Has Covid-19 made me a Nosy Neighbour?

Working from home means sitting, for eight hours a day, looking out of my living room window.

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Yes, I should be looking at my computer screen for the duration of the working day, but with no tea break chat, half mile treks to the loos, or small talk by the printer, I need some light relief every now and then – some reset time. This reset time seems to, lately, consist of looking out of my window and analysing the street as if I was some sort of Sherlock.

My deductions are as follows:

The guy opposite, who cleans his already shiny convertible at least twice a day is, I deduce, a smug perfectionist. His selfies with his car are more frequent that him driving it, and I’m half tempted to throw some juice over the thing, simply to actually give him something to clean.

The man diagonal to my window is less busy, and is the street’s eyes and ears. He sits, topless, outside his front door, with a cigarette, watching the world go by. Every. Single. Day. In lockdown, there is not much world to go by — I would certainly get pretty bored if I were him. Even when the weather does not even warrant taking of one’s light jacket, this guy is out there, showing Islington his chest.

Then there is my mirror image: multiple times a day, I lock eyes with the man working from home at his window, in the flat directly opposite mine. I often forget he’s there, and halfway through my downward dog, or my Youtube fitness class suddenly feel very self-conscious. He seems to be a very hard worker, spending most of his day at his Macbook, at his window desk.

Or maybe he is just doing what I’m doing – analysing the neighbourhood under the guise of working from home.

As much as I enjoy being a window-watching Sherlock, I wish I didn’t have the opportunity to stare mindlessly out of my window for days on end.

When lockdown in over, I will relish office small talk, savour my toilet break walks, and be happy with the fact I know absolutely nothing about my neighbours.

Covid-19: London’s best online grocery deliveries

In these crazy times, bring London’s gourmet scene to your doorstep. 

With online delivery slots booked up until next year, and a trip to the local supermarket now involving long queues, mask-wearing stewards and a one-in-one-out policy, it’s time to get a bit creative when it comes to stocking up on food and drink.

Many London businesses – whether restaurants, cafes, delis – have now ventured into the world of deliveries, which means you can get top quality produce from your favourite London eateries delivered directly to your door. Some of these are taking advantage of the wholesale prices that they, as restaurants, get, and are passing them onto us.

Of course, these strange and uncertain times call for a little luxury — why not treat yourself to some posher wine or some slightly pricier cheese? You’re probably saving money when it comes to travel and pub trips, so stocking up on some gourmet treats – whilst supporting London businesses – seems like a win win situation.

Check out some of the places offering delivery services:

 

Boozing: Wine and Beer

Renegade Urban Winery

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Try the ‘Marc’ – Renegade’s zesty 2018 Riesling  (left)

 

 

Bethnal Green’s popular urban winery, Renegade, has some of the tastiest vino in town. Although we will miss sitting under the railway arches and sipping our tipple of choice, Renegade’s delivery option is the next best thing. They’re also offering 10% off orders over £100 with the code ‘LETSDRINKTHROUGHTHIS’ — which is, I reckon, a very valid mantra to have throughout this whole palaver.

Humble Grape

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An Islington favourite, Humble Grape is a wine bar with a selection of bottles to envy. Prices start at £16 per bottle — filter by wine type or region, and treat yourself to something a bit nicer than whatever Sainsbury’s has on offer.

Hammerton 

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Islington’s own brewery, Hammerton, has migrated online so you can enjoy a few of their pints at home on your sofa. Try the N1 Pale Ale for a refreshing and fruity session beer, the bestselling N7 IPA, or go a bit rogue and give the tropical Buoyancy Aid, the berrylicious Red Berry District or the downright outrageous CRUNCH Peanut Butter Milk Stout a go.

Delis and Speciality Shops

Brindisa

Screen Shot 2020-04-03 at 12.04.39For the best chorizo in town, more Serrano ham than you can shake a stick at, creamy Manchego or a bag of proper paella rice, Borough Market’s Brindisa is your one stop Spanish shop.  Head here for cured meats, storecupboard items, deli goods and, if you want to cook like a true Spaniard, pop their very own Brindisa cookbook into your virtual basket.

Provisions

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The cheese is what you want to go to Provisions for — try something a little different such as some 30 year old parmesan-esque Trentingrana cheese, or a hunk of Saint-Nectaire raw cow’s milk cheese. Of course, you’ll need some wine to go with that cheese — luckily Provisions also stocks a decent selection of booze, with fancy French wine as well as the tasty Kernel Table Beer, amongst others. Beef up your cheese order by adding in saussicon, Grignoton (parmesam wrapped mini saucisson), olives and a whole host of other bits to make your evening that little bit more exciting. Or why not make a night of it, and order the Feast Platter?

Ruby Violet 

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The weather may not totally be playing ball at the moment, but it’s always time for ice-cream, right? Ruby Violet of King’s Cross specialise in the most unique flavour combos you’ve seen — forget Ben and Jerry’s and get a tub of Salted Caramel with Almond Brittle, Marzipan and Orange Blossom, Matcha Green Tea or Coffee Mocha Ripple delivered to your door.

Grow Wild Acai

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If you’re struggling to get your vitamins in, why not fill your freezer with some purple goodness – aka Acai. Based in South London, Grow Wild Acai do what they say on the tin – they sell Acai, which is an antioxidant rich berry from Brazil. They make it super easy for you, and sell it already pureed and frozen in individual packs, ready to throw into your blender and knock up an epic smoothie. At the moment, for every kg of Acai bought, Grow Wild donate a kilo to local NHS hospitals, so the staff can have fresh smoothies to get them through this Coronavirus pandemic. Not only will you be helping fuel NHS staff, but you can feel good knowing that Grow Wild are a sustainable, carbon neutral company — even the packaging is completely compostable!

A Bit of Everything

Apres Food Co.

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Clerkenwell’s favourite healthy cafe, Apres Food Co. has transformed into a mini supermarket, offering deliveries or collection. Direct from their organic suppliers, Natoora, you can put in an order of everything from vegetables, dried goods, beer, cheese and meat. You can also order things made by Apres themselves – which are all gluten and refined sugar free – such as homemade pancakes, gluten free bread, thai curry, and a selection of homemade cakes. Think of it as an alternative ‘veg box’, but one which you can personalise, is not just veg, and reassuringly organic, free range and conscience friendly. If you go and collect your order, you’ll even get to meet Apres’ adorable cafe dog, Archie.

Crosstown Doughnuts 

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Thought Crosstown only did doughnuts? How wrong you are. Given the current climate, a shop selling just doughnuts may not do so well — after all, man cannot live on doughnuts alone. Crosstown have therefore taken some initiative, and partnered up with various suppliers to create their take on a veg delivery box: The Crosstown Collective. Not only will you get veg, bread, eggs, milk (vegan alternatives available), but you will also get a six pack of Crosstown’s famous doughnuts to help make WFH that little bit easier.

Farmer J 

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Like Crosstown, Farmer J have decided to expand their offerings — after all, they say they do indeed Give A Fork. Choose a small, medium or large Farm Box, which contains a selection of fruit and vegetables, seven seeded sourdough, milk and eggs, and you can add on extras such as rice, pasta, cheese, meat, or Farmer J’s own very special sauces, all bottled up and ready for you to use at home.

Yoobi: A Hands on Sushi Experience

Looking for sushi with a bit of a twist? We reckon Yoobi‘s got your back. This Soho joint specialises in Temaki, or hand rolls, with flavour combos to keep you on your toes, and prices that won’t break the bank.

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No one is going to look elegant trying to eat Temaki. The cone-shaped package of nori, sushi rice and all manner of tasty fillings is just not made to fit inside any normal person’s mouth in one go. Sure, this may not be first date material, but when it tastes that good, do we care?

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As well as the usual maki (small rolled sushi), and nigiri (the fish on top ones), Temaki are Yoobi’s real winning dish. They’ve got all the classic combos like salmon avocado, but also have a number of fusion options, and plenty on offer for the veggies. The asparagus and avocado Temaki with baby spinach and a white miso sauce was particularly fresh and vibrant; the smoky chipotle tuna maki as well as the citrus salmon tamaki, with orange, avocado, croutons and chives also stood out.

At under £15 a head, this is a great little lunch option for when that sushi craving strikes.

Yoobi, 38 Lexington St, Soho, London W1F 0LL

An Ode to Lidl

Unfortunately, one of the downsides of living in Islington (an assumed fancy borough) is that although we have an M&S Food, a Waitrose, a Planet flippin’ Organic, we have no Lidl or Aldi. A travesty in my mind, as discovering what randomness Lidl’s middle aisle has each week is one of life’s small pleasures, surely?

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The Middle Aisle

Who knows what treats we’ll be in for

Inside our favourite German store?

Where every week a new surprise

Upon which we can lay our eyes,

Calls out for us to buy, in greed

Especially something we don’t need.

 

Behold! the aisle right in the middle

Of discount supermarket Lidl.

The veg is cheap, you say ‘buy eight!’

Well just eat sprouts for 6 days straight.

The posh French cheese, that ham that’s sliced

That is, in Waitrose, overpriced

Will fill your trolley before you see

The middle aisle that’s legendary.

 

This central space within the shop

Won’t fail to cause our jaw to drop

One week you’ll buy a snooker cue

The next bring home a barbecue

Don’t fancy an an electric griddle?

You’ll want one now it’s sold in Lidl.

 

Even if you only go for bread

You’ll buy a folding ladder instead.

 

My friends, alas, miss out on  these,

Content to frequent Sainsbury’s.

I tell them of the stuff they’ll see

Yet they opt for home delivery.

 

Each week our Lidl trip’s a treat

We don’t really go for things to eat

We go to bring home useless tat

No Morrison’s would offer that!

 

So come Saturday, through wind or rain,

We make the trek via bus and train

Like pilgrims to our holy place

We wonder what junk we’ll embrace.

Like kids we run the final mile!

The beacon! It shines! the Middle aisle!

Hat’s Off To London’s Sporty Masses

What’s with all the leggings, guys?

Is it just me, or do 90% of Londoners look like they’ve just stepped out of a yoga class? This trend — known as ‘athleisure’ — is basically everyone putting on some high-end leggings and some labelled trainers, as if they’re heading for a good old workout at some fancy gym — even if they’re not. I mean, just take a look around the tube carriage and count the number of people that seem like they’re en route to/heading home from some sort of physical activity….

Of course, I can’t make any assumptions here. Perhaps more of the city’s population really ARE getting fitter, and are simply donning their Lululemon gear because they actually HAVE just finished a HIIT session, been on a run, or done a few miles on the treadmill. Great. Good on you — hats off.

I’d say, however, that the majority are wearing these ‘athleisure’ clothes as a fashion statement. Don’t get me wrong,  comfort-wise, this is a grand idea — shunning the tight-buttoned jeans for some stretchy leggings is surely one of life’s great pleasures? However, this is something I personally do when getting back home in the evening –when I shed the days stresses and get into my comfy clothes — rather than out in public, where VPLs (amongst other things) are a real risk factor.

My bet, though, is that the people who have actually been to do some fitness session are not flaunting their gymwear on the tube. The sweaty reality of a workout, all baggy-kneed leggings and oversized T-shirts, is not at all glamorous, and is likely to be quickly hidden away post-shower in favour of the aforementioned jeans. Those people sitting opposite you looking pretty normal? Who’s to say they haven’t beaten their personal best in terms of weight lifting today? I think we are quick to judge people from the outside — and increasingly so in this age of social media. We may look at one person and think that if they look sporty, they must be fit and healthy; whereas another person, perhaps getting stuck into a post-workout donut en route home, changed back into their jeans, may appear to us as ‘unfit’. Crazy assumptions to make when we know nothing about these people.

Of course seeing all these perfectly made-up girls with their designer gymwear doesn’t make me feel like trying this hyped-up fitness malarkey out, for fear of looking like a scruffy amateur in my Primark leggings and boyfriend’s T-shirt. Perhaps I have the wrong end of the stick. Perhaps London really is a hub of fitness, activity and sport, and I simply have not get the memo that I should be joining in. Or maybe I just haven’t got the right uniform to join the club.

Burr & Co.

For the REAL DEAL aka proper tea in a teapot, deliciously smooth coffee, and a fabulous selection of baked goods, look no further than Burr & Co., the newest addition to the Russell Square coffee scene.

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A Proppa Cuppa

Ok, so up until this point the ‘scene’ has basically consisted of Pret, Nero, Starbucks or Leon — all fine when you want a caffeine fix but hardly hubs of culture. Burr & Co., part of the newly renovated Kimpton Fitzroy Hotel, is a different story. With more than enough seats — and comfy ones at that — and plugs a plenty, this a place where you can truly rock the freelance lifestyle and feel somewhat sophisticated doing so.

Granted, the coffees are a little more expensive than your average chain latte, but they taste a hundred times better for it. The baked offerings are unique — everything from giant cookies and classic scones, to the more avante-garde pumpkin pie croissant and pistachio tart adorned the counter on my recent visit.

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To croissant or to doughnut, that is the question…

For the savoury lovers, there are sandwiches and sausage rolls — a million miles from a Greggs rendition — and if it is just ONE OF THOSE DAYS, they even have wine on tap.

The toilets are snazzy, music chilled, tables in abundance and staff friendly. What’s not to love?

It’s been a while…

A good few months have passed since poor London’s My Lobster has had a well-deserved update — but BEAR with me (see photo — yes, I still have an immeasurable amount of wit, obviously).

Bear

It’s a busy life, here in the big city, juggling all sorts of jobs and duties, friendships and events, all whilst trying to do a PhD. This doesn’t mean, by any stretch of the imagination, that I have not been taking advantage of all London’s fantastic offerings. From plays to ballets, restaurants to cafes, I have certainly been doing my ‘research’.

I hope the brief hiatus hasn’t made you think I’ve stopped exploring…. Here’s to coming back with a bang.

Well Put Together: Instructions for Correct Assembly at the Royal Court Theatre

Robots are the future – aren’t they? Whether its self-driving cars or AI replacing us all, the potential of this technology is pretty impressive, and daunting. But what about when it comes to family? A new play at the Royal Court poses the question of whether the perfect child is possible to create if you build it from a flat-packed robot kit….

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Photo credit: Johan Persson

Instructions for Correct Assembly is a play on a quest for perfection. This is a dystopian set-up featuring a couple, Hari and Max, who decide to construct a flat-pack robot son from a catalogue. It may seem like a strange decision to make, but once the audience learn about the earlier death of the middle-aged pair’s ‘real’ son due to drugs, their attempts to create a new child with ideal qualities makes much more sense.

The cast is pretty star-studded, with Max being played by Jane Horrocks of Ab Fab and , Sunshine on Leith fame, opposite Scotsman Mark Bonnar (husband Hari) who you may recognise from series such as Catastrophe and Line of Duty. Using flashback scenes with the couple’s drug addict son, the story gets pieced together much like Hari and Max gradually assemble their new son, Jan.  The same actor, Brian Vernel, plays both their drug-addict son Nick, in the flashbacks, and their new robot son Jan, causing deliberate confusion as to whether we are watching the robot son or the real one: this technique works really well, deliberately blurring the lines between real and robot, flawed vs. ‘perfect’.

Hari and Max’s neighbours, Laurie and Paul, with a daughter at Oxford and a picture-perfect life, are a relentless comedic duo who provide a further point of comparison between the real and the fake, the messy and the perfect, the natural and the programmed.

The physicality of the play is deliberately dystopian: the whole drama takes place within a box-like frame, with a conveyor belt running through the middle of the stage, delivering different parts of the flat-pack son. One slightly bizarre element of the play’s use of physical theatre is the actors all turning into jerky robots between scenes, admittedly slightly off-putting, breaking up the play and feeling somewhat forced.

This play may not be picture-perfect itself, arguably a tad superficial in dealing with these difficult topics, and with questionable use of physical theatre, but is, overall, a funny and heartfelt exploration of our relationship with technology and perfection.

Instructions for Correct Assembly is playing until 19 May 2018 at the Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, SW1W, 8AS. Tickets are available from £12.

 

Review originally published on Londonist, April 2018

A man, a bicycle, and a flippin’ massive vase: why Londoners should look more

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This morning I saw a middle-aged man speeding on a Boris bike through Covent Garden, one hand on the handlebars, the other clutching a giant ceramic vase.

I was quite impressed that a) he could physically hold the gargantuan urn with one hand, b) that despite being weighed down on one side, he maintained an upright posture and rapid, straight-line cycling, and c) that no one seemed to bat an eyelid, or register that this was quite an unusual thing to see on a Monday morning.

London is so full of bizarre and downright insane sights, people, events and instances that perhaps we are all somewhat immune to the oddities that confront us in our day to day city lives. Were this man to be cycling through, say, the cobbled streets of Cambridge, I expect he would have got a number of odd looks, a couple of comments on the cyclist’s strength and expertise, or an out-loud questioning at what exactly he is doing.

Of course, if we Londoners were to look up and wonder aloud at every out-of -the ordinary sight, we wouldn’t get anything done. Maybe, then, just expecting to see slightly odd things, and learning to ignore them, is the way forward.

But then we do miss an awful lot. Stuck in our city bubbles, head in phone, eyes down, headphones in, so many of the quirky parts of London pass us by. I didn’t see one pedestrian turn to look at Vase Man (as he will be known from now on). Perhaps a cycling coach could have noticed his prowess, and signed him up to the GB team, or maybe an antiques expert would have recognised the million pound urn in his hand.

Ok – so Vase Man is just one example, but I think it’s about time we all started looking around and absorbing the quirks of our incredible capital.

We walk by people and places every day without even noticing them. On Oxford Street, there is a particular Big Issue seller who, in between shouting the name of the paper in attempt to sell a few copies, asks ‘will anyone acknowledge me?’

In my experience, anyone rarely does. They walk by, stuck in their city bubbles, heads in phones, eyes down, headphones in, so that when we could actually make a difference, it passes us by.

King Lear at the Globe: homelessness, madness and mediocrity

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The opening of King Lear at Shakespeare’s Globe is less ‘lights, camera, action’ and more a fizzling illumination and gradual realisation that, indeed, the play is starting. Beanie-clad and backpack-carrying folk make their way through the still chattering crowd and onto the stage – a huge ‘Keep Out’ sign at the set’s centre signals a disused and abandoned building that these squatters are about to claim for themselves.

Once it is ascertained that these scruffy-looking individuals must be the cast and the theatre-goers quieten down, the actors begin to tear down dust sheets, force down barricades, and make the stage into a set more fitting for their rendition of King Lear, an almost Brechtian touch. Throughout the production, the initially covered-up set becomes more and more exposed, mirroring the King’s increasing descent into madness.

Kevin McNally, best known perhaps for his roles in the Pirates of the Caribbean films, is undoubtedly the star of the show, playing a phenomenal Lear. Joshua James as Edgar, and the character’s disguise of Poor Tom is also highly successful – disguise is certainly the order of the day in Lear, with Saskia Reeves’ Kent taking on a male identity with equally dramatic effects.

It has to be said that for such a tragic play, there are a fair few comedic moments, with plenty of laughs – in true Bard fashion there are innuendos dotted throughout, despite the depressing turn of events. Unlike Emma Rice’s previous colourful, fiesta-style version of Much Ado About Nothing however, her latest directorial work for King Lear is a wholly more subdued affair. Colours are duller, with pastel shade costumes only brightened by the odd instance of pillar box red jackets.  With the exception of the theatrical drumming scene to portray the tempestuous storm, the entire three and a half hour production (which at times feels elongated) seems slightly muted – it’s a solid rendition of King Lear but perhaps one that lacks a wow factor.