Sunday, 15 November 2009

Cream Teas and Spice Girls (Revised January 2012)

In the summer, the Partridge asked if I wouldn’t mind cooking for her brother again as he wasn’t quite well enough to make all his own meals. I was more than happy to oblige. The Partridge family home is a large detached house in North London, with beautiful gardens, planted in the main by her younger brother and mother. It makes a pleasant change to be the chatelaine, albeit temporarily, of such an imposing residence. On the previous occasion, I had felt like a cross between the redoubtable cook, Mrs Bridges, from the popular 1970s Edwardian drama “Upstairs, Downstairs” and Lady Chatterley as I entertained the cleaners and the strapping young gardener to tea and biscuits and luncheon respectively.

Each day I walked into Highgate village to combine my daily constitutional with a well deserved visit to a tea room. My favourite proved to be “High Tea of Highgate.” The retro tea rooms with its cup and saucer chandeliers were the perfect background for my vintage 1940s hat and swing coat. Nearly every day, I would try a new cake there to have with my coffee. Their profits must have spiked whilst I was living nearby only to inexplicably plummet when I left. The tea rooms combined two of my favourite pleasures: scrumptious home-made cakes and hats. As well as articles of millinery decorating the walls, the tea-room even ran a one day course in making a fascinator.

Further down the High Street, I would occasionally pop in to Lauderdale House to see their latest exhibition by a local artist. Nell Gwyn, the cockney mistress of Charles II, was said to have briefly lived there in the seventeenth century.

Ironically, across the road from Nell’s former lodgings is a house named after the very man, Oliver Cromwell, who had had her lover’s father put to death.

Close by is another house said to have been lived in by Cromwell’s son-in-law, Henry Ireton. The regicide Major-General Harrison also stayed at Ireton House. The latter’s dreadful fate occasioned the following remarkable diary entry for Saturday 13th October 1660 by Samuel Pepys:
“I went out to Charing Cross to see Major General Harrison hanged, drawn, and quartered; which was done there, he looking as cheerful as any man could in that condition.”
Lauderdale House

It was at another local café altogether, that I bumped into Ginger Spice. I am usually pretty hopeless at identifying famous people out of context. I only recognised Geri because the Partridge had pointed out her house to me along their road. Not given to taking an undue interest in pop stars, the family could not but help but be intrigued by their glamorous neighbour, especially after paparazzi began lurking in their front garden, the better to take illicit snaps of her. At the time of the Spice Girls’ last world tour, interest in Geri Halliwell soared and as a result, the Partridges found themselves flocked around the television set to watch a documentary about Geri, all agog as it offered tantalising glimpses into her home-life. Even last summer, there were still paparazzi parked out in the street, their telephoto cameras lying by their side, ready to be immediately brought into action should Geri appear.

From behind the brim of my large straw hat, I caught a brief glimpse of a woman and a child standing in front of me at the refrigerated counter in the former Brew House at the Robert Adams designed Kenwood House. They were debating what to buy. I caught a brief image of a petite woman in jeans but even if that glance had not proved sufficient, her foghorn voice would have readily identified her. As they dawdled, preventing me getting to my cream cake, I began to feel irate. I had killed men for less! Finally, they made their choice and walked away. I took my meringue to the cashier and then went to pick up some cutlery. As I stood there, Geri Halliwell leaned right across me, whilst all the while telling her daughter not to wander off. From the little I had seen of her, Geri’s daughter struck me as being a very sweet and well mannered child. That did not seem to hold true for her mother. I felt aggrieved. Was Geri behaving like that simply because she was famous? The Partridge later thought not.

“Most of my friends behaved like that when they had small children”, she explained. “They can’t risk taking their eyes off them for an instant when they are out and about. So what might appear to be a lack of good manners, is simply their needing to focus all their attention on their child, in case they slip away”.

I was mollified. The next day, still wearing my big straw hat and vintage 1940s coat I walked past Geri’ s house, just as she stepped out of a silver people’s carrier. I was reminded of the lyrics to Neighbours, the Aussie soap:
“ Neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours,
Just a friendly wave each morning, helps to make a better day.”
I refrained from waving in case she slapped a restraining order on me for stalking her. That might be adding just a little too much spice to my somewhat prosaic world.