Before I start I will have to write a disclaimer. Dogs mentioned in this blog bear no resemblance whatsoever to the gorgeous twin set and pearls that are Pugsy and Ted Godwin-Crowhurst. If I don’t put this in, my friend Lorna will hunt me down and probably hurt me. With sharp things. So there you have it, Lorna, put your pitchfork back in the shed until the next time I commit an inadvertent canine faux pas!
The festive season is fast approaching and, as usual, I’m seeing far too much of the inside of various capital city hostelries. Against my will, obviously, dragged there kicking and struggling (to get out of my coat) while silently mouthing “Mine’s a gin, Jock!” as I am manhandled to the bar. Sit down before you fall down. Good advice, never forgotten.
Anyway the point is I would like to pay homage to the humble London pub. I have lately spent time in The Burlington Arms (does a nice scotch egg, bar staff slower than sloth on Mogadon), The Harp (handy for the station when Network Rail decide to play 7-card rummy all evening instead of running a train service), The Windmill (dark, seedy, strangely exciting) and a particular favourite lunchtime haunt of mine – The Market Tavern. This last is pretentiously posh and not really a pub at all but a holding pen for beautiful, delicious smelling people who have got fed up waiting in the queue for Burger & Lobster and are getting royally tanked up instead. “Bugger the lobster!” they scream into their Tanqueray martinis. Cruel – but then if you don’t want to eat it I can see how you might consider that as an alternative, given the price you pay for them. Lobster love not to be undertaken lightly however – there are still the nippers to consider. And I’m not talking about the side dish of little prawns.
The thing is….the thing IS….these pubs each have a charm of their own and remain true to the spirit of “public house”. Not everyone’s home is the same and it is this individuality and stubborn disregard for the majority taste that makes these places so great. Where would we be without a collection of photos of Princess Margaret and some faux cacti on the windowsill? Who doesn’t want harlequin patterned curtains because the fabric can be bought in bulk and the design doesn’t show the phlegm? The Tavern even has velveteen sofas. Pretty convinced they wouldn’t mind if you slipped on your comfy trousers and watched an episode of Corrie from them. So long as you smell delicious.
Whereas….the local joints in the village and surroundings where I live are…well, as I said to a mate, they are dire. One which shall remain nameless – a particular favourite of several friends of mine – smells constantly of nursing home wee. Another has been painted in a shocking shade of clotted cream, rendering it so dazzlingly uninviting and operating-theatre-bright that I wouldn’t go in there even if I had just had Botox pumped by concrete mixer into every inch of my face. Not to mention the locals sitting there harrumphing into their mulled Guinness with faces on like pugs with piles. I’ve heard of overbite but surely your lower teeth should not gurn their way up to your eyebrows?
Something is lacking in Sussex when it comes to atmosphere and ambience. We’ve tried lots of places and – sadly – it is a county-wide issue.
So, if you’re looking for me, I will be mostly drinking in the smoke this festive season. Places where you can meet a giant bloke called Tim – a good sort with half an arm, an army career under his belt and a great line in Irish jokes. Or Sheila – 94 if she is a day – who has been drinking in the same pub for about 40 years and can tell you how every bit of sticky floor came to be there. Amazing people.
Sussex – you need to man up and get your act together. Having the nation’s monopoly on old black-beamed boozers is not enough. Come to London and have a look – it’s all going on up there, you know. Cheers!!
As many of you know, I have taken a new job back in the smoke and – so far, so good. I have already had a great bonding dinner with the other girls in my team – lots of wine and cocktails somewhere in the Kings Road, a missed last train home and some rumours of a 4AM finish for some of them? My lips are sealed……
I am slowly working out the company dynamics and trying to blend in while still being at the “haven’t a clue” stage of company knowledge. I have also broken two secure password thingamajiggas that has confounded the IT chappy, spilt coffee down a colleague’s shirt just before his lunch with a client and tripped over my own heel exclaiming “Sh*t!” in front of the Chief Exec and his guest. So, all good. 😀
The downside to it all is the hours. There are many of them. All spent at my desk in London. All spent away from the family. Many more hours than in my previous job. Such is life – I’m happy to be in work and, to be fair, the hours have all been necessary and not just pfaffing about. I cannot complain.
Last night I managed to give myself a break from late night commuting and booked into the newly refurbished Café Royal Hotel which re-opened its doors in Summer 2012. Just off Regent Street, the hotel couldn’t be more convenient and – all credit to them – they have done a spectacular job of it. The lobbies, staircases and quirky Art Deco lifts take you back to a bygone age in the Café’s heyday. It was like entering an episode of Poirot for the evening, watching the needle pointer curve over the halfway mark as the ancient-looking elevator ascended through the floors. Polite and penguin-like staff are EVERYWHERE. You cannot move without someone wishing you a good evening or safe travels. Eh? I just walked here from down the road. No matter. If they start to gather in the hallways in groups just punch them gently out of the way. It’s the hospitality industry, they’re used to it.
Once inside the rooms, however, all thoughts of penguin-punching vanish. The world and its demands fades away as you take in your sumptuous surroundings. There is apparently a selection of more “blokey” style rooms – Mansard they call them – all wood panelling and musky scented but I didn’t get to see those on my short tour. No matter as I am, in fact, a girl. Yes, its true and not a cross-dressing version of me. So I had booked into a Portland room – beautifully furnished with every modern convenience, according to the brochure and with walls cloaked in smooth stone. Sounds odd but it really works and you feel…..safe, sort of cocooned for some odd reason.
Un-flipping-believably, I was upgraded. No bog-standard Port-a-potty room for me. Oh no. I was to be the jammy-bugger one-night owner of a fabulous junior suite! The place was bigger than my house. Ri-di-cu-lous. With its own sitting room, kitchenette with coffee machine and a bathroom big enough to hold the cast of Les Mis, it wasn’t half bad I can tell you. I could have moved the family and a couple of stray dogs into it, no trouble.
I struggled a bit with all the electronics – I am challenged in the techy department as we know. Having stupidly stripped off my dress first, I tried to shut the drapes by button and instead managed to open the sheer curtains and give the offices opposite a wonderful view of me in my bra and knicks at the naked window. Sorry peeps. Not intentional.
Having ducked down behind a pink leather chair, I fumbled my way to the perfect curtain state and then tackled the lighting. This is all at midnight, dear friends, several rums up and with thumbs that would not respond to direct instruction. The lights, I finally discovered, worked by simply stroking them. *As do I – note to Man-Hog.* How marvellous. But best of all was the B&O TV which, if you get your thumbs to behave on the controls, turns to face you wherever you are in the room and booms its little movie-playing heart out through fab surround-sound speakers.
Having tried out all the nice smelly bottles of goodies in the bathroom and resisted raiding the mini-bar, I finally decided to hit the hay. In a bed the size of Africa. It was H-UUUUUUU-GE. I felt like a hobbit in a B&B. Supremely comfortable and with Frette linens – aaaahhhhh. You fellow textile fetishists will understand. It was an absolute pleasure to starfish inelegantly and still have room to roll over three times and not fall off. I’m getting me one of those beds. And a punchable penguin to say good morning to me on demand.
Considering its central location, you honestly couldn’t hear anything from the streets outside or from the hallways. It was actually a shock when the alarm woke me up this morning. After a dip in the marble bath which was more like swimming than washing, I got myself dressed and regretfully left this oasis of calm and opulence. Back to reality tonight alongside the Man-Hog, snorting, wheezing and gurning his way through the night altogether far too close to me and in a bed nothing like the one at the Café. Ah well. Marriage is a blessing.
If you get a chance and you’re up on a theatre/shopping trip sometime, try the hotel. There is a restaurant and bar, and a soon-to-be-ready spa and gym. For one night of crazy, over-the-top pampering and quirkiness, it’s well worth the price tag. Don’t ask the price first, it has no truck with economic decline and will only spoil it for you! Enjoy!
Café Royal Hotel
68 Regent Street
London W1B 5EL
Ph: +44 20 7406 3322
Photo Credits: All my own