Monday, 20 May 2019

Victoria Pubs: Real Ale and Real History


Have you arrived in London to immerse yourself in its rich culture? Learning about London and its history would be incomplete without a visit to the best pubs near Buckingham Palace, where you can enjoy pints of quality ale, while having a lively conversation about the culture capital of the world. And, if you need a good place to stay in the meantime, there are some great yet affordable hotels near Buckingham Palace, the Passport Office and the London Eye, offering easy access to the pubs and major tourist attractions in the city, says Sidney Hotel, one of the leading Hotels near Buckingham Palace

Here’s a look at some of the best pubs in Victoria.

1.       Cask

If you're after craft beer, then you cannot go wrong with Cask. Moreover, this pub in Pimlico is among the best-stocked beer bars in the UK. Even a person who considers himself a connoisseur of beer would be overwhelmed by the range on offer here. And, if you happen to go there on a Sunday, there's a live folk band playing that adds to the whole ambiance. 

2.       The Thomas Cubitt

The Thomas Cubitt in Belgravia is best known for its food, but it also offers a wide variety of cocktails. It has a bar on the ground floor and has a French-style dining area on the first floor. You can eat and drink in whichever part of the pub that suits you the best. Roast rack and pumpkin wellington are their specialties. This is a fine dining restaurant, so the prices are on the higher side.

3.       The Orange Public House & Hotel 

This hotel cum pub on Pimlico Road is another one of Cubitt House Group's upmarket gastropubs. It attracts a wealthy crowd, just like The Thomas Cubitt. The bustling ground floor bar is The Orange's heart. You can enjoy classic British dishes, along with a good variety of drinks here. But, if the bar is packed, then there's a vintage dining area upstairs. 

4.       The Albert

If you're a tourist looking for some cheap breakfast early in the morning, then this Victorian landmark, situated between the Parliament building and New Scotland Yard, is where you must go. Portraits and photos of past prime ministers, members of the Royal family and leaders can be seen on the walls here, which give the place a historical feel. Also, this place is popular among the locals for its puddings.   

5.       Speaker

If you're like old-school pubs, then this one is a must-visit for you. This pub prides itself on having created an atmosphere of a classic English pub. There's a sign in the front of this establishment that proudly states, “This is a real pub.” There are no television screens or music being played in this pub. This is where you go for a drink, some great food and some good conversation. 

Victoria is among the best places to stay for tourists visiting London. Hotels near the Victoria Tube Station in Central Londonand pubs in and around this area can offer you a real cultural experience of Britain.
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Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Lost and Found



I have recovered another batch of photos from a recently rediscovered set of CDs that I'd long assumed were lost. This set featured three photos from our flat in Mexico City, which brought back memories. The remaining hundred or so photos were from a trip Mrs P and I made to see her family in Milwaukee. With a day trip to Chicago thrown in. The year? Twas 2005, a few months after I moved to Mexico.

The photo I've chosen was for more than a decade my most viewed image on Flickr. For a while it was used by Wikipedia, and can still be found on dozens of other websites. And it was published in a book about the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It's hardly the greatest photo I've ever taken, but it is the most successful. For much of the last decade, I've had only a 640 pixel copy of it. Now I have the full size original again. Which is nice.
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Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Egypt 2001



I visited Cairo in 2001. It seems a long time ago. It was a long time ago. The world has changed hugely since then. Shortly after a visit to the pyramids of Giza where this photo was taken, I learned that Timothy McVeigh had been put to death whilst I relaxed beside the hotel pool. One associated terrorism with white christian males back then. Either of the US far-right variety, or the Irish unionist/republican kind. 

That said, there has been an horrific Islamic terror attack on tourists at Luxor four years earlier which left over sixty people dead. But this was before 9/11, which changed everything. Anything before 9/11 was a 'one off' tragedy. The Arab Spring that rose up a decade later did the tourism industry of the Middle East additional harm. I visited Cairo at a good time. A simpler time. 

I took this photo with a 3.3mp Nikon  Coolpix 880. It was a great little camera that cost me a small fortune. I was impressed with the photos I came back from Egypt with. Sure, low light shots in the museums were a little blurry and grainy, but the ones taken outdoors were sharp and vibrant. They printed out onto A3 paper just fine. 

I recently found the CD I had the photos backed up on. I hadn't seen it for years. I wasn't sure I even had it anymore. I'm glad I found it, because my digital copies are all at small resolutions. I transferred them to my iMac and processed them. I learned that while the photos looked great on my old HD laptops, they do not look so great on a 27" screen with 4k resolution. Far from it. This made me a little sad. Still. The Nikon 880 was a great camera, back in 2001.
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Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Lordification of Kings Cross

London has changed aplenty during my lifetime. Parts of the capital have been utterly transformed. Mostly for the better? That depends on who you ask and which part of the city you are referring to. It's a big place. Great swathes of the centre have undergone a process known as gentrification. Balham in the south, for example, where I lived in the late 1980s. And its neighbour Brixton. When I was in residence, if being kind, one would have described Balham as having character. 

If pushed, but remaining diplomatic, one would have described it as gritty. Between friends, one would have labelled it with more vulgar Trumpian language. As for Brixton, for most of the last two decades of the 20th century, the area was still best known for some of the the worst rioting London had ever seen. But times change. They have become smart, trendy places with a vibrant cultural  scene and skyrocketing property prices.
  
Then there's Kings Cross, the raison d'etre of this post, and a 'hood that Mrs P and I visited at the weekend. Twenty years ago, visitors to Kings Cross arrived for one of three purposes. To catch a train from either Kings Cross or St Pancras to elsewhere in the country. To engage the services of a cheap street hooker. Or to consume ecstacy and other illicit drugs whilst raving the night away at Bagleys, a night club set up in one of the disused railway warehouses. 

Nowadays, one can catch trains not only to elsewhere in the country, but to the continent too, courtesy of the Eurostar services. The unwashed ladies of the night have been banished from the streets, replaced by expensive escorts advertising their wares online. The last of the nightclubs shut down in 2007, as the grand redevelopment project began.The huge Grade II listed gasholders? They've been given a lick of paint and filled with pricey flats.

And, of course, there's a substantial area set aside for retail outlets and dining options in this prestigious N1 postcode zone. Granary Square opened a few years ago. Coal Drops Yard opened recently. The redevelopment is a clever use of modern design and planning to retain much of the old historic brick built warehouses alongside the new constructions and keep the industrial atmosphere alive and kicking into the 21st century. 

Unlike other gentrified parts of London, the shops and restaurants you'll find here will not include the likes of Prezzos, Olivier Bonas or Waterstones. Nor will you find any quirky, arty independent stores selling cheap tat. There is a Waitrose. Naturally. Granary Square and Coal Drops Yard are filled with high end stores selling high end goods at prices that only the nobility of the land could possible afford. Aesop sell a range of skin care products that will make your eyes water. A kitchenware store stocked a vast array of lethally sharp, ornate knifes, meat cleavers and axes. The display would make a murderous Saudi jihadi giddy.


A luxury chocolatier sells the most exquisite bars and jars of the good stuff. But what might cost £1 elsewhere costs 10£ here. Perhaps a scientific consumer study has shown that the incorrect positioning of the pound sign will make the price easier to swallow. I settled for a free sample. That went down nicely. Next door is a homeware store that sells the most fabulous set of copper light shades, polished so thoroughly that you can see your reflection in them. If that reflection displays anything other than a gentleman in top hat and waistcoat with a man servant by his side, then you can't afford them. Sorry. Welcome to the Lordification of London. Gentrification is just so last decade...


The dining options we looked at, however, were priced with the clear intent of appealing to a wider economic range of  clientele. We chose a suitable establishment, took our seats and prepared for a pleasant Sunday afternoon feast. With the date being 5th of May, there was only one establishment that we would consider suitable. A Mexican. To our delight, it turned out to be an authentic Mexican restaurant, selling barbecoa rather than burritos. With a mariachi band. An all female band, which was something of a novelty. The food was good. Very good. We'll go again.

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Monday, 6 May 2019

London in Colour


If I have a complaint about London, it is that it sometimes lacks colour. Especially in winter. The skies are grey. The buildings are, more often than not, white or a pollutant inspired shade of grey. There are exceptions. The red bricked buildings of Kensington spring to mind. And now there is this marvellous creation near Kings Cross station. It's wonderful. I love it. We need more of this in our lives.
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Thursday, 2 May 2019

Snookered



This week I have ticked off an item on my bucket list. It’s not a terribly long bucket list. And truth be told, my bucket list is much like the British constitution - unwritten and largely made up as one goes along. Items are added and removed at the whim of the part of my brain responsible for remembering such trivialities. Anyway, I’ve always thought of bucket lists as the sort of thing for people who’ve just had a spot of bad news from their doctor and have an unexpectedly sudden and urgent need to get on with the fun things in life. I’m in good health, as far as I’m aware, so there’s no need to jot down a definitive list with pen and paper just yet.

But there are a few items worthy of inclusion on this notional list of mine. It contains the sort of things that I’d really quite like to do but are a bit of an aggravation to get done. Which is largely why they tend not to get done. But this week I’ve shown a little bit more determination. I went to see a session of snooker at the World Championships in Sheffield.



Where’s the aggro in this, you you might ask? Well, getting a ticket for one. You have to buy it a year in advance, and to be quick about it. Snooker has a small but mightily enthusiastic bunch of followers and the venue for the three week tournament holds less than a thousand spectators. If you snooze, you lose. Then there is the getting there and back, which involves a ten hour round trip on the train from Bournemouth to Sheffield. And how many people would wish to spend ten hours on a train in a single day? Actually, you’d be surprised - there’s plenty. But I’m not one of them. Which is perhaps why the years of intending to go have turned into decades of ‘not going’.

Nonetheless, this year I got it done. At a cost of about £100 all in, and with enough sitting down to provide my derrière with a taste of the rigor mortis that will eventually come when I do have that disappointing news from my doctor. I took my seat at the Crucible theatre to watch two grown men bash 21 coloured balls around a green clothed table with a pair of think sticks. Except....I didn’t. I sat down to watch the back of a giant man’s fat, view-blocking head. Behind which, out of sight, a game of snooker took place.



Sadly the greatest aggravation about the whole trip was something I hadn’t given any thought to at all. But even if I had, what could I possibly have done about it? I can choose my seat. But I can’t choose who gets to sit in the seats in front of me. Oh, how I yearned for the good old days, when I lived in Mexico and was guaranteed an excellent view over the sea of three foot tall munchkins between me and the stage.

One would really think in this day and age, at a time when passports are being rendered obsolete by facial recognition technology, that there would be a better way to fill a theatre. Something akin to a human version of the coin sorting machines at a supermarket, where you pour a jar of assorted change that you've been collecting into a slot, to exchange for a shopping voucher.



I'm envisioning a scanner at the front doors. Something that sizes everyone up as they enter. Casting a suspicious electronic eye over the punters. And then feeds the results into some clever software to allocate seats according to each persons physical proportions, and charges supplements as necessary. Mr Gigantor? Row Z, seat 56. Mrs Fatty McTwopies? We've got seats with extra width over there in Row H. Yes, they are twice the price, but you are bringing double the arse to the party, aren't you. 

Ah, you there sir. With the bald head. We're just going to move you a couple of seats along, away from the overhead light. There's a good chap. We don't want everyone blinded by the reflection. If the system were really clever, it could even weed out those persons whose 'tickly cough' sounds more likely to be late stage emphysema, and find them a seat in the basement.


There's only one downside to this cunning plan. At six foot three inches, my lofty frame will be sent to the back row every time. But if that is the price to be paid to be able to see anything at all, it's a price worth paying. I look forward to the day when everyone is allocated the seats they need, rather than the seats they want. Bring on the revolution. 

As for my rather lengthy day trip. Sheffield was quite pleasant. There's a nice shop selling Portuguese pastries. I saw Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry in the Winter Gardens. I watched, as best I could, Judd Trump demolish Stephen Maguire in double quick time. So quick, the partition was lifted so that I could enjoy the remaining three frames of the session on the far table between John Higgins and Neil Robertson. Will I return? I'd like to. The Crucible is a special place for a snooker fan. But there is no longer a bucket list obligation to do so.



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Saturday, 20 April 2019

Travelling On A Lost/Stolen BRP



A couple of years ago, I wrote about the trauma of losing a BRP in the UK just before we were due to go on holiday. The post got a lot of traffic and I received quite a few comments and emails. The information I offered helped a few people, which is great. Because I recently changed my domain name over to this new blog, links to the article that have been published elsewhere all broke. This re-blog of the original should fix that. To see comments left on the original post, some of which may be helpful, please click here

This is a public service announcement by the Mexile in association with an awful lost of frustration and angst. Roughly 24 hours before Mrs P and I were due to fly to Mexico for our two week holiday, there was what I shall refer to as an ‘incident’. I won’t bore you with the details of the ‘incident’. Just one of the consequences. The most pressing consequence. Mrs P was no longer in possession of her Biometric Residence Permit. This is the card that shows she has the right to be in the UK and it is what she needs to re-enter the UK at the end of a trip abroad.

Potential disaster loomed. What do we do now? I did not know the answer. So I did what I always do when I do not know the answer to something. I got straight on to the internet. Where I discovered that, if lost in the UK, a replacement can take up to six months to process. Yes, there is a priority service, at over £500, which will take a few days. Neither option worked for us. But you know what the internet can be like. You log on looking for a cure for a headache. Next thing you know, you have, apparently, got a bad case of Ebola.

If the BRP card lost abroad, then you can apply for a single use entry permit. It’s just £72. And will be with you in 14 days. Ish. Maybe. There is, again a priority service. In New York. Great, if you happen to be in the Big Apple. But this also clearly wouldn’t work for us. The internet basically told us just two things. Firstly, a BRP visa or replacement permit was necessary for re-entry to the UK in order to retain the correct immigration status. Secondly, we wouldn’t be able to get one in time.

 So I did what I do when the internet fails me. I speak to a human being. Or try to. Good luck with that if you also care to try. There is a Border Agency helpline you can call where, for an extortionate per minute charge, a disinterested sounding person will read off sections of the website that you read yourself just a few minutes ago. It all just began to turn into a major headache. Which, according to Google, was not Ebola but just a bad case of Homeofficeitis.

So there you have it. No BRP card, no re-entry on the correct immigration status. Which is a bad thing. Very bad. So says the internet. So says the disinterested man reading from the internet. So we gave up. Except at the last minute, we decided not to give up and to have one last throw of the dice. Grab bags, head to the airport and speak to a real human being from the UK Border Agency. Face to face.

Where we finally had a sensible conversation. Not face to face, as it happens. There’s no UKBA presence in the Arrivals hall. But there is a more general airport Help Desk on the ground floor, with a telephone that puts you through to someone in Immigration. We spoke to a cheerful young lady and briefly explained our predicament. I can relate the remainder of the conversation almost word for word…

UKBA Lady: Where is your wife from?

Me: Mexico.

UKBA Lady: Does she have the passport she used when applying for the BRP?

Me: Yes, she does.

UKBA Lady: That’s fine then. Enjoy your holiday.

Me: Really?

UKBA Lady: Yes, no problem. They’ll just check her passport against the BRP database on her return.

Me: Really?

Hours and hours of research on the internet, wasted. A two minute conversation with someone on the shop floor – priceless. The bottom line here was that Mrs P comes from a country that does not require a visa to visit the UK. If that were the case then she would have been refused travel by the airline on the way back. And it also helped that she had a passport that the UKBA have a record of in relation to her immigration status, although I am not convinced that this was the most important factor of the two.

So if you have found yourself in a similar predicament, then all may not be lost. Of course, it must be stressed that I am not a UKBA approved spokesperson, nor am I an expert immigration lawyer. Your circumstances may differ, or rules may have changed since this was written. But there is hope. Maybe. And it’s a good thing to share experiences.

Whilst I did come across a couple of potentially positive posts on forums, I rather wish I had found something a bit more detailed during my internet search. Something like what I have just written, perhaps. But we did make it to Mexico and, more to the point, we made it back again. The UKBA agent took no more than 2 minutes to pop into the back office to do the necessary check. It couldn’t have been easier.

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