The church in the picture is Our Lady of Heaven on Queensway in Bayswater, London. We were in London with our younger son, TW who was enjoying an early graduation present before starting his senior year of high school. We were enjoying another visit to our second favorite city after a summer filled with painful interactions with the man who mashed up our heart for his new girlfriend's late middle age luncheon. It was our last night in town before catching a plane to Berlin at five the next morning, and TW wanted some time on his own to do a bit of filming (his passion) on the streets. In fact he insisted, reminding me that he was, after all, only a month shy of 18 and perfectly capable of taking care of himself in a city far less dangerous (at least statistically) than our own. So after a quick bite at a sushi joint in Oxford Circus, we said good-bye to our boy and took the train back to Bayswater, where we were staying and where we planned to spend a quiet evening collecting our thoughts and energies for the upcoming visit to Berlin.
But guess what happened?
We had arrived at the Bayswater station and were heading back down Queensway to our hotel when we passed Our Lady of Heaven, realized it was time for Saturday night Mass, and decided to attend the service. It seemed just the thing to soothe our ragged heart and so we went inside and took a seat in a back pew, sang the songs, recited the words, tossed a bunch of change into a roving basket, and listened to a sermon on the complexities of the relationship between fathers and sons. We don't remember much about the sermon, but we think it was probably very inspiring. We were one of only a handful of non-Asian or Black worshippers in the church, but we felt perfectly welcome and were only disappointed that we weren't given any wine when we received Communion. No one who received Communion was given any wine. There was body, but no blood. And on leaving the church after the service, we felt an almost primal desire for blood (i.e. red wine) before we returned to our hotel for the evening. So we stopped here.
|Inside Lord Alfred's Pub. We can still taste the wine, the bangers and mash, and his lips.|
On that Saturday night last September, our problem was leaving London, which we never enjoy doing, and flying on to Berlin. Nothing against Berlin, which is a cool, arty, progressive city with a dark past, wonderful beer, the world's best meat and cabbage dishes, a well-maintained zoo with luminous spiders, and the most interesting looking men, but we are hopelessly besotted with London. And we had only been there for five days! But TW, though English by blood, has a fascination with Germany, speaks the language very well, and was primed for the trip. So we were thinking about that, and the sadness to which we would return to in the States, and were about to scarf down our second and (we thought) final glass of Cabernet Savigaun when someone who looked like this sat down at our table.
|Three words: Gorgeous, classy, unavailable.|
....but a few pounds heavier and with a rounder face and he was wearing a striped dress shirt. He asked if we were on our own, but in a manner that made it clear he had been observing us and already knew the answer. We were so not in the same mode that we thought he wanted us to go sit at the bar so that he and his friends could use the table. But it turned out that he wanted to buy us a drink and chat us up because he thought we were "'luptuous" and "interesting-looking." It took a while for us to glean this information because Mark (as he subsequently identified himself) was a Northerner, which meant that he sounded like Paul McCartney talking on speed and ended every sentence with a question, as in "You're a good-lookin' woman, aren't ya?" or "I'm probably not clever enough for ya, am I?" and my favorite, "You look better than a woman yer age, don't ya?" We were a bit stand-offish at first because we had a plane to catch so early the next morning and weren't looking to make friends with cute, 40-year-old Northerners (we were 51) who approached us in pubs, but he was very charming and insistent and our battered little heart was surprisingly responsive to the straightforward way in which he outlined his hopes for the remainder of the evening. We made it clear that those hopes were not going to be realized, but we did...finally..agree to share a portion of our last night in London with him. So, after a few more drinks, an arm wrestling match (he won, but it was no cake walk) and a lot of banter about English and American stereotypes, we departed Lord Alfred's Pub for London's West End because, since our son was supposedly filming scenes like these...
|View From Under The London Eye|
....we thought it would be somewhat safe to try to actually enjoy ourselves in a place that looked a lot like this.
And we did, despite our initial reluctance and discomfort over the fact that it had been 25 years since we had kissed a man other than our husband. Sorry. Ex-husband. We ordered drinks and danced to really, really, really loud music on a dance floor that was so crowded we could barely move. We were buzzed enough not to mind when Mark took the opportunity to kiss us on the way back to our table. In fact, we kissed him back and continued to kiss him at our table. The kissing was much more enjoyable than we had imagined it would be, and before we knew it, we were kissing and groping, and in a moment of wild abandon, we unbuttoned our shirt because we were sick of feeling sad and depressed and undesirable and we didn't want to waste another nano second regretting our seeming inability to have fun like a normal person who hadn't been tossed away after 25 years of marriage. And for a little while, we were free and in semi-synch with the other hedonists still writhing on the dance floor. Then the bouncer came and it was all over. We'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that there's a club in the West End of London in which this Anglophile and a Northerner with his own plastering business whose name is Mark are forbidden to ever show our faces...or anything else...again.
Fast forward to the walk back to our hotel, during which we resisted Mark's attempts to convince us to accompany him to his flat. We parted ways without drama or sentiment (although we did let him give us his number) and hurried back to our hotel, knowing that we had been gone too long and expecting to pay for our crime with a few sarcastic comments from our son and no sleep before heading off to Heathrow. We were wrong. When we stepped through the door of our hotel....
We were greeted by two men who looked something like this...
|People actually smoke cigarettes at their tables|
|The Berlin Zoo|
|You have to pay extra to see the entire zebra|
|They're so graceful when they swim|