Nothing very much happens during August as Parliament is shut and everyone is on holiday. Brexit or no Brexit — holidays are important. This is also the silly season where the newspapers literally create news. And for many, the breaking news was that the August bank holiday last weekend signalled the end of summer. On cue, Sunday was rained off. Well — this is London — what do we expect? The mandatory umbrella-in-your-handbag, the layers of clothing were invented for the London weather. We can’t even say the “weather is changing” because the weather changes everyday! Often you have shades of winter, spring, summer and autumn on the same day! Though perhaps what we experienced was the tiny nudge of autumn. And trust Rahul Gandhi and his team to choose to come in the “silly season” when no one is around. It did not really matter though — because though it happened in the UK, his arrival was a manufactured-for-India event. So even if no one knew he had arrived in London, the “tweeples” who follow him and live in an alternate, virtual reality world felt their mission had been achieved. (Having said that I better be prepared for a barrage of trolling.)
The Notting Hill Carnival which celebrates the arrival of Afro-Caribbean people to London on the ship Windrush is the nearest we have to Rio’s famous carnival. The rain on Sunday did not dampen spirits. Monday was sunny — and brilliant costumes, music, food and dancing filled the streets. But they also observed a minute of silence for the victims of the Grenfell tragedy — the tall residential building with mostly struggling migrant families, which caught fire last year and led to possibly preventable deaths. It was another story of an immigration tragedy — as it had many who had come to London looking for the proverbial streets paved with gold, and instead, encountered death when the building burnt down.
Autumn always brings new programmes on TV. This year we have a battle of strong women characters. Bodyguard is a serial about a woman home secretary plotting her rise to the top job with her bodyguard at her beck and call. It is finally a woman-centric serial, which is what everyone is scrambling to make.
Rivalling this show is the story of another ambitious woman — Becky Sharp — in Vanity Fair, a serialisation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s Victorian classic. Becky overcomes the limitations of her lower class birth and uses her charm to climb to the top of society. Bodyguard was shown over the August bank holiday and attracted nearly seven million viewers; Vanity Fair starts this weekend and hopes to catch up. Sunday evenings are going to be agony as to which to choose. Grab the remote. But it is to the credit of TV producers who are still managing to get viewers — in a world where choices on the Internet abound!
The new advice is that chocolate is good for you but only once a week. So when you are watching your favourite serial have a box by your side. But the advice for confused health faddists (like me) keeps changing all the time. Now it seems that eating red meat and cheese is also good for you. What was banned earlier is now said to guarantee a longer life! So we will enjoy this new freedom before the experts change their minds again. In any case, an apparently a fail safe slimming pill is now available. Lorcaserin has been tried and tested and apparently it works. Have your chocolates and keep Lorcaserin handy.
This is the centenary year for women’s franchise. The statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square has been set up right next to that of Mahatma Gandhi. But there was always a split among women about suffragists, as Emmeline Pankhurst is the militants’ favourite. She already has a statue in Victoria Gardens right next to the House of Lords. Now there is a proposal to move her statue to the Regent’s University, formerly Bedford College, in Regent’s Park. Then a new statue is also proposed on Canning Green right beside the statue of Lincoln. But how many statues should there be that is the question, as a fierce debate has broken out against moving the statue from Victoria Gardens. It is strange how we hunt for heroines to celebrate, and then everyone falls out over honouring them with a statue… As the sisterhood is up in arms, one hopes it does not become as militant as the original movement was.
Meanwhile fortunes keep changing on the High Street. The House of Fraser is gone and now Homebase has faced a severe financial crisis. Largely to blame are online sales. The only shops thriving are the coffee shops. You can’t order coffee online and drink it sitting at home. Costa, which is a familiar sight on London’s streets, has hit the jackpot. It was started by two Italian brothers in Lambeth not far from where we live. Whitbread, the brewery company, bought it out for £19 million, 20 years ago, when it had 39 branches. Over the years, Costa has become the most popular coffee shop with over 2,000 outlets. Now it has been bought up by Coca Cola for £3.9 billion. Blow hot, blow cold! Anyone for cappuccino frappe laced with Coke zero?