Woodsmoked Russian Hospitality

Clearly hat parties are de rigueur this season in London town, or at least they are all the rage down in South London – the land that tubes forgot. So it was after a particularly fine day’s climb down on the border of Sussex and Kent (where one occasionally find’s oneself literally straddling the border if certain souls are to be believed) that I found myself standing in a lift, with my cycle helmet attempting to perch itself at an angle which could be called both jaunty as well as reminiscent of Pericles, questioning my lift mates:

“Is this a hat’s only party?”

There was a pause while two simultaneous minds pondered over what I could mean. The Russian hat replied absentmindedly first:

“No…fascinators and wigs are encouraged too, as well as hats…”

The other hat – well hatless – being slightly naughtier, giggled and interjected:

“Oh…he did not mean that…”

“Oh…what could he mean? Oh…”

Now I was fairly clear in what I was asking, and really just wanted to check whether my helmet would be acceptable wear, which it was as I discovered upon entering the abode to be greeted by a man wearing a tea cosy as an attempt at a Bishop’s mitre. There were plenty of hats, helmets and fascinators to converse with, and many were more than familiar, which is always pleasant at a party one feels to have crashed, making the helmet rather suitable wear.

The flat from its generously sized rooftop terrace commanded a fine view of St Paul’s dome gleaming in the gloaming of the London eve time sky – however it was the hammock and the large fire pit which attracted more than anything else. Gathered around the flaring flames was a huddle of warm fronted bodies shivering, spluttering and sighing all in equal measure as the wind dictated both direction of warmth and smoke. Had the fire pit been an old oil canister, the huddlers less colourfully dressed (both in head gear and jacket), and the booze less like champagne and Jaegermeister (not mixed though, at least I do not think it was) then this could well have been something out of depression era picket line. As it was not, it was clearly a party just one with people fascinated with fire even at the expense of their extremities.

While we shuffled about the orange tongues of lapping light and heat trying to avoid the inevitable plumes of fumes that itched the nostril and tickled the lung, we conversed as was our want, and so with Russian Hat I found myself speaking to Russian Fascinator, who had left the Arctic Circle and via a love of French cinema and Pelevin came to live in London town.

“I am an artist,” the Fascinator stated in that velvet covered steel fisted manner only a Russian can.

“I practise my art through talking to people,” further questioning revealed and also concealed.

“No, I do not paint from the experiences, or compose music as a result. I just talk and make art like this,” which quite aptly put an end to the line of inquiry as she left the fold of the fire herders.

However the fire gathers,  the fire collects and it was not long before once more we met, and this time we introduced ourselves with the lady labelling herself “Stranger” or “Foreigner”, depending on the context. I begged to disagree suggesting that surely her name was “Hospitality”, but she smiled and laughed a little deprecating laugh saying that she would not give up 30 years of her life upon my say so – that is until a Hellenic Trilby confirmed that she was indeed “Hospitality” and not the “Stranger” she thought she might be. At times like this, it is only right and meet to leave a lady to their grief…

But the fire gathers, the fire collects and most importantly the fire warms, and on the third time we met we shivered as the embers flickered weakly, until we stirred them a little and the last of the wood flared and was consumed. At which point we parted, the Fascinator for Paddington and myself for the Hill.

The following day on another side of town, I stopped in for lunch as I was pedalling around, bid Happy Birthday to an old dear friend, who I discussed with what was going on down. She mentioned that she knew a man out in Beirut, a man whose girlfriend was a dancer around a flag pole, she called herself an artist and hailed from Russia.

One wonders the definition of an artist from country to country…


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