As I emerge into relative peace after the noisy interior of Embankment Tube I realise something. London hasn’t missed me one bit. She never does. She goes about her business, day-by-day without a single thought to those who dwell, walk, live and die in her streets. She might change a bit here and there; different advertising outside the theatres maybe, a shiny new glass building every now and then, but generally she looks the same.
There is a constant stream of people walking past me in a hundred different directions as I take a moment to just stand outside the station and look around. The same cobblestones under my feet, the same flower seller between the station and
with her collection of brightly, multicoloured offerings breaking up the greyness. I’ve been gone for a year but everything remains the same here. The only thing that’s changed is me. Embankment Gardens
After a short walk up a gently sloping Villiers Street, I’m at my destination – Gordon’s Wine Bar, where I’m meeting my acquaintance, and friend KJ, and a young French consultant called Celine, who we have done business with in the past. Speaking fluent English with a lovely French accent, Celine is returning to her home town of Lyon to get married later in the year. Turning off into a side alley called Watergate Walk, I use the side entrance to the bar and climb down the steep steps into the darkened interior. KJ - who has more than a passing resemblance to the actor John Hurt combined with the dress sense of Dr.Who - is already waiting for me inside with Celine, and after greeting each other we try to find somewhere to sit and eat.
Gordon’s has become one of my favourite places in central London. It’s so unusual and surreal in here. There is a small main bar area where you can order food or a pint, the old wooden walls covered with newspaper cuttings from the past, an occasional high chair for customers to sit in. But my favourite part of the bar is the cellar where you eat. Its low blackened ceiling and cobbled floor give it an air of gothic mystery. As you take a seat, the old rickety wooden tables are lit by tall thin candles that cast just enough light for you to see the people you are with. The tables look as though they are floating in darkness, an occasional face appearing as someone leans forward to share a joke or gossip to a friend. Sitting below street level in an old cellar with no natural daylight it’s the perfect place for spies to have met up during the cold war or maybe for vampires to wait out the hours until the sun sets. It basks somewhere between the odd and the evil in here but I love it. You feel anonymous as the darkness envelops and hides you.
KJ buys a bottle of red wine for us to share and we all order French cheese – my piece of Brie is the size of a welder’s fist - with crusty bread, which seems the right thing to do while we are with Celine. We sit eating and chatting and time passes by without us noticing. I am round the other side of the table to KJ and Celine, so I get the best view of the other customers in the old wine cellar. A man and woman come into the cellar brushing past me as they enter, and sit at an empty table opposite. They both look to be about 60 something years old; which is a guess as it’s difficult to tell in the low light conditions. The man removes his trilby hat which he places on the table and pulls a chair away from the table for his partner. After she has sat down, he too takes a seat. Neither of them removes their coats which is surprising because although it’s a cold winter’s day outside, it’s comfortably warm in here. I’m struck by her coat which is a knee length fur – something you don’t see that often. He leans into her and they kiss for a second, and then they pull apart laughing, then returning to each other, her whispering into his ear. Her face is lit by the flickering candle on their table and I’m staring when all of a sudden she is looking straight at me. I’ve been caught – not for the first time – people watching, but she doesn’t glare at me angrily as though I’m prying; instead she smiles with dark lips - holding my glance - until I look away in embarrassment.
I haven’t been paying any attention to the conversation that KJ and Celine are having and it may be that the early lunch time wine is taking effect because when I look back to the old couple again my eyes are drawn to the mans hand which is now sliding up the inside of her skirt, and I don’t mean on her outer thigh. They are oblivious to anyone else sitting in the bar. Totally taken, and besotted with each other; they care not that anyone else might be watching them. They have managed to find a quiet moment for each other, despite being in the centre of one of the worlds busiest cities. Whenever I see people behaving like this it reminds me of Lou B, and I instantly miss her – even though I might have only spoke to her a few hours ago.
Embarrassingly time has flown by and Celine has to leave and I realise that I’ve hardly heard any of the conversation between her and KJ. We stand up from the table and despite keeping my head down I still bang it on the very low ceiling as a thousand customers before me have done. We kiss goodbye on either cheek and she is gone, leaving just KJ and I sat at the wooden table. We order two strong black coffees and sit in silence for a moment before KJ starts talking about the history of the bar we are sitting in.
“Imagine how many other people have been through here,” he says just before he takes a deep gulp of his black coffee.
“The stories that these walls could tell, if they could speak about what they’ve seen and heard, the scandals, the romance, the spies,” KJ adds as he relaxes back into his chair, one arm casually slung over the chairs back.
We chat between ourselves for a little while; not about work but about life. KJ’s son has recently been offered a place at Oxford, and you can tell – although he hasn’t said - that he’s very proud.
We finish up our drinks and its time to leave, even though I would love to stay now and just drink on into the early evening. There are moments in our lives – spent with lovers lying in hot summer fields, or maybe with a friend in a dark underground bar - which we never want to end. It can be just a small moment in time, a couple of hours, or even a few minutes. Just quick episodes that make up a patchwork of good memories; hopefully to cover the bad. As we collect our coats and bags I glance over to where the old lovers were sitting in their little piece of sanctuary, but they have gone, leaving just a memory in my notebook.
[I hope you enjoyed reading this as much I enjoyed writing it. If you’ve never paid a visit to Gordon’s I urge you to do so the next time you’re in Central London, but please remember this: although I speak about Gordon’s being the possible haunt of vampires, spies and romantics; this is just rumour. What is fact are the pickpockets and thieves who sometimes steal from the handbags of unwary tourists while they sit in the darkened interior. If you do pay Gordon’s a visit enjoy yourself, but just be careful. DC]