London 2005: V&A, Serpentine Gallery, Notting Hill

Day Six: Tuesday 9 August


V&A Museum architecture (detail)

In the V&A’s lovely John Madjewski courtyard, we start off lolling on a shady expanse of lawn, enjoying a delicious takeaway briyani lunch and the feel of grass between our toes. Russ rolls around on the ground taking photographs of me from various angles. He uses a balletic leg in the air to point in the direction he wants me to look, which does the trick of dissolving my usual self-conscious photo look with laughter.


V&A John Madjewski Courtyard

Kids are running in the fountain. (Click on the photo to see them, they’re rather small as kids tend to be.) As soon as we finish our lunch, we become the only adults in the fountain unaccompanied by children.


These two amuse me because of their reluctance to sit on the many available chairs. They leave little wet bumprints on the ground when they stand up to run back into the fountain.


The hugely endearing 70 Years of Penguin Design exhibition is the main reason for our visit, but while we’re there we also take a quick look at the RIBA Stirling prizewinners of the last decade. Apart from my beloved Gherkin, I also like Foster and Partners’ American Air Museum in Duxford, the winner for 1998.

From here it’s a nice walk to Hyde Park, where we eyeball this year’s huge flatpack armadillo

Summer Pavilion and visit Rirkrit Tiravanika’s Rirkritrospective in the Serpentine Gallery. (Methinks Mr Tiravanika and I share a similar sense of verbal humour.) Two of the installations here are mock-ups of the artist’s New York apartment, and gallery visitors are encouraged to make themselves at home. People are sitting chatting in the kitchen, lounging in front of the TV, scrawling on the clapboard floors and walls. Two selections:

Dear Rirkrit,

You need to stop living in these dumps. Find a nice girl & settle down, bring up some children, get a steady job in management.

Love, Dad.


I read the use-by date on something in the fridge; it expired in July.

Dinner at the Windsor Castle involves paying rather dearly for its considerable charm – £8.50 for my salad, £1.50 for a small glass of shitty mixed cola – but it’s the only pub I’ve ever been to in England which still has all its sections intact. It’s fun watching everyone else having to bend almost double to cross from one section to the next when you hardly have to do so yourself.

We get to Being Boiled at the Notting Hill Arts Club while entry is still free. Dave and Jeremy join us later on. I enjoy happy hour not because of the drink promotions (the £2 Troy beer from Turkey is pretty awful) but because they’re playing good electrohouse. Nothing special in London of course, but truly music to my Singapore-deadened ears.

Dahlia, tonight’s live act, does Peaches-stylie riotgrrrl electrocabaret while wearing lingerie, fishnets and stilettos. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I’d found her sexy but her gyrations mostly remind me of muscly calisthenics and I later reduce Russ to helpless giggles on the dancefloor with my very own Dahlia imitation, featuring a piercing gaze, a lingering, beckoning, finger, and then manic hip-jerking. It works especially well to Tainted Love, but falls apart horribly once I try it with Vitalic.

On the long tube ride back to Wimbledon I suddenly remember it was National Day in Singapore today. I had totally forgotten. I can’t help being struck by the contrast – how easily and tracelessly Singapore slips away once I am here, and how two years after leaving London for Singapore I still ache for it every day.


London 2005: London Wetland Centre

Day Five: Monday 8 August

Russ suddenly realizes he has to drive to Oxford today to move his stuff back to London, so I improvise a London Wetland Centre plan. Much like the Dulwich Picture Gallery, it’s another place I always meant to visit when I lived in London, but never did.

Traditional conservation goes topsy-turvy

What’s pretty cool about the place is the story behind its creation: when four Victorian-era reservoirs became redundant upon installation of the London Ring Main water system, rather than abandon the area to indiscriminate development, the reservoirs were used as the basis for this wetland centre. I rather like the idea of turning reservoirs into conservation sites. These days it seems people are more likely to do the opposite.


So with existing migratory routes already covering the area, they worked on the Field Of Dreams philosophy of “If you build it, they will come”, built a wetland paradise and just waited for birds to discover it – and they did.

A wader on the mudflats

I end up seeing about a hundred times more birds here today than I ever have at Sungei Buloh, and as any real ecosystem is, it’s teeming with all sorts of plant and animal life as well. The grounds are well-planned but not overly manicured, so you don’t feel you’re at yet another bird park or public duck pond.


Natural blues

It also has headfucks for non-bird people like me (I assume bird people already know about the Oxyura australis), who then end up stalking ducks round ponds for ages in blue-bill-induced disbelief.


I finish exploring the whole place in three leisurely hours. On the way home I look at the bus routes leaving from the bus stop I’m using. Tooting! I know someone in Tooting! On the spur of the moment I call Jeff (unannounced, out of the blue), and an hour or so later I am eating dinner with him. And thus ends my hastily improvised day, which I couldn’t have planned any better.

London 2005: Spitalfields, Mass, Nav (on Trisha!), Grooverider

Day Four: Sunday 7 August

(My Sunday photos were lower in both quantity and quality than for the other days – I was too busy shopping. But I’ll bung some in anyway, it brightens up the page. As usual, click for larger versions.)

A Just Married red London bus with open top deck
Match made in London.

I see this on the way to Spitalfields, but just miss the bridal couple leaving the upper deck, unfortunately. What a lovely idea for a summer wedding in London. (It just wouldn’t be the same on a bendy bus now, would it? Routemaster forever!)


Saddest welcome ever.

Yes, for the third time in four days I am back in the Spitalfields/Brick Lane area, which is a bit much even for a Shoreditch twat like me, but it was always such a happy Sunday place that I can’t resist, plus I just have to go to Spitalfields before the fuckers-that-be bulldoze the whole place.


Off Cheshire Street.

As usual, Spitalfields is full of beautiful things, most of which I’m too cheap to buy. The new “(Up)Market” (yes, really) is, thank God, no more upmarket than Spitalfields, and has the advantage of being a little less crammed with stalls and people. Throughout the markets I resist the various epicurean delights on offer because I know that as long as I can hold out till I reach Brick Lane, heaven awaits me in a Beigel Bake hot salt beef bagel. (Lovely photo here.) I end my shopping in Beyond Retro where I find, sadly, that even the British woman of yesteryear is still bigger than me and no clothes fit.

Total damage:

  • A photo-print board for Alec from Tom Shedden Photography in Spitalfields. Can’t find the one I bought on the site, but it’s a close-up of an old black and white horseracing photo mounted on weathered wood.
  • Thingy which can double as a scarf, belt or hairband, also double-sided with lovely prints on either side – £5, Spitalfields.
  • Pacman badge! £1, Up(Market).
  • 2 vintage scarves – £1.50 each, Beyond Retro.
  • Hot salt beef bagel! £2-something, and worth every hot salty beefy penny.

I rush to Ogle Street for evening mass. Fr Fudge (stop laughing) is as powerful a preacher as he always was, and like last year, I savour the differences between mass here and mass in Singapore. Old hymns, none of this meandering nu-Christian pan-pipes tedium that I keep getting fed in my parish at home. A sermon I couldn’t have just made up myself from common sense. No bloody mobile phones going off, no bloody mobile phones going off, no bloody mobile phones going off! I roll my lips and tongue and heart around the small differences in the prayers here – Trespasses. Lead us not into temptation. Became incarnate of the Virgin Mary – and treasure the taste of the Blood in my mouth.

I meet Nav for dinner at Carluccio’s, where I am crushed to find they’ve taken my wild boar ragu off the menu. I try the spicy sausage penne but it isn’t as nice. A few months ago, Nav came to Singapore and broke the news that she was going to be in the audience of Trisha. This of course filled me with absolute glee, and I along with everyone else there at the time who were familiar with Trisha began reciting clichés that Nav totally had to get up and slam the guests with, e.g. “Once a cheat-ah, ALWAYS a cheat-ah!”, “Yuh need to get up and take responsibilit-y for yuh life, innit?” etc.etc. Tonight Nav updates me on this, and as usual, she doesn’t disappoint. Apparently she chewed out the mother of a murder victim for whining on TV about all her problems when she’d never sought professional help. I love Nav so much. My only disappointment is that she didn’t put on an estuary accent.

From here, Russ picks me up and we head for Herbal. Grooverider’s there tonight, and I get in for free. BOOYA! It’s a little too jazzy for my tastes at first, but the last hour is great, sweaty, junglist action. I relish the feeling of being the only yellow skin on the dancefloor (there’s a Japanese couple around, but they don’t dance), although I do wish the three immense black guys in front of me weren’t strenuously disproving that old chestnutty stereotype that all black people have rhythm. They certainly share my tastes in jungle though – Grooverider drops an amazing raggalicious track and they go wild in what I can only describe as an ape-like dance, stomping and swaying from side to side while crouched over, heads arching and rearing with each sway. One grabs the other’s shoulders and they do the dance together, laughing and cheering. If you’re looking for racism anywhere here, don’t bother – it is the perfect dance to that song, and a perfect end to the night.

London 2005: City Walking, Earth From The Air, Fruitstock

Day Three: Saturday 6 August

While making breakfast I put on XFM and recoil at a sound so stomach-turning it can only be Coldplay’s new single. The lights may guide me home, Chris, but will they guide me to the pukebucket? I overcome this bad start by fleeing to Radio One, which is playing the far superior sounds of Atomic Kitten. Feeling whole again, I head out for the day.

I walk for the next 5 hours. This is the way I have always loved exploring London, not in walks from the nearest tube station to a desired destination, but in walks which span several tube stations in total, and enter none.

Temple, Blackfriars, Monument. The City is deserted and beautiful on a Saturday. I remember other Saturdays spent walking here. A nine-hour ramble with Russ, starting with lunch at Brick Lane, and walking through the City, along the Thames, through the Strand, to Chinatown for dinner at 10.30, and finally home to Fitzrovia. An hour with Alec in torrential rain when the skies opened as we walked to Borough Market. Newly and giddily in love, we were too stubborn to let the weather spoil our plans for the day.

The international financial centre’s just round the corner.

St Dunstan’s In The East is a stone’s throw from where Alec used to work. Wren did this one too, but unlike St Paul’s it sustained severe damage during the war and only the walls remained. Since then the tower has been restored, and climbing plants tumble over and through the walls encircling this tiny, wonderful park. One of my favourite places in London, and the world.


WWII Poster
Gotta love the Hitler saucepan.

I skip St Paul’s, the Millennium Bridge and Tate Modern because they’re the bits I know best, and explore the bits I don’t know. This poster outside the Britain At War museum endears me immensely.


I snap little things that catch my eye without being able to figure out why they do.

Hobo wuz here.

Beer cans on a bench, sickly and incongruous in Saturday morning sun.



A lighting fixture on a wall makes me think of bunnies.


Map between your toes.

Yann Arthus-Bertrand’s Earth From The Air photographs are on exhibition between London Bridge and Tower Bridge, accompanied by this huge map of the world for people to wander on.


Swimming to Mexico!

Kids have lots of fun with the map too.


Sleepy in Asia.

Though it gets a little tiring for some.


Rhapsody in blue.

One of the photographs against the glass facade of the building behind it.


Catch me if you can!

Children playing outside the Greater London Authority building. It’s a good day for someone who likes photographing kids and reflections of sky.


People lolling next to a large Working Environment sign
Lazy sunny Saturday environment.

It is at this point that I decide it’s time to get myself to Regent’s Park so I can do exactly the same thing as the people on the bench, except on grass, and with music, and smoothies, and thousands of other happy people.


The banner above the stage reads Hello Everyone
The main stage.

Welcome to Fruitstock, a master-stroke of marketing from the people at the Innocent smoothies company. London gets a free music festival, various worthy causes get to promote themselves to the thousands of people who come, and Innocent sell loads of smoothies (and give loads of free samples away too).


John squinting in the sun.

John has come from Cambridge just to meet me. Russ and Dave are here too, with lots of food. Soon after we settle down, Matt comes over and says hello. I find myself surrounded by friends on a beautiful Saturday afternoon at a free festival in the park. It doesn’t get much better than this.


Signposts at Fruitstock 2005
The festival with everything.

I’d have taken the picture from the left side instead, but I didn’t want someone to jump on my back and shout giddy-up. Not that such a mistake would have been likely, given my height.


Fruitstock moments which quite possibly amuse only me:

  • John comes back empty-handed after going off in search of a smoothie. “You didn’t get a smoothie?” I inquire. “No, it was crowded and I couldn’t be arsed.” And joyfully, I crow, “Then it was a fruitless expedition!” As everyone else collapses onto the grass in agony, I sense John beginning to wonder if that train fare from Cambridge was well spent.

  • Wandering around with John, we come across a booth promoting the “eglu” – a self-contained contraption you can put in your garden and rear chickens in. “Looks a bit cramped to spend their life in,” I remark. “These ones look quite happy though,” John observes. I am derisive – “Well of course they’re happy today, they’ve been taken to a nice festival innit?” John just looks at me.

When Nitin Sawhney’s beginning to get a bit boring, we decide dinner is beckoning, and that Chalk Farm will probably have better food options than the Great Portland Street dead zone. We are not drawn to The Engineer, a packed noisy gastropub, La Superba, which looks mediocre, or a pub serving Thai food. (Well actually, I veto that because I refuse to pay London prices for Thai food when I’m on such a short holiday.) Things are looking despondent before we see what looks like a normal pub in the distance, and our spirits lift. Upon arrival I realize it’s the pub where Alec, Matt and me once spent a very happy Sunday afternoon with jazz and pork scratchings. Things just go right for me in London, somehow. The day ends with huge lamb and mint burgers, and pints of Staropramen.

London 2005: Dulwich, Peckham, Brick Lane Memories, Gig

Day Two: Friday 5 August

(As usual, click on the photos to see larger versions.)

I used to keep putting off a trip to the Dulwich Picture Gallery because it was too far out of central London (dahling), but now I’m staying in Wimbledon there’s really no excuse any more. And as usual, I arrive to find a gallery so charming it mocks me for my previous laziness. The last time I was in London this happened with the Sir John Soane museum, so there’s a nice serendipity in the discovery that Soane was the architect for this building as well. He designed it without charge out of friendship for its Bourgeois (yes, that’s his actual name) bequestor.


This isn’t the gallery, it’s a gatehouse at Dulwich Park nearby. Feel the twee!


Heading into central London, we have to drive through Peckham, and at times we fear we’ll never get out. Apart from the Stirling Prize-winning Peckham Library, which is very nice, we see rather more of Peckham than we really need to due to one-way street hell and a couple of bloopers.

Me, poring over A-Z: Turn into Mouth Road!
Russ, at the wheel: I don’t see that anywhere, we’re at Bournemouth Road now.
Me: Ah yes, the map cut the road name in two. Mouth Road is actually Bournemouth Road! Turn turn turn!

I even think we pass the VD clinic Alec brought me to on one of our first dates, thinking he was bringing me to an evening of theatre at the Old Vic. (It’s a rather long story, and contains too much sheer daftness to fit comfortably within this post, but perhaps I’ll write about it in future.) Several wrong turns, road closures and funny street names (Bird In Bush Road!) later, we finally claw our way out and Tower Bridge looms ahead, except it doesn’t, because things that loom are not usually welcoming and beautiful.

Foster family

We pass the Greater London Authority building and see the Swiss Re tower in the distance, and I muse on how Norman Foster should have given Singapore’s highest court of justice a cock or ball like these instead of a freaking UFO. (Yes, there are many cynical jokes to be made there. No, I am not about to make them.)


Russ drops me on Commercial Street and goes off to view another flat. The gig I’m attending at the Spitz only starts around 9, so I’ve got 2 hours free before that for visiting old friends – and by old friends I mean streets, vandalism and memories.

Hanbury Street:

The hardware slump

I discover a sad robot I haven’t photographed before. He’s my sixth.


Survival of the graffittest

Law of the concrete jungle or not, I still think a stencilled grizzly bear against a freehanded platypus isn’t really a fair fight.


The Old Truman Brewery car park:

Little pink Corvette?

I do a double take when I see that Banksy’s car is now shocking pink. In the midst of my surprise I am vaguely aware of another shocking pink object in my peripheral vision, moving rapidly towards me. It’s a brightly-turbanned Sikh on a scooter. I get out of his way, feeling insipid.


Anything but frigid

Under a flight of stairs, a friendly fridge!


An altered sign

I guess the London congestion charge isn’t working well enough yet.


Brick Lane:

Wrong way, turn back

“FRESH MAGIC MUSHROOMS” elude what appears to be a street art allegory of the yuppie mindset. Or something.


Philip Larkin stencilled on a club night banner
“I work all day, and get half-drunk at night”

Larkin’ Out Records are doing a party at the Vibe Bar tonight, and this is one of their promo banners. Along with stuff I photographed later in this holiday such as Norway’s fjords and Germany’s ruined castles, I think the picture captures something you don’t get in Singapore. (Another example is Time Out’s headline to its writeup for a documentary on the Hiroshima bombing: “Wave of mutilation.”)


I photograph a lavender Vespa outside The Ten Bells, Christ Church resplendent in the evening sun, a guy with a huge ginger ‘fro outside what used to be Eat My Handbag Bitch. I don’t trust memory alone to record this return. Over time, living in Singapore dog-ears and fades those memories till they feel like dusty offerings at an estate sale – someone else’s life, which I pretend was mine.

I sit in Cafe 1001, eating a crispy bacon ciabatta and reading Time Out, and this is when I start feeling morose. I look at everyone around me with so much envy, not because they all have company and I am sitting here alone (that never bothers me in London), but because they can call London their city, and without bending the facts, I no longer can.

It’s time for the gig, and the Chris Bowden Trio quickly pulls me out of my gloom by making me its bitch. This isn’t smooth hotel lounge jazz, it’s voluptuous outrageously confident music that struts coolly into the room and knows it has everybody’s undivided attention. I don’t always like Ninja Tune’s jazz acts, but it’s struck gold with Chris Bowden. Seriously, don’t pass up an opportunity to see this guy even if you’ve never been that drawn to instrumental jazz music or the saxophone. He could change your mind.

Broadway Project are up next. I suppose I haven’t kept up enough with Broadway Project since the first album, because instead of one guy with a sampler creating moody beautiful found sounds for quiet nights in when autumn’s on the cusp of winter, it now involves about five guys and fairly block rockin’ beats. Still, it’s pretty interesting to listen to after I get over the initial surprise, and they finish the set with the opening track of Compassion, bringing me right back to the wonder of my first encounter with Broadway Project, which is a great place to end.

Mark Rae’s finishing up the night with some good party tracks, but I go downstairs to join Russ and Dave in the bistro, and treat myself to my beloved Fruli. At the end of the evening, Russ drops me near Fleet Street, where I’ll be staying for the weekend in Nav’s flat while she’s off in Wales. I settle down there to plan the next day, write my journal, and count my blessings for generous friends.

I am so happy to be back here.

London 2005: Arrival, Kew, Curry, Change

Day One: Thursday 4 August

Dependable as always, Russ is at Heathrow to pick me up and drive me back to his place, where I’ll be staying for most of my time in London. As always, conversation is like we’d never been apart. I freshen up a little at his house and chat with his dad before we head out for the day.

Because I am a deeply cultural person interested in deeply cultural things, our first stop is H&M. I know, I know, I can hear all of you shrieking in disbelief even from here – “All this interminable whining about how much she misses London’s vibrant arts scene and rich history and robust system of civil and political liberties, and the first thing she does when she gets back is shop in a multinational chain store?” – but look, it’s near Russ’s house, and in my mad packing rush I forgot to bring any belts to prevent my ass crack from showing when I bend down. Also, I just fucking love H&M.

Alas, in my time away from England I’ve returned to my Singapore size, with the result that I try on 6 items of clothing and none of them fit right. I do, however, procure a nice green belt for £3.99, and avert builders’ arse for now.

Boots value meals in hand, we eat lunch under a tree in Kew Gardens and talk about everything. (Click pictures for larger versions.)

Gardener and his wheelbarrow, amidst tree.

We eventually remember the real object of our visit, which is to see Dale Chihuly’s glass sculpture installations.

Detail of Chihuly’s boat installation.

I have a feeling the sculpture in the coffee lounge of the Singapore Ritz-Carlton is also by Dale Chihuly. My friends and I usually call it the sperm sculpture. I don’t think I’m a big Chihuly fan, but it’s still interesting to see how the sculptures are incorporated into the landscape of Kew Gardens and its various greenhouses and conservatories.

Bit garish.

Russ is a little tied up with flat-hunting while I’m here, so we go from Kew to Hoxton to view a flat. It’s pretty grim. The current occupant’s desperate to rent it out so that she can go on holiday, and also because desperation is generally the most realistic attitude to take when attempting to rent out a flat like that one. We end up near Brick Lane for dinner, so of course I take Russ and Dave to good ol’ Sweet’N’Spicy.

I get a pang when I walk down the street where Alec lived and realize it’s changed so much that I can’t even recognize which door was his. But at least the chicken korma in Sweet’N’Spicy is as wonderfully creamy as it always was, the prices are as low, and the service as cordial. And of course, the seriously retro Turkish wrestler posters are still on the wall. In this timeless but ever-changing city, at least I can hold on to Sweet’N’Spicy. May their tables always be formica.

Travel Blip

Oh what the fucking fuck. Obviously my introductory post to my present travels has gone boom and the only way of getting it back will be to rewrite it. This will not happen, because I have better things to do in London than to rewrite my own blog posts.

To all the people who left comments, I’m really sorry – they’re gone. On Friday I read and replied generally to everyone and specifically to wulfe and pumpkineyes, but if you posted a comment after that then I’m afraid I missed it. However, I do know that the server issues causing the lost posts/comments are now resolved, so please don’t be put off from repeating your tips where relevant in my future posts about these travels. They won’t get lost again.

It’s nearly 4 am so I should sleep, but I hope to find some time in the next few days to write up my travel journals so far. As anyone who knows about me and London will expect, I’m having a wonderful time.