Life in the Arts Lane - Week 45 - Poached Eggs and Cold Feet

Some weeks start on Sunday, some on Monday, and every now and again you encounter a rogue week. This was one of those. Last week obdurately hung on until Tuesday night when I landed back in London from Hong Kong.

Some weeks start on Sunday, some on Monday, and every now and again you encounter a rogue week. This was one of those. Last week obdurately hung on until Tuesday night when I landed back in London from Hong Kong. The swiftness with which the fair was wrapped up and disappeared was fleet, bordering on astonishing. Hardly had the last stragglers meandered away when pouring out from behind a flimsy curtain flowed an army of packers. With them came labourers who immediately began stripping of the carpet. The hall became weird as the sticky back carpet was peeled away like some huge plaster from the skin. The concrete squealed and screamed like a disgruntled child. Our treasures were carefully labelled and wrapped in packing swaddling and we disappeared. I left them with my mobile number and an instruction to only call if there was a breakage. No calls ensued! The next day I pootled about, drove to the airport and flew back to London in a haze of movies. I think I watched six films!

My week began on Wednesday. A few months ago I went to Spitalfields market accompanying Mrs Sungoose on an early morning costume jewellery hunt. Whilst she truffled around, like a greedy magpie entranced and attracted to all the shiny things, I wandered around increasingly cold and disgruntled. After a while I spotted a dealer selling scientific instruments. Glimmering and flickering in purple sat an enormous Tesla orb. I have been a fan of Nikola Tesla since childhood; he was the acme of the mad scientist. He invented AC (alternating current) and he invented many other things too, electric roads and stuff. But his real failure was that he believed and worked for the common good and he hoped to improve the lot of mankind. His ideas were taken up by some but he ended his life in poverty and obscurity in a New York hotel obsessed by numbers, pigeons and bedevilled with crippling OCD. I recommend anyone to look him up- a truly fascinating man. I am proud to have stood at Tesla corner in New York. This orb was huge, quite a multiple of the ones you see in trinket and toy shops. I bought it for my former employers- they hated it and made me buy it. I have just sold it at the Battersea fair and so I am back at Spitalfields hoping for lightning to strike twice (literally, the orb is controlled lightening). It doesn't yield one, but I am just as cold as the last time I was here, so there is consistency there. We arrive at about 8am and the stall holders are unpacking. It is a far cry from Avignon, but there is an echo. The market itself takes place in the Foster and Partners structure, rebuilt in the remnants of the old market. There has been a market here since the mid 17th century, and you can feel the ghosts of bygone traders even though their bones are a memory.

After a while I give up and head off for breakfast in the coffee shop and restaurant that stands beside the market in Brushfield Street.

A few months ago it was called the English Restaurant. Now it has enigmatically rebranded itself as Bar and Restaurant, a British variant on the ever popular American concept "no name bar". It gives the impression of having been in situ since time immemorial. Though the building itself looks 18th century, I assume the place is pretty new. But at this early hour they know the way to deliver me warmth and content. A perfect coffee- seven grams of coffee, pressed down to exquisite compactness, and then hot water squeezed through. An eye-openingly fresh and berry-rich flavour. Not a jot of bitterness, not an iota of sourness, or that evil scent of burnt that ruins many an espresso. The thick pale brown crema gives, as its name implies, a creamy quality to the whole cup thereby proving, once again, the total lack of need for milk in this ambrosiac beverage.

Two pert poached eggs with almost orange yolks sit coquettishly on a short stack of sourdough. An embarrassingly short space of total silence follows resulting in an empty plate and that all encompassing inner warmth that comes from the combination of a winter breakfast with hunger and culinary delight. Beside us sat a table laden with cakes, the temptation to stay and eat my way through the day in a celebration of greed and English food was powerful, but the office beckoned. No treasures, but I felt warm as I sped off to Liverpool Street tube.

Given that travel is an integral part of my life it surprises me to acknowledge that I have never been to Finsbury Park. After a tube ride of singular boredom and directness on the epically noisy Victoria line, we wend our way to our friends, Chris and Melissa. Chris has been cursed with debilitating arthritis for as long as I have known him. But he bears his burden with equanimity. His beautiful wife Melissa and he has fashioned an extraordinary alchemical relationship. They are totally unfettered, unrestricted and completely experimental in all they do, his arthritis a speed bump, not a limitation. He is quite peculiar-looking, sporting a hair-cut that resembles something from the Middle Ages- pendulous fair hair to chin length, with a curl inwards at the bottom. He has a liking for the fez and often wears the most individual clothes. His face is mobile and animated but also strangely unformed, like soft clay. You feel strong hands could remodel it. However, he and his family travel and trek widely, and he has written the definitive travel log for visitors to Tusheti (look it up). Domestically, he is a rare genius of passion and obsession. He tells me, whilst his family nod in exhausted agreement, that he has been working on a chicken casserole recipe for over 20 years. It began as a European dish, and has now absorbed influences from India, the Middle East and Morocco. We did not eat it, but I hope for an opportunity in future. We dine on, amongst other things, the best bruschetta I have ever had. A simple dish which simply requires everything to be perfect. I have never had the oil, garlic, spring onions, peeled tomatoes and sourdough in such immaculate proportion. Even the size of the charmingly, savagely chopped tomatoes sent a frisson down my spine. We finished and began the meal with alcohol he had made. A sparkling rosé to begin, that was aromatic with skin and fruit but delighted with a very subtle and seductive bubble. We finished with a potato vodka combined with a pear eau de vie (redolent of Hungarian Palinka). He is an obsessive and a perfectionist, so the bottles are considered as passionately as the contents. The ridiculously smooth crystal clear potato vodka bursts into life with the addition of slightly cloudy pear. Chris finished the meal telling us of his project to create his own perfect knife. He was going to harden the steel and carve and decorate the handle. Chris is a true renaissance man and it is hard to keep up with his creativity and his passion. Melissa cooked the perfect apple tart, and the combination of pastry and fruit was heaven, but Chris is a hard act to keep up with.

The week ended with rain and cold, watching my son Inigo row on the Thames. Barnes Bridge, no oil painting, was particularly grey, and as I stood around, stamping my feet to arrest the cold, waiting for the thirty-five seconds of action as he shot from under the bridge into the distance, I could not help but be grateful for my bright red Masterpiece umbrella.

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