Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Sponsored post: A perfect day in London

In the last few years of my living in and reading about this city, I've come across numerous articles, books and websites promising to share the secret of the 'perfect day in London'. They suggest schedules and unmissable spots across the city, creating packaged collections and check-lists of things that visitors absolutely must do or see, or otherwise risk never truly experiencing London properly. And you can see the slaves to these curated city tours, struggling around London clutching guidebooks and maps, on the verge of tears because the queue outside Madame Tussauds was too long and they never made it to the Tower of London or Buckingham Palace and their London holiday is as good as RUINED now!

Well, dry your eyes, weepy visitors. There is no single perfect or 'right' way to see the city. It all depends on what each of us finds interesting or pleasurable. And heaven knows, we all have our own ideas about those things - it's what makes the city so chock-full of things to do. It's what attracts the glorious mixture of people who live here and come to visit London. So, the pressure's off. We shouldn't search for a single perfect day, rather a series of tiny perfect moments, hours, days, and weeks; each negotiated by our diverse likes and dislikes, our personalities and previous experiences.

Rather than checking off places or measuring my perfect day in things achieved, I choose to recognise my favourite days as the ones that end a long way from where I began. Sometimes literally, i.e. on the other side of town, and sometimes figuratively. My favourite London days are the ones where I wake up with the vague inkling of a plan or a single thing I want to go and do, and end with me having managed to fit in all kinds of unexpected or unplanned things around it. Of course, it also helps to have someone fun to come along with you, to spot hidden gardens or a sausage-dog that lives on a houseboat, to help you taste-test a new coffee shop or a surprise foodie pop-up, or just to keep you company chattering about everything and nothing. 

Kaplan International, who teach English language courses all over the world (and here in the city), recently asked their students to share their thoughts on what makes their perfect London day. As you can expect, the 535 questioned students all came up with hundreds of different things. And Kaplan created a sort of perfect day jigsaw from their responses, in a rather charming little film called '8 Great Things To Do In London'. You can check out (and get some inspiration from!) the video below. 
What makes your perfect day in London or your city? Kaplan International is still after suggestions, so they'd love it if you were to head over here and share your top London things with them.

This post has been written in collaboration with Kaplan International. Although I was remunerated for this post, any opinions expressed in the above post are those of The Accidental Londoner alone.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

A tour of Naughty London by Best LDN Walks

I have long maintained that the best way to explore a city like London is on foot. Walking, you catch glimpses of things you'd never see whilst whizzing along a road on a bus or beneath the city in a Tube tunnel. You can change your route or your mind whenever you feel like it, taking an unexpected turning or heading down an alley you never noticed before. Frequently I come across things that cause me to stop and wonder: What happens in this building? Who lives in a house like this? What is this faded sign all about? 

Charlotte, imparting some grisly facts
about Tudor London
This week I met someone else who's had similar wonderings while exploring London. And she's recently built a business on informing the rest of us clueless wanderers. Charlotte Kennedy founded Best LDN Walks earlier this year, after quitting her day job as a guide on one of the city's bus tours. She found the patter filled with dreary dates and notable reformers wasn't interesting her, let alone her tour attendees, so she set out to design her own walking tours filled with fascinating facts about dodgy clerics, haunted alleyways and naughty royals. 

Charlotte had invited me and several other London bloggers along to experience one of her most popular tours, 'Naughty London: Sex, drugs and sausage rolls', which takes attendees around Southwark to explore London's seedy past. Charlotte welcomed us all on Tuesday evening with prosecco and excellent Ginger Pig sausage rolls, before taking us back in time to Tudor London; a time when public executions were considered a great night out and maggot-y meat pies were regarded as an epicurean delicacy. Filled in with a brief history of the city, illustrated by vivid descriptions and quotes from early Londoners, we were whisked across to Borough Market. Here, still swigging our leftover prosecco (we're a classy lot, us bloggers) we learned all kinds of stomach-churning facts about Tudor diets as well as the origins of numerous phrases we still use today. As Charlotte was loudly explaining the origin of a certain, highly satisfying four-letter swearword a group of blokes sauntering past suddenly looked rather keen to join our tour! 

Ribbons tied to the fence around the
Cross Bones Graveyard
No tour of the Borough and London Bridge area can be complete without a visit to the George. Some claim it is the oldest pub in London, but it certainly is the only galleried hostelry still left in the city. After peering at pictures of what it had once looked like, we headed round the corner to look up at the magnificent Hop Exchange, where ale-makers once traded the supplies that likely fuelled the debauchery back at the George.

Charlotte then led us away from the shadow of the monstrous Shard, down Southwark Street, to visit the Cross Bones Graveyard. Grubby ribbons decorate the fence around this sad-looking green space, bearing the names of the several thousand people, many of whom were prostitutes and paupers, tossed into an open grave on the small site several hundred years ago. It was a sobering place to consider. Quick to remedy this however, we were briskly ushered across the road to Boot & Flogger vintners, to top up our prosecco levels!

Heading back out on our tour, we made for the river next. London was looking pretty stunning under the dusky sky, so we all stopped for a compulsory photography session; which we then tweeted and Instagramed the hell out of, like the blogging pros we are. When we were all done, the extremely patient Charlotte led us down to Cardinal's Wharf. Despite a seemy heritage that Charlotte filled us in on, there is a very beautiful old house at Cardinal's Wharf, where the famed architect, Christopher Wren used to live. Telling us to swivel 180 degrees and look across the river, Charlotte showed us why he'd chosen this less than salubrious spot - it was directly opposite Wren's masterpiece, St Paul's Cathedral. Cue more photography...
Just the London skyline, no big deal
We made our way back along the Southbank, stopping off at the reconstructed Globe Theatre, and then making our way through the winding streets of Borough taking in an old prison, the original 'clink', en route. Ending our tour back where we started, beneath the arches of Borough Market, we walked past Southwark Cathedral, where Shakespeare's brother is buried, and the flat where Bridget Jones lived in the film 'Bridget Jones' Diary'. (From the sublime to the ridiculous, eh?) We thanked the knowledgeable and entertaining Charlotte for our wonderful evening, promising to check out some more of her walking tours. And anyone interested in learning more about this weird and wonderful city should really do the same! You can find details of her tours here. My eye is on the Haunted Pub Tour next. Creepy tales and pints, what could be better?

My tour was provided for free by Best LDN Walks, as part of a specified London blogger event. Any opinions expressed in the above post however are those of The Accidental Londoner alone. I do not endorse products or organisations that I don't or wouldn't use myself or recommend to a friend.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Where you can find the Accidental Londoner on social media

Having so much time to think about and develop my blog at the moment, I'm realising just how much work it takes to do this whole blogging thing 'properly'. Props to those people running their mega-blogs with the crazy hit rates and hundreds of thousands of followers - those are some hard-working individuals! I'm still a very long way away from their levels of success and readership, but I am certainly trying to learn from them at the moment. 

I started this blog five and a half years ago, in an age when having a blog meant just that: you had a blog. You wrote posts, and maybe you also posted photographs. You didn't also have a Twitter feed, and an Instagram account, and Pinterest boards and Facebook pages, and a Youtube channel.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

July


Better late than never, here is July 2014...

1. July was the month in which I settled into being out of work. I left the company for which I'd worked for six and a half years at the end of June, so the beginning of July saw me making some serious mental adjustments. But by the end of the month, I was happier, more focussed on what I want from my professional life, and I'd even had a pretty hopeful interview. The very best thing that happened this month was that I got to spend a lot of time working on my blog...and drinking a lot (A LOT!) of coffee. (This first photo was of a blogpost planning session at the excellent Store Street Espresso. These people know their cold brew.)

2. The National Literacy Trust launched London's latest public art series in July - Books About Town. One hot afternoon I took a wander around their trail in Bloomsbury, one of the city's most literary areas. This is the 'Mrs Dalloway' book-bench in Gordon Square, where Virginia Woolf used to live. I wrote more about the trail and the campaign itself here.

3. Free time and the arrival (at last!) of summer meant more time for me to indulge my love of wandering the streets and exploring this city. It's been a joy not to have to rush everywhere, so I've been eschewing the Tube (which I hate at the best of times) and even my ever-faithful buses in order to just walk to meetings and coffee shops and workspaces. On foot, one sees the detail in a city like London: ghost signs on the side of old buildings, pretty cornices and decorations up above modern shop-fronts, and the odd cat snoozing in a window. This photo was taken in Barnsbury, one of my favourite corners of Islington. They have the prettiest doors around this area.

4. One of the other things I've been able to do since quitting my job is step up my volunteering. I've volunteered as a fosterer for Cats Protection for several years, but now I have more time to contribute I've also become a social media volunteer for my local adoption centre. Earlier this month I did a collateral audit of the centre's existing channels, made some recommendations for how they could increase their following and outreach, wrote a feature or two for their website, and also created and started to manage a new Instagram feed. That may sound like some serious work in theory, but in practice it means I get to spend an afternoon or two a week working with some of the most dedicated people I've ever met, and taking endless photos of cute cats, whilst fending off their furry advances. And I'm loving it. If you're interested in learning a bit more about this hard-working organisation or you just want to look at cute cat pictures, you can follow Cats Protection North London Adoption Centre on Facebook, Twitter, and the new Instagram feed. (In which I make the odd appearance...usually in the background, acting as a climbing frame for kitties.)

5. I had an interesting coffee date in Borough, chatting all things blogging, self-publishing and doing what you really love. I headed down to the area before my meeting to have a poke around south of the river. Famous Borough Market was all shut-up and empty, which gave me plenty of space to explore it, and to notice its glorious green roof for the first time. And of course no trip in or out of Borough station is complete without a quick peek up at The Shard. You can't exactly miss it!

6. I've been trying hard to rein in my book-buying habits recently, but I couldn't resist checking out the shiny new Foyles flagship store on Charing Cross Road. The new store is bright and open, and literary kryptonite to my resolve not to buy any more books. The old store (which was only a couple of doors down from the new location) had a wonderful cafe that was always open in the evenings for a post-dinner coffee, and fortunately the new store has an equally inviting cafe with an accompanying exhibition space, up above its central staircase. I allowed myself in for a coffee and some writing last month, on the condition I didn't leave with a bulging bag full of books.

7. The Accidental Mother came to town towards the end of July, and we spent a fun day eating cake at the British Library (which was basically what got me through my miserable Masters a couple of years ago), and then visiting the Chelsea Physic Garden. This wonderful place is hidden behind high brick walls that cut out the noise and rush of Chelsea Embankment just outside. Inside is a phenomenal collection of flowers and plants - from the edible and the curative, to the completely peculiar. Despite the heat we wandered inside some of the garden's hothouses, stuffed with exotic plants; a few of which bore some alarming signs about their poisonous nature. The garden's cafe was an unexpectedly marvellous discovery too, serving up fantastic food surrounded by mulberry trees and manicured lawns. 

8. Then, just before the end of the month, one of my friends from university got married, at a fine winery in Provence. I flew over to join lots of old friends for what was a truly glorious event, despite a freak hailstorm that threatened to derail proceedings. But, just in time, the sun eventually reappeared, soggy seats were towelled off, and our wonderful friends were finally married. Many congratulations, lovelies!

9. After the wedding, the Accidental Boyfriend and I set off on a roadtrip to explore a bit more of France. We headed first to the Cevennes to stay in a lovely Airbnb flat in a little mediaeval town, full of old windows and trailing greenery. We found glorious places to eat, including this little gem in Anduze, and even a photography exhibition inside the bowels of a castle.

And by the time we roadripped our way to Burgundy, it was August!

Friday, 8 August 2014

'The Start Up': a new web series written by an Accidental friend

I once had a very brief foray into script-writing. During my final year at university, one of my housemates and I started writing a 6-episode comedy series following the lives of several shambolic university students. They spent a lot of their time sharing grotty bathrooms, getting amusingly drunk and going to toga parties. (Yeah, there were elements of semi-autobiography in there.) After our graduation, my housemate did a lot of work to package up our ideas and pitch them to television companies, but sadly our series went nowhere.

Then one night, after too many cocktails, we developed a theory that the award-winning 'Fresh Meat' was based on material lifted from one of our failed pitches. However, few weeks later I was sat next to a comedy script-writer at a wine tasting event (it's London; that kind of thing happens more than you'd imagine) and he reassured me that Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain had been talking about developing a student-based series for years and that the likelihood of any intellectual property theft was slim to none. And that was truly the end of that. For me at least.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Back in town

I have just had a holiday. Not a lying on a beach, slow strolling holiday either - a seeing, doing, travelling, eating, meeting holiday. I've been in France for just over a week, and we managed to pack an impressive amount into our days away from London.

Our trip started with an early morning dash in a rental car through the streets of London, out to Gatwick airport. Thank heavens there was time for coffee before boarding. Except there almost wasn't, so cue another frantic hurtle through the grey corridors of the North terminal, attempting not to spill a cooling cappuccino down myself. But we made our plane, and a couple of hours later we were safely in Nice. But not for long. We grabbed our second rental car of the day, having bumped into two groups of friends in the collection area, and headed for rural Provence...

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