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  • Shelley Dark

#17 from Kew to the big smoke

Picture a chef standing in front of you shucking ice-cold Mersea Island oysters as fast as you can eat them. That was Thursday night, although if I have to be strictly truthful, I wasn't the only patron. Youngs Brewery owns this pub The Coach and Horses, and the company is turning 187 years old - so they had a huge bash.

Small succulent ice-cold oysters with a touch of finely chopped red onion soaked in vinegar.... mmmmm

Plus endless canapés which I taste-tested at the kitchen servery before they were sent out to the revellers. But not for long - my sleeping habits are shot to pieces, and I was dead on my feet.

Friday morning saw 44B back at the Kew archives, wearing the same coat she's had on all the week. The security person on Level 1 considered it longer than regulations allow. I had to talk fast, because it was all I had to keep warm, and the aircon is very cold in the archives!

In between document searches I popped in to an excellent exhibition about the early 20th century suffragettes who finally achieved the vote for women.

​This stunner is Constance Georgine Gore-Booth who joined Sinn Fein, was jailed for speaking out against the visit of George V to Ireland and whose advice to her fellow protesters was: 'Dress suitably in short skirts and strong boots, leave your jewels in the bank and buy a revolver.'

She was anti-monarchy, anti-English, anti-conscription, and pro-republican. Imprisoned for life for her role in the Easter uprising of 1916 she retorted to her captors. 'I do wish you lot had the decency to shoot me.'

She was let out of jail during the amnesty and was elected to the House of Commons where she never sat. She was a minister in the Irish government.

Many of these aristocratic and/or educated liberally-minded women went on hunger strikes in jail and were force-fed as many as 200 times. The food was poured down a funnel into a tube pushed down the throat. A form of torture really, and many of them continued to have problems from it in later life.

These extraordinary houses are at Hammersmith. By mid-afternoon I was checking into the Berkeley Hotel.

I booked it for a rather silly reason - I was thinking of my childhood memory of a crackly recording of Vera Lynn singing in her strong clear voice, 'I may be right, I may be wrong, but I'm perfectly willing to swear, that when you turned and smiled at me, a nightingale sang in Berkeley Square.'

Remember it? To listen CLICK HERE. Vera Lynn was such a heroine to my mother and father's generation, and my father used to sing that song to me when he put me to bed.

As it turns out, the Berkeley hotel is actually on Wilton Square, nowhere near Berkeley Square, but it was worth it just to hear the song again. Don't you love the big cuddly fluffy chairs in the foyer? I've since discovered they are actually mid-20th century Jean Royère polar chairs. I've hardly seen them empty like this since I've been here.

​And I simply adore the marble floor - white marble with grey and latté stripes!

My room wasn't ready, but a complimentary champagne cocktail obliterated any disappointment! That and being looked after by Chiara, the sweetest girl in the Blue Bar who explained the dried spinach powder on the outside of the glass....

hotel photo

​While I was waiting I did a little reccie - this is the breakfast/dining room. The hotel decor is an interesting mix - the common areas at the front of the hotel are modern, with a jostle of colour schemes in discrete areas: pale pink, red and blue, even purple. All underpinned by silver grey. It works.

hotel photo The Blue Bar

​These two photos are of the Blue Bar. Originally the interiors were designed by David Collins, and then in 2106 Robert Angell did a makeover, keeping to the quirky theme..

Part of the view from my room.

If you've travelled with me before you won't be surprised that my room is oatmeal, grey and taupe with limed ash and velvet...

But I was in a hurry. I was so excited to see Mark and Fiona McGinness for an afternoon drink at the Beaumont Hotel where they were staying. It's an extraordinary hotel belonging to Corbin and King of Wolseley Restaurant fame in a quiet little square called Brown Hart Gardens. The doorman gleefully told me that this area used to be a government housing area. 'The irony!' he chortled.

Think 1950's glamour meets 1930's gentlemen's club, meets b&w photography and an amazing art collection. It's a new hotel on the site of an old Avis garage building, but I could almost smell Churchill's cigar!

This is the foyer, but Mark and Fiona led me to an elegant wood-panelled room with leather tub chairs. We had it to ourselves - an intimate guests-only space where no one could look askance at the laughter of feckless Aussies! I so enjoyed spending a happy couple of hours with them. I'm full of admiration for this formidable duo. If you don't follow Mark on Instagram, you should be - among his many talents, he writes erudite and funny posts about the rich and famous. His Instagram name is @markmcginnesswrites

I fell in love with this painting - it's a study of a young woman by Earl Steffa Moran, glamour painter to the movie stars like Marilyn Monroe in the '50's. The pensive tone of chaste modesty is uncharacteristic of his usual subject matter.

Back at the hotel's Blue Bar, I had a delicious entrée sized Scottish lobster salad with witlof, grilled corn and wasabi - a perfect ending to a perfect day! Chiara made me lists of where to eat and what to see in London.

Back in my room before I fell into bed, I discovered a couple of fabulous features! First, a heated toilet seat! It's not something I ever think about but when it's there.... I LOVE it! And you should see the tiny rubbish bin in the bathroom! When you hold your foot near it, it pops open, then shuts automatically after you've dropped your tissue in. I was tempted to use a whole box of tissues!

Lastly, I never use hotel dressing gowns do you? BUT I brushed past the one hanging on the bathroom door and it was so soft I stopped dead. It's snowy white in a stretch chenille of the softest fabric ever known to man. I never take it off.

Saturday dawned grey and drizzly but nothing could put me off. I set out with my umbrella, feeling tempted to click my heels like Gene Kelly....

I had the most wonderful day - great shops, back to the scene of my phone loss to see the BP Portraiture Prize, popped into the Dorchester and the Connaught, afternoon tea at the hotel here, and Beethoven's Ninth at the Royal Albert Hall, then back to this dreamy hotel - oh my gosh I have so much to tell you!

It will have to keep.

I go back to Kew tomorrow. The archives are closed on Monday but I have plans for the day. So until next time buddies,

I wait you!

shelley dark, writer 

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