London Up-date.

Approaching Liberty's
Approaching Liberty’s

A day in London is always exciting and I go up regularly to meet friends, to the theatre – to eat, to visit an exhibition or museum or just to wander the streets and soak up the atmosphere.  The aura of history is a tangible factor in this stupendous city and over the years it has just got better and better. By that, I guess I mean that it has become more accessible, more tourist friendly and attuned to the needs and wants of visitors.  In turn, Londoners themselves benefit from enhanced facilities and the extra cash that is spread around.

The Thames
The Thames

When I first came here to live 48 years ago (it seems so long ago and yet just like yesterday,) it was a hugely different scene. Traffic clogged all the main shopping streets. I remember only one pub in the West End, situated behind Selfridges that had any tables and chairs outside. The opportunity for any day-time entertainment other than shopping and visiting historic monuments was non-existent and the general consensus was that the weather was too fickle for any European nonsense like eating and drinking out-of-doors.  Apart from the Fortes in Piccadilly for a special treat, your average punter relied on local pubs, stodgy tea-rooms – often in department stores, the ubiquitous Wimpy Bars and an appalling chain of eateries called The Golden Egg. The casual, cheap eating and entertainment scene was indeed sadly lacking. It was grim for the non-shopper!  I must hastily say that it was a bit different out in the country!

Lunch at LPQ
Lunch at LPQ

Now, the area is crammed with cafes and pubs, offering outside seating winter and summer. The cafes around the Carnaby Street area and Liberty’s offer a great meeting place for everyone, with some not bad food and plenty to drink. I often visit to get a decent espresso or a flat white from the NZ café there. It is called Flat White and it comes well recommended. Also try Sacred, another NZ espresso bar in several locations, including Westfield Shopping Mall.

05-DSCF2360Arguably the most changed area of London from my point of view anyway, (forgetting the Olympic development) is South of the river where a grim huddle of semi-industrial concrete and brick, winding lanes and old slums, has been turned into

The Globe Theatre
The Globe Theatre

a truly intriguing opportunity to wander along the bank of the Thames and to soak up the vibrant atmosphere of this ‘new’ part of London.

Known simply as South Bank, here there are masses of cafes, small shops and watering-holes seeded with not-to-be missed attractions like the Tate Modern (art gallery), the Globe Theatre (an on-site re-construction of Shakespeare’s Globe) and the National Theatre.

The Tate Modern
The Tate Modern

The Acquarium and the London Eye are among other attractions that may be accessed from this area and there are skilled buskers, music and street theatre to add to a sense of bubbling excitement. Treasures like this are your reward for walking rather than taking the ‘tube’.  It is fun, when the tide is out, to watch sand sculptors working their magic down on river level.

The Mudlark
The Mudlark

It is fascinating  to visit the old Mudlark pub, situated in the shadow of the Southwark Cathedral (probably best not to sit outside in the pub garden when the cathedral clock chimes!) Here, you may be tempted by a ‘typical’ English pie or, if your tastes are less robust, you may try Le Pain Quotidien for a modern French-style salad with excellent bread and a lush pastry. So much variety!

The Millennium Bridge
The Millennium Bridge

You can easily, too, walk over the Millennium Bridge and up the tiny hill to St. Paul’s Cathedral with its famous dome, designed by Sir Christopher Wren.  A memorable ending to the day is to attend the 17.00 Evensong choral service in the cathedral (where the sound of the choir will surely send prickles down your spine,) before wandering back over the bridge for a welcome drink and something to eat.

The Dome of St Paul's
The Dome of St Paul’s

It is all there for the asking – a great day out and one that offers

different pleasures each

time it is repeated.

Do you have a favourite place in London that is no longer being used for its original purpose, but which has been converted to provide entertainment?  We would all love to hear about it. We are always looking for new places to visit!

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A Brief Visit to Fabulous Birmingham

Ready to Go
Ready to Go

Last week found us taking an overnight trip to Birmingham. This is a city that seems to attract a great number of disparaging comments and regrettably,  in my mind is associated solely with TV comedy programmes  from  forty years ago and a ‘Brummie’ restaurant manager that I worked along-side in the sixties. He was a tough bird. One of the toughest people I had ever met.  His girlfriend was tough too. She was a waitress in the same establishment and I found their voices and accents totally bemusing and, sad to say, bloody awful. I take solace in the fact that many people find my accent pretty awful too. I reckon that allows me a little leeway in the (gentle) criticism stakes!

Anyway, back to Birmingham.  We travelled up on the M40, through Oxfordshire. To encourage us, the weather decided to be pretty OK. The sun shone, we were blinded because neither of us thought to take sun-glasses (after all, it is winter in England), and the scenery was very therapeutic. As we drove across the Thames Valley, we were surrounded by acres of gently undulating farmland, almost flat and with water still lying in the fields from the recent floods.

The reality.  Sorry!
The reality. Sorry!

There is definitely something up-lifting about speeding along on a wide, well-surfaced open road, perhaps with the radio blaring out some oldish music and not too much traffic. It allows you to luxuriate in a cosy cocoon where the outside world, for a short time at least, has no influence. I think that, over the years,  I have experienced my moments of purest, unalloyed, mind-floating  pleasure at times like this. There is no particular external factor prompting this feeling of well-being,  but it manifests itself by what I think used to be called “a swelling of the bosom”.  Or is it ‘in’ the bosom? A sensation of fullness in the region of the heart along with a feeling of absolute gratitude, satisfaction, warmth and believe it or not, youth!  The road could carry on for- ever, going anywhere, without limits.  (No wonder those old road movies were so popular.)  The Sun is important, though. I think that it only really happens on a sunny day. You know – the sun is shining and all is right with the world. Just a shame that the poxy lorries have to be there as well.

The Foyer at Akbar's of Bradford, in Birmingham
The Foyer at Akbar’s of Bradford, in Birmingham

Anyway, we spent our night in Birmingham and the only thing we saw while we were there, other than the hospital, (the reason for our visit)  was the inside of  Akbar’s Indian Restaurant (Bradford).

The biggest Naan in the world!
The biggest Naan in the world!

I have to say, that they provided one of the best Indian meals I had ever had. We go to Bradford two or three times a year and we had always wanted to  visit the original Akbar’s there, but had never had the opportunity.  We now realise what a treasure we had missed.  The whole experience was really special – polished service, wonderful food and the biggest Naan bread in the whole world!  Definitely a place to return to.

Next time we go to Birmingham, I hope to actually see something of the city!