Pints, Trains, Snores and Friday Nights

Friday nights and drinking are an art that has been perfected by the London working crowd. You will notice this that all workers are done and dusted with work by almost as early as 3pm. The process starts around midday when they gather in clusters outside office, smokes and cups of coffee in their hand, nattering away. That is what Fridays should look like – the prospect of the weekend starting off, armed with cups of coffee and all-important conversations that hinge upon … you take your pick of what they should go like. Go wild.

A Friday evening decides the tone of the night. Will you be relegated to the guest bed or the couch? For your own bed shall be out of limits. Let there be no doubt about that.

That is If you make it back home by morning.

Take my husband’s colleague. He boarded a train from London after a substantial evening of pints to get back to his home in the suburbs. Sleep took over. The worthy man woke up and found himself in the seaside town of Brighton. What a frightful mess you would think. You would also think he would have been alert to the possibilities of what lay after. Think again. He nodded off. Yes once more.

Life is a series of dramatic incidents on any particular Friday evening that starts with an innocent drink. When our friend woke up a second time, he found himself in Brighton, fell asleep, woke up and found himself in Brighton all over again. A vicious cycle alright but brought to a halt the third time when his wife turned up at the station. The aftermath would not have been pretty.

Then there is the husband. After an evening of drinks post work on a Friday, he called to say he would be home after a couple of drinks. Two drinks being the operative words here. Our friends, part of the merry party, called to assure me that he was hauling his behind out of the pub soon. Contrary to what it sounds like, I Do Not sit with a cudgel at home.

That was 8pm. This was 11pm. Barring an evening of books and Netflix, a twinge of conscience made me put through a call. It turned out that Adi had just then got onto a train.

Midnight came and went. Radio silence. Several frantic calls. Now booze, sleep and trains make for best friends forever. Adi, it turned out, had been on a train to Gatwick. No prizes for guessing, but he had slept off in between. Now, Gatwick is an hour away from Euston, the station from which Adi catches the train back home to Northampton. By the time he had reached London again, the last train for Northampton had left the station. Voila.

The story did not end there. This talented husband of mine declared that why he would sleep the last few hours of the morning at the station. Alarm bells started ringing in my head. I was picturing him, a drunk man in a suit by the side of the road, snoring away with his mouth open, not unlike a hobo.

Oh not a scene to be endured even though my thoughts for this pesky creature were not too kind at the moment. After a session of extreme nagging (it is a tiring job, isn’t it?), he tottered over to a taxi and spent a not-too-moderate sum to get back home.

The clock struck 4 when my warrior reached home.

Sympathy had run dry and the guest bed was the perfect repository for all drunken snores.

Lest you are in London on a night out, this time with the errant partner/friend, do give these spots a look-in.

Shoreditch

In ultra-hip Shoreditch, which some poor sod ranted about as being too hip (as if!), the East Enders welcome Friday with a bang. Boho-chic fashion, hipster beards and a chilled-out vibe reigns supreme. The mind boggles to think that the place is supposed to have got its name from some mistress of a 13th century king of England who lay dead in a ditch here. And Shoreditch came to be – her name was Jane Shore. What a pathetic insert into the happy evening we are contemplating, I admit, but then in London it is easy to think that the bench you are sitting on belonged to some earl who sat on it as he played the violin, releasing mournful strains by the minute.

The streets of Shoreditch are awash with colour and you can spend your time watching movies on rooftop cinemas or shop away and scout street art in its various alleys with a tripod and trusty DSLR in your hand. Better still, you can catch a drink in one of its gastropubs and do some pub-hopping. Be a busy bee in short.

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The Owl & Pussycat

Now you would be forgiven for wondering, ‘Why are people spilling over onto the streets? Did the pub throw them out for bad behaviour and they therefore stand around like punished schoolboys and girls. Only with glasses in their hand?’ No these fine men and women just like to stand and drink, okay? It is a London end-of-the-week ritual. This 18th century pub here is a fine place to sit and nosh away, if you get any space on one of its fashionable Chesterfields. If not, just take yourself to the beer garden at its back for my sake and join the many who stand around dreaming away or eavesdrop on others who pontificate about changes in life with a glass of wine in their hands.

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Dirty Burger

The name does the job. A small joint but when you are down a few pints you know what burgers can do. So I shall just quietly step away from the burger. Go on. Make it sloppy.

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Boxpark

A converted shipping container that is filled with options for when you want to eat and drink alongside ‘cos why should you do one thing when you can multi-task. Chomp and guzzle.

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BBB

That stands for Beach Blanket Babylon. Why on earth would they think of beach and Babylon together? My imagination is at a loss. Also because I did not end up inside. But if you do, let me know?

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Dirty Bones

Some more dirty stuff. Here you can truly get working with your hands. Now stop overworking that ripe imagination and wait for the bowl of spicy chicken wings to make its way to your table. Magic.

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Indigo

You could look in here and try the gol gappas. Water-filled balls that is. Translations sometimes can put a smile on your face. The spiciness and tanginess of them can act as the perfect antidote to an evening of Bacchanalian pleasures.

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Euston Tap

Lastly, I have to slip in this wonderful little institution outside Euston station. Now Euston is the gateway to London for some who arrive by train from various parts of the country. The location of Euston Tap is strategic. No time is too early or late for a pint. You can choose to slowly get sloshed before taking your train or you can arrive at Euston and get started at this craft beer pub. The only thing is you have got to remember – and this is vital – is to get on the train to make it back home, okay?

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Euston Tap. Where life looks rosy with a drink in each hand.

Guide to Gaping: In London’s Financial District

I mean where else might you gape? Though if you’re a gaper like me, you would find fodder for it most anywhere. There’s no harm really, except once in a while midges might make their way in and an odd fly or two. So if you like experimenting with bugs and beetles in Asian food markets, why just keep your mouth open and you can have them for free in your own city.

The husband works in the heart of the City. Right next to the Gherkin. On Friday evening, I sauntered into its shadow to meet him for drinks and dinner. Now, a prime area for gapers is within the bounds of London City, you know the Square Mile, which is supposed to be just 1.12 square miles in London, but as you walk around, it seems substantially larger than that humble number.

But first, whip back your lovely heads. Though I shall not and will not be held responsible for a crick.

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The Gherkin (aka 30 St. Mary Axe) looms above me.
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Standing tall at 591 ft. if contemporary architecture can woo you, The Gherkin gets the job done.
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The Walkie-Talkie (20 Fenchurch) stands tall too at 525 ft. 

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The Shard. The tallest in the hood at 1,016 ft.
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Even street installations loom over you.
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Straight ahead on the right hand side that weird steel structure, with its ducts and lifts sticking out in your face, is the home of insurance. Lloyd’s of London. You can literally see its bowels, the inner workings, so you would get the term ‘Bowellism’ and an example of a strange, modern school of architecture. It was coined by a British architect, Michael Webb, who got it from a lecture delivered by a history of architect in which that man said: “I saw the other day a design for a building that looked like a series of stomachs sitting on a plate. Or bowels, connected by bits of bristle”.
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Where Lloyd’s of London stands, there used to be located the ‘Old’ East India House (a late 17th-century Dutch print) which came up in the 1600s.
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This is the ‘New East India House’ that was built by 1729. It was the London headquarters of the East India Company that ruled British India till the government wrested power from its clutches in 1858 and took over the job of governing India.

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The Cheesegrater (Leadenhall Building) is 737 ft. tall and can you spot those lifts that are moving simultaneously in shades of neon orange and green? It is a fascinating feature.
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The 387-ft. tall St. Helens on the left, The Gherkin on the right, and in its shadow, bathed in the mellow rays of the setting sun is St. Andrew Undershaft, a 16th century Gothic church, that survived the Great Fire of London and the Blitz.

If you stepped back in time, this was Londinium, a trading port for and by merchants along the mighty Thames. It came up around 47 AD when the Romans ruled Britain and later was sacked by the tribe of Iceni led by their queen Boudica.

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All hail Boudica.

Now that I am done waffling, how about a pint or two?

Where to Drink:

Sky Garden at 20 Fenchurch. This is an expensive affair but with a view of London’s skyline. You could be easily looking at £70 per person (totted up for the most expensive items on the menu which include starter, main course and dessert) excluding alcohol. A 5-course tasting menu is priced at £55 and for wine pairing add £42 more. If you are still game, you can book 60 days in advance because people do book it up weeks ahead. P.S.: Dress code is a bummer but there you are, no shorts, flip flops, sports gear, please.

Aqua Shard. Here’s another pricey beauty that will get you when the bill arrives, but hey, the views of the riverside loveliness of the city from the 31st level of The Shard might just make up for it. I would say pop in for a Champagne afternoon tea that starts at £58 per person. Nibble into dainty delicacies while sipping on some bubbly to numb the senses before the bill arrives.

Leadenhall Market: If you are fine with views of the city on the ground level, look no further than Old Tom’s Bar in this market that stands on grounds where trade has been going on since the Roman times. Potter fans, you have seen it in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Yes, I know that you know, yet the need to disperse Potter trivia…

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Follow me into Leadenhall Market? The 19th century Victorian market traces its origins back to the 14th century when it used to be a meat, game and poultry market within the portals of a ‘hall with a lead roof’. It has an ornate roof painted in shades of green, maroon and cream. 
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City workers hard at work on Friday evening. They stand in massive columns outside pubs with their pints. Soon those ties shall go askew, shirts protest their way out of trouser waistbands and the hair shall manage to look ruffled even with generous amounts of hair gel in place. For the bald, the last is not a problem.
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Where the husband leads, I follow.
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Next to roll down the stairs of the craft beer pub.
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Inside the atmospheric bar.
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And find delectable extra mature cheddar cheese that melts like cream in the mouth, paired with sourdough crackers and caramelised onion chutney. That Camden Pale Ale is precious.

Before I leave you, the shot below is from an obituary published on April 16, 1835 in The Times. The allusion is to Old Tom, a gander who had arrived in the City from Ostend in Belgium. He followed his heart (a wily female of the flock), and even though the rest of his flock became fixtures on dining tables, Old Tom somehow had people indulgently feeding him scraps. He made it to the ripe age of 37 till he died a natural death and was buried in the market. Below is a tribute to the venerable gander.

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A Day at Horniman

Sparkling sunny weekends are a rarity in our part of the world. If the week shall go in a sunny, breezy mode, Friday rolls in and the clouds declare their presence, often not in a I-am-billowy-and-pretty-just-like-that way. The weekend did start on a cracking note and the sun did power its way through Sunday. So the British have declared summer. Over the last two days, men have been spotted in speedos atop caravans, women have been noted to drive in bikinis and others have been sitting in barely-there-shorts in the backyards.

On Friday, quite early in the morning I had work in London – which meant I had the whole day to myself after. I made my way to the Horniman Museum. The fact that it was free added a spring to my step. But what I had overestimated was my power to get lost. I Will get lost. No matter how many years I have been living in a country. My teenage years in Calcutta were spent regularly landing up in odd places and an irate father coming to the rescue. Once after a date, I took the wrong bus and reached another part of Calcutta quite late at night. I was invited by an old man to his terrace home – when I look back I am astounded at my calibre for silliness. I did go up to the terrace with him and make an SOS call to the parents (who could not believe their ears). As it happened, it was new year’s eve, and my uncle and his family were visiting us from London. The whole family came to get me back home. Suffice it to say that the evening is etched in my memory.

It took me two hours to get to Forest Hill from Baker’s Street by tube and overground trains (when it should have taken me all of 50 minutes). I do not know where I went wrong except that I did get on and off a few trains and stand at stations where I should not have. In the meantime, the person who was getting steadily worked up through watsapp was the husband. He had visions of massive charges on the card because of all the overground trains I was changing.

But I did reach Horniman. I have proof of meeting the in-house walrus.

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Walking beneath the cherry blossoms of Forest Hill take away the sting of goofing up.
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Beneath bowers of cherry blossoms who can be woeful for long.

Our Walrus is an unusual taxidermy specimen, it appears stretched and ‘over stuffed’ as it lacks the skin folds characteristic of a walrus in the wild. Over one hundred years ago, only a few people had ever seen a live walrus, so it is hardly surprising that ours does not look true to life.

The name Horniman is owed a great deal to by tea lovers. Today it is owned by Douwe Egberts but the founder of the eponymously named Horniman’s Tea was a trader called John Horniman. He had started the tea trading business in the small but beautiful Isle of Wight in 1826 and had also changed the concept of selling of loose leaf teas which were often adulterated with dust and hedge clippings by unscrupulous sellers (horrendous, right?). He sealed his packages of tea thus ensuring that authentic tea leaves reached the customers sans the extra ingredients. Even our much-touted philosopher of profoundness, Nietzsche, deemed Horniman’s to be his preferred brand of tea. Who likes the great outdoors (apart from the leaves) in his tea? Well, the great majority clearly gave John a thumbs up, so his company did become the largest tea trading company in the world by 1891.

The museum however was not his idea. It was his son Frederick’s brainchild.

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Portrait of Frederick John Horniman

Thanks to the country’s passion for tea, Frederick had enough moolah to indulge his passion for collecting. Everything from natural history to musical instruments and cultural artefacts. This museum of his has a sum total of about 350,000 objects. As a tea lover how could I not see what tea had wrought?

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Meet the walrus of Horniman’s. He is a celebrity, okay? He was possibly sourced from the area around Hudson Bay in Canada. Queen Victoria too had visited our tooth-some friend.
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If he looks unnaturally fat, blame it on the taxidermist. He/she overstuffed him. So there are no folds on his skin.
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Meet the three long-eared owls. I took to them. I mean, just look at them. Especially the look of the third fellow on the extreme right.
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Look at that beak of the Crowned Horn Bill. Solid as a curved piece of wood, you think?
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Iridiscence. Beetles and bugs.
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Scarlet Ibis
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A Central American beauty. 
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Merman. ‘WHAT’, did you say? In the early 18th-19th centuries, mermen were brought by sailors to Europe. They were believed to be real for centuries, inhabiting the oceans around Asia, till it was discovered that they were indeed products of man’s genius for imagination. They were found to have been the head and torso of a monkey put together with the tail of a fish. Man is a genius. Fraudulent ones, more so.
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Golden-headed Trogon
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Philosophising orang-utan. He has the stance and stick of a hermit.
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Be kind to my special friend, the red-howler monkey. He belongs in the treetops of Brazil. I am sure he thought, ‘Oh no, am I in the Blighty?’ and that priceless expression was thus frozen.

Lest you think that strange stuffed animals is all you shall get to see, there is also the wonderful park and greenery around you on a fine summer’s day.

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Horniman gardens
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Views of London’s skyline (you can just about make out the silhouette of The Shard on the horizon)
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Conservatory at the Horniman Museum
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When you leave the museum, you might just be rewarded by a Mr. Whippy.

So, the question is that if you are in London, should you or should you not head over to Horniman’s. I would say give it a go if you feel like turning into a child all over again. And do remember me if you meet the walrus and the red howler monkey.

Brixton Village

The taco man is a forerunner of the alternative scene in Brixton.

In South London is this gem of a food market that gets you the moment you walk in through its portals. Now Brixton Village Market ain’t your corner if you are looking for posh dining and drinks. It has a homey vibe. It is the kind of place where you where you relax with friends, browse in boutiques, eat, walk, browse some more and nosh to your heart’s content from a potpourri of cuisines. It ticks off the essential ingredients that make a food market piquant. Cornucopia of colours, kiosks and eateries enticing you with edible goodies and just enough street fashion to keep the style diva in you hooked.

It is a sensory experience in every sense of the term.

On the first sunny Saturday of December, we went into this neighbourhood in the southern borough of Lambeth with a friend. It is after all the happy month when everyone seems to be in the mood for some Christmas lovin’. Warm coats, boots and snoods, steaming cups of hot chocolate, spiced up coffees, red noses and carefree laughs – life is rosy in December. Nothing sits better in this frame of mind than a saunter through a food market. All you have to do is worry about which stall got a miss – then make a mental note that you’ve got to get back to it the very next weekend.

Brixton is a story of revival and survival. In the ’80s and ’90s, it was rife with racial tensions and economic problems and hardly anyone would think of venturing into the area for the day, like we were doing now. But it has been turned around and the proof of it is in the popularity of the market with foodies on a budget day out.

As you get out of Brixton Tube, you turn right and walk straight till you hit the railway bridge. Take a right into Brixton Road Market and another right into Pope’s Rode Market. Or, like us, you do it the short way. Just turn right into Atlantic Street once you get out of the tube.

You will find this small arcade entrance.

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Bright eyes, bright gills, firm flesh. Check. The fishermongers of Brixton.
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The arcade was rundown till it was transformed to make way for modern boutiques and shops alongside old timers such as wig sellers, grocers and the like.
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Spotted. Miles nerds in Brixton.
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Brixton is home to the Caribbean community 

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The owner of this store, a bit of who you can see in this frame, is Aradhana. She took the name given her by her yoga teacher because she liked the sound of it on her tongue.
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Aradhana makes chocolates that hit the spot. They are not too sweet and she uses quality cacao. The 85% cocoa bar at her store was a jolly good nibble.
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Waiting for jerk chicken 
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A nice place for jerk chicken and conversation. The sauces are riddled with the fierceness of scotch bonnet pepper. From the shop next door, we had a portion of fried plantains, the sweetness of which went exceedingly well with the hot sauces.
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Jerk chicken and rice at Fish, Wings & Tings
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Sweet plaintains
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Prawns ready to be devoured with fiery hot sauce

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Because Blake lived in Lambeth for a few years of his creative life.

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Sake at Okan
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Fried aubergines in miso at Okan
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Yaki Onigiri. Japanese grilled rice balls served with sea weed.
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Squid and prawn noodles topped up with fish flakes at Okan.

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Butterfish or white tuna (the pretty ones in orange)

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Pop Brixton

Then we turned into Electric Avenue — one of the first streets to get electric light. We walked past the street market that goes back to the year 1880 and came across a rectangular structure, iridiscent with neon hues. Pop Brixton.

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Pop Brixton is constructed out of shipping containers, festooned up with fairy lights for the festive touch.
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Vintage kilo sale where winter furs and vintage clothing can be bought in half kilo sacks
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Brownies

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Now, why should you go to Brixton, right?

Just let the informality of the affair do the works because Brixton cuts through pretentiousness and gets right down to business. The business of good food and fun.