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  • Writer's pictureJanette Frawley

'Tea. Both soothing and uplifting, a salve and a sharpener, the morning jolt and the evening's end.'

20 January 2022

The Number 63 bus is almost my best friend! I'm sure I haven't had to wait for any longer for five minutes for it to arrive on any day. I almost always sit on the upper deck in the front seat as I want to have an unobstructed view of London as we trundle along the route.

Getting around London is exceptionally easy. The Citymapper app, along with buses, overground and underground trains that depart with amazing regularity, helps make this huge city reasonably easy to navigate. I think there are about 20 stops between the time I get on the bus until I get off at Elephant and Castle so from my vantage point high above the street, I am shamelessly able to look into people's backyards, observing the everyday lives of ordinary people. The bus also passes famous and not so famous landmarks. Buses are slow, especially here in London, where they have to join busy streets and make their way along the congested routes. But I'm not in a hurry!

There is an absolutely wonderful memoir by Sandi Toksvig, the host of QI and hundreds of other British shows, called Between the Stops. Since she virtually lives around the corner from Natasha (I don't really know that, but she does mention all the surrounding streets), I have find her descriptions of South London very familiar. I just wish I had read the book earlier - I may have been tempted to explore the area further.

Today I almost mirror yesterday's journey, except that I jump off the train at Piccadilly Circus and make my way on foot to the iconic supplier of luxury food to the Queen. Unlike Harrods, Fortnum and Mason is fairly compact. There is no Egyptian-themed escalator. In fact, although I may be incorrect in saying this, I don't think there is an escalator in the store at all. There is a lift and a very discreet staircase. But I digress.

I step into Fortnum and Mason and am surrounded by displays of luxury teas; blends that I have never heard of before and many very familiar. This is the ultimate store for the connoisseur of tea and for those, like me, who like it and would like to take home some souvenirs. I spend quite some time inspecting the tiny glass containers filled with the different blends; a sample of what is inside the tins.

From the tea department, I find myself in an area filled with tins and packets of the most amazing shortbreads and biscuits and this seamlessly flows into an area dominated by lollies and other sweet treats. I wander and mentally tick off the things I will buy after I have perused the entire store. Upstairs I find myself in the china department and although I see much the same wares as those I saw in Harrods yesterday, I feel that perhaps this store caters less for the discerning tourist who would like to take home some reasonably-priced souvenirs that Harrods does. Surrounding me is a sea of 'Tiffany' aqua and I wonder who chose the colour first. Has there not been a court case over the copyright of the use of that shade of aqua? Perhaps I overthink things too much. But I do have something aqua in my hand - Time for Tea by Tom Parker Bowles. I'm very peeved that he has omitted Australian tea production in his book. We grow excellent tea in Australia.

Perusing is thirsty work and as I am in the best-known tea emporium in the world, I settle in the in-store cafe for tea and scones. Perhaps my expectations were elevated, but I can admit freely that I have had better..... scones, that is.

Purchases made, I am carefully watching the time as we have plans for this evening and before I take the hour-long journey by train and bus back to base, I need to find Marks and Spencer, another iconic British store, to make some last minute purchases. Following Google Maps, I make my way down side streets and eventually come across a huge crowd as three tiny cars zoom along the closed-for-traffic street. As they drive, one after the other, onto a red carpet, I cross the road to see what all the excitement is all about. A crowd gathered along a barrier cheers loudly as I arrive breathless outside the Palladium Theatre. They are not cheering me! But visual clues like the signage and location lead me to realise that the judges of Britain's Got Talent have just arrived. Hence the cheers! Each one of the judges arrive in a tiny electric car (I was around the corner and I believe they only jumped into their respective cars 50 metres from the site, but shoosh - don't tell anyone). This is all too exciting for me despite not seeing even one celebrity judge. As I turn the next corner I see a long line of people entering the theatre from the back; presumably the audience.

Excitement over, I finish my shopping and make my way into the Underground railway station.

We are coming back to the West End this evening. London's West End or the theatre district is one of the best tourist attractions in London, simply because live theatre is such a huge part of the British culture. Tonight, we have tickets to an iconic show; the one show that is identifiable with London and at seventy-years, is the longest-running show in the world. I haven't seen it, despite visiting the city many times and surprisingly, Natasha hasn't yet seen it. We have tickets to see The Mousetrap.

Afterwards, as we sit over beers in a nearby bar, discussing how much we enjoyed The Mousetrap, we both admit that we did not guess 'who dunnit' and that who did it was a surprise.

And no, I'm not telling.

Tomorrow is another day, as Scarlett O'Hara once uttered. We have a full day ahead of us and as we take the bus home again, we walk past the location where my childhood hero, Enid Blyton, was born. Although the actual building was levelled during the

Blitz, it occurs to me that London has so many little surprises that it would be impossible to truly explore it in a lifetime. It doesn't hurt to try though!

Title Quote: Tom Parker Bowles 'Time for Tea'

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