Tuesday, 23 April 2013

T is for That London

Ever since I was little I've had a fascination with 'that' London. It seemed to be a magical place, to me, at home in the Midlands. It was where all the exciting exhibitions and events that they talked about on Blue Peter happened and where the characters in my favourite book, Ballet Shoes, lived. It was where the wiggly blue river on the EastEnders map was and I knew that the programmes made by Thames Television started with a view of the London skyline reflected in the Thames River.

After being given the chance to choose what I wanted to do for my 13th birthday, I made the rather lavish request to go to That London with my family. I'd definitely been to the big smoke during my younger years, as my parents had tales about me freaking out massively at the pigeons in Trafalgar Square, but my memories are hazy. In the midst of my burgeoning tie-dye phase, I was keen to get to Carnaby Street, which I had heard so much about, and wanted to buy myself a hat - a hat from That London. I remember having a wonderful birthday, staying in a hotel in Victoria, (where they excitingly had a fire alarm in the middle of the
A very bad photo of David on The March
for the Alternative protest we went on, 2011.
night) and I used my birthday money to buy a rather lush black, velvet, floppy-brimmed hat. I'm relieved to say that no photos of me in said hat exist (as far as I know). I'm sure I looked very silly, but I felt AMAZING!

When my rather sullen French penpal came to stay on a French exchange, organised by my school in 1994, my parents once again made plans to take us to London. Depressingly, she was not impressed by Big Ben, London Bridge or Trafalgar Square, but my Dad did agree to accompany her on the one thing she did want to see - Rock Circus, the, now thankfully closed, tourist trap waxwork museum. We didn't get on much and I'm still grateful to my parents for dragging this frankly disinterested and rude teenage girl to so many lovely places whilst attempting to make her stay interesting and engaging. In return, I did have a wonderful time with her friendly and kind family when I returned to Lyon.

"The actual Big Ben!"
Bradford girls out in the big city -
we were all a bit giddy!
When the course I taught on in Bradford won a Beacon Award in 2010, I bought a couple of students down from Bradford for the awards ceremony, and a whistle-stop tour of some of the sights. They were very sweet and for one of them, it was their first visit to the city. We had a great time and I will never forget the exclamation from one of them when we emerged from Westminster tube station - "Bloody hell - it is the actual Big Ben... for real!" It was nice to see such wonder on a, usually, all-too cynical 17 year-old face.  The year after, I bought a whole class of first year learners from the same course down for a four day visit to the capital. It was a highly stressful experience in many ways, as the potential dangers that could befall a group of 18 teenagers in the scary city were massive. In the end, though, they did all enjoy what was, for many, their first taste of London life. One of the most unfortunate truths about the city is the price of everything. This was highlighted by one student who, when asked what he thought of the British Museum, simply rolled his eyes and said with disdain and disbelief "They wanted £1.80 for a bottle of Coke?!.." You can't win them all.

Great graffiti on Curtain Street.
I regularly visited London for my work with the exam board but when I met David I saw new parts of the city and had the opportunity to view it from a different perspective. To see the back routes, shortcuts and alleys, only known to those who have walked a city's streets many times, is always a privilege. It was exciting to go off the main roads and routes and see some of the hidden art, fascinating buildings and surprise gems in the forms of quirky pubs and restaurants in unexpected places. It reminded me once again of what it was about That London that I had been fascinated by all those years ago.

Living as I do now, just 45 minutes away from the centre of the city, I visit remarkably rarely, really. I've recently taken the students from my current
A picnic in St. James' Park with friends in 2011.
college on trips to Central London and the frantic nature of the transport, streets and public spaces was irritating and un-nerving. However, I have also had times on my own, with David and with friends that have been simply marvellous. It is a city that is so many different things, crammed so closely together that it can never fail to be exciting, surprising and vibrant and that is one of the many reasons why I still love it.

5 of my favourite places in London:

1. Russell Square Gardens, for its outdoor cafe, beautiful fountains and wonderful lawns. David and I shared a lovely afternoon sunbathing there on one of my first visits to London to see him and my friend Moira and I had afternoon tea there on her last visit to the city.

2. The Chandos, for its air of excitement on a Saturday evening and the good beer! A real find of a pub, not far from Leicester Square, it serves Sam Smith's beer - a treat from the North, at a reasonable price. I arranged David's surprise 30th birthday party here in 2011.

3. The Tate Modern, for its inspiration. Not a shocking or unusual choice, but every time I go there I am inspired or excited by something I see. Most memorably for me was Miroslaw Balka's How It Is, one of the annual installations in the Turbine Hall. Stepping inside this void space was both frightening and exciting and really stayed with me.

4. Highgate Village, for its charm and serendipity. David appeared in a play in Highgate in 2011 and I had some time to kill whilst he prepared for the show that evening. I spent a lovely afternoon reading a book I had just purchased - Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger - which happened to be set in Highgate itself. It was wonderful sitting in a cafe, looking up to see the very landscape being described in the book itself.

5. The Dove, Hammersmith - for its view of the river. Near to Kelmscott House, where William Morris lived in his later years, this gem of a pub has a wonderful dining area that looks out over the river. I spent a memorable sunny afternoon there, again with a book, whilst waiting for one of David's performances to begin. Beautiful and serene and a world away from the hectic city.


  1. I still dream of going to London! I wanted to be the Queen of England when I was little. I will keep your list in mind if I ever make it there :)

  2. I heartily recommend it - it is as much fun out of the usual tourist season, if you can stand a little rain! :0)

  3. I will be spending the summer months in London and will be sure to visit each place on your list. I know you have great taste! It always seems to match mine. ;) Jennifer a.k.a Urban Gyspy Girl

    1. Ooh - let me know what you think of them if you do. It is a city with so much to see and do, isn't it? x