'We were going to change everything, of course, but mostly we were going to change the rules.'
22 January 2022
There is still some confusion about my flight home and I've been onto Qantas by phone for hours; it's been a futile exercise, so I will only refer to the information on the phone app from now on. This morning's fluffing around has delayed our departure and we are now running late for the timed visit to the Fashion and Textile Museum to see the 'Beautiful People: The Boutique in 1960s Counterculture' exhibition.
My growing-up years had been in the 1970s, and the fashion at this exhibition is instantly recognisable, as are the people who wore them. As fashion was emerging from the 'dark ages', so was the music of the day and the clothes worn by Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithful, The Beatles, and others are here on display. The boutiques of the time, complete with examples of their distinctive fashions, include blurbs about them and their famous clients. I cannot help thinking that the fashion that was so outrageous then (by my parents' standard at least) is quite conservative by today's standards. Eastern and European ethnic-inspired fashion had also been popular; embroidered pheasant blouses, flowing patchwork caftans of silk, velvet, and brocades, sheepskin and embroidered rugs turned into vests with shaggy lining, and clothes adorned with military buttons are among the extraordinary examples displayed in this wonderful museum. I fully appreciate seeing the collection here today and again, applaud the people who had thought to hang onto these iconic styles over the decades because they are truly fabulous museum pieces. The designers and musicians that era left a legacy that, in my opinion, has never been surpassed by any generation to date.
There are so many incredible places to visit here in London; museums, galleries, theatre, iconic landmarks, Christmas lights, markets, and more. One cannot possibly imagine they could visit them all in a lifetime, let alone a month. Despite COVID and the related restrictions, it is much easier to get around in England than in Australia, so I am very glad I have had the opportunity to travel to not only visit Natasha but to take the opportunity to see as much as possible. Of course, the obvious lack of crowds has been a bonus - especially in Harrods!
When I travelled to England the first time in December 1977, food offerings were bland and ordinary to my 18-year-old palate. I'd already spent almost one year in Melbourne, tasting my way through Oakleigh Greek, North Melbourne French, and Carlton Italian, all made with the freshest ingredients and with flavours that I had never experienced before. After all, I had just graduated from a five-year stint at boarding school and had spent the previous months trying to dodge the food prepared by the four Irish nuns in the hostel where I was living. In 1977 London, food was presented with the same finesse as boarding school, so I was a little underwhelmed, to say the least. But to be fair and upon reflection, my parents were not exactly interested in 'fine dining' and mostly opted for a home-cooked meal of canned ravioli heated over a camp primus stove (illegally) with all windows open in our hotel room. So my memories of British food in the 1970s are probably completely warped. By the way, I never did find out what a 'spotted dick' is but guffawed each time a waitress yelled 'Another Spotted Dick for table 4'.
Over the course of this glorious month in Britain, forty-five years after that first visit, my taste buds have been treated to a tantalising array of local, fresh, and beautifully cooked food. This time round, I've also had the time to plan and to savour the offerings.
Before emerging from the museum in the mid-afternoon, Natasha had secured a table in Brindisa, a Spanish Tapas restaurant right next to Borough Market, where we had enjoyed oysters yesterday. We have received a message to say our table is now available. The tiny space is filled with people sitting at tables; not a spare or empty chair to be seen. The menus are brought out and we select several tapas dishes, croquettes, chorizo, goats cheese, vegetables, and Spanish beer to quench our thirst. Beautiful, tiny tasters of traditional and contemporary Spanish food that is not only filling, but screams of a culture far removed from where we are currently sitting. I'm loving it!
When I arrived in London a month ago, I had made up my mind to delve into whatever food Britain had to offer. After all, Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, and Gordon Ramsay are common contributors to Australian prime-time television, and I want to prove that my 1977 experience is now a long ago memory of a past journey. As well as the traditional roast dinners from the local pubs on Sundays and the obligatory fish-and-chips at the Magpie Cafe in Whitby, there is a smorgasbord of excellent quality food across Britain. One exception though, is The Boar's Head in Long Preston in Yorkshire, where we suspect our dinner selections came out of tin cans.
Sated, we leave Brindisa before our ninety-minute time limit expires and wander through the central-London streets, stopping at 'The George Inn'. Immortalised by Charles Dickens in his novel 'Little Dorrit' the medieval public house is the only surviving timber galleried coaching inn left in London. We have a discussion about this place being old before Australia was settled. To put history into perspective, we have a beer! All jokes aside though, just sitting in a building as old as this, surrounded by centuries of activity, ghosts, and history, is one of the most humbling experiences I have.
But the inevitable is in front of me. I need to pack my suitcases tonight. Tomorrow is another bonus day, during which I would like to spend a stress-free few hours wandering around the local shopping strips before one last Sunday roast dinner from the pub.
Title Quote: Marianne Faithful