I didn’t take the picture above. It’s a royalty free image from Shutterstock that I downloaded the other day after I realised I didn’t have a decent image to use as the header for this post. I don’t normally use other people’s pictures; I’ve taken pretty much every photo on AlwaysCarryOn.com, for the most part on my mobile phone (aided by a few photo editing apps). But when I met up with my friend Greg in London last week, taking pictures for the blog was the last thing on my mind.
It’s been six years since Greg and I were last together. And really, if I hadn’t been so excited at seeing him and had actually stopped to think about it, I’d have booked a hotel in Covent Garden (or somewhere nearby), so I wouldn’t have had to rush off to get the last train back to Reading and could have stayed chatting for long. Because cramming six years of news and stories and anecdotes into just a few hours was never going to be enough. We had so much to talk about, and no time to spend taking pictures.
A decade of friendship.
Greg and I have been friends for just over 10 years. We met in the summer of 2008; I’d just started my first full-time job as a journalist, and had made the move to London. But as a 21-year-old singleton with only a handful of friends in the city, it was quite a lonely place. So I joined a dating site – I don’t recall which one, but it was a website, not an app, as there were no dating apps back in 2008 (well, if there were, they weren’t on my little pay-as-you-go Nokia).
After chatting online for a couple of weeks, Greg asked me out on date. We’d agreed to meet outside Bounds Green tube station on a Saturday afternoon, with the intention of heading into central London and having a few drinks in Covent Garden. However, when Greg eventually showed up (two hours later than arranged), he’d evidently already had a few drinks. Our first (and only) date was a disaster.
By way of an apology, the next day Greg asked if he could take me out for lunch. Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed – though made it clear that it wasn’t a “date”. During the meal I began to thaw, and the friendship we’d built online transferred into a real life friendship. That friendship that has now spanned a decade.
Over those 10 years Greg and I have done so much together: we’ve wined and dined at some seriously posh places like Skylon and Hix, as well as some of the best kebab houses Green Lanes has to offer. We’ve had cocktails in the clouds at Vertigo42, and tried garlic-flavoured beer at the Isle of Wight Garlic Farm. When not eating out, we’d take turns to cook for each other. I’ve never had a tastier lasagne than Greg’s chicken liver version, and let’s not forget his infamous spinach soup and the blender incident.
Our friendship didn’t just just revolve around food and drink though: we spent a day at Thorpe Park, went to Arsenal home games at the Emirates, went bowling in Finsbury Park and to bingo in Camden. We tried our hand at climbing, bouldering and abseiling at The Castle climbing centre in Manor House once. We even venture out of London and went on a £9.50 holiday after collecting tokens from The Sun.
Some of my happiest and fondest memories of my brief stint living in the capital are times I spent with Greg. So when he announced his company was relocating to Dubai, and he’d be moving with them, I was gutted.
We stayed in touch over Facebook, and would occasionally check in with one another, but it’s just not the same. The last time I saw Greg was in 2012, when he sadly had to come back to the UK for a funeral. A fortnight ago though, I got a message to say he’d be in London soon (this time for a much happier occasion: a wedding) and asked if I wanted to meet up. Of course I did.
When we were both Londoners, one of our favourite haunts was La Tasca in Covent Garden. Quick, easy, well-located, and (most importantly, for a girl who at the time was saving to buy a house) cheap. Armed with 50% off vouchers or 2-for-1 discount codes, we always left the tapas restaurant with full tummies and a tiny bill, even after copious cocktails. So now that he’s living in a Muslim country void of pork products, Greg jumped at the chance of a feast of “chorizo cooked in red wine” when I suggested we meet in Covent Garden for old times sake.
After the biggest hug hello and then spending about an hour in a pub (managing just one drink each, because of the sheer amount of chatter), we walked up Maiden Lane, fondly reminiscing. Stopping in front of where our beloved La Tasca once stood, we realised that it had been replaced by a Chinese restaurant…
As nowhere else in the area took our fancy, we decided to give the Chinese restaurant, Ping Pong, a try. Stepping inside, it looked familiar but yet different. I wasn’t sure whether I was going to like it or not – it seemed eerily quiet, unlike La Tasca, which was always a hive of activity, backed by the upbeat tempo of Spanish salsa music.
Taking our seats, we ordered some drinks (Greg a pint, me a smoked chili Bloody Mary, which was amazing, I must say), and began perusing the menu. There was so much choice – in fact, too much choice. We couldn’t decide on just a few things, so plumped for the set menu for two people. It included an assortment of buns, dumplings, rice dishes and spring rolls. Oh, and the obligatory prawn crackers. There was so much food, I wondered how we were going to eat it all…
But eat it all we did. Then, even after all the food, we still managed to make some room for a dessert, and ordered some hazelnut mochi. If you’ve never had mochi before, you have to try it – it’s hard to describe the texture and taste, but it’s kind of like a profiterole, but with cookie dough instead of pastry, and ice cream instead of cream. It was so good, I was tempted to order another.
I resisted, however, and paid the bill. The night was still young as we exited the restaurant, and there was still so much to talk about, so we decided to go for a few more drinks. Another one of our favourite hang outs used to be Maxwells on James Street, just by Covent Garden tube station. But that too had shut up shop, and literally become a shop (a Boots, a Karen Millen and an Accessorize store). So instead I took Greg to one of my other favourite cocktail bars in Covent Garden: Be At One.
This little gem has been a go-to bar for me since Laura G and I stumbled upon it back in 2009. Hidden down behind the Transport Museum and the back of the Lyceum theatre, it’s small and cosy, and never normally too busy – unless you’re there during happy hour on a Thursday or Friday. When we rocked up on a Tuesday, it was still happy hour, and Greg came back to our table with four cocktails.
Happy hour literally took us an hour, as we sat there chatting endlessly about everything that had happened over the last six years. But it was soon time to part ways and bid Greg a slightly emotional farewell (made even more dramatic by him not having any credit on his Oyster card and having to hug over the ticket barrier before I made a dash for Paddington station. We had such a lovely evening catching up; damn not having the foresight to book a hotel in Covent Garden – because it probably would have been quite cheap on a Tuesday night, too.
I hope we’ll not leave it so long to see each other again – and I definitely think I should visit Greg in Dubai next. After all, the city is on my bucket list – and Greg has promised me cocktails up the Burj Khalifa, when I do eventually make it over to see him…
Disclaimer: This post was done in collaboration with Hotels.com. All opinions and words are my own, however.