Category Archives: history

La Belle Epoque . . . (episode 72)

image by 'gameanna'

image by ‘gameanna’

July 30 1999

The Victorian Pub
Parade Street

Hello Mum

I am sitting just inside the Victorian pub on Parade Street – waiting for a woman called Amanda Jones to arrive. She has expressed an interest in starting a poetry café with me, but is now 30 minutes late! However, this has at least given me the opportunity to study an old pub in minute fashion, having already been engaged by its dark-red tiled exterior and sign of a Victorian gentleman clad in a top hat, black suit, and stick equipped with a silver handle and ferrule. Perhaps he is intended to be Charles Dickens? Inside, I have been engaged by the plush, red velvet, couch upholstery – pinned into place by velvet-covered buttons – and by the swaggering red drapes hung alongside, and above the windows. The bar counter is a magnificent beast indeed for, at intervals along its mahogany length, are marble pillars connecting it to a curlicued plaster ceiling. But it is the glass, Mum, that is most enthralling: the frosted, round, lamp covers (the lights are electric now of course, not gas) which run – in a row – above the counter; the colourful fruits of a row of reverse-painted mirrors hung upon the walls and, in pride of place, an acid-etched mirror with an oak frame. This tall/wide work of art has Greek key work at top and bottom and its central image is that of a delicate urn, containing flowers. This is a truly wondrous pub interior and, with or without Amanda Jones, it is worth time spent inside it.

Sitting nearby are a young couple who have, apparently, just been staying at the very large hotel opposite the pub, and whose name is La Belle Epoque. It is an enormous white confection Mum with, as you might expect, a foyer entrance staffed by a doorman disporting airs of a superior kind. The young couple – who are American and looking very chic – are engaged in venting their, very uncomplimentary, views about their stay inside this edifice. Their principal complaint relates to the unendurable nocturnal cacophony they have been subjected to. It seems that their room was situated above the hotel night club and that partying did not end until 3.30am. And, even then, sirens from ambulances heading to St Saviour’s Hospital wailed past unceasingly. When they did complain, it was to a rude and uninterested woman on reception, who told them that the only other free room (for a successive night) was over a delivery entrance! And just to add insult to injury, they were informed that only Platinum members of La Belle Epoque could be assured of being assigned a room quiet enough to sleep in. This just goes to show, doesn’t it, that even premium payments of £500.00 per night do not assure one of civil treatment and a restful night in one of the ‘best’ of London’s hotels!

Well Amanda Jones has missed her chance. I am going to have to set up the Parade Street Poetry Café all by myself! I think I am reaching the point Mum – when I know I can.

Best love



Until it is settled right . . . (episode 56)

image by 'gameanna'

image by ‘gameanna’

January 17 1999

3A Hyde Park Terrace

Dear Mum (in law)

Although I am now home, it is the moments I have just spent at Liverpool Street Station that are clearest in my mind. When I stood beneath the immense glass heights of the roof to telephone you from the stands, it was hard to hear you at first. All I could hear, instead of your voice, was the vast departures board and the constant clacking of its mechanical flappers. And then it was like I tuned in to what you had to say, and it is as if I am still hearing – and seeing it – now. You told me about the Bishopsgate bombing in 1993 and how the blast broke the glass eyes of the roof and how shards crackled through the air on to the people running below. And you told me about the Kindertransport of the late 1930’s and how the dark phalanx of Jewish children filed down the steep gradient to the depths of the Tube. Somehow those two pictures have conflated in my mind (the breaking of the light and the descent into darkness); they are the metaphors which play out in all our lives.

And now I am seated here at the kitchen counter and drinking a ‘Lady Grey’ tea. When I look one way, I can see the darkness of the hall and the pile of unopened letters resting on the door mat. And when I look the other – into the length of the garden – I can see the yellow phalanx of Mahonias marching away into the distance. I think of Austen and how he has not, evidently, crawled through the keyhole to search through my correspondence and how, even now, he is somewhere out there: still running away.

Tomorrow I am going to my solicitor, to see about getting a decree nisi. The word ‘nisi’ apparently means ‘unless.’ Unless Austen objects to the grounds – of adultery – the whole process of getting a divorce can go ahead. As you yourself have said Mum: ‘Nothing is ever settled . . . until it is settled right.’

Love as ever

Harriet (your daughter – in law – but not for much longer)