Month: August 2018

Basqueing in the late summer sun

Basqueing in the late summer sun

This blog has decamped to France, so you are now reading Une Petite Vie Francaise or something like that. No doubt I’ve got the gender wrong and I’m certainly lacking a cedilla because I can’t find it on this computer keyboard. Sticklers among you will now be saying well that’s very nice for some, but what has this got to do with London which is supposed to be the blog’s USP. The answer to that perfectly reasonable question is not much, barely anything, but not absolutely nothing if I’m allowed to veer off into the double negative.

We are staying in Biarritz which is set deep in the heart of Basque Country. I know it’s Basque Country because I’ve discovered a desert called Gateau Basque. This is a pleasant cake-like thing made from ground almonds (probably) and in the case of the one I’m wading through right now, is stuffed with cherry jam. It may not be up there with the great French dishes such as Bouillabaisse or coq au vin but I seem to be able to eat it quite happily for breakfast, then as a desert for lunch and supper. Say what you like about Gateau Basque, it’s versatile.

Biarritz was once popular with the Beau Monde who came here to gamble and party, particularly in the early part of the last century. There is still a grand casino, large Art Deco hotels and wide sandy beaches which are now sought after by surfers rather than the crowned heads of Europe.

Come the sixties the better weather in Nice and the attraction of Brigitte Bardot and her ilk meant the money moved a little further South East to the Mediterranean and away from the more stormy pleasures of the Atlantic seaboard.

Miremont Biarritz
Miremont Café Biarritz

For breakfast we ventured, en famille, to a rather grand cafe called the Miremont. On the outside window there is a photograph of King Alfonso XIII visiting the Miremont with his ‘young’ wife. I’m not fully boned up on Alfonso V13, nor entirely sure which country benefited from his beneficent rule, but it looks to me like this might be Mrs King II, or the younger trophy wife.

The maitre d’, told us proudly that Biarritz was once the ‘Queen of resorts and the resort of Kings’ and that it was once said that at teatime there were ‘fewer pastries than Queens and fewer rum babas that Grand Dukes’.

Well the Preens are not easily intimidated, so barging a few Barons out of the way and treading a couple of Earls underfoot, we made our way to our table. The thing about mixing with The Quality is that it doesn’t come cheap. The creamy rich cafe au lait came in at €5.90 a pop while the croissants were a bank busting €2.20 and the daughter’s orange juice or fruit presse was €6.60. But Grand Dukes don’t complain about l’addition and neither do the Preens when the food is this yummy.

The Miremont prides itself on its ‘cosy charm and grand style’ which is a tricky combination to pull off. As we are leaving the maitre d’, who the daughter described rather unfairly as an old goat (vielle chevre), told us that King Edward VII, used to stay every year at the Hotel De Palais, while ‘remaining faithful to the Miremont’s confections’ and of course remained faithful to the wife who cost him the throne. We were also shown the Royal Coat of Arms that was bestowed on the Miremont by Queen Victoria who apparently used to send Albert down to pick up the buns.

Plogg Blog

Plogg Blog

I’ve started plogging. Actually, I’ve been at it for a while. I guess like any addiction, at first you think you’re in control and you can take it or leave it. Initially I’d go for a while without plogging then suddenly I’d be back at it again until I realised I was doing it every day. My name is Jim and I’m a plogger.

Plogging came from Sweden and is a conflation of the Swedish words ‘plocka uppa’ which means pick up and our word jogging. What you’re picking up is garbage and you’re doing it while exercising.

Environmentalist Erik Ahlström started the craze in Stockholm when he noticed that even in squeaky clean Stockholm, garbage was lining his jogging route. As night follows day a Facebook page appeared and a hashtag (#plogga) was born. Plogging now has a world-wide presence in countries as far-flung as the US, Thailand, Ecuador, and Canada.

As exercise trends go it’s a bit odd as inevitably there’s lots of stopping and starting involved, not to mention a fair bit of bending. Think of it as environmental interval training. I often plogg when I walk the dog which you might call dogging, until you remember that’s a very different kind of outdoor activity.

Research carried out earlier this year by Keep Britain Tidy revealed that one in five visitors to London’s Royal Parks leave litter on the ground contributing to more than 3,000 tonnes of waste collected by park teams every year at a cost of more than £1.7m. So, if you fancy a go, don’t worry there’s plenty of junk to plocka uppa.

So far, my plogging has been rather solitary with just Bucket (the dog) for company, but that’s all set to change. Plogging is coming to our neck of the woods in South London. On Sunday 16th September a ploggathon is happening at Battersea Park. You can walk or run for between one and four miles picking up the trash as you go. Bring a bag, some gloves and enjoy a picnic afterwards, just don’t bring any single use plastic. Sign up here and I’ll see you on the day.

10 Tips for tourists in London

10 Tips for tourists in London

  1. Buy an Oyster card for each person in your group. An Oyster card gets you on the underground and busses. It’s a plastic card that can be topped up at any underground station and most news agents. Beware, the tube is quite expensive, but thanks to the tube map very easy to navigate. Buses can be a bit more of a challenge but are far cheaper. To figure out bus rides click here for the very handy Transport for London route planner. You may have already done this but download the City Mapper app on your phone, it’ll drain the battery but will help get you around. Tube etiquette: stand on the right when riding the escalators and let people out of the carriages first. If you don’t you will be subjected to a drive-by of tutting.  London is a great walking city, but it is very spread out and there are places you will likely want to visit that are not in the centre.

  2. The City of London is not the city of London. The City of London or Square Mile as it’s sometime known is home to the financial sector and not the city centre. The tourist centre of London radiates out from Piccadilly Circus.

  3. Ask a Londoner. If you know someone who lives in London, ask them where they would take someone on their first visit and be clear you don’t mean Madame Tussauds or Buckingham Palace. Now you may want to go to those two places but there are a lot of hidden gems out there that are not always in the tourist guides. My suggestions? The Courtauld Gallery and the Brick Lane Bagel Bake.

  4. London can seem very expensive, but there’s lots of free stuff. Most of the major museums and art galleries are free and just ask for donations, which if you are poverty struck backpacker you may eschew. But of course, you’ll make up for that in later life when you have a job, right? Tate Galleries, Natural History Museum, Science Museum, V&A, National Gallery and many more – all free.

  5. West End theatres are very expensive so check out local theatres such as The Park Theatre in Finsbury Park. If you want to see a West End show, then try the Tix app where with persistence you can see shows for a little as £15. Top tip: At the Old Vic you can often get standing tickets for less than £10. An usher will usually allow you to take a seat as inevitably someone won’t show up or the place is not sold out.

  6. Despite what some people think, Londoners are friendly. Ask for directions and advice and you’ll be surprised how forthcoming people are. Just check to see whether they’re wearing earphones. Having said that don’t be dumb as pickpocketing and other scams do exist and there’s been an epidemic of kids riding mopeds, snatching phones from people’s hands. Use your common sense, watch your valuables and you should be fine.

  7. Go to the parks, they are free, provide us with air we breathe and are beautiful. My particular favourite, which most tourists don’t visit is Battersea Park, but right in the centre you have Hyde Park, Regent’s Park, Green Park and St James’s, plus a host of smaller green spaces. As much as I love the place this is where we beat New York hands down as they only have Central Park.

  8. Time Out, once the great listings magazine, is a shadow of its former self but still a handy resource. It’s now a free publication (available in print on a Tuesday) go here for the online version.

  9. Don’t eat at chain restaurants, though I have to admit I’m quite often found inside Pret a Manger at lunchtime. There are thousands of small eateries waiting for your custom. Seek them out in the neighbourhood you are staying in. And at least once, eat a Full English Breakfast.

10. Speak English! Here’s a quick guide.


  1. Loo means toilet or bathroom/washroom
  2. Ta means thank you as does cheers
  3. Chips are french fries and crisps are potato chips
  4. Petrol is gas
  5. The Boot of a car is the trunk
  6. Fag is a cigarette
  7. A biscuit is a cookie
  8. A hole in the wall is a cash machine or ATM
  9. The underground or tube is the subway or metro
  10. Queuing up means standing in line

    Readers very kindly sent in some of their own tourist suggestions

    Dawn: I would check the walking distance in between tube stops as sometimes it is far quicker to walk between stops than catch a busy tube! Here’s a handy map.

    Jester: Visit some of the smaller art galleries and museums such as the Dulwich Picture Gallery or the Geffrye Museum in Hackney. For something different there is Hackney city farm about two streets from that museum. Another good city farm is at Mudchute on the DLR. If all else fails, go to Manze’s Pie ‘n’ Mash on Tower Bridge Road.

    Dawn:  Visit Box Park in Shoreditch and have a drink upstairs in the fresh air! It’s a shopping arcade built out of shipping containers with an open top bar that sells lovely Caribbean food.

    Margaret: Whilst visiting the George pub at London Bridge see also Borough Market , Southwark Cathedral and walk alongside the Thames up to Tate Modern.

    Barbara: The Coram Foundling Museum is fascinating.  As is the William Morris Museum in Walthamstow.

    Tony: I’d suggest St Paul’s Cathedral – the inside is incredible and you can climb up to a small platform at the top of the dome with fantastic views over London. It’s just over 500 steps up so it’s a tough climb. They do guided tours which are well worth going on. You get to see places like the stairs used in the Harry Potter films and hear lots of stories about the history of the cathedral. If you keep your ticket you can go back for free up to a year later.

The Unwelcome Guest: Get outa here

Those of you who read this blog regularly will know that on occasion I talk about my prostate cancer treatment under the title The Unwelcome Guest. It’s been pointed out that this more serious stuff sits uncomfortably with the flippant flim-flam and fol-de-rol that I usually turn out here.

That being the case, The Unwelcome Guest has been packed into a removal van and dragged kicking and screaming to its own blog. If you want to keep up with the little bastard this is where you need to be as The Unwelcome Guest won’t be appearing on A Little London Life in the future.

Dressing Down

Dressing Down

Warning: Rant blog on the way men dress

I don’t think I’ve ever known a time when men dressed so badly. Blokes in London seem completely lost as to how to dress. Get on the tube and first of all look up. Can you see any man present who has given any thought as to what he’s wearing? Then look down to check the shoes. Oh god it’s pitiful: At best scuffed trainers and fake leather slip-ons. Nobody will be wearing shoes or boots that you actually have to polish.

When I was growing up all we had was music and clothes, both of which were equally important. Music clearly still matters, but clothes seem to have fallen off the map, giving way to apps and Google maps. Once you weren’t properly dressed without a tie, now you’re improperly dressed without a smart phone.

I was speaking yesterday with Guy Hills at Dashing Tweeds, a firm which as the name suggests make fantastic tweed suits. He made the point that in days gone by people used to aspire to dress well. They dressed up. Just think of Teddy Boys and Mods. Both tribes were largely working class but wanted to escape the tedium of work wear and found ways to look fantastic. Teddy Boys did this by dressing like aristos, mimicking the style of Edwardian dandies. Clothing was aspirational. Now people dress down, not up and there’s the horror of ‘Dress Down Friday’. What if we had ‘Dress Up Friday’ with men coming to work in their finest threads?

In SW8 where I live, there are many clubs, most of which are located under the railway arches at Vauxhall. I see the kids lining up to get in on Friday and Saturday nights and there’s a kind of tatty conformity to it all. Jeans and T-shirts are about as good as it gets. Guys, you’re going out, you’re probably on the pull, don’t you want to look your best?

As readers of this blog will know I’m a huge music fan and love gigs. Once again slacks and T-shirts rule, this time among musicians. I want to yell at them, it’s showbusiness guys, you are on show, you’re not popping down to Tesco. You may be the best sax player on the planet, but I have to look at you as well as listen to you. This is particularly true of jazz players and all the more tragic when you think of the style legacy left by the great jazzers from the past like Duke Ellington and Miles Davis. They didn’t just sound a million dollars, they looked it too.

Up until recently, men had to wear suits to work and the suit acted as a useful fix. The suit does two good things, it gives a man an indication as to what to wear and most men look good in them. Suits were effective clothing shorthand. Work suits may have been greasy, badly cut and often ill-fitting but even a bad suit can make a man look acceptable. Of course, a good suit can make him look sensational.

In these days of fast-fashion or what is effectively anti-fashion I have no idea how this problem is going to be fixed, largely because I suspect most men don’t see it as a problem. They don’t have a clue what to wear, and they don’t much care anyway. Today, blokes probably spend more on their tattoos than they do their clothes.

First Blog Birthday

First Blog Birthday

Today is my blog-anniversary, A Little London Life is exactly a year old. Thanks to all of you who have been reading and commenting, I hope you’re enjoying the ride. I relish the writing process and it’s great to see that the blog is starting to build a sizeable readership. Spread the word if you feel so inclined and if there are stories out there you think I should be covering, let me know.

I finally went to see the RA Summer Exhibition today just before it closes. The collage above has some of my favourite bits.

The Unwelcome Guest – Radio Days (1)

The Unwelcome Guest – Radio Days (1)

Probably like you, I’ve been sizzling in sun rays this summer, but very soon, as part of my prostate cancer treatment, I’ll be bathing in radio waves. I’ve known for some time that radiotherapy, the pointy end of my treatment, would start in September. It was established early on, that my prostate was not ripe for removal, so I’ve been on hormone therapy to shrink the Unwelcome Guest and that treatment, despite some irritating side-effects, seems to be working well. Now it’s nearly time to enjoy seven weeks as a guest on Radio Therapy.

You, dear reader, have almost certainly never had radiotherapy and I hope you never do, but this is the kind of cancer stuff that rarely gets talked about except among family and friends. So, I thought some of you might be interested to know what goes on. If you’d rather hack your arm off with a blunt penknife, I totally get it. Go find some more pleasant, diverting activity: take the dog for a walk, play guitar, read a book – I would probably do the same.

Anyone still here? OK well, it all starts, as does just about everything these days, with a PowerPoint presentation. To which you might say, Christ haven’t these poor bastards suffered enough? At 10am on a bright, clear, sunny day, the cancer contingent all trooped into a room in the urology department at Guy’s Hospital to find out our fate. Most were surprisingly chipper, though some looked as though life had taken a couple of chunks out of them. We all had a question on our lips: Radiotherapy, what’s that like then?

Jenna, the bright and breezy Urology Advanced Practitioner, had the answers. I’m to have radiotherapy five days a week for seven weeks at the same time and place every day. I get weekends off for good behaviour. The treatment doesn’t hurt and I’m not walking round like some kind of mobile Chernobyl, I’m safe to handle, but there are side effects. More about those in a moment.

I’ve never been a tattoo kind of guy. In my youth it was squaddies, crims and sailors who got inked, not nice middle-class boys like me. All that’s set to change. I’m now getting three tattoos, one on each hip and one just below my navel. These small dots will be used to line me up on the Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy do-dat in the same, correct position each time. Fairly soon, I have a terrible feeling I’m going to start talking about my ‘cancer journey’. If I do, a sharp blow to the head should fix it.

Us prostate people will also be drinking gallons of water over the coming weeks to enlarge our collective bladders (that might be an image you’re going to struggle to forget). This pushes the healthy organs out of the radio beam’s intrusive gaze and makes sure it’s just the prostate that receives both barrels. In fairness that’s not exactly the words Jenna used.

But hey, it’s not all just fun stuff. While the treatment may be pain free it does come with some baggage. It seems that about a month into the treatment I may start to feel dog tired and will have to take to my basket. I may be hopping to the loo twice a night and also my bowels…. whoa, whoa, whoa, actually you know what? You’ve suffered enough, if you want to know more Google it.

After the seven weeks the cancer should be nailed, but cancer is nothing if not a slippery bastard, so I’m then monitored every few months to see if the Guest has checked out or has decided to dash back because it had forgotten something.

Towards the end of the talk a little wizened man at the front who hadn’t said much suddenly piped up: “Can we drink alcohol during the treatment?” It was a sort of cartoon moment, there was total silence and total concentration as the room collectively held its breath. Well Jenna, well, can we?

I’ll keep you posted.