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 know 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 recognsied 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 and features 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.

Freelancing? Studying? These London cafes have fab coffee and super wifi

If you’re on the lookout for somewhere to caffeinate and get productive, check out these wifi offering, coffee brewing locations in central London.

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Ah, the freelancer lifestyle. The freedom to work from the comfort of your bed, donning last night’s PJs with a cuppa in hand. Sometimes, though, that just isn’t productive. As a student and writer, I can work pretty much anywhere (except when ancient tomes and obscure books mean the library is my only choice).

The question that has been dumbfounding London millienials since, well, ever, is where exactly to set up shop and get a few hours decent work done. Wifi is obviously a major factor, as is the quality of the coffee – caffeine is, after all, the fuel to all productivity – and a plug, chilled atmosphere and comfy chairs are all things to consider.

If you’re mooching around central on the lookout for an oasis to open up your laptop in, be it for uni, freelancing, or just inevitable life admin, check out my list of where to get into work mode.

  1. Timberyard

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These guys are the kings when it comes to remote working, even offering up meeting rooms to rent out. Head to their Seven Dials or Soho branches for super-fast wifi, a relaxed environment, and a plethora of other people around you tapping away on their Macs. They also have an impressive selection of teas, as well as a tempting selection of homemade bakes. The Covent Garden café can get pretty busy, but the comfy armchairs downstairs are worth a bit of a wait

2. Covent Garden Grind

Grind have expanded over the last couple of years, recently opening outposts of their much-loved coffee spots in Exmouth Market and Covent Garden. The latter is quite tucked away, behind the Piazza, and pretty much next door to the old-school Rules (you may or may not find yourself having a coffee with the doorman). There’s cracking coffee, service with a smile and not to mention some delicious snacks (think seeded energy balls) and the ultimate avo-toast. The thing which gives Covent Garden Grind the edge has to be the Bowie quote on the wall: I reckon with the inspiration and wifi here, we could all (think we could) be heroes (if just for one day).

3. Hubbard and Bell at The Hoxton Holborn

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An all day café, restaurant, bar and freelancer office, The Hoxton on High Holborn can be anything and everything you want it to be. Stay through from morning coffee to a lunchtime bite, rewarding yourself for the day’s productivity with a sophisticated cocktail come early evening. For the hungover, there are fresh juices and smoothies; for the super hungry there are pancake stacks drenched in maple syrup. Pretty much everyone here in the daytime is working away, which can be a useful source of motivation. Plenty of plugs around, chilled background music and some snazzy toilets with that posh hand stuff mean this place is a winner.

4. Tinderbox

For any fellow stationary geeks and organisation freaks, Paperchase’s flagship store on Tottenham Court Road is heaven. Head upstairs to their Tinderbox café, which as well as being full of light thanks to the huge windows, offers wifi, coffee and is usually relatively quiet. Feeling broke? Get yourself a Paperchase Treat card and you can get a free filter coffee every week (or upgrade to another drink by paying the difference). You can then feel totally justified about forking out a tenner for some uber-cool gel pens and notepads.

5. Planet Organic, Tottenham Court Road

Vegans, veggies, omnivores and carnivores will (I’m fairly sure) be satisfied with the range of yummy options at Planet Organic’s café on Tottenham Court Road. This is the one just by the station, as opposed to the other branch down the road on Torrington Place. Grab a coffee, bar, smoothie or lunch and get to work upstairs in their light and airy seating area. The wifi is good – phone signal a bit iffy. Plugs a plenty, nourishing grub and the opportunity to get a bit crazy with your coffee (coconut oil coffee and superfood coffee – with mushrooms – are on the menu). They also offer student discount with a valid card, which can only ever be a good thing.

6. Waterstones Tottenham Court Road

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This is one for those who like a bit of silence to work in – the basement of this new-ish Waterstones is an oasis of calm and a good place to knuckle down and get stuck in. There’s wifi too, as well as a coffee bar, but unlike other dedicated cafes, you don’t feel any obligation to make a purchase at the shop or café to work there. Obviously the book selection is a massive bonus.

7. Foyles, Charing Cross Road

Another bookish site, but this one, instead of being tucked away underground like the Waterstones option, is high up on the 5th floor of this flagship store. The shop itself is open until 9pm, and the café shuts 45 minutes beforehand, which makes it a great place if you need to crack something out when other places have shut their doors. There are regular events on in the shop too — why not combine a few hours work with an author’s reading, a panel discussion or a music concert?

8. Leon, Brunswick Centre

If you’re a regular at the nearby Senate House Library, or a student at UCL, Russell Square will be your stomping ground. Leon, the chain which prides itself on its healthy fast food, has a pretty big branch in the Brunswick. Their wifi is bang on, food reasonably priced, and they do 15% student discount – if you’re feeling particularly skint, get their filter coffee, which works out at 85p with a student card.

10 Awesome Coffee Spots Around Covent Garden

Give the Starbucks a miss and head to these fantastic places for a caffeine hit in central London.

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1: For books and brunch: Drury 188-189

A newbie on the Covent Garden scene, Drury 188-189 offers coffee, cake, lunch and brunch with a side of vintage books. Drop in for a freshly pressed juice and a selection of their salads for lunch or check them out at the weekend where they serve a cracking brunch menu until 2:30pm.

Tip: Get your omegas with their avocado toast 

 

2: For insane cake: Peyton and Byrne

Just around from Matilda is a vintage style, small but perfectly formed café which makes the perfect pit-stop for tea and cake. From carrot cake to muffins, cookies to giant Jaffa cakes, there is a sweet treat for every palate – head downstairs for more seats.

Tip: Their salted caramel tart is out of this world

 

3: For a colourful lunch: The Black Penny

With a selection of indie magazines to flick through, and a daily changing menu of warming soups, wholesome salads and inventive bakes to tempt your taste-buds, The Black Penny on Great Queen Street is not to be missed. Their brunch is also something special – choose from options such as ‘The Gatherer’ – eggs, halloumi, toast, mushrooms, spinach and baked beans- for a veggie feast, or Crispy Confit Duck Hash for a serious morning-after cure.

Tip: A top spot for fussy friends with almond and soy milk options and gluten free toast

 

4: For travel inspiration: Stanfords Coffee House

For those of you that don’t know, Stanfords is pretty much a London institution when it comes to book shops. Dedicated to travel writing since 1853, this Covent Garden beauty has maps and guide books galore for your upcoming trips as well as tons of ideas of where to venture next. Tucked at the back is a café; a rare oasis of calm amid Covent Garden’s bustle where you can refuel and peruse your purchases.

Tip: Try their Venetian Rose loose-leaf tea with a slice of carrot cake for the ultimate book-reading accompaniment

 

5: For remote working: Hubbard and Bell at The Hoxton Holborn

It’s true that this hip all day café/eatery/bar and restaurant seems to sometimes have more Macs than people staring back at you, but that is partly why it makes a good spot to settle down with your laptop and get working. Super-fast wifi, plenty of plugs and attentive staff that won’t shift you even after hours of furious typing, you can stay here from morning coffee, through scrummy lunch to much-needed cocktail.

Tip: Balance out a crazily chocolatey brownie with a rejuvenating juice to aid your work

 

6: For a quiet haven: Fleet River Bakery

Tucked just behind Holborn Station and a mere five minute walk from Covent Garden, Fleet River Bakery could easily pass you by: this would be a huge mistake. Fleet River’s lunch options change every day, but if you think along the lines of roasted carrot salad with tahini, chorizo, cream cheese and potato frittata, and cake combos such as chocolate and Guiness or almond and polenta, you’ll have a good idea of what a treat you’re in for. Make a beeline for downstairs, where a quiet atmosphere reminiscent of your auntie’s living room awaits.

Tip: Their hearty daily soups are always a winner

 

7: For hipster vibes: Covent Garden Grind

The popular GRIND chain has moved west, so you can get the Shoreditch experience right here in central (beards optional). Their cafes have a reputation for awesome coffee, and I can attest that it is indeed pretty impressive – what also stands out is their cracking music choice and various lunches and brunches on offer. Smoothie bowls and avocado toast most definitely feature for full-on East London feels.

Tip: Espresso Martinis here are magic

 

8: For award winning blends: Monmouth Coffee

Don’t be put off by the limited seating in this Seven Dials’ café – the coffee is more than worth squashing up to a stranger for. Over 35 years old, Monmouth Coffee has branches dotted around the city that are answering our calls for incredible coffee amidst the avalanche of Starbucks’. The baristas at the Covent Garden original are award-winning coffee experts and worth talking too- they really know their beans.

Tip: A classic flat white here is unbeatable

 

9: For catch ups and meet ups: Timberyard

Timberyard Seven Dials is the perfect place to network and host meetings if you are living the freelancer life. There are rooms to hire, decent wifi, and also a fabulous selection of cakes and bakes. Their Covent Garden café is also a relaxing place to settle down with a book and a sarnie – roast salmon, romesco and watercress toastie anyone?

Tip: Head here for breakfast and try the coconut, orange, date and chocolate overnight oats

 

10: For rawsomely healthy treats: Wild Food Café

Neal’s Yard, the most colourful corner of London, is hope to the famous Wild Food Café for when you want a perhaps more wholesome treat to accompany your coffee. This plant-based eatery creates culinary magic so you won’t even be able to guess that your dessert is a nutrient bomb. From vegan banana bread to completely cheese-free Smoked Apple Cheezcake and even Salted Caramel Mylkshake made with coconut, cacoa and almonds, these creations have to be tasted to be believed.

Tip: Chocolate-lovers will love the Forgotton Ecstasy smoothie (literally indescribable)

Drury 188-189: The New Covent Garden Coffee Gem

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To say that Covent Garden is chocca-block with cafes and places to stop for coffee is an understatement. As well as the usual Starbucks and Prets, there are the slightly fancier, usually tourist-filled, ones in the Piazza and a plethora of pubs and restaurants where you can also get your caffeine fix.

When a new café opens, therefore, I always greet it with trepidation, wondering if it will manage to compete with the 10 other establishments within the surrounding five square metres. A little out of the manic hubbub of the actual market, a new opening on Drury Lane, aptly named Drury 188-189 (just to make locating it that bit easier), may indeed survive the competition.

With a stunning spread of cakes, bakes and salads on offer, and a rather rustic-styled interior, Drury 188-189 is immediately welcoming. Another bonus is the fact that their coffee is actually pretty darn good – smooth and not too strong, and unlike a lot of the chi chi hip cafes, a decent size.

The lack of wifi is remedied by the selection of vintage books on each table, crying out to be read – maybe the bubble of disconnection may encourage Londoners to interact and take their eyes of their screens? Perhaps that is too much to ask…

If you want somewhere to switch off in Covent Garden, this beautiful value for money coffee haven is a gem.

London’s Woodland-Themed Christmas Lights: Fab or Fail?

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Hands up if anyone has ever seen a rabbit hopping about in Covent Garden. Or how about a fox making its way from Trafalgar Square? Perhaps you may have come across a squirrel in Seven Dials? No I have not gone completely mad – but Covent Garden may have. This year, Seven Dials have gone with a woodland theme for their festive displays. Original, yes. But does it work?

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Last night signalled a step nearer to the big day, as the Christmas lights in Seven Dials were officially switched on. It was a whole evening of festivities, with mulled wine and Christmas cocktails, money off and music – myself, along with a fair few other savvy Londoners, took this opportunity to get 20% off most shops and collect our complimentary drinks: we have to make the most of these things after all.

With free grilled cheese, more mince pies than is possible to eat, and the chance to toast your own marshmallows at the fire-pit S’more station, this was more than just shopping. Wreath-making workshops were even on the agenda, for the people that were feeling particularly productive on a Thursday night.

At 6pm was the big switch on. Crowds gathered around the centre of Seven Dials, where all seven streets converge to a central point, where what looks like the Monument’s rather puny cousin, stands proudly. This was not just a case of pressing a button – there was a build-up to a) get people very excited and b) to try and explain the reason why Seven Dials was full of cardboard cut-outs of various woodland animals.

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This build-up consisted of a Lumiere-like light projection on the surrounding buildings, while a voice read out a rhyming story to narrate the projections. I listened avidly, but still didn’t manage to make head nor tail of why the woodland creatures ended up in the middle of London. Admittedly, the light display of foxes and rabbits on Covent Garden’s buildings were pretty cute, but when the poem tried to find multiple rhymes for ‘Seven Dials’, you just knew it wasn’t going to end well.

Finally, a countdown ensued, and on 1, the streets of Seven Dials suddenly lit up. It cannot be denied that this was a thoroughly festive affair, especially when acclaimed band Dirty Old Brasstards began to play ‘So here it is, Merry Christmas’.

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Looking around I did indeed feel very Christmassy. The lights, even if they are in the shape of a badger, or surrounding a bemused bunny, may be slightly odd, but they are fairly cute, and very twinkly.

I may not be following in Seven Dials’ footsteps, and decorating my tree with deer decorations and bunny baubles: but the Covent Garden area is definitely branching out with their forest theme, daring to be different, and making London even more full of lights, which, let’s face it, can’t be a bad thing.

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London Tourists – and other Summer Holiday complaints

telephone boxSummer holidays mean one thing for us Londoners – hell. Why, we ask, are these swarms of people descending on our turf/tarmac? Maybe it’s time to escape the big smoke…

 

The ability to spot a tourist comes as second nature after living in London for a few years. If it’s not the tell-tale backpack (with optional front-pack) or the matching caps, it’s the M+M souvenirs or London hoody. If you spot a snaking line of confused looking individuals following a lady waving an umbrella in the air, these are no doubt also tourists. Likewise, chances are that anyone standing on the left side of the escalator is probably on holiday in the capital.

And then there are the children – taken on a day trip to London to visit a museum, see Big Ben, or generally get in the way. These are more easily spotted by looking for a frazzled Mum: key signs here are the frizzy hair from tube-induced heat; darting eyes attempting to keep track of all four children; or the look of shock that they have just spent a small fortune on sandwiches from Pret.

Why, when we Londoners are trying to get to work, or pick up a pint of milk, do these tourists and families make it harder for us, I hear you complain. I think we forget, living in this vibrant and cosmopolitan capital, that London is actually a pretty cool place. We take the Tower of London, the Southbank and the V&A for granted; we see the Shard as a piece of the furniture; and being able choose from twenty different cuisines on one street is frankly our right. Isn’t it? This is what London does to a person – we become blinkered. We see London as the norm and everything else as the exception, when in fact, London is a flippin’ special place.

So cut the visitors some slack. If they are struggling with their Google maps trying to find the British Museum, point them in the right direction. If they look fed up queuing in Starbucks, suggest a cheaper and quieter alternative round the corner. If they are walking on the right or standing on the left, mention the laws of the land.

And when you yourself are on a city break in Paris, Berlin, Milan, and the locals there are probably viewing you with the same annoying glances and frustration; or when you yourself are occupying the role of parent-on-edge, making sure that the kids are fed, watered, all accounted for, and that they haven’t stolen anything from the museum gift shop, you may think differently. It’s all a matter of perspective. But in the meantime, take a breather and accept that people just want to see our capital. Let’s share the awesomeness of our city, and think, hey, we are immensely lucky to call London our home.

Is London really ‘All That’? Or can we learn something from the Germans?

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London’s My Lobster went on a bit of a trip recently. This trip was to the far away land of Germany, specifically to the awesome city that is Cologne. Living in London, we (mostly) all think that this is THE city to be in – London has it all, doesn’t it? When people gawp at the fact we have chosen to live in one of the world’s most expensive cities, one overwhelmed by tourists, high rents and delayed trains, we brush off their ignorance. Sometimes, it takes a visit to a completely different place, in this case, Cologne, to look at London in a new light. I think we could learn a thing or two from our German counterparts….

 

Cologne vs London

 

Train prices:

London: 40 min train ride from London Liverpool Street to Stanstead airport: £22 (return)

Cologne: Half-hour train ride from Cologne city centre to Bonn/Koln airport: €2.80 (one way)

 

Beer/Bar Etiquette

London: queue for approx. 30 mins at the bar, elbowing punters en route, to pay a fiver for a mediocre pint.

Cologne: in the Brauhaus, people come to your table with beer, and simply tally on your beer mat how much you’ve drunk (at a rate of about €1.70 for (an admittedly small) 0.2l Kolsch right out of the brewery)

 

Live Jazz

London: approx. £10 entry to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club

Cologne: free jazz every night at Papa Joe’s Jazz-Lokal, with all drinks being a couple of euros more expensive than other places in order to cover costs

 

Supermarket Booze

London: £7-8 for a bottle of fizz

Cologne: €5 for a pretty decent bottle of Prosecco

 

Student Love

London: about 10% discount for those of us slaving away at uni, and paying £9,000 a year tuition fees.

Cologne: consistently discounted entry prices at all museums, galleries etc. (some at nearly 50% off regular adult price). Oh, and university here is FREE people!

 

Perhaps London could take a leaf out of Cologne’s book. Of course, I’m in no way advocating that we Londoners immediately start sporting Lederhosen or having sausages on the menu at near every restaurant (note: this is not being stereotypical, these things actually happen in Cologne), but maybe if transport was cheaper, pubs were more chilled, people were more trustworthy and education was free we wouldn’t get that look of shock, horror and disbelief from non-Londoners when we say we live in London. Instead, they would say ‘well aren’t you lucky, living in a place with such good principles and ideas. One might say, slightly German?’ I wait with bated breath…

 

P.S. further comparison in the area of stairs: if you think that Covent Garden station is a bit hard work with their 193 stairs, try the Cologne cathedral – 533 steps up a narrow spiral staircase (not pretty when you meet a school trip coming down when you are attempting the epic journey upwards). TFL, do not take on this idea for future tube stations.