In London, there seems to be a new passion for celebrating all things English. Yesterday, I enjoyed an egg sandwich at the Emporium cafe in Muswell Hill, surrounded by biscuit tins commemorating the Coronation and displays revering Colman’s mustard. The teashop offers cream tea workshops for those who wish to reclaim the ancient art of buttering teacakes and who like their scones well slathered. Gordon Ramsey has tarted up a pub in Camden and calls it the York and Albany. The cocktails involve a lot of gin and elderflower. At the Wallace Collection, they were making much of Dover Plaice and new potatoes and at the Avenue in St James they were serving fish and chips in newspaper as part of an Evening Standard “two courses for 15 pounds” offer. I had tea at Buckingham Palace, with several hundred middle-aged tourists from all parts of the United Kingdom, and toured the gardens at Clarence House (ditto). In the Buck House grounds they were serving scones with cream and strawberries. Round at the Queen Mum’s old gaff, Antipodean Rolf Harris was harried off the stage where he was singing Sun Arise at sunset to make way for Vivienne Westwood who seems to have usurped his status as a national treasure. Rolf looked very well for a man of 80–Vivienne Westwood less so, although she was riding a bike so her knees must be in better condition than mine.
Bikes too are a new English enthusiasm, brought in by the bonkers Mayor of London, Tory Boris Johnson who is himself a cyclist. Boris’s bikes, sponsored by Barclays, are everywhere. You sign up online, supplying credit card details and get sent a key that allows you to pick up and drop off bikes all over the city. Very popular on the day of the Tube strike. But the person who deserves most credit for changing the way people get round London has to be Red Ken Livingstone, Boris’ predecesssor, who must have doubled the number of London buses since I lived on the Holloway Road 10 years ago. Now, you can get a bus anywhere–but getting a ticket can prove more troublesome. Most Londoners have a pre-paid Oyster card but everyone else is stuck if they don’t have 2 pounds in coins and haven’t bought a ticket before boarding. With luck your route will have a bendy bus–if you get on at the back door the driver can’t see you and you really don’t have to pay at all. Boris wouldn’t like this, but it is true.
Perhaps the same ad agency that has so successfully rehabilitated public transport, salad cream, cress, bunting and the Royal Family will now turn its attention to the weather, which remains relentlessly miserable.