Category: Parks and Recreation

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
Hampstead Pond: Taking the plunge

Hampstead Pond: Taking the plunge

It’s one of those places you have a vague idea exists, might be fun to visit, but can safely be put off until some unspecified time in the future. In reality it’s stuffed in that bulging file at the back of your mental filing cabinet marked ‘never’. Could be a laugh, but never going to happen, not in this life.

And then it does. Last Saturday I went for an invigorating dip at Hampstead Pond.

When I moved to London some time during the late 70s, I lived in Camden Town and with Hampstead Heath up the road, rumours of pond based aquatic activity came our way, but somehow when you’re in your twenties swimming isn’t right up there on that pressing list of ‘things to do’. In those days, verbs ending with -ing were usually prefaced by the words pub and club.

A close neighbour, he lives two doors down, waxed lyrical about Hampstead Pond life at a drinks party last Christmas, but with snow on the ground and ice on the water I said thanks, but no thanks. Ice has its place, in a gin & tonic, I don’t want to be encased in the stuff. Then came this long hot summer and with the mercury locked on 30c, I finally decided to take the plunge.

The four swimmable ponds at Hampstead Heath, which were originally reservoirs, are set aside for: Mixed bathing, Women, Men and Dogs. Yup that’s right, if your pet pooch fancies a doggie paddle walk this way. It’s mixed bathing for dogs, but the place I came to visit was the Men’s Pond, which officially opened for business 125 years ago this year.

Right from the outset it was very popular and started to attract hardy year-round swimmers. The Times, at the time, called the pond ‘A heroic form of the Englishman’s morning tub’ and said winter bathers were ‘an inoffensive kind of lunatic, who harm nobody but themselves.’ They were known as ‘The Barmy Club’.

Eccentricity still prevails with one set of regular visitors, mostly comprising American bankers, calling themselves ‘The East German Ladies’ Swimming Team’. They meet at 9am every Saturday and Sunday, take a brisk trot round the Heath and then descend on the Men’s Pond for a swim. They are easily spotted on account of their natty, branded togs and their boisterous behaviour.

The neighbour and I pitched up at 8.30am on a warm, bright, blustery day when there were perhaps fifteen people present. Apparently, during this tropical summer, the afternoons get mobbed which is why the old-timers I met, turn up early.

The Pond is looked after by the Corporation of London and they don’t exactly splash the cash on the facilities, which are basic in the extreme. The showers are cold and there are no lockers to secure your valuables. But such was the amiable bonhomie of the place, I find it hard to believe that pilfering takes place at that hour of the morning.

There’s a jetty and diving board that juts out into the pond from where I took the plunge. The water was a balmy 25 degrees and felt more like a warm bath as I bobbed and swam around the pond. To enjoy the place, you need to be a reasonable swimmer. The pond is deep, there’s nowhere to stand and there’s no pontoon on which to lounge, but not exactly being Mark Spitz myself I occasionally hung on to some strategically placed life savers that mark out the swimming area.

We swam for around twenty minutes in idyllic surroundings, changed and showered (brr!) and then a bunch of us, the neighbour knows everyone, repaired to Bistro Laz on Highgate Hill West where the coffee is excellent and the wild swimmers a kindly bunch to engage in conversation for the first time.

It looks like the bug has bit. I’m going back tomorrow.

Pond update 4.8.18

Diana sent me this great little Pathe News film from the 30s of the Women’s  Pond. Click here to watch. 

Funfair stinking up the park

Funfair stinking up the park

I like funfairs, I’ve been going to them all my life. A particular favourite is the Dodgems, but I’ve done time on the Waltzer and even the Wall of Death.

So, I was happy to hear that Bensons Family Funfair was setting up shop in one of our local green spaces, Kennington Park. Well, I was happy until I went there.

We live in a pretty polluted part of town, I shudder to think what the smog levels are on Harleyford Road or Clapham Road. Fortunately, the London parks act as the capital’s lung combining the absence of traffic with trees performing that magic of absorbing carbon dioxide and other harmful gasses, and then releasing pure oxygen back into the air.

This morning, the mutt and I walked into Kennington Park and were hit with the acrid stench of diesel. I’m assuming that without a nearby electricity supply the funfair is forced to run its rides with power generated by its trucks. This means diesel motors are running constantly.

Funfairs have probably done this forever, but we didn’t notice or if we did, we didn’t care. But now we know about nitrous oxide (N2O) and particulates and all the other evil stuff that engines pump into the air and what it’s doing to our health.

In London we accept the inevitability of heavy traffic and look to the Mayor and Transport for London to help reduce pollution, but now the very place we seek solace from the stink is being stunk up.

What about the council providing an electricity supply so the trucks can power down? What are your thoughts?

Clapton phones it in

Clapton phones it in

Last Sunday night (8.7.18) Eric Clapton played one of the British Summer Time gigs in Hyde Park. It was a glorious summer evening with the smell of hot-dogs, mixed with high notes of weed, wafting across the Royal Park. As the great sage of the blues guitar ambled on stage he muttered the immortal words: ‘It’s coming home’. Well if the footie’s coming home, the music had clearly missed its connection. The gig was as dull and dreary as cabbage. Perhaps the old boy’s past it.

OK, a little context is needed here. I’ve been a fan, off and on, for years. At school, my trigonometry text book (is trigonometry still a thing?) had the name of his band Cream written in psychedelic bubble letters on the cover.

Then in the 90s, friends of mine, the mighty Kick Horns, were Clapton’s brass section and I remember seeing some wonderful gigs at The Albert Hall.

Clapton made one album with Blind Faith, a band which featured one of my musical heroes Steve Winwood. Their only gig in London was at Hyde Park in 1969. As Winwood was also on the bill, I felt it safe to assume they would get together to thrill the crowds in 2018 as they had done all those years ago. Santana were also playing, and as Carlos and Steve have worked together it looked like a super celebrity mash-up of old mates was on the cards.

Earlier in the evening, both Winwood and Santana played blinding sets, but it was ‘Slowhand’ we had come to see. He started out quite low key with some mid-tempo blues, including Hoochie Coochie Man, and then became all but invisible with four acoustic songs including Layla and Tears in Heaven.

All of which may sound fine, but his heart wasn’t in it. Nobody was smiling on stage (not strictly true, the drummer seemed to have having a good time) there was no chemistry between the band members and Eric’s singing was at best perfunctory. Steve Winwood never showed up to partner with his old mate and it was left to Carlos Santana to spark things up when he came on to jam at the end.

Clapton didn’t even introduce his band which has the wonderful singer Paul Carrack in the ranks playing Hammond organ. If you don’t know the name, you’ll know the songs: How Long? The Living Years, Tempted. He has a fantastic soul voice but the only time we heard it was on the final song, which was the old Joe Cocker shout-a-long, ‘High time we went’.

Trust me, this is not the review I wanted to write, but for an audience to have a good time, the band need to have a good time. In truth Clapton barely turned up, went through the motions, and largely ignored the audience, some of whom started chanting ‘Football’s coming home’ during one of the more tedious segments.

For you completists out there, here’s the set list:

  • Somebody’s Knocking
  • Key to the highway
  • Hoochie Coochie Man
  • Got to get better in a little while
  • Drifitn’ Blues
  • Nobody knows you when you’re down and out
  • Layla
  • Tears in heaven
  • Lay down Sally
  • The Core
  • Cross Roads
  • Little Queen of Spades
  • Cocaine
  • High time we went (encore)
Shock poll predicts England win this Saturday

Shock poll predicts England win this Saturday

Following exhaustive polling in Vauxhall using the latest data gathering techniques, ‘A Little London Life’ can reveal that the citizens of London SW8 are (almost) unanimous in thinking that England will crush the Nordic menace this Saturday.

Actually, what happened was this, Rusty the mutt and I took a stroll around the neighbourhood and asked whether England would beat Sweden and what the score would be?

  • James said we’d win 1-0 with a header from Harry Kane
  • Zoe was confident we would win 2-0
  • Ossie went for a cautious 1-0 to Ingerlund
  • Kevin said it would be 2-0 to Sweden (Damn, Kevin which side are you on?)
  • Dan said he’d put money on England beating Sweden 2-1 (He was standing outside a betting shop)
  • Peter also thought 1-0 would seal it for us (Frankly, he didn’t sound convinced)
  • Anna from Brazil said England would win 2-1 on Saturday but Russia would win the cup! (Then she said something rather rude about Neymar in Portuguese)
  • Mira said it would be 1-1 but England would win on penalties (I’ll have a heart attack if that happens again)
  • At Max & Melia our local gift shop, Maxine thought it would be 2-0 to England and her assistant Angel went for a more cautious 1-0.

Finally, Rusty and I popped into Oval Eyes, where we met Andrea. She is Columbian and had watched the game with her English boyfriend, when we knocked her side out of the tournament. She said she was sad, but sportingly hoped England would beat Sweden and thought it would happen with penalties!

Those are the facts ladies & gentlemen, and you can’t argue with facts, the people of Lambeth have spoken.

Nine Elms Sunday Market

Nine Elms Sunday Market

Nine Elms Lane SW8 5AL: 9am-2pm

New Covent Garden Market is just over the road from the Battersea Power Station development. It’s the fruit and veg capital of the UK with produce coming in from all parts of the globe and then being shipped out to all parts of the UK. During the week, from the very early hours, it reverberates to the shouts of barrow boys, the squeal of fork lift trucks and the thunder of departing trucks. On a Sunday, the nation’s greengrocers get a day off and it becomes one of the biggest markets in London.

The day I went, the sun was beating down, prices were being beaten down, police were clamping down and the new US Embassy was gazing down on Nine Elms Sunday Market. It was my first visit in years.

Superficially, not much seems to have changed. If anything, it’s even busier, perhaps there are more Slavic and Russian accents and a few more Polish stalls than before. It’s still very much a working-class event, with a high proportion of immigrants both buying and selling. New Covent Garden on a Sunday is a world away from the old Covent Garden in the West End. There’s no artisan cheese, craft gin or organic chocolate on sale here.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is the sizeable police presence. I chatted to a few of them but in true plod tradition they were keeping it pretty tight lipped. In total I guess there were about twenty police officers present made up of two groups. One were officers impounding counterfeit goods – I saw at least two clothing and handbag stalls being closed down – the other group were police supporting Immigration Enforcement officers from the Home Office who were clearly tracking immigration offenders. They were in urgent conversation with various individuals, but I didn’t witness any arrests. Talking with stallholders and punters, it seems that in the last two weeks the police presence has risen sharply. Checking for fake goods and fake IDs looks like hot work for those who go to work in a stab proof vest.

So, what’s the shopping like? Arming myself with an excellent flat white from ‘Full of Beans’ (which came with a complementary choc chip cookie) I went in search of bargains. Trainers are a big sell with brand names such as Vans going for £20. Whether these are real or of real interest to the police I couldn’t say. Builders’ kit is clearly a big draw with men coming from all over to get tooled up with electric saws, drills, spirit levels and the rest.

If you want to take a break from shopping, check out the many global food outlets. Curry and Chips (see above), that’s fusion cooking Nine Elms style. Then there are several ‘Head Shops’ where those with an interest in illegal weed can score their rizlas and other cannabis related paraphernalia.

Inevitably, stalls sell electrical items such as mobile phones, second hand laptops, satellite dishes and there’s no end of clothing, mostly T shirts, jeans and sports shirts and it has to be said a fair amount of plastic junk. Get your dodgy cigarettes and tobacco on the way in.

Many people clearly love the place and use it as a popular day out to meet friends, have a bite to eat and pick up some bargains. It’s not posh, plush or pretty but it is cheap, and the place has a real energy about it. I accept some won’t like it, but it’s here, it’s on our patch, and you should take a look.

Fancy running a stall yourself? Here the low-down: A 3×3 metre pitch costs from £55 a day and you can hire tables and other market gear to display your goods. All new traders have to register and provide some form of photographic identification such as driving license or passport. Casual traders must go to the market office at 6.30am. Once you’ve registered and paid, you will be given a pitch for the day. If you want a permanent pitch, then that’s the time to ask. A regular pitch is cheaper and means you are in the same place every week, so your customers know where to find you. Contact: info@saundersmarkets.co.uk. Tel: 01483 277640

Shakespeare in Albert Square

Shakespeare in Albert Square

Shakespeare in Albert Square? To be or not to be: you muppet! No, not EastEnders Albert Square, this one is tucked between Clapham Road and South Lambeth Road in our little piece of heaven that is either Oval, Stockwell or Vauxhall depending on your point of view or which estate agent you talk to.

Albert Square SW8 is quite a grand affair with high, white, hansom houses that stretch five stories and ring this pleasant patch of green that is overseen by a fine example of that London wonder, the London Plane. Local legend has it that one of the houses contains Joanna Lumley.

Every June, a Friday evening is given over to an alfresco production of a Shakespeare play. Last night the Quite Right Theatre Company gave us a rip-roaring version of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’. They sang, they danced, they spoke verse, they battled the wail of planes descending into Heathrow, they didn’t flinch as motorbikes roared round the square and they remained unperturbed by growling dogs and the munching, wine swilling residents of our community.

For a modern audience, The Taming of the Shrew is freighted with a few problems as it deals with Petruchio trying and succeeding in taming his wife Kate. It doesn’t quite fit with the #MeToo generation, but Izzy Daws, who played Katherine, didn’t look like someone who would put up with any kind of misogyny. Plus, she has some great lines: ‘If I be waspish, best beware my sting.’

But with due respect to the actors, the plot may not have been uppermost in people’s minds last night, as this event is never quite sure if it’s a play with a picnic or a picnic with a play. Whatever it is, it’s a great communal event where children turn cartwheels, dogs steal from picnic baskets and you meet friends you haven’t seen in a while. Come back next year Quite Right Theatre; you bring the play and we’ll bring the picnic.