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.”
Just 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.
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.
Comments are welcome below.
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.