London has sunshine, and even the odd hint of Spring in the air. Can it be that the miserable gloom and freezing fog of our latest winter is over until next November? I dare to think that once again our seasons may be about to change. At lunchtime I pry myself from my desk in the office and head out to stretch my legs. It really must be spring - I realise two streets from the office I have left my gloves behind but I can still feel my fingertips. My bare feet look strangely naked in my flimsy ballet flats, having spent the last few months cocooned in multiple pairs of socks and huge sheepskin boots.
(When I went back to take a photo of Marylebone to accompany this post it was vile and grey, so here is a cheering Spring-y flower instead!)
To blow away the lunchtime work cobwebs obtained by far too many hours spent staring at my computer screen, I start walking west. Crossing Harley Street I head for Marylebone High Street, moving thorough wide streets lined with large, bright white buildings. This area is known as "Mah-lee-bone" or "Marry-leh-bon", depending on how posh or pretentious the speaker is. Pronunciation issues aside, Marylebone is far more than a square on a Monopoly board, and much more than a train station. Sandwiched between the tourist-infested Oxford Street and the crashing traffic of the A501, Marylebone is a central pocket of the city's wealth. Property prices are exorbitant. Somewhere near here is a multi-million pound bachelorette pad previously owned by Sienna Miller, with a full sized Turkish bath in the basement. On my lunchtime stroll I spot three Hermes Birkin bags in five minutes; a cool several thousands pounds of leather and metal hardware, each carried as if they were of no more value than a Tesco plastic bag. Every second person walking down the street has perfect blow-dried, highlighted hair and manicured nails. Even the animals here are immaculate - I spy a divine French Bulldog sitting watching passersby in the window of a gallery, wearing a black and white stripy jumper. (Could he BE more French, without a string of onions and a packet of Gitanes?!)
Marylebone High Street is a perfect place to shop. Designer stores and the upper end of the traditional high street line the pavements, with the odd pub and cafe with little metal tables outside. The perfect place to recover from a heavy retail session and to do some people-spotting. Daunt Books, one of the few remaining independent bookshops in London occupies a prime spot here on the high street. Yet equally fabulous for those on the hunt for things to read is the Oxfam bookshop a few doors down. This wonderful literary haven has a whole range of books in excellent condition from fiction to travel, and at a fraction of the price of the pristine versions in Waterstones.
You can turn off the high street and investigate the tiny side streets too. Unlike the imposing Harley Street mansions and wide roads, the side-streets are ancient and cobbly. They are well worth exploring as they hold all kinds of wonderful boutiques, even a shop devoted entirely to buttons. They are also home to some wonderful restaurants, including the delicious Union Cafe, where I once had a work dinner that was a far cry from the hideous mass-catering one is normally subjected to at work do's. But make sure you don't go too far south or you'll end up on Oxford Street - not nearly so civilised or charming. It may not be Spring down there yet either...