It’s no secret – I love London. It’s messy, smelly, crowded, and whenever I get home I have to literally wash ‘London tube detritus’ out from under my finger nails.
But like a bad, bad man, London waggles his naughty finger at me, and I’m his.
Most times I head up to London it’s a huge rush to attend this meeting, or that. It takes me about 2 hours to get there, by the time I’ve driven to the train station, parked the car, caught the fast train (read SLOW train!), arrived at Waterloo, then negotiated the Tube and then battled my way through the throng to my meeting. Oh, and I’ve probably spent about 10 minutes’ standing in the middle of the street glaring at Google Maps on my phone, thinking – ‘Is it this way, or that way? Little blue arrow, which way to go?’
But over the past two weeks I’ve been up to London twice, and both times have been simply for the pleasure of it. Cos, I could. And both times I’ve done some fun things that I’d recommend you try if you’re in London town anytime soon.
My first trip up to London was to have lunch with my gorgeous friend Jane who is visiting from NZ. I haven’t hung out with her for over a year, so it was wonderful to be able to put aside a day to play. She was staying in W1 so we headed towards Begravia to the famed Ottolenghi Deli.
Oh. My. God. Ottolenghi did not disappoint. We were greeted by these incredible meringues – each the size of one of Jupiter’s moons – drizzled with something sweet and red.
It’s a small space and it was lunchtime so there wasn’t room to sit and yak, so we took up the offer of a takeaway, (fabulous deli salads featuring gem like pomegranate, bulgur, beetroot, rare beef and tuna!) and then popped across the room to the Rococo chocolate shop for a hot chocolate and (of course) afters….
Rococo is serious chocolate. Chocolate that is quite frankly… a little bit like sex. You know it’s going to be good and you’re feverish with the anticipation, and then there’s the moment of truth and the chocolatey hit that is dark and strong yet sweet…
And of course..then there’s the afterglow, as you shift your eyeballs back from the top of the head, to staring forward, glazed with satisfaction.
Rococo is a sweet space, almost bohemian, compact, intimate, a perfect spot for a real catch-up with a dear friend.You have to try the hot chocolate – perfect for one of England’s chilly ‘summer’ days.
We wandered down the road giggling like school girls until we happened upon Harvey Nichols. Now I’ve not been to Harvey Nicks before, I’ve only popped in to its gauche neighbour – Harrods – which is these days like an amusement park for shoppers. What a gorgeous surprise Harvey Nicks is! I’m not sure whether we emanated money (yeah, right!) but everyone was so genuinely welcoming. Service with a smile! Bonus. I loved trying all the fab new Tom Ford perfumes and Jane was bewitched by the Jimmy Choos. We managed to get out there with our purses still alive, and not requiring cardiac massage.
On my second trip to London I was accompanied by my Englishman, who doesn’t know his way around as well as his Kiwi internet bride. Haha! But that’s usually the way, isn’t it. We don’t always know the best bits of our home country, until we have to show them off to travellers.
We started at one of my fave spots on Southbank, hoovering up some chicken and chips at Canteen. We sat outside under the heat lamps and smiled at the crowds as they wandered around the Real Food Market stalls. Canteen was a good choice. Reliable service and good no-fuss food. You could really tell my free range chicken had enjoyed his brief but privileged little life. He was juicy and tasted almost gamey, like chicken used to taste, not at all like paper mache as the supermarket chickens often do. Canteen was nice and managed to squeeze a smile out of my Englishman who was feeling a tad under it all. But be warned, the food stalls would have been cheaper. (£35 for two including glass lemonade)
Sated we wandered down the Queen’s Walk (though when she ever did walk it in her joggers is anyone’s guess) admiring the juxtaposed visions of London – the gleaming City towers over the Thames on one side and the urban grunge of the skate park on the other side, until we reached The Tate Modern.
The Tate Modern, has always been one of my fave spots in London, but in truth I was a little disappointed by this visit. Somehow I didn’t happen upon my personal highlights – Roden’s The Kiss, or any Warhols. I’m pretty sure we saw everything but somehow those exhibits don’t seem to be there at the moment. Having said that my disappointment was completely overridden by scoring two tickets to Damian Hirst’s first large exhibition which is on at The Tate Modern from 4 April – 24th June 2012.
At this point I have to confess something.
I’ve never really seen the ‘art’ in sticking dead animals in formaldehyde. I prefer my animals running around in the paddock – you know, art in motion! I’ve always been a bit dubious that Hirst’s work is a bit ‘Emperor’s new clothes’.
Imagine how surprised I was – cynical, sarky me – to be moved by it.
I got it. I completely understood his concept of life and death, religion and art, immortality and mortality. I wasn’t entirely thrilled by the chopped up cow and calf, as its little whiskered chin reminded me too much of my living breathing little whiskery chins at home. (Fur babies, not the kids!) But I adored the butterfly room, and the butterflies arranged in the form of a stained glass window and the corresponding flip-side of the dark moon (thousands of flies in resin) in the following room.
The shrine to wealth, in the form of thousands of manufactured diamonds displayed like the pills in the previous cupboard, hit me in the solar plexus. In pills we trust? In weath we trust? Just what will settle our human desire to understand the immortal?
The crysalis dies and becomes a caterpiller, the caterpiller dies and becomes a butterfly. What happens after the butterfly dies?
Musing these and other profundities we made our way down to a special dark cavern in the Turbine Room to view the famed diamond skull. A real skull embossed with £40m worth of diamonds. It sounded gimicky to me, so I was completely taken aback by its transcendental beauty. Hirst had suggested it was his vision of a Morte Momento (a way of honouring the dead) and well, wow. It wasn’t morbid or flashy or tacky, it was simply stunning. As if it were something spiritual, straight out of the heaven described in Revelations.
And isn’t that the hallmark of great art? The ability to provoke, demand thought and reflection?
The Damian Hirst exhibition is on until 2012 at The Tate Modern. Do book and do not barge into the wrong queue and then plead tourist ignorance in your broadest Kiwi twang! Ahem! It will cost you £18 per person to see the exhibition but the rest of the gallery is free/donation.
Images: Flickr CC
Butterflies – The CreativePenn