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.