At the end of November Jim and I took a trip to London. We were given a couple of tickets for The Race of Champions at the Olympic Stadium – the temptation was hard to resist. Although it was exciting, the temperatures took a dip so we sat chittering in the bitter cold cheering on David Coulthard and Suzie Wolf.
To be handy for the stadium we stayed at Leytonstone. The stadium was a twenty minute walk from Stratford Underground – providing ample opportunity to absorb the major redevelopment of the area. I hope the Olympic legacy is working because there's been a massive amount of money spent. I liked the stadium but there's a lot of over the top futuristic 'street furniture', including huge light sculptures, that must have cost a fortune but look pretty tacky.
To get out of the cold we went to the cinema; we we saw two films while we were there – Brooklyn, which was brilliant, and The Dressmaker, which was a bit of a weird farce and fairly put me off ever visiting the Australian outback. The Dressmaker was on in The Vue, which is at the very top of Westfield in Stratford, one of the largest shopping malls in Europe. There were crowds of people and queues everywhere in what seemed like acre upon acre of brash retail hell. I thought we were never going to find our way back out.
One place I loved was All You Read Is Love – the fantastic cafe / book shop run by Danish sister and brother team, Karen and Anders Karen Holst Bundgaard. It's no surprise that this comparatively new enterprise was named as an award winner in Time Out's Love London Awards.
I was delighted to see Karen again – we were on the same Creative Writing Course at Glasgow Uni. She was super busy so we didn't get much of a chance to chat but her cafe´ was the perfect place to hang out. The ambiance is boho and very relaxed– with comfortably quirky decor and there's a great selection of books and delicious home made food.
We had planned to catch up with two of our London friends, Alex McIntosh and John Ellis and thought we would meet them in the cafe´. Unbelievably, John's East London Radio show is based in the same building so we met him and Alex before John's show went on air. The four of us had a great old chin wag. Alex and John hadn't met before but it was interesting to hear them sharing information about all the great walks they'd been in East London – including around nearby Epping Forrest. If the weather had been more clement, we might have featured this into our visit.
We caught up with John again at his gig at The Wanstead Tap – a fabulous performance space. John Ellis (The Vibrators and The Stranglers) is always a treat to watch and he was joined by Cult With No Name, post-punk electronic balladeers. They're very different, you can catch their music on Peter Braatz' documentary Blue Velvet Revisited. Kameliya Ivanova, a talented young singer songwriter was also on the bill.
We didn't spend all our time in East London and the Central Line proved to be very handy for getting into west and central London. We went by underground to Portobello Road, where we enjoyed checking out the vintage and antique stalls. Rather pricey compared to Glasgow but lovely to look at. We had a lovely lunch in an Italian Restaurant, Negozio Classica in Notting Hill
My favourite excursion was a jaunt to my old stomping ground in Chelsea. It was great to wander along Kings Road and we were delighted to discover the Saatchi Gallery, where we'd never been before, so we enjoyed checking it out. The small park at the entrance was magical with garlands of lights on the trees.
From there we caught a bus on Kings Road, which took us up through Knightsbridge to Leicester Square – it went at a snail's pace but we enjoyed admiring all the posh shop window displays. Then we took a stroll to another of my favourite places – Covent Garden – not quite so mobbed as Leicester Square, which was chaotic with all the tourists and crowds of youngsters milling around in great excitment at the arrival of somebody famous.
London is a place of mixed pleasures – it was fun but a bit exhausting.
Pat Byrne, December, 2015