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View from my bedroom window

So, London was to be the final stop for my most colorful auntie's 90th birthday. Life at her house in not difficult. As well as a beautiful house, there's a classic English garden with grass as fine as Longwood's courts. The tidal Thames provides a trickling water sound and river light, and then there are piles of berries and yogurt for breakfast, the comfortingly familiar smell, stair and floor creaks, and non-contemporaneous hourly sounds of three clocks; grandfather, grandmother and animal roar. Always a cornucopia of people.

My aunt Sarah. Most things you need to know about her can be gathered from this photograph

Wandering in and out were her son, who lives mainly in Malta and Tanzania, grandsons, one of whom lives similarly and the other who was leaving for Thailand in a few days, Belem, from the Philippines who works there, Andrew and Sal who had just retuned from the Canary Islands, Natalie Rose from many places, Josef, a Kew student from Munich, Brita from Petersham, Christine, Annie and Angus from Barnes.

It was not to be a big tourist visit as the intention was to celebrate Sarah, to whom I did my best to explain that no amount of national fervor over the finals of Strictly Come Dancing (why Strictly?) was going to get me to sit through the two hour extravaganza. "Annie, come, you must come, you'll love this!" Mmmmm..... Instead, I joined her for a nature program about how to read the weather in clouds and decorate a Christmas tree for birds, also an imitation Antiques Roadshow featuring china cats and chipped enameled teaspoons.

On Sunday I wandered over to the Chiswick High Road for the monthly #cheesewick. Utrecht has markets many days and of course, cheese is featured and I confess to having made a habit of swinging by a certain stall when I felt peckish, sampling multiple varieties of gouda-like cheese, all tasting the same to me. So it was in that spirit of loutish greediness that I approached the stalls at Chiswick, which were generous with their samples. Joke was on me though, as I found myself with a bag full enough to lubricate 2 nights of most hedonistic cheese eating.

The vendor aptly called this cheese "heroin"

So bloody good

I have become one of those people who remembers back to when things were better and more interesting, doing my best to keep these thoughts to myself as I do have some memory of how tiresome they were. Having spent quite a bit of time in London recently, there wasn't much desire, especially at Christmas, to hit the hotspots that no longer hold any mystery, so I decided to seek out an area I thought time might have forgotten

When I turned 24, I received a letter on thick paper with a fountain pen signature and an imprinted address in navy blue of Gray's Inn in London, notifying me that my grandmother had left me £20,000. There was something about the physical letter that made me try to imagine where it came from, so I decided to answer that question by picking up the check in person. It was a few years later when I flew over the pole from Portland, Oregon. Dressed in a suit, I found myself in a courtyard of red brick buildings on three sides, filled with men in pinstriped suits, bowler hats, handmade shoes and umbrellas. I was received in, offered a cup of tea and called Miss Asphar. The rest of the story isn't particularly interesting, but the memory was distinct enough that I was again curious about it.

Much simpler now with maps, I took the Upminster train to Holborn, got off and decided to pop into Pentreath and Hall, a shop that I found via the instagram of a talented architect and interior designer. Well, the shop was closed but Bloomsbury was quietly local with the ghosts of all those talented writers roaming around. Then I found it, that place I remembered, and knew immediately which door and felt how I had felt. No bowler hats, but the Etonian air prevailed, dark suits, no women and a lively lunch crowd in a hall most perfect for the British legal profession. I sat in the courtyard for a few minutes and thought about all that had transpired between then and now, wondering how my 24 year old self would have reacted had she known how life would turn out. For the most part, I believe she would have been happy, though some of the heartaches and disappointments would have stressed her out.

Gray's Inn today

My aunt's party was a lunch for 26 with beaded African animals and masses of flowers on the tables. Getting there early, I stood with a glass of champagne, looking out the window onto the Devonshire Road, guessing, based on appearance, which pedestrians would be turning in, most often dead wrong. There was Lord So and So who had a dirty tie and fell asleep in his appetizer, a well-known kiteboarder, a palace gardener, a man with dreadlocks down to his feet, a handful of British women with rosy cheeks and frosted hair and a few rowdy young men. Better than a movie, really.

Thus ends a long and incredibly rich month and a half. Feeling grateful for all that's come to pass, all that I have. Happy New Year to you.


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