V&A Victoria and Albert Museum

Probably my favourite of London’s many ‘must-see’ type museums, the V&A is a place I visit when I’m having a ‘why the fuck do I live in this over-priced, over-populated, misery-inducing shit weasel of a city that I don’t even like?’ moment (and, as regular readers will know, there are many of those to be had). The knowledge that I can jump on a bus and within the hour be surrounded by some of the world’s most precious artwork, for free, is a sure-fire way of reminding me of the benefits of big city life.

As a dual art and fashion obsessive, to me, the V&A is Mecca, the Promised Land, my ‘Happy Place’ (alongside Monkey World and Liberty’s fabric remnants corner). Endless rooms filled with more treasure than is possible for the human brain to adequately process should leave a person culturally drained, and yet I always leave excited, full of ideas for things to make and do and learn more about. And that seems to be the key to running a successful museum: plenty to inspire, but not so much as to overwhelm.

And that segues nicely into what I really want to talk about:

The Gift Shop.

A thing of such brilliance, it revives even this jaded pro-shopper.

As a professional buyer (or, at least, I would be if someone were to, you know, actually employ me), I am bored and disinterested in practically every shop I go into. The recession has spawned a stale homogeneity amongst the average UK shop that is equal parts frustrating and depressing; in short, everything looks the fucking same. Do not lie to me, retail giant: I know you made millions of pounds of profit for your shareholders this year; I read Retail Weekly. You can afford to push the boat out and try something different (you can also afford to hire more staff and treat the ones you do have better, but that’s another rant, for another time). You owe it to your brand and its customers to produce items that incite intrigue, joy, lust at a time when everyone is playing it safe lest they spook the already cautious shopper. In the wise words of Buffy the Vampire Slayer: “GIVE ME SOMETHING TO SING ABOUT!”

Or something to that effect.

Anyway, as I was saying before I distracted myself: The V&A gift shop. There are but a handful of items in there that I would not happily find house-room for. I mean, look at this:

Who wouldn’t want to eat their dinner while taking a perch on this chair (admittedly, your dinner will consist of 1 packet of Tesco Value 8p noodles, as you’ll be broke as fuck from spending £1500 on a chair, but still…)?

Or pop their little pudding in one of these pinnies?

And what sort of person wouldn’t appreciate an assortment of V&A print ceramic buttons?!

No-one worth knowing is who.

What’s more, they have recently launched their online sale. I feel an ‘it’s my money, and anyway it was half price so it doesn’t count’ moment coming along.

 

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The wild parrots of London

On my window!


Sadly, though, The Jimi Hendrix story seems to be a bit of a fib…

The myth 

The colonies of wild parrots widespread today in London and south-east England are descended from birds which Jimi Hendrix released in the 1960s to add some psychedelic colour to the city. Either that, or the original breeding pair were Jimi’s pets, accid entally released after the guitarist’s death. Or, if not, then they were escapees from Shepper ton film studios during the filming of The African Queen (1950); or possibly, in the 1970s, during the making of another (unnamed) picture at Shepperton. One way or another, anyway, the first London parrots had showbiz origins.


The “truth” 

Feral parrots have been recorded in London since 1855. A study by Oxford University biologists of the rose-ringed, or ring-necked, parakeet (Psitacula krameri), suggests that London’s parrot population may reach 100,000 by 2010, having grown from fewer than 500 in 1983. They are long-lived birds with no natural predators in Britain, and it’s feared they will become serious pests to agriculture and biodiversity. They are now found as far west as Wales and as far north as Glasgow. There are already more parakeets in London than there are nightingales. Their recent population explosion is perhaps explained by a warmer climate, and by the spread of garden bird-feeders. The likeliest explanation for their origins, say experts, is disappointingly mundane: they probably escaped, and were released, from aviaries, pet shops and private homes. Quick – close that window!

Via forteantimes.com

An excellent lie to tell tourists, nonetheless. Now, I must go get some bird food for my new budgie friend…

Jack Noel

Jack Noel is a London-based artist who produces lovely, colourful drawings of London – he’s currently working on one for each inner London borough. While I was looking through them I tried to work out which part of the borough was depicted. And then I realised they were labelled. Fox Fail.

Camden Lock, Camden.

Tranquil Vale, Greenwich.

St. Leonard’s Church on the junction between Old St. and Shoreditch High St. (Also the church featured in Rev…), Hackney.

Camden Passage, Islington.

Sloane Square, Kensington and Chelsea.

Brixton Market and Electric Avenue, Lambeth (where I live!).

Borough Market, Southwark.

Columbia Road Market, Tower Hamlets.

Clapham Junction, Wandsworth.

Trafalgar Square, Westminster.

Hammersmith Bridge, Hammersmith and Fulham.

Sweet View, via Me Old China.

Where do I live?

Whilst moving flats can solve many of life’s little problems (so you see, the past month’s absence has not just been pure seasonal laziness…), it also throws up a few new and unexpected obstacles.

Having returned from the Chester of Win (my spiritual homeland, along with DisneyWorld and the Selfridge’s beauty hall) after a blissfully uneventful New Year spent on the in-law’s sofa with a cat, I found myself outside Waterloo station in something of a pickle.

I had no idea where I lived.

Not a bloomin’ clue.

Now I’m sure this sounds bizarre to those of you who are a little more settled, but considering I have moved house more times than I have celebrated my own birthday, it was a sadly inevitable experience.

So there I was, floundering around south London in a bewildered panic, with nothing but a postcode and a house number in my head.

I did eventually get home (having gotten on the first bus towards Brixton and praying that I recognised something along the way), and, after that slightly faltering start, realised just how glad I was to have moved.

I NO LONGER LIVE IN A VERMIN-INFESTED HELL-HOLE! HUZZAH!

Sounds about right.

London 2017: an urban neo-Victorian dystopia. (Patrick Butler via Guardian.co.uk)

London, once known for its diversity, became progressively more socially and economically segregated after the 2011 austerity measures kicked in, triggering six years of social upheaval that changed the the city forever.

By 2015, academics had coined the phrase “urban neo-Victorian dystopia” to describe the dramatic social and spatial changes in the city they had begun to compare, with only a little exaggeration, with the London described by Charles Dickens 160 years earlier.

The housing benefit reforms of 2012 and 2013 had swept tens of thousands of lower income families out of inner London, to the fringes of the capital and beyond to Margate, Hastings, Milton Keynes and Luton.

This triggered an inexorable and progressive separation of rich and poor in the capital and helped unleash a wave of social problems.

It was boom time for some privileged areas, such as the string of well-to-do neighbourhoods stretching along the north bank of the Thames from Westminster and Notting Hill to Hammersmith that estate agents dubbed the “Golden Westway”.

Chelsea, Kensington and Marylebone, once dotted with patches of social housing and deprivation, had become almost almost uniformally gentrified and increasingly sought-after by the wealthier upper middle classes seeking refuge from the day-to-day realities of austerity.

Here, wealthy residents became obsessed with soaring property prices, whether they should exercise their right to privatise the street they lived in, the relative merits of British or Polish private security firms, and the extraordinary difficulty in hiring domestic cooks and cleaners.

By 2017 the last council-owned social housing properties in Westminster were sold under the 2011 right-to-buy scheme. The local authority also annouced the sale of half of its public parks and libraries, Sure Start children’s centres and school buildings, for which there was no longer significant public demand – due to the borough’s changing economic and demographic profile.

Outside the wealthy centre, things were less serene. Riots sporadically broke out and right-wing bloggers increasingly warned about the suburban menace of unemployed young people. Health officials worried about the tuberculosis epidemic caused by overcrowding in Tower Hamlets. In Barking, the BNP launched a campaign against “Westie scroungers” dispersed from central London in the 2012-13 housing benefit exodus.

A branch of Tesco in Hackney started “austerity days” in 2013, with cheap food offers to coincide with the arrival of weekly benefit payments.

The Salvation Army announced in autumn 2015 that it had just handed out its millionth food parcel, to a family living in Walthamstow.

In 2014, a consortium of housing associations declared that they had converted some empty 2012 Olympic village buildings into temporary “warehouse hostels” for young homeless people.

Criminologists recorded increases in burglary and theft. Social workers pointed out that child protection registers were bulging and psychiatrists noted that prescriptions for anti-depressants had risen exponentially.

Public health officals noted that suicide rates, teenage pregnancies and hospital admissions in poorer areas were rising at five times the London-wide average.

Statisticians argued about whether the number of people who had seemingly “disappeared” from electoral rolls and other official datasets had finally reached the crucial million mark

Announcing the end of austerity in 2017, the government attacked what it called the doom-mongers in the media. Britain had survived its greatest crisis since the second world war by pulling together, the prime minister declared from behind a bulletproof screen outside No 10: “We were, as we have always been, in this together.”

Reconsidering that move to Beffffnal Green.

Germany, anyone?

Skoob books

Ah, Skoob. One of my favourite places.

Earlier this week, I found myself in need of contact lenses. Unlike most sensible people, I have decided to keep my prescription with a dispenser based absolutely nowhere near my current address, rather than with the optician less than a minutes walk away. The reason? Skoob.

Faced with impending blindness (no joke, I’m a -4.5), I hopped on a bus, and made my way back to my old stomping ground in Russell Square. Opposite the station lies the Brunswick Centre, and if you scurry around to the back entrance of Waitrose (Oh, how I miss thee), you’ll find a sign pointing you down a set of stairs to the underground cavern that is Skoob.

Uniting two of my favourite things – books and second-hand shit – Skoob is a bibliophilic magpie’s wet dream. It is, quite simply, a vast, slightly chaotic (there’s no database – if you want it, you’ll have to find it) basement nest made out of second-hand books. Personally, I love the lo-tech approach: I’m all about the hunt, me, and the thought of what treasures I might happen upon have kept me coming back, despite no longer living 5 minutes away.

On this particular visit (in which Lady Fox had to remind me to buy my lenses, such was my second-hand book driven mania), I picked up the following gems: Peter York’s Dictators’ Homes and Paola Gianturco’s Celebrating Women. 

Essentially, Dictators’ Homes does what is says on the tin: shows pictures of the homes and interior design tastes of some of the world’s most infamous dictators. I remembered this book being reviewed in the Guardian a little while back, and finding it hugely entertaining in a very uncomfortable manner. It didn’t disappoint, and I spent a good hour flicking through, marvelling at the sheer gall of some of these people. The Marcos residence was a particular highlight.

Lady Fox found Celebrating Women. I’ve yet to go through it properly, but, to be honest, it had me at the concept: a photographic exploration of festivals celebrating womankind.

I love books. Picture books, fiction, non-fiction; it’s all good. I have far too many as it is, but the minute I step into Skoob, well, all good sense gets left at the top of the stairs. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever left there empty-handed.

Skoob can be found at no. 66, The Brunswick. off Marchmont St, London WC1N 1AE, or online at skoob.com.

Nearest tube is Russell Square, and they have step-free access for those who need it.

 

Arcola Theatre, Dalston

Yesterday, Lady Fox and I met up with a few friends to take advantage of the Arcola’s ‘pay what you can tuesday’ initiative. The Arcola is a fringe venue, committed to community integration and outreach projects, ecological sustainability, and, of course, some good-old-fashioned great theatre. The theatre is housed in a converted paint factory, which gives the space a really interesting feel: sparse and rustic, yet somehow cosy and inviting at the same time. It’s not wheelchair friendly – just getting through the door can be a challenge in itself – which is something I think they should address if they are going to prove their integrability towards equal opportunities. However, their track record of providing creative opportunities for the local community, including youth theatre, dramatherapy for the over-60s and a ground-breaking theatre project promoting understanding between the Turkish and Kurdish communities in the area, has made the Arcola one of the most respected young theatres in the capital.

Every tuesday, the Arcola opens its doors to those on a budget, by providing a number of tickets on a ‘pay what you can’ basis. Basically, you can go and see world-class theatre for 50p (or a £1 in my case – I felt too guilty handing over 50p when I still had a £1.50 cup of tea in my hand). How brilliant is that? I admit I’m not much of a theatre buff; my knowledge only stretches as far as A-level drama. However, as I said in my last post, it’s good to take an interest in things, especially when the financial barriers have been lifted. On the other hand, Lady Fox and her friends have just completed a masters degree in applied drama (essentially using theatre as a form of social outreach), so this was right up their street. We got tickets to see Speechless, a play about a set of twins who become so entrenched in their own volatile world that they lose the ability to communicate with anyone but each other. It was quite a disturbing piece of theatre, outright distressing in some parts, and very impressive in terms of physicality and character development. The fact that it touched on a lot of issues, such as mental illness, racism and social disorder, made it both thought-provoking and very contemporary, despite being set in the early eighties.

Cheap tickets, exciting theatre and a decent cup of tea make the Arcola a must-visit for anyone living in London. Details can be found at http://www.arcolatheatre.com/index.php4, and if you want to make use of cheap tuesdays, you’ll need to be there for 6pm on the day to get in line for a ticket.