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Posts Tagged ‘Brick Lane’

You have doubtless heard the saying “When a man is tired of London he is tired of life” (Samuel Johnson – deceased). Now, as a part time resident of London, I feel the obligation to test this assertion. (One of) the troubles with London is that there is so much to do that it’s hard to know where to start. If you read my blog you will know that I’m drawn not by the bright lights but by the shady alleyways. However if you surf the numerous tourist guides they are all top-heavy with mainstream attractions.

Yesterday I decided to on a drastic course of action – to clear the decks of the standard “when in London” tick list. Today I’m going to do the whole bloody lot and get the proverbial monkey off my back. Then it’s done and I can move up a gear, touristically speaking. And gears are apt because on this untypically warm Sunday morning in early March I’m going to traverse the city under my own steam on a Barclays Bike.

Lets do this thing

Lets do this thing

I’m not a Barclays Bike virgin (a former blog muse) so I know the ropes but I check out my initial bike from Vauxhall Cross with a shred of apprehension. Will I get lost? Will I become yet another cyclist casualty on some of London’s busiest roads. Worst of all will I make an arse of myself?!

Time for a break. Already.

Time for a break. Already.

The answer to the third question is “yes” as I pull over half way across Vauxhall bridge barely 60 seconds into the tour for a “look at me I’m a tourist” photo. It’s going to be that kind of day. Arteries that would be clogged with crawling metal on week days are mercifully quiet today yet I still contrive to take a decidedly long route to my first docking station at Buckingham Gate.

Barclays Bike Primer: It costs £2 to check out a bike. So long as you check it back into another of the 720 docking stations within 30 minutes there is no further charge – otherwise there is a sliding scale of time based charges. Crucially you can continue to check out bikes for spells of up to 30 minutes for the next 24 hours without further charge. My aim will be to use bikes for short hops between attractions and not incur any time based fees unless necessary. At least that’s the plan…
Buckingham Palace
Where there's Royals there's horse poo

Where there’s Royals there’s horse poo

My first attraction for the day is a biggie. There are clues everywhere even from this side street. Passing tourist busses. A café selling “royal breakfasts”. Horse poo in the road. A short walk north and there it is – Buckingham Palace. Let’s be honest – I feel dirty being here.

Tourists - pah!

Tourists – pah!

Throngs of tourists are posing in front of the royal gates to take photos that will become memories of the highlight of their year. How can I stand apart as a London resident who just happens to be passing through? It’s not going to be easy without a bowler hat, umbrella and copy of The Times under one arm. Instead I opt for reverse psychology and snap a selfie. Ironically you understand…

Fool Britannia

Fool Britannia

Think I got away with that. With my first landmark ticked off I’m heading back to the docking station when some kind of equine kerfufle breaks out of The Mall. A clatter of hooves signals the arrival of Horse Guards and much excitement amongst a crowd that had been audibly disgruntled by a sign informing them that The Guard had been deemed worthy of a second day and would not need changing.

Horse Guards – distant cousins of the Riders Of Rohan

Horse Guards – distant cousins of the Riders Of Rohan

Returned to my own metal steed I canter down Birdcage Walk bordering St James’s Park. This may be the first Sunday in March but the sun is beating down, people are milling around in short sleeves and it’s a joy to be outdoors.

Horse Guards

In no time I’m at Horse Guards Parade (their commute to the palace is to be envied) and there’s time for a photo or three.

1926 Memorial

1926 Memorial

Trafalgar Square

For some reason over the many years of coming to London for business of leisure I’ve rarely made it over here. People pouring out of open top tourist buses aren’t going to be disappointed – wow there is a lot happening!

Starting to flag

Starting to flag

In one of those badly timed arrivals I hear a large crowd of onlookers applauding and dispersing to leave this chap exposed. What did he do to entertain them?!

What must the foreign tourists think?

What must the foreign tourists think?

Nelsons Column

Nelsons Column looks spectacular in the low strong sunlight and it’s easy to understand why so many people have found a stair to sit on in front of the National Gallery.

Nelsons Column

Nelsons Column

Almost incidental is the curious sight of a huge blue cock to one side of the square. Is this really the result of too much feeding?

This is what happens if you keep feeding the birds

This is what happens if you keep feeding the birds

Another bird has caught my attention – a deadlier if less smutty predator. All becomes clearer when the hawk I spotted on a lamp post floats over to its handler to tear off a section of rodent for elevenses.

This bird can feed itself

This bird can feed itself

It’s all going on here. An entertainer has plucked some young boy from a cheering crowd to do something silly. There’s an acoustic busker to one side and a bag piper to the other to further confuse jet lagged American tourists who already think that London resident Shakespeare wrote Harry Potter into thinking that Scotland is a park in London.

Gold is lighter than air

Gold is lighter than air

One could easily spend longer here but with more tourist boxes to tick it’s time to remount and head to another iconic London landmark…

Leicester Square

Leicester Square has never looked so peaceful and green in all of my visits, although I tend to visit nocturnally.

Remarkably civilised by day

Remarkably civilised by day

Today it’s so quiet I can hear the birds tweeting. Couples and families sit on benches around the central fountain while young children playfully zig-zag betwixt the ankle high fountains that I’ve failed to notice on my previous visits. Luscious green freshly laid turf demands to be laid upon while signs demand this doesn’t happen.

Covent Garden

My next stop is but a few pedal turns away. Covent Garden has always felt classier than its neighbour Leicester Square and today is no exception as an up-beat classical quartet hop and kick their way through a Vivaldi classic in front of an improbably multinational spectrum of visitors, united only in their gullibility for paying so much for tourist food.

Roll over Vivaldi

Roll over Vivaldi

The old Covent Garden market next door hums with milling visitors intent on viewing more than on buying. I’ve poked my head in here many times before and the stall holders are a seasoned bunch who all seem to know each other.

Roll up, get yer massage ere - 2 for a fiver

Roll up, get yer massage ere – 2 for a fiver

Just time to cast an eye over one more charisma-heavy act in the main hall prior to my escape. His promise of a death defying act will remain empty to me unless he features on the news tonight…

That's entertainment

That’s entertainment

At this point I’m going to share a classic photo with you. There’s just something intensely satisfying about a fully occupied stall of colourful bikes don’t you think?

Oddly satisfying

Oddly satisfying

Now for a proper run after the stops and starts of this mornings itinerary. The arc of Aldwych runs red and black with buses and taxis and so it remains into the trunk route of Fleet Street that arrows eastwards towards “the city”. My next pit-stop is one of the easier ones to navigate towards because it’s straight ahead of me.

St Paul’s Cathedral
St Pauls

St Pauls

Once dominant on the skyline St Paul’s is now but an old oak amongst rampant redwoods as the financial houses of corporate London have stolen all the light. Consequently it’s quite hard to pull off a decent photo since you are too close to get it into frame by the time you see actually it.

Even old buildings are under construction in The City

Even old buildings are under construction in The City

I have never been inside St Paul’s before and I have to admit it is spectacular. A mass of tourists watch from a distance as a much smaller religious mass takes place, the choristers echoing their voices beautifully around the lofty recesses of the cathedral. In contravention of the signage I reel of a quick photo in the knowledge I’ll be fine if I repent my sins later.

It's a sin

It’s a sin

Back in the saddle once again the “Sunday in the city” streets are predictably void of life. I have hotelled here in previous years and know that when the square mile shuts down for the weekend so do the shops, restaurants and pubs.

Boo! So quiet...

Boo! So quiet…

Passing Norman Foster’s “Gherkin” I wonder how long it will be until you can photograph that without capturing a crane in the frame.

Ubiquitous Gherkin

Ubiquitous Gherkin

Spitalfields

On past Liverpool Street Station and I have to think on my feet (wheels) as the relentless programme of reconstruction has closed roads I intended to use. Nevertheless Spitalfields is not hard to find. Now gentrified and trendy this market was once a “proper” market but now you will find accupuncturists and designer lighting shops instead of butchers and grocers.

Yaks hair hats where they used to sell pork chops

Yaks hair hats where they used to sell pork chops

It’s a pleasant enough distraction on a quiet day but my stomach keeps reminding me I’ve a date with lunch at my next stop and so on I must go to a place that exerts its own gravitational pull upon me.

Brick Lane
Cook it and they will come

Cook it and they will come

It comes as no surprise that the sun has sucked thousands of funky young people into this Sunday mecca. The Hipsters in particular are out in force and my retinas are assaulted by these pale faced wannabees with their ill-fitting suits, loser hats, sockless brogues and facial hair crimes. One über tragico saunters past me wearing a bugsy malone suit and a painted on moustache. Let me repeat that – a moustache composed not of hair but of some product.

Brick Lane is a no-go area for the fashion police

Brick Lane is a no-go area for the fashion police

Shoreditch is the fashion Mordor of the east end.

Little Lenny?

Little Lenny?

My mood is improved by the Kravitz style licks of a busker dude humorously knocking out his rhythm on a pixie sized drum kit. “Normality” is restored by this and the appearance of Brick-Lane style vandalism that sets standards other streets can only aspire to.

A better class of vandal

A better class of vandal

Time to eat. As ever there’s too much choice but eventually I opt for corn bread and a combination of black beans, avocado puree and pulled pork that typifies the national dish of a place as yet unfound (but worth finding). Formal dining arrangements are predictably eschewed in favour of the Brick Lane protocol of curb-side dining…

Booking a section of curb is advisable at the Brick Lane diner

Booking a section of curb is advisable at the Brick Lane diner

The planned route hits a snag. What looked like a traffic resistant route on the map turns out to be fertile territory for a Sunday market. My 30 minute timer is imperiled by stall holders and tanker hipped ladies of a certain age crawling along the packed thoroughfare at glacial speed. I don’t suppose cries of “Let me through, I’m a tourist!” are going to impress anyone.

Let me through, I'm a tourist!

Let me through, I’m a tourist!

We should be grateful there’s a community here busily making ends meet on a Sunday. When I’m through and back onto the main road I find the desertification of arterial streets in the face of big business to be a depressing affair. Presumably the city boys aren’t spending their bonuses on the high street.

Ghost town

Ghost town

The Tower Of London

There’s only one way to put all of this behind me and at my next stop I set about doing just that. After some discussion with the serving fellow I opt for a scoop of chocolate and another of fudge flavour…

It was only a matter of time

It was only a matter of time

Boy, he wasn’t wrong, this is the good stuff! There’s almost but not quite literally nothing worse in life than deliberating over ice cream flavours only to be disappointed with your choice. Another cheery distraction here is the number of doggies which in itself is a sign that people actually live nearby, unless they are allowed on tour buses now. This fellow was getting a lot of attention.

Hot dog on a sunny day

Hot dog on a sunny day

Oh yes, the Tower Of London was quite popular with the tourists also. Tick. Time to cross the river again and this is a section of the journey I have been looking forward to…

Tower Bridge

This may be sad but for me cycling over Tower Bridge is a cool thing to do.

Everyone should aspire to do this!

Everyone should aspire to do this!

Apparently you can go on a mechanical tour of the bridge – something I rather like the sound of. The lower section can be raised allowing tall ships to pass beneath and this is a site I would love to see one day. The south bank is rammed with people strolling along the river path of laid out on the grass and it’s all I can do to find an uninterrupted view for a photo.

Tower Bridge always looks great

Tower Bridge always looks great

So packed is the route that I tire of mowing down slow walkers beneath my wheels and use the main road for a stretch. The quiet surrounding streets are not without interest. Who wouldn’t want to live in Bear Gardens…

Hide the honey...

Hide the honey…

Globe Theatre

Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre has always interested me. Apart from on TV I have only even seen it from the outside. It must provide a fabulous raw and intimate setting for productions.

Global attraction

Global attraction

Tate Modern

Next door the Tate Modern is starting to steal the afternoon sunlight. It’s a big ugly old place…

Dated looking Tate Modern

Dated looking Tate Modern

…but what an exhibition space!

Big enough to fit all the estate agents in London

Big enough to fit all the estate agents in London

My tour starts in the top floor café where peppermint tea helps me to digest some spectacular views over the Thames.

My favourite sight at the Tate

My favourite sight at the Tate

But what about the art? There doesn’t appear to be any so far as I can make out. There are some rooms with coiled up wire and angular blocks stacked up carelessly – perhaps this building work is in preparation for some new exhibits.

Where did the art go?

Where did the art go?

Here instead is some art what I made. In this piece the glass reflection poses the question as to the substance of contemporary living when set against the organic medium of wood.

A mere reflection of art

A mere reflection of art

My second piece is an interactive medium designed to transport the participant from a psychological framework of self-important vacuousity into a sunny riverside setting evoking feelings of relief.

Work by unknown artist

Work by unknown artist

The riverside journey west soon becomes unmanageable by bike. Wide paths that were largely empty on recent cool dark evenings fizz with rambling sun-seekers and another minor road detour is called for. Lesser known sights provide compensation once again.

Which one would you rather live in?

Which one would you rather live in?

Besides I’m soon back on the riverside path once the crowds have thinned a little. The setting sun casts the city in a favourable light though I’m left to wonder whether the view of St Pauls is under threat from the forest of cranes in the city.

Mecanno city

Mecanno city

National Theatre

The OXO tower flashes by and the National Theatre hoves into view. That’s a tourist landmark I hadn’t even listed but it gets a tick all the same.

Sun heading west

Sun heading west

Beneath Waterloo Bridge the used book market is proving popular but nobody appears to be buying anything. Maybe it started out as a new book market but now the stock has been thumbed to disintegration.

Waterloo Sunset

Waterloo Sunset

London Eye

After the briefest pause to watch skaters in action at the undercroft I tick off the London Eye (see my last blog) before crossing Westminster Bridge for my final acts of tourism today on the north bank.

Big Ben

My arrival is greeted by a quarter past Big Ben bong…

BONG!

BONG!

On the first stroke my luck runs out. For the first time I’m unable to dock my bike as the Abingdon Green station is fully occupied. Not to worry, I register this fact on the console and am granted an additional 15 minutes to dock the bike elsewhere. But what’s this? Three streets away Smith Square is also fully booked! Another hop to John Islet Street and I’m released from my shackles albeit quarter of a mile away from Westminster.

Houses Of Parliament
An MP's fifth home

An MP’s fifth home

The Houses Of Parliament seem to glow with a reddish hue in the receding light. It’s quiet on the green square across the road. Any protestors have gone home and any parliamentary correspondents have filmed their pieces and cleared off to the pub with their camera crews.

Westminster Abbey
Parliament Square

Parliament Square

In contrast to the perma-tanned façade of the HOP Westminster Abbey is looking a little crusty, pale and pock-marked from the side so I mooch around to the find the “TV entrance” better maintained. And what a perfect tourist snapshot with a proper black cab in the foreground…

Ere, I had that Archbishop of Canterbury in my cab

Ere, I had that Archbishop of Canterbury in my cab

A solitary family of Polish tourists stand looking at this great British icon although you sense they have already taken in too much today. And so perhaps have I. For the final time today I key in the release code and lift the rear wheel (so many people don’t do this and wonder why they can’t extract the bike) before crossing Millbank and posing for a final landmark photo of the day…

Last tourist photo of the day...

Last tourist photo of the day…

My fourth crossing of the Thames today and my fourth bridge – this time Lambeth Bridge before zooming down Albert Embankment past my offices in a race to get home before gloam.

Race to get home before dark

Race to get home before dark

In fact the Barclays Bikes now have flashing dynamo powered lights so night travel is feasible but it is probably best to be avoided if possible.

Fist full of release codes

Fist full of release codes

Barely sixty seconds later and my work is done! Bike number 8 (I counted the release codes) is safely tucked up in bed, the curse is lifted and a proverbial monkey roams the streets of London free to jump on the next tourist’s back! I feel that I can now hold my head up high and steadfastly ignore the major tourist landmarks for the remainder of my stay here. There are side streets to discover – let the weirdness begin…

A final reflection on the day’s statistics:

Bikes hired: 8
Rental cost: £2
Bikes crashed or stolen: 0
Traffic violations: None-ish
Bridges crossed: 4
Tourist icons seen: Over 20
Miles cycled: 19
Photos taken by me: 274
Photos taken for tourists: 4
Tourist tat purchased: none

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Every town has at least one market and London, being a rather sizeable town, has, erm, well how many exactly? Being the lazy researcher that I am I asked Wikipedia how many markets there are in London and it’s around 60. Except it’s not – there are many more. But you get the drift.

The names of some slip off the tongue and I have previously written about the Brick Lane, Spitalfields and Petticoat Lane markets, plus the foodie Borough market but famous doesn’t always mean good. This week for example, I visited Portabello Market which despite calling itself one of the top London tourist destinations was almost completely full of overpriced tat and patronised exclusively by hundreds of Italian tourists. Somebody is doing a good job of marketing the place in Rome.

Via Potabello

Via Potabello

So I don’t want to inflict Portabello Market on you when there’s a new and exciting market developing around Maltby Street on the South bank beneath the railway arches that extend westward into London Bridge station. I picked up on this place thanks to a London Evening Standard article a few months ago and it sounded worth a visit.

When you think of business operating beneath railway arches you expect them to be dodgy, dirty places trading cars or knock-off goods but that’s not the case here. For starters the arches have been spotlessly cleaned and there’s a new wave of clientele here – young foodie businesses selling things that are organic or home made.

Going underground

Going underground

There’s artisanship here and most of the customers have walked or cycled from home to pick up something special for the weekend.

Lets have a butchers

Lets have a butchers

Say cheese

Say cheese

Perhaps 20 percent of the arches are occupied but there are signs of ongoing renovation in some and I can’t help thinking take-up here is going to rocket. That’s one of the nice thing about London – it’s so big that if a small number of people start something then like-minded folk will swell the ranks and before you know it there’s a whole community.

Fruit and veg

Fruit and veg

I love the fact that there’s a very genuine, homely feel about the stall-holders an their produce.

Squashtastic!

Squashtastic!

This is an antidote to the cynical merchandising of the Portabello Road Market.

Give us our daily bread

Give us our daily bread

Perhaps most exciting for me is the discovery of The Kernel brewery under one of the arches on Druid Street. I had never heard of this outfit despite my well documented interest in real ale & pubs. I learn that The Kernel has but a week ago been named “Brewer Of The Year” by the British Guild of Beer Writers and take it from me – they deserve it. Admittedly they tend towards the stronger darker brews that I favour but just their range of ales is mouthwatering…

The Kernels recipe

The Kernels recipe

I’m not a heavy drinker and certainly not one for a jar at lunchtime but… oh go-on then. I chose their weakest – the Pale Ale on tap at 5.3% and it was just divine!

Oh go on then

Oh go on then

We’re going to hear a lot more about The Kernel, I’m sure. Let’s hope the Derby beer festival organisers are reading this blog. There’s good looking coffee down the road, but wouldn’t an Imperial Brown Stout (9.8% !) be more fun?

...or you could have had this

...or you could have had this

And that’s Maltby Street, but I’m already looking forward to my next visit. Afterwards I strolled west to Borough Market which – despite its huge popularity – has retained a level of integrity. The South Bank just gets better.

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A multitude of markets

Native Londoners always seem to be griping about public transport. I’m sure it is different when you have to rely on it every day for the commute but as an unapologetic tourist it has served me well so far and this morning I’m wandering down the Petticoat Lane Market near Liverpool street station a mere 25 minutes after leaving my cupboard in Marble Arch. I do have a gripe of my own however. The public signage leaves something to be desired. When you arrive at the train station there are signs to Bishops Gate market – well known but hardly a great tourist draw – while the world famous Brick Lane and Spitalfields Market a few streets away go unmentioned.

Petticoat Lane market is an old fashioned affair akin to something out of Eastenders with low grade clothes and poor quality knock-offs touted by locals who would bleed forth jellied eels if you cut them in two. The physical landscape deserves a mention. Old grubby bricked shabby frontages sit cheek to jowl with modern clean cut city flats, both sitting in the shadow of monolithic financial district glass and steel high rise office towers, including Norman Forster’s “gherkin”. As I leave Petticoat Lane I am confused to discover that it resides in Wentworth Street. A furtive glance at my map (nobody wants to look like a tourist) reveals no street in the area named Petticoat Lane. Perhaps I imagined it all.

Onto the next market at Spitalfields which is an entirely different proposition. There has been a market here since 1638 that has continually evolved and today it is an attractive glass roofed affair. It hosts countless stalls run by independent creative types selling frocks, handbags, jewelry plus a range of other bespoke goods. Where Petticoat Lane was about basics and bargains Spitalfields attracts a modestly affluent crowd looking for beautiful items that feel individual and bohemian.

Cake stall

Cake stall

A sit down with a hot chocolate enables me to assess the demographic more precisely. The average client is a yummy mummy with children Josh & Eugenie in tow and she is absolutely thrilled with her purchase of an organic yeti pube hat.

Two markets down and it’s onto the main course – Brick Lane. I’ve been once before and it was rammed but today on a wet February morning it is busy but tolerable. Brick Lane is a verb, such is it’s vibrancy, colour and youth. Other landmarks may acquire a label and then try to live up to their reputation resulting in a pale and desperate pastiche of a former glory but Brick Lane, for all of it’s obvious distinguishing physical attributes, doesn’t stand still and it is defined by the dynamic people that trade, visit and live there.

Brick Lane sweet stall

Brick Lane sweet stall

In case you haven’t already guessed I LOVE this place. I could never adequately describe the vibe so if you want to understand the experience please click on the links I have included and more to the point go and visit it yourself next time you are down instead of one of the predictable shows you intended to see. In basic terms there is a street market with stalls selling almost anything imaginable. The street is adorned by some amazing grafitti and it is home to many asian shops and eateries plus Jewish beigel bakeries.

Grafitti

Grafitti

Mixed signs

Mixed signs

Wrestling mask stall

Wrestling mask stall

The smells, sounds, flavours and hubub are intoxicating. Adjoining the lane are an expanding range of indoor markets occupying otherwise derelict warehouses. The eclectic Backyard Market sells all sorts of everything and includes a growing number of food stalls selling afternoon tea through to Egyptian salads.

The larger Sunday Up Market situated in a former brewery is a living beast and hundreds of stalls now extend across three floors. Vendors on the ground floor tend to sell things they have made themselves such as T-shirts, cards, bags, brooches, coasters, cakes, etc.

Palm Reader

Palm Reader

Salad stall

Salad stall

Cake mountain

Cake mountain

There are some wonderful designs and ideas on show. An extensive range of fresh food spanning numerous cuisines competes for your trade. I opted for a turkish stuffed pitta but I was sorely tempted by Dim Sum and a Moroccan stew.

Its a wrap

Its a wrap

Head upstairs and you step into a nirvana of second hand vintage clothing attracting a devout following of fashionistas. I presume this is where the Sunday paper fashion magazine supplement photographers come to snap their material.

Up for the cup

I’ve a ticket for the Fulham vs Notts County FA cup 5th round match and a dozen stops on the district line gets me there.

Tim on Thames

Tim on Thames

As a Derby fan I’m notionally supporting Notts because work colleague Matt is a Magpies devotee. Craven Cottage is so quaint and dated it could also be home to Hansel and Gretel. I’m sat in a wooden stand with wooden seats (this in 2010) and I can just about make out the Thames behind the far stand. I wonder how many balls get hoofed into river each year by carthorse defenders. The match kicks off and Fulham boss it. They are 2-0 up by half time and that’s a fair reflection since Notts haven’t had a kick.

It becomes apparent that I am sat in a hotspot for die-hard Fulham fans. Some of the guff spewing forth from my neighbourhood beggars belief. There’s the guy sat next to me that spends 35 minutes slagging off Bobby Zamora for being a workshy showpony (fair comment) even when he is at the opposite end to the action. Then when Zamora scores he is singing his praises. I would advise this man to look at the word “irony” in the dicitonary, once he has conquered the basics like “cat”.

Fulham vs Notts County

Fulham vs Notts County

In the row behind me a neanderthal bigott spends the entire match shouting insults at everyone who moves. It is valentines day and he is in love with his own voice and even laughs at his own offensive and unfunny jokes. Later on during one particularly unjustified tirade on an opposition player the guy next to me who isn’t exactly well adjusted himself curses this captain caveman – quietly but just loud enough that I hear. He must endure this every game. At full time it is 4-0 and that’s about right.

Fulham play a superior breed of passing football that would be unattainable for better teams than Notts but they failed to make a nuisance of themselves and get stuck in. I can’t even recall any bookings. It was as if they realised this was the end of their cup run and thought they would have a cosy day trip to London, which isn’t fair for the 4000 away fans who made the journey. Fulham have had their day and next week they play in Europe. These are heady days and I can’t help thinking this is a club punching above its weight. The fans have got complacent with success and I have an uncomfortable feeling that a downward curve lies ahead.

The final whistle blows and as I leave I notice Steve Claridge signing autographs from the exposed press box 5 rows in front, but there is no sign of Her Majesty Robbie Savage.

Lost in translation

I really should have taken a pedometer with me. Must have covered miles today. Any thought of a tumultuous finale to my circumnavigation of Londinium has disolved, especially since it is Valentines day and anywhere popular will be geared up for couples tonight. There’s a Wetherspoons up the road at Marble Arch so I head there for sustenance and to write this blog entry courtesy of their WiFi.

It is packed and I’m lucky to find a table. Every voice I hear is foreign, including the bar staff. The chap next to me at the bar is from Ethiopia and we discuss the undeniable merits of the African token based system for ordering beer. Then I strike up conversation with some folk who have just flown in from Portugal. The only discussion I struggled to understand was with an Irishman who I think was extolling the virtues of the Neeps and Tatties I ordered but could have been telling me about his day at the bookies. The food was fine and so was the gorgeous and fittingly entitled Russian Winter ale. That’s as much and more than I have any right to expect from this particular Sunday.

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