Money for nothing and the loo’s for free

No 1. in a very very short series!
Lincolns Inn Fields, London. A classic “cottage” type, one attendant for both male and female toilets, hot and cold running water and electric hand drying facilities. Free.

to pee or not to pee? Has anyone else noticed a decline in free public loo’s in the capital? Years ago Gary Clail had a tune called “privitise the air”, little did he know then that things were going to get worse. A good tip: don’t be caught short without a quid in change in your pocket! A pee’d off P

Know of any more free public loo’s? Send us your suggestions and if we get enough we’ll compile a list!

(Upside down) festive lunch hour greetings to all!

Upside down treeI noticed these mad xmas trees the other week outside a swanky hotel on The Strand. Thinking it was a work-in-progress I said to one of the besuited doormen, “I take it you’re going to be hoisting the trees up now you’ve got the fairy lights on?”. He pointed up to the trees all excitedly-like and told me about the old fashioned German tradition of the upside down xmas tree. I honestly have never heard of this before. It’s funny the things you find out in a lunch hour! P

On that festive note, a merry christmas to all who read the blog from P&W

How do you solve a problem like a lunch hour?

What do you do if it’s getting close to Christmas and you’re scratching around trying to find something to write for a blog post? Well you could go for a brisk walk and peek down a road that says is residents only by Amen Corner and snap a pic of what turns out to be the old back wall of Newgate prison. You could do that…but you’d have to pretend to look all lost as you wandered around and, quite frankly, that can be exhausting.

One of London's most notorious prisons? I was glad to see the back of it.

One of London’s most notorious prisons? I was glad to see the back of it.

On a separate note, for those of you who want to belt out some carols at lunchtime and work near the City, check out * for a list of concerts near you with the starting times. I popped into St Bride’s, Fleet Street on Monday for a rousing rendition of Once in Royal before nipping up to meet P for a coffee. Festively refreshing.

* (St Botolph, Bishopsgate specifically mentions mulled wine and mince pies, although whether these are free or not is not even in the small print.)

Alternatives to Pret (Part 1)

An occasional series.
The Sandwich Man, 23 Easton Street, London WC1X 0DS

Tired of paying through the nose for your lunchtime grub? Let us here at LIYLH guide you through the cheap culinary delights available in London town. Our first port of call has a lovely shop-front (see below) that just screams quality and cleanliness (yeah right!) but don’t let that put you off, this place is great!

sarnie man HQYou might have seen those blokes on bikes riding around town delivering food to office blocks, well this is their central HQ. When they’ve finished their round at about 12.45pm they take their “returns” back to easton street where they are then sold to the general public for a pound each, how good is that?

At 1pm the queues are hectic with hungry postal workers from mount pleasant trying to push in, jostling dustmen, skint students and over-confident motorcycle couriers leathered up to the max all trying to push to the front of the queue. A good tip is to leave it until 1.45 when it’s a lot quieter and you’ll still have a lot to choose from.

Oi, watch my baguette!There’s usually a great selection including meat, fish and veggie sandwiches alongside crisps, salads and drinks all at greatly reduced prices. A word of warning though, during the summer months don’t bother with the all day breakfast bap (egg, sausage and bacon) as the boxes on the back of the bikes they keep the food in are not refrigerated. I know of one person who left work early who looked a bit green around the gills after consuming (alledgedly) the aforementioned sarnie! Apart from that, it’s a cheap old treat and well worth queueing up for!

Years ago where I worked we used to have a daily visit from one of their delivery men who would announce his arrival by ringing a little ornamental handbell. As most of the workforce there used to think they were west ham “geezers” they would get very annoyed at his camp campanology. Me, I used to think it was hilarious, big up the sandwich man! P

Rabbit rabbit rabbit rabbit rabbit

Very arty!The RSA or royal society for the encouragement of Arts, lies one road back from the Strand and slap bang opposite the gleaming entrance to the Adelphi. Most Tuesdays or Thursdays they hold lunchtime lectures on a vast array of subjects driven by this ethos.

The RSA is a charity which encourages the development of a principled, prosperous society and the release of human potential.

Recent talks have included Fiscal Fallout: The challenge ahead for public spending and public services; How to build a mass movement now; and How Maths Illuminates Our Lives

Visit the site and you can sign up to a newsletter which tells you how to apply for the free tickets. If you don’t manage to get in, however, you can stream it live or watch it in the comfy chairs downstairs in the lobby. They also post all the talks up as podcasts, which is nice.

P and I legged it down there last Thursday to catch John Lloyd’s talk – General Ignorance: It’s all about what you don’t know. There is quite a magnificent marble stairway which takes you to the main room and past some lovely looking cakes and biscuits. These are not free, trust me, we asked.

The hall must hold around 300 people and every seat was taken before the prompt start of 1pm. I won’t sum up the talk but will urge you to try and listen to it on the podcast or watch the video when it’s up. Considering John Lloyd produces QI, and also has Blackadder and Spitting Image on his CV, it was unsurprising that the talk was Quite Interesting, peppered with facts and anecdotes – including a very enlightening one about the profitability of the mines in the 1980s and a surprising tale of someone who tried to sue Ian Hislop.

Just so you know, even if you ask really nicely about having a biscuit, they still won’t let you have one for free as you leave.

Places to go, people to see, things to do

The London in your lunch hour to do list.

This is going to be an ongoing list of things that we’re planning to see or do in our forthcoming lunch hours. We might not get to them all but it might give you some ideas for the immediate future.
Lunchtime carol concert
The Secret History of Second-Hand Books: An exhibition by freelance writer Wayne Gooderham
The Liylh Christmas lunch

Mother nature’s son

When the Thames is at it’s lowest ebb, you can see a beach. On a crisp December lunchtime, you can even step on it, (there are some steps just to the left of the Millennium bridge as you look at the Tate Modern) feel the sand shift beneath your feet and listen to the waves lapping at the shore.

The sun was very low by the time I got down there (about 2pm) so I had to squint as it was wickedly reflected off the river. Ooh it’s just like being on ‘oliday, I thought to myself.

The English Riviera

The English Riviera

It felt as if I was trespassing when I went down there. There was one other person crunching around on the pebbles but, other than that, the beach was deserted – like any other English beach in December.

Being so close to the Thames was intimidating. I’d always seen it from far away; a bridge or the embankment, or once from a boat. I’d never been close enough to touch it. It suddenly dawned on me that I’d never thought of it as a river. All my life, I’d only ever seen it as a thoroughfare, an obstacle or a landmark – not a real waterway at all. But you put your hand in and it’s cold and wet and it goes “shhh, shhhhh” when the little waves break on the pebbles and everything.

It was a revelation – like if you met someone really famous and they told you they ate findus crispy pancakes.

In celebration of the sunshine and my new discovery I built a crappy sandcastle and covered it in the oyster shells I found amongst the smooth-worn tiles and remnants of old clay pipes.

Sand turd with shells - by W

Sand turd with shells – by W

On the way back, I was walking through St. Paul’s churchyard, when I spotted this man, Justin.

He's got a squirrel on his shoulder

He’s got a squirrel on his shoulder!

Working in a stress-filled office in the city, he escapes for one hour every day to feed this squirrel. I told him about the idea behind LIYLH; about getting out and doing something, even if it’s just walking about. We chatted about how long he’d been visiting the churchyard, what he did, and I told him about my brush with nature. To which he replied, ” You spend your whole life in a man-made environment. It’s nice to go somewhere and put your foot in some mud, isn’t it?”

Everyday I write the book

Inner sleeve bluesThanks to our good friend Marc G. for letting us know of a great free event called “The Secret History of Second hand books – An exhibition by freelance writer Wayne Gooderham” on until 13th December 2012 at The Cafe at Foyles, Charing Cross Road, London. After reading more about the exhibition which is about books inscribed with personal messages, I had to go straight to the bookcase and look for anything we might have. The one I found was in “The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle” and it read “For excellent attendance at work during the quarter ended March 1964, all good wishes, R.J. Crickman”. Nowhere as good as the one on Wayne Gooderham’s excellent blog in “One in Twenty – A Study of Homosexuality in Men and Women by Bryan Magee” that reads “You leave this book alone, you filthy old man, who calls his wife “mommie” and has “done it” with an African alyah!” Brilliant! Definitely an exhibition to have a look at! P

Worshipful week

It’s been a strange mix of lunches this week. I’ve tried to fit in quite a lot and, consequently, there’s been no common theme I can hang this post on. I’ve had errands to run, cheap bananas to buy from Leather Lane Market, not to mention some snaffling of offcuts from Pie Minster, Yogi Bear style, and I’ve gone for a bit of a run. All of this has allowed me to cast my eyes over the city though.

Every time I go out, I try to see something new or interesting. If there is any common theme, it seems to have been stained glass windows and worshipful companies. Where I work, by St. Paul’s, there seem to be very many halls dedicated to these livery companies (most can be privately booked, it seems). And the ones I’ve passed don’t half love a stained glass window.

Butcher's Hall stained glass

Outside the Butcher’s Hall

Stationer's Hall

And another one at Stationer’s Hall

Turns out that stationer’s is one of a long list of words whose meaning has subtly changed over the years. Far from being mere purveyors of staples, the stationers used to be book and manuscript sellers and this proud livery company then accepted printers too, eventually. Well now you know.

I went to St. Andrew’s Holborn on Wednesday. It’s just opposite the Sainsbury’s offices and as well as there being a nice stained glass window…

St Andrew's Holborn stained glass

Ooh..another good window

…they also have a dedicated listener who’s sits from 1 till 3 every day in case you want to talk. I did consider it but the silence in a large church brimming with 3 church staff and a sleeping homeless man is absolutely deafening. I stood and looked around for a good 10 minutes. No sound. I shuffled my feet just to check I hadn’t gone deaf.

Shoe Lane Library also got a visit. And why not, with such an array of titles?

A whole book on meaty bones.

Whilst browsing through the mass of books on refrigeration techniques, I stumbled upon a pamphlet advertising the free exhibition at the Maughan Library, Weston Room entitled “Ploughing the Sea: Latin American Observed”. The title is taken from a Simón Bolivar quote, “He who serves a revolution ploughs the sea”. Which I think means it’s a bit tricksy. I’ve seen every one of Michael Palin’s round the world programmes, so I consider myself quite the expert on the latin continent and thought it would be a good lunch trip. I set a date with P for Friday.

The Maughan Library is a huge, imposing neo-gothic building off Chancery Lane. The instructions on the library pamphlet said that I would need ID and a printed ticket filled out with my name, address and where I heard about the exhibition. Unfortunately, I’d left my wallet at home so all I had was my liylh membership card and 80 pence. I tried to appear foreign and flustered, P cheerily mouthed something about the exhibition. The well-dressed security man took one look at us, and with a generous wave of his hand, gestured us through and gave us directions.

As an exhibition, it looks a bit underwhelming. Five raised glass cases sit forlornly in a room big enough for thirty. But the visit is worth it to see the room itself. The entire floor is mosaic, the 30-40 foot ceilings are lined with intricate stained glass,

Another top stained glass. I give this three beers out of four

Another top stained glass. I give this three beers out of four

and the walls have a number of monuments complete with black skulls and cannon shot.

Cannons, skulls..all the good stuff

Cannons, skulls..all the good stuff

What is in the glass cases is worth a look. Eyewitness accounts of initial trips to the Americas, including the first Englishman’s, Thomas Gage; a sketch of the intended layout of Buenos Aires; a spotter’s guide to indigenous peoples, a 1982 full colour English book on the Falklands War (flanked with a similar sized pamphlet entitled “Las Malvinas son Argentinas”; and a copy of Graham Greene’s Mexico account (The Lawless Roads) that would inform his later work, ‘The Power and the Glory’. I’m obviously just whistle-stopping through the things that stuck out for me but there is some other interesting stuff there.

What to look for in an indigenous person

What to look for in an indigenous person

We then left, making sure we got a snap of the statue of Confucius bafflingly displayed in the gardens opposite.

Why me? Why here?

Why me? Why here?

And strolling through Lincoln’s Inn Fields, ostensibly to try and find somewhere for P to buy me a coffee that he owed me*, we ended up having a look in the Lincoln’s Inn Chapel. The stone steps that lead from the cloister to the raised chapel seem forbidding, but seeing as nobody was stopping us, we went on…and what do you know…more stained windows. Who would have thought?



The Chapel seems amazingly tall, but quite tiny. It was allegedly designed by Inigo Jones. The windows are lovely, especially one at the back. It shows the crests of the treasurer’s of the chapel with the years they served. Now in times gone by, many of these distinguished men would have had ancient family crests handed down to them throughout the generations. But in this modern world, that’s not always the case. Social mobility and immigration must mean that not everyone can be counted on to offer up their shield when required. So what do you do? Well, you make it up. Preferably by getting a mate to mock up an image of a labrador as a windsurfer.

Fido the III

Fido the III

*I didn’t get the coffee.