Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

In case you haven’t been following, I’m attempting to run all the tube lines of the London Underground. Above ground. I’ve done a few so far and have learnt one or two things along the way:

  1. There are short tube lines and there are long tube lines¹.
  2. I have a much worse sense of direction than I’d always assumed.
  3. Different areas of London have very different smells.
  4. The tube network extends beyond what most people would generally think of as London.

Having knocked off all the low-hanging fruit, I was now entering a different landscape w/r/t distance. The Northern Line run had been a hefty 21 miles and now there was nothing left but the lines that ran over marathon distance. The Central Line, the Piccadilly Line, the Metropolitan Line and the District Line, that was the choice. Not being the kind of person to shy away from a challenge, or in fact to take the time to think one through, I decided to take on the longest of the remaining lines. At somewhere around 40 miles, it was time to run the Central Line.

My thinking, such as it was,  went along the lines of “well, they’re all pretty long runs, so if I do the biggest first it’s out of the way and the rest will seem easy by comparison”. And after all, I’d been running around 15-20 miles each weekend for the past few weeks as part of my project. It was a good plan, aside from one fatal error: it was bollocks. In hindsight, it would have made more sense to increase the length of runs as gradually as possible and for each subsequent run to act as training for the next, longer run. Obviously. Then again, if my crazy plan worked out, I’d have taken down the biggest of them all. And I WOULD BE KING OF THE UNDERWORLD, I mean UNDERGROUND!

Things didn’t work out. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

When I’d woken up at around 7am I’d felt the faint but unmistakable presence of illness. Nothing specific or concerning, just that feeling best described as “a little under the weather”. I considered taking a rain check, but in the end as the climatic conditions were in fact ideal for running, I’d made up my mind to give it a go; no guts no glory² or whatever. I fuelled up on half a bowl of muesli, as it was all we had in the house, which had to be topped up with Shreddies. Maybe the omens were there from the start.

As this was going to be a full-on ultra marathon, I prepared a support pack of spare t-shirt and socks, plasters, ibuprofen, Shotbloks and banana, to be delivered by my support crew of wife and youngest child at what I’d estimated to be about the halfway point.

It was a fine Sunday morning as I rattled along on the tube line out to Epping. The first inkling that I might have bitten off more than I could chew came as I began to see just how long it was taking to get from one station to another as we headed out towards the end of the Central Line. That and the fact that the scenery stopped being dominated by houses and shops and became all about fields and livestock. And when we crossed the the M25.

I figured we were crossing London’s orbital ring somewhere close to where it meets the M11, a route I’d driven many times. After some quick mental calculations, recalling that the drive from this point back to Crouch End was typically around 45 minutes travelling at an average speed of maybe 50-60mph, I was able to work out that running this distance was going to take… divide by eight, carry the two, factor in the wind speed… a freakin’ long while.

Nevertheless, as I stepped from the train and left Epping Tube station I felt buoyed with confidence and excitement; the sun was shining and a day’s running lay ahead. The first difference I noted to the other tube line runs I’d done so far was the smell. No trace of the powerful mix of  savoury odours spewing from the kitchens of a dozen pan-national restaurants that had hitherto greeted me out here at the end of the line, this time it was the bucolic signature of wood-smoke and cow dung³. After a short downhill jog through the village of Epping, I took a right turn along the charmingly named Ivy Chimneys Road, skirting the edge of some fields and up and over the motorway. I followed the road heading towards my next station, hopping on and off the road onto the grass verge every time a car roared past. Thankfully it was still fairly early on a Sunday morning so there wasn’t much in the way of traffic. It’s also possible that most people were still using the horse and cart as the main mode of transport out here in the sticks. Like I said, NOT London.

Twenty minutes later and I swung down into Theydon Bois, village green, quaint church and all. Honestly it was like being in a scene form Midsomer Murders. I took a tiny detour to actually find the tube station which is located down a side road/dirt track, then it was back on the main route. It was clear from Google maps that the road that led to Debden was not going to be the most direct route to get there. The road described a wide arc out to the west before curling back again and it looked like it would be around twice the distance compared to finding a straight line through. Through what though it wasn’t clear; we were on one of those parts of the map where there are just large blank spaces. As the road began to turn away from the direction I wanted to go I found a gap in the hedge and set off across the fields. There was no obvious sign that this wasn’t okay, which for me is as good as an invitation. After hopping the odd stream and clambering over another hedge or two, I joined a kind of track where people had clearly walked and followed it until it lead me to the edge of some school playing fields. Fortunately there were some Sunday morning rugby matches going on and so I slipped in unnoticed and ran out through the front gates of the school without a problem.

Back in civilisation I made my way towards Debden tube taking a brief detour to where my grandparents had lived many years ago after retiring from the east end. We’d visited them here about a dozen times I guess, probably up until I was about ten years old, but I couldn’t say I remembered it when I was standing outside the house. What struck me about the whole area though was just how white it was; I don’t know what the place was like in the seventies, but I’m not sure that my grandfather, veteran of the Battle of Cable Street, would have felt comfortable here now among the UKIP supporters and Brexiteers that had moved into his ‘hood.

I was around five miles into the run by now and miles 5-10 were a long, straight road down through Loughton Buckhurst Hill and Woodford, a dull suburban stretch of ugly houses than ran approximately parallel to the M11 and didn’t make me want to stop and have a look around one little bit. I grabbed a Lucozade at a corner shop and hurried on. You could almost understood why the people that lived here might be angry about life and feel that blaming it on faceless European bureaucrats or immigrants or probably anyone at all might have made some kind of sense.

Somewhere between Woodford and South Woodford I dipped down into the underpass that took me beneath the north circular. I’d been on the road for one hour and 45 minutes and aware by now that I’d been a little optimistic with my timings, put a call through to the support crew to let them know I’d be at the rendezvous a little later than originally planned. Once I hit Leyton, things began to look more like the London I knew rather than some dystopian netherworld were racists go to die. I’m not saying Leyton was all that much better to look at, but at least there was a little variety. The much vaunted regeneration of Stratford and the surrounding area, legacy of the 2012 Olympic Games, didn’t really like feel like it had lived up to it’s billing. Yes, there was the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, a beautiful piece of urban landscaping and a great place to run, but aside from that the place looked pretty down at heel. I think someone somewhere might have been overestimating the impact the Games were going to have on the local area⁴. It all still looked kind of shitty.

Once through Stratford I emerged onto the A11 at Mile End Road, passing the Blind Beggar pub and the first school I ever worked at. Soon I was passing the southern tip of Middlesex Street, home of Petticoat Lane Market and my dad’s childhood home turf, before the buildings began to close in around me and I was swallowed up in the canyons of the city’s financial district.

I find navigating this part of town tricky at the best of times, all sight lines removed by the giant edifices of office blocks on all sides; you can’t even see the landmarks to steer towards, Gherkin, Cheesgrater etc. that you know are nearby because you’re always so close  to some other building restricting your view to little more than a few metres. Added to the fact that 19 miles in and running on empty, my cognitive functioning was way below par and pretty soon I was utterly lost. The support crew of wife and younger child were waiting on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral with food, water and a change of kit, but I couldn’t find the fucker anywhere. And it’s big, St Paul’s is a big-ass church! I ran around in circles probably for an extra mile or more before I popped out onto a street where St Paul’s became visible. I stumbled onward to the welcome sight of wife and youngest child proffering food, drink and nipple plasters.

In a touching display of filial loyalty, not only had my ten year old dragged himself away from his iPad to come down and meet me, he’d also waited until my sweating, bedraggled arrival before he opened the packs of Pokémon cards he’d been bought as a bribe to get him there in the first place. We sat for five minutes as I made some attempt to recover, changed my top and downed a half pint of Lucozade. I think I knew by now, 21 miles done and probably another 17 miles left to go to the end of the line, that I wasn’t going to make it. When I intimated my fears, my son, with a creative use of positive reframing, suggested that even if I didn’t make it all the way to West Ruislip, I should try to go beyond 26.2 miles so that I could officially call the run an ultra. It seemed like an eminently sensible readjustment to the schedule. Smart kid.

I said goodbye to the support crew and ploughed on to see just how far I could go. Along the Strand, Fleet Street and across Aldwych, cutting through Covent Garden, slowing to little more than a walk to avoid colliding with bare-torsoed, soot-streaked fire-jugglers or gaggles of wizened Chinese dudes plucking at their erhus. Each step was hurting now and being able to carry on for the four miles it would take to give me my second ever ultra was feeling like a very long way indeed. I tried to keep away from the main roads as far as possible to avoid the crowds, slipping down back alleys and side streets while trying to keep as straight a line as I could. The original route was to take me through Hyde Park and out past Notting Hill and Holland Park to Hammersmith, and then out along the A40. By the time I got to Hyde Park I’d hit the magic 26.2 miles and was now officially running an ultra. I could stop any time. And I really, really wanted to stop. But when exactly? I felt that I needed an end point of some kind. I plodded on along the north edge of Hyde Park and into Kensington Gardens, wondering what might be a suitable finishing line. And then I saw a man with a WholeFoods bag and it was as if the running gods had heard heard my thoughts.

I turned south across the park, swinging right in front of Kensington Palace and out on to High Street Kensington and minutes later through the wide open doors of WholeFoods Market. Where I discovered that the absolute all time best post-run recovery food is cheesy mashed potato.

In one sense then, I’d failed. I hadn’t managed to complete the Central Line run. But I’d run an ultramarathon and I’d learnt that I didn’t want to live in Buckhurst Hill. And I would be back to try again.

 

¹Yes, clearly I could have established this by just looking at a tube map, but I mean in a more meaningful, internalised way.

² After this phrase sprang to mind it occurred to me that I didn’t know it’s origin, so I looked it up. It appears to have first been used by a US Air Force pilot Major General Frederick “Boots” Blesse, when he wrote a tactical flying manual of the same name after returning from active service in 1952. The manual, which is a detailed exposition of how to both attack and defend when flying in hostile environments, does not make for particularly interesting reading (unless I guess you’re likely to be flying a plane in a hostile environment) but is bizarrely punctuated with charming but quite incongruous illustrations of cartoon animals, ducks, mice, elephants and so on, engaging in the various flight manouveres that the Maj Gen is describing. “Boots” appears to have been somewhat of a legend throughout the US Air Force, and so I was perplexed on reading a short bio of his service record to discover that he flew just 2 hours of duty in Korea and another 2 hours in Vietnam, which didn’t really seem all that impressive to me until I realised I’d misread “hours” for “tours”.

³Although I’m fairly sure I once ate that flavour ice-cream at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck.

⁴ The 2012 Olympic Games cost £9.3billion. This has left a nice park, some top notch sporting venues which continue to fall short of estimated ussage figures and lose rather than make money and some upscale brutalist blocks of flats. I read an article that pointed out that the money spent on the games could have paid for 6 large NHS hospitals or 60 new secondary schools, although presumably they wouldn’t have built them all in the same place. I make no judgements, but it makes you think.

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I’m reposting this short review of Crouch End’s lovely Hot Pepper Jelly café just because I happened to be there again the other day after a gap of far too long and you know what? It’s still great. What did I eat? The fantastic Hot Pepper Jelly sandwich of course (see below). Still unusual (I don’t know anywhere else that throws this oddball combination of awesomeness into a sandwich), still delicious.

As promised in my recent  Man vs Food post, today I returned to lovely Crouch End cafe, Hot Pepper Jelly on the Broadway, to take down The Inferno.

HPJ is famed for its awesome bacon, peanut butter and chilli-jam sandwiches, and on my last visit I noticed the addition of a new and hotter version, featuring a chill-jam made with scotch bonnets or habaneros, a chilli registering an impressive 350,000 Scoville units. This is for most people the hottest chilli you’re going to come across (although by no means the hottest around, about which more in a minute).

Here’s a pic of the little beauty:

which looks harmless and  pretty much like any of their other eats. It took a couple of bites for the chilli to kick in and it immediately had that unmistakable, fruity fire you get with habaneros. It’s not unpleasant (you know, if you like that kind of thing) and is certainly not just pure heat.  It was a delicious sandwich and I ate the whole thing with little problem. My mouth went a little numb, but in a good way.

To be honest I was a little disappointed it wasn’t hotter. But then I have recently, after a long search, managed to get my hands on some of the elusive naga or ghost chillies (in Tesco of all places!), reputed to be the hottest in the world (although some will tell you it’s the Trinidad Scorpion and yet others say the Hoxton Serenity) and coming in at a neuron-frying 1,000,000 Scovilles. I made my own ghost chilli sauce and of course couldn’t resit having a little bite of the raw fruit. Shitballs, it was hot! Within seconds my mouth was a sea of pain and within minutes my hands had pretty much seized up, I guess paralysed with whatever neuro-toxins I’d released into my nervous system. So maybe I’m getting a little used to this stuff. Either way it was still a truly excellent sandwich.

More local food challenges please – Crouch end cafes, take note.

In other news, House of Dreams is now on sale at the fantastic Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green. And the charming waitress at HPJ took some of my House of Dreams postcards to display, and even said she’d put one up on the loo door – now that’s service!

 

tube-mapThe Circle Line
Total distance run: 16.5 miles
Time taken: 2 hours 56 minutes

‘Thanks for coming, but you’ve just missed it,’ said my neighbour a little breathlessly as I jogged towards her at the foot of Broadgate Tower in the heart of London’s financial quarter.

‘Damn. Did I? That’s a shame. Damn,’ I shook my head, slowing up until I came to a stop in front of her, her husband and daughter. I decided to come clean. ‘Sorry, missed what?’

‘I just abseiled down the side of that.’ She pointed up to the top of the 33 floors of the building high above us.

‘Fuck me. Really? Well done.’

‘Isn’t that why you’re here?’

It wasn’t. Now she said it I recalled the email I’d received a week or so before informing me of this feat of ridiculous bravery in aid of charity. I’d been suitably impressed  at the time but to be honest had quite forgotten about it. Total coincidence then that I happened to begin my circle line run moments after my neighbour had hurled herself down the 165 metres of sheer skyscraper. Small world, huh?

I began the circle line run at Moorgate. moorgateThe third of my London underground runs and at an estimated 16 miles I figured on around about 3 hours. Once I’d waved goodbye to the neighbours I continued on through the City, admiring the public art in the form of huge angular sculptures, and the glass and steel canyons that rose up around me. I love running through this part of London at the weekend; it’s often virtually deserted and feels like being allowed to mess about in the office after everyone else has gone home. There’s a beautiful mixture of old and new, as the 18th and 19th centuries rub up against the 21st, every square inch of space pounced upon and swallowed up.

It wasn’t long before the shiny new buildings began to lose ground to the old and battered ones around Middlesex Street, home of Petticoat Lane market, and the heart of London’s old east end. This was the area once known to its residents, (my grandparents and dad amongst them) as the tenterground, a reference to its roots in the textile industry of the 19th century and the frames or “tenters” used for drying dyed cloth¹. It’s a part of the city well worth a leisurely stroll around to spot the hidden history of London’s immigrants through the ages.

But today I had places to be. Even if that was technically just to get back to where I started.

I ran past Aldgate² tube station and down to Tower Hill. The route turning West then took me along the north bank of the Thames, which is a little trickier to navigate than the south bank. For some years now there’s been a continuous path along the southern edge of the river, allowing you to run for miles without interruption. Not so to the north. From mile 2 to  mile 4 I was dodging up and down paths and alleyways as I tried to stick as close to the river as I could. There were pedestrian walkways that suddenly ended with aggressive spiked gates belonging to some bank or other private corporation who think it’s okay to keep people from accessing the best parts of the city. Well, it’s not okay! Give us back our river path you mercenary fucks³.

By the time I got to Blackfriars it got a little easier and I ran along the embankment towards the Houses of Parliament and then along Victoria Street, past Victoria Station and barely getting lost at all, ending up at Sloan Square. I stopped for a quick espresso on the King’s Road before turning north once more as the circle line begins to make it’s way back around to where I’d started from. Over the years I have seen many famous people on the King’s Road: Kylie Minogue, Bob Geldof, Dolph Lundgren. Today was no exception and I passed a very grumpy looking Professor Brian Cox⁴.

The next moment, as so often occurs on my runs through London, I was transported back to days of youthful shenanigans. This time I found myself following the route that I used to cycle at two in the morning, drunk on tequila, from my Mexican girlfriend’s flat in Chelsea to the nearest all night shop by South Kensington tube to buy cigarettes; it’s a miracle any of us make it past our twenties!

As I made my way up through Kensington I ran along Launceston Road which I’m claiming to be the prettiest street in London. From  Notting Hill it was a right turn and I was heading back eastwards with a little jiggle to get up to the northwest corner of the circle line at Edgeware Road. From then on it was an uneventful and traffic heavy four miles or so along Marylebone Road, Euston Road and Farringdon Road and back to Moorgate, a shade under three hours on the road.

Next time out I was  going to be taking on one of the monsters: Northern Line here I come!

 

¹And from whence we get the phrase to be on tenterhooks.

²’Aldgate East, all git out’ as my east end dad used to say.

³I’m a big fan of the place hacking movement, the idea that the city shouldn’t be closed off to the people who live in it and that a no entry sign or a locked gate should be viewed as a challenge not an impediment.

⁴I mentioned this later to a friend, Brian Cox’s grumpy expression, who replied, ‘No, dude, he was probably just thinking really hard about the universe.’

tube-mapThe Bakerloo Line
Total distance run: 14.8 miles
Time taken: 2 hours 40 minutes

The inaugural run in my quest to run the length of all of London’s underground lines had gone well. I’d taken down the Victoria Line in a little under two hours and with barely a hitch (bar the early navigational issues resolved by the kindly old lady, and the ill advised bacon roll). Second on the list in terms of distance was the Bakerloo Line¹.

This was going to be my first real foray into significant uncharted territory. My Victoria Line run was for the most part through areas of London I knew well. This time, things were different. Sure I’d heard of Harlesden, Wembley, Harrow and Wealdstone, but I’d never thought to actually go there. But this was why I wanted to run the tube lines – to get out to these unknown quarters of London, to see what exactly was lurking out there beyond zone 1.

Once again I’d chosen a beautiful day for the run. I stepped out of the tube at Harrow and Wealdstone into a bright morning.hw And a car park. Keen not to repeat the fiasco of the Walthamstow bus terminal, I’d studied Google maps carefully and was fairly sure that I needed to turn left through the car park and head south on the A409 Station Road.

Once I start running, I don’t really like to stop to check the map unless I have to; it feels like I’m messing the with flow of the run or something. I don’t know. Anyway, this means I tend to take a fairly relaxed approach when it comes to running past every single station on the route. I made my peace with this early on. You could get all hung up on adhering to some set of self-imposed rules about running the tube lines, but, this was my thing. This kind of bespoke running was what really appealed to me. Don’t get me wrong, I like organised races, but this was just about taking it easy and being flexible; a reed bending in the wind.

Which it turned out was just as well, being a bending reed, as within the first few minutes I was totally lost again. I was heading for stop number two on the line, Kenton, but never found it. I did however spend a delightful few miles running through the suburbs in what felt like a trip back to the 1970s. The ‘burbs will always be the ‘burbs. Before long I spotted the enormous Wembley Stadium arch and headed towards it. This is something else I was learning on my quest to run around the fringes of the capital, that no matter how lost you think you are, just keep on going and sooner or later you’re sure to see something you recognise. I picked up the Bakerloo Line again at Stonebridge Park and a mile or so later I was crossing the North Circular somewhere just east of Ikea².

I was about five miles into the route by this stage and miles 5- 7 were through Harlesden. Unlike the area around Wembley which appeared to be predominantly Asian, Harlesden was full of jerk chicken shops and Caribbean groceries with amazing smells to match; there was even some guy with a big old oil drum barbecue right out in the middle of the street cooking up some kind of gnarly old blackened hunks of meat; it was all I could do to keep myself from grabbing one right off the grill as I raced past. In the end I stopped at Costa for an espresso and a croissant instead.

After the earthy streets of Harlesden became Kensal Green and the Harrow Road, I took the opportunity to cross the footbridge over the Regent’s Canal and run along the towpath for half a mile, popping out just before Little Venice. I was now in the decidedly upscale Maida Vale, home to hedge fund managers, plastic surgeons and old school rock stars. Here was another part of town I wasn’t totally sure of w/r/t geography, but with a pretty firm idea of the general direction I needed to go, before long I found myself around the back of Paddington Station. Always happy to run by the water’s edge I dropped back down to the canal as it enters Paddington Basin and ran through the new development there of apartment blocks and swanky restaurants.Up ahead I could see one of those public squares with the crazy fountain jets that shoot up straight out of the concrete at random intervals and ran straight through the middle of it, enjoying the refreshing spritzing³.

The last few miles were familiar territory as I headed along Marylebone High Street, past Baker Street and Regent’s Park and through Oxford Circus. As I crossed into Regent Street I was delighted to find that it was closed to traffic and I was able to run right down the middle of it, which as everyone knows is always way more fun than running on a pavement. I had to get back on the pavement fairly quickly however when the reason for the road closure became apparent: the cycling Tour of Britain was about to come through. I stopped to watch for a few minutes. This is another great pleasure of the bespoke run, that when wierd shit turns up out of the blue, you can just take a little break and enjoy it. Once I’d seen enough of the crazy guys on bikes I carried on for the final few miles. Except now I couldn’t seem to shake them. Every time I tried to go south the road had a peleton tearing along it at fifty miles and hour. Eventually I manged to find a stewarded crossing by Charing Cross and soon I was over the river, through the South Bank Centre, past Waterloo station and the final mile to the finish line at Elephant and Castle station. Two hours and forty minutes and a shade under fifteen miles.

ec

.¹I’m not going to include the Waterloo and City line. Partly because at only about 25 centimetres long it surely can’t qualify as a proper tube line and partly because personally, I don’t feel anything added to the tube network post 1977 really counts.

²That is so going to be the name of my fourth novel.

³If I’m honest this was less of a ‘spritzing’ and more of a ‘drenching’; it’s hard to judge just how much water those things pump out.

 

It was raining. The temperature had dropped a good 10 degrees since the previous day. It was only just after 5.30 but it was already as dark as it was going to get. And I’d been planning to go for a run. Hmm.

run-in-rainIt’s very easy when faced with this kind of scenario just to give the whole thing a swerve and choose the glass of wine and Masterchef option. It’s an option I have taken many, many times. But this time, I chose the run. And this is how I turned a miserable cold wet evening run into, well, a distinctly more bearable cold wet evening run.

Tip 1: There’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. We’ve all heard this old saw before, and while it’s clearly wrong, there definitely is bad weather; I was looking out the door at some world class shitty weather, there is a valuable lesson in there too. I’ve got pretty good at judging the right combination of clothing for the conditions over the years. For cold and wet you need:

  1. Warm, long sleeved base layer. This is usually enough but might need t-shirt over the top.
  2. Waterproof jacket. These are amazing. First time I ran in the rain in one of these I almost wanted to run exclusively in the rain just to experience the joy of not getting soaked. Almost.
  3. Shorts not leggings. Legs don’t really get wet. And like it or not, men just tend to look weird in leggings.
  4. Hat and gloves: Thin running gloves. Some type of beanie style hat¹.

Tip 2: The right music. It was good luck rather than good judgement, but the moment I set off I got Dreams by Fleetwood Mac popping up on my trusty iPod shuffle. This transported me to a sun-drenched road in Laurel Canyon on an August morning in the mid 1970s. Surprising the magnitude of the effect. You can pick the era that most reminds you of sunny summer days².

Tip 3: Positive re-framing. The idea is to think of future runs. After a run in really appalling weather, you’ll be able to tell yourself that future runs just aren’t going to be as bad. You can even try and run in the worst weather you can find just to set your bench mark . Now the awfulness of this run becomes the counterweight to other potentially bad runs.

Tip 4: Embrace the misery. Suck it up. Remember what Nietzsche says: what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. Or if you’d rather be inspired by something less aggressively übermensch, Dorothy Parker, who when asked if she liked writing replied that no, she didn’t like writing but she liked having written. Cheers, Dot. Now get out there; it’s only water!

¹Word of advice, if it’s a woollen hat, don’t put it in the washing machine. I did this with my hat and it took on a rather peculiar shape which when worn now makes my head take on a rather peculiar shape. I now borrow my wife’s hat.

²The other song that instantly came to mind for this was one-hit-wonder Owen Paul’s Favourite Waste Of Time. Doubtless you will have your own ideas.

coffee-repIt’s no secret that I spend a lot of time in coffee bars. I write in them, I stop off for a quick espresso during long runs, I eavesdrop the conversations of random weirdos. And I like the indies and I like the big guys, but rarely does one place get everything right: great coffee, happy staff, nice décor, good food and so on.

I think Coffee Republic gets the closest.  I reviewed the Finchley branch a while back, but just a few weeks ago we got one in Muswell Hill. They’re competing against the big three¹  all within a few hundred yards and they win on most counts. Starbucks usually feels spacious and Californian², Costa has the best coffee and Nero has the nicest food but has ridiculous opening hours (6pm? Really? You’re kicking me out at 6pm? So, like, I’ve got to go home now?³)  Coffee Republic has good coffee, the politest and most affable staff and the food is really good. It’s just variations on the panini kind of thing, but I haven’t hit a bad sandwich yet. This one img_4121281 was the ham hock and mustard, the least exciting I’ve had so far and still really tasty. The Muswell Hill branch doesn’t have the bare brickwork and stripped wood NYC feel of the Finchley branch  and tbh the lighting’s a little brutal, but it’s still my no.1  choice in the N10 ‘hood right now. Go take a look, if only for the charming barista crew!

¹That’s Nero, Costa and ‘Bucks not Woodrow Wilson, David Lloyd George and Georges Clemenceau, the key players at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, in case there was some confusion.

²I know they’re from Seattle, I’m just saying it feels Californian.

³And they can be a little, you know, brusque about it too!

 

My current writing project is my first proper foray into non-fiction: a collection of tales about running in the city.

When I’m not writing, I run. And I run pretty much exclusively on the streets of London. Now I’ve read a whole bunch of running books (recent favourites are Dean Karnazes and Adharanand Finn) and for the most part they focus on runs in stunning countryside, through deserts and up and down mountains, that kind of thing. All well and good, but it’s probably not most people’s experience of running, and honestly, give me a grimy part of the city, a taco truck for mid-run fuelling and the occasional stop for the kind of unexpected goings-on you get in your average metropolis, and I’ll take that over a lakeside view or a scrabble up a mountain pass all day long.

More about the running in upcoming posts, but the big news is…

A chapter from the new book was recently shortlisted and then “highly commended” in the 2016 Yeovil Literary Prize!

I am now an award-winning writer. Can I say that? I think I can say that.

You can read the chapter here.