Saturday, November 08, 2008

You can take the woman out of London but...

you can't take London out of the woman - or something like that.

Living in the French countryside, well any countryside really, is something that I never thought I would ever do. I was a confirmed city type, a paid-up member of the 'spend your monthly salary on clothes and going out and to hell with the future'. Whilst my friends were sensible and bought themselves flats (apartments for you lot over the pond) or houses when prices were reasonable, I spent spent spent. I would go to Harvey Nicholls, Browns, Liberty or Selfridges to buy my things. I was a consumer and I consumed.

Between the ages of 20 and 30 I have no idea how much money I spent. I had indulgent parents, no siblings with whom to share the spoils, I took taxis everywhere (I only learnt to drive when I was 28), in short I had no idea of the value of money. I was a generous spender though and regularly picked up the tab in restaurants or bought my crowd tickets to things that we couldn't blag our way into.

We lived very near Highgate Cemetery and that used to be my 'walk in the country'. It was atmospheric, I had to wear sensible boots (my definition of the country is somewhere you have to be sensibly shod - stiletto or kitten heels get stuck in the mud) and some of the people buried there are quite famous. Take Karl Marx for instance, whose tomb is the photo above. He was buried on the Eastern side of the cemetery, the entrance to which was in a road called Swain's Lane (which was where my best friend lived). It was a short skip over the road - in our sensible boots - to have a stroll around, go and see Karl and count how many people would be there taking pictures of his iconic monument. It wasn't always so - he actually had a much more modest grave in a rather overgrown, seldom visited part of the cemetery; it is only since the fifties he has been in his famous plot (not that I ever saw the original plot, I'm not in my dotage yet).

But anyway, that was my country walk, followed by a stroll in the adjoining park (Waterlow Park - Mott the Hoople wrote a song about it) and then tea at the park's cafe which was in Lauderdale House, a 'country house' bought by Charles II for his then mistress, Nell Gwynn (her with her famous oranges). You could star spot as you sat outside the cafe; you would regularly see Sting with his first wife - Frances Tomelty; Alan Rickman (Prof Snape from Harry Potter but at that time a well-known stage actor); Annie Lennox; I could go on and on.

This part of London is so very lovely and it is a shame that most tourists stay in the centre and don't venture out to the suburbs. If you are reading this and are planning a trip to London in the future, make a note - get out to Highgate and also to Hampstead (another haunt of mine). You will love it and sometimes I yearn to be there again. But my memories of London are through a soft focus neuron. At this time of my life I am happier in the peace and quiet of the French countryside, a place I never thought I would be so happy living in.

14 comments:

Frankofile said...

Yes, I always felt London was a collection of villages, each with its own character. There's just so much to discover.

Dumdad said...

I love London and miss it now and then. My "village" was Parson's Green, Fulham. I can walk most of the streets in my mind.

French Fancy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
French Fancy said...

frankofile - so much, so very much to discover and today I would love to be there doing just that. I feel homesick today.

dumdad - I don't know that side of London very well. Londoners tend to stick to their own side. Although I did spend a fair bit of time in the old Kings Road and Harvey Nicks (even before Abfab made it more famous than it was). Having said that, I did spend a litle while in a flat in Chiswick and grew to love the area.Oh, I almost forgot - the first time I left home it was to a flat above a clothes shop off Portobello Road. My, how could I forget that - a wild time indeed.

Mama said...

How funny, I was just wandering around blog-land as I am currently in London and it is raining and came across your wonderful blog, I was born in London and also lived in Essex and now living in California am visiting family and friends for a few weeks, it is so true about taking the girl out of London, I miss it so much yes even the rain!!! haha. met my husband in Highgate, I can understand why you love your life in France, although I love California I sometimes wish I was not so far away!!. regards, Kathy

The Dotterel said...

Great to be reminded of this; I love Hampstead. Btw, Pere LaChaise is an interesting place to spend an hour or so in Paris once you've seen the sights. Not quite Highgate cemetery, but close.

Bill Stankus said...

V nice.

Your recollections make a fine picture. I've never been to England, and probably never will - opportunity and all that - IF I did travel I would take your suggestions.

I too 'suffer' homesickness - While the physical location's of my youth still exist, the huge population bloom in California has transformed them into unrecognizable places. Going home now has little meaning. Tho with a time machine I would gladly go back a few decades!

willow said...

I would have swooned to have seen Alan Rickman! I visited London in 1989 and absolutely loved it. Interesting post. :^)

French Fancy said...

Mama - I'm glad you popped in. I think we have a lot of interests in common (yes, I went and had a look) and hope to hear from you again.


the dotterel - Hampstead (she said in a dreamy way) - many many happy times were spent there. Every Sunday morning (well, almost) we'd walk to the Heath through Kenwood and then end up at the Coffee Cup for, well, coffee.


Bill - maybe all those little beach communities I liked (Laguna, Newport and all along there) have changed so much since I last saw them -about five years ago now -that they wouldn't have the same magic. Memory is so strange really, the bad things become less bad and the good things become stupendous.


willow - a Rickman fan, eh? I used to see him quite often in the delicatessen and he was very particular to a certain cheese they had (no, I don't know what it was). He's got a great voice.

Hadriana's Treasures said...

I was at college, (London Uni on Kidderpore Avenue) in Hampstead so am well versed in the highways and byways of those beautiful villages. Muswell Hill. Alexandra Palace. Lord's. Baker St. No.13 Bus. Finchley Road. Your post brings back so many memories. I feel that I am almost there again now.

Like your goodself with rural France I feel at home in Hadrian's Wall country which I never ever expected to happen.

There are so many things I could agree with you here: the spending of money, being a City girl and the genorosity...are we twins or something?

My brush with Alan Rickman came in St. Pancras. He was staring at me when I turned round in WH Smith. But then again I was probably standing on his toe or something...

nikkicrumpet said...

Some day....Some day hopefully before I'm to old to completely enjoy it...I'm gonna see your part of the world. My husband grew up in France...and spent years traveling throughout Europe...but London is his most favorite city.

French Fancy said...

hadriana - so you've hung around in North London as well. I know the 13 bus route ery well and I went to school in Muswell Hill so I felt nostalgia anew when I read your comment. The last time I went to MH - about 2 years ago - I hardly recognised it. Woolies is still there but it is much more upmarket these days.

Re Mr Rickman - He probably fancied you; he does like the ladies.



nikkicrumpet - make that a promise to yourself. I've promised myself to go to New York again and also along PCH on the West Coast.

Carol and Chris said...

Lovely post hon (am just catching up). I completely agree with Frankofile - I lived in London for five years and absolutely loved it!! My first flat was in Bethnal Green (Spittalfields market and Brick Lane), then I moved to Fulham (Hammersmith Apollo) and then finally ended up in Shepherds Bush which was brilliant for Greek food.

Ooohhh....I did enjoy that trip down memory lane...

C x

French Fancy said...

Carol, you have been around! Just think, soon you'll be able to go to London for the day from your country pile.