Easter Monday, 1971. London.
My flatmate Edward and I awoke on the last day of this long weekend to sunshine and the promise of a beautiful early spring day – the sort of day that brings false hope of an end to winter and for that reason alone needs to be embraced.
We shared a flat in Parkview Court, Fulham, London, SW6. The easterly aspect meant we got any morning sun, over Fulham High St. (The Parkviews, alas, were on the other side.)
I never got used to London winters – does anyone? The cold can be managed, but the long greyness of winter days always got me down, especially coming home from work in the dark.
Occasionally, to cheer ourselves in the depths of winter’s gloom, on a Saturday, Edward and I would have a picnic in the living room. While one of us struggled for ages to get the coke fire going with a gas bayonet (wood and coal fires in Central London have been banned since the lethal fogs of the 1950s. Coke is a smokeless fuel, but a bugger to get going), the other would lay out the picnic rug in front of the fireplace and set out the breads, meats, cheeses, condiments, plates and napkins. We’d sit on the floor munching and yakking away, washing the food down with rotgut Moroccan rose, and listening for the umpteenth time to Nina Simone’s “Here Comes the Sun” album.
But today the sun was blazing – well, as much as it ever blazes in London. This was a day to get out of the house. But what to do? Neither of us had a plan, so we formulated one and put it into action. Breaking out our best flares and platforms, we caught the 22 bus up the New Kings Rd to Chelsea.
After some people-watching and window shopping we came to one of our favourite bistros, Le Bistingo, on the Kings Rd. A coq-au-vin and carafe wine sort of place, it provided us with a satisfying and inexpensive lunch. Now it was only 2.00pm, still sunny, so we decided to stroll up Sloane St to Knightsbridge and cut across to Hyde Park.
The area around the Serpentine was busy with way-too-hopeful sunbathers, kids flying kites and couples paddling hire boats on the water. We eschewed hiring a deckchair (fourpence a throw) and lay ourselves down on the grass and chatted away. I’ll tell you a lot more about Edward Percival one day, suffice to say here that we never got tired of talking to each other. We were at the very least empathic, sometimes almost telepathic and quite good at finishing each other’s sentences. I loved that boy madly.
We had decided that as the day began to fade we’d “take in a movie” as the Yanks would say. Peter Bogdanovich’s “The Last Picture Show” had opened to much acclaim and we were both keen to see it. I had read Larry McMurtry’s novel of the same title but it hadn’t grabbed me. If you know the book or the movie, you must remember the scene of the younger, rather simple brother, cap-on-backwards, endlessly sweeping the roadway of the only intersection in this forlorn western town. On paper it didn’t work for me, on the screen it blew me away.
The movie was showing at the classy Curzon cinema in Mayfair and when it was over we were hungry again. We headed straight for Picadilly and the newly-opened Hard Rock Café. It had brought a US-borne breath of fresh air to the London food and nightlife scene. Two years earlier we were gobsmacked when the Great American Disaster chain arrived on the scene. OK, their genuine US hamburgers were a whopping 7 shillings and sixpence (75c) compared to the tired old English Wimpyburger (what a name) at one-and-six (15c). But we’re comparing Veuve to Babycham here.
Now we had our own Hard Rock Café with rock’n’roll blaring. And cheap red wine. And real chips. The queue wasn’t very long, the waitresses were pretty and pert and the joint was buzzing. Oh, what a night.
We staggered out into the street to catch the No 14 bus from Hyde Park Corner (the world’s largest roundabout), home to our separate beds – me to face schoolkids in the morning, Edward to design more trendy shirts for the South Sea Bubble Company. We agreed, almost in unison, that it had been the Perfect Day.
And we’d spent the whole day talking only to each other.