Monday, 7 December 2009

Dim sum

Today I met up with M for dim sum in China Town, near Leicester Square. He regards himself as one of my protégés and now, whenever he is faced with a particularly tricky problem in the workplace he asks himself how I would have dealt with it. That is very flattering of him. I have had other former staff say I am the best manager they have ever had. Truly, I am the marmite of my professional world: people either love me or hate me. The latter tend to be those who really ought to know better. They cannot bear the fact that I refuse to indulge them with the sycophantic admiration they take as their due. Instead, I hold a mirror up to their shortcomings, something they can never forgive. Yet I make no apologies for my stance. I would be wide open to disciplinary action by my own professional body if I didn’t highlight serious breaches of corporate rules and regulations. Sadly, there are still those who regard the workplace as their own personal fiefdom, in wilful defiance of modern day Employment Law and Equalities legislation.

Later, as M left to meet up with another friend I went to Maison Bertaux at 28 Greek Street in Soho for a coffee and cream cake. In my opinion this French café and bakery is one of the finest patisseries in London. It has been baking fresh bread and cakes on the premises since the 19th century. It is somewhat more expensive than a standard coffee shop, but I go there for the superior quality of the cakes and the charming surroundings.

Then I went to the National Portrait Gallery, as I had an hour or so to spare before it closed. It has a fine restaurant on the top floor with splendid views across the rooftops. Mandip and I have lunch and cocktails there from time to time. The restaurant was the location for some of Clive Owen’s scenes in the film ‘Closer’. Whenever I wander around the building, I always start with the Tudor gallery and the famous oil painting of Anne Boleyn. The more I gaze at it the more I am bowled over by her innate elegance. At the court of Henry VIII, Anne stood out with her graceful fashions, honed by the years she had spent in the rival court across the channel in France.

National Portrait Gallery Restaurant

Notable paintings in the Tudor and Stuart rooms

• Charles I looking larger than life. In reality, childhood illness meant he had never grown much above five foot. It also explains why the dwarf Jeffrey Hudson was such a royal favourite, in that he made the King look like a man of great stature by comparison.
• Charles’s Queen, Henrietta Maria in a fabulous dark emerald green silk gown decorated with pearls and fine lace at the neckline and cuffs.
• Charles II as a small baby in a white satin dress and with a toy spaniel in his lap. I never understood before why the six foot King had such a penchant for such tiny dogs.
• The 17th century Prince Rupert of the Rhine looking every inch the dashing cavalier.
• Sir Digby Kenelm whose father was the unfortunate Sir Everard. The latter’s involvement in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 led to his execution in January 1606. Legend has it that as the executioner ripped Sir Everard’s heart from his body and held it aloft for the spectators, proclaiming that it was the heart of a traitor, Sir Everard was heard to say: ”Thou liest!” I have downloaded a recipe book attributed to Sir Digby and known as “The Closet of Sir Kenelm Digby Knight Opened by Kenelm Digby” at Project Gutenburg. My rice pudding is very similar to his recipe, except I bake mine in the oven as opposed to on the hob and I don’t add egg yolks to colour it with. He has a recipe for “excellent small cakes,” which I am tempted to try.
The Closet of Sir Digby Kenelm

• Samuel Pepys holding a piece of song music he had composed himself. Last year I heard the composition performed in full on the television. The same portrait illustrates my edition of his diary.

• The 17th century poet Andrew Marvell, author of one of my favourite poems. His cottage in Highgate once stood along the same stretch road as Lauderdale House and Ireton House (Cream Teas and Spice Girls, 15 November 2009) It has long gone save for a wall plaque commemorating the site. Apparently ‘dim sum’ translates as being “to touch the heart”. If so, Andrew Marvell’s poem has always been my literary dim sum.

To his coy mistress (1681)

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv’d virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am’rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp’d power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.