It’s A London Thing

Friday, 21 May 2010

[Writing about television programmes really takes it out of me, so you'll have to wait for the final post in the current run, because it will take a bit more time to get it all together. So, here's something completely unrelated.]

I was born and bred in London and, with the exceptions of living and working in three other cities, I’ve spent most of my life in London. I’m supposed to be of an age where I move further away from the city, even to another county, but I find it impossible to do when London is such a great place, with so much to do and so much to offer.

Take for example a recent Saturday. Without having to get up too early, my girlfriend and I travel to the Barbican, the wonderfully odd and interesting art centre in the City of London, to see a free art installation – the CĂ©leste Boursier-Mougenot commission for The Curve gallery. To quote the website, it is ‘a walk-through aviary for a flock of zebra finches, furnished with electric guitars and other instruments and objects’. We arrived about 20 minutes before it opened and there was already a queue, but we were in the first batch of people admitted to the exhibit and it was a joy. The point of the installation is the music created by the birds, but that wasn't the most appealing factor. What I got out of it was being so close to these tiny little birds, mostly oblivious to the people walking around them. In fact, if you stood in the correct place in the hall, the birds would land on you, especially women with handbags on their shoulder, with all the perches created by the material. It was so easy to wander around, being close to the birds as they sat on guitar strings or tried to build a nest on the bridge of another guitar, you completely lose track of time as you became enchanted by the proximity and the connection to nature.

After a refreshing beverage and wandering around the ‘lakeside’ terrace of the Barbican – the sun was shining on old London town, and the combination of water and old buildings and new buildings was quite beautiful – we walked up to Islington to visit the large Cass Arts there before hopping on a bus to take us to King’s Cross for lunch. In a side road off the Euston Road, away from the normal food areas, is Snazz Sichuan. Sichuan food is one of the latest ‘new’ cuisines to hit London recently, but this is not the recent for our decision to go there – having recently discovered My Old Place near Liverpool Street, we’ve been looking for any place in London that serves this fiery Chinese food. My Old Place is a small, unspectacular-looking restaurant that closes from 2 pm to 5 pm, even on the weekends, but it serves some amazing food – the dry-fried chicken with chillies authentic style is the most amazing taste sensation I’ve ever had, and they do dry fried green beans in chilli that is fantastic – so we’ve been looking for other places because we felt guilty about going to the same place all the time. Snazz Sichuan looks more like a fancy restaurant – we were sat in booths in the window, although it was fairly empty for a Saturday around 1.30pm – but it still serves extremely spicy food. A hearty meal of dandan noodles, dumplings in chilli sauce, their version of the dry fried chicken (but with a cumin-containing flour coating the chicken), and ‘hot and numbing beef in fiery soup’ filled our stomachs and spiced up our mouths, although they didn’t use as much Sichuan peppercorns as My Old Place.

The next stop for the day was fortunately a few steps away – the Magnificent Maps exhibit at the British Library. The library itself is impressive enough, but the exhibition of old maps (some dating back to the 1400s) and even the largest atlas in the world was very impressive, especially as it was free – the proximity of both Euston and King’s Cross stations meant that there were a lot of people in the exhibit, dragging their luggage around with them. I would suggest going at a quieter time to fully appreciate the pieces on display. The maps and globes show the history of the map and its use in displaying wealth, power and changing history, and is a fascinating look at the way they have been used.

[You can get the female perspective of this day over at the blog of my long-suffering and lovely girlfriend Kim, who has to put up with me dragging her around lovely London.]

Now, tell me – after a day like that, when we didn’t even take full advantage of the city, how can we possibly leave London?

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