On the Foodsteps of Robert Peston's Gil Peck or The Whistle-Blower's Augmented Reality
"Just occasionally, my job feels like a scene from a movie. I like to think it was a high quality 1950s film noir, though at times it's more like the sort of spoof thriller you'd get from the creators of Airplane", Robert Peston’s Giles Peck
I’ve been looking for a book like 'Whistle-Blower', a proper Londonite book, for a long long time... Basically since John Niven's Kill Your Friends inspired me for a visit at the River Cafe, where I drank eau de vie and ate poire dessert that I still remember. Whereof the idea to augment the realities of the protagonists of books written by bright, funny people. Or at least some of the realities; predominantly, the places where the protagonists eat and drink and not so much the places where they run in fog and rain on thin rails hanging over dark rivers chased by ugly villains.
Therefore, I was hyper happy to realise that Robert Peston's Burma Road - googling Burma Road augments reality in many curious a way - hack Gil, from Giles, Peck visits pubs, bars and restaurants in West London with nearly the same frequency with which Tolostoy's Count Vronsky drinks bottles of vodka in Anna Karenina - my younger years are full of failed attempts to drink vodka while reading Russian literature in the winter, but this is another story - OK, slightly less frequently 1 venue per 30 to 50 pages vs 1 bottle per 3 to 5 pages, which is still often enough for me.
And it goes like this:
Great Minds Drink Alike, Hayden Kays
Page 3 and Gil Peck is already at Groucho... “I shoot across Old Compton Street, checking traffic in both directions. The revolving door of The Groucho Club is on my right… As I push open double doors into the long drinking room, the chatter crashes over me”.
The chatter effectively crashes over one at The Groucho. I can confirm that of memory and without explicitly having to go there to check. I was taken to The Groucho for my birthday, while still not being aware of its iconic status. Once in, I immediately wanted to go out. It took me a couple of years to realise that a beastly - like in sounds and feels like a zoo on a full moon Monday - atmosphere like this is the simple result of a large amount of people being on big amounts of booze and drugs. After a quick drink and the constatation that the place is as crowded as the Victoria line at 0830 but noisier and much more disorderly, I was taken to the cool green relative tranquility of Quo Vadis - not visited by Gil Peck in the spring of 1994. But he will certainly be going there in the sequel. For the Whistle-Blower should have one. Gil Peck deserves to go on further and further and dig about Todd’s dirty war. Or at least this is my wishful thinking. Anyhow, back to Groucho or “The quick drink amongst mad people in a dark weird place which I am not quite sure what it was” as my first Grouch episode was labelled in a lost terroir corner of my memory, not revisited until… until some ten years later…
When Juliet takes me there. And this after many a “Jul, Jul take me to The Groucho, take me to The Groucho” from my behalf. Once brought by Juliet to Grouchho I was like “Oh, I’ve been here before and I didn’t like it”. For when through the years I was wishfully fantasizing about the renowned groovy members club, I not even as much as once associated it with “that long forgotten dark place with mad people, where for some reason I was taken for a drink on a distant birthday”.
This time though it is a different experience, or at least initially. Probably due to Juliet’s good timing - she loves an early afternoon in town. It makes sense: fewer and more sober people, still looking and behaving civilized.
This time around I manage to spot the art at The Groucho. First Bridget Riley turned Damein Hirst,, right next to the door. Then Hayden Kays, Jonathan Yeo, Nancy Fouts and all the others.
We have a glass of champagne while politely conversing with a young lunching woman nearby - the general unmemorable conversation and all is fine and well mannered and then… then we head up to the smoking terrace…. where, art or no art, early hour or no early hour Groucho’s - usual I guess - madness vortex is full on and engulfs us. A gay couple celebrates two years of civil partnership and literarly buys champagne for everybody and caviar for the dogs as goes Soho’s favourite saying. Or at least I am certain there would have been caviar were there dogs on the smoking terrace. But champagne there was and of good quality and in incredible quantity and pace. We were about ten, mostly unknown to each other, people on the terrace and the happy couple was ordering two bottles every ten minutes drowning all present in shampoo - for honestly, who refuses to raise a glass for the long marital life of two lovely handsome men? In about an hour, we’ve had more than a bottle of champagne each and the celebrants wouldn’t show any signs of slowing down…
Luckily, Jul is not merely pleasant, but also reasonable company: “Common girl, let's go”, she said and hop we go on a black cab towards our encommon Northern London. Where, by the way, Gil Peck also abides in his distant 1994.
In retrospect the following random thoughts about The Groucho mingle in my head: I found the stairwell art most intriguing. Unless somebody specifically insists on going to Groucho, I would always prefer Quo. It’s more laid back despite the lack of art. I wonder how often Groucho’s honorary life member Caitlin Moran aka CW goes there? For some reason I am under the impression that if she’s meeting people she invites them in her kitchen rather than to The Groucho, but what would I know? And I obviously wonder; was there a smoking terrace at the Groucho in 1994? Probably not, but then, what would I know?
Giles Peck visits the Groucho on two, most intriguing occasions; who he meets there and why only the Whistle-Blower's reader will know.
Fortunately for me, despite mentioning Annabel’s Giles, unlike some other characters from the novel, doesn’t go there and I am grateful for that. Imagine if I had to look for ways to get myself into Annabel’s now… the bother…
8 January 2022
To be followed
“We are at a corner table at Harry’s in Mayfair, working our way through a bottle of Pol Roger, I try not to drink in daylight hours, but I definitely need a glass today. I must look drawn, but I’m beginning to feel myself again. The starched white linen, the exaggerated courtesy of waiters with Italian accents, is all so comfortingly dependable that I can almost forget the disconcerting start to the day. And London is still being dazzled by blinding sun from an almost cloudless sky.” Gil Peck
"Nothing new on the West Front '' I think when entering despite having never been at Harry’s before. The linen is still white and strached and the waiters are still exaggeratedly courteous, even though without particularly Italian accents. With a bright combination of paintings, photographs and brown leather sofas, the place is glamorous a la Belle Epoque. And as this is Mayfair, far more glamorous than Soho’s Little Italy, despite being on a similar price range, and much, much tastier.
"Nothing new on the West Front" Having thought that I immediately engaged to prove myself wrong:
At the corner table this early January 2022 …. surprise, surprise: a female customer is settled. She eats and drinks alone and she is… well not alone in this pleasant enterprise. There are three of us this Tuesday lunching alone : The Corner Lady, the Ridiculously Young and Sweet Middleasternly Looking Girl - she looks more Arab than me - and I. I bet there hasn’t been anything like it in the distant 1994. At least not in London. In Montmartre probably yes, in Mayfair no, I am certain.
A quick look around shows me that everybody, literally at every single table, drinks only and exclusively bottled Panna water. Apart from me, obviously, I drink jasmine tea and tap water. Who and on what occasion was drinking bottled mineral water in 1994? I don’t have a clue.
Have there been smart black people lunching in clusters at Harry's Bar when Gil Peck was sitting with a mate at the corner table? He doesn't mention. But for some reason I believe they hadn’t. Not in this number: Next to me there are three gorgeous, young black men in sports gear. As I drink only tea, I can't overcome the impression that I am a lonely fifty-year old blond attracted to handsome black men, so I don't ask them what I would very much like to know : "How did you discover Harry's?" “I discovered it thanks to Gil Peck”. It's only fare to say, they don't ask me this or any other question. That's the main problem with people drinking mineral water and tea. On a table on my other side, two beautiful black women are eating zucchini fritti that look like very long french fries and come in a massive cornet and Harry’s tagliolini - gratinated tagliolini pasta with truffle, parmesan and creme. Wherever my glance falls everybody’s having Harry’s tagliolini. On the menu, truffle is the king - after all it’s the truffle season. There is even a Winter Black Truffle Menu, but it’s slightly too ambitious for me price wise with a pizza at £42, I decide to pass.
Everybody around looks stupendously young - all under thirty. Was Harry's Bar clientele so young as that in 1994? Yes, no? Giles only knows.
Restyled by @Martin Brudnizki - this is the only information Harry’s staff is able to give me art-wise - no mention on Harry's website on whose are the paintings or what photographs hang on the walls. What bothers me even more is that from Brudnizki 's side none bothers to answer my questions - some three years ago the art on the walls of Harry's Bar is probably also new, but what would I know? As well as the the warm nice light - in 1994, I imagine the light was dimmed by cigarette smoke.
Menuwise, I can’t even fathom what was on Harry's menu in 1994. Was the delicious truffle chicken on the menu then? In a rich mascarpone truffle sauce and wild sauteed mushrooms it’s criminally and guiltily delicious. It tastes like something from my childhood and the last time I ate something similar was in Georgia and believed that none in Europe cooks guilty recipes like this anymore. It's a half-chicken, men's size portion and I struggle with it despite the deliciousness and I am happy that my starter tuna pizzeta - raw tuna with truffle-citrus dressing on a crisp baze - was so tiny.
At Harry’s I discover that ‘sundae’ is in English what in my imagination lives under the name ‘Melba’ and I am enchanted - always enchanted to learn something new.
By the end of my lunch two girls came and settled nearby and thank, thank God ordered cocktails, just to prove that the world hasn’t gone completely bonkers - there was something rather unsettling about being in a chic Italian restaurant surrounded by people drinking water, be it early January. With a mixologist looking like a real MC I promise myself "Next time, next time cocktails and pasta".
“I hate it when things aren’t where they should be, it’s an itch to scratch. to calm myself, I chant one of my spells. it has to be short, and repeated a specific number of times (three and seven are normally good; five works sometimes too, as does saying ‘times infinity’). Under my breath, I say, “If it’s gone forever, that’s OK”. Then I mutter it twice more. Relief steals over me”. Gil Peck
Despite all its attractions, Harry's is not an art space. Hence, it has brought me pallet satisfaction and a genuinely pleasant absence of hunger, but that’s about it, so I head towards the National Gallery. Here at first I experience a serious disappointment - the audio-guides for the permanent collection are cancelled. "Why, oh why, everything should be spoiled under COVID pretext?" I shout in my head. My inner noise increases even more after I am advised to download a certain art-app which, I am reassured, contains a description of all the masterpieces and not merely of the NG but of most world museums; but no, not with audio modus. This is extremely unfortunate for me, as you see, my brain has to switch on and off each time I start to read. For the "reading" of form, space and colour is very different from the "reading' of text. Hence, when I look at pictures I prefer not to have to read a text. But at the same time I need to know who and when. I also like the way audio-guides make you mingle in front of a painting longer than you might naturally be inclined, which sometimes leads to great findings. "Why don't you rent NG's audio-guide to the Art's-app? For say five years, after which you can either get it back or sell it definitely to the ditto app?" screams my inner voice and also "Look what the Sainsburies have done, why doesn't Elon Musk pay thousands of actors around the globe to narrate the art of the world? " and other nonsense of the sort.
Once five minutes into the first of the Sainsbury's Galleries though, the screaming comes to an abrupt end - all voices submitted to the taming powers of the surreal creatures of the medieval paintings in saintly-pink, virgin-blue and dragon's-green.
The experience of the silence of the tamed voices is so enchanting that I return to the Sainsbury Wing in the following two days - slowed by the switch on switch off reading and contemplation, each room takes me about 45 minutes and I wonder why the sign pointing to this wing wing reads "route A approximately 25 min".
Enter Pisanello - Exit Musk. This is an obvious equation. Enter Pisanello’s Child Dressed in Sun - exit Musk's red Tesla. And so on - the stronger wins the combat for my brain-space.
Occasionally, my inner silence is broken by quite agreeable questions like "Why Jesus has two pairs of nipplesin Jacobello del Bonomo's 'The Man of Sorrows' 1385 - 1400' ?”or "Can I proclaim Pentecost for International Interpreters Day, based on Barnaba da Modena's 'Pentecost', 1377 and Giotto’s and Workshop 'Pentecost' 1310-18 paintings?" This, obviously, for “the speaking in tongues” after aHoly Spirit visitation on Pentecost.
Other than that, for honestly whenever lately "that" didn't have another? And I am sure Giles Peck wouldn't mind situating him within a contemporary context : Today, Tuesday January 11, I text my Crouch-End-abiding childhood friend the following: "Elis, do you now know how many people you could have invited last year at your 50th?". Mid May 2020, Elis celebrated her 50th with only me as a guest in her front yard; while the other visitors were coming in household-bubbles of two, one buble at a time, and staying for ten-fifteen minutes on the street pavement outside, presenting their good wishes and chatting from behind the low brick garden wall. "At least 100" Elis replies.
From where the conclusion: Giles Peck’s sister Clare was right to advise: always do what you think is right.
I would add “Do this and then you won’t be mad at this one or the other. Also: do this and come Judgment day and you will stand on your feet, not stuck under somebody’s smelling armpit, be it a prince or an MP. Or Todd's for the matter. This life is yours.”.
Tuesday, 11 January 2022
To be continued
Viewfinders: Ways of Seeing at 50. Olivia Laing - A Painting by Giovanni Di Paolo is on BBC Sounds app
"I buy myself a copy of the Evening Standard and shelter in the Red Lion on Derby Gate*... The barman fills my glass. 'For another five quid you can have the whole bottle', he tempts me. It is impolite to decline, even though its a sticky and heavy Australian Chardonnay that I would usually reject**. In a few hours, the pub - a fulcrum between Treasury, Foreign Office ans Department of Health - will be rammer with civil servants, special advisers and MPs. Now, just after the lunchtime crush, it contains only a few of us running away from our lives", Giles Peck
The nutcase that I am, I go to Red Lion Parliament Street on a dry January 22nd, Monday lunch. Without any hope of overhearing any Parliamentary gossip - it's obviously the wrong time of the day, probably the wrong day of the week, possibly the wrong month of the year and very likely the wrong year of the wrong century. After all, it's about 28 years, some 9 months and around 20 days after Gil Peck's visit to the landmark tavern.
A black board pricked outside the pub reading "Dry January? Try Asahi super dry, dry cider martini or dry white wine" makes me laugh.
The bright and crystal-mirror shiny pub, surprises me with a large display of Dry-January nut casses similar to me in their tea and water drinking. Similar, yet not identical, as here too, bottled watter is trending.... when I drink tap. Whilst, I love Perrier, I never drink the thing when outside of France. Elsewhere it doesn't have the same taste nor effect. Just like, I imagine, I could fall in love with weed, if only I was smoking it in Jamaica; in most other countries it's either too cold, too dry or too gloomy for a positive weed experience. In Bulgaria, I drink bottled water half of the time, but there are several hundreds of thousands of mineral springs there; all the bottled water is local. Plenty of it of only few miles away. Water 💧 what a lovely January subject.
The excellent Asian bartender doesn't blink an eye when I order green tea - there are at least four more people on the ground floor, and I later on count another seven upstairs in the dining room, drinking tea and water; and only the Scandinavian nutter couple next table drinks Coke on ice, they must be missing the glaciers plenty.
The Crispy Gressingham Duck arrives just on time to save me from the anguishing doubt of "Shouldn't I better had 'The Tasting Board of three award- winning mini pies and three award-winning ales'". Nevermind that I don't like ales, nor I am much into pies. Yet, pie and ale sounds much more 1994 London than green tea and crisp duck. The gorgeous plate is exactly what I don't expect to be served in a pub, be it on Parliament Street, and exactly what I would like to see in any hospital canteen, but is missing in all in January 2022. It is a light-green ocean of fresh salad - Chinese cabbage, spring onions, hot red 🌶 peppers and honey roasted nuts washed in a zingy lime-shower - at the edge of which a small island of hot crispy duck leg is perched. Who would have thought? Who would have thought... Healthy, sensible, deliciously homey food at Parliament Street.
Next to the window a ginger bearded man with a ginger dog drinks a beer and occasionally goes out to smoke. Thanks God there are still people doing the right things at the right places. Soon London might turn too healthy for its own good... on the image of all the nouveau rich that inhabit it.
Having said nouveau rich I am thinking, Giles Peck will surely not mind if I share my thoughts on the, now not so New, Labour; which is basically one of the protagonists of his Whistle-Blower. And what I think at the Red Lion is that now it's a big time for Labour to change their name as their nothing working or labouring about them. What should they be called?
Something composed, as it is now fashionable, parties, unlike pop stars to have long phrases en lieu of names.
'Amazon' should certainly be.a composant of the new New Labour's name - as every single Labour supporters or activist that I know shops on Amazon and for some reason loves to underline it in all conversation.
'Bellicose' is another must, as the New Labour loves warlords like Phony Fair, sorry Tony Blair, and despises children, else to speak sex, makers as Boris Johnson. Thus, the new bourgeoisie is completely in the footsteps of the old bourgeoisie and it's unhealthy attitude to sex and war - timid with the first, flirty with the second.
Thus, 'Avanti Bellicose Amazon' I think is a mighty suitable new name for the new New Labour, the one of the knighted Phony Fair.
* don't ask me why Red Lion on Derby Gate is at Parliament Street.
**and that for some strange association reminds me of David Mellor's disgust at the notion of 'cheap wine' when talking about N10 Lockdown parties.
22nd January 2022