Monday 13 June 2011

The "Smoke" and Mirrors

An eventful and extravagant weekend in the "Smoke", "Great Wen", or whatever you choose to call England's venerable capital city.

On Saturday we celebrate Mrs Blog's birthday at Welsh-Italian chef-off-the-TV Angela Hartnett's Murano restaurant in Mayfair. We last went soon after it opened three years ago when Hartnett was still working under Gordon Ramsay but she is doing just as well independently. The £30 lunch is a best kept secret - not disastrously expensive and every mouthful exquisite and served by the most professional team. Best dish a ceviche (raw fish marinated in lemon juice) of bream - sensational (or "historic" as Michael Winner would put it).

After that we stroll up Piccadilly to see Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit at the Apollo Theatre with a celebrity cast including Alison Steadman, Hermione Norris, Robert Bathurst and Ruthie Henshall (who gets my Oscar playing the spiteful ghost of first wife Elvira). The production is fine - "workmanlike" is the word I'm looking for - but doesn't fully zing or quite bring out the subtle satire on the self-satisfied toffs which Coward intends. Nevertheless a memorable performance.

On Sunday we motor up from Farnham to the South Bank in order to board the "Golden Salamander", a panelled and mirrored old gin palace with two fine salons hired for the afternoon by my Mum to celebrate her birthday. 60 guests, family and friends from Wales, England and further afield, some of whom I haven't seen for many years, enjoy lunch and refreshments as the stately vessel glides easily down to Greenwich then fights the tide back up to the Festival Hall. The Thames is a grand river and this is a great way to see London in style.

The Great Wen (meaning "boil" or any source of corruption) is a coinage of soldier, MP, and defender of the rural poor William Cobbett (1763 - 1835) whose grave in St Andrew's, Farnham my brother and I inspect on Saturday evening. Cobbett, who served two years in prison for seditious journalism, distrusted paper money, bankers, and other financial speculators; and he blamed tea for weakening the nation because (Public Health officials please look away now) it had replaced beer as the breakfast beverage of choice for the British labourer. He also wrote excellent advice on gardening including this tip for killing slugs - fill a small cloth bag with lime, then walk up and down the garden after dark patting it vigorously so that a cloud of the powder descends on the ground. Any slug touched by the lime is a goner. This actually works. You really cannot afford not to read this Blog.