The Spaniards Inn

In a couple of weeks, five of us girls are heading to Barcelona for a weekend to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday. To be honest, I really didn’t think this would happen at all, given their husbands’ and kids’ schedules but it’s all been bought and paid for. We’re actually going!

We decided to meet last night to talk about the trip, what we wanted to do, where to go – we’re only there for two nights and it’s going to be difficult to do everything – eating, drinking, sightseeing, shopping, relaxing. Where do you start? We’re flying with Easyjet – none of us is happy with the baggage restrictions, so instead of taking just hand luggage we’ve decided to share a suitcase or two – that way if we do end up shopping (which I’m sure some of us will) we won’t have to worry about how to bring things back. But, I digress…

We decided to have dinner at The Spaniards Inn (isn’t that appropriate?). I’ve gone past it countless times in the last 25 years but had never actually been inside.

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The Spaniards Inn, dating back to 1585, is one of the most famous pubs in the world. It’s located by Hampstead Heath and is popular with tourists and locals alike. The pub is quaint – with oak panels and lots of nooks and crannies. I can imagine the pub garden being full on a hot summer’s day! On a clear day you can apparently see all the way to Windsor Castle.

The pub also hosted many great literary figures – Keats, Shelley, Byron. It’s mentioned in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and also in Dickens’ Pickwick Papers (which I intend to read some day)… 

Across the road from the pub is the tollhouse on the Finchley boundary. Interestingly, the pub is in Barnet and the tollhouse is in Camden! 

The menu is traditional British pub food – sausages and mash, Shepherd’s pie, fish cakes, and so on – which I thought was just average. None of us was particularly wowed by the main courses, and the dessert menu didn’t appeal at all. 

But I’d definitely go back for a pint… and some ghost-hunting! Any building as old as this is bound to have a resident ghost or two – the cloaked figure of Dick Turpin is said to appear inside the pub (legend has it he was born at the pub; his ghost has also been seen on Hampstead Heath on a black horse) and horses have been heard galloping across the car park in the middle of the night. How exciting!! 

Passenger (mis)treatment on London Transport

Almost two weeks ago, my mum had a horrible experience on the number 74 bus heading towards Baker Street. She was waiting for a bus at Park Lane – sometimes the traffic is so heavy that buses don’t always stop there unless someone is getting off – but she spotted the 74 and managed to stop it. As she got on, the bus driver muttered something which she ignored. Instead she thanked him for stopping.

As the bus headed down Gloucester Place, she pressed the bell. She wanted to get off the bus at Dorset Street as that’s the last stop on Gloucester Place before it turns on to Baker Street. At this point, she was on the bus with just another woman and a man who was sitting right at the back. The bus driver ignored the bell and moved into the far right lane. Once he was in the right lane, he stopped the bus, opened the door and told my mum to ‘Get out’. She said she wouldn’t – there was traffic coming in on the left and it wasn’t safe. He got out of his driver’s seat and told her and the other female passenger to get off the bus. As he approached them, he saw the male passenger sitting at the back watching what was happening. He promptly shut up, turned around and got back into his seat and continued driving to Baker Street Station.

When I got home from work, my mum told me what had happened. I was outraged – his threatening behaviour was completely unacceptable! We drafted a letter of complaint to London Transport and filled in the online complaint form – it was very detailed and fortunately Mum remembered what the driver looked like as he had a white plaster up one of his nostrils! Also, because he’d left his seat, she knew exactly how tall he was. As I pressed the ‘send’ button, I wondered if we’d ever hear back from them.

Three days ago, Mum received an email from someone at London Transport saying that they were shocked at the driver’s behaviour, that it was a serious incident, and that they’d managed to identify him and dealt with him appropriately. I don’t know what that means – they said that because it was a personnel matter it was confidential. But at least they responded – and sooner than we thought they would.

If you ever experience similar incidents on the bus or Tube, I’d strongly advise you to complain. The more people there are that complain, the sooner something will be done about it. There’s no point suffering in silence!

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What do I have to say??

A couple of weeks ago my friend Kiran wrote a post on her blog about my sister and I, and our blogs.

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She mentioned that a year (and a bit) after starting her blog, she struggles to find things to write about. Well, it's been four weeks for me and I'm already struggling! 

What do people write about?? 

The burst water main on Baker Street on my way to work this morning which held up the traffic? No, I'd start ranting about the state of London these days – and what *is* with all the roadworks everywhere?? 

Work? No, I couldn't bring myself to write about it. 

People I know? No, not a good idea – I'd be accused of gossiping and no longer be known as 'The Vault'. 

Books? Concerts? Movies? Plays? Alex O'Loughlin? Hmm, there's a thought… Hmmm… 

Now, where was I…?

I sometimes wonder whether there's an original idea anywhere in my head… 

I had a dream…

Isn’t it funny how some dreams stay with you long after you’ve woken up and others are so elusive you can’t for the life of you remember what they were?

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A couple of nights ago, I dreamed I was wanted for murder. I don’t know who I was supposed to have killed, or why – I just knew that I didn’t want to get caught (I think I was innocent). I had been talking to a friend of mine who told me what to look out for when the police were on to you. I don’t know who this person was, or how he knew such things, but in my dream I was paying close attention to what he was saying… Sure enough, the next day I was going to the gym (this is when I knew it was a dream as I’m not a member of any gym) and I noticed all the things he told me to look out for… The garbage men talking into their wrists, someone taking a picture of me (or was it the big red bus behind me)… I was completely paranoid. I turned a corner and slipped into an alley – for some reason, nobody figured out I was there and I was watching the chaos that ensued when the police realised they’d lost track of me. They did eventually catch me, and it turned out that they wanted me because they were trying to protect me and trap someone else (I don’t know – it was all very complicated this dream of mine). Anyway, I can’t seem to shake this dream – and I think it all came about because I’d been watching Enemy of the State that evening or reading The Leopard!

On the other hand, there is one dream (or rather a memory of the dream) that still eludes me… About 10 years ago I woke up in the middle of the night thinking the dream I’d just had would be a genius plot for a novel and that I’d write it all down in the morning. I fell asleep again immediately. Morning came and I just couldn’t remember what the dream was, except that it would have been a great book. Ever since then this dream has haunted me and I always make sure I have a pen and paper at my bedside, or a voice recorder! Sadly that dream has never resurfaced, but then one never knows, does one?

Review: The Leopard

Cover_-_leopard

(I couldn’t find a good English cover.)

By the same author as The Snowman, this book is the sixth book to feature the alcoholic detective Harry Hole. The Leopard picks up soon after The Snowman ended – it starts off in the alleys of Hong Kong, where an opium-addicted Harry is found and brought back to Norway to help investigate a series of murders involving a Leopold’s Apple: an apparently fictional spherical device which is placed in the victim’s mouth – it contains 24 sharp spikes which shoot outward when activated. The investigation takes Harry through avalanches in Norway, volcanoes in the Congo, and a new love interest, all while his father is battling cancer in hospital…

This book is as gripping as The Snowman and Harry comes across as a more complex and pensive character than he did in the previous book (I have to admit I haven’t read the others – yet). I didn’t find it as frightening as The Snowman (I could read this at night!) but there were some parts I found disturbing, particularly the descriptions of the Congo and its victims of war. There are some images I just can’t get out of my head which really have nothing to do with the main plot… It’s a very well-researched thriller.

I recommended The Snowman to my friend Kiran – you can read her review here… And I’m recommending she read this one too…

The next book in the Harry Hole series will be published in Spring 2012 – I hope to have caught up with the other four by then!

So that’s 10 books done so far in 2011 – 10 to go.

Parry, Tchaikovsky and Verdi? Oh my!!

This evening several of us from work went to a concert at the Royal Festival Hall. The English Arts Chorale had chosen two major works (both by chance from 1874) to celebrate its 30th anniversary: Verdi’s Requiem and Tchaikovsky’s piano concerto No. 1. I decided to go because I know I don’t make the most of what London has to offer – and as an ex-pianist I don’t go to enough classical music concerts. By the way, this is the first time I’ve referred to myself as an EX-pianist. After listening to Tom Poster play the Tchaikovsky piano concerto (from memory, I have to add) I realised that those days are long gone… I did my grade 8 in 1991 and haven’t really played since. Why? I don’t have a piano. Apparently there wasn’t enough space in our flat for a piano (nonsense). These days when I sit at a keyboard, I can remember the opening bars of a Chopin waltz, the opening bars of a Schubert impromptu, and a few bars of Careless Whisper and that’s about it. Scales? Arpeggios? Anything technical? Forget it. 

But enough of the past. Back to this evening. 

The Chorale started with ‘I was glad’ by Sir Charles Hubert Hastings Parry (this is what was played as Kate Middleton walked down the aisle at her wedding). 

Then came the Tchaikovsky piano concerto. I wasn’t sure if I knew it but as soon as it started I recognised it and wanted to hum along with the violins (I managed to control myself). You would know it if you heard it. As soon as the pianist started playing, I was completely spellbound. I could see his hands on the keyboard from where I was sitting. He was incredible. He didn’t have sheet music. He made it look so easy. He’s young – 30 years old. I think the audience was swept away – until someone’s mobile started ringing. Fortunately for the phone’s owner, the ringtone almost blended in with the orchestra. Almost. It could have been much worse. Tom Poster is definitely one to watch and I believe he’s playing at the Proms this year… 

After the interval, the Chorale sang Verdi’s Requiem (a requiem is a Mass for the dead). Again, I wasn’t sure if I knew it, but when the second section started (there are seven sections to the Requiem) I realised I had definitely heard it before. The main theme has been used in The Shining, and Hans Zimmer underscored the theme in the Lion King, and I believe also the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie. If I’m not mistaken, it’s currently the music for an advert on TV, but I just can’t remember what for – I know I’ve heard it recently! Soloists were: Susan Gritton (soprano), Jennifer Johnston (mezzo soprano), John Hudson (tenor) and Sir Willard White (bass). 

After the concert was finished, I was walking up to Waterloo Bridge and happened to look behind me: 

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London is full of surprises…