31 January 2011

Primark threatens Hanway Street

I have just heard that Hanway Street, that handy cut-through from TottCtRd to Oxford Street, is under threat from a retail giant.
It seems Primark, the makers of mass-produced throw-away tat, sorry, clothes, are moving into the old Virgin Megastore and this narrow street at the back isn't wide enough for their delivery trucks. They have made proposals to Camden Council which will include widening the loading bays and altering the street to include designer boutiques. Mind you, it's been widened before (see below).
So Hanway Street, with its quirly mix of bars (mainly Spanish bars where I have spent many a late drunken night over the years), restaurants, record shops, offices and homes, may end up looking like Neal Street.
And I can clearly remember Neal Street when it had real shops in it... and Camden Passage... and Camden 's Chalk Farm Road... and Upper Street... and charing Cross Road... and... and...

28 January 2011

Andaz, Anzac, Antz, Ant and Dec Hotel, or whatever it's called

Up until this week I'd never been inside the Great Eastern Hotel at Liverpool Street. I'd always meant to wander in and have a snoop about, convinced as I was that inside would be like stepping into the past. Victorian and Edwardian railway hotels were always set up as showcases; just check out The Midland Grand Hotel in St Pancras and Gare D'Orsay in Paris, to name but two.
These days, however the hotel is owned and managed by the Hyatt group and they have seen fit to change the name to Andaz. Why they couldn't have kept the the original name or come up with a compromise such as 'The Hyatt Great Eastern' is beyond me because as I am having trouble remebering the new name (see title above!).
Apparently andaz is a Hindustani word which translates as 'personal style' but, having checked out the hotels rooms I'd say it just looks like Hyatt has been bulk-buying along TottCtRd, especially from Dwell and Elephant.
Much is made of their unconventional lobby area which has no 'traditional' desk or receptionists. Instead guests are welcomed by one of a team of meet-and-greeters who, they say, can organise everything for you whilst they whisk you to your cheerless 1980's-style-pale-grey-with-red-accents room. These are bland bland bland rooms and every one of them has the same colour scheme. Oh that plain dark brown wood is going to date so fast. It's all so charmless, cheerless and lifeless. How about a few tasteful pictures on the walls to remind the guests of the hotel's history? This would neatly tie in with the effort being made to link in to the area's East End cultural heritage – art exhibitions have been organised, and there are 'relevant' quotes on the walls in and around the circular atrium, but no-one seems to know who they are attributed to.
The connecting corridors and utilitarian 'Metropolis'-style stairwells and atriums that link the old and new parts of the building, all made me feel like I was in a sanitorium rather than an exclusive hotel. The lift is encased with industrial mesh that barely conceals electric wires and chalk marks. Looking down from the 2nd floor into the internal courtyard made me feel like a prisoner who isn't allowed to go down to the exercise yard.
But I did like gobo signage. At least letters can't fall off light projections, which is what had happened to the 3D signage. Shame. But then I'm all about interesting details, and there weren't many to see.
On the plus side, the room prices seem reasonable. Much is made of inclusive iPod docks, wifi and organic non-alcoholic minibars (eh?!)... but you only get one silly-shaped chair in a King-sized room!
Moving across to the older part of the hotel (still with bland rooms, but nicer doors)... and – wow! Like a smack in the face, and completely at odds with the new renovations, there's the old original marble staircase with moulded ceilings and grainy marble walls and... get this... just past that, a 'hidden' windowless Masonic temple/room that's wonderfully OTT.
The bars and restaurants on the ground floor are really lovely and still have their fabulous high ceilings and original features. The Champagne Bar mixes the old with the new perfectly and has some small architectural features picked out in modern vibrant green paint. If only the main part of the hotel had followed suit.
We had champagne and sushi (I hate the taste of wasabi so could only safely eat one of the pretty little things) and then, in Catch restaurant, we had fish cakes in consommé (lovely) and a cod dish (disappontingly tasteless and soggy), followed by a selection of scrummy cheeses, chutneys and delicious wines in 1901.
So to conclude... lovely restaurants and bars, friendly and helpful staff, hidden history, horrible hotel rooms.
My pics aren't really up to scratch this time... sorry; I was using an iTouch. Tom's are better. More hotel info and better pics are available here... go check out those posed model shots!

24 January 2011

One Eyed Grey – a Penny Dreadful

Time for an embarrassing confession.
I've known Chris for a few years now. I have been on a couple of his walking tours. The man is a wonderfully engaging story teller and a mine of intriguingly bizarre London facts. So how come I have only just got hold of a copy of the superb One Eyed Grey?
OEG is billed as "a penny dreadful for the 21st century" and contains macabre and scary London-based stories penned by a collective of writers. Order your copy here.
The red headings on some pages of the website are pretty scary too!
Top row: Battersea, Great Eastern Street, Grays In Road, Vauxhall Street
Middle row: St John Street, Blackfriars pub, Skinner Street, Millwall Docks
Bottom row: Mount Pleasant, Eastcheap, Harlseden, Seymour Place

Jerry Sadowitz is painful

And that's a bloody compliment!
I went to see his stand-up show last Friday night at the Leicester Square Theatre.
He was relentless... clever and ironic and offensive and intelligent and blasphemous and very funny indeed. I ached... I was exhausted from all the laughing and the concentration needed to keep up with him.
I think it was Billy Connolly who said that the only type of person who it's safe to offend these days is a white heterosexual man. I pretty sure Jerry doesn't agree with that!
Here are just some of the subjects he covers:
Top row: Cockspur Street, Haggerston, Holloway Road, South Tottenham
Middle row: Upper Street, Westminster, Rivington Street, Goswell Road
Bottom row: Crouch End, Holloway Road, Stamford Hill, West Smithfield

22 January 2011

Pavement Poetry

It seems I am not alone in my fascination for coal hole covers.
I was recently contacted by Maria Vlotides regarding a book about a public art project she has put together in conjunction with the Notting Hill Improvements Group.
Seven new coal hole covers have been designed, created and embedded into the pavements of W11 showing relevant quotes and poems by writers who live in the area including Sebastian Faulks and P.D. James. The project is backed by the Royal Society of Literature.
My copy of the book arrived this week. It's lovely. And full of great info. Plus, in the 'other sources' section at the back she has very kindly included the link to my set of coal hole photos on Flickr.
A similar project can be found in and around Brick Lane.

21 January 2011

Shelter's Vertical Rush

For those of you feeling fit (note I didn't say 'us') you might like to take part in a charity event organised by Shelter whereby you can run up to the top of Tower 42 in the City of London.
Starting at 7.30am on 3rd March, eight waves of runners will set off every hour.
Check the site here for more info.

19 January 2011

The London Art Fair

It's that time of year again when Islington's Building Design Centre is packed full of lovely things (and bad things and over-priced things). It runs from today until Sunday 23rd.
This year I will specifically be going along to see Payne Shurvell who I have been following since their opening show in June 2010. They may well be the newest/youngest gallery there. I'll be also coveting any palette-knifed landscapes by Sir Kyffin Williams' as they're far too expensive for my pocket, however, if anyone is ever feeling altruistic in my direction...(!). And, in amongst seeing all the new stuff, I'll be trying to stop myself buying another Stephen Walter map from Tag Fine Arts, and popping in on Beaux Arts Gallery who have some lovely stuff by Nathan Ford... oooh ... shame they are based so far away in Bath.
If only I had more money and a bigger house...

15 January 2011

Aerial photography in Not Going Out

Lee Mack's enjoyable sit-com Not Going Out is back on TV for it's 3rd series. I was chuckling away to it the other night, trying to ignore that he's depicted living in a HUGE central London warehouse conversion that would cost a bloody fortune, when I happened to notice that one of the aerial shots of London that are used to punctuate the scenes must be at least 2.5 years old.
It quite clearly shows Centrepoint with the fountains below it and, dare I mention this again, my favourite old gig venue, The Astoria, plus all the shops and other outlets on that stretch all of which have bulldozed to make way for this glass monstrostity masquerading as a tube entrance (see pic bottom left in that link... as I have said before, what a waste of space... There are horrible holes all through London in the name of Crossrail... a future post is in the making).
Oops, I am ranting again...!
So I paused the programme and took some snaps of the aerial shots just to see if the other shots had some architectural ghosts in them too. I would assume that these shots were accurate when the first series went out in 2006.
And then I recalled all the photos I took from my plane seat coming back into Heathrow last year:
See some of them larger here.

Hugh's Fish Fight

Sign up here to stop a terrible waste of life and resources.
Half of all fish caught in the North Sea are thrown back dead.
It just doesn't make sense.
Further afield tuna is being caught to the detriment of other marine life... despite what it tells you on the tins. And as for what farmed salmon are fed on... it just beggars belief.
Watch Hugh's three programmes on the subject here.
Hugh, I love you. Really, I do. And not just for this.
Also see the link in the first comment below re pirate fishing.
Top: Berkeley Square, Billingsgate, Manzi's (Lisle/Leicester Street, now demolished, though it's still on Google Streetview)
Middle: Leytonstone, East Acton Lane x2
Bottom: Battersea (batter!), Malden Road, Cheapside

11 January 2011

A Flea in Her Ear

Last night I went to see A Flea in Her Ear at The Old Vic.
My evening didn't start very well as just before curtain up they announced that the wonderful Tom Hollander was not performing. I was so disappointed that I didn't properly hear the reason why. I hope he's not unwell even if did practically ruin the play for me before it had even started just by not being there. Actually, no, I hope he's incapacitated, I will accept no other excuse, especially as the posters for the play read, "So good they cast him twice". What a shame, I'll just have to keep watching him in this and this.
So, to the play. For the first 15 mins or so I thought it was me who had a flea in the ear, or some kind attention deficit, as the actors spoke so fast with such daft accents or speech impediments, and all over the beginnings and endings of each other's sentences, that it was almost impossible to accurately comprehend half of what they were saying.
When I discussed this in the interval with my three friends they were so relieved because they are French, Spanish and Malaysian which is all rather ironic seeing as the whole play is a French farce based on the mis-understandings of a bunch of Europeans. (Yes, I do know Malaysia isn't in Europe.)
But it turns out it's a fab play and I loved it. There were some great comedic performances in there, especially from Jonathan Cake and Greg Baldock who really did a wonderful job standing in for Tom Hollander, so let's hope for Greg's sake that Tom's ill for longer, ha ha!
Here are some insects and stuff:
Clockwise from top left:
Golden Jubilee Bridge, Kentish Town, Holland(er) House EC3, Rugby Street, Bank, my garden, Spanish Place, a Gregg's cake.

9 January 2011

Red feathers and black lace

It's been drawn to my attention that there were a load of semi-naked women in Trafalgar Square last week taking part in an attempt to break the Guinness Book of World Records' attempt for the largest burlesque dance. Sponsored by Virgin, it tied in with that ad that's showing on TV at the moment, hence all the red and black being worn.
I'm no prude but if I was going to parade around semi-naked I'd rather fly off on one of their planes and do it on a beach in the Caribbean or the Far East wearing a bikini. And I do have one in both colours should they need me!
Top row: Walthamstow Village, Rosemary Branch, Serpentine Gallery, Stoke Newington
Middle row: Islington, Surrey Docks, Highgate Village, London Bridge
Bottom row: Battersea, Clerkenwell, Bayswater, Holloway.

7 January 2011

Death duties

I went to a funeral earlier this week at St Marylebone Crematorium in East Finchley.
Not the jolliest of subjects I know, and I did promise earlier this week to post about some more positive things, but this was a lovely Humanist service and all about the life of our dear dead friend including a few poems and poignant (actually amusing) music. No hymns, no religion. Everyone there thought it was a wonderful send-off.
It was a far cry from how it was in Victorian times, especially after the death of Queen Victoria, when people were encouraged to save and plan for 'the right kind of burial' which might include horses with feathers, pall bearers, even mutes, who were sad looking people who could be hired to stand silent for hours looking grieved. It was understood that the more you paid the more you cared. There were also strict codes on what one should wear and for how long that ought to be depending on the relationship to the deceased.
It became a very lucrative business as people tried to out-do each other. And check out theses strange customs and superstitions from that period.
These days the lovely old funeral parlour shop fronts in our high streets, complete with cut glass, gold lettering ironic clocks, probably make up a huge percentage of the handful of Victorian shops left in London.
Death is the only certainty of life and so this trade will never really be out of fashion.
Top row: Malden Rd, Tottenham, New Cross, Willesden
Middle row: Hoxton, Finsbury, Walthamstow, Kentish Town
Bottom row: Bloomsbury, Willesden (ghostsign), Hoxton, Limehouse (any news on this place greatly appreciated... it was closed for years and last seen looks like this fabulous frontage may be heading for the wrecking ball...)
See all these here.

6 January 2011

The root of all evil

As this goes live I will be seeing my dentist. He'll be drilling and packing my dodgy molar. But once done, joy of joys, I will be able to eat with it again and swill cold water around it. And then I can look forward to getting a nice expensive crown made.
Crown (& Sceptre, now a restaurant) Gt Titchfield St; enamel off Essex Rd; Sweetoof Brick Lane; Drill Hall, Chenies St; gum Crouch End; Regents Canal; teeth Fleet St; filling Earls Court.