Tag: Knightsbridge

For A Good Time In London

Travelling to London soon? Not to worry there is plenty to do here, both on and off the beaten track, and not all of it will cost you an arm and a leg. But do count your pennies before leaving home – you will likely need them. Though an expensive city by anyone’s measures, London has plenty on offer that is gratis, too, as well as lots to do somewhere in between.

Having lived here some eighteen years, I can vouch for that and often do when offering visitors advice on what’s hot and well, what’s not.

But recently when asked to make some suggestions for someone who will be celebrating her 50th birthday here in November, I decided to give it some real thought from the eyes of a local, if you will. How would I describe My London, the bits that bring a good visitors guide to life? Don’t leave home without one, a visitor’s guide that is, which is the first suggestion I can offer. Though I don’t have a favourite, I would suggest one that suits your lifestyle and budget for food, for example.

There’s nothing worse than showing up to an alleged fine restaurant, which is teaming with youthful folks happily sharing a small table and loud noise. Okay, there are a few things worse but the point is use a guide that suits you.

The second bit of info I’ll share is to use your human resources, if you have any. Not everyone knows me, thankfully, but most people know someone who knows someone. Locals often have inside information, even about the big attractions, how to avoid the crowds and so on, which leads to the next need to know bit of information – avoid train stations/the tube during rush hour.

Sure, it is the fastest mode of transport in London but can be the most uncomfortable when everyone is trying to get home after a gruelling day at work, which is why I often suggest a river bus instead, if it will get you where you need to go. And if it doesn’t, take a river boat tour at your leisure; it’s a wonderful way to see the city.

In other modes of transport, when walking is not in order, there are always the London black cabs, zipping in and out of traffic and these days, plenty of Uber taxis waiting in the wings. And of course, the London bus is always one stop away along your route. Also, check out the hop on and off tours, a good way to get around and learn a bit, too.

Now with the general info sorted, where does one start?

  • Knightsbridge, if you ask me. While some think the glamorous shopping haven is either overrated or so yesterday, I still love it today. With both Harvey Nichols and Harrods at the centre and Sloane Street running through it, there is something for everyone, if only window shopping. In addition, there are plenty of high street shops. But if it is all a bit too much for your pocketbook; plan a trip to Hackney Walk, the trendy outlet centre in Hackney, which is a bit off the beaten path but worth the trek.
  • Other shopping areas include Fulham Road and general area in South Kensington. One of my favourite shops is Carven. Also, there is the busy Oxford Street, too busy for me, but occasionally I head over to Selfridges and then to Liberty on Regent’s Street for a quieter, gentler shopping experience.
  • Shopped out and just need some culture. My BFF’s favourite museum, the Victoria & Albert, is just down the road from the Knightsbridge shops. Not only is it grand to look at outside, it is fascinating inside with over 2.3 million objects that span over 5,000 years of human creativity.
  • For more culture, head to my favourite art gallery, The Royal Academy. Tucked away in a quiet corner in Piccadilly, it’s just beautiful. Other galleries scattered about town include the Tate, and the Tate Modern. And recently, I went to the Newport Street Gallery, with works drawn from Damien Hirst’s art collection. A little off the beaten path, but it is all the rage.  Back to the centre, however, for a bit of English tradition take a tour of the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace. Lucky me, I tagged along with my husband for a private tour recently. 
  • For food on the go, the museums and galleries have cafes and restaurants and in Knightsbridge, check out the trendy 5th floor at Harvey Nichols.  From sushi to burgers and lobster, it is all there but if you are looking for something a bit more upscale, try Bar Boulud at the Mandarin, but you might want to book ahead of time to secure a space.
  • Fine restaurants for an evening out – lots of choice there! Recently, I went to Kai in Mayfair and had a wonderful time. A bit off the beaten path is Chez Bruce in Wandsworth, another all time favourite. Both to be booked well in advance. 
  • Just want to hang out – now we are talking gratis. From strolling along Piccadilly to sitting around Trafalgar Square, hanging out in London is amazing. These days, I am surprised at how often visitors miss the the South Bank, a buzzy area that always excites.  Just across the Embankment. Easy peasy!
  • And there is, of course, Covent Garden. With piazza after piazza and street artists on every corner, you will never bore there, which leads to where to end the evening.
  • Dinner is always in order and theatre in the West End is highly recommended for anyone, but certainly for a special celebration. On that note, I thought I would make a recommendation and could not believe that I have hardly seen anything lately that is still on, except for some of the long running musicals, for example. What does this mean? Time to catch a play. Hint!
  • Last but not least, check out the plethora of churches, chapels and cathedrals from Westminster Abbey to St. Paul’s. And if you want to go to a service,  Holy Trinity Brompton, where I attend, welcomes everyone.

That about covers it, right! It doesn’t even scratch the surface, but it’s a start. The key to enjoying London is to plan strategically and then pace yourself. But throughout it all, you can’t miss the most fascinating bit, if you ask me–its views, not only from the likes of the Shard, the London Eye, but from the boats, the buses, the bridges, the ground. See this great city for what it is, wherever you tour. That’s really all you need for a good time in London.


Capital’s Vibrant Spirit Everywhere

London is a great city full stop, if you ask me. But then I live here and have for nearly 18 years. Admittedly, though I haven’t always counted my home city as a great one. So what is it about London that makes it great?

First, the capital has a vibrant soul, a spirit, which dominates central London but also stretches from east to west, north to south. Sure, different neighbourhoods have different charms, attractions, depending on whom you ask.

And if you ask me, I’ll tell you that most areas share this underpinning of vibrancy, even the areas that are as different as the eye can see, like Camden Town and Knightsbridge, for example. The charm is in the people, the restaurants, and the shops.

Speaking of shops, a plethora of choices contributes to London’s greatness. Jokingly, I am known for saying that if a city doesn’t have a Harvey Nichols or the likes of it, then it can’t be great.

Trendy Shops in London
Trendy Shops in London

Admittedly, swank department stores feature big in London. The complexity of course, with some of them, is the word big. Take Harrods, for example, it’s easy to get lost in there, lost in the crowd or just plain old turned around. And then there is Selfridges, covering blocks of the busy Oxford Street. It’s all too much, one tourist admitted recently.

But that’s before she talked to me about navigation. Though it’s true I prefer Liberty and Harvey Nichols to the bigger stores, I can’t imagine London without the big girls. The trick is negotiating them.

Three rules of thumb:

  • Number 1 – Get there at 10.00 or shortly afterwards to beat the crowds.
  • Number 2 – Have a plan. In other words, do not try to do the entire store in one go. If you want to buy shoes, go the shoe department. In both places, you will find plenty of choice. But if you want to browse only, go to Toy Kingdom at Harrods. You will see things there you’ve never seen before.
  • And number 3 – Get your bearings, using an escalator or elevator as your landmark. Also, ask for a map and use it as you would in a busy city.

As for those who don’t want any part of a department store, check out the boutiques, the smaller shops.

“Where are they,” an acquaintance asked recently while visiting London?

“Everywhere I told her, everywhere.”

The trick here is to go neighbourhood browsing, so to speak, to find either locally owned boutiques or flagship designer boutiques.

Take to South Kensington, where Carven has a beautiful store on Pelham Street, for instance, and if you don’t find anything there, head to Fulham Road and feast your eyes on the range of boutiques from Joseph’s to Chanel. There are some reasonably priced ones, too.

Looking for something different, then head to Marylebone High Street, any high

street, really. But Marylebone is one of my favourite’s to nip in and out of trendy shops.

There, what to do now in this great city – pop into one of its many trendy restaurants. Recently, we had the pleasure of dining at two newer ones—Tredwell’s in Covenant Garden and Sea Containers at the Mondrian Hotel. Delicious on both accounts!

There, it is true, …”when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” Samuel Johnson.

I agree and would venture further to say that even the rain doesn’t dampen the spirit of London. Catch it anywhere, the spirit that is, not the rain, although there is plenty of that around, too.






The Fresh Feeling of Autumn in London

Though I have been back from holiday in The Algarve, Portugal for more than a week now, I’m only beginning to feel grounded. What a lovely holiday. Do check out the pictures below:

Anyhow, with a busy schedule including working on the design of my upcoming book,The Seasons, which will be out in late October, and preparing for the launch of a new website to coincide with it, I have hardly had time to notice London, even it is as busy as ever.

I have been moving about rather purposefully, only doing the essentials—training, going to the hair salon, and shopping for groceries. And what a task the latter has been since discovering that I have more food intolerances that I can stomach. But that’s another story.

On top of all this, I lost my favourite aunt last weekend and continue to struggle with mourning from afar.  See my January 2011 blog on this very topic. Admittedly, I felt better re-reading it.

Still, I felt foggy and a bit out of sorts until yesterday.  Then I noticed something different in the atmosphere, something novel and perhaps light.

No longer was the heaviness of summer hanging over me as I made my way to the nearby park during my morning run, though I hadn’t run in a few days. And later that morning on a jaunt to Knightsbridge and Sloane Square, I felt a similar vigour.

Suddenly, it occurred to me that though not official according to astronomers, autumn has come to London. Even if day and night are not of equal length, I’m certain it is here, even if there are only a few berry coloured trees to behold and two or three rust coloured leaves around.

As autumn has always been my favourite seasons, I have long concluded that its arrival is not necessarily in the landscape, but in the air.  It’s an atmosphere, a feeling. And in London, this atmosphere takes off the intense edge.

What a sigh of relief to notice that:

1)   People here seem to approach autumn almost as if it is a New Year.  From launching new restaurants to opening flagship stores, merchants keep the capital fresh and relevant. Yesterday, I popped into the new Club Monaco store in Sloane Square. Not bad, not bad!

2)  The buzz around the new term – be it the school term, the work term, the ‘explore or improve your life’ course term – adds to the novelty. In any case it is all about new beginnings. No need to wait for January to set off to a crisp start.

3)  Londoners and tourists alike are friendlier. While I have always been one of those people with an ‘ask me’ stamp on my forehead, it seems to glow in the daylight in autumn.  Where is Sloane Street? Am I on the right road to Harrods? Is Parliament Square this way? Just a few of the questions I was asked recently. So glad I could help.

4)  More walkers and runners are taking to the paths. The pleasant weather is just right for walking and running and cycling, too. Never mind the occasional dark cloud and threat of rain.  It’s London, after all.

5)  People continue to sit outside, if only for a spell. In summer everyone goes out in droves for fear they won’t get the opportunity to do so the next day. But autumn days linger, making us all a bit more relaxed.

6)  It doesn’t hurt that there are few, if any gnats or midges to reckon with, although I did notice a bee kicking up a buzz among the crowds in Fulham over the weekend.

7)  And lo and behold drivers are far more courteous than they were in the summer. Yeah, yeah, yeah, the congestion can be taxing. But we are all in it together. Seriously!

Though I’m looking forward to those traditional days when the leaves will colour the landscape, for now I’m taking in the fresh atmosphere of autumn in the capital and basking in it. It’s in the air.

IMG_1399  IMG_1401 (1)


Sixty Years On: How is Afro Hair in UK?

Today, the Queen marks the 60th Anniversary of her accession to the throne. On February 6, 1952, the young princess would suffer the loss of her 56-year-old father and find herself wearing the mantle of England’s highest public servant at the tender age of 25.

As I watched the footage of a poised young woman with coiffed hair, the epitome of an English woman’s hairstyle in 1952, I wondered about the hair of the women who had migrated from the Caribbean to England. Was professional hair care available to them?

According to the Moving Here website, which looks at a history of migration, it was difficult for a black woman to maintain her hair in the UK in the 50s. Unfortunately, this meant many women cut their hair off or ended up doing it at home, not necessarily caring for it properly.

When Beryl Gittens, a trained hairdresser, planned her journey to Britain from Guyana, her uncle advised her to ‘walk with her pressing comb’. Good thing she took heed because when she arrived she found virtually nowhere to get her hair done.

The Trinidadian pianist, Winifred Atwell, established a salon in Brixton in the late 50s to train English women how to style black hair. And in 1962, Mrs Gittens opened a salon on Streatham High Street, one of the first black hairdressers in London, Beryl’s Hairdressing Salon.

Fast forward forty something years when I relocated to London in 1998, though the situation had improved greatly, I moved from salon to salon, feeling a bit peculiar, as people explained that they didn’t know how to do my kind of hair. And when they did, they seemed to have outdated ideas about how much oil to put in it, for example.

It took me a few years to land safely with Joy Miller, co-owner of the award winning Junior Green Afro Hair Salon in Knightsbridge. A leader in Afro hair care, the trendy salon serves clients from all over the UK and from Europe and other countries. Although such salons are not necessarily rare anymore, they don’t come a dime a dozen like their European competitors.

New comers or business women can still find themselves in a pinch, depending on where they live. Many drive a couple of hours to London to visit a salon. One woman who lives in Berkshire told me she used to drive hours to Birmingham every two weeks to get her hair done, but now she comes to London instead. Another came up from Exeter to Bristol.

Why? What’s hair got to do with it? Everything! I believe it can be a woman’s greatest expression of her personal style, though some of the choices we make about our hair are subjected to political scrutiny. The truth is most of our choices, if not all of them, come down to practicality.

For instance, most of us straighten our hair to make it more manageable! Not to look and behave more European, whatever the political hype suggests. Case and point: there is a trend towards natural hair nowadays, but still women are blow drying their tresses to keep it doable.

And others of us wear extensions because they are lower maintenance. Still, some like braids because not only do they look good, but also they allow for complete hair freedom. It’s nothing to do with being overly ethnic. I know; I just ended a six-month period of braids. I absolutely loved the braids and am equally as hyped about returning to my softly relaxed hair.

As I said it’s a personal expression, nothing more, nothing less. And personally, I’m just hyped that the Afro Hair industry in the UK has come such a long way since 1952. Long may it grow!