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.

Full English Breakfast (4)

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.

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

Beehive Fanatic

Amy Winehouse would have been 30 years old this year, and it’s hard to believe it’s almost 2 years since her untimely death. This week your Boulevardier wants to talk about his relationship with Amy and her music.

Starting right back in 2006 I hadn’t consciously listened to any off Amy’s music until I started to hear Rehab everywhere. It seemed to be on the radio, on the television, and tickling your ears wherever you went. Who were Ray and Mr Hathaway she sung of? Mr Hathaway would unfortunately be a harbinger. Amy was referencing the late great Donny Hathaway who had also left this mortal coil too early in life, albeit for different reasons.

This was 2006 and iTunes was starting to gather momentum, and as a relatively new user I enjoyed the instant response it provided. If I wanted an album I could download and be listening to it within a few minutes. I could also just select a few tracks. (Remember when Amazon felt so modern where you were able to order album online and get it within a couple of days!) I took the plunge and downloaded the entire Back to Black album and started listening.  I didn’t love it on first listen, but it was good enough and different enough to keep going. I was drawn to the 60s sound next to modern arrangements and beats. Amy’s voice was breathtaking. The tracks Back to Black and Addicted started to stand out, and I couldn’t get Back to Black out of my head.

From there a complete immersion into Amy’s sound occurred, and I don’t think I listened to any other music, or rather no other music meant so much to me until at least 2008. Someone who is no longer a friend, but who I reasonable amount of time with in 2007 often remarked that ‘I listened to Amy Winehouse on a constant loop’. English was not his primary language, but he accurately summed it up.

With the growing success of Back to Black Amy’s personal life, which didn’t appear to be in a similar ascendency, was plastered all over the tabloids and internet.

I loved her look. I loved that she had taken 60s hair and makeup and turned them into something very modern, punk even. She was a punk to me. She found a way to rebel lyrically against the outward sugar of most of the 60s girl groups she emulated, The Crystals aside.

The beehive was iconic and I loved it. I really wished there had been a male alternative.

Her tattoos also added to her urban raw look. She worked effortlessly to bring a real urban cool back to Camden. Reports of wild nights at the Hawley Arms only added to the urban myth.

I have to confess heading to the Hawley Arms a couple of times in the vain hope of bumping into Amy, maybe getting a photo, and if I was really lucky having a chat. The best I got was seeing the Amy doll which stands 5 inches tall standing at the back of the downstairs bar.

Concerts were announced in 2007, and I got 2 tickets to see Amy at Hammersmith Apollo for Saturday 24th November 2007. I was really excited and my good friend Jane agreed to go with me. She knew I was obsessed with Amy’s music and loved live concerts where artists provide their face to face interpretation of their tracks.

However, Amy’s press coverage was getting worse and I was avidly following, but really couldn’t ignore it with regards to the concert. Her benders seemed to be getting worse, along with continuous allegations of drug taking. A lot of press put blame on her then husband.

The DVD release of one of her concerts ‘I Told You I was Trouble: Live in London’ perked me up as the performance was breathtaking. So all Amy needed to do was to stay away from the demons in her life and give a fantastic performance at Hammersmith.

Blake, her husband, was on remand at the time, and not only was the case not looking good but bail had been refused, and this seemed to affect Amy so much.

Jane and I met at Hammersmith underground station expectant of a great concert. We had a couple of drinks in a grotty pub near the tube station to get our buzz started, and headed across to the venue. The bar queues were extensive and several people deep. Everyone seemed intent on having a party! Jane and I decided to double double up, and had our respective vodka and gin and slimline tonics in pint glasses to accommodate the quadruple measures.

We excitedly headed into the auditorium, following another ticket check. We later discovered that it was not official, and a tout had taken our tickets! Fortunately we did not need them again.

We finished our drinks, expecting Amy to be on, but she was running late, so Jane headed back out to the bar and refilled our mammoth portions. Still no Amy! The crowd was getting restless, particularly as her gigs had been rather hit or miss.

I said to Jane ‘This is ridiculous! How do you think I get out the back to see what’s going on and gee her up?’

Jane was amused, laughed and called me delusional.

She eventually came out onto stage. Mitch Winehouse reports in his book ‘Amy My Daughter’ that she was only ½ an hour late, but I think it was nearer to 1 ¼ hours. I guess it depends on perspective.

About a 1/3 of the songs sounded OK, but most of them seemed a little off, and the entire experience made me feel nervous. Amy was clearly distressed, and so ‘not there’ I felt like a voyeur. I could have cried. I have never seen so many people leave a mainstream gig before until the end. I was determined to stay to the end, willing Amy to snap out of it and perform as we knew she could. She kept on digging her hands into her beehive and scratching her head. The hive was swaying from side to side, and I thought it was going to topple her over.

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I was upset, which turned to angry and I set about posting on line the next day and looking for a refund, as did so many others. Mitch countered in the press and asked people to give her a chance. At the time I was dismissive of his reaction and thought of my invested money to see a great concert, and that I was not there to support a charity. However, after reading his heartbreaking book, he was a father trying to keep his daughter alive and happy, and desperate for support. I completely get that and respect him. On reflection, I am glad I got to see Amy live, even if not at her best.

Months and years started to pass, Amy was no longer with Blake, and seemed to be getting her life on track and I longed for new music.

The news of her death on 23rd July 2011 hit hard. I remember watching the live news, and hoped so much it was not Amy. It was.

I visited her home, a beautifully restored Victorian Villa on a residential square in Camden. The tributes and flood of support was amazing.

Most of my friends recognised how much Amy and her music had meant to me, and lots posted on my Facebook wall to commiserate her death, knowing how upset I would be.

I have got to know and love all of her music, including the posthumous album. Even the music Amy had ‘thrown away’ or not completed was amazing.

I this week attended a private view of a new exhibition ‘Amy Winehouse: A Family Portrait’ co-curated by her brother and sister in law.  Her legacy lives on. Next week’s blog will provide more detail.

To me she is one of the greatest musical talents of our age, and her voice will live forever. It’s a shame she is not here to live life and enjoy it.

TNW       

Celebrity Hair

Strange number displayed on my phone a few weeks ago led to the news that I had won a session at a celebrity hairdressers in Chelsea!

The lady on the other end of the phone congratulated me, and then checked the date. It was unfortunately the following week and I already had meetings booked in. The call ended.

She rang back two days later to offer another date. Are they desperate for winners or really want me? I later found out I was one of 10.5K applicants so lucky to be chosen!

I couldn’t remember all the details. It was a competition in the Waitrose magazine, and involved some new hair products they are promoting. The products emanated from a famous hairdresser in Chelsea. His name rang a bell but I couldn’t remember why.

The new date was a few weeks ahead and I could book in! I would need to be at the salon for 9am where I would get coffee and pastries. The session would start with a talk on blow drying and then an actual professional blow dry! Wow this could be good!

She said the details would be emailed to me. I thanked him, clicked the phone, and got on with my day.

The promised email arrived promptly and I set about investigating the notoriety of Richard Ward. The list of clients is vast and contains everyone from Pippa Middleton via Jonathan Rhys-Myers to Rowan Atkinson!

My expectation and excitement grew!

So after a weekend in the Cotswolds, and a fantastic pop up literary salon, Monday morning I needed to head to Chelsea. Due to needing to be there for 9am, foresight dictated that outfit would need choosing in advance. Leatherette, denim jeans, Bowie T, and polka dot creepers were selected.

Should I style my quiff or not? I decided to style it, so they could see how I usually styled my hair and make any recommendations!

It wasn’t sunny but I felt that sunglasses were required and donned appropriately. This decision was also advantageous from a practical point of view, as I was tired, and the neon lights of the tube were bright.

I was met by the friendly reception staff and escorted upstairs to meet with the other lucky competition winners (we were 3 in total) and our Waitrose host Julie. As a civilised affair, tea and pastries were provided, and then we headed for a quick tour of the salon and spa, which was breathtaking! 80 plus people are employed, and it was so much more than a salon. It was a brand, but interestingly enough it was clear that it also retained the charm and intimacy of regular sized salons.

We were ushered into one of the salon sections and met Richard Ward and one of the senior members of his team, Matt Hawes. Within minutes it was obvious how the intimacy and friendliness is retained. Richard and Matt were charming, engaging and real. Do not let the client lists fool you into thinking they were all show, as their passion for hair glistened through, and would be shared irrespective of your status.  And they were really enthusiastic that a male had accepted and come as part of the joint experience with Waitrose.

Richard asked me how I styled my hair and after explaining he commended my efforts and said he didn’t know how they would improve upon it! What a great compliment! I have pretty much taken care of my hair since a teenager, and had a multitude of styles, and so would hopefully have some ability, but to get an affirmation of this magnitude was fantastic. Mondays need not always be bad!

Richard and Matt demonstrated on a willing assistant (one of the staff ) how to create the perfect Chelsea Blow Dry. The young lady with long flowing locks looked magnificent and ready for a night at the opera rather than a day in the salon.

Now it was our turn, and our hair was washed, and then blow dried! Matt undertook the task of re-quiffing me, and gave great advice on how to maintain the volume across the entire do and not just at the front! I will be entering the world of spritzing!

A great morning followed by a lovely lunch with one of my fellow competition winners, and now, a new friend!

With promises of free products in the post we left sated. (Only half the products arrived, and despite asking am still waiting for feedback, and to see whether I get the full quote of promised gear).

However, despite that, I was one of 20 chosen (and only man) from applications in excess of 10,000! And you know if the salon was a little nearer to home, I would definitely head there to have Matt cut and style my hair even with the £72 price tag!

TNW

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Hair Raising!

Regular readers will be aware that hair is of the utmost importance to me, and my Boulevardier persona. So it goes without saying that getting it cut and styled requires military precision, and intensive care.

Crouch End has an abundance of establishments to select from, but does that mean all of them are good. These luscious locks are not for the butchering tendencies of certain scissors, even if the salon they are contained within resembles an 18th century Parisian brothel!

What makes a good hairdressers? Can you tell from the appearance?

There are three traditional barber type affairs, only one of which has received my patronage, but more of that later.

Then there are lots of samey establishments (upwards of 10) offering slightly different deals to entice new and existing customers back. They all appear akin and have the funky dressed receptionists with multi coloured spiky hair, which presumably advertises the wonders to be created within the salon!

Then there are a couple which break the mould. One I have not been to called Pulp on Crouch End Hill. The interior is adorned with bold colour blocks, mixed with golden coloured ornate chandeliers and spread with velvet (not sure if there is any actual velvet, but it gives that impression, and if there isn’t, then there should be!) I would conclude and describe it as decadent goth!

Finally, and my mane tamer of choice is The Engine Room. A cool industrial styled relaxed salon pumping out the latest trip hop on Middle Lane. Additional attraction is that it’s only a skip from home.

Before moving to Crouch End in 2004 I scanned coiffeurs for suitability, sustainability and perfect match for a Boulevardier. For some odd and unremembered reason I went to Middle Lane Barbers. It must have been proximity rule, as closest to my new home to be. I remember asking for a trim as I was growing my hair longer at the time. They seemed only capable of one styling which was tantamount to shearing! I came out with MUCH shorter hair. Suffice to say I was so upset! These people wield too much power and can mess significantly with your emotion. I didn’t say anything at the time but have never spoken to them since. I walk passed almost every day, and on at least 50% of occasions they are hanging around outside and I look the other way! It’s rather difficult when they are talking to the tattooist next door as I often greet him. I have to be adept to greet him whilst ignoring the butchers. They are rather fortunate in my opinion to not be behind bars! Giving bad hair should be receive capital punishment sentencing!

Trust in Crouch End coiffurists was low and I nervously booked an appointment at The Engine Room. My first cut there was a little rocky, perhaps OK but not exactly what I wanted. However, I loved the place. The decor is industrialist 50s, with flashes of neon and colour. It’s overstatedly understated. The team were really friendly and cool, and I was drawn to an assistant called Jodie who exuded warmth and wit. She was clearly the life, soul and unofficial manager of The Engine Room. For this reason I went back in and explained the cut was not to my taste and explained ‘I didn’t want these short bits at the front! They don’t quiff up properly! I don’t know why the stylist cut them like that’. They were very supportive but started to glaze over as I explained how every single hair on my head should be styled! They carried on listening regardless, and I knew this was the place for me.

The next cut was fantastic and by an aging, cool guy called Greg! He had spent years working in all the top West End salons and now in his later years was spreading his cheer to the outer zones. I was sold when he told me that he was responsible for creating Betty Boos bob in the late 80s! Anyone mention a celeb and I am sold!

Greg and I had a beautiful hair relationship for a number of years, and went through stages of quiff, higher punk, and a beautiful mane which extended down the back of my head and was really quite long! I was a fearless lion with fabulous hair! Colours varied from blonde highlights to reddish lowlights, and spectacular white blonde in 2009 with dark brown scattered throughout and for the shorter sides and sides of the back. I knew the platinum blonde was a onetime affair however, as the condition was hideous! There were 3 bleachings to get the shade of white I wanted! I was SO worried it would fall out! It moved as one as soon as it was wet! Conditioner and treatments were needed daily!

Greg left to move further from urban life, and headed to Suffolk. Mark took over, and is still my current stylist. We have maintained a fantastic mane, moved through punk (was this a mid life crisis, i.e. back to punk!), and back to the trusty quiff. I often get shouts of ‘Elvis!’ on random occasion!

I went back to blue black for 3 years, and then decided to temper to dark brown. I am currently going ‘natural’, which is more grey than anything else! Apparently it looks distinguished and softer than the black.

Anyway, enough of my hair, you’ve heard it all before, and back to the Engine Room. The entire team work as a well oiled machine held together by Jodie, who despite departing to have a baby still echoes at the basins. Simon is the official owner and a pretty decent gent. He is less ostentatious than his team but parades an effortless mod chic around the salon. He is a real Crouch Ender and engages with the community.

Jodie and Greg may be gone but the heart of the Engine Room keeps beating and I am grateful to have found a gem amongst the many on offer. A sanctuary where I don’t need a sherry or valium before succumbing to their scissors!

I won a blow dry at a celebrity hairdressers in Chelsea which I will write about once its occurred! I rarely win anything and whilst a slightly odd prize I am grabbing it by both hands, but celebrity or not they are not getting their scissor happy selves near my award winning locks!

TNW

 

Lady of the Wild West Hill

A lady of recent acquaintance who also happens to be a phenomenal writer advertised that she was putting on and acting in her first play as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival. There was no way I was not going to purchase tickets and enjoy this spectacle.

I marketed my plans to a few friends, and was pleased that three decided to come with me. We plotted to make it an entire day of fun in Brighton.

The morning came, and what to wear? The weather was of course changeable. This is the UK after all! I wanted to dress on trend, but decided that warmth and comfort took precedence as it was to be a long day. Leatherette trousers, Nikki Minaj T shirt, salmon hoodie, and green, cotton, faux denim jacket. Prada trainers, of course, also featured.

We four met at Victoria Station at 11.30am intent on taking the 12.06 express train to Brighton. We headed straight to Marks and Spencers in the station, to get some provisions for a en route picnic! M & S have an ingenious British Summer collection and we excitedly stocked up on such delicacies as Fish and Chips Crisps, and Rhubarb Crumble to be washed down with a nice chilled bottle of prosecco! Once we boarded, chose seats with a table and laid out the picnic the envious looks started from other travellers.

The journey passed quickly and we were soon in Brighton. We took a picturesque walk to the town centre, walking through rows of ample Victorian villas beautifully framed with contemporary shutters. We mused the benefits of living in one of these vast Brighton properties.

After visits to a divine kitchen shop (I know! Why a kitchen shop! We were drawn in by the faux vintage items in the window), Primark (I waited outside), Top Man, (again outside) and H&M, the sun came out and we headed with some urgency towards the beach. The beach area was buzzing with locals and visitors alike. A number of stag and hen parties were present evidenced by their style of costume. The best of which was a stag party adorned in costumes made famous by the Village People, although not sure it was warm enough to be pounding the streets in loincloths! Perhaps the Indian, faux feathered, headdresses added some temperature.

The sun was short lived unfortunately, but we were not perturbed and spent another hour laying on the beach wrapped in coats. We were not the only ones. It would seem rather British to head to the seaside and disrobe with the slightest sign of sun, and then sit on the beach wrapped and shivering.  I pondered it would be useful to have my duvet with me.

Off again and a quick visit to the funfair. Not sure if this Boulevardier knows what is ‘fun’ about the fair as I get sick travelling backwards on a train, let alone being thrown in every direction whilst being insulted with the loudest, latest rap tracks!

After a restorative bottle of Merlot (no sherry) and fish and chips we headed expectantly to the Marlborough Theatre. After getting our hands stamped, thereby allowing us entry to the theatre, we sniffed out the bar and stocked up on extremely large glasses of wine and waited to be allowed to enter the theatre room itself. It was not long before we were hurtling up the stairs and taking some seats in the small but perfect theatre.

VG Lee entered the stage to the tune of Que Sera Sera, and set about her one woman play. VG acted the central character Jean, and introduced us to her friends and neighbours via a series of phone calls, shared coffees and trips to the wool shop. We met Malcolm her neighbour who exuded displaced debonairness, Karen her friend desperately trying to make her romantic endeavours work, straight Stella, and Jean’s distant and married lover Rebecca.

We glimpsed an hour or so of Jean’s life with a number of laughs, but also some tender and touching moments as she tried to make her futile relationship with Rebecca work, all within reach of the wonderful and wild West Hill.

VG has tremendous talent! To date I have adored reading her novels and short stories, and loved her Facebook anecdotes, and can now add loving her playwright and actor credentials. Individually and in person she is a very special lady who I have the pleasure of calling my friend!

I was high with creativity as we left the theatre and headed back to another bar for another quick bottle of red before getting the 10.30 back to London.

A fabulous day filled with laughs, shopping, theatre and sunbathing! What else could one ask for…? (except for maybe ranges of sherry in all drinking establishments)!

TNW