Chance Encounterism – How chance meetings rule life more than planning. Celebrating life’s accidentalism

Maybe it’s just me, but this thought experience comes to my mind quite often.

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The thought is how hugely accidental the path of life really is. Despite the conventional wisdom to plan and set goals, much of my social links and connections came about by massive accidents and zero planning. The thought that excites my neurons is to consider how one tiny change in just one of the events in the sequence would have nullified the entire outcome. Here’s what I mean:

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I met someone back in 1972. I’ll call him B. B and I happened to be at the same picnic event in Hyde Park in London. It was a wonderful day and as the picnic broke up we happened to be in nearby proximity and chatted. Another woman joined our chat and we decided to have tea at the cafe by the lake in the park. I still know B some 46 years later. Fast forward to 2016 and we were both seated at B’s kitchen table. B was planning a three week hiking trip on the west coast of Canada. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? He was meeting up with a small group of people, one of whom was a woman (J) who I had met at a job I had held for just a few months back in the 1970’s. Thus, I was the introduction link between B and J.

So here’s where life-accidentalism reveals its almighty power to shape our lives more than any amount of planning. As we sat at the kitchen table, I commented to B that he would not be sitting a few feet away planning a fabulous trip to the Pacific North West had I not accidentally met him in the Hyde Park some 46 years ago *and* had I not have taken the job where I met J. J moved to Canada and stayed in touch over the years.

Let me re-state the situation another way to highlight the truly remarkable power of chance-encounterism. If you were to ask B what he was planning for spring, he’d say, “I’m going on a hiking trip in Canada. I know some people in British Columbia and they have a cottage on Vancouver Island where I’ shall be staying and exploring around from there.” I would say, “Wow! That sounds fantastic.” Then you might wonder how fortunate B is to know people who have access to a cottage half way across the world. Chance-encounterism, it’s impact stretching across four decades, was making the hiking trip possible.

Imagine, and I do, imagine if I had left the picnic ten minutes earlier, or B had walked a different route to the bus stop? Our paths would never have crossed. Or J had worked on a different floor in the same building and we had not had regular, or any contact? The answer is of course, there would be no Canadian hiking trip and I would not have been seated at that particular kitchen table. All the social events B and I hosted over the course of the mid 1970’s, which were numerous and exciting, would never have happened.

I admit to feeling a encompassing sense of awe when I think upon how huge parts my life has been defined by chance-encounterism. A moment later arriving at a place, perhaps a red traffic light triggered early, would have made me miss a meeting, and thus an entire collection of life events would never have occurred. (The film Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow comes to mind. The film explores this idea.)
The lesson I’ve learned from this is to be prepared to cultivate chance encounters. I carry some business cards I printed with my name and email address. I offer them to the “chance encounteree” if I sense the meeting has that magical shiver to it. I wouldn’t want to miss an entire chain of wonderful happenings by not being able to contact that person again; or them me.

 

Chance encounterism is all around waiting with the possibility
of wonderful experiences.
I say, encourage it and welcome it.

 

Keith Howard

 

E P I L O G

Here’s another short tale of chance-encounterism. I’ll itemize the steps in order to record the episode quickly.

1) I bought a coffee at the Waitrose on the King’s Road, London. Sitting at the only bench seat inside the shop, I shared it with a lady also having coffee. I strike up chit-chat with the lady (N). I give her my card and in return she gives me one of her address labels. The exchange was brief and I never expected to see the woman again. After a day or so I would not have recognized N if we passed on the street.

2) Four months later a news items causes me to drop N a letter. I post the letter and forget all about it. (For the curious, N had mentioned she had an original Mary Quant dress. The Victoria and Albert museum had sent out a call for MQ dresses and shoes to display in an up coming exhibition.)

3) Three months after I sent the letter I muddle my bus connections in Kensington, and end up taking a longer route to get to Sloane Square. It was no big deal. I ended up in the area known as World’s End and waited for a number 22 bus to complete my journey. As I wait for the bus, a lady pulling a wheely-bag full of plants from the nearby nursery joins me at the stop. Once again, I engage in chit-chat with the lady about the plants she had purchased.

4) On the bus I continue talking and cover a topic I had chatted about with the Waitrose coffee lady. “Wait,” she says suddenly. “You wrote me a letter didn’t you.” She says my name. “That’s you isn’t it?” Plant lady on the bus is in fact N from Waitrose seven months earlier. I tell N, jokingly, I am going to faint over the amazing coincidence. The passing acquaintanceship is renewed and we part in good spirits.

Instantly my mind goes to work. If I had taken the correct bus at Kensington, or the bus had been delayed by a gaggle of people ambling over a zebra crossing, or a million other possibilities, the second encounter with N would never have occurred. And my afternoon would have been a lesser afternoon for it.

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London Village Advertisements in Time Out magazine

So there they were. In a box next to the videos for 1 pound a piece of 3 for 2.50. I was in a charity shop on Marylebone High Street, London W.1. last week. I love perusing charity shops. In a box were about seven copies of Time Out magazine from 1973 and 1974. Prime London Village era.

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1970’s was an era when you had to buy Time Out with real money, unlike today where they hand them out at tube stations gratis.

Absolutely fab’ to leaf thru the pages. And of course, there were ad’s for both IVC (Intervaristy Club) when the still had their club premises on Queensway W2. I liked to go there on Saturday nights for the disco/dancing. A good night out.

London Village Ad’s

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I regularly volunteered to do the ‘meet and greet’ at the Grosvenor Hotel. A social night out which usually ended up at the Shakespeare pub, at the forecourt of Victoria Station. (Still there today – 2018)

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And the good old IVC ad’:

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Thanks for reading

Keith Howard.

 

Life Changing Moment – Kew Gardens to Central Park

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S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night! (x 4)

Keep on dancin to the Rock and Roll,
On Saturday Night, Saturday Night.
Dancin to the Rhythm with a Heart and Soul,
On Saturday Night, Saturday Night.

Saturday Night, Bay City Rollers (1974)

Indeed, it was a Saturday night but the year was 1975 in the spring time. It was the best looking party listed in the London Village events monthly magazine. The party address was a few streets from Kew Gardens tube station. We, myself and Hugh who now shared the Brown Street W.1. flat with Brian, drove to the house. Our navigation was spot-on perfect, made possible by the best technology available at the time; the A-Z Street Guide of London. (A real printed book and still in print.)

I have fond memories of that corner of south-west London, thanks in good measure to LV events which forced this north-London kid to explore areas previously unknown to him, and a girlfriend who introduced me to the car-free village high street and quaint pubs of Strand on the Green.

MAKING ENEMIES IN THE MOMENT
Call it what you will, “right place at the right time” or life changing moment, but given time to think, most people can recall such an incident in their lives. Many cite the occasion they met their significant other. Now, this is how I make enemies. The coupling to which they refer occurred as a result of lengthy work place interaction. Sorry, that doesn’t count. Nothing wrong with the methodology, but to qualify for my life changing moment classification it has to be a “moment.” The 1998 movie Sliding Doors staring Gwyneth Paltrow illustrates how a momentary deflection, while descending a flight of stairs, materially alters her life and relationships. Watch it, you’ll like it and it’s set in London.

So, Hugh and I arrived at the Kew Gardens party house. With a wine filled paper cup in hand, I set off to checkout the rooms. Not much happening except for a cluster of people, about seven or eight, in the corner of one room. I joined them. The conversation was dominated by… no that’s not accurate. One young man was speaking energetically and everyone was listening keenly. I did too.
“Then we went to the Harlem Dance Theater. They were fantastic,” he said. “So much energy.”
His name I learned later was Richard, and Richard had recently returned from a trip to New York City.
“In fact,” he continued, “everything there has so much more energy than anything in England.”
I sipped and listened and listened and sipped. The cadence and content of Richard’s holiday report continued in much the same way for five or so minutes. It was then that the Chablis brat-juice kicked in.
“So,” I interjected to stop the flow of words. “If you think New York is so great, why don’t you go live there?”
“Well actually,” Richard replied, with the enthusiasm one would expect given the build up, “I am.”

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You can say I was rude (I’ll take it) but nobody else thought to ask. And nobody else in that group was sleeping gratis on the floor of Richard’s apartment in Greenwich Village, New York City a few weeks after the Kew Gardens party. His flat was on Sheridan Square close by the Christopher Street subway station and a short walk to Washington Square.

Following his “actually I am” comment, I quizzed Richard about what he did and how he had found a job in New York. It turned out, like me and many others in our 20’s, he was a computer programmer. We bantered about what we were doing. At some point I said something like, stay in touch and, “once you’re there, can I crash at your place?” We were both in our early 20’s so Richard’s answer was, “yes, of course.”

That’s what I mean by a life altering moment. Another party, another room, a few minutes later and someone other than Richard would have been recounting their vacation story. That summer of 1975 was my first visit to the United States, a trip which never would have occurred had I not picked the Kew Gardens party from the London Village catalog. I visited New York again in 1977 and after 1981, I went to live and work in California for a period of time. I can trace the actualization of my California experience all the way back to the party in Kew, on that one evening, to that one room, and to my snotty, parochial question.

Thank You, Richard, wherever you are.

Keith Howard
Comments are welcome below.
Email: lvrevisited@hotmail.com

Please add a comment if you would care to share a life changing moment.

Or, if you were in the LV circle in the 1970’s, I would love to hear your memories and post them for others to enjoy.

Three New Things,   Three New Places

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It’s a perennial challenge for people of any age – how to create a social circle and enjoy life’s free time. I count myself extraordinarily fortunate that throughout my vital and formative years of late-teens and twenties, I was living in London, then and now a vivacious and pulsating city of energy, and at the time there was vibrant social network called London Village. I joined LV and through it’s catalog of events was introduced to new people, new friends, new lovers and new experiences. On top of that, and not a minor partner in the mix, I was introduced to new neighborhoods across the metropolis of my birth. Neighborhoods I would not have otherwise visited, but have subsequently enjoyed.

To elucidate, here is a popcorn list of just some of those occasions.

No. 1: Zabaglione and South Hampstead
Yes, that wonderful alcohol laced desert. The route to the delightful Z’ is by way of a party on Marylebone High Street hosted by a friend of Ash Court Brian – See the blog: Meeting Brian. It truly amazes me that ordinary folk could afford to rent apartments in the drop-dead fabulous neighborhood of Marylebone High Street, but back in the 70’s it was so. Party guests included roommates Isabel and Jackie, from their garden flat in South Hampstead. So, let me enumerate the “news.” 1) Jackie, whom I dated for a short while following the party. 2) South Hampstead mini-village. Thanks to my acquaintanceship with Jackie I was introduced to the quaint, tucked away hamlet of South Hampstead. Driving the curving stretch of Finchley Road between Swiss Cottage and Finchley Road tube stations, little time was given over to ponder what community might lye behind what is now Waitrose, then a John Lewis and a habitat. I never did make the detour. I recommend you do and explore the area close by the roundabout at the foot of Fairfax Road. The wall adjacent to the roundabout attracted graffiti commentaries, though now clean. Those I recall: All roles are cages – except some are cagier than others, and a mandate advocating the rights of grils, misspelled girls, but grils spray-canned for their rights too. I tasted zabaglione for the first time at a foursome dinner at Isabel and Jackie’s Goldhurst Terrance flat. Isabel was a pathologist and some evening’s was on call to do blood cross-matching tests. She offered to type my blood at the lab, but I never took her up on the offer.

No. 2: Wine Bars and Ealing
Correct me if I’m wrong but “wine bars” were not commonplace in London in the 1960’s and prior. The standard English drinking place, since Ethelred the Unready, has been the pub. My earliest encounters with this new European style import wasn’t in central London, but in Ealing, West London. Crispins wine bar today is at number 14, The Green in Ealing. However, my recollection was a spacious Crispins on the Mall at roughly Northcote Avenue. The current Crispins is 1/4 the size of the place I went along to with a good number of other LV folks for Sunday vino. So this was Ealing? Previously a name on a street sign which I glanced at, then zoomed on towards Chiswick roundabout. But now Ealing had warm associations. Wine bars, pretty young women wearing sensuous perfumes made more sensuous by a Bordeaux or a Burgundy and the occasional Champagne. Ealing was on my life map.

No. 3: Make up your own name and Hammersmith
“Party at Hammersmith. Call Safi for details.” Safi was a petit American woman whose parents couldn’t agree on which side of the family had naming rights. Sarah / Fionna became Safi. A novel concept to me then, now anything goes. I knew the area reasonably well but now had the chance to visit the imposing Latymer Court, a gigantic apartment building on the north side of Hammersmith Road. I parked close to Brook Green, where someone had posted an ad’ for private tennis lessons. I signed up and paid for exactly one lesson. My back hand is much the better for the lesson, but absolutely nothing else.

Keith Howard
Comments are welcome below.
Email: lvrevisited@hotmail.com

If you were in the LV circle in the 1970’s, I would love to hear your memories and post them for others to enjoy.

Monday gets no respect, but the Neighborhood is Riveting

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I don’t care if Monday’s blue
Tuesday’s grey and Wednesday too
Thursday I don’t care about you
It’s Friday I’m in love

Friday I’m In Love, The Cure

That’s how the week goes, right? Weekend days don’t need any primping in song lyrics. We all know they’re for convivial activities of all sorts. But poor Monday, moon day, gets no respect. That was the rough gist of copy which ran in the London Village events magazine advertising a Monday night party.

The party was hosted by a young Rhodesian guy. Rhodesia wasn’t formerly renamed to Zimbabwe until 1980, and Monday Party rocked in about 1973. Mr. Host was popular and showed up at parties with several women, so he was quite welcome. The reason I’m sure he was Rhodesian was that he related that he regularly drove products to the markets in Bulawayo. The city name was new to me and so it stuck.

Monday party was in the basement flat of a house on Manchester Street, W.1. In estate agent parlance that would be the garden flat. If I were pressed, I would plunk down a bet on it being number 28 Manchester Street. I walked there from our distinguished Brown Street flat. (Fairly sure Brian came along too. I’ll check if he remembers.) I swing my memory eyes around the room. About 20 people. Not bad for Monday you can fall apart day of the week.

RIVETING
Frankly, I didn’t care what the event was, the London Village social network provided an opportunity to explore the whole of London, from the inside. Growing up in green, quiet, north London suburbs, I found central London rivetingly exciting. And you know what, I still do.

Even now, when I watch YouTube videos posted of walks around London, I can’t help but chip in with route suggestions – in a non-braty way – I hope. “South Kensington tube station to Kings Road, via Pelham Street and Sloane Avenue.” That’ll work. But then you’ll miss the cute Cale Street triangle. Yes, Pelham Street to Fulham Road. You’re now at the corner where Terence Conran opened his first habitat shop in 1964. It’s now the Joseph’s store at 77 Fulham Road. The basement of habitat included a vast selection of wicker baskets. The fragrance of the wicker was deeply earthy and enveloping. Nowadays, check out Sir T’s Conran Shop, then swing right onto Ixworth Street all the way to Elystan Street then left to the Cale Street triangle. Straight across along Markham Street and you’ve arrived at the boisterous Kings Road.

CKITCHEN

I emailed Gary Fahy of chelseawalks.com to commend his video walk down the Kings Road, and lamenting, as did he, the loss of the Chelsea Kitchen. It was my all time favorite cheap and cheerful lunch spot. 98 Kings Road, from 1962 to 2006. (I snapped this pic’ in 1997.)

Monday you can hold your head
Tuesday, Wednesday stay in bed
Or Thursday watch the walls instead
It’s Friday I’m in love.

No way! Any day was the best day to explore rivetingly London. Even Mondays. Correction, especially Mondays. Show some respect.

Keith Howard
Comments are welcome below.
Email: lvrevisited@hotmail.com

If you were in the LV circle in the 1970’s, I would love to hear your memories and post them for others to enjoy.

Knightsbridge Living and Lessons Learned

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Ever wondered what it might be like to live in the most exclusive parts of London? To wake up in the morning (hotel rooms don’t count) and step out onto the streets of SW3 or SW7? London Village never expressly offered that experience, but sometimes that is how life turned out.

The initial gathering was often not the pinnacle experience of the day, but merely the starting point. The place is Pimlico, S.W.1. It’s a Sunday lunchtime in 1973. A pub meet-up. Pub gatherings were by far the most common event on the calendar. Show up, drink, chat, see what happenings. Two o’clock was closing time. People milled about waiting for suggestions, if any.

The weather was hot and sultry and I began to wander away. Why would I remember the details of that day over the thousands of others? It was another of those ambiance moments I’ve blogged about.
Just then a woman’s arm slid beneath my forearm and pulled me back.
“You’re coming with us aren’t you, Keith,” the pretty, young woman asked. Or was it an order?
Instantly, my mind was changed. “Yes, of course,” I replied, and the rush of good feeling preserved the memory forever. I had barely spoken to the woman in the pub, but she’d registered my name all the same. For all that, I have no name for this woman, so I will call her June (the month). June had been organizing. She’d teamed up with another woman who had offered coffee at her place. Include me in.

The homes and apartments to which people invited smalls group back for coffee or tea was sometimes nothing less than an ultra-exclusive insiders tour of some of London’s finest abodes. People, who an hour previous, were complete strangers were now house guests. How I got myself over to the place I don’t recall, but I sure remember exactly where it was.

Her townhouse was on Lancelot Place, S.W.7. Look it up. Lancelot Place is a short, narrow street directly across the Brompton Road from Harrods. It doesn’t get Ritzier than that. I’d wager a small amount the house was Number 7. The six people, maybe eight, fit snugly in the cozy front room overlooking the noiseless street. It was a Sunday and in the 1970’s few stores were open.

FYI: Sunday store hours are still regulated in Britain. Harrod’s Sunday hours this weekend, August 2015, are listed as 11:30AM through 6PM. But, attention shoppers, doors open at 11:30AM but browsing only is permitted between 11:30 and 12 Noon. That is because large stores (greater than 3000 sq. feet) can only trade for six consecutive hours on Sunday’s between 10am and 6pm. Plans are in the works to relax the rules. That all sounds like the starting positions for a high school economics class essay: Discuss, 300 words, submit by Tuesday. (OK to write on Sundays.)

Back at Number 7, coffee all round. (The delightful row of townhouses are still there, even in the face of plans submitted to demolish numbers 3-7 and replace them. The City of Westminster declined the plan in 2013. Well done chaps.)

Then I was standing in the hall, admiring a distinguished framed map hanging on the wall. I’ve always liked maps so this would have been a natural thing for me to do. The woman who lived at Number 7 came alongside. Not the original she said, but still pretty. Yes it was.

A good moment to state a position with which I hope readers would agree. The monetary value of an artifact has zero relation to the degree it creates delight in your senses, engenders uplifting feelings or whatever emotion “you feel” is appropriate for the created object. Same rule applies to a place and buildings. If a bedsit studio had occupied Number 7, the floor strewn with yard-square cushions (popular at the time) the experience would have been equally as exciting and memorable.

People said their thank you’s and drifted away around 6pm. Way too early to call it a day even though tomorrow was Monday. Stepping outside, I chatted with a young woman who also leaving our exclusive tea party. We headed towards the Brompton Road.
“Feel like a drink, glass of wine?” I asked, or something to that effect.
“I’ve got wine back at my place,” she said.
Sofa vs. squishy pub seat? No contest.
“Do you have a car?” I asked.

She pointed her head in the direction of the museums. (Londoners will know she was indicating in the direction of South Kensington.) “I live just over there.”

OV222Just over there was Ovington Square, a leafy oblong square wrapped around a private garden. The buildings around the square, as a simple Google search reveals, are composed in the Italian and late Grecian styles popular during the 1840s. I just knew this was a charming neighborhood. A visit for a glass of wine was most excellent.

Her flat was at the very top of the building. 1840 style homes do not have lifts. We sipped wine and the night drew on.

I checked my watch. She saw me.
“You can crash here if you want.”
“If you don’t mind.”
No, she didn’t mind, and I crashed on the sofa for the night.
She was still asleep, I assume, in her bedroom when I let myself out and stepped onto Ovington Square. I headed for Knightsbridge tube station and eventually to work.

REGRETS?
Shoulda wouldas? Oh yes. I wished I had collected the name and number of “June.” The, “you’re coming with us aren’t you,” woman from the Pimlico pub. I could have contacted the host from the Lancelot Place town house and inquired, but I didn’t. And gross bad manners on my part for not sending a thank you note to both SW7 addresses. I allowed the exquisite moment to fade too rapidly into history. Learned lessons.

Keith Howard
Comments are welcome below.
Email: lvrevisited@hotmail.com

If you were in the LV circle in the 1970’s, I would love to hear your memories and post them for others to enjoy.

Pulling an All-nighter at Ash Court

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JUST THIS ONCE
Pulling an all-nighter I propose is a “do once only” event, so the tale can adorn your life long trophy case. I don’t think anyone actually plans to stage an all night party. It either happens organically or it doesn’t. One thing was always certain, an Ash Court party was never short of guests – never. The flat phone began ringing to get on the invitation list the day the London Village magazine hit the door mat.

The music was always brilliant even if I say so myself. That’s because that was my job. I was lucky to have a buddy, Steve Ralph, who worked at the Beeb (BBC) record library in Portland Place. Well, Langham Street to be exact, when it was a real street you could drive along before Auntie did a land grab. Hey, don’t misunderstand we never, ever, ever used BBC records for party music. Steve had an almighty collection of 45’s (Google that children) which he added to weekly. So with a reel-to-reel tape recorder and a couple of 2400 foot tapes, running at 3 3/4 inches per second, we got 2 hours of music per side. (Spotify is for weenies). Two reels of tape was ample. After four hours no one could remember or could less they were hearing See My Baby Jive, Tiger Feet or Bowie’s Rebel Rebel for the second time.

What can I remember from that evening? Noise, people pretty much everywhere and non-stop dance music. The Martha Stewart good party etiquette guide dictates somewhere the host should vary the music as the night proceeds. Switch to a slower, smoochy tempo after a period to enable wanna-be escapers to escape and serious get-togetherers a chance to do just that. We violated Martha’s rules with non-stop dance tracks. I know that because Brian encountered me on the edge of the dance floor, leaned in close and pushed his watch in my face. “One-thirty and it’s still going!”

Why do they call the hangers-on the hard-core? Some of the people lived at Ash Court so that would make them hard-core residents. Hard core was about seven in all. No idea of the exact time but it must have been summer time as twilight was making an appearance through the lace curtains. No point going to bed, so suggestions please?

KITES AND POLICE CARS
Parliament Hill Fields is a park which is actually the south-east corner of Hampstead Heath. The hill’s summit is over 300 feet and provides a great view over Central London.PHILL

It is a fine place from which to watch the sunrise and a totally excellent place to fly kites, which is what we did. Brian emailed me recently reminding me of a crucial part of the kite flying maneuvers. Hugh, who would become Brian’s flat mate at Ash Court, took the strings of the kite. He took the strings at the exact same time a police cruiser entered the park and drove a slow but purposeful observation route in our direction. Hugh apparently had no previous flying experience which is why the kite dive-bombed the police car. I don’t recall if the kite actually hit the police car. Brian tells me it did. Either way, no untoward dealings occurred between hard-core and cops.

BUYING BREAKFAST
Today, 24-hour shops are as common as traffic lights. In the mid-70’s, round the clock enterprises were a rarity. Westbourne Grove, close to Queensway W2, boasted what may have been the only 24 hour mini-supermarket in central London at the time. The sun was well up by now and breakfast was on the schedule. Eggs and Baked Beans were purchased then home to Ash Court. The route back I can drive in my sleep: Gloucester Terrace, Stanhope Terrace, Connaught St, then the essential left fork onto Kendall St. to George Street then left onto Brown Street. It’s still the best back street cut through to avoid Bayswater Road and the mess around Edgware Road tube stations. (Ask a London cab driver.)

I can honestly say I have never partied all night since, and frankly, it’s not a loss of any magnitude. Though I am satisfied my virtual trophy plinth is engraved: London Village – All Night Party – Ash Court, London W.1. Well done, now get some sleep.

Keith Howard
Comments are welcome below.
Email: lvrevisited@hotmail.com

If you were in the LV circle in the 1970’s, I would love to hear your memories and post them for others to enjoy.