Last weekend was the very first ever Night Tube.

I’m glad London finally has tubes that run all night on the weekend and I’m equally glad that, a year after it was meant to launch, Londoners had another chance to make the same jokes about no longer having an excuse to leave shit parties now that the tubes run all night. lol, lol, lol, ahhh.

shit parties

good one

But that same week, Islington Borough Council also closed Fabric – one of London’s most famous and best clubs – indefinitely, pending a review of its licence.

And even if you’ve never been to Fabric, and have no interest in staying out late dancing to loud fast music, or don’t know what Fabric is and what its closure might mean for London – then allow me to try and explain.

save-fabric-1

If you’re into dance music, you’ll probably have known about Fabric long before you were old enough to actually get in. 

In fact, most of my memories involve spending four hours in a queue drinking pre-mixed booze out of an Evian bottle in the hope of getting into a True Playaz drum ‘n’ bass night, which, no matter how often we tried, by 11pm always had a huge queue snaking towards Cowcross Street, and was already one in, one out.

But if I wasn’t going to get into Fabric, I was going to listen to one of their resident DJ mix CDs instead.

The Never Ending Queue meant I was about 25 before I went to Fabric with any regularity. I was getting back into the London club scene after uni to find that Kings Cross was done, and Matter (now closed) and Fabric were the next logical choice. 

Even if you had a ticket, it somehow always felt like you might not get in. But once inside, it was always packed. Lasers pinged across the main room. There was a warren of phone signal-less stairways. You’d invariably be there to see one of the world’s best DJs. When you lost whoever you were with in the crowd, you made friends in the outdoor courtyard.

The music was always, always good.

save-fabric-cover2

If Fabric closes, it’s more bad news for London’s nightlife. 

And yeah, perhaps your clubbing days are over. Perhaps they never really got started. Perhaps you haven’t noticed the slow drop off in some of London’s biggest clubs and their associated nights – but it’s happening, bit by bit.

It’s the regeneration of huge former all-night party areas like Kings Cross, it’s councils trying to appease people who might move in next door to the Ministry of Sound and complain about the, er, sound.

In Fabric’s case, it’s an effort to stop people taking drugs – which frankly, ignores a much, much bigger issue, one that closing nightclubs isn’t going to solve. It’s borough councils imposing licencing restrictions that make it impossible to run regular, good late night venues.

It’s freeing up valuable space which could be used for something a bit more sanitary than a load of sweaty people having a good time. A Tesco, a soulless bar, luxury flats.

save-fabric-1

But it’s important that London has nightclubs. 

If, like me, you grew up in London, listening to the sort of music that required a line-up of DJs, set times, massive sound systems, MCs, airhorns, a scanned copy of your passport with the dates changed, whistles, horns, trainers, and enough hours in the night for it all to play out, then you’ll know how these kind of places can shape your youth.

I was 16 when I first went to Bagleys for a night called One Love. I spent all night dancing with thousands of strangers in this huge warehouse in Kings Cross – big up anyone else who remembers *those* yellow railings at the front – and knew by the time I got home at 8am the next morning, that there weren’t many other places I’d rather spend a Saturday night.

This article in Dazed sums up why quite nicely:

Nightclubs are part of our culture. They’re spaces for communities to form that you may not even know you want to be a part of yet. They’re full of the friends you’ve yet to meet. They’re a space for you to develop your identity; to form nascent relationships (personal or otherwise) with sweaty strangers you shoulder barge at a bar or bond with over a 6AM fag, shivering as the sun comes up and the sweat dries over the back of your neck.

These clubs bring people to London, they make our city good. They support artists. They develop talent. They give someone who loves music a place to find, meet, and dance surrounded by like-minded people.

Put simply: it’s important that people who love music have a place to go out, stay out, dance, and hear it.

And the way things are going, night tube or no night tube – London’s supply of night life is running short.

There’s currently a petition running to #SaveFabric. You can sign it, download a campaign pack of images, tweet your support. 

More info here: http://www.fabriclondon.com/save-fabric

I get asked for book recommendations quite a bit. 

On average I would say it happens about twice a week, but that’s less than the times where I give out entirely unsolicited recommendations which is about five times a week.

In fact, if we’ve ever managed to get through a conversation without me saying “oh by the way I’ve read this really good book” and insisting that you write it down or shoving a copy into your hand before you leave my house, then maybe we’re not really friends.

Some people bake cakes. Others throw dinner parties. I suggest books.

Anyway if you’ve read something I’ve recommended before and liked that, there’s a chance you’ll like these too.

And if you hated whatever I said you’d like then…you’re welcome, and I’ve also done a post with podcasts that will improve your terrible commute, so if you’re in the market for timekillers but don’t trust my taste in literature, go there.

Annnd if we follow each other on Twitter then you probably recommended one of these to me, so there’s probably nothing new here for you. You are my guide.

Let’s begin.

girls-emma-cline1. The Girls – Emma Cline
Accurately sums up teenage angst, cannot comment on whether it accurately sums up murderous cults.

2. Girls on Fire – Robin Wasserman
More angsty teenagers with vaguely relatable feelings doing weird stuff. Grim but readable.

3. SweetBitter – Stephanie Danler
Early 20s girl moves to New York, works in restaurant, does a lot of drugs. Kept reading, wasn’t totally sure why but I liked it.

wolf-border

4. Wolf Border – Sarah Hall
Woman takes job introducing wolves to the Lake District. Made me want a more interesting job and also a pack of wolves.

5. The Shepherd’s Life – James Rebanks
Never had “biographical account of what it’s like to be a shepherd in the Lake District” on my must-read list either, but suggest you put it on yours.

6. Open – Andre Agassi
If you’ve got even the slightest interest in tennis and extremely famous people, Agassi’s your man. Two words: Barbara. Streisand.

make-your-home

7. Make Your Home Among Strangers – Jennine Capo Crucet

Cuban girl from Miami goes to a decent university, leaves her family behind. Cultural differences ensue.

8. Department of Speculation – Jenny Offill

Probably don’t read this if you’re newly married. Everyone else: you’re good.

9. Euphoria – Lily King

Three anthropologists living among a tribe in Papua New Guinea. Apparently this is based on Margaret Mead but I didn’t know who she was before reading it. This book is very excellent.

10. We Were Liars – E. Lockhart

A story about kids, and a dysfunctional family, who get together every summer. Not especially cheery, but which of these books are?

11. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage – Ann Patchett

Essays on writing, love and life. Good for commuting because you can nail through one between stops.

Ok. That’ll do for now, but I’ll keep updating this as I go, so bookmark it. Come back. Subscribe. Follow me. Click like. RT. E-mail it. Tell your friends.  

Have you been to Japan?

You can usually tell if someone’s been to Japan because they’ll tell you about how good it is without you even having to ask.

Even if the conversation is about something entirely un-Japan related, even if you’re talking about painting your house or how much you like rabbits they’ll pipe in with something about Japanese houses being wooden and Japanese rabbit cafes being the next big thing.

There’s even a Wikipedia entry for people who get a bit obsessed with the place. And much like other things that don’t make sense at first – dachshunds, short hair, spending £750+ p/m on rent, that bit at the end of yoga where you lie on the mat breathing – you’ll only really understand once you’ve been there yourself and seen the light.

For me, that light shone down within five minutes of my arrival at Tokyo Haneda International airport, which is also the time it took for me to find and use a toilet. Because Japanese toilets aren’t just toilets – as you’ll gather from the amount of times they come up in this blog post – they’re machines; machines that understand and cater to your innermost wants and needs.

Over the 11 days I was in Japan, I realised that toilets are just one of the things that Tokyo does very well.

In fact most Japanese cities I went to had their shit together – no pun intended – in a way that London categorically does not.

So here are the ways in which London could, quite frankly, try a lot harder.

on-time-queues

1. Tube platforms could let you know where the doors will open 

I know we’re all quite proud of knowing exactly where to stand in order to be first on the tube, and I realise that if this came into effect, us Londoners would have to find some other way to prove our superiority over tourists and other people who haven’t lived here long enough to know this important, life affirming stuff.

But wouldn’t it be better if there were, you know… just… markings on the floor letting you know where the doors will open and where to stand if there’s more than one of you waiting?

I know, it’s a crazy idea. But on the other hand… it just…sort of… works.

2. We could have loads more public toilets

Fact of life: you can never find a toilet in London.

Japan, on the other hand, understands that if a city has several million people wandering around it, then at some point those several million people will need the toilet.

And perhaps they won’t be near a McDonalds, or have 30p handy in exact change, or want to risk angering the owner of a Soho pub by nipping in without buying a pint, or want to beg the bloke in Costa for the key to their one, solitary loo.

So imagine a world where toilets are everywhere. A few in each big train station. One in every convenience store. Several dotted all around the park. A couple in every tube station.

What would my day be like? you’re no doubt wondering.

I’ll tell you. Your day would be much better, and it would also take a long time to get anywhere because you’d end up drinking so much water – because you can – that you’d feel compelled to stop at each one you passed primarily because you need the loo but also for the novelty alone, because you can.

3. Annnnnd perhaps those new toilets could have heated seats

optionsDo I really have to explain this one? I don’t think I have to explain this one.

Basically buttons. We need more buttons. 

4. We could have designated smoking areas on the street 

Disclaimer: I don’t smoke.

Fact: Walking down the street trying to dodge the smoke being exhaled from the mouth of the person walking in front of me

+ having pavements that aren’t littered with dropped cigarette butts

= 10/10 something I would write policies on if I was mayor.

4. Oyster cards could also work in vending machines AND shops AND in other cities

I know we’ve got Oyster cards, and we’ve also got contactless, which, while we’re on the subject, don’t you think it’s weird that we’ve gone from having to verify everything with signatures, to typing in a secure PIN code, to suddenly actually you know what sod all that, who cares, just tap the card on the machine and there’s your drinks?

Anyway! How about a combination of the two, where we have smart cards that you top up and allow you to pay for stuff at shops, tube stations, vending machines, buses, lockers, loads of stuff, and let you also do that stuff in, say, Manchester and Brighton as well?

vending-machines

Vending machines everywhere. Deer optional.

5. Oh and more vending machines 

And when I say “more”, I mean every few steps I would like there to be a vending machine selling water and ice cream and umbrellas and beer and green tea and everything else you might need in your bag for the day ahead, but neglected to pack when you left the house that morning because you still haven’t mastered getting stuff ready the night before even though you’re 31 and probably should be more organised by now

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A very non-faffy restaurant, note machine on left for ordering outside

6. Our restaurants could be a lot less “faffy”

In London, “grabbing something quick for dinner” still means going through the formalities: waiting to be seated, getting the menu, then you’re left with the menu, then you order drinks…

…then the waiter goes away again, and then you order food. Then the food arrives and you eat it, you spend 5 minutes trying to get some ketchup for your chips, then there’s a gap where they clear away the plates, then you’re offered dessert, then you wait to flag them down or do The Eyes or the Finger on Palm Wiggle, you wait for the bill, you pay, you panic about whether to leave a tip or not, you leave, and you panic because that took ages and now you’re late for the theatre.

In Tokyo, most of the time it goes like this:

Find place you want to eat. Approach machine outside. Select the ramen you want. Add extra egg because it’s the best bit. Pay. Get ticket. Sit down. Hand ticket to chef. Pour glass of ice tea or water, which, miraculously is already on the table. Food comes. Eat. And now, ladies and gentlemen, up you get. On with your day. We are done. On you go.

Alternatively, all hail getting up when you’re finished and paying at the desk by the door. Can we do more of this, please? It’s quicker and I’m hungry. Thanks.

women-only

7. We could maybe try having some women only train carriages just to see how it goes

No it doesn’t address The Root Of The Problem and lol sure #notallmen.

And absolutely yes, let’s address the bigger question of why a city transport system might need carriages specifically to make women feel comfortable and safe in the first place, let’s address all that, please.

And in the meantime, I’ll put forward that travelling around in a carriage surrounded only by women and girls was just a very nice, relaxing, comforting way to go about my day, and leave it at that.

8. More lockers? 

Put aside the security risk.

Also put aside the occasions in Tokyo where there were so many lockers that we had to ask for directions to find our lockers.

And that one time there were so many lockers that I took a photo of mine, wrote down a description of where it was in the station, and dropped a pin into a Whatsapp group so I could find it later.

Maybe we don’t need to go Full Tokyo on this one, but yeah, a few here and there would be good.

9. Umbrella cover dispensers for shops umbrella dispenser

This, my friends, is an umbrella dispenser. It puts a cover on your umbrella when you walk into a shop to stop water dripping everywhere, and it’s a very good idea that could possibly make you want to go into shops just to use one for novelty value alone, but that is entirely unconfirmed.

10. Can we have cartoon characters on our roadwork barriers

There’s literally no practical reason we should do this in London. But I saw these in Osaka and I just think making our city look more like a LEGO playset would be a good use of taxpayers’ money.

helly-kitty-barriers

I’m also aware that after about 4 months of not writing anything on this blog about how much I love London, I’ve now returned with a blog post which is basically about how much Tokyo is smashing it in comparison.

I know how it looks.

And London, I’m sorry.

But on the plus side, I’m back. Stop complaining.

And did I mention Japan’s really good?

Last week I went up to the top of the Shard for the first time.

Three years it took me.

Three years to get round to seeing the view from Europe’s highest building, which is two years and 363 days longer than it took everyone in London to turn “getting taken up the Shard” into a phrase you can no longer say out loud without someone finishing the sentence with “WHEYYYYY”.

But last Thursday night, I made it. I went. I took myself.

Right.

To.

The.

Top.

(Well, almost.)

shard-view-top

JO, WHAT TOOK YOU SO LONG?

Part of me reckoned that if I hung on long enough, eventually I’d work for the sort of company that would whisk me up there for a Christmassy treat and give me Champagne for free.

Also proximity to all them bloody tourists stopped me, to be honest, and the assumption that on a nice clear, sunny, perfect up the Shard-y day it’d be too busy, and I’d have to queue. And on a rainy day, there would be no queue, but also… no view.

And aside from birthdays – which, despite my many attempts to stretch them out for as long as humanly possible, still only come around once a year – and romantic occasions, of which I have none, ever – there wasn’t ever really an occasion or willingness to pay £25 to go.

Until everything changed.

Until they made it silly not to.

Until they made it pretty much free.

love-london-card-2016

Maybe someone looked around and realised this London attraction was lacking in…Londoners.

Whatever the reason, this year View from the Shard sold 2,016 annual “Love London” passes for £20.16 (yep, you’ve got it, you’re seeing the theme).

So for less money than it costs to go up there once, you can go up there whenever you like, as many times as you like – as long as you live in London.

The only downside is you can’t book, but because booking anything too far in advance makes me extremely nervous, the idea of turning up unannounced – no occasion, no expectation, no planning ahead – appealed quite nicely.

So a couple of weeks ago, I joined the queue just in time and bought a card.

Then last Thursday night after work, I used it.

And entirely unexpectedly…

….that view ended up being really, really good.

view-from-the-shard-looking-east

It’s like when a plane does that really good descent over London on your way back from holiday, but with bigger windows.

The very top floor is open air, and it’s also where you get the best photos.

But after a while I couldn’t feel my fingers so I went back down to the warmer level below, found a seat by the window, and looked out over the city for a bit.

shard-looking-west-at-night

Thing is, although lots of people have shown me pictures of the Shard, and I’ve read blogs about it, and I knew it was there – no one had really mentioned how nice and calming it is being so high up with everything so tiny below you.

So even though your immediate reaction is to take a load of photos the whole time, I thoroughly recommend putting the camera down for a bit, putting some music in your ears, and just watching the city do its thing.

shard-west-at-night

So I think I’m just going to see how many times I can photograph that view over the course of the year. That means beautiful aerial views of London are going to get pret-ty commonplace around here over the next 12 months.

But the best thing is: the next time I go up the Shard (wheyyy) and look down on this expensive silly but brilliant city, it’ll be free.

Last week I went to see Daughter at the Kentish Town Forum.

They’re a band fronted by Elena Tonra, whose voice is the aural equivalent of securing a free seat on the tube during rush hour when you’re a bit hungover.

Yep: she’s that good.

I did my usual thing of buying two tickets without checking if anyone wanted to come first, because successfully getting tickets for gigs in London is stressful enough without the added suspense of waiting for a double blue tick to decide your fateand because someone is bound to want to go and see some live music if you tell them it’s free, even if It’s Not Really Their Cup of Tea Or They Think They Might Have Something On That Night Not Sure Can I Let You Know.

And that person is usually Harriet.

me-and-harriet-aged-80

Me and Harriet 40 years from now

Harriet and I have been gifting each other gig tickets for about two years.

Not only is giving and accepting free tickets with other people a good way to see live music that you otherwise wouldn’t, but it also ensures that your friends consider you a valuable addition to their social circle, a bit like if you’ve got a mate who also happens to be a lawyer, or has a dog, or works in McDonalds, or can swipe you freebies from the make up counter at Selfridges*.

*if you would like to be this friend, pls let me know

The gig also coincided with Harriet’s 30th birthday, and I knew her ideal way to celebrate would be an evening of gloomy, slightly depressing yet relatable music, accompanied by several hundred pints of beer and an ill-advised G&T nightcap in the only pub still open at 12am in Kentish Town on a Thursday.

And to be fair, I wasn’t wrong.

daughter-at-kentish-town-forum

Once inside, we managed to find a spot 100% unhindered by tall people.

This area was also seemingly free of Annoying and / or Noisy Bastards, who often have a habit of positioning themselves near me at music events.

We also made friends with a girl who was either Finnish or Flemish, and was there on her own, and therefore had no choice but to listen to Harriet talk about her love of Copenhagen and save our space on trips to the loo.

And oh, the music was really good.

Daughter have that knack of making the entire audience do a collective happy sigh within the first few notes of each intro, and even though the new album is, well, new and unfamiliar – somehow it already seems like you know each song.

Plus, it’s always a good thing when everything performed live in front of you sounds exactly like it does when you listen to it in your room, in bed, gently weeping at the fragility and unfairness of life in between episodes of Making a Murderer.

There’s just something about her music that you can relate to.

It was later the next day on Wikipedia that I found out why.

The reason it all seems so real to me is that the lead singer Elena is from Northwood, which is just one tube stop from where I grew up in the suburbs of London.

So now I’m even more sure that when we eventually meet and become best mates, it won’t just be a shared passion for beautiful music that bond us, but also our painful experiences of a youth spent waiting unknown amounts of time on cold platforms for Metropolitan line trains in and around north west London.

met line

Just another normal day

 

Ah, that familiar zone 5 existential crisis. It all makes so much sense.

Does anyone actually enjoy their commute?

Obviously, no one enjoys getting up for work in the morning, no one enjoys being seated within close proximity to other humans at 8am (or any other hour of the day, come to that) and no one enjoys spending upwards of £80.90 per month on what is, essentially, a daily exercise in self restraint.

But on the flipside, there’s the nice thing of having 40 minutes to listen or read or watch, uninterrupted. Plug in, look out of the window, and listen to some brilliant journalism, a mini documentary or some true stories. For this is the joy of a podcast.

These are some recommendations for your journey to work (and here’s how to listen).

1. Beautiful Anonymous

Length: 1 hour

Host Chris Gethard gets people to call a number, then has a conversation with that person for exactly one hour. They can talk about whatever they want, entirely anonymously. The result is usually an entertaining, insightful, sometimes sad, other times pretty deep insight into someone else’s life. Try this one with a Trump supporter and the one below about a 25 year old girl whose mum has early onset Alzheimer’s.

2. Modern Love (NY Times)

Length: 23 minutes

If you’ve ever read the Modern Love column in the New York Times and liked it, or even if you haven’t and you just like listening to stories about relationships in whatever form they take. These are really lovely essays read out by a well-known person. Nice and short.

Start here.

3. This American Life

Length: 1 hour

Probably the best and most well known podcast on the list, this is an hour long radio show hosted by Ira Glass. If you listen to Serial, and liked it, then hurrah! These are the women and men behind it. Each week there’s a few different real life stories based on a chosen theme. It’s really good.

This American Life

Originally aired 11.27.2015

573: Status Update

Most of the time, the updates we share about our lives are small and inconsequential. This week, status updates that interrupt daily life. We hear two friends talk about how one of them has become rich and famous. And an entire town gets a status update on itself.

4. Reply All

Length: 15 – 25 mins

This is “a show about the internet”. Each week, PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman investigate something weird or a strange story from the online world we all increasingly live in. One of my favourite recent ones is Episode 44: Shine on You Crazy Goldman, where PJ finds a website for people who are too high on drugs, and tries out microdosing LSD. Not typical, but a nice intro if you haven’t listened before.

5. Death, Sex and Money

Length: 25 mins

This podcast focuses on honest discussions of things everyone thinks about at some point throughout the day: relationships, money, work, family issues, and features both celebrities and us normals. Usually pretty thought provoking, especially the series they did 10 years after Hurricane Katrina last summer, and this one on living alone.

6. Strangers

Length: 30 – 50 mins

A fairly new addition to the list, but I love listening to these stories about love and kindness which Lea Thau manages to present without the cringe factor that usually goes with that sort of thing. This is a good one called “Falling Slowly”.

7. Radiolab

Length: 1 hour

Another favourite: this one’s all about science and big ideas, but they explore it by hearing personal stories. They recently did an end of year wrap up of their most popular episodes, so start with that. Otherwise, it’s been going for years, so there’s a huge catalogue to listen to when you’re all up to date.

8 Snap Judgement

Length: 50 mins

It takes a little bit to get into, because the presenter usually does a bit of a story told to music at the beginning before they get into the actual thing. But even if you don’t listen to anything else, click on this episode about the bloke who found hip hop legend J Dilla’s “Lost Scrolls”. It’s amazing and if it doesn’t bring a tear to your eye on the bus, you’re dead inside.

9. Criminal

Length: 20 mins

A good short one if you’re lucky enough to only spend 20 minutes getting to work. As the name suggests, each episode tells one story with a criminal theme. I liked this recent one about an officer and his new police dog. Obviously.

10. Serial

Length: 1 hour

I’d harbour a bet that even your most elderly relative probably knows about Serial by now. But if by some miracle you haven’t listened to the first series which investigated, week by week, the story of a teenager called Adnan who was in prison for murder (rightly or wrongly, the debate still rages), then start there. Otherwise, as you were: frantically refreshing every Thursday.

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11. Freakonomics Radio

Length: 1 hour

cover170x170

I dip in and out of this one, usually when I’ve exhausted all the others. I particularly liked their shows on education and the new one is on the gender pay gap though, and there’s a lot to choose from.

Archive here.

12. Invisibilia

Length: 1 hour

This one hasn’t released anything new for a while, but the first series is really worth listening to. It’s another one by the folk at This American Life and Radiolab, and is all about investigating our hidden (or invisible) emotions, our deepest darkest thoughts, all that good stuff. Start from the beginning, there’s about 10 episodes to catch up on.

 

13. The Moth Radio Hour

Length: 50-60 mins, (each story is around 13 minutes)

mothradiohr-webAfter reading the book The Moth: this is a true story, I started listening to this podcast, before seeing The Moth live at Union Chapel in Islington and having a brilliant evening. Basically, getting up in front of an audience and telling them an amazing true story in 13 minutes takes skill and guts, so that on its own has to be worth a listen. Especially good for short commutes, because you can listen to the stories in 10 minute bursts.

Listen here.

Want more?

I also dip in and out of MISSING (20-25 mins), Love + Radio (54 mins), Longform (1 hour), Hidden Brain (20 mins) and TED Radio Hour (55 mins).

If you listen to podcasts on the way to work, tell me, educate me, let me know which ones.

That way, along with stories about our awful commutes, we’ll never run out of things to say at a party.

London’s been pretty good this year.

Put simply, 2015 was the year I decided to start making the most of London, beyond the pubs and hangovers (although there have been plenty of those, too. I’m not dead).

I started playing tennis on Saturdays. I did a bit more yoga during the week. And when I wasn’t lying on a mat, breathing, I went to lots of events and gigs. Not the huge stadium jobbies, but the little ones; or, at least, anywhere that doesn’t cost £50+ per ticket and sell binoculars at the bar.

Thing is, you usually remember a gig. You might remember it because it was very very good, or because it was bad, or because you were excited, or mildly disappointed, or because you’d had a crap day followed by three incredible hours in a magical, strobey, packed, loud, laser-filled room.

And if you’re 5ft 3, you will also remember, in exacting detail, the thread count of the t-shirt belonging to the very tall man who stood in front of you.

So, in order of gigs attended since January, here’s who I saw this year – and why it was good.

1. Ghostpoet at Chats Palace, Homerton (28th January 2015)

ghostpoet at chats palace
Ghostpoet did this show in a no-frills, library-turned-arts centre in the middle of Homerton. And you know, it’s these little venues – full of history, converted from something else, saved and staffed by the local community – that make seeing live music in London so bloody good. And Ghostpoet was excellent: he tested the new album on us, threw in some old favourites, and basically, all hail a venue that’s at capacity with 250 people in it. That’s 10000 less people to get in my way.

2. TOKiMONSTA at Oval Space, Hackney (12th February)tokimonsta oval space

Oval Space is another really cool venue next to the huge, imposing gasholders by the Regent’s Canal. We went to see LA DJ / producer TOKiMONSTA, and what I’m about to say isn’t a reflection on her, honestly, because it was really good. But it was one of those nights where you say, 9 months later, “Remember that Thursday when we went to Oval Space and got really pissed and danced loads? That was a really good night.” and sort of forget who you were dancing to. The photo is blurry, and rightly so. No time for photos when you’re dancing yourself better.

3. Jon Hopkins at Brixton Academy (24th April)jon hopkins brixton academy

This man. This man. Musician / producer behind what’s been the soundtrack to most of my waking activity since 2013, Immunity. Brixton Academy is also one of my favourite venues in London, so mix that with some mesmerising music, lasers and strobes, massive projections, and a slanted floor (seriously, the tall people, they find me every time) and you’ve got a pretty much perfect night. PS. Jon, call me. 

4. The Prodigy at Alexandra Palace (15th May)the prodigy alexandra palace

Is this how it ends? I wondered, between the hours of 12am and 2am, is this how I go? Crushed between a sweating mass of men raving to Smack My Bitch Up? Turns out, the average audience at a Prodigy gig is now either 32+ (Jilted Generation, your time) or under 20, and young enough to be most of the other half’s children. In fact, one woman in the loos had ticked both boxes and was there with her son. Either way, when this is the result, you can’t really complain. A+ show, Keith. Keep it up.

5. Kwabs at Somerset House (17th July)sunset at kwabs somerset house

I hadn’t listened to much of Kwabs’ music before, but then that’s the best thing about seeing anything and anyone at Somerset House. Whether it’s a film or a gig, or people falling on their arse ice skating – the setting is so beautiful, and atmospheric, and has a magical way of timing the good bits just for when the sun starts to set a lovely pink colour, that you’ll end up having a really good time anyway. And so I do not remember much of Kwabs, but I remember that is what we did.

6. Knife Party at Brixton Academy (Halloween / 31st October)knife party at brixton academy

Putting aside the potential pitfalls of marketing an event called Knife Party in Brixton, we should probably acknowledge the disconcerted feeling of walking out of the tube to find fake blood dripped on the pavement and what look like victims of a zombie apocalypse stumbling down the main road. I think we were the oldest at this gig by about five years, but that’s ok. We danced. We sweated a lot. It was fun. I got to wear my skeleton onesie again. Also, I have never seen so much traffic on the way home at 5.30am. Seriously, London. Take a break, you’ll wear yourself out.

7. Lapsley at The Dome, Tufnell Park (4th November)lapsley at the dome

Fun story: the last time I went to The Dome was a Saturday when I was about 16, for an indie / rock night, and my friend’s parents picked us up at 3am at the end. This time, it’s Wednesday, I’m 31, me and Harriet drink our weight in cider then go up the road for an ill advised night cap, then get an Uber home. Hangovers ensue. When will we learn? We will not learn. Conclusion: Lapsley is very talented. And me and Harriet have no regard for a school night.

8. Talib Kweli at the Jazz Cafe, Camden (19th November)
talib kweli at the jazz cafe

Where to start? This was the best gig of the year, maybe one of my favourites ever. Seeing a hip hop legend who’s worked with pretty much every producer and artist you love is one thing, but also seeing him on this tiny stage at the Jazz Cafe with only about 400 other people is another level entirely. After a few gigs this year where the crowd was… not unfriendly, but perhaps indifferent, this time it definitely felt like we were surrounded by like-minded, chatty, happy people who were all there for exactly the same reason: for good times and amazing music. Mr Kweli was on for about 2 hours, did a big encore, and we went home with Get By in our heads for the next week. I loved this night. I loved it very much.

9. Four Tet / Chvrches at Alexandra Palace (27th November)churches alexandra palace

Disclaimer: we missed Four Tet because I was eating a pie. In other news, Chvrches were good – I think we decided that Lauren Mayberry’s stage chat was endearing (some in our group said “annoying”) – but… ah, I don’t know. Despite it being a sold out show, and the tunes being good, and her voice being amazing, the atmosphere was a bit flat. Then again, the last time I’d been in Ally Pally I’d basically feared for my life, so maybe this was a safer alternative.

10. Elliot Moss at Moth Club, Hackney (4th December)

elliot moss at the moth

Getting into Moth Club involved walking through what is essentially the bar area at an old folks home, going through more doors, and then entering a sparkly glitter ceilinged alternative universe. If that sounds unlikely, welcome to Hackney. Anyway, after a week of binge-listening to Elliot Moss I now knew at least four songs, which enabled me to dance and even sing along with assured competence. My mate Yas was right. I did like his music. It was an excellent end to the year.

And so endeth 2015. Thank you to the friends who came with me to gigs, and the friends who made me their +1s too.

Here’s to 2016. Here’s to more music. Here’s to London.

Happy New Year.

If you like photos of London, you can also find me on Instagram, where there are barely any selfies of my face, which makes a nice change. And if you’ve got Spotify, the playlist for all these gigs is here.

My dad became a freeman of the city of London a few weeks ago.

Since this happened some people have asked me what it means. The short answer is “I’m not completely sure”, the long, vague answer is “he gets to go to dinners in really old halls and talk to other butchers” and the best answer is “don’t know but once a year he’s allowed to herd sheep across London Bridge”.

The latter is some sort of bonkers tradition that’s been going on for ages. As in, 13th century ages.

As far as I can tell, the main purpose of the sheep drive is to baffle tourists, give Barbara Windsor and the sheep a day out, and raise a fair whack of money for charity.

And this year I went along, because if your dad offers you the chance to herd sheep across London Bridge, the only possible answer is “yes, yes, of course, when?” – so that is what I did.

So because we’re now Certified Sheep Drivers, I see it as my duty to guide fellow Londoners through the process of herding sheep across London Bridge, should you ever need it yourself*.

(*Not a ridiculous idea. Stranger things have definitely happened.)

1. Befriend a Freeman of the City

Hang around at the Guildhall and collar a good one when they come out. They exist in three varieties: haired, non-haired, and hatted. Lady versions (not pictured) are also available.

pick a freeman

2. Note your arrival time instructions

Also make sure your own flock have enough food for the day before you go out, because they can’t come.

sheep drive instructions

3. Make your way to Famous London Bridge ™

tower bridge

4. (Um, the other famous London Bridge)

Look for pointy glass + sheep

london bridge with shard and sheep

5. Find whoever’s in charge around here

Captain dog of the sheep parade at your service, how may I help you

sheep_dogs

6. Stand near some important looking people 

If in doubt, look for the people wearing hats. Important people are always wearing hats. If the people wearing hats also have a sticker with the same number as yours on it, even better.

important people wearing hats

7. Follow important looking people across the bridge

There they go! Setting off into the unknown, embarking on their mission, their destiny! Follow them! To the sheep!

find your spirit animals

8. Locate your flock

You will know it’s them because it’ll look like someone’s put down a nice carpet.

sheep

9. Stride with purpose behind sheep

Remember to look menacing, occasionally shout “come by!”, and make sure the crafty one on the left doesn’t run off. Aaannd smile for the camera.

herd the sheep

10. Receive signed certification of your sheep driving abilities

Frame it, put it on your wall, then make a website and start charging for your niche new consultancy service.

certificate of sheep

11. Remember to thank the organisers.

They’re having a tough day.

the organisers

If you also want to find out more details not covered by this highly informative blog post, trot over to the Worshipful Company of Woolmen who know loads about this sort of thing.

Hope you find this guide to driving sheep across a bridge useful. If you know of any sheep in need of herding, let me know.

Space makes me feel a bit weird.

It’s not space’s fault, it can’t help being a vast expansive uncharted mass of darkness that makes everyone who looks at it and thinks too hard do a mind-shrivel into a never-ending hole of circular questioning and self-doubt, and it can’t help being an omni-present reminder of our relative insignificance in the grand scheme of the universe.

It’s not Kim Kardashian for gods sake, it didn’t ask for this level of introspection.

Give it a break, it’s just space.

"Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in a cradle forever"

Space so deep

Even so, I’ll even admit to getting a little bit nervous when the topic of space comes up.

Because it might start with an innocent observation about the angle of Orion’s Belt, but it never stops there, does it?

You point and say something like “oh look, is that the Plough? That one?” and gradually the conversation turns and then you’re feeling a pull, a weight, an irrevocable tug.

And that, my friend, is your mundane constellation sighting gently reminding you that it’s all so infinite and endless, and the stars you’re looking at don’t even exist any more and haven’t been around for ages because it’s many light years and much distance and so oh god, oh god, where are they then, where did they go, it’s all just so big.

Russian Lunar Lander in the Science Museum

Lunar lander: massive, like space


So I try not to think too much about stuff…out there.

Far better to put space into a neat pile along with electricity, and phones, and Skype and things that I know exist, understand in theory, and as An Adult I should have a rudimentary scientific understanding of, but I don’t really, because how is my voice getting from here through a bit of wires and plastic to France again?

How?

Actually don’t worry, let’s leave it, it doesn’t matter.

Tell me later. Or don’t.

Let’s just have a cup of tea and eat some cheese.

spacecapsule

This is where the first woman in space lived for like 3 days

And likewise, I know – in theory, and from pictures and news and astronauts on Twitter – that people go into space. 

That humans and dogs and monkeys have been fired into the vast expanse around us on rockets, and that people are currently in massive, dark, neverending space right now just living there, investigating planets and moons, watching hurricanes tear up the Earth from thousands of miles away and floating around in special trousers, because there’s no gravity.

No air. 

I’ll say that again: There’s NO. AIR.

So until you see space pods, and a cosmonaut’s kitchen table, and their trousers, and Russian lunar landers right there in front of you, it all seems a bit unreal.

A bit too much like it happened on TV or in Christopher Nolan’s shed, instead of actual real life in 1957 with a bloke called Yuri Gagarin and a spacecraft called, of all things, Sputnik.

Two Russian cosmonaut space suits at the Science Museum London
But now all those sorts of things are in the Science Museum. 

Before getting to London, these capsules and gadgets and things were only ever in two places: Russia, and space.

They got here by sea and road, and the really big items like the LK3 Lunar Lander had to be dismantled and put back together again inside, with the rest of the exhibit built around them.

And I felt pretty privileged to be in an empty Science Museum, sans all those people who sometimes make museums a bit of a faff, and able to see it.

The best sort of exhibition is one that tackles the things that make you intrigued and also a bit nervous about your place in the universe (see also: dinosaurs and dead people) and this is one of those.

Inside the empty Science Museum in London at night

Big old empty Science Museum

So if you’ve got even a passing interest in space travel, or the Russians, or mad decompression trousers and circular space pods, then Cosmonauts: Birth of the Space Age is a pretty good thing for you to see.

And if, like big massive infinite vast neverending god what is out there it can’t just be us can it not with all that space, you prefer your museum without many people in it, I noticed that the Science Museum is open late on Fridays until 8:45pm, so maybe give that a go.

Or don’t. But don’t blame me when the conversation about space comes up and you can’t contribute in a meaningful way.

Thank you to the Science Museum for inviting me to have a look around.  The exhibition is on now and runs until 13th March 2016.
Bonus fact because you got this far: A cosmonaut is what the Russians called astronauts, ‘cos they allllways got to be different. 

It’s one of those days where everyone remembers where they were.

Working from home in your baggiest t-shirt, making frequent trips to the fridge to slice off chunks of cheese; traversing three zones on blistered foot; queuing, more queuing, offering advice to passing strangers and queuing some more, then staring at the pavement from the top deck watching pedestrians walk faster than the bus you just waited 45 minutes to get on.

Last month, for one day only, London was turned inside out.

And even if you don’t know where you were, you know where you weren’t.

For it was a tube strike, so you absolutely, 100% definitely not on the tube.

And now, bloody hell, it’s happening again.

Angel station tube strike

Chances are you knew where everyone else was, too.

Especially if you happened to be sitting within firing range of That Person On The Phone, loudly doing a verbal status update to the entire top deck of the 38 and their mate from south London “oh, it’s just a nightmare, yeah, I’m on the bus, no, it’s crawling, I’m on Essex Road, it’s gridlocked, well, no, well, I told them I’m going to be late, it’s just an absolute nightmare, ridiculous”.

You knew where your workmates were too, because you walked into your office kitchen to find a smattering of brave colleagues gathered around a hastily assembled camp fire, making tea and warming their hands over the flames, sharing stories from the 8am queue situation on the Liverpool Street frontline.

waterloo bridge in a tube strike

And you know what you were also doing that day, don’t you?

If you weren’t queuing or faffing, you were probably taking full advantage of the situation.

The Unaffected Few were leaving work early to “get a head start on the madness”, rocking up late because there were “delays” without so much as an email, sent, naturally, from my iPhone.

And generally going about the chaos marvelling at the people – so many people! – all of them blinking like baffled moles forced above ground, and not entirely sure what to do with the streets and bus routes and signs in their way.

Central reservation warriors

So go forth into the tube strike, and be bold!

Realise that you could actually walk to work in the time it takes to get the bus each day, which you’d totally do if you weren’t working from home in your pajamas, eating cheese.

Casually rock up to a normally fully booked restaurant because it’s been besieged with cancellations

and

Brazenly stride down the central reservation on Waterloo Bridge like it’s a goddamn pavement because mate, it’s a tube strike, you can do this shit today and no one, but no one cares.

Enjoy your day above ground, London. For soon all this chaos and the excuses it gives you will all be gone.