Two meals in two Thai restaurants in two days. Both in the company of Sophie Scott who has been in the Smoke this weekend. She is now on her way home and has sent a series of texts about delayed departures and full trains. I hope the piece of cake I gave her will be enough to sustain her on her journey north.
We wanted to go to a popular Chinese restaurant last night. It was full. Told a table might be free around half past nine, we opted for Mama Thai near my home. Sophie had come to my flat not to see me, but because she couldn’t visit London without renewing her acquaintance with MasterB. At first he wasn’t sure, but a few sniffs (by him, not Sophie) seemed to jog his memory and he gave her hand a lick and submitted to a short cuddle. He
was happier when she played with him, and happier still when he found her hat. Made of faux fur, it could have been an extra in Doctor Zhivago. Maybe it was. MasterB was not lost in rapt admiration of it as a piece of headgear, no, he saw it as toy and for a few pregnant seconds I thought he was going to kill it. Sophie removed it gently but firmly from his grasp, and it was back to string games.
The wait for our meals was torture. The place smelled wonderful. We followed dishes with our eyes as they were carried to other tables. Eventually ours came. We tucked in. They were delicious. After eating, we went to my local pub where a group of rowdy and rather inebriated women were lowering the tone in the name of someone’s fortieth birthday. We only stayed for one drink.
Today was Chinese New Year, so we met up on the wonderfully squashy sofas in the Charing Cross Hotel in the morning. It was raining. It was cold. Trafalgar Square was wrapped in red. Sophie, who I realised today has very little knowledge of London, was surprised it was so close. From the steps of St Martin’s we peered into the square. There didn’t seem to be a lot happening. I wished we had access to rooms in Canada or South Africa House where we could watch and be warm. So we walked up to Lisle Street where we could hear drumming, but could not see the drummers. This was to be a recurring frustration. There were crowds of people, mainly with umbrellas; always a danger in London if you value your eyes.
Our thoughts turned to lunch. The restaurants in Lisle Street had queues, and it was the same story at the east end of Gerrard Street, and I for one lacked the courage to push my way through the throng to see if it was any better at the other end. We headed north into Soho, which is where we found an almost empty Thai restaurant opposite a building in Frith Street with an Englsih Heritage blue plaque saying that Wolfgang Ademeus Mozart had lived in a house on the site for a year. A few doors further along there was another plaque to say that was the building where John Logie Baird had demonstrated television in 1926. The food was fine and the waiters were pleasant. My starter was so pretty I took a photograph of it with my ‘phone. Now I can’t remember how to download it. Our mains arrived. Nicely presented, but a few mouthfuls in, Sophie voiced what I was thinking; it wasn’t as good as Mama Thai’s. However we were warm and cosy. And that counted. Replete and wrapped up against the cold, we went back into the streets where brave souls were dancing and performing martial arts demonstrations.
We snapped a few photos and headed for more warmth and the National Gallery. We weren’t the only ones. The place was full with art lovers seeking shelter from the cold. Outside, through a window on the stairs in the Sainsbury wing, we could see a woman singing on the stage in Trafalgar Square. Or rather we could see her picture on a huge screen, and the tops of her fingers over the barrage of red lanterns strung across the square. Nelson looked down on her from his perch in the grey sky.
It was time for Sophie to be thinking about getting away. We stopped for a hot drink and said our goodbyes at the Embankment. It may not have been the most orthodox way to welcome the Year of the Snake, but it worked for me.