Actually, I’m fine. And I’m English so it’s my job to suppress all those untoward feelings of failure and loss and give myself boils and cysts instead. And something unusual has happened: I love London! All of a sudden, the place I have hated for about 25 years, give or take a year or two in the middle, has become somewhere rather exciting and magical. I think you have to have a few seminal moments in London; something has to have happened to you there, otherwise it’s just another capital city with a lot of people and escalators. And it’s so expensive it brings tears to your eyes and I will never ever go on the London Eye ever again.
RADA happened to me fifteen years ago. I went up for the day last week and went to the same area, though this time it was to meet the lovely bloggers, Rachel from Rachel eats and Evie from Saffron Strands, and to eat at Honey & Co, the Middle Eastern café (very good cakes, a bit hectic). It’s not that Fitzrovia is particularly beautiful – it’s not Prague or anything (I’ve never been to Prague).
It’s just that when I stepped out at Warren Street tube station, there I was, back in 1997. And it’s more or less the same, minus the porn shops and O’Brien’s, an Irish café that sold the biggest and cheapest coffee and the biggest, cheapest croissants ever, and no one had any money so that was brilliant. And if we weren’t paying – it was a benevolent acting teacher wanting us to do ‘a Pret run’ – then it would be off to Pret a Manger, returning with a box of hot pastries and smouldering Mochas and little change out of a twenty.
But what’s amazing, what’s strange and unsettling is that really it’s the same. If you get out at Warren street tube station, then clearly you’re doing that because you want to go to French’s Theatre Bookshop. I did this the other day and it was still run by a man who looks as if he hates you, because he knows you’re not going to buy anything. He looks a bit like Philip Seymour Hoffman though and I think that’s why on this particular day I didn’t mind his sullenness.
I never liked this shop and still don’t. I’m not sure why; something to do with young hunger and ambition and where it all goes. Then you walk down Tottenham Court Road, unless you want to go the other way to Villandry on Great Portland Street, which is one of those glittering delis with a very posh café and people who look like they have no pores. Instead, you go down Tottenham Court road (past the Scientology shop, don’t go in) to Goodge street, which is where RADA students generally disgorge themselves from the tube station. Goodge street is an interesting street, full of little places to eat and drink and if you walk on you get to Charlotte Street, which crosses it. Charlotte street is home to the Charlotte Street Hotel, where I have taken the odd eye-wateringly expensive tea.
It’s also home to my uncle Alex Hollweg’s paintings and whenever I see them, they remind me of the wooden fruit he made in the same jauntily rich colours that sit in his sitting room. The Charlotte Street Hotel, though they serve nice nuts, deals in the kind of exclusivity and luxe that made me feel forever an outsider. I remember sitting at the bar feeling like a scruff. But I have sat at the bar, and I can say it is a fine place to be, particularly if someone else is paying. My brother for one. I remember it was an evening of convincing; him trying to convince me to do something I wasn’t sure about. Anyway, I did it and it was a disaster. But thanks for the wine.
Back then I would have bumped into people – teachers, other students, Val. (Val worked at the front desk at RADA and basically ran the entire school and I think still knows my bank details. She also knew her way round a bagel). The place was a village in the middle of the city. You couldn’t go a hundred yards without seeing someone you knew, sometimes even someone who happened to be in the area by chance, an old friend apropos of nothing. It was all so easy; I have never quite got that back, that feeling of effortless unfolding, of friendships made blithely. It was that kind of place and time. Young love. So it was all the more delicious when the three of us last week went for a walk after eating. We did the back streets and didn’t really notice anything, too wrapped up in each other and our exuberant conversation. Streets were missed, the tubes came and went, we crisscrossed London, still mithering on about Nigella and Nigel and Simon, our faux friends from the world of food. So anyway, I went back and it was good.
Made me snap out of it.