London Diary: Days 4 & 5

Today a very special treat lay in store: Mr EEE, now free to frolic, and I had been invited to lunch at the House of Lords by none other than the wildly wonderful Rosie West of Rose C'est La Vie and her husband Alan.

Rosie and I have been "back-channeling" (this is the official term for bloggers communicating privately according to my niece who is getting her master's in social media at the LSE) for a few years and this was our first meeting IRL ("in real life").  I always get nervous at these first dates, but, just like the other times when I've taken a blog friendship offline, an hour passes in what feels like minutes.

The Royal Gallery is hung with portraits of monarchs, including a rather jaunty one of George VI in lavender satin

Our hosts gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of the Lords which was designed by the famous Gothic Revivalist AWN Pugin* and Sir Charles Barry after the Great Fire of 1834 devoured most of the medieval palace of Westminster.  The result is a feast for the eyes with every surface richly patterned and emblazoned with heraldric symbolry.

The Lords Chamber, where the Queen makes her annual speech at the State opening of Parliament, is the most sumptuously decorated interior in Westminster Palace.  Note the interesting passementerie detail on the corner of the ottomans

It is always clear where one is as the carpet changes from red (Lords) to green (Commons) to blue for the crown.  While some may think the Lords an outdated notion, a very modern note was struck by a helpful security (male) guard in full make-up, pearl earrings and pony tail.  In fact, the Lords is thriving - two new lords were being created that day and we were lucky enough to meet the inductor who was arrayed in a stunning gold chevron-breasted jacket and sword with  gorgeous gold-woven tassel.  Lunch itself was delicious which included the best liver the un-hyperbolic Mr EEE had ever had ever

This was soon followed and equaled by the best cigarettes ever, hand-rolled by Lady West herself and smoked while shivering with excitement and windchill on the terrace overlooking the Thames.

After making plans to visit the Museum of Childhood the next day, we said our farewells and slipped across the cobblestones to Westminster Abbey where all the kings are crowned and Kate and Wills will soon be making it legal.

  Elizabeth I is buried on top of "Bloody Mary".  Photo from Tudor Tour

Anyone interested in fashion history will think herself in heaven as the magnificently sculpted tombs depict impressive personages and their attendants dressed to the hilt.  The folds on Handel's knickers is a passage of carving I will never forget.

In the nave are glamorous Waterford crystal chandeliers which inject an unexpected note of Deco style.  They were donated by the Guinness family and are cleaned every three years, in case you're interested.

Night had fallen and it was time to make our way south of the river to see my dear friends Max and Marc for dinner.  While Max, who is an expert on Aesthetic Movement decorative arts, showed us a few of their recent finds, Marc was down in their Lancaster yellow kitchen, making  pizza crust from scratch out of flour that is milled by a National Trust property.  That's what I'm talking about.


 Rooms in the chillingly named Killer Cabinet c. 1830s.  Photo courtesy of the V&A.
 Day 5 started at a civilized hour at the V&A's Museum of Childhool in Bethnal Green.  Rosie lured me with promises of jaw-dropping dollhouses through the ages, and indeed there was everything from Georgian to David Hockney-60s.

 This 1930s doll house will certainly be going in my upcoming Art Deco lecture.  Photo courtesy of the V&A.

We repaired to her house for a glass of wine a la Hoda and Kathy Lee where I was able to wrangle out the secret of her cigarettes.  It's in the wrapping paper, which is a chic tobacco brown and is lightly laced with licorice.  She took me to a corner store, set me up with my own kit, and then we hopped on a bus to meet Mr EEE for a tour of Somerset House.

Somerset House today.  Photo from here.  We have Lily Safra to thank for the courtyard fountains.

Somerset House began as a Tudor palace in the 16th century, but was demolished in 1775 to make way for a neoclassical complex of government offices designed by the royal architect Sir William Chambers.  There is about a 40ft slope from The Strand to the riverbank, and Chambers ingeniously incorporated the drop into his design by channeling a below ground walkway around the perimeter of the courtyard.  This also enabled windows to be put in on the basement level.  This walkway is used frequently by filming crews, especially for Jack the Ripper-esque scenes and recently appeared in Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes.  We were able to traverse it to a death room which contained royal grave markers salvaged from the Tudor palace chapel.

By this point, I was dangerously close to letting my inner Mr. Hyde come out as I hadn't yet eaten.  Rosie graciously didn't make a moue as I gobbled down a Leon sandwich and Mr EEE told her of our big plans to buy a cigarette rolling machine (even though we rarely smoke - really).  It was now time to meet the aforementioned niece at the Savoy for drinks and we twisted Rosie's arm to come  - afterall, I couldn't let her last vision of me to be as the Tasmanian Devil at table.

As you all know, the Savoy just reopened this fall after a huge multi-million pound refurbishment.  Sadly not too many original Deco details seem to have been retained and my dreams of quaffing Champagne in the American Bar no longer had the same allure. BECAUSE I discovered the Savoy's Beaumont Bar.


Wowee-wow-wow.  Jet black walls picked out in gilt complete with gold-leaf niches.  It is absolutely splendid and this is where you must go.

Two Blondes on the town at the Savoy's jazzy Beaumont Bar
As you can see by my pin-prick pupils, Rosie and I enjoyed ourselves immensely.  While she sipped whisky sours, I tossed back kir royales, and Kate educated us on flamers, haters, and more blogworld speak.

We stumbled out, said our final farewells to Rosie, and then went off for dinner at the Austin Powers mod steak palace Gaucho on Chancery Lane.  (I had hoped to go to the Ivy - for no other reason than I couldn't afford to when I lived in London as a graduate student - but as Rosie and Maeve both knew, we weren't important enough to get in last minute.)

Gaucho Chancery.  Why not?

The room is completely black which sets off the Atomic Age swivel chairs covered in black and white spotted cow hide.  (We were in a different room than above for my eagle eye readers.) The steak - of which we got five different cuts - melted in the mouth.  After dispatching Kate in a taxi, we repaired to our hotel bar for a nightcap - just to make sure there was indeed more wine than blood in our veins.

Next post: Last days

* AWN Pugin was hugely responsible for the Gothic Revival movement in the 1830s.  He was a Catholic-convert and professed that the Gothic style, which he allied with religion, was the most spiritual.  Meanwhile, I've been told by my brilliant friend GG, he was living a licentious double-life and died of syphilis!  What?!  Read Rosemary Hill's God's Architect: Pugin and the building of Romantic Britain, said GG - the last chapters are right out of Dickens.