I was going to the 4th Ashes Test Match in Nottingham on the Saturday with 11 members of my cricket team, The Associates, but was a day earlier than most of the others so planned to spend it in London. The London underground had decided to go on strike that evening from 6.30 pm so the mood in London was grisly as everyone knew what a royal pain it would be to get home so most companies decided to let people off early.
When in London I like to stay at the East India Club and here I'll give a little plug to the University Club of Toronto where I am a member and with whom the EIC has a delightful reciprocal arrangement with members in good standing. Fortunately I'd paid the UCT bill so I was able to stay at the EIC for a very reasonable rate and enjoy their facilities but particularly their breakfast and proximity to Piccadilly, less than 100 yards away.
As the Bermuda flight gets into Gatwick around 7 am it was a stroke of luck that the room I'd booked was available so I was able to get some sleep before stepping out on the town. The weather was decent too so it would be a day of walking.
I started out with lunch at one of my favourite pubs just off Bond Street called The Guinea, a Youngs pub still happily which used to make the best steak pies in the country. Certainly they were the best I've ever eaten but as their heyday was in the 1990's when they ruled the roost, the current incarnation whilst it tried hard simply didn't measure up. Mark on report card: Must try harder. Actually it should be go back to the old recipe and method. Back then (in the late 1970's/early 1980's -- gulp!) they made one tray of steak pies that were in round dough balls crammed with steak. They only made 24 each day so you had to be there early. These days, there are pies a-plenty probably at all times of the day. Nice for sure but it does make me wonder about changes that happen today. At times like this, syrely there was no need to change. Sometimes I think we make changes largely because we can. There's some new technology available that we can use to make things quicker and -- here comes the dreaded word -- more efficiently. So we use it. It may be not as good but making it is sure more efficient than it was in the past. Are we really happy to have sacrificed quality for efficiency?
I love walking in London so whilst I had a fully charged Oyster Card I also had plenty of time before I was due to meet my brother Jan and his daughter/my neice Gabs in Shoreditch. So no need to rush over there so I bumbled. One of my favourite hobbies. Up Bond Street past all those designer and fine art shops, some of which I used to audit back in the 1970's/1980's. They are still there too! I am sure their prices are higher as whilst the street was jammed it looked like the only buyers were dressed in burkas trailing endless children.
Next was Oxford Street, Oxford Circus, Regent Street -- with enforced stop at the jammed Apple store -- Carnaby Street -- yes, its back and still as tacky looking as ever, but the record store I used to buy bootlegs from has gone of course -- Soho, China Town, Leicester Square -- no movies at the time I was there -- Charing Cross Road -- I couldn't find Foyle's Bookstore but understand that it has moved to Shaftesbury Avenue round the corner; shame it moved, there's no more book shops left on Charing Cross Road -- Covent Garden -- and another necessary pitstop at the amazingly redeveloped Apple Store there -- Holborn Kingsway -- past another hotel that I used to audit with cellars probably 200 feet down which went on for hundreds of yards containing wines back to the Napoleonic era when I was doing the audit -- down to the Strand, turn left at the Aldwych and head toward the Temple Bar announcing the start of the City and of Fleet Street.
I worked on Fleet Street in the middle 1970's with our office next to the Daily Express building when newspapers were actually printed on and around Fleet Street. Our audit room was on the same level as the editor's office and when one of our new guys told everyone that his dad would likely be in the daily meetings, we of course looked out for him and waved like crazy. After the first time when his dad called to tear a strip off him, we carried on anyway but they turned out to have worked us out and waved back... so of course that was no fun, so we stopped doing it and got on with our work! Both buildings are still there happily as is my favourite pub of the time -- the Olde Cheshire Cheese -- which served lovely Marston's Pedigree.
Up Ludgate Hill across Ludgate Circus -- no more Ludgate Cellars regrettably -- past the Old Bailey to St. Paul's Cathedral. It looked lovely as always. There is this magnificent photo of London in the blitz with everywhere burning in the middle of which is the dome of St. Paul's. Still gives me a lump in the throat when I see it.
My office in Paternoster Square -- an ugly building now happily gone and replaced with a vibrant new Churchyard -- was right next to St. Paul's when they were cleaning it probably for the first time in a century. The method: hoses. For a year. Before it was black and foreboding. After it was all gleaming stone and magnificence. Still is.
|My office was in the rubble to the left of St. Paul's from this angle, going up Ludgate Hill. Not much left after the Luftwaffe had had their say that and many other nights.|
I was sad to find that the City Pipe, another favourite haunt of mine, had been redeveloped but it was only a short stroll along Cheapside until you reach the Bank of England, Mansion House and the Royal Exchange. Always bustling, I just love the City and about this time I started to fantasize about getting a job in the City to wind out my working days. I think I'll get over that though!
Next stop was to move along Broad Street until you reach Bishopsgate and then turn leftish towards Liverpool Street Station. Years ago, this was much smaller. These days it seems a monstrous sea of glass and impressive red brick. Where did that red brick come from? Also the usual hordes of bars and restaurants. I am amazed about the number there are. How can they all survive? There used to be the Great Eastern and across the street Dirty Dicks -- a real underground dive cum hovel if ever there was. Very trendy nowadays, you can even have office functions there. In my day, you'd never admit you frequented Dirty Dicks! -- but that was about it.
From the station, it was just a short further walk up Bishopsgate to Shoreditch. Under the railway, first right, first left and there you are at #7 Boundary Street, the home of Dishoom, a Bombay Cafe and venue for tonight's knees up with Jan and Gabs.
Very nice place too with a lovely verandah area (summer only of course) that just begged to be sat in with cool drinks and interesting nibbles coming along to join in. Whilst waiting, I just had to have a Limca Tom Collins -- Limca is an Indian lemonade that contains no lemon apparently yet tastes like it and is quite possibly the sweetest beverage you will ever consume.
|One of the world's most sugary beverages|
Then came the crowds, and the lines and more crowds and more lines. Quite amazing but not hard to understand why as the food was terrific and when one swapped to alternative cocktails, so were they. The atmosphere was jumping and in all we had a simply lovely evening.
The basic premise with Dishoom is that of a Bombay Cafe run by Iranians (or Farsi's in India). The menu was just like it sounded when my mum and dad told me of the clubs they'd go to for lunch and dinner with all the little accompaniments to curries that make it such an enjoyable eating experience.
And drinking too for who wouldn't want to go to a prohibition busting bar? Called the Permit Room because of the prohibition that exists (then and now) in Bombay meaning you had to go to a special room for those pre-independence cocktails that you love. It's their bar.
Great time and great layover!