Food Glorious Food. August 2015.

Dear Rowley,

Is it only me who despairs that the West End of London is turning into one big trough? Every time one of my beloved honest independent shops is forced to close due to rent rises, you can bet your bottom dollar that a Byron, Pret, Itsu or Leon will cuckoo the nest. I’ve always been deeply sceptical about the food fads that grip London on a daily basis. We’ve had blended greens, gluten-free, vegan, caveman and veggie-lesbian diets. We’ve had pure food, raw food, crude food and nude food.

If I see another English rose head-to-toe in Boden beaming from the front of a best-selling cook book in Hatchards I shall sink to my knees and ululate. I cannot begrudge sales of cookbooks compared to, say,  sophisticated guidebooks to the fleshpots of London in all good bookshops on September 21st. But I can’t imagine anyone could get past week one of ’50 fun tips for quinoa’ without beating a pathway to Allen’s of Mayfair for a pound of pork sausages and a blood pudding.

Given my druthers, I would dine out every night in London. I believe we are the food capital of the world right now and not to take advantage is churlish. The last time I attempted to commit home-made lasagne in Bloomsbury Towers I totted up the ingredients from Waitrose and worked out that I was about £10 down compared to a whole Devon cock crab and lashings of fizz at J. Sheekey’s Oyster Bar.

There is nary a cook book in Bloomsbury Towers: not a Delia, a Nigella, a Jamie or, God forbid,  a Deliciously Ella. Besides, as anyone who knows me is all too aware, I much prefer liquids to solids. You’d have thought now that street food is the rage in London that nobody would ever cook again. Sadly most street food I have attempted always tastes as gritty as a goat’s knees and I don’t consider walking the streets of Soho holding a jumbo sausage in a plastic box a good look.

Now Rowley you know I had a crisis of confidence about Bloomsbury Towers for a couple of years. I was wrestling with living in such a relatively small space. But then I remembered that as a very young boy I had, after perusing a copy of Country Life, decided that I wanted to live in a Georgian house on a London square. The genie granted that wish and I have learnt that living in rooms in Bloomsbury is not the full picture. I have many rooms where I belong: Wiltons, Dukes, the British Museum Members’ Room, Poole’s, Spencer Hart, Fortnums, Cecconi’s, Sheekey’s and a terrace table outside Ciao Bella.

London can be immensely lonely if one doesn’t feel the connection with the city and feel that it is working for you not against. Hence that thirty degree Saturday just past found me on a deck chair in Green Park tucking into a nose bag from Fortnums containing poached salmon and a baby bottle of Pommery with a straw. Will I become one of those Bloomsbury Setters that sit in squares and tell random strangers I’ve just published a new book? You bet I will.

Apropos finding oneself single for the first time in seventeen years, I turned to one of the Twittterati who posted this: ‘Month two of being single. It’s going well. I think I’m the one’. That little vignette says more about a positive attitude than those shelves full of self-help books that fill a floor of Waterstones Piccadilly. I’d like to say that had gay marriage been on the statute books when I was a lad I would be a thrice divorcee with an account at Graff, a house on Bloomsbury Square and a condo in Palm Springs. Sadly it’s not true. I always went for love not money.

I’d like to get married if only for the Wedgwood Wild Strawberries dinner service and the sugared almond favours. As Bette Midler once said, ‘I knew something had to replace disco, but marriage?’ It always amuses me to see the gays walking two-by-two into John Lewis on a Saturday morning to do the Supermarket Sweep for their wedding lists. Tempting as it is to give a basilisk stare like a Disney witch at a christening one can only think if we didn’t do what we did you wouldn’t be able to do what you’re doing.

So thrilled that the national press has caught up with Letters from Bloomsbury Square concerning that darned elusive Duchess of Cambridge. I’ve been banging on about how seldom we see the Duchess since the birth of her two cherubs. There was a very amusing piece in the Mail on Sunday today alerting the public that the Duchess of Cambridge had agreed to a royal tour of the Caribbean in 2016 for which she’d cancelled her annual winter family trip to Mustique in order to prepare.

The report ended ‘this won’t be a holiday’. Excuse me? If the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge had decided to undertake a royal visit to the Balkan States or the Soviet Union we might concur that it wasn’t going to be fun, fun, fun. But island hopping around the Caribbean with a little bit of Mustique squeezed in when nobody is looking is not what I’d call an onerous task. The newspaper speculated that the Duchess might be exhausted by her children. Really? With staff and countless royal residences in which to raise the heir and spare?

You know I am a royalist. Her Majesty and Prince Philip are remarkable human beings. But I do feel the young royals are friends with benefits. They have to be seen to earn the life they have been born or married into. I saw The Queen at the VE celebrations last week and she serves as a beacon of hope and continuity. I’m not sure I’d feel the same seeing the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on holiday. Until next time…