The autumn bank holiday is like the five-minute bell at the opera. The shades of the prison house loom. All over the country, kids are looking for missing kit while mothers are trying to remember where they put the Cash’s name tapes — after they have made sure that the grindstone is in working order. Interrogation is certain to reveal holiday tasks incomplete: holiday reading well short of the final page.
But there are compensations. The last chores of summer can be palliated by the first fruits of autumn. On Holland Park Avenue — I suppose you could call it South-West Notting Hill — there is a delightful enclave with a bookshop, a boozer and a butcher. The bookshop is Daunt’s, scene of many a book-launch party. The pub is the Castle, where charming Spanish or Italian girls pull a sound pint. It is so good of them and their ilk to rescue the British from the consequences of absolutely full employment. As everyone knows, the entire youthful population of these islands is in work, so without foreigners, what would we do?
There is one problem with the Castle, and with too many other hostelries. Forty years ago, English pubs were infested with plastic beer: gassy, gut-rotting garbage. Those dreadful brands have been extirpated. But the plastic music survives. Muzak should rank high on any revised Syllabus Errorum. The brewing chains have got into the habit of supplying it. I suspect that it is much less popular than they think.
‘Popular’ brings us to Lidgate’s, the butcher. Although it does mail order, its customers come from all over, to savour the place. You might have risen from a Lucullan banquet, so satiated, so replete, that you feel you could (and ought to) live off watercress for a week.