Colleague or Patient

Lilacs in bloom in Regent's park. Photo by WSM

Lilacs in bloom in Regent’s park. Photo by WSM

On a beautiful spring morning my husband and I walked hand in hand through Regent’s Park.

Crossing the Marylebone Road we turned onto Harley Street to be met by our memories.

Could this be the same building that we entered over fifty years ago? Though many times repainted and re-carpeted and now with a lift beside the stairs and we felt a shivering echo of remembrance.

Harley Street W1

Student Nurse Slater 1962

In the mid 1960’s, contraception was not readily available to young unmarried nursing students. Those who became pregnant had to choose between pregnancy, possible marriage and leaving nursing school or terminating the pregnancy to continue training. At our hospital the choices were stark; a tryst with Reg the long-fingered maintenance super, several patient escorts to the Radiology lab or a visit to a discrete gynecologist on Harley Street. I remember a smooth, urbane, gentle young man who was used to caring for the young nurses who had fallen too quickly into the arms of his lustful colleagues. I only saw him one time and had no need to go further into his suite.

Today we took the lift to the third floor and entered a compact, neat office to wait at the reception desk – for the receptionist.

Another young man is pacing. He is shyly courteous and assures me someone will be with me shortly. He is, again, urbane, handsome and impeccably dressed but in this space he seems caged and nervous. The receptionist arrives and I fill in identical forms to those I filled out ten days ago at the doctor’s office. I return the forms to her and handed over a credit card, keeping my fingers crossed that our U.S. health insurance will kick in and help us out.

The young man is still pacing. Trying to put him at his ease I turn and ask: “And what do you do here young man?” Maybe this was not the most comforting of questions but it was the best I could come up with, for, I too, was nervous this morning.
“I’m a plastic surgeon. Are you a colleague or a patient?” He bats the question back at me in defense of himself. He is taken aback by my question, and I by his reply, so we laugh together as I gather my answer.
“I’m both. A nurse and, today, a patient.” I make a quick prayer that he is not on standby for my procedure. We laugh again as I gently ask, “Do you still get nervous?”
“Yes. Always, but I try not to show it.” He knows this is the answer I want to hear. Now our conversation is over and we part, I to sit down and wait, he to pace where he cannot be seen.

Brenda, the nurse who welcomes me, is Irish, old school and cheerful. I expect she greets all her patients as sweetly as she does me. She settles me into a waiting -recovery room and I gown-up with added pale blue socks before Dr Dobbs strides in.

He is a big man, tall and more than a touch over-weight. After a long weekend his nose is sunburnt and his cheeks are ruddy. This is not a man who follows his own doctoral advice. He introduces me to the histology pathologist who will be checking over my bits after they are dug out.

He applies a little light numbing to my lip before I am led into the OR suite. Two more nurses, one from Slovenia, the other from Romania are waiting. Between them they settle me onto the table. The room is air-conditioned cold which is great for them but I need a blanket.

The local anesthetic is given and soon it is: lights, camera and action as Dr. Dobbs begins. I am aware of blood being swabbed from my face and, from time to time, the smell of burning flesh as he cauterizes bleeding vessels. Brenda has a hand on my thigh, softly stroking me as if calming a stalled horse. When she moves around the table she constantly reaches and touches me. She is steady. My eyes are closed as I ponder the difference between numbness and pain.

Dr Dobbs is focused and I can feel when the work is easy and when it is hard. He has entered the sea surrounding the tip of an iceberg, the only visibility sign for two and a half months that something was wrong. This is a tricky, not so little, intrusion in my body and I can feel he is straining hard to get underneath it all. His stomach leans up agains my side and presses into me. His belly is as comforting as Brenda’s touch. I am reassured by his efforts and silence when working and his good manners to his nurses when he calls them.

Stage one is done. I return with my blanket and socks to the waiting – recovery room. Dr. Dobbs takes my bits to the lab while I’m surprised at how shaken I feel. Brenda sits with me a while, popping in and out to give me sips of water from a paper cup.

The pause is over and it is back to surgery for another round. Dr. Dobbs repeats his scraping, as if cleaning all the fruit-flesh from a melon skin, until he is satisfied he has enough and it is time for final closure. Luckily there is no sign of the young plastic surgeon and Dr. Dobbs is relaxing as we come down this home stretch together.
Eight sutures later, a dental pad dressing and I return to recovery.

“You’ll have a sort of hockey-stick scar. It will do very nicely in the skin crease in your face.” He kindly refrains from saying “wrinkle” but I am grateful to have aged in my own skin.

“How long do you want to keep her?” Brenda asks. I want to go home and let my husband get back to work so post-operative instructions and prescriptions are given before Dr. Dobbs sums up this morning, as if to himself, “You were good to be so relaxed. It makes a big difference.” And it felt so, a team effort between doctor, nurses and patient. It was collegial. I hugged each of the nurses as we said good-bye.

Taxis turn onto Harley Street

A black cab turned onto Harley Street as we came out of the building. We climbed in and the taxi driver took us quickly home.

I was laid out and down to begin a week of advanced Sofa-thenics while the next member of the team, my husband as colleague, bent down to caress and take care of me.

Advanced sofa- thenics

Beautiful Beets

The Spring beets laying out on the farmer’s market stalls look lush and inviting. Beetroot has now been elevated to a super good-for-you vegetable. The baby greens are pretty under the bite sized sections of dark crimson roots tossed in with paint-white feta cheese in a salad.
But what happened to Borscht, good old beetroot soup? It appears lost from all but Hungarian restaurant menus. Classic borscht recipes came from Eastern Europe, Russia, Ukraine, and Poland, with various additions of potatoes and cabbages.
But for today’s cookbooks we are urged towards green watercress and sorrel soups to brighten our spring lunches with creamy yellow hubbard and butternut squash soups to warm us in the autumn evenings.

My borscht recipe was probably birthed from Gourmet Cook Book Volume Two an early, possibly desperate, Christmas gift from my husband. But it has been long since tweaked and fiddled with and now I claim this one as my own.

While here in London, as I edit another ‘final’ version of Farming the Flats, I have come to a page that says, insert Beet recipe here. Oh. OK. Back down to the Turkish greengrocer with Monty I go. But as summer gives way to autumn, the dark beets sit cowering beside the bold orange winter squash who are bursting with fresh grown pride. The beets, like the carrots beside them, have had their greens chopped away. The spring greens that were so bright and brave are fading in this late summer harvest.

Harvest on the kitchen counter

I pluck:
4 beets
2 carrots
1 onion
from the boxes and bring them home where I already have
Bay leaves, sage, thyme and chives from the garden.
Olive oil, salt, pepper, caraway and cumin from the cupboard
Chicken or vegetable stock from the freezer.

Now it is simple soup making.
Parboil the beets in their skins then lift the beets into a bowl to cool.
Strain and save the beet water. Some recipes call for throwing out the beets or the water which is ridiculous. The water only needs straining to remove any left over farm soil and grit.
While the beets are cooling heat the olive oil in a big saucepan,
Add the chopped onion to sweat slowly as you peel and slice the carrots.
(You will notice this recipe is 2 beets to 1 carrot).
When the onion is a sweet yellow add the chopped carrots and then
the caraway and cumin to taste. I’m heavy on both of these.
Stir for a while until the carrots are glistening.
Any wine in the fridge? A glug glug can go in now.
Stir some more and then add the thyme, bay leaves (At least 2) and sprig of sage.
Salt and pepper now as you like it.
When you feel the flavors have been properly introduced then pour in the stock.
Bring to a simmer and cook until the carrots are soft.
Time to slip the skins off of the beetroots, give them a rough chop and add to the mix.
Do you need to add more liquid? If so you have the beet water on hand.
When this is all cooked up nicely, twenty minutes or so, turn off the heat.
Put on the saucepan lid and go and do something else for at least an hour.
Only then come back and fish out the bay leaves, thyme stalk and sprig of sage.
Put the saucepan somewhere low, in the sink maybe, and blend the soup until there are no lumps.
How does it feel? How does it taste?
I like a firmish consistency and to be able to taste the caraway with a hint of cumin
Adjust the liquid with more beet water and flavor with seasoning.
The soup is ready now but will be better still after sitting a little longer.
Because borscht is Russian and Eastern European most recipes call for potatoes rather than carrots and a topping of thick Greek Yogurt.
But since I cooked this in London I used a dollop of fresh Devonshire cream before sprinkling on the chopped chives from the garden.
And the little glass of wine? Well I didn’t put all of it in the soup, just a glug, not two.

Soup supper for one

Monty’s Monday Mornings

Monty on a Monday

In his own words.

Today was terrible and I will never, ever go there again. She was a looking for a big box of baking soda to refresh the drains. We started off down the canal path but then went up the steps to Morrison’s Supermarket. It is vast and smells bad. What she wanted wasn’t there and so we went through more back streets to Sainsbury’s where she did find four bottles of Vinegar at .50 p each. Both stores have security guards and when we got to Sainsbury’s one of them came over and stood beside me. She gave him a firm look and he moved away!

Usually we go to Camden Town on a Monday morning. Camden holds a real mix of working Londoners. It is especially nice on Monday after the midnight city lorries, hosing down as they sweep, have cleaned the punk madness of the weekend away. The streets seem refreshed, though the polka-dot chewing gum still decorates the pavement and the water has long dried by the time we get to town. Often something has been found wanting over the weekend. ‘I may have to go into Camden for that’ is uttered in more than one household whilst drinking the morning tea when lists are made.

Delancy Street

Delancey Street curving in the sunshine

We set out weaving through the Auden Place Estate to Regent’s Park Road and walk to the big five-way junction. We cross through the maze of traffic lights onto Delancey Street and carry on past the curved row of white terraced houses where, according to his Blue Plaque, Dylan Thomas once lived.

Blue plaque for Dylan Thomas

Blue Plaque for Dylan Thomas

It is a quiet, bright street and the sun almost always seems to shine there. Often the C2 and 274 busses pass us on their way to either end of Oxford Street.

Our first stop is the coffee shop owned by George Constinantou who has been at this location for forty-two years and five months. If there are no other customers, there is room for me to come inside, while she waits and talks. She is always talking.

beans roasting

Beans roasting at Camden Coffee House

Georgio

Georgio behind his counter

Despite his shyness and the roar of the roasting beans, she knows about his annual holiday when he goes home to Cyprus to his mother and sister’s family every year. He is constantly in motion, weighing, scooping and roasting beans taken from the sacks piled up along one wall. Then 250 grams of Continental and £3.80 later we are on our way, another half a block to the Camden High Street where the pub on this corner still looks hungover on Monday morning. It is the only place that is not refreshed.

Now she crosses over the busy High Street to The Camden Town Bakery, established 1972, and gets a White Tin Loaf of bread. The bakery closed recently and ‘he’ said there were no more tin loaves, that it has all gone fast food. But thank goodness it was only getting a makeover. Housewives of a certain generation who shop on the High Street don’t want anything too fancy – sweet, yes, quick take away deli food, yes – but please keep the familiar Old Tin loaves in the corner.

She puts the loaf next to the coffee, both keeping the other warm, and we go back across the High Street to Waitrose. It is the only supermarket we like. It is small, there are more shelves with produce for proper cooking and a little less plastic wrap and more organic produce. Mostly she comes here for the household staples and I always have to nudge her at the checkout to move the tin loaf and not squash it with the laundry powder. She never remembers her coupons – she should, at her age.

One time she took me back across the road to the small artsy-crafty shop. The isles were so narrow there was barely room for me. What was she after? Turned out she needed a big bag of toy stuffing. She can’t keep up with the need for knitted piglets for all the little people she meets.

Piglett family

A litter of Piglets

It is sweet really but there are two big sweaters, I know because I’ve seen the wool, waiting for her to finish. The stuffing is cheap, I hear coins changing hands. It is bulky but very light thank goodness as I am always almost full when we leave Waitrose.

Ossie's Barber Shop

Up Parkway past Ossie’s to the greengrocer

Now we are nearly done and cross the Camden Hub High Street intersection where six roads come together by the tube station. We can go up Parkway, past the Odeon cinema, an Italian deli and Ossie the barber, to the Turkish greengrocer. We love this shop the best.  I just get to squeeze in and have to wait by the checkout counters where I can see her. The shop is so small they don’t have trolleys – only baskets. ‘Don’t get too much,’ I try to say but she never listens.

The produce is bright, very pretty and the trays are kept full. Everything is labeled, what it is, where it is from, if it is organic and there are always several varieties of whatever it is. Take choosing the organic eggs: there are chicken, duck, quail or goose. The pears are from Spain and Argentina. She always buys the ones from Argentina. The peaches from Spain are better, at the moment, than those from Italy. But the tomatoes from Italy are better than those from England. These last few weeks she has been getting gooseberries and always a bottle of pomegranate juice. The fresh organic turmeric and ginger are from Peru.

long view

Summer veg lined up

Eventually she is ready and comes back to me at the counter. No she doesn’t need a bag, she has me, and one way and another, moving the tin loaf again, everything fits in and we leave. It is uphill along Parkway but I don’t wobble at all. There are more traffic lights to cross and then the downhill bit along Regent’s Park Road back through Auden Place until we are home.

She could never carry all this on her own and she has quite come to rely on me. Inside it is one step at a time and she can pull me upstairs. Then she unloads everything out onto the kitchen counter. The relief. It is hard work, but I don’t complain. After all she nearly threw me out when she returned home last spring and saw me in my box on the terrace. I know what could have happened to me – off to the charity shop and who knows where after that. When she is done she carries me back downstairs and carefully puts me to bed, tucked away behind the washing machine. But she always remembers to say, ‘Thanks you Monty, I couldn’t have done it without you’. That “Thank You” keeps me content until Saturday when we will go out again, up and over Primrose Hill to the farmer’s market.

Derby and Joan

In the top drawer of the tiny kitchen in our London cottage lies the cutlery. A divided wire basket holds the bright, shiny new knives, forks and spoons bought for the life we are making together in England. Beside them lie a jumble of old utensils culled from my mother’s three homes in Hampshire, each house smaller than the last, and all within two miles of each other. The utensils were scooped up from the collection that she could not bear to let go, I remembered, and still can’t abandon. Prominent among them are the knives: old breakfast knives, a small kitchen knife, the knife sharpener, and her old bread knife.

The bread knife has a stained and cracked bone handle and tightly grooved serrated blades. Even knowing that it struggles with the modern artesian breads of the day, I still cannot bring myself to let it loose in a charity shop where it might linger, like a homely girl at a village dance, waiting unclaimed on the shelf. So I kept it and wonder from time to time how old it really is. It does struggle so with today’s artisan breads, tearing the oblong French baguettes and rounded Italian soughdoughs. German breads with their dense rye flour fair better. The multi-grain wheat breads even better yet. But the bread knife and I struggle on, cutting and slicing on the beach-wood cutting board, grateful for each other. It knows it is safe with me and I have no thoughts to abandon it. In fact, I feel safer and enjoy a duller bladed knife.

One year at Christmas, in despair, one of our daughters gave us a new serrated bread knife for the farm kitchen. It is sharp, German and created to march through any loaf that is placed before it. And it does that with the utmost efficiency, taking no prisoners. Before the New Year had arrived it had also taken a piece of my forefinger along with a crusty slice of local artisan bread. When back on the farm I still use that knife – but – with great caution.

This Saturday afternoon as my husband was going out he asked it I needed anything.
“Yes please. A loaf. We are out of bread.” I was expecting him to pick up his favorite Italian bread from Anthony’s Deli on the high street in the village. But he lingered around the weekend stalls set out on the high-street and was gone a long time. When he did successfully return from the hunt, he opened up the bag and brought out a large English Tin Loaf, unsliced.

Derby and Joan

Tin Loaf comes home

It was a big white loaf, just like we used to get from the baker, Mr. Wright, whose wife and family made fresh bread in their shop every day in Fleet. Daily the queues outside of ‘Wright’s the Baker,’ went out the door from nine a.m. through to noon by which time every loaf of bread was sold and all that was left were the tea time cream-cakes. Every variety they made and placed out on their shelves could make and hold chunky sandwiches with a smear of butter before a good chunk of cheddar cheese, and some Branson Pickle without falling apart. They held together and were ready to eat in the van, on the lunch break or in the fields. The sort of loaf – freshly baked – and on the shelf – that immediately made one hungry for a slice.

And that is how we felt when my husband came home on this Saturday afternoon with his trophy which he unwrapped and laid out on the beach-wood cutting board. The tin loaf sat happily on the bread-board while I opened up the drawer and took out Granny’s old bread knife now long married to the cutting board. I swear the knife quivered in recognition and pulled my right hand towards the loaf, as if reaching for an old remembered friend.

Sliced and ready

Sliced and ready

The loaf of bread held steady under my left hand and seemed to sigh in relief as the blade stroked the crust and then bit deep into the first slice, letting the heel of the bread fall gently onto the breadboard. I cut another slice, and another, clean, even slices of bread. I put the knife down and it rested on the counter as if in a swoon of remembered happiness.

The English Tin loaf was rewrapped and put away for tomorrow’s breakfast. Next we put the kettle on.

Tea time memories

Tea time memories

The fallen slices of bread were firm and smooth and lay flat ready to receive a smothering of butter and honey. It was time for afternoon tea which we enjoyed sitting out on the terrace. Once more grateful for those things found, remembered, and not forgotten.

Humpty Dumpty

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
couldn’t put Humpty together again.

And it went on. Now, after almost three weeks of tumbling down I’m still so sad and angry, watching as the English politicians made such a cock-up of their dear referendum. Yes I’m going to say that. Though in a global view this is small blip. America is churning and bleeding to death and Africans are dying in the Sahara desert, the Libyan jails and finally the Mediterranean ocean as they struggle to escape a certain death for a less certain life. But still, I’m so sad and mad. I don’t know when I have struggled so to write. If this was a yellow pad, which it was earlier, I would be back at the stationary shop buying another one. But the emotions that have been going around and around in my (and a lot of other people’s ) head, as the television and newspapers reports changed, history being eloquently rewritten every day and Great Britain as it was is no more.

That morning, the one when we all woke up to the Brexit decision was sobering and most of the country, even those who voted out, to show ‘them’ a lesson were stunned and grieving as the realization of what could come to pass began to sink in.

The eye watches London

The eye watches London

So I’ve read, and read and read, mostly coming back to The Guardian editorials which are the ones that make the most sense – to me. I’m suspicious even of my beloved Telegraph, seeing hidden agendas in each opinion column and page. But there are good articles. Lighthearted and accurate from Buzz-feed and somber and intellectual in The Guardian. Maybe there will be a breather today as the politicians wait for Her Majesty to return to London. The Queen is not going to break off other engagements just because these boys have all behaved so shockingly badly.

The weekend after the vote we took a train to Shropshire to visit with a beloved old friend who lives deep in sheep country. That evening he took us and another couple who were staying in Wales, (with more sheep), for dinner. The long evening light was still with us as we climbed out of the taxi (no drinking and driving with this crowd, who can still drink as if they were twenty). Our driver, a young lad, was built like a Sumo wrestler. Overflowing from the van’s upright driving seat he yet held a gentle hand on the wheel and had a sure knowledge of the small country lanes and the farmers heading towards us.

Deah heading the roses

Deah heading the roses

Summer roses

Summer roses

The following day it became clear that ‘a spot of lunch’ was actually a full blown ‘Luncheon for 30 plus’ and I was going to be vastly under-dressed and under-blinged. While the most amazing meal was being prepared in the garage, I was set to deadheading the roses, which with all the rain and very little sun, were glorious.

At noon the guests began to arrive. It was time to change from jeans to a not quite dressy enough skirt and join the friends who had come to share this day. As we sat down to lunch I took the opportunity to really find out a little more what people were thinking, and how they voted. I became impolite, asking those questions one never discussed in public (politics and taxes). Here were the land owners of Shropshire. The charming gentleman on my left was happy to tell me why he had voted Brexit, “We don’t like being told what to do,” And by “we” he did mean all of us, the Sumo wrestler driver, the milk-man, the chicken farmer as well as the Lords of the Manor (most of Shropshire’s around the table) were of one mind.

“We don’t like to be told by Angela Merkel. We don’t like to be told by George Osborne. And we don’t like to be told by Your Barack Obama.” And so out of sheer bloody mindedness they, to a man and woman, voted out.

“To show those politicians what we think.” The rifts that have erupted within families are startling and have taken this grey haired and somewhat still with it generation by surprise.

By the time the cigars and snuff were coming around I was being sleepily interrogated by Algie, (Algernon Heber-Percy Esq.) Shropshire’s very own lord-lieutenant. As the Queen’s representative in the county he could not venture his opinion. But by the languid body language he displayed as he placed his pinch of snuff surely on the back of his hand, he showed that he too was with the aforementioned gentleman on my left, his shepherds and arable farmers.

Today the Queen will return from her morning of duties and have time for a light lunch before meeting with David Cameron (let’s hope he doesn’t whistle a happy tune on his way out of the palace). Then maybe she will have time for a soothing cup of tea before she summons Theresa May to formally ask her,

“Can you command a majority in the House of Commons?” May will say ‘Yes Ma’am I can.”  May might add a curtsey and there you have it. While those two politicians are trotting in and out of the palace moving vans will have been in and out of three houses and on Thursday morning Great Britain will wake up to a new Prime-minister.

Grey skies over Westminster

Grey skies over Westminster

Meanwhile Humpty Dumpty will join his nursery rhyme pals, other eggs who have fallen, and lie broken on the ground, below the wall and under the benches in the House of Commons. They will pretend to care. Some will be swept up and discarded. Others might return to their seats, now knowing how precarious their hold and seat is on the wall. Who knows, one or two may even reach out for a drink with Tony Blair, also bruised if not bowed. The Chilcot Report has been released and the film ‘We are Many‘ is being shown in theaters again and again.

Happy New Year 2016

New Year’s Eve Walk

Happy New Year.

We all say it. We begin around Solstice when we are adding ‘Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays,’ for all the winter celebrations that happen in most religions through to dear old Robbie Burns Night, this year on January 25th,

“Happy New Year to you.” “And to you too.” And we mean it. We smile as we pass each other on the street, wishing each other well, peace and health in our lives and even possibly a little prosperity thrown in. For in these days all angst between us is forgotten.

Paolo and his sign

This year there is a longer than usual lull between Christmas Eve with the ‘back to work’ week starting on January 4th. The weekend of January 2 and 3 has given us extra Twixmas days, as those days between Christmas and the New Year have been named in England. These are days are free days, as if in an Egyptian calendar of old. The Egyptians would take five days off prior to the summer Solstice (June 21) in their calendar year otherwise their agricultural rhythms would quickly become muddled. And somehow this falls, loosely in winter, into a pattern for modern Europe. Stores and galleries that could be open have closed shut.  Even Philip the Greengrocer at Yeoman’s has drawn his blinds and stuck a sign on the door, “We will reopen on January 4th.” Good for them. Paolo in his coffee shop on Delancy Street moves slower though his days. Maybe he is taking the extra cup of coffee for himself before facing us trending or grumbling old customers on Christmas Eve.

For some people these are days of total winter peace and contemplation or escapes to warmer climates. For young parents with families they are days of adventures or hanging out with the children while grandparents build memories that will become traditions. For others, the young and not so faint at heart, the days are filled with shopping in the crazy winter sales that beckon buyers in to lay down that credit card just one more time. But wherever and whatever we do we add, “Happy New Year.” to our daily greetings.

The Muslim grandmother who runs our local deli is dressed in her black hijab with a touch of cream here and there peaking through her headscarf. Her hair has turned from deeply black to hold wisps of grey since we have come to know her and she now rings up a senior discount for us both. She knows us all, our types, our styles our needs. “A Happy New Year to you my dear.” “And to you too.”

Crossing the bridge into Regent’s Park a young African woman is taking a selfie and seeing me smile laughs aloud at herself. She is athletic and out for a winter workout. Dressing in bright blue running gear, her hair up in braids she is sunny and beautiful. “Happy New Year,” She laughs at me. And I laugh back to her, “And to you too.”

It is quiet at the Newsagents and finally the Hindu gentleman left in charge on New Year’s Eve has time to ask me, “Are you married? Do you live here?” and more. We take the time he needs as I answer the questions that he may have held for the past ten years of our fifteen year time in the village. Finally another customer comes to the counter and we exchange a newspaper for coin and part. “Happy New Year.” “And to you too.”

Maddy is bustling with her dogs. Never without one to four dogs she walks out three times a day with them while her husband with his new middle-aged dyed beard occasionally goes to the store. Maddy doesn’t have time for the supermarket, she is too busy with the dogs so a grocery delivery van comes down the street for her once a week. Slowly, over the years, we have become friendly over dogs. Her beloved Lucky was in love with our Hana and the feelings were reciprocated with frenzied barking affection whenever they met on the street. She is smiling, “Happy New Year,” we laugh it together. Both happy to see each other and knowing there will be another time for a catch up chat.

After a film at Leicester Square, we walk around the corner into Chinatown on the edge of Soho. The streets are all a bustle and hustle, restaurants full and yet beckoning. A little Chinese supper would be nice. We eventually chose a restaurant where a smiling young woman, wrapped up in her winter jacket, hat and gloves welcomes us inside. The restaurant is full, happy Chinese, Arab, and European customers devouring an early supper. The young wait staff are dressed in black and serious. They have to keep everyone moving, and us particularly as we are a cheap-vegetarian-disappointment. The young men are all hooked up to black ear buds and phones. The food comes quickly up the dumb-waiter and the dishes passed along to us. The fortune cookie and the bill arrive together. We pay the bill and though my cookie tells me “You will make a good investment.” I’m not sure what that will be. Back down on the street the same young woman is smiling and beckoning passers-by inside. But as we leave and smile at her once more she bobs her bow, “Happy New Year, Happy New Year to you.” “And to you too.”

Girl at a bus stop

Returning home, we meet Stan who is heading out to The Queens Pub on the corner walking slowly with his beloved old dog. Though rarely with his teeth, Stan steadfastly walks his dog twice a day. He too has come to know something of us and when I greet him, “Happy New Year Stan.” it is to the boss, my husband, that he relies, “Appy ‘ew Year to you too Sir.”