I abandoned my children and Mark with nary a backward glance and high-tailed it to London on Friday for the start of my glorious weekend away. I had everything ready for the perfect train journey as you can see -
After dropping my bags at the hotel I went straight to the TKTS booth at Leicester Square to see what was available. I was utterly delighted to get a ticket to Women On The Verge, starring the fabulous Tamsin Greig and one of the heroes of my teen years, Haydn Gwynne. She played Alex in Drop the Dead Donkey, and was all the things I wished I were. So double YAY getting tickets for that.
My main goal for Friday was to find the perfect red leather handbag. Remember back in July when the house was broken into and my bag taken? I put the insurance money on one side so I could buy a suitable lovely replacement in London while the sales were on.
I don't know about you, but I find it hard to buy things like that online. I'm a tactile soul; I need to feel things like cloth or leather before I can decide whether I want them. Quite a few things that looked lovely when I saw them online weren't nice to the touch when I found them in the shop. And if I'm only going to have one handbag, it ought to be a decent one.
So, having done some research I had a list of shop names and addresses and a sensible route covering all of them so I could make my choice. First up - Regent Street.
I had no luck along most of it - the Liberty sale was down to dregs and most places just didn't have anything I loved. I got a nice 2 course lunch in a little French cafe and went in search of a shop called & Other Stories. It's the more stylish part of the H&M chain, apparently, and has several branches in Scandinavia and the Benelux, bur only one in the UK. They'd had some nice bags and ankle boots on their website, so seemed worth a look.
The boots were quite narrow fitting, so I didn't get the rather dashing pair I'd being eyeing up online. However, a petite satchel-type bag - originally £95, listed at £45 on the website - was down to £28 in the shop. The leather was soft and supple, the shoulder strap a good length and I thought it would be great for when I don't need a massive bag full of stuff. It's this one here. At 70% off, it would have been rude not to buy it, surely?
This first purchase made, I met my Very Excellent Mate Laura for a coffee. Laura and I used to see the ballet together - especially when Bon was living in Saudi - and we've known each other more than 10 years. However, her job, finishing her PhD and having a baby (now a toddler, the gorgeous Sylvie) meant we hadn't met up in about 3 years. It was so lovely to spend time together. She's such a fab person.
When we parted I stepped up the bag hunt. I detoured briefly to buy some clothes for Luke - damn those kids and their growing! - but otherwise blasted through the accessories section of every department store and boutique like a guided missile. My penultimate stop was that home-from-home for the white middle class English woman, John Lewis.
Oh boy. They had MASSES of bags in the sale. Masses. And loads of them were red. Red is the best colour for bags, by the way, because it goes with all the usual base colours - black, navy and brown. It is also my favourite colour. The lad in John Lewis laughed as he saw me, complete in my red woollen coat, stacking 15 red handbags in front of the mirror to try them all on. "I'm sensing a theme..."
I thought I'd found a PERFECT mix of everything I wanted, until I realised it was by Mulberry and was £849 in the sale. Perhaps not.
Eventually I whittled it down to 2 - a leather crocodile print satchel by Osprey and a soft, less formal bag by Donna Karan. The Osprey bag was utterly gorgeous but rather impractical - not very capacious, not shoulder strap (and I like the option of one) and quite formal. The DKNY bag had fab curved pockets, super soft leather, a removable shoulder strap and was much more 'me.' But ohhh that crocodile print was pretty.
I went to House of Fraser to browse there and have a think. I happened upon a pair of zebra print Vans for £16, and snaffled them immediately. My scruffy, comfy shoes are nearly falling apart so I had an excuse to buy the Vans.
A cuppa and a coin toss later (always helpful when you want to find out which outcome you were hoping for) I knew it had to be the DKNY. Formal and fancy is nice for weekends away, but this will be the bag on my arm most days for the next few years.
Isn't it nice?
I dropped off my shopping and went to the theatre, where Tamsin made me laugh and Haydn made me cry. I loved the production - bright, vibrant and thoroughly good fun. However, the theatre's Circle levels have very steep sloping ceilings, so the back 2 or 3 rows can't see the upper level of the stage. Some action does take place there, leaving those of us at the back sliding down in our seats, cricking our necks in an attempt to see. On the off chance you are likely to go, I wouldn't sit further back than G, H at the most. Luckily I was able to move forward into an empty seat after a bit.
Yes, I DID stay behind to get autographs and photos and no, I'm not going to show you. I took them for the amusement of Bon and my Very Excellent Mate Alison, who was so amused by the Matthew Mcfadden picture last year. Suffice to say they are hopeless pictures but I was delighted to meet such ace women. I have the heart of a groupie and I'm not ashamed of that.
On Saturday morning I opted out of the torrential rain and stayed inside with a book. Once Bon arrived we headed to the shops and cafes in a cold wind but thankfully no further precipitation. I shopped a bit, I bought coffee beans to get me through the (mostly) dry January we're having for (mostly) pecuniary reasons but the main activity of the day was talking. And talking. And some more. I was hoarse when we paused to get ready for the ballet. (Although in fairness I was rather hoarse to start with - my throat is still ropey).
Matthew Bourne made us laugh and cry, again. Was this the 4th time I'd seen Edward Scissorhands or the 5th? Not sure, but it was still magical. We had a marvellous time.
Incidentally, should you ever be in the vicinity of Sadler's Wells, I recommend The Gate vegetarian restaurant which is next to the traffic lights. We've been for the last 3 years and found it delicious. As a pair of pescetarians, it's nice to have a whole menu to choose from. (The aubergine with the horseradish sauce is my favourite)
On Sunday we were up and out early to meet my ace sister in law Elif. We met at Trafalgar Square, where there was an impromptu memorial to the victims of the attacks in Paris.
A security guard said there would be a demonstration that evening, with the French flag projected against the building.
Mark's brother Drew is a good natured but pretty vague soul. He did have the sense to marry an ace woman, however. in addition, he works at the National Gallery, which is ideal for visiting culture-vulture sisters-in-law wanting to cadge free exhibition tickets. Drew had sorted us out with free passes to the Rembrandt exhibition, bless him. I don't think he's a fan himself - when Elif asked him what Rembrandt was like he apparently told her "paints brown pictures."
I was blown away by the paintings we saw. The difference between the reproductions I'd seen in books and the real paintings was incredible - like the difference between a pressed flower and a fresh one. They seemed to pop right out of the painting - a 3d trompe d-oeil. Elif's favourite was a tiny sketch of Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac, and Bon loved the technique of the Alexander the Great painting, but my favourite was the first self-portrait in the exhibition, from around 1650. He looked as if he was someone I'd know, and want to talk about things with.
I think we were united in our lack of admiration for the Jewish Bride. The blurb talked about the loving and intimate caress. All I saw was a woman with a slightly pursed mouth trying to move her bloke's hand, saying "Will you take your hand of my tit, damn it? The portrait painter's here!" The portraits and the guild painting were more my taste.
After lunch at the gallery Elif went to work, Bon and I wandered around and browsed in the shops. I really value the time to chat; I wish we lived closer together. She headed off for her train, I seemed to have misplaced a good hour or so and Waterstones, and the weekend was winding down gently.
Before the train home I joined those gathered at Trafalgar Square to show solidarity with Paris and all those facing violent attacks. I'd never seen so many French people gathered anywhere outside France before. The memorial had grown in size during the day and, as I watched, ever more people came to place their pencils and pens in the circle of candles. The atmosphere was thoughtful and reflective. It was a moving experience.
I'll confess to feeling a little bothered by the focus on the events in Paris. They were undoubtedly dreadful and a real threat to a world I know and understand. But in the same few days 2,000 bodies were found in Nigeria. As if Boko Haram felt they hadn't been vicious enough, they then did the single most twisted thing I've ever heard of: they strapped a bomb to a 10 year old girl, sent her into a busy market and detonated it from afar.
They turned a child into a bomb.
I agree Nous Sommes Tous Charlie. But surely we are all Nigeria too.