Prue Leith

At last, a dose of up-close culture in London

In London for the first time in 18 months, I was as excited as a child on a birthday outing. We were desperate for a dose of up-close culture after months of Zoom, so we crammed in three exhibitions, two plays and a couple of first-class meals that I didn’t have to cook. Glorious. It helped that we had two of the few blue-sky days of this otherwise wretched summer and that I’d deliberately fallen off the wagon. My husband John says that I’m much nicer when I’m drinking. Apparently, when giving my kidneys a holiday, I’m altogether less joyful.

We stayed at the Chelsea Arts Club in Old Church Street. It took ten years to persuade the club that cooking and writing are arts so it should accept me as a member — it prefers painters and sculptors. I love the place. First of all it has minimal rules, no dress code and the members are suitably eccentric, louche and interesting. It has a beautiful, slightly overgrown garden in the middle of Chelsea, the food is excellent, the booze is cheap and the walls are full of changing paintings. On day one we lunched with friends in the garden, then went to the Crafts Council to see the first exhibition since it closed for refurbishment. I don’t see where craft stops and art starts, do you? Peter Collingwood’s geometric see-through woven hangings, Grayson Perry’s ceramics, Archie Brennan’s tapestries, Japanese origami — they’re all art, surely?

Early evening saw us at J. Sheekey, swilling champagne and ignoring the never-eat-oysters-in-a-month-without-an-R-in-it rule. Mid-mouthful I got a migraine: the first symptom, well-known to any migraine sufferer, is not being able to see properly. Half the print on the menu was suddenly invisible and then the dreaded flickering lights began.

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