Peace

It is easy to lose hope, it is easy to tire of treading water in the midst of a seemingly endless sea, easy to let go of hoping for a light from a ship to bring sanctuary. It is easy to give up and surrender to the deep, dark drowning depths.

I am writing this from Tavistock square in London’s Bloomsbury. For many years it was one of my favourite places in the world, to come and read and to write and to think or lie on the spring grass.

It has a statue of Ghandi at its centre, and many memorials, including a tree to the victims of Hiroshima and a stone memorial to conscientious objectors everywhere.

And I have only just realized I have not come here for nearly four years.

Because four years ago I tried to get here to escape the crowded madness of King’s Cross station, where I was trapped amongst the frightened and the dead, shortly after the July seventh bombs had gone off. I tried to get here via the back streets and I was driven back by the bus bomb exploding in the street that is behind the bench where I now sit.

There are tears at the corners of my eyes, I am not sorrowful. Sometimes relief and realization can elicit tears too. And the beautiful, brave ideas that are embodied in the monuments here.

I am happy to be back here.

Yes, it is easy to let the dark sea swallow you, those terrorists did just that, they gave themselves to hate and they murdered innocents.

It is harder and braver to seek peace, to be kind. I know this is a simplification, but there is truth in it.

Fortuity

At the end of a busy Friday at work I took a walk across the Heath, as the first slight bruising of evening came to the sky.

I went to the place I go to meditate and shut my eyes, birdsong trilled and the soft air played around me. Stillness and thought within and without.

When I walked on, the sky was a thoughtful blue, and the trees were set against it like fine ink sketches.

I watched a small flock of birds fleet over my head, stark against the sky.

And I was taken by the simple beauty of what I was witnessing. Behind me, over the hill, a cotton candy wisp of pink behind a cluster of trees.

So I walked on, and down towards the silver ponds. Passing by I saw a woman, obviously nauseous, holding onto the fence. I turned back and I asked her if she was okay.

She was a little embarrassed, but glad of the distraction, glad of the support.

And then we recognized each other.

Mike?

I knew her years ago, from school and mutual friends. An intelligent and pleasant lady.

It was ‘morning’ sickness, she was nine weeks pregnant, unable to tell anyone, or many people, at any rate.

So I distracted and bolstered her, we walked to her car she thanked me and I said goodbye.

It was a nice, fortuitous moment.

Cupid, draw back…

I planned to go for a quiet drink but then a last minute spare ticket meant that I ended up attending the Last Tuesday Society Valentine’s Ball. It was quite extraordinary and good fun, I drank gin and threw soft toys at a maniac.

The best thing was an area with scantily clad ladies posing for you to draw them, so I sat, and wielding a red felt tip (honestly, get your mind out of the gutter), sketched away.

Well, one of the ladies was quite taken with my efforts and took a sketch of mine to hang in her room.  She rewarded me by painting my lips bright red with a brush on lipstick. It was that sort of evening. Fun.

Snowy night in Soho

It was Chinese new year, a Sunday. Red lanterns hung like luscious ripe fruit above the bustling streets of Chinatown. Crowds of people gathered around writhing dragons and the clashing cymbals that were passing from business to business,  to usher in the good fortune of the new year.

An icy wind flitted about the swarms of people, the night air was a chill electric blue.

I found warmth in the basement of a Soho eatery. And took in the soothing comfort of wine and food. The ice of outside was forgotten to the cosy drowse of contentment.

Later, climbing the stairs to leave, I came to see that the world had cocooned itself away, a pupae in virginal white, snow was falling densely in the london air.

Outside, Soho was empty and silent, an enchanted, slumbering world. The snow absorbing all sound. Footsteps crunched into the soft land, only to be forgotten by the new drifts.

The world seems innocent in the snow, a bride in her wedding dress. We are in wonder at her fragile beauty.

And, if a pupae, then spring is the butterfly that emerges from the silken shroud.

Joanna Newsom

Live review:  Joanna Newsom, Royal Albert Hall, 28 September 2007
 
When I was asked to go to this concert, I was trepidatious, even reluctant.  I had heard her name mentioned before and I had attempted to listen to her earlier works, but her naif screechy voice had completely horrified me, if I am honest.  I could not get beyond the broken glass voice that scraped and scratched against the pristine elegance of the harp.  But I was convinced to go, nonetheless.
 
So, in the prestige of the second tier of the Royal Albert Hall, we took our seats, directly opposite the stage.  We had opted to enjoy a meal rather than see Roy Harper, which may have been a mistake, it was a good meal, nonetheless, and I prepared to be aurally assaulted by screech owls for an hour.
 
She came onto the stage with a winsome humility, and she spoke in a friendly and unassuming way to the audience.  And then, with a guitarist, a violinist and a drummer she began to play.
 
And from the first bars of music, ‘Bridges and Balloons’, the sound swelled up and around the vast hall and I found that I was crying.  Not out of sadness, but because of how utterly – overwhelmingly – beautiful the merging sounds and lyrics were.  In the living, breathing, soaring music was something that I had missed, there was an honesty and a fragility that was so compelling that it was impossible to not feel it.  And from that point on I was completely mesmerised. I think that when she played Sawdust and Diamonds I felt that I had actually travelled to a forgotten land.  It was, in the end, one of the most memorable, beautiful and suprising concerts I have ever had the good fortune to attend.
 
I expected to be assaulted by screech owls, but instead I was lifted from the ground by a fleet of a hundred rainbow plumed parrots, and flown to a beautiful place.

(guitar tab of Bridges and Balloons to go here, shortly)

Sashimi-meeny miny mo

I am on a quest.  I can’t claim it has the profundity of a search for the Holy Grail or the philosopher’s stone, but to my tongue and stomach, it is a quest of far greater importance. 

It is the quest for the best sushi in London…

oyster shells 

The Japanese food known to us as sushi is to some a strange and unappetising idea. 

The idea of munching on raw fish makes their faces scrunch up in disgust, ‘raw fish!’ they exclaim, ‘how frightful!’ and then their monocle falls into their sherry.

But the ‘fishy’ taste that most people associate with our delicious, silvery, gilled aquatic friends, is actually caused by decay – fresh fish does not smell ‘fishy’.

‘Sushi’ actually refers to the sticky vinegared rice that accompanies the variety of seafood.’Sashimi’ is the sliced, fresh raw seafood.  And Sashimi is served very fresh, and expertly filleted.

There is also Bashimi, which is raw horsemeat, but I can’t say that my tongue and stomach want to accompany me on that particular quest.

So, where is the best place to get sushi in the grubby, noisy, glittering city of London?

 


Asakusa,  NW1 1BA

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This place offers delicious food at very reasonable prices.  It is authentic and unpretentious, but be sure to book ahead as it is also very popular.  And don’t let them put you in the basement, I hear it is awful.

This is quite possibly the best sushi restaurant of this list.  The food is exceptional. But don’t expect glamour.

Food: 9
Service: 8
Ambience: 7
Value: 8

 total = 8

Bento Cafe, NW1 7PG

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This restaurant in Camden’s Parkway, near the Jazz Cafe, is a little wonder.  The food is a slight step away from the traditional, with a flourish that makes it even more tasty.  I am heartily addicted to it.  I highy recommend the soft shell crab starter, and the white tiger rolls.

When I first started coming here I was wary of the service as I had read reviews that gave a bad impression, but having been here many times now the staff are very friendly and helpful and familiar.

They do an exceptionally good value lunch menu, also. 

Food: 8
Service: 8
Ambience: 8
Value: 7.5

total= 7.8 

Ichi Riki, SW1P 2HY

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So what if it has a slightly comedic name?  Victoria suffers from a dearth of decent eateries, and this little place is a haven of good Sushi. In a pokey little underground booth.

Food: 7
Service: 7
Ambience: 6
Value: 7

total= 6.75

Ten Ten Tei, W1F 9TJ

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Soho’s Brewer street, just up from Picadilly has several sushi places, and this is probably the best.  It is good, solid Japanese fare at a reasonable price for central London.  But there is not much atmosphere.

Food: 7
Service: 7
Ambience: 6
Value: 6

 total= 6.5

Ichiban, SW9 8PY

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I would not recommend eating here.  It is small and not very good value, and the sushi inauthentic and pedestrian.

Food: 5
Service: 6
Ambience: 6
Value: 6

total= 5.7

Edokko, WC1R 4PF

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The internet.  Do not listen to it.  It doesn’t know what it’s talking about – I think it might be drunk.

I thought I’d have a look and see what the internet thought the best sushi in London was and it referred me to a forum where some people were praising a place called Edokko, on Red Lion Street, Holborn.

Now, I tried to book a table at Asa Kusa first, but they didn’t have anything until 9.45, so I thought why not give this place a go and booked a table there.

It doesn’t look much outside, nor downstairs, but upstairs you take your shoes off and sit at very Japanese and authentic low tables.  The atmosphere is quite pleasant, and the service very attentive.

The sushi and sashimi, however, is preposterously expensive.  Tekka Don, for example, is rice with some tuna slices on it.  A fair price might be no more than ten pounds.

Twenty five pounds is Edokko’s reckoning.  Twenty five pounds for a bowl of rice (£1.50/2) and some tuna sashimi (£7-8).

The food is not even *that* good.  I ordered the black miso cod – a rip off of the Nobu recipe that has become commonplace nowadays and it was inferior not only to that available at Bento Café in Camden, but also inferior to a version my girlfriend once cooked.  The cod was slightly underdone.

We had deep fried oysters (£10) which were good, the oyster remaining plump and moist in its crisp shell, and the sushi was not bad, but really not great, and worse than that of Asa Kusa.

I ordered some Toro, which was melty and tasty, as it should be for £3.50 a piece.  But the sea bass and sea bream was not as good as Asa Kusa’s.

This is an inferior and expensive place that caters to homesick Japanese people who assumedly haven’t got the hang of the exchange rate yet. 

Thanks internet.

Food: 5
Service: 7
Ambience: 8
Value: 2
total= 5.25

 

Honorable, and admittedly unrelated mentions:

Oriental city was a magical place in Colindale, Brent (that’s right) where you could get a Kimono, a glow in the dark godzilla or a gelatinous pancake with things in it…in fact anything (oriental) that your heart so desired.

I had the best roast duck I have ever had at a restaurant there.

But sadly, as of 1 June,  it has gone.   Which is a shame as it was an authentic oriental food palace (warehouse) far removed from the seedy crime front of much of Leicester square’s Chinatown.

Oriental city, we salute you!