I once lived in London - at the top of a road near Kensington High Street. If I stood in front of the elongated narrow kitchen window, Earls Court would be situated immediately to the south (my right), Knightsbridge down the lane to the east (ahead of me) and Holland Park a few short steps to the north-west (my left). To my north (my back) the ever intriguing famous Notting Hill…
It was a good time. Similar in some ways to the book ‘A Good Year’ (Peter Mayle) except that I was in England and not France, did not inherit a vineyard with a huge house and wasn’t fired like the character Max.
During the following months I stayed in a big mansion, walking almost everyday. Often with set determination to spend my weekly earnings on neck & heel breaking Laura Lee and boutique outfits. Very often returning with nothing but a Boots smelly soap, my first ever wax strips, a new squash racket and balls, or a bottle of newly released Aussie or French wine under the arm. It was here at Safeway that the round-faced butcher bellowed on top of his deeply humored voice “Chicken BREASTS then for our young lady!” (I left deeply flushed like the red raspberries carefully placed next to the brown-paper wrapped succulent chicken-breasts.)
Soon I was quite skinny. Taking Miss Kelly on long walks to Kensington Palace and once we were rebuked by a stranger with flashing eyes when the 80-year old dear said too loudly that the Princess of Wales had been a disgrace to the Royal Family. Traffic halted together with pedestrians when one afternoon an unusual person sailed across the saliva-spat dirty pavement, apparently oblivious to a staring audience. Maybe she was a drag-queen, actress or maybe not. With those fishnet stockings, endless long and shapely legs and weird hairdo, I still wonder.
A lot of me became still during golden October afternoons and darker mornings. After months of commuting to unknown stations and employers, trying to figure out why I lived a solitude life in a foreign country, I saw another side to life abroad. I got up at eight in the morning, enjoyed Italian M&S coffee at leisure, bathed in a deep old bath full of spindly cracks and had almost too many free evenings to read, wander in Holland Park and visit the art-shop around its main entrance or hit the streets that I have never quite seen deserted.
Once the sight of a Kensington High Street Madonna nearly sent a prudish-me puking with shock and revolt in a small backstreet. Heavily pregnant she wore a tight bra-like top and a golden ring protruded from a protruding belly. Nothing subtle about that and worse was a beggar that nastily spat on my new leather jacket on another occasion, when I gave him a piece of my bread and advice.
The Odeon cinema is kind of an old-fashioned and bloody expensive activity. Nearby is an Italian restaurant, extremely popular. I once enjoyed a slivered-cold-mutton dinner in this cozy woody place with its jovial owner and chef. There were other places too, but perhaps this was my favorite dine-out.
It was the post-towers time, 2002 when threats of dirty-bombs were hovering dark and sinister in the air. I wondered whether I ought to buy masking tape to seal up the windows, to buy tinned food and bottled water and…decided against the whole idea. Often I would hop on a tube train to get to Oxford Street, Trafalgar square or Camden Town where I bought a sexy sandy dress which I’ve so far only worn once.
A fellow South African, a year younger and male was introduced to me at an East London potjie-pub-party. We were instant friends and met up at Starbucks – for once someone insisted paying for my cuppa coffee. We went for long walks, shared our thoughts and plenty of laughter. He took me to little shops that he insisted I had to see; closer, further and deeper into the city than I ever could have guessed. I introduced him to the Victoria Museum and Tate Modern, we lounged on a park bench with his head resting on my lap - looking at the oak leafs, me and blue sky - and we marveled at the ease of our friendship. We both loved Holland Park with its acres of scented roses, squirrels and hidden corners and once asked a lovely French couple about their stunning two Pointer hounds.
We drank wine in the tree shade outside an underground spooky candle-lit pub, fed pigeons and went listening to an acquaintance playing saxophone during a jazz evening at the Oxo Tower. Spectacular views from the top. And Elaine Vassal from the drama Allie MacBeal exchanged a few pleasantries during a trip in the lift down. She is much shorter in real life, and very pretty…
I knew him for a short time only, and all this little episodes to remember…My gentle friend then had to get on board of a friend’s yacht and set sail back to SA. There was no time to say good bye. Just as well; I may have fallen in love.
I wonder…If I stayed there, if I just stayed and never went away. What would and could have happened?