No filter

Sitting in a Venetian office watching an elderly Italian couple attend their pot plants, I type into my laptop. Same tabs, same websites and streamed songs as before. No one understands why I am here. Sleep has become a luxury and I am staying in a bog ugly hotel until early November.

On boycotting the only affordable stable in Venice, I am witnessing my body metamorphosis into something leaner. Many evenings I have gone to bed hungry and longing for breakfast.

Although I must acknowledge that my diet in London was snack driven and quite frankly atrocious. Idly wandering down to Shoreditch High Street to buy a cheap Bánh Mì baguette for dinner, only to change your mind and have Jewish bagel instead is a big city luxury.

Come nightfall I go running along the quayside and this only accentuates my physical condition. Streaming past the tourist starlings at St Marks Square, I skip over ornate bridges and race passenger boats and cruise liners. It feels easier and necessary to run longer and harder over here.

Venice Night CanalVenice is like a spooky romantic ghost story after midnight, where you develop a heightened sensitivity to the elegant stroking of a Gondola’s oar. For sheer aesthetic beauty, I am simply not a gifted enough writer to handsomely describe what I see.

I have been forced to be more social than I am otherwise inclined. Ambivalent friendships have been sparked up with passing strangers and drinking Spritz cocktails is far cheaper than beer.

Venice meanwhile is virtually crime free and rats appear after dark once the selfies have gone to bed. The plague of a medieval Disneyland that nobody has paid to see.

The trouble is, you think you have time

Global Warming

What would you do if you were told you only had fourteen years to live? It’s not cancer. It’s far worse than that. Floods haven’t been on the news recently but they aren’t going away and according to scientist James Lovelock climate change is going to unleash environmental devastation and by 2040 southern Europe will be a desert.

With global populations continuing to rise and third world countries developing a taste for red meat, the average British millenial is in a race to the bottom. And if James Lovelock is correct you should party like its £19.99 because you don’t have long left.

“Enjoy life while you can. Because if you’re lucky it’s going to be 20 years before it hits the fan.”

– James Lovelock, March 2008

James Lovelock is convinced climate change is inevitable and ethical living a scam. Recycling, wind turbines, planting nice trees – it’s a complete waste of time, the damage is already done and paying 10p for a shopping bag at Sainsbury’s won’t make a difference.

Ethical living is akin to a smoker quitting on his deathbed, it might make you feel better, but that’s all it will do. And you thought forking out for those solar panels was a good investment. Well your Dad probably thought so. But if you’re reading this you probably don’t even have a flat, let alone flash panels soaking up rays on a double garage.

If recycling pizza leaflets and beer bottles won’t save the planet, then what exactly can we do? Start paying 35p for the plastic bags we stuff underneath the sink? Grow carrots and potatoes in our back gardens and eat less meat?

Wait, statistically you live in an urbanised sprawl and don’t have a garden or any sustainable land. Your everyday survival is entirely reliant on the mass importation of food into corporate supermarkets.

Burgerthons

As a species we are tribal carnivores genetically programmed to eat everything we can. A risky gambit if you live on a small island that imports 40% of its consumed food. If Lovelock is correct and global catastrophe is only 16 years away then enjoy your burgerthon festivals and 2 for 1 pizzas while you still can. You can’t feed yourself on Twitter.

In that respect Generation Y doesn’t have much to live for and we’re the lucky ones. It’s your kids and unborn progeny, who are really going to suffer. Generation Z is fittingly apt because according to Lovelock “about 80%” of the world’s population will be wiped out by 2100.

The Trouble Is, You Think You Have Time

You see this Buddha meme reposted on social media all the time. It’s probably fake but in the context of a forthcoming global apocalypse it’s worth paying attention to. With a decaying eco-system and billions of new hungry mouths wanting a first world lifestyle, there isn’t much point saving for a mortgage.

As your dream home is either going to be flooded or raided by starving vigilantes looking for something to eat. If Lovelock is correct then you don’t have long left before pale blue dot metamorphoses into a dead planet. If you fancy a career break backpacking around South America, then enjoy the precious time you have left, or hope Lovelock is an alarmist mad scientist with nothing to lose.

If you stay at home and do nothing else, then savour every gourmet burger, chicken fillet and goats cheese salad you eat and pay virtually nothing for the privilege. Generation Z are going to pay that dividend for you.

Angel’s Delights

Situated inside a gritty 70’s warehouse that has been kindly acquired by Noble House Properties, Angel’s Delights is not going to be around for long. Serving Jamaican dishes inside a toilet-sized cafe, no one should expect to pay for their jerk chicken on a chip and pin device.

East London’s changing population rises to the surface on the towpath – angry cyclists, female joggers, junkies, estate teenagers with fishing rods and ugly blonde twins carrying bags of cider from Tesco. Many of them stop by at Angel’s to purchase a Jamaican takeaway. Time is not on their side.

Bulldozers are due to arrive in August and they will soon be constructing ‘beautifully designed 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments with the finest contemporary specification’.

A stone’s throw away from the East London line, the white arc of progress has only further gentrified a once shady and violent area. With economic progress comes bourgeois cafes and homogeneous flats that have no relationship with the twentieth century.

Traditionally the canal has possessed a feral quality, especially if you wander the towpath after dark. It’s home to wonderful variety of local wildlife, especially in the springtime, where regal swans vie for attention alongside Canada geese, grebes and water rats.

And during the breeding season, coots defend their territories by screaming, flapping their wings and pecking at intruders. Coots may well soon be only thing wild and adventurous left on the canal as luxury properties rise from the ruins of the industrial past and wipe Angel’s Delights off the map.

Angel’s Delights
Dunston Road,
London,
E8 4EA

The Madness of Bom-Banes

There is something undeniably satisfying about being ‘in the know’. Almost everyone loves the feeling of being in possession of secret information, and whether its office gossip, pop trivia or breaking shocking news. There is a journalist within all of us that wants to keep ahead of our friends.

With boutique events guides popping up all over the internet, I followed a lead on a recent trip to East Sussex and attended a new café in Brighton. Situated in an unremarkable side street in Kemp Town, this marvellous Belgian coffee bar is unlikely to be bought out by Zizzi anytime soon. Even by Brighton’s famously bohemian standards, the madness of Bom-Banes is an offbeat delight.

Bom-Banes is run by Jane Bom-Bane and her partner Nick Pynn and their eccentric vision follows in the British music hall tradition. The upstairs dining area is liberally sprinkled with children’s drawings, spring flowers and Aesop’s tables playing 1920’s cartoons.

One of the charms of the venue is how young children turn up to do their homework and are treated with the same respect as the musicians rehearsing in the Moroccan parlour downstairs. Indeed the café possesses so many surrealist twists you would be forgiven for thinking the venue had originally been conceived in a dreamy child’s mind.

With its crazy mechanical tables, Belgian dishes and beautiful white beers, Bom-Banes is certainly not the place to go for egg and chips. In this mad bohemian café one of their most endearing qualities is how the owners and staff actually talk to you.

On living in a transaction based society that revolves around chip and pin relationships it can come as quite a shock to receive a genuinely friendly service from Jane Bom-Banes and friends.

Anyone expecting a quiet romantic dinner is advised to avoid Bom-Banes because it requires a certain kind to attend. Shy and reserved types might find Bon-Banes a bit too much when the eccentricities are in full flow. This is the price you pay for wanting to be different though. Otherwise their home made food is absolutely lovely with ostrich, salads and Mediterranean tapas available at very reasonable prices.

Even if you love the gorgeous cuisine, some people may well find Bom-Banes too garish for their tastes. However, anyone walking along the fabled road less travelled should be prepared for the unexpected.

With my untapped niche firmly in my pocket, I now possess a secret unknown to the vulgar masses. Self-satisfaction is never far away in this respect. If it’s off the beaten track, then I want to be on it.

Paradise City

The slippery side streets of Soho have entertained the capital’s residents for centuries and it remains one of the most seductive landmarks in Central London. Renowned for its trashy lingerie, drug dens and peep shows, the unofficial red light district is a honey pot of illegal activities. Despite frequent attempts to clean up its image in advance of the 2012 Olympics, the back alleyways of London’s West End retain a downtrodden appeal.

Blue tooth messages are sent to visitors walking past illegal brothels, and friendly Russian gangsters are fond of marching their customers to nearby cash points for bonuses. These are obviously not the type of establishments you check in on Facebook but anyone who goes for a “massage” at 5am probably does get what they deserve.

Although to dismiss Soho as a magnet for illegal vices would be extremely misleading. For while some men wander in search of foreplay with their trousers on, Soho is also home to some of the finest restaurants and bars in London. The relationship between sex and food is the belief that one tends to lead to another, irrespective of which comes first.

Soho luckily provides both in abundance and anyone caught stumbling along say Green Court will realise that Yalla Yalla is one of the finest cheap eats in London. The Beirut food court is notoriously difficult to find but one of the attractions of eating out in Soho is that you get lost every time and nothing ever feels the same.

Attending restaurants in Soho is a bit like going to the theatre, where customers find themselves auditioning to play the lead role in a make believe world. Foreign themed restaurants are fond of describing themselves as ‘authentic’ but the word is misleading. A murky back alleyway in Soho is nowhere near the Middle East and while the rural taste of Lebanon at Yalla Yalla has never been in doubt. There is nothing remotely authentic about Soho.

Whether its old men drinking in 1940s pubs, PR darlings sipping cappuccinos or film journalists scribbling inside darkened rooms; the Soho peep show continues to entrance and deceive its audience. Constantly on the run and never dull, the side streets are awash with sexual favours and androgynous ecstasy. Soho meanwhile remains as slippery as ever and will put on magic shows for its audiences longer after 2012. Whether the law authorities will continue to permit such activities remains to be seen.

Broadway Market

Street markets are always colourful and inviting to outsiders. Whether it’s old ladies buying fruit and vegetables, teenagers pouring through vintage stalls or polo shirted lads wolfing down burgers. Everyone loves buying their food and clothes in the great outdoors. Markets reflect their customers and things get a little E2 on a Saturday as Yindies from all over London march along the Regent’s Canal towards Broadway Market.

Amongst the motorbikes, geese and submerged corpses in the canal is an Olympic fuelled gentrification process. With the unseen demolition of old landmarks raising memories like rubble. They are reflective of an era increasingly comfortable building unaffordable luxury homes. Erased from history these ruins will swiftly become aspirational flats with bicycle decorated balconies and parking spaces. No doubt they will become the ideal homes for middle-class refugees on their weekly pilgrimage to Broadway Market.

After being neglected for decades, the market was revived in 2004 and now has over 80 stalls running from the Regent’s Canal down to London Fields. People arriving from the towpath will immediately feel the iconic presence of F.Cooke’s Pie and Mash shop. The old mash store has been trading in the same premises since 1900 and serves traditional pie, mash, liquor and jellied eels to a new generation of Londoners. Back then a ‘jellied eel’ from Frank Cooke would be a good deal to most but the old Cockney dialect has since migrated eastwards to Essex.

A new demographic has taken hold and the social paradox is that while Broadway Market is a vintage mecca for East London fashionistas. They rarely mix or come into contact with the local working class community in the nearby housing schemes. Occasionally this spills into violence and last year’s ‘Bloods and Crisps‘ gang fight led to a 27-year-old hipster being shot in the back. While there are spaces that ache in the uninhabited air, London Fields continues to blossom as traders descends on Broadway Market to sell everything from sunflowers, oysters and spicy Ghanian dishes.

As food goes there is nowhere better in East London to satisfy your ailing taste buds. Broadway Market is awash with food stalls selling German sausages, wild beef and tangerine pots of hummus. If you do tire of eating from all corners of the world then vintage wares are not too far away. Extremely stylish women in their late twenties are regularly seen flocking past carrying recycled bags full of beautiful dresses, hats and last week’s copy of The Observer.

Attractive young women buying vintage French knickers is always going be a popular activity on Broadway Market. However, they are often ridiculously expensive and prices for knitted adornments are reflective of those who can afford to pay £145 a week for a room in Dalston. Unaffordable luxuries are nothing new in the capital and the London Fields hipster community are no different than their friends in Spitalfields or Portobello Market.

On buying products everyone appears to want but none of us actually need, Yindies are reflective of the materialistic values inherent in our society. Meanwhile the day passes and unseen labour begin to dissemble their iron poles, plastic covers and crates in anticipation of another pay day. Leaving behind a trail of exhaust fumes and debris for another week, there is perhaps, just something about human nature that turns everything into a routine.

My last bite

As food prices continue to rise and my salary unable to keep up with the rate of inflation, I faced a grim economic decision and made cuts to my lunch budget. While I have no intention of starving this year, I can no longer justify spending excess of £5 a day in cafes and delicatessens. At lunch time I now have to unwrap wholemeal sandwiches from a recycled Tesco bag and savour the grim banality of an economic recession. With my taste buds regressing back to the 1980s, I became nostalgic for the culinary delights of the credit boom when it was acceptable to spend well beyond your means.

Lunches can brighten up even the most mediocre day at work. At the strike of noon, I consider lunch time in Fitzrovia to be a truly glorious affair and not just because I am not working. Fitzrovia is arguably one of the best places in London to enjoy a mid-day feast and with almost every world cuisine available, I regularly satisfy my carnal desires at the Goodge Place Food Market. Despite my modest salary, I have always strongly believed that beautiful food should not be restricted to advertising executives queuing up for crispy garlic prawns or Lebanese falafel from Hoxton Beach.

On becoming accustomed to enjoying a grand luncheon everyday, I would attend trendy cafes and rotate my meals depending on whether I fancied Japanese noodles or a Vietnamese Bánh mì sandwich. Alternatively if I was running low on funds, I would resort to a taste of real life at Greggs. Such poor eating habits became the norm towards the end of last year when I began my efficiency drive. While saving is now an economic necessity, I sometimes feel disillusioned eating wholemeal sandwiches and occasionally slip back into decadent ways.

Food is one of life’s great pleasures and one of my favourite cafes in Fitzrovia is the charming Italia Uno, which serves rustic dishes and beautiful Italian sandwiches. Such is the popularity of the cafe you will regularly see immigration-style queues in anticipation of a cold slice of prosciutto. While undoubtedly popular with local residents, the cafe’s interior is ordinary and customers should wait until after 2pm for the peak lunch crowds to disperse before entering this family run outlet.

Almost all of the regular clientele are from the Bel Paese and their sandwich menu is absolutely divine. The classic Piccante sandwich with extra sun-dried tomatoes is the undisputed favourite and at £3.80 a sandwich it is very reasonably priced. Sadly Italian sandwiches are now confined to a distant memory as my lunches are forcibly digested in front of a keyboard. Unable to turn back the clock, I now walk past the middle-aged advertising executives queuing up for Lebanese falafel and can only marvel at what unrestricted wealth can buy in this age of austerity.

Under the Bridge

After living in East London for three years, I am very familiar with its urban grime, Vietnamese restaurants and crime statistics. Undeniably pretentious and never dull, the gentrification process of one of London’s poorest and most ethnically diverse regions is a fascinating one.

While still largely working-class because of its industrial past, Shoreditch and Hoxton has been completely transformed since the 1990s. With the creative sectors establishing a foothold and middle-class students always looking for cheap rents, the East now celebrates vintage clothes stalls, street artwork and independent pop-up stores.

Amid the urban deprivation and human decay, I found myself walking along one of the oldest roads in England and discovered the Bridge Coffee House. While Hiram Bingham’s legacy is unlikely to be threatened by a new coffee shop in Dalston, I felt this unexplored venue deserved further investigation. The Bridge Coffee House is more like a vintage antique shop than a coffee parlour.

By taking their inspiration from Venetian coffee shops and lining their shelves with Italian caffè, syrup and cappuccino machines. The retro cafe is like a set from an Old Vic theatre production and their first act is an imperial vision of the 1920s.

On arrival I ordered a strawberry chocolate gatteau and began to visualise Ernest Hemingway drinking himself into a stupor at the bar. Surrounding my creation is a snapshot of 20th Century memorabilia including union jacks, trinklets and an original copper till from 1886. The proud Cypriot owner provides a warm and authentic service in stark contrast to the younger bars in nearby Shoreditch. On taking eight months to complete, the downstairs interior has been decorated with French regency chairs, vintage movie posters and Tiffany lamps.

Although as I listened to 60’s motown music, I began to question whether this vintage chic shop is any different than any other East London venture. Counter-culture shops can sometimes be as equally homogenous as the H&M wearing masses in Starbucks.

And while the upstairs decor is bordering on the ridiculous with its insanely pink chairs, I found myself seduced by the theatre downstairs. Beautiful girls drink coffee on their own in a nostalgic fantasy land that should be seen now before they receive 4 stars from Time Out.

The Bridge Coffee House
15 Kingsland Road
E2 8AA

Images used with kind permission from Tim Boddy.

Nationalism is a Created Product

After attending the Pioneering Painters exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, I began to question why I never learned about the Glasgow Boys at school. Radical, bold and fervently European in their outlook, the Glasgow Boys represent a new progressive Scotland. However, the art collective remained off my cultural radar until I attended Glasgow University and stumbled upon their works at the nearby Kelvingrove Museum. On re-examining their most radical and exciting works at the Royal Academy of Arts, I drew an immediate contrast with Burns Night.

Reflecting back on my primary school days in Aberdeenshire, I vividly remember my P6 teacher’s poetry recital classes with ‘A Man’s a Man for all That’ being the proverbial jewel in the crown. With my Anglo-Irish vowels, I always dreaded Burns week and felt extremely self-conscious that I couldn’t recite verses in guttural Doric like my Aberdonian peers.

While I eventually grew to admire some of Burns vernacular gifts, I have remained curiously ambivalent about Burns Night. It always felt somewhat contrived to me. Almost like a post-modern image of Scottishness that bears no relevance to day-to-day life.

Burns Night is arguably the biggest literary event in the world with an estimated nine million people participating last year. A typical Burns night has poetry recitals, bagpipes and three courses of traditional Scottish fair, which usually involves cock-a-leekie soup, haggis, neeps and tatties and a complimentary dram.

With the greatest respect this dour cuisine is certainly not the most alluring of European dishes. If there is a Scottish restaurant in Rome or Barcelona then I certainly haven’t seen one. All the while the Haggis represents a comic sentimental image of Scotland and I find it deeply regrettable that a foul peasant condom is our national dish, when the nation’s glens, forests and lochs are home to some of the finest game and fish in Northern Europe.

Whereas other countries define themselves around wars, revolutions and kings, Scotland remains a stateless nation and embraces cultural nationalism to exert her identity. Burns Night remains consistent with the twee sentimental image of Scotland constructed by Sir Walter Scott in the nineteenth century.

After nearly two hundred years of progress, Scotland is still renowned for its kilts, whisky and majestic Highland landscapes. Anyone walking past a triumphant Visit Scotland billboard will be in no doubt of the country’s national identity. What is fascinating is that the Glasgow Boys emerged towards the end of the 1870s and radically vowed to challenge the sentimental Victorian obsession with the Highlands.

By challenging this twee conservative vision of Scotland, I found inspiration from the Glasgow Boys exhibition that there is an alternative to Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott. The Glasgow Boys were bold, radical and experimental painters, whose stunning collection of works represent a genuinely progressive movement. A collection of artists that dared to look towards the Mediterranean and Japan for inspiration instead of turning inwards towards the Highlands.

What I find surprising is that the Glasgow Boys remain a quirky afterthought in Scottish culture. If I hadn’t stumbled upon their paintings in the Kelvingrove Museum, then I could easily have remained ignorant of their existence.

A truly confident country should look outwards for inspiration and I see no reason why the Glasgow Boys shouldn’t be universally affiliated with Scotland like Dali, Gaudi and Picasso are with Spain. It is regrettable that this radical confederation of painters have been unable to impose a greater cultural influence in their own country.

Robert Burns remains Scotland’s most iconic and influential poet but anyone tucking into their Haggis tonight should be under no illusions that nationalism is anything other than a created product.