Friday, 20 November 2009

Simon Jenkins

Simon Jenkins - The Guardian 20 November 2009

"I once sat next to a woman at dinner who asked me where I lived. When I replied, London, she frowned and said, how simply ghastly for me. "It's an awful place, absolute hell. I hate going there, the people, the traffic, the tube, the dirt. You must be dying to escape."

"Stung by hearing my beloved home so abused I asked where she lived. Gloucestershire, she replied. "How ghastly," I said, "it is an awful place, absolute hell, I hate going there, the people, the horses, the filthy lanes, the boredom. You must be dying to escape." How extraordinarily rude, she said, and turned away for the rest of the evening.

My London is one that Gloucestershire can never love. I do not spend my time in the city, as most non residents do, enveloped in crowds, shopping and fighting public transport (which is not that bad). I see a city of local streets enlivened by corner shops, bustling pubs, children going to school, parks, squares, museums, theatres. It is a place of calm, if you want it."

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Saturday, 7 November 2009

Charlotte Street

My version of Charlotte Street runs from Fitzroy Square to Rathbone Place. It includes some great Italian cafes, a good selection of restaurants and a few interesting pubs.

Fitzroy Square was created in 1790 by Charles Fitzroy, the 2nd Duke of Grafton and designed by Robert and James Adam. Some of its famous inhabitants have included Virginia Woolf and George Bernard Shaw, in the same house but not at the same time, as well as the Marquis of Salisbury, the former Prime Minister.
Charlotte Street is named after Charlotte of Macklenburg-Strelitz the wife of George III and is dominated by Saatchi & Saatchi and Arup at the northern end of the street. This is in stark contrast to the bohemian reputation the area had when Augustus John, Anthony Powell, Kevin Nixon and Dylan Thomas drank in the Fitzroy Tavern. Another regular was Alistair Crowley who as legend has it created the Kubla Khan 2 cocktail especially for the pub.
Just off Charlotte Street is a fascinating house at No 4 Percy Street. Apart from being interesting architecturally it is also the former home of Alois Hitler, half brother to the man himself. Adolf visited the house in 1912. I like to think that no one was home.
Rathbone Place includes the Wheatsheaf pub and the excellent Lazarides Gallery, which is always worth a visit.
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Saturday, 17 October 2009

Frieze Art Fair - Regents Park

Paul McCarthy - Henry Moore Bound To Fail
The annual Frieze Art Fair takes place every October in Regents Park. Just a few minutes walk from the main site is the Sculpture Park, which features the weird and the wonderful, from both established and emerging artists and is installed in the English Garden of Regents Park.

Erwin Wurm - Pumpkin
Align Centre
Louis Bourgeois - The Couple
Remy Markowitsch - Bonsaipotato
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Sunday, 4 October 2009

The Fourth Plinth to St Margaret's Westminster


The “me, me, me” generation now have its own monument among the great and the good in Trafalgar Square. The empty Fourth Plinth is being used by Anthony Gormley for his ‘One & Other’ exhibition. This excellent idea has been high jacked by the legion of Big Brother devotees who are only interested in fifteen minutes of fame (make that an hour for One & Other) by standing on the plinth and ‘showing off’. Sorry but there is no other word for it. Trafalgar Square is a place where Londoners congregate for political rallies and national celebrations. The plinth now offers a freak show in the name of art.

Perhaps it’s fitting. At the south east corner of the square is Britain’s smallest Police Station located in a lamp post. It is also home to a bronze statue of Charles I, which was ordered to be destroyed by Parliament in 1649 and the metal used for armaments. Instead of melting it down, brazier John Rivett buried it in his garden. The statue was later acquired by Charles II and placed in its present position in 1675. The Royal Stuart Society place a wreath beside it on 30 January each year, the anniversary of Charles I execution.

At the base of Nelsons column are bronze reliefs. They depict scenes from famous Nelson victories and are cast from captured French cannons. I’m all in favour of a little antigallican sentiment but this seems to be “rubbing it in”.

From Trafalgar Square walk down Whitehall to the Women At War Memorial, which was designed by sculpture John Mills and opened by the Queen on 9 July 2005 . It commemorates the contribution made by seven million women during the Second World War. The £1 million, 22 foot high monument depicts uniforms and working clothes worn by women during the war.

Further down Whitehall is the Cenotaph, London’s memorial to the War dead. The Cenotaph, a word meaning empty tomb, was designed by Edwin Lutyens and built at the end of the First World War. Carved in Portland stone it is decorated with only two simple wreaths and contains no religious motifs whatsoever.

At the end of Whitehall is Parliament Square and St Margaret’s Westminster. The church is so overshadowed by it’s gothic neighbours, the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey, that it is almost invisible. Completed in 1523 it is the parish church of Parliament. The stain glass windows to the south of St Margaret’s where designed and replaced by John Piper in 1966 as the original windows had been destroyed by enemy action during the Second World War.
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Friday, 2 October 2009

Dara O Briain

"England plays host to London, much like it plays host to the Premier League. It used to be yours, and now it belongs to the world. You want proof of London's international iconic status? In any Hollywood science-fiction movie, when they show that montage of all the alien attacks from around the world, London always gets flattened first. I've lost count of the amount of times I've seen Big Ben flooded, zapped or struck by a meteor. That's how you measure global brand-reach.

If the English were to be glibly summed up as pragmatic but a bit moany, though, then this is the perfect capital city for them. The city is massive, and Londoners negotiate daily a ludicrously complicated transport system, by underground, overground, bus and boat. This gives them endless opportunities to complain, but it also forces them to perform route calculations of astonishing complexity, usually without even looking up, for fear they might make eye-contact, or show weakness, or share a human moment with a fellow commuter, which is not the way things are done in London."

Dara O Briain
Tickling the English

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Design Museum to London Bridge

The Design Museum is just to the east of Tower Bridge in South London, an area that was once known as Jacob’s Island. In Oliver Twist, Dickens described it as “ a part of the Thames where the buildings on the banks are dirtiest and the vessels on the river blackest with the dust of colliers and the smoke of close-built low roofed houses, there exists the filthiest, the strangest, the most extraordinary of the many localities that are hidden in London, wholly unknown, even by name, to the great mass of inhabitants… windows guarded by rusty iron bars that time and dirt have almost eaten away, every imaginable sign of desolation and neglect….every repulsive lineament of poverty, every loathsome indication of filth, rot and garbage….they must have powerful motives for a secret residence, or be reduced to a destitute condition indeed, who seek a refuge in Jacob’s Island.”

The area has changed somewhat and is no longer the disease-ridden slum where Bill Sikes lived. It is now full of desirable apartments and Conran Restaurants such as Pont de la Tour, where back in 1990 Tony Blair dined with Bill Clinton. The Design Museum opened in 1989 as the first museum in the world devoted to the art of design.

Walking west along the river, and under Tower Bridge, brings you to Norman Fosters London Assembly, the home of the elected Mayor of London. Here the buildings are all new and uninteresting but provides great views north, across the river of the Tower of London, old Billingsgate Market and the city of London skyline.

Since 1971 this stretch of the Thames has been home to HMS Belfast, a former Royal Navy cruiser and now a floating museum and conference centre. You will also find Hays Galleria, which is a soulless shopping area built into a former enclosed wharf. The dock was filled in and warehouses closed in 1969. A glass roof has been added to enhance the shopping experience to an area that was once known as “London’s larder” due to the amount of large ships that daily unloaded cargo here. This is the Pool of London the furthest a large ship can sail up the Thames due to the access provided by Tower Bridge and the restriction imposed by the low arches of London Bridge.

The end of this walk ends at St Olaf House. This art deco building was built by the Hay’s Wharf Company in 1932 and is one of London’s architectural treasures.
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Saturday, 1 August 2009


Hoxton has always been a traditionally working class area but recently became ferociously fashionable. It’s epicentre is the White Cube gallery in Hoxton Square, home to the YBA (Young British Artists, who are not so young any more) such as Tracey Emin, Damien Hurst and the evergreen George & Gilbert. Hoxton was once the home of bare knuckle fighter Lenny MacLean but is now more famous for Nathan Barley and the Hoxton Fin.
Hoxton now has a vibrant arts, restaurant and bar scene frequented by people so appallingly trendy that they leave each other messages on a-boards for the whole world to read but not understand. Nathan Barley again.
The area has an energetic feel and the chance to see a freshly painted Banksy or Eines on any street corner.
Catch the tube to Old Street Station and walk to Hoxton Square, via Great Eastern Street. You are certain to see art and graffitti still wet on the walls.
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Monday, 27 July 2009


peripatetic \pair-uh-puh-TET-ik\, adjective:

1. Of or pertaining to walking about or traveling from place to place; itinerant.
2. Of or pertaining to the philosophy taught by Aristotle (who gave his instructions while walking in the Lyceum at Athens), or to his followers.
3. One who walks about; a pedestrian; an itinerant.
4. A follower of Aristotle; an Aristotelian.

Nevertheless, the attachment which in later life he developed towards Charleston suggests that his peripatetic childhood had left unsatisfied his need for a permanent home.-- Frances Spalding, Duncan Grant: A Biography

I was born in Italy, my sister on the west coast of Canada, because my father was pursuing a peripatetic career as an artist.-- Anna Shapiro, USA Today, July 13, 2000

He would have a long way to go before he would match his peripatetic father. Nick had now moved five times and lived in four states from Kentucky to California.-- Allen Barra, Inventing Wyatt Earp

Peripatetic derives from Greek peripatetikos, from peripatein, "to walk about," from peri-, "around, about" + patein, "to walk." Entry and Pronunciation for peripatetic

Sunday, 26 July 2009

The best coffee in Soho

If it’s an Americano you want then it has to be Cafe Boheme in Old Compton Street. This French style bistro has live jazz at the weekend but is best visited first thing in the morning. The perfect way to start your day.

The place was formerly Wheelers fish restaurant and one of the favourite haunts of Francis Bacon.
The perfect end to the day is with an Espresso in Bar Italia. Opened in 1923 this is a traditional 24 hour Italian cafe. The coffee is expensive and the place will be packed when Italian football is shown live on the huge TV screen but the atmosphere is authentic Soho.

The Blue Plaque is to commemorate the transmission of the world’s first television pictures by John Logie Baird in October 1925 in the attic above Bar Italia.
For a cappuccino and a slice of cake it has to be Patisserie Valerie. I realise this is now a chain but this place has a genuine feel to it and is well worth a visit.
No trip to Soho is complete without a visit to the French House, possibly the greatest bar in the world (and they also serve coffee). No music, no fruit machines, no TV, no pint glasses and no mobiles. Only serious drinkers need enter.
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Sunday, 19 April 2009

Bond Street Tube to Masons Yard

This is not the most obvious of walks through London. Starting at Bond Street Tube Station, which is actually in Oxford Street, the route takes you through Mayfair and past some of the biggest names in retailing, aimed at London’s more affluent clientele, before finally arriving at the White Cube Gallery in Mason’s Yard. This walk will justify Mayfair’s premier position on the Monopoly board.

Upmarket South Molton Street is situated close to Bond Street Tube and is on the edge of Mayfair. This fashionable, pedestrian only street leads on to Brook Street and the former homes of both Jimi Hendrix and Handl. At the peak of his fame Hendrix lived here from 1968 to 1970 with his girlfriend Kathy Etchingham. Handl lived at 25 Brook Street 250 years before Hendrix moved in at 23. No 25 is now the Handl House Museum. So why no Hendrix Museum?

Turn right into Bond Street and experience the glamour of London’s most expensive shops ranging from art dealers and auctioneers to Asprey and Tiffany’s. For some reason Bond Street becomes New Bond Street at a junction that contains one of London’s strangest statues. It’s of Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt sitting on a park bench with enough room for a tourist to sit between them and have a photograph taken. It’s London’s equivalent of the ‘head through the hole’ seaside photo booth. Called ‘Allies’ and designed by Lawrence Holofcenter it was a gift from the Bond Street Association to the City Of Westminster. This unusual landmark was unveiled by Princess Margaret on 2 May 1995.

Half way down New Bond Street is Burlington Arcade. Opened in 1819 it was Britain’s first ever shopping arcade and is now home to shops selling luxury items such as vintage watches, antiques and connoisseur writing materials. Since it first opened the Arcade has been protected by Beadles, liveried guards wearing traditional Edwardian frock coats and gold braided top hats. Originally recruited only from the 10th Hussars they are there to prevent anyone from whistling, singing, playing musical instruments, running, carrying large parcels, opening umbrellas or pushing babies in prams. These regulations bring on an overwhelming desire to whistle while carrying a large parcel in a childs buggy while walking through the arcade.

Cross Piccadilly, past the Royal Academy of Arts and Fortnum & Masons and into Duke Street in a part of London known as St James. Masons Yard can only be found via a narrow alley next to the Chequers Tavern. This pub dates back to 1666 and gained its name from Coachmen who drank and played chequers while waiting for their masters to finish their evening.

The White Cube Gallery is in Masons Yard and always worth a visit.
Map of Bond Street Tube Station to Mason's Yard

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Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Sloane Square to World's End - The Kings Road

Rise from Sloane Square Tube Station into Sloane Square, the home of the Royal Court Theatre and the Sloane Ranger. This busy square is in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and has an air of respectability about it with Tiffany, Hugo Boss and Gieves & Hawkes all having a presence.

From here we begin our walk along the Kings Road. The road is no longer the centre of the fashion world as it may once have been in the 60’s. Like most high streets it now has the same old familiar global brands, which lack the interest or appeal of individual designer boutiques or stores.

First stop is Duke of York Square the home to the Saatchi Gallery. Homage to one mans wealth and purchasing power. As a gallery it works really well. Unfortunately the art feels as though it has been hovered up into a collection rather than hand picked for quality. Despite this there is always something of interest to see and it’s free, so why not.

The Kings Road has a sense of faded glory but the streets off the busy road still remain very desirable. James Bond lived ‘off the Kings Road’ cared for by May his Scottish housekeeper. I have now reluctantly come to terms with the fact that James Bond is a fictional character but like to think that one of the houses really is home to a secret agent, having breakfast of “two cups of very strong black coffee, brewed in an American Chemex, an egg boiled for exactly three and a third minutes and served in a dark blue egg cup with two thick slices of whole wheat toast and butter”.

Heading west you will come to the former home of Russian ballet dancer Princess Serafina Astafieva. She lived in what was previously known as the Pheasantry but is now a Pizza Express. The place starts to become more eye-catching on passing Chelsea Town Hall with a number of interesting furniture shops and the Bluebird Restaurant.
At the end of this stroll is the World’s End, named after a local pub. It is famous for the 60’s counter culture boutique Granny Takes a Trip. In the 70’s the shop was owned by Vivienne Westwood and become the birthplace of British punk.
Map of Sloane Square to World's End
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Sunday, 8 March 2009

Millennium Wheel to London Bridge - The South Bank

This pedestrian route is one of the most popular places in London to ‘stroll’. There are many places on interest along this route, some of them world famous. I will avoid writing about these and concentrate on some of the less celebrated places that I feel are as important and add to the vibrant atmosphere of the South Bank.

Walk east from the Millennium Wheel, keeping the River Thames to your left, away from County Hall, The Houses of Parliament and the huge Shell complex. Under Hungerford Bridge onto the South Bank Centre. Here you will find The Hayward Gallery, National Film Theatre, Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, an overabundance of skate boarders and many places to eat and drink. There is always something happening at the South Bank. Of particular interest is the South Bank Book Market, which is under Waterloo Bridge.

There is also a fine view of Victoria Embankment, on the north side of the Thames that includes Temple and the spires of Wren churches. Unfortunately it also includes many cranes as the numerous developments being built can give London the look and feel of a construction site. It can look as though London is not yet finished.

On past the National Theatre until you come to Gabriel’s Wharf and the Oxo Tower, which have both been successfully renovated by Coin Street Community Builders. The Oxo Tower takes its name from the glass windows in the tower. Designed in the 1920’s by architect Albert Moore, he designed the tower to incorporate the brand name 'Oxo' into the towers window to get around the ban on sky advertising.

Then you arrive at the Tate Modern, Millennium Bridge and the Globe, which are world renown and don’t need me to describe how spectacular they are. Sandwiched between the Globe Theatre and the monolithic Tate is a 17th century house named Cardinal’s Wharf. This was thought to be the lodgings of Sir Christopher Wren in 1670’s and 1680’s while supervising the building of St Paul’s Cathedral on the opposite side of the Thames. It is now thought to be the site of the long demolished Cardinal’s Hatte a well known brothel as the area was a notorious red light district. I assume that Wren, surrounded by bear and bull baiting pits, dingy taverns and gambling dens only had eyes for his masterpiece rising above the London sky line.

Continuing east you pass the Anchor pub, Vinopolis, the Clinic Street Prison Museum and a replica of the Golden Hinde. You will then be in sight of the glorious gothic masterpiece that is Southwark Cathedral dating back to 1106. Any other city in the world would not allow such a work of art to be squeezed between modern office blocks, a railway line and the Borough fruit and veg market. But maybe that’s what makes London so special. These things are to be discovered not promoted.

This brings you nicely to London Bridge Station and access to the underground system.

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Sunday, 1 March 2009

Imprial War Museum to Millenium Wheel

This is a very short walk but there are places of interest to see on the way. Arrive at Lambeth North Tube Station and follow the sign posts to the Imperial War Museum on Lambeth Road. Here you can also see the former home of William Bligh (1754 – 1817) the captain of the “Bounty”.

The museum contains various machines for killing people along with a replica of “Little Boy” the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. Why anyone would want to see such a thing is beyond me but its there if you feel the need.

Opposite the museum, in St Georges Road, is St George’s Cathedral, a relatively modern building having been rebuilt in 1958 due to bomb damage caused during the Second World War. The original building, opened in 1848, was the site of the first Catholic Cathedral to be built after the Reformation. At 131 St Georges Road is the former home of George Myers – “Master Builder” who worked with Pugin the architect of the original Cathedral.

Further on along Westminster Bridge Road is an imposing tower block of luxury apartments now known as 100 Westminster Road. This was originally called Century House and from 1966 until 1995 was the home of MI6. That’s a secret. Don’t tell anyone.

Continue walking past Lambeth North Tube Station and turn right into Lower Marsh. Here you will find a proper street market selling loads of things you don’t want but at only a pound can not resist. Turn left into the tunnel that is Leake Street to the site of the once infamous Can Festival. All the original ‘Art’ work has now been sprayed over as it seems more important for street ‘artists’ to write their own name on walls rather than create something original. Despite this it’s still worth a look.

Emerge from the darkness of Leake Street to the impressive sight of the Millennium Wheel. Londoners originally thought that the 435ft ferris wheel would be an eye sore, being the forth tallest structure in London, towering over Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament it would ruin the London skyline. As Londoners gathered to see the structure raised in two stages by the worlds largest craine it soon became clear that the wheel would become a London icon, similar to the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
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