Took the train to the restored artistic and engineering triumph that is London St Pancras station and shopping mall. Tube to Hampstead, and a visit to the neighbouring Hampstead Heath park. Hampstead comprises large numbers of cafes supporting the rich and wealthy of the area. Surrounded by hugely expensive housing (a three bedroom house comes in at around £1.6 million), and well-off couples thronging the streets and cafes in weekend grunge-wear. Heath itself feels like a great wilderness, with forest walks and wide rolling plains. The top of the heath gives expansive views of London. Tube to covent garden, with plenty of shopping, street entertainers spending more time in the build-up than in the delivery, and man in a van advertising building companies by singing songs and blowing bubbles (for the last five years he says). Accoss Waterloo bridge, and its fine views over the Thames, to the Royal Festival Hall, part of the South Bank Centre, for drinks overlooking the Thames on an outside terrace, watching thronging crowds along the Thames; next to a water-art installation, trapping the public in cages of water. Coffee inside, watching a free Saxophone concert in the Clore Ballroom, an open theatre in the back of the main foyer; pianist and classical/blues saxophanist from Australia. Back accross the Thames to Trafalgar Square; surprised to see hundreds of people participating in a huge public dance event. National Cafe for dinner; quiet and more atmospheric than the crowded restaurants of Covent Garden.
30th October 2008 - 2nd November 2008
30th October 2008
Park Plaza County Hall. Misleading name, not County Hall at all. Hard to find; at the back of Waterloo station; should be Park Plaza Near County Hall. Excellent hotel and rooms however. Expensive, but good location in London. Good restaurants in easy reach at the Royal Festival Hall. Strange room arrangement; bedroom by the door. Very popular (particularly with families and tourists) and busy. Lifts require a lot of patience. Watch out for VAT being added to your bill; bring a print-out of your booking confirmation to prove that you were quoted a VAT-inclusive rate. Random walk through Covent Garden. Discover Wahaca (66 Chandos Place), a very popular cheap mexican tapas-style eaterie, in a basement. They give you plant-your-own chilli seeds with the bill.
31st October 2008
Early morning walk down the river to Tower Bridge. Notice a pair of abandoned gloves on the way (two this time, rather than the normal one), and then later a hat; still waiting for the scarf. Walk takes in graffiti, the Globe, and the tasty offices of Delicious magazine. Cross at Tower Bridge and pass by the busy Tower of London, before walking up to St Pauls. Decline the £10 entry charge, and cross back over to the Tate Modern(or Tat Modern as I have re-named it), to take in some blue squares (or indeed the red squares of Mark Rothco). The best installations were the barely visible white octagon painted on one wall, and the three saluting hands (complete with hair) sticking out from a wall. More interesting was seeing people walk past the art-work to view St-Pauls. In attempt to overcome my cynicism, is the purpose of art, which may take a long time to produce, to give people a momentary "ooh" expeience, so that its value lies in how many have that experience; a labour of hours, viewed in seconds. Lunch at the excellent restaurant at the top of the Tate, and then post lunch drifting down through the galleries. Get into lunch at 12:00 sharp, or you will be queuing. Cross back into the City of London, and stroll on from Ludgate Hill, to Fleet Street (once home of the press), to the Strand (and the Royal Courts of Justice), and ending up at Charing Cross. A long route passing through varous centers of excellence, from business, to journalism and the BBC world service, to legal, to musical, to polictics and Westminster. No science though. Noticable how prevalent chain stores are. Every 100 yards you see Eat, All Bar One, Starbucks, Cafe Nero, and Pret-a-Manger. Evening at Joseph, with Lee Mead. Interesting to see that the basic style is a plot stripped bare, with humour thrown in. Each of the main players is given one or two songs to shine with. Although Joseph is the nominal star, in fact other players do just as much, if not more work and singing, and time on stage is quite balanced between the players. Elvis (the Pharoh) steals the show, although his singing can be a little indistinct. There is then a reprise (out of costume) at the end. There are lot of children in the troupe who also work very hard. Lee Mead meets his fans for a brief moment outside after the show.
1st November 2008
Breakfast at Fortnum and Mason (very expensive); good quality athough not quite shaking-off the feel of being a department store cafe. English breakfast with duck eggs and English sourced meats is very declicious. Service a little hurried. Wandering up to Oxford Street; random luck - happened to stop at a road that the London to Brighton Rally was then passing along; would have missed it had we stuck to the Tube as our only way of getting round. Selfridges preparing for Christmas, with father christmas figures placed around the store surveying the scene like benevolent chief executives. Pausing to note the precience of the Jonathan Ross auto-biography Why did I say that?. (News reporter on the evening TV comments that Jonathan Ross does not seem very remorseful by going ahead with his halloween party for the local children; the news reporter clearly wishes to deprive all the local children (whose fault it is not) of their halloween party.) Back to Waterloo and some cheap but tasty Dim Sum (Chinese dumplings) at the Ping Pong restaurant next to the Royal Festival Hall, with Goji berries, and fabulous teas and fruit juices. The Royal Festival Hall has an exhibition on (economic) slavery around the world. (Is this the lesson of our credit crunch? We have spent all our money on goods made by economic slaves in other parts of the world, then borrowed all their savings to get cheap credit to buy homes and yet more of their goods?). Passed back over the Thames, and along past Zimbabwe House where there is a demonstration every week against the political situation in Zimbabwe, until there are free and fair elections. That evening, taxi from the hotel takes us over Westminster bridge, past the houses of parliament and Buckingham Palace, up Pall Mall, to Rohdes W1 restaurant for the experience of a life time. Through a black door adjoining the Cumberland hotel, you enter a tranquil windowless elegeant environment with chandeliers above each table, and service quality so high that they even open the doors to the restroom for you.
30th December 2008
First, visiting the many shops along Oxford Street, to seek out those bargains. The ubiquitous up to 75% off appeared in most shops, but the remaining items on sale, if you could find them, were in most cases marked down by much less, and consisted mainly of items that the shops struggled to sell even in better times. Anything you might vaguely have considered purchasing, were it marked down, was of course not marked down. Don't begrudge shop-keepers though; livings need to be made. (Wandering round, became increasingly struck by the vast quantity of stuff that we really do not need, but seem to continue think is a good use of our dwindling world resources. Naturally, I am being hypocritical in saying that.) At end of Oxford Street, accross Hyde Park to the Winter Wonderland near the Serpentine. A set of fun-fair rides, a small-ish German Market as you would see in any part of the coutry at this time of year, and an ice-rink. Great for kids, but for the cynical, I find myself thinking that calling it a Winter Wonderland is a significant overstatement, which sets up an expectation far in excess of what can be realistically achieved on a cold Tuesday morning; my cynicism is compounded by the alluring moodily-lit shots of frankfurters on the web site. On the tube to Warterloo, and a pie and glass of cider at the Canteen, behind the Royal Festival Hall. A very popular place to eat for the middle classess and their children, with many on-holiday fathers. You will need to book if you want to go with any group of more than two. The Royal Festival Hall has a large children's igloo set up inside. Over to Covent Garden, staging another piece of interactive public art; this time consisting of a large silver box, with the alphabet printed on the outside. Posters encourage you to call a number, make a wish, and have your wish presented to you inside the box. Temptation to leave a message like "Can anyone see the £50 note I dropped in here". Down to see the Christmas Tree at Trafalgar Square. As it was not potted or watered, the huge tree was limp, droopy and dying, and very disappointing. Spirits lifted with a walk along the river to Somerset House, to see the Tiffany & Co sponsored ice-rink. Rewarded with sunset views over the river to the London Eye and Westminster Palace. In the court-yard of Somerset House a civilised ice-rink with Tiffany & Co theming, including a T & Co Christmas Tree, T & Co cakes, and T & Co hot and spicy mulled wine from T & Co cups; heaven for T & Co lovers. Tube to Fortnam and Mason for some mince pies in the sale, then a stroll through thronging crowds to Leicester Square, whose trees had been elegantly wrapped in a fine mesh of lights, jarringly contrasting with the garish lights of the fun-fair set out between them. Back to Covent Garden to catch a man juggling swords, in his pants, balanced on a ladder; and a fabulous icicle lighting displays in the two main covent garden halls. Finished the evening with a meal at Carluccios, the Italian chain, which offered tasty starters and desserts, but surprisingly uninspiring pasta and risotto dishes : we had a better and cheaper meal buying some pasta and sauce from the Carluccios shop and cooking it ourselves.