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Walking the London that Londoners Love

Posted by garethwatkins on November 7, 2010

I don’t know, you wait 13 months for a blog post and suddenly one comes along all at once. And then it makes no attempt to explain where it’s been all that time. Typical.

Below is a street-by-street guide to a walk through London that I finally typed up for a visiting American that I to follow on Twitter (@LinzLuvs). I’ve taken a few people on this tour in the past and they’ve really enjoyed it and I thought she might. I don’t think she ever even read the guide, to be fair, but its greatness (if I do say so myself) still stands. So I figured that rather than be wasteful I’d let it out into the open for others to use. It may read a little dry, but when employed is a lovely little journey:

This walking tour is designed to give you a real sense of London. The London that Londoners love and the London that Londoners talk about when people ask them about London. It’s not museums, tourist spots and the places the guide books send you. It’s designed to be deviated from, only take part of the way or followed religiously. It’s best done guided by me obviously, but that’s hardly practical. You will pass literally hundreds of bars and restaurants along the route at which to take a break (which I would highly recommend doing).

This walk is best done in the early evening, starting at dusk. The Thames by night is phenomenal, so getting there once night has well and truly set in is perfect.

Start at Great Portland Street tube station (Circle, Hammersmith and City, and Metropolitan lines)

Staying on the right, walk down (keep The Albany Pub on your left) Great Portland Street to Clipstone Street (which will be on your left).

Looking left down Clipstone Street you will be in the best spot in London for a view of the BT Tower. Honestly, it’s a surprisingly good view.

Turning left, walk down Clipstone Street two blocks and turn right down Great Titchfield Street.

Not too much along here but some of London’s smaller pubs and a few blue plaques, but follow it down until you reach Oxford Street.

Ignore Oxford Street on this tour. It’s an afternoon/day/week in itself.

Cross Oxford Street and walk down the little alleyway opposite, just next to Dorothy Perkins (yes, I know it looks creepy, but it isn’t).

You come out on Ramillies Street (by an astonishingly obvious gay gym on your left as you walk down)

At the end of the road you hit Great Marlborough St (that’s “Marl-bruh'”), turn left.

Then first right at Poland Street. Along here you will find Bodeans, which is the best place for an American abroad to get a taste of home.

At the bottom of that, second left, turn left on Broadwick Street.

Then third on the right, down Berwick Street.

By this point, you will have been in Soho since you left Oxford Street. This is the London that those of us who live and work in central London frequent and tourists rarely truly discover.

Please don’t let that scare you. You’re safe.

Got that? Good. It’s about to get seedier.

At the bottom of Berwick Street, go down the dodgy looking alley opposite. No seriously.

At the bottom of which (passing the three or four sex shops) turn left on Brewer Street.

Follow it along until you hit Wardour Street. Then turn right and take the first left onto Old Compton Street.

Welcome to the heart of gay London.

This is also the heart of media (pronounced “meeja”) London.

Essentially, everyone is looking at you and judging, so be awesome!

Walk along Old Compton Street and take the 4th right down Moor Street.

At the end of here you will come out onto Cambridge Circus, next to Priscilla Queen of The Desert the Musical and its massive glittery stiletto.

Cross Charing Cross Road and then Shaftsbury Avenue, essentially diagonally crossing Cambridge Circus, and just along Shaftsbury Avenue on the right is West Street.

Walk the length of West Street to Upper Saint Martin’s Lane, passing The Ivy and The Mousetrap. The Ivy is the restaurant of choice for established celebrities and will probably have a few paps hanging around outside. The Mousetrap is the longest running show in the world.

Turn right down Upper Saint Martin’s Lane, passing Stringfellows on your left, and turn left up Long Acre. Stringfellows being the UK’s most famous strip club.

Walk along Long Acre and turn right at Covent Garden underground station down James Street.

Walk down James Street to Covent Garden itself, stopping briefly to look left along Floral Street at the twisty bridge crossing the road.

Turn left and follow the square round until you reach Culverhay on your left. Turn down here.

Take the first right down Wellington Street.

Follow Wellington Street along until you reach The Strand.

Cross over the strand and head down Lancaster Place, which turns into Waterloo Bridge. As you cross the bridge you will have about the most complete (ground level) 360 degree view of London you can find.

Once you have passed over the River Thames, though still technically on the bridge, take the stairs down on your right.

These lead down to the Southbank

Walk along the Southbank, keeping the river on your right, as far as The London Eye.

From here there are signs directing you to Waterloo underground and mainline station, from where you can get back to pretty much anywhere in London.

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Kevin Smith talks. A lot!

Posted by garethwatkins on October 14, 2009

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Kevin Smith on stage at the IndigO2. It’s tricky to catagorise what exactly I saw in any way more useful than to describe it as a Q&A session. Which sounds considerably duller than last night’s experience.

Essentially Kevin Smith stands on stage, tells stories, answers questions and entertains the venue. And as simple as that sounds I found myself in complete awe last night as I realised that while I may well be able to stand on stage for the 3 1/2 hours (unbroken!) that Smith did, talking and answering questions, I would probably lack the one thing that made last night work: humour. I just don’t think I could be funny, erudite and entertaining in the way Smith was throughout. But I’ll tell you what…if I ever find myself in the position where I can go on tour just talking about the things that have happened in my life I sure as hell would.

Kevin Smith does, admittedly, have a somewhat obsessive legion of fans (another thing I’m currently lacking) who not only watch his films, but read his comics, read his books, listen to his podcast, read the transcripts of his podcasts and follow every keystroked message on his Twitter account (@ThatKevinSmith). And then there are the ones that are really obsessive. And, following his opening soliloquy to the suicidal toilet that suffered at the girth of his heaviest frame, those fans were first in line to ask the questions. And there were some well-researched questions asked, backed by a knowledge of their prey the likes of which Paxman can only dream.

It’s actually irrelevant what was asked, or what Smith said in response. But rest assured it was detailed, amusing and laced with creative vulgarities. Which is exactly what one expects from the director. We hadn’t turned up to see Cliff Richard after all. I was astounded there was actually anything left to ask the man that recently completed a Twitterthon of 24 hours answering questions.

The most bizarre thing of all is that it’s possible I actually learned a few things last night. A fact that worries me slightly. But the most important thing I learned was that if you ever get a chance to see Kevin Smith in one of these Q&A session do everything in your power to attend.

And take a cushion, there’s no interval.

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Review: Terminator Salvation

Posted by garethwatkins on June 17, 2009

My review of Terminator Salvation is now up in the articles section.

Direct link

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Review: X-Men Origins: Woverine

Posted by garethwatkins on April 28, 2009

My first review of Wolverine is now up in the articles section. I may well amend or append this at a later date, but it’s up and ready to go.

Direct link.

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Review: Watchmen

Posted by garethwatkins on March 14, 2009

After managing not to get caught up too much in the hype for this film, I finally got round to seeing it this week.

I’m not one of those people who read this when they were younger and consider it an untouchable and, more importantly, unfilmable masterpiece. I’ve actually only read half of it. That does mean I have a basic grasp of who everyone is and what’s going on. Which put me at a distinct advantage over a hell of a lot of the rest of the audience I saw this with. And I think it also put me at an advantage over the people who had read and reread the graphic novel because I wasn’t trapped in my own visions of how this should look on screen. And a little bit of me feels that maybe the director could have done with being a little more detached as well.

Such a negative start to a review, but all accountable considerations that help to explain why I loved this film as much as I did.

Allow me to start with something that I think everyone will agree on: the way it looked. Watchmen the movie was so much a direct replica of the comic book it was unbelievable. And there was a pleasant, if occasionally overused, technique employed to emphasise the moments where what was on screen was a near transposition of the frames in the novel. The sudden slowing down of action to almost a freeze frame enhanced the sense of a live comic playing out before you. And why not replicate the images in the novel? It’s beautifully drawn and coloured and on screen it lends itself seamlessly to the super real alternative universe.

The characters themselves are beautifully recognised versions of the originals. Well cast and well framed at all times to maintain their believability. But it was the characters that may have been one of the week points of the movie for those that haven’t read the graphic novel. Little time was dedicated to explaining why they were who they were or how they could actually do the things that they do. In my position, this meant I wasn’t dragged down by an opening origins story. A story which is actually told in the long, beautiful, opening credits, although anyone lacking the prior knowledge of said story would have completely missed the references.

The story itself is complex and sweeping, dealing with multiple narratives and issues. And it does get confusing at times. You really can’t allow yourself to be distracted or you may miss something important. It is also quite chapterised as different characters’ stories are told and their path to the endgame is laid out. If you do manage to keep up with the narrative, however, you are rewarded with an interesting story that leaves a moral question that most could answer in theory but never have the courage (or, luckily, the opportunity) to practice.

I’m sure the DVD will have an extended cut that will explain things even more and allow for fans to obsess over, freezing images to draw as much from them as they can. And it might even explain the sudden appearance of a horned purple tiger. But the future does not justify the length and confusion that will inevitably distract some viewers from this movie.

I thoroughly enjoyed Watchmen and would happily recommend it to anyone who likes comic book adaptations or action films of this sort. This is a grown-ups’ movie dealing with serious issues in a fantastical way. There is a lot to take from it and I suspect there would be no harm in reading up a little on the machinations of this story before entering the cinema.

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Review: Prodigy – Invaders Must Die

Posted by garethwatkins on March 4, 2009

1 Invaders Must Die – strong old-school opening that lets you know what to expect and who you’re getting it from.
2 Omen – the first single and a cracking track, bridging the divide between the Fat of the Land material and Spitfire (skipping over the slightly confused period in the middle of it all).
3 Thunder – a dubby dance number that is almost Experience-like and undoubtedly sounds awesome in a nightclub with darting lazers and bursting strobes.
4 Colours – a little like a filler rejected from Jilted Generation.
5 Take me to the Hospital – shades of Out of Space, but doesn’t suffer for it.
6 Warrior’s Dance – the vocals of a far more mainstream dance number, with the bass and aggression of a dirty Prodigy number. Will make cars bounce if you turn the volume up too far. It sounds like the start of the concert.
7 Run with the Wolves – almost definitely a single. Definitely to be played at midnight, or once there is room on the dancefloor for leeroy like arm wheeling.
8 Omen Reprise – well, what do you think?
9 World’s on Fire – classic Prodigy anthemic dancing with the occassional early 90s acid house moment.
10 Piranha – exactly what you would expect World’s on Fire to seague into.
11 Stand Up – sounds strangley like Sonic Youth infiltrated the studio.

Overall it’s not quite Music for the Jilted Generation (the benchmark for all the Prodigy’s work, if not all dance music), but it makes an admirable effort to get there. The real test will be when I listen to it on my iPod during a long haul flight or on the stereo on my next road trip. I’ve always been able to listen to Jilted Generation on repeat in those circumstances, I’ll just have to wait and see if Invaders can live up to that test.

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