The world turns to London this summer with the arrival of the Olympics and the Euro swindle. But aside the fencing for the olive stamped gold, London charms and flirts like never before. We visit Sherlock and Watson, find Wordsworth’s inspiration, become a lexicographer, decide on which flowers to buy for the mother-in-law – see London the way most have forgotten. This is an exploration of London that stems around the most intriguing traits of its personality (read England, dainty, and someone called “Love”).
The Flowers of Columbia
Talking a walk through Columbia Road Flower Market on an early Sunday morning is a lesson on ritualistic verbal market-wit. There are bunches of fiver cheap enough for a sarcastic giveaway, and daffodils “so cheap that’s it’s perfect for your mother-in-law’s grave”. A seasoned stallholder of 80 explains that it is all about making the folks smile. And if you can make them laugh, you are doing alright. It is a riot of colours, fragrances and an endless flow of banter.
But the permanent shops behind these endless lines of flower stalls are as much a part of the magic. More than sixty of them line the street. And these include a few nifty art galleries, pastry, one of those book-cover perfect antiques shops and the omnipresent gardening stores.
Taking a quiet turn off at the Exra Street leads to a complex maze of cobbled streets that is full of some really creative wares coming from the area’s community – trinkets made by the hand, baskets, vintage clothing, and some fresh oyesters as well. To accompany all this and make the scene just right, are busking street bands. Far from the tourist madness, the Borough and Portobello markets bloom every weekend.
The best Foie Gras
Terence Conran is London’s darling designer and restaurateur of the 1980s. He came back into popularity in 2008 when he moved eastward to Shoreditch, to convert what was once a Victorian warehouse into an establishment now called the Boundary. Here is served some brilliant shepherd’s pie and grilled mackerel. The food shop sells Golden Syrup. The upper floors are a hotel. But it is the basement which steals the show. The Boundary Restaurant and Bar throws in an air of elegance amidst fantastic dining. Here is found, arguably, the best Foie Gras in London.
On a lexicographer’s path
A walk fringed by the blue display plaques spelling out names like Ezra Pound, James Joyce and even T. S. Eliot, and you know you are walking one literary path! Many of Her Majesty’s greatest writers lived here at least once in their lifetimes. Dr. Johnson’s house which sits on Gough Square is a real gem of writer’s adobe, tucked away in an un-remarkably common and quiet spot near to the Fleet Street. This is the home of Samuel Johnson, the critic, essayist and aphorist who penned the popular English dictionary.
The exhibitions spanning across the rooms show the environment where he went about doing the mammoth task. It also houses one of his original dictionaries (published in 1755) which the visitors can leaf through. A visit and perhaps one of us can decipher why the master defined oats such – “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.”
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
Nearby, and just off Fleet Street is the Cheshire Cheese pub and it has been around for about as long as Dr. Jonson’s house has and carries on the ‘Olde London’ atmosphere with finesse. There is quite a good possibility that Johnson himself might have dropped in from time to time, although there are no official records of it. Either way, there are lots of Johnson memorabilia inside.
The Sherlock Holmes pub sits on 10-11 Northumberland Street (quite far from Baker’s Street) and is a little kitschy maybe, but it certainly gives out a pretty authentic vibe which comes with an enthusiastic service and some very generous helping of the food. The dishes are named after terms and adages picked out the Holmes series. For instance, “The Sign of Four,” is the soup of the day. The dining room upstairs is touched with some pictures depicting striking scenes from the detective stories. The catch of the day is however, the meticulously reconstructed study decorated along the lines of the one which Holmes frequented. It gives the sense where Sherlock has just put down his cup of tea and violin, and stepped out for a while.
She indeed dwelt among the untrodden ways. And it could just as likely be this place as any of the other many delightful forests. Hampstead Heath is Eden rediscovered. But within it are groves, hidden pastures and carefully masked nooks. Actually much more than these. There is wooded glen in the western section of the heath which lies in preternatural serenity and it is impossible to envision it considering it lies just a couple of miles from central London and that too, in a park that pulls in well over seven million visitors each year.
Unlike London’s other Royal parks which are often overly sedate, this one is marked by wild marks. The trees are not manicured and are allowed to grow unchecked, all crooked at odd angles or even fall to the ground. The fallen leaves are not cleared away no matter how worried you are about getting your shoes and shins dirty. A short walk away are the ruins of Pitt’s Garden (of the 18th century prime minister). Nothing much remains today apart from a red-brick arch apart from the freely growing woodland. A little away and across the road is Hill Garden, whose stoned paths are lined with pillars string with wisteria and roses.