My neighbors, no kidding, buy tiger shit from the London Zoo and spread it over their flowerbeds. They believe its wild scent scares off animals. But I allow creatures large and small free rein of my property. Squirrels, hedgehogs, voles, and field mice (they mutate into rats and become fair game for traps if they sneak into the house) frolic for my amusement. On clear winter mornings like this one, a tawny fox, regal as a lion on the Serengeti, sometimes stretches out in the deep grass, soaking up the feeble warmth of the sun.
Today, however, I have no time to admire the view or search for the fox. I’m booked for lunch with my agent and a BBC producer. Already late, I nevertheless stroll to the restaurant by a circuitous route, reveling in cold air that rings like crystal. On certain streets, the walls of cottages huddle close, none more than a hand span apart. Each door is a different color–lipstick red, royal green, Della Robbia blue. At Admiral’s Walk, in front of the white wooden mansion where Mary Poppins was filmed, a brigade of tourists gape as if expecting to spot Julie Andrews sailing overhead, pulled along by her umbrella.
At Whitestone Pond, the highest point in London, the water is usually like a detergent filled bucket stirred by a grimy mop. Today it glitters with jeweled ice. Convinced I’ve kept Mal and the man from the Beeb waiting long enough, I turn down Heath Street. The ethnicity of the restaurants along the road switches every month. Indian, Hungarian, Moroccan, Thai, Argentinean–maybe these joints just trade signs and go on serving the same grub. Only La Gaffe never changes. Despite the French name, it has an Italian menu and attracts a clientele divided evenly between those who look like Peter O’Toole and those who crane their necks looking for him.