To blighty for our best man’s birthday bash…

part two…

On Sunday morning there was no petit fils banging on our door demanding help with his homework. The price of their room quadrupled for Saturday night so they crashed at ‘Uncle Gav’s’. I doubt he got much sleep! We sat in the window of the breakfast room and watched the 10 mile runners going by.

It looked cold and that wind was still blowing.

The boys were treating themselves to breakfast out somewhere so a slow start to our day. I prevailed upon the reception staff to book us a place in the car park for later, made difficult by the fact that people leaving that morning couldn’t take their cars with them until 6.30pm. After some debate I got a place and the paperwork to confirm it. It was back to the beach when the family were reunited and the shell searching began again. An enormous cockle (?) was found and it was heavy too so I guessed it was very much alive.

Jon tossed it out beyond the waves as we assumed it had been thrown up by the storm. Then a game off jumping back from the breaking foam began. Happily everyone was agile and no shoes were soaked despite near misses!

We were off to the party for the afternoon and Kai had been promised the pier and the cinema before the return to London so after a short stroll it was back under the prom to avoid the marathon runners who were now pounding along the seafront. Big hugs all round, it had been great fun but too short, as always, and we went our separate ways. *sniff

A quick tidy up and off to the public car park to retrieve the car after paying a hefty price for 26 hours parking. A slight pause when ‘i’m only the chauffeur’ realised the keys were in his other coat.. back at the hotel. An anxious wait for me as I waited and wondered if there was a time limit between paying and actually leaving the car park. If there was we didn’t overrun it and had no problem driving away from the seafront. Later on there was confusion trying to negotiate our way towards Worthing without using the A27 which inexplicably is closed on the weekends at the moment. But the pretty, albeit long-winded, detour around Stenning and Storrington allowed me to notice the cowslips blooming on the verges and the sight of a steam roller chugging in the opposite direction swathed in smoke. We wondered if the driver could see where he was going.

We were greeted like old friends at the party, as indeed we are, very old! It was touching to be the only non family guests and the afternoon was spent sharing anecdotes and photos and ‘do you remember?’.

The two 80 year olds had known each other since childhood when they lived opposite each other. In fact, I’ve always been told it was the best friend who bestowed the nickname of Lou on my husband, officially christened Anthony. 😊

They both took evening jobs at the Streatham Hill theatre as teenagers and ultimately followed each other into full time work in the West End. An article published long ago in the Daily Mail recorded the sort of activity in which they got involved.

This was eagerly pored over and the story behind it retold to younger family members. The two chaps (far left and far right) plus a couple of stage hands had been the thunderstorm sound effects for a play called Thark and the article gave a jokey account of the possible new group, ‘The Weathermen’. The stagehands at that time worked the evening shows and then went off to do the night shift in Covent Garden market which was still the main fruit and vegetable hub back then.

I became part of the team for six months when I moved to the same theatre, the Garrick, in early 1966 as the ASM (assistant stage manager) and understudy of the understudy!

‘I’m only the chauffeur’ and I bonded over the only bit of action in the three hours the show ran when I cued him in with my starting pistol (car backfiring effect) and he heaved the prop car backwards into the wings. The rest is history, as they say.

It was a lovely afternoon of catching up but, after the present opening and cake eating, it was time to go. Lots of hugs and promises to stay in touch and we were soon tracing our way back along the seafront, no confusion this time.

In Brighton the barriers were still up but traffic beginning to trickle through so we were soon able to park back in the hotel car park and kick off our shoes after staggering up the five half flights of stairs to our room. This holiday will be remembered for all the climbing we did!

‘Uncle’ Gav was having an early night and so we took ourselves off to a friendly and very good Turkish restaurant we’d eaten in before where we stuffed ourselves with mezes plus meatballs and imanbyaldi, which was melt in the mouth…

And then an early night for us too…..

Monday morning was dry again which was good as this was the day we were off to ‘Lunnon’ for an art exhibition. I’d seen it talked about on UK TV a while before we left and pre-booked some tickets, it being David Hockney, one of my favourite contemporary artists. Himself had surprised me by saying he fancied it too so, with Gav as our guide, we were off by train at lunchtime.

Before then, I satisfied my curiosity about the walled garden that was below our window. To us it looked like a paved ‘area’ that these old houses have but ‘walled garden’ was on a downstairs door.

Well, a few pots might be a cheerful addition but there was a bench at the end overlooking what I assumed was the kitchen on the lower level. The rear part of the hotel appears to be three interconnected houses from my sleuthing on Google earth. The reason for all those staircases?

Happily, the train was on time and we let Gav negotiate the ticket machine as a regular user. I had had no idea there was a Thameslink train all the way from Brighton to St Pancras, our ultimate destination. How useful is that? Lou and I spent the journey reminiscing about train journeys of our past as the train sped through familiar bits of south London and along the south bank of the Thames.

The skyline is so different from when we used to work in London or even since we moved to France. A big surprise was discovering that there is a station on what was Blackfriars bridge.

At St Pancras I was bemused by the mainly pedestrianised area. I had never been that familiar with the area only having travelled from the main station a couple of times but Gavin knew it all well and led us through to the canal where I had to stop and stare …and take photos, of course.

We searched for some coffee as we were ahead of time and found some good stuff in a bike shop. Always look for a bike shop advised the cyclist, the coffee is usually good!

This curving roof built onto an old building mesmerised me, as did the refurbished gasometers in the background!

And then it was into the exhibition in the Lightroom. And it was breathtaking. Despite the children careening about and a lack of seating it was a fabulous experience. I hadn’t realised that there was a voiceover from Hockney himself explaining his motivation and reactions to the places he had visited and lived in throughout his life. All four walls were covered with images at any one time and I constantly twisted and turned not wanting to miss a thing.

We had all positioned ourselves in different places but as the loop came to the point where we had arrived we moved up to the top gallery where we could get the full effect of the light show on the floor.

I found myself becoming quite emotional which is a measure, I always feel, of how successful an experience has been. We had all enjoyed it and reluctantly dragged ourselves away. It runs until October and I urge any interested readers to visit. After the obligatory purchase for petit fils from the shop it was back to St Pancras for our useful direct train….

. …back across the canal (Camden, that way, mother) and into M and S for sustenance before discovering the train we were hurrying for was cancelled. No matter, we ate sitting on a bench, our heads full of Hockney images.

Gavin wanted to treat us to supper and, finding his first two choices closed on Mondays he opted for a curry house he had heard was good. and so it was. Very good. A diet will be in order when we get home I thought!

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