Thursday, December 21, 2017


Here's our rescued foxglove plant, chilling in the garden beneath a layer of frost and fallen leaves, waiting for its opportunity to bloom next spring. We had several very cold days not too long ago, but yesterday was downright warmish. I was able to go to dinner with Dave last night in just a sportcoat, with no hat and no scarf.

But first, I wound up having to run a very peculiar errand. I'd counted on having the day free, and I was just sitting on the couch reading around 1:30 p.m. when my boss texted and asked if I was around. A question like that, from a boss, almost always leads to work, and I texted back with some trepidation. But it turns out she simply needed someone to witness a contract between her and her landlord. So I walked over to her place -- she doesn't live far away -- and together with her husband we visited her landlord, who also lived nearby.

The landlord, named Felicity, turned out to be a hoot. She's a 78-year-old woman who grew up in the house my boss rents. She greeted us wearing a black dress, pearl earrings and a furry leopard-print jacket, having just had a Christmas ham delivered from Waitrose. The ham was sitting just inside her front door.

Felicity seemed very proper, and her house was quite spacious, with soaring ceilings and chandeliers and fireplaces. There were gilt mirrors on the wall, and china and glassware somewhat haphazardly laid out on tabletops alongside old photos, framed and unframed. It was like she'd emptied out a china cabinet -- and maybe she had, looking for Christmas serving pieces.

As we sat at her table signing and making small talk, she asked me, "Have you always been bald?" Well, since I was a very young man, I said. "It's not the result of a medical condition?" she asked. No, I assured her, it was not.

And then the paperwork was done and she insisted we all stay for a drink. She chose some mismatched glasses from a corner cabinet and brought out some Bombay Sapphire and tonic water -- she had quite a selection of booze on a tray in the corner -- and proceeded to regale us with tales of the Blitz and how the neighborhood was damaged ("Exeter Road was on fire from end to end"), and what it was like to duck into a bomb shelter in her back garden, and of her friendship with the Venezuelan ambassador.

We had another gin & tonic, and she asked about my wife. I told her my partner is a he, not a she. She said, "Oh, men who live with men are always so precise. Aren't they? And always so artistic."

Lacking the energy to counter the old stereotypes, I told her, yes, we are.

My boss complimented Felicity's curtains, heavy green brocade with a valance at the top. They cut out any hint of daylight -- by this time, I couldn't tell whether it was light or dark outside. "Do you know, those curtains have been hanging in that window since 1947," she said. And she complained about some mysterious black smudges on her otherwise pristine white ceiling, apparently the result of a pigeon flying down the chimney and around the living room. She and her upstairs tenant, who she called "the Commander," had to chase it out a window.

All the while, her little Yorkshire terrier, Sammy, scrambled around our feet, begging for a belly rub.

I could go on and on. Suffice to say, it turned out to be a surprisingly fun afternoon!

And then Dave and I went to dinner last night at a restaurant called The Square, which we enjoyed, having indulged in yet another gin & tonic at a nearby bar in Mayfair. We got the tasting menu with wine pairings, and although I remember the delectable red snapper course and the juicy venison, I barely remember the cab ride home.


  1. I loved your deadpan description of Felicity. It cracked me up.

  2. I love your Felicity! That's real writing -- you and Barbara Pym have a lot in common, eerily so. Because I happen to have Miss Pym's novel No Fond Return of Love sitting here on my desk, in which there is a Felicity character complete with the big house in London and a little dog and a Latin American diplomat lodger (Brazilian, tho) but your Felicity, as observed by you, is much more interesting. I love your eye.

    I once went to a house in the Garden District in New Orleans to appraise a clock collection, and that house also had drapes that had been hanging in place for decades.The difference was that when I tried to brush aside one panel in order to assess the small carriage clocks lined up on the windmill (this guy had clocks everywhere, under the beds, in the bathrooms, on every staircase) the fabric cracked and crumpled into dust and there was an old wasps' nest on the curtain rod. I once read that writers should know how to identify trees, but I think being able to suss out curtain fabrics is a far better skill. I skip over descriptions of landscapes when I read, but I hang onto every word that fills me in on interior decorations.

  3. Yes! What a great post! Miss Felicity is someone I would love to know. She is certainly not shy to ask whatever questions she wants, is she?

  4. Wonderful story and what a spitfire! I think I would enjoy her company for an afternoon. I love to hear stories 1st hand.

  5. This old gal is a hoot. Great description of her. You'll remember her for a long time. Don't you have great answers reply to dumb questions people ask, but you would never make those replies!

  6. You had what sounds like a perfect day. Felicity sounds like someone I'd love to know and who could tell all kinds of stories. I would have loved to hear her stories about the blitz. I can't imagine what Londoners went through during that period. You've also described her home so beautifully that I can almost picture it. And yes, I think Felicity would have loved those shoes on my site. It sounds like they would have gone well with her jacket. Dinner in Mayfair sounds like the perfect end to a lovely day. In fact, I kind of wish I could have dinner in Mayfair tonight.

  7. I love this story! I am intrigued by people who ask whatever is on their mind, a kind of crazy charm.

  8. Great storytelling, Steve. And you're so precise in your descriptions! ;^/

  9. Ohhhhhhh, this was a fabulous read!! You HAVE to befriend her. Where are you going to find another one like her, with an upstairs tenant called 'the commander'? This was like straight out of a movie.

  10. Sounds like a good day all around :)