Rendezvous at The Wolseley

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April 29, 1989–  That cake!  Those glasses!

There’s something thrilling about having a secret anniversary rendezvous with your husband.  After all, why can’t Same Time Next Year be about a love affair that started twenty-eight years ago with the man you married?  Too much change, too little mystery?  Here is how you arrange it:

  1.  The Setting and How to Get There— It can’t be anywhere too close to home.  This is vital because you can’t run into people you know, so you have to make an effort to get there.  It has to be in a big city preferably.  London is ideal,  you melt unnoticed into the crowd, and you have to go there by train.  All great love affairs involve trains–cue Rachmaninoff theme from Brief Encounter.  The vastness of train stations, the architectural grandeur where the glories of the past meet the present, the adrenaline rush of departure and arrival are essential elements of the bygone era of romance that must accompany your journey.  You cannot imbibe this kind of emotion sitting in your car on the M25 or jumping through security hoops at airports.  Sadly, the Casablanca days of  “Here’s looking at you kid” and prop planes whirring in the background are gone forever.
  2.     A Bit of History—  “We’ll always have Paris” adds another emotional aspect–the    importance of history in your relationship.  When I arrive at King’s Cross Station, alone, I am one of thousands of unnoticed faces and unknown lives surging in all directions.  But London is no longer a city that overwhelms and bewilders me as it did over twenty years ago when Chris and I first lived here.  We have a history here together in this larger than life city.  We only lived in London two years, Chris was involved in a stressful research project and I was pregnant and nauseous half that time, so it was hardly a romantic, starry-eyed history.   But we lived in the centre of Bloomsbury at the William Goodenough House, a residence for post graduate students from around the world.  Our London was a colourful United Nations of doctors, musicians, academics and theologians studying and playing together as a unique international community.  We were happy living there.  Other people like us, far away from home, were also having babies.  Everything was new and exciting from the latest baby to Chinese New Year celebrations to royal visits.  We learned the meaning of Commonwealth, of shared values and language while embracing each other’s cultural differences.  That was twenty years ago, but the London of those Goodenough years will always be the London I love best, where we started fresh, began our family, and encountered the world together.   There are bridges here.
  3.   Be On Time–As I thread my way through the underground, a stranger among strangers,  the names of the tube stops have a comfortable familiarity about them—Russell Square, Holborn, Covent Garden, Piccadilly…  It’s important to know where you’re going.  Getting lost is not an option.   Do not be late.  It only creates anxiety.  You end up spending those precious first moments of meeting with frantic excuses.  I get off at Green Park and am swept along in a sea of anonymity as I look for an opening to cross Piccadilly Street.  The Wolseley is on the opposite corner from The Ritz.  I see Chris through the blur of faces.  He is standing just outside the grand Art Deco entrance with his back to the wall, looking in the opposite direction.  He isn’t looking at his phone; he is looking for me.  After twenty-eight years, he still watches for me, and I fall in love with him all over again.  I see him again for the first time the way I did on top of the Ubombo hills in Northern Zululand, a young doctor who loved Africa and flying and was gifted with healing hands.  I never tire of his profile, of the way he enters a room, of his stillness in the midst of a jostling crowd.  There is much to learn from observing how someone waits for you.  I sneak up on him.  We are surrounded by hundreds of people, traffic, and city noise, and yet, we are deliciously alone.  He smiles and kisses me.  It is 5:30.  We are exactly on time.
  4.   The Venue—And so we go inside.  The Wolseley was originally built as a showroom for The Wolseley Car Company, but it’s hard to believe that its double-story ceiling, marble interior and linen-clad tables set amidst white columns was ever intended to be anything but the perfect place for a high tea rendezvous with your lover.  I wish I could have worn a jauntily angled little hat, long white gloves and pearls.  But no matter.  We are still treated by our impeccable waiters as if we’re Lady Mary and one of her dashing amours escaping from the confines of Downton Abbey.  We order the champagne tea, of course.  Twenty-eight years ago, we uncorked our first bottle of champagne in the limo on the way to the reception.  Champagne is an essential.  Just nothing else will do.  Ever.  We clink glasses.  Cheers, my darling.  Perfectly chilled!  I am in heaven!  Soon, our three-tiered silver tea stand arrives with freshly cut sandwiches on the bottom, hot scones to follow under the domed top, and exquisite mouth-watering little cakes and pastries causing a mini sensation in the eye-level middle.   Our wedding cake itself was a sensation, a tiered extravaganza of cake and cream and strawberries a la American style.  I am still in love with cake, and the man who loves it with me.  The Earl Grey leaf tea is steaming  in its silver pot and we sip it slowly, not wanting this sumptuous feast to end.  But it’s a moveable feast, one that began so many years ago.  It is a feast that changes, of course, as we have and do.  But it continues.  After all, that’s what a rendezvous is for.

A recent article in the New York Times (“To Stay Married, Embrace Change”, April 29-May 1, 2017, International Edition) stated that change is inevitable in any marriage, and learning to adapt to different versions of your spouse is key to an enduring relationship.  The author said she became concerned when she and her husband transitioned from being an urban couple to a domestic country-life couple.  The fact that her husband was able to frisbee a plastic bowl across the room and land it on top of a fleeing rodent renewed her admiration and respect.  Seriously?  My husband once took hold of the back end of a giant python as it tried to escape down its hole in the African bush.  Even our children were impressed by that one!  He doesn’t play tug-of-war with pythons anymore.  He just eradicates giant spiders instead.  We all change.  Life changes us, for good or bad.  I’m not sure that the ability to land a rodent with a fling of the wrist signals anything much.  Chris and I have experienced a lifetime of change together, leaving behind family, home, and countries.  You have to learn to meet change halfway.  It’s like getting on a train and travelling through time and space to a large, bewildering city in search of that one familiar beloved face and finding it waiting for you outside The Wolseley.  Then, you go in–together.

 

 

The Queen’s Birthday

Servant Queen

Wow!  The Queen is 90!  Her birthday celebrations began favoured by sunshine on the 21st April, her actual birthday, with a walkabout greeting the cheering crowd in Windsor.  The festivities will continue through May (12th-15th) with an international extravaganza at Windsor Castle and culminate with the annual Trooping of the Colour, or Queen’s Horse Guards Parade, on her official birthday, June 11th.  She’s the Queen, so she gets to have two birthdays (an extra one in case it rains!).  With her entire royal family, she will then make her appearance on the balcony of Buckingham Palace and wave to the world while the RAF fly-past salutes her from the air.

If you happen to find yourself in London on the Queen’s Official Birthday, expect major crowds lining the Mall where the royal family drive by in their open carriages.  It’s going to be even crazier this year as there is going to be a HUGE block party on the Mall the following day, June 12th!  Ten thousand people (invitation only) are going to be seated at tables and served TEA!!  Giant screens showing the event will be set up in St James and Green Parks so anybody who didn’t get invited to the party can bring their own picnic and join in!  And this isn’t just happening in London.  It’s going to go on all over the country–street parties bringing people together to celebrate Her Majesty’s most momentous birthday yet.

Apart from all the partying, there will also be an exhibition of the Queen’s life featuring many of her gowns and all those hats!  It’s called Fashioning a Reign and can be seen throughout the year at one of her houses, take your pick–Holyrood in Edinburgh, Buckingham Palace in London, or Windsor Castle.  After all, you only turn 90 once!

This amazing lady has been seriously celebrated throughout her life.  There was the Coronation for starters, then three jubilees, over sixty birthday parades, and now this incredible milestone.  At 90, she’s still going strong.  She is still very much a full-time queen, travelling around the country, meeting and greeting people from schoolchildren to heads of state, giving speeches and staying current with the affairs of her government.  She still drives herself around the grounds of Windsor Park, and while she doesn’t ride her horse in parades anymore, she remains devoted to both horses and her beloved corgis.    Undoubtedly, plans are already underfoot for her 100th birthday!  Long may she reign!

It’s hard to imagine England without her.  There’s really no one like the Queen.  She is truly unique, from the matching hats she wears to the fact she is the world’s longest reigning monarch.  Although Elizabeth II is an extraordinary woman in many ways, she stands for something much greater than herself.  She never allows her personal opinions or desires to supersede those of the people she serves and represents as their queen.  It is the role she has given her life to, and to which she believes she has been appointed by God.  When she was crowned, it wasn’t the bestowing of the crown or sceptre that was her defining moment.  She herself has said it was the private off-camera moment  when she was anointed with oil by the Archbishop and given the Holy Bible as “the most valuable thing this world affords.” Throughout her life, she has openly acknowledged her dependence on God to guide her and the prayers of her people to strengthen and sustain her.  She has tried to follow Christ’s example as a Servant King, one who came not to be served, but to serve.  This, she says, has been the key to her long enduring reign.

One can safely say Britain is no longer a Christian nation.  The people love their queen, but very few love her Lord.  She stands strangely alone in this.  She is seen everywhere and by everyone, but she is always The Queen.  She reveals very little of who she really is, except when she makes certain speeches such as her annual Christmas message.  Then she talks about her Christian faith, the gospel of Christ and His message to the world.  Perhaps in Him, she also sees someone who lived for something greater than himself, enough to set aside a crown and take up a cross.

It is unlikely we will ever see her kind again.  Not on a throne anyways.  She has grasped something that only a believer in Jesus Christ could, that no matter who we are, ordinary or great, we are meant to live and serve in this life in relationship with a Sovereign Lord.  No country or place in history is greater than that.

In honour of her Majesty’s 90th birthday, the Christian Publishing and Outreach organisation has published a special commemorative booklet, The Servant Queen, about the Queen’s faith.  Nothing like it has been issued before.  It’s worth acquiring a copy.  You can order it through cpo.org.uk/thequeen.

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Tea Bus Birthday

 

Tea on a bus?  Why not?  Especially if it’s London and the bus is a red double decker of yesteryear and it’s your birthday!  I couldn’t stop laughing with delight and anticipation as Suzanne, my partner in wackiness, and I raced through Victoria Bus Station (not the train station!) and out the door towards our prize vintage coach which looked for all the world like it had been transformed by our fairy godmother out of a tubular red pepper.  Like a couple of ninnies, we’d run right past the check in desk, the neatly lined-up queue of patient English passengers including a bridal party swathed in gold sashes, and had to be herded quickly back inside by a very worried looking, arm waving man in a uniform.  For all he knew, we were a couple of lunatics aiming to cause trouble with some seriously loaded handbags.

“Ladeez!  Are you going on the tea bus tour?” he called to us frantically in a thick accent of unknown origin.  “You have to check in pleez!”

“Oh, sorry!”  I was still laughing.  “It’s my birthday!  I guess I’m kind of excited!”

We happily joined the queue of patient English passengers who were giving us a very British “These Americans!” look.  Thank goodness for the ladies in golden sashes whose names were clearly splashed across their chests.

“Oh!  So you’re The Mother of the Bride!”

“And you’re Rebecca–The Bride!”

Obviously, everybody already knew who we were.

At long last, though, we were allowed to board our tea bus.  Our tables had been reserved when booking and the best ones are up top, of course.  So, Suzanne and I climbed the narrow winding stairs and found our Table No. 7 with facing seats.  And oh my!  The table was already laden with the most delectable of tea treats made by BB Bakery of Covent Garden who run the tea bus tours.  There were fresh finger sandwiches, mini quiches, tiny chocolate cupcakes, baby lemon meringue tarts, pistachio macaroons, cream puffs, and each one a mouthful of pure yumminess!  Drinks included bottled orange juice and a diverse selection of teas served in a lidded plastic cup due to health and safety regulations. Tea on a bus isn’t without its hazards.

I put on  my birthday princess crown and away we went, eating our way through iconic London–Hyde Park, Royal Albert Hall, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Big Ben, Westminster–and waving royally to all our staring subjects below us.  If you truly want to feel like Queen for the Day in London, then climb on board your moving throne and get the wave going.

Our loyal staff truly made us feel like royalty.  They were wonderfully attentive without being obsessive about it.  Halfway through when we thought we’d eaten every last morsel, they brought out fresh hot scones and another chocolate cupcake with a pair of lighted candles.  As we rumbled merrily along, I blew out my candles while an entire busload of strangers sang “Happy Birthday” to one very happy American lady.  If I could have had a golden sash, it would have on it QUEEN JEAN.