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Paradise by way of Kensal Green

Yesterday’s weather was so sunny and inspiring that I found myself aching to take a nice, long walk to a place I had never been. This place turned out to be a vintage flea market inside a pub in Kensal Green. I love days when I can walk to my destination, without having to give a second thought to bus timetables or Oyster card top-ups. Getting to know our own neighbourhoods is something we should all take the time to do.

Guests entering the flea market

Steve found out about this one-time flea market online. We had certainly never visited a flea market within a pub, but I am a firm believer than anything taking place within a pub can’t be too bad. The £1 entry fee went directly to the Sustainability Institute in South Africa, so we had nothing to lose.

First impressions

We were greeted by a lovely representative from the Sustainability Institute, and were kindly asked to pay our £1 entry fee. Upon entering, we found vintage items in every corner of the pub. Vendors had set up camp wherever they could. No one was pushy; everyone allowed us time to browse and enjoy the event.

The prices varied from cheap to expensive depending on which booth you visited. I found a lovely owl made out of seashells from the 70s that I secretly wanted to buy for £5, but my boyfriend quickly reminded me that owls aren’t nearly as cool as I make them out to be. So much to my disappointment, I put the owl back and hoped it would be adopted by someone else.

Anyone for cake?

We made our way upstairs to find even more booths. I loved the chaos and random placement of vintage hats, clothing, and house wares. A trip down a narrow hallway found us in a lovely patio garden where fresh baked cakes and pastries were being sold under the sunshine. What a delight! It was the perfect setting for a tea party. We refrained from eating any sugary cakes, only because we had lunch plans immediately afterwards. But boy, was it tempting.

We walked out of the event empty-handed, but that didn’t matter. It was well worth the trip, and we did our small part for charity.

Post flea market fun

It was then off to explore Kensal Green’s other offerings, which included lunch at Minkie’s Deli. I had been wanting to try this particular deli for months, thanks to its adorably small building and outdoor seating. They only cook with fresh ingredients, and it certainly shows. Two bagel sandwiches and a pecan tart later, our stomachs were fully satisfied.

After lunch, the sun was still shining. Those of us who live in the Big Smoke have to find every reason to stay outside when the sun is gleaming through the clouds. Being an Atlanta native, I took the sun for granted until I moved to London. I now consider it a rare luxury.

We wandered back towards Queen’s Park where we strolled until we reached the park café. We made ourselves at home on an empty bench and ordered some wine to share. What a perfect Saturday.

Return to Paradise

After a quick dinner at home, we returned to the Paradise Pub to take part in the second charity event of the day – comedy for £2. Our expectations weren’t high (we have become veterans of attending cheap comedy shows with not-so-funny acts), but we figured even a bad show would be worth £2. And once again, the money went to the Sustainability Institute.

Paradise Pub

Two of acts were alright, while the other three left much to be desired. We were, of course, made to interact with the comedians since we were in the front row. The strangest person was a girl who was in a weird soldier-like costume and sequined hat. She tried to be funny by getting way too close to people and asking weird questions. When Steve answered one of her questions by saying Madonna was “alright,” she demanded a more straightforward answer. When another lady in the audience shared her dream with everyone else, she was told her dream wasn’t good enough. Not at all funny. Just weird. And sort of rude. But hey – we enjoyed our wine and had a few laughs. What more could we ask for at the small price of £2?

We ended the night at one of our favourite spots: The Diner. Its milkshakes, hamburgers, and American pancakes remind me of home. Because of this, we often find ourselves here on Saturdays. We wanted to share a milkshake, but were told they were closing (two hours before they should have been). I inquired as to why this was the case, and they informed us that they were having serious staffing issues. However, we were able to convince them to let us stay under the condition that we only ordered a milkshake. Success.

Moral of the story

Sometimes the best things to do in London are only a walk away. You needn’t spend loads of money to find entertainment in this city. A simple Google search and an open mind will often find you at some of the city’s coolest offerings. Get out there and explore your own neck of the woods. You’ll be surprised what you find.

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2011 in Lynsey Free

 

Pascali brings “poor art” to London

A furry spider, a hairy mushroom, and a shield covered in eagle feathers. Visitors should expect the unexpected from Italian artist Pino Pascali. Each of his pieces are substantially different from the next, creating a level of variety and spontaneity that is unmatched by most modern artists. But there’s more to Pascali’s work than playful sculptures and bright colours. Look beyond the furry materials and you’ll find an artist who took a radical stance on Italy’s mainstream culture in the 1960s.

Aesop's Feathers

Pascali was a pioneer of the Arte Povera movement – a group of Italian artists who used ordinary, everyday objects to create “poor art” in order to express their anger to the commercialisation of the art world. Despite making waves in his home country, Pascali remains virtually unknown to audiences in England. Six decades after his death in a motorcycle accident, Camden Arts Centre is hosting the first Pascali exhibit ever to be seen in the UK.

The gallery is large, yet inviting. Three rooms are designated solely to Pascali’s work. His pieces are given plenty of room to breathe as their interesting shapes demand – and ultimately receive – the attention they deserve. Upon first glance, the atmosphere is reminiscent of a kindergarten classroom. A six legged spider sits in a corner whilst an acrylic worm makes its way up the wall. The everyday objects used in each piece are obvious, but Pascali’s usage of these materials is fascinating. The gallery offers a sort of amusement park appeal. Each work could easily be described as an attraction in its own right.

Ulysses' Bow

Pascali’s playful pieces serve as a source of childhood nostalgia. The colours are vibrant and the shapes are unconventional. The textures are visibly inviting. It takes a certain degree of constraint to stop oneself from touching the fuzzy spider in the corner which promises to be softer than silk. His pieces evoke a feeling of freedom. The power to colour outside the lines. The realisation that meaningful art doesn’t have to be boring, despite what previous generations have told us.

If the sign of a good piece of art is its ability to stand alone, then Pascali is a winner. His 1968 piece Le Penne di Esopo or “Aesop’s Feathers” hangs on the wall with an undisputed confidence. Poultry feathers of brown and white consume a wooden shield. The disorderly placement of feathers casts a lavish shadow on the lower portion of the wall. The base of the shield is a perfect circle, but the feathers give this piece a certain chaos. Pascali used a number of “worthless” objects to create this piece. It is through examining his usage of steel wool, wood, and feathers that one begins to understand the benefits of art without limitation.

This piece is particularly thought provoking, perhaps more than others, because of its placement in the gallery. A bow and arrow which looks as though it was just used is propped against the adjoining wall. Immediately, the mind is aroused and encouraged to imagine a scenario when “Aesop’s Feathers” was used as a target for the weapon. Pascali allows his audience to develop its own emotional interpretation.

Pascali’s work leaves us with an active brain, a colourful memory, and an understanding of what it truly means to “think outside the box.” He reminds us that art needn’t be associated with expensive oil paint and fancy canvases. Rather, the materials for art are all around us.

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2011 in Lynsey Free

 

Ravioli and romance

You name it, London has it. We love this city because everything is at our fingertips. Gourmet restaurants. Cocktail bars. Yoga classes. State-of-the-art gyms. More parks than I can count. The list goes on.

Jamie Oliver's Recipease

Although I could wine and dine my way through this great metropolis every night of the week, I sometimes want a change of scenery. Something new and exciting. Something I’ve never done before. Enter Jamie Oliver’s Recipease.

I must admit that I have never been a personal fan of Jamie Oliver (especially not his embarrassingly emotional behaviour on TV), but he has truly succeeded with Recipease and I must give credit where credit is due.

Feels like home

I had always been curious about various cooking classes throughout the city, but sushi courses cost more than my first car and gourmet classes seem pretentious and snooty. But alas, there was a better option all along and I found it just in time for Valentine’s Day.

A quick tube ride to Clapham finds you at Jamie Oliver’s Recipease. It’s a modest shop and cookery school which can be best described as warm, welcoming, and wonderful. I love it because it serves so many purposes. It sells kitchen gadgets, wine, and food. Beautiful ready-made food from Jamie Oliver’s own recipes. Mmmmm.

Pasta filled with love (and spinach)

All geared up and ready to go!

When my boyfriend and I walked into Recipease, we were greeted with two glasses of wine and some aprons. Oh how I do love aprons and wine! Let the fun begin.

Because it was Valentine’s Day, the class was full of couples in love. This was fine for us, but I can imagine the misery that a single person would have felt if they were taking the class alongside twenty people in loved up relationships. Memories of my single days came flooding back to me.

After a brief introduction by our instructor, we were given a work station which included all of the ingredients necessary to make the evening’s meal: spinach and cheese ravioli. Making pasta from scratch seems a bit daunting at first, but I quickly realised just how recipeasy it really is.

The process began with an egg, some flour, and a bowl. We stirred, kneaded, smoothed, cut, and filled our pasta. The instructor kept a close eye on us to catch us when we did something wrong. We learned some creative ways to fold our pasta into different shapes. My favourite was the sailboat.

An array of goodies for your kitchen

Thirty minutes and a few glasses of wine later, our pasta was done. Our pasta. The pasta we made from just an egg and some flour. What a rewarding and delicious experience!

Great Success

After the class was over, we were given a 15% discount on all merchandise in the shop so we set off (still in our aprons) to find a lovely keepsake for our flat. We settled on a terracotta pizza plate which we will soon use in one of our epic pizza baking competitions. (In case you’re wondering, I’m the champion pizza maker).

So, there you have it. A cooking course, some wine, and a pizza plate made for the perfect Valentine’s Day in the greatest city on earth. If you’d like to experience Jamie Oliver’s Recipease for yourself, check out the website at www.recipease.co.uk.

 
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Posted by on March 8, 2011 in Lynsey Free

 

New age fun with a vintage feel

Brick Lane. Its reputation for fine Bangladeshi cuisine will cause most Londoners to salivate, but there’s more to this area than chicken biryani and aloo bhaji.  It also offers an abundance of beautiful bargains, eclectic eateries, and tranquil tea rooms.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure

Stall after stall of treasures and bargains

Perhaps the coolest thing about the East London crowd is their knack for recycling everything. This is why a simple walk down any given street in the area will find you passing at least three vintage shops full of treasures from the past.

I would invite anyone and everyone to explore these shops, but you should expect the goods to be highly overpriced. I can vouch for this firsthand after I had to disappointingly return a beautiful pink dress to the rack after I saw its £80 price tag. Ouch.

Luckily for you, however, there are plenty of awesome things to be found in the stalls of Brick Lane Market that won’t cost you an arm and a leg.

All stalls are not created equal

Brick Lane Market is undoubtedly a one-stop-shop for anyone hoping to add some character to their home. Especially if this character happens to come from the 60s or 70s.

As a lover of decades past, I naturally get a little excited at markets. Combine this with my natural love for bargains, and a day at the market is a recipe for perfection.

Each stall has its own character. It’s quite easy to see which vendors take pride in their stalls by providing quality goods. Beware of those who sell anything that can simply make them a pound. You’ll know these vendors when you see them; they’re the ones selling questionable “new” bed sheets and bulk packages of toothpaste and toilet paper. My advice? Avoid them.

The Vintage Emporium

Who you gonna call?

I had been searching for an authentic, working phone from the 60s or 70s for months. Ebay was too expensive, vintage shops never had working ones, and the high street had nothing to offer since I hate modern reproductions.

But Brick Lane put an end to my search. In a cluttered stall full of antique luggage, magazine racks, and vinyl records was a yellow telephone sitting alone, covered in dust. A diamond in the rough. Just what I had been looking for!

I asked the stall owner if it was in working condition. The nice lady told me that it was, and reassured me with a verbal promise that I could bring it back for a refund if it wasn‘t. This was good enough for me, so I paid the very reasonable price of £15 and continued on my way. After a good clean, it now sits in my living room amongst other second-hand gems.

It’s tea o’clock

If all that browsing makes you thirsty, venture into the Vintage Emporium for a truly unique experience. Mismatched plates and teacups surround the atmosphere whilst mannequins on bicycles look down on you.

Sit back in the eclectic parlour room. Order a hot drink, a juice, or any number of a sandwiches which the staff will make in front of you on their tiny counter. Consider it a bonus if you’re lucky enough to be served by the employee who looks exactly like Edward Scissorhands.

Go for a tea, leave with an experience. And perhaps some vintage clothing from the downstairs shop which is owned and operated by the same people. But don’t fall in love with anything until you’ve checked the price tag.

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2011 in Lynsey Free

 

If we only had a heart

The famous Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz used to say he’d be tender, gentle, and awfully sentimental if he only had a heart. This is also true for Londoners.

Photo by Brian Negin on flickr

I spend a lot of time raving about this city to family, friends, and anyone who will listen. It’s a great place to be. It’s a great place to live. But it never ceases to amaze me how city life can so quickly drain all kindness and emotion from a person.

They looked the other way

Everyone in this city has busy lives. I get it. The tube isn’t always reliable, taxis aren’t always available, and it’s usually quicker to walk than take the bus. We are constantly rushing from one place to another, and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. But where do we draw the line? When does our 2pm meeting begin to take precedence over an elderly lady who needs help with her groceries or a blind Londoner who needs guidance to the nearest crosswalk?

Sadly, I witness more acts of appalling selfishness than I do kindness. Sure, there is that occasional person who will always help out in any way he can, but most of us simply avoid eye contact and look the other way when we are really given the chance to help someone.

I was riding on the 393 bus from Islington to Camden one day when a woman who must have been in her mid eighties stepped on with three bags of groceries. She only came up to my shoulder, and a lifetime of laughter and tears were shown through the wrinkles on her face.

The bus was completely packed. Many passengers including myself were forced to stand. By my calculation, there were approximately 30 seats on the lower level of the bus which were all occupied by young, healthy commuters. Imagine my shock when not a single person volunteered to give their seat to this sweet lady. Instead, they raised their newspapers to cover their faces so they wouldn’t have to watch her struggling to keep her balance whilst holding her weekly shopping in her arms.

Photo by Ian Kershaw on flickr

This is just one of many examples that I witness on a daily basis. I could have chosen to talk about the blind lady at Baker Street who was pushed and shoved all the way down the platform until I led her to the nearest exit. Or perhaps the man who was recently killed in front of a full bus of people after being kicked in the head too many times by a fellow passenger who was upset by the amount of space he was using. Once again, a bus full of people and no one offered to help. Not even the bus driver.

It’s a double standard

If the aforementioned lady was our grandma or someone who was dear to us, we would be disgusted to hear that no one volunteered to give up their seat for her. If the man killed was our brother, we would beg for witnesses to offer their testimonies in court. So why do we think it is acceptable to treat other people’s loved ones this way?

I am convinced that some of us are innately selfish, while others unknowingly become this way when they move to a city like London or New York. I admit it’s sometimes difficult to share this cramped city with 7 million other people. I get just as frustrated as you do when I’m caught behind the world’s slowest moving person on a narrow pavement or get stuck underneath a hairy man’s armpit on the tube (I’m only 5 feet tall, so this happens a lot). But let’s not forget that we’re all human beings. We’re no better than anyone else, and we all need help sometimes.

To my fellow Londoners: I would like to challenge you to make a difference this week. Use your Starbucks fund to buy a sandwich for a homeless person. Sacrifice your seat on a train for someone who needs it more than you do. Take a blind person by the hand and lead him to his destination. You’ll still make it to work on time, and you’ll feel better for doing it. Follow these steps and you’ll be on your way to earning a heart without having to visit the Wizard. After all, it’s quite a long journey from London to Oz.

 
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Posted by on January 26, 2011 in Lynsey Free

 

Prince Charles: not just a royal anymore

Be brave. Take a walk through Leicester Square. Dodge the tourists who are taking photos of themselves inside phone booths. Avoid the souvenir shops trying to sell you thongs with the tube map printed on them. Although these could prove to be useful on those drunken nights when you just aren’t sure where to go, it’s ill advised to unzip your trousers to decide whether you need to take the district line or the circle line home.

The Prince Charles Cinema

Now pause, take a deep breath, and pat yourself on the back for getting through this part of London without killing a tourist. After you‘ve done this, find a little side street called Leicester Place. Situated on this short street, halfway between Chinatown and Leicester Square, lies London’s best bargain. The Prince Charles Cinema is on the corner of the street, standing tall and proud with its bright, retro marquee.

A+ for style and originality

Where can you go if you want to see a silent movie with live music accompaniment or swoon over the late Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing? The Prince Charles Cinema. What if you want to go to a Grease sing-a-long or watch stand-up comedy before your film begins? Go to the Prince Charles Cinema. What if you want to have a cheeky pint before or after your film? Well, my friends, you can go to the Prince Charles Cinema for that.

That’s right. The Prince Charles specialises in all things awesome. This includes cheesy 80s movies, cinema classics, and sing-a-long films. I have had the privilege of watching The Wizard of Oz and Ghostbusters at the Prince Charles, and I promise you that no matter how many times you have seen these classics, they are different here. You find yourself laughing at parts you never even thought were funny, thanks to live commentary from fellow cinema-goers. There’s always someone dressed up in movie inspired clothing, which makes it that much more fun.

More bang for your buck

Welcome to the Prince Charles Cinema

The cinema has two screens; one upstairs and one downstairs. The downstairs room sparkles with charm. It comes complete with red velvet curtains which pull back before the film begins, just like you’re back in the 1950s.  The upstairs screen is more modern, and significantly smaller. The old classic films will always be played in the downstairs screen, while the upstairs screen will play current hits (I recently watched The Social Network and Mirrors 2 here).

It’s pretty great that the downstairs screen is cheaper and cooler than the upstairs one. It’s a win-win situation for anyone looking to watch 16 Candles or Rocky in style. Prices vary based on days and times, but you should expect to pay around £5 for the downstairs screen and £8 for the upstairs screen. You can’t grumble at that, especially when a film just metres away will cost you £14.25 at Vue and £15.60 at Odeon. That’s highway robbery and I will never pay those prices. Instead, I have traded in corporate cinemas that lack character and charm for a dazzling cinema that I proudly support with my ticket fees.

It gets even better

Become a member of the Prince Charles and receive discounts on every visit. It’s completely worth the price of membership if you go to the cinema just a few times in a year. I purchased my student membership for only £5, and a regular adult ticket is only £10. Or alternatively, if you know you’re going to be in London for a while, purchase a lifetime membership for only £50.

I typically don’t enjoy weekly emails from companies, but this one is worth joining. You’ll occasionally have the chance to answer a trivia question to win free tickets (this is how I saw Mirrors 2). You’ll also be in the loop for members-only advance screenings.

If you’re up for a funky (and cheap) evening out, go to the Prince Charles. Visit the first Friday of every month for “Feel Good Fridays” which offer £1 beer, £2 wine, and £2 popcorn. Unfortunately, these films seem to be geared toward females (Pretty Woman and Flashdance are on the agenda for February and March), so good luck dragging your boyfriend. But hey – my boyfriend won’t go either, so call me if you fancy a night out.

Stay tuned in to everything happening around the Prince Charles Cinema by checking their website frequently. Now sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2011 in Lynsey Free

 

Cruise on down to Camden

Walking along the canal to Camden

“Madame, come. Taste my delicious Chinese food. Only £4 for any dish. Come, Madame.” These are the sounds you will hear as you walk through Camden Market. The choices are overwhelming; every country in the world is represented and it all looks amazing. I am reminded of Disney’s Epcot as I make my way past the food stalls, allowing myself to get lost in the atmosphere.

Fill your stomach without emptying your pocket

Today’s culinary choice was a calzone from a stall called Napoli. I had not originally planned to have lunch at the market, but the temptation was simply too much. The tomato, mozzarella, and mixed vegetable calzone was easily as big as my head, and it was given to me for the low price of £3.30 – less than a Starbucks coffee.

When I placed my order, I was expecting to receive one of the many calzones in the display case (after all, how fresh can I really expect a £3.30 meal to be?) but imagine my surprise when the Italian behind the counter began to knead some dough and stuff it full of fresh vegetables and cheese. Five minutes in the oven and I was on my way to food heaven. Success.

Food! So much food!

Faux furs and fun

Camden Market isn’t all about food, although it would still be worth visiting if it was. You can get practically anything there, from  £10 dresses to antiques to highly inappropriate t-shirts.

My favourite part (as you might have guessed) is the vintage clothing stalls. Fur is in this season, and the stalls are at no loss for cheap fur coats from decades past. I even found some weddings dresses from the 60’s that would have been great for anyone seeking a “flower child” wedding. No matter what you’re looking for, they probably have it at Camden Market so skip the high street and get ready to rummage through some vintage treasures.

A lovely walk

If you want to make a day of it, I suggest you walk down Regent’s Canal to Camden. It takes you directly there, and if you live anywhere near King’s Cross or Maida Vale, you can pick it up quite easily.

Take some pictures of the canal boats along the way and bring some bread to feed the ducks. If you choose to come from Primrose Hill/Maida Vale, you will have the added luxury of passing an aviary (property of the London Zoo) on the way. You can also sneak a peek at the dingoes pacing back and forth in their enclosure, seemingly very angry for being trapped in the confines of a zoo.

I advise you to avoid the area near the underground station unless you have a particular interest in gothic clothing or piercings. However, I did once spot Kelly Osbourne at Offspring, so perhaps it’s worth your while. You may also catch a glimpse of Amy Winehouse drunkenly staggering around those parts. She’s been known to spin some tunes at The Monarch.

So there you have it. Cool clothes, awesome food, and the occasional celebrity. What are you waiting for?

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2011 in Lynsey Free