London is a city like no other. Its fashion and music history for starters. Lets start with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. They changed music forever. Everything that was mod and mini came from London. The birth of punk fashion came with Vivienne Westwood’s and Malcolm McLaren’s store. They capitalized on the safety pinned youth that were poor and had created something out of necessity. The real punks couldn’t afford to buy clothes from the shop that stole their fashion. The irony.
I started my trip to London in Camden Town. My friend Val and I stayed in a cozy little Airbnb that was within walking distance to Camden Market. It was a two level apartment that I mistakenly thought we would have to ourselves. When we arrived there were men’s socks draped across a radiator. Our upstairs room had men’s briefs on display at the foot of our bed. Our hosts slept in the bedroom beside ours. It was hilarious. I don’t think he quite had the whole hosting thing down. Still, we could walk to the market and the apartment was clean despite the socks and undies… and the sand paper towels they gave us to bath with were horrendous but it was all manageable.
I love the quaintness and small town feel by the market. The cobble stoned streets through Camden Market wind their way through stalls of fashionable clothing, cutting edge bondage looks and great vintage. There is the “Mod Store” where the gentleman who owns it walks around in his authentic mod suit spewing a wealth of knowledge regarding the clothes he sells. “This is from a London based designer who only made a few pieces… very rare.” “This sequined flag jacket could have been made for Elton John.”
Then there is the beloved statue of Amy Winehouse in the center of the market. She lived in Camden Town and her house still has offerings of flowers and poems and gifts ,displayed across the road and under a tree, from fans who miss her. She was incredibly talented and incredibly tiny with her massive hair. I wish I’d had the opportunity to see her perform but she’s gone and the closest I will ever get is posing beside this bronzed Amy.
There is an array of foods from around the globe in Camden Market and always somewhere to stop for a pint or a cocktail. I spent two days just wandering , eating fantastic coconut based Indonesian curry from a stall on the first day, and having delicious Mexican on the second day. I ended up purchasing a dark red burgundy velvet waist coat that I found in a steam punk store. I’m not sure what inspired me other than the fit was perfect and I felt a bit like David Bowie when I put it on. I also found a vintage satin DKNY coat that would not allow me to leave it behind.
From there I traveled to Brighton where I immediately started singing “We are the mods, we are the mods, we are, we are, we are the mods” from “The Who’s” epic film “Quadraphenia”. The film was shot in Brighton forty years ago. I love The Who and I love that movie. It is a gem of great music, fashion and art and it features the lovely seaside town of Brighton. I sat at an outdoor pub and drank pink gin and lemonade… refreshing and deceivingly innocent until you stand up after a couple. Gin is not a drink I normally partake in but for some reason I drank a lot of it in the U.K. I also discovered Espresso Martinis… a delicious blend of coffee and chocolate with vodka… and something called a Porn Star Martini… a fruity mango based elixir with vodka and a shot of prosecco …both delicious and deadly… and I blame my mates Val and Angela for that obsession. It became my mission for the rest of my trip to find cocktail lounges that could make those two drinks. I was successful in my hunt and have had a couple of Espresso Martinis in my own home since I’ve returned… a full blown lush.
Brighton reminds me of San Francisco with its hilly streets and sea front. The boardwalk is spectacular and still has rides on it that look like old -timey fairground rides. The weather was a bit chilly, although it was sunny all day long, but even the heartiest of Brits was not giving in to the lure of the sea in May. I have seen people swim where it could not have been much above 50 degrees and I turned blue just watching them, but not this time. I went to see a Canadian band called The Sadies from Toronto and they blew the roof off the sold out show which was packed with enthusiastic guitar nerds and drunken dancers … myself being one of them… and afterwards everyone spilled out onto the streets to find the next libation. My friends and I went to a wonderful place called The Bohemian where we drank my new fav, the Espresso Martini, that came on a concrete chalice filled with dry ice. It was a drunken Game of Thrones moment for me.
Next, we made our way to my best mate Val’s farm house in Devon. A gorgeous British countryside with narrow hedged lined roads that wind up and down from one small hamlet to the next. I was introduced to clotted cream on scones with jam and probably gained five pounds in a week. It was worth it. Thank god for Spanx. There is nothing that compares to the English breakfast or countryside. Gorgeous. We visited a donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth. The grounds were immense and well kept. They even had a large maze you could run through, which reminded me of The Shining. I wouldn’t want to be there on a snowy day in the winter. The rescue donkeys were lovely and approachable. One had the most beautiful and peaceful face as we scratched her ears and whispered affections to her. I also hung out with Val’s rescue ponies and her son Will, a handsome young lad whose title is Will Of Fartingdom.
Next, Val and I headed to Carnaby Street back in London and home of the birthplace of the swinging ’60’s. There was a time this street was filled with mods , punks and skinheads. It has always been the epicentre of fashion and culture in London’s West End. I tried to envision these early days as I walked the street. Now Carnaby Street is a tourist attraction that has fashionable “chain” stores that you would find in any mall. The boutiques seem to all have gone by the way side. There are some nice cafes and pubs to stop for a drink but the best thing is that it is bordered by the timeless Liberty department store.
I didn’t purchase anything on famed Carnaby Street because I could find any of the stores back at home offering up the same fashion.
We headed over to the famous and iconic Liberty Department Store. It is known for its luxury designs and fashions. It first opened in 1875. Its famous mock Tudor front was done in 1924. It has continued on in its history of championing eclectic designs and has the enviable reputation of housing the most forward thinking and highly covetable fashions.
We made our way into Liberty and passed through a spectacular perfumery. It was heavenly, with so many different scents. I was tempted to buy something original but my pocket book was not having any of it. We made our way up the wide stair case to the second floor where I experienced a wave of envy seeing some of the most beautiful and original dresses hanging, evenly spaced, on racks, in order to give you time to process each and every one…. and once again … in my case, realize that they are all out of your price range. There was something so regal and old about this store, the creaking heavy wooded floors and large mirrors, and the highly fashionable staff. Just making the trip inside was worth the pain of not being able to buy anything. But that doesn’t mean I couldn’t try something on… and I did. I tried on a pair of Stella McCartney sunglasses! We stopped for tea at the restaurant on the 2nd floor and recharged our phones. I had a couple of poached eggs, bacon and toast with some fruit on the side, and , of course, some tea. It was completely full and we shared a table with an older couple. There was lively chatter and the brightly lit room was elegant, even though it was filled with shoppers.
Val took me to Kensington High Street where she grew up not far from Kensington Palace. It was the home of the 3 storied Kensington Market that was demolished in the early 2000’s. I was sad to hear that it had closed down and remember buying some cool bohemian trousers there in the 1980’s. Freddy Mercury even had a stall there at one time. There was just so much cool fashion and history everywhere you looked.
The church bells rang out for long periods of time as we walked past famous landmarks. These streets are well groomed and wide and the mansions spectacular. We walked past the house of Jimmy Page… well.. the castle of Jimmy Page with it’s turrets and stained glass, as we made our way to Kensington Palace.
Kensington Palace was lit up in the dusk and the “no photos” signs did not stop me from snapping a quick one at a distance.
Living there must be such a public affair and I don’t think I could handle that much attention… not for all the money in the land… which is apparently what they have. I prefer a quieter and more private existence. As Val and I walked the deserted streets she reminisced about a childhood growing up so close to the palace and playing near Kensington gardens , and it’s large pond, feeding the ducks and the swans. She told me a story about herself, as a small child, meeting John Wayne in front of her house ,because he was coming to visit her next door neighbor, who had worked as a crew member on one of his films. She had no idea who he was but her mum did and the word spread that John Wayne was on the street. She also had no idea that she was growing up in a place that was steeped in so much history and was in the process of creating more. We don’t recognize that sort of thing when we are kids. We are just living in our moment. I wish I’d had that kind of history instead of growing up in a brand new suburb in Ontario. I dreamed of castles and Princes when I was growing up.
When I think of England I think of moss and ivy covered thatched cottages and stain glass windows in enormous castles and over flowing purple Wisteria falling off of houses and fascinators and mini skirts and The Beatles and The Who and The Rolling Stones and afternoon tea and Double Decker buses and the Royals and one of my closest and dearest friends… Val…. and that would keep anyone coming back over and over again…….
Thanks readers… I hope you enjoyed this post and there is more to come from my trip to the UK!! Stay tuned. All photos featuring myself were taken by the multi talented Val Miller.