The waiting car whisked Jessie and Bradley away from London City Airport to their hotel on the other side of town. Friday rush hour traffic was starting to die down by the time they hit Commercial Road passing the monoliths of Canary Wharf where his dad and Lucy once lived. Apparently, his dad’s family originated around this area and although it was in the latter stages of regeneration, it still looked a bit rough around the edges. He could imagine what it had been like a hundred years ago, and it wasn’t pleasant.
Jessie knew the route they were taking having been born and brought up not far from the City. Her family had moved to Loughton when she was young so she didn’t have too many memories concerning the Islington area, but she did recall the frequent trips to London in dad’s taxi to see shows, go for a meal in Chinatown and see the sights. She was excited to be staying at Hotel 41, it was highly rated and they had reserved the Royal Suite which hadn’t been cheap.
The bag boy met them as the car pulled up, opening the door before they had fully stopped, and greeted them with a welcome smile as his colleague whizzed round to the boot and got their bags out. They drew a few looks from fellow guests, mainly Americans, who knew about football. Phones came out for a quick snap to show their friends back home that they were staying in the same hotel as Bradley Gardner, and one or two came up to him to say how wonderful he was and could they have a photo together.
Bradley never minded any of the attention; he recognised that these people looked at him as a role model and some of them would be paying his wages indirectly either through shirt sales, tickets or TV rights. He always made time for his fans if he could.
Their room, as expected, was luxurious. The décor was a bit fussy for Bradley but Jessie thought it was wonderful as she explored the suite, gasping when she saw the bathroom with its gold fittings. It was just like India, she squealed.
Her apprehension about coming back to London to see her family was gradually lifting, thanks to Bradley’s efforts. He had arranged for them to all meet at a private club in Woodford for a party where Jessie could re-engage with her family, apart from her parents who were still in Mijas waiting for them to arrive. In the meantime, they had a car booked in one hour who was going to take them on the tourist trail around London for a few hours ending up at Nobu in Mayfair for the best sushi in town.
Although Bradley had lived in London when he was playing for Arsenal, he had never really had the time to explore the capital so this was an ideal opportunity to see the land of his fathers, rather like he imagined Deepak was doing with his grandad four hundred miles north.
The driver was friendly and very knowledgeable about London, although Jessie knew a few things that he didn’t so they ended up ‘talking business’ for most of the trip. When the driver found out that Jessie’s dad drove a black cab for a living, he doffed his cap and told her he was impressed laughingly.
Bradley was fascinated by the sights and history of London and remonstrated with himself for not seeing it sooner. The Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster, Trafalgar Square, British Museum and the London Eye were places he had read about, but seeing them in the flesh was wonderful. He only wished they had more time to explore them fully rather than just driving past and listening to the driver’s commentary.
They had done well seeing all those places as the traffic was horrible with everyone heading home for the weekend where temperatures were expected to reach thirty degrees Celsius so barbecues would be out in force. When they reached Nobu in Mayfair’s Berkeley Street, they were bang on time for their dinner reservation at seven.
They were shown to a private dining booth where they enjoyed the best sushi ever. Jessie had only ever tried supermarket sushi in the past and although she didn’t mind what they offered, Nobu took it to a whole new level and relished every dish. Bradley settled the outrageously expensive bill and together they exited on to Berkeley Street where the late evening bustle was in full swing.
As it was a balmy evening they decided to walk back to their hotel through Green Park and past Buckingham Palace which was all lit up making it look even more majestic. Holding hands through the park watching families enjoying a late picnic or a stroll through the lush greenery created a romantic atmosphere for the pair of them. They compared notes on which dish they preferred and how lucky they were to be able to enjoy dining out in one of the most expensive restaurants in town.
Soon enough, they arrived back at the Hotel 41 and headed back to their suite where they enjoyed a warm shower to cool them down before slipping between the sheets for an evening of passion.
As they lay in each other’s’ arms casually flicking through the TV channels sometime later, Bradley’s thoughts drifted to the upcoming events of the weekend. The party was all arranged, thanks in no small part to Jessie’s cousin Caroline who had organised it all with Bradley’s help, then the impending reunion with his dad at his restaurant.
This bit was making him more apprehensive than anything else. He had read the reviews of the place, all were praising it highly, and he was looking forward to trying it out. What worried him most was his relationship with his father. It had become strained over the last few years after he made some disastrous decisions, losing his job, getting thrown out of the US and generally heading for a crash, and Bradley had grown tired of his exploits dragging his name through the mud. Could he forgive him? Could he really have settled down and left his past misdemeanours behind him? Only time would tell, but at least he was making an effort to mend the bridges rather than crash headlong into another disaster.
Jessie had found a decent film to watch on the TV so they settled down to watch it, although Bradley couldn’t concentrate too much with all the thoughts buzzing around in his head and soon drifted off to sleep.
When they awoke the next morning, the summer sun was lighting up their view of London spectacularly. They showered and dressed and called room service for some breakfast which arrived shortly after. They took breakfast out on their terrace which reminded them of their other home in Mijas which they were starting to miss. Watching the thousands of tourists setting out for a day of sightseeing made Bradley think. They had enjoyed their tour immensely yesterday and he would like to see more of the city.
‘Where do you want to go today, Jessie? I know you’ve seen a lot of London in your lifetime, but I only scratched the surface yesterday and wouldn’t mind seeing more of the sights. What do you suggest?’ Bradley asked as Jessie buttered another piece of wholemeal toast.
‘Well, my favourite places were always the Tower and the museums in Kensington. Them and the zoo. Haven’t been there for years. How about we spend the morning at the zoo then if we have time we can take in the Victoria and Albert Museum. How does that sound?’ She replied.
‘Sounds great. I’ve been to Edinburgh zoo a few times when I was a kid and liked it. What’s in the Victoria and Albert? Will I like it?’
‘Probably not as much as me, although you might be surprised. If you get bored we can pop over the road to the Science Museum. You might prefer that one.’ Jessie smiled.
They finished their breakfast and headed for the lift down to reception. As they were still slightly jetlagged from India, it was still only eight o’clock by the time they stood on Buckingham Palace Road waiting for a taxi which the doorman flagged down in seconds.
‘Alright, Guv? Where we heading?’ The taxi driver asked without looking as Bradley and Jessie were settling into their seats and buckling up.
Jessie told him they wanted to go to the zoo and took him by surprise by calling him Alan. The cabbie looked round and his face lit up.
’Bloody Hell, Jessie! What are the chances of picking you up as a fare? He exclaimed. ‘Your dad told me you were in town for a family party. How are you? You’re looking lovely as ever. And this must be Bradley. Nice to meet you mate. Blimey, my mates won’t believe me when I tell them who I’ve had in my cab today.’
Jessie laughed as she introduced the driver to him.
‘This is Alan, one of my dad’s best mates in the business. He normally patrols this area so I wondered if we’d find him. I’m alright Alan, enjoying life and all that. How are you and the family?’
‘They’re all good, love. I hear your dad’s out in Spain again. I reckon he’ll be giving up his taxi licence before too long. You must be spoiling him.’
Alan was a season ticket holder at West Ham, so he delighted in reminding Bradley about that Cup Final when they overturned the odds and beat Arsenal on the day. He remembered it well; it was one of the lowest days of his football career at that point. He told Alan that one day he would get revenge.
Even after they arrived at the zoo, they continued chatting in the taxi for another half hour until the place opened. He tried not charging them for the fare but Bradley insisted on paying and giving him a good tip. As soon as they had hugged their goodbyes, Alan was on the phone to his mates. He was right; nobody believed who he had just had in the back of his cab.