Sunday, 27 June 2010

It's Coming Home...

I admit it. I have jumped onto the World Cup bandwagon. Okay, so until we get to the semi finals I refuse to get excited about our prospects, but in the meantime I am taking an active interest in how we are doing. It is Sunday morning and I’ve strategically arranged my day around the 3pm kick-off.
I cannot claim to be a football expert. I’m afraid I’m still not 100% clear on the offside rule (something to do with there has to be a member of the opposite team between you and the goal when the ball is passed to you?) and can probably only name about half the English players on the pitch. But as far as I’m concerned, I’m English, and I like to see our country do well at something.
Let’s face it, we need a boost. What with the recession, cuts to public spending (and jobs) and a decidedly damaging oil spill, it’s about time we had something to smile about.
And it’s true, the World Cup has brought us together again as a nation. In London it’s decidedly noticeable. On Wednesday I had a meeting at 3pm then headed to Camden to meet Him Indoors. As I waited for the bus a young lad gleefully informed me that we had scored. When I got off the bus I walked passed a pub and squinted through the window at the giant TV screen. A couple of guys having a smoke outside told me it was still one - nil. I gave them the thumbs up.
Having finished a bit of shopping I had some time to kill before meeting the fella, so I found another bar that was showing the match. Along with a couple of other people I stood outside the crowded venue to watch the final minutes. The staff were too engrossed with the game to object. The lady next to me told me she’d had to leave the pub but was just catching the last few minutes before having to head off to a meeting. I asked her how we had been playing and she gave me a brief summary of the game.
When the final whistle was blown a cheer rose over the capital. I exchanged a smile and a nod with the woman and she headed off to the tube.
This might not sound extra-ordinary, but when else do people randomly talk to a complete stranger, let alone strike up conversation with them? Even during the terrorist attacks five years ago people continued to ignore each other, fearful of their neighbours rather than making a united front against those responsible. But a group of men kicking a football around for ninety minutes? Apparently it is the antidote we have been waiting for in these difficult times.
So, I will be watching the game this afternoon. And I really hope we win, not just because I want to see my country do well. I want my country to come together, talk to each other again, trust their neighbours, whoever they are, rather than blame them for everything that is wrong with the world. Idealistic? Probably. But even if it only lasts for the duration of the World Cup, it’s better than nothing.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

I Just Don't Know What To Do With Myself...

Him indoors tells me I am indecisive. I don’t think this is necessarily true. There are just times when I really don’t mind what we have for dinner or where we go out for the day. There are also times, I admit, when confronted with too much choice, I do struggle a bit. Restaurant menus with a hundred different dishes are all well and good, but how on earth you are supposed to choose one is beyond me. Then there are times when I am very decisive to the point of being pushy. No, I do not want to go to Vegas on holiday, but yes, New York would be a lovely city break destination. And no there is no room for negotiation.
Living in London, you have to make a lot of decisions, and often from a wide variety of offerings. Take, for example, going to the theatre. Whereas most cities probably have maybe three or possibly four major venues to choose from, London has, well, probably closer to fifty. Not to mention all the little theatres above pubs and the like. Then there is clubbing. Yes, the likes of Time Out magazine do come in very useful here, but whittling down all the clubs, pubs and bars that play decent music is an arduous task. And, let’s face it, you’re bound to miss the random night in the basement of some church or something that gets its mix just to your ears’ idea of perfection.
So, where does this leave your average Londoner? Well, when it comes to the theatre, it amazes some of my northern acquaintances (mainly my dad and pseudo father in law) that I don’t indulge in it further. The thing is I find it easier to ignore it than actually trawl through the culture section of the Guardian every week, trying to weed out the good from the bad and often the plain ugly. Legally Blonde: The Musical? I don’t think so. And definitely not at that price.
However, every now and then I hear about a play or see a poster and think, yes, I want to see that. Last night for example I emailed a group of friends in and around London to see if I could tempt them to go and see Women, Power and Politics at the Tricycle Theatre, Ghost Stories in the West End and Tosca at the ENO. A random selection, I know, but shows that have stood out among the many.
Eating out is another dilemma. Last week I blogged about finding the perfect place to breakfast. Lunch and dinner aren’t much easier. And there are probably more restaurants in London than there are theatres and clubs combined – easily. Yes, you can read reviews and take recommendations from friends, but sometimes it’s just easier to go to Pizza Express. Okay, so the pizza isn’t perfect but at least you know where you stand with it. And they usually have a good offer on.
So, yes, there is a hell of a lot to do in London, which is great – and one of the reasons I love it (on a good day). But sometimes, when asked to choose a place to eat or suggest a play to go and see, I’d quite often pass the decision making onto someone else. Or opt of a DVD and a takeaway. Now, where is that Dominoes menu…?

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Breakfast at?

This morning I talked Him Indoors into going out for a spot of brunch. One of the locals I have discovered does breakfast at the weekend and I was keen to give it a try. I have found other places that do a good breakfast in London, but was hoping to find one within walking distance.
Like everything, London is saturated with cafes, pubs and anything in between promising you good, hearty hangover grub for those days when you can’t be bothered to cook it yourself. I am a fan of having breakfast in the pub. Not only does it offer the option of Hair Of The Dog (dangerous but sometimes necessary) but if you find a good one they offer comfy seating, a selection of papers and a laidback policy when it comes to shifting you out the door when you have satisfied your appetite. So far the closest I have found that ticks all these boxes is the Angel in Highgate. The chilled out atmosphere and extensive cocktail menu including numerous versions of a Bloody Mary ticks a lot of boxes, but it is a bus ride away. And the breakfasts I’ve had there have been good, but, well, nothing spectacular.
The best place I have been to for brekkie in London has to be The Breakfast Club. They specialise in, you guessed it, breakfast, and do a top notch one at that. Not only do they offer you the traditional English, but also French (Eggs Benedict), Mexican (Huevos Rancheros), veggie, and lots of healthy options too. Only problem is, again the closest branch to me is a bus ride away and due to its popularity it is not somewhere you can linger over your mixed juice whilst perusing the Observer. Him Indoors is a fan of the Hollywood Cafe, a modest caff on Holloway Road with a huge menu and a wide variety of cooked breakfasts, many with a Mediterranean and Middle Eastern twist. Again, good food but lacking the lazy pace required on a Sunday morning.
This morning I have to say my choice disappointed. The ambience hit the spot beautifully, and whilst we waited for our nosh we were both accommodated with our preferred broadsheet. The downside? Well the food was less than inspirational. My poached eggs were decidedly fried, and my grilled tomato and bread tasted of cigarettes. And I say grilled bread because that is what it was – slightly warm bread with a little crispiness on the surface, but definitely not toast. Oh well.
So, it would appear I have a new mission. Somewhere that does a mean breakfast until at least 1pm, within walking distance of my flat with staff that don’t chase you out of the door as soon as you have mopped up the last of your bean juice. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it...

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Ich bin eine Berliner!

As I type I am sat in Schonefeld Airport in Berlin. My flight is delayed and I’ve just eaten a lovely German spelt roll stuffed with veggies and ham, washed down with fresh lemon and limeade and rounded off with a rather lovely piece of rhubarb kuchen. Whoever said that Germany is a culinary wasteland has obviously not tried its superior airport food.
I have another two hours to wait until my flight is due to depart (although by the time you read this I will have been in my flat for at least 12 hours or so) and I am desperately trying to resist the urge to jump on the S Bahn back to Alexanderplatz. You see although in comparison to Paris and London Berlin is a poor capital with a decidedly troubled past, it has grown to be one of the most chilled out and accepting places I have ever been.
Let me elaborate. London and Paris are beautiful, lavish, majestic cities (if you go to the right parts anyway). But with its beauty and majesty comes an air of arrogance and superiority. And so do its inhabitants. Rather than taking a real interest in people they are more impressed with which area you live in, how much you earn, what car you drive. Okay, so I’m being a bit harsh and tarring all and sundry with the same capitalist brush, but I hope you understand what I am trying to say. Berlin also has its stunning architecture but its inhabitants seem less bothered by status. There is an air of calm, a laid back approach to city living. No one rushes. People don’t look you up and down if you walk into a trendy bar or restaurant, deciding whether your clothes fit the bill. People try to help you if you don’t quite understand the menu rather than tutting impatiently.
It’s not just their attitude to outsiders that makes Berlin so likeable. It’s the freedom of expression that Berliners seem to embrace. The rest of us western Europeans often take the piss out of the average German’s take on style. But Berliners wear what the hell they want to wear, and how they want to wear it. Why should they wear what everyone else is wearing anyway? And their approach to art? Never mind making some massive diamond encrusted skull and sticking it in some posh gallery. Instead why not move into a derelict building and make art for the hell of it, to express yourself, not to inflate your bank balance? In a city where money seems to be a bit of a sticking point, why not resist its magnetism and get by focusing on what life is really about?
When I arrived in Berlin I was struck by the amount of graffiti that seemed to cover every surface of every wall. But having spent a few days here, I have come to realise that it is just another example of their self expression and their tolerance to other people’s need to put themselves out there in such a publicly visible way. And I can safely say I have never felt safer in any other country than I have here. Yes I know crime is committed but it isn’t lurking on every street corner like it seems to be back home.
So why has Berlin turned out to be so chilled, so accepting, so free? The luxury of political stability is something Londoners takes for granted. Just look at the reaction in the UK to the result of the last general election. You would have thought that country was about to implode. In Berlin it is only twenty years since the wall was finally taken down. For only twenty years has it been able to lick its wounds and rebuild itself, physically and psychologically. And it has learnt a valuable lesson that London has missed out on. I just hope I can take a little bit of its spirit home with me.