Going home?

Going home, as in returning to the place where you grew up, tends to be a weirdly alienating experience. Almost melancholy, in its way. Everything is slightly uncanny, at once familiar and yet different. It’s a bit of an odd time to make this observation, given that it’s not like I never see my family, and in any case I only live about an hour and a half away by public transport (20 minutes by car – what the hell, Boris?). Perhaps it is the march of age that makes me so reflect, or perhaps it’s the fact that I forgot to mail myself the entry that was originally going to go here and needed to come up with something else in a hurry.

I grew up in Twickenham, you see. The first few months were lived in Baron’s Court in a flat overlooking the Underground line, which perhaps explains a lot about this blog. But the vast majority of my childhood was spent in that leafy suburb. Oddly enough, I’ve never been a rugby fan – to me, all a rugby match meant was that the buses weren’t running and it would be a bugger getting a train.

Eel Pie Island, back in the day

The thing I particularly noticed on returning today was how very swish it’s all become. Very gentrified. I remember when the waterfront at Twickenham was mostly notable for the derelict swimming baths that my mate Tim swore were inhabited by vampires. These have now gone – there was an uproar when it was suggested that they might be replaced with a shopping complex, but happily a garden now stands in their place (do gardens stand? I don’t know).

I was also pleased to note that the waterfront now boasts a sign concerning Eel Pie Island. The Island, less well known as Twickenham Ait, has a significant place in the history of British music, with artists as varied as the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Hawkwind, Black Sabbath and Long John Baldry among many others playing at the Hotel. If you speak Internet, Long John Baldry was the one responsible for the “PINGAS” meme. If you don’t, then don’t worry about it. These days, it’s the closest thing Twickenham has to a bohemian quarter. Well worth a look if you get the chance.

Twickenham, King Street. The bank is still there, virtually everything else has vanished or been rebuilt.

Also nearby is Twickenham Museum, which is a really excellent museum given that it’s basically two rooms in a house. That sounds really patronising, but it genuinely is worth a look if you have an interest in the West London suburbs. And the Mary Wallace Theatre, in what was once a soup kitchen, has some good (albeit amateur) stuff on. So gutted I just missed a production of Glengarry Glen Ross there.

During the day, York House Gardens are a pleasant place for a walk. If you’ve ever seen Alfie, the sanitarium scenes were actually filmed here. I’ve heard there was a remake of this film starring Jude Law, but this seems ridiculous and I think we should all agree that such a thing could not possibly have happened, maybe burning anyone who says otherwise. The area is very popular for filming, due to the proximity of Twickenham, Teddington and Shepperton Studios. Off the top of my head, two of the Beatles movies (Help! and A Hard Day’s Night) were filmed here, as were A Fish Called Wanda and The Krays. There have been many others.

The reason I was here was to celebrate the Bro’s birthday. We were dining at a little Italian restaurant called La Serenata. By not being called La Dolce Vita it instantly gains a couple of points in my book. The thing I like about this place is perhaps the thing that most people would hate about it – it’s a proper retro Italian place. Faux wooden beams, family-run, wax-encrusted wine bottles as candle holders. You know the drill. The food is robustly Anglo-Italian, the menu clearly dating from an era when people were just starting to get the hang of Italian food but weren’t yet familiar with concepts like “balsamic vinegar.” Some would call it unpretentious, others would call it basic. But what they do, they do well – I particularly recommend the steak in any of its forms. I’m told that it’s to die for in the brandy and dijon sauce. The only things that were rubbish were the chips, but this was one black mark on an otherwise superb meal. As I’m no foodie, you can take or leave my recommendation.

Alas, it rarely seems to get much custom – we were the only ones here tonight, and reviews of the place seem to be singularly lacking. It’s the sort of place that Gordon Ramsay would come to and totally revamp while exclaiming “Faaahk me!” as often as possible. But I like it.

The trouble with this diet is that when I actually do get an opportunity to indulge myself, I can’t do so quite as much as I used to. This three-course meal has left me feeling utterly bloated, and more than a little stretched. I guess you can never really go back.

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Filed under 20th Century, Clubbing, Film and TV, Food, History, London, Museums, Music, Notable Londoners, Psychogeography, Rivers, Suburbia, Thames

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