Tag Archives: London

Wooden dodgems, Magner’s mushrooms and a giant purple cow: A Saturday at the South Bank.

The Diamond Jubilee. A celebration of Her Majesty’s 60 years on the throne (so far) and a blissfully long bank holiday weekend. What’s not to love? I spent Saturday wandering along the South Bank, which has been decked out with all manner of exciting attractions in honour of the Jubilee as well as of course the upcoming Olympics.

Visitors to the area can’t fail to notice the giant upside down purple cow that has taken up residence just right of the South Bank centre. That’s right, E4’s shuddering ‘Udderbelly’ is back, bringing with it a plethora of comedy events designed to tickle us silly while we wait for Olympic fever to take hold. The Mastercard sponsored ‘London Wonderground’ promises entertainment of a more unusual kind, with stocking-clad lovelies wobbling on tightropes and blowing kisses to a blushing audience in a variety of circus, sideshow and cabaret acts.

If that sort of thing doesn’t float your boat, there’s always something art or music related going down at the Royal Festival Hall or the Hayward Gallery. In short, 2012 is a great year to go to the South Bank. Below are some (hopefully) useful links and a pretty little gallery of pictures!

Some useful links:

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Posted by on June 5, 2012 in Travel, Uncategorized


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Following the (not so) yellow Brick Lane…

Today we spent a couple of sweltering hot hours meandering around the buzzing marketplace of Brick Lane. We went specifically to check out the Art Car Boot Fair in Shoreditch, but in the spirit of the moment we got swept into exploring all the other little shops and stalls too. Utterly exhausted now, so will let the gallery of photos below do the talking!

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Posted by on May 27, 2012 in Travel, Uncategorized


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Brains, glorious brains!

No, not the Welsh brewery. I’m talking about that slimy, alien-esque structure that lives in our heads. The Wellcome Collection currently has a fascinating (FREE) exhibition about the most mysterious of all bodily enigmas; the brain.

Brain leaflet

Brain leaflet

Among other things, the exhibition showcased some sharp-looking instruments designed for slicing ‘n’ dicing the brain and models used by medical lecturers to teach their students about the inner workings of this slimy mass.

A newspaper cutting from 1913 told of how, in 250,000 years time, we will have lost most of our physical strength and essentially just be brains on legs. The accompanying image depicted a ‘Pinky and the Brain’ esque character with a bulbous forehead and disproportionately stubby legs and arms. I’m pretty sure if we do end up looking remotely like that the human race will be doomed as no-one will fancy each other. Thanks, evolution!

There was also a slightly disturbing video (which was apparently made for promotional purposes) about the effects of Electroconvulsive therapy. Soon after the patient was given the shock, their body started tensing up and convulsing from the electric current. It looked a bit like having cramp, but infinitely more painful and probably longer lasting. My grandpa on my mum’s side was a pyschiatric nurse, and often used to help deliver these sorts of treatments. In his experience, ECT often proved to be very effective in the treatment of depressed patients (at least on the surface). The writer of this particular display’s blurb was quick to point out that scientists are still unsure as to WHY exactly this treatment works.

The highlight of the whole exhibiton for me was when a typical ‘Essex gal’ walked past as we were watching a video of a brain dissection and loudly exclaimed, “Are they puttin’ TEEF in that brain?” (they weren’t). Anyway, amusing vox pops aside, here are a few tid-bits of information that I managed to pick up along the way. I’ve handily broken them down into bite size chunks for your consuming pleasure!

  • Einstein’s brain wasn’t actually that large (or heavy, apparently). There was a model of his brain on show and it looked, dare I say, average. Somehow this makes me like him more.
  • Slices of brain look eerily like rice cakes or unevenly baked cookies. Or perhaps that’s just what we wanted to see as we were trying so hard not to think about the fact that we were seeing a dead brain. Yeuch.
  •  Scientists cut open brains with something that could easily be mistaken for a bread knife. Try not to think about that next time you’re tucking into a slice of toast…
  • The Nazis had a huge, unhealthy interest in brains. Okay, so I kind of knew this already, but I didn’t quite know the extent of their obsession. The exhibition documented a number of people (most of them minors) who were euthanised for their mental foibles and subjected to a brain examination in the name of ‘selective breeding’ and ‘science.’

All in all, this exhibition is well worth a visit if you find yourself in the capital. Despite being free, there is so much on show and a lot of it is top grade stuff. To avoid the queues, I suggest arriving at about one o’clock on a Saturday; while people are pouching a plate of nosh you can get stuck into some brains! To be honest you’d probably feel a bit queasy diving in on a full stomach anyway…

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Posted by on April 15, 2012 in Travel, Uncategorized


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Biking It Boris Style

Despite being subjected to the Ken ‘n’ Boris bashing column in the Evening Standard for at least a month now, I still have no idea who would be the best candidate for LDN’s twenteen years. In a bid to help me make my mind up, I decided to have a go on a Boris bike. Often hailed as one of the blonde one’s better inventions, the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme has seen an influx of around 6,000 bikes since its introduction in 2010. It’s also the reason behind many a hilarious image of a suited commuter wobbling his way into the City with an expression of unbridled terror on his expensive looking face.

First impressions: Chunky, blue and awesome.

Boris bikes

The bikes stop for a break.

On first sight, it’s easy to see why the bikes get their fair share of ridicule. They look chunky and cumbersome, like they’d be a pain to push around. They also have nerdy lights on the front which flare up when you brake. Don’t let these cringe worthy details put you off; despite being aesthetically unappealing, these features are what make the bikes so great. Yes, the frame may be less than elegant, but you’ll be grateful for its sturdiness when you’re feeling a bit unsteady in the saddle. There will, inevitably, come a time when the nerdy silver lights start to seem cool.

Park ‘n’ Ride: Hiring without the hassle.

Hiring a bike is a lot less of a hassle than you may have imagined. Instead of faffing around with an attendant or ticket booth, you just press a bunch of buttons on a machine and insert the relevant credit card. Simples! The instructions are pretty easy to follow, although the T&Cs go on for about 35 pages so I’d recommend skipping them if you’re in a rush. A 24 hour ‘access’ fee, which gives you a code allowing you to take a Boris bike from any parking facility in the city, costs just one pound. The first half an hour’s worth of riding is free, and after that you have to pay an extra charge. Certainly a much cheaper option than the tube, but undeniably more dangerous (and slightly sweatier).

Wheels appeal: Newbies on the road.

Now, I don’t know what it is, but bikes bring out the deeply buried tomboy in me. My extra X chromosome is drop-kicked out of the window as soon as I step in the saddle, replaced by an uncontrollable urge to skid, race and ‘holla.’ This is where Alex says in a smarmy tone that in fact I did none of these things, but the point still stands that I WOULD have engaged in all three of these activities if I was (a) drunk or (b) naturally wildly uninhibited.

Boris bikes

Alex navigates a bridge.

Anyway, back to the biking business. On the whole, I really liked these chunky contraptions. The brakes were smooth, the saddle was soft (never underestimate an uncomfortable saddle) and the height could be changed without having to fiddle about with an Allen key. Contrary to popular belief, you can actually go pretty fast on the things. Navigating hills is a bit of a nightmare, as there are only three gears, but in London this doesn’t present too much of a problem. Designed for hip city dwellers who wouldn’t be seen dead in a scruffy backpack, the bikes also have baskets which securely hold your handbag in place.

For cycling newbies like me, the bikes are a fantastic way to feel eco-friendly in what must be one of the world’s most polluted cities. What’s more, the mayor’s blue namesakes have made way for a sort of make-shift community of crap cyclists. You feel a strange sense of camaraderie when you see a fellow Boris biker wobble awkwardly by in their decidedly non-luminous clothing.  All in all, the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme gets my stamp of approval. Whether I will be voting for Boris Johnson in the upcoming elections remains to be seen.

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Posted by on March 31, 2012 in Travel


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London: The Contradictory Capital

London - the crowded city?

Lots of people who have never been to London assume that it’s this roaring, unforgiving city with crowds of people and a dense, polluted atmopshere. They’d be right, in a sense; London is England’s capital city, so of course it is jam-packed with people and attempting to stroll down Oxford Street on a Saturday afternoon is unwise, to say the least.

When giving their reasons for disliking the city, people complain that “Londoners just aren’t friendly.” While it can seem that way when a stressed commuter bashes their briefcase into your legs as they hurry home from work, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, Londoners do tend to rush around at the speed of light with a relentless sense of purpose. And yes, they might push to the front of the queue to make sure that they get a seat on the Tube. If you ask for directions, though, they aren’t going to shrug you off or look at you like you’re a piece of gum on their shoe.

I totally understand that London isn’t for everyone. Some people easily adapt to, and actively enjoy, the fast pace of life here. Others don’t. That said, I think that the capital has something for everyone. It is, essentially, a people-pleaser. Interested in ancient history? Head to the British Museum. Got a thing for arcade games? Get yourself over to the Trocadero. The former houses a wealth of ancient artefacts from across the world; the latter is a safehouse for lonely teens and 30-year-old bachelors whose sole ambition is to master the art of playing Through The Fire and the Flames on Guitar Hero. The two institutions couldn’t be more different, yet they co-exist happily in the weird and wonderful melting pot that the capital city has created. London is tacky but genuine; heartfelt but stoic. A Jack of all trades, a rebellious teen that refuses to be pinned down.

In my opinion, the city’s chameleon qualities should be celebrated. Where else can you enjoy a stroll through the forest before sipping on an excessively expensive coffee from the Starbucks down the road? Don’t get the excuses ready next time someone suggests you go to London; just bite the bullet and try it on for size. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.”

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Posted by on November 6, 2011 in Travel


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The ‘Sympathy Powder’ and the green, green grass of Greenwich.

I’m going to keep this post relatively short ‘n’ sweet. The reason being that I think I’m coming down with the flu (appropriate for Halloween, I suppose, but not quite as fun as going to a party). I could just be a bit paranoid, as we did go to see Contagion this week (not a barrel of laughs, I can tell you). Here’s hoping I don’t have a freakishly deadly strain of bat-pig flu!

Moving swiftly on; this weekend we went to Greenwich! Which is beautiful, by the way. You wouldn’t think such lovely green spaces existed in London. Below is a sort of summary of the trip.

Things I’ve learned…

Gorgeous view over London from Greenwich hill

  • John Flamsteed was the first Astronomer Royal to work at The Royal Observatory. His work was incredibly important, as he helped create a sense of time as we know it today. He was paid a pretty crummy £100 a year (this was apparently a really measly amount even in the 17th century).
  • Sir Isaac Newton was a thief. Supposedly he stole some of John Flamsteed’s work when he hadn’t even finished it! Flamsteed managed to pinch all but 100 copies of his work back only to burn them as some sort of weird ‘sacrifice’ to the heavens.
  • Early attempts at time-keeping were really, really dumb. Some ships used to scratch a dog with a knife before setting out on the high seas. They’d take the dog on board with them, and when they thought it might be noon in London they’d dip the knife into something called ‘sympathy powder’ and the dog would yelp in pain. Apparently they took this to mean that it was noon in London. I don’t get it either.
  • Even lovely Greenwich isn’t immune to tacky tourist spots. There was a ‘D-Day Landing Experience’ (which was essentally just a simulator that had been painted a shade of stereotypical army green) outside the visitors’ centre.
  • There will be lots of tourists at The Royal Observatory, and it will inevitably annoy you that they walk through all the old buildings at the speed of light and head straight for the Prime Meridian for a photo opp.

Things I haven’t learned…

An early telescope

  • What longitude is. Watched a two minute video about it in a vain attempt to understand but it went right over my head. Science related stuff has never been my strong point.
  • How to successfully plan a journey. Much to A’s dismay, we accidentally took the long route to get to Greenwich. My brain just doesn’t seem to process the short-cuts on the Tube map. D’oh.

So that’s what happened this weekend. We went to Greenwich and we liked it! We didn’t buy tickets for the planetarium, which I regret, but I’m sure we’ll go again at some point. If anyone has any tips to help me understand longitude, do let me know…

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Posted by on October 30, 2011 in Travel


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Freud, a fox and a film called Bernie.

As it turns out, the father of psychoanalysis lived right here in Hampstead! For a year, anyway. For about £6 you can wander around Sigmund Freud’s former home, reading various plaques about the weird and wonderful dreams some of his patients had. The shop was full of books about some of Freud’s most famous cases as well as a few comedy trinkets such as ‘Freudian Slippers’ (why anyone would want a pair of beady eyes in glasses staring up at them from their feet I don’t know). On reading the back of one of the books I discovered that Freud was a big fan of cocaine, and he used to recommend the stuff to his patients. Needless to say, I think at least one of them died from an overdose. As we were on our way out, our eyes were drawn to a little fox in the garden that seemed totally non-plussed by our presence. He just sat there, basking in the sunshine like it was a completely normal thing for foxes to do. If I was in any way spiritual I might suggest that the fox was Freud re-incarnated.

Seeing how we were halfway to the Heath, we thought we may as well walk there and enjoy the last of the sunshine. It annoys me when people who have never been to London assume that it’s just this roaring, polluted city. There are LOADS of green bits in London if you know where to look. Go to Hampstead Heath and you’ll be surrounded by trees and wild grass on all sides. Go to Mudchute Farm and you can chill with some sheep. Go to Richmond Park and you can catch a glimpse of wild deer. You can’t get much more ‘anti-city’ than that.

When evening came it was time to get our gladrags on and go to the BFI showing of a new Richard Linklater film called Bernie. I’m not sure if it’s going to get released later this year, so I won’t spoil it for you. Basically, the film is about a really nice guy (Jack Black) who makes a big impression on a small town in Texas for all the right (and a few wrong) reasons. It’s funny, it’s moving and it makes you question your thoughts on morality. It’s also a true story! Which always makes things more interesting, in my opinion.

So this weekend I didn’t get to tick anything off my ‘must-see’ list. I did, however, spot Simon Amstell in a coffee shop and Helena Boham Carter with her kids in tow as I was walking the dog. I also managed to lug myself out of bed at 7:30am on a Saturday to go for a 35 minute run with my Dad. For these reasons, I have had what you might call a ‘win’ of a weekend. It was relaxed, it was lazy and it was unplanned, but despite the sore calves and achy ribcage (apparantly I run like a cartoon character whose creator hasn’t quite got the hang of drawing realistic human running), I loved it. Now it’s time to get some Arkham City on the go and get rid of all the good work I did yesterday by eating far too much badly baked gingerbread. Hooray for weekends!

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Posted by on October 23, 2011 in Travel


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