Oh Broadway Market
What’s happened to you?
You used to be home to crack addicts,
And now you’re all about teeny tiny vegan cakes.
They are very beautiful
Small red velvet cups
And tied died meringues
Perused by people like me
Wrapped up warm, wearing ray ban sunglasses,
Armed with an iPhone Instagramming camera.
You’re now a bit like Borough
But smaller and marginally more expensive.
Packed with people clutching Clipson’s coffees
Proud of being brave and cutting edge enough
To venture into the crime-ridden socially deprived eastend.
But the old guys singing old songs are lovely,
The girl with victory rolls and an accordion puts a spring in our step,
And those extortionately priced pots of green pesto are bloody gorgeous.
Oh, how you bankrupt me.
Oh, how you infuriate me.
Oh, I still think you’re lovely.
It’s Friday night and I’m sat in my dining room. I’ve just finished a bowl of homemade spicy parsnip soup, the kitchen still looks like a grenade has hit it, and my blood pressure is steadily returning to normal after a too-hectic week; soothed by the prospect of the food and friend filled weekend ahead.
But this isn’t an ordinary Friday night. In fact, something pretty exciting has happened, which is making this night an entirely satisfying and wholly atypical evening. Yes, this is the Friday night that from this day forth will be remembered as the night that I discovered the Monocle 24 Radio app.
Right now, I am listening to its long, languishing documentary on the Toronto brunch scene. While the scratchy audio sounds like a dispatch from an intrepid journo reporting war-torn insights from across the barricades; the story being told – of bearded /scraggly-fringed media-types gathering together over eggs and bloody marys in cafes decorated in street art and playing The XX – is as familiar as my own Sunday plans in London most weekends.
Next, we cut into a steady, relaxed conversation between a British journo and a Québécois cheese affineur on what makes a good comte. And now some designer is explaining how he turned his studio into a pop-up restaurant selling Mexican street food, where customers are treated to limited edition designed t-shirts once they finish their meal.
I can’t tell you how happy this is making me. As anyone whose perused this blog will know, one of my great loves is travelling somewhere totally new, exploring the city, and then scouring its neighbourhoods for the kind of arty-ish cafes that are in no small way dissimilar to the places where I spend too many comfortable hours not 15mins from my house near Broadway market.
Now, you may think this is a little pointless, or perhaps even a little ‘affected’. “Travel the world only to find places just like those you visit at home? You’re no better than those people who don’t leave their hotel without knowing the location of the nearest McDonald’s,” you might think. And to be fair, you would have an excellent point. I am quite conscious that at times my travel preferences reflect something of a cliché – someone who with no trace of irony would happily call themselves a global citizen while also going nuts when they find a spot in the backstreets of an unlikely town that has solid wifi, indie electro music and serves soya lattes.
The thing is, I’m not sure these two things are mutually exclusive. I don’t want to stay in my London comfort cafe zone. I want to explore. I want to see how people live and work and relax and party. I want local people to have me round for dinner at their place and feed me their favourite meal; listening to their favourite music. I want those uncomfortable moments when I have virtually no idea what’s being said, or what I’m eating, or how the hell I’m going to find my way back to my Air Bnb ‘home’.
But I also want to know that wherever I am in the world; from NYC’s Lower East Side to the central drag in Ramallah, that there are people there who are just a little bit like me. Who like the things I like. Who relax the way I relax. And not because I want everything to be the same everywhere like in some anti-globalisation horror story, but because I really like being reminded that whatever country you’re in and wherever you’re from, people aren’t really all that different.
Which is why I’m loving Monocle 24. I’m over-worked and travel-starved, and London in all its cloud-covered glory is starting to feel like a bit of a fortress. I’m itching to be somewhere different on the unspoken promise that it might get me back into a more optimistic and enlightened perspective that’s seemingly full of possibility.
But it’s Friday night, I’m tired, it’s cold out, and I have to clean up my kitchen. So thank god there are radio stations like this one to plug into for a few hours – reminding me that there are a whole world of as yet unvisited places out there serving my favourite hot beverage where I’ll feel oddly at home.
Monocle 24 radio is the latest classy content production from Tyler Brûlé, whose Monocle magazine has been described as “a meeting between Foreign Policy and Vanity Fair”. Check it out here.
Here is a classic traveller’s dilemma; you want to travel to and experience one of the world’s greatest cities, but you want to see the ‘real’ London/Paris/Istanbul – not the one served up to you by the guide books and the tourist maps.
But when you have limited time, this can be tricky. If you’re anything like me, you can end up spending days on the tourist trail getting slightly frustrated as you just know there are cooler and more interesting places to be spending your valuable time. But without the benefit of a local to show you round, you just don’t know where to look.
So, as I’ve had a few friends travel to London recently asking for tips on what to do and where to go, I thought it was worth putting this wisdom down on paper (or, ahum, wordpress). If you were to ask me to show you around London – this is where I would take you:
Sunday Markets In North East London
If you live anywhere with an ‘N’ or and ‘E’ post code, one of your standard Sunday activities will be meandering (or more likely, pushing through the crowds) along the hipster market trial running from the gorgeous Columbia Rd Flower Market, through Brick Lane‘s vintage clothes stores, grabbing some food from one of the international street stalls around the UpMarket and Truman Brewery, and then finishing up with a more ‘civilised’ meander through the newly refurbished Spitalfields market.
This is one of those experiences which, in my opinion, sums up everything that is awesome about London town – people from all over the world coming together in mild chaos, enjoying great food, quirky fashion, unique architecture and a music festival vibe (helped along by the multitude of buskers playing everything from skiffle music to fleetwood mac). If you decide to head this way, these are just a few things you might want to check out:
queuing up for cheap as chips salmon and cream cheese bagels from Brick Lane Bagel Bake (nice blog piece on it here)
a dance and a pint on the outdoor terrace at Vibe bar
It’s fair to say that Shoreditch and Dalston come in for A LOT of criticism (Vice magazine, somewhat hypocritically, captures it perfectly here). On the one hand Italian Vogue is calling it “the coolest place in London”. On the other hand, well, just watch this video:
However, whatever you think about the strange eco-system that is Shoreditch/Dalston, it is, I think, worth a visit. If only to check out the outfits.
It is also an area on contrasts. You could, for instance, have a very classy (and expensive) night drinking cocktails at Collooh Callay, opt for a fun-filled fine old time at one of the quirkier events at The Book Club (life drawing or electro swing anyone?), or jump headfirst into Dalston’s slightly edgier scene at The Nest or Passing Clouds.
Now, it’s worth saying that some people definitely find this part of town a bit intimidating / pretentious. This is completely understandable (and not too far off the mark). However, I would encourage you to instead see it as a place where anything goes; where you can dance until dawn with a red stripe in hand or have peppermint tea and cake on sumptuous sofas at 3am (read this excellent write up on the Bridge coffee house if this appeals. I’ll see you there).
It’s also a place where new bars/cafes/clubs are popping up all the time. With this in mind I must mention my friends at Ridley Road Market Bar, which is down to become the new tip-top place in this part of the world, partly because it’s brilliant, and partly because of Luca’s amazing meatballs. Not a euphemism.
And finally, live music the London way
While most out of towners will have heard of the O2 or Wembley, London has a crazily long list of music venues worthy of a visit. For me, there is no better live music venue than the Roundhouse in Camden. A former steam engine repair shed, the building itself is pretty epic, built in the round (hence the name) with high vaulted ceilings and feeling that wherever you’re standing or sitting, you’re close to the action. If you can’t get into a gig here, they host all sorts of other events from film nights to poetry slams. You won’t be dissappointed.
However, if you’re looking for somewhere where you’ll be guaranteed entry for around a tenner, you could do a lot worse that The Lexington. Not only do they serve the world’s greatest rum, but their bands are always good quality in that ‘not really famous but we have a big muso following’ kind of way, and the bar/pub downstairs has an excellent table football table. Have had some very good nights here.
I could go on an on, but I’m already breaking the bloggers’ cardinal word limit rule. Hopefully that will give you a few sure fire ways to experience a Londoner’s perspective on this amazing city, and if you want any more tips, feel free to post below…
On the sunny April afternoon I’m invited to check out the fortnightly protest against Ahava’s Covent Garden store, it’s clear that this week – perhaps more than most weeks – emotions are running high. It is just one day after the body of peace activist Vittorio Arrigoni was found by Hamas forces in an abandoned Gaza house, allegedly murdered by radical religious fundamentalists, and it’s clear that this tragedy is serving to add yet more fuel to the animosity between the opposing sides gathered here.
I arrive on Monmouth St just after midday to the sound of one of the boycott protesters yelling “fascists” at the Israel supporters. A few minutes later a minor scuffle breaks out, ending with several police officers holding one of the pro-Palestinian activists against a wall while two of the Israel supporters begin shouting “Hamas terrorist” in his direction. Moments later one of them guffaws “Vittorio sleeps with the fishes,” and soon, the handful of protesters on either side of the metal barricade are trading insults; “No Nazi boycott in Covent Garden!” shouts an Israel supporter. “That’s right; go home” retorts someone from the Palestinian side.
Having researched the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement before coming here – a movement that advocates non-violence – I have to admit the level of agitation on display from both groups of protesters takes me aback. While the passion on both sides is undoubtedly emblematic of how much the activists care about the Israel-Palestine issue, at several points the trading of insults between the two groups seems almost comical; at one stage three men stood watching the commotion next to me whisper to one another “is this actually serious?”
And yet, as curious as these scenes might seem to the average Londoner, this is serious. Ahava is the target of this boycott action not simply because it is an Israeli-owned company, but because the beauty products it sells in over thirty countries worldwide are manufactured in Mizpe Shalem, an Israeli settlement roughly six miles inside the Israeli occupied Palestinian Territories. As Rose, one of the pro-boycott activists tells me a little later in a quieter café on Shaftsbury Avenue, “every time someone purchases those products they’re supporting that illegal settlement, and helping to entrench the occupation of Palestine. This conflict does not happen in a vacuum, it persists in part because this kind of economic support from the West.”
And that is the point of the BDS movement – to stop international complicity in the sustained Israeli occupation of the West Bank which both undermines the human rights of Palestinians and holds the region back from attaining a meaningful peace. But more importantly, it wants to remind us that it is a conflict we can do something about, in this case simply by being more conscious about where we shop.
But is it working? The Palestinian solidarity protesters say yes. For a start, just two weeks ago Ahava announced that this particular shop will close in September as a result of the protests which, Rose tells me, the boycotters see as a victory; “this will be one less place taking money from London shoppers and investing it in supporting Israeli settlements”.
What is more significant perhaps is that Israeli authorities are taking notice of this campaign. Last year, Tel Aviv’s Reut Institute presented a report to the Israeli Cabinet singling out the BDS movement as one of the most significant global forces threatening the security of the Israeli state (something I blogged about at the time). Furthermore, when I asked Omar Barghouti – one of the movement’s founders – about the Reut Report at last month’s 6 billion ways conference, he stated that Israeli authorities had responded by tabling a motion in the Knesset last year stating that any boycott activity targeting Israeli companies should be made illegal. The law hasn’t passed, yet, but with that kind of alarm-bell it’s no wonder some pro-Israel supporters are working hard to fight the movement.
However, when it comes to Ahava, it’s worth questioning whether this ‘success’ is as clear cut as it may seem. For a start, the closure does not reflect a decision on the part of Ahava to pull out of the UK altogether; in this case their landlord has simply decided that the protests are causing too much disruption to the wider area. Ahava may simply relocate elsewhere, which suggests that this is perhaps a somewhat less noble victory for civil disruption caused by the animosity between these two opposing groups of protesters, and not a true signal that the BDS message is succeeding in educating people and affecting public opinion.
Furthermore, as I stand watching the taunting from both sides, I can’t help but think that were the tone of these protests more consistently in line with the reasonable and non-violent aims of the movement, even in these trying circumstances, it might be more successful in doing so. And half way through the protest, something powerful happens which proves this point.
For just one minute, the boycott protesters turn their backs on their pro-Israel opposition and hold silent vigil in honour of Vittorio Arrigoni. The street, previously noisy and chaotic, packed with the sound of offensive jibes and campaigners enthusiastically thrusting leaflets in the hands of bemused passers-by, becomes deafeningly quiet. The Israeli supporters stop shouting, watching the vigil with what seems to be a mixture of interest and confusion, and a group of London shoppers approach a police officer and ask him what’s going on. He explains in hushed tones that people are protesting against Ahava because they support the Palestinians. That someone from the protests was killed in the region, which is why everyone is more upset than usual. And for a moment, it feels like we all get it.
Ahava is important. But isn’t finding reasonable means of educating people about the situation in Palestine, of engaging in intelligent discussion and rising above the knee-jerk reactions that have fuelled this conflict for decades, even more so? Shouldn’t our protest movements reflect this ethos, and not just in words and grand statements, but in behaviour too? I think so. Regardless of the provocation. And particularly when Londoners are watching.