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

cologne river

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.

The Ship Tavern: a Gin Den in Central

An old-school pub with a fabulous gin selection? This place has got it covered….

ship tavern

 

Step outside Holborn Station, and head towards the Wetherspoons, that reliable, cheap, generic chain where you can pretty much guarantee to get a drink that won’t break the bank. Aim for this vaguely satisfactory but not hugely awe-inspiring establishment, and then just before you get there, step off the beaten track. Take a left down an admittedly dodgy looking alley and you will find a beacon of Real Pubbiness staring at you in the face: The Ship Tavern.

On a weekday past 5pm, there are crowds of savvy city workers who know of this hidden gem hanging around outside The Ship, but don’t let that put you off from venturing inside. In fact, see it as a sign of The Ship’s success as a Proper Pub. This is a cosy place to have a decent pint or a civilised glass of wine; an unpretentious inn which has not submitted to the Gourmet Gastro-Pub overhaul that many seem to go for these days (although, admittedly, the food on the next table looked pretty decent). What is particularly special about this place, though, is their crazy selection of gins. This is not the sort of place where you can simply ask for a G+T. If you do, be prepared to answer to a barrage of interrogations – which gin, which tonic, and which additions to your beverage – you’d like, and make you wish you’d gone to the bar with more of a rounded gin-based knowledge. Of course, you could just go for the gin of the day, which so far has not disappointed.

It is much more exciting, however, if you peruse the gin list and choose from the large selection of different gins with various additions, to see what takes your fancy (from experience, though, this may take a while). I opted for the ‘Brockmans’ which was served with sliced strawberries, blueberries and blackberries – a wise choice if I do say so myself .(I would have taken a picture of the impressive drink, but it is a testament to how good it was that I was distracted in the drinking of said drink rather than joining in on the ‘fashionable’ trend these days of instagramming/snapchatting anything that passes ones lips).

Whether best served with orange peel, grapefruit wedges, fresh berries or various herbs, these people know what goes best with each gin, and advise this on the list (and then go ahead and adorn your drink). Served in gorgeous wide glasses, these are, I reckon, some of the best gin and tonics on offer in the city. If you want to bag a table in the office rush, however, I’d keep this gem a secret.

http://www.theshiptavern.co.uk/

 

 

 

Fashion Utopias at Somerset House: where meets style meets fantasy

Utopia (noun): ‘an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect’ (Oxford English Dictionary). But what happens when these utopian ideas are applied to the world of fashion?

Fashion Utopias at Somerset House is the result of this combination; a showcase celebrating emerging designers’ visions of their imagined worlds. Coinciding with London Fashion Week and the Thomas More Utopia exhibition, which celebrates the 500th year anniversary of its publication, this exhibition is where art, fashion and (pure) imagination collide.

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Divided into separate rooms which each represent a country, Fashion Utopias navigates you not only across continents, but through dreamlike worlds and fantasy places. From the Czech Republic, where clothes and accessories are suspended from trees, to Guatemala, in which giant 3D clouds evoke a dream-like aura, each room creates a different and diverse utopian vision. Portugal’s ‘BLOOM’ concept used eco-friendly cork to raise the question of sustainable fashion, in contrast to the Philippines’ dresses which were made out of leather and real bullets. The Egyptian designers, meanwhile, inspired by the Tree of Life and the Lotus flower, made use of hundreds of origami lotus flowers hung from the ceiling, taking paper-crafts up a level (or two).

LEATHER

Leather and bullet dress

Admittedly, some of the pieces on display were the fashion world’s equivalent of a TATE Modern offering – aka – huh? That said, the majority of clothes, accessories, bags and especially the innovative installation and displaying of them, was pretty stunning. Technology and digital design was put to good use, the highlight being a giant moving, video-style magazine which changed display when you turned a page, thanks to high-tech code reading projectors.

The essence of Fashion Utopias was to project an imagined world of fashion, and it most definitely succeeded. The huge variety of colours, shapes, concepts and styles on offer throughout the 14 different rooms provided constant stimulation, and following the exhibition I was even more aware of the fact that fashion is essentially just another form of art. This art, however, just happens to be based on what we wear: are we all, then, living, walking masterpieces?

The London Art Fair

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Now in its 28th year, the London Art Fair is once again attracting buyers and collectors, creatives and artists like bees to a honey pot. Housed this year in Islington’s Business Design Centre from January 20th-24th, the fair is a three floored exhibition of everything from fine art to sculpture, with all pieces available to buy. If you happen to have a spare few hundred thousand pounds you may be able to come away with a few originals for the living room wall – after all, when a painting is only half the price of a one bed flat in the city, it’s a bargain, right?

Wandering around the fair last Wednesday evening, glass of Prosecco in hand, I felt pretty sophisticated .The great thing about the London Art Fair, even for an admittedly ‘not-so-au-fait-with-art’ kind of person, is the huge variety of artists and work on display – there really is something for everyone. Original Warhols stood alongside quirky crocheted works; Barbara Hepworth pieces were displayed opposite the witty work of Grayson Perry.  Multimedia pieces were the flavour of the moment; a particular favourite was of a woman whose hair had been replaced by a multi-coloured collage-effect of people, flowers and even buildings.

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Some of the pieces I was ever –so- properly- artistically-analysing admittedly made me think ‘I could have done that’: there was also, though, a great deal there that I under no circumstance could have even contemplated creating. One sculpture that stood out was created using perfume bottles imitating the classic Chanel No 5; replacing the brand name, however, were words that revealed the darker side of the beauty industry. Instead of Chanel, the bottles read ‘depression’, ‘solitude’, ‘help’ and ‘melancolie’ (sic).  – this is what I’d call perceptive and thought-provoking modern art, and there was a lot on offer in this vein.

chanel.jpgEssentially, the London Art Fair is a mini-showcase from a lot of galleries; some of which have obvious niches and specialisms, and others that seem to take the ‘I’ll have a bit of everything’ approach – a buffet collector if you will. If money was no object, I’m pretty sure I’d take that approach: on a single lap around the fair I could pick out at least 5 works of art I wouldn’t mind having, all different, all completely clashing, but each one particularly appealing for some unknown reason. That is the beauty of the London Art Fair: despite these paintings being on sale, you are under no obligation to part with a penny once there. It’s like being inside a very big if a little pretentious art shop without the awkwardness. So if you want to be overwhelmed by a completely huge, at times incredible, at times confusing, exhibition of art, this is the place for you. It’s not around for long, though, so be sure to check out the London Art Fair before Jan. 24th.

 

 

NB: Alongside those paintings that I could have done myself were a couple that I could have done myself WHEN I WAS FIVE.

 

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Changes: New Year, London and Bowie

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(picture courtesy of V&A)

 

January, they say, is a depressing month. Christmas is over, money is tight and strict regimes are being imposed to tackle the festive overindulgence. Personally, I am taking the ‘Dry January’ message to mean that this month, my alcohol choices will be mainly Dry Gin. The ‘clean-eating’ trend the masses are adhering to this year also seems to me, quite sensible – if dinner is eaten in the bath, chance of inevitable spillages on clothes is eliminated. This is what they call a win win situation.

But having got used to the lights, sparkles and decorations, London looks fairly naked. Christmas away from the capital begins as a novelty, and then you realise that actually, being able to get a pint of milk in two minutes, have decent coffee on every street corner, and not be affected by insane amounts flooding is pretty appealing. In line with the depressing fact that is the rise in travel fares, a bleak sense of ‘back to work’ reverberates in the tube carriages –  the only vague source of consolation is the fact that Tottenham Court Road station is finally open (it’s the small things people).

And to top it all off, two of the country’s most talented stars sadly passed away this week: David Bowie and Alan Rickman, both at 69, sadly lost their battles to cancer. This just may be the icing on the cake, the thing to tip those already struggling with the new gym routine, the lack of alcohol, and the utterly depressing weather, completely over the edge. No wine, no sun and now THIS?  The reaction to Alan Rickman’s and particularly David Bowie’s deaths  has been phenomenal, especially in the capital: perhaps because Bowie was a Londoner through and through; perhaps because he made such an impact on music; probably, too because Bowie showed that to stray from convention and to define yourself as an individual was not only possible, but admirable and inspirational. I had the pleasure of visiting the V&A’s ‘David Bowie Is’ exhibition a few years back, and to this day I think it is one of the best museum exhibitions I’ve seen.  Not only did I see the epic Ziggy Stardust bodysuit, on show were also handwritten lyrics and even Bowie’s diary entries, offering a snapshot into the innermost thoughts of the superstar. It was clear from ‘David Bowie Is’ that there isn’t a great deal that David Bowie Isn’t , or, now, that David Bowie Wasn’t.

On Monday, Brixton, where David was born, was awash with fans who wanted to show their respects to the Starman. An area which (for now, at least) exists as an un-gentrified hub of culture and colour that still maintains a sense of the ‘real London’ was suddenly centre stage and thriving. Indeed, the star and his achievements are very much tied up with his life in the city: there is even rumour of the fourth plinth being dedicated to Bowie. We can but hope…

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Not only Londoners, but the world, were and still are, devastated. Having heard the news, I couldn’t help bring it up when I met a friend at London’s Barbican Centre.

‘Aren’t you really upset about Bowie?’ I asked her, ‘I can’t believe he’s died!’

‘Not really’, she answered. ‘I never knew the man. He’s died, but my life’s not changed. I can still admire him, enjoy his music… What’s the point of wasting time being upset about someone we didn’t know – we should be celebrating him, and just continuing to listen to his songs’.

I have to say, these are words of wisdom: our lives are none the poorer for having lost an icon like Bowie. Of course when someone loses their life, especially to cancer, it is no doubt an intensely sad event: but shouldn’t we just be grateful that Bowie made his music in the first place? The fact that we all have the benefit of being able to listen to his songs, enjoy his films, just as before, should be at the forefront. The world may have lost a London born superstar, but this is not cause for tears: this is time to say ‘Let’s Dance’.

Covent Garden and Christmas in November

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‘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.

lights 1

 

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.

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.