Concerto, Rain
Southwark Bridge
Sheltering Under Blackfriars Bridge

As I left the house, in the sunshine, I did briefly consider unlocking the door again and going back for my umbrella. But I didn't. 

At the end of Sarah Lyall's New York Times piece last week about her (lack of) ability to fit in with the vicissitudes of London life (which I read before leaving, amusingly) she exhorts people visiting London to 'wherever you go, always take an umbrella.' A comment underneath it remarks on the fact that Londoners seem never to carry umbrellas, and always just wander around dripping and miserable when the inevitable shower blows in.

I, fledgling Londoner that I am, seem always to remember my umbrella when the weather is sunny and forget it when it rains. Not on purpose of course – it just seems to work out that way, and I'm always left either soaked through or feeling conspicuously overcautious. There aren't very many middle grounds in London as it turns out, especially when it comes to the weather.

This time at least, walking along the Southbank from Waterloo to the Tate Modern, there were plenty of geometrically satisfying Thames bridges to huddle underneath with all the other umbrella forgetters, rained-on busking flautists and inferior-quality cagoule wearers. One puddle-jumping dash to the Tate, another to London Bridge, and I drippily made it home to my dry flat and my told-you-so umbrella. I'll probably go back for it the next time.


Pastificio Mansi


I feel like this post is the internet equivalent of the From Plot to Plate movement – from Giffin Square Food Fair at Deptford Market to my blog in under 4 hours...

I could probably quite happily eat pasta every day for the rest of my life if I'm honest, but there's pasta and there's pasta, and Pastificio Mansi's ricotta ravioli with pork and mixed mushrooms is definitely pasta (by which I mean that it's amazing, and the best lunch I've had in forever). 

Emanuela makes the pasta by hand on the stall (pasta makers: hang around and look out for tips) and Lorenzo cooks it and serves it up. Simple but delicious. Mansi is essentially undertaking a tour of the weekend food markets of south London at present (I hadn't realised how many there are), and will be in Catford tomorrow (for those of you who happen to be around this way). 




One of the first book projects I ever worked on was a huge bulky hardback (weighing in at an impressive 1kg, no less), featuring a profile of every single one of London's many cemeteries. It was an awful project (not least because my boss was sacked halfway through it) but I still remember it quite fondly as both one of the heaviest and the most interesting books I ever helped to publish. Now I'm in London, I can visit all of its cemeteries for myself.

This particular cemetery is Nunhead, an elegant wilderness half an hour's walk away from my little corner of south-east London. Unkempt overgrowth is not something you really associate with London, unless you count the sprawl of general cityness, but Nunhead is an urban sprawl of a different kind. Left to itself for most of the latter half of the 20th century, nature was allowed to take over for the following three decades: heavy headstones were overturned by tree roots, heartfelt inscriptions were left to fade and creeping ivy reduced even the grandest catacombs to rubble. The cemetery reopened in 2001, and is now available for wandering around in. It's a slightly off-kilter kind of a place, perfect for exploring. 

I sometimes stumble around London and feel generally amazed at the spectacular show the Victorian era left for us to impress visiting tourists with – all we have to worry about is the upkeep, and the crowds just keep on coming. Nunhead is a Victorian wonder without the upkeep –  a genuine, heartfelt and wonderful relic.


Only In England


Blessed are they who see beautiful things in humble places where
other people see nothing.

More than anything else, that was the quotation I was most reminded of at 'Only in England', the London Science Museum's new exhibition of Martin Parr and Tony Ray-Jones photography. It opened last weekend, understandably under the radar as it isn't large, but if you appreciate quietly amusing (and excellent) photography and a history of the unseen England, then I would recommend it.

The exhibition is centred on the mostly unknown photographs of Tony Ray-Jones, an English photographer of the late 1960s (mostly unknown due to his early death in 1972 aged 30) and a major early influence on the better-known photographer Martin Parr, who curated the exhibition and whose early work is also exhibited (his better-known British seaside work is both very funny and uncompromisingly brutal, if you are not aware of it already). 

The lists of instructions and critical notes that Ray-Jones wrote to himself are exhibited alongside his work – an insight that is not seen so very often. Each note ('Don't take boring pictures', 'Get in closer', 'Take simpler pictures') are so simple and familiar that they rather justify anyone who has ever regretfully written a list of instructions to themselves and then felt it to be just too contrived to be at all creative. The photographs are of real people living ordinary lives, and the notes and documents make it clear that the photographer, despite prodigious talent, was just a person with familiar and ordinary concerns.

Anyway, I did what I never do, and bought a book from a museum. The Non-Conformists, Martin Parr's beautiful book of photographs of the north of England in the 1970s. If that's not a recommendation, I'm not sure what is.




I have a funny little list in my head of things I've learned about moving to London that I might share here at some stage, in manner of Here is What I Learned in New York City. One of those things is that Saturdays in London (and this blog apparently, if the last two posts are anything to go by) are for food markets.

The Ropewalk/Maltby Street/Druid Street formation under the arches of the railway line to London Bridge is one such. It is crowded, but not quite as much of a tourist battle as Borough Market, and much more down to earth. Planks of wood are piled in corners and smoked salmon sides hang from antique coat stands – simple, artisanal, and satisfying. 

Plummy chaps in Barbours and flat caps sell speciality chilli paste, the gin bar does a roaring trade at all hours, and in the French cafe at the end you can sit at communal wooden tables and drink fantastic coffee. If you're lucky, a French pastry chef in whites will appear with a plate of pale green marshmallow to pass around. 

These days I have kind of come to accept the idea that when I wander around these places with a camera, everyone just assumes that I'm a tourist. The difficult part is when people ask me where I've come from, and I have to recalibrate, and remember to say that actually, here, London, is where I'm from. A whole new place.



Quietly, without really mentioning it to anyone, last month I left Bristol and moved to London. A friend of mine said: 'You never were a simple village girl, you know'. I hope he's right. There's nothing like getting battered and bruised by ticket barriers, caught in bleeping train doors and negotiating Oxford Circus at rush hour to make you feel like the simplest, villagest girl in the world. 

This weekend though, I finally had a chance to remind myself why I've been petitioning to move here for the last 5 years. 

I began with Brockley Market, south-east London's answer to Brooklyn's Smorgasburg and its antidote to London's vastly over-subscribed Borough Market. It is staged in a car park, as per Smorgasburg, and although currently missing the wild, inspiring variety and imagination of its Brooklyn counterpart (and any form of cold brew coffee, sadly), I'm sure its only a matter of time. I highly recommend the burgers


I wandered through Soho and Holborn and ate at the incredible Ducksoup. I am one for being totally intimidated by places with intriguing shop-fronts like Ducksoup's but once in, it was the most relaxed place I've ever eaten. No overbearing service, no pressure, no over-the-shoulder, expectant wine pouring – just small plates and waiterly knowledge, and the most incredible hanger steak. 


So, I consider myself reminded. Maybe there's room for me too.


The Pressure of Lending


I am not sure about the sentiment, but it is still a nice way to sign a book, I think.

Much as I like the inscription though, and much as I want to underline and copy out clever paragraph upon clever paragraph of How Should a Person Be?, it is not a book I would ever lend out. It's just too risky.

Book lending used to be commonplace. We spent hours browsing in libraries, we raided our friends' bookcases and we lent and borrowed with abandon. Nowadays though, as fewer and fewer paper books are bought and spare time everywhere is swallowed up in screens, lending books is becoming less of a habit, and more of a statement. 

A few weeks ago I mentioned How Should a Person Be? to someone I volunteer with once a week. By the next week, he had trusted my taste and bought a copy for his wife, who declared it 'a bit weird'. He was disappointed that his gesture had fallen flat. I was responsible, and 'a bit weird' in association. 

Reading physical books is becoming an increasingly niche pastime I think, and like all niche pastimes, is open to be judged in a way that more common hobbies (such as playing sport or eating in nice restaurants) are not. Every time you reveal what you read and what you care enough about to buy a real copy of, you expose a part of yourself. 

The unfortunate consequence of all of this is that despite its fascinatingly unusual structure, matter-of-fact insightfulness and hilariously inappropriate chapter titles ('Interlude for Fucking' being a good example), How Should a Person Be? will probably never leave my bookshelf. There's just too much to be presumed from it. 

All this of course makes it all the more incredible that Sheila Heti wrote it at all.

breaker small




I live with someone who is allergic to yeast. This is a relatively recent discovery, a mystery solved through long trial and error that now feels like the scientific breakthrough of the century. Cutting out yeast has solved the mystery of the overblown hangovers, the mystery of the inconsistent energy levels and many, many more, and has generally just improved everything – the scientific breakthrough of the century, like I said.

The unfortunate consequence of this (all of the most important discoveries have their downsides) is that we no longer eat bread – him because he is allergic to it, and I because it makes him jealous and I feel bad. I don't really mind this in general (after all, Novak Djokovic went gluten-free and then won three consecutive Australian Open titles, which has to be an endorsement of some kind) but it has led us on a strange quest to discover as many yeast-free alternatives as possible.

This has mostly involved tortilla wraps (there is now no end of things we can achieve with a toasted tortilla), but yesterday I finally got round to baking soda bread, which as it turned out was the most satisfying yeast-free option yet. It looks, smells and acts like bread, requires no proving and virtually no kneading and tastes, well, better probably.

I used Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's recipe, which can be found here.


Hints of sun to come


There's something about these clementines that seems so out of place in snowy January.

Outside it is a snowy slushy mess (England does not handle snow well) but here are the colours of the hot summer Mediterranean, with leaves still attached as if you've just picked them off a tree as you passed by. Everyone knows that clementines are at their best in December and January of course, but these just seem to be from another world.

I often sit in the sun in summer and find it strange that I can't recall what it felt like to shiver through January (and vice versa), and my only explanation for these clementines is that they have been sent from the future to remind me what it feels like to be outside and warm in July – a little encouragement and a hint of sun to come, I hope.