After a really intense week both in and out of work, it was a slight relief when my best friend from school got in touch to see if I was free for a catchup. What with her being a doctor and me on the railway, it's often hard to synchronise schedules, but after what seemed like forever (possibly over a year) we finally managed it and she booked us a table down at The Delaunay for an afternoon tea sitting.
My internal organs are regretting this decision. The problem with afternoon tea is that it ought to come with a health warning, especially if your'e going to have it at some fancy European-style café. The quantity is vast, and the food is quite rich, never mind the fact that after a short period of time you would've knocked back gallons of tea. You probably shouldn't visit a street food market and down a pint of cider beforehand either (this is mostly the fault of S – who then attempts to abandon me outside Temple Station having done the gastric damage).
This is essentially what happened to me yesterday, but I tried to offset everything by walking around for nearly two hours afterwards, before walking up to Aldwych from Waterloo. Fast-forward about two hours after the table was booked for 3:15pm and I find myself unable to extract myself from the table booth in the restaurant. I blame my friend mercilessly – "You're supposed to be a doctor!" I choke. She's smaller than me and I watch her attempt to force down the last of a scone, but she eventually admits defeat and puts the fork down. I tell her that I worry about visceral fat and heart disease, and she ponders about the carbohydrates and saturates we have just consumed, before delightfully telling me about what a fatty liver looks like on a MRI scan, followed with, "If I can't see it, I don't worry about it."
The food at The Delaunay was good, albeit different to the more traditional English afternoon teas I have sampled over the years. I find myself nervously flattening the creases out of my dress from time to time during the sitting, because the setting of the place appears very formal, yet the clientele is a mix of theatregoers, tourists, and one or two celebrities. I feel self-conscious because I'm paranoid people are looking at us and wondering how we can afford to be sat here (because we both look quite young still), but the conversation is good and we had a lot to catch up on. I nearly have a stroke when she suggests we have some sort of reunion with other people from school that she is still meeting up with, and I have to explain to her about my anxiety and that if there was some sort of reunion I'd probably have a panic attack...
Eventually, the bill is settled and I am finally able to extract myself from the table booth without disturbing the gastric equilibrium too much. I then remember I've an item left with the cloakroom and as the attendant goes to collect it for me, I notice there is a small recess on the half-door where people have left £1 coins, and I drop my rucksack whilst looking for my purse in order to try and find some change before the cloakroom attendant returns and I have an anxiety attack. Thankfully, all I have is £1 coins, so I save myself the embarrassment of handing over shrapnel like some kind of serf, and my friend returns from the washroom just in time to save me from myself.
It's only when I get outside onto Drury Lane (I decide to prolong the social activity by going to Covent Garden for a bit of browsing and shopping) that I realise I'm all zipped up in a coat, scarf and wellies; I feel cold and uncomfortable. The overcast dictates the mood, and I soon become very aware that very soon things will change and this will be me for the next 6-8 months – a fumbling, clumsy ball of anxiousness. Heading into the heaving crowds of Covent Garden sends my senses into overdrive and in my mind I just want to go home, but at the same time I'm really enjoying the company of my friend that I sort of grin and bear it as we weave through the markets and shops.
On the plus side, I was able to pick up a letterpress print by Russell Frost of Hooksmith Press from the London Transport Museum's shop:
I start to notice it get darker and the crowds in Covent Garden aren't letting up, so when we get out into a less crowded spot by the Royal Opera House I ask my friend what way she's planning to get home (she lives in Stratford) and she replies that she's going to walk to Holborn and get the Central line from there. Technically, I could also go to Holborn and I'd have a choice of two trains to get home, but I notice that choice would take me straight back into the heaving crowds and I just can't do it. So we say goodbye there and I walk back towards Wellington Street to go back to Waterloo.
I spend a while on Waterloo Bridge to calm myself. Fond memories of S wanting to drive through the Strand Underpass as I watch the vehicles and cyclists zoom along the bridge. I can't escape the gloom though.