Lunchtimes of the yin/yang variety, man


Having a cup of stewed builders tea in the 24 hours bikers café near smithfield meat market sitting on their hard plastic seats that are welded to the ground (not good when someone has to get out as everybody in the row has to move). Definitely not a place to ask for a “Macchiato with wings, double pronto” or “Guys, are your fig rolls fair trade?” Good

Knowing the staff in barbican lending library by their first names. Good

For the first dateEnjoying sweet and sour chicken in Ferrari’s in smithfield while reminiscing with the owner about the time he accidently dropped a bottle of Lucozade which smashed by your feet and covered your strides in an thick orange froth. Good

Seeing Trevor McDonald by Holborn library smiling to a chap who recognised him. He replied with a happy “ And how are you, sir?” coming across as an all-round “good egg”. Good

Finding somewhere daft to go to on a lunchtime and getting a few mates to go up there with you. Good

Having a coffee and a laugh with the blokes that run Veneticus (97-99 Clerkenwell Rd, Clerkenwell. EC1R 5BX) on a weekly basis. Good

Finding a bin-bag full of 12″ singles outside a record shop to be thrown out for the binmen and dragging it back to work, spending rest of the lunchtime saying “got, haven’t got, haven’t got, never heard it” Good

addictive bagelGetting a little bit addictive to salmon and cream cheese bagels from brick lane bagel bake. One morning I bought three before work to do me for breakfast and lunch but ate them all before 11. I had to go up there again in the lunchhour and the lady behind the counter said “Hello again.” Shame! Bad

Queueing up in the post office all lunchtime to post an LP that sold on e-bay for 99p. Bad

Getting soaked all the way through by a lunchtime shower and coming back to work with steam coming off you as it’s now sunny and someone asks “is it raining?” Bad


There are eight million stories (in a lunch hour)

Last Wednesday was awful weather-wise, LIYLH’s W and myself had to change our plans of researching a forthcoming post (aka having a cup of coffee in a cafe and talking about music and life in general). This led us to visiting St Bride Library just off Fleet St on a last minute whim when the rain got the better of us. It’s a place dedicated to all things graphic and print and even has a printing press wedged in the corner. The library used to be free to use at one time but now charges a fiver for a yearly “readers pass” which keeps the sleepers out. It was still teeming it down when we left there, so legged it into St Bride’s Church in the middle of the facing square for shelter.I’ve been there in the distant past but had forgotten how good it was. There’s been a church there since the 7th Century the helpful lady behind the desk told us, and the latest incarnation of the church was designed by Sir Christopher Wren. It’s traditionally known as the journalists church as it’s just off Fleet St (once home of the UK’s newspaper industry) and it’s spire was the model for the first multi-tiered wedding cake, how good is that?

One of the best things about the place is the crypt at the rear of the church. If you love large illustrated signs, knackered up roman coins, broken pottery and old gravestones you’ll be in heaven here (no pun intended). There’s usually even a self-locking metal coffin (to deter grave robbers in days of old) on show here but the sellotaped sign told us it was elsewhere today, well you can’t have everything can you?

Outside the rain was still chucking it down and I thought of this tune as I walked back to work with my head down. P

Life through a lunch hour lens

From the first post I wrote for this blog, my perception of my lunch hour has changed. It’s no longer a simple, self-serving hour away for the desk. As of today we have 19 people following us. Perhaps you are one of them. 19 of you that might read about me traipsing around London. It’s an added frisson of excitement that I hadn’t counted on, and it leads me to experience a part of my day with a fresh perspective; my eyes are wider, I’m listening and attentive to people around me; curious as to what’s around a corner that I’ve never thought to look down. Now, I’m obviously ramping up the excitement of this new found childlike state but on Friday it did mean that I did something that I’d never done before…

Scratching around for something to do, I thought I’d let my mind and legs take a wander – Jah Wobble wrote about walking and thinking very eloquently in his book “Memoirs of a Geezer” which was playing on my mind. I had half a thought that I’d walk down to the river and then go to the Tate Modern, perhaps stopping to talk to the bloke who plays the steel pans on the South side of the Millennium Bridge.

Millennium bridge steel pans man

The steel pans man on the Millennium Bridge

As it was he was deep into the pans when I turned up and in no mood for idle chat, so I listened for a sec and then strolled down the ramp. It was another sunny day and a band were playing a strange, tango infused gypsy music. Turns out it was this lot

Popa Sopka outside the Tate Modern

I quite liked it. It reminded me of the Gotan Project and Gogol Bordello. I stood there for about 5 minutes and a tramp walked by, muttering something to me as he walked past. My wife used to talk to tramp in Enfield Town until he waggled his tongue between a “v” of his fingers at her and her mum one day. And this experience, added to my general feeling of panic when in an unfamiliar situation, meant that I’d normally ignore any street conversation.

So I was surprised as anyone when I asked him to repeat himself.

Turns out he was listening to the radio and a song had just told him that you have to live today as if it’s your last.
“Good advice” I said.
From there, the verbal floodgates opened. I knew how long he’d been on the streets, how much he drank, that he was trying to cut back, where he normally begged, what he’d been doing that day, what he was listening to…and he didn’t waggle his tongue at me or anything. I wished him well and got back to work, thinking about it all the way. I find conversation very difficult to come by in London. No-ones that interested in a chat because it’s a busy city with busy people. Millions of lives bumping into and ignoring each other. It was quite nice to be able to listen to someone who wanted to talk.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that you don’t always have to do something amazing in your lunch hour. You don’t have to visit galleries or walk somewhere different all the time. London has a population of over 8 million people. Sometimes it’s nice to talk to one of them. W

Shoplifters (not) welcomed!

The other day I ventured around the back of Trafalgar Square. Starting at the third plinth (Powerless Structures, Fig. 101) I walked through the alleyway down the side of the National Gallery and wound my way into Orange Street. On the corner you have the Westminster reference library. A great place to find info but not a good one if you want to nod off for an hour. For that sort of thing try Charing Cross Library around the corner where they only patrol the ever decreasing seats upstairs once an hour. Snoring optional.

Down from the reference library is the Orange Street Congregational Church, well old school. My favourite thing about the church is the handwritten sign on the noticeboard which reminds me of the ramblings on the badly hand-made posters which used to appear by the Goose Green Shops in East Dulwich on a irregular basis. One that was typical of the madness featured two pictures, one of Tony Blair and a tennis ball (both badly cut out of newspapers) with the headline “Both to blame for the gulf war!” Bonkers!

There’s an alley, Longs Court WC2, beside the church that looks like a cul de sac but follow it round passing the Newton Institute which leads you on the way to Leicester Square. There’s another church across the square on Leicester Place, WC2 (Notre Dame de France) which had a church hall (now the Leicester Square Theatre) and featured there, the first gig of Sid Vicious on bass for the Sex Pistols alongside many other gigs and clubs. Great eh?

Turning into Little Newport Street after walking down Lisle street and you’ll find one of my favourite shops, Shaolin Way.

The shop is a bit different now what with them having a stall inside selling mobile phones but previously they used to have their doors open all the time, weapons all over the walls, the till on view for all the see and no-one serving. Wonder why nothing was ever nicked, anything to do with the owner being a Grandmaster perhaps?

Their shop window also features what I think is a modern day version of “You don’t have to be mad to work here” type sign. Brilliant! P

Bloomsbury big up

I love Bloomsbury. It’s like a little quiet part of London with quaint shops that I can’t afford anything in and people who talk to each other. It’s not that close to where I work though, so yesterday, in the bright, cold sunshine, I hopped on my bike and met LIYLH’s P for a designated assignation to see the exhibition at Ben Pentreath‘s in Rugby Street, as flagged by our friend Marc Gooderham.

It’s a lovely shop. Beautiful linocut postcards, interesting sculptures and art, as well as bits and bobs for around the house. If you’re interested in seeing more, pop over to the site. While we were there, we even bumped into Marc who happened to be strolling by. Pretty much a full-time artist, Marc’s got got a number of galleries selling his work. The Ben Pentreath exhibition is currently showing one of his prints of London life. Almost photoreal, I would have tried to get a lot closer to the print were it not for the porcelain dogs and amazing miniature models of London houses that prevented me.

When we left, we passed Maggie Owen‘s beatifully appointed shop and saw this sign:

So we popped in and asked if we could see it. The lovely and helpful lady in there (I think it may be Maggie Owen herself) told us that the back of the shop was an extension and the floorboards were now over the conduit. Apparently though it is marble and daubed with 16th century grafitti.

Rugby Street is a stone’s throw away from Coram’s Fields so we jauntily strolled up there, taking in the ambience of Lamb’s Conduit Street. Now I’ve been to Coram’s Fields quite a few times. It’s a regular haunt for the family meet-ups I have with the in-laws. And having kids means I can access the park. Check out the sign!

As it was, they were setting up for an event so we stopped short of a weird father and son act (I’d definitely be the son) and walked round the corner to experience the sunshine, watch people sleep in the park and have a look at the gardening excellence happening in the centre of London.

Wanting to squeeze the most out of our trip we also took a stop outside the Foundling Museum. This is housed in a beautiful building on the North side of the park. That’s pretty much all I can tell you about it as it was over £5 to go in and we only had 10 minutes left before we had to head back.

After stopping to take a pic of my favourite italian restaurant, Ciao Bella, which comes heartily recommended by myself and also served Fergus Henderson on my last visit, we parted company and did wend our way back to work. W

Life in a lunch hour

Thanks to our good friend Marc Gooderham for letting us let us know about this great exhibition that’s available in a lunchtime and free too! Its features work from Marc and other artists from the spitalfields life blog ( and held in the shop Ben Pentreath, 17 Rugby Street, (off Lambs Conduit Street), London WC1N 3QT until the 24th November 2012. Looks great!
More on Marc’s work:

Do the Strand

Recently I’ve been traipsing down by the Thames at lunchtime and found a great walk that starts at Charing Cross Station and ends with a cheap roll from Wright’s Bar in Houghton St. Here’s the route:

Walk down Villiers Street towards the river and turn left into Victoria Embankment Gardens. It’s a nice old park and walking through it you will pass a larger than life statue of Rabbie Burns, Robert Raikes who founded the Sunday School movement and a memorial to the composer Sir Arthur Sullivan (as in Gilbert and Sullivan) who has a naked woman throwing herself at him (she supposedly represents Music.) Sullivan wrote “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “The Lost Chord” which was the first record made in the UK, how good is that? You will also pass council gardeners hard at work and the odd rough sleeper especially if it’s a nice day.

Come out of the park and cross over Savoy Place and Savoy Street and carry on walking up Victoria Embankment. As you pass under the bridge you’ll see a large door with some great handles in the shape of snakes or possibly dragons. Pass the rear of Somerset House and keep going until you see the alley, Strand Lane. Look out for a sign that directs you to “Kings College Postroom Services”.

Walk up Strand Lane past some king-sized rat traps (nice), the lane itself puts me in mind of locations for TV series like The Bill where a sheepskinned coated antagonist would be chased up an alley like this before being stopped in his tracks and nicked.

Before you come to the White house at the top you will pass an arch called Surrey Steps and then just past this on the right you will come to the so called Roman Bath which is more than likely of Tudor original and what’s even worse about it is you can’t see much of it through the dirty and steamed up viewing window. Great eh?,_Strand_Lane

Turn back on yourself and walk through the Surrey Steps, a tiled subway with nice cherub topped arches into Surrey street. Then turn left away from the river towards town. You will pass a large deserted office block on your right hand side and on the left some King’s College outbuildings.

Towards the top of the street on your left you will pass the non operational Aldwych/Strand tube station which is now used for TV location work and the odd rave until the police find out it’s not really a 21st Birthday party.

Come out of Surrey Street and navigate over The Strand then walk up Melbourne Street and cut across The Aldwych towards the London School of Economics at Houghton Street. To put the walk to rest, pop into the fantastic old school take-away and cafe called Wrights Bar (5 Houghton Street, Charing Cross, London WC2A 2AD) for a Bacon roll for the bargain price of £1.20 or a Cheese and Pickle version for less! P