London: Part Two

Food has a habit of punctuating the day, our lives - we start with breakfast, look forward to lunch and try to decide what to have for dinner. Food will not always give the same amount, if any, pleasure to everyone, but it will always have meaning, whether you realise it or not. It was ideas like these that were being discussed by Nigella Lawson at an event run by The School of Life last Thursday - the main reason I (and a couple of friends) was in London, once again, just for the day, having flown from Edinburgh to Stanstead.
I thought we were still in the sky when we came down with a thud - the £15 Ryanair flight landing with the grace of a bellyflopping elephant. We wouldn't be stalking seeing Nigella until nearly 8pm, and so we could first roam the city streets which glistered like rose-gold throughout the day.
From Liverpool Street station we made a beeline for The Hummingbird Bakery - to buy cakes that we managed to keep in their little boxes for at least an hour before eating.
We paid a visit to the Tower of London to catch a last glimpse of the poppy display - most of the ceramic flowers had been removed but in one patch they still swept across the ground and over a walkway in suspended animation. They mingled with birds, other flowers and thick plant roots like a scene from Sleeping Beauty.
Our next stop was the Borough Market (I'm not sure I will able to go to London now without visiting it) but on the way we ate our Hummingbird cakes (I had a rather tasty gingerbread one) within the ruined walls of St Dustan-in-the-East - a church that was damaged in the Great Fire of London, repaired, then bombed during The Blitz. The grounds now though are lovingly maintained - delicate flowers nestling under tumbling ivy and fig trees, with benches for quiet contemplation away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
At the Borough Market, we gawped at the breads, cakes, fish and fruit. And looking at strasberries and pineberries made me feel like I was in the world of Roald Dahl.
With some prosecco and mulled wine in hand, we bought some rosemary foccacia and some cheese (I've forgotten what kind) to have for lunch later, then made our way west along the embankment.
Crossing the Hungerford Bridge, we admired the London skyline then headed up to Trafalgar Square, eating our bread and cheese beside the fountain and the pigeons desperate for a falling crumb.
After wandering around Covent Garden, we backed up and went to Liberty and Fortnum and Mason (window-shopping only) before deciding it was time for more sustenance. After trying but failing to get into the Portrait Gallery restaurant (known for sweeping city views) we made our way to the Westminster area (where the Nigella event would be) and had dinner and cocktails at a rather nice Italian.
I could probably write another post entirely on the Nigella talk - she discussed, with Alain de Botton, the role of food, what it means for different people and how our attitudes have changed. She talked about trying to take pleasure in whichever way you can and reminded us all that when you eat -  or more when you cook for someone - at a basic level you are sustaining them - keeping them alive. She also drew our attention to the impermanence of food, of life.
We were given little booklets too with 'homework' - suggestions for films to watch, books to read, and questions to mull over such as: would you rather choose a bad meal and good hotel, or a good meal and bad hotel?
Food, definitely, for thought.
After waiting for some books to be signed, it was a bit of mad dash to Victoria station where we would be getting an overnight bus back to Edinburgh. An experience in itself, we piled on to the upper deck and into our tiny beds after being handed tiny bottles of water and muffins. Intermittently being in fits of laughter and feeling like refugees fleeing the city, we hunkered down and made it, surprisingly quietly, through the night.
In the morning, creeping into Edinburgh like we were still up from a good party the night before, we stepped off the bus, blinking. We grabbed our cartons of juice and packaged chocolate croissants - never going to be the most delicious breakfast we'd eat, but it was food and I ate my croissant greedily. It sustained me, and it meant something.


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