Tag Archives: London

100 things I love about the UK

Theresa May is competing with Marine Le Pen and Donald Trump for the West’s most evil politician (her latest pile of hot garbage is working to curb non EEA/EU family members from moving to the UK with their EEA/EU loved members), and it’s easy for a lot of EU/EEA folks to feel disenchanted about the UK. I have to admit, when I read complaints about EU expats or the EU, and how we’re to blame for the UK’s ills (never mind that the UK government has been steadily chipping away at its infrastructure for years with austerity, going back to Thatcher), it’s easy to join in on the “let’s crap on the UK” parade. And at times, I do indulge in some anti-British sniping in a comment thread on Facebook or Twitter.

But this post is about what I love about the UK. These are the hundred things – these aren’t in any order – that I love about the UK. And yes, this is very London-centric because I know London well, but I haven’t been to other parts of the UK (outside of Edinburgh), so this is very much what’s important about the UK to me – it’s not a list of what is the “greatest” thing about the UK – after all, none of my 100 things include sports and science (reflecting my lack of interest in both subjects).

  1. London – easily, the greatest city in the world. I’m looking to make the plunge and move to London (am applying for jobs as we speak), because I’ve fallen in love with London the first time I was there back in 2003.
  2. The literature – I’m an English literature scholar and a voracious reader, and British literature is some of the best I’ve ever read.
  3. Agatha Christie – the first Agatha Christie novel I read was one of her later ones, A Caribbean Mystery, with Miss Marple. I read it in camp when I was twelve. I didn’t like camp because there were lots of mosquitoes and my bunk mate left food in his drawer that attracted a colony of ants, but, I picked up Christie’s A Caribbean Mystery and fell in love with her ability to create these vibrant, lived-in worlds. After that book, I zipped through her other works, and have been a lifelong Agatha Christie fan.
  4. The food – yes, the food is very good in the UK. Contemporary British cuisine isn’t just steak and kidney pie or fish and chips (though those items are heavenly). Because of globalization, freedom of movement, and immigration, there are lots of different cuisines that have influenced modern UK cooking.
  5. Delia Smith. I’m a foodie and I love food writing, and I think that Delia Smith ranks alongside Elizabeth David, M.F.K. Fisher, and Julia Child as a titan of food writing.
  6. Speaking of Elizabeth David, I read French Provincial Cooking and Italian food annually.
  7. Speaking of reading writers annually, Jane Austen. Easily the greatest writer in the world. Pride and PrejudiceEmma, and Sense and Sensibility are my three favorite books ever. I’ve read Pride and Prejudice – easily – at least 20 times, and each time I read it, I discover something new about the book.
  8. Tony Benn – the Bernie Sanders before Bernie Sanders was a thing. I discovered Benn by picking up one of his diaries. He was a prolific diarist and an incredible advocate for progressive left-wing causes (and I loved how obsessed he seemed to be with Pizza Express)
  9. Soul II Soul – with much respect to Chic, I think Soul II Soul is the greatest soul/dance band ever.
  10. Shirley Valentine – it’s a great movie. Not a classic or a genre-busting film, but one that gives me all of the feels whenever I watch it. I fell in love with the travel narrative because of that film.
  11. The London Trocadero – yes, yes, I know this is the Times Square of London, and the hippest of the hip hate the Trocadero (you know what, I love Times Square), but the London Trocadero is where I had my epiphanous moment and I realized, “I have to live here.”
  12. King’s College London – it was the first college that accepted me into its PhD program. Unfortunately, I couldn’t accept the invitation, but I still love it for that reason.
  13. Emma Thompson. Funny, beautiful, smart. What else could one ask for in a woman.
  14. Once while walking down the street in Bayswater, a jogger was running behind me, and I stepped out of his way, and he called out over his shoulder, “Thanks, mate!”
  15. Truly, Madly, Deeply – Anthony Minghella’s first film that introduced me to the charms of both Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson. It was a great movie, mismarketed as the “thinking man’s Ghost” when it was so much more. A gentle, lovely comedy about love, loss, friendship, and grief.
  16. French & Saunders, together and apart. It seems like everything these ladies touch, turn to gold. Whether it’s Absolutely FabulousThe Vicar of Dibley, or Jam and Jerusalem, I know that if I catch either one of them, I’ll be entertained for hours.
  17. Love Actually – Woody Allen wrote valentines to Manhattan, and Love Actually is the perfect valentine to London.
  18. The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon. One of the greatest post-WWII, post colonial novels about living in London. It was a major work that focused on the lives of working-class Black people in London. It’s what prompted me to do research in Black British literature, and why I’m so interested in the topic.
  19. Stephen Fry – because he’s really smart.
  20. Simon Amstell – because he’s really smart.
  21. Jane Goodall – because she’s really smart.
  22. Helen Fielding, easily one of the funniest writers I’ve ever read, and the closest heir to Jane Austen’s crown as the Queen of Literary Comedy
  23. Salman Rushdie – The Satanic Verses was a huge influence on the way I looked at literature and its power to spur conversations – many uncomfortable – about identity.
  24. The Beatles – because, duh.
  25. The Rolling Stones – because, bigger duh.
  26. Dusty Springfield – because, biggest duh.
  27. J.K. Rowling – she restored my faith in the kindness of billionaires and despite the overwhelming shadow of Harry Potter, she was able to create a neat side career as a brilliant mystery novelist under the pseudonym, Robert Galbraith.
  28. Patricia Routledge – she is more than just Hyacinth Bouquet
  29. Prunella Scales – she is more than just Sybil Fawlty.
  30. Angela Lansbury – she is more than just Jessica Fletcher.
  31. Virginia Woolf – After reading Mrs. Dalloway, I spent my time envying her because I wanted to write just like her
  32. Boy George – great singer, wonderful songwriter, and caustic wit.
  33. Richard Curtis – his movies are middle-of-the-road sap, but I can’t help getting sucked in whenever I watch one of his big-hearted, sentimental stories.
  34. Zadie Smith – White Teeth and On Beauty are two books that have influenced the way I write and read, and her nonfiction prose is some of the smartest I’ve ever read.
  35. E.F. Benson for introducing the world to those glorious monsters of pretension, Mapp & Lucia.
  36. Sally Phillips – the only comedienne I’ve ever seen who can steal a scene from comic Einstein, Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
  37. Willy Russell – a great comedic writer who finds the inherent dignity in working-class people who want to do better with their lives and are striving something more.
  38. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office – one of the most fulfilling and challenging periods in my career, and one that I treasure and hold close to my hear. I am honored that I was once a staff member.
  39. Jane Eyre – my favorite Brontë novel about a young woman who faces obstacles in her life and faces them with dignity. It’s also a great novel about the importance of working hard and for not succumbing to life’s travails. Jane Eyre is also one of the wittiest characters in Victorian literature.
  40. Ricky Gervais – because of Extras and The Office.
  41. Catherine Tate – because of The Catherine Tate Show and Doctor Who (and I’m willing to overlook her so-so work on the US-version of The Office)
  42. Princess Diana – a lady who could’ve easily had teas and shopped (and I’m sure she did all that), but that wasn’t enough, she also advocated for the homeless, was an AIDS/HIV activist, and an anti-landmine warrior.
  43. David Hume – one of the most intimidating writers I’ve ever read, and not sure if I understood all of An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, but was an important introduction to philosophy and empiricism.
  44. Armando Iannucci for bringing the world Veep.
  45. Yo! Sushi – whoever thought of putting sushi on a conveyor belt is a genius. Now, if I can just rig it, so that the convey belt simply glides the food right into my mouth would be the best.
  46. British Alternative Comedy – a movement in comedy from the 1980s, that spawned such icons like Jennifer Saunders, Ben Elton, Rik Mayall, Dawn French, Helen Lederer, Ade Edmondson, Ruby Wax, Jo Brand.
  47. Alan Bennett – his Talking Heads monologues are incredible. He’s a master of tragicomedy.
  48. Pet Shop Boys – ironic, detached, smart, and stylish. They have created some of the most literate and intellectual dance music for the last 40 years. Their first two LPs, Please (1986) and Actually (1987) are great Thatcher-era reflections on the gilded glamour of the 1980s. “West End Girls” is a song that takes me back to London each time I hear it.
  49. Tate Modern. When I visted the Tate Modern a couple years ago, it had a great exhibition on pop art, and I was able to see original Andy Warhols and Keith Harings.
  50. The Graham Norton Show – whenever I get sad, I just watch the red chair segments on The Graham Norton Show and all is right with the world.
  51. Meera Syal – Anita and Me is a great novel and Meera Syal is a very, very funny lady.
  52. Stonehenge – I’m not much of a history buff, and I don’t “do” ancient ruins, but Stonehenge is pretty fantastic and mysterious. Built around 2000 BC (!), folks are still figuring out what Stonehenge was about, but many think it was for ceremonies.
  53. Newham – my favorite part of London, it’s where I lived when I was in London. It’s not fashionable or tony like the Mayfair or Belgravia, but it’s a great area. The Queen’s Market is a wonderful draw, and I loved the brick row houses. It’s a very diverse area, too, with lots of ethnic restaurants. I lived on Green Street, next to the Upton Park train stop.
  54. Hanif Kureishi – his films My Beautiful Laundrette, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, and London Kills Me is a great, stylish pop look at British national identity in 1980s Thatcherite London. His books like The Buddha of Suburbia and The Black Album are also wonderful looks at race and ethnicity in the UK. He asks difficult questions about extremism, nationalism, xenophobia, and multiculturalism.
  55. Tracey Ullman, who made “hearing voices in your head” into an Emmy-winning career.
  56. Annie Lennox – one of the few singers who has been able to leave a legendary band – the Eurythmics – and make an even greater impact as a solo artist. Diva and Medusa are her two best albums, and though the follow ups didn’t measure up to those albums, Diva and Medusa have enough classic performances that they have become legendary. She has a huge loud voice, second only to Dusty Springfield when it comes to blue-eyed soul.
  57. Stock Aitken Waterman – yes, yes, yes, I know they were peddlers of mushy, plastic pop during the 1980s, but underneath the prefab gloss and deadening drum machines were some of the hookiest pop songs ever. The trio introduced us to Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan, worked with legends like Debbie Harry and Donna Summer and became Internet legends when their Rick Astley tune “Never Gonna Give You Up” became a meme in 2007.
  58. Merchant Ivory Productions – nothing says classy, elegant English movie like “Merchant Ivory Productions.” I can practically see myself, lolling about in a rowboat in the Lake District, dozing underneath the hot sun of an English summer.
  59. Naomi Campbell – her picture should be in the dictionary under the words beauty and fabulous. Imperious, difficult, and demanding, it’s too bad Naomi Campbell can’t sing (she tried, bless her) because if she could, she would be the perfect descendant of Maria Callas.
  60. Kazuo Ishiguro – a literary chameleon, he can shift and change his author voice depending on the project he’s working on. His best work The Remains of the Day works as a wonderful midcentury novel of class and politics. His other classic novel Never Let Me Go is a credible work of dystopic science fiction.
  61. Judi Dench – a national treasure. And yes, Tracey Ullman, she probably would get away with shoplifting.
  62. Kristy MacColl is a funny, sad, witty singer-songwriter whose range is dizzying and breathtaking. Whether it’s country, girl group, new wave, punk, or alternative pop, she was able to write and perform in these different styles, telling sad and funny stories of wistful dreaming.
  63. Mr. Bean – Rowan Atkinson’s most mainstream creation, Mr. Bean is a Chaplinesque creation of a man child who stumbles through his life – grimacing and grumbling along the way – and finding creative solutions to the obstacles he faces. Atkinson is a genius physical comic who imbues Mr. Bean with a poignant absurdity.
  64. Caitlin Moran – she’s my hero. I want to be Caitlin Moran. When Donald Trump won the presidential election, I turned to her for sustenance and succor.
  65. Emma Chambers – she is the definition of scene stealer. If you can overshadow Dawn French, Hugh Grant, and Julia Roberts, you know you’re a genius.
  66. Nick Hornby – I’ve always been jealous of Nick Hornby because no one person should be able to write funny, relatable, and touching stories like he does. And he’s easily one of the best essayists around, and I feel like he’s my literary spirit animal. Whenever I try to write music or pop culture essays, I ask myself “What Would Nick Hornby Do?”
  67. Christopher Hitchens – he was an asshole a lot of the times and his essays sometimes made my head explode in anger. But he was probably the smartest writer that I ever disagreed with.
  68. Mark Kermode – one of the greatest film critics alive.
  69. Alexander McQueen – a genius fashion designer who took an avant garde, punk aesthetic and wrapped it in haute couture fashion.
  70. Tracey Emin for sharing with her audience the names of everyone that she has ever slept with from 1963 to 1995.
  71. “Smalltown Boy” – the greatest coming out song ever. Jimmy Somerville’s angelic falsetto croons over the the thick synthpop/house production, and his lyrics tell the story of a queer kid who deals with homophobia.
  72. Different for Girls – I wish more people knew about Richard Spence’s 1996 film about a man who falls in love with a trans woman. It’s a gentle, tiny drama that is ahead of its time in its depiction of trans issues in the mid 1990s. It dates a bit, and there have been stronger more accurate depictions of trans relationships (and yeah, a cis man is playing a trans woman – not great) But it still deserves celebration and a higher profile.
  73. William Shakespeare – Well, obviously…
  74. The Britcom – As Time Goes By, Are You Being Served?, Keeping Up Appearances, Absolutely Fabulous, Good Neighbours, Steptoe and Son, The Vicar of Dibley, French & Saunders, Gimme Gimme Gimme, To the Manor Born, The Young Ones, Girls on Top, Father Ted, Cold Feet, Coupled
  75. The British Museum – where I got to see my first Da Vinci.
  76. Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright  – they taught me how to eat.
  77. Bleak House, Little Dorrit, The Pickwick Papers, Nicholas Nickleby, A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and everything else that the great Charles Dickens had ever written. Social critique was rarely ever so beautifully and devastatingly captured on paper.
  78. Vivien Leigh for Scarlett O’Hara and Blanche DuBois.
  79. Paul Gilroy – Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack should be required reading for everyone.
  80. Kingsley Amis – I think Lucky Jim made me laugh harder than any other novel.
  81. Stella Gibbons – I think Cold Comfort Farm made me laugh harder than any other novel.
  82. Douglas Adams – I think The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy made me laugh harder than any other novel.
  83. Of Human Bondage – the first “great” novel I’ve ever read and the one that made me want to be a literature scholar.
  84. Kobena Mercer – one of the most astute and brilliant essayists and critics out there. I still teach his article on the politics of black hair.
  85. Gilbert & George – challenging, strange, unsettling, uncompromising, and creative.
  86. Mike Leigh, who shows his audience a different kind of London – the complex and complicated world of working-class London that is rarely portrayed on film. This isn’t Richard Curtis’ scrubbed London of gleaming skyscrapers, red phone boxes, and elegant sidewalk cafes; instead, Mike Leigh’s films show an uncompromising London, a London that is struggling from the indifferent Tony Blair Administration. If one wants to know just how Brexit became a reality, one should simply look at Leigh’s films, that show just the kind of landscape of poverty and disenfranchisement that made the environment hospitable for Brexit.
  87. Kathy Burke – an underrated genius. A woman who could make blinking hilarious.
  88. BBC Television
  89. Adele – the woman who will bring back Cool Britannia
  90. 30 St Mary Axe – known as the Gherkin or the lipstick building, it’s the building that means London to me. With the St. Andrew Undershaft church in front of it, shows why I love London so much: a mixture of the old and the new -a medieval church standing in front of the gleaming glass skyscraper.
  91. P.G. Wodehouse – he makes me laugh every time, never fail with his effete and classy wit (I always wanted to be the uber-efficient Jeeves)
  92. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe – an art festival that exposed to me all kinds of visual and performance artists, including some great stand-up comedy (it’s where I got to see the great Joan Rivers)
  93. Joan and Jackie Collins – not great artists by any means, but they lived like no one else.
  94.  Beautiful Thing – Jonathan Harvey’s a sensitive artist who wrote the lovely film Beautiful Thing, a tiny little coming of age film about a young queer student who falls in love with a student athlete. It’s a great movie about a working-class home and one of the few queer films in which the hero doesn’t die, isn’t killed, or presented as a villain or image of pity.
  95. The YBAs – the moment during the 1980s when British visual artists were as successful as pop stars and made the UK lead the world when it comes to contemporary art. To me, the gleaming, glossy success of the YBAs was the epitome of Cool Britannia, and how global, dynamic, and forward thinking British culture can be.
  96. Amy Winehouse – the brilliant love child of Nina Simone and Dusty Springfield, who had a stark, cracked voice soured by a tragic life that ended far too soon.
  97. Kadija Sesay – a brilliant scholar and writer whose talk I attended when in London that made me fall in love with Black British culture and Black British literature.
  98. The Photographers’ Gallery – My partner and I found this gallery by accident. In London, we were looking for a Border’s, but didn’t know that it was closed at that point, so we were just walking through the dark side streets. When stumbled upon the gallery, we popped in and saw a fantastic exhibition about Eastern European immigrants who were victims of trafficking in Western Europe. When we move to London, we’ll make the Photographers’ Gallery one of our haunts.
  99. That for the present, the UK is part of the EU.
  100. Mother Mash – one of my favorite places to eat, in one of my favorite places in London, Carnaby Street. It’s touristy and gimmicky, I know, but bangers and mash is easily the best food ever, and being able to choose your own kind of mash, bangers, and gravy is just pure genius.

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Discovering Oxford Circus

This is a picture from Oxford Circus, probably my favorite part of London. I remember the first time I saw it…It was years ago – 2003. I stepped out from the Underground and walked on to a glorious and cacophonous mess of people all rushing, moving, having some place to be. London has lots of museums, parks, theaters, but this is my favorite spot. To me this is London. Loud. Vital. Crazy. Multicultural. During my trip, I explored Chinatown, hung out in Soho, and ate dinner at a Polish restaurant in Kensington. All of these experiences felt incredibly British to me because Britain signified a wonderful amalgam of races, cultures, genders, experiences. London was a hub of all of that – that wonderful mixture – not a melting pot, because we don’t meld into one soupy oneness, but instead a weird and clashing salad.

When I walked the streets at Oxford Circle, I felt the alive – a true citizen of the world, because that’s what London meant to me: it was a city of the world. A true global city. As I walked through the streets, I caught snatches of Polish, French, Urdu, Spanish, and American-inflected English. I knew I wanted in.

When I returned to the States, I started my MA work, and worked on my thesis. I wrote about the African and Asian diaspora in London. I looked at literature of postcolonial heroes like V.S. Naipul and Sam Selvon. Contemporary icons like Hanif Kureishi and Salman Rushdie occupied my reading. I loved their work because they exposed the London I romanticized for its complex messiness. My privileged view of the city was evolving and deepening. I loved it more because of Kureishi and Rushdie. One could say I became obsessed with black and Asian Britain. My research expanded to film, television, and music. Again, the scrubbed, shiny, glossy surface of London was lifted to show a far more interesting and urgent place, one that is continuously trying reconcile and include.

In one of my classes during my postgraduate work, I studied the literature of Virginia Woolf, a literary hero of mine. I read Mrs. Dalloway at least fifty times. I loved Mrs. Dalloway’s love of the city. I started to read Woolf’s diaries and saw that she, like me, loved London. She had a prickly, complex relationship with the city, though. A lot of it angered it, but a lot of it inspired her. I felt slightly closer to this literary giant because we had something in common, no matter how slight or tenuous.

I write this on June 24, 2016, the day after the referendum that voted the UK out of the EU. The repercussions of this vote are yet to be seen. So much has been written – most of it exaggerated and designed to be polarizing and frightening. I’m not sure what my future will be with London – much of it is now hanging precariously as we learn more about what’s going to happen to the millions of Brits living in the EU and the millions of EU nationals living in the UK. I don’t want to be angry at the Leave supporters – they’re not all xenophobic racists. Though race and immigration played an ugly part in the Leave push, it doesn’t account for everyone who voted to leave, nor does it rightly describe or represent those who supported the Brexit.

It’s easy to fall into the sniping and snark – at the height of Remain’s stunning loss last night, I indulged in some of that myself – but I’m not going to. I’ll just think about that first day when I climbed the steps from the Underground and emerged onto Oxford Circle. I’ll think about the blinding lights of all the competing neon signs, each trying to outdo the other. I’ll think about the kids, all in imaginative and expressive clothing and hairstyle. I’ll think about Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners, a monumental book in my literary upbringing. In it, Selvon’s hero, Moses goes through a stream-of-conscious rant about London – how much it means to him, despite all of the grinding hardships of poverty, racism, isolationism, and alienation – the rant still ends with his love of London:

“Always, from the first time he went there to see Eros and the lights, that circus have a magnet for him, that circus represent life, that circus is the beginning and the ending of the world. Every time he go there, he have the same feeling like when he see it the first night, drink coca-cola, any time is guinness time, bovril and the fireworks, a million flashing lights, gay laughter, the wide doors of theatres, the huge posters, everready batteries, rich people going into tall hotels, people going to the theatre, people sitting and standing and walking and talking and laughing and buses and cars and Galahad Esquire, in all this, standing there in the big city, in London.”

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My trip to bountiful (London, actually)….penultimate day

Strange that I spent Independence Day in England…

Lots done today – I had to wake up extra early because I had a breakfast date with some former colleagues of mine. We agreed to meet on 1 Horse Guard Road in Westminster, which is where the Treasury has its offices. We planned to meet in the park in front. I looked at my map and saw it was very close, and when I Googled the distance it read as only being five minutes.

So I got on the train this morning, suited and booted because we were going to break fast at a swanky restaurant. It was 80 degrees today. Ugh. The trains here don’t have air conditioning, and sitting in a suit on a forty minute train ride was awful. I started to fall asleep from the heat, a sheen of sweat giving me a dewy glow.

I got off the train at Westminster, and apparently took the wrong turn because I was going deeper and deeper into Westminster, wandering through tiny side streets and ending up in a successive line of courtyards. At one point, I waltzed into a school courtyard and an army of tweens in blazers and shorts were marching on the gravel, some of them heaving music stands over their shoulders. I love this city.

So I finally found the park in front of the Treasury building and saw my old friends. We had a bit of a catch up, it was nice. I had a full English breakfast, which is essentially cholesterol on a plate – beans, tomato, mushrooms, eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, buttered toast. It was heaven (I don’t eat like this at home, but I figured in a foreign country, rules like that don’t exist).

After breakfast I took the train back home. Well, I say home because I’ve been living here for the past three weeks – I’m going to miss it, and it’s sad that I have to leave. I’ve gotten used to my corner of London – Newham is a great part of the city, if a tad too far. My partner got read and we set off for South Kensington. Unfortunately, we didn’t get that far, and had to get off at Whitechapel, because someone either fell or was pushed underneath a train.

I lived in Hyde Park for a bit and took the Metra into the Loop and often the train would have a jumper  – but it’s still disturbing. The other passengers were paralyzed for a bit, not knowing what to do, swirling about, confused. We jumped out of the station and got off at Whitechapel, a stop we’ve gotten off at a number of times. We walked to the City on foot – the weather cooled off quite a bit, and the walk was really nice.

On our walk through the city, we stopped at Christchurch Greyfriars, a beautiful old church that was destroyed by the Blitz. A wall was saved, but the rest of the church was turned into a gorgeous garden – slightly overgrown, but beautiful. We walked around some more and made our way to the Tower, and had a pub lunch – a veggie burger with chips, while the partner had a ham and cheeses toastie. Because of the English’s aversion to A/C, we sat in the hot pub while football fans were glued to the televisions.

There was more walking to be done, and after Christchurch, we walked by St. Paul’s Cathedral – one of the most gorgeous buildings in London. I could just sit on a bench and stare at that church for hours. We missed services, but the outside is enough. We also saw Somerset House – it had a gorgeous drive and some fantastic statues.

We found ourselves by the National Gallery again. We wandered around and realized that we were close  – unfortunately, it was closing, so we couldn’t pop in. But that’s okay, because we were able to hear some great reggae music from a busker, watch an amateur magician pull some tricks, and we saw some construction workers put together a stage for the Tour de France.

We took some more pictures and wandered around and made our way back to Oxford Circus – we’re drawn to that place. We walked to Soho, and found a bookshop – Soho Original Books, a bookshop slash sex shop. I’ve been there before a few years ago, and found the book collection quite good. We came back and looked through the stock. A very drunk guy stumbled up to the main floor from the basement (where the sex books were shelved) and accosted a young woman, asking her what Ben Wa balls were – when she whispered their function, he shrugged and slurred, “well, that won’t do anything for me…” and the balls popped out like marbles, rolling on the hard floor. The young lady haughtily stormed out.

We walked around and found a restaurant and had some great Chinese food. We then went for a drink at The Yard Soho, a gay bar that reminded me of Sidetrack in Chicago. I carried a Top Shop tote bag, and the bouncer asked to look through it – because of the loud music (ear-splitting dance beats) and his accent, I had trouble understanding, so he gently took my bag and as I tried to open it, my hand slipped and I hit him in the face. This is a bouncer. A big bouncer. He looked justifiably pissed but to his credit, he let me through, and I scuttled quickly into the crowd. My partner and I managed to get to the loft, where I sat underneath a freezing draft, but had a lovely strawberry daiquiri.

After the drink, we walked back to the Underground and took the train to South Kensington. We had to change trains from Oxford Circus, and at South Kensington, we ran across three teenage American girls, who were exuberantly lost, and couldn’t care less about being lost. They stumbled over to us to ask how to get to Russell Square. We had the unfortunate pleasure of having to tell these young girls that they had to catch a train to a place called Cockfosters. I apologized, letting them know we weren’t dirty old men, but were merely having to repeat the name…

We finally got home around 1am. We’re watching the reboot of Upstairs, Downstairs.

Tomorrow is my last full day. I’m full of mixed emotions (a cliche, I know). I miss my friends in Chicago, but I love London, and am sad about leaving. It’s a fantastic city.

See some pics below:

I thought this was a light installation, but upon closer inspection realized it was a stage set up for Monday's Tour de France

I thought this was a light installation, but upon closer inspection realized it was a stage set up for Monday’s Tour de France

My future home - Somerset House, I think I could make do with a place like that..

My future home – Somerset House, I think I could make do with a place like that..

This is a grand palace - it cost over 400 grand when it was built in 1700s (over 2 billion bucks in today's $$$ apparently)

This is a grand palace – it cost over 400 grand when it was built in 1700s (over 2 billion bucks in today’s $$$ apparently)

Probably the most gorgeous building in London

Probably the most gorgeous building in London

The beautiful gardens at Christchurch Greyfriars

The beautiful gardens at Christchurch Greyfriars

A gorgeous shot of Tower Hill - it's like a fairy tale castle

A gorgeous shot of Tower Hill – it’s like a fairy tale castle

A beautiful church, gutted by the Blitz in WWII, and restored and remade into a garden

A beautiful church, gutted by the Blitz in WWII, and restored and remade into a garden

Another shot of the beautiful Christchurch Greyfriars

Another shot of the beautiful Christchurch Greyfriars

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My trip to bountiful (London, actually)….Tales from the crypt edition

So I walked through a crypt today and got to look at some great art. While walking around Bloomsbury, my partner saw a poster for a gallery exhibition, Catching the Eye. It was affixed to the gate of the St. Pancras Church in Bloomsbury. We followed the signs and found ourselves at the red door of the Crypt Gallery St. Pancras Church. Gingerly we stepped inside. I say gingerly, because I didn’t understand the concept of a “crypt gallery” and thought for a few minutes that were going to a macabre display of excavated corpses, so I breathed a sigh of relief when I discovered that it was a gallery of paintings.

Only in London do I ever have this kind of experience. I walk down a weird road and boom – I’m in a crypt looking at paintings. The crypt was beautiful and had grottos, alcoves, and rooms that worked perfectly as spaces for individual artists to hang their work. All the work was very impressive, and the prices were reasonable. We especially liked the work of Jane Stothert, with whom we had the immense pleasure of chatting – my partner is an artist and knew about silk screening, and Stothert is a painter/print maker, and her work is gorgeous – reminded me a bit of the WPA travel posters.

Ms. Stothert is a wonderful artist who has a great eye for color, form, and line. Her work is beautiful, and more importantly, she was a beautiful person. We chatted for a good long time, discussing travel, art, literature, and even politics. We talked about our travels in London and how we want to live here, and she wished us luck. We also talked about Oscar Wilde, Chagall, and Fort Lauderdale. I know, we ran the gamut of topics. I wish we could talk more, but she had to speak with other patrons, and we wished her good luck and walked around some more.

The crypt has a space that joined two rooms and in the space we saw broken tomb stones, that eulogized people who died around the Victorian era. That was really the only clue that I saw that alerted me to the fact that we were strolling through what was essentially an underground cemetery. It was a bit strange drinking red wine while in the crypt – it reminded me a bit of the Edgar Allen Poe story The Cask of Amontillado.

Below are some pictures of the crypt – out of respect for the artists, I didn’t take any pictures of the art work. However, the work is available on the Espacio Gallery’s Website. Please check it out.


The red door of the Crypt Gallery St. Panras Church - no, it's not Elizabeth Arden

The red door of the Crypt Gallery St. Panras Church – no, it’s not Elizabeth Arden

Side view of the crypt of St. Pancras

Side view of the crypt of St. Pancras

What looks to be 3 might saints guarding the door to the crypt at St. Pancras church

What looks to be 3 might saints guarding the door to the crypt at St. Pancras church

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A trip to Bountiful (London, actually…) Portobello Road edition

Anyone who knows me or anyone who has read this blog knows that one of my favorite films is Disney’s Bedknobs and Broomsticks (1971). The musical comedy’s centerpiece is a 10-minute long number with stars Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson, titled “Portobello Road” named after the famous street in London that features the iconic Portobello Road Market – a street market that sells antiques, second-hand goods, and food. Portobello Road is close to the excruciatingly fashionable Notting Hill.

We got an early morning and set off to Portobello Road – which was almost at the end of the Hammersmith & City line. We got to settle in and take a nap. We finally got to our stop and I had a full English breakfast at the Orange Cafe. It was a rainy day today, and we had to sit outside, shielded from the rain by the cafe’s large awning, but still it was quite a chilly breakfast, helped immensely by a steaming cup of strong, English tea.

We made our way to Portobello Road and stroll through the market. We ate Pizza Express last night, but my partner wanted a proper slice of pizza and was happy to see a stall hawking slices of pepperoni pizza for £2. We wandered through the galleries and stalls, looking at the wares being sold. The prices were very high for most of the stuff, and even though a lot of the things sold were beautiful, a lot of it felt like junk shop stock – sort of like stuff I saw on Sanford and Son. 

Aside from the stalls, we also looked at the shops on Portobello Street – I went to the Oxfam Bookshop, doing my bit for charity and the economy by buying a couple of books and a couple of CDs, as well. I also went to Books for Cooks – a fantastic bookshop devoted to cookery books. There were too many titles to look through – I could’ve spent hours there, but I had to make do with about twenty minutes. The proprietor was a charming Frenchman who was chatting with an American couple from Boston. The woman asked for a cookbook for beginners. When the owner asked what sort of cuisine, she answered health food. “Tsk,” he admonished, “All food is healthy in moderation. Everything is healthy, it’s about portions.”

We walked through the stalls and there was an area dominated by Rastafarians and I recognized it as the scene from a funny episode of As Time Goes By when Lionel goes chasing after Sandy and Judith, after they complained of being followed.

We then walked some more through the streets, and found ourselves in Bayswater, which was coincidentally, the neighborhood we stayed in when we visited some five years ago. We had pastries at Patisserie Valerie. We returned to Portobello Road and we looked at a few more charity shops, before deciding to retire for the day.


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My trip to Bountiful (London, actually…) a week so far…

My computer went kaput yesterday so I couldn’t blog about last night – which is no biggie, because yet again, jet lag grounded us. Instead we went to Reckless Records. I go to the Chicago stores all the time, and find it interesting that there’s a London Reckless. We then wandered around the West End. We snacked at Wok to Walk, which is fast-food Chinese, a more mobile Panda Express, I guess…It’s funny because I don’t remember much of what we did but it was late when we got back home – after midnight.

I woke up at seven in the morning to the dulcet tones of one of my flatmates yakking into toilet. Apparently it was a busy night for the Italian guys we’re sharing the house with because one of them was sick for like fifteen minutes. After trying to get back to sleep, I just settled on reading for a bit before we set off for the Victoria & Albert Museum.

On the way, we had a picnic lunch in the National Museum’s grounds. Interestingly enough, we sat next to a mother-and-daughter duo we saw on the Tube the other day – the daughter was engrossed in Tolkien’s The Hobbit, barely listening to her mom.  We saw them again today in the park. For such a gigantic city, it was pretty funny to run into these two.

The V&A is incredible. We started in the Islamic room first. And I had a thought: all of the dummies whoever call Muslims barbaric or uncivilized should take a field trip to the Islamic room at the V&A. The center of the room had a massive rug protected by glass. There were some gorgeous jugs, plates and traditional dress, as well. We moved on to the Chinese room and saw pottery – I even got to touch a Ming dynasty jug.

We also looked at European antiquities, but didn’t have much time to look through…

On Friday evening, we went to the Scoop at More London, which is an outdoor amphitheater by City Hall, where we watched the Merry Opera Company perform an original production, Kiss Me, Figaro – a romantic comedy about love backstage at a performance of La Boheme. The singers were great, even if I found the performances a touch broad, and because we were right next to London Bridge, the performers had to compete with the airplanes flying overhead – not to mention passersby who gabbed on their phones, regardless of the ongoing performance. The cool thing was it looked like an American junior high school group met and the kids were funnily rowdy – one bought a souvenir catapult, and kept lobbing popcorn at his friends.

On our first Saturday, we decided to lay low and just hang out in our neighborhood.

On Sunday we had a late start and realized that everything closes early. Though we stopped by the gayborhood and had a drink at the Rupert Street Bar. During our drinks, a very drunk young Irish guy came up to us, swaying like one of those inflatable Tubemen you see in front of gas stations. He was so drunk that when he lifted his glass to his mouth, his beer just simply washed over his mouth. He then thoughtfully handed me his empty glass and staggered away. And we were surprised to find out that on Sundays, bars close at midnight, so we left as the Rupert Street was shutting down.

On Monday, we got to go to the National Gallery – this felt like a proper museum, full of old masters’ paintings – Leonardo da Vinci, Michaelangelo, that sort of thing. It was incredible – and intimidating. I loved it though because it was really great being able to see these wonderful works of art, reproduced like nuts up front. For example, Quinten Massys’ An Old Woman (The Ugly Duchess), I’ve seen reproduced in so many books – I think I even remember having an old copy of The Duchess of Malfi with that painting on the cover – so it was a treat to see the thing in real life.

Because we saw posters of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s new film The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet everywhere, we decided to go and see it – I loved Amelie and A Very Long Engagement, but we kept missing the time…

On Wednesday night we made our way to East London to the George Tavern to watch the Jerico Orchestra – a performance art/musical act. The George Tavern’s great because it’s really divey looking from the outside, but very welcoming inside.. The Jerico Orchestra is a really cool band – there was a bassist, a guitarist, a guy working a synth and a projectionist. It was challenging, because it wasn’t identifiable, pretty music, but it was a neat experience – it felt more like a happening.

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My trip to Bountiful (London, actually…) Day 4

So jet lag is a bitch because I still find myself wide awake at 3 in the morning, and then dragging myself through the day. Because of a terrible night of not-sleeping, I finally got my ass out of the house at 3.oopm. I grabbed my laptop and went to Pret-a-Manger in South Kensington and worked on the computer for a couple hours and had a great All Day Breakfast sandwich. I then decided I wanted to swing by HMV to get some DVDs for my room because I didn’t have a television. From South Kensington, I decided to walk toward HMV which is in Oxford Circus. My partner was with me (after coming back from a hair dryer shopping spree at the local Boots) and we made our way through Hyde Park, by the Serpentine. It was a gorgeous day and the weather couldn’t have been more cooperative.

After walking through some streets we got a bit turned around and lost, until we just sorta…bungled our way onto Oxford Circus. The crowds were out tonight and it was crazy but fun. It’s great to walk through a truly global city like London and hear all kinds of languages being spoken throughout the street – this is what the world should be: lots of different cultures mixing together in some crazy haphazard way.

HMV was great but we slid into the place a half hour before it closes. I loved the place and the TV Comedy aisle had all my favorites. But budgetary matters had me restrain myself and I got two DVDs: the complete set of A Thin Blue Line with Rowan Atkinson and the first season of Arthur, a brilliant children’s show I love to watch.

Bella Italia

The menu of Bella Italia – where two impossibly beautiful people reenact the alley scene from Disney’s ‘Lady and the Tramp’ – luckily no one in the restaurant tried to recreate this lovely picture in real life…

We then walked around looking for a place to eat and stumbled on  Bella Italia, because there was a chalk board advertising a two-course dinner for £10. I had pasta with a tomato sauce and chilies and two bottles of fizzy juice – one flavored with grape, the other apple – they were called Grapetiser and Appletiser, respectively. The Grapetiser tasted a bit of Maneschewitz without the alcohol, while the Appletiser tasted like melted-down green apple Jolly Ranger – they were really nice. I’m still getting use to the fact the folks here don’t like their drinks ice cold and am starting to get used to drinking my drinks lukewarm.

At Bella Italia, we sat close to a table of rambunctious diners – one who was so loud and excited that her cries of joy and mirth sounded like screams for help. I looked up a few times to make sure that she was alright and not in the throes of some kind of fit. The couple next to our table was a young Italian man and his Asian-American girlfriend, who was regaling him with a tale of how she and some girlfriends got hosed at an Italian restaurant in Genova by ordering a fish dinner, not asking for the price, and the having to fork over €100 for the meal.

After dinner, we hopped on the train to go back to our working class neighborhood of Newham. I’m not a snob, and I think or neighborhood’s great, but I get pangs of “oh, sigh” when we have to leave lovely Westminster for Newham. Still, I’m in London.

When we got to Upton Park, we ran to Tesco’s for some snacks. I love this Tesco’s because like the neighborhood it’s a bit down at the heel. The staff members working at 11.00pm look like they’re all just over it. Because Newham is so ethnically diverse, there was a “world” section that included a variety of Polish foods, I remember eating in Polish Brighton Park in Chicago.

Polish food at Tesco's

Polish food in Tesco’s – brought back memories of going with my grandmother to the Polish markets in Brighton Park and getting jams and meats in jars

Polish food at Tescos

Call Poland for less – in the Polish aisle, I learned that I could call my Polish relatives for less than 1p per minute…Also there are jars and jars of Polish condiments…

We made our way back home and the Italians in our flat were conspicuously quiet. I was concerned that they left. Yeah, they were loud and their dance music was horrendous, but they gave the place a sense of security. It was nice hearing them in the background, being loud and passionate about everything. We initially thought that they all went back home to Italy, but after a few moments, doors opened and voices carried throughout the house and all was well.

Hopefully tomorrow, we’ll be able to go to the Victoria & Albert Museum. There’s an exhibit about mammoths right now. Mammoths are interesting and on the train ride back my partner and I were discussing an article I read about bringing mammoths back to life my injecting mammoth DNA from the discovered carcasses into the womb of an elephant. I thought about why anyone would want to bring back a prehistoric animal back to life – what would be the point, besides the cool factor? Hopefully all my questions will be answered when I’m at the V&A tomorrow.

Oh, and by the way, there’s a quaint custom of getting a free London Evening Standard for your train ride, and it’s this really trashy tabloid. The crisis in Iraq is dominating the news, and though London Evening Standard is covering it, they still made time to show a picture of David Beckham in his underwear.

I also am hoping to go to the theatre – Kathleen Turner is in a play here in the West End. I saw her years ago in the West End production of The Graduate and she made a formidable Mrs. Robinson. From the posters it looks like she’s got her illness under control and she looks good, so I’m hoping we’ll get a chance to watch her live.

See my pics below:

The Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints - I didn't know they had one here!

The Church of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints – I didn’t know they had one here!

The lovely river in Hyde Park - though on the other side of the bridge, it was all peat and moss...

The lovely river in Hyde Park – though on the other side of the bridge, it was all peat and moss…

Oxford Circus Oxford Circus Oxford Circus Oxford Circus

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