When the heck did London (remember, I was born here!) get to be so huge and frantic and claustrophobic? The traffic was seriously mental, and my heart was in my mouth for much of the trip. But OH! The names of the places! Remember how I raved about the Egyptian exhibits at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge? Well, there was the same sense of being Somewhere Very Special that we had Almost Always Known as we drove through the madness that is London! Bow, Stepney, Blackfriars, Fenchurch St Station, Temple Bar – the names are all so familiar – and of course, Park Lane and then, the pinnacle of pinnacles – Mayfair – and not just Mayfair, but Claridge's! (can you hear me screaming?)
Claridge's was an oasis of calm. I wish I could find the words to describe the transition from traffic chaos to sea of serenity. It began when the taxi pulled up outside this hallowed institution. The seamlessly smooth extraction of our harrowed selves from the taxi was so quick and painless that it was almost invisible – but I have a recollection of delightfully polite men in top hats.
Through the revolving door - “It's about three steps, then turn to your left, Madam” - and Thelma and Betty were transported to a beautifully serene and genteel world, far from the madding crowd – and it was amazing. They must have some sort of sound-absorbent wallpaper or something, because the hush in the foyer, despite all the marble, is so striking!
I'm finding it difficult to describe it – it was truly overwhelming. The surrounds were so beautiful, from the splendour of the foyer and the wide wide corridors (so designed so that Victorian Ladies could comfortably pass one another in their voluminous dresses!) to the art-deco splendour of the suite in which we stayed. I think it was the attention to detail that just blew us away – the handwritten note to Thelma, welcoming us to Claridge's, the brief tour by the lovely young Frenchman from Reception; the niceness of the man who operates the lift, who wished us a pleasant stay (and then this morning asked if we had remembered to have our passports handy – more about that in tomorrow's post!)
In the relaxing atmosphere of our suite we worked diligently on The Business Plan as we sipped our complimentary French champagne. Oh what a hard life!
Our silver service room service dinner was a mouthwatering delight. I don't think I will ever be able to eat chicken again without comparing it (unfavourably!) to that unbelievably tender, juicy, falling-off-the-bone bird... (Thelma had concerns – was it a happy free range chicken before it was brought to our table? I think it was. It was too tender to have been stressed!)
And when it comes to getting a good night's sleep in noisy London I can't find enough superlatives to describe the beds and pillows - absolute Cloud Nine material. There's a story going around that a certain king once brought his own bed to Claridge's, but couldn't sleep – so he tried one of the Claridge's beds and ended up buying 30 of them to take home with him. I can understand that.
The whole Claridge's experience was truly magnificent. It made me think about people who go there regularly, as a matter of course (I believe we stayed in the suite that Brad and Angelina stayed in) – and I wonder how hard it would be to stay in touch with the Real World if you got used to the exceptionally superb Claridge's 'star' treatment that is the way they treat every guest... watch this space – we'll let you know.
The final fabulosity – getting to Heathrow for our flight home...
Thelma's luggage has somehow transmogrified into a two-tonne monster (ok, a slight exaggeration, but not something you want to be dragging around behind you on public transport in any case, and we were dreading the concept of lugging it up gutter and down staircase.) Those lovely people at Claridge's organised for a beautiful S-Class Mercedes, complete with driver, to take us to the airport. Watch this space for news of the ride!