Me? Nah mate. I don’t go South of the River. They’re all villans there…

Louie, Sandra’s younger son flew in to Heathrow looking like you’d expect a seventeen-year old who has been sofa-hopping with his mates in Cairo for three-months. Underweight, hung-over, tired as hell and hungry but cheerful and pleased to see us. After the hugs, coffee and a couple crispy doughnuts we headed off to Putney to visit Phyllis with whom Sandra had worked in Egypt.

Now, I’m a West London boy and don’t go south of the river if I can avoid it because as everybody knows, they’re all villans there. However, Putney [never been there, never wanted to] came as a bit of a shock. Leafy Victorian suburban roads, boathouses along the river, dutch barges and houseboats complete with pots of geraniums on the roofs. Indian, Chinese, Nepalese, Thai restaurants on every street corner. Nice. Very nice. Every other car a Merc or a Porsche. I could live there at a push, if I had 1.3million quid or more, which is what you’d have to pay for a family house [away from the river]…

Phyllis is Super Teacher, going in to failing schools to help turn them round. She is a positive, strong woman with firm ideas grounded in practical experience and academic rigour but in addition has a wicked sense of humour and a nice sense of the absurd. Once we had settled in to her flat with views across a green wilderness where kingfishers flashed past as a streak of blue [not common in London, I would say] we visited one of her local pubs, The Jolly Gardeners where I had an excellent fish pie and a couple of pints of London Pride. Mmm! The Wimbledon ladies final was in full swing and while Sandra and Phyllis enjoyed watching Serena Williams taking her opponent apart [don’t follow it myself] I sat on the other side of the table and tried to ignore the proceedings.

The Jolly Gardeners is one of those fine 1930’s pubs with large open bars, high ceilings and solid wooden furniture. Like so many pubs in London, it had been scraped clean of age but retains enough of it’s history to make it interesting. Louie tucked in to his sausage and mash with gusto while I checked out the barmaid who had the hair on one side of her head shaved off completely. This seems to be a new trend with girls of about 2o. Mind you at 20, most girls would draw attention if they wore a hessian sack tied around the middle with an old piece of string. Maybe I could invent a trend!

The visit to Phyllis turned into a food festival after that, with a trip to the excellent Indian at the end of her road [vegetable korma] and brunch the next day at a very up-market cafe on Putney High Street. Full English. Light, fluffy scrambled eggs, organic bacon, mushrooms fried to a dark brown, thin fried bread, black sausage, two large slices of crispy while bread, butter and jam. There was no need to eat again until evening…

Some people say that a traditional English Breakfast is a heart-attack on a plate while others say that so long as the bacon is grilled and you ignore the black pudding, it is quite healthy. I hope the latter is true for the sake of my arteries and my taste buds!

We sat in the sun and put the world to rights while Louie caught up with his sleep back at Phyllis’s place. In that moment, I could almost have been convinced that living back in the UK was worth it and do you know what? If you could guarantee three-months of fine weather like that we had experienced since returning from Namibia, it might be.


About stevehollier

Steve Hollier is the editor of AZ Magazine, an English language lifestyle magazine based in Baku, Azerbaijan. He began his career working for a firm of stockbrokers in the City of London then went on to attend the University of Essex where he was awarded an MA in Sociology in 1984. After a career in arts and cultural development work, he became a freelance arts consultant, writer and photographer.
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3 Responses to Me? Nah mate. I don’t go South of the River. They’re all villans there…

  1. You’re right there, Steve. With a summer like this one and fried breakfasts like that one, England is hard to beat! Last summer may have been a washout, but this year has made up for it nicely. I’m going to regale my brother Hugh with just such a breakfast when he gets here. I’ll pile on the big flat-capped breakfast mushrooms and whisk out the Elderflower cordial! There’ll be coils of Cumberland sausage!

    I’m interested to know what you’ll be taking with you to Baku in the way of essential provisions. I recommend Bovril, and Lime Marmalade. Morrisons make a superb red onion chutney too.

    • stevehollier says:

      To be honest Charles, the only thing I really missed in Namibia was real English beer, so we’re not taking anything in particular. I suppose I could take some yeast and hops for a homebrew though. I’m a lover of mediterranean and middle-eastern food anyway, so not expecting withdrawl symptons …

      When in Hugh coming to see you? Not Xmas I hope, as we are planning a trip to see him, Midori and Annabel in December.

  2. Charles says:

    Your life seems to be that of a foodie. Always dining out in fine eateries. I ate out more than since I was in Namibia when you and Sandra were here. Think I am getting the taste for it (and the food).

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