Friends, family and Shakespeare in Love

The wind down to the end of my stay in the UK has been so busy that I’m going to need a rest when I get back to Toronto. I’m in Putney at the moment, mildly relieved that a friend has had to cancel our catch-up this evening. I’m worn out!

Thursday I went down to Leigh-on-Sea to meet Ellen and Dan for lunch as they live in Essex, not exactly close to Leigh-on-Sea, but close enough. Plus I had originally planned to be staying there that night but those plans changed. Ellen and I went to high school together (she was a year above) and I was one of the bridesmen at her wedding.

It was a beautiful day by the seaside and we had plenty to talk about, not least of which the impending birth of their first child (only six weeks away) and the purchase of a new house (Dan got the call while we were there to say that the exchange had gone through). Though both looked really good and it was such a great joy to spend time with them.

Getting back to London was a bit of a bother, stupidly deciding to take the District Line from Tower Hill during rush hour on a very hot and humid day. It took ages and was very uncomfortable. In the evening I had dinner with Jackie and Laura, giving us a chance to chat as there hasn’t been much while I’ve been here.

Friday Amy picked me up and we went for lunch and a walk in Richmond Park. This was also my opportunity to spend some time with Amy’s two-and-a-half-month-old daughter Elia, who’s very adorable. Another warm day but we enjoyed the gardens at Richmond Park and caught up on what’s been happening and what’s on the horizon. We also saw lots of deer resting in the shade, including many with antlers.

After lunch, I went into London to meet Leon and Alice (my uncle and aunt), as well as Jackie and her friend Tina. We went to the Crypt Cafe beneath St Martin’s in the Fields, which is a great place to meet, though wasn’t as cool as we were expecting. It was about 31 degrees in London with 80% humidity so the heat was really making me melt, especially as I walked from Waterloo Station to Trafalgar Square.

Leon, Alice and I then went for dinner with their daughter, Jo, and her boyfriend, Andy, at a place in Soho called Pho. Pretty good Vietnamese food, which was then followed by going to see the stage production of Shakespeare in Love. I’ve not seen the movie but apparently it follows it pretty closely. It was fun, even if the modern interpretation of acting and rehearsals etc was a bit jarring at first. The use of space was excellent and the way the stage moved about was impressive. It was laugh.

Saturday I caught the train down to Oxted as Leon, Alice, Jo and I were going to Alice’s brothers house for her and her sisters joint birthday party. Alice’s brother owns half a manor house in the country. It’s a bit place with a massive kitchen, about six or seven rooms (and just about as many bathrooms), and grounds. A perfect setting for gathering 41 of Alice’s family. I struggled with names after a certain point, though could absolutely remember the dog’s names (Alfie and Daisy).

There was a lot of food and plenty of drink to take us into the night. Sheila and Ian were also there, which I was really pleased about as it gave us time to catch-up. I talked to a few people I hadn’t met before, and told people I was an author when they asked what I did. It’s still a difficult thing to say. People were interested though and I was encouraged to talk to one of the younger relatives because he’s doing creative writing at university. I even sounded like I knew things.

Michael's house
Michael’s house

Me, Leon, Jo and AliceSunday I went for lunch with Leon, Alice and their friends in London. Jo and Andy were there too. I met more people, a few I knew from the last time I was here. Ate and drank way too much, but had a lovely time. Then I had to get across London to catch the train to Leigh-on-Sea for a dinner in my honour. This time it was with Sheila, Ian, Mary and Mary, Martin, Laurence and William. I was running late as all the trains were delayed but I didn’t get there much later than expected, so I was relieved.

We had dinner at a Thai restaurant, one of the few restaurants that are open in Leigh-on-Sea on a Sunday night. Even then, they close at 9:30 (and really want you out earlier). Leigh-on-Sea has upgraded a bit over the past year with new restaurants and cafes, turning it quite trendy, though you’d be hard pressed to find somewhere open on a Sunday night. Bizarre.

The meal was really good, probably one of the better Thai meals I’ve had outside Australia, which is a relief. Once again, ate too much, adding it on to the mountains I’ve eaten over the past two weeks. Definitely back on the diet when I get home on Tuesday, and of course, back in the gym. We had tea around at Sheila’s afterwards.

I stayed at Mary’s that night and in the morning we went down with her husband to their allotment. Last year it was impressive, this year it’s even more so. They’ve got about three half plots now which are pretty big and it’s bursting with life, colour and edible treats. Whitecurrants, blackcurrants, blueberries, plums, runner beans, courgettes, pumpkins…just to name a few. When Glen and I came here two years ago, he got inspired and made plots in our garden back home. I’m intrigued to see how our tenant has taken them on.

I met Sheila for lunch at one of the restaurants on the Broadway in Leigh, pleased to have the time together to chat. We then went to see Ian who’s doing up a car from 1928 (or there abouts). It is actually the car his parents owned way back when and he has a photo of when he was a young boy standing beside it with his parents. He’s fixing it up now, which is quite a product, but it’s a beautiful car.

I left Leigh-on-Sea about 3pm, a bit of a sad goodbye at the station, one of many during this trip. One (or a couple) of visits never seems enough, and without a planned return date, it makes the distance seem so far.

I’m now back in Putney. My bag is pretty much packed and ready to go for my flight tomorrow morning. Looking forward to seeing Glen. I’ve got a lot to do when I get home, continuing to write the sequel being the most pressing. But with that there’s a bunch of admin, some volunteer stuff and, oh yes, a wedding to finalise. It’s going to be a tiring but hopefully productive week.

And then, on the 29th, we head to Churchill to swim with Beluga whales. It’s all go here.


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