Lady of the Wild West Hill

A lady of recent acquaintance who also happens to be a phenomenal writer advertised that she was putting on and acting in her first play as part of the Brighton Fringe Festival. There was no way I was not going to purchase tickets and enjoy this spectacle.

I marketed my plans to a few friends, and was pleased that three decided to come with me. We plotted to make it an entire day of fun in Brighton.

The morning came, and what to wear? The weather was of course changeable. This is the UK after all! I wanted to dress on trend, but decided that warmth and comfort took precedence as it was to be a long day. Leatherette trousers, Nikki Minaj T shirt, salmon hoodie, and green, cotton, faux denim jacket. Prada trainers, of course, also featured.

We four met at Victoria Station at 11.30am intent on taking the 12.06 express train to Brighton. We headed straight to Marks and Spencers in the station, to get some provisions for a en route picnic! M & S have an ingenious British Summer collection and we excitedly stocked up on such delicacies as Fish and Chips Crisps, and Rhubarb Crumble to be washed down with a nice chilled bottle of prosecco! Once we boarded, chose seats with a table and laid out the picnic the envious looks started from other travellers.

The journey passed quickly and we were soon in Brighton. We took a picturesque walk to the town centre, walking through rows of ample Victorian villas beautifully framed with contemporary shutters. We mused the benefits of living in one of these vast Brighton properties.

After visits to a divine kitchen shop (I know! Why a kitchen shop! We were drawn in by the faux vintage items in the window), Primark (I waited outside), Top Man, (again outside) and H&M, the sun came out and we headed with some urgency towards the beach. The beach area was buzzing with locals and visitors alike. A number of stag and hen parties were present evidenced by their style of costume. The best of which was a stag party adorned in costumes made famous by the Village People, although not sure it was warm enough to be pounding the streets in loincloths! Perhaps the Indian, faux feathered, headdresses added some temperature.

The sun was short lived unfortunately, but we were not perturbed and spent another hour laying on the beach wrapped in coats. We were not the only ones. It would seem rather British to head to the seaside and disrobe with the slightest sign of sun, and then sit on the beach wrapped and shivering.  I pondered it would be useful to have my duvet with me.

Off again and a quick visit to the funfair. Not sure if this Boulevardier knows what is ‘fun’ about the fair as I get sick travelling backwards on a train, let alone being thrown in every direction whilst being insulted with the loudest, latest rap tracks!

After a restorative bottle of Merlot (no sherry) and fish and chips we headed expectantly to the Marlborough Theatre. After getting our hands stamped, thereby allowing us entry to the theatre, we sniffed out the bar and stocked up on extremely large glasses of wine and waited to be allowed to enter the theatre room itself. It was not long before we were hurtling up the stairs and taking some seats in the small but perfect theatre.

VG Lee entered the stage to the tune of Que Sera Sera, and set about her one woman play. VG acted the central character Jean, and introduced us to her friends and neighbours via a series of phone calls, shared coffees and trips to the wool shop. We met Malcolm her neighbour who exuded displaced debonairness, Karen her friend desperately trying to make her romantic endeavours work, straight Stella, and Jean’s distant and married lover Rebecca.

We glimpsed an hour or so of Jean’s life with a number of laughs, but also some tender and touching moments as she tried to make her futile relationship with Rebecca work, all within reach of the wonderful and wild West Hill.

VG has tremendous talent! To date I have adored reading her novels and short stories, and loved her Facebook anecdotes, and can now add loving her playwright and actor credentials. Individually and in person she is a very special lady who I have the pleasure of calling my friend!

I was high with creativity as we left the theatre and headed back to another bar for another quick bottle of red before getting the 10.30 back to London.

A fabulous day filled with laughs, shopping, theatre and sunbathing! What else could one ask for…? (except for maybe ranges of sherry in all drinking establishments)!

TNW

 

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Speed Rejection

A couple of months ago, while enjoying a few drinks with friends, we were sharing the woes of life, and in particular the lack of opportunities to meet people to date. I came up with the bright idea that we should consider speed dating. I wasn’t sure why I suddenly thought this was a good suggestion. I am not in the habit of assessing 25 contestants dating abilities in 3 minutes, or particularly adept at it. I rationalised that as I do a lot of networking in my day job it must be similar.

I found a city based, professional speed dating company, and signed up. I also signed the two aforementioned friends up, who I had coerced into this folly.

We joked around about not taking it too seriously, having a laugh with mates, and if we met someone to date then it was a bonus.

The event was 2 months in the future and so I put it to the back of my memory and got on with life.

A week before the event I realised that I had not thought of it for a while, and with only a week to go we needed to start making plans. I emailed the organisers to find out what people usually wore to these events. The response was smart casual, which personally I find the most difficult to decipher.

The event was on a Monday and the Friday before I was attending another party and asked a few friends what I should wear and we agreed that it should be a non office, non work shirt and jeans.

The shirt that came to mind was denim with an unusual swirling pattern, and slim fit. However, I did not want to commit the sin of double denim. This is only acceptable if you are a founding member of the group Bewitched! Another choice would be chinos, which from my collection could be green, orange, red or purple, rather than the regulation, boring beige. However, I wanted to wear my blue and silver prada trainers which don’t go with chinos so well. I did have a new pair of H&M denim trousers, and I say trousers rather than jeans as they don’t appear as jeans. They are stretchy and look like leather, or I guess leatherette, and I love them! Only challenge was to decide if leatherette trousers were suitable for speed dating! So many difficult and important decisions to make!

The weekend flew by and plans were made to meet at 6.30pm at Old Street Station to make sure we got a couple of drinks in before entering the lion’s mouth!

I finished work, had a quick shower, re-quiffed the hair, dressed, spruced and primped. I decided on the denim shirt, leatherette trousers and prada trainers, gulped a large sherry and set off.

En route the panic started to set in, and I started making a number of emergency phone calls to friends whilst on the bus, and heading to the tube station. My main concern was the leatherette trousers which were incredibly cool, but maybe not for speed dating. The potential helpers were incommodiously unavailable and I had to leave several messages. I wondered whether I should announce, as I sat down in front of each contestant, that the trousers were only leather in appearance, and were really denim.

I met my two friends as planned and we headed for the nearest pub, despite protestations from one of them to look for a cooler bar. I won out with needs must argument, and not limiting pre speed dating drinking time. We had 30 minutes before we needed to arrive at the venue. My companions wanted vodka and tonics and I really wanted a sherry but they didn’t have a good Fino (still quite shocked at the lack of good sherry in London pubs), and settled on a gin and tonic. Again limited choice and accepted Bombay whilst really wanting Tanqueray. Perhaps my friend was right and we should have found a more salubrious bar. We managed 3 drinks in our 30 minutes, and after a quick toilet check walked the few minutes to the venue. Speed dating was to occur in the restaurant segment of a swanky Hoxton bar/restaurant. There were tasteful nibbles and a glass of bubbles to help relax us as we walked in…

I am not going to detail any of the actual dating as it was really quite horrendous. The initial talking was OK, but it did feel rather like a meat market. I couldn’t keep up with the scoring, and by the last segment, was too drunk.

Cards were then gathered and passed out and I didn’t get a single contestant wanting to see me again! I did not send a single card myself, but was still massively upset and felt incredibly rejected.

I think valium should be provided at the end of the evening before the envelopes are handed out!

So despite a beautiful, classy venue and wonderful hosts the evening actually left an incredibly sour taste in my mouth. It’s too brutal and my skin is not thick enough.

The only upsides are that I spent time with good friends, and had something to write in my blog. I will not be partaking again. Now pass the sherry!

TNW

Markets of my youth

With the sun comes nostalgia. That’s seems to be the natural order of things in my world anyway…

I spent last Sunday afternoon in Camden, and had a fantastic time catching up with a good, longstanding friend. We shopped some, and I got a jacket, I had coveted for a long time. Losing weight last year meant I felt I could wear this style of jacket which is a fantastic feeling. But Camden itself has changed, and it got me thinking about the Camden of my youth and the cremated Kensington Market affectionately called Kenny Market and I wanted to share my ode to wonderful inspiring unique places, which are unfortunately long gone.

I first found Kensington Market in the mid 1980s. I was a teenage gothic punk and Kenny Market was a Mecca for those searching for punk central. The market was contained within a 3 storey terraced building along Kensington High Street between the underground station and Kensington Gardens. All the stalls were within individual cubical like structures, with walkways in between. Once inside it felt cavernous, magical and mystical. It was impossible to navigate your way systematically, and so it was better to drift and breathe deep the treasures on offer. The treasures were a combination of shoes, belts, jackets, trousers, t shirts, tops, chains and whips, which were sandwiched between record, poster and accessory stalls. There was also a splattering of tattoo, piercing and hairdressers. There were from memory a couple of random cowboy shops selling cowboy boots, jackets and shirts. It was a labyrinth, but wherever you were there was a waft of patchouli, and loud thumping punk music. It was divine, and a vast difference from the sleepy Hertfordshire village I grew up in.

My parents took the stance of buying clothing staples and a little more, and expected me buy any additional items myself from Saturday job savings. They also assessed that ‘fashion’ items were more expense and of a lower quality! Blah blah blah! I am sure we all heard that at some point. There was, however, an advantage to buying from my own resources, as neither parent particularly liked my punk stage, and really couldn’t object too strongly when I was buying the items from my own, hard earned cash reserves.

I bought so many items from Kenny Market over the years, and fondly remember two in particular. I had coveted a black suede jacket with tassels and silver buckles for quite some time. They were £65 which was a lot of money in 1985! I looked at them on every visit to the market, flicked the tassels lovingly, and had tried several on. I would stare at myself in the mirrors longing for the time when the jacket would be mine to take home. I saved and saved and eventually had enough spare cash to splash out. I was so excited, and would have easily bought the first one I saw, but instead savoured the moment and tried them on in several stalls. They were in essence all the same, but that didn’t matter, as I knew that was the day when I would be taking one home, and it filled me with ecstasy. I buckled relatively quickly and handed over the cash and kept the jacket on. I walked around the market for the rest of the day with my head very high, and trying to look, and act cool. This was easier said than done as I really longed to shimmy my tassels at anyone who walked past me, whereas I needed to look as if I had thrown ‘this old thing on’! I never felt so ‘part of the crowd’ as a gothic punk more than that day at Kenny Market.

The second item was a little discovery. It was a black suit style jacket which had been shortened in length so it fell to the waist rather than the thighs. The sleeves were also rolled back to the mid forearm which allowed for a brilliant display of bangles and bracelets (also the necessary attire of any goth). What was so brilliant about this second jacket was that no one else in my small part of Hertfordshire had one and it made me feel very original. I wore it to the village pub where I where it was not received quite as well. My excitement waned, but I had to remember, I was the only punk in the village!

Kenny Market was demolished in the early naughties and I still can’t believe it’s gone. It only exists now in the memories of its sellers and patrons. I look back so fondly on the many weekends and school holidays I spent there immersing in a true London scene.

Camden Market still exists fortunately. Well I say fortunately as in it still physically exists despite its enormous metamorphosis. I started going to Camden Market at the same time as Kenny Market, and for the same reasons. Camden Market was much smaller in the 1980s and mainly consisted of the structured market area near to the tube station. The lock and all its offshoots were not yet conceived. Each stall within the market had very different and unique items, yet affordable. Many new designers had stalls to try and sell, and market their upcoming collections. It was really exciting and a psychedelic colour splash. The market gathered in popularity and unfortunately seemed to implode within its own commercial development. Gone were the new designers, and in their stead were rows and rows of endless, copy, uniform leather jackets. I actually stopped going to Camden Market in the 1990s as to me it had lost its way, and I could get the same leather jackets at any market, and didn’t need to go to Camden. Not that I wanted one you have to understand.

Fortunately, over time, it found its way back to its roots, and as the market areas sprawled then the original sellers reappeared with their unique brand of London in the newer areas. It birthed Proud Galleries as a magnificent music and arts venue. By 2000 Camden had found it’s cool again, while remaining exceptionally busy.

As I stated at the start of this entry I went to Camden Market last weekend. This was the first time in a year, and was really overall really disappointed. It seems to have evolved, or should I devolved again! There is so much, to be frank, tat suffocating the real roots and creativity of Camden! A lot of the designers seem to have moved to Hoxton and trebled their prices in the process. The few original and inspiring sellers left are being suffocated out by cheap copies and real tourist trap rubbish. Come on Camden! Get your act together!

My one purchase of pride, however, is a military parade drummer jacket in black and silver which I have wanted for years. I did not feel the same sense of excitement as when I got the tassel jacket years earlier in Kenny Market, but I am older, wiser, and less prone to sudden dramatic outpourings! I also enjoyed a jug of Pimms with a good friend so all was not lost.

Where are the new and up and coming markets where you can still buy new, innovative and unique items? If you know please share with me… I promise to keep your secret!

TNW

Anyone for Coffee?

What is happening to the High Streets in England? A metamorphosis is afoot.  The advent and popularity of internet shopping and the digital age have certainly changed its personality. The book, record, video and pretty much anything you can buy from eBay shops are fast disappearing, some to the point of extinction. The hairdressers and similar where a digital replacement is not available will survive for the time being but some High Streets will not survive these changes and are becoming the home of wall to wall Poundstretchers and pawn shops. However, in areas with more available and disposable income (or that’s the way I see it) restaurants and coffee shops are taking over and whilst in one sense it’s sad to see the demise of an institution I see evolution rather than destruction.

Crouch End fortunately has embraced the changes and with the loss of Propero’s the Bookshop, Woolworths and Blockbuster to name a few, has seen lots of new individual coffee shops cropping up. I quite like the addition of multiple choices of atmospheric inspiring places to enjoy some writing over a coffee or to ponder the next moves for the Boulevardier! 

Not all are inspiring and I have taken the time, all in the name of journalism you understand to have a look, a coffee and slice of Battenberg in to present you with a guide to coffee in Crouch End…      

There are the usual Starbucks, Costa and Harris and Hoole (controversially owned by Tesco) which are worth no more than a mention.

The Honeycomb was in situ before the recent resurgence and is the place to pick up a free copy of TimeOut each week but I fear is not moving and responding to the change in competition and other unique artistic coffee shops and culture abundant elsewhere.     

The Rocking Chair Cafe has a great name and nice but nothing makes it stand out. I could not even see the rocking chair from whence the name came. Surely there should be at least one chair to rock in whilst dreaming in the Rocking Chair Cafe.

Coffee Cake is an eclectic chic fail! It is billed as an Artisan Boulonger, which it might be pastry wise, but the furniture is multiple big heavy wooden tables which would not look out of place in my Grandmothers vast farmhouse dining room, but not in such quantity. It was overpoweringly depressing.  

My Kind of Coffee deserves a mention for the rather odd Union Jack chairs! Perhaps bought in a cheap lot post Jubilee celebrations?

Hot Pepper Jelly is my third favourite and only a small place with a rustic orange facade and been established for a long time but feels right in Crouch End and advertises lots of local artistic events. The coffee and cake are divine.

Second favourite is Coffee Circus. It has a 19th century Parisian feel with a contemporary twist. The coffee is fantastic. There is a long slim salon with the coffee bar adjacent to the front door and a rich red crushed velvet bench with small tables, perfect for one with a vista to watch the patrons come and go. There is a larger area towards the back with walls covered in sheet music. Its inspiring and relatively child free which can be a blessing in Crouch End! They also have a jug of tap water readily available with glass tumblers for self pouring which is a nice touch. Only downfall is that some coffees (and not just the correct warm rather than hot lattes) are served in glasses and not heatproof ones at that. They may look good but are impractical.

Some of you who follow my writings will already by acquainted with The Haberdashery which is not only my number 1 coffee shop (and so much more) in Crouch End but conveniently close to my residence, i.e. maximum 2 minutes walk!

Its situated in a Victorian parade on Middle Lane en route to the Broadway. The large front windows are always filled with advertisements for upcoming artist, music and reading events in Crouch End and many in The Haberdashery along with tempting freshly made cakes. In fact I was just there this morning for breakfast before heading to the gym and being good and having porridge with blueberries and an Americano with skimmed milk and Massimo (one of the owners) almost paraded through with an enormous fresh cream sponge cake FULL of fresh strawberries. He delicately placed his prize on the top tier of the display plates in the window. It was very difficult to not gorge the entire cake on the spot despite it not yet being 11am!

Inside in the main cafe the tables and chairs are a mish mash carefully put together to present a stage not out of place in Rome, Florence or Paris. The walls are adorned with more art, and the shelves full of vintage tea and coffee sets which are for purchase. At the front adjacent to the serving area are displays of muffins and other treats, elderberry, blackberry, orange, raspberry and chocolate brownies to name but a few available. It’s a vintage and gastronomic treasure chest.

There is a wonderful hidden garden at the back and a new conservatory area with enormous concertina doors to flex with the changeable English weather. The back room has a New England feel with lots of wood and skylights flooding in additional light.          

The staff and owners are lovely and really embrace the Crouch End spirit of community and they are absolute patrons of the arts.

The only thing I would change, and this rests more with my snobbish and boulevardier tendencies is some of the patrons (not good business sense I know)! I would quite like to see a Steve Strange at the Blitz approach at the door with entry only to correctly styled individuals and have an upper limit of children allowed in at any one time! Crouch End is (unfortunately) a pushchair friendly environment, and it’s quite the assault course to navigate the number of perambulators and high chairs stationed at each table. But in true Crouch End style there are a few Dads in there too on a Friday morning, youngsters in tow, which they tend to dressed in black skinny jeans, v neck sweaters and thick rimmed glasses whilst reading the Guardian.        

Also there are those that ‘try’ to be Crouch End and fail miserably! Enter couple with gent attired in a tight winter neck scarf (its 15 degrees – he obviously thought it was a substitute for a silk neck cravat) and a pair of beige and cream spats! I would have stopped him at the door and sent him to Coffee Cake where bad taste flourishes!

Once over all these eye horrors I took another spoonful of my creamy porridge and my ears are massaged by the sound of the Andrews Sisters jazzing up Roll Out The Barrel.  The Haberdashery rules! Come early to get a good table.       

 

TNW