Tag Archives: Spitalfields

The pleasures and problems of country life

One of the great joys of moving out of London is that – for a while, at least, until you get used to it – you get to swan about like Lady Bountiful, marvelling at how cheap everything is. ‘Three hours’ parking for £1.40, you say? Why, I’ll take six, just because I can! ‘Five pounds for my child’s haircut? Here, note the generosity of my tip!’ Whole afternoons can be passed trawling the antiques shops, hissing, ‘See this farmhouse table? Do you know how much this would cost at Spitalfields?’

The flipside of this is that the pace is proudly slooow. People here shudder at the go-go-go nature of London as if the alternative is somehow better, when in reality it’s no more than a series of minor irritations.

Yesterday, for instance, I took a pair of shoes in to be re-heeled. ‘Next Monday all right for you?’ said the cobbler. I was so busy doing my amenable new-in-town face that it only occurred to me on leaving that this was a full week away. A week to re-heel a pair of shoes. Isn’t the whole point that they do them while you wait?

Similarly shop-opening hours, hardly drawn-out at the best of times, seem to be vague guidelines rather than any kind of diktat. The other day I popped into our estate agent’s at 5pm, a full hour before it was due to close, and found it locked up for the night. I mean, for fuck’s sake. You might as well live in France.



Filed under General rants and moans, The bits I can't think of a category for

Leaving Shoreditch…

So it looks like we are finally – finally! – moving out of our one-bed into something a bit more family-friendly. Not sure where that’ll be yet, but we are trying to be open-minded, and yesterday I went to look at a place in the Sussex countryside, outside Lewes. It was beautiful, unnervingly big (where would we find the furniture to fill it?) and cheaper than anything we’d find in last week’s area of choice, Battersea.

But, like anyone who’s lived in London for a long time, I’m slightly terrified of living anywhere else, and assume the world outside to be a backward, parochial place where everything shuts at five o’clock and the food runs the gamut from pub grub to the Panda Chinese takeaway.

I know, I know, this is misguided prejudice and these days you country folk have Daylesford Organics and literary festivals and everything. And it would be nice to see the sky and the seasons. Plus there are other things to think about these days, boring things like schools, parks and sufficient bedrooms.

I’m still not sure where we’ll end up. But although there’s lots about Shoreditch I won’t miss – the dirty main roads, the pollution, the endless fucking scaffolding – having lived here for so long, there is loads I will. Such as:

The cinemas
We have three within easy walking distance: the Barbican, the Rich Mix and the Aubin. They are all great, the problem being that, once you factor in babysitting, the cinema becomes gob-smackingly expensive. Not so long ago, we went to see Attack the Block in Leicester Square, which ended up costing about 70 quid. I wouldn’t mind but it was crap.

Babies are a test to one’s sanity and exercise is how I preserved mine. Namely at this place, which considerately runs a crèche on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. They do fun classes, like ballet to rock music, and tribute Jane Fonda aerobics, and Joan and Pip, the girls who run it, are lovely.

The markets
Columbia Road, Brick Lane and Spitalfields. On Sundays there’s no better place in London to be.

The transport
My friends in other parts of London often comment that they rarely leave their West/East/South/North comfort zone, which always strikes me as a shame because no one part of London is so uniformly great there’s no reason to go elsewhere: to West London for its schmancy boutiques and rich-person people-watching; North London for Hampstead Heath, Primrose Hill and gastropubs; East London for creative edge and comedy hipsters; South London for…

Anyway, what’s great about living where I do is that, with three walkable Tube stations, it’s easy to get anywhere else (except Fulham). And in 2017 there’ll be Crossrail, which means it’ll take six minutes to get to Bond Street and 30 to get to Heathrow. Only six more years to go…

Having proper bars/pubs/cafes/restaurants
Lots of people think that the cafes/pubs/restaurants where they live are nice. They are wrong. They’ve just lowered their standards. Shoreditch has no shortage of rank venues popular with the skirt-n-shirt brigade, but there are still some goodies if you know where to look (and don’t come on a Friday night). The Albion, for instance, or Bottega Prelibato, or the Princess for Sunday lunch.

So – sniff – Shoreditch I will miss you. Thanks for the memories. But I’ve a boy who needs a bedroom, and room to run.

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Filed under General rants and moans, Kids, parenting... Non-mums may want to move along

Saturday at Bicester

Yesterday I went to Bicester Village. I love an outlet park – as, judging by the crowds, does the rest of the world. And I mean rest of the world: Did you know that more than a quarter of all Bicester Village’s customers are Chinese, and that over there it’s better known than Harrods or Selfridges? Look, even the signs are translated into Mandarin:

There’s also a prayer room for Muslim customers:

Nothing promotes tolerance and inclusiveness like the whiff of profit.

I like Bicester because, with its faux New-England clapboard buildings and Disneyesque atmosphere, it reminds me of the Grove in LA. Both offer a similar shopping experience, but for me the Grove has the edge because it has a 14-screen cinema and a fountain that dances to Lionel Ritchie. If Bicester’s going to be up there with the world’s greatest malls, I’d suggest it gets itself a dancing fountain.

People get sneery about these places with their manicured lawns and chain names, thinking them bland and sanitised. But living in East London, bland and sanitised is a real treat (yes, I’m sorry, I liked it when they did up Spitalfields.)

In fact, my only objection to Bicester was the range of stuff on offer, which was a) horrible, and b) not very heavily discounted (I think that Tod’s sign was a lie.) I miss the old days when it first opened, when Whistles and DKNY were pretty well the only brands of note, but they were practically giving it to you. Today it’s all £900 Jimmy Choo handbags reduced to £600. Which is still a lot of money for a shiny great vulgar lump of leather.

But you can’t be a brand snob at Bicester. You may think Dolce cheesy and Dior naff, but lurking in the bargain bins at either, you might find a beautifully made, logo-free jumper for 20 quid. It pays to keep an open mind. Which is how I came to find myself going home with a blazer from (cough, splutter) Jack Wills.

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Filed under Fashion, General rants and moans

Shoreditch – the best coffee in London?

According to Time Out, this men’s boutique in Shoreditch High Street serves the best coffee in London.

It certainly has the nicest machine:

But my friend Nicole reckons that Taylor St Baristas, tucked away in a car park next to Vice magazine’s offices, serves a better brew.

The Observer disagrees with them both. It reckons you’ll find the best cup at Jeanette Winterson’s shop Verde:

It certainly wins the prize for Most Beautiful Shopfront, even if everything in there does cost a billion pounds. And yes, technically it’s in Spitalfields, not Shoreditch. But surely this all points to the fact that London’s best coffee can be found in the East End?


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Filed under General rants and moans