Saturday, August 9, 2008

London Life Part I: Food and Friends

A couple weeks ago I took a trip to London to see theatre. I had every intention of writing blog entries regularly, possibly even while away. I didn't.

I finally figured out why (aside from the usual life is busy/stuff happens reasons). The trip itself was overwhelming and the idea of attempting to capture it in a few pithy sentences in a single brief essay was even moreso.

Therefore, I have decided to report on my London trip in installments, partly so that I can give you a better sense of my adventures and partly so I can face writing this blog. It might be more information than many of you desire but this was one of those "trips of a lifetime" and I want to remember it in detail.

Before last month, I had never been to London. Or anywhere else in England. Or the UK. Or Europe. Or... In fact, I had never flown across the Atlantic. I've been through a lot of the U.S., to Mexico, Venezuela, Jamaica and Cuba. And I have been across Canada many times (though I have yet to visit Newfoundland - that's on my list.) So this was a big trip for me.

I returned from my family vacation in Nova Scotia on Wednesday, July 16 and on Friday, July 18 I left for London. By myself. I wouldn't necessarily choose to have such a quick turnaround but the trip was planned to coordinate with the schedules of my friends Michelle and Dave who are in London housesitting for most of the summer and had invited me to stay with them for part of my trip. They are social butterflies who lived in London for more than six years and attracted an extravagant number of friends. There was one week when they could accommodate a houseguest and Michelle would have time to come see plays. I didn't want to miss it.

The flight to London from Vancouver is through the night and with the eight hour time difference I arrived around 11 am Saturday (3 am Vancouver time). The flight on British Airways was great - made me long for the bygone days of full-service airlines. With the good food, movies, occasional naps and lots of adrenalin, I arrived feeling quite perky. After a short tube ride I was with Michelle in Chiswick, a posh borough in West London.

The house we stayed in was amazing. Worth millions, it was large even by North American standards, set on a beautiful property with a separate garage with games room; front, side ,and rear yards; a beautiful patio; and a hot tub. The house itself was stunning; a brick Victorian three story with all the modern amenities. I think I might have met my dream kitchen - large gas range with side grill; two ovens; enormous subzero fridge; adjacent family room; eating area to seat 10 with French doors onto the patio; heated slate floors... Fabulous.

As we were walking to the house from the tube station, Michelle pointed in the direction of "ArtsEd" the grad school where she had studied acting while they lived in London. "There's a matinee the Masters students are doing this afternoon, if you're up to it," she said. She was only half serious but she was also curious to see what this year's grads were up to. And I can hardly resist a challenge, especially one that involves theatre. So after I settled in and had a snack, we headed out.

The play was a modern adaptation of The Bacchae entitled The Disorderly Women. That I was willing to see a Greek tragedy when I had been up for more than 24 hours testifies to my insanity or my dedication to theatre or both. The production had its strengths but the best things about it were getting to see where Michelle had gone to school and meeting one of her acting instructors who happened to be in the audience.

That evening, after putting their darling twins ("we're five now!") to bed, the social butterflies had a party (ostensibly for Dave's upcoming birthday, though I suspect it was primarily a reason to get together with their friends and eat chocolate). Those who do not know Michelle will want to after the following description. Chocoholics, sit down.

Michelle made chocolate desserts for the party. I will attempt to recall all of them: amaretto chocolate cheesecake; chocolate marzipan pots de creme; mango white chocolate parfaits; chocolate strawberry trifle; fatfree chocolate banana cake; chocolate meringues; chocolate meringue summer berry pavlova; chocolate bread and butter pudding made with croissants; chocolate raspberry torte; and chocolate "shots" - a concoction with secret ingredients that was much like drinking a flavourful chocolate fudge sauce. I might have forgotten something, but you get the idea.

There were only a dozen people at the party.

Understandably, the party needed to go late in order for the guests to have an opportunity to use the hot tub and make several trips to the dessert table (which was in the large formal dining room, not the aforementioned 'kitchen nook'.) I headed to bed around midnight and I think the party actually wrapped around 3 am. Welcome to London.

The next day was a typical Dave and Michelle whirl. We met several of the same people and some others at a neighbourhood greasy spoon for a "Full English" breakfast. I passed on the blood pudding and beans but I did try the famous English sausages and eat some eggs and tomatoes (be sure to pronounce that correctly as you read). After brunch, some of Michelle's friends from acting school came over. Then we went to church.

Dave and Michelle's primary sense of loss in moving back to Canada is that they miss their London church. I understand why. A church plant intended to reach out to non-churchy types in the borough of Acton, it meets in a Church of England high school at 4:30 on Sunday afternoons. The service I went to was quite atypical (a full-immersion baptism in an Anglican church? what?) but I could see why they love it so much. The congregation was young, vibrant and friendly and the service unconventional without being entirely wacky. The vicar and his wife are lovely, unpretentious people (I met them at the party the night before) and the entire atmosphere is warm and welcoming.

It was Dave's turn to go out to the pub for dinner afterwards so Michelle and I headed home to put the girls to bed and, you guessed it, have guests over to visit. (And they have more than two months of this sort of schedule!)

So my first two days in London involved one show, one church service, and lots of visiting. I was aware that the generosity of my friends meant my experience was completely different, more like a local than a tourist, and in many ways much richer, than it would have been if I was on my own. Thank you Dave and Michelle.

Next installment: let the playgoing begin!


Kaylee said...

I just rooted around in all the cupboards for some chocolate to temporarily divert my jealousy and food lust after reading all that. I am still dissatisfied.

erin.germaine said...

i think even if i did have chocolate it would pale in comparison to the talents of michelle's hands.