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  • Shelley Dark

#4 city of beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics

I love London society! I think it has immensely improved. It is entirely composed now of beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics. Just what Society should be.

An Ideal Husband, OSCAR WILDE

I think I've met both today!

Sinking into my bed last night was like climbing into a fluffy white cloud - unbelievably soft with a feather-light doonah and the choice of 4 different pillows including my favourite sort: flat and scrunchable.

I didn't even dream about the 'locked' doors. (Don't you love the 'lock'?) The only problem was I woke up at 1am, and was still awake at 4.50am. In the end I just gave up and got up.

It's September 1 - the first day of autumn! I went at 5.30am to the New Chelsea Flower Market in Vauxhall and came home with an armful of flahs - white dahlias, scabiosa and grass. In case you're wondering, it's Setaria italica 'Big Mama'!

The new premises are nothing like the old Covent Garden market - think modern soulless shed, but filled to bursting with fabulous flowers. By 6am things are nearly over.

On the way there my swarthy Uber driver Mohammadrezah was the quietest ever. Did not speak a word, in spite of, or maybe because of, my effusive good morning. He was listening to impossibly romantic light-as-air string music, slightly surreal as we silently glided past rows of lovely houses in the half light of dawn.

The uber driver coming home was a jolly Russian called Andrejs (pronounced An-dray-us), who thought, quite naturally, that the flowers were for him.

Vun day zees veel heppen, he laughed, bekaws I em best driverrrrr in vorlt. But vonce I em oligarch, den I vill drive Ubarrrr onleeeee for hobbeeeee. Ent I vill drive zhooosd for you.

A beautiful lunatic.

Enough for the sitting room and the breakfast room.

Do you know what a mews is? The word originated from the days of horse and carriage, when rows of houses faced the main thoroughfare, while behind were the attached carriage houses and stables, or mews. The homes backed on to each other, with a cobbled laneway between. Most of the mews have been made into separate homes, some remain part of the larger house.

The red lines show where I walked today, through Kensington Palace and its gardens, up and down mews, past embassies, through secret laneways. I'm just about mewed out.

A sketch for one of Diana's dresses at the fashion exhibit at Kensington Palace, a Bellville Sassoon dress 1988

A plaque set into the ground.

Kensington Palace is the place to go if you're a Princess Diana fan - she is far from forgotten - bunches of fresh flowers laid by well-wishers at the gate to Kensington Palace, an exhibition of her clothing in the palace itself, a sunken memorial garden, and a well-used family water-play area near the Serpentine Lake.

I was rather keen on the Albert Memorial as well.

Look at this remarkably well-preserved courtier's outfit from 1780 on display in the Queen's rooms. Kensington Palace was originally a modest home until William III and Mary II chose it in 1689 to be their country retreat. They hired Christopher Wren to fancy it up a little.

Their love story is so sad! They'd only been reigning for four years in 1694 when she discovered a rash on her arm. It was smallpox - he slept on a camp bed in her room to watch over her.

'You can believe what a condition I am in, loving her as I do. If I should lose her, I should have done with the world.'

But die she did, at Kensington Palace, and he was devastated. Eight years later he broke his collarbone in a fall from a horse. He insisted on returning to Kensington Palace, but the wound wouldn't heal, and he died as well, in 1702, with a lock of her hair in a piece of her jewellery around his neck.

This made me laugh. I just had to take a couple of photos. There was no way the dog was going to go where his handler wanted to take him.

So the handler asked him, 'Do you want to go back that way?'

I said I hoped he didn't mind that I'd taken a photo. He said not at all. We are photographed quite a lot!

We had a long conversation then - he is a dog sitter and walker, and this particular dog is eleven years old. Its name is Baloo after the Jungle Boy. Baloo knows exactly which street he wants to take, and absolutely refuses to go any other way. One day he insisted on going home, nearly pulling this poor man's shoulder out, and when they arrived back there, the owners had returned early from holidays. 'How did he know that?' the handler asked.

I had lunch at Launceston Place restaurant, one of Diana's favourites. The chef is the multi-award-winning Ben Murphy, and there's the added incentive of a three course lunch including a glass of bubbles for £20.

The interior is spare and sparse despite the voluptuousness of the entry sofa.

The tables are almost bare and the menu has been described as terse. For instance, my entree was called ....... rabbit | celery | parsley.

But that's where the austerity stopped. These were amuse-bouches before the entrée - the descriptions are the best I can remember of the waiter's words. This is a smoked eel mousse in a crisp cigarette. I may have been very hungry but it was magnifico!

And this is chicken liver pâté encased in white chocolate and nuts, and passionfruit dobs (technical term) on top. You will not believe how wonderful it tasted!

And a rosemary brioche-bread with a dish of tomato on aspic with tiny basil leaves on white blobs (more techie talk) of something, and little crispy puffs of something else. Out of this world!

This is the rabbit | celery | parsley: layered terrine with shaved celery and horseradish ice-cream. With a side of toast crisped with melted butter and flakes of real salt. I was rolling my eyes with delight!

The aged duck | balsamic | apricot main was pleasant but not as startlingly good as everything else had been - maybe it needed just a teeny bit more of the balsamic acidity.

And to top it all off, the cherry | timur | dill. It's pannacotta with strips of cherry jelly on a base of dill. Beside it are sliced fresh cherries, pistachio sorbet, and caramel crunchy bits. The timur is a sort of Asian pepper, but it was very subtle.

The service was great. Friendly and approachable. A wonderful lunch all round. Big tick thank you Launceston Place!

I haven't shown you the Mustaba, a temporary floating sculpture on The Serpentine Lake in Kensington Gardens. It's made of 7,506 horizontally stacked 44-gallon (or thereabout!) drums - the work of Christo Vladimirov Javacheff who creates environmental works of art. He and his collaborator and wife Jeanne-Claude, before she died, were creating barrel installations as far back as 1961.

The scale is enormous! Christo paid for it totally out of his own funds with no public funds requested or given.

That bottom house is mine, in case you were wondering.

This post is longer than usual - I didn't feel like going out again after 3.30pm so I wrote this instead. I intend to sleep all night tonight!

I forgot to show you the Dylan Lewis bronze cat on the mantel piece here in the apartment. Do you remember him from our trip to South Africa last year? I recognised his work the second I saw it. Didn't you? Isn't it powerful?

Cheers buddies, take care, until my next post from jolly old London,

shelley dark, writer 

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