Covent Garden and Christmas in November

lights 2

‘Christmas’ and all that comes with it, the songs, the madness, the big brands and the adverts, seems to be creeping earlier each year.

As soon as November rolled along, Oxford Street and Regent Street went into Christmas mode – entirely prematurely if you ask me. By mid-December, the novelty and excitement of all things Christmas will have worn off, and no doubt the tune of Mariah’s ‘All I Want for Christmas’ will be a grating sound on tired ears.

But seeing as we, the little Londoners who are powerless in the face of the capital’s decision on when Christmas should start, can’t do anything about it, we may as well try and enjoy the (way too early) festivities.

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Last night I wandered down to Covent Garden’s piazza, for the switching on of the famous lights. Not a length of tinsel in sight, these decorations are tasteful and magical; moving projections of snowflakes and giant mistletoe make for a cracking display. I must admit, the giant reindeer, the old fashioned lanterns and the glitzy disco balls alongside a comforting waft of mulled wine gave me that warm and fuzzy feeling.

reindeer

A Harrods Christmas pop-up shop has even opened next to the Royal Opera House; ridiculously Christmassy to walk around, despite the fact that even the chocolate coins are more than a student budget can stretch, and could easily get you a pint in Wetherspoons. For the next few days, Covent Garden is hosting their first Mulled Wine Festival, which is worth checking out if you fancy a hot cup of Glogg or a spiced cider. They even have micro-pigs to pet – insanely cute and a real crowd-drawer. Not sure how related to Mulled Wine these little things are, though. Unless someone tries to keep them warm and wraps the pigs in blankets (warning: keep away from any ovens).

For a slightly early Christmassy feeling, a shopping trip less daunting than the infamous Oxford Street, and an excuse to check out the many cafes, pubs and bars around one of London’s prettiest areas, I would put the lights in Covent Garden on your ‘To Do’ list asap.

DISCLAIMER: London’s My Lobster does not take responsibility for any over-consumption of mulled wine, or any overspending on super-cute Christmas baubles.

Money Money Money: Why the Hike in Theatre Prices?

Happy days

After a day at work staring at a screen, most people like nothing more than to come back home and, um, stare at a screen… Usually, this is from the comfort of a sofa or a bed, and more often than not involves, increasingly, watching the film/TV series via the world wide web as opposed to a DVD.

Whereas before, a cinema trip may have been a natural way to absorb a few hours entertainment of an evening, a rise in ticket prices coupled with vast developments of online, on-demand viewing platforms have meant that the cinema is now often reserved for Special Occasions. Just as going to the cinema has seen a rise in prices, so too has the theatre, a report has just announced.

Given the choice, I’d pick theatre over cinema any day of the week. There is something so gripping about a story being played out before your eyes, a few metres away, in which anything could happen. Without the novelty of multiple takes, or the fluidity of editing, the entertainment is somehow much fresher and more real. Add in the live music and the excitement of being in an historic venue, and a visit to the theatre is suddenly a fully immersive trip from curtain up until final bows. A precious few hours away from the digital world in which to watch non-pixelated people play out a story is, in our ever screen-ruled lives, most welcome and definitely needed. Why, then is the theatre becoming less affordable?

Despite the fact that touring shows are proving successful in allowing those without easy access to London to witness award-winning entertainment, the cost of attending is at an all-time high. Geographically, then, theatre is becoming more widely available: the monetary side of it, however, is increasingly limiting. This hike has been caused primarily by funding cuts for the arts from council and government grants.

According to a UK Theatre report, in the West End the average price of a single ticket has risen 5.1% to £42.29; this figure also reflects the customer’s growing preference to opt for higher-priced seats. Over £40 is, admittedly, fairly steep for a couple of hours of entertainment, no matter how spectacular. Essentially, for the same price I could buy two boxsets, four cinema tickets or over 6 months’ subscription to Netflix.

If these prices continue to escalate, soon the theatre will be a luxury for the wealthy, and will further alienate those who could most benefit from it; the underprivileged, the young, the ageing. Some institutions such as the National Theatre run a scheme which offers £5 tickets to those 16-24 year olds signed up to their ‘Entry Pass’ initiative: the Barbican run a similar youth discount programme. These schemes should, however, not be the exception, but commonplace; enabling affordable options to those who want to witness top-class theatre.

I am not denying that it is possible to go to theatre for less; usually involving substantial luck or rigorous research. Of course, day tickets, queuing up at dawn, severely restricted view seats offer cheaper tickets for London shows, but these are often difficult to come by, or fairly uncomfortable (and a bit of a trek to the ice-cream stall in the interval). My advice – sign up to every initiative available and even risk the bad views for a cheap trip. Take some time out, once every couple of months, to leave the screen and see the stage: maybe an increase in popularity is the only way to convince The Man that theatre should be a funding priority, and lower ticket prices a necessity . Whether this is to be or not to be, however, is the question…

The Tower of London, Agincourt, and being a Londoner

Otherwise entitled: ‘I don’t do those ‘London Things’, I live here’ and other misconceptions of Londoner’s

Tower

It’s a strange thing, living in London, in that those that do reside in the city have rarely done the ‘London’ things. Ask any flat-sharing creative in Shoreditch if they’ve been on the London Eye, or a penguin-suited office worker in the city if they’ve ventured into Madame Tussaud’s, and the answer would probably be no. These things, these ‘London’ things, are for Tourists, right?

With regard to a number of these attractions, I would have to repeat their answer, possibly adding that I don’t actually want to see hundreds of wax people, or that being scared by blood-stained actors in the London Dungeons is hardly my idea of fun. And M&M world? If I wanted to spend £20 on a minute amount of confectionary, I’d go to Harrods, darling – at least I’d get the bag to prove I was ultra-posh-and-sophisticated (would I have to pay 5p for that now?) Tourists and visitors come from far and wide to take in what our city has to offer, but living here, we should have the advantage of knowing what is worth spending money and time on.

Despite being a Londoner for a good four years now, I had never set foot in the Tower of London, brushing it off as another ‘Tourist’ thing to spend a tenner on. How I was mistaken. Aside from the impressive nature of the building itself, the history, exhibitions and stories that go alongside the Tower are fascinating. An added bonus was visiting a) fairly early (I mean BEFORE 11am – aka – very early indeed), and b) on a weekday that was not half term. These factors made for a somewhat calmer explore around the site, and more opportunity to get up close to the various exhibits and interesting bits. Note – all of it is interesting.

I had the opportunity to go to the Royal Armouries’ new exhibition in the White Tower, which has been specially put on to celebrate the 600th year of the Battle of Agincourt. To many, The Battle of Agincourt might only sound familiar because of Shakespeare’s Henry V, or Laurence Olivier’s role in the famous 1944 film adaptation of the play. After visiting, however, I learnt that the Battle of Agincourt was one of the pivotal battles in the Hundred Years War, and is about much more than shooting arrows and chainmail.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the Agincourt exhibition is the epic centrepiece; a (pretty much) historically correct model of the battle featuring over 4000 detailed scale model figures. This is model making taken to an entirely new level. A ridiculous amount of tiny men and horses are posed, mid-battle, mid-mudbath, portraying the utter chaos and destruction of Agincourt. I talked to Alan Perry, one of the modellers who took on the crazy challenge of creating the thousands of figurines, and was suprised to find out he didn’t use a single magnifying glass during the 2 years it took to create the work of art – the modelling was all done with the naked eye. This is one man that possibly should not have gone to Specsavers.

Battle

I left the exhibition enlightened, impressed and grateful; enlightened as to the historical facts and significance of the Battle of Agincourt; impressed at the intricacies of the modelling; and grateful that I wasn’t one of England’s archers wearing 25lbs worth of chainmail on the battlefield. Clearly, we should take this opportunity, in the 600th anniversary of the battle, to learn about one of England’s most important wins against the French. I also couldn’t believe I’d never been to the Tower of London – how could I have passed the site and never set foot inside the ultimate London time capsule?

We should, as Londoners, make a conscious effort to do those bits of the city that we may have discounted as being Touristy options. Not going to some of the best institutions, exhibitions and attractions in the world just because we LIVE here seems like cutting your nose off to spite your face. This is a major misconception (No.1), my fellow London-lodgers. (See list for others).

Londoner’s Misconceptions Continued

  1. Not going to aforementioned ‘London’ things as they are for Tourists.
  2. We actual Londoners need to get to where we want to go MUCH quicker than everyone else. We are MUCH more important.
  3. That we look way cooler holding a take-out coffee.
  4. This coffee can’t be from a chain, though, it has to be from an indie-cold-brew-artisan-roasted-organic-milked caffeine house.
  5. That we live in the best city in the world and everyone else is mad.*

*this is not a misconception. This is wholly and utterly completely true.

Is this Bond Street? How to do London 007-Style

Somerset House

I duck behind a red telephone box (alas, only taking cards these days), heart racing and blood pumping in my ears. It’s so loud it almost drowns out the never-ending and unspeakably aggressive sounding Crossrail works around the corner. This is serious stuff.

I subtly look to my right, trying to gauge whether anyone leaving the Pret next door, coffees in hand , looked like my Enemy. They didn’t – unless my enemy had morphed into a skinny-jean-wearing, beard growing Hipster. The coast was clear, and so, being short of a gun, I ensured my selfie stick was in hand ready to strike should I need to defend myself, and ran to the tube station.

This my friend, is unfortunately where the Bond Dream ends. But being in London – aka the city renowned for its prominence in the books and films  of our favourite secret agent, I felt it was apt to pay an homage of sorts to the Capital’s input into the successes of 007. Whilst in no way a comprehensive guide, your mission, should you chose to accept it, is to experience London in the style of Bond, James Bond. (Start at Hyde Park Corner, end in Covent Garden).

map

  1. Walk past (but not IN, unless you have a bottomless wallet) Les Ambassadeurs Club, which is where Bond makes his first screen appearance in Dr No.
  2. See the MI6 building at Vauxhall Bridge.
  3. Have a dekko at The Old War Office Building on Whitehall which is the setting for MI6 HQ in Octopussy, License to Kill and A View to a Kill – pretty stunning.
  4. Somerset House, seen in Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies is worth a visit (and catch a free exhibition in one of their galleries whilst your at it)
  5. Sip on a Martini (shaken, not stirred, naturally). London’s Dukes Bar (St. James) is said to do the best one in the city, but if you’re after something a little cheaper, try the Vesper Martini at B@1, where Happy Hour ensures the purse is not drained.
  6. If you feel like parting with a tenner or so (a little more if not a student), The London Film Museum in Covent Garden is running an exhibition entitled ‘Bond in Motion’, the largest display of Bond vehicles ever in London.
  7. You’ll probably be quite tired by now. Have another Martini.

And that is where the Bond Dream really ends people.

5p Charge Not Your Bag? When Plastic isn’t so Fantastic…

Sainsburys

Time to bag it up people….

Monday 5th October will forever be held in our memories as Doomsday. That tragic, unforgettable Autumnal day, our week began with a hard-hitting realisation that was almost incomprehensible. This was, I think you’ll agree, comparable to 1 Direction splitting up, or Bruce Forsyth leaving Strictly. Monday 5th October will now be remembered as ‘That Day People Made Us Pay A Whole 5p For A Darn Carrier Bag’.

Despite the inevitable onslaught of anger from a lot of the population, I’m personally pretty chuffed that England have decided to introduce this charge. We are, it seems, finally taking heed from Wales and Ireland, who have been charging for plastic bags for a good few years now. The money we pay for a bag will go to charity, so not only will we be saving the planet, but we will be supporting a worthy cause. And let’s face it, there isn’t much room left under the sink for any more plastic bags anyway.

What this means, dear cash-strapped readers, is that the stash of bags you currently have, that you were probably thinking of simply chucking away, is worth a small fortune. In years to come, ‘Cash in the Attic’ will discover this collection and no doubt your fortune will be made. Hold out for this moment.

In a big city, such as London, huge superstores are few and far between. The reality of your shopping is likely to be ‘picking up some milk from the Tesco Express on your way home’ but in fact turns in to ‘buying a hell of a lot more’. And inevitably forgetting the milk. We city-dwellers are more prone to spontaneously popping into a shop, rather than driving to an out of town supermarket where a car-boot comes in handy. Since our shopping habits are usually off-the-cuff, we’ll be unlikely to have a bag when we need one. Which will mean a lot of 5ps going to charity.

Solution 1: online shopping (avoiding the pain or trying to fit a whole bottle of wine and a loaf of bread in your handbag). Solution 2: keep a reusable bag inside your bag (I realise this sounds like a Russian doll endeavour). Solution 3: Buy the darn bag.

At the end of the day, as much as we try to bring an environmentally friendly receptacle in which to place our organic goods , the morning rush may prevent this. In such a case, kindly give the 5p to the charitable cause, buy the bag, and try to flippin’ remember to bring one next time. (From experience, it is unadvisable to try and squish all of your shopping into one bag just to avoid buying another. The bag will end up breaking, your shopping will be ruined, and spending another 5p would have been majorly worth it.)

London in a Day

Only got one day in the big bad city? Don’t waste it getting mowed down by school trips and tourists, seeing the obvious attractions (that you’ve probably seen before) or being disappointed by mediocre meals. Check out my suggestions for when time is tight…

spitalSpitalfields Market

24 Hours in London

London is about far more than Big Ben, the London Eye, M+M world and Piccadilly Circus. Away from the black cabs and tourist traps, avoiding the Steakhouses and Starbucks that litter the streets, there is a London with quirky cafes, hidden museums, historical pubs and scintillating stories. But is it possible to get a taste of this underground-London in only 24 hours?

A sensible starting place would be Liverpool Street; a perfect doorway to the city. Begin with a hearty breakfast at the Bishopsgate Kitchen (if chorizo hash or eggs Benedict appeals), people-watch by way of the café’s glass front , and pick from a selection of teas to set you up for the day ahead. Old Spitalfields, which is right outside, is a haven of crafts and creatives; depending on the day, this could be the home of a rotating flea market, vintage record sale, or art stalls. For a peek at Hipster Central, take a nose up Brick Lane, and try on a couple of 70’s outfits in Rokit if you’re feeling brave.

A tube journey to Charing Cross will site you in the perfect location for a free lunchtime concert at St Martins in the Fields, where a spot of classical tunage will add some cultural scope to your day. Heading up to Covent Garden from here is a short walk, and allows you to take in Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, and the ever-changing Fourth Plinth. The BP Portrait Award Exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery is a chance to absorb a variety artwork without trekking around the entire place if time is tight. By this time, I imagine a nibble might be in order: sample an array of salads, divine cakes and bakes (ginger and salted caramel loaf, anyone?) proper coffee and friendly staff at Black Penny Café to fuel you up for further exploring.

Explorers keen on bizarre Korean and Japanese nik-naks should have a deco in Artbox, a crazy stationary shop off Neal’s Yard where you can buy a notebook unlike any other to jot down your memories of the day. At Holborn, step back in time with a trip to Sir John Soane’s Museum (free), where worldly treasures and an insanely cool picture room (authentic Hogarths, and opening walls) is enough to make you feel as if you are in a novel. The first Tuesday of each month offers an evening candlelit tour of the place, which, trust me, is definitely worth a half hour queue (and surely queueing is part of the London initiation?)

A swift pint in The Princess Louise, a pub with nooks and crannies that are ever appearing provides the ideal precursor to an imaginative cocktail at Merchant House, where jazz music and a speakeasy feel accompany concoctions featuring everything from chamomile tea to chocolate bitters. Sit back in the vintage Chesterfield sofas, soak up the Mad Men vibe: exhausted, satisfied, enlightened and enthused, you’ll wish you had more than a day to spend in the Capital of Capitals.

10 thoughts I have when I travel on the Central Line

London's Holy Grail

1. Is it just me, or is everyone refusing to stand on the right today?

2. I should offer my seat to that lady. (Mental evaluation of potential age of lady). Will said lady be offended if I offer her a seat? (Is she that old?) Drama avoided: lady alighted.

3. 50% of passengers seem to get off at Bank, 20% at Liverpool Street, 30% at Oxford Circus. I am among the stragglers.

4. Realisation that my maths is awful.

5. Should I tell the woman opposite that her jumper is inside out?

6. (Is my jumper inside out?)

7. Deliberating the likelihood of accidentally whacking the kid next to me if I attempt to grab that Evening Standard.

8. My arms are evidently shorter than I imagined.

9. Clearly, I am a Central Line ninja: paper in hand, mission accomplished.

10. Shock and disappointment when it turns out some commuter has already done the crossword.

11. Regret at at not having taken the District Line.

12. Second realisation that my maths is awful.

Just Espresso Yourself: The Rise of Coffee as an Art Form

You can’t walk down any street in the city without it becoming clear that coffee has become a ‘cult’ of sorts: there’s even a yearly London Coffee Festival  (in Brick Lane, naturally – could it be any more hipster?). The coffee snobs, who won’t set foot inside a Costa, avoid Starbucks like the plague, and even deem Nero’s beverages as inauthentic, are growing, and the amount of independent, home roasted, artisan coffee shops are increasing with them. But should we mere mortals be so dismissive of these coffee-aficionados? Are they as rightly superior about their coffee as a fashionista would be about Primark or an art-freak about Manga? Because, arguably, coffee is an art form.

Coffee has become a day to day convenience and our taste buds have become all too familiar with the chain’s conveyer belt ‘coffee’. But it is not until you get a taste of a proper flat white, an independent’s cappuccino or a perfect latte that you start to doubt your regular mocha. Many cafes and coffee shops in London are appealing to these hardened coffee-addicts and offering on-site roast and ground coffees, different weekly blends, and options to tailor your coffee exactly as you want it.

If you think that swirly leaf thing on top of your flat white at Costa is impressive, take a look at some real coffee art and you will brush it off as a child’s stick man drawing. From words to animals; even celebrities have been known to grace a latte’s foam when trained baristas construct a coffee. Of course these masterpieces are hardly long lasting – no doubt minutes later the work of art will dissolve or get drunk. But then just as a chocolatier or baker can be classed as an artist, despite their masterpiece being temporary and consumable, so is the Great Barista.

One of my most treasured Christmas presents last year was ‘The London Coffee Guide’ – a book dedicated to reviewing and rating a huge number of independent cafes and coffee shops in London. Though I have yet to work my way through it (I think I may have tried 5-6 of the establishments now), the very fact that it exists and is in demand proves that people are taking coffee very seriously these days, myself included.

From the temperature of the milk to the depth of the coffee, the thickness of the foam and the roasting time of the beans, making a decent cup of coffee is no mean feat. Perhaps next time you put in your order, you may want to consider the barista as Van Gogh of the coffee world. But, if for you coffee is coffee just as wine is wine (sommeliers cover your ears), just think of the barista as a saviour: hangover + essays = need caffeine fast.

*originally published in CUB magazine (http://cubmagazine.co.uk/2014/05/just-espresso-rise-coffee-art-form/)

Texts and The City: Me and My Phone

Why running out of battery is actually a good thing.

Being in London, or any big city for that matter, a phone is your lifeline. Even ‘meeting at Pret’ is a recipe for disaster when you realise that there are five of them on the same road. But we’ve all been there: the dreaded beep; the threatening ‘5% battery’ warning; the fear that your poor electronic baby won’t make it, and fizzle out before it’s possible for charger-led resuscitation.

But surely there are very few instances in our lives when a lack of phone is a life or death situation. So why does a disconnection from the virtual world scare us more than the prospect of Justin Bieber becoming Prime Minister? (or does it…?)

I’m going to throw it out there – I think phones running out of battery, wifi not connecting, 3G being unavailable, is a blessing in disguise. Recently, at a shopping centre, my phone decided to warn me of imminent shutdown, and indicate a dangerously close proximity to complete battery loss. Luckily for us in this day and age, places like malls are starting to offer charging booths, which I could plug my phone into free of charge for half an hour. I sighed a sigh of deep relief. *sigh*

For a whole 30 minutes, an entire half an hour, a staggering 48th of a day, I was phoneless. I wandered around, an empty pocket, disconnected from the ever updating and constantly notifying online universe. Nobody knew where I was: no one was tracking my precise location via GPS, no one was getting an instant emoji-heavy text response. There were emails unopened, Snap-chats un-viewed, and phone-calls unanswered. I felt strangely free. I felt like I could have hopped on a train to Paris, spent an afternoon in the Louvre, gone for cocktails on the Champs Elysees, and nobody would have a clue what I was up to. Was this what liberation felt like?

Of course, I could have made my way to the French capital. After all, it sounded like an adventure. But I had to be back at the charging booth in 28 minutes, to collect my phone. It was missing me.

It’s a Big Big City

Indeed. London is bloomin’ huge. So moving to the capital was a bit of a shock to the system having grown up in the back of beyond – aka Oxfordshire. From green to grey, from birdsong to sirens, from country hikes to sardine-like tube trips. But would I change this big bad city? It would take a lot to convince me.

Enjoy the blog, fellow city-dwellers/city-visitors/city-lovers