I returned from America last Saturday morning pretty well disgusted with life.
I had been eighteen months in the colonies and was fed up with it. If anyone had told me a year ago that I would have been feeling like this I should have laughed at them, but there was the fact - the weather made me liverish, the gluten free talk of the ordinary American made me sick, I couldn't get enough exercise and the amusements of Atlanta seemed as flat as soda water that's been standing in the sun. "Alexander Reynolds," I kept telling myself, "you've got into the wrong ditch, my friend, and you'd better climb out."
And, after a turbulent seven and a half hour flight over the Atlantic, I was finally home in London for a much needed dose of rest and recuperation. No duty free Benson and Hedges fags in the carry on holdall but I did manage to score X2 Clarins for Men moisturiser and X1 bottle of fancy looking bourbon for Mum in Notting Hill. The Magnet amplifier from Bangkok had arrived safely, via a roughhouse inspection by the TSA, and I was looking forward to changing the plug to see if it would work after two and a half years in Thai mothballs.
But for better or worse, for richer or poorer, things change quickly in 21st Century Notting Hill. Sebastian D'Orsai, my local picture framer, had closed shop and become a high end letting agency; Video City, my beloved local rental outlet, is to shut after thirty-four years of business on Notting Hill Gate; and, according to the Financial Times, an unmodernised local terrace house, in an end of the locality once less than salubrious, was sold sight unseen by Marsh and Parsons for £24 million just before the May 7th general election. It was, according to the Financial Times, "the latest example of the gravity-defying nature of London's luxury housing market."
First on the agenda; topping up the credit on my UK cellphone, an ancient Nokia, bought at Pantip Plaza in Bangkok in 2008. Life in Notting Hill is nothing without a celebrity appearance. I bumped into my old neighbour Christiane Amanpour at the Lloyds cashpoint on Notting Hill Gate. The veteran war reporter was still as fragrant and sultry as remembered. How was life in Atlanta? Very strange after Bangkok, I answered. What was I doing these days? Writing for VICE, I said. She was keen to know more but, in the tried-and-true tradition of Fleet Street muckrakers, the Male Trailing Spouse made his excuses and quickly left to sort out his mobile phone.
Next stop, a visit to Kensington High Street to stock up on Lonsdale knickers (two for a fiver) at Sports Direct, one of my favourite retail outlets in the UK. Sports Direct is considered a bit pikey but I love it ("London fashions at Liverpool prices"). Now restocked with Lonsdale knickers and figure hugging tops, I walked up the rain swept paving stones of Kensington Church Street for a dinner date with Mum at Black and Blue. You don't see many old faces strolling down the Gate these days but lo and behold! It was Sam Williams! Me old mucker from Holland Park School! I had not seen, nor spoken, to Mr. Williams since February 1998. "Go and ask him in for a drink," said Mum. "Are you kidding me," I said, "when has he ever bought us one!" By that time, Mr. Williams, now something anonymously successful in the City, had moved on; but not before I noticed that he was now dyeing his hair black.
Stalking the patch: Male Trailing Spouse in Notting Hill
PT was on the agenda and it was not too long before I was annoying my old neighbours thrashing the Thai bag in the basement of Linden Gardens with round kicks and sok glaps (reverse elbows). Then roadwork in Kensington Gardens to work off the jet lag in my aged forty-five year old legs. I love running but, for some odd reason, I have not done too much of it in Atlanta, a city of runners. Bank Holiday Monday (Memorial Day in the USA) was spent with the old gang down on Ladbroke Grove. One of the posse voted Conservative and thinks David Cameron is doing a good job. I thought he was joking but the joke was on me - the country has moved to the right, in a way not seen, or felt, since the 1983 general election. The Tories are in and Labour are out-out-out for the next five to ten years. A sad state of affairs. But that's democracy for you in the first past the post electoral system.
Yoga at the Life Centre was on the to-do list. I had been doing a lot of it in 2011 but it was (a) making me too peaceful and (b) a nak muay (Thai boxer) has got to be an aggressive arsehole with a deluded sense of self worth. The Life Centre is one of the few things in the area that has not changed. The place is still full of rich ladies exercising and middle aged businessmen looking to find their centre after ripping off the world and being an all round cunt. The other day an Italian bloke in the changing rooms told me that "Notting Hill has always been French." No mate, Notting Hill has always been Ladbroke Grove.
The rooftop swimming pool at Shoreditch House