace and decorum.

I knew what I wanted before I’d even opened the menu. I like to try new things but there are times when only the old favourites will do. Black Tiger Prawns to start, served in their shells with wasabi mayonnaise on the side. Michael and Alison had Calamari and salt fish cake respectively. For mains we enjoyed Ackee and salt fish, Jerk Chicken and Thai beef curry. The curry was rather hotter than Michael expected and we tried not to notice as his glow increased. We awaited the explosion but none came. This delicious feast was washed down with a mixture of gin, wine, beer and port. We rolled back home to have a few further settling ports before bed.

After leisurely drifting out of bed and a full breakfast on Saturday morning we ambled around the shops in Crouch End. Of Special Interest was top of my hit list. I can’t imagine tiring of the rows, cupboards, shelves and tables full of delicious accents for the home. I also have my eye on a chandelier which could aid flavouring my bedroom as a boudoir.  I quite like the idea of the Boulevardier’s boudoir.

At this point in my story Lil almost started an earthquake with loud cackles. ‘Boulevardier’s Boudoir. More like tart’s palace.’ Armando joined the laughter chorus. I carried on regardless.

We spent the late afternoon and evening in Hampstead. This was Alison’s old stomping ground and with her head high she led me through winding side streets into small boutique shops as she stocked up on depleted items. We settled in the King William IV for a pre-dinner Sherry (Alison had wine) and saw this rather interesting door signposting the ladies lavatory.

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Lil didn’t find this so funny, pursed her lips and suggested I carry on.

We had booked a table at La Cage Imaginere and I’d hoped that as so many Londoners were taking part in a detox January that we would be able to book a last minute table for a respectable hour. More often than not in London if you’re not planning and booking upwards of a week in advance you are offered either dinner at the time when most are enjoying a late lunch or when it’s so late the waiting staff have their coats on and the chefs have left for the evening.

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La Cage Imaginere transports diners back nostalgically to high class dinner parties in the 1970s.  The polished wooden floors compliment the red and pastel pink walls. Each table has its own white birdcage tea light holder. Upon arrival we were offered bruschetta – strong with garlic – by the Italian waiter with a faux French accent.

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Alison consumed pan fried scallops, a fillet of beef with Dauphinoise Potatoes and Pistachio Crème Brulee. I had French Onion Soup, Coq au vin and Chocolate and Baileys Cheesecake. We lubricated our banquet with a fine Bordeaux, and then hailed a taxi to Crouch End to continue along our Bordeaux trail.

Catch up gossip and meaning of life conversation populated the weekend.

After waving Alison a safe journey home it was time to start getting excited about the Mari Wilson interprets Dusty Springfield evening at the Jazz Club Soho on Monday. Mari was well qualified for the event having played the lead in Dusty the Musical fourteen years previously. Mari drew us into many old favourites and a few lesser known tracks. A calypso version of Son of a Preacher Man was among the highlights. Mari interacts with the audience so well with an abundance of anecdotes to thrill and entertain as she goes.

‘I’ve seen her around Crouch End,’ Interjected Lil. I realised my story was turning into a monologue and was grateful for the jolt back into conversation.

‘And no bloody wonder you’re tired. Boulevardiers need rest too…

… It does sound like great fun though. I wish I was younger.’

‘You’re welcome to join in anytime Lil, and you Armando.’

‘For now I’ll settle with a regular Breakfast Club thank you’ said Lil.

Lil took her sturdy vintage purse from the handbag hidden inside her trusty trolley and removed a battered £10 note to complete the transaction. I was a little disappointed. I willed a crisp note from her well-kept shiny pouch.

I smiled at Lil and we exchanged farewells and I watched her steer the trolley onto the Boulevards of Crouch End.

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Collecting in the pursuit of pleasure.

I recently pondered over a magazine article where the writer spoke of a collection of lovely curios. I sat back, with a tasty Oloroso, and wondered whether I should in fact start a collection. I do try to keep chez Boulevardier as minimal as possible and have to fight my urge to retain every item which crosses my threshold and build large piles of everything everywhere.

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Recently discovering the treasure trove that is Of Special Interest in Crouch End hasn’t done much to aid my goal of minimalism. On each and every visit I have returned home with candle holders, boxes for matches and a variety of different heighted cake stands.  I could say I collect items from this labyrinth of beauteous and shiny objects d’art.

What is behind collecting as a hobby? Is it just for the hoarder among us?

There is interestingly a psychology of collecting…

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The monetary value of the collection is rarely the drive and emotional worth surpasses. Collections allow collectors to relive their childhood, connect to historic times, to lessen anxiety of loss of self and to keep the past present.

Some love the adventure of hunting down rare items and treat it as a quest which is unlikely to ever be complete. Accumulating may also provide psychological refuge by replenishing some missed part of self or void of rational explanation.

Is this a modern hobby however? I was all ready for there to be no evidence of contemporary collecting and a leisure pursuit confined to the past overtaken by our instant culture. I considered whether people previously collected for the thrill of the chase with items being harder to attain. Today we have over one and a half billion online pages to shift through. We can navigate to Amazon or eBay and find millions of items for sale and shop worldwide. Had the thrill of the chase been lost? I decided to ask my motley crew of friends on Facebook.

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It seems that my multifarious collection of contributors are still, on the whole, avid collectors with their personal assemblages containing: old foreign coins, theatre tickets, theatre programmes, biscuits, train tickets, Beano annuals, vintage Barbies, black and white postcards (Herb Ritts), Star Wars figurines, pop and rock memorabilia, old unusual teapots, and stamps.

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The less serious collectors mentioned empty wine bottles, excess weight, fleas and political enemies! I’m not certain these held the same motives…

I also thought to check in with Mother who always liked a collection or two and she did not disappoint.

Mum: I do have a collection of glass paperweights, but had to stop as I ran out of room to display them and could see no point in keeping them in boxes.

Me: How many do you have?

Mum: Eight really special ones and another half dozen. I also have my collection of chocolate Labradors.

Me: And how many of those do you have Mum?

Mum: Seven and they are all in different poses and all have different names. I would have more if again I hadn’t run out of space.

Me: What makes you collect Mum?

Mum: Well usually an item takes my fancy and then one is not enough. A random purchase has quite often become a collection for me. Remember all the brass ornaments I had when you were young?

Me: Quite.

Mum: (on a roll now) And Dad has his collection of small China birds. They’re Beswicks and he has twenty one.

It would seem that collecting is in your Boulevardier’s blood, and aside from a half-cocked attempt at stamps when I was a child, this habit has evaded me. I really should collect more than clothes and artistic experience…

I could collect Dolly Mixture or Sherry, but suspect that my enjoyment is much greater in the consumption than the admiring. I did hanker after my lack of gravy boat several days ago and I might therefore try and resurrect the joys of the gravy boat through a collection.

Now if you would please excuse me I need to re-quiff my hair and frequent the local charity shops and vintage flea markets in pursuit of my first gravy boat!

TNW