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  Multimedia pieces were the flavour of the moment; a particular favourite was of a woman whose hair had been replaced by a multi-coloured collage-effect of people, flowers and even buildings.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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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).

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  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.

Mamma Mia: Dancing Queens and Super Troupers

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Somewhere in the crowd, there’s you me. Aka the night I went to the ultimate Abba musical.

 

When it’s a cold, drizzly Tuesday evening in the city, a bit of entertainment is much needed. With the current steep cinema prices (enough to buy multiple DVDs from Amazon), seeing a film, albeit on a big screen, seems like bad value for money. For little more than a cinema ticket, however, you can see a real live show. Yes – one with actual people in – singing, dancing, making you feel good about the world. So, this Tuesday, I spent a reasonable £22 on going to the Novello Theatre and witnessed two and a half hours of Abba fabulousness: I saw Mamma Mia.

I remember the film Mamma Mia coming out a few years back (funnily enough, I did actually see it at the cinema – but this was back in the day when you got change from a tenner), and the stellar cast alone was enough to make the movie decent, even if the storyline left something to be desired. The London show uses the same narrative, songs and characters as the movie, and is reassuringly familiar, yet utterly different. Having seen the film, I couldn’t help comparing the stars of the stage show to Meryl Streep, Julie Walters and Christine Baranski. Despite their on-screen counterparts, these performers did a cracking job.

The music, costumes, comedy and (let’s face it) fairly very good looking cast made for a fantastic experience. Watching Mamma Mia made me realise a) just how many songs Abba wrote, and b) that I somehow knew nearly all the words to them all. That either makes Abba ridiclouly memorable, or me kind of embarrassing. Or both.

The best thing about seeing a live show is the reality that at any moment, something could go wrong. Admit it – when sitting in a theatre, there is a tiny part of you wondering what would happen if someone forgets their lines/trips over/gets drunk in the interval and changes the entire second half. That, thankfully, didn’t occur on this occasion, which was lucky as the final numbers of the show are incredible. A lot of shiny trousers, a fair few pairs of platforms, a tonne of energy and music, and you have the ultimate feel-good finale. The audience were up on their feet singing to Waterloo, and I realised that as much as my brain could have been broadened that evening by watching a BBC documentary, seeing a Shakespeare play or visiting a museum, Mamma Mia made me pretty much as happy as I could be on a weekday evening. Ultimately, the show reaffirms life’s positivity – a happy ending, a lot of singing, and a seat with a pretty good view that didn’t break the bank. This, my friend, is what London is about.

Brunch at The Black Penny, Covent Garden

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Brunch is one of those fabulous concepts that makes you feel somewhat sophisticated without the need for dressing up, parting with huge amounts of cash, or forfeiting an early night. Perhaps that is why the popularity of the breakfast-lunch convergence has increased significantly over the past couple of years: Instagram is now awash with Prosecco selfies and pancake snaps destined to make anyone munching on a solitary bowl of cornflakes green with envy.

A visit from friends, not so au fait with the ways of the big city, seemed like the perfect opportunity to get on the brunch bandwagon. Having had a lovely coffee date in The Black Penny a few weeks back, I decided to revisit this gem of a spot to see what mid-morning offerings they provided. So on Sunday morning, we trekked the onerous 5 minutes to Great Queen Street, where the fairly covert café is situated.

Only 5 minutes from Holborn station, past the gaudy fronts of various chains, The Black Penny revels in its subtlety. In fact, many people, as I did at first, walk past it without batting an eyelid; the few tables outside, black frontage, and small sign reading ‘The Black Penny’ could easily go unnoticed by a passer-by headed for the lights of Covent Garden. But the hidden vibe, the feeling that you’ve come across a city secret, is part of this café’s charm.

Rustic décor, and an immediately inviting counter of freshly baked goods means that on entry, the café feels homely yet cool, quirky but comfortable. Those wise ones who have realised this are already sitting down enjoying a fry up and a latte or a croissant and a cappuccino. What also has drawn a good few punters in is the ridiculously good offer of Prosecco: have brunch at this café and a glass of bubbly is only 1p. Yes, you read that right – ONE WHOLE PENNY. Clearly playing on the namesake, and that is no bad thing.

The coffee, I have to say is second to none. Smooth and almost chocolatey, this is a million miles from a bitter filter or your more usual Sunday morning Nescafe. It really is noticeable when you have a Proper Coffee like this; you start to doubt the authenticity of a Starbucks latte and realise this is what the real stuff is meant to be like.

Sweet-toothed Friend opted for French toast with caramelised apples and ricotta, whilst Savoury Friend chose the chorizo baked beans with goat’s cheese and an egg. One for a classic, poached eggs on sourdough was my brunch of choice, and a fabulous one at that – simple, yet so easy to get wrong. Here, however, it was so right. We agreed that The Black Penny was perfection on all three fronts. Price-wise, this is as good as you’ll get for a stunning brunch, fabulous coffee and a quirky independent café in central. Expect to pay £10-12 for a delicious mid-morning fuelling that will last you till late afternoon.

Despite not making the most of the Prosecco offer, brunch here is available until 4pm at the weekends, and a post-midday glass of bubbles may indeed feature in the coming months. Service is fantastic – utterly efficient, ridiculously friendly and that manner which makes you feel not only like a customer, but a valued friend. The Black Penny is made all the more appealing by the fact it is on my doorstep: it’s basically my local, and I will indeed be frequenting this coffee haven a lot more for my caffeine hit. Whether you make a special trip of a weekend for brunch here (definitely worth it) or are in need of a sit down and a cuppa when negotiating the streets of Covent Garden, (step away from the Pret), The Black Penny should be firmly penned in your Black Book.

http://theblackpenny.co.uk/

ENO’s La Bohème: A Modern Bohemian Rhapsody

enoLa Bohème at the London Coliseum

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‘We have, I am afraid to say, come across one of those technical difficulties that happen every so often in performances: we have a piece of scenery that is supposed to rotate, and due to power faults, it’s simply not rotating. But rather than exclude this part from our dress rehearsal, we have come up with a solution – we will rotate the set manually.’

So said the director of the ENO mid-way through La Bohème’s dress rehearsal last night at the London Coliseum. The second half thus opened with members of the cast, and a few helping hands from behind the scenes, pushing what looked like a very heavy piece of set so it rotated. Obviously, were it to do this of its own accord –aka fuelled by electricity rather than people power – it would have been a spectacle. The sight of a few opera singers making some substantial scenery spin, however, was priceless.

Attending a dress rehearsal of any kind comes with the possibility that things could go wrong – after all, a major aim of these runs are to make sure everything is going smoothly ready for the opening night. But despite this minor glitch, ENO’s latest production of La Bohème was a resounding success.

The production has an almost Shoreditch vibe: a warehouse style apartment which houses several creatives is the basis for the opera’s development. Lacking enough cash to keep warm (cue setting alight to the writer’s scripts) and pay rent (cue getting the landlord very drunk), the men in question muddle through on a chilly Christmas eve before braving the cold and venturing into town for a celebratory meal. Enter Mimi, the beautiful, if slightly sick, neighbour, and the start of the love story.

Far be it for me to begin to imagine what Puccini intended with his 1890’s opera, but I’m pretty sure that heroine injections, shopping trollies loaded with Tesco goods, and helium balloons didn’t feature. They do, however, make a successful appearance in this new interpretation; bringing the production right up to date and appealing to a slightly younger and arguably more ‘hipster’ audience.

As would be expected with a Puccini opera, the music is exquisite. This is the sort of music you’ll be humming on the tube home, and the accompanying translations were, on occasion, unforgettable (look out for the landlord’s ‘I’m sixty and sexy’). Walking out of the Coliseum after this show, I felt like I’d simultaneously been to a classical music concert, watched a dramatic soap on TV, attended a cinema screening of the latest tragic film, and admired a moving and atmospheric art installation. In short – this is value for money. This modern performance turns expectations of Puccini on their head, and I urge even avid opera-avoiders to watch this fantastic production (Shoreditch hipsters included).

https://www.eno.org/

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

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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.