Local London Christmas cards

I love the idea of sending Christmas cards. To the point that I think my friends slightly resent me for creating ‘Christmas Card Reciprocation Obligation/Guilt’. To be fair  it does take a bloody long time to write them – it has somehow taken me ALL DAY. (But don’t worry guys, I’ve also watched Home Alone 2, the Outnumbered Christmas special and eaten half a chocolate log, so its not been a completely wasted Sunday).

I found these cards in the Trinity Hospice charity shop in Wandsworth and really liked them because they feature some of my favourite places in London, which look especially beautiful at Christmas  – Albert Bridge, Sloane Square and Clapham Common.

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If you fancy sending a more personal card and donating to a good cause (all of the profits go to the local Trinity Hospice) these cards might make the idea of sending loads of Christmas cards more worthwhile.

Anyway – I need to crack on – another ten cards to go and we are getting to the juicy part in Home Alone where Kevin starts torturing Harry and Marv (when you watch it back, Kevin McCalister is actually pretty sadistic).

Merry Christmas x

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London’s secret wine club

I have been wine tasting too many times for someone who persists in knowing nothing about wine.

But I do know this.  A dry crisp white with a good friend can take you far away from November in London.  To tasting the first of summer or filling up crystal glasses on Christmas Eve.

Take someone wine tasting and you get a proper conversation. So going with a great friend was the perfect gift.

We went to Bedales in Borough Market. It’s one of those cozy, special places – lit up with candles and small wooden tables  – made for rescuing people from dark winter nights.

Bedales wine bar

Casual but classy, our expert host – Angelo van Dyk – was very knowledgeable and took a small, intimate group of us through a combination of unusual wines in a session called ‘The Lost Grapes’.

We tasted:

And the last one? By that point I can’t remember or read my writing, which says it all

If anyone goes…please find out and tell me!

x

London Carols: Best places to sing your little christmas heart out

Christmas isn’t Christmas unless someone has plugged in the carol singers.

Specifically I’m talking – little boys with haunting beautiful voices, baritones with big wool coats like the Dad in Home Alone and a soprano singing in the candlelight, making everyone feel like they understand the meaning of life for one tiny instant.

A lovely friend of mine is behind the organisation of Maggies first Christmas concert at St Paul’s Cathedral, which promise to fulfill my  actual Christmas wishes with the extra special bonus of seeing London’s iconic St. Paul’s like a proper VIP.

Not only will there be performances from St Paul’s Consort Choir, but also solos and readings by famous faces including tenor Toby Spence, mezzo-soprano Dame Ann Murray, the Manning Camerata Orchestra and  Dominic WestSimon Callow, Jeremy Paxman and Maggie’s Patron Janet Ellis.  WHAT A CHRISTMAS DREAM COME TRUE…If you need more convincing we will also be treated to WARM CHESTNUTS and HOT CHOCOLATE. I know right?

Christmas Carol Concert at St Paul’s Cathedral

Maggies Christmas Carol Concert at St Paul’s Cathedral – 16th December 2014, 19.00-20.30

The concert takes place on Tuesday 16 December 2014 at 19.00 with all proceeds going towards growing Maggie’s Centres in London, including its centre at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. Tickets are available from £25 (but selling out fast!) and can be booked online through the Barbican box office. See Maggies website here.

If you are not free on 16th or fancy something different, I’d also recommend these other truly awesome carol concerts to get in the real spirit (versus having a nervous breakdown on Oxford Street, which is often the alternative):

Is it too early to say Happy Christmas?

The London stress test

There is a particular kind of ‘London Stress’. Background white noise, which builds to silently flip its lid.

…And then you’re f-bombing people as you force onto a tube, or freaking out with Google maps in Soho, lost and late, or questioning the meaning of life after working until midnight, your taxi driver stoically ignoring your tears.

Picture of a tube carriage whizzing by

Attributation – Old Street London Underground Station by Annie Mole

Londoners don’t necessarily have more stress than people elsewhere, and we certainly have it better than many. Stress is prevalent even the smallest, most scenic locations, just listen to The Archers.

But London stress – which exists within the bubble of this city – is specific to life here. It can burn you out, makes you lose perspective, even lose yourself.

Why is London so stressful? The relentless pace, the competition, maddening crowds, the aggressive transport system, the stretched housing, the pressure of companies demanding that extra inch of excellence, of growth. Technology that keeps us wired up to global expectations 24-7, set against the fact that we all arrive here, fresh young things, thrilled by the prospect of a phone conversation with NYC at midnight to make us feel like we belong.

I always remember talking with two strangers on a train to Manchester, the summer before I moved to London, about (mostly their) concerns for me in London. One said: ‘Just remember, you don’t have to become like everyone else’.

But I did. I became one of the worst.

I’m not alone. Palpitations, eye-twitches, migraines, tears at work, and more serious stress aggravated chronic conditions and anxiety are worryingly common just among the people I know, if you lift the lid a little.

What can we do about it? I haven’t got much of a clue, or I wouldn’t be experiencing a tightening neck-vein at the mere head-on confrontation of the issue. But something must be done.

Some meditate. Others medicate. A lot swear by running. I’ve heard great things about Mindfulness. Dale Carneige’s ‘How to stop worrying and start living’ has helped a friend of mine, while another swears by Andrew Johnson’s relaxation recordings. The School of Life is a fabulous urban retreat that I love. We all know massage can help.

Burning rose oil apparently instills a sense of calm, yoga is amazing, as is chamomile tea and Classic FM at the end of a long day. A walk in the park can help you ‘get away’ when a holiday isn’t an option.

Me? I try some of these things. I mostly talk to friends and drink wine. I also write this blog.

I wonder if these small management strategies are a sustainable answer though, I wonder how much rose oil can actually make a difference.

When I first moved to London it all felt so temporary, I looked at the old-timers and wondered how they hacked it. A work colleague told me that the answer is to find the London you can manage, to create it for yourself – job, house, lifestyle. Apparently its possible. Maybe that’s our answer.

Where to watch fireworks in London

I’ve never liked Halloween. I don’t understand the appeal of dressing up like I’ve been in a car crash and then trying to look a little bit sexy.

Bonfire night? That’s different. Fireworks, hot dogs and good clean fun is something I can get behind. I’ll happily park objections to the (equally weird) ritual of celebrating burning someone alive, for a spiced cider and everyone coming together.

Bang

Bang

So great is my nerdy nostalgia I invited friends over for a ‘firework themed lunch’ (which I know sounds like the start of an ill-fated episode of casualty, but don’t worry it was FINE). I even consulted Pippa Middleton’s suggestions for a bonfire feast in her much-mocked ‘party book’ Celebrate. I made her filled jacket potatoes, before moving on to my own honey and mustard sausages and a great toffee apple and blackcurrant crumble recipe I found. Unfortunately London was 30 degrees, so I really should have adapted and served salads and ice-cream.

I usually go to Battersea Park Fireworks – its amazing display, set to music in such regal and impressive surroundings – is one of the best ways to spend £10 in London. However this year, we headed up to North London (so far up I risked a nosebleed) to see what Alexandra Palace had to offer.

Whizz

Whizz

The first noticeable thing were the crowds – the display was delayed by half an hour to let everyone in. But once it started it was amazing and they chucked  everything at it. As my friend aptly put it, it was basically like watching exploding money.

Pop

Pop

However, one of the best things was discovering the aerial view of London on the viewing platform. Just stunning and my camera phone doesn’t do it justice.

What a view

What a view

So I’ll come back to Ally Pally – even if there are no fireworks. But Battersea Park’s display is scheduled for next weekend in case I’ve tempted anyone….

A night in the museum of London: sherlock launch

Forgive me for sounding cocksure, but I am pretty confident that I would make a fantastic TV detective. Sure, I wouldn’t be much of an asset in a tower-block stair chase, or able to stare down a criminal with a gun pointed at my brain, slowly walking towards them with a withering confidence that caused them to gently hand me the weapon (like my hero Jack Frost). But I’m pretty sure I could make enough sweeping Poirot-esque judgements to spot the nutter on a cruse ship full of village idiots (Midsomer Murders and Miss Marple would totes be my level).

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So I was beyond thrilled to be invited to the launch of the Museum of London’s Sherlock Holmes exhibition; ‘The man who never lived and will never die’. Not just because I have a huge lust for Benedict Cumberbatch and love the BBC’s Sherlock series, but also because it was super exciting to go to a launch party.

Sherlock Holmes

Before anyone freaks out -Benedict wasn’t there – but Sir Ian McKellen, who will star in next year’s film ‘Mr Holmes’ directed by Bill Condin – WAS. He gave a lovely speech on the portrayal of Sherlock over time and the central role of London in the stories. Later  I got close enough to Ian to embarrass my friend and take this – admittedly, quite poor quality photo.

Sir Ian - stares straight ahead and hopes I'll stop

Sir Ian – stares straight ahead and hopes I’ll stop

The exhibition was very cool – bringing together original Conan Doyle manuscripts, along with costumes, books and other artifacts. There was a fine selection of art – which told a story about Sherlock Holmes and the London of his time. It was also really interactive to walk around.

Sherlock selfie – If only we’d got a shot of Ian doing this

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Readers of this blog will know why I couldn’t resist including this shot.

A desert bar - gets my vote

Museum of London kept us well fed and watered

Deer stalkers - great stocking filler

Deer stalkers – on sale at the gift shop and great stocking fillers

The Sherlock Holmes exhibition will be at the Museum of London until April 2015. It is definitely worth a visit, as is the rest of the museum, which is full of facts on London and provides a fascinating overview of the history of this great city.

Super fast birthday dinner for bad daughters

You know when its Friday night and you’re supposed to be cooking a birthday dinner for your Mum? But you finish work late and then you have to make everything in half an hour and feel like having a mental breakdown?

Maybe you don’t, because you’re probably much better at life than me.

But if you do ever need to make a super-fast, super nice birthday dinner (or any dinner), this is what I would suggest making because I have SO BEEN THERE…and this kind of works.

First – whack parma and melon on a fancy plate…simple things.

Picture of melon and parma ham

Melon and parma ham

I love Jo Pratt’s ‘lazy tray baked chicken’. You just throw the ingredients in a large roasting pan  – big pieces of chicken combined with panceta, baby potatoes, chopped red onion and carrots (or any veg you feel like really – peppers work well), along with a generous helping of lemon segments,  rosemary and a good drizzle of honey. This needs about an 1.15 in the oven at 200 degrees.

Picture of chicken

Tray baked chicken

Desert is my take on another Jo Pratt classic – plums and peaches halved, de-stoned and filled with mascarpone (mix in the zest of an orange first) combined with amaretto biscuits. Pour over a good glunk of port with some flaked almonds sprinkled on top. This needs about 25 minutes in the oven on 200 degrees.

Picture of peaches and plums

Mascarpone peaches and plums

And finally – if you are crazy like me – some part of you will have pre-empted your late finish from work and have got up at 6am to make cupcakes – because you can’t have a birthday dinner without cake. We accidentally bought golden icing, but I think this actually looks way fancier. And tastes amazing with chunks of Green and Blacks on top. Of course.

Picture of birthday cupcakes

Birthday Cupcakes