Sunday, 21 February 2016

Simple pleasures

Half term holidays are all about the simple pleasures. Like having a second cup of tea in the morning, just because there's time. Or spending a little extra time in bed and reading when you've just woken up instead of when you're falling asleep. This one's been no exception and as always, I've kept myself busy with lots of little things. As such, it has absolutely whizzed by! From Friday night to tonight, it's been jam packed with friends and exploration. Highlights have included romance, food (lots of it), Deadpool, museums, a hotel, sunshine, catch ups, cat cuddles, more mews, a trip on the River Thames, vintage shopping, a gig and lots of sofa time.

The holiday began with Valentines weekend and it was another lovely one. This time we opted for a staycation and ultimate romance when on the Saturday night we watched Deadpool at my favourite cinema, Genesis in Mile End. The day itself saw a visit to the even more romantic Crime Museum. Exhausted by the in-take of information at the Crime Museum (all incredibly fascinating though; a must-see), a 'roomy' room at Hoxton Holborn was incredibly welcome respite. 

A 12 o'clock check-out and a breakfast bag delivered to the door made for a leisurely start to the day then it was home to welcome a friend visiting from Bath. Faced with far too many options but at the same time feeling unsure about the state of the weather, at least two cups of tea were consumed before we eventually made a decision and headed out and about.

The initial plan was to pop into the Natural History Museum where rumour has it the dinosaur skeleton has been replaced by a lage whale? Turns out we'll have to wait a while to find out because there were enormous queues at both doors (am I allowed to hate half terms yet obviously love them at the same time?) so we promptly turned around and instead headed for the V&A.

Now usually my visits to the V&A are made only for the gift shop or use of the toilets but this time, further exploration led us to the stained glass and silver collection. Like a magpie blinded by all things shiny, here I ogled at Art Deco tea and coffee services and we mourned the redundancy of over-sized, over-extravagant golden wine coolers and punch bowls. Coming to the end of this area, we were then led down the ceramic staircase, another gem I'd never encountered before, then out into the garden where we paused for just a moment before unruly children threatening to push each other into the central pool compelled us to move on.

Already pretty late in the day, it was nearing dinner time and as we'd chosen Dishoom as our restaurant of choice for the evening meal, we figured there could be no such thing as too early. Even upon arriving at 5 o'clock, we were faced with a wait but fortunately everything was pretty fast moving and before we knew it, we were settled in the bar armed with mocktails and I with lamb samosas to wet the appetite. Glorious food, a waiter with far too much enthusiasm, laughs a-plenty and lots more mocktails later, we were homeward bound and found ourselves squashed onto the sofa hunting for holidays (watch this space).

Another lazy start to the following day and the need for four females to be using the same bathroom meant that by the time we were out and about, it was basically lunchtime. We had decided to search for Beyond Bread, a gluten free bakery in Fitzrovia. Not my choice, I confess I'm usually pretty averse to free-from anything (even as a lactose intolerant) so I was feeling sceptical. Nevertheless, I ordered 'The Cure', a smoked salmon toastie followed by a brownie which was not only gluten free but dairy free as well. I'm so good. To say I was pleasantly surprised would actually be an understatement. I thoroughly enjoyed my lunch and certainly wouldn't refuse to go back if the invite arose.

From Beyond Bread, we made our way to Paddington so as to be in a suitable vicinity for train departure. A gentle stroll along to Little Venice in the sunshine was a sweet end to a lovely couple of days which brings us to Tuesday evening when I almost forgot to go to choir what with being all out of routine and what not.

Wednesday came and another visit, this time from a Cardiff-based friend (still working on her to move a little (a lot) closer) which took us here, there and really and truly everywhere. I was greeted by her in the form of an assault outside of Victoria Coach Station which taught me that I'd actually be horrendously awful if genuinely attacked. As much as I may like to think that I'd be able to handle myself in such a situation, turns out I just freeze and scream, even when the arm around me is adorned in recognisable fur and leather gloves.

So we wandered in pursuit of tea which I thought would be all too easy to find along one or another of the many pretty streets in the area. Many new mews' were discovered, but no tea (at least none that we felt we could afford) and before we knew it we were on Knightsbridge. Seeking the cheaper alternative, we found two seats in an incredibly busy Starbucks where we had lone businessmen to the left of us and a meeting that involved a large amount of make-up and serious talk to the right. Not wanting to out-stay our welcome, we eventually moved on to we weren't sure where. As we passed the counter again on our way out though, we did realise it was probably lunchtime so we decided somewhere new with food should be our next stop. 

I think a need of the toilet was what led us into Harrods. I don't usually like going in but probably only because I've made the fatal mistake of entering the building at Christmas time when it is heaving and horrible. The lack of windows and the fact that it's so easy to get lost always makes me a little claustrophobic as it is. Add in the crush of angry shoppers and I'm done. Nevertheless, we figured Harrods toilets would be worth the visit.

It was only once we were walking through the food-hall that I realised I have never been in there! Fortnum & Mason is probably still my favourite simply for pretty packaging and all the tea but I have to admit that this one did give the others a run for their money if only because of its absolutely stunning beauty. It is so extravagant it is unreal. Before we knew it, we were buying lunch; I had a hot dog croissant (yep, that's a thing), some ricotta and spinach pastry that made me look anything but elegant (all the spinach in all the teeth) and a stick of olive bread. Lunch heaven. Extravagance continued when the server at the checkout kept calling me madam and we were then escorted out of the building by the friendliest doorman who, having shown us the way to benches where we could eat, then came along to see what we were actually having for our lunch. There we sat, surrounded by pigeons and Spanish tourists with Burger King, watching various fancy looking cars roll up to drop off fancy looking people. A great place for a spot of people watching!

Now this next item is going to sound a bit sad but basically, I am an old man transport geek stuck inside a young woman's body and when I recently discovered that you can now use your Oyster on the River Bus, I had to try it! With a willing friend, we were on our way. We embarked at Embankment and weren't really sure where we'd get off but ended up disembarking at Greenwich after a seriously hair-raising journey. It was really fascinating to see so many sights that can really only be seen from the river and to imagine that some people genuinely use the clippers for their commute as there were some slightly abstract request stops at points! 

Once on dry land again in Greenwich, we made what turned out to be a rather bold move and headed for the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College. Turns out that a slightly turbulent journey on water followed by looking up to dizzying heights to admire a painted ceiling is not the best combination. It was beautiful but it wasn't too comfortable to look up for too long. 

Retreating from the Painted Hall then, we found ourselves wandering along again in search of tea. This time, we discovered a lovely cosy pub where we were lured in by cans of Cawston Press behind the bar. We sat ourselves in the conservatory where we felt very cosy while it began to rain outside. Time was pressing on and we suddenly realised how far we'd actually strayed so we headed back into the city via the DLR which was incredibly novel even without claiming the 'driving' seat. Dinner was had at The Diner in Carnaby Street and it was here that we had a mad panic when we realised we were only placing an order at 8 and a train needed to be caught at 9. Somehow, we managed to eat in about 15 minutes before basically running to the station and sharing a fleeting farewell. Miracles do happen.

Thursday and I was all alone. After lots of cat cuddles, I decided to be totally productive and headed to the bank (oh the joys of half term) and then, seeing as I was out, I happened to have a splurge at Beyond Retro. While in the area, I decided to venture on to Brick Lane; not actually for more vintage but instead to admire the buildings would you believe? I was heading specifically for Fournier Street which, as usual, has recently come to my attention via Instagram. Once there, I felt transported back in time and it was only after wandering a little further that I realised I'd actually admired similar buildings in neighbouring streets before. It's a pretty unique little part of London that's for sure.

Another day to myself on Friday, I decided to find another unusual street and also to make a visit to the Fashion and Textile Museum where I remembered the 'Liberty in Fashion' exhibition was still on. Sadly, the sunshine had disappeared by the time I headed outdoors so I decided to boycott Roupell Street but it's still on my radar for a sunny day. Instead, I did a little more vintage browsing along Lower Marsh before making my way to the museum. Once inside, the first thing that struck me was how it almost felt like a completely different building from the one I visited back in the summer for the Riviera Style exhibition. Elegant cloths were draped all around, acting as a partition between the decades. Full of beautiful fabrics and shapes, I lost myself in colour and the peace and quiet which was a huge contrast to most places across the course of the week. Again, time passed all too quickly and I realised I needed to head home and out again to Oslo Hackney (not Norway unfortunately) where LNZNDRF (a fusion of members from The National and Beirut) gave a very ambient performance. Definitely a venue I'm returning to, it was so small and friendly!

Last night, we ate at 100 Hoxton for a Norwich friend's birthday. Tasty tapas and tasty mocktails more than distracted me from the fact that I was expecting a child's face pressed up against the window at any moment or the simple fact that I was literally within view of school. In some ways I suppose it eased me back to reality. Perhaps.

Today I have mainly been binge watching Harry Potter and pretending that either a) tomorrow isn't really happening or b) if it is then it's just like Hogwarts and it's the dream. Only 5 weeks til the next holiday though, I'm sure this half term will fly by as quickly as the holiday has done (I hope).