Saturday, 6 December 2008

Dinner at Clapham Junction(A Nostalgic Multi-Racial Gathering).

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Dinner at Clapham Junction (A Nostalgic Multi-Racial Gathering).

Last Thursday evening (4th of November) a group of us, all boyhood friends , gathered for dinner at the Gourmet Cafe , Lavender Hill, near Clapham Junction. It was a meeting which had been a nightmare to arrange.

One of our group, B, a manager of a betting shop, had won a substantial amount of money by betting on Obama to become President of the U.S.A. He decided to use his substantial winnings by treating his mates to a dinner at the Gourmet Cafe, a lovely “eat-as- much-as-you-like “ establishment which is based in what used to be a bank. It is a stone's throw away from Clapham Junction Station, almost directly opposite Asda.

The evening was almost inevitably going to be a boisterous and jolly affair, what with there being 9 adults, some of whom had not seen each other for over 30 years. There was an awful lot of catching-up to do, anecdotes to swap, tales to tell...

One thing stood out -- one noticed how diverse our group was---one of Chinese/ South African origin, one of West African descent, one of Afro-Caribbean parenthood, one of Northern Irish background, two of Indian/East-African stock, one Anglo-Italian, one whose parents were Greek, and one full-blooded Englishman( married to a lady from Mexico)...It was a heart-warming dinner which would not have been out of place in the cafeteria of the United Nations Building!!!..Well, perhaps without the raucous laughter, and the puerile humour....

The Gourmet Cafe concept is a great one, and it seems to be a bustling, thriving place. Throughout our couple of hours there, we saw a constant coming and going of customers---a popular buffet with fresh food will always attract custom if it is in a good location, and the price is right. At this restaurant, you can fill yourself up for £6.90. Drinks are extra.

We then left for a nearby pub for even more chat and banter, and a few drinks. Fortunately, we had taken the precaution of eating well beforehand, thereby reducing the

possibility of suffering a hangover the following day...I felt sorry for those who had to turn up for work in the morning----after all, some of these guys were in fairly senior positions of great responsibility....

The bar staff kicked everybody out at eleven thirty ---far too early for a major city like London, but perhaps it is not economically viable for them to open beyond that time on a Thursday night.

We all felt a warm glow of brotherly love as we walked down to Clapham Junction, some to catch trains to Surrey and Sussex, others to catch buses to West and North London, and yet others only had to walk round the corner to go home.

This is the area around which we all grew up. Our school, Spencer Park, a stone's throw away, has long been defunct—closed because of a drop in the birth-rate—even the Chapel is now a French restaurant...

There were fraternal hugs all round, with all of us vowing to repeat the experience soon....I jumped on the bus feeling a warm glow, a reminder of a balmy past, a relatively- innocent time when we were teenagers growing up around Clapham Junction.
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Friday, 28 November 2008

Homelessness in London.

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Homelessness  in  London.

There  is  a  little  old  lady  who  is  often  to  be  seen  in  the  Camden/Kentish  Town  area.No  matter  what  the  weather  is,  she  roams  around  in  several  layers  of  clothing,  including  a  tatty  overcoat.  She  pushes  around  a  supermarket  trolley  which  is  overladen  with  all  her  worldly  belongings.  These  seem  to  consist  of  piles  of  old  newspapers  and  bits  of  cardboard,  in  addition  to  a  few  tattered  clothes  in  plastic  bags.  Judging  from  her  behaviour,  one  can  surmise  that  she  suffers  from  some  form  of  mental  problem.

     Like  Sisyphus  of  old,  she  seems  destined  to  keep  pushing  a  load  which  never  gets    any  lighter...

    This  is  one  of  the  many  faces  of  homelessness  in  London—the  richest  city  in  the  world's  fourth  or  fifth  biggest  economy...

     At  around  midnight,  near  Trafalgar  Square,  you  can  always  see  a  long  queue  of  homeless  people  waiting  to  receive  a  cup  of  warm    soup  and  a  sandwich  from  some  of  the  charities  which   try  to  make  them  as  comfortable  as  possible.  The  queue  opposite  Charing  Cross  Station  is  sometimes  a  long  one...

    Although  there  are  hostels  for  the  homeless  available  in  many  parts  of  London,    some  people  detest  them  because  of  the  tension  and  frustration  which  they  often  encounter  there.  Some  of  the   older  people  who  have  been  living  on  the  streets  for  a  long  time  become  fatalistic,  and  see  no  way  out  of  their  situation.  Often,  when  they  try  to  get  jobs  they  are  rejected  outright,  either  because  of  their   appearance,  or  because  they  do  not  have  a  fixed  address  or  bank  account....Very  often,  they  can  not  obtain  either  of  those  without  a  steady  job...

       Others  try  to  obtain    casual  jobs  in  the  catering  industry,  but  they  find  that  their  labour  is  only  required  for  one  or  two  days,  or  even  only  for  a few  hours.   After  that,  they  are  back  where  they  began...

    The  problem  stems  largely  from  the  lack  of  affordable  municipal  housing. When  Mrs. Thatcher  decided  to  force  the  local  councils    to  sell  off  a  large  portion  of  their    housing  stock,  she  stipulated  that  the  resulting    receipts  were  to  be  “frozen”,  and  not  to  be  used  to  build    more  publicly-  owned  houses.   The  theory  was  that  “private”  was  good,  and  “public”  housing  was  “Socialist”,  therefore   bad.   The  result,  even  two  decades  later,  is  a  dire  shortage  of  housing    in  a  crowded  capital.

      Anyone  who  goes  out  in  Central  London  at  night  will  encounter  the  homeless,  many  of  whom  will  be  pleading  for    spare  change.  My    policy  is  never  to  give  to  those  who  look  as  if    they  are  drunk----you  will  just  be  feeding  their  alcoholism,  thereby  aggravating  their  situation.

    It  is  far  better  to  buy  a   copy  of  “The  Big  Issue”,  a  paper  which  is  devoted  entirely  to  helping  the  homeless.  It  is  sold  by  homeless  people,  and  they  receive  around  half  the  sale  price.  This  gives  them  a  sense  of  self-worth,  and,  incidentally,  it  is  a  good  read.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Disappearing Phone Booths and The Rise Of The Mobile Phone.

Disappearing Phone Booths and The Rise Of The Mobile . Red Phone Box   
The speed with which Lononers (and Britons in general) have taken to the mobile phone has been truly astonishing. Barely ten years ago, the whole of London was covered with telephone booths. Every High Street had some, and there was one available within walking distance in every residential area.
However, the arrival of the mobile phone (or "cellphone" as the Americans call it) soon meant that the many of the telephone booths rapidly fell into disuse. Whereas the then- Conservative (and recent Labour ) governments'
obsession with the wholesale privatisation of long-established public utilities had spawned a host of competing telecoms companies,each with its own phone booths, the mobile phone's arrival meant that there was soon a glut of empty, desolate boxes littering the streets.
It now seems that the long-established red phone boxes may disappear altogether---probably to be sold off one by one for those who want to decorate their gardens!

Friday, 7 November 2008

Two Cheers For America.

Two Cheers For America.

The past few days have been spent watching an inordinate (by my standards) amount of television, in addition

to the usual time I spend in front of The Web. The cause of this is, of course, the recent elections in the

Everwhere you go, all the talk has been of Obama and his Republican opponents...The impression I got from

reading the newspapers over here is an overwhelmingly- positive view of the new President. Even though the

British press tend to be predominantly right-wing , most papers which I've come across have tended to favour

the election of Obama as President.
On Wednesday, as I watched the television coverage of the scenes of unbridled joy from America, I felt a

trickle of involuntary tears running down my cheeks. The sense of euphoria was palpable---even thousands of

miles from the scene of the action. There was a sense of renewed hope--a feeling of warmth and brotherliness

towards the people of America, a sigh of relief at finally looking forward to seeing the back of Bush,

Cheney, and co...I raised two cheers for America, but only two...

Posters For All Tastes.

The cynic in me raised his head when I cast my mind back to 1997. The scenes we witnessed on televison

from America were reminiscent of what we saw over here in London when Tony Blair became Prime

Minister. Back then, we saw the same feeling of relief, the same expectation of change...I then thought back

to the 2-million -person march which I participated in from Euston to Hyde Park, via Piccadilly. So many

diverse groups and individuals had decided that the imminent invasion of Iraq was a totally foolhardy venture

of which this country should have no part. Tony Blair decided to answer us with disdain, having made up

his mind the previous spring to join George W. Bush in his new adventure. We all know what the

consequences of this escapade are...
How powerful will be the forces of reaction who will try their best to influence events? How much can the

suffering people of the Third World expect from the new President, especially as his own country faces tough

times? Will he still maintain subsidies on agricultural produce which the Wretched of the Earth rely on for

trade? What about the promise of an undivided Jerusalem only fit for Jews?
Sure, change has come to America, through free and fair elections,and African-Americans can now begin to

feel that they too belong ( there won't be floating corpses in a flooded New Orleans while the

Commander-in-Chief plays golf), but what will the new Administration be able to change?
For the sake of the whole planet, I hope that whatever Obama manages to achieve, it will help to make

this world a more clean, safe and just place. All our futures depend on it.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

London's Disappearing Toilets
Questions have recentlly been raised in Parliament regarding the lack of provision of Public Lavatories .This is not a new phenomenon, but part of a trend of disappearing public facilities throughout the country.
It is in London, the capital of the country, and the city with the greatest concentration of tourists, where this is most acutely felt. For years, ever since the privatisation boom of the Eighties, Londoners have seen a fast shrinking of the number of publicly-run toilets.
Even in a busy tourist hotspot like Camden Town there is very little provision of public lavatories. Every weekend around two million visitors descend on this part of North London , principally in order to shop in one of the colourful markets which are based there. There are free public toilets near the Underground Station, but these close at around six o'clock. In the evening, thousands more people flock there to visit pubs, nightclubs, and restaurants. As the toilets are closed by the time these establishments close, it is not uncommon to see people urinating in doorways of shops and alleyways. Such a state of affairs is clearly unsatisfactory. Further up the road, other public toilets have been sold off altogether.
In many parts of London, the premises which once housed toilets are now haidressers' salons, estate agents' offices, or other commercial premises---but none of them are in use as lavatories. Some of the French-made unmanned slot-machine operated 24-hour toilets have made an appearance in a few spots, but they are not universally liked...Horror stories abound of their doors opening while still occupied, and there are some which seem to be frequently out of order.
In many cases, the only course of action left to someone who is on the lookout for a lavatory is to go into a pub, and use the facilities in there ; the only problem is that most pubs will not allow you to use their toilets unless you are a paying customer...This means that you are first obliged to buy a drink (thereby consuming more liquid), and then use the toilet---thereby compounding the problem ....

Friday, 24 October 2008

A Bus Journey

A Bus Journey

At the moment, all the talk is of The Crisis (also known as The Credit Crunch, The Global Recession, The Slowdown etc.). Having stayed indoors all day, I became a little depressed with the repetition of the gloomy news emanating from the radio, as well as Channel Four News....I therefore decided to go and stretch my limbs a little, and took a bus into Camden.
London buses are a strange phenomenon. Ever since I can remember, well at least since 1966 when our family arrived here, it has been quite common to wait for half an hour or more for a bus , only to see two or three of them arrive simultaneously! Nobody has ever been able to give a convincing explanation for this, and countless initiatives started by the former Mayor, Ken Livingstone, do not appear to have eliminated this irritating occurence.
Livingstone's administration spent millions of pounds on new buses, including the single-deck articulated "bendy buses", but, outside of the rush hours, it is possible to be left stranded at the bus stop for a vehicle which does not operate to any discernible timetable. I once fell into conversation with an exasperated fellow-passenger-to-be who speculated that the reason why three buses were emerging from the same terminus was that the drivers were sitting round playing cards with each other!
During the day, you can see uniformed inspectors dotted along most bus routes. They are charged with ensuring that the buses arrive on time; it must be a very difficult task, given the volume of traffic in London. Even the existence of exclusive bus lanes does not guarantee that passengers will arrive at their destination on time. Most of the time, the buses are fine, but I cannot help but feel that the introduction of the single-person modern buses has slowed down the traffic. Nowadays, the person who drives the bus is also responsible for collecting fares and issuing tickets, thereby further slowing it down.All the ticket collectors (conductors) have been laid off with the disappearance of the old Routemaster buses.
The one great advantage of travelling on the bus is the amount of money you save--especially if you buy a weekly Bus Pass. I pay £13.00 for a pass which allows me to travel throughout Central London. Thirteen pounds for a week's travel is a bargain, when you consider that a single-journey ticket costs two pounds!
As a consequence, I have not used the Underground train for over 2 years...I like to see what is going on around me as I travel, but there is no scenery on the Underground.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Food for The Soul in Holloway.

Food for the soul in Holloway

Finding somewhere to eat in London can present a major problem for the unwary visitor---there is an embarrassment of riches from which to choose. Anyone wandering down any of the main streets in the centre of town will be faced with the usual array of multinational fast-food brand outlets, as well as smaller outlets specialising in a wide variety of foods of the different ethnic groups which have estalished themselves here.
In general, you will find at least one "Indian" and one Chinese restaurant in every locality. Most of them offer a home delivery service at night. While the Chinese restaurants sometimes vary slightly in what they offer, being from different regions, the "Indian" restaurants are overwhelmingly owned by people from the Sylhet region of Bangladesh.
All ( or most) ethnic restaurants have a reputation for cheapness, and recently this has begun to cause problems for their owners. The pressure to keep prices down has meant that these restaurant are finding it hard to recruit and keep staff, considering the low wages which they can afford to pay.
As a consequence, the quality of the food varies from place to place.
One area which is bursting with eating places is Holloway. The area boasts everything from Ethiopian to Korean restaurants. Three of my favourites are located around the Holloway Road-Seven Sisters Road area.
If you come out of the Caledonian Road Underground Station, jump on a bus going towards the Seven Sisters Road (ask the driver), or walk the 10 minutes or so. Cross the Seven Sisters Road, and walk North. A few yards up the road, you will encounter The "Amazon Cafe. " Over here you can have a good, home-made meal lovingly-prepared by the women-only staff. I have only ever had a late breakfast here, but I can assure you that it is marvellous. Everything is freshly-prepared, and it shows...
A little further up the same side of the road you will encounter the Crystal Kebab House. This is a legendary little cafe with good food, and low prices. After early evening, there is always a queue to be served---the high turnover of customers means that customers are assured of fresh Turkish food.
Come back to the Seven Sisters Road , and take the bus 91. Get off at the second stop as it turns into Hornsey Road. Two or three doors away from "The Plough " pub, you will see "Mr.Cee,s ", a very good-value Caribbean Restaurant. Delicious Jamaican specialities await you in this friendly family-run establishment. Their Curried Goat with Rice and Peas is heavenly!!!
After filling up at any of these three restaurants, you can get on the bus 91 back to Trafalgar Square, or continue to enjoy yourself in the Holloway area. Bon appetit!

Friday, 26 September 2008

Some Top-Rated Hotels in London, England.

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Some Top Rated Hotels in London, England

When traveling to London, England, it is important to choose a quality hotel. Please continue reading on to see what a few of your options include.

The Landmark London

The Landmark London is located at 222 Marylebone Road, directly across from the Marylebone Tube Station. It is a short distance from the theatre district of London

The Landmark London is known for its beauty and use of gothic architecture. You will find many gothic icons, as well as a large eight-story glass atrium. The décor of this popular hotel is defined as having a cross between Eastern influences and British authenticity.

Room amenities include a free newspaper, air conditioning, refrigerator, telephone, television, daily maid service, safe, balcony, mini-bar, and a private fireplace. As for hotel amenities, they include free high-speed internet, swimming pool, a health club, and hot tub, just to name a few.

As for what guests had to say, many cannot wait until they can return again. Many liked the close proximity to Regents Park, the coziness of the rooms, and the friendly service.

The Sofitel London St. James

The Sofitel London St. James is located at 6 Waterloo Place. Its convenient location, which is near Buckingham Palace, makes this hotel even better.

The Sofitel London St. James is a luxury, yet historical hotel. It has a French restaurant onsite, as well as the St. James bar. It is perfect for all types of traveling, including family vacations, romantic getaways, honeymoons, and even business trips.

Room amenities at the hotel include air conditioning, free newspaper, refrigerator, iron, television, telephone, daily maid service, internet access, safe, coffee maker, fitness equipment, mini-bar, and a small kitchen. The hotel itself is home to a dry cleaning service, luxury health club, health spa, car rental desk, and a family room.

The Royal Horseguards

The Royal Horseguards is located at 2 Whitehall Court. It is found inside a stylish French chateau. The Royal Horseguards is most well-known for its beauty, as well as its convenient location. It is a quick walk away from the Houses of Parliament, the Victoria Embankment Gardens, and Big Ben.

Room amenities at the Royal Horseguards include air conditioning, refrigerator, telephone, television, daily maid service, internet access, safe, coffee maker, balcony, and mini-bar. The hotel is also home to dry cleaning services, dining facilities, golf, family rooms, a car rental desk, and a health club.

As for what guests have to say about the Royal Horseguards, many state it was the ultimate experience. The hotel was clean and the staff was friendly. Depending on who you ask, some disliked the constant sounding of Big Ben, but others loved to hear it.

One Aldwych

One Aldwych is located at just that 1 Aldwych in London. This award-winning hotel’s unique and modern design is attractive from the outside, but just the same on the inside. Speaking of inside, you will find a helpful staff and a beautiful art collection.

Room amenities at One Aldwych include air conditioning, free newspaper, refrigerators, telephone, television, microwave oven, daily maid service, internet access, safe, mini-bar, and balcony. As for the hotel, it is home to family rooms, a fitness center, swimming pool, dining facilities, health club, and spa.

As for what tourists have to say about one Aldwych, most loved its location. It is situated in the center of the London in Covent Garden, resulting in beautiful views. Most liked the location, as well as the staff.

The Milestone Hotel

The Milestone Hotel is located at 1 Kensington Court. Its beautiful view overlooks the nearby palace and gardens. Located just fifteen miles away from the Heathrow International Airport, a stay at this hotel is not only luxurious, but convenient.

Room amenities at the Milestone hotel include wireless internet, air conditioning, free newspaper, television, telephone, iron, refrigerator, daily made service, room service, safe, coffee maker, balcony, mini-bar, and fireplace. The hotel is home to a fitness center, swimming pool, restaurant, health club, and hot tub.

As for what guests have to say about the Milestone Hotel, some thought it was overpriced, while others commented that the price was more than worth the experience. The great service and beautiful décor was also noted.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

  Some  Must-See  Attractions  in  London,  England.

Are you in the mist of planning a trip to London, England?  If you are, you may be wondering what you can do and see while there.  Granted, there are thousands of places for you to visit, including landmarks, museums, shops, and restaurants, there are five attractions that you must visit.  These attractions, a few of which are outlined below, make a trip to London worth the journey.

1 – Buckingham Palace

The Buckingham Palace is the most well-known landmark in all of London.  As for its history, it was built in 1702.  Throughout the years, it changed hands many times and underwent numerous restoration projects.  It was in 1837 when it became the home of royalty.  The first monarch to live there was Queen Victoria.  Today, the palace is home to The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh.  It is also used for administrative purposes.  In fact, it is one of the few working palaces remaining in the world.

If traveling to London in August or September, you can tour the palace’s State Rooms.  Tours are only available during the summer.  Throughout the year, you will find the Changing of the Guards.  On average, a Changing of the Guard ceremony occurs every other day.  A visit to the nearby Queen’s Gallery is recommended as well.

2 – The London Eye

The London Eye, also known as the Millennium Wheel, is located in the Kensington and Chelsea neighborhoods of London at Westminster Bridge Road.  It is one of London’s most popular attractions.

The London Eye is a large Ferris wheel.  It stands 443 feet tall.  Due to its popularity, you might assume a long wait, but that is actually rare.  In fact, most purchase reserved tickets.  There are 32 capsules and up to 25 people can fit in each.  Lasting 30 minutes, a ride on the London Eye enables you to see the London like you had never seen it before and for up to 25 miles away.

3 – The Houses of Parliaments

Located on Westminster Road in the Westminster and St. James neighborhoods of London, you will find the Houses of Parliaments.  Its gothic architecture makes this landmark quite the attraction, but its history is just as important and beautiful.

The Houses of Parliament have been home to the British government for over 900 years!  It is situated on eight acres of land.  It is also home to 1,100 rooms, 11 courtyards, and 100 staircases.  Admission is free and you can visit the House of Commons and the House of Lords.  Guided tours are also available.

After a visit to the Houses of Parliament, stop by for a long look up at Big Ben, which is located nearby.                                                    
4 – The Westminster Abbey

The Westminster Abbey is another well-known London attraction. In fact, it attracts over one million visitors each year!  It is located in the Westminster and St. James neighborhoods of London at 20 Dean’s Yard.  

The Westminster Abbey is referred to as a “Medieval architectural masterpiece.”  Throughout the years, it has been home to many royal events.  It’s official website calls it “a living pageant of British history.”  Inside, you will find a museum that is home to many 13th century works of art and the St. Margaret’s Church.  When visiting, you can opt for a guided tour, independent tour with the use of an audio guide, or you can participate in Sunday church services.

5 – The London Tower Bridge

The Tower Bridge is located on Tower Hill in the Waterloo and Southwark neighborhoods of London.  Although you may not recognize the name, you will the structure when it enters into your sight.  It is one of London’s most recognized attractions and has been featured in many movies and books.

The Tower Bridge is comprised of two towers with two connecting elevated walkways and a working bascule bridge below.  The elevated walkways are home to special viewing windows, which do not hamper the quality of your photographs.  Onsite, you will find a small museum that has interactive exhibits, as well as historical films playing.

Although able to tour the Tower Bridge independently, the behind the scenes and evening tours present a once in a lifetime opportunity for all tourists.