30 April, 2006

Avery's Social Diary

The whirlwind never stops.

Friday afternoon saw me in a huddle with Avery and her pal Lily at the Patisserie Valerie, debating the relative merits of chocolate mousse cake and Foret Noir, which became a moot point when the Foret Noir had its last slice eaten before they could order. After that it was all about the chocolate, and discussing how much money the cake and uniform sales brought in, and how disgusting on a scale of one to ten the fish for today's Friday lunch was (pretty much off the charts). At one point during a lull in the conversation I mentioned that the washing machine had been replaced. Not exactly an ice-breaker, as dead silence followed. Finally Lily's little voice piped up hesitantly, "I think, you know, that as children don't really do the laundry, it's understandable that Avery's not very excited about the new washing machine." !!!

Home to have them run out to the garden and do mischief with two little miscreants in coats and ties, the sartorial splendor only underscoring their essential naughtiness. Meanwhile my beloved Bob was undoing the packaging of the new washer, and we were both laying bets on the likelihood of the boys' surviving the skirmish out in the blinky sunshine, surrounded by tulips. Avery and Lily emerged wet to the skin, having been doused by the illegal hose hooked up to the beyond-illegal sprinkler in the garden (severe drought in the south of England laying waste to any private plans to water anything). I fed them, while reading up on how to bone a whole rabbit in "From Julia Child's Kitchen," and Lily's dad arrived to pick her up, to the girls' dismay. "We hear you have been achieving great things, Avery, well done," Peter said, and Avery sort of ducked in a minimally socialized way and said "thank you." John came home and we all collapsed with a pizza and then to bed.

First thing in the morning Ava was dropped off by her darling nanny Fati, so we took over. To the park with a picnic of, I have to say, really good sandwiches: duck pate, smoked salmon with butter, roast turkey and cheddar, pastrami and mustard. Plus cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks, normal crisps and then some called "four cheese and red onion" whose pretentiousness I found irresistible. The girls rollerbladed to their hearts' content, and I read Hello! magazine, looking up now and then to find them, or not as the case may be, and feel that they had been kidnapped. Home to play, and I to produce a mammoth dish of moussaka for our friends to devour at the upcoming dinner party. It's a fantastic version of the dish, with a layer of eggplant, a layer of boiled sliced potatoes, a smothering of sauteed minced beef (should also be lamb, couldn't find any) with tomato paste, red wine, cinnamon and parsley, all topped off with bechamel sauce and parmesan cheese. Sent John off to grocery shop and therefore many interesting ingredients came home: hommous instead of tapenade, sundried tomato paste instead of ordinary tomato paste, and a baguette bewilderingly covered in all sorts of seeds.

Sunday morning found us giving Ava back to her parents, who were double-parked outside with a driver, waiting to take them to whoever's christening they had to go to. We headed off to Wimbledon for Avery's second lesson on the frantic Biscuit. It was actually really touching: several of the adult riders who were with Avery last week during the "circus pony" episode actually took a break from their hack in the woods to watch her this week, and they were so complimentary. "Doesn't she have a great little position," one nice Frenchman said. "She's a good little rider." It was clear to see that Avery had no intention of letting Biscuit run amok this time, and that resulted in her being a bit tentative, but I think that between the craziness of last week and the too-controlled aspect of this week, by her next lesson on Thursday she'll have achieved a balance. She'll ride with a group of little girls! Oh, and you must go on the barn's website where they've posted a picture of Avery on Biscuit! It's Wimbledon Village Stables, and then you click on "Children's Pony Riding," I think it's called, and scroll down to the Junior Membership section. I really feel that we belong there.

A completely messed-up journey across the river with I think three buses, a walk and a taxi ride, to get to Sophia's house for a belated lunch. Oh their GARDEN. Deep and completely manicured by Sophia's mother Susan including azaleas, wisteria, lilies of the valley, every kind of rose you can imagine, black bamboo and a horse chestnut tree AND swingset and a trampoline. Avery was in heaven. Within about fifteen minutes they had arranged for Avery to spend the night, which surprised me after she hadn't wanted to a month or so ago, plus no Bumper et al. But good on her as the English say. We grownups sat down to white wine and a gorgeous chicken curry with ginger and orange (a completely surprising and acceptable exception to the "no fruit mixed with meat" rule we usually observe), and dessert? As you all know I don't even have a sweet tooth, but there was the most divine banana bread ever, ever, baked I believe on a layer of whole pecans, or maybe walnuts. Susan has promised me both recipes. The bread came from Nigella Lawson's recipe (as in the notorious "Nigella Bites" and the "Domestic Goddess", she now married to Charles Saachi but still so wonderfully NOT thin and yet completely sexy). It was, I hated to say, "moist," my LEAST favorite word in the English language. When I said this Susan practically screamed and grabbed Claus across the table. "Claus, Claus, someone else who can't abide the word 'moist'!" He simply looked down his patrician nose. "How one can dislike a WORD is beyond me. I was raised to respect the specific word one needs to use. If I need to use the word 'pubescent' I do, whether Susan objects or not." We just laughed. Still, though, we couldn't think up a single alternative, either in English or any other language we any of us speak, among a fairly linguistic crowd. There's French for "wet" and "damp, and German for both of those, and Russian for "soggy," but nothing to say what "moist" is. A lifelong project, clearly.

We ate in the conservatory looking out onto the garden, and watched the girls jump up and down and nearly bean each other. Claus is a completely hilarious, very much European-gentleman conversationalist, with a typical Germanic obsession with order, method and etymology, so we spent a lot of time analyzing the derivation of words and expressions (his latest acquisition is "gobsmacked," so I asked him if he had ever been, as well, "chuffed to bits"). Throughout everything their black lab Diva was very much in evidence, stealing the girls' lunch, trying to get up onto the trampoline. We stayed forever, and then kissed Avery goodbye and walked home through Hyde Park in the gathering grey dusk, our course set for leftover moussaka and Spooks episodes. We've got to catch up to be ready for Season Five in September, although the loss of all the original characters is a disappointment. I always enjoy the "where have I see that actress before" game followed by a quick dip into IMDB, the Internet Movie Database where you can find out who everyone is and whatever else they've ever appeared in. I gave an interior nod as yet another Spooks actor had turned out to be in something with someone in an Agatha Christie who in turn was in a miniseries with someone who was in Spooks! There are, I believe, only about 30 British actors and they just plug them into different roles.

Speaking of which, I'm not sure whether to be disappointed or gleeful that I missed it, but poor Matthew Macfadyen never made it to the Tribeca Film Festival. The film did, however, to wide acclaim, especially for his performance, but the great man himself... missed his flight. Oooh, how disappointing for the fans who went all the way from London. Apparently the film is terribly, terribly dark and he plays someone really disturbed. Why oh why? Let's see him in a nice romantic mystery next. Preferably NOT playing a priest or a psychopath.

Picked Avery up around noon and came home to a picnic in our little secret garden. All the trees and shrubs and flowers are blooming now and it's really worth the whole price of admission to the flat. Well, not sure that's strictly true, but hey, it's a nice place to escape.

OH! Last story for the day: remember the broken washing machine? Well, it got fixed but in the meantime I booked a laundry service to come take away our thousands of dirty items. They were returned Thursday evening. Each item hermetically sealed in its own plastic bag. I'm talking each T-SHIRT wrapped separately, each pair of jeans, each bedsheet and towel. Well, they did condescend to put all the socks in one bag. Unbelievable! And today I got the bill. Just guess. I can be complacent and just enjoy this as a good story because the landlord's paying for it. Two hundred and twenty five pounds (and 95 pence!). For laundry. It's a brave new world.

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