Wednesday, 31 December 2014

And there goes 2014

Forgive me. My monthly wrap-ups got somewhat defeated by the past few weeks, which have been pretty frantic. Let me tell you what I've been up to, and about a few of the places I've been exploring recently...

Monday, 15 December 2014

Accidental Reads: Drink London - 100 best bars and pubs

Without wishing to sound like a raging alcoholic, I have been for a lot of drinks since I've lived in London. The city is stuffed with watering holes; from the hip, hidden speakeasy, staffed by chaps in bowlers and braces, to the quintessentially English pub, full of half-drunk pints and old baize pool tables. Some are short-lived pop-ups, some ever-full hotspots. Plenty have been around for hundreds of years. (I visited several of the city's most ancient hostelries with Charlotte of Best LDN Walks over the summer on her excellent Secrets of London pub tour.)

Of course, everyone has their personal views on drinking spots. Some people like them buzzy and busy, others like a peaceful pint. A familiar favourite can be just what one needs for a cosy weekend drink, but sometimes you fancy somewhere different; a place you can scour an imaginative drinks list for a tasty new tipple. And if you're in need of some alchoholic inspiration, you could do worse than get yourself a copy of Drink London by Euan Ferguson. Published by Frances Lincoln Limited, Ferguson brings the reader 100 handpicked places to drink all over the city.

Monday, 8 December 2014

A festive repost: 'Christmas formal' with the girls

*** This weekend, we bid farewell to some much loved friends, who are leaving cold, grey London for the sunshine of Sydney. It was emotional to say the least. There were tears, silly Christmas jumpers, turkey (obvs), mulled cider, and a round of the After Eight game that the Grafton in Kentish Town probably won't forget in a hurry.

And so, if you'll permit me, here is a little festive repost. This is how my pals and I do our London-y, pretending-we're-all-still-at-university Christmas. Next year, there will be a conspicuously empty seat round our noisy table...

"To paint a picture, once upon a time, in a land far away in the North East, 8 girls lived in a large former B&B/hotel together. They had many friends who would visit for tea, vodka and chocolate biscuits, some of whom spent so much time in their house everyone forgot they didn't actually live there. When these girlies were done being students they packed up their house and headed off to different places all over the country to start being proper working folk. But missing each other they met up frequently and, in manner of a dysfunctional, sort of non-related family, decided they would have their own Christmas each year; given that most of these girls lived in London by the time the festive season rolled round the first time, the great British capital would be the annual venue.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Ch-ch-ch-changes

This little corner of the Internet has been woefully silent recently. Sorry about that. See, changes have been afoot.

It's become autumn. Which has led to a rediscovery of scarves and thick black tights (and then their discarding as the British weather plays tricks and suddenly becomes unseasonably warm on a whim.)

I've turned thirty. Which has called for cocktails and catch ups with wonderful friends and many slices of the most obscenely enormous and delicious cake.
I've started a new job. Which has required a lot of focussed energy and early mornings, and bidding farewell to my lazy summer spent writing in cafes and generally exploiting the freedom that comes from not spending all day in an office.

And in starting my new job, I've gained a new area of the city to explore. Which has required flat shoes, fresh notebooks and these little beauties.

In a stroke of madness I've also signed up for NaNoWriMo, and accepted the challenge of writing a novel in a month. So there goes November.

Things may continue to be quieter over here for a little bit. But you're staying in and being cosy, and thinking about Halloween and Bonfire Night, and watching The Apprentice, right? You'll barely notice I'm gone...

Back soon. 

Monday, 13 October 2014

September in pictures


Monday, 6 October 2014

The phantom railings

I usually walk around the city with a large pair of headphones clamped over my ears. Sometimes what plays within my little audiological cocoon is music, other times it is voices from a podcast or a radio programme. I like the sound of company on my solitary expeditions. But the other week I and my headphones were walking along near the British Museum, when I came across something that made me reach up and pull them down around my neck. There was something else I needed to hear.

There is a pretty walled garden behind Gower Street. It's one of those private gardens reserved solely for the enjoyment of the residents of a row of expensive terraced houses. The wall around the garden once had heavy iron railings around it, but these railings are long gone. During the war in Britain, such railings were often ripped out of their walls, and melted down to make arms and armour; reinvented as different tools for keeping people at a distance. Yet without the railings in place passersby can now peek over the wall, into the green garden within. 

Friday, 26 September 2014

What's in my blogger's bag?

A while ago I came across the pretty illustrations of Kristina Hultkrantz, who designs under the brand Emma Kisstina. This self-confessed girly-girl covers posters, scarves, and make-up bags with her bold yet delicate designs, and despite not being the girliest of girls myself, the strong, solid colours of her designs hugely appealed to me. In checking out her blog I also discovered a fascinating series of illustrations, showing off the things that bloggers kept in their bags. And then I was hooked. 

I know what it takes to keep my own blogging show on the road - a lot of coffee, wine and chats with blogging pals mostly, but I don't keep those in my bag! - but what about other bloggers? Can you tell what kind of blogger someone is from the contents of their bag? Turns out, you can...The majority of the bloggers Kristina features in her series are glamorous fashion and lifestyle bloggers; their designer handbags groaning with beauty products and glittering jewellery. But I thought I'd drop Kristina a line and see if she was up for the challenge of featuring the bag of a rambling city blogger - with, as Kristina noted herself, not even so much as a lip balm in sight...

Monday, 22 September 2014

A little bit(e) of Mexico in London

Mexico. When you think of that particular Latin American country, what comes to mind? Mariachi bands and margaritas? Old ruins and beautiful beaches? As many tacos as your stomach can hold? (Just me then, ok...) These days, Mexico is becoming less of a dream and more of a viable holiday destination, with increasing numbers of flights whisking Brits from grey old England to Mexico's sparkling Caribbean coast. If you don't fancy hanging out on the beaches of Southern Spain surrounded by hundreds of lobster-coloured compatriots, you can book an all-inclusive deal to Mexico these days; even package holiday operators like First Choice have added Mexico to their itineraries. But if you live in London and fancy a little Mexicana in your life you actually don't have to travel at all...

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Camden's tribute to Amy Winehouse

On what would have been her 31st birthday last Saturday, a statue of the late British singer, Amy Winehouse, was unveiled in Camden's Stables Market. Her style was bluesy jazz and soul, and immensely popular. By the time she was 20 years old she had released an album - Frank - that was destined to go platinum and launch a truly stellar musical career. Sadly, she had a life as filled with pain as the soulful songs she sung, and Amy never made it past her 27th birthday, dying of alcohol poisoning in 2011, and joining the infamous '27 Club': a group of famous musical individuals who died at the age of 27. (Amy Winehouse shares this debatable honour with people like Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Nirvana frontman, Kurt Cobain.)
While she was still alive however, topping charts and performing gigs, Amy was very definitely a Camden girl. Although it is probably fair to say she didn't spend her days hanging out amidst the foreign tourists who wander the market each day. But just opposite the market, beneath a railway bridge, stands the Hawley Arms: a classic English boozer, much frequented by famous people from the worlds of music, fashion and TV. According to the media, it was Amy's home away from home. When the pub went up in smoke in 2008 practically every article or broadcast on the fire made mention of Ms Winehouse's patronage of the place.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

A photographic treasure hunt in Shoreditch with Foto Ruta

It is rare to meet a blogger these days who is not also a photographer, or in the very least someone who takes photographs. If you blog about things that you see and places you visit - as I do - people often want to see for themselves what they look like. I'm not sure what that says about my descriptive ability or a reader's desire for visual verification, but these are the ways of the modern blogging world. And while many of us struggle along without a great deal of artistic talent, documenting rather than creating great art, plenty of bloggers, journalists and Londoners take stunning photos to accompany their written work. 

Despite being a girl who is really all about the words, I would love to do a better job of taking photos. And, after being given a rather nice camera for Christmas last year, I have finally started to learn about how to take photos, embracing exposure and aperture, and eschewing the basic point-and-clicking that has served me for the past 20 years or so. I now travel with a camera on me at all times, usually my decent manual camera as well as my trusty iPhone's little lens. And I certainly take more pictures, even if not perfect ones. So when Foto Ruta recently invited me along to one of their photography events, with the promise of a crash course in street photography, I was there with bells on.
Foto Ruta was started in Argentina, and is the brainchild of two photographers who were exasperated at the lack of creative ways through which tourists could see the city of Buenos Aires. They wanted to help visitors better explore BA, without the sterile tours or standard 'must-see' attractions. Clearly the tourists in Argentina agreed with them, and from their Latin American beginnings Foto Ruta are now running photography tours in four countries: Argentina, Chile, Spain and the UK. Oh, and they are eyeing world domination, with plans to be operating in twelve countries round the world very shortly. 

I was invited along to join a Foto Ruta Clue event in Shoreditch a couple of weekends ago, and so, with camera in-hand, off I went one sunny Sunday. As our group assembled in a very East London co-working space on Shoreditch High Street (think lots of exposed brick and large industrial windows), it became apparent that there was quite a variety of cameras between us. Some of us carried smartphones, some fancy SLRs. No problem, we were told. We were here to take photographs and explore the city, not produce a technical masterpiece.

Jess, from Foto Ruta London, whizzed us through an introduction to the afternoon's event, then showed us a selection of photos produced by earlier Foto Ruta events, carefully explaining why each was such a great photograph. She also gave us a number of classic rules of photography to bear in mind whilst creating our own images. Each of us was presented with a lanyard and set of notecards, containing a potted history of Foto Ruta, a reminder of many of the presentation's tips for good street photography, a map of the area, and, most crucially, our list of 'clues'. We all had the same eight clues - prompts or themes to inspire us - and in small groups we would shortly be sent off to create a set of photographs that responded to each prompt. Clues ranged from 'Pockets of light' to 'Sunday blues', and included the particularly tricky 'Dads are the original hipsters'; this one presented a creative dilemma or two for many of us - how do you set up or capture something as specific as that?!
Our submission for the clue 'Beyond retro'
Out we all went onto the streets, and out came our cameras. I headed around Shoreditch with the lovely Nishan, a film student who was in town on holiday from Singapore. We happily nattered and snapped photos, and wandered merrily off the map, and agonised over finding subjects to correspond to our eight clues. Shoreditch was the perfect pocket of the city for our clue hunt, filled as it is with ancient and modern urban elements, windy streets full of peculiarities, and a hugely rich street art culture. We even finally tracked down a 'hipster dad' (Although he later admitted he had no children. But then made a generous offer to, er, contribute to some hipster babies if we wanted some. We politely turned him down.)
'Food hunt'
Before we knew it, we were zooming back to Forge & Co., our HQ for the afternoon, with two hours of street photography behind us. Next came the process of scrolling through our many, many new photos, and selecting our final shots for our clues. Once each group had selected their photos, out came the wine, and, over a glass or two, Jess talked us through our images, giving us a (kindly positive) critique of each one. With six or seven different groups taking part, it was fascinating to see how each had interpreted the same set of clues so differently. (You can check out all the photos taken by our group on our afternoon exploring Shoreditch here.) And, Jess was right: it truly didn't matter what camera had been used, as the fun of the images was as much in the interpretation of clues and spotting of weird urban life, as it was in the light levels and framing. I certainly finished the day with a clutch of new photos of which I was rather proud! And I will try to remember my newfound tips and tricks...and to just keep snapping away at this city.

As a blogger, Foto Ruta offered me a complimentary ticket to their Foto Ruta Clue event. (Usually tickets to this event cost £24.00.) 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.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The end of the summer in the city

On our recent holiday we arrived in Paris in the middle of summer. During the summer months, particularly August, Paris sort of shuts down. Parisians, along with plenty of other people across France, clear out of the city during the hottest time of the year and head to the beach. Offices wind down, shops shut, and museums close up. For a local it must be nicely peaceful - a time when one can claim the city streets for one's own, when the office is a less stressful place, and one has longer evenings to enjoy a post-work apero or two. As tourists, there is still plenty to do and see in the city, but a few attractions are disappointingly closed and the city feels a little different. It is quieter, emptier. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. While we were there last month we tramped cobbled streets, delighting in how we had the place to ourselves; and then we'd turn a corner and find ourselves surrounded by an Ecuadorian tour group, and it would feel crowded and busy again. 

A Parisian friend asked whether we experienced anything similar in London - a sort of city summer holiday period. I said no, not really. But then I came home and realised I might have been wrong. Wandering through my neighbourhood in the last few weeks I noticed a number of signs in the windows of shops and cafés, declaring that businesses were closed for the summer and would reopen at the end of August or the beginning of September. Everywhere from the flower stand at Tufnell Park Tube station to the greasy spoon cafés that line Kentish Town Road was en vacances. I remember my favourite cafe near home shutting up for the summer before, but this summer, while I've been working from home, I have really missed it. (I've been forced into a new rival instead, where the coffee is excellent but the screaming infant to cappuccino ratio is a little high for my liking.) Is this a new thing? Or have local businesses in North London always come over a bit French in the summer and I've just never noticed it before?

This week, things have felt like they are getting back to normal however. With each new day, the high street has welcomed back another shop or cafe, ready for the autumn. The apologetic signs in the shuttered windows are being taken down. Outside homes on the quieter residential streets I have watched cars being unloaded of holiday detritus; sunburnt children, bags of dirty laundry and brand-new flippers and boogie-boards, purchased in a fit of sunstroke-induced madness, used once or twice then bought home to languish in the cupboard under the stairs.

It feels as if the spirit of summer is passing. The leaves are starting to drop from the trees and brown in the gutters. I have already busted out a couple of thick jumpers as the temperatures drop. Hell, my wellies even made an appearance before August was out. Whilst I remain (for now) blissfully free of formal office hours, I am rising earlier and leaving the house with the commuting hoards. London feels fuller than it has over the past few weeks. Londoners look greyer; they are back in their workwear, out of their shorts and flip-flops. I followed a little group down the street sometime before 9am this week. In the middle walked a forty-something man in glasses and a grey pin-striped suit. He held a briefcase in his left hand and a small skipping child in his right. Beside the briefcase walked an older child, looking up at his father, earnestly explaining something that sounded like a homework project. He dragged a book bag behind him as the group progressed down the road. His father looked as if he was only half-listening as he dodged the commuters queueing for the bus, and the Royal Mail cart, and people clutching paper cups of coffee to themselves. Farewell, Summer! London has started a new term.

Monday, 1 September 2014

August in pictures

So as August began I was somewhere halfway up France...

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.

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? 

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...

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...

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Accidental Reads: Portobello Road - Lives of a Neighbourhood

I have just finished reading one of those books you never want to end. I whistled through its pages in the space of two days. It was the kind of book I wish I could write about this city - the history of an area, a single street in fact, told through the stories of the individuals that made it the place it is. Portobello Road in Notting Hill is known to many as a tourist-filled market, a place to buy knock-off vintage clothing. It is a candy-coloured strip of houses and stalls, a place to potter lazily at weekends. 

But there is so much more to this single road than the average visitor will ever discover.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Accidental Visits: Borough Market without the crowds

Visiting Borough Market is a classic thing to do with visitors in London. Plenty of my friends who've had relations and pals come and stay for a weekend have marched them down to Borough in Southwark to wander and eat on a Saturday morning. They have stocked up on yummy bread and cheese, stuffed themselves with free samples, and brunched on gourmet sausage sandwiches. It's a classic city entertaining move. And I commend them, but I have never been brave enough to do it myself. Borough Market is one of the busiest markets in the city, and Saturday mornings for me are times for peace and quiet, civilised conversation and the first well-deserved skinny cap of the weekend. And I can't be enjoying all that with hundreds of other people jostling me to grab a sample of tapenade on an oatcake. 

The market operates for wholesalers every weekday, but is only open to retail customers (read: normal Londoners and their out-of-town visitors) from Wednesday to Saturday. This Monday afternoon, long after even the morning's wholesale trading had wrapped up, I found myself down near Borough Market, so I popped along for a lonely, peaceful wander around the place...

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Books About Town by the National Literacy Trust

London's streets have seen their fair share of pop-up art series in the past few years. We've had elephants (more than once), Easter eggs, and now we have books. Dotted around the city currently are fifty illustrated benches, shaped like open books. This is the Books About Town campaign, launched by the National Literacy Trust earlier this week. It aims to promote reading for fun, as well as learning about London's literary history. Like the elephants and Easter eggs, the benches will be auctioned off to raise funds for the National Literacy Trust, at the end of the summer.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

May and June


What with one thing and another, and working a two month notice period that came to an end with the start of a July, May and June ran into one another somewhat.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Accidental Visits: The Kyoto Garden in Holland Park

Last Sunday I caught up with my most legitimately London friend. She was born here in the city, and has lived here all her life; besides brief interludes at the school we both attended in Gloucestershire, and the university we also shared up in the North East. We met on Sunday in Kensington (she's such a Londoner that her 'hood is properly central) and took a sunny stroll down to Holland Park. For my friend, Holland Park was a familiar feature of her childhood - and the location of school sports days, she recalled with a shudder. I haven't spent much time in this park at all, bar a brief stay in the brutally hideous youth hostel that sits in the middle of the far prettier gardens, whilst training for an overseas zoological expedition.  

It was a pleasure to return with a local. My friend steered me swiftly past the hoards of toddlers on scooters and picnic-ers, and led me towards the park's hidden Kyoto Garden. The garden has been part of the park since 1991, and was funded (and then maintained annually by a special globe-trotting team of Japanese gardeners for 20 years) by the Chamber of Commerce of Kyoto. It underwent a large replanting and refurbishment in 2001, and in 2012, a year after the catastrophic nuclear disaster at Fukushima, a new section was added to commemorate the event.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Moving on - from a job and a particular corner of London

I moved to London seven years ago this autumn. The January following my move, after an internship and a brief spell of job-hunting and sleeping in various family members' spare rooms, I got my first full-time, no-break-for-university-terms, this-is-what-I'm-now-doing-with-my-time job. It wasn't in my industry of choice, but it would supposedly set me up with some basic office skills that I could later transfer across into my preferred field. Long story short, I still work for the company that first gave me a shot in this city. Three different jobs, six and a half years, seven or eight different desks, and countless projects. Working in one place for several years it is remarkable how easy it becomes to spend the days on autopilot, how quickly one can repeat familiar tasks and make the necessary calls. You can coast through tasks bounded by established processes and management systems. I could have stayed here forever.

And that is one reason why I handed in my resignation last month.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Things I have realised while running

I went for a run the other Saturday night. (I know, right?!) While everyone else in Amsterdam was busy eating and drinking, flirting, dancing and generally carousing, I eschewed a glass of wine, took off my make-up and put on a clingy turquoise running shirt. Then my friend, Lou, and I trekked out to the city's Olympic Stadium, and we prepared to run the Nike We Own the Night 10k. With several thousand other women, we stretched and warmed up in a spot of light drizzle, grimaced at the insanitary portaloos, and then lined up in our numbered pen ready for the off. We then stood around, swiftly cooling, as the dancers and DJ who had been motivating the pre-race warm up, frantically vamped to cover a problem at the starting line. But then, finally, sometime before 11pm, the first few runners set off. Almost 20 minutes later we followed them.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Accidental Reads: Swimming London

I will freely admit that swimming has never been a favourite sport of mine. Public swimming pools always remind me of school swimming lessons, pointlessly diving to retrieve rubber bricks whilst clad in old pyjamas, and being whistled at by a dry teacher wearing real clothes on the sidelines. And then there were the hideous changing rooms. The anti-verucca foot-baths of sloshing brown water, the uncomfortable slatted benches down which your clothes and towel always fell, and that feeling of clamminess after rushing to get your clothes back on before you were actually dry again. Eurgh. I never much enjoyed swimming outside either, thanks to a terrifying encounter when I was about 10 or 11 with a monstrous crab in a seaweedy Scottish loch.

Since moving to London however I've made a number of new friends who have declared themselves swimming fans. And not just pool aficionados either. People in London swim outdoors. Who knew?! They hop into the Serpentine, and in the sunshine they flock to Brockwell Lido. They take a bracing dip in the Hampstead Bathing Ponds, where there is is even a an annual Christmas Day Swim for the most committed of watery masochists. *shiver* In fact, when you start to look for them, there are spots to swim (and people hopping in and out of them) all over the city.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Finding familiarity in the city

I read something this week that made me feel a bit sad. The author of one of the first (and most original and interesting) London blogs I found and followed has called time on her documentation of exploring the city. To quote Steph from Little London Observationist: "Now, after living here for seven years, I still crave new discoveries, but I also long for familiarity – places that are mine, that I can return to over and over again, where the people making my tea know my order by heart, where people in my favourite shops welcome me back with a smile, where I have a seat by the window in cafe that always makes me feel inspired every time I sit there." Steph's words made me feel initially sad - I won't get to read her tales of exploring anymore - but they were also entirely understandable.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

'LIMBO' at London Wonderground

London looks its finest from the Hungerford Bridge, after work on a balmy summer evening. Memories of the office fade away, swallowed up by crowds of tourists, and the sight of that iconic skyline over the River Thames. And last Thursday evening was the perfect night to perve over London - warm, sunny and full of the promise of summer. I was trotting over that particular bridge with the Accidental Cousin, to explore the Southbank Centre's annual London Wonderground festival which opened earlier this month. London Wonderground offers up music and performance, all with a side of weirdness and wonder. Its tiny cabins have recently returned along the river, selling food and drink beneath strings of twinkly lights, forming a wooden fairy ring around the festival's main venue - an impressive Speigeltent.

Monday, 5 May 2014

April

And so it continues...that was April, folks.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Commuting in London

Commuting gets Londoners riled up. Particularly during a tube strike. Everyone who works in the city has his or her own daily route, with its own series of challenges and changes - a personal assault course just to get to and from work. And the tiniest deviation from this well-trodden path can disrupt a commute. The current lack of tube trains has clogged roads, and unleashed a number of cyclists unused to doing battle with London's scary traffic. Twitter is awash with people complaining about having to *gasp* walk from one area of the city to another. It is commuting chaos.

Even without the pressure of a tube strike, Londoners revel in discussing and comparing their commutes: Who travels furthest? Who travels longest? Who can always get a seat on the bus? Who knows the right carriage to squeeze into so they can be first off the platform when their tube train pulls in to the next station? We spend so much time swapping relative hardships that it comes as a surprise to meet someone who truly enjoys their commute. Yet amongst the whingeing about roadworks and rail replacement bus services, there can be pleasing patterns and familiarity in this daily grind.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Bloggers at work

A couple of weeks ago I met a new blogger. I love meeting new bloggers. You always have so much to discuss with one another, and for that reason they feel like new friends very quickly. The lovely Jo, from The Only Place, had announced that she was doing a collection of photos of bloggers at work, capturing the spaces and places where blogging happens, as well as the faces of those of us who lay claim to the title of 'blogger'.
She kindly agreed to include me in her series, and trekked up to North London one sunny Saturday to take some photos. We nattered for ages, drank copious amounts of tea, and then we got down to the actual photography business. Jo took a range of photos of me in various spots around my flat - which, we have since agreed, came out of this photo-shoot looking like an interiors all-star.

You can check out Jo's series over here on her blog. Jo was a super photographer, who instantly put me at ease, and lined up shot after shot without it getting boring. She's also a great person to have chat with about blogging and London and many other things, so I hugely enjoyed getting to meet Jo as much as getting to see the photographs she produced! If you are a blogger who fancies being involved, drop Jo a line and invite her to come take some photos of the space in which you blog...she's currently after some more blogging models so do get in touch if you'd be up for it.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Accidental Visits: In search of inspiration at the V&A

I have been a terrible blogger in recent months. Infrequent, uninspired, inarticulate. My job has taken almost everything out of me this year so far, beginning with my creativity - the first casualty of stress and tiredness. And so, yesterday I took a day off; to recharge, to do unexciting but necessary tasks around the house, to sit in one place and drink a whole coffee before it went cold, and to try and feel a bit more like myself. My brain needed a jump-start too. So I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington, one of my happiest of London happy places, to indulge in a late afternoon potter in search of a little inspiration. 

Friday, 4 April 2014

February and March


Where is 2014 going?! Days and weeks are just whizzing by, and here we are in April already. What have I been getting up to in London? Well, actually I've been doing a whole lot of work which has cramped my city-exploring style somewhat, but you can't keep a good blogger down.

Here's a quick spin through February and March in and around the city...

Monday, 17 March 2014

Sponsored post: Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Moved to London

From time to time a familiar email lands in my inbox. It goes something like this..."Hi, Accidental Londoner! I'm moving to London from Krakow/Brisbane/Manchester/[insert other place here], and was wondering if you had any advice you would pass on to someone moving to the city?"  I usually email back, and make a few suggestions about useful resources for finding a flatshare, or fun blogs to read up on cool things to do.  But then after I hit 'send' I always remember other things I could have suggested and wish I'd written more. Maybe I should have a stock reply - a do's and don't's for life in London? Kind of like a Mary Schmich-esque commencement speech that the Accidental Londoner would share with an assembly of future citizens of this great place. (Mary Schmich? She wrote this, which Baz Luhrmann later repackaged as this. You know it.) So I've had a go at bundling up some advice for future Londoners...Oh, but a caveat first. Like Mary Schmich's essay, what appears below has "no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience". Take it with a pinch of salt. 

Find a decent place to live. East, West, wherever you like. Even South of the river if you must. Just make sure you share it with nice people. If your housemates turn out to be psychos, move.
Don't live anywhere you feel scared to get home after dark. Don't live anywhere where you can see or smell evidence of damp/rats/mice/previous owners. Avoid living near drug-dealers - they keep supremely antisocial hours.
When choosing a decent location for your new home, apply 'The pint test'; if you can buy a pint of milk and a pint of beer (not necessarily in the same place) somewhere within easy walking distance, you're golden.
Accept that all estate agents are out to shaft you, but don't let them. Try and live somewhere where you can see green space and sky, whatever colour it may be.
Always carry an umbrella. Invest in a utilitarian range of footwear. Buy a big winter coat.
Resist the urge to take all your clothes off on the first sunny day of the year. Be patient and wait for the summer - it will come. Eventually. Drink ro on the pavements after work when it does.
Respectfully share the buses and tube trains with your fellow Londoners. Do not begrudge them their elbow room and they won't complain about being able to hear whatever you're listening to through your headphones.
Do not read other peoples' newspapers on the Tube. Get your own. Just not The Sun.
It's pretty hard not to Mind the Gap, but don't run for closing train doors - it just scares everyone who's already on the train and who thinks you're about to have your head removed from your body.
If you must use Boris Bikes, buy a helmet and use it. If you ride on the DLR, sit at the front of the train and pretend you are driving.
Be open to meeting new people everywhere. Don't reject the possibility that this may take place online. Today, it's really not that strange.
Learn to rebuff unwanted attention. Learn to entertain yourself. Learn how to stare down and trample meandering tourists in the West End.
Don't let London's exterior unfriendliness get you down - there are good, fun, kind people here; seek them out.
Never shop on Oxford Street. Don't regularly frequent bars where a round of drinks costs your weekly pay-cheque. Shop local, and learn your newsagent's name.
Recycle.
Know who your neighbours are, and say hi to them when you pass in the street. 
Embrace opportunity. Say yes to the jobs that don't sound like a dream role, but which offer you something you want. Sometimes good is good enough.
Never work for free unless you truly want to.
Don't worry about a fixed career path - doing something is better than doing nothing at all. Whatever anyone says, no one else's job is perfect either.
Use your holiday allowance. Don't eat lunch at your desk. 
Make life easier for yourself. Buy an Oystercard. Set up auto top-up. (Don't be the person who has to wait in line at every station, whilst your friends tap their feet on the other side of the barrier.)
Keep the number of a reliable taxi firm in your phone for dark, rainy nights when you find yourself miles from home on the other side of the city after the last Tube.
Pay your council tax bill, however eye-wateringly expensive - that's what pays for the streetlights that get you home after a night out.  
Don't be scared of the city, but stay alert. Guard your bags and your pockets.
Don't get lazy - London will call you on it. The city constantly changes, and you may have to too. Change is good; embrace it.
Learn what to do if you lose your wallet or your phone is stolen. In all honesty, it may well happen. But it's not the end of the world.
Nothing here is permanent. This can be both good and bad. You may miss familiar things, but you can also discover wonderful new ones.
Look down every alleyway, particularly the dodgy ones. Walk a different way each time. Explore, and build your own unique mental map of the city. 
Don't think about it too much. Either the decision to moving here initially, or the choices you'll have to make once you get here. If I had truly sat down and thought about some of the biggest things I've done since moving here, I wouldn't have a Masters degree. Or a flat. I would probably also have had the same job for the past six years. 
Oh, and once you're here, living and working, you're a Londoner. Don't let anyone else tell you otherwise.

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

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Accidental Visits: The New Covent Garden Flower Market, Nine Elms

I was out of town last Sunday. But a quick glance at Instagram suggested that many of my fellow Londoners were all in one place on Sunday morning: Columbia Road Flower Market.  My but there were a lot of photos of metal trolleys groaning with orchids, and pots of pansies, and armfuls of lilies.  Columbia Road - if you live anywhere vaguely north or east in London - is just one of those places you visit from time to time. You take visitors and out-of-towners to peruse the tiny street lined with flower-sellers; you meet friends there for a coffee, a bacon roll, and a lavender plant in a pot; you elbow your way through the throng of others to snap 100 floral photos and Instagram the hell out of them. It's sort of an East London Sunday morning institution.   

But at a dinner party last month I met a florist. And when someone mentioned Columbia Road, and asked if she bought her supplies there, she politely pointed out that real florists visit a proper, daily tourist-free market for their blooms - the New Covent Garden Flower Market. Not that the market - despite its name - is actually in Covent Garden. The New Covent Garden Flower Market replaced the actual Covent Garden Market, of My Fair Lady fame, over 40 years ago; shifting the city's flower trading hub across the river onto the South Bank. No wonder the rest of us at the dinner party had never stumbled across it.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Before I die...

"Before I die..." proclaimed the title above the boards. Down by the Regents Canal, six big blackboards stood, attracting a crowd of wanderers, tourists, cyclists and runners, all gawking at the chalked responses. There were no instructions, no "First, take a piece of chalk...", but it was obvious what was expected of passersby: In a blank space, complete the phrase "Before I die I want to...". Share your  innermost dreams and deepest desires with everyone who walks along the towpath.

Friday, 7 February 2014

So that was January...


Inspired by the Accidental Boyfriend - who has a wonderful eye for detail and a shameless approach to snap-happy photography - and the lovely new camera I received from my kind Accidental Father at Christmas, I am taking more photos in 2014.  I am also embracing actually doing something with them rather than leaving them to languish on my camera / phone / computer / SnapFish account. Even if that just means sharing them a little more (bad luck, faithful readers!).

So here is January 2014 in photographic form.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Accidental Visits: The Vault Festival 2014, Leake Street Tunnels

I tend to avoid London's South Bank if given the chance. Sure, there are wonderful things down there - the Skylon bar in the Royal Festival Hall, tasty suppers at Canteen, access to the Northern Line, and of course one of the most impressive views of the city. But it's always heaving with tourists and out-of-towners, often with small children in tow, and I am more than happy to leave them to it.  Unless I get an offer I can't refuse to head, gasp, South of the River. And so it was that earlier this week I found myself tramping across the Charing Cross bridge, bound for the general area of Waterloo with the Accidental Ally.  We were off to check out the launch of the 2014 Vault Festival - an extraordinary theatrical experience held in the tunnels beneath Waterloo train station.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Meal interrupted

The scene: A rainy, mid-week date-night at Hawksmoor Seven Dials with the Accidental Boyfriend just before Christmas.  The downstairs bar and restaurant are both stuffed with drinkers and diners; a last minute table reservation was hard to come by. The place rings with chatter and the chinks of tableware and glasses being returned clumsily to the table-tops. Having deposited our heavy overcoats and dripping umbrellas in a vast wardrobe upstairs, we take our seats at a small table along the back wall - one person sat on an endless leather banquette, stretching the length of the place, the other on a chair in the midst of the whirling service.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Nous allons a Paris

Say what you like about TfL and its bus timetables of complete randomness and mystery. Feel free to bash London Midlands or South East Trains. (Heaven knows I have in the past...) By all means rage against the congestion charge or the fact that after almost a year of traffic lights and general chaos by Warren Street the Euston Road junction is still an epic shambles. But let it never be forgotten that in London it is possible to leave your home and within mere minutes be on your way to a whole other country. I am not speaking of the hilariously tiny and ancient single carriage trains that slowly trundle you out to Wales. I am talking about the lovely, sleek Eurostar - our route to the European mainland, to decent wine and foreign holidays.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Accidental Eats: Flat Iron

Ok, can London's restauranteurs make a shared new year's resolution? Please can 2014 be the year in which we kill off the 'no reservations' restaurant? Please?! When we first imported this dining format from New York it was sort of novel, and kind of fun. We felt cool dining at the hot new place in town, where we were just as good as every other diner in London and no one (least of all loathesome forward-planners) could sweep past us or get preferential treatment. We were patient enough to waste hours shivering on a pavement, our noses pressed to the glass, or knocking back several over-priced cocktails, watching others eat, when all we actually really wanted was a plateful of food. But now, enough!  I am done with all these places - they are not cool and egalitarian; they are pretentious, time-consuming, and some of them, trading on their trendy 'too cool for phone numbers' vibe, have got pretty complaisant and lazy and the food reflects that (ahem, MEATLiquor).

In 2014 I will no longer be a slave to this pretension. If I can't be guaranteed dinner within an hour at 8pm, forget it. I will not be conned by your claims to be above reservations books and door-keeping clipboard nazis, and I will see you, no reservations restaurants, for what you are - canny, money-makers, more interested in your brand's reputation and the queue out the door than feeding the patrons who come to sample your wares. Right. Done. 

But I'm going to have to allow myself one, tiny exception - Flat Iron, purveyors of the finest £10 steak in London. To give them their due, Flat Iron will allow you to arrive at their wee Beak Street restaurant on the fringes of Soho, leave you name and number at the door, and then they will call you when your table is ready. They offer a generous overestimation on their waiting time, which can be somewhat heart-stopping for the hungry, but bear with them. You can head downstairs to sample Flat Iron cocktails in the restaurant's own bar, or you can nip round the corner, as we did, to Hix and grab a little something to keep you going for an hour or so while you wait. (For a restaurant that can't seat more than about 25 at any one time however, the existence of 3 members of staff hovering on the door seems like slight overkill, but I digress...)
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