Monday, 22 August 2011

Memories of food

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I was supposed to be driving through the glorious hills of Glenshee to see my friends in Perthshire. (It strikes me suddenly what an odd sentence that is, when Tripoli is rife with gunfire and rumour, and the Prime Minister is in with COBRA, and the world markets continue to shake and shiver. It’s one of the curious things about this Scottish life; there are days when I can sit here, surrounded by the mountains and trees and burns, and think that the newsreaders are just making it up.) But I have laryngitis. It is viral, apparently, although I can’t quite shake the suspicion that it is my body telling me I am not quite robust enough to be running around in the south, going to parties and drinking cocktails (dry martini, three olives) and wearing corsages and red patent shoes. All that shouting is coming home to roost.

So I sit, once again, very still. I felt sad about chucking, and am going to console myself with a little light Test Match Special before I start on the Final Push for the book. Forty days to go; it’s almost biblical.

I want to tell you all about my trip. There is too much to do it all in one go, so there will be snapshots over the next week. It stands in my mind as one of the more memorable, I think partly because I had not been away for such a long time, and it was summer, and the south looked very beautiful in the bright weather. It is also partly because, as I have said before, what happens with a death is that a layer of skin is removed. The disadvantage of this is that I find myself quite defenceless against the smallest slight, a wrong tone of voice, any small set-back. Careless remarks, which would, in ordinary times, be shrugged off, whack into the heart like steel-tipped arrows.

The advantage is that all pleasures are twice as keenly felt. Beauty is more beautiful, kindness more kind, great good fortune more passionately appreciated. At one point, on a blindingly sunny Sunday, I became quite teary because entrance to the National Portrait Gallery is free. Instead of marching in, taking it quite for granted, as I usually do, I stood, speechless, at the entrance, thinking what a miracle it is that I live in a country where one of the great museums of the world is wide open to every single person, whether they have two pennies to rub together or not. (I once saw a man in the National Gallery next door, standing in front of that great rearing Stubbs horse, without shoes. Not because he was being bohemian, but because he clearly did not have any.)

So the pleasures, of which there were many, stand out in my mind in vivid Technicolor.

One of the things I like the most, have always done, since I was in my low twenties, is eating alone. I take a notebook and a newspaper, choose a favourite restaurant, put on my lipstick, and go and have a slow, stately lunch. This trip, I decided to give myself a stupidly extravagant treat, and went to my favourite restaurant in London, perhaps one of my favourite places in the whole world, which is Sheekey’s. I have an old history with that restaurant, with its red awning and wooden tables, hidden away down an alley off Charing Cross Road. It was always a famous theatrical place, and my grandfather used to take my mother there when she was a little girl. He was an actor in the twenties and thirties and forties, a great master of fine comic timing, and because the restaurant had great thespian connections, they put up black and white photographs of their acting clientele.

My grandfather’s picture is, amazingly, still there, up on the wall in the farthest room, and each time I visit I go and say hello. I used to be taken there too, when I was young, and they had special six o’clock dinners which you could eat before a show. In the 1990s, it was refurbished and relaunched and is rather fashionable now, but to me it still has echoes of that dark and dusty place of my childhood, where you could eat a Dover Sole with potatoes, brought to you by very, very old waiters who remembered the war.

So off I went, on a dazzling Saturday, and I ate Dublin Bay prawns, with a homemade mayonnaise as yellow as sunflowers, and the best razor clams persillade I have ever had in my life. They were so good I had to keep stopping, for fear of finishing them too quickly. I was in a daze of pleasure. Oh, oh, oh, I wrote in my Moleskine notebook.

There were some Americans at the bar, talking about property prices in Connecticut (going zoom, apparently), and another couple who spent the entire time discussing lawyer’s salaries. I was reminded exactly why people always say you should not discuss money, religion or sex at the dinner table.

The waiters are no longer old. Mine was so handsome that I could not look at him directly, for fear of blushing. ‘Lovely mayonnaise,’ I said, girlishly. But he had heard all that before.

My old friend John, who has worked there for years, came and sat with me for a bit and told me the theatrical news. Apparently Jordan (the person, not the country) was in the other night, with an entourage of hairdressers, and all the grand opera people in the next room kept walking past so they could look at her famous embonpoint.

‘Well,’ said John. ‘It was either that, or they all suddenly had to go to the loo.’

I love Sheekey’s. I love that it is an old survivor, like so many things in the city. I love that it is so elegant and understated and timeless. I love that it still has a picture of my dear old relative on the wall.


And now for some photographs for you:

22 Aug 1

22 Aug 2.ORF

22 Aug 3.ORF

22 Aug 4.ORF

22 Aug 6.ORF

22 Aug 8.ORF

22 Aug 9

22 Aug 9.ORF

22 Aug 10

22 Aug 12

22 Aug 17

22 Aug 18

Festival of Pigeon, because one photograph of her outrageous beauty is just not enough:

22 Aug 19

22 Aug 20

22 Aug 21

I love all the different expressions she has on her dear face. The last one, slightly reproachful, is because although she is very, very pleased to see me, she clearly has not forgotten that I buggered off without her for a week, and so is still giving me the abandoned Disney eyes, every so often, just as a sharp reminder. Or this is how it pleases me to interpret it. It may be just that she is thinking: oh stop with the stupid photographs and give me a biscuit.

And two views of the hill, from different angles, and in different light:

22 Aug 23

22 Aug 24

Slight oddity, just to finish. After a week off, my blogging muscles feel very rusty. It might be the laryngitis, which is making my head swimmy. Or it might be that I cannot remember how to do this at all. Whichever it is, it feels as if today’s post is rather disjointed and not quite right. So I’m sorry for that. I’ll get back into the swim of it.


  1. Well I loved it, and welcome back! And I too get slightly teary about things like the NPG being free - or in my case every time I remember hearing Neil Macgregor, in that lovely clipped posh Scottish accent of his, being so proud that the BM has been free to the public since 1953.

  2. rusty shmusty - todays post was great - so glad you are back and pictures of pigeon and the hill are gorgeous - not to mention the pansy flower (my favourite!) xx

  3. Tell me I'm not imagining it - does the gorgeous Pigeon smile for her photos?
    And nothing is disjointed, it's all just lovely xx

  4. Hopefully you will be feeling better now - less discombobulated - this being Boo's favourite new word. Oh the discovery of language when you are ten. It's so interesting to observe. 'This menu is discombobulating', well infact it's in Portuguese which may be why!? On holiday but popping in here to check on you... Lou x

  5. Whoops. I meant, of course, to say that the BM has been free to the public since 1753, not 1953. In fact I thought I HAD said the former. Ho hum.

  6. Lovely post, not disjointed at all. Welcome back, and I hope you get over your laryngitis soon!

  7. You have become a favorite stop on the way to start the day. Ah, Sheekey's ~ thanks for recalling a lovely memory. My best to Pigeon; she is a treasure.

    Now, that's a disjointed paragraph; yours aren't. :-))


  8. It is lovely to have you back. I hope the laryngitis goes soon. Pigeon is a dear old thing. I am quite attached to her just from reading your blog so can see why you love her so. Your tales from Sheekey's were marvellous and made me smile on what is rather a driech and damp day here in London so thank you.

  9. I have just this day started a long overdue "cleansing diet" (doctor-supervised, only temporary, etc., etc.) which consists of nearly nothing but massive amounts of water and weak tea and a few other boring bits, chewed into nothingness.
    Reading about your clams experience was delightful and excruciating at the same time!
    It was WONDERFUL!


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