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.

Ambiance – Time to Stand and Stare

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What is this life, if full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?
from Leisure by William Henry Davies

I have commented before about appreciating ambiance. My choice of word may be entirely incorrect, but I’ll go with for now. The gist of the idea is being aware when the place where you happen to be, in a particular moment and without conscious mental effort creates an unexpected, even surprising, charge of good feeling. I noted previously two occasions when I experienced an unanticipated uplift by the ambiance of the place and moment following London Village events. One was walking across Regents Park around 7am on a weekend morning following a champagne evening and warm night with Cindy. The other was enjoying Sunday afternoon tea in an agreeable room at a house in London W8.

While writing the blogs which related those moments, a thread of thought began to recall other such times. I’ve come to the view they are quite rare, which is distressing in a way. Or maybe it is just that I was not sharp enough or my lifestyle was too noisy to notice them. All the same I did recall one which I will share. Others readers of this blog might like to share an ambiance moment in the comments.


HAPPY NEW YEAR

New Years Eve. 1978 or 79. London Village parties galore to choose from. I was not in a relationship at the end of the year, so the party played out like the one in the enjoyable romantic comedy film, About Time. The location of the party was in a row of terraced houses in London SW1. I cannot locate them on a map, and suspect they may have been demolished to make way for high priced office space and retail outlets. What I recall for certain was the view from the back window. The view overlooked the spaghetti like array of tracks as they emerged from the platforms of Victoria station. The window was open. The night was naturally cold and London was exceptionally peaceful. It was getting close to the bewitching hour. Party people were shouting a countdown. I stayed where I was, absorbed by the view of the huge city standing seemingly perfectly still. Everyone screamed at once. Happy New Year!

Just then, precisely then, a train emerged from the train shed of Victoria. Slowly it crossed points to get to the proper track. As the train came fully into view I could see the guard leaning out of his window. No hesitation. I waved energetically.

“Happy New Year,” I yelled down.

He looked up and waved back, good and well.

An instant of rich ambiance I remember with warm feelings many decades on. But why so? The place – the station is permanent as long as London SW1 exists and it’s alive. The moment – could not be more particular. Action – rather an interaction of two people which brought some measure of gratification to each, not matter how fleeting. Small gestures of goodwill can have a huge and lasting impact, is the lesson I think.

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.

One Thing Leads to Another. Hallelujah!

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Appreciating the ambiance of place and time is rushed off the stage too quickly in my view, in today’s gigabyte upload living speed.

First, there was the officially listed event in London Village monthly catalog. But that was just the starting point. The common or garden Sunday pub event very often developed into a day to remember for the rest of your life, which is what this blog is about. In the mid-1970’s, pubs on Sunday closed at 2pm. You might rolls your eyes at such a medieval custom, but “closing time” provided the invaluable nudge for the people who showed up for the pub lunch to come up with new plans. At least those who were not ready to morph into a couch potato for the remains of the day.

Two o’clock. What now? Chris Thompson offered a plan. Chris worked in Whitehall and had the appropriate Alec Douglas-Home accent for the job. Come back to my place if you want and have tea, Chris said. Sounded good to the band and off we went. One of the most excellent benefits of LV membership was the opportunity of discovering different parts of Central London one would never otherwise have visited. And best of all, from the inside, not just the street view – something Google Maps hasn’t yet worked out how to implement and hopefully never will. Chris, it turned out lived in the fashionable Edwardes Square, W.8. neighborhood, a district where nowadays only old moneyed Londoners and Russian oligarchs can afford to live. There were about a dozen of us in the high-ceilinged front room, enough to create a healthy conversational buzz.

APPRECIATING AMBIANCE
In a previous blog I recounted how I distinctly chronicled to myself, in the moment (real time as we say), the enchantment of place, space and time as I walked across Regents Park in the early morning following a champagne party the night previous. Similar is the recollection of that room in London W.8. Every factor contributed to the moment; the generosity of Chris’ invitation, just plain tea and coffee, the high ceiling, the neighborhood surrounding us and the people, contemporaries and fellows in life’s journey. Appreciating the ambiance of place and time is rushed off the stage too quickly in my view, in today’s gigabyte upload living speed.

While I’m on the topic of appreciating the ambiance of where you are, I recall attending a soiree a couple had organized at their house up the hill from Ealing Broadway. The hosting couple were interior designers and this was the first such abode I had been inside; notwithstanding the settings at the Ideal Home Exhibition I was taken to by my parents when I was much younger. I gently touched the wallpaper and it was cloth not paper. The curtains had staggeringly bold stripes. Just being in the space caused a discernible uplift. Who was there? I have no clue, but the place, its arresting ambiance remains with me to this day.

TAVERNS AND CONCERT HALLS
After tea, well it was opening time again.
A short stroll introduced me to the charming Scarsdale Tavern. STAVERN

I do not think I would have found the place by accident. It is too tucked away, as it properly should be. I have taken visitors there for lunchtime drinks, since.

I owe thanks to Chris for extending my classical music education. It may well have been that same evening, but a half dozen of us are now seated in a row in the well of the Royal Albert Hall. Handel’s Messiah is being performed. The conductor turns to the audience. People shuffle and rise. I did the same, just because. (Later, I researched the reason for the requirement, “to be upstanding” for the Hallelujah Chorus.) On the evening Chris turned to me and whispered, “the big hit single!” Oh, I get it.

The last I recall of Chris is that he married a lady from South America. Peru I think. Her family owned a plantation of some nature. I assume he spoke Spanish. He seemed to be the sort of good chap who would have many talents.

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

Were you amongst the people that special afternoon? 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.

Champagne, Cindy and One Pound at the Door

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HULLABALOO!
It caused quite a hullabaloo at the time. It was “the” topic of debate at wine bar gatherings and pub events. I’m talking about the huge party in Earls Court scheduled for the end of month, of course, sometime in 1975. Great location and a professional disco was laid on. The nasty fly in the invitation ointment was the entrance fee. Each party goer will be charged one pound at the door, then beer was free. Charging for an event? What had happened to BYOB or a six pack of Tuborg Gold? The organizers evidently failed to grasp the esprit de corps central to the London Village ethos. (For sure, if it was a boat trip or a coach was rented one expected to defray the cost.) That said, everyone and their sister showed up and presumably paid the entrance fee. “Good evening, can I check you for the pound,” said the man standing in the door way to the flat. I loved the turn of phrase. He wasn’t asking you for anything as grubby as money, simply checking the transfer of funds – City material to the core. The controversy made it a must go to event – funny how that works. Pros: Everyone you might want to see was there. Cons: The flat was tiny, you could barely move and wisely, a bar and servers was set up in the kitchen to regulate the distribution of alcohol. I didn’t stay long, spending much of the time on the stairs chatting with other people who were still grumbling about the free enterprise demonstrated by the organizers.

CHAMPAGNE AND CINDY
Once the pay-as-you-party taboo was smashed, the same business model popped up at other events. One such event was an all champagne tasting evening. The event took place at a large and luxurious private apartment on, to the best of my recollection, Regents Park Road, Camden Town end. The fee for this chic evening was 5 pounds, which is not unreasonable considering the beverage being served. (What might be the fee for a similar offering today? I’d estimate 25 pounds, which would make it almost as exclusive as the event in 1976.) I arrived via public transport which was a smart move given that champagne and my brain go well together, but far too rapidly. Servers dressed smartly in wine waiter suits poured the champagne. Let me relate what I can recall before the champagne did it’s work on my neurons. Firstly, Gita from the Serpentine coffee shop evening, was there. (See “Meeting Brian” post.) Her charm and confidence were absolutely perfect in this setting. Scanning the room from memory I would estimate about 25 to 30 people had paid there way into the event. The flat was a walk through, meaning the front room and the dining room flowed together which made the mingling area long and spacious. That would be the limit of my recollection were it not for Cindy. (I do remember her surname but it’s not required for the story.) We chatted about goodness knows what. The evening passed and we were still chatting.

“Have to go, now.”
Yes, I said. “How far did you travel from?”
She waves her arm. “I walked here. I lived on….” It’s gone.
“Want to come back for coffee? Clear your head?”
We walked back to her place. Coffee, the bedroom, and night rolled into morning. Bless champagne.

RP

THE MORNING AFTER
For whatever genetic reason, I am a morning person. The walk to Ash Court was especially delightful that morning. I actually have a strong recollection of walking Broad Walk through the centre of Regents Park and observing to myself what an enjoyable place and moment this was. The sun was up, the sky was clear and the park was near deserted. Back at Ash Court, Jerry, a visitor from Columbus, Ohio, was just rising. I suspect breakfast was made and consumed but the most important parts of the night and the day were already in the books.

GROUND HOG DAY ALL OVER AGAIN
The very next year, 1977, at almost the same time of the year the champagne event was on the London Village calendar once again. And once again I paid my money and this time I drove to the luxury flat on the north side of Regents Park. Nothing of the event remains in my memory except for one key point; Cindy was also there. What are the odds of that happening? And what are the odds of…yes. Except by now she had leased a small flat on Gloucester Crescent near Camden Lock, so we drove. (I just used Google Maps, Street view to examine the crescent but it’s not there. Is there an establishment with national security status along the Crescent nowadays?) Cindy was talking of her plans to go to India for a while. Odd, I thought as we were now a full decade beyond the Summer of Love and the Sgt. Peppers era. But those were her plans, and that was the last time I saw the voluptuous and generous Cindy. There were no more champagne events.

I’m sure this doesn’t just happen to me, but as I drive through neighborhoods, memories and concomitant emotions emerge without prompting. Elegance and champagne come to mind while driving along Prince Albert Road from Camden Town to St. Johns Wood, and I suspect always will.

Keith Howard

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

Did you attend either of the stylish champagne events? Or the “check you for a pound,” Earls Court crush? I would love to hear your memories and post them for others to enjoy.

Meeting Brian

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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 bst2remarkable, 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.

Keith Howard

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

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.

London Village – Social Whirlwind of the 1970’s

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WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?
If you were in your 20’s in the 1970’s, lived in London and were looking for a way to meet new people, friends, lovers, then you may well have been part of the vibrant social network called London Village (LV). It worked like this: People paid to join, about 10 pounds a year, then you had the option to organize a social event or go along to events other members organized. The event could be as simple as a pub evening get together or as elaborate as a river boat disco party along the Thames. You mailed in the event details (yes, via regular Royal Mail snail mail) to the LV HQ. Your event details were listed in the monthly magazine which was mailed out to members. Sounds quaint by today’s flash-mob event, details of which are Tweeted less than an hour before. But did LV work in the pre-smartphone, pre-text-messgae dark ages?  Did it ever!

I was 19 when I joined up, and to say the decision changed my life would be an understatement. Late-teens and 20’s are vital and formative years in one’s life. The experiences you have, and importantly, the people you meet, impact your life in profound ways, often for the rest of your life. (How I ended up living in the United States for a period of time was a direct result of going to a London Village party, but more on that in a later post.) I dare say many other members could share life altering tales from the events they trekked to or people they encountered. I’d love to hear about them if you’d care to share them.

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A SUCKER FOR THE ADVERTS
I learned of LV through some cool and creative ad’s that ran in Time Out magazine. The tag line of the best one (IMO) was: Even the Dustman Noticed the Difference! The page was split down the middle with pictures of dustbins (garbage cans for non-UK readers) overflowing with all the usual stuff. On the left, before LV, we see solo TV dinner boxes by the dozen, cans of diet soda with sticky contents dribbling down the side of the bin, the remains of a packet of sliced bread and a half dozen drooping daffodils. The bin on the right, LV experience in full tilt, was overflowing with uncorked bottles of Moet and Chandon champagne and chateau Bordeaux wine, a Harrod’s food hall carrier bag with opened, empty cans (precise contents unknown but the point is made) and a perky single rose adorning the collection of weekend toss outs. They had me at the Moet and Chandon. (Speaking of champagne and LV: See the blog: Champagne, Cindy and One Pound at the Door.)

NOT YOU, YOU
There was a bit of member vetting but it wasn’t a huge deal. I went along to the Grosvenor Hotel at Victoria station, listened to a short presentation, then small breakout groups chatted with existing members. I was in on the first round. Afterwards everyone adjourned to the Shakespeare pub across from the station. (Still there.) The process was pretty easy and it struck me this was a good way to meet women new to London or were looking to extend their social circle. So, I volunteered as the breakout group moderator a few times. I don’t recall anyone I met from the breakouts, but I started to jot down the names of people I met and a short description, so I could greet them by name if I saw them again. Not so much a little black book, but a name reminder: Sammy: ex-army, short ginger hair, tennis man. Theresa: waist length hair, freckles, into goblins and spirit life things.

The real fun began with the arrival of the first magazine in the post. This was a huge deal. My social schedule for the next month was in those pages, and it was crammed. Something everyday and multiple events per day if you had the energy, and I did.

MY SWINGING 60’s
The next few years were my Swinging 60’s. Breathtaking times of wonderful discovery. Days and years of meeting new people and exploring fresh neighborhoods of London. Astonishing times, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

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.