PICNIC IN THE PARK
Outdoor picnics were not an especially common event for obvious British climatic reasons. The organizer took a chance on Hyde Park one summer Sunday in 1972 and lucked out. The particulars of the picnic have faded into history. However, the otherwise unremarkable incident following the main event had a major impact on my time with London Village – much for the better. I’m sure this has happened to everyone. You are some where, with some people and the chemistry of the occasion is so captivating and alluring you do not want it to end. So it was that summer Sunday evening. For a start it was the end of the weekend and the residue contentment from the picnic atmosphere persuaded me to remain. Forgotten are the precise sequence of actions which led three people to be seated around an outside table at the tea shop beside the Serpentine, the elongated lake in Hyde Park, but there we were. One was myself. The woman present was Gita. She had been a flight steward (maybe still called an air hostess then) for British Eagle Airlines. The airline ceased operations in 1968 and Gita now worked in a management position at Jaeger’s upscale clothing retailers. Their marquee store remains in Regent Street. (http://www.jaeger.co.uk/) The broad scope of jobs which LV people were engaged in made for a enlightening education. Gita had flown on Bristol Britannia’s (4 engine propeller airplanes) on the Trans-Atlantic route. She remarked that they had cots for babies “swinging back and forth” while in flight. I hope that recollection is accurate. I recall imagining the tiny hammocks rocking back and forth. Doesn’t seem to fit today’s “cram ’em in” airline style.
THE THIRD MAN
The other person at the table was an exceptionally tall, slim figured man. His name is Brian Merison. I find it an intensely curious feature of human memory which items the brain stores, seemingly securely forever, and those which are tossed aside as quickly as they occur. (With regards the transient type, just today a friend emailed me a photograph of myself with friends in the Cotswold Hills in Oxfordshire. I see myself in the photograph but have zero recollection of ever being in that place. Clearly, the body of me was there, but the “I” was otherwise engaged somewhere far away.) Tea in Hyde Park with Brian and Gita is in the former category, stored with pleasure even after 40 years. He said he was twenty-seven. Age is a huge deal in those years of life. You know the whines: “I’m old, I’m 25, or “30, over the hill” and other cruel and stupid wails. I clocked the fact and let it go. And speaking of going, it was getting late. Gita had to go. I on the other hand, did not want to go anyplace. Brian provided the solution by offering coffee at his place. His place it turned out was within walking distance. So off we trundled back to Brian’s place which turned out to be a two-bedroom flat, 2nd floor on Brown Street, London W1. The building was called Ash Court and is about a twelve minute brisk walk from Selfridges or two minutes from the Edgware Road. (The building is still there.)
LOCATION, LOCATION and NO LOCKS
Talk about a prime, central location. Two additional facts will be of interest at this juncture. The rent for the two bedroom flat was 22 pounds a week! But more remarkable, there was no lock on the street door. It was a two-door fixture which didn’t appear to have a lock. Push and the door swung open. I can not imagine that arrangement being acceptable today, certainly not by any insurance company offering a policy against burglary.
This was my first, but far from last visit to Ash Court, Brown Street. That afternoon’s chance meeting began a long association with Brian. Together we attended or organized a surplus of astonishing LV events at Ash Court. The events were always well attended not least in part because of the address. Who wouldn’t want to go to a party, or mid-week soiree, or relax on a Sunday afternoon over wine and nibbles, or drop in for an unvarnished, plain old coffee and biscuits get-together in London West One? The place had a zest of extraordinary magic, in a time of never locked front doors, no congestion zones and street parking open to non-residents.
Comments are welcome below.
If you were in the LV circle in the 1970’s, or came to one of our events at Ash Court, W.1. I would love to hear your memories and post them for others to enjoy.