My mobile rang as we whizzed through South Kensington.
“I’m ringing to let you know we are going to be 15 minutes late,” came a thick, Spanish voice.
“Oh, OK.” I said, glancing at my watch.
“So, we’ll be there at 2:15.”
“Yes,” I said. “2:15. It’s absolutely fine. I’ll see you at Cutty Sark station.”
I put the phone back in my pocket, as spouse eyed me.
“Sweetheart, if we had a TARDIS we couldn’t get to Cutty Sark station by 2:00. No wonder you’re fine with it.”
“I know, I did the sum. He said ‘we'”
“Alvaro said ‘we’. He didn’t say he was bringing anyone. I wonder if he’s got a girlfriend…”
I sincerely hoped he had. Alvaro was my first boyfriend. We’d met at boarding school and split up when he left for University. On average, we now seem to meet up every decade with all the casual flourish that meeting an ex demands. The last time we’d met, I was married to Spouse, and I got the vague impression that Alvaro would have much preferred it if I had remained in a state of mourning for him, perhaps wearing an old wedding dress and humming ‘some day my prince will come.’ Sadly, this had not happened, but I had assured Alvaro that he would like Spouse ever so much if they did meet.
That day, 15 minutes late, in the shadow of the Cutty Sark, my two loves met. And yes, Alvaro had indeed brought a girlfriend with him, a beautiful woman called Helena. Introductions were made, cheeks were kissed, and we agreed to go for tea.
I took them to the fabulous Red Door Cafe, which is dinky and quirky and serves the best carrot cake in London. It was crowded that day, and we crammed into a corner which was far too small for us. Helena had never been to the United Kingdom before, and I promptly ordered scones alongside the carrot cake. When they arrived, Alvaro muttered the scones weren’t warm, and I shot him a dark look before turning to chat with the beautiful Helena. Helena is a psychologist working with child cancer patients, and is learning English in her free time, alongside studying for her doctorate. My jaw dropped. Alvaro was going out with Mother Teresa, and a damn clever and sexy one at that.
This was their first day in London together: they had spent the last two days up in Derbyshire, visiting our old school, among other places. I thought this mad (I have a strong view that one should never go back, but always forward). Apparently Helena had suggested it, wanting to see for herself the place that had made such a big impact on her partner, and perhaps it was for similar reasons she was seeing me now. Psychologist, you see.
As a psychologist, she will presumably have noticed that I have nothing in common with Mother Teresa. I do not heal the sick, I eat cake and drink tea to excess, and am married to a nice man called Chris. I blog about London (Alvaro muttered I should be writing books), and for some reason, everything Alvaro says makes me testy. So sad though it was at the time, I’m glad Alvaro and I parted. I’d have made him terribly unhappy, whereas 17 years on, Spouse and I still get along famously. As I was at some pains to demonstrate.
I wish I’d known in advance that Alvaro was bringing a girlfriend with him that had never been to London before. I’d have chosen our location more carefully, and genned up a bit more in advance, so I could have acted as a better guide. But sometimes London does the heavy lifting for you: Greenwich is really beautiful. We took them to the home of time, the Royal Observatory, where Alvaro complained that the atomic clock wasn’t accurate enough. Like every tourist alive we all posed with our feet on either side of the Greenwich Meridian, before taking in the finest view of London there is. I pointed out the O2 Arena and Canary Wharf, and Helena asked what the socking great towers in front of us were (I had no idea, but the proper guide explained they are a back-up power station for the London Underground).
By then, night had fallen. We went to the Gipsy Moth pub, and drank slightly watered down mulled wine. Its a fabulous traditional pub, the Gipsy Moth, and was bedecked in Christmas garb, complete with Santa clad Christmas carollers. We shared both mains and puddings, and Spouse tried to explain to Helena what rhubarb is. It is not grown in Spain (it demands more water than they have ready access to), and in the end we all felt it would be easier to just serve her some in the form of a crumble. I hate blooming rhubarb, but Helena loved it, and for a moment my heart truly soared.
It felt like that glorious moment during the Olympic Ceremony when James Bond met the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
It has been a funny old year, 2012. I put my back out and my house got robbed, but with the Olympics and Jubilee, there’s never been a better year to be a Londoner. The eyes of the world have been upon us, and not found us lacking. And so it was that night in the pub in Greenwich. Spouse went to the loo, and I asked Alvaro if he liked my Chris. “He’s a great guy,” said Alvaro. I nodded, and agreed with him. It had taken all my strength not to grab Alvaro by the throat and tell him to marry his Helena ASAP, but they had come to my town and not found it lacking either, and all this made me very happy indeed.