29 December 2011

A little bit of what you fancy

Walking past Angels in Shaftesbury Avenue Road the other week I stopped in my tracks. Didn't they only used to sell dance gear, ballet shoes etc? I am sure I remember their windows used to display tutus, satin pumps and tap shoes, but these days it's all about fancy dress. And you can see into the shop from the street. Am I going mad? I don't remember that either.
I am not a fancy dress party fan. Most of them are too 'organised' for me. By which I mean I like a party with a loose theme where you can invent something subtle, but I am not into the big dos full of the kind of people who never come out all year round but will splash out for a gorilla or Elvis costume for New Year's Eve so that they can pretend to be someone interesting for a change. These are the same people who think it's disgusting to wear second hand clothes yet they will gladly hire something that has been danced about in and dribbled down by 17 other people beforehand.
Ooh, got that off my chest!!
I am not sure yet what I will be doing for this New Year's Eve. I've got a few options. Last year I wandered up to Parliament Hill with my sister and a friend and we stood with hundreds of other like-minded souls and waved sparklers, quaffed champagne and ate chocolates whilst watching fireworks across London. It was really lovely.
Whatever you do, have a great time and here's looking forward to a happy and prosperous 2012.

Fancy ironwork. Now this I like:

Top row: Marylebone x2, Highgate, Queensway
Middle row: Piccadilly, Holloway, City, Kew
Bottom row: Belsize Park, Belgravia, Kings Cross, Bloomsbury

26 December 2011

Christmas Day Walk 2011

When most people were opening presents or stuffing turkeys I was walking around an almost deserted West End with Peter Berthoud and a group of like-minded souls.
My walk started at 9.15am when I set off from Holloway, taking every opportunity to walk in the road. Because I could. People that passed me said 'hello' or 'merry Christmas'. How nice. It wasn't until about noon that tourists started emerging from their hotels.
I kept stopping to take photos on the way but still managed to be only five minutes late to meet Peter and the others under Admiralty Arch at 10.30am.
He led us up St Martin's Lane, into Covent Garden and Seven Dials, across to St Giles, over into Soho, a meander along the blissfully quiet and empty Oxford Street, then down Carnaby Street and Regent Street, across Piccadilly Circus and into Leicester Square, ending up with a few pints in the Bear and Staff.
Peter pointed out some things I had never spotted before such as little bits of street art and that donation pipe at the side of the House of St Barnabas on Soho Square – how on earth have I managed to miss that all these years? Ditto the story behind one of the statues on Trafalgar Square, and Renzo Piano's rationale for the colours of those bullying buildings at St Giles. I also spotted a few new things of my own along the way (fire alarm bells with old telephone codes etc, a bizarre green plaque etc).
All in all a really nice day. I met some lovely people and learned some new things. Then, when I'd tramped all the way home again, I made myself a bowl of comfort food and watched TV until I dozed off... lovely.
Peter says he enjoyed doing the three walks so much that he plans to do them again next year. Good on him!
More pictures on Flickr.

22 December 2011

Coal hole covers as stars and snowflakes

Walking through Bloomsbury the other day I had this seasonal idea...



18 December 2011

Keeping a diary

From the age of about ten I started to write a diary. It became an obsession; I thought missing a day would be terrible – what if something amazing suddenly happened and I hadn't written it down?!
I continued the ritual until about eight years ago when I was finding it a bit silly, what with boyfriend, job and other commitments. It's not like anyone else ever cast an eye over my thoughts (not that I would have cared if anyone did read it; it was, of course sort of coded, with nothing specifically spelled out). If anyone had bothered to read any of my musings I doubt they would they have cared about what I'd had for lunch or what I thought of that woman in Safeways. Looking back on past writings now, I wonder who the hell was John/Jim/Mary in the pub that night who I thought was worthy of a mention for being so funny? They have been lost to me now.
I hated to miss a day and would sometimes play catch up, so I would scribble something down before I went to sleep most nights, so the funniest days to read back on are the almost indecipherable scribbles and rantings written when I got in at 3am rather the worse for alcohol.
I never took my real diary away with me on holidays because I was scared I would lose my it, so I would write in a notepad and then copy it all up when I got back. How bloody ridiculous is that?! What if the house burned down in my absence? So I just had to stop.
These days I just stick to keeping a day diary which I fill with notes of to dos and appointments. And I still prefer to write things down on paper. With a pen. Yes. Really. It's much faster than typing into an all-singing all-dancing do-it-all phone.
I used to get the wonderful Time Out diary because it's packed out with useful London info. But it took me about 12 years to realise I never really consulted said info. So I downsized to anything I could find in a pound shop. Sometimes I'd even find one with a free pen attached. Result.
But this year I have treated myself to the little gem that is Santoro's London Underground Pocket Diary with it's tube map on the outside (no flicking to some miniature thing on the inside back page) and tabbed months and planners in the colours of the tube lines.
I also have another diary which is really quirky but is really aimed at those people who don't really keep diaries – Keel's Simple Diary. Available in a range of gorgeous colours (mine's the lovely Dark Red), as they say on the blurb it "entertains, helps you focus and keeps you company". Every page is open for you to write in it as and when you please. There's no pressure to write every day. In fact you could take years to fill it in. Or not fill anything in at all because every page/day throws up thought-provoking suggestions, questions, ideas and quotes. It's really novel(!).
Here are some of my photos of London dates taken from my larger collection on Flickr. One of these was in the news earlier this year. . .

14 December 2011

London street markets

Mary Portas has been in the news lately talking about injecting some life into our ailing local high streets. Her solution is to (re)introduce street markets.
Well, nice one Mary – whilst I totally agree (hell, I do stalls myself; and let me tell you it ain't fun when it's raining or windy) it gets me thinking about all the markets that we don't have anymore and the dwindling sizes of some of the ones that are still clinging on. The ones that immediately pop into my mind are Lambeth Walk, Hoxton St, Chalton St, hey, even Chapel market in Angel is only half the size it used to be.
I grew up in Romford and the market was amazing when I was a child. You could spend a whole day there going up and down the aisles of stalls and buy everything from soap and vegetables to puppies and haberdashery. Mum told me stories of the cattle market that used to be there when she was young. But today it's a shadow of its former self, now being ignored by people who just want to shop in the adjacent air-conditioned covered homogenous shopping malls.
A while ago I took some photos of pages of a Picture Post from December 1938 showing Lambeth Walk how it was pre-war. Under one picture about the market it reads, 'There's all kinds of stalls including food and clothes and cats' meat . . . really more of a meeting place". I will type it all up post the whole lot up at some point in the future.
And now I recall that on a wall in a restaurant I go to in Turkey(!) there is a photo showing a bustling street market in Farringdon Road in the middle of the 20th century. I have no idea why it's there, and nor does the owner. To the left of it is another photo from the same period shows the main Britannia junction at Camden during the same period. Strange, and very out of place.
But, back to Mary; she's basically right... we're losing our town centres and our sense of community and something needs to be done to rectify this. Farmers' markets are proving popular (though perhaps their high prices deter most people on a budget), and more and more craft markets are springing up.... bring it on... more pitches for me! (it's all about me!).
Speaking of Mary, I recently went and had a look at her clothes outlet in Oxford Street's House of Fraser. I was very disappointed. Considering she is aiming at selling to women of 'a certain age' the boutique is swimming in man-made fibres; hardly appropriate for ladies who 'glow'. Where are the natural basics such as wool jumpers, silk scarves, simple cotton long-sleeved tops and Ts? It all looked like cheap rubbish to me. I left quickly and went to Uniqlo instead. Yes, that's a high street shop, not a market stall...
Top: Broadway, Shepherd, Exmouth, Columbia
Middle: Hoxton, Lambeth Walk 1938, Petticoat
Bottom: Middlesex, Church, Chapel, Portobello

13 December 2011

Summer in the winter beer garden on the South Bank

For 3 days we can forget winter, cold weather and Christmas, and instead hang out within the heated dome of the 'Corona Extra Summer' pop-up bar on the South Bank's Riverside Walkway (between Waterloo Bridge and Gabriel's Wharf) from Thursday 15th to Saturday 17th December.
Well, hell, why not? What's not to like?

9 December 2011

Charles Dickens 200th anniversary

Charles Dickens was born on 7th February 1812. Which mean next year is his 200th 'birthday'.
The wonderful Museum of London has put on a special exhibition to commemorate this much-loved story-teller. As well as lots of Dickens' personal items and effects, including manuscripts and paintings, the museum has recreated Victorian London using sound projections.
The exhibition runs from 9th December until 10th June. More info here.
Dickens and some of his characters and places. All are fairly self-explanatory excluding The Lord Clyde which is in Clennam Street.

7 December 2011

Notting Hill Festive Shopping Night

Oh gawd... you wait for ages and then they all come along at once...
Prior to Lamb's Conduit Street's Christmas event on Friday 9th there's another special shopping night on the eve of Thursday 8th in Notting Hill.
The area around the junction of Westbourne Grove and Ledbury Road is teeming with independent boutiques and eateries selling a wide range of fashion and lifestyle goods.
Between the hours of 6pm and 9pm on Thursday they will be offering all sorts of goodies, including festive treats, discounted products, carol singers and lots more.
So this week you have two good reasons to avoid the banality and homogeneity of Oxford Street and Westfield.

6 December 2011

Happy St. Nicholas Day

Today is the feast day of St Nicholas, patron saint of many countries and many things.
I'd write more, but it's all here in this fabulous site. I can't stop poking around in this site... I have things to do and this is distracting me... it's just too good.
Thank you Paul Bommer.

4 December 2011

Lamb's Conduit Street

Lamb's Conduit Street, for those of you who do not know, is situated in Bloomsbury between Holborn and Coram Fields. It continues north across Theobald's Road from Red Lion Street and roughly forms the western edge of some of the oldest Georgian Streets in London, namely Doughty Street, John Street, St James' Street and especially Bedford Row which, I am told, contains one of the oldest complete Georgian houses in London (or something like that – please feel free to put me right about this – I seem to recall either Dan Cruikshank or Maxwell Hutchinson talking about this on a TV programme years ago).
This area is great for those one-off gifts – a shopping experience very unlike Oxford Street. And nothing at all like Westfield (ech spit).
Ignoring the prescence of one of the major coffee chains (ech spit 2), Lamb's Conduit Street, and adjoining Rugby Street, boasts a range of independent shops offering all sorts of wonderful things – groceries, homewares, gifts, books, bicycles, lingerie, food, alcohol, curiosities, clothes and proper coffee. Plus a chemist, a florist a funeral director, and a community-run supermarket. So much in such a small area.
Every time I visit the street I wish I lived closer to it. Years ago I had the option of buying a flat near this area and I let someone talk me out of the idea. What a fool I was! Did I mention the good pubs and choice of restaurants too?
There's a late night shopping event coming up soon on Friday 9th December. The shops will be open until 8pm and there will be mulled wine on offer.
Actually, don't tell too many people about this gem... please only tell the lovely people who will appreciate it. We don't have enough areas like this left in London – I remember when Camden Parkway was similarly special... sigh.