Read the first chapter Life, lately: That sinking feeling
It was the last day of the first month of the year - a time when low spirits, no doubt deflated by the combination of Dry January and/or the breaking of many New Year's resolutions (including Dry January...), seem to haunt the streets of London in greater abundance, their growing number possibly exacerbated by the gloom that hung in the city air like the pea soup fog that had erased all sun from the sky. In Knightsbridge, two tall figures strode across Hyde Park toward The Wellesley. The shorter of the two, clad in an oversized camel Aquascutum coat and swinging a red Gucci handbag emblazoned with embroidered tigers expressed her astonishment: "Why, this hotel is only right beside my bank! To think that I've walked past a hundred times and never noticed." Aftab's eyes widened: "See! I told you. And you wanted to disembark at Green Park." I was unperturbed: "Yes, well, I thought you said The Wolseley..."
In my defence, The Wellesley had flown under my radar because the front of this boutique grand hotel was but a bijou gem compared to the nearby hulking facades of, say, the Mandarin Oriental. Yet, I mused as the doorman elegantly welcomed us over the threshold, The Wellesley more than stood her own in the glamour stakes. The long, narrow marbled lobby - designed for dramatic emphasis? - led me and Aftab to a concierge desk draped in studded ostrich leather, where our coats slid off our backs and we were ushered into a gorgeous pink room where we would try to drown the Winter Blues...
We were in the Jazz Lounge - an Art Deco jewellery box of a room in soft, warm hues of dusty pinks and teal - to sample The Wellesley Afternoon Tea. The Gatsby-esque setting was rather appropriate given that at the time, my soul was weighed down by that old adage "Money can't buy happiness". Aftab too had a lot of his mind, which allowed me to steal his scones. Both of us were distracted, yet little did we know that what we were both hoping for would very soon come to pass. But at that time, it was up to afternoon tea to make things better.
And how. Has there ever been a pillar, nay, bastion of civilised English society as dependable and as comforting as the ritual of afternoon tea? Aside from self deprecating wit and discussing the weather, of course. It was only fitting that, in the pursuit of fortitude and courage of the heart, that we had the Churchill Afternoon Tea.
Each tiny morsel that followed was as delicious as the last: the cucumber sandwiches, filo pastry cannoli cigars with dark chocolate mousse, rum and coffee flavoured lollipops; and the densest, most satisfying mini Battenberg cake. Most satisfying of all were the tiny scones - a new innovation, we were informed, that The Wellesley had been working very hard to perfect. To say that their itty-bitty scones were very good would've been a gross understatement - they were absolutely perfect. Small and dainty, they were no less satisfying than a regular-sized scone; holding as much clotted cream, lemon curd, and other jams as their larger contemporaries. Nor was the texture compromised for either of the three varieties we were presented - the traditional scone, the chocolate scone, the raisin and sultana - each as they should be. But most ingenious was that its diminutive size allowed the scone to be eaten in a single bite, hence eliminating the potentially inelegant scenario of having crumbs or jam linger as the pastry is bitten into.
As we sat in the warm embrace of the Jazz Room nursing our teas - Jasmine Pearls for Aftab, Rose of The Orient (a blend of the world's most famous teas: Sencha, Gunpowder, and Pai Mu Tan; designed to evoke the exoticism of the East) for me - the combined coziness of the delicious spread we had slowly enjoyed for the past two hours plus the heat of the tea and the intimate atmosphere began to spread through me like liquid courage. Or at least it did for Aftab. He boldly decided there and then, against overwhelming advice (all of it cautious), to take a great risk toward achieving what he wanted. Of course I thought him to be a madman, and then as if the Universe was trying to send us signs to decode a pianist began to play. I only started paying attention when Grant played I Dreamed A Dream, singing along perhaps as a reminder that happy endings aren't for everyone...and then my cynicism bubble shattered when the programme shifted into Disney territory. As per my glossy-eyed request, Grant obliged and played a medley of classics - Part Of Your World, Reflection, Tale As Old As Time - that I sang along to (rather off-key, I might add) for the better part of an hour.
If our delicious platter with the innovative scones and flavourful teas, the attentive yet discreet service, and the languid ambience of an indulgent afternoon topped with an hour-long Disney classics sing-a-long wasn't already enough to snap us out of our funk, as Aftab and I stood to take our leave Grant played us one last song. As I recognised the opening bars I sang along: "When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are. Anything your heart desires will come to you..." That could not have been a more blatant sign of things to come! Like the proverbial puppet who became a real boy, Aftab got exactly what he wanted the very next day. We would not have known it then, but as we left The Wellesley I looked up at the hotel facade and marvelled at how the white columns, now bathed in a surreal purple, seemed almost magical.
As for me? Well, I did get what I was wishing for a little later, but that's a story for another day, that I'll continue in the second (or maybe third) part of Life, Lately: Swim...😉