Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Spring Cleaning at Buckingham Palace

In the run up to the most discreet nuptials ever conducted, I'm seriously concerned that this curious bash will stir the Met into decisive action over my work walk short cut by the palace. Every morning I fear today will be the day. 

Buck Pal Fountain: Subtle Imperial Iconography
It was when I first observed the pre-wedding buffing of the (already clean) bronze sculptures outside Buckingham Palace that I realised my fence gap's days were numbered.

You see, BOF and I had a dinner party the other night. As we prepared, I realised I'd absorbed MD’s attitude to entertaining. [Yes, dear reader, I'm about to contrive a comparison of MD to the Queen: bear with me.] Back in the countryside if guests were coming I would be enlisted to help with polishing, table-laying, hoovering, pot-plant-reorganisation - that sort of thing. No matter that the upstairs cupboard would have no part in the proceedings (unless confused guests got lost perhaps), no corner was left unmolested.

So at the Pad this week, I got crazy with the hoover MD-wise, while BOF constructed deliciousness. At some point I decided a cake was necessary - then threw flour all over the place before conducting an inept floor clean and forgetting the actually visible expanses of carpet. Twenty minutes before our guests were due to arrive, I realised that the sitting room [sorry - The Dining Room today] furniture needed moving. Too worried that BOF would try and talk me out of my labour-intensive completely unnecessary new room plan, I threw sofas about by myself for fifteen minutes

In the end, the room looked - frankly - exactly the same. I'd had little or no impact - other than to traumatise BOF enough that he poured almost an entire extra bottle of wine into the coq au vin.

Back at the Palace (Liz's, not ours), fountain-cleansing has been going for about a month now, all sweat and comedy brow-rubbing from the workers to indicate endeavour. As I walked past last week, protective wooden crates around the statues were being removed to show that ... nothing had changed. The marble supports were perhaps a little more water-stained, but that was it.
Alas, shocker - no pics of Queenie plus
Mids Senior to be found. Nice plate-hat though
What happened was this: one day Queenie was sitting up in the palace with Mrs M observing the outrageous dullness of the bronze statues from the window. ‘Something must be done, Mids’, she doubtless said. So it was. The impact is less than marginal, but that’s not the point.

Like MD in the countryside awaiting her guests, or BOF and Kate in the Pad, having people over requires manic and obvious commitment to cleanliness. Bess knows this. She knows about dear Sarkozy's eagle eye for discoloured bronze and Princess Leitiza of Spain's disgust for gappy fences. Forget the Olympics, this Big Sloane Send-off is the Queen's house party including dinner with six courses. My poor wonky fence doesn't stand a chance.

Next Episode: Goodbye Childhood Home - The Conclusion

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

London Rogues part 3: Banking Crisis

Way to BOF's heart,
in case you're interested
After a slightly unlikely night out a couple of days ago, a friend and I at last decided to head back to the Pad for tea and sleep. [Poor old BOF almost tried to pretend he hadn't been woken up at 4 by my confused babbling, but this was an unconvincing politeness too far. Gifts of blueberries followed - Countryside gold dust - and concerned readers should note that Pad sleep patterns have now been restored.] 

As Tactful Friend and I made to leave (she, fleeing hordes of eager suitors), some Heroic young gent (Hyg) asked where we were headed. By astonishing coincidence he too was on his way back to Pimlico, though he seemed uncertain about exactly where. We grabbed a cab. 

I still get embarrassingly excited about travelling through the city at night, so I spent the journey observing every landmark, leaving TF to fend off Hyg's banking soliloquy. Eventually I noticed that we were following a route I recognised. To mark this groundbreaking geographical triumph, I pointed something out to the others (Buckingham Palace probably: marvel at my intricate knowledge of London…). Hyg looked scandalised. 

'What the hell are we doing in central London?' He demanded, loudly enough for Our Kindly Taxi Driver to hear.
(OKTD) 'Well, Victoria sort of is in central London mate.'
(Hyg) 'Yeah but this isn't the bloody route to take is it? When we get cars from the Bank they never take us  through the centre.'
Tactful Friend and I swapped glances. 'Mmm,' she contributed, noncommittally. 'Oh well. So, you were saying about derivatives…'

Obligatory 'greedy banker' image
Oblivious to her attempts to steer him back to the straight and narrow, Hyg blundered on with his thoughts about OKTD's crummy knowledge of London. He seemed convinced that this was a route contrived to do us out of money. Slightly dodgy ground from an investment banker this, as even old Bobby Diamond might have spotted. 

OKTD was no longer watching the road by now, which struck me as bad news. Instead he stared at our friend with a murderous glint in his eye.

Keen to live, I attempted diplomacy. Badly. My tactic - calling the taxi driver 'sir' and shouting over Hyg's commentary - had no noticeable effect, except to make TF even more uncomfortable and Hyg even more shouty. With relief, I spot the Pad looming a couple of streets away. 

KitC: 'Here we are!' 
TF (surprised): 'What? Oh yes, yes this is us… Thanks!'

Grabbing the door handle, we leg it, flinging an array of small change at our friend. Since he's the sort of chap who bins ten pence pieces because he finds them annoying, he looked particularly galled.  

As we slammed the door shut, we felt a little guilty. But Hyg's a man who can look after himself. Definitely.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Rogues Gallery part II

Next week, to a talk with BOF, and another conflict with another rogue. Though the intricate vendettas of people in the countryside have more of a chance to fester and accumulate, in the city they are less incestuous, but no less intense. 

My cone-combatant has been absent for a few days (perhaps this policeman is protesting against wage-cuts? Or perhaps he's less diligent at work these days in response to the criminal renegotiation of his perks? Either way, I find I'm missing his love of pedestrian crossing legislation.) As a result my frustrations are being directed elsewhere. 

The Star
Now perhaps it's unfair to expect the audience at any political talk to be particularly socially in tune. But this bunch seemed fine, except for one. A little mole-like man, the like of which you'll recognise from any polite gathering in England. His role - as he sees it  - is not to attend the talk but rather to star in it. 

Mole Man arrives late. No scuttling in with frantic apologies like the rest, instead he stands framed in the doorway assessing the members of his audience. Satisfied, he strides forward to find a seat. Ignoring those easily accessible near the door, he marches to the front of the audience.  Standing directly in front of the speakers, he makes a charade of finding the perfect spot. They, in turn performing their indifference, look through him, not pausing at all. A full minute later MM makes for a spot on the windowsill.

This, note, is not a conventional choice of seat. He stares boldly about, before adopting the seat he knows no one else had the wit to take. And now must his mac be rearranged to give him greatest seated comfort. Macs are irritatingly crinkly aren't they? The noise they make is almost as enjoyable as the careful unwrapping of forty boiled sweets. He cares not.

Moments later - a crisis. The windowseat, if you'll believe it, is not as comfy as first thought. He displays his dismay with a gasp before theatrically seeking out an alternative. Diving across the room, he knocks an old gent's stick to the floor, scrabbles to pick it up, apologises (loudly) - 'sorry! SORRY SIR! Awfully sorry! I'm SO embarrassed' - and scrabbles to his new throne.

As I sit and plot the room's revenge, he jumps to his feet  once more and flees the talk. Everyone relaxes. 

But Moley's mac is left behind. And then I understand: he is, in fact, the political equivalent of a streaker. Enough said.

Monday, 7 March 2011

You Shall Not Pass

So freed at last and safely back to London, I find signs of city eccentricity everywhere. Traits I'd thought were unique to the cut-off countryside abound in London, the place with the highest Starbuck-density in the world.

My walk to work has by now been honed with such precision that it now most days falls under twenty minutes in length (the trainers are becoming a fixture, I'm afraid - now teamed with a balaclava to save my pride). This walking record can only be achieved with a slightly anarchic attitude to roads: not for Kate in the Countryside the authorised crossing route. Don't be absurd.

Damn impediment
Past Buckingham Palace I go, cutting across the traffic with cheerful London-learnt unconcern. Occasionally unsuspecting tourists follow me. When a royal motorbike cavalcade speeds round the corner towards us, their shrieks of French or Chinese incomprehension amuse me for the remaining journey.

I sneak through a gap in the railings lining the pavement, which saves an extra twenty seconds, and then march down the Mall to the office.

This gap in the railings was a particular route-coup, only recently found, but it's proving the most difficult to employ. Near the Palace, Police loiter purposefully all day, mostly directing tourists and seeking out idle terrorists on a day trip to see the queen. But one, it seems, has a campaign of his own.
Disclaimer: this is not me

Last week, I reached my special railings-gap to find some police tape fastened across it: 'POLICE LINE. DO NOT CROSS'. A fearsome barrier indeed. In the morning, weakened by sleepiness, I obeyed, and paid the 20-second price. Happily, by evening some rogue had torn it down and fashioned it into a bow round the nearest lamppost.

The following day, things got serious. A large orange cone had been placed in the gap. My opponent means business. Except that if anything, the cone makes progress easier, acting as a handrail when I skip through the still-perfectly-adequate gap.

It was on the return journey last night that I found I had an audience. A parked police car yards from the disputed territory contained a single, focussed-looking gent. I saw him looking at me, smiled, and, in deference to his brainy cone scheme (I assume it's his - what else could he be doing there?), walked round the railings once more.

Defeated today, true. But I'll be back.

To be continued…

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Kate in the City?

And while life in London Village feels more friendly every day (with one notable bike-based exception), I fear that Kate in the Countryside might be getting some bad habits from the city in return. Anticipating a brief jaunt to the countryside this weekend, some of my new Londonisms became clear.

Corporate Spice?
Once, I would have been fascinated by the hooded hordes thronging the pavements outside Victoria - now they are an irritating impediment. This morning, a politely chattering crocodile of charmingly uniformed schoolchildren seemed only an obstacle. Even the hardened BOF could only look on in terror as I concussed the nearest two with my bag before toppling the wheeliebag stack of an errant tourist.

But there's worse. Seeking speed for my walk to work last week, I panicked. I admit it. Reasoning I'd gain minutes, I adopted the trainers-work clothes look beloved of businesswomen in transit across the city. Attired in the twenty-something's equivalent of white socks and Jesus sandals, I looked like Sue Sylvester on her way to a party.

I could look no one in the eye. All around me I saw the glinty white trainers shining off reflective surfaces, and when I bumped into a big cheese from the office I could only nod curtly and flee in the opposite direction. The catastrophic combo rendered me incapable of speech.

This horror of human contact teamed with the trainers' super-speed made a post-work trip to buy food hazardous. I braved Giant Sainsbury’s (GS) - a shop so-called to distinguish it from the Small Sainsburg (SS) in Victoria Station, which frankly has nothing in it except manky flowers, 4 Muffins for £1 and copies of Heat.

GS adopts the policy that as long as you're trapped inside, you might conceivably buy. So it arrays items with abandon - draping garlic amongst the catfood, and milk by mustard. The only response is to curl up in a corner rocking backwards and forwards until it closes.

Worth it.

Empowered by trainer super-speed however, I used my trolley to bash through aisles and grannies, grabbed the first twenty things I saw, pushed to the front of two queues, attacked a man for the last of the half price prawns, and legged it. It's not me - it’s GS.

Trainer-free, I was back to restful Oundle to see MD and Dogface. MD fills me in on all the big local news: dog-training is still closed, there's a film on at the local theatre this Sunday and (the best saved to last) ... the Co-op has been refurbished! ‘They’ve moved everything around, it’s really rather good,’ she assures me.

So in we go. A combination of SS’s emptiness with GS’s design flaws greets me. Told they have 'the best cookies - better than Waitrose', I try to stay positive. But it's not long before I'm hiding in the rocking-and-crying corner. No bashing or wrestling allowed here in The Countryside. How do I escape?