Another visit to Ye Olde Londoninium – day one

London is a city I love to visit. So much so that I often wonder what it would be like to live there. Amidst the hustle and bustle, the brilliant Underground, the sights, the exhibitions, the happenings and goings on. It all combines to make a place that feels so vital and alive. The daydream is marred just a little by the insane amount of tourists, the occasional Tube outage and the fact that you need to be a Russian crook in exile to find somewhere to live. And the difference between those that have and those that do not have is insane. the couple sleeping rough outside the designer shoe shop illustrated this perfectly.

Luxury overstock – designer shoes sold at discounted prices vs. a couple sleeping rough outside.

Still, it’s a great place to visit, and that’s what we did again this Easter. Yes, in retrospect the Easter weekend may not have been the optimal weekend to travel to London, but there were pros and cons. If you travel to Norway at Easter you will experience a country that has basically switched off for a few days, you’ll be lucky to find petrol stations open. In London though it appears quite optional, with everything being open on Friday and Saturday, and even though we were told that Easter Sunday was the one day in the year that everything closed, there was still a large, but random, selection of shops open. Very strange.

London is a city that keeps changing. Much faster than most places I know, and continually. It’s not the old institutions like the British Museum that change, thankfully, but the streets of commerce are continually evolving and changing. Primarily, I understand, due to most of the property being owned by consortiums that are trying to curate and develop areas for a “better shopping experience”. What this means is that the unique and different is pushed out and the various chains move in, hence Regent Street is now like any other rancid major city street. Or take Carnaby Street, which still promotes itself as an edgy alternative-culture street, where the truth is it’s an entirely sad collection of high street shop fronts, though they appear to be in the trendy “flagship” format. Granted, the smaller streets around still host the odd interesting shop, but you can tell they’re about to be replaced.

Those of us that used to visit London 20-30 years ago find our self wondering where the “London of old” has disappeared to. Where the unique, special or quirky shops have gone to. You know, the ones that made you travel to London because they were unlike whatever was in your home town. There’s hardly any point in making the trip now when the streets are lined with the same shit chain stores you find everywhere right? So where are the good areas to visit if you’re looking for the sort of places you used to go to?

Just in case you were curious.

In case you’re curious, I did make a trek through the central part of London, as there is a smattering of shops that I like to stop by. This time I started in Piccadilly, as we were staying down that way. My list, in the order they appeared was thus Norwegian Rain/T-Michael Bergen (I’m obliged to support my local lads in their high end raincoat and tailoring endeavours), Cordings of Piccadilly (this is most likely the gentlemans store to end gentlemans stores), Maharishi (oddball, but awesome brand, bringing army and camo back to civilian life), The Tin Tin shop (naturally), Nigel Cabourn Army Gym (and brand I have a complicated relationship with) and … I’m sure there was something else I was going to visit, but by this time we had walked 1.7 miles and were in need of refreshment and a regrouping.

Trying the fit in the Army Gym.

Oh, I almost forgot: Just as you cross into Seven Dials you come upon The Vintage Showroom. Every time I pass that way, I stop by. After all, they do have some interesting stock and they have produced two books on vintage garments (one is good, the other is not so good). Every time though, I’m struck by two things: The shop really has an absolutely authentic bad smell and the staff are the least welcoming this side of Manchester shop. It’s a shame, as I’m sure it would be fascinating to actually connect with the guys running it (and it was definitely one or two of the proprietors there when we visited).

We did wander through Soho, China Town, touch on Berwick Street and cast a glance round a Covent Garden that was a living mass of visitors to the great city. Having already been on the road since 4:30 in the morning, there just wasn’t the lure of places like Lambs Conduit Street just wasn’t there. So we set course back towards Oxford Circus, to at least pick up some gifts at Uniqlo (the least bad of the fast fashion places, to my mind at least).

A sticky situation, or just shamelessly doing the tourist thing in Bond Street?

On the way though I was pinged by one of the guys that I had been hoping to meet up with on this visit, Daniel Harris of the London Cloth Co. Daniel has created the only micro-mill company in London and is obsessively nerdy on a level I can truly empathise with. The day we met up Daniel was busy fetling an old loom into action again for a display in the interior goods shop Heal’s in Tottenham Court road. The loom hadn’t been in use since around 1960 and was in dire need of lubrication, adjustment, a motor and some rugged loving care. I posted a short video of Daniel operating it by brute force:

I spent a fascinating couple of hours in Daniels company, hearing all about the successes and setbacks, the joys of finding and resurrecting old looms, dealing with the garment industry and the economies of it all. The list of clients on his website is impressive, though I would suggest that anyone keen on making garments in London might also want to use cloth woven in London. A case in point was the jacket and shirt Lyle & Scott made last year using Daniels indigo cloth. From yearn to finishing product, London-made. Very cool. Daniel definitely earned a place on the short list of people I envy for their absolute dedication to what they do. Next time I visit London I’ll be heading out to the actual mill for a full on geekout among the old machinery.

By the time I’d walked back to the hotel again the miles we’re up to 5 and I’d not even used my Oyster card. I adore the London Underground, I really do, but there is something great about striding around town, taking in all the details. And my, aren’t there a lot of new Rolls Royce’s driving around inner London? And isn’t London in general pretty well kept and clean?

Had dinner at the hotel, and for a hotel making such grand claims about it’s in-house restaurant, the meal was on the pale side of mediocre. The really remarkable thing being how they made a ribeye steak taste and look like it had been boiled. Advertising the Gavins as Micheling-star chefs doesn’t help if they don’t deliver!

Part 2 to follow.

 

2 Comments

  • Jack 09/05/2017 at 20:51

    I love your honesty. Are they a bit grumpy in the Vintage Showroom are they??

    Reply
    • nick 09/05/2017 at 20:57

      Preoccupied, busy, shy, uninterested… Anything but welcoming, really. Maybe they have millions of people coming by to gawp and just don’t find it worth the energy to acknowledge visitors? My wife says many places in London are like this, so it is a matter for debate!

      Reply

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