The bright winter sun is shining as we step into the Three Wise Monkeys, the vintage Emporium next to Osprey.  A musty air fills the space as we wander into the first room arranged with tall glass cabinets and Victorian bookcases. The shelves are packed with mostly seventies paraphernalia, from old puzzles still in their original boxes, to tall piles of worn paperbacks from The Wombles of Wimbledon to Peter and Jane Ladybird books.

I’m especially drawn to a Dr. Who jigsaw puzzle with a photo on the box of Peter Davidson as the Doctor pointing a laser gun directly at a menacing Dalek. I love it and think it would be perfect for my eleven year-old nephew who enjoys puzzles, and would evoke a sense of nostalgia in my brother.

Upstairs we meander through more rooms displaying a wonderful variety of curiosities from old paper packets of sewing patterns to colourful Vintage Dr. Martens. My daughter rummages around in the vintage clothing section; she loves the scarves and fiddles with some elaborate brooches. Meanwhile, I pick up a toy cash register so similar to the one I had as a child.

It’s the weirdest thing ever seeing a child of the digital era stepping through time and playing in fascination with an old dusty Gramophone. It seems pretty alien and my daughter asks me how it works as she winds the lever. I watch her touch it in fascination as she mumbles, “It’s so mechanical!”

Predictably, I’m drawn to a selection of old manual typewriters. I must admit I’m old enough to have typed my first poems on such typewriters in my early teens. I remember the rhythmic tapping sound of the keys and the imprint every letter made onto the blank page. Then the satisfaction I felt pulling the paper off the roller as another poem was completed, perfect and neat.

I’m suddenly transported back to the leafy London streets of my childhood when I spot an old pair of roller skates from the mid-seventies; two pieces of red leather are tied together with white laces to fit around your shoes on a metal base. I can see myself now running after my big sister and her friend Esther who whizz by me on their roller skates, older and so much cooler, leaving little sis behind.

We head downstairs passed the tea room and outside to find my husband sitting in the sun on a bench beside several pewter pots filled with daffodils, an arrangement of copper bed warmers and a large barrel filled with garden tools. It’s been a peaceful way to unwind on a Sunday afternoon and we look forward to popping back in March and bringing one or two of my antiquarian books for them to have a look at on their ‘Antiques Roadshow’ valuation day.

When I was a teenager I sometimes used to meet up with my cousin after school and go to a local café to discuss existential issues and boys over apple pie and custard and a hot cup of tea. Today walking into The Pudding Stop with my daughter reminds me of those days.

It’s a cold February afternoon and although she’d rather be hanging out with her friends I have persuaded her to come shopping then join me for a quick pudding. We step into the warm and take a seat at the back away from the cold. A huge etching on the wall depicts an old-fashioned baker’s stand with customers queuing and a friendly baker giving out traditional pastries.

The space is quite small and has a rustic and homely feel with wooden flooring and simple chairs. Six rectangular tables are arranged in neat rows each seating up to eight people and we can hear other people’s conversations. I can see that it’s a popular place attracting both a younger and older crowd.

As soon as we look at the menu divided into Breakfasts and Puddings. We immediately know what we want and the friendly waitress comes over and takes our order. It’s a difficult choice and once I have ordered, I’m still drawn by all of the other delights including Baileys hot chocolate, Nutella doughnuts and salted caramel and peanut butter brownies.

My apple and rhubarb crumble arrives in a ceramic pot alongside the custard. I like the presentation, scoop half of it out onto the plate and pour on the thick custard. My daughter has ordered a flourless chocolate and salted caramel cake covered in a rich dark chocolate sauce with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.

We smile at each other realizing the absurdity of eating these puddings after having been to the gym in the morning. We take our first bite and my chatty teenage daughter is silenced as she enjoys a chocolate hit. My nutty crumble is the perfect consistency and the tart rhubarb compliments the sweetness of the apple.

I like the fact that The Pudding Stop is open as late as 11 at night like a New York diner. The waitress tells us about film night on Sundays when a projector is shone onto the back wall; such a clever use of space.

As we leave I mention that we’ll be back, as I glance over at the unusually deep cinnamon swirls and savoury tarts on display. The waitress gives us a loyalty card and recommends their brilliant Breakfast brunches!

We walk into Mokoko, an award winning cocktail bar on Verulam road; it’s just a small building from the outside but as I close the door behind me, the dim glowing lights, low ceiling, closed venetian blinds and background base tunes give it an intimate feel.

The barman is busy making drinks, shaking the mixer over his shoulder. We’re handed the champagne and cocktail menu with a smile then go and take a seat on the velvety sofas. I take my time to explore the menu packed with so many choices from creamy dessert concoctions to more zingy mixes.

I like the sound of Foxy lady but my husband assures me that I don’t need it! What’s he after this time? The Lanesborough sounds thirst quenching laced with Mercier champagne and Cointreau, but in the end I go for a Cuban Spiced Martini, as it’s the closest I’ll get to Cuba on a cold winter’s evening in Hertfordshire!

I feel like a child in a sweet shop as I watch the spirits, bitters and juices being blended with such skill. I take my first sip and feel the cool sweet hit of dark vermouth, spices and a honey and apple base.

Apparently, the first definition of cocktail appeared in 1806 in a New York newspaper wherein the editor claimed that a “Cock-tail is a stimulating liquor, composed of spirits …. sugar, water, and bitters….it renders the heart stout and bold, at the same time fuddles the head…”

I might suggest that my husband book us into a Mokoko cocktail master class for my next birthday when the bartenders become master mixologists! The barman tells me that each person learns the technical skills involved in making a couple of cocktails, as sophisticated or unusual as they like, then they’re split into groups and have a competitive fun tasting quiz to see if they can remember what they’ve learned.

It’s not my first time here and there always seems to be a lively group of girls in their twenties celebrating a birthday or a hen night. Apparently the comedy and jazz nights are entertaining and that they even hold speed dating evenings for singles. I read the menu again and am bombarded with a world of delicious possibilities from Japanese plum sake to cassis Tomoka gin. I try another cocktail with passion fruit juice, vanilla vodka and champagne; it has a slightly sweet and sour taste that blends perfectly.

I look forward to next time and trying out more strange new flavours. After only two cocktails, any stress seems to have melted away and my husband takes me by the hand making sure that I can see the steps on my way out! I smile sweetly at him dewy-eyed; it really has been a happy hour!

We head to Prime Steak and Grill, perfectly located across the road from the Odyssey cinema. The pretty LED cherry blossom trees light up a cold dark London Road on a wintry evening. We step passed the threshold and into a warm and convivial atmosphere.

Oak panelled walls and exposed brickwork decorated with mirrors and quirky oil paintings of cows create a contemporary feel and a stylish ambience. The parquet wooden flooring patterned in lighter and darker shades of wood and the comfortable dark leather chairs add a luxurious feel.

The waiter welcomes us in and takes our coats. We’re seated and have a look at the menu. Low hanging pendant lights and bright candles softly illuminate the tables. We take a look at the menu and order a full-bodied Chilean red wine. The menu is filled with all kinds of steak and sauces. I’m impressed with the wide choice of side dishes like: Irish black pudding, mustard mash and triple cooked chips.

I go for a sirloin steak with chestnut mushrooms on the side. I always feel a little self-conscious when asked how I would like my steak as I realize that connoisseurs eat it medium to rare, but I prefer it well done. My husband orders his steak on the bone as the waiter suggests it’s tastier.

Once it arrives, the waiter proudly presents the steak; it tastes excellent, and is cooked to perfection. I hear shouts and laughter behind me and there, in a circular booth, is a group of guys. They’re clearly having some fun male bonding time, washing down their prime rib eyes with a few beers.

The book Men are from Mars Women are from Venus that I read all those years ago comes to mind and at this very moment in time they seem complete, fulfilled and at peace.

So what is it about meat and men? An American poet, A.D Posey once said:  “Screw chocolate. A good steak is where it’s at!” Fortunately he wrote that in the comfort of his own study and not to a live female audience! According to a poll in Esquire magazine in 2016, men would prefer to give up smoking and drinking rather than steak!

The stodge in my stomach weighs me down and I try to get up from my seat, and I can feel that my face has reddened. It ‘s a relief to step out into the freezing cold air and get some exercise; we walk all the way to the cinema with only one thing on my mind, chocolate!