Wednesday, June 19, 2013

keri's stupendous birthday

I used to screw up birthdays. Keri's. The kids'. Mine. I was always pretty ambivalent about the anniversary of my own birth and that ultimately bled over into the way I treated other's birthdays. I suppose that may work with the rest of the world, but it is not a good approach to a healthy marriage or a good parent-child relationship. I did not figure this out quickly but, eventually these lessons took hold. I would by no means describe my present birthday game as good, but it is no longer hazardous to my health.

Months ago, as we were planning our trip, I realized we would be in London on Keri's birthday, June 18. I had heard Keri mention something about a high tea and, putting two and two together, made reservations for a tea today for the four. Keri, to her credit, found a better place than I did so I ended up changing the reservations. I'll still take full credit.

I will say that I was surprised to find a relative lack of good child-friendly afternoon tea venues. Perhaps, when I retire from the practice of law and Keri and I decide to move to London we can start such a place.

We all slept in, Owen until past 11. Phew. Keri enjoyed her morning coffee and started checking on-line for all of her birthday greetings. Lauren gave Keri the card she had decorated and I gave Keri a funny/sweet card of a guy carrying a large dog up an escalator. You really cannot go wrong with any kind of large dog card. Always funny. Owen gave Keri the card he had put together, along with a popsicle he had taken from the freezer. That may not sound like much, but he is pretty fond of his popsicles, so it was a meaningful gesture.

We headed off for Covent Garden a bit past noon. Covent Garden, like just about everything else here can be traced back to Henry VIII, who first seized the lands and gave them to some loyal earl. The area was developed first for some nice homes, but eroded over time, eventually becoming London's red-light district. (Any place will see its ups and downs over the course of 500 years or so.) Apparently it took an act of parliament -- truly -- to reclaim the area and turn it into marketplace. With some further evolution over the years it is now a quaint shopping area, filled with narrow cobblestone streets, lots of cafes, coffeehouse and shops.

We enjoyed a nice stroll around the area as we helped work up our appetite for tea. Owen was very optimistic when he saw a sign for an "apple market." We found no apples, suggesting the name is historic.

We then started heading back towards in the direction of our tea location, stopping off at the local Nike store to get me a replacement running shirt. (Note: As I mentioned in one of my prior entries, I tend to run hot and when I exercise, I will soak a shirt like nobody's business. A shirt that I had worn earlier this week had finally seen enough and needed to be retired. I considered a proper English killing -- hanging, drawing and quartering -- if for no other reason, to send a message to the other shirts. As it was, I settled for sending to the rubbish bin, thereby dooming it to some local landfill.)

At 230 we arrived at our appointed location, the Dial Bar and Restaurant, located in a hotel just off the Seven Dials monument. (We know that proper tea time is 400, but we decided it would fit better in our day to do it on the early side.) The Dial has a traditional afternoon tea as well as its Stupendous Afternoon Tea, apparently named after Matilda, a Roald Dahl book the theatrical version of which shows across the street. The tea has received inconsistent reviews on-line in recent months. Our experience was pretty close to stupendous.

We were first offered a choice of beverages. Keri and I both opted for the English Breakfast Tea, Lauren the vanilla milkshake and Owen an extra large glass of apple juice. Minutes later, two large, three-tiered serving trays arrived. I knew immediately this was going to work out. The bottom tray had on it four kinds of crustless sandwiches (all without butter and ham, per the birthday girl's request). The top two trays were filled with various pastries, including scones, cream, chocolate sauce (not fondue as was advertised) with fruit and marshmallow for dipping, brownie, several kinds of cakes and cupcakes (lemon and red velvet).

As were just about done, the wait staf came out with a special blueberry cupcake and sang happy birthday to Keri. We put up a game effort -- or rather three of us did. Keri, Lauren and I stuffed our faces with three trays of goodness, enjoying everything. Lauren began giggling again -- not quite at the Tozi level, but in the ballpark. Three very happy palates, as we each ate more than our fill.

Owen, it has to be said, did not carry his weight. He ate some cheese (after the chutney and bread were removed) and part of a smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich. He then had a few bites of dessert before asking for my phone so he could play a game of Scrabble against the computer. We tried a number of times to coax him back into engaging in the dessert gorge. I cannot believe we had to do this. I really cannot believe we had so little success, Owen announcing that he was saving himself for a popsicle back at the flat. Keri and I are going to have his DNA checked.

Keri opted to walk off some our handiwork on the way back, so we headed through Leicester Square and on to Regent Street. From there, it was just a matter of time until we hit Hamleys, the self-proclaimed Finest Toy Shop in the World. I have not seen enough toy shops to judge the accuracy of that claim kind, but this store is pretty good. It takes up five large floors and is filled with young people (moonlighting theatre performers, I assume) who are demonstrating a number of their better sellers on the floor. For what it's worth, both of the Eckstein children opted for items they saw being demonstrated -- Lauren for a set of magic markers and Owen for a boomerang flyer.

We finally made it back to the flat around six, just enough time to rest for a few minutes before we headed back towards Victoria to see Wicked, which is performed just across the street at the Apollo Theatre. Keri and I had both read the book years ago on a family vacation, before Owen was born. We had both enjoyed the story quite a bit and were looking forward to the performance. The kids had recently seen Oz: The Great and Powerful, so trying to get them to re-orient themselves to think about the story from a different point of view was a little challenging. That said, I think it was worth the effort, as it gave us an opportunity to talk about perspective and subjectivity, that every person has a story and you should try to find out what that story is before you form any opinions about them. The performance was really good, too.

Most importantly, the birthday girl enjoyed herself. She thought the show was great, as she did the tea. Check and mate. 41st birthday accomplished. Anyone got any good ideas for 42?


  1. Hi! I am a friend of Keri's from Hebrew School days in Baltimore! I love reading your blog daily before I start work. It's like a little treat with my coffee! Keep having fun!

    Jill Eisenberg

  2. Sounds like a wonderful birthday day!!