Friday, 30 March 2012


The last two weekends I have been out of London. As well as being pleasurable in their own right, they also reminded me how much more you get for your money outside of the capital. A pint of scrumpy in Somerset? Just over two pounds. A beer in Budapest? Even less.

But, one has to remind oneself that cheaper does not always mean better. And, nine times out of ten, when something is free... there is a reason for it. It could be because it is a new product or service trying to gain new custom. It might be to lure back old customers. Or... it is sometimes just because the very thing they are giving away is, pure and simply, shite.

Take my recent trip down to South London. I ended up in an old man’s pub called The Trafalgar. So far, not a problem. I partook in another pint (or two) of real ale and listened politely as my friends continued to wean me onto lager’s decidedly flatter cousin. I was quite content.

Then the evening’s entertainment started. Needless to say, it was free. Some of you may know Steve Whalley as the lead singer of Slade before Noddy took the reins. Anyway, he and his side-kick treated us to a taste of the blues. Okay, so the man could sing, and the strumming was more than passable. Then I started to listen to the lyrics.

So, what was he singing about? 6’3’’ blondes. Prostitutes and how they love selling their bodies to their pimps and punters. Naked robbers and women riding horses in tight jodhpurs. The feminist within me was not amused, and it became clear that even some of the men in our party were less than impressed too. So... we left. And I don’t think we’ll be back.

But, fear not, freebies can be fabulous too. Last week I met one of the girls (I had been with on that frightful night) for a curry and a bit of comedy at Ruby Tuesday’s, The Queen’s Head. The curry, although not free, was pleasant and reasonably priced; the comedy; gratis. I knew that, especially as it was in the heart of Soho, it might be a bit rough around the edges, but my mate had been before and assured me that it was okay.

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. Okay, so a couple of the stand-ups were a bit leftfield for me and there were one too many poo jokes (although one of them was particularly funny), but some of the acts were really very amusing. I particularly liked the Swedish stand-up’s take on public transport here and there, and the lovely Blossom’s musings on what it means to be beautiful on the inside.

So, when you end up going out for a freebie in London, be prepared to make a swift exit. But, on the other hand, keep your mind open and you might just have a top night. And, if you do? Please let me know. The northerner in me loves a cheap date...

Thursday, 22 March 2012


Today I realised that spring is well and truly here. Why? Well, it was the first day this year that I looked at my coat pegs heaving with woollies and thought, mmm, time to put them away and replace them with my light-weight jackets and silky scarves.

Yet, despite the optimism that the warmer months usually inspire, I noticed a cloud hanging over London today. I went on Twitter, where people were bemoaning feeling out of control of their lives, groaning about having to deal with difficult people and apparently feeling pretty shitty about life in general. Why is everybody so blue? I wondered. But then I thought back over my day. It had been long and hard, yes. But the real killer? The bus journey home.

Yes, I know, I often sing the praises of buses and prefer them over the tube any day (and not just because they are cheaper, although, being a tight arse, that is a real plus). But, let’s face it, at the end of the day they are the lesser of two evils. And, when they want to be, they can be pretty darn devilish.

Take last week, if you will. On Tuesday, after a swift pint, I attempted to catch the bus home. It was seven o’clock, so the worst of the evening’s rush hour had been and gone. The only problem was that at the exact moment I decided to mount the 91, a group of protesting cyclists decided to over-take us – and proceeded to pedal up York Way at a snail’s pace. Yes, okay, so they wanted to assert their rights as road users and celebrate the life of those cyclists who have picked fights with bigger vehicles and come off decidedly worse, but - seriously? At the end of the day, I wanted to go home. And by getting in my way, they weren’t warming me to their cause.

Cyclists, don’t curse me yet. You aren’t the only ones who make my journey on the average double-decker more than a little tedious. There are the bus drivers who watch you as you run towards their gigantic red beast, handbag flapping at your hip and Tesco carrier bag tangling around your legs – only to pull off when you get within five metres of them. Or those who, despite traffic grinding to a standstill, refuse to open the doors until you are at the next bus-stop – even though nothing is moving within a mile radius. And yes, both these scenarios happened to me last week, too.

Okay, so you could argue that these bus drivers are just doing their job. They are playing by the rules, and there is no room for manoeuvre (quite literally). But then you have the bus drivers who blatantly lie to you.

“There’s an empty bus just behind me,” I was advised as I, along with a gaggle of commuters desperate to get to their desks and first coffee of the day, tried to squeeze through the door on Wednesday. I made a fatal mistake. I paused, and looked up the road to see if he was telling the truth. Needless to say, he wasn’t – but the doors had already slammed in my face as the driver hurriedly thrust into first gear and pulled away. Apparently, in his world, “just behind me” means “about ten minutes away – if you’re lucky.” Thanks, mate, just what a girl needs at eight in the morning.

I guess the moral of the story is, that no matter how sunny it is, how well paid you are or how yummy your lunch was, there is always something in this city to put a dampener on your mood. But, you know what? I will not be beaten. Despite the trials and tribulation of TFL, I will be unbreakable. Or rather, if I am broken, it will not be my something as trivial as London’s arthritic public transport.

So, my advice to those travelling by bus? Pack light, take a good (paperback) book with you, and grin and bear it. And, no matter how painful it gets, don’t let the bastards grind you down...

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Rural Suburbia

Dare I say it, but... I think spring is peeking around the corner. This morning for the first time this year (when I have been at home anyway), it was warm and dry enough for me to get out on the terrace and prepare for the change of season. I spent a very pleasant hour pulling dead leaves off plants, weeding and sweeping up the winter debris before sitting outside with my book and a cup of coffee. A perfect way to spend a Sunday morning.

It is a pleasure to be able to spend a decent amount of time outdoors – that doesn’t only involve hopping between shops or walking to the office. Last week I got some proper fresh air when I was back up north visiting friends and family. I spent an afternoon with my folks at a wildlife reserve and went for a quick three-mile trek around the lake with my dad before enjoying a cuppa in the cafe. I was just what the doctor ordered.

However, last Saturday I discovered a little gem just at the southern end of the Northern Line. I headed down to Colliers Wood to meet a couple of friends to plan a holiday. We decided to have a bit of fun before settling down to the internet and went to Merton Abbey and Watermill. A centre for the Arts and Crafts Movement in the 18th Century, my chum has been raving about it for ages – and I can see why. With a working water mill, crafts shops, a market and a good range of eateries and watering holes, it’s the perfect place to while away a few hours. Whilst there I picked up a birthday present for my mum and managed to track down the crystal Buddha I have been after for ages – for the reasonable price of four quid.

But our wander didn’t stop there. 5 minutes away was the Merton City Farm. Well, I was as happy as a pig in mud! There were sheep, llamas, goats, chickens, Edna the barn owl, and – most excitingly – a plethora of rabbits and guinea pigs.

My human pals pulled me away from my new furry friends with the promise that our day out in the urban countryside was not over yet. We walked further out to Morden Hall Park. With a wetland nature reserve, gardens, a beautiful hall framed by bridges across a small stream and the obligatory National Trust shop and cafe, we could have easily spent the entire afternoon exploring. We rounded off the day window shopping in the garden centre and aquarium before heading home. I have made my friend promise to take me back when the weather is warm enough for a picnic, when we have more time to talk to the animals and my bank balance will allow me to fully appreciate the old abbey’s delights.

So, as night falls over London on one of the warmest days of the year so far, I am really looking forward to spring and summer, and future visits to my friends south of the river – and hopefully further discoveries of countryside escapes in the capital.

Maybe we should have just planned a staycation...

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Scream if you want to go faster...

It’s no big secret that I like the River Thames. Maybe it’s because I’m a water sign – I’m attracted to the sea too and love nothing more than a bubble bath on a lazy Sunday morning. Anyway, last weekend I was happy to find myself spending an awful lot of time at Embankment, on the South Bank – and on the water itself.
Sunday was nothing unusual really – a date with friends at the Hayward to see David Shrigley’s first major exhibition (Note: VERY amusing) followed by a cup of tea and a slice of cake from the Southbank Sunday market. My chocolate and peanut butter concoction gave me a good weeks’ worth of cocoa-fix and the masala chai was much kinder to my hangover than the alternative beverages of Polish lager, stout or scrumpy. After a quick mooch around the Southbank Centre Shop, I returned home a happy bunny.
Saturday, however, was something quite different. It was my friend’s Hen Do – and a boat trip on the Thames had been arranged. Now, let me explain – this was not any boat trip. This was the Thames RIB Experience. A.K.A a ride in a speedboat. Pretty cool, I figured when I agreed to come along. Well, I’ve always liked boats and had never been on one with a bit of speed to it.
Little did I know what I was getting myself into.
It started off tame enough. Yes, we were moving faster than most the traffic on the river, but it was nothing extraordinary.
Then they treated us to a little swerve. Nothing major, not even a 45 degree tilt to the boat – but enough to make us scream all the same. As our nervous laughter faded we were lulled into a false sense of security. The skipper gave us a bit of a commentary on the sites of interest that we passed, and we all got snap happy as we floated by the Tate Modern, the Tower, and St Paul's.
Then we got to Canary Wharf. And all hell broke loose.
It started with a marked increase in speed. Then the James Bond theme started to pump through the air.
It was fiercer than any roller coaster. We swerved from side to side, our vessel at a right-angle to the water. We screamed. We laughed. Our faces streamed with tears, spray and mascara. Every now and then we had to grip on for dear life.
It was bloody brilliant.
Grinning manically and hoarse from our screaming, we tottered off the boat - and headed to another one. Sadly this one was static – but it served booze, and after our adrenaline rush, we were all ready for a glass of vino or three.
The rest of the evening was really rather pleasant. We wandered over the Wobbly Bridge to the Wharf on the Southbank for dinner (I can confirm that the house burger was very acceptable to my taste buds) before staggering (well, it was getting late when we left) to the BFI bar – okay, so rather pricey, but with its comfy seats, laid back music and a good selection of all things alcoholic, it was worth it. Luckily, the blushing bride managed to avoid getting into a fight with someone over who got to a free table first (it would appear she gets feisty after wine) and we wandered back to Charing Cross more than a little well-oiled.
So, yes – last weekend, the Thames out-did itself. And yes – if I get invited to another do on a speed boat I shall be there. With bells on.