Week two and I find myself in a park right in the centre of Central London, flanked by its crowning glory M&M’s World. Amid the tourists clutching brightly coloured bags, the religious salesmen vying for souls and minds and the street dancing trio vying for loose change and recognition, I didn’t find Leicester Square Gardens a particularly peaceful place.
Close as it is to the cultural behemoth of the National Gallery, it was covered in a film of fast food wrappers and sickly sweet smoke that someone was blowing in plumes from their electronic cigarette. I locked eyes with Shakespeare on his marble plinth and we shared a consolatory nod.
Admittedly I was visiting during its period of redesign, which explained the expanses of soil where the grass should have been, but, it lacked that unplaceable ‘thing’ that makes a place memorable, The Small Faces certainly wouldn’t have had a hit if they’d only visited here.
The bus arrived in the austere light of an ethereal sky. Darkness was quickly descending, and I could only clearly make out the most severe silhouettes, like the large cross high up on the hillside and the domed roof and minaret of the mosque.
A cluster of old women holding hand painted signs jostled for position and called out with phrases memorised through painstaking repetition to advertise their pension or spare room. We walked out of the coach park and into the streets where we led a small pack of stray dogs around terraces, slipways and side streets.
We eventually found our hostel, locked and in complete darkness, it was with a tentative ring of the bell that we summoned our hosteller. A widow of inconsiderable height but considerable girth, she thrust upon us a box of chocolates and led us through a maze of passages and stairways to our room. We were to share with a couple who were travelling back through Europe to reach a French hospital where they were to be treated for their unspecific but apparently communicable illness. I chose a bed as far away from theirs as possible and tried to breathe as little as I could.
My travel companion and I had been travelling around Croatia for several weeks and were becoming desensitised to architectural beauty, but Mostar took us both by surprise. Winding cobbled streets, vendors minding stalls filled with remnants of the Yugoslav wars, ornate brass jewellery and paraphernalia of indeterminate age and purpose, booming voiced old men selling a spectrum home brewed spirits, bustling bars, and, of course, the Stari Most upon which a lone figure stood watching and waiting, created a city which seemed to us pure and unspoilt.
We spent a few hazy nights drinking our way through the establishments of Mostar and revelled in the raucous atmosphere of Ali Baba’s, the cave bar, and drank in the views of the city from the Sky Lounge Roof Bar.
But, the time to depart was quickly upon us. After spreading pocketfuls of coins on the floor to buy two bus tickets to Dubrovnik, we left Mostar with fond memories and plastic bags stuffed full of crudely distilled spirits.
Making a good bar is either some form of ancient wizardry or a highly unappreciated fine art, because it is a volatile and unpredictable operation.
There is no list of attributes that add up to the perfect bar or pub, neither is there a list of irrecoverable faux pas. Dim lighting and broken locks on the toilet doors are a staple of an East London basement bar, but would leave something to be desired in your local Wetherspoons. Therefore, I think it is a praiseworthy achievement when someone concocts a unanimously appreciated establishment.
Bradley’s Spanish Bar, which lies on Hanway Street, just off Oxford Street, is a perfect example of a bar that does everything right.
The main bar is tiny and would become crowded by a medium sized birthday party, but, in the liberating spirit of European bars, most people drink on the street just outside. There is another bar in the basement with a fair amount of seating, but personally, I prefer the rare freedom to drink outside without being hemmed into a cramped smoking area.
The choice of Spanish beer is very good, the bar staff are friendly and they have the intuitive policy of refunding you the difference in cash if your drink falls below the £10 card limit.
If you find yourself around Oxford Street searching for a bar that has a bit of personality, definitely go and find Bradley’s Spanish Bar.
London, for such a large and sprawling metropolis is extremely well endowed with green space. A map of London looks like an irregular patchwork quilt with parks, gardens and open spaces of all shapes and sizes. I, for one, have no idea the exact number or relative virtues of each, so, in the search for enlightenment, I have set myself the task of visiting a park each week and documenting what I find. For the first week, in a rather understated start, is Harrington Square Gardens.
I would like to say my choice of park wasn’t motivated by the apocalyptically heavy rain that ushered in 2017, but, frankly it was. I have to admit to a rather fleeting visit, inspired at least partially by the intensely quizzical expressions from those passing by, and the fact that I could substantially dry off if I were to take a dip in the Regent’s Canal, thankfully, however, the park is very small, so I think my exploration of it was satisfactory to pass judgement.
Located a stone’s throw from Mornington Crescent tube station, Harrington Square Gardens is very modest. To give it the title ‘Gardens’ is a perhaps an overstatement, admittedly it does have trees, grass and even a few benches, but these are surely the very base qualifications that a garden must possess.
The park itself houses a circular pathway centering on an undersized Christmas tree. Whether the tree was planted as an afterthought for Christmas just passed, or whether they’re playing the long game for a Christmas yet to come is unclear, but that is undoubtedly the focal point. It is fairly difficult to attain a favourable view of a park in a dress rehearsal of the great flood, but I feel as though the Gardens are sorely underappreciated, modest as they are, as I have honestly never seen another soul in there. I did see an advertisement for a BBQ, which is early, late or optimistic, but I hope it does at least indicate some regular patrons.