Artificial Carnations


Beginning with Jackie driving me to Southampton Parkway Station, I took my usual route to Norman’s in Harlesden.  This time I walked further than Green Park Underground, crossing Piccadilly and, weaving in and out among the side streets, passing the heavily fortified American Embassy, to Oxford Street where I turned right to Bond Street tube station to pick up the journey as usual.  These streets are all so familiar to me from years of running and walking around them.

On the train to Waterloo I sat with a family of three.  They were very quiet, even when speaking to each other.  The middle-aged mother was reading and conversing with her grizzled husband in Arabic.  He sat calmly, occasionally speaking to the women, the second of whom was their young adult daughter.  Both women were working on the silent screens of their mobile phones.  When the wife passed her device to her husband I was intrigued to see that the script was Arabic.  I was silently reading ‘Wordsworth A Life’.  Soon after Peter arrived with his trolley this all changed.  The man offered to buy me something from the trolley.  I politely declined.  He gently insisted.  I explained I was going to have a Norman lunch.  Then he understood.

As the gentleman and his wife carefully tidied up their snack debris, I complimented them.  There then ensued a most amicable conversation.  I closed my book.  The father is a teacher of Education at Kuwait University.  Their home is in Kuwait.  The daughter is studying at Bournemouth University.  I forget what her current subject is, but she is considering changing to cultural studies.  She did a little bit of interpretation, but not much was required.  We spoke about language and about English mosques.  When I mentioned that we use Arabic numbers, they agreed, and added that they don’t use them themselves.  They use Indian numbers.  I didn’t know that.  Before parting Saleh Al – Rashid (Ph.D) presented me with his card; we exchanged e-mail addresses; and he took details of ‘Cryptic Crosswords and How to Solve Them’.  Mr. Al – Rashid had not been reading because he had forgotten his book.  I commiserated.  It is not much fun being without a book on a train journey.  The young Englishman next to me reading his Kindle on the return journey may not agree.

Children queuing for London Eye 2.13A bridge over the road links Waterloo Station with the South Bank area.   The London Eye stands on the Embankment.  Today strings of schoolchildren excitedly awaited their turns on the famous fairground ride.  From there onwards tourists abound. Photographers, Westminster Bridge 2.13 Cameras are everywhere, their owners either photographing the various symbols of London or their friends in front of them.  The Houses of Parliament and the London Eye are popular backdrops for portraits.  The subject emerging from a red telephone box is a favourite scene.  Since the posers all have mobile phones I doubt that they actually make calls from their props.

On Westminster Bridge the artificial carnation thrusters were in operation.  These women prey on unsuspecting visitors by fastening the buttonholes to their victims’ breasts and then asking for payment.  Seeing me with a camera in my hand they suspected I would be easy pickings.  I’m not.  I was caught once years ago, and returned the flower saying I didn’t want it if I had to pay for it when I hadn’t asked for it.  That was at Piccadilly Circus and earned me a certain amount of shocked abuse.  Today’s brandishers clearly hadn’t learned from our encounter a fortnight ago.  Neither then nor today would I allow the pin anywhere near me.

Caviar shop window-dressing 2.13Oysters were being laid out for the window display in Piccadilly’s Caviar shop.

Norman’s first course was literally fall-off-the-bone lamb shank, followed by crisp apple pie and custard accompanied by an excellent 2007 reserva rioja.

Then it was back to the underground for a trip to Carol’s, a short walk from Victoria Station.  For the forty years I have known it, Victoria Street has been the site of building or road works.  Major refurbishments to the underground station have been going on for at least five.  Lengthy barriers on the other side of the street have been caged off.  I was therefore amused to read a sign prohibiting crossing at that point.  One would have needed the stride of a Gargantua to have done so.Do not cross here 2.13

The very handy 507 bus virtually outside Carol’s home took me right into Waterloo station where I continued my journey as usual.  Jackie was waiting at Southampton when the train drew in on time.


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