It’s been a while…

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

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

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

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.

King Lear at the Globe: homelessness, madness and mediocrity

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

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

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

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

StrEATlife at Alexandra Palace: Music, Food and Epic Views

This summer, Ally Pally is hosting StrEATlife, a craft beer and street food festival, over four weekends. I checked out the first edition (27th and 28th May), which proved to be a roaring success.

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London in summer is a glorious thing, but sometimes the dense city centre can be slightly trapping. When it gets that bit warmer, I like to go in search of some green space, something that, luckily, London has a fair amount of.

If you head to the northern part of the capital, you’ll find  greenery a plenty in the parks surrounding Alexandra Palace — at the same time as feeling completely removed from the city, Ally Pally offers hands down one of the best views of our stunning city you are likely to find.

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Ally Pally is a beautiful place to visit anyway, but what made this the perfect destination on a warm and sunny bank holiday weekend was the fact that the grounds were buzzing with festival vibes.

StrEATlife, a street food, craft beer and live music festival, saw over 30 street food traders, plenty of drinks choices, and a decent range of live music, take over the grounds surrounding one of London’s most iconic buildings. This was the first edition of StrEATlife, which will pop-up another three times over the summer.

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Whether you’re an ice-cream aficionado or craft beer connoisseur, a fried chicken fan or a lover of wholefoods, StrEATlife’s selection would have ticked your box.

To the soundtrack of live acoustic tunes, jugs of Pimms were being shared and churros were being chomped, the masses dressed for the sun with a similar ‘holiday-vibes’ frame of mind. Family friendly and free, StrEATlife is an all-round crowd-pleaser.

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Away from the stage and the street food, the grassy banks were full of Londoners and families picnicking, playing games and enjoying the sun, not to mention taking in the incredible view of the city that Ally Pally offers. I’m pretty sure this is the only place you can see all of London’s landmarks in one fell swoop, without having to pay a premium to get to the top of the Shard — Alexandra Palace is worth visiting if just to see our capital in all its glory.

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StrEATlife didn’t disappoint: there were decent prices all round — a good size meal from most of the vendors will set you back around £6, and the variety means that you can keep everyone happy.

Put the dates of the next StrEATlife festival in your diary — if the sun is shining for the next round (17th and 18th June), I can highly recommend trying a watermelon mojito – served in the melon – to keep you refreshed.

Pack a picnic blanket, have some cash on hand, and get ready for a chilled out mini-festival where you can escape the hustle and bustle of the city, yet take in the most instagrammable London view that there is.

StrEATlife takes place at Alexandra Palace on 17th and 18th June, 22nd and 23rd July, and 19th and 20th August.

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.

A German Author in London: Barbara Honigmann at Senate House

Recently the Institute of Modern Languages Research, based at Senate House Library,  hosted an evening with one of Germany’s best contemporary women’s writers titled ‘A Conversation with Barbara Honigmann’.

Barbara Honigmann, 2014

To define Barbara Honigmann is a difficult task: she is, yes, a woman writer. She is also a German writer, and at the same time a Jewish writer. But rather than see her as a Woman German-Jewish writer, we should simply see her as a writer. Fitting into multiple ‘boxes’ means that to certain interested parties, she has several identities: but giving a voice to Jews, Germans or women, in whatever part she is required to be at the time, can leave her feeling that she has – rather than a rich and multifaceted identity -an utter lack of concrete identity.

Born in east Germany in 1949 to parents who spent many years exiled in London, Barbara Honigmann left the GDR for Strasbourg in 1983, where she still lives. Honigmann is best known for her largely autobiographical fiction, and is currently the writer in residence at Queen Mary University of London.

Senate House Library is a rather imposing looking building smack bang in between Russell Square and Tottenham Court Road. This 1920s-feel white brick structure may look bleak from the outside, but as the University of London library, and home to the School of Advanced Study, this is one knowledge-filled place; the perfect location, then for a discussion with one of Germany’s most prominent authors.

Despite her multiple identities, one March evening in the welcoming space of Senate House, it was Barbara Honigmann the writer who held the steadfast attention of the room. Facilitated by Robert Gillett, Honigmann discussed her life as well as her latest novel, Chronik meine Strasse to a gripped audience.

Interspersed throughout the talk of biography and language, the author read passages from her new book in German, followed by a translation read by Dr. Gillett. Essentially her latest book is, hence the title, the story of Barbara’s street. A novel dedicated to a single road has the potential to sound like a dull and overly simplistic affair, but in what we hear from Chronik meine Strasse, Honigmann’s street exists as a deep and detailed character.

Her street has a past, it has a personality, and it has people that each have their own stories living along it. Barbara’s atmospheric, and at times simplistic, writing creates an image of a street you eagerly want to explore, yet at the same time feel you already know. There are long, meandering sentences (that had to be split for the English version) amongst brisk statements and repeated sequences. Despite these instances of wanderings and explorations, the destination of the text is never far from sight.

We hear about the people she sees from her balcony. and how the street is changing. Neighbours and relationships, as well as the history of the road are discussed in detail: Barbara Honigmann’s street feels like a microcosm of today’s multicultural and varied cities. In fact, her text could have been transposed to right here in London, and the sights, feelings and people may not have been altogether that different.

For such an accomplished writer, Honigmann’s humble personality may have seemed at this event unequal to the lofty standards of her words. Her softness and approachability, however, meant Barbara could have gone beyond meine Strasse, further than meine Stadt and outside mein Land, and the audience would have still been hungry for more.  Barbara Honigmann’s discussion with Robert Gillett did not only instigate applause, but also those rare moments of silent thought; a sign, always, of a successful conversation

 

London Start-Ups Making Use of the City’s Food Waste

There’s an awful lot of food that goes to waste in a non-stop capital like London. Some people, however, are making use of the bits that no one wants: meet the sustainable eating initiatives that are being creative with the ‘rubbish’.

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As with any city, London produces a shedload of waste – think of the amount of coffee cups, sandwich wrappers, newspapers or beer cans in a pavement bin and multiply by hundreds of thousands.

As well as this recyclable and non-recyclable rubbish that is constantly piling up, much of what gets thrown away is food waste. Most of the time, what restaurants, supermarkets and suppliers class as ‘waste’ is entirely edible, yet for one reason or another, it gets put in a bin and sent off to landfill.

The Evening Standard recently launched a campaign in order to tackle London’s growing waste problem, highlighting the fabulous Felix Project. This is an initiative using up surplus and waste food to transform into meals for the homeless. Others are also catching on to the fact that there is huge potential for culinary creation with the food that is getting thrown away.

Meet five geniuses making delicious things out of rubbish:

  1. Snact

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Set up in 2013, Snact are the people making ‘jerky’ out of waste and surplus fruit. Blending up knobbly, discarded produce from London markets to create chewy dried fruit snacks in all kinds of flavours, Snact even uses compostable packaging, making it a wholly sustainable snack. The Apple and Mango flavour is a tropically taste-bomb that counts towards your five a day.

 2. ChicP

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Houmous, once a dip reserved for the middle classes, is now a supermarket staple and as standard in the fridge as milk and butter. ChicP’s versions of the tasty chickpea mush are not only more colourful and adventurous than your usual pot, but have the added bonus of tackling food waste. Hannah McCollum is the brains behind ChicP, creating raw houmous with surplus and wonky vegetables from supermarkets – think a vibrant beetroot, horseradish and sage, or a sunny looking carrot, ginger and turmeric. There are even sweet options for the truly adventurous – the banana, avocado and cacoa would be the perfect toast topper.

3. Rubies in the Rubble

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If you’re more of a cheese-and-chutney-rather-than-houmous sort of person, you’ll be pleased to know that you can now satisfy your cravings whilst championing sustainability. Rubies in the Rubble makes delicious ketchups and relishes from London’s discarded market produce, which would be wasted because of looks, or due to insufficient storage. After collecting bin-destined fruit and vegetables from wholesalers such as New Covent Garden Market, Rubies in the Rubble transforms them into creative condiments – a fig, pear and port relish would be a perfect partner to a block of cheddar, and the ‘Top Banana’ ketchup could really jazz up you bacon sarnie.

4. Toast Ale

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If the lack of alcohol in this article has been worrying you, keep calm. BAsed in Hackney, Toast Ale brews beer from surplus bread (aha, you say, the name makes sense now) in Yorkshire. From unsold artisan loaves from bakeries to crusts from supermarket sandwiches, the bread is combined with malted barley, hops and yeast to create something quite different. Not only are you reducing waste by drinking this beer, you are also championing sustainability –  all profits go to the charity Feedback, a charity fighting food waste. This is ale with a conscience – try their pale ale, craft lager or session IPA.

5. Urban Orchard

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Although we live in a big big city, there is a surprising amount of green space. In this space, as well as back gardens, allotments and community gardens, there are fair few fruit trees – many of which are not used. This is where Urban Orchard come in. These guys make cider from your donated apples – simply exchange a minimum of 5kg of your produce for some of their fruity cider, at donor stations all over the city. The best thing? Someone in London is probably drinking your apples.