Sunday, 28 September 2014

A Northerner in London Town: Oxford Street, Hammersmith and the British Museum

Every year we find an excuse to go down to London: sometimes for a mini break; other times to meet friends and relations; but this year we were very fortunate to get tickets for the blessed KATE BUSH! I put this down to adopting the strategy of choosing a date not released to the fan club, hitting the refresh button from 9:29am onwards and not using Ticketmaster.  The strategy worked and it meant we were in London for 22 hours.

This time we stayed in Travelodge by Euston Station – small room, noisy air con and on street level next to a road junction.  In its defence it was cheap and clean, but I think Ibis or Premier Inn will be taking our business next time.

As we had a few hours to spare we decided to head down to Berwick Street just off Oxford Street.  We decided to walk so we could check out the Fopp in the Waterstones branch on the corner of Gower Street.  Shock horror, Fopp had gone!
We continued onto Tottenham Court Road and window shopped past Heals and Dwell.  Mistakenly I’d swapped my handbag on this trip and discovered the one I was using was literally disintegrating.  I thought Paperchase might offer a solution, but sadly nothing was to my tastes.

Eventually we found our way to Oxford Street, it was 4.30pm and it was the closest place to hell I could possibly imagine.  In Manchester, the main shopping area Market Street had been pedestrianised over 30 years ago.  Oxford Street is one street in desperate need of pedestrianisation.  The pavements were jammed packed full of people jostling each other, some obliviously walking down the street with eyes glued to their smart phone (a contradiction in terms) or just stopping still for no reason, almost creating a human pile up.  Honestly, how Londoners can shop along here on a weekend without getting an anti-social behaviour order is beyond me.

Thankfully we found refuge in Berwick Street in Soho.  This used to be a seedy street, but every year I visit here it becomes marginally more salubrious.  This year I noticed Sister Ray had moved shops to across the road.  Neil found the shop much smaller than the previous shop and more uncomfortable to browse in.  I also found there were more fabric shops along here, although my search for craft cotton was a real struggle.  These fabric shops are more for the fashion students who were busily searching through the racks of material for their new creations.  I love the little pharmacy-slash-gift shop, as they always stock a wide range of hard to find beauty stuff.  They saved me from having to order specialist shampoo from Amazon.

Back to the fray of Oxford Street.  Stupidly I wanted to go to John Lewis to check out their haberdashery department.  First of all we had to cross over at Oxford Circus and my patience was wearing very thin.  It was chaos with tourists having no idea of where they were going and Londoners speeding past them.  The police was needed to do some crowd control here.

Eventually we made it to John Lewis. However I couldn’t find what I was looking for in the haberdashery department and I was given short shrift by a very snooty perfume lady whilst trying some perfume.  I suppose a frazzled, sweaty, red faced northerner with a disintegrating handbag didn’t seem like a likely sale.  However her attitude meant that I will be buying my perfume from House of Fraser in Manchester as they were superb the other week, helping me to navigate through the racks of perfume to find something I liked.

Obviously we were here to see the goddess that is KATE BUSH, so we decided to sack the whole Oxford Street shop experience off and head to Hammersmith.

The Tube is always the best way to get around London quickly, but navigating it is another matter:
  •          Trying to get the right ticket for the right zone
  •          Then hopefully the ticket machine will work
  •          Trying to find the right platform through the maze of tunnels
  •          Remembering to stand on the right hand side of the escalator otherwise you’ll be unceremonially pushed to one side by some hard boiled Londoner
  •        Try not to look into the dark tube tracks, otherwise you’ll spot some baby rat scurrying along that will make you jump out of your skin
  •          Always  go to the far end of the platform to find the quietest carriage
  •          No eye contact on the tube and if you are people watching you will come across as some weirdo.

All of these I’ve managed to do at some point.  Sometimes it’s good to be a northerner on the tube by being polite, saying excuse me, letting someone have a seat who needs it and clearing abandoned newspapers from seats for others as it really confuses people.

Anyway, finally we got to Hammersmith and it was quite weird really as I was expecting to work our way through masses of tunnels, but it dropped us in the centre of a shopping centre.  Thankfully the Hammersmith Apollo was well signposted and we found it rather quickly. 

As we were there rather early we found a tiny cafĂ© bar around the corner called Antipode.  They were doing Kate Bush inspired cocktails, but we stuck to Tasmanian beer which was nice.  The place was very minimal, but had some striking cats-with-wings prints on the wall by Yobkiss.   I’m surprised it wasn’t busier, but it was tucked around the corner from the venue.  The place was a welcome relief from the madness of the day.

I won’t bore you with the details of the Kate Bush concert, other than to say it was the most theatrical music gig I’ve ever been to and I can really understand why she went down this route for a comeback.  I like the fact she challenges what a music gig can be and what it can deliver.  No wonder she hasn’t toured for 35 years as technology had to catch up with her imagination. She sings like a roaring goddess, but speaks like a middle aged mum from Sidcup which makes me love her even more.  There’s a DVD coming out of the gig so you can see how fab she was.  The only thing it won’t convey is the atmosphere of utter love the audience had for her.  I have never seen or will likely ever see this level of devotion by fans ever again – it was a privilege to experience.

Next day we had a morning to kill before our 12.17pm train back to Manchester.  So we had breakfast in Starbucks on Tavistock Square – fine as you would expect.  Then headed across to the British Museum

I’d been meaning to go there for years, but hadn’t managed to pass by.  As it was a Sunday morning and the shops were shut, the place was jam-packed with tourists and families.  I’ve never seen a British museum so full.  I was seriously impressed by Sir Norman Foster’s Great Court which looked amazing and complemented the existing building.  

As we were limited for time we just saw the Egyptian and Greek exhibitions.  Part of me had reservations about how these artefacts had been plundered by the British aristocracy back in the day, but I have to say they did look amazing.  Having been to a number of Egyptology exhibitions in the North of England, nothing compares to the scale and quality of the British Museum’s exhibition.  However, my favourite thing of all we found was in the gift shop – a series of history themed rubber ducks.  They are the best museum gift I have seen ever.  Seriously the Tate or other art galleries should take note of this as I would be up for a Pollock, Hurst or even a Matisse themed duck.  Genius idea!


Anyway my top three takeaways from this trip were that Oxford Street SUCKS on a Saturday, Kate Bush was AMAZING and the British Museum rubber ducks ROCK (plus it’s well work a visit, but perhaps not on a Sunday morning).