Monday, August 22, 2016

London, summer of 2016

My house sit in London is in Herne Hill. Before I got here, all I knew about the south of London ended at Waterloo, Vauxhall and Clapham Junction. So riding from Paddington meant plenty of stops to look up the map. Also a hill - well the name is a bit of a giveaway regarding that one. I said I'd arrive at about 4.00 in the afternoon and there I was ringing the doorbell right on the dot of 4.00. I didn't even have to hide around the corner for 10 minutes, waiting. And who should open the door but Uncle Dennis from Auckland.

The house in Herne Hill belongs to my cousin Jeremy and his wife Suzanne. Jeremy is turning 50 and has weeks of celebrations planned starting with a yacht charter in Croatia. I'm looking after their lovely shy cat called Shaddo. Thankfully, unlike Jo in Bristol, she's not a talking cat and she doesn't feel the need to wake me at 5.30am every morning. The unsavoury parts of my role are much the same though. without going into detail both cats seem to have some digestion issues. But what a small price to pay, and in exchange I have a place to call home for a while, with access to fast wifi, a frig and a washing machine and a clean shower. I love all these luxuries but there are also the small pleasures of not repacking everything each morning and not having to put on damp clothes and having a bath mat and going to bed in the same place as I did the night before. Not having to blow up my camping pillow and not waking in the night wondering what country I'm in.

There's a train station just down the road. With my Oyster card there is a maximum spend of around seven quid per day, so in any one day it makes sense to use as many trains, tubes and buses as you can to get around the city. That's wet days sorted. Fine days I don my high-vis vest and take the bike out exploring.

Or just walk. Brixton is only 30 minutes away on foot, across Brockhurst Park. Far from being the domain of hoodies, dealers and dolies, Brixton has become a destination of choice for hipsters of all ages. The old street markets down Electric Lane, dotted with Caribbean shops, are still there; but there's also Brixton Village, undercover markets with every type of food you can think of, wine bars and vintage clothes and organics and candles and handmade arty crafty everythings. And there's Pop Brixton, an area made from containers with office spaces, food and retail outlets and event venues.

The idea is to support support local jobs, training and enterprise. Apparently the submissions to the Ambition document for public libraries in England didn't provide any clear strategies that would enable public libraries to generate income - but it strikes me the Pop Brixton model might give some clues for revitalising libraries as community hubs. Taskforce, take note. (Deliver: Ambition for Public Libraries in England 2016-2021)

Brixton's West Indian traders sell almost anything, from smudge sticks to giant African snails to pigs heads. You can also buy chilli-flavoured lemon curd, Portuguese grooming supplies, french knives, African fabrics, fair-trade asian baskets, British wine (moving right along!) and artisan breads -- over the years there has been a community backlash against the supermarket chains in the area. But who knew that Tesco was established by an Brixton barrow-boy?

It helps to have a bike to explore Hyde Park. On a sunny day the banks of the Serpentine are packed with groups of office workers gathered around cool boxes, couples lounging in deck chairs, mums and bubs, families with picnic rugs and where are my sunglasses? - youths with their shirts off playing cricket.  Others are out on the lake in pedal boats or swimming in the pool adjoining the lake.

Every year the Serpentine Gallery picks a star architect to design and build a summer pavilion. This year it is the work of young Danish architects BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group). Their description of it is 'like an unzipped wall'. There's a bar/cafe in the pavilion.

Hyde Park is just one of the eight Royal Parks. I rode through Bushy Park when I visited Hampton Court Palace. I rode alongside Green Park, the smallest (no cycling) on my way to Herne Hill from Paddington. Also Kensington Gardens. I have never visited Buckingham Palace though - should I do that while I'm here? let me know if you have you been - was it worth it?

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