Saturday, 7 November 2009

A London Saturday

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Radisson Edwardian New Providence Wharf

This post comes to you from the Radisson Edwardian New Providence Wharf Hotel after a long day spent trekking the mad streets of our capital with my wife and two daughters, all three of whom, incidentally, are fast asleep. M has just fallen face-first into today’s Times but I’ve whisked it out from her just in time to prevent newsprint transferring amusingly verbatim to her skin.

The occasion is that M and my eldest daughter are off to see Disney Princesses On Ice at the O2 tomorrow, and we thought we’d make a weekend of it. We’ve stayed at the Radisson Edwardian before, and its location is ideal for the O2 (you can see that squat arachnid-esque form just across the water) and Docklands generally. Plus it’s good value: we’re staying in a suite for no other reason than it gives the girls their own room, and it will set us back a reasonable £199, with breakfast included. Not bad.

My TomTom didn’t think so on the way down. Many a time will I rue being too miserly to upgrade the map software, for the postcode to the couple-of-years old Radisson isn’t in the version I have, and I only found this out to my detriment on the way down. Consequently the journey here involved travelling down both sides of the Blackwall Tunnel and me getting extremely stressed every time the landmark building next door to the hotel receded further into the distance.

We had no sooner dropped our bags in our room than we set off for Canary Wharf whereupon we enjoyed a simple, fussless meal in Café Rouge. Nothing special, but always good for the kids. I had quiche champignons, which was a touch too rich, while M and the girls all had fishcakes which were thirst-inducingly salty.

It’s been a clear, fresh day in the capital today with not a cloud in sight, which made for perfect conditions for inching slowly around the West End along with everyone else. We took the Jubilee Line as far as we could thanks to engineering works, alighted as the train terminated at Waterloo, then took the Golden Jubilee Bridge to Charing Cross, past the skateboard graveyard occupying one of the concrete bridge supports and on to Trafalgar Square, Haymarket and Piccadilly Circus. All major tourist haunts of course, but the girls loved it, and I found the buggy pretty useful for carving my way through the hordes of slow-moving tourists. If anyone reading this was on Regent Street at about 4.00 PM and is nursing a sore ankle from someone ramming their pushchair into your legs, that was my fault, but I’ll stop short of apologising.

Skateboard graveyard
Source: Diggers Abroad / Flickr

Just off Regent Street is a small, serene little arcade of individual shops called Quadrant Alley, where right now – and until February – you will find a funky little pop-up shop for all things Marmite. Though we didn’t venture upstairs, it sounds like there is some sort of ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ type exhibition thing going on up there. As we were buying our Warhol-esque Marmite plates, fridge magnets and postcards (such suckers for needless ephemera we are), the cashier asked me if I loved Marmite or hated it. Saying that I liked it, for I do, earned me a big ink stamp on the brown paper bag showing the world my Marmite-loving credentials. She asked the same question of S, my fussy three-year old eldest daughter, and was greeted with the wrinkled nose and sour expression of distaste that toddlers are so often to be found proffering.

Marmite pop-up shop, Regent Street

From there we edged our way to Hamley’s, which we’d built up into a massive thing for the girls, and which – on a busy Saturday on the approach to Christmas – was a waste of time. I waited fifteen minutes for a lift, only to emerge out onto the third floor (girls toys) where I couldn’t actually move. I spent longer trying to get to the floor than I spent looking at toys, and besides, S was too bewildered by the sheer volume of people to actually enjoy it anyway. Far better it seems to eschew the touristy crush of Hamley’s in favour of your local Toys R Us, where you can actually breathe, and where everything is at least 10% cheaper.

Seeking to escape the madness of Regent Street, we ducked into Fouberts Place and thence to Carnaby Street, the two interconnecting homes of the sixties Mod menswear revolution whose mad, hippyish Christmas lights put the staid minimalist grandeur of those on Regent Street to shame. A pavement table at a Starbucks on Great Marlborough Street offered solace, hot chocolate, a chance to rest four pairs of weary feet and a great view of Centre Point and a mural on the side of one of the buildings.

Carnaby Street Christmas decorations
Source: MJA Smith

Taxis often offer the best views of London, and so it was with the cab we caught from Soho to Canary Wharf, whose route treated us to views of some familiar London sights – St. Paul’s, Tower Bridge, the Tower of London – and some of my personal favourite buildings along High Holborn, including the Waterhouse masterpiece Holborn Bars, built as the headquarters of the Prudential.

Holborn Bars
Source: EZTD / Flickr

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