Start Again

This feels like such an unusual thing to do, where once it was such a usual thing to do... It's been very quiet around here lately, I know. Blame it on 2013 being the death of the blog (though I'm still reading) or the fact that I changed cities, or that it was winter and now it isn't. 

What better way to start again than with a London cliche: the Columbia Road Flower Market on a Sunday morning. One of those places that (apart from the teeming crowds) feels like someone thought up a perfect Sunday and then planted it, piece by piece, into East London: jazz bands (see here), spring sunshine, tulips, 10 roses for £5, be-tweeded chaps carrying thistles, girls in dresses with bouquets wrapped in paper parcels... it was a bit ridiculous really. 

I almost never buy flowers as I've always felt quite conflicted about buying them from supermarkets (where they are most often to be found for sale). On one hand, whenever I have, I've felt like I've been somehow emancipating them from a miserable artificially temperate end, carefully looking after them for the brief hours that their unfortunate beginning in life has left them for the end of it. They die quickly. 

On the other hand, I always feel as though I don't want to encourage supermarkets to sell, and subsequently mass produce, something so vastly unnecessary in such an unnatural setting. (I also once spent half an hour watching men panic over sad supermarket roses one merry 14th February evening, which put me off even more.)

While I have no idea about the relative heritage of the Columbia Road flowers, buying them felt better somehow. My multi-coloured tulips are still blooming, the paper parcel they were handed to me in felt reassuringly heavy, and combined, that all makes them seem absolutely necessary somehow.



Concerto, Rain
Southwark Bridge
Sheltering Under Blackfriars Bridge

As I left the house, in the sunshine, I did briefly consider unlocking the door again and going back for my umbrella. But I didn't. 

At the end of Sarah Lyall's New York Times piece last week about her (lack of) ability to fit in with the vicissitudes of London life (which I read before leaving, amusingly) she exhorts people visiting London to 'wherever you go, always take an umbrella.' A comment underneath it remarks on the fact that Londoners seem never to carry umbrellas, and always just wander around dripping and miserable when the inevitable shower blows in.

I, fledgling Londoner that I am, seem always to remember my umbrella when the weather is sunny and forget it when it rains. Not on purpose of course – it just seems to work out that way, and I'm always left either soaked through or feeling conspicuously overcautious. There aren't very many middle grounds in London as it turns out, especially when it comes to the weather.

This time at least, walking along the Southbank from Waterloo to the Tate Modern, there were plenty of geometrically satisfying Thames bridges to huddle underneath with all the other umbrella forgetters, rained-on busking flautists and inferior-quality cagoule wearers. One puddle-jumping dash to the Tate, another to London Bridge, and I drippily made it home to my dry flat and my told-you-so umbrella. I'll probably go back for it the next time.


Pastificio Mansi


I feel like this post is the internet equivalent of the From Plot to Plate movement – from Giffin Square Food Fair at Deptford Market to my blog in under 4 hours...

I could probably quite happily eat pasta every day for the rest of my life if I'm honest, but there's pasta and there's pasta, and Pastificio Mansi's ricotta ravioli with pork and mixed mushrooms is definitely pasta (by which I mean that it's amazing, and the best lunch I've had in forever). 

Emanuela makes the pasta by hand on the stall (pasta makers: hang around and look out for tips) and Lorenzo cooks it and serves it up. Simple but delicious. Mansi is essentially undertaking a tour of the weekend food markets of south London at present (I hadn't realised how many there are), and will be in Catford tomorrow (for those of you who happen to be around this way). 




One of the first book projects I ever worked on was a huge bulky hardback (weighing in at an impressive 1kg, no less), featuring a profile of every single one of London's many cemeteries. It was an awful project (not least because my boss was sacked halfway through it) but I still remember it quite fondly as both one of the heaviest and the most interesting books I ever helped to publish. Now I'm in London, I can visit all of its cemeteries for myself.

This particular cemetery is Nunhead, an elegant wilderness half an hour's walk away from my little corner of south-east London. Unkempt overgrowth is not something you really associate with London, unless you count the sprawl of general cityness, but Nunhead is an urban sprawl of a different kind. Left to itself for most of the latter half of the 20th century, nature was allowed to take over for the following three decades: heavy headstones were overturned by tree roots, heartfelt inscriptions were left to fade and creeping ivy reduced even the grandest catacombs to rubble. The cemetery reopened in 2001, and is now available for wandering around in. It's a slightly off-kilter kind of a place, perfect for exploring. 

I sometimes stumble around London and feel generally amazed at the spectacular show the Victorian era left for us to impress visiting tourists with – all we have to worry about is the upkeep, and the crowds just keep on coming. Nunhead is a Victorian wonder without the upkeep –  a genuine, heartfelt and wonderful relic.


Only In England


Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where
other people see nothing.

More than anything else, that was the quotation I was most reminded of at 'Only in England', the London Science Museum's new exhibition of Martin Parr and Tony Ray-Jones photography. It opened last weekend, understandably under the radar as it isn't large, but if you appreciate quietly amusing (and excellent) photography and a history of the unseen England, then I would recommend it.

The exhibition is centred on the mostly unknown photographs of Tony Ray-Jones, an English photographer of the late 1960s (mostly unknown due to his early death in 1972 aged 30) and a major early influence on the better-known photographer Martin Parr, who curated the exhibition and whose early work is also exhibited (his better-known British seaside work is both very funny and uncompromisingly brutal, if you are not aware of it already). 

The lists of instructions and critical notes that Ray-Jones wrote to himself are exhibited alongside his work – an insight that is not seen so very often. Each note ('Don't take boring pictures', 'Get in closer', 'Take simpler pictures') are so simple and familiar that they rather justify anyone who has ever regretfully written a list of instructions to themselves and then felt it to be just too contrived to be at all creative. The photographs are of real people living ordinary lives, and the notes and documents make it clear that the photographer, despite prodigious talent, was just a person with familiar and ordinary concerns.

Anyway, I did what I never do, and bought a book from a museum. The Non-Conformists, Martin Parr's beautiful book of photographs of the north of England in the 1970s. If that's not a recommendation, I'm not sure what is.




I have a funny little list in my head of things I've learned about moving to London that I might share here at some stage, in manner of Here is What I Learned in New York City. One of those things is that Saturdays in London (and this blog apparently, if the last two posts are anything to go by) are for food markets.

The Ropewalk/Maltby Street/Druid Street formation under the arches of the railway line to London Bridge is one such. It is crowded, but not quite as much of a tourist battle as Borough Market, and much more down to earth. Planks of wood are piled in corners and smoked salmon sides hang from antique coat stands – simple, artisanal, and satisfying. 

Plummy chaps in Barbours and flat caps sell speciality chilli paste, the gin bar does a roaring trade at all hours, and in the French cafe at the end you can sit at communal wooden tables and drink fantastic coffee. If you're lucky, a French pastry chef in whites will appear with a plate of pale green marshmallow to pass around. 

These days I have kind of come to accept the idea that when I wander around these places with a camera, everyone just assumes that I'm a tourist. The difficult part is when people ask me where I've come from, and I have to recalibrate, and remember to say that actually, here, London, is where I'm from. A whole new place.



Quietly, without really mentioning it to anyone, last month I left Bristol and moved to London. A friend of mine said: 'You never were a simple village girl, you know'. I hope he's right. There's nothing like getting battered and bruised by ticket barriers, caught in bleeping train doors and negotiating Oxford Circus at rush hour to make you feel like the simplest, villagest girl in the world. 

This weekend though, I finally had a chance to remind myself why I've been petitioning to move here for the last 5 years. 

I began with Brockley Market, south-east London's answer to Brooklyn's Smorgasburg and its antidote to London's vastly over-subscribed Borough Market. It is staged in a car park, as per Smorgasburg, and although currently missing the wild, inspiring variety and imagination of its Brooklyn counterpart (and any form of cold brew coffee, sadly), I'm sure its only a matter of time. I highly recommend the burgers


I wandered through Soho and Holborn and ate at the incredible Ducksoup. I am one for being totally intimidated by places with intriguing shop-fronts like Ducksoup's but once in, it was the most relaxed place I've ever eaten. No overbearing service, no pressure, no over-the-shoulder, expectant wine pouring – just small plates and waiterly knowledge, and the most incredible hanger steak. 


So, I consider myself reminded. Maybe there's room for me too.