18 ways to survive autumn in London

Summer is ending. Raspberries are out of season and the nights and the spiders are drawing in.

OH WELL. I’ve already moved on to my new boyfriend – Autumn – season of opaque tights, stained red wine lips and double helpings of carbs.

London by David Holt

You do need a survival plan for this time of year in London though – or it gets depressing, in a ‘being soaked by a massive bus splash and then questioning the meaning of life’ kind of way – so here is my list of 18 things I plan to do in London in Autumn to *BASICALLY STAY SANE*. (Please note I make no apology that 80% of these things involve eating).

  1. Dinner at The Dairy in Clapham – supposed to be an incredible restaurant – and autumn is the  time to eat in incredible restaurants so you can order desert with custard with the excuse we need the ‘nutritional value/warmth to SURVIVE THE WEATHER’
  2.  Noodles at the newly reopened Pepper Tree in Clapham –  my secret restaurant when I lived in Clapham. Except everyone loved it too. I had a minor stroke when I thought it had closed down. But they were just renovating it. PAD THAI I’M COMING BACK FOR YOU.
  3. See Gone Girl at the cinema – remember the cinema? I know I haven’t been for months either. Gone Girl is blatantly going to be  insane.
  4. Buy a leather jacket and maybe a big tartan scarf and definitely also an aggressive new eyeliner – October needs confronting with a strong look
  5. Make a vat of chicken casserole and eat it whilst watching Homeland and Downton Abbey – Lady Mary and Carrie Mathison are survivors and inspirations
  6. An autumn walk to pick sloe berries and make sloe gin – sounds idyllic, probably will descend into stealing berries from bushes outside people’s houses in SW London and making some kind of weird poison but I DON’T CARE I WANT TO DO IT
  7. See the Constable exhibition at the V&A – because I’m embarrassed I’ve been living in London for 8 years and never been to the V&A
  8. Book to go to Harry Potter Land and see the snow scene – I make no excuses
  9. Plant spring flowers – I’m thinking bluebells? Keep meaning to get down to Battersea Flower Station for some ideas
  10. See Live at the Apollo – tickets aren’t for general sale but you can apply and potentially go for free *how amazing is that*
  11. Plan a firework party/trip to Battersea Park or Ally Pally – honestly one of the best things about living in London in November, love the feeling of layering up for some communal pyrotechnics
  12. Make a roast dinner for friends. With cauliflower cheese as a focal ingredient…Oh and crumble
  13. Brixton Vilage for dinner – because I haven’t been for months and I’m getting withdrawal
  14. Shopping at Bicester Village which is definitely a bad idea but so what…
  15. A night at The Dogs at Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium – I mean it sounds kind of scary, but also I DO own a sheepskin coat
  16. Drink beer/tour at a London brewery – like Meantime in Greenwich or By the Horns in Earlsfield (see the nice write up on ‘Go Earlsfield‘).
  17. Curry in Tooting Broadway – the South West Brick Lane
  18. Book a winter holiday – I mean…all of this is great, but I’m not Jesus – there is only so long you can go without summer

The photograph in this post is London October 13 2013 015 Conkers Clissold Park Hackney by David Holt.

Five favourite things about Bellevue Village

I first stumbled upon the Bellevue Village Fair in 2012 and I’ve been going back ever since.

Its a funny place, this road. Despite being cornered by gridlocked city traffic, it has an ‘out of London’ feeling.

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Village life in the big city

The fair is just one of my favourite things – mostly because you can pretend you are in the Cotswolds for the day, buying local beer (from the exciting Belleville Brewery), and everything from art and jewelry to flowers (I was *thrilled* to see the Battersea Flower Station, as have always wanted to visit). It goes without saying that the fair attracts a very well-heeled crowd which makes for great people watching – lots of beautiful parents, with beautiful kids and immaculately groomed dogs (there was a dogs show this time) – I was half expecting David Cameron to show up.

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The food is always a particular highlight – I stuck my face in an amazing hot dog and eyed up about 572 cakes before settling on a chocolate, orange and almond number from Dee Light Bakery. I also bought some marmalade from an incredible woman wearing an apron calling her a ‘Jam Tart’.

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The Bellevue Village Fair sadly only happens twice a year (the next one should be  Christmas *fingers crossed*) but they best things about Bellevue road are here all year round:

  1. The Althorp – amazing local gastropub looking out on the Common. Plays live music. Does a lush chicken burger.
  2. Jo Partridge – lovely hairdressers with the best shellac deal known to man – £35 for a manipedi – WTF?! They did my hair for the first time and for once it looks nice.
  3. The Good Earth – amazing Chinese restaurant. So good I wrote a blog about it.
  4. The Hope – another great pub (there’s a theme here). Iconic corner pub. The place to be on summer nights.
  5. Wandsworth Common – way classier than Clapham Common (i.e.s not full of gangs of 23year olds drinking cans and applying tanning oil like its Benidorm beach)
Dogs on wandsworth common

This year there was the first dog show on the Common at the village fair

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Oliver – the gallery – always does creative games for kids that I have genuinely joined in with

What to pack for a festival

So rather than contemplate the flash storms forecast for Latitude , or that I wasn’t organised enough to book Monday off work and now have to find a way back on Sunday and potentially miss Haim, I am instead just going to *bury my little head in packing*.

As promised in my previous post on surviving festivals (aimed at uptight individuals or those just now in their thirties) I do have a secret festival packing list to share. I can’t take credit (unlike my own holiday list).  It was given to me by a friend ahead of my first festival (V Festival) and has become, in my mind,  sacred testimony from the gods of  bloody good sense. I am solemnly passing it down so that it might help others lost, confused or facing the peril of attending a festival on the East Anglian flood-planes…this weekend.

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Camping gear:

  • Tent
  • Sleeping bag – ensure it is a warm one
  • Pillow – (I bought a little tartan one pictured above, purely because it was cute)
  • Foam mat for under sleeping bag/blow up bed
  • Blanket
  • Water holder
  • Camping chair
  • Bin bags/carrier bags
  • LED torch
  • Plastic bowls/forks
  • Mobile battery pack/charging device
  • Festival trolley or backpack for carrying everything

Clothing: make sure you have one whole extra outfit in case it rains and pack outfits in separate carrier bags

  • Hoody/jumper
  • Rain Mac/Jacket
  • Shorts, skirt, dresses, leggings
  • T shirts, shirts and vest tops
  • Socks – over the knee and ankle
  • Underwear!
  • Bikini – in case you need to have a shower (or are going to the Wilderness spa)
  • Towel
  • Wellies
  • Trainers/pumps
  • Flip flops
  • PJs and bed socks

Toiletries:

  • Make up – proper slap you can rely on like waterproof mascara and Estee Lauder double wear foundation
  • Sun cream
  • Baby wipes
  • Moisturizer
  • Perfume, deodorant
  • Antibacterial gel
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash
  • Toilet roll
  • Dry shampoo, hairspray, brush
  • Plasters, ibuprofen
  • Ear plugs
  • Alka-Seltzer, Berocca
  • Accessories:
  • Small bag/cross over bag
  • Mirror
  • Hair grips/bands/clips
  • Head-dresses, headbands, face-paint
  • Hat
  • Hipflask
  • Jewelry
  • Sun glasses
  • Tissues
  • Watch
  • Entertainment:
  • Music/speakers
  • Digital camera
  • Driving licence
  • Food: (nothing which will melt/easily attract ants)
  • e.g. crisps, cereal bars, individually packed foods e.g. cakes, brioche, chewing gum
  • Booze: (cans, wine boxes or decanted into plastic bottles) 
  • Water

And last but not least, don’t forget your tickets…

Cheshire charm farm food

The thing about bank holidays is that while we crave them like sugar, once they arrive, it is often hard to decide what to do. You want to make the most of precious time off, but you also have to balance this with the wish to chill out and not end up doing something totally random and out of character, like visiting a castle.

I was spending the day with family in the North West, and had already flitted away most of the morning getting a pedicure (crucial use of time). There were rumblings of visiting IKEA or a garden centre (not appealing), so then I had a brainwave. The Hollies Farm Shop in Little Budworth. A place I discovered last summer and have had a soft spot for since.

Picutre of a happy cow outside the Hollies Farm Shop in Little Budworth

The Hollies Farmshop is lots of fun

Now this place is proper Cheshire Life –  I would shop here every day in my dream life. But in reality its once in a blue moon. Largely because I live about 200 miles away, but also because this is proper luxury food porn, and I can’t justify 17 types of jam (yet).

Picture of variety of Cheshire jams and chutneys

Having all of these condiments in my cupboards would make me feel complete as a woman

The farm shop is rammed full of lovely locally sourced products and niche ingredients you read about in great cookbooks but can never find in Sainsbury’s local. They have a fantastic way of presenting things so even the rice looks exciting.

Pictures of Cheshire cheeses

Cheshire cheese – my favourite and not just because this is my home county

The fresh ingredient sections are fantastic – particularly the cheese counter and butchery section. You can’t see in the picture below but they stock lovely chicken dishes marinaded in sauces like mango and white wine. If only more supermarkets in London would stock this type of thing, food shopping would be way more exciting…

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Summer strawbs

Now just to finish off the middle aged theme to this post, there is also a garden centre and a craft store which are both very charming, and fun to walk around. They leave you thinking, yes I really should have more Magnolia plants and witty/inspirational wall signs in my life.

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Sadly, (or perhaps with the mercy of Christ), I managed to resist buying everything at the Hollies (although we did leave with a gorgeous lemon sponge and an AMAZING pre-prepared korma dish.Plus you can buy giant chocolate slabs at half the price of Hotel Chocolate).

It is probably very easy to get carried away in the Hollies. But the place is great for special occasions, times when you’d like to feel like living like a Made in Chelsea heir…or just gifts.

Indeed they do some fantastic hampers with real personality.I once bought the Cheshire Hamper for a schoolfriend. It was lovely to be able to import a a touch of the Cheshire farm shop magic to London. Yes we have Harrods food hall, Partridges and Fortnum & Masons, but this place is a real champion of local suppliers and feels much more welcoming.

That hamper was bought was genuinely the most exciting thing that has ever been delivered to me at work, so I am kind of tempted to buy one for myself…

PS Topshop I love you

It struck me, last year, that I don’t much like shopping for clothes anymore (the stress, the unforgiving changing room lights, the cost, the not knowing which shops and trends are now meant ‘for me’). Around the same time apparently everyone else had also noticed I was wearing only one (quite shit) outfit all the time. Black jeans, navy converse hi-tops and a white saggy jumper.

This outfit must have been so irritatingly ‘on repeat’ that my family booked me in with a Topshop personal stylist.

Topshop personal shopping entrance sign

Famous Last Words

I had a proper ‘outraged from Wandsworth’ tantrum at this intervention. “I don’t have the money to spend on new clothes, let alone personal shopping. I have more serious priorities!” (You know – spending my money paying for council tax, wedding presents and my addiction to M&S Simply Food…).

My second argument was that ‘I am too old to shop in Topshop now….’ This was supposed to shut down the conversation by entering it into amber zone – the sensitive territory of my approaching 30th birthday that everyone knew I wasn’t handling well…

But there was no getting out of it. I went, imagining an intimidating selection of outfits that only ‘Little Mix’ could pull off and massive pressure under the code of British politeness to buy at least three.

I hate admitting I am wrong – but the reality was very different and I am now totally converted.

The team at the Manchester Arndale Centre store (particularly the gorgeous Jo Drew who had been recommended to us) instantly put me at ease and hand-picked a lovely selection of pieces for work and weekends that felt so intuitively me I might have chosen them too. (Well – if I had Jo’s taste, and the store had turned off the music, emptied out all of teenagers and locked me inside so I was unable to talk myself out of trying stuff on…).

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The rail of fun awaiting me this time round – no I did not buy it all…

This is ultimately what the personal shopping experience is for –you are stowed away in a calm, serene section of the store where your sole focus is on something both as minor as clothes  – but as major as how you look and feel about yourself! You can try on as many outfits as you like in a private fitting room while a dedicated stylist brings you different sizes and options for around 1.5 hours. (Along with drinks and cupcakes of course…).

Almost a year to the day that I first shed that saggy jumper, I returned to Topshop Manchester last weekend, to see the lovely Jo for another wardrobe overhaul. This time I brought some  friends along for the experience. And it turns out the stars were aligned in our favour as we found out Instyle Magazine was running a 15% offer on Topshop personal shopping. (I honestly had no idea about this beforehand, as I had booked the experience as a treat with family and friends weeks ago).

The day, of course, was all it was meant to be – fun, special and luxurious. But for me the greatest value that personal shopping brings is guidance on assembling ‘whole outfits’. All of the clothes selected are intended to work together, interchangeably – from jackets, through to jewellery, bags and shoes – something I had never really thought about before whilst shopping. Previously I tended to be attracted to jazzy items like a magpie, with no thoughts about what they would go with. Other vices included panic buying weird coloured jeans and wearing everything with a black jacket or long white cardigan.

The stylists also encourage you to try some pieces which may be a little out of your comfort zone, but they feel are worth considering. Not all of the options will do it for you, but it is worth taking their advice. I spent last summer wearing a white play-suit and a pair of grey and lime printed trousers that I wouldn’t have had the courage to look directly at previously.

I know some people will feel personal shopping is excessive. I did probably spend more in Topshop in one fell sweep than one person should. But if you are prepared to buy your clothes in bulk or save up,  the store offers great high street value and the personal shopping service is free. Personally, I think the expert stylists help me spend my money better on clothes than I could alone, so it goes further and isn’t wasted  (I know I am starting to sound brainwashed to the point of being in a Topshop cult). But, for example, I got a great outfit for a wedding – when previously I would have talked myself into spending more on a ‘safe’ and expensive dress in Reiss.

I left with a capsule wardrobe for the season, not needing to enter a shop for a long time, but also with the confidence to know where to start if I wanted to. For me, (without wishing to sound like a Mastercard cliche), that’s been priceless.

Image of (too many) Topshop shopping bags

‘The damage’ from our recent return trip

A few notes:

  • Topshop personal shopping is available free in selected stores nationwide, by appointment only
  • I chose Topshop Manchester as it was part of a trip home to the North West and I genuinely prefer shopping outside of central London when I can – but I have also been to Topshop London for personal shopping which was very good and very fun too.
  • The service works best if you give the team a detailed brief relating to your size and style, along with an indication of your budget and what you are looking for (i.e. wardrobe overhaul or just one dress for a special occasion).
  • I know I sound totally obsessed with Topshop now (oh how people can change) but there are lots of other personal shopping services available too. I have it on recommendation from other friends that House of Fraser do a good styling service too if you want more brand options (although I have never tried it). Reiss and Whistles have also just launched personal shopping services at selected stores in London too – pricey but probably good options for occasion wear.