Month: October 2017

Where would you take someone who has never visited London before?

Where would you take someone who has never visited London before?

I’m looking for a little help here. Where do you take first time visitors to the capital? I’m definitely not thinking M&M’s World, Madam Tussauds, The Natural History Museum, the Eye or any of the other well-known destinations.

Where are the hidden treats that are special to you? Do you frequent a little café or art gallery? Is there a particular park you love? I’m looking for anything that’s bit off the beaten track that is important to your London life, but which you don’t mind sharing.

If you have suggestions please message me or leave comments. I want to start a thread called Secret London.

London’s Posh Pigeons

London’s Posh Pigeons

Posh Pigeons, London Pests or Parrots, if you live in the capital you must have seen or at least heard these green screaming banshees. Not sure what I’m talking about? London is now home to thousands of ring-necked parakeets.

When out walking the dog I usually hear them first as they shriek from tree to tree, then catch a flash of green as they speed past. I don’t know if they’re just trying to warm up, but they seem to fly faster than indigenous birds. Their numbers are booming, but why? Could it be global warming? Whatever the reason there seem to be a plague of them about town.

So, I hear you asking where the hell did they come from? This is where the story gets a little murky. Some claim they are the descendants of birds that escaped from Isleworth Studios during the filming of the movie ‘The African Queen’ which starred Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. But that was made in 1951, and I’m sure I never saw the little pests when I first moved to London.

Another bonkers theory is that Jimi Hendrix released a breeding pair during the 1968 Summer of Love.

A more likely explanation is that they are just escaped pets, which have somehow adapted to our rigorous climate.

Some would like to wring the necks of these ring-necked parakeets but not me; they don’t seem to bother other species and with winter on its way, they add a little tropical colour to our sometimes monochrome city.

Perfect London Sunday

Perfect London Sunday

Not sure what to do on a Sunday in London? Don’t want to splash the cash on a Sunday roast? Here’s what you do; you go to the Beigel Bake on Brick Lane and Columbia Road Flower Market. If you really want to keep it cheap you can get away with spending no more than a fiver, though that’s not including travel costs.

Get yourself to either Aldgate East or Old Street tube station and walk to Brick Lane.

There in all its glory, at the cross of Bethnal Green Road is the Beigel Bake. Not tried a beigel (pronounced bagel) before? They are a delicious Jewish delicacy that comes stuffed with either Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese or Salt Beef. The beigel itself has a wonderful chewy quality that is slightly sweet. It’s very important that you also buy a cup of tea that comes right out of the urn –  so thick you could trot a mouse on it. The combination of beigel and tea is sublime; the equivalent of mozzarella and basil or figs and Palma ham, though appreciably cheaper. The tea is 60 pence a plastic cup and a salmon and cheese bagel is £1.90. Don’t forget to order a dozen plain to take away, they freeze perfectly.

The Beigel Bake was established in 1974, runs a 24-hour operation (it’s very popular with clubbers in the early hours) and is said to produce 5,000 bagels a day.

While you’re on Brick Lane there’s lots to see and do from vintage clothes shops to art galleries or you could sit on a bench, eat your beigel and do some people watching.

Detour: At this point if you have a whole day you might want to go to Spitalfields Market which is close to hand, but I’ll leave that destination for another day.

Now full of beigel and tea, you need to take stroll to Columbia Road. If you want plants, flowers, shrubs and a fair bit of banter from the stall holders this is the place. The flower market is crammed into an impossibly narrow street and on a sunny day the crowds will be pressing but somehow it doesn’t feel claustrophobic. The market is open from 8am to 2pm and if you go late you might pick up some bargains as the traders try to get rid of unsold stock.

There’s also some great buskers and places in the central courtyard where you can grab a coffee; sometimes there’s an oyster stall. Plenty of tourists come, but so do Londoners in their droves. So, if you’re looking to plant petunias in your window box, buy some cut flowers or just want to be part of a London experience that dates back to the 19th Century then come to Columbia Road Flower Market.

Make the trip before winter has London in its icy grip or save the idea until the Spring. I know it’s a good day out, because I did it today.

London Wonder

London Wonder

Right outside my office window is a magnificent London Plane Tree. It’s probably around two hundred years old and is one of London’s wonders. Here’s two things that might get you interested – no Plane Tree has ever died from old age and they were ‘created’ about a mile from where I’m tapping at my keyboard in Vauxhall.

London Planes are easy to recognise as they are large, have beautiful hand-sized leaves and slough their skin like a snake. The bark peels off in layers and is one of the reasons they are so ubiquitous and healthy as its thought the pollution, dirt and grime of London falls away as the bark peels. They were planted in great numbers at the beginning of the 19th Century when the London air was thick with the soot and filth of the industrial revolution. Many of those trees are still alive and none have died from senescence so no one really know how long they live. Today they account for more than half of all the trees in London

The London Plane is a hybrid of the Oriental Plane and the Western Plane and was created or discovered, there is some dispute about this, by 17th century naturalist John Tradescant. He maintained a nursery garden in Vauxhall and Tradescant Road can be found just off South Lambeth Road in the heart of Little Portugal.

The leaves on these mighty trees are just starting to turn. As sunlight hits them, there is a glow of gold, russet and green set off by the camouflage bark of the trunk. Take a trip to Battersea Park, or any other London park, and see them in all their glory.

Live music venues – use ’em or lose ’em

Live music venues – use ’em or lose ’em

600 Club, Chelsea

‘Keep Music Live’

Took a trip to the 606 Club in Chelsea last Sunday to see Tony O’Malley, an old friend who fronts an excellent young band doing jazz, blues and soul numbers. Don’t worry I’m not going to review a friend’s gig here, but suffice to say Tony and his mates dished out great bucket loads of beautiful boogie.

I’ve been visiting the 606 since the 80’s when it sat slumped in a musical dungeon on the King’s Road. Then it was really cramped, dark and dusty with room for an upright piano and about twenty punters. The club now lives in more spacious premises on Lots Road, Chelsea close to the river.

It has the vibe of an old-fashioned jazz club with rickety bentwood chairs, a small stage replete with Yamaha grand piano and Ronnie Wood pictures on the walls. Even the food by jazz club standards is tolerable. The menu rarely seems to change but I generally go for Cumberland sausage with mash, largely because I’m either chatting with friends or listening to music and am not paying too much attention to what I’m gobbling.

If you look at their website you’ll see though the music is predominantly jazz, there’s also plenty of R&B, soul and blues. Heavy Metal; not so much.

If you are not a member you have to book a table to eat and you’ll pay a £10 or £14 music charge, that I’m reliably informed goes to the band.

Getting membership is a little byzantine. Essentially you must visit the club three times, and get a signed document to say you’ve done so, before you’ll be considered. Membership is currently £140 a year, and £90 should you renew. If you’re a member you don’t have to eat – yeah, I know it’s a little odd.

I was recently in New York where there seemed to be live music everywhere. Unfortunately, live music venues in London are closing left and right. If you have any interest in jazz or music that’s closely related, get down to the 606; you’ll be glad you did.

So you wanna be a rock & roll star?

So you wanna be a rock & roll star?

Perhaps you play guitar and sing or play the Venezuelan nose-flute and fancy placing your enormous talent before the discerning public. You need an urgent visit to an open mic.

You may well have heard about these vaguely intimidating events but don’t know how they work. Step forward Richard Gregory the open mic night king. He runs a website which is a sort of Trip Advisor for open mics. He lists the best and worst on offer and reviews what you can expect to find at various venues right across London. Summon up your courage, find one close to where you live and give it a go.

The majority take place in pubs, some in a separate room, others in the corner of a bar. They vary enormously, some are quiet shoe gazing events for whey-faced acoustic purists, others are noisy bare knuckle affairs. Choose your poison.

Many open mics are incredibly popular and you may need to get there in good time to get on the list. Music typically begins at 8pm, but you should get to the venue by 6.30 or 7pm to have any hope of getting on. There will be an organiser who runs the whole farrago so make sure when you arrive you find out who that person is and they are aware of your presence. The list may not open straight away and some are better than others at recognising who pitched up first; some also favour their mates. So keep an eye on this individual and when the list opens beat a path to the queue.

You will likely get to play two songs, on a quiet night you might get three. Your audience will often be made up of fellow musicians, a tricky crowd, but many are supportive especially if they discover you are something of an OM virgin.

A few ground rules for you:

  • You are performing and taking up people’s time and while the audience will cut you some slack, if you really can’t play, can’t remember your words, keep stopping and starting any residual goodwill, will soon fade away.
  • A personal plea from me – No Backing Tapes. I have nothing against Karaoke, but this is not the place for it.
  • There are usually around 20 or so slots a night and on a typical night around 5 acts will play in an hour – so you do the math as to when you might get on.
  • If you play guitar make sure it’s tuned up and unless you must use a pedal, perhaps a looper, leave them at home.
  • A quick stage entry and exit is vital to keep the wheels greased.
  • Listen and applaud other artists if you like them.
  • Don’t just turn up, play and leave, it appears rude.

These can be fun events, you won’t be paid but you will sometimes get free food and drink. Above all when you hit the stage look like you’re having a good time, because if you don’t it’s unlikely anyone else will. The range of talent is enormous from the gawd-help-us go away and practise for a year to the utterly sublime. Tempted? Give it a go.

Meet the mutt

Meet the mutt

Meet Rusty – AKA Rust Bucket, Police Dog Rusty or when out for a walk usually just BUCKET! She is the newest and most welcome member of the family and came to us from Battersea Dog’s Home.

We love Rusty; the cat (Ziggy) not so much. In fact, there’s a Mexican stand-off going on. Ziggy now lives upstairs, is spitting tacks, and making occasional sorties downstairs to eat the dog’s food in an effort to really piss-off the interloper. Meanwhile, the dog, located downstairs – baby-gate in place – thinks the cat is probably a cleverly disguised squirrel, and as according to Rusty squirrels are an abomination, must be destroyed. Keeping the peace is tricky, but we live in hope.

If you want a dog I’d urge you to get down to Battersea. Their service, a sort of Tinder for dogs and humans attempts to match you with your perfect pet.

First you register then face a not very rigorous interview to prove that you are fit to rehome a hound. Then comes the fun part of matching the type of dog you want with what they currently have in stock. (You can do this online but beware the pooch that looks perfect might already have found a new home.)

Process complete and with two or three dogs that might be right, you get to meet the mutts. Astonishingly, Rusty was the first dog we saw, and loved right away.

Battersea Dogs Home provide a fantastic service; Rusty cost us £135, but came with collar, lead, dog food, all the necessary shots, was neutered and had had a bad tooth removed. You also learn the dog’s history,  if it wasn’t a stray. There is aftercare too, so if you have problems you can take your dog back to see a vet in the early days after adoption.

Now we can’t wait for the Battersea Dogs get together in Battersea Park next summer. Right Bucket, walkies!