Tag Archives: south bank

What’s for dinner, Tom?

I have a special little end-of-the-week ritual that I’d like to tell you about. You know how it is on a Friday – you’re running out of food in the house, you’re tired, you can’t really be arsed to cook. In my case, as I don’t even do a weekly shop to speak of, and am a terrible cook, these issues are particularly troublesome.

Fortunately, if you’re in the Waterloo area, help is at hand. I like to make a detour on my way home to the South Bank, where every weekend,  just in front of the Royal Festival Hall (or behind, if you’re approaching from the West End) is the Real Food Market. This varies from week to week, but it’s basically a place where independent food producers can sell their wares. Many of them will do you a nice takeaway, and there’s a seating area where you can munch on your purchases. I’ve been introduced here to Malaysian, Ghanaian and Polish food. Some of my favourite food people, including Outsider Tart and Jaz & Jul’s, are often there and so tend to be favoured ports of call. Sometimes it’ll be themed (e.g. “Free From,” chocolate) but you are always guaranteed to find something utterly delicious.

Unlike Becky B and the Hungry Sparrow, whose blogs may be found to the right, I’m not much of a foodie, but I know a good thing when I find it. What’s more, it’s a great place whether I’m on my way home or heading into town for a Friday night shindig – why line my stomach with toast when I could line it with bigos or chilli? And it beats the pants off a greasy kebab for a Friday night takeaway.

This week, I found myself enjoying a bit of a nostalgia trip. One of the retailers there this week was What the Dickens? Their thing is not, as you might have thought, unidentifiable and frightening food that causes one to utter their company name (those £5 buffets around Chinatown are far better for that sort of thing). Rather, they specialise in old-fashioned dishes that have been unjustly neglected. On their stand, these delightfully vintage-clothed gentlemen were serving bacon and scallop rolls (had one yesterday, a delicious variation on the bacon sandwich) and kedgeree.

Oh man, kedgeree. This is a slightly unfashionable dish that has never quite disappeared, but which I absolutely love. It’s a lightly-spiced rice dish containing smoked haddock, onion and hard-boiled egg, often served for breakfast but equally splendid at any time of the day. It’s one of my ma’s specialities and also one of the few dishes I can cook myself and happily serve to others. It can be eaten hot or cold, is very filling and is an excellent hangover cure, not being too heavy. There are various recipes – it’s very hard to mess up, so experimentation is fine.

Its origins are uncertain, as is the case with so many foods. But the most common explanation is that it came along during the days of the British empire in India and started out as an Anglicised form of khichri. The chaps on the stall said it originated with the Scottish regiments – certainly the addition of smoked fish is quite a Caledonian thing, and the name of the dish does have a Scotch ring to it. Some versions of the origin even go so far as to say that the dish originated in Scotland and was merely popularised in India. I suspect, given the flexible nature of the recipe, every explanation has some truth to it.

So anyway, sampling What the Dickens?’ version was a must for me. Particularly as we’d had doughnuts and chocolate in the office and I badly needed something savoury to prevent a sugar coma. The stall was shortly due to close up as I arrived. The fellow serving gave it to me for half price, as they were soon closing and the rice had started to go a bit crispy in the pan (which didn’t bother me, I’m not a remotely fussy eater). They also complimented me on my raincoat, which was praise indeed given the nature of their own vintage outfits.

In conclusion, kedgeree is great.

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Filed under 19th century, Food, History, London, Markets, Waterloo and Southwark

Fame, of a sort

You know, one of those odd things that always surprises me is how often I get recognised. I don’t mean this in a big-headed way, though inevitably it’s going to come across as such.

Allow me to explain. Now, I’m fairly distinctive, visually speaking. I don’t know what it is – I don’t think I’m outstandingly handsome, but nor to I think I’m memorably ugly. I do have distinctive hair and fairly distinctive clothes, but I get recognised even when dressed normally and when my hair is short. I’m not exactly in the public eye, despite the popular perception that the life of us bloggers is an endless round of parties, soirees and women throwing themselves at us demanding sexual favours (in reality, that sort of thing is mostly restricted to weekends).

Yet I am always recognised. And I don’t mean by former work colleagues or friends-of-friends. I mean by everybody. People I’ve met maybe once at a party for a minute or two. People I’ve walked past. I’ve even had people treat me with great suspicion because they felt sure we’d met, though I denied it (in this case, the person in question was up to something semi-legal at best, so perhaps suspicion was justified). I am at a loss to explain this.

For example, take the other day. I was on the South Bank, where there was a rather good food festival on. The previous day I’d stopped by on my way to rehearsals (did I mention I’m in a play next week? You should totally come and see it) and got a pork and apple burger that was utter heaven. That day, I was pleased to note that Jaz and Juls had a stall there.

Jaz and Juls, if you’re not familiar with them, are a company that produces organic hot chocolate. Now, as you know, I’m a complete monster who cares little for the environment – I devised a braking system for cars recently that worked by choking the wheels with dead kittens. However, I do enjoy good chocolate, and Jaz and Juls produce very good chocolate.

One of these days, I'm going to fire that picture researcher.

See, one of the problems I have with hot chocolate is that it can be a little bland – too watery or just plain flavourless. For this reason I have little truck with instant hot chocolate. Jaz and Juls has the advantage of actually tasting like it’s made out of chocolate. There are several winsomely-named flavours – I’m somewhat limited in the ones I can pick due to my inability to say the word “choccy” in a non-sarcastic tone of voice. However, I recommend “Orangey Tang.” although “Gingerbread, Man” and “Chilli con Choccy” are also very enjoyable. Enjoyable for everyone else is my inability to drink it without spilling it down my shirt.

Anyway, so I went up to the stand, and was instantly greeted with a “How are you?” of recognition from the young lady manning the place. Womanning the place? I forget whether militant feminism is still a thing. Which was a little unexpected. I mean, yes, I’d bought hot chocolate from these people before, but that was a while back in Camden. Unless I’m their only customer, I was a little freaked out at being remembered. Not unpleasantly so. I did briefly try claiming that I was actually one of a number of identical Toms produced by a factory, and she offered the alternative explanation that I may in fact be a Terminator.

Damn that researcher. Damn him.

This led on to a discussion about how the T-1000 never has to worry about forgetting his keys, and the difficulty of finding one’s glasses when one is already wearing them. It was all rather jolly. Maybe you had to be there.

Then I spilt hot chocolate down my shirt.

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Filed under Current events, Food, London, Markets, Meta, Waterloo and Southwark, Weird shops

I should cocoa

Yesterday, Izzi drew my attention to a chocolate festival on the South Bank this weekend. As Christmas is approaching, we believed that we could probably find some suitable presents there. Therefore, in a spirit of pure and almost saintly altruism, we went to a place with heinous amounts of luxury chocolate.

These are all made of chocolate.

Just about every variant on the sinful bean was present at this event, which was held behind the Royal Festival Hall. Chocolate bars, chocolate cakes, hot chocolate, brownies, fudge, shortbread, lollipops, churros, chilli – even elaborate sculptures. And there were luxury chocolatiers, fair trade vendors, preachers of the gospel of the organic (although if your chocolate contains organs then something has gone badly wrong), right down to the small-scale snack sellers. In short, it was a hair shirt for the dieter. Actually, we were quite good – I personally limited myself to a cup of chilli hot chocolate and a Belgian chocolate tart. Plus some free samples, which of course do not count.

What's really sad is that I can identify the class of this locomotive. It's a Gresley A3. I shall hang my head in shame.

Chocolate has a long and ancient history in the Americas. While the Romans were conquering Britain, the people of Central and South America had been partaking for a thousand years. Under the Aztecs, cocoa beans were used as currency, while the drink itself (the solid form being unknown at the time) was a luxury beverage, enjoyed by the most high in society. It was used for medicinal and ceremonial purposes, particularly religious rituals – I’ve even come across the suggestion that it was mixed with the blood of sacrificial victims, though I suspect the author was using a little dramatic licence. At that time, it was mixed with chilli, a flavouring that has only recently come into fashion in Europe.

Indeed, in the 16th century, when it was first brought to Europe by the Spanish, it was not immediately popular. Chocolate was considered too bitter and spicy for most, and so did not become popular until chilli was removed from the recipe and milk and sugar added. In this form, it became a hit among the smart set. Casanova would later complain that “the Spanish offer visitors chocolate so frequently at all hours that if one accepted, one would be choked.”

Mr Casanova’s fellow countrymen disagreed, and Italy enthusiastically took up drinking chocolate. So too did Germany and Switzerland, both noted for their enthusiasm for the stuff to this day.

It came to Britain in the 1650s, and strangely became associated with radical politics – chocolate houses, i.e, shops where drinking chocolate was sold, were popular meeting places. Indeed, they were the direct and immediate ancestors of the coffee houses which, as I have previously described within these pages, were basically the foundation of modern London. Sir Hans Sloane, pictured left, introduced a supposedly medicinal form of the drink in 1689. He also invented the British Museum or something.

Of course, the moral guardians of the nation were quick to point out how evil chocolate must be. I think the normal train of thought among such killjoys is to condemn whatever it is that people are enjoying at the moment and then to figure out what’s wrong with it. One Dr Daniel Duncan cautioned in 1712 that drinking of hot beverages like chocolate would damage the delicate tissue of the stomach, and that sugar rendered such drinks “poison.” Pamphlets were even published warning that excessive consumption of the drink would lead to women giving birth to “blackamoor” babies – this rather nutty idea seems to have originated with Madame de Sevigne of Paris, who wrote that the Marquise de Coetlogon had experienced this side effect personally. Not being a cynic, it hasn’t even crossed my mind to say “or at least, that was her story.”

Harry Potter, prior to another chocolate-fuelled rampage.

King Charles II, despite being one of the pimpingest monarchs in the history of Britain, wanted to see chocolate (and coffee) banned, mostly for the aforementioned association with radical politics. The Church, too, was strongly against this joyous substance, condemning it as “the damnable agent of necromancers and sorcerors,” which I think is perhaps going a bit far.

That being said, it can’t be denied that there is a strong association between chocolate and sin. Chocolate, particularly the high-end luxury stuff, is invariably marketed as something sexual, as the unsubtle advert on the left shows. In 1772, the Marquis de Sade was imprisoned after spiking chocolate pastilles at a party with Spanish fly, resulting in a riotous orgy. The old perv also once requested a chocolate cake “as black inside from chocolate as the Devil’s arse is black from smoke.”

In the 19th century, it lost some of its lustre in Britain, perhaps in part due to the adulteration of chocolate powder with potato starch, brick dust or whatever else was to hand (see the link below for more details of his practice). Indeed, it became positively respectable, and by the 1850s the Moral Guardians had decided that actually, chocolate was okay because it wasn’t alcohol. At around this time, solid “eating” chocolate became available, and a reduction in the duties levied on cocoa made it affordable to all.

Now, of course, it’s enjoyed by everyone. Well, actually, that’s a lie – in Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana, where 80% of the world’s cocoa originates, the cheapest way to get those beans harvested is by the use of child slavery. Despite the best efforts of campaigners, the position remains grim – in part, because the process of selling cocoa beans is so complex that by the time they get to the factory, it’s difficult to tell where your beans actually came from. US Congressman Eliot Engel proposed in 2001 that a new labelling system be introduced whereby chocolate that could be proven untainted by forced labour would be entitled to the label “slave free.” Perhaps predictably, the chocolate manufacturers resisted this. If some chocolate is labelled “slave free,” that rather implies that the rest is not, which is not exactly in line with the luxury marketing. It’s enough to put you off your Snickers.

Further reading

https://londonparticulars.wordpress.com/2010/09/26/adultery-at-the-produce-counter/ – Food adulteration for beginners.

https://londonparticulars.wordpress.com/2010/03/24/coffee-society/ – The coffee houses and their role in the shaping of Our Fair Metropolis.

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Filed under 18th century, 19th century, Current events, Fashion and trends, Food, History, Only loosely about London, Stuart London, Waterloo and Southwark

A splash of Cologne

Enjoyable though the High Society exhibition was, it wasn’t exactly a full day out. Having opened the doors of perception and the like, Izzi and I felt the urge to do something to fill out those awkward late-afternoon-early-evening hours. That period that’s too late for afternoon stuff, but too early for evening stuff. Izzi suggested that a trip to the Cologne Christmas Market on the South Bank would be just the ticket, and I agreed.

Sign's out of date, mate.

While there is no shortage of German Christmas markets, particularly around Christmas (which I believe to be no coincidence), the one on the South Bank is worth a look by virtue of its size and location. It lies roughly between the London Eye and Waterloo Bridge, stopping a little short of both.

I find the South Bank a little awkward to get to from Waterloo Station. You have to duck down alleys, climb stairs, cross busy roads, traverse via subways or some combination thereof, none of which are particularly inviting. I blame the architects. Anyway, having finally got there, we scouted things out.

The Magic Roundabout is easily explained by modern science.

A stall that instantly attracted our attention was one selling gingerbread. Izzi took the opportunity to do some Christmas shopping, in the process acquiring rather more gingerbread than is considered sensible for one person to possess. I was rather taken by the gingerbread houses they had – I didn’t dare to believe that such things existed in this world. We consciously resisted the chocolate fountains, which as you may know are a device of Satan to lead immortal souls to hell. Izzi did reason that strawberries and apples are both fruit, and therefore the benefits of the fountain could be made to outweigh the costs. We did not pursue this line of reasoning any further.

I was rather impressed by a stand that sold nothing but watches, and found myself making a mental shopping list. You know what I rather like? Those ladies’ watches you get that come on chains. I think those look rather nifty. Personally, I favour something fairly plain in the watch line – those pocket watches with the Union Jack cast into the case are unspeakably naff.

I impressed no one with my inability to do a simple wooden puzzle on one of the stalls. I did briefly consider the purchase of a wooden tie. It’s hard to explain one of these things if you’ve never seen one before. It’s a piece of wood, carved into the shape of a tie and segmented for flexibility, the whole being attached to the neck by means of elastic.

I was also very tempted by a Venetian-style ceramic mask, and may yet return. It was one of those commedia del’arte jobbies, you know the sort of thing. This one was particularly grotesque – I believe the character it portrays is “Il Dottore,” which takes its visual inspiration from the seventeenth century plague doctors’ protective mask. Izzi, too, was this close to buying a lacy number. But while she thought it was nice, she didn’t think it was £30-nice, if you catch my drift.

There was also a stall selling liquorice, making much of its apparent health virtues – reducing stress, weight loss and the like. Quite apart from the fact that this is pseudoscientific bollocks with absolutely no basis in reality, this was just a sweet shop. The fellow wasn’t selling liquorice pills or even liquorice root. We’re talking liquorice allsorts here, people. I suppose in a sense he deserves something for sheer balls-out audacity, but I take my liquorice very seriously and so cannot support his enterprise.

"Rink." Now there's a funny word.

To go into everything we saw and did would take a long time and wouldn’t be very interesting anyway, so let it suffice that it’s a great place for getting those quirky stocking filler-type gifts as well as being a pleasant couple of hours in its own right. Combine it with a visit to the National Theatre, the Royal Festival Hall or any of the myriad other leisure facilities on the South Bank and you got yourself a day out. If that doesn’t float your boat, there’s an ice skating rink just in front of the London Eye, which is an unrivalled opportunity to test the resilience of your coccyx.

It runs until 23rd December, so you’ve got plenty of time. Tell them I sent ya. They won’t know who I am, but you know.

Further Reading

http://www.xmas-markets.com/en/ – The official site.

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Filed under Current events, Food, London, Markets, Rambling on and on, tourism, Waterloo and Southwark, Weird shops

Nice one, Shakespeare

Whenever someone starts dissing South London, my defence is always, “Well, it was good enough for Shakespeare.” I’m no scholar, y’understand, but being in Southwark seems to have done the Bard no harm at all.

Take, for instance, the stage direction “Exit, pursued by a bear” from A Winter’s Tale. There’s some debate over what is behind the frankly baffling inclusion of an ursine quadruped in this scene, but a popular suggestion is that, in fact, Shakespeare (or one of the other shareholders at the Globe) arranged to borrow said animal from one of the local bear-baiting pits.

A bear

A bear

 

And then there’s what might actually be an example of Elizabethan product placement in Twelfth Night – Antonio advises Sebastian that “in the south suburbs at the Elephant is best to lodge.” This is often mistaken for a reference to the Elephant and Castle, the inn that gives its name to the oddly-named area of London within walking distance. Actually, the Elephant and Castle hadn’t yet been built. There was, however, an inn called the Oliphaunt in Southwark which would have been contemporary.

Shakespeare's Glob

Shakespeare's Glob

As with more-or-less everything related to Shakespeare scholarship, there’s more than one interpretation. One that’s relevant to this blog (because you know how much I like to stick to the point) is that it was in fact a slightly naughty joke relying on local knowledge. Southwark, at the time, was London’s embarrassing neighbour. The thing about a big, respectable city is that it needs somewhere to go where it can be, well, not respectable for a bit. Southwark, being separated from the City by the Thames, fulfilled this need nicely for several centuries. Theatres, cockpits, bearpits, gambling dens and brothels were the main tourist attractions in Shakespeare’s day. This is a very rambling way of saying that the Oliphaunt might well have been a brothel as well as an inn, and so Antonio was basically offering Sebastian advice on where to get laid. I like to imagine that there were a few nervous titters from members of the audience and mutters of, “or so I heard, anyway” from married men explaining the joke.

Ah, Southwark and prostitutes. They do go together quite neatly. Part of the area was known in medieval times as “the Whore’s Nest”. So numerous were the prostitutes that they received their own graveyard.

More like Cross BONERS, am I right? Sorry, that was tasteless.

More like Cross BONERS, am I right? Sorry, that was tasteless.

This was the Cross Bones graveyard which, as you can see from the photo above, is still identifiable. It’s now a patch of waste ground on Redcross Way, but as you can see above, the Friends of Cross Bones are going to make damn sure it’s not lost.
The graveyard was built at the behest of the Bishop of Winchester, who felt that they really didn’t want those awful, awful prostitutes sharing a graveyard with respectable folk in the churchyard. Cross Bones isn’t hallowed ground. Now, if you’re a Christian, you may well be thinking that this isn’t exactly in the spirit of Christ, but it gets worse. See, a popular euphemistic nickname for prostitutes in Southwark was “Winchester Geese”. This curious phrase derives from the fact that, by Royal decree, prostitutes in Southwark were licensed by… the Bishop of Winchester. So no doubt the medieval Bishop who condemned the working girls to unconsecrated burial was simultaneously growing fat off the profits he made from them.
Far be it from me to say “pious hypocrite,” but fortunately Shakespeare did it for me. In Henry VI Part I he very comprehensively bashes the Bishop with a character called, yes, the Bishop of Winchester. It wasn’t unknown for historical plays to comment on the present day (so much so that Shakespeare almost got into some serious difficulties over the fact that many found the events of Richard II a little too similar to the real-life events of Elizabeth I), so I suspect Shakespeare was quite pleased to get the chance to legitimately have characters tell the Bishop,

and

Stand back, thou manifest conspirator,
Thou that contrivedst to murder our dead lord;
Thou that givest whores indulgences to sin:
I’ll canvass thee in thy broad cardinal’s hat,
If thou proceed in this thy insolence.

Man, I’d love to say that to my landlord, I can tell you.

Further reading:

http://www.into.org.uk/SouthwarkMysteries/CrossBonesGraveyard.htm

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