Going back to London is like seeing an old friend. It's where I was born and where I have spent most of my life. It is the distant cousin of Europe so has its very own particular feel. There is a strange familiarity of the beery smell of pubs, rattling red buses and the dry, cold air first thing that makes you wince as you breathe in. Its a bit like Marmite. You either love it or hate it. But when you learn to love it the feeling is unconditional.
Before I moved to Paris I hated it. Probably because I had lived through the hardest times of my life there so it was tinged with sadness. Marylebone saw my dad's death in the London Clinic.
The florist nearby where I bought him daily treats - a mini christmas tree, his favourite Gardenia - all evoke my moments alone often in tears. Desperately trying to psyche myself up to be happy and breezy with him. Then Primrose Hill where I had big fights with my ex and felt so alone even though married. And then grim Soho Square where I worked in my 'dream' job and then got fired from it. All the coffee shops around still remind me of those days when I thought my career was over.
Coming back now with my husband's children has reignited my love of the city. It was like a catharsis. They lapped up every quirk, every moment and I saw the city with rosier tinted glasses.
The bumpy cab ride was now filled with laughter as they were thrown around the tip up seats. The tacky t-shirt stall that cluttered up the pavement was also a huge hit. They giggled over logos like "F@ck Google, ask me."
The terrible service at a large Italian cafe would have made me livid in days gone by. I just wanted the best for them so calmly explained I felt like a schmuck for recommending the place to our family and got free main courses.
I used to detest Soho and its overcrowded Compton St. This time it felt zingy and vibrant. The girls sniggered at the naughty windows of sex shops. The youngest spotted a lesbian couple and asked if gay women hung out there also. I was proud that London's liberal attitude had broadened their vision. We even saw a gay homeless person in rainbow blankets and bags.
China Town that used stink of fried fat seemed so authentic this time, with glowing lanterns and ducks hung drawn and quartered in the windows. It must be a real Chinese restaurant then, said one of the girls.
As for Hamleys I would never have chosen to brave the pandemonium of half term. The mere thought of wailing toddlers and screeching prima donnas gave me the sweats but I knew it was kid paradise. To see her excited face as we picked out two board games - Cluedo and Trivial Pursuit AND in English - conquered my toyshop-phobia.
They loved everything and everywhere On every street now there is a new age coffee bars serving real flat whites, dayglo frozen yoghurt bars called "Snog" and an old fashioned sweet shops.
Even gyms have been funked up with krav maga classes and the 'rave' which involves jumping on a trampoline with day-glo sticks, in the dark.
It's big, noisy and dirty, but its alive. Smiles on the streets, chatty cabbies and every kind of fashion statement. In Paris appearance is everything. There is poise and elegance but there aren't enough belly laughs. Its cooler to pout.
As we walked around it felt festive with Halloween around the corner. Orange cupcake displays, pumpkin risotto and fright nights at the cinema. A Bombay restaurant was already plugging its Christmas lunch with a poster of indian men dressed as Santa.
The highlight of the stay for all was TV. X-Factor, Jamie Oliver and Strictly Come Dancing. The Brits have totally nailed the reality TV format. Families stop the clocks and gather around the TV for a shared moment. Ad breaks are also filled with bubbly messages - they even loved Iceland's party food ad for bonfire night, everything felt festive and upbeat.
That said there was some stuff that just went too far especially for little people watching TV in half-term. Jeremy Kyle trying to solve the problems of the country's underbelly being one example.
Bringing big issues like abuse and addiction into the open is a great intention but the screaming and swearing make it seem way too voyeuristic. How to look good naked is trying to make being overweight aceptable. Yet does this need to involve plastering your car with posters of your bod in underwear, boobs, belly and all and then asking random people if they find you attractive. You are then made to try on old clothes that are way too small, in the middle of a department store.
Since when is humiliation a form of confidence boost? I guess obesity is now so ubiquitous people have stopped dieting and need other ways to feel good. Size 14 is the new norm here today - where will we be in a few years?
Maybe a few months in Paris, a figure obsessed culture would bring the average size down. Neither way is ideal but for young girls there is a fine line between being happy with your weight and encouraging unhealthy eating.
The girls left today full of stories and Top Shop bags. From the mouths of children the truth flows. Life is for loving and living. Grumping over traffic, bad food and smog is easy. To see London, any city with pure and all believing eyes of children should be the ambition of any cynical adult.
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