Things to do in London when you’re dead. Or when you’re alive. That’d be better.

Street Art, London

Did you know I used to live in London?
(Of course you do. I talk of very little else. I miss that silly wee city)

As London is one of my very favourite places to be and very favourite things to talk about, I subsequently have a lot of Opinions about London and Things to Do in London.
I’ve shared these every chance I get – generally in a rambling interminable email. I’ve decided that, to save myself a wee bit of work, I’ll put these Opinions in a rambling, interminable blog post!

This is that post.

St Pauls AND the Millennium Bridge

Basic Tips

Get thee an Oyster card.
Yes, even when visiting. These cards are just SO handy. They work on both the tube and the bus, and provides a discount for both. And! Should you keep hold of your Oyster card from 2008, when you go to use it again in 2012 you may just find you still have money on it.
(that’s what happened to me)

Wear good walking boots/shoes/insoles. London is AMAZING for walking. Also, wear light layers. The tube is warm (no air conditioning and all of the bodies under the sun) and despite how frigid the air outside may be, shops and museums are well heated.

Markets

Camden Markets are very busy, but pretty damn cool. Make sure to explore the underground vintage stalls.
Greenwich Markets are underwhelming. I wouldn’t recommend them on a whirlwind tour but if you’re going out that way then they’re worth a look. Get off at the DLR (docklands light rail, connects from the tube, still works on Oyster cards) stop before the one that is actually in (Island Gardens!) Greenwich and walk through the wee foot tunnel which goes under the Thames. It’s just a tunnel. But if you enjoy the sense of possible doom that comes from walking under a river, then do it!
If you do go to Greenwich then look for the little Milkshake place. It’s green and there’s only one, it will make any sweet into a milkshake. My favourite is Turkish Delight.

Toblerone & Turkish Delight thickshakes

Also, if in Greenwich, go into the Painted Hall as it’s pretty damn cool and is used in a lot of movies and such. AND it’s FREE! Free things are excellent value for money.

Mirror table so you don't strain your neck at the Painted Hall

Avoid Spitalfields markets anytime other than the weekends. The guidebook I had said they’re always open but I went on a Thursday and deemed them terrible but my baby sister went on a Saturday and said they were great.

Borough Market is The Best for food, it’s very popular, go during Friday at any time during the day, or Saturday I find it’s best at 10am, after all the stalls open but before the main tourist hordes descend. Go there to eat breakfast or lunch. Buy something hot and eat it while walking around. Great venison burgers, egg butties, roast-in-baguette-s, brownies, Monmouth coffee.

Portobello Road is a classic but very busy. Antiques are the closest to the station, then food, then there’s sort of a t-shaped split and the sides have quirky clothing, army surplus, vintage and ephemera. Further on than that? It’s not that great.

Shop shop shopping

The main High Street shopping destination is Oxford Street.

If you DO go to Oxford Street, it runs from Tottenham Court Road to Marble Arch on the central line but is only really good from the Oxford Circus stop to the Marble Arch stop. It’s fine to walk but eh, if it’s busy or bad weather, just use the tube.

Regent Street – runs from Piccadilly Circus to Oxford Circus and has some of the most beautiful buildings and much fancier stores. The Apple store is on Regent Street, as is Hamley’s. It’s a nice way to get in Piccadilly Circus and Oxford St in one trip.

Covent Garden! the shopping area is all little cobbled alleys and is amazing. MAC store, Coco de Mer, Urban Outfitters, Neals Yard! the ambience is possibly even better than the shopping. I took Craig here and even he liked it. He absolutely hated every time I dragged him to Oxford Street.

Graffiti in Neals Yard

Overrated? I thought so.

Covent Garden Markets.

I’ve never been on the London Eye as it seems ridiculously overpriced. Would go on it if say, our parents came to visit us or something, but that all depends on if/when we get back there.

Buckingham Palace. Westminster and St Pauls are more impressive.

Mme Tussauds. It’s CRAZY expensive and, admittedly I only went around on the one day I worked there, but I didn’t think it was anywhere near worth it.

Harrods. I have been, would go again, but it’s not all that. I prefer Selfridges.

Teeny Museums I have known and loved.

The Garret – a very old operating theatre/medical museum

Sir John Soane’s Museum – formerly the home of the neo-classical architect Sir John Soane, now a museum stuffed with his collection of paintings, sculptures, classical objets, just … so much stuff. It has to be seen to be believed.

view from the top of St Paul's

Big Museums/Galleries I have known and loved.

The British Museum is awesome and also free, the Great Hall is astounding, you can see the Rosetta Stone & mummies. Also: the nose of the Sphinx.

The National Gallery is oh just so great. Da Vinci et al, and pieces even, ridiculously, brought me to tears. It’s off Trafalgar Square. Too big to do fully in one go (thankfully I had the freedon to go … four times? Five?) but they have a map which has highlights.

Next to the National Gallery is the National Portrait Gallery, again free free free. Much smaller than the National Gallery and has more famous historical portraits than you can shake a stick at. But you shouldn’t. I don’t recommend shaking sticks.

The Tate Modern – a must. Definitely. It’s my favourite place in the world.

St Paul's from the Tate Modern

Promenade.

Whenever we had people come visit us from New Zealand we took them on this walk round the Thames, it seems to me to be an excellent way to see the sights.

(There are nice pubs along the way so you could always pub-crawl it too. But I could never recommend that. Not with my mum reading anyway)

Start at St Pauls tube stop and make your way to the Cathedral and walk round the front of it. Marvel. It’s my favourite building by in London. My favourite building in the World.

Walk round the side to the road, across the street is the London Tourist centre, and just near there is an alley way down to the Millennium Bridge. Walk across that and you’re outside the Tate Modern.

At this point, turn left, you’re heading towards The Globe. You can pay and take a tour round it which is very interesting, you can pay to see one of their productions, or you can just look at it from the outside.

Keep walking down that side of the Thames, (it’s best to have a map at this point because I don’t want to be responsible if you get lost) the walk takes you round by Borough Market (stop in for a Coffee and a sandwich if it’s a day when the market is open. The Shard is on the far side of the Market. It shouldn’t be difficult to spot

Friday: view from the top of St Paul's

As you walk down, you pass the Scoop and City Hall (designed by the same gents who designed the Gherkin) and you come to the Tower Bridge!

Walk across and find your way to the waterfront where you can walk past the Tower of London and see Traitor’s Gate, follow the Thames back up towards St Pauls but keep walking. Keep keep walking.

You can walk all the way down to Westminster this way. Halfway there you walk along the Embankment, beautiful old buildings and the only Walkabout Pub I will ever set foot in (the Walkie is a NZ/AUS/SAFA institution in London. It’s relatively terrible. I would go in and ask for a snakebite (1/2 beer, 1/2 cider, blackcurrant cordial) which is the signature drink, it is … an experience.).

You will be able to tell when you hit Westminster. Those buildings are so iconic as to seem fake. You can walk across the Bridge at Westminster but really, this is where my trail ends and you can go wherever you would like.

There is so much of London there to see!

It was Samuel Johnson who said ‘when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.’ I am not tired yet.

Coloured in! St Paul's tattoo

How to find a Tattoo Artist

giulio
Andrea Giulimondi from The Family Business, London

I’ve just booked an appointment for another tattoo! In London! I am finally going to get some work done in the city where my heart beats a little faster. I am so excited.

I’ve been asked by a few people to write about how I choose an artist. Especially in a city where I don’t actually know that many people, let alone many people with tattoos. So that is what this little quite long post is supposed to be.
Not the final word on choosing an artist but perhaps a guide, a starting point.

I currently wear eight tattoos. Of these, I have the work of six artists on my body*.
Not intentionally, mind, that’s just the way it has turned out.

But I digress! How did I choose my artist in London? You’ll see. But more importantly, how do YOU start finding the perfect artist for your tattoo?

Tattoos Themselves
rose

Word of mouth is invaluable. Ask someone you know who has amazing tattoos; ask someone you DON’T know who has amazing tattoos. Chances are, if you are nice about it and explain why you are asking hi, I just love your tattoo, I’m looking to get one done myself and was just wondering what artist you used? then they are unlikely to mind.

If they are quite heavily tattooed they are most likely going to be used to people coming up and talking to them about their tattoos. They are, when on display, quite the conversation starter**.

Remember to look for the same style of tattoo you are imagining. It is probable that an artist can be equally proficient at realistic and traditional-tattoo style tattoos, but don’t bet your money on it. Don’t go to an artist who does only black and grey realist portraits and ask them to do a traditional Japanese style koi & Hokusai’s The Great Wave piece. Artists specialise for a reason.

However, I didn’t really know anyone who has been tattooed in London, and I wouldn’t have enough time when I was in London to go looking for strangers. So this option wasn’t much of an option for me.

I had watched the first season of London Ink in 2008 and through the show discovered Nikole Lowe (a Kiwi artist living in London!). It was through a subsequent profile on her in Inked magazine that I found out she had opened her own studio and discovered the work of Saira Hunjan.

The Internet
siorghra

Use social networking to ask for recommendations. When I was looking for an artist to do my rose tattoo I was completely stuck. I turned to Twitter for recommendations. Through them I found Sacred Tattoo in Auckland and Dan Anderson, who did my rose.

I suppose I could have crowdsourced recommendations for London tattoo artists through Twitter but I don’t have that many followers in the UK, I don’t think, and to be honest, it completely slipped my mind!

With Nikole Lowe in mind I searched for her tattoo studio, Good Times. I emailed and requested an appointment with Saira Hunjan if she had space available during the week I am in London. I sent the email and went to bed. The next morning, my inbox empty, I decided that I was leaving it a little late*** to rely on only contacting one studio, I needed to find another artist.

Honestly? I then turned to Google. I searched “tattoo studio London”. I know, it’s kind of ridiculous in its simplicity, but I swear this is what I did.

Thankfully, one of the first links was to an article on Time Out called London’s best tattoo studios****. SO HANDY!

So then I had a list. I clicked through to all the individual tattoo parlour’s websites and came to this conclusion (yet again): tattoo parlours have, by and large, TERRIBLE websites. Oh lord. The fonts, the busy backgrounds, the animations. SO bad.

Luckily, I did not want them to design me a website.

Use the About or FAQs page to get a feel for the studio. Do they assume that you already know a lot about tattoos? In that case, they may not be the best choice for your first tattoo, especially if you are nervous.
Check for waiting periods, do they take walk-ins? what rate do they charge? do they need a deposit? do they charge for artwork or is that built into the hourly rate? is there a minimum charge?

I always like to have a look at the Studio photos to see the kind of environment I will be being tattooed in. You can’t necessarily tell how sanitary a place seems from photos which are probably taken when the studio is looking its best, but you can get a feel for the place.

This time I even looked the studio up on google maps, just to see what area of London it is in. Close to my old work!

I should note that The Family Business, the studio I chose, has a damn pretty website.

The Artist
wilbur

The studio website should have links to portfolios for all their artists. This is definitely the most important part of the process. You need to love the other work your artist has done.

I was looking for an artist who leans towards the traditional style tattoos, as that’s the aesthetic I like, but who could also do quite delicate or “feminine” work. I fell for Andrea Giulimondi’s work immediately.

Portfolio
I also loved the tattooed baby, the sparrow, and the lady with the roses.
View his portfolio here.

Like with any art, you are looking at work that speaks to you. I had looked at the work of many many artists and thought it’s fine but or he’s a good artist but something was off. Something didn’t work with the mental image I have of the tattoo I want to get. There were only a few artists, say 4 out of the 30 or so portfolios I looked at, whose work I actually loved enough to email for an appointment*****.

Hopefully the portfolio will be either all healed tattoos or a mixture of healed and fresh. Understandably it is easier to get photos of tattoos as soon as they are done, but you really don’t know exactly how a tattoo is going to look until after it has healed. Often artists will ask their customers to come back in to show them the tattoo or to send them a photo once it’s healed.

Pay particular attention to the line work. It should be the same thickness all the way along, and not fuzzy around the edges – the fuzzy bit is called a blowout and can ruin delicate linework or text tattoos.
Check out large swathes of colour – is it evenly coloured or is it splotchy? Is it all primary colours or does it look like they mix their own. What kind of colour combinations do they use, is there anything unexpected?

Also remember that the work in the portfolio is what the artist themselves considers their best work. So if you don’t like it, or it’s not that great, then you don’t even like that artist at their best.

Finally, once you have decided on an artist, give them a little bit of freedom to work. Unless you are an artist yourself, or the tattoo you want is a replication of a famous piece of art, recognise that your tattoo artist is an ARTIST and let them do their thing.

Take in images of similar tattoos or the styles that you like. Take in examples of colour schemes or paint techniques you like. I took in a photo of a plate for a colour scheme for my rose, as well as images where I like parts of the rose – the middle of one, the curls around the outside of another, the different interior and exterior petal colours from a third.

I took in outlines for my first two tattoos – the cupcake and the crown – which was fine as I was looking for straight replicas. However by far my favourite tattoos are the ones where I gave the artist guidance and reference images and asked them to come up with something.

With my sugar skull for example I took 4 or 5 examples of the kind of sugar skulls I liked and he talked to me about the colour scheme I was looking for (girly, bright, similar to my rose) and the particular elements I liked (heart shaped sockets, tudor roses, sacred heart, flourishes) and he designed me something beautiful and completely my own. I couldn’t have come up with better.

Sometimes the artist can save you from yourself. My side piece I had initially wanted with a horizontal orientation, about 2/3 the size I ended up with, but still retaining the details of peonies, roses, my camera, and in omnia paratus in a banner. It never would have worked the way I was thinking. The detail would have been too small and it would have looked too busy.
But I couldn’t see that. The artist could though, and I am glad I took her recommendation.

So yes. Don’t accept a tattoo design that you don’t absolutely adore, but maybe let the artist help you find something that is both beautiful, and the best for a tattoo.

To conclude this session I leave you with this anecdote.

I let Gill choose the colours for my lock and key tattoo, I trust him enough to do that, and he chose gold and teal and a little bit of aqua. I loved it. The next day I was showing a girl in the office and she said “aren’t those the colours of [where I worked]” and YES! YES THEY WERE.
Oops. But I love the tattoo. And I no longer work there. And it is an amusing anecdote. Tattoos do not have to be serious.

***************

* Dave McEwan – cupcake, Michelle Mac – crown, Dan Anderson – rose, Manu Edwin – sugarskull and Jitterbug Perfume quote, Erin Chance – side piece, and Jeremy Gill – St Paul’s Cathedral and my lock and key.

** Personally, I don’t mind people talking to me about my tattoos, as long as they are respectful. If they touch me? That is NOT cool. If you can’t see my entire text tattoo, ASK me to move my hair. Don’t brush my back. That’s just creepy, ESPECIALLY SINCE YOU ARE BEHIND ME.
Oh also? Do not rubbish someone’s tattoos. Once they are there, they are THERE, treat them like an unsightly mole or a broken nose that wasn’t set properly. Yes, they could get plastic surgery to fix it, but do not give them a hard time about it.

*** Most excellent artists have waiting lists. My guy in Wellington? About 3 months at the moment. Rose Hardy, one of my wishlist artists? A 12 month waiting list. When I found out that Saira Hunjan was the favoured tattoo artist of Kate Moss? I realised that the chances of her having only a 3 month waiting list were … pretty slim. About as slim as Mrs Hince herself.

**** I loved their description of The Family Business’ studio
Everything about The Family Business is sharp, from its boutiquey location in Exmouth Market to its suited and booted staff and vintage swing soundtrack. Its blood red interior, adorned with Roman Catholic imagery, is inspired by owner Mo Coppoletta’s Italian heritage, and contrasts with the bold Japanese screens separating the work area from the waiting room.

***** the artists I emailed about were: Saira Hunjan at Good Times Tattoo, Lucy at Into You Tattoo, and Andrea Giulimondi and Andrea Furci at The Family Business

A confession. Stupidity. Glee.

I need to preface this entry. A lot.
1. I am not a big computer person (really! I promise!)
2. I am not pregnant or getting divorced.

I have an iPhone (did you know? I don’t like mentioning it. Because people obsessed with their iPhones terrify me). I also have a Macbook. And an iPod.
Despite these things, I am not a “Mac” person. I do not think Steve Jobs is god (Blasphemy!?! But then who am I to know). I just think that it can’t hurt to have a computer that is speedy as well as beautiful. Oh so pretty.
When the iPhone was announced I thought what’s the point? I have an iPod. And a phone with a camera. Why oh why would I ever need them combined? And then I went into the Apple store on Regent Street.
It might have been all the space and the white and the shiny, but I picked up an iPhone, played with it for ooo all of five minutes, turned to Craig and said It must Be Mine. MUST and he shook his head in that wise, pc-loving, Nokia-phone-using, ever-so-patient way that he has (argh) and told me that of course I could get one. If I saved up for it. Damn him and his sensible ways.
So I saved. And saved. I got bored with saving and then I saved some more.
Finally I bought one. And it was beautiful and it was mine. And I loved it (obsessed? with my phone. Not the iPhone in general). Craig even played with it for a while and now secretly (or not so secretly) kind-of-almost-sort-of wants one of his own. Victory.

I told you that story, to tell you this story.

Two nights ago I was in my bedroom collecting clothes to wash. I grabbed my phone on my way out of my room and thoughtlessly (actually. I lie. I thought about putting it in my pocket but …) chucked it on top of my pile of clothes. Do you see where this is going?
In the little black case I lovingly bought for it, I chucked it on top of my black and dark grey clothes that I was about to put into the washing machine. Do you see now? Oh, the agony of hindsight.

Fast forward two hours. My laundry had beeped to completion and I thought to check my messages before I put my clothes in the dryer. But where was my phone? (Agony!) I swear, I almost passed out when I looked at the ominously quiet laundry, opened the lid of the washing machine and, stomach dropping, saw my poor baby phone, the darling phone I had named Dracula (yes. really.) sitting alone at the bottom of the washing machine, isolated from the skulking clump of wet laundry. Agony.

My mind shut off and I raced upstairs, stared in the mirror and cursed myself. How could I tell Craig that I had been so monumentally stupid? I would never hear the end of it.
And with that, I raced back downstairs, secretly collected me phone from the laundry and tried to act nonchalant as I collected a tea towel, a bowl of dry rice, & my mother’s hairdryer. No one noticed. I don’t think that says much for my usual behaviour.

My phone wouldn’t turn on. Agony. After a couple of hours in a bowl of dry rice, on top of a heater, covered with a tea towel, & dried with the hair dryer it was not only turning on but receiving text messages!
There was an almost beautiful mottling on the screen but it was fading and after a further hour with the hairdryer, and being left in the rice overnight, even that was gone!
I did dream that I would wake up to find it was over-dried & disintegrating, falling apart in my hands. HATE you subconscious.

Now my darling Dracula phone looks just as it ever did. Perhaps even better! it fought the washing machine (killer of expensive sweaters, eater of socks) and won.
It is older, & wiser but bears no actual scars.

Perhaps the touch screen is marginally less sensitive in areas and I don’t know yet if the battery life has been diminished but if that’s all my punishment for such stupidity? I’ll take it.

I won’t hear anything said against the iPhone ever ever again. It is made of envy & pieces of rainbow.