For those who don't know, I'm from London, UK. A native Londoner. Born and raised in the capital and proud of.
One thing I hear more and more of is how vividly London is depicted in my work. That makes me proud to hear, because I take great pains to ensure that shines through.
Throughout my years , I've seen the city evolve. Bear in mind that the younger I was, I was less outgoing - literally and figuratively. As for shops close by, there used to be the likes of a fish and chip shop, a couple of newsagents, where you'd get crisps and sweets and such. And let's not forget back then, VHS video was a thing. In particular, a place known as Electrobug Video. This is important, because when VCRs first came out and we first got one, it was my oldest brother who led the charge and started to hire films from there. If memory serves, it was a two day rental. And this is where/how I saw a lot of horror films.
London had become more diverse in my years and I feel the attitudes to it had changed. Pre-teen, I might go to the newsagents around the corner for a video game magazine (Zzap!64 or some such). The Classic cinema was the nearest cinema to me - where the first film I watched by myself there was Clash Of The Titans ...with Harry Hamlin (pre L.A. Law). Yes, that was a while ago.
Teens saw me discover more diversity in and around the city. The likes of Tiger Lil's up at Clapham Common. I never went, but you'd always recognise the place when you got to the area. If memory serves, it was Mongolian barbecue and the shop front window would be down/open and you'd see the big-ass flashes of fire in the pan as the chefs put in work. My earliest forays into lifting weights were in a leisure centre, back when I would down two boxes of Lyons Viennese Whirls after doing nothing but bench press, lat pulldowns and leg extensions. And I still managed to grow. Youth was definitely wasted on the young. Hell, I even earned the nickname 'Bencher' from a couple of the bigger and older brothers. The skinny kid at 67kg who could easily rep out +90kg. Still with the stretch marks to prove it.
Fun fact about gyms: despite London being a big city hosting your fitness studios, leisure/wellness centres, whatever you want to call them, the number of hardcore gyms were - and are - few and far between. I started out at Grove Gym (which used to be owned by Olympic weightlifter and coach Mike Pearman). There were other gyms; Beauty & The Beast, Squats, MuscleWorks, Dave Prowse Gym (yes, the body of Darth Vader), etc. but these were private gyms. When Grove Gym closed, I finally ended up at MuscleWorks. Where all the monsters were.
I never really did anything serious in the way of international travel until my early thirties. Sure there'd been the family trips to Barbados (where the heritage is) or a school day trip to Boulogne on the ferry. But the likes of Toronto, Brazil, Miami, Singapore, et al. - great as they are - enforced one thing.
There's no place like home. Especially in the capital.
I used to work at the forerunner to Starbucks in this country, long before said Starbucks and Costa, et al. had really gained such a foothold. Be it known that I don't really drink/like coffee, but barista skill is something I learned, taught and pride myself on. Beans, roast varieties, tasting coffee like wine. Grind, espresso shots, crema. Knowledge (and skill) I still keep, it seems. La Marzocco machines are still the weapon of choice. But one thing I remember before those times is how many people, whether they were from the UK or not, would be of the mind that they didn't like London or the UK. It's dirty, expensive, places close early. Blah, blah, blah. The worst part was I used to believe them. Now, having travelled and seen much more of the world, I encounter less of those people, if any. Just as well, because I'm of the mind, 'get the fuck out. I won't miss you.'
The landscape, literal and figurative has changed. Now there's more racial/cultural diversity in communities and workforces. On TV and in commercials. Gay men unafraid to hold hands and kiss in public. Older generations dining out, or putting in work at the gym. London Underground (subway system) is now 24hr. 'More' - not necessarily 'enough.' But positive. The kind of changes and diversity that make me proud to call the capital home.
There used to be the antiquated idea that if you came here to visit, you'd have to see things like Buckingham Palace or the houses of Parliament. Big Ben, and such. As a native, there are cooler places that I can reel off, off the top of my head. The Shard up at London Bridge, for one (built in 2012). So called because it looks like a glass shard. At east central London, with the restaurant and bar up 32 floors, you get a good view of the city - especially from the urinals in the men's room. Similarly, you've got Heron Tower up at Bishopsgate (east central), where you still have the likes of the Duck & Waffle restaurant. There's more of the taller architecture now in the capital unlike years ago, but I never hear the echo of car horns like I do in the canyons of downtown Toronto. Or the London Eye (built 2000), up by the river Thames. No, I've never been on it, but head up to Waterloo early evening and you get to see the sun set behind it, which is pretty cool. The kind of places that give the capital a unique and modern skyline.
Note that Waterloo isn't far from the South Bank, where, among other things, you have the BFI (British Film Institute). Where the likes of Vue and Odeon might pander more to Hollywood blockbusters and Oscar-winning fare, the BFI may showcase older and/or themed work, e.g. that of Stanley Kubrick or based on stories by Stephen King, etc. For views and architecture, head up to St. Paul's at night. Lots of bars where you might hear the chime of cathedral bells at night in the background. Nighttime sees the dome bathed in ghostly light. Maybe head up to the rooftop terrace at One New Change. If my Twitter wallpaper still has me arms folded in front of a sunset, that's where the picture was taken. Maybe get close to the river, whether it's at Vauxhall or Canary Wharf (financial district. Skyscrapers for the likes of Citibank and HSBC. Red aircraft lights on the top, looking beautiful at night, especially when you catch the DLR (Docklands Light Railway that serves Central to East London, e.g. Greenwich. As in Greenwich Mean Time, or GMT). Very scenic and peaceful, no matter what time of day. Or take a boat along the river; the same way you'd catch a bus or a train. Grey, choppy water free of charge.
London has a lot that I've still not gotten to grips with. Sure there are wider known attractions, like Trafalgar Square (cited as the centre of London). If you've seen An American Werewolf In London, this where David tries to get himself arrested. The fountains are still there, as are the statues. Although I believe the yearly pillow fight (I shit you not) is due to move to Hackney for 2021. Theatreland, around London's West End, if theatre is your thing, for Les Misérables, The Lion King, et al. The Lion King was the last show I saw, way back. A brownie point move in watching it with my then-girlfriend.
I need to give the nod to Peter Mark May here, who's said, 'you can tell if CC wrote a book, because there's people eating in it.' Smart-ass. Foodie I am, it features. I'm no snob about it either. I'll get into chicken at Nando's or brunch at Balthazar's with equal gusto. I'd love to take in The Ivy; a Gordon Ramsay restaurant at London Bridge, near the river. Ditto for Langan's Brasserie. Monmouth Kitchen does a line in tapas style, not a million miles away from the Forbidden Planet comic store in Leicester Square. And places like The Avalon are always a winner:
Let's not forget the niche places, depending on your poison. Wunjo Guitars in Tottenham Court Road (area around tube station) for guitarists and bassists. Hotel Chocolat (no 'e') stores peppered throughout central London( but not so, further out) for the truly discerning chocolate connoisseurs. The wine experience, Vinopolis, which closed years ago. Ditto the Erotica fair which, of all things, had a great line in toffee vodka. (I missed the Dita von Tesse dance in her glass though, but the fire dancers were impressive).
And those still going strong: The Jazz Café in Camden, North London. Floridita - 100 Wardour Street - in Soho for the Latin vibe; mariachi bands too. Not to be confused with the 100 Club (100 Oxford Street) - another dimly-lit basement affair which, among other things, has hosted some solid funk - George Porter. Lots more besides. Or step to the Royal Albert Hall (in Kensington), if you want a sense of architecture/history as well - near 150 years of it. Great acoustics. Not keen on the lack of leg room (narrow tiers, if I remember rightly). Still, shows like Earth, Wind & Fire and Liza Minelli took the edge off.
George Porter (of legendary funk band The Meters), in attendance at the 100 Club.
So, be advised - I've barely scratched the surface of the capital, let alone what insidious narratives I'll weave into it. But bear with me; because I'll show you more. From the likes of Alexandra Palace to Zizzi's. All in good time.