I arrived on Friday evening and went to meet my buddies in Gordon's Wine Bar near the Embankment tube station. This is a crowded cellar that sells only wine and basic food. It's a cosy spot with an unusually friendly crowd for a London venue. Much badinage at the crowded bar and chit chat between the tables. If I were a fit and single man I would make it a regular haunt. We ate later in an average Italian restaurant up the road and looked in at a listless jazz club (the Alley Cat). The strident and charmless female vocalist drove us out and we headed back to the bosom of our hotel bar.
Saturday morning brought us to the Dickens exhibition at the London Museum. A lot of background padding but it was worth the visit to see his manuscripts. The small regular writing and the copious corrections were in evidence from Great Expectations to his last work The Mystery of Edwin Drood - no change or deterioration in the hand, or in the working method. There was also a ledger of household expenses where you saw evidence of how his financially feckless father was a drain on his resources. We stopped off for a nostalgic visit to Portobello Road on the way back - full of tourists but entertaining. I had some mulled wine and bought a couple of CD box sets (Sam Cooke and Ella Fitzgerald).
On Saturday evening we started with drinks in the French House in Soho - still full of character and characters - and still not serving pints. Then up the road to the Red Fort - one of London's finest Indian restaurants. A bit stuffy in terms of clientele and too many waiters faffing about but the food was superb - delicately spiced and beautifully presented.
Replete we waddled down the road to Ronnie Scott's where we'd booked a table to see Sarah Jane Morris and her band. Nice. She's a big gallumping lass and a bit too right on for my taste ("The Gay Man Blues") but it was a tasty night of music. A couple of great guitarists, including the super cool Dominic Miller (Sting's main man), and an ass-kicking brass section. And so to bed.
On Sunday morning we headed to Hampstead Heath for a stroll down memory lane. We took an unfamiliar route turning onto the Heath just before Jack Straw's Castle and soon got lost. A phone call to a local friend and much GPS consulting soon got us out of there and back on Heath Street where it was time for lunch. We found an adequate Greek place (Bacchus) near the station and had a decent meal of hummus and lamb chops.
We had arranged to meet some friends in the Sir Richard Steele on Haverstock Hill. This is a place of low resort much frequented by scum bags and super-annuated rock musicians. Ideal for a spot of Sunday afternoon drinking. By sheer coincidence it transpired that an old friend Johnny Johnson was playing so we settled down to a couple of hours of rock and roll. It's a long time since I've heard Eddie Cochran's Cut Across Shorty sung in anger. And a fair old dollop of Jerry Lee Lewis - great stuff.
But the schedule was remorseless so at 7pm we headed down to the Roundhousewhere we'd booked tickets for the burlesque circus La Soiree.. Good dirty fun with some notable balancing acts and juggling. Some of the characters combined comedic patter with virtuoso tricks. The girl with the hula hoops fair stole the show.
On Monday, our last day, we finally got to the Courtauld Institute on the Strand. A fine eclectic collection - Van Gogh, Manet, Gaughin and a number of great Cezannes. An interesting curiosity for me was the Wyndham Lewis collection - including a fine cubist self-portrait.
Our hotel, the Radisson Vanderbilt, was a major find. Its location beside Gloucester Road tube station was ideal for exploring the city and it had all the facilities of a decent hotel for only £70 a night.