A Brisk January Walk

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It is definitely January in London: Christmas trees with dried out needles heaped in the middle of the pavement waiting to be collected, shiny pavements from incessant rain, dark walks home in the evening, sales in all the shop windows and everyone on diets. I returned from the Canary Islands quite refreshed though. It’s amazing what a bit of sunshine can do.

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But back to the dark rainy days in this city, it’s been preferable to spend my free time curled up with a travel magazine and a cup of tea than go out exploring much with my camera, hence the lack of London posts!

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I did head out over the weekend though to meet an old friend who was here from the States.

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We started at Liverpool street and wandered for a while.

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We walked up Brick Lane, past the guy selling pineapples with little pink umbrellas as if this were the Caribbean, past the mixed aromas of cuisines of so many different countries wafting out of the Sunday UpMarket, past the murals and love locks around Shoreditch station.

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And a few bits of street art I hadn’t seen yet.

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Then we walked through the City where everything is eerily closed on the weekend and along the north of the river, all the way to the bright lights of Piccadilly Circus.

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But it was more talking and catching up then exploring.

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I didn’t take very many but couldn’t resist a few pictures along the way.

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I’ve been focusing on different things since this year began: my new blog Little Observationist, where I’ve been posting much more often than here. I’d love it if you’d follow me there. It will start to include London stories soon.

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I’m also working on some freelance writing, learning more Spanish since it’s always going to be a part of my life now, planning our wedding for June, baking once in a while and updating my Etsy shop.

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So tell me, how was your transition from 2013 to 2014? Any good New Year’s stories? Resolutions? What are you most looking forward to this year? Update me…!

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Exploring Lancaster Gate on a Go Native Staycation

Jorge and I were invited a few weeks ago to stay in a new Go Native serviced apartment property on Sussex Gardens near Lancaster Gate and Hyde Park.

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We thought it might be fun to have a little staycation in a different neighbourhood. So we packed our overnight bags and walked from South Kensington to Exhibition Road and over to the other side of Hyde Park to check it out.

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It was still surprisingly Autumnal in the park the first weekend of December.

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There are berries and colourful leaves on some of the trees.

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Others were bare and still others dark green.

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Some had colourful trunks instead.

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We wandered up past the Peter Pan statue.

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It was always one of my favourite stories when I was younger.

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Then it was onward along The Long Water at the north end of the Serpentine where the birds always line up on a row of wooden posts.

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A little Australian boy was told off by his mother for trying to pelt them with stones.

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But overall, it was a very peaceful stroll.

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One of my favourite places in the park is the Italian Gardens, which I was happy to realise were on our route.

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There’s a fountain at the one end where you can stand and look back over the Serpentine.

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It wasn’t a very sunny day, but it was still a stunning view. Imagine with bright blue skies.

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The birds thought it was nice enough to go for a swim anyway.

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We reached the end of the park.

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The rest of the walk was just five minutes up through Sussex Gardens.

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We went to drop our bags in the lobby.

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Then we decided to consult the neighbourhood guide that Go Native had sent us for some ideas on what to do next.

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We were intrigued by the nearby Leinster Gardens Fake Houses and took a walk in that direction. We passed a small street with shops and some Christmas trees for sale on the corner.

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Then we turned down a pretty ordinary residential street in this area with big expensive homes just minutes walk to the edge of Hyde Park.

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And we found ourselves standing in front of two ordinary looking buildings that we wouldn’t have looked at twice unless we had read the guide. It said: “Take a stroll along Leinster Gardens (just off Lancaster Gate) and you’ll see that numbers 23 and 24 are eerily empty, both missing letterboxes and with their windows painted over. That’s because they’re an illusion. The original houses were demolished during the development of the London Underground and these facades mask the gap that remained.” Learn something new every day, right?

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What next? It was Sunday and we were hungry so clearly a Sunday Roast was in order. But where? After consulting that handy guide, we settled on The Grazing Goat. “Minutes away from Marble Arch is this hidden gem. A simple, elegant pub, it specialises in beer and guest ales but also has a reputation for fresh, seasonal food – specifically, their traditional Sunday lunch. Named after Lady Portman’s grazing goats that once populated the surrounding land, it doubles as the perfect reason to visit Portman Village.”

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So we walked back the way we came and followed the edge of the park down toward Marble Arch.

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This time, on the same route, I spotted something I love to find in big cities – a rack of international newspapers in a mishmash of languages. I can’t read any of them and I never buy any of them, but I love that they are a sign of such incredible diversity.

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We also spotted a sign on a door that said United Lodge of Theosophists. I had a relatively good idea of what that was but looked it up just to be sure. If you’re curious, theosophy is defined by “systems of esoteric philosophy concerning, or investigation seeking direct knowledge of, presumed mysteries of being and nature, particularly concerning the nature of divinity.”

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Moving on then. Around the corner, we came to Sheila’s Cafe, a hidden little place at the top of Lancaster Mews. With two tables for two, it’s mostly a sandwich takeaway shop and apparently popular with cab drivers and builders. The bacon sandwich got good reviews. We didn’t stop though.

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Across the street from Sheila’s is The Mitre, a popular pub that was listed in our guide, which reads: “Housed in a Grade II listed building, The Mitre was once populated by the Lords and Ladies of the day. Now, film buffs are more likely to recognise it from Woody Allen’s London-based movie Match Point.” Haven’t seen it. Have you? Any good?

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Anyway, we didn’t stop there either.

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We reached the park and kicked through the leaves near the Boris bikes.

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And wondered why there were no less than four red phone boxes back to back in a square across from them.

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Eventually we reached Portman Village, just between the madness of Edgware Road and the madness of Oxford Street. The Grazing Goat was tucked quietly away on a side street.

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But we opened the doors to a packed pub and waited at the bar for a table.

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It had been a while since I had a Sunday roast so it took me a minute to decide but I went with the lamb.

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The food was great and it was worth a visit, but the pub was incredibly noisy and full of squirming, screaming children so we were happy to leave.

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It was time to check into our room anyway.

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This time we went through the back streets. We wanted to check out Connaught Street. According to our guide, it “boasts two worthwhile spots: Le Pain Quotidien and Coco Maya, the latter of which is on the border of Connaught Street and Porchester Place. Interestingly, this is where Tony Blair and his family live – identifiable by the armed protection squad outside.” There was indeed an armed guard in front of a mews.

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The sun was already setting so it was a pretty walk.

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So we made it back and were shown to a large suite on the ground floor with a bedroom, bathroom, living room and kitchen area. It was, however, quite dark and four of the lights didn’t work so we called for someone to have a look.

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Apparently they didn’t have replacement bulbs because they were waiting on a shipment that hadn’t arrived so they kindly gave us a choice of two other apartments upstairs. The one we chose was lovely, with a huge wraparound balcony.

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Unfortunately it was too chilly to properly enjoy it, but the inside was really nice as well. It had very high ceilings, a spare room with a couch and extra set of towels, a living room and kitchen area, a bedroom and a bathroom. Definitely very spacious for London!

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It was also very cool to see they had thoughtfully left a small carton of milk, sugar, tea and coffee as well as dishwasher soap, washing up liquid, and laundry detergent for the small washing machine.

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The kitchen was fully stocked with pots and pans and everything you need really. One thing that would have been nice that we didn’t see is oil for cooking. But we didn’t use the kitchen.

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Taking advantage of its proximity, we headed back into the darkness to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland where we ate German sausages, churros and sweets for dinner instead.

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Jorge was amused by the fake snow, which he hadn’t seen before.

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I, on the other hand, am wishing for real snow, but considering it is still about 13C / 55F in London, that’s not looking likely any time soon.

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We didn’t go on any of the rides.

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Nor did we play any of the games.

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But we did do one of my favourite activities – try on silly hats!

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Jorge was going for the furry Russian look.

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I went the reindeer route.

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We were there mostly just to soak up the atmosphere.

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And then we headed back again.

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This time we walked through the Bathurst Mews where the Hyde Park Stables are, to see the horses that were tucked away for the night.

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Back in the apartment, we found a late night Christmas movie and then got up and walked the 40 minutes to work the next morning.

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All in all, a fun little adventure. I do like the idea of a staycation. While it wasn’t too far from where we live now, it was a nice getaway! If it were in East London and it was over a weekend, it would have felt like we’d really been on holiday!

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 Thanks Go Native!

December in Duke of York Square Market

When I was interviewed about my photography exhibition by Stuart from Inspiring City last month, we met near Duke of York Square on a Saturday – the only day of the week that the market springs to life.

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The first thing he said to me was, “You know you’re in Chelsea when there’s people sipping oysters in the local market.”

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Yes, there are buckets and crates of oysters, served front and centre when you pass by along the King’s Road. I haven’t tried them, but people seem to enjoy them.

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One of favourite vendors in the market so far is the duck confit people who make “the best duck sandwich in Chelsea”. It’s the only one I’ve come across anyway, so I’d vouch for that.

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Another good one is the dumpling stall. They are always fresh and tasty and the vendors are quite cheerful.

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The pie and quiche stall offerings look pretty delicious too but I haven’t given them a try yet.

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If you’re after a quick snack, stop by the Brazilian table for a Coxinha De Galinha.

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Plenty of samples are waiting to be snitched as well.

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There’s other goodies to take home like buckets filled up with many flavours of olives.

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You can choose a nice bit of fish to wrap up for dinner.

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Then there’s sweets. Mountains of sweets.

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And tasty loaves of bread in different flavours.

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And cakes.

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And more cakes.

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And more cakes.

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And more cakes.

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And piles of meringue.

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And rows of sweets.

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Finding desert won’t be a problem then (or if none of those appeal, there’s occasionally a donut stall too).

I also found something else that made me very happy to see: Colombian fruit – a whole table full of it – lulos, sapotes! When I lived in Colombia, the fruit was one of my favourite things and while I realised that ultimately I don’t belong in a tiny mountain village, there are a few things I miss. This is one of them.

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They also had what we called mamones. They are sold in bags along the roadside, especially on the journey to Bogota and you occasionally see the shells and pits flying out of truck windows and littering the ground in traffic jams. You bite into the shell of the tiny round fruit and scrape the small amount of flesh off of the pit in the middle using your front teeth. It’s more a way to pass the time than pass the hunger. Here they are 10 for £10, but they were dirt cheap for huge bags full in Colombia. (Here’s the first three months worth of Little Colombia Observationist if you’re interested. Unfortunately I switched to wordpress.org for the second three months and ended up losing the domain when I came back to London.)

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Around the holiday season, the mulled wine and chestnuts arrive along with a stall selling wreaths. One reason I’m always drawn to markets is that they are almost always lively and colourful. Another reason is for the smorgasbord of smells: the hot apple cider, then the fried dumplings, then the cheese wheels, then the stacks of fudge and the chorizo sandwiches. People tend to be in a bit of a jollier mood too.

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Especially in the Summer, the square fills up with friends chatting and laughing. It’s a brilliant place for people watching. I spent hours there with my parents when they were here on a hot day a few months ago. There’s plenty to do nearby as well so it’s nice to make a day of it. Saatchi Gallery, one of my favourites, is just behind the market. The whole of King’s Road is filled with shops (try Claudie Pierlot – my new favourite), cafes (love Joe and the Juice) and places to eat (Sushinho!). There’s the Curzon Cinema as well. Plus, Hyde Park (and all the museums around Exhibition Road) and Battersea Park are within easy walking distance. (Here’s a little walk around Chelsea post in case you missed it with some other ideas).

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If you have kids, take them to chat with Santa.

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And, if you’re excited about sweet American treats like I am, you’ll be happy to visit the Partridges on the other side of the market. Jorge bought me some mini fruity marshmallows the other day and I picked up some Swiss Miss hot chocolate to accompany them. Mmmm, childhood in a mug.

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Now we just need some snow…Here’s a photo from last year to help you get in the Wintery mood.

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(Catch me on my other blog, Little Observationist, as well.)

Keep On Believing: My Top 5 Record Shops in London

matt-lindleyThis is a guest post written by Matt Lindley. Matt is a London-based music listener and analogue synth fan. He likes physical formats, free-improvisation and folk. You can find him on Twitter @MattELindley.

I don’t often write about music so I thought it would be an interesting topic by  someone who does!

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London is still a great place for buying secondhand vinyl, despite the closure of many record shops, including On the Beat in Soho, where the owner has just put the entire store on eBay. The shops that are thriving tend to be the ones that really understand the needs of the average record buyer these days.

The typical London vinyl addict possibly isn’t looking for a first edition Led Zeppelin VI or Dark Side of the Moon LP anymore. They’re after something more obscure, like a lost New Zealand post-punk classic or a Norwegian black metal LP. The shops that cater to their needs by offering a carefully-curated selection of hard-to-find titles and the in-store aesthetics to match will probably live forever.

A visit to a local record shop will always offer much more than buying used vinyl on eBay. It is a place to discover new music, meet like-minded people and try before you buy in a way that you can’t do online. I am sure that music fans will continue to support their local record shops, as long as they believe in them. Anyway, here are five London record shops that are getting it right.

KRISTINA RECORDS
44 Stoke Newington Road, London N16 7XJ
www.kristinarecords.com

kristina-records-dalstonPhoto from Kristina Records website

Kristina Records only opened two and a half years ago – after the supposed death of the high street record store – which goes to show that if you sell the right kind of music to the right people, you will be successful. The shop takes up a small, well-designed space in Dalston (reminding me of Record Grouch in Brooklyn) and mainly sells underground music of all varieties (Minimal Techno, Noise, 80s Industrial, Free-Jazz, American Primitive). The stock is split 60/40 between secondhand and new vinyl and has been well-curated and categorised. It is definitely my favourite place in London for avant-garde and experimental sounds now that Second Layer has closed down.

ONE TO TAKE HOME WITH YOU: Goblin Buio Omega Soundtrack LP (AMS) £26

HONEST JONS
278 Portobello Road, London W10 5TE
www.honestjons.com

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Photo: Honest Jons by flickr_b3rn

Honest Jon’s is a long-standing Notting Hill record shop that specialises in soul, jazz and reggae. It opened in 1974 and offers lovingly reissued global classics alongside a treasure trove of secondhand gems. The Honest Jon’s record label was established in 2001 in collaboration with regular customer and Blur frontman Damon Albarn. It was formed partly out of necessity, as the opportunities to travel to the US, Brazil and Africa to buy rare records became less and less viable. The label issues brilliant, pioneering dance music. For this reason alone, not to mention the great selection of used titles, you should check out this Ladbroke Grove legend.

ONE TO TAKE HOME WITH YOU: Brokenhearted Dragonflies Insect Electronica From Southeast Asia (Sublime Frequencies) £17.99

SOUNDS OF THE UNIVERSE
7 Broadwick Street, Soho, London W1F 0DA
www.soundsoftheuniverse.com

Sounds of the Universe, Record Store Day, Berwick Street, London 20/04/2013
Photo: Sounds of the Universe by David Jones 大卫 琼斯

Sounds of the Universe is my favourite record shop in Soho, specialising in reggae, dub, Brazilian Tropicalia, African funk and other global sounds. Upstairs is devoted to brand new vinyl and CDs while, in true record shop fashion, the downstairs basement is bulging with original vinyl. What makes it worth visiting is the passionate, knowledgeable staff and their dedication to unearthing the best sounds from around the world. Sounds of the Universe is also home to Soul Jazz Records, who have released some amazing crate-digging compilations of dancehall, acid house and German experimental rock over the years.

ONE TO TAKE HOME WITH YOU: Gregory Isaacs Showcase original LP (Taxi) £25

FLASHBACK
50 Essex Road, Islington, London N1 8LR
www.flashback.co.uk

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hoto: Flashback by Eric Huang

Flashback in Islington has been operating since 1997 and has always been about secondhand stock. But since the music industry started to press most new releases on vinyl, they now sell brand new titles as well. New vinyl and CDs can be found upstairs, but the used vinyl in the basement is really where it’s at. This is the place to find lost classics leaning heavily towards the rock/punk/alternative end of the spectrum (my favourite) at reasonable prices. Whether you are after an everyday playing copy of a grunge classic or an £800 pristine first pressing of Shirley Collins’ Sweet England, Flashback should have something for you. This and Haggle Vinyl make Islington a great place to live for record hounds.

ONE TO TAKE HOME WITH YOU: Flaming Lips Clouds Taste Metallic LP (original US green vinyl) £30

RAT RECORDS
348 Camberwell New Road, London SE5 0RW
www.ratrecordsuk.net

Rat Records, Camberwell, SE5
Photo: Rat Records, Camberwell by Ewan Munro

Trading since 1998, Rat Records sells a extensive range of secondhand reggae, soul, punk and classic rock to Camberwell’s eclectic local community. Owner Tom Fisher has been dealing in records for 24 years and seriously knows his stuff. For example, in his record buying time, he has discovered the only vinyl acetate pressing of a collaboration between Mick Jagger and John Lennon. What I like about Rat Records is the fact that they put out fresh stock every Saturday morning, so you can get there early and be sure to bag a bargain. The LPs are rarely priced at more than £8, so you will probably find something below list price, too.

ADDITIONAL INFO:

Record Store Day is an annual event taking place in record shops across the UK every April. Many London record shops participate by offering exclusive vinyl-only releases and putting on in-store gigs and events. Also, if you are visiting the capital from out of town and are looking for accommodation, I’d recommend checking out HotelClub.

An Early Autumn Walk

This month is going by in such a whirlwind, I realised I haven’t even shared the photos throughout this entry that I took about two weeks ago.

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The weather has changed significantly since the last days of September.

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This was a bright and sunny weekend afternoon.

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Without too much time to venture far, I walked through the back streets of Chelsea, over to Knightsbridge.

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I found myself in Hyde Park.

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It’s always a nostalgic area for me to visit.

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When I studied abroad here in London about 10 years ago, I lived in a tiny flat with two other girls about one minute walk from Knightsbridge station.

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How lucky, I know. It was really a dream world for me those four months.

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We created many memories there, sitting out on our window ledge, feet dangling five stories above the ground watching the world go by below us; waiting for paparazzi to appear outside The Wellington Club across the street welcoming all sorts of celebrities; showing up on the doorstep of Normandie Suites, full of mud from playing football in the rain in Hyde Park.

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The Polish cleaners always talked to each other in the hallways and we were in awe of the fact that we heard this language every day, that people living in our building were from all over the world.

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The original building where we lived in Knightsbridge has been demolished and the new Bulgari Hotel popped up in its place. It’s not quite the same as it used to be, but the surrounding area hasn’t changed too much.

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Walking down the alleyway that follows the front of The Wellington Club, I think of the many times I passed through that same pathway when I was 20 years old and alone in London for the first time, the city still very much a mystery.

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That was my London then, that little bubble, that pathway from Knightsbridge to the playground in Hyde Park next to the Serpentine.

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We’d go late at night to lie in the grass while the weather was still warm and look for the pinpricks of stars in the polluted sky that was usually thick with clouds.

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There’s a willow tree there, just at the edge of The Serpentine.

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There’s many really, but there’s one in particular that I remember and it’s still there 10 years later.

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There was an afternoon that it was raining and we were in the park.

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Instead of walking back to the flat across the street, we stood under the willow tree with our hoods up listening to the rain fall through the branches around us, the occasional drop slipping through and landing on our faces.

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I walk along The Serpentine now and I can clearly see the days we took bits of bread to feed the swans, but the ducks always got to it first.

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Now, someone else was feeding the ducks and stray leaves from the nearby trees floated at the edge of the water.

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Autumn has always been my favourite season. It reminds me of the excitement of first days of school, the new backpack, the first-day-of-school outfit, the cool notebooks.

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Mostly though, of the sense of new beginnings. I always feel refreshed when Autumn comes, more motivated and full of renewed energy.

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It’s never quite the same in London as it is where I come from in Upstate New York where the trees blaze like wildfire in bright red, oranges, yellows and purples before their leaves fall into massive piles along the kerbs that can be kicked through when you walk.

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I love the crunch of leaves, the crispiness.

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London has this, but on a much less intense scale. I found a few hints of Autumn on my walk a few weeks ago.

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There were orange berries, fallen leaves lining side streets and chestnut shells on the pavement.

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I wandered through the park a bit, back down to the Serpentine Gallery.

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The bookshop there is small but full of good stuff.

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I picked up a hardcover coffee table book called Creative London Living for Jorge who enjoys finding inspiration in interiors.

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Outside the bookshop, I stopped to look at this year’s pavilion.

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It was designed by Japanese artist Sou Fujimoto and I believe it’s only up through this weekend so now’s the chance if you want to see it.

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It’s a huge white lattice of steel poles that looks a bit like a geometric cloud.

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You can go inside and climb up to seating areas at different levels.

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Parts of it seem to be more dense than others and it appears to change shape as you circle around it.

I walked home then, back down Exhibition Road, past the Natural History Museum and the shops and restaurants surrounding South Kensington station.

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The next day I left for Dublin which I’m writing about gradually on Little Observationist.

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Today is Jorge’s birthday (happy birthday!!) and we leave for Copenhagen early tomorrow morning for a long weekend of good food, bike-riding and probably quite a bit of time under our umbrellas by the sounds of it.

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So I’ll be back next week and will hopefully have a bit of time to post before I leave for Boston the following weekend.

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Then it’s up to New York to see my family and my exhibition the following week in mid-November.

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After that, things should calm down a bit and I’ll be able to post more often!

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Hope you all have a great weekend.

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Leave me a comment and let me know if you’re up to anything exciting while I’m away!