Out and About in London

what if we recharged ourselves as often as we did our phones? 

violet-bakery-brownie

What if we recharged ourselves as often as we did our phones? 

I like to keep busy. I’m not great at sitting still. Given a choice I’d rather be doing something than nothing. Give me a week off and I’ll fill it with day trips and walks and visits to pubs and galleries. And I love it. I love stimulation. But that’s not always what you need, is it? 

An unexpected flare up of an old wound saw me track down my old osteopath at her new digs at Kuu London for an hour of muscle manipulation and massage yesterday. I cried on the table, and it was much needed. Maybe keeping busy had distracted me. Maybe it has always distracted me.

And while I keep myself occupied and always find things to do...I’m not always very kind to myself. I tell myself I don’t need a massage, or quiet time. I meditate every morning...and it’s only recently I’ve stopped doing the guided ones and started sitting there in silence with only my breath for company. It’s uncomfortable. Lying there, having sore parts prodded and touched, was uncomfortable. No wonder I cried. I’ve forgotten how to do uncomfortable. 

Shoulder loosened and no longer in pain, I took my time going home. It was a sunny day and east London is full of beauty, characters and things to see. I found a new journal at Erbert (and got great tips on how to unclog my old fountain pen! Cheers Paul!) and treated myself to a brownie and iced tea at the Violet bakery.

I picked a table by the kitchen window so I could breathe in the heavenly smell of baking. I had nowhere else to be and for a change I felt calm, unhurried, unpressured. As a result, I lingered.

I took an obligatory photo or two then put the phone away. I wrote. I savoured every sweet, nutty, salty bite of my halva tahini brownie. I looked around. There were more dogs than cars in this quiet street, trotting alongside their owners. It was sunny, and with the warm cake-infused air I might have almost believed it was still summer.

As I ate the last crumb of brownie and walked to the train, I felt lighter. Battery not quite full, but recharged nonetheless. 

We so often wait for a wake up call before we’ll prioritise looking after ourselves, before we listen to our aching bodies and souls. Saturday was a good reminder to me to not put off self care until the pain is unbearable. But also, I don’t have to be in pain to be worthy of kindness and small treats. Those are the things that make life sweeter.

So this week, I’m going to try and treat myself more like my phone - and hopefully get my battery sufficiently recharged.

a guide to london's abandoned railway parkland walk

london-parkland-walk-sign

Tom and I were having a dinner party with our new neighbours (now dear friends) last year and Matt, the husband of the couple, had recently completed the London marathon. I asked him where in the local area he had trained for it. He replied that he often went along a route between Alexandra Palace and Finsbury Park, which was an abandoned railway track. This caught my imagination (and Tom's) immediately! 

But, you know, best-laid plans and all that....but suffice it to say, last weekend when we had an extra day (thank you Bank Holiday) we decided to go for a long walk and finally check out the abandoned railway track. It's one of north London's best-kept secrets and I'd highly recommend doing it if you live in the area.

Londonist has a pretty good guide to the walk, which we used, but I will add my own observations and recommendations below.

First of all, get yourself to Alexandra Palace station and then make the uphill climb through the park to Ally Pally itself. The views really are lovely from up here.

view-from-ally-pally

Then head west down hill, through more of the park, where the trail starts. It's not very well sign posted, so you do need to know where you're going! There are some nice landmarks in this part of the park, including one of the oldest trees in the area - included in an Ordinance Survey in the 1860s. If you keep walking past that, going pretty much straight, until you spot the Little Dinosaurs play centre, then walk a little more past that, veering towards the right, and you're nearly there. Look for a graffitied wall and a long green tunnel, as seen below! Now the adventure begins!

tom-parkland-walk

It's pretty easy to follow this part of the walk, it goes through Muswell Hill and there are a few information boards along the way, showing you what was meant to be the railway:

 We walked from Alexandra Palace along the - line to Highgate, and then from Highgate along the - line to Finsbury Park.

We walked from Alexandra Palace along the - line to Highgate, and then from Highgate along the - line to Finsbury Park.

Once you hit Highgate, it gets a little confusing - because the most direct route is to go via the road to Highgate, but we wanted to keep going through the woods. Again, not brilliantly signposted but we walked some of the way through Highgate Woods, sticking to the Eastern path. Follow this for a while, then look for a gap in the fence near the keeper's lodge to take you out on to the street, then cross the road into Queen's Wood to continue the walk. 

queens-wood

I really enjoyed Queen's Wood, it is a lovely ancient parkland and you could probably spend all day exploring here (it's 52 acres!). There's a diverse range of plants, trees and wildlife. I was quite taken with the frog pool (but spotted no frogs!).  

bittersweet-nightshade

To continue on the Parkland (south) walk, follow the Capital Ring signs, which take you off to the right. You'll come out at a road called Queenswood Road - now, you can cross the road and keep going through the park but we weren't sure, so we came off here. If you do this too, go right up the hill and follow this road along, going past some very nice houses (!),  until it eventually becomes Wood Lane and you come out on the A1, Archway Road. Go left down Archway Road, turn left at the Boogaloo Pub down Holmesdale Road and you'll see parkland on the left and where the walk starts again.

It's worth taking a very quick diversion to your left, just a couple of hundred metres, where you'll see disused train tunnels that have been turned into London's only bat sanctuary! 

 The bat cave!

The bat cave!

parkland-walk-sign

Then you head off down the track, which is much more defined than you've experienced so far! And it's pretty much a straight line all the way to Finsbury Park from here. 

I found it such a peaceful walk, even though there were other people around - mostly runners and fellow walkers, the occasional cyclist. It does appear to be a well kept local secret. The parkland has grown almost wild over the abandoned planned railway structures, making it quite beautiful….like living, abstract art, in a way. Take your camera, as there's something to catch your eye at nearly every turn on this walk. These were our favourites:

 Remains of abandoned train platforms!

Remains of abandoned train platforms!

 Arty arches!

Arty arches!

 Goblin! Keep an eye out for this guy. It was amazing how many people walked right by him, or only noticed because we were taking pictures.

Goblin! Keep an eye out for this guy. It was amazing how many people walked right by him, or only noticed because we were taking pictures.

 Plant art!

Plant art!

We finally got to Finsbury Park and the heavens opened, so we ended up back on a bus to Hornsey - which was on our way home - where we went for a little stroll and found ourselves in the Great Northern Railway Tavern for a much-deserved cold beer! 

summer-fruit-hornsey
beer
phil-with-beer

For more on the Parkland Walk, you can visit the Friends of Parkland Walk website. Also check out Londonist for all the other walks in London they've done and recommend! 

weekenders on our own

Just a perfect day
Problems all left alone
Weekenders on our own
It's such fun
- Lou Reed

Sometimes the best days are the unplanned ones. 

shoreditch-street-art-a-nahu

We expected rain, being stuck indoors, winter still blowing its frosty breath over the city. Instead, it was pleasantly overcast when we met our friends at Old Street tube and took the scenic route, through the streets of Shoreditch which are like galleries with vast, colourful murals everywhere you look, to a cafe for the best vegan burger in London:

essential-vegan-burger
cassava-chips
street-art-broadway

 

Then we walked around Columbia Road, past Hackney City Farm where we saw baby goats frolicking in the grass, and then up to Broadway Market where we stood elbow to elbow with East London's hipster population jostling for vintage clothes, killer brownies, raw milk, giant cheese toasties, coffee and sourdough bread. I came for Frida.

 Actually, I think it's meant to be a blend of Frida and Diego!

Actually, I think it's meant to be a blend of Frida and Diego!

 

Then we walked back to Haggerston along the canal. The sun came out and we unpeeled ourselves from our coats with glee. We made a brief stop at Proud East for probably the best Virgin Mary I've ever had:

virgin-mary
phil-and-lisa
phil-and-tom

Refreshed, we walked further along Regent's Canal up to Islington. The air was cold but the sun was out, and I could smell the sweet perfume of violets on the banks, wood-fired stoves in the canal boats, and coffee from the riverside cafes. We saw a group of friends drifting along the river in a floating hot tub. I took note of the company for future reference!

We wandered through Camden Passage, as the stallholders began to wrap their unsold wares in newspaper and box them up, and there was still a queue at the Breakfast Club. We stopped for a pint in the Camden Head (our new favourite place in this part of town).

tom-camden-head

When a day turns out to be unexpectedly fun, in the gentle company of true friends with whom you can just be yourself, with delicious food, refreshing beverages, the weather surprisingly fine and the promise of spring hovering on the horizon.....these are the days that I live for. 

what kind of heart does it take - an evening with alison jean lester

 She read. She sang (beautifully). She told us how her latest novel came to be. It was wonderful.

She read. She sang (beautifully). She told us how her latest novel came to be. It was wonderful.

On Thursday night at Daunt Books in Hampstead, I attended an author event by my friend Alison Jean Lester. We were greeted with shots of sake and Japanese rice crackers, and then the evening began, with an intimate and enthusiastic group of us gathered on a dark night in a gorgeous little bookshop. Alison is not only a very fine, observant and witty writer, she also used to work as a corporate communications coach so she knows how to work a room. I knew I was in for a fun evening!

sake-rice-crackers

Alison read an excerpt from her first novel Lillian on Life (one of my favourite reads of 2015) and then she sang us a Japanese folk song which she used to sing to her children, who were born in Japan. It was like a little meditation, the perfect bridge to the discussion of her latest novel, Yuki Means Happiness

A line from the song Alison sang was "what kind of heart does it take?" and she posed that as a question that fiction writers should ask themselves when starting the story they want to tell. What kind of heart does it take to endure/pursue what the story is asking? How will that heart be changed? Broken? Mended?

We talked a bit about the process of putting your real-life experiences into your fiction - something I am very familiar with (and didn't quite manage to pull off, hence why my book was a memoir in the end!). "The great thing about fiction is that you have control in a way you don't have in life," Alison said. "If someone fell under a train in real life, in fiction you can change that, you can save them. Or, you can let someone go under a train and save yourself!"

Alison also said she finds the whole "how autobiographical is this novel?" question that is often asked of women writers quite flattering - "because it means they think it really happened. It's a compliment to your writing." 

Ultimately, Alison advised us to "write about what haunts you". To ask questions of our characters that we might have asked of ourselves, once upon a time. To have a character take a path you did not. 

 Me and Alison, with her two brilliant novels. 

Me and Alison, with her two brilliant novels. 

I thought deeply about this on my train home. The character in my novel is in a very similar situation to the one I found myself in 12 years ago and what she is doing to save the marriage is something I never, not for a split second, entertained - trying to have a child in the hope that it will heal the rift between them. I have been struggling with the novel lately, fearful that everything is a bit two-dimensional. I have done so much reading, so much research, and I know what I want to say and who these people are - I just haven't found the right way in yet. I have the key but it hasn't fit in any of the locks I've tried. Is this a way into the story, I wonder, to imagine an alternative future for myself, a path I might well have taken had a few things been different?

It was such an inspiring and wonderful evening, and it pumped me up in a way I hadn't realised I needed. I must make an effort to go to things like this more often because when I do, I feel like I'm among peers, among friends. I feel seen, heard and understood, even when I say very little and just listen. Writers are my people. And you can't help but feel uplifted when you're with your people. 

I'm currently reading Yuki Means Happiness and it's marvellous (as I thought it would be!). If you enjoy thoughtful and funny writing that makes you think about life, I highly recommend seeking out Alison's books!

scenes from the weekend [video]

I made a film! 

I'm taking Xanthe Berkeley's marvellous MAKE FILMS course, which I highly recommend, and this was our first assignment - "Scenes from the weekend" (make sure you put the sound on to hear the music!).

Tom and I went to a favourite (and lively) part of London where we took in Broadway Market, Columbia Road, Shoreditch and Brick Lane, so I had masses of footage by the end of Saturday afternoon.

There's something for everyone in this video - street art! Hot and jellied eels! Goats! Beer! Drums! Frida Kahlo!

Film-making is a very new medium for me. I'm completely out of my comfort zone, but I can see why people find it addictive. This was so much fun to film and edit together, so I hope you like it.