millionreasons: (london)
I have been doing stuff….We went on a coffee tour around the City with professional Jack Whitehall lookalike Dr Mathew Green and his pal Pasqua Rosee. I'd previously seen the plaque to Pasqua on the side of the Jamaica Winehouse, but had no idea who he was. Most of the info from the tour is here, should you be a social history nerd comme moi. Interestingly, Dr Matt pointed out that the decline of the coffee-house was not so much to do with Britain's literal empire building and tea production but the rise of the telegraph. If news could come via newspapers, there was no need to find out what was going on over a cup of joe. As well as the dry facts, there was out of work actor Pasqua making proclamations and reading poems and giving out free shots of 17th century style coffee, which was pretty tasty although the Costa Coffee crowd claimed it was too bitter. No pumpkin spice corn-syrup in it, you see.

We (or rather Dave) went on the slide at the Orbit. I just sat on a bench with a coffee and admired the autumn foliage in the Olympic park. We went for lunch at Shake Shack, which is the hippest place you can go to in NYC (we queued twice in Union Square without getting anywhere near the front) but in England is in Westfield. I can’t speak for the meat, but the veggieburger was a mushroom injected with molten cheese and you can’t say fairer than that.

The Avenue, a newly opened railway arch opening in E7, also does a Portobello mushroom, blue cheese and red pepper brioche bap for a highly reasonably £4. None of your GBK £9.90 nonsense here. There, I met the lovely cat, Dave, who came to sit on me without any kissy-kiss noises or entrapment.

We took the Jubilee line to Bermondsey where we walked through the slice of hipster Hackney in south London that is Maltby Street market to the White Cube for an Anthony Gormley exhibition. Anthony Gomrley basically makes statues of Anthony Gormely, here there were Cubist-style Tron Gormleys, Tetris Gormleys, electricity pylon Gormleys and a Gormley having sex with the floor. The best bit was a walk-in robot Gormley where, in pitch black, you walk to the end of the tunnel, which was white-ish so you don't smash your nose on the far wall (I kinda expected a little ghost to jump out). People coming back out looked like they were emerging from a portal to a Being Anthony Gormley dimension.


I did wonder if Anthony should paint himself bronze and pose as a living statue in one of his own exhibitions. We walked back down Bermondsey Street, me pointing out what had changed since I worked there 1996-2001. I felt like when my dad used to drive around his home town of Blackpool telling his uninterested children what used to be there in 1965 and going the wrong way down one way streets because traffic directions had changed.

Sunday, we had a somewhat traumatic journey to Chadwell Heath, which involved lurking ‘round Ilford as the sun went down and taking a rail replacement bus commandeered by a man who’d a) never driven a bus before and b) had no geographical knowledge of the outer east echelons of London. Anyway, we were going to the Moby Golf Course, a whale-themed mini-golf course (there used to be a whalebone here on Whalebone Lane), which tonight was Hallowe'en themed, i.e. they'd stuck up a few plastic pumpkins and some cobwebs. It was fun playing in the dark under floodlights though. The game was a dead draw, although Dave let me cheat a little. We got one bus back, watching Diwali fireworks light up the sky.

millionreasons: (london)
Last weekend, we went to, as usual, Open House weekend. We heard of people queuing for four hours to get into the Gherkin, so we kept to local and lower-interest places and did a waste water recycling plant just off the Greenway in Stratford, a secret synagogue near Petticoat Lane, a modern house built in a builders' yard in Forest Gate, the art deco Senate House and London Underground HQ which is basically on top of St James' Park station, later discovering that these imposing deco buildings were designed by the same architect, and the 2Is coffee bar in Soho, which is now a Poppies Chip Shop. Well, that was just a lunch stop. My fave was Senate House, not just because of the beautiful art deco lights, the recessed alcoves, but the lovely library, which was almost a pastiche of an English library - books behind glass, a hushed atmosphere, numbered desks, the smell of old literature. If Sherlock were to investigate a murder in a library, this'd be the library in which he'd investigate. I also enjoyed the 10th floor view from 55 Broadway.


This weekend we hosted Dave's parents. Saturday, we wandered around Fitzrovia (basically Soho Woodhouse) and to the rather lovely Kin Cafe; today we mosied on down to the Olympic park for the Harvest Stomp. There weren't any large marrows, but there were dogs dressed up as vegetables, free (out of date) foodstuffs to take away, foraged jam tasting and an improv type play with actors dressed up as peas, carrots etc, the punchline to which was "We're waiting for Tesco!", which I, at least, found amusing. There was also a bike sportive taking place around the Velodrome. Chris Froome was supposed to be taking part, so we hung around trying to spot him, but got bored so wandered back, only to find him handing out the finishers' medals like a middle-ranking functionary. To be honest, if I were an amateur racing cyclist and Mr Froome turned up, I think I'd be rather intimidated. Like Lionel Messi applauding a Sunday league team.

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Open House photos by David; wonky, slightly fan-girling photos of Chris Froome by me.
millionreasons: (marnie)
Last weekend, we went to the RA Summer Exhibition. We had been to a birthday in a Bethnal Green railway arch beforehand and so I didn’t take in that much and kept almost bumping into the sculpture. As ever, the rooms were (over)stuffed with art-work and as usual we compared the for sale prices to the actual talent in the works. The rooms each had a theme - some were easy to decipher i.e. photography, others gave up their meaning more obtusely. What I thought was “the uncanny” (eyeless mannequin installation) was “the role of art in a fractured world”.

The paintings are technically anonymous but you can look them up in the exhibition catalogue, or in the info booklet available in each gallery. Dave spotted a large stained glass work was by Gilbert and George and I some Bob and Roberta Smith slogans. I liked the impressionistic moodscapes of London by Jock McFadyen and a ceiling comprising hundreds of faces in tiny LED oblongs.

This weekend, we watched the men’s Olympic road race – Thrills! Spills! Belgians! – at Rapha cycling shop/café in Spitalfields. This was after a couple of false starts, at Beach East and Boxpark, which were showing rowing and hockey, respectively. I later found out that this was what the BBC was televising, but that didn’t stop me hating Beach East with all of my heart and not just because I was hangry.

If we’re supposed to be reliving the 2012 glory days, then why isn’t there a massive screen in the Olympic park where people can watch the games? Four years ago, there were screens in Victoria and Hyde parks, free to enter. This year, there are only two “fanzones” in London Bridge and at Beach East, which you have to pay to enter. It’s only £2, but if you’re a family of three plus mum and dad, that’s a tenner before you’ve even gone through the turnstiles. Most families in Stratford are not heaving with money. Secondly, the beach is tiny. Thirdly, to get to said beach (and fanzone), you walk through a screamily loud amusement park, bright and noisy and kid-attracting, exhorting you to spend mpre. Fourthly, your bag has to be searched before you go in (unlike if you went to say, Southend for the day) and you’re not allowed to take in more than a token amount of food; you have to buy what’s there, which leads me to fifthly, the food was all a) expensive and b) shit (burgers, chips, slushies, donuts). I don’t want to go full Jamie Oliver, but there was nothing healthy or even nice. The place was just cynical.

Sunday was David’s birthday which was spent mostly in Mason & Company. Unlike Beach East, this is a nice Olympic “legacy”: a section of bars and restaurants on the canal in the Here East (ex-media centre) building. It was pretty hipsterified - but at least hipsters don’t have screaming kids. Or when they do, they have to give up their hipster gun and badge. You can’t ironically have children.

Anyway, after nine hours of sipping strong beer slowly, we walked home, not through the park as usual, but by road by the side of the Copper Box, down past an eerily empty Westfield, to the City bus station, Stratford glittering uneasily to our side: the Arecelor Mitall sculpture glowing cigarette-red, cranes aflame like attack ships on fire, high buildings lit up like a 1980s version of a futuristic Tokyo.

millionreasons: (marnie)
It's about time for my fortnightly round up isn't it? Last weekend, we went to Daylight Music at the Union Chapel, a.k.a the early bird catches the free gig. My fave were the Marine Girls-esque Citizen Helene, featuring the eponymous and utterly talented Helene, whose trousers matched the lights. Afterwards we went to the pub for, um, eight hours.

Last Thursday, we also went to the pub for a whisky tasting. For years, I didn't drink any wee drams, as it was the second alcohol I ever vomited up and it still tastes vaguely of sick to me. But this wasn't Lidl own brand, it was the good stuff: Cardhu, caramel and bourbony, Johnnie Walker Gold Label, smokey and sweet, Black Label, briny, and Talisker, which was peaty and antiseptic and grew on me as I drank it.

We learned a lot of facts - Johnnie Walker was an actual person: he sold Johnnie Walker Original Highland Whisky and Johnnie Walker Deluxe Highland Whisky, but they were too long to say (or more likely, people were too illiterate to read them), so this caused him to create two labels (red and black) that remain to this day. Also, single malt whisky is not necessarily posher than blends; with blending you can create a pleasing style, whereas single malts can be unpredictable, you might get a bad year. Plus blends are named after people and things (Teachers, Bells) whilst malts are named after the area in which they are made.

I also learned that if the man leading the whisky tastings leaves the bottle on the table, I will finish it off, start tweeting stupid things on the bus, and feel like death all the next day.

Yesterday, we went to the Cosmonauts exhibition at the Science Museum. I was disappointed that they didn’t have a stuffed Laika on display, like the dog that used to collect money at Slough station, but there was a rather adorable canine spacesuit in a cabinet (I wonder of the dogs in space concept was an influence on the Muppets' soap opera, Pigs In Space?) Also various sputniks, which presumably had an impact on the dalek design, and a rover with a Wall-E face.


There was much about Yuri Gagarin, who became a celebrity and whose image was used to hawk rather un-Communist goodies – a sputnik tea-set, Yuri Russian dolls (the gift shop doesn’t miss out on the consumer goods either – there’s a Laika silk scarf for £75). There was also info on Sergei Krikalev who went up to space in 1991, a Soviet Citizen, and came back a Russian, and Helen Sharman, the first Briton in space, 24 years before Tim Peake.


Afterwards, we went to Duck and Rice; a fancy-ish Chinese restaurant in Soho for a pre-New Year meal. It didn't serve takeaway-style sweet and sour pork balls, nor the more authentic chicken feet soup fare of Gerrard Street: the best thing we ate was minced soya “chicken” with cashews and mushrooms cooked in soy sauce and served on lettuce; it was deliciousness on a leaf. And my fortune cookie had a prize in it – a cheeky (Year Of The) Monkey.

millionreasons: (marnie)
Yesterday, we travelled to Reading to meet Jeff and go for a "four mile" walk around Caversham, along the river and into the Chilterns, past green sheepless fields, and a pink silage, erm, mulcher, under swooping kites (the feathered kind), and slanting sun in woodlands, to Mapledurham, where there was a charming village, comprising Elizabethan Hall, a watermill (closed for the winter), church, and artists' studio. What Jeff didn't mention was the two mile walk to get to the four mile walk, plus then the four mile walk back to Caversham and another 2 miles to Reading to rest my weary feet, hips, and legs.

Last weekend, we did the Lumière London event, or rather the Piccadilly/Regent's Street and Kings Cross parts of it. Like everything in London, it would have benefited from at least a third fewer people and the Kings Cross element seemed to be mainly to promote the new N1C area. But it was pretty, oh so pretty. My favourites were the flying fish of Regent Street that bobbed and waved in time to the music (I didn't know there was son to go with the lumière), swimming in the night sky, although the Spectra3-Lux in a shed near Kings X station that whirled us into space was also worth a look.

Walk photos by David, lumieres by me.

January 2017

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