40 years of Memorable Moments: Bayswater

After we’d sold our place in Chiswick, and we knew weren’t going to move lock, stock and barrel to Germany  because my beloved would be coming back to work in UK, I needed to find us a new home. I had already decided that I wanted to live closer to central London and my beloved was in agreement. We’d settled on an area stretching from Bayswater to Marylebone which meant it would be a flat rather than a house.

I can never understand people who say that they looked at loads of properties. Generally, my beloved and I look at no more than five. Initially, we spend time deciding which roads we’d like to live on and then we draw up a short list of attributes the property absolutely must have and when we find one which fits the bill, we buy it. We never look at properties which don’t have our requirements. It’s just too distracting.

We’d narrowed our search to Cleveland Sq after we’d seen a budget-busting, south-facing, first floor flat overlooking the square’s beautiful gardens in a property magazine.

A 1.5-acre garden with lawns, gravel paths and mature trees, surrounded by grade II-listed white stucco-fronted houses. The square itself dates from around 1855 when the formerly rural area was redeveloped as part of the Paddington Estate.

We found a flat on the other side of the square which was (just) within budget and had everything our hearts’ desired. It had just been dramatically reduced in price and I immediately offered the asking price only to find that another couple, from Hong Kong, had done likewise. We were in a contract race!

I went back to the property the following evening to meet the owners, sell myself to them, to determine what I needed to do to secure the flat. Basically, I had to exchange contracts within 24 hours and agree to a postponed completion date. The former was easy to achieve. We exchanged at the close of play the following day and I agreed to a six month completion date. The sellers were building a property in Hertfordshire and had been under pressure from their lenders to exchange contracts as soon as possible on their London property.

My proposed mortgage lender was unhappy that I’d exchanged contracts without having a “firm offer” in place, so I found another lender. My London-based solicitor had handled everything himself, including the search, which was how we’d been able to exchange so quickly. We had rapidly resolved the problem of where we were going to live.

In the early 90s, Bayswater might best have been described as an edgy area on the up. I liked it because it was always lively. I felt happy and safe walking around there at night. My nearest tube was a mere five minute walk away, there were plenty of shops and restaurants  – including a second Chinatown in Queensway – on my doorstep, and I could easily walk to Knightsbridge, Notting Hill and the West-End. We really enjoyed living in a very multi-cultural area and profited greatly from all that London has to offer.

When we acquired it, the flat was in immaculate condition. The previous owners had bought it eight years earlier directly from the developer and had upped the original specification. It didn’t need any work doing to it, though over time I did make some decorative changes. That aside, we did very little work on it before we sold it in 2004, 10 years after we’d bought it. The flat still had the same kitchen, bathrooms and appliances. We sold it for over four times what we’d paid for it, which was a definite result in my book, to an American couple who still happily live there.

You may be wondering what were our must haves: needed no work doing to it, a separate utility/laundry, outside space  – it had a roof terrace (rare) and a patio garden – en-suite bathrooms and generously proportioned entertaining space!

 

40 Years of Memorable Moments: Chiswick

It’s the same every year. Our first Christmas card comes from a couple who almost bought our house in Chiswick in 1993, and we’ve been exchanging cards ever since. They did eventually buy a similar property, in need of total renovation, around the corner which they’ve turned into a lovely home. In the past few years, they’ve also been lavishing similar love and attention on a large property in Limoges.

My beloved hails from west London and we’d pinpointed Chiswick as the place we wanted to live and had even identified the streets in which we wanted to live. Our modest budget restricted us to a terraced property and we were keen to buy one which needed a total refurbishment. That way, we could have pretty much what we wanted.

We purchased the house in Chiswick in the mid-80s. It had started life as a semi-commercial property, a house and laundry, so was wider than the average terrace. We bought it from a divorced couple who’d split the property none-too-expertly in two. We couldn’t move in straight away because it needed cleaning, nay fumigation, from top to bottom. The day we completed, my beloved and I stood in the house and wondered what on earth we’d done. Inside it looked as if the previous owner had just left his half-eaten breakfast and walked out.

Friends kindly lent us a hand while we all donned haz-chem suits to clear and clean the property. The garden, which contained two large sheds stuffed full of rubbish, looked more like Steptoe & Son’s yard. It took ten skips and endless bottles of bleach and elbow grease before we could finally move in. Even then we only settled in the back of the property, as the wiring in the front was a bit dodgy (typical British understatement).

We then contacted a local architect for ideas. The property was part of a Victorian terrace and had been totally denuded of its original features. The kitchen was tiny and the bedrooms upstairs all led off one another. Aside from taking the property back to its bare bones and replacing all the plumbing, plaster and electrics, the architect proposed removing the two rickety staircases and replacing them with a stone spiral staircase – a stroke of genius – as the property’s focal point.

We retained the large barn like front doors which opened onto a small porch and a glass fronted door which enabled anyone to see into the paved walled garden beyond, ideal for al fresco get-togethers. The former kitchen became the laundry and the second reception room was turned into a spacious kitchen cum breakfast room. The dividing wall between the front lounge and dining room was demolished. We had corridors and additional bathrooms  installed upstairs giving us a four bedroomed, two bath-roomed place – ideal for visitors!

We moved out for nine months while the work took place, most of which was spent at the outlaw’s. Fortunately, we both worked long hours and could escape to the tennis club, our sanctuary at week-ends. Finally, it was such a relief to move back into the light filled, quirky yet modern property. There was however one fly in the ointment. The outlaw moved in with us while she was waiting for her new flat to be completed. She’d decided to downsize. Finally, we had the place to ourselves.

We loved living in Chiswick and never wanted to leave. But, by the time we had the place looking exactly how we wanted, my beloved was working in Germany. I used to fly over to see him each week-end and we had rented a lovely, brand-new apartment overlooking Lake Constance. The grand plan was that we would sell the house in Chiswick, I would move in with my sister – pay back time – and look for a new job in nearby Zurich.

The house sold quickly to a young couple expecting a baby. The other couple were waiting in the wings just in case something went awry. It’s always good to have a plan B. I found a job in Zurich. I intended to resign, spend the winter cross-country skiing and then start my new role in April. Just before I handed in my notice, my beloved was head-hunted for a CEO role back in the UK which he wanted to pursue. And, just like that, bang went my plans to improve my cross-country skiing! More importantly, I now had to find us a new home in London, but where?

Property Postscript: The house has only changed hands a couple of times since we sold it in 1993. It now has 5 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms thanks to a loft extension. This was the only photo I could find of it on the internet, courtesy of Rightmove.com. It’s the house on the left which used to be a painted a classy black and cream with a much smarter outside light, number and door handle! Otherwise, it looks pretty much the same.

Postcard from London

Since moving to France I have made infrequent trips back to the UK. Far fewer than I originally anticipated. This was my annual flying visit to the dentist and hygienist. Yes, they have those in France too – well not hygienists. My dentist is a personal friend and, in return for the occasional dinner, takes great care of my teeth. Meanwhile, my hygienist is simply one of the best in the business and well worth every pound I pay her. I initially planned the trip to also include a visit to my middle sister to ooh and aah over her remodelling of the family home.  However, it’s over budget and over schedule so that’ll be next year’s flying visit.

When I left Nice, the weather was warm and the sun was shining. We arrived in Gatwick to overcast skies. I immediately wanted to return. My beloved headed to Heathrow and a flight to Milan. Yes, I know it’s only three hour drive up the road from us, but the London trip had been booked before the trip to Milan. He returned the following day in time for dinner with my dentist. Meanwhile, I headed to my brother in law’s. I usually stay with my youngest sister but she was in France!

Having lived in London for over 20 years, there’s very little I haven’t seen. Like all great cities, it’s best enjoyed on foot. Curiosity got the better of me and  I decided to visit my old stomping grounds of Bayswater, Notting Hill, Marylebone and Mayfair. While much has changed, many of my favourite spots are still reassuringly flourishing. The weather was overcast and decidedly chilly though everyone around me was resolutely holding onto summer in short-sleeved or sleeveless outfits. Footsore but not weary, late afternoon I travelled  south of the river to my dentist.

frog2

Once the condition of my teeth had been proclaimed stable – a good thing – we left by tube for dinner at The Frog, Adam Handling’s new restaurant in Whitechapel. It’s a wee bit tricky to locate but I enjoyed the scenic wander around E1 which has mushroomed since I left London. As I suspected, this is a hip, happening place favoured by the 25-40 crowd so we definitely increased the average age of the diners. The restaurant has a great vibe but more importantly an open kitchen and I was sitting in pole position. I left my beloved and my dentist to chatter about all matters dental while I observed what was going on in the kitchen.

image

imageMy dentist is a fish-eating vegetarian while I’m a fish eating vegan so (sadly) the great value tasting menu was hors course. Nonetheless, the kitchen was happy to adapt two courses to meet the strictures of my regime. I had charred broccoli to start with followed by octopus! The title of the former dish’s title belied its delicious flavour while the main course was the best octopus I’ve eaten and I’ve eaten A LOT of octopus this year.

frog-dinner

The boys greatly enjoyed all their three courses. The portions aren’t large so you can easily eat three courses. It was a delicious meal and The Frog got a huge thumbs up from all three of us.

cliveden

I spent the following day at Cliveden catching up with an old girlfriend who I first met back in 1980 while we were both training to be chartered accountants. How time has flown! While she’s visited me a couple of times in France, her job and a demanding pooch preclude regular visits. We enjoyed a glass (or two) of our favourite beverage in the bar overlooking the manicured gardens. I find the main house a wee bit overpowering, so we ate in The Grill. Fortunately the sun was shining so we could walk off our admittedly light lunch by strolling around the splendid grounds.

whitechapel

My beloved was unexpectedly available on Thursday lunchtime and expressed a desire to visit the Whitechapel Gallery. The gallery is just up the road from where I used to work and I often had off-site meetings there. My beloved is somewhat conservative in his tastes particularly when it comes to art. Would he be prepared to hang it on the wall or display it in the apartment? If the answer’s yes, then he likes it. However, much modern conceptual art is not for display in a domestic setting and it’s often intended to provoke. The gallery is small and having already been fed in its café, my beloved suffered the exhibits. I could tell he wasn’t won over when he likened it to the exhibition we saw in New York’s Guggenheim where a Colombian artist had poured concrete into a number of pieces of furniture, as a protest against the regime, not the furniture.

arnie1

As I took my leave, I was tempted to smuggle my nephew’s dog in my handbag and take him back to France. Indeed Arnie seemed keen to join me after I’d told him the weather was soooo much better though I suspect this was because he’d been abandoned at his grandparents while his owners were enjoying two weeks in Barbados.  Before going our separate ways, we had brunch at Waterloo before my beloved headed to Paddington and a train for Cardiff and I took a train to Gatwick for my homeward journey. The few days in London had been lovely, despite the weather, but I was happy to be back home.

homel

 

Perfect present

I’ve made little mention recently about football largely because the arctic conditions in Europe have forced the cancellation of a number of fixtures. Furthermore, the African Cup has denuded the French League of players, none more so than OGCN who have lost 8 players for the next few weeks. Consequently, they managed to lose a cup game away to amateur opposition in northern France. As they’re hovering just above the relegation zone it’s to be hoped that recent transfer window signings will boost the squad ahead of the return of  those playing in Angola.

Meanwhile, my beloved boys in claret and blue whose last two matches have been cancelled due to afore-mentioned conditions, delivered the perfect present for my birthday. An  away (0-1) win against Blackburn Rovers in the first-leg of the League Cup semi-final. A competition they last won in 1996. I was there at Wembley to watch them beat Leeds. I am eagerly awaiting the return leg at Villa Park which should see them through to the final. Though sadly, this time, I won’t be at Wembley to see them play in the final. I’ll just have to watch it on tv.

This wasn’t my only great present. My girlfriend with whom I celebrated our birthdays over oysters and champagne bought me book of 1001 cycling photographs. While my kid sister has bought me tickets to see Peter Kay at the O2 Arena in London in November.

Sadly, it rained all day preventing me from celebrating my birthday as I would have wished, in the saddle on the open road. Still, there’s always tomorrow or the day after.

Pleasurable afternoons

Pretty much as forecast, it rained all day today. The outlook for the week end is fortunately much better. Today was my first English lesson at the club conducted over home made cakes (mine) and refreshments. It was a smallish group of differing abilities but thankfully those that spoke some English were more than willing to help those that spoke none. So we went back to basics, starting with the phonetic alphabet and continuing with some brief exercises to illustrate my points.

This has my name on it!

We also discussed English culture and customs, albeit in French. I was extolling the virtues of afternoon tea, one of my all-time favourite meals. Largely because as a child it was my reward for an afternoon spent learning ballet. My Mum thought ballet would make me lighter on my feet; she used to complain that I sounded like a herd of elephants going upstairs. It had absolutely no effect whatsoever.

We had afternoon tea at The Queen’s Hotel which was largely a haven for elderly ladies and gentlemen whom I would regard very much as my personal audience every Wednesday afternoon. Having been into the kitchen to choose my cakes and pastries directly from the chef, I would return and visit with each individual or group dotted around the vast lounge; politely enquiring as to their activities over the past week, before updating them with my own. One lady used to let me wear her mink stole and hat. I would love giving everyone a quick twirl in my borrowed finery. Sadly, The Queen’s Hotel was demolished to make way for New Street Station.

While living in London I would often meet friends for afternoon tea in one or other of my favourite watering holes. I particularly liked afternoon tea at The Lanesborough (handy for Knightsbridge), The Dorchester, The Westbury (great scones and handy for Bond St) and Claridges.

The home-made cakes went down well, particularly the spiced ginger bread. Fortunately, they left a few slices of both cakes; the other was a chocolate and vanilla marble cake, for my beloved to enjoy.

Austin Diary III

I think it’s fair to say Austin, and taking part in Livestrong, exceeded my expectations, but I was now looking forward to getting back home.

My plane from Austin was delayed two hours due to a mechanical, I arrived in Dallas 10 minutes after my connecting flight had left. My luggage had been booked through to its final destination, so I was advised by the American Airlines staff to hot-foot it over to the Lufhansa desk and get them to change my flights so I could get home by AA via London. When I arrived at the Lufthansa desk it was empty. I noticed a security door behind the desk, I knocked (actually pounded would probably be more accurate) and found some one who could help.

I was soon booked on AA to London and BA back to Nice. However, no one could locate my luggage and I was advised by AA that I couldn’t get on the plane without my luggage as it couldn’t travel independently, internationally. I decided that this probably wasn’t a good time to point out that this often happened to my husband’s baggage. Just before boarding, the dispatcher said he was 90% certain my luggage was on board and they allowed me to get on the flight.

I followed my usual routine; a glass of champagne, ear plugs, eye shades and slept until London. Because I had flown into Heathrow on an airline other than BA, I had to go through security again and almost missed my flight. In fact, I only made it because it was departing from one of the closest gates.

In Nice, I waited by the luggage carousel with some sense of inevitability and was unsurprised by the non-appearance of my luggage which I duly reported. The desk clerk confirmed it was most likely still in Dallas and would turn up today. He was right, as I type this I am awaiting its delivery from the airport, hopefully undamaged. But if not, I am well insured.

Postscript: My delayed baggage has arrived safe and sound.

On top of the world

Today was my first time up Mont Chauve, a short but steep climb between

View from Mont Chauve
View from Mont Chauve

Falicon and Aspremont. I had not done this one before as in previous years I would have already headed off to the World Cycling Championships to work as a volunteer. Their loss this year is my gain. I momentarily flirted with taking part in the race up the hill but eventually decided against it. Maybe next year, now that I know what’s involved. I passed the race in progress on the way down. There were no female participants and immediately regretted not having taken part. Of course, I would have been last overall but the first (and only) woman. My husband broke a spoke on the ascent and so, rather than head back  via Aspremont, we descended back into Nice and rode home along the coastal road.

Valverde
Valverde

The Vuelta finishes today and this man is going to win his first Grand Tour.  He’s looked pretty secure in gold and has ridden a smart race; for once,  sacrificing stage victories for the bigger picture. Joining him on the podium will be Sammy Sanchez (2nd) and Cadel “Cuddles” Evans (3rd). Commentators have unfairly been referring to Cadel as the “nearly man”. Wholly unjustified. Aside from the inopportune timing of that puncture, you’ve only got to look at the composition of his team and compare it to Valverde’s to understand their respective placings. 

ToB 2009 Podium
ToB 2009 Podium

The Tour of Great Britain concluded yesterday in London. Columbia HTC hoovered up most of the stages, and the overall, with Edvald Boassen Hagen, already a firm favourite with the crowds,  who will be riding next year for Britain’s new Sky Team.  Two riders, the afore-mentioned EBH and Thomas De Gendt, Topsport Vlaanderen, swiped all the jerseys. 

My beloved boys in claret and blue easily beat Pompey, my Dad’s former team, at home. Fittingly, the man of the match was Pompey’s goal-keeper, David James, one of my favourite footballers. I still rue the day that Villa sold him to West Ham. Meanwhile, Nice have continued their slide to the penultimate place in the league (thank goodness for Grenoble). Beaten 1-3 at home in the local derby with Monaco, a team whose fortunes are going in the reverse of ours.

In Napoleon’s footsteps

St Vallier de Thiey
St Vallier de Thiey

Tomorrow we’re off to St Vallier de Thiey, just above Grasse. This is also the date of the club’s annual picnic on the shores of Lac St Cassien. Two year’s ago, doubting my ability to cycle all the way to the Lac via St Vallier, I instead drove the car to the picnic and cycled around the lake. Last year, I went to watch a friend compete in the Monaco Ironman. This year I’m doing the pointage, but not the picnic.

St Vallier was the Archbishop of Antibes  martyred in the 17th century by the Visigoths. While Le Thiey is the mountain at 1552m overshadowing the village which has a pretty12th century church and ancient city gates. 

The route is a gentle incline all the way to Pre du Lac. Thereafter, it’s reasonably flat  to Grasse where you take a sharp right-hand turn up the Route Napoleon to St Vallier. So called because, this was the route Napoleon took  on his return from exile in Elba after having first landed in Golfe Juan. My return route will depend on the weather and how I’m feeling.  

My first trip to St Vallier was last October. Wanting to increase my kilometrage, I had been exhorted by a club mate to ride with an UFOLEP group on Tuesdays, who “rode along the coast”, his words. This was my first outing with them and I was somewhat apprehensive as to whether or not I could a) keep up and b) ride the distance.

I joined the group at St Laurent du Var and we rode along the coast at a pace I could just about sustain to Mandelieu where we took a right-hand turn and headed inland, in the direction of Grasse, over a succession of short steep climbs which saw me slide ignominiously out on the back of the peloton and halfway-down the hill. My club mate kindly kept me company and, from time to time, even gave me a helpful push. I honestly don’t remember the route we took but I do recall we stopped for a picnic lunch in St Vallier. Yes, French cafes are quite happy for you to eat a picnic lunch while seated at their tables, providing you buy something to drink. Ever the pragmatists, the owners understand that the revenue from 30-40 drinks is not to be sneezed at. Shame English cafe owners don’t embrace the same view.

I confess that I am not a real fan of picnics. Many years ago my husband, for reasons I have been unable to fathom, bought me a picnic set for Xmas. We have used it twice. Both times to have a picnic in the gardens of Cleveland Sq, where we used to live in London, with my goddaughter. Frankly, I prefer to stop at a cafe or restaurant, have something to eat and drink, and continue on my way.

I had fondly imagined that after lunch our return route would be downhill all the way. Not so, we were not done climbing. Again, I barely recall the route but we continued to climb before finally descending past the high security prison, built on high above Grasse. This was the first time I had ridden in excess of 100km. Furthermore, I had anticipated that it would be along the undulating coastal route, not in the hilly, arriere pays. While it had been enjoyable, I was truly, but pleasurably,worn out.