Home life · Notes from West London

Marylebone mornings

I enjoy lying in and lazing around on Saturday mornings but a few weeks ago decided to change my lazy ways. For some reason my 10-year-old daughter invariably wakes before 7am on Saturdays and if nobody else is up she spends an hour or two watching children’s TV. One Friday night last month I suggested that if she woke early I’d get up too and we’d take a trip to town, look around a few places and have a McMuffin Meal. It’s becoming a habit.

Our first Saturday morning trip to town started with a look round Westminster Cathedral and a McDonalds breakfast at the Victoria Street branch nearby, all before 8.30am, when it’s still free to park round there. We drove south, through Westminster and over Lambeth Bridge, to see where the Imperial War Museum is. She went on a school trip there earlier this term and I couldn’t picture where it is in relation to the more familiar places north of Lambeth Bridge. We drove back over Westminster Bridge and ended up near Berkeley Square, noting the landmarks in between. We looked around the Jesuit Church on Farm Street and read the summary of the church’s history and architecture on the board outside. It told us: “The vaulting of the aisle and the rhythmic interplay of the columns and side chapels are remarkable features.” We enjoyed repeating parts of this for the next hour. One of us would ask, “What do you think of the rhythmic interplay of the columns and side chapels?” and the other would reply, “They are quite remarkable.”

In recent weeks we have spent our Saturday morning time around Marylebone. We can get there quickly on the Westway and park somewhere off Baker Street or on Aybrook Street, near a pub called the Gunmakers. We walk through the Paddington Recreation Ground and have our McMuffin meals at the McDonalds on Baker Street. We have noted the large crane on Paddington Street and discussed how, when I was young, I wanted to be a crane driver. We have taken in mass at the church on Spanish Place and noted the scallop shell symbols everywhere: they represent St James, after whom Santiago de Compostela is named. I have pointed out Durrants Hotel, the first place I ever ate steak tartare, during a very pleasant lunch with the author and former movie executive Steven Bach. A friend of the family, who died in 1990, was a specialist carpenter who fitted out many of the rooms in the hotel. My wife’s grandparents on her mother’s side lived in a flat nearby, on George Street. There is religious symbolism, personal history and family history everywhere we look.

One morning we took a stroll around the Wallace Collection, a gallery that has always been a favourite of mine. We looked for The Laughing Cavalier and paintings by Canaletto, which led me there on my first solo trips to town as a 12 year old, researching a school project. We also tried on some armour in a small room downstairs, something I had never done before. We learnt just how heavy chain mail is.

We have wandered up James Street to reach Oxford Street, and back down St Christopher’s Place. Ella May (LMA) is there, the last survivor from the Elephant Parade. Back in 2010 the Elephant Parade brought over 250 life-sized models of baby elephants to the streets, parks and shopping centres of London, each model designed and painted by a different artist. We spent many weekends tracking them down and I took at least one photo of every single elephant, with one or both of my children also in the shot. My daughter was three at the time and now I have a photo of her aged 10, with Ella May, on St Christopher’s Place.

We have also learnt something of the history of Marylebone thanks to the words displayed outside the Waitrose on Marylebone High Street. We were there this morning and collected my free coffee and free paper along with the rest of our shopping, which included several plastic containers of fresh stock for the gravy that my wife is making for Christmas dinner.

How much will my daughter remember of the things that she has seen and learnt on our weekend strolls around town? Will she see a statue of a saint with a scallop shell on his head and know, without remembering quite how, that it represents St James? Will she recognize the distinctive style of Canaletto’s paintings of Venice? It will be interesting to find out as the years go by. She can take all of this information and do what she likes with it. There will still be Saturday mornings when we sit around watching “The Dumping Ground” or “The Next Step” but for now I hope that she is enjoying our Marylebone mornings as much as I am.

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