So here is an account of just one of the many adventures that I had in London whilst on holiday with the Irishman, and that I promised that I would write about earlier this week. In case anyone reading this has accidently stumbled upon this post by Googling a totally unrelated subject such as Incontinence pads, Nicorette gum or Dachshunds (and trust me, this has happened) please don’t rush off! Stay and read on as what I am about to reveal may come in useful to you one day and you may even find yourself quite enjoying it. You can get back to your Googling later.
In terms of size, London compared to Jakarta is miniscule, a teensy weensy pimple on the face of the earth, but it was my birthplace and home for a number of years, and despite the occasional gripe that I may have about it I do have great affection for the place. In the next couple of posts I am going to take you on a tour of places that I particularly love and that I think are well worth visiting should you find yourself at a loose end or are new to London.
One of the areas of London that the Irishman and I particularly love to hang out in is Soho. Steeped in a rich and somewhat colourful history, this wonderfully multicultural part of London has long been famous as a place of ill repute and hedonism, and an area where writers, poets and artists have tradionally flocked to. These days it’s inhabitants are mostly from the media and advertising sectors but it still maintains a strong creative and musical culture.
As evening starts to fall, it’s pavements and streets start to fill with folk, young and old who visit the multitudinous bars, clubs, pubs and music venues such as Ronnie Scotts and Raymond’s Revue. During the day it teems with the media luvvies and business people whom work there and the stallholders and market traders shouting their wares in Berwick Street. The fact that this part of London is also residential gives it a lovely homey feel as well and means that it feels alive everyday of the week.
The elegant and well preserved Georgian streets abound not only with restaurants and places to drink, but are a magnet also for fashionadas who on tiring of Oxford Street are drawn to Carnaby Street and the surrounds for places to shop for clothes and accessories. Amidst this bustling and lively area, is a wealth of wonderfully eclectic and fashionable shops selling trendy vintage clothes, uber cool jewellery, and sharp mod style suits if that’s your thing. Whether you are a snappy dresser, a bon viveur, or simply someone who likes to get off the beaten track, look no further than Soho for all that your heart desires. If this is all beginning to sound a bit like an article from a Lonely Planet guide, fear not, I shall be cutting to the chase soon.
Soho has long been associated with the sex industry, so strip joints, sex shops, sex clubs and all manner of exciting things belonging to the steamier side of life can be found here whatever ones sexual predilections or persuasion.
If I start listing every single one of the pubs that I have frequented over my years in Soho, you might start to get the idea that I’m a terrible lush, and you wouldn’t be far wrong but the truth is that pubs are very much part of our social scene and the sort of places that we typically meet friends in after work and at weekends. This may seem like a lame excuse, but they are an Essential part of English culture and London has its fair share of particularly good ones if you know where to look for them (this is when reading the blog of a lush may actually come in rather useful should you ever need a recommendation)
At the corner of Carnaby Street and Beak Street there is a famous pub called The Old Coffee House which funnily enough a few hundred years ago, did indeed sell coffee and nothing else. This was due to the temperance movement which was designed to lure lushes such as myself away from their favourite tipple and onto caffeine. Plainly this Temperance movement was not a howling success which is why it’s now a pub, and why I rarely, if ever, visit Starbucks.
Although I like The Old Coffee House very much, I prefer The Sun and 13 Cantons, a pub which is a little further down Beak Street on the corner with Gt Poultney Street.
At the bottom end of Gt Poultney Street lies Brewer Street and it is here that the Irishman and I threw all financial caution to the winds and enjoyed lunch two days running at Randall and Aubin, a wonderful seafood and oyster bar. This popular restaurant has been running for over 16 years but is new to us in our ‘eating out’ repertoire – I can highly recommend it.
It was during our second day in a row of indulgences at Randall and Aubin that the Irishman started complaining that he needed his beard trimmed. When I cast a critical eye at him over the rim of my wine glass, he had indeed gone from something of a George Michael look-a-like to more of a Father Christmas type and I could see that something did need to be done to rectify the situation. As our dapper young waiter came to collect our empty plates I though it pertinent to ask him if he knew of any barbers shops in the locality that might be able to improve upon the Irishman’s facial furniture. Whilst the young lad was having a think about where we might go, I noticed that he had the most perfectly groomed eyebrows and so I made a point of complimenting him on them and then commenting on the fact that I’d never been served by a woman, let alone a man who had such wonderful eyebrows. Rather than be embarrassed by this, he was delighted that I should have noticed and so then regaled us with his beauty tips and hints including waxing and tinting. I wasn’t even aware that you could get your eyebrows tinted so this little beauty factoid quite made my day.
We thanked our waiter, paid the bill and headed off towards Berwick Street Market where we were told we might have some joy in finding a barbers shop. The first place we tried was down an alleyway opposite a grubby doorway advertising ‘Escorts’. The Barbers said that they were busy even though the place was quite clearly empty ( on reflection I think it maybe a waiting room for the brothel opposite under the guise of a hairdressing shop) but not giving up easily we tried another one round the corner and where told to come back in a couple of hours. By this stage Irishman was beginning to run out of steam and patience but I insisted that we should keep looking for somewhere that could deal with his hirsute problem plus the fact I didn’t like the idea of a string of kids shouting out ‘Hey Mom, look, there’s Santa’ for the rest of our holiday.
Walking up Berwick Street in the late afternoon sun which was now busy with the stall- holders packing up for the day, we passed an old haunt of ours, a tiny but very lovely restaurant called Mediterranean. Unfortunately the Irishman and I have been banned from this place for life but that’s not a reason to stop me highly recommending it to you. The food is excellent and good value, and as the name suggests of Italian origin. Opera music plays sweetly in the background, and the cosy interior is decorated with posters and prints. The waiters are friendly and attentive. Whatever you do though, never have a marital row in there, you will not be welcomed back…
As we wistfully passed the open doorway and delicious aromas emanating from Mediterranean, the Irishman quite by chance spotted a staircase right next to it leading directly up from the street with an illuminated sign above saying ‘Italian Hairstylists’. ‘If this place can’t trim my bloody beard, I’m giving up’ he said as he bounded up the dingy stairwell and made his way to the top, me following behind him, not in the least bit hopeful.
They say that as one door closes, another one opens, and that my friends is how we came to find ourselves at Pasquales – both metaphorically and physically. On reaching the first floor we found an open door and on entering, a room that looked like some sort of hairdressing crime scene. The floor was littered with old towels, and strewn with magazines, brushes and rubbish and the sinks were full of empty shampoo bottles. A mountain of junk was taking up half the counter and most of the seats, and the walls were covered in scribblings and knick knacks. As there didn’t seem to be any sign of life we both simultaneously shouted out loudly to get some attention. Out of nowhere a Chinese gentleman appeared and we inquired if there was anyone about to do a spot of beard trimming. ‘Oh Pasquales outside somewhere but I’ll shout for him’. He left the room howling with laughter and us in blissful ignorance of what was to come.
Irishman sank himself down into one of the few chairs that was not covered in a heap of detritus as we waited for Pasquale’s imminent arrival. We didn’t have to wait long; Within the blink of an eye Pasquale, cigarette in hand and a little unsteady on his feet and the worse for wear arrived yielding the implement needed to rid Irishman of some length off his beard. I watched in horror, the terror in my husband’s eyes as Pasquale staggered towards him with the blade. The first lunge missed him entirely, the second was not much better but by the third attempt he was beginning to get the hang of it. Five minutes later and five pounds poorer we left Pasquales with tears streaming down our faces from laughter. Now we understood perfectly why the Chinese gentleman had thought our visit so amusing.
Conveniently situated just two doors down from Pasquales, is The Blue Posts. This is not to be confused with The Blue Posts on Rupert Street, or The Blue Posts in Fitzrovia, nor The Blue Posts in St James’s.
The sheer joy and relief of getting out of Pasquales with the Irishman’s eyesight still intact and indeed his life come to think of it, meant that we had a bone fide reason to celebrate, so it was cider all round whilst we waited for our friends to arrive. Our perfect day in Soho was rounded off with a wild evening spent in the sublime Milk and Honey club in Poland Street.
This post is dedicated to my favourite Milkman in the world. Thank you Stew.