Our last day in Windsor was a tying up of loose ends sort of day, a good day for recovery from our weekend of exploring the Cornish Alps. A bit of desultory shopping, trying to decide if we had enough pounds and pence to make it through to the airport. Ben had planned a farewell dinner for us with a friend of his and her parents, who were also in London for a visit. We planned to meet for a preprandial lager or two with Ben before meeting the others for dinner. Ben suggested the Hillgate Pub, close to the restaurant, close to his flat, and close to the Notting Hill Gate Tube stop.
It’s a funny thing about vacations – no matter how much I look forward to them, by the time the next to the last day arrives I become totally immersed in the process of getting home. For any vacation of a week or more, regardless of destination, my penchant for penultimate pensiveness arrives with the dawn of the day before departure. Such was the case on Tuesday when instead of focusing on a last evening in London, I was fretting about how long the grass was that I would soon have to mow.
We agreed to meet at 6:30. Notting Hill is only 2 stops from Paddington, so Ol’ P agreed to postpone his trailblazing with map duties until we emerged from the Underground. We had an address – 24 Hillgate St. – and the words “close to Notting Hill Gate” – so finding it should have been a snap.
But it wasn’t – here on our very last day something went awry with Ol’ P’s radar, and Hillgate St. refused to manifest itself. Not wanting to be late, Ol’ P reluctantly turned to asking for help from some of the passing throng.
I could blame this misstep on being distracted by chores looming on the horizon, but that would be inaccurate. The truth is that I made an incorrect assumption at the very beginning of the trek, and so we started out lost and then proceeded to get loster. Oh, it was wickedly devilish of the Tube people to put the street we were after directly opposite the tube station, but on the other side of the wide, wide street, anticipating that I would saunter down the avenue for a bit in order to get my bearings. That we did, and in doing so, we left our first turnoff gloriously behind us, with no hope of ever stumbling upon the truth.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, things then got worse. Determined not to embarrass our son by arriving late, I swallowed my pride and admitted to two successive young women that I was lost. Fat lot of good that did! The first backed away from me while simultaneously yelling that she didn’t speak English and reaching for what appeared to be a can of Mace. The second kept going straight past me, with no more recognition of my request than if she had been in a catatonic state, except for the fact that her pace increased from strolling to sprinting.
“So, sorry – no English.” Maybe it’s Ol’P’s choice of potential information sources. Perhaps if he’d asked an elderly schoolmarm, or a woman of the cloth….
On the plus side, maybe those attempts don’t constitute admissions of being lost.
We finally saw what appeared to be a businessman carrying bags from local establishments – he must be heading home and thus know his way around. He did! He gave us precise directions to Hillgate, In perfect English. We were back on track again.
Or thought we were. Alas, Hillgate, like the previously mentioned Westbourne, has multiple incarnations. Hillgate Place, Mews, Manor, Terrace, etc. I was beginning to think the entire city of London had only a few dozen street names, each one having 20 or 30 variations. We marched up one Hillgate and down another, across a third, and no pub appeared. Finally, I heard words I never thought would emanate from Ol’ P’s mouth.
“We’d better call Ben.”
Though I may be tenacious when attempting to solve a problem, I am not absolutely inflexible. Besides, it was warm and I was getting thirsty and hungry. Time to call in the cavalry.
Shocked, but compliant, I fished out the “mobile” Ben had lent us for the trip, and flipped it open. I do not like telephones, here, or there, or anywhere. This one was carefully programmed with only one person’s number – Ben’s. Unfortunately, there seemed to be several of them, and I had no idea which was his current i-phone number. So I stabbed and hoped and pushed multiple buttons until I heard a ring – that continued for some time.
As we were about to give up and try for a street that might have taxi traffic, Ben finally answered, confused that I had called this number which apparently belonged to a very old phone that had been buried at the bottom of a knapsack. In any event, we were saved. We were very close, so close that even I could find the pub unassisted, and Ben said he’d meet us there in 5 minutes. We had been so close that we arrived well ahead of him.
“I don’t understand why Ben’s not here already,” wondered Ol’ P. “He’s usually right on time, and it’s so close to his flat.”
“Well, it is only 6:15 – he was probably still in the shower. We weren’t supposed to meet him till 6:30.”
“6:15!” he cried. “I thought it was much later than that! I thought we were very late. Why didn’t you tell me?”
I shrugged. “You didn’t ask.”
After a pleasant couple of lagers, we strolled half a block down the street to meet Ben’s friend Kelly, and her parents, Lucia and Joe. The restaurant seemed to be Greek, but once seated and introductions had been made, it became obvious that this was a restaurant unique to our experience.
Food and drink are the universal antidote for a bad mood, and once again they worked their magic. The best part for me was that Ben and Kelly took charge of all of the ordering, and all I had to do was devour the savory dishes that were put in front of us.
It was good thing that Ben and Kelly, but mostly Kelly, arranged the menu for the 6 of us. I would have been sitting there yet, trying to decipher the decidedly non-standard menu before me. Jars? What are they? Are they a condiment or an appetizer, and when and how does one consume them? We found out under Kelly’s expert guidance, and what they were was…delicious.
Devour I did, and too soon the meal was over. Anxious as I was to return home, it would have been nice if we had been able to extend this evening. My lawn would just have to wait.
This time we were hyperaware of the time, and had no trouble catching the train back to Windsor. The usual teary goodbyes to Ben were somewhat mitigated by the fact that he was coming home for a couple of weddings in a week, but still – I hate this part.
Wednesday morning back at the B&B was the usual –packing, obsessing about forgetting something, more packing. I had asked Stuart to print out our boarding passes, and when I went to retrieve them, he asked if we would mind coming to breakfast a little later, since they were full up with business clientele who wanted to eat quickly and then check right out. Of course we didn’t mind, and went to breakfast when the room had completely cleared out.
Sly Stuart – it was all a ruse (although the B&B had been quite full) so we could have the breakfast room to ourselves. We thus had the luxury of being able to eat Stuart’s fantastic culinary creations, and chat with him as he kept us company during one of the best breakfasts I had ever eaten.
I have to join in with Elizabeth R on this point; the breakfasts we had at the B&B got each day off to a rousing start, and this last one was the best of the bunch. The pancake ingredients must have included a large portion of “good will” because that’s what I felt full of when be said our goodbyes. It’s nice to be so fortified when you set off for an airport. Who knows what you might encounter there.
Owner Ali came by with hugs for farewells, and when the car came to take us to Heathrow, I got all sniffly again as Stuart gave Ol’ P a fervent handshake and me a big hug as we left. This is why we stay in Windsor.
The flight home to the U.S. of A was as they generally are – long, faintly melancholy, and getting to be routine. However, this trip, the routine part went a bit askew.
We checked in and trudged to Security, dutifully emptying pockets and removing belts, taking my laptop from its case, putting handbags and jackets in the plastic containers going through x-ray, and stepping through the screening doorframe. No problems, until we noticed that Ol’ P’s plastic container was going in one direction on the conveyor belt, and my 2, (because of the computer case) were going in another, where they stopped dead. In the section of doom. I had failed security. Twice.
Not only that – there were two other apparent evildoers ahead of me, one of them a British Airways Flight Attendant, the other an older woman with a large plastic bagful of cosmetic samples. Everything had to be unloaded and microscopically inspected, re-x-rayed. labeled, and repacked. This appeared to be happening at all the security points we could see – and all moving at an impossibly slow pace. Both ladies ahead of me missed their flights, and it is only because Ol’ P and I are compulsively early that we made ours. And a good thing too; if he whose carry-ons had passed had missed his flight because of she whose carry-ons flunked – twice….. let’s just say that the eventual plane ride home would have been on the bumpy side indeed.
And what was the threatening contraband that had diverted me to the line of slow motion reinspection? In my handbag, it was my Kindle and i-pod, which had caused nary a quiver coming from NY. And the other – my reading light in my computer case, whose vaguely cylindrical shape the airline’s x-ray machine found highly suspicious.
Ah well, we made our flight – just – and now our trip is at an end. Sigh. I miss England already. Especially since we arrived home just in time for election season.