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Losing It: How I Shed Weight As A Cheese-Nibbling Wine-Loving Forty-Something

I upped my three-mile morning walk to five miles. It's mostly leafy, and includes Woolwich Common.

I upped my three-mile morning walk to five miles. It’s mostly leafy, and includes Woolwich Common.

I’ve lost 10 kilograms (or 22 pounds) this year and some people have asked me how I did it, so I thought I’d write this post. Disclaimer: this is not advice. I’m not qualified to offer it and I wouldn’t presume. I’m just sharing a few observations about what worked for me. Some of it may be helpful, but everyone’s different.

Most wars on weight start with an epiphany. For some it’s a bad photo, for others it’s being mistaken for being up the duff. Last year I was treated to both those edifying moments, but the turning point was climbing on the scales on January 2 and discovering I’d hit 80 kilos. According to the NHS, that’s at the very top of the healthy weight range for my height (178cm; the range is 63-80 kilos). One more late-night kebab and I would be officially overweight for the first time in my 47 years. Not on your nelly!

So I set a goal of losing eight kilos in 10 weeks, meaning one kilo a week with a couple of extra weeks to allow for slippages. I marked down my weekly goal on a calendar in good old analogue biro, counting down the Fridays to coincide with a trip home to Australia: 79, 78, 77, 76, 75, 74, 73, 72.

I thought about my daily habits and what I needed to change. I made a mental commitment to walk from Woolwich to Greenwich every day, not just when I felt like it and not cheating by hopping on the 53 bus. I dropped sugar from my daily coffee. I started to count calories, aiming for no more than 1,200 a day. I did Dry January and made it all the way to the 20th, which I thought was a fair effort. Call it Dry Janu if you will. I weighed myself daily. The risks of doing this are widely chronicled, but this approach has worked for me. My bathroom scales go to one decimal place (the cruel bastards), so I’ve been able to observe the increments of my weight loss in tedious and sometimes heart-breaking detail. If I found that I’d put on half a kilo, I’d be upset for about 5 seconds then I’d think about how I could redouble my efforts for the day ahead. If I’d lost half a kilo, I’d let out a little squeak of glee, then think about how I could redouble my efforts for the day ahead. I wrote my daily weight on the calendar, so I could track how I was trending.

A fairly healthy breakfast of smoked salmon, poached eggs and fresh spinach from Koffees and Kream in Woolwich. The mayonnaise was dolloped into the ring of capsicum, so I was able to avoid it easily.

A fairly healthy breakfast option from Koffees and Kream in Woolwich. The mayonnaise was dolloped into the ring of capsicum, so I was able to avoid it easily.

I lost three kilos in the first three weeks and felt pretty smug. Then some alcohol happened, my social life returned, and the battle started in earnest. I used up one of my spare weeks, readjusted the numbers on my calendar and took a deep breath. I cut down on wine. I shunned cheese and bread. I lowered my daily mid-week calorie intake to about 1,000. I avoided pasta and embraced fish and prawns.

That wasn’t enough. It felt like my metabolism was a lumbering, sluggish ship that I was trying to turn around in a sea of melted cheese. Previously, I’d have given up with a weary “sod it”. But vanity and fear and a keen desire to fit back into my wedding dress (I got married at 41 and wore a slinky black gown) drove me on. I upgraded my daily walk to a five-mile slog all the way from my front door in Woolwich to my office in Canary Wharf, via the Greenwich foot tunnel. I started going to the gym at least three times a week, burning off 200-300 calories per session. On some evenings, I even walked part of the way home with the makings of my vegetable-laden dinner in my backpack. I tried to burn off more calories than I took in, Sunday through Thursday, at least. Fridays and Saturdays were more difficult but a girl has to have fun.

This might sound naff, but I bought magazines like Women’s Health for inspiration. Most of the exercises looked impossible (all that leaping about…not with my rickety knees, sunshine) but I picked up some ideas. Stomach crunches from Brittany’s workout, foods that burn fat (cottage cheese, who knew) and that sort of thing. I learned about chia seeds and promptly bought a bag for sprinkling on my daily tuna and bean salad. The good ship Metabolism started to turn and I made it to the departure gate at Heathrow weighing exactly 72 kilos. I made sure I did a lot of walking in Melbourne (to balance 12 days of giddy indulgence with loved ones) and by the time I got back to London, after a side-step to Cambodia, I’d only put two kilos back on.

I've gone easy on the full English breakfasts in favour of this sort of caper.

I’ve gone easy on the full English breakfasts in favour of this sort of caper.

Phase Two was to reach 70 kilos by the late May bank holiday and wear a bikini in Barcelona. And I did: a lovely floral one from Ted Baker. Some may raise an eyebrow at the notion of someone just shy of 50 wearing a two-piece. Those people can do as they please with their eyebrows. Anyway, I didn’t go through four months of exertion just so my belly could get some sun. I did it because I want to feel more positive and powerful about approaching 50. I want to age gracefully and gratefully and turn all the above-mentioned into my “new normal”. I will ditch the bikini at some point. Just not yet!                 .

Breakfast Delivered To My Door? A Dream Comes True In SE18

Breakfast arrives in paper bags, the goodies attractively packaged.

Breakfast arrives in paper bags, the goodies attractively packaged.

In my fantasy world, I live in nothing but five-star hotels. I wake up on the weekend, reach for the phone, dial ‘0’, and give Room Service my order: a fresh, soft bap filled with the best locally-sourced bacon and a glass of freshly-squeezed juice, please. Or perhaps a Full English and the papers?

Hannah, the owner and creative force behind new SE18-based business BednBreakfast, understands where I’m coming from. In her Shooters Hill home, she cooks delicious breakfasts to order. Her drivers then deliver the goods, still-warm and beautifully-packaged (the food, not the drivers) to SE London postcodes including SE6, SE10, SE18, and  SE28 (for a full list see the website).

This is a local business that brings joy, relief, and medicinal bacon to people. People who, like me, have lain in bed of a weekend most of their adult lives just wishing they could get a bacon sarnie delivered.

Last Sunday, Hannah was kind enough to send a veritable feast to my front door so I could experience BedNBreakfast for myself. Disclaimer: I got it for free. However, I’d have happily paid and I look forward to becoming a regular customer.

After I’d tucked away a sausage, egg, and cheese bap, then a plate of mushrooms, fried egg, cheesy beans, and bacon, and THEN had a nibble on a mushroom and sausage omelette, I wanted to know more. I washed everything down with freshly-pressed apple juice first, then fired off a few questions to Hannah:

 

Hannah, please tell us a bit about yourself. Who does all the cooking?

To be honest, I cook the food myself and have employed drivers to deliver. In time I will hire an assistant. I have had a career in teaching for the last 12 years and have a level 2 catering and hygiene certificate. I just love to cook and eventually want to deliver your whole days meals from breakfast to dinner and dessert! My home made coleslaw is to die for and I can’t wait to roll that out!

How did you come up with the idea for delivering breakfast?

While living in Taiwan, for just under two years, I fell in love with the ease of the cooking and the fact that everything could be delivered to you, especially breakfast. I also learned to speak mandarin!

Can you tell me who some of the suppliers are? Your ingredients seem top quality.

All but one of my suppliers are on the same road (Old Dover Road in Blackheath). My sausages are from GG Sparkes, their traditional Cumberlands, and my fruit and veg is from the greengrocers right next door, Apple and Orange. My bread is from the bottom of the same road, from a bakery called Hirst. I use their multigrain loaf, thick cut, and white bloomer thick cut, as well as their baps. And, lastly, my bacon is from Heaps Sausages in Greenwich. So it’s all top quality and local!
You can build your own Full English, choosing from the items shown here, plus black pudding, grilled tomatoes and plantain. Nom nom nom.

You can build your own Full English, choosing from the items shown here, plus black pudding, grilled tomatoes and plantain. Nom nom nom.

Fantastic! It shows. And how do the drivers keep everything warm while it’s being delivered?

The food is transported in a special heated bag (the sort that can also be used for pizza delivery) that can keep food warm for up to 90 minutes.

If people wake up on the day and want to place an order, what’s the latest they can do that?

I take last orders at 2:45pm. Preordering is always welcome as it makes it much more efficient and personal. Exciting news on the horizon is that BNB will be launching its very own android app
in a few weeks. The app will allow customers to see all that’s happening at the BNB hub, and you’ll be able to place an order and pay using your debit/credit card without even speaking to me! Or you can simply call on the day. I try to meet everyone’s needs.
Hannah, you have met a UNIVERSAL NEED and this blogger salutes you!
Details: www.bednbreakfasttt.co.uk and follow on Twitter @bednbreakfasttt

Game Days, Bloody Great Days

Game day at The Valley.

Game day at The Valley.

I love going to football grounds. State-of-the-art stadiums are brilliant, of course, but I’m talking proper backstreets grounds that are laden with history, strewn with pie-wrappers, and fringed by houses.

I caught the bug from my partner, with his nostalgic tales of rainy, mud-spattered Saturday afternoons in Melbourne spent watching his Aussie Rules footy team kick a sodden bag of leather around. He took me on a tour of all the famous and faded suburban grounds. To Arden Street, where we could just make out the Dry Area sign. To Brunswick Oval, where his grandfather’s ashes were scattered (old Len had been a Victorian and Tasmanian champion). To the hallowed turf of Glenferrie Oval where his dad, just off the boat from Ireland, first saw Hawthorn play and started a family tradition that will last for eternity.

We even visited grounds with which we had no connection. We stood on a hill in South Gippsland and watched Poowong versus Kongwak (I didn’t just make those names up). Locals sat in cars behind the goals and honked their horns after every goal. We saw Harcourt play Trentham in Victoria’s Central Highlands, and felt a bit sorry for a kid called Russell. He was probably doing first year arts at Melbourne Uni and he definitely didn’t want to be out there. To add to his sulking pain, his nan spent the entire game yelling “have a bloody go, Russell!”

Now that we’re on the other side of the globe, the ground-seeking continues but the ball is round. We’ve seen the bubbles drift over the pitch at the Boleyn Ground, we’ve watch the millionaires trot about at Old Trafford, and we’ve held fatty Scottish pies in our wee frozen hands while Dundee lost to St. Mirren at Dens Park. We’ve enjoyed a rare burst of winter sunshine and three Leyton Orient goals at Brisbane Road. We took the Eurostar to Lille one January to soak up the minus 11 degree ambience of the giant deep freezer known as the Stade Pierre-Mauroy. Closer to home, we’ve taken the bus to Welling’s Park View ground to cheer the Greenwich Mariners to victory in the Woolwich & Eltham Sunday League.

All wonderful days out. But nothing quite compares to a day at the Valley.

We’d only been living in Woolwich (and indeed the UK) about a fortnight when we noticed road signs pointing to Charlton Athletic. We’d barely begun to understand where we were on the map, but that didn’t stop us heading down to the Valley for a Tuesday night game in February, clad in our woefully inadequate Melbourne coats. Over the past four years, we’ve been back quite a few times, drinking before (and usually after) at the Rose of Denmark. We’ve rubbed shoulders with the CAFC faithful, a knowledgeable, passionate, nattily-dressed, and storied lot. We’ve seen Charlton play like shit and play like champions.

The actual 90+ minutes of play aside, I love game days for how a suburb comes alive. Charlton is wonderful like this. I love the hungry queues outside Seabay Fish Bar and Charlton Kebab House. The away supporters loitering outside the Antigallican. The burger vans exuding aromas of fried onions and chips. The stalls hawking scarves and flags, and the folks selling programs.

On game days, the normally sleepy streets around the ground team with kids, parents, grandparents, lads, lasses, everyone. For outsiders like us, a day at the Valley is a way to try and connect with our new surrounds, to feel in a small way that we’re part of the beating heart of a place and a culture that is so far removed geographically from Melbourne, yet so utterly familiar.

Game days are bloody great days!

For more about Charlton Athletic go to www.cafc.co.uk.

For an insight into what it’s like to be a Charlton supporter, read some of the blogs. There’s charltoncasual.blogspot.co.uk, hungryted.blogspot.co.uk, and algordoncafc.blogspot.com to name a few.

 

 

 

10 Ways To Get Fit In Woolwich (Without Joining A Gym)

Some of the equipment at the Adidas-sponsored outdoor gym at Charlton Park. Free to all!

Some of the equipment at the Adidas-sponsored outdoor gym at Charlton Park. Free to all!

I am expecting a lot from January, as usual. I started the month as a blotchy, bloated and burned-out slug. A borderline overweight slug at that, according to the NHS chart. At this juncture (January 18), I plan to emerge from the cocoon of this most depressing month as a svelte, toned, and dazzling butterfly. I shall spread my lovely wings, and flutter off into the welcoming arms of summer.

Yeah, whatever. Anyway, the boiled down version of the above is that I want to lose a kilo a week over the next eight weeks. Why? Vanity and fear. How? By exercising and eating healthier, smaller portions. Seems to be the only way, sadly. I’ve been busily changing my habits so that I can achieve my goal. I am not joining a gym. There are plenty of ways to get fit in Woolwich without forking out money you don’t have for a gym you won’t visit, except to assuage your guilt. So, here are my top 10 tips:

1. Slog up Shooters Hill. Start at Woolwich Common or Herbert Road and power-walk up to The Bull (the top pub, uphill of the Red Lion). Find the likes of very long and steep Donaldson Road on your phone map. Start at the bottom of the road and walk to the top. I’ve done it (with a pause half way) and I can report that it’s better than any treadmill session. You can reward yourself with a visit to Severndroog Castle. Climb the castle’s stairs and burn some extra calories. The views are fabulous.

2. Ditch the bus. I’m one of the hapless users of the 122, which trundles up Woolwich New Road and then Academy Road whenever it feels in the mood. Its moods do not coincide with any known timetable or logic. I’ve replaced it by walking home, often with shopping bags and a backpack, starting at Woolwich DLR and ending near Woolwich Common. It’s a great walk: a good gradient that increases the heart rate without the punishment of Donaldson Road.

3. Be menu savvy. Okay, this is tricky in Woolwich. The no-go, here-be-dragons zones are pretty obvious (Sam’s Chicken, Kebab Kingdom, Maccas, Nandos, KFC, Dunkin’ Donuts). However, places like Koffees and Kream,  Cornerstone, Dial Arch, and Woolwich Equitable all have healthy options. My current dish of choice at Koffees and Kream is grilled salmon served with salad and peas. At Cornerstone I can vouch for the potato, fresh spinach and poached egg stack.

4. Take the Thames Path. Perfect for a long stroll or bike ride on the flat. For someone my weight (78 kilos but not for too much longer if I can help it), a two-hour walk at 3 miles an hour on the flat will burn about 500 calories or two large Pinot Grigios. Woot! Start at Woolwich Pier and go in either direction. I prefer out toward the Crossness Pumping Station (in the direction of Thamesmead) but heading in to North Greenwich is also pretty cool.

5. Explore the Green Chain. This network of hiking trails is superb. Unlike the Thames Path, it can get a bit muddy and hilly and rustic, so sturdy hiking shoes are preferable. I bought a pair of Quechuas (£40 on sale) and they are fantastic. I’ve walked 18 miles in a day in these babies and not copped a single blister. (See www.greenchain.com for details.)

6. Swim. The Charlton Lido, an outdoor 50-metre pool, is open to those who are braver than me. I have been (and remain) too soft and faint-of-heart to try this, especially at this time of year. I know some regular users, however, and they swear it’s well-heated and the showers are lovely and hot. You can also swim in the indoor pool at Waterfront Fitness and Leisure.

The Charlton Lido is one of London's few outdoor heated 50-metre pools (pic courtesy of a slightly shivering Steve Toole).

The Charlton Lido is one of London’s few outdoor heated 50-metre pools (pic courtesy of shivering but enthusiastic pool regular, Steve Toole).

7. Visit the free Outdoor Gym. Apart from boasting the glorious Jacobean pile known as Charlton House, Charlton Park also has a free outdoor gym, called an adiZone. Adidas gave it to the park as a parting gesture after the Olympics. I walk past it most days, and quite a few people use it. It has been well maintained by the look of it.

8. Get a new coffee habit. There are about 130 calories in a latte with one sugar, but just 5 calories in an espresso. Woolwich has some good espresso options these days. Forget Starbucks and support local indies like Koffees and Kream, Cornerstone, and Coffee Lounge.

9. Jog on. I don’t jog but if I did I’d head straight for either the Thames Path or Woolwich Common for some traffic- and road-free paths to pound along.

10. Load up on fruit and veg. Avoid the snack machine and share a bag of easy-peel clementines with your work mates instead. Woolwich has loads of market stalls and shops selling cheap fruit and veg. Tray o’ bananas a pound? Or, contact Mike the Very Green Grocer and get a weekly box of healthy goodies delivered. He’s just up in Shooters Hill and delivers locally. You can also find him and his van on the Royal Arsenal every Saturday morning near the concierge (www.theverygreengrocer.co.uk).

 

 

 

 

A Winter Escape To Edinburgh

The living room is just the spot to while away a rainy winter's afternoon. The honesty bar is off to one side.

The lounge is just the spot to while away a rainy winter’s afternoon. The honesty bar is off to one side. There’s even an ice maker.

As much as I love modern gizmos like the internet and the ring-pull can, I’m also quite enamoured of the olden days. Not the smelly, uncomfortable olden days, mind you. Just the rosy-cheeked, probably-never-really-existed, stuff-of-romantic-fancy ones.

You get my drift. I’m talking leather-bound classics, roaring fireplaces, household antiques, cosy candlelit corners, Chesterfield couches, quaint old prints in gilt frames, Charles Dickens sipping a snifter in a low-ceilinged tavern, and so on.

Which brings me to 23 Mayfield, a bed-and-breakfast establishment that has all of those things in spades (except for Dickens, obviously, although his collected works grace one of the well-stocked bookcases).

Put simply, 23 Mayfield gets every detail, and every big thing, absolutely right. Located on one of Edinburgh’s elegant streets, about a mile from the action and within a bull’s roar of Arthur’s Seat, the Victorian house is the perfect base for a weekend in the Scottish capital. (BTW if you’re an adult and have lived in the U.K. all your life and have never been to Edinburgh, consider yourself sat on the naughty step until you agree to buy a train ticket and go.)

We arrived on Friday evening on the midnight train from London, armed with the security code for the front door and clear instructions to ascend the second staircase and find our room (number 9, a very good ‘un as it turned out). But we were a bit pissed, thanks to East Coast Rail’s enthusiastic hospitality, so we clattered and giggled our way up the first set of stairs, reading out all the room numbers in stage whispers until we realised our mistake. Apologies to those we woke up. When we did eventually find our toasty-warm, plushly-carpeted, and soothingly-lit room, we were greeted by a friendly, handwritten note asking us to fill out our breakfast order and place it on the hall table, downstairs.

I could go on about the breakfast, but I’ll resist the temptation. You can peruse it yourself right here http://www.23mayfield.co.uk/edinburgh-guest-house/breakfast-menu.htm. The dishes are every locally-sourced morsel as fabulous as they sound, from the yogurt served with boozy fruits to the Full Scottish with haggis and tattie scones. Awards have been won, international accolades given, and I’m not at all surprised.

With breakfast done, you’re well set up for exploring all that Edinburgh has to offer. On the Sunday of our stay, however, it pissed with rain so hard we thought we’d stay in. As 23 Mayfield is the sort of place in which you can pad about wearing your bathrobe (supplied), we donned said robes, slipped into our house-trousers, made a cup of tea, and settled into the Chesterfield couches in the lounge for an afternoon of reading. We listened smugly to the wind, rain, and general bluster do their worst outside. If we weren’t “trying to be good” that day, we’d have been welcome to help ourselves to the liquid goodies in the honesty bar.

As it was just before Christmas, the main rooms were festooned with sparkly decorations, and Dean Martin and Bing Crosby crooned seasonal favourites softly in the background. In the summer months, I’m sure 23 Mayfield’s front and rear gardens come into their own, as does the hot tub out the back. We’ve booked for July, so we’ll find out soon enough!

Contact 23 Mayfield at www.23Mayfield.co.uk

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The Mysterious Case Of Royal Woolwich Arsenal’s Building 11

UPDATE: Today’s great news (January 29) is that Berkeley Homes has withdrawn its application to demolish Building 11. I don’t have any details but the trusty Mark Chandler is on the case. If you don’t already follow him on twitter, he’s @Mark_Chandler. The burning question, of course, is now what? I hope Berkeley doesn’t opt out and simply leave the building there to rot (as was suggested to me; see my original article below). That course of action (or lack thereof) would make so little sense: for Crossrail, for Woolwich, for Berkeley’s brand. Come what may, let’s keep the pressure up on the developers to deliver a plan that works.

 

ORIGINAL POST: I must admit, right at the start, that Berkeley Homes’ proposal for the square outside Woolwich Arsenal Crossrail has confused me. I’ve asked some questions, but I’m not sure I’ve asked the right ones. I’m not armed with all the facts.

I’m not sure if I have any of the facts.

On Saturday, I had a gander at the display that Berkeley had set up in the Greenwich Heritage Centre. The developer’s main aim was to explain to the public exactly why, compared to all other possible solutions, the demolition of eighteenth-century Building 11 is the best and apparently only way to go.

Building 11. On the naughty step for stifling other buildings and getting in the way of taxis.

Building 11. On the naughty step for stifling other buildings and getting in the way of taxis. Copyright: English Heritage Archive.

Berkeley wants to tear down the building, which is currently festooned with scaffolding, and replace it with a turning circle for taxis.

There were several polite young men on hand to answer questions. So I asked some questions. First, why does the taxi rank have to be smack bang exactly where Building 11 is? Why can’t it be behind it or near it, so Building 11 forms an attractive barrier between the drop-off zone and the current Dial Arch Square? The answer was that the taxis have to be visible and accessible from Crossrail’s only entrance/exit. But surely, I pondered aloud, taxis would still be perfectly easy to see if they were just to the east of Building 11. We’re talking mere metres here. No. Apparently they would not be quite visible or accessible enough. And the change in ground level would make it difficult for the less able-bodied.

Cue confused thoughts, fomenting, burbling. Change in ground level? Why not build a ramp? Not visible enough? How about a nice sign that says TAXIS, with a helpful arrow? It’s a train station. Train stations typically have signs, with arrows pointing to where stuff is.

So I ask, straight out, is it the money? Is the building so far gone that Berkeley can no longer afford to restore it? I have read elsewhere, including in the Survey of London’s book on Woolwich, that restoration was always the intention. Indeed, a while back Berkeley removed Building 11’s interior bits (original fireplaces and other decorative fittings) and safely stored them off site, surely to return them in the future. At this juncture, I go on a bit about all the wonderful work Berkeley has done around the Arsenal. Knocking heritage buildings down is not Berkeley’s MO, we know that.

No, says the man, that’s not it at all. Money is not a problem. The money is there.

So the building’s main crime (I think I have this right) is that it’s in the only spot, on the whole Arsenal, that taxis could possibly turn around in after dropping people at the station. Really? Really…

At this stage, I start gesticulating at one of the boards, pointing out all the spots where I would put a taxi rank if I were designing the square.

But we’re getting nowhere, so I respectfully bow out of the conversation and look at some of the other boards. The one that grabs my attention offers another reason that Building 11 should go: that the currently unused sheds in the middle distance (formerly the Royal Carriage Factory) are being “stifled by” it. In Berkeley’s proposals, the sheds are clearly visible from Dial Arch Square and look enticingly like they might contain cafes and bars and cool shops and perhaps an artisan food market. At some stage.

So Building 11 is “stifling” the sheds? For the last two-and-a-half centuries? Stifling? What does that even mean?

I circle back to Building 11’s allegedly parlous state. The Berkeley chap explains that, at most, about 65% of the building could be saved. That’s not bad, I respond brightly. Save what can be saved, and sympathetically insert some contemporary additions. (In my mind, I’m imagining something like the new entrance to Borough Market.) Ah no, he says, that would compromise the building’s integrity, wouldn’t it.

Come again? And razing it to the ground does not?

I leave confused, clutching one of the feedback forms. Fundamentally, I don’t understand why Building 11 is being threatened and why there is no alternative proposal for its rejuvenation. Indeed, one the Berkeley men told me that if the building is saved from demolition (possibly by English Heritage stepping in), it could sit there in a state of advanced dereliction for years to come. I picture it as a stubborn and increasingly obvious eyesore, slowly decaying while Woolwich improves around it.

Perhaps you, dear reader, will understand it all much better than me. Please do take a look at the proposal and let Berkeley know what you think.

The contact details are info@royalarsenalsquare.co.uk or 020 7323 3544. The pretty pictures are at www.royalarsenalsquare.co.uk

 

 

 

 

My Weekend In Woolwich

Shiny beacon of loveliness. Woolwich Equitable's signage is suitably retro.

Shiny beacon of loveliness. Woolwich Equitable’s signage is suitably retro.

Blimey. It’s just dawned on me that I haven’t strayed from SE18 for the entire weekend. In fact, I haven’t even left Woolwich.

Thing is, I haven’t really felt the need to.

Let me take you through it.

Friday night: a couple of snifters at the sparklingly new Woolwich Equitable. Not quite packed to the rafters but a decent crowd and a convivial atmosphere. When the kitchen opens, I’ll simply get all my mail redirected and move in (I practically have already). Then, over the road to help James and Emma and the Hopstuff team celebrate their first birthday. Boy, can those kids organise a piss-up in a brewery: the place was heaving. I got slightly emoshe talking to Emma. I’m just so bloody proud of them and the difference they’ve made to SE18. Sniff sniff. Silly ole me.

Saturday morning: a slightly sluggish start (I really can’t imagine why) followed by a restorative brunch at Koffees and Kream. The splendid chicken shish is my new default menu choice. Tasty slices of grilled chicken and tomato are served with herbed rice (or chips) and salad.

Saturday afternoon: drinks, as if more were needed, and early dinner in Dial Arch. I am unashamedly infatuated with the Woolwich Equitable, but I can’t forget that Dial Arch was one of the pioneers of Woolwich’s resurgence. On a bleak January day in 2011, having been in the U.K. for about 6 hours, I walked into it. I ordered a fish finger sandwich and a glass of coke and thought: yes, I can live in this Woolwich if this pub is to be my local. It remains to be seen whether DA will tweak its offerings (and prices) when the Equitable kitchen opens. I doubt it will get cheaper. There’s a studio flat in Waterfront 1 on the market for £392,000. Whoever buys that and moves in isn’t going to quibble about the price of a pint.

Saturday evening: Go on, guess. Yes, yes. We crossed back over the Big Road and snuggled ourselves into the wood-panelled Office in the WE. According to the floorplan in the Survey of London’s volume on Woolwich, this charming little snug was originally a waiting room. Back when banks had waiting rooms.

Sunday: after another inexplicably slow start, a typically delightful brunch at Cornerstone. Superb eggs benedict, followed by a saunter along the river. Actually, we did leave the postcode momentarily. We hopped on the ferry and walked along the river path on the North Woolwich side, admiring our Woolwich from a distance before scuttling back through the now-quite-clean foot tunnel.

Chicken Shish, with salad, grilled tomatoes, and fragrant herbed rice. Yum!

Chicken Shish at Koffees and Kream. Yum!

Why am I telling you this?

I guess my point is that spending a whole weekend in Woolwich is now a very pleasant prospect indeed. And it’s only going to get better. I’ve heard that a Geronimo pub will open in 2015, in the building just inside the increasingly porous Arsenal walls. And An, the little Vietnamese joint, is moving to a nearby two-level premises that mercifully features a loo or two.  They’re also applying for a liquor license. That’s great news. If they can get the lighting right, An will surely move up my hit parade of Woolwich eateries.

All those smiley-faced white-toothed billboards around the Crossrail site promising 21 minutes to Bond Street are fine. It will be exciting. But, equally, I reckon Crossrail billboards elsewhere should be boasting 21 minutes to Woolwich. Fanciful notion? Now, yes. In 2018? Woolwich as a destination?

Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, I’ll see you in my office.

 

 

A Thriving Food Market In Woolwich? Let’s Get Behind Mike And His Mates

Lovely local produce. The contents of my shopping bag from my visit to Mike's van today.

Lovely local produce. The contents of my shopping bag from my visit to Mike’s van today.

I had a brief chat with Mike The Very Green Grocer today. Do you know him? You may have seen Mike and his missus at the Royal Woolwich Arsenal; they’re there every Saturday morning selling fantastic fresh produce from their van.

Mike works hard and is very passionate about good food. He sources fruit, vegetables, cheese, juices, condiments and all sorts of other goodies from farms and other independent producers all over Kent and nearby.

He grew up around Woolwich and has seen the place change over the years. He remembers shopping trips with his mum and dad, when Woolwich was a thriving hub filled with quality stores and a buzzing market.

Mike told me that he and a group of likeminded locals have a dream of setting up a permanent market somewhere in Woolwich. They all make delicious things. Bread, preserves, pasta, condiments, and more. They live and work in the neighbourhood. Some sell their wares on the farmers’ market circuit and others have online stores. They’re all as keen as Mike (and mustard) to bring high quality, locally-grown and -produced goods to the people of SE18.

Such a market would be firmly in the Things That Are Good For Woolwich category. Obviously. The Carbuncular Tesco Monster is sucking the life out of poor old Sainos. Marks and Spencers has buggered off after 100 years. Another American fast-food chain, Dunkin Donuts, has decided to experiment on the denizens of Powis Street, 40 years after McDonald’s flipped its first burger on English soil. Betting shops and pound stores abound.

I think we deserve better, don’t you?

So, let’s all get behind Mike and his mates and put some real pressure on Greenwich Council to help these talented folks find a venue in SE18. The now-vacant Marks and Spencers store? The old covered market? Get in the ear of any councillor you can pin down. Start a petition. Write, phone, tweet the council. Keep a look out for possible venues. Share this post, share your ideas.

Let’s make this happen, Woolwich.

(Follow Mike and his mates on Twitter: Mike is @miketvgg; pasta is made by @casagrandepasta; bread is baked by @thehonestloaf; and sauces are made by @AllThingsSaucy)

 

 

London City Airport: My Top-10 Destinations

Christmas Market, Luxembourg,

Christmas Market, Luxembourg,

Not so very long ago, Woolwich was only a dot on google maps, to me. I scanned that map, trying to work out whether it would be a good place to live. Could I get to Canary Wharf easily? Yes. Central London? Yes. Shops nearby? Sorted.

And look at THIS, I said to my partner excitedly. An airport!

I patted my passport lovingly while I surveyed the choice of destinations. The thought of being able to fly to Europe for a weekend filled me with glee. What giddy glamour, and just two stops on the DLR!

Nearly four years down the track, I can safely say that I’ve made the most of LCY. So, I thought I would share my top 10 destinations. Flight prices vary wildly depending on the time of year but there are bargains to grab. My tip is to sign up to the CityJet newsletter for details on the latest specials.

 

1. MADRID

The Mercado de San Miguel is in my top-five happiest places on earth. It’s perfect. Walk around the market with a glass of cava and buy tasty treats from the stalls. Sip, munch, sip, meander, sip, scoff, repeat. And what’s not to love about a city that has Museums of Ham and where the art galleries stay open late and are free? Also, don’t miss La Venencia, where you can sip on sherry (it’s all the bar sells) while nibbling on slices of Iberico ham. We stayed at the stunning Hotel de las Letras, which has a literary theme and is close to most of Madrid’s gems.

2. PALMA DE MALLORCA

Perfect for a last-gasp warm weekend in early October, when all the lovely children are back where they belong: in school (and not anywhere near my sun lounge). We stayed at Puro Hotel, which attracts a trendy and slinky-hipped crowd and has its own beach club. The hotel’s mini-van will take you. Spend a couple of days by the pool overlooking the Bay of Palma and when it’s time to go home, take a cab straight from your sun lounge to the airport, which is nearby.

3. MILAN

We only had a night here, but fell in love with the place. The best fun ever is to bag an outdoor table at a café and watch the stylish denizens of Milan go about their business. Fabulous. We chose Café Vecchia Brera, on the Via Dell’Orso. We stayed at the achingly hipster Yard Milano and sipped on cocktails made by the sternly bearded mixologist at the hotel’s own bar, The Doping Club.

4. AMSTERDAM

We visited in December and happened upon the city’s Christmas market. To ward off the cold, we sipped on Drambuie-laced hot chocolate. Amsterdam is also a great place to get a steak. Just head for one of its many Argentinian steakhouses. The Anne Frank house is a must, as is a 24-hour ticket for the city’s canal boat service.

5. ROME

Our completely bonkers cab driver took us from the airport to our hotel, the delightful Relais Orso, at break-neck speed while pointing out about 1000 years of history and (for reasons best know to him) all of Rome’s Sheratons. There are four, as if you cared. Rome is astounding, of course. Stand on the Ponte Umberto at dusk and take in the living painting that is the view of St Peter’s in the distance.

6. EDINBURGH

Haggis! I’m surprised at how many English people have never been to Edinburgh. If this is you, consider yourself placed on the naughty step. It is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited, and also one of the friendliest. Do the Arthur’s Seat walk for the best views. Pop into Jenners department store and admire the 1895 building. And, haggis!

7. ANTWERP

Fly to Antwerp for fashion and elegant streetscapes. Visit Huis A. Boon, a glove shop that has been going since 1884. The interior is original and all the gloves are stored in little wooden drawers. We stayed at the Leopold Hotel, which was comfortable, quiet and a few minutes walk from the heart of the city. We found a bar called Old Trafford: a good footy pub full of memorabilia. And cigarette smoke, unfortunately.

8. DUBLIN

We didn’t go into the middle of Dublin itself this time. Instead, we took a cab from the airport to nearby Malahide, a lovely settlement overlooking the Irish Sea. And we spent quite a lot of time in what our mate describes as the best pub in the world. Gibney’s has many, many television screens showing a dizzying array of sports from GAA to golf and everything in between. Work off all those pints by walking from Malahide to Portmarnock or beyond and gaze out onto the Irish Sea.

9. LUXEMBOURG

Luxembourg is not famous for its Christmas Market, but we went anyway and really enjoyed it. It’s a great alternative if you want to avoid the crowds of the larger markets. We munched on enormous sausages and had our novelty mugs filled with hot alcoholic beverages,  including the best Irish coffee ever. We stayed at the very calm and quiet Albert Premier, an essay in soothing black and grey tones. The hotel’s cosy bar features comfy lounges and art books.

10. NICE

To be honest, I’m not enamoured of Nice. But I bloody love Monaco. My tip is to fly to Nice and get on the bus and go straight to Monte Carlo. Go for the F1 Grand Prix if that’s on your bucket list. DO IT. Book an apartment in Beausoleil (technically in France), for views of Monaco without the eye-watering price-tag. Also consider nearby Roquebrune, which I have written about before.

 

Please share some of your favourite destinations and travel tips!

 

Kor Blimey, A Kracker Of A Kaff In Woolwich

Sorry, sorry, sorry. I couldn’t resist that heading. Naughty old me. Klearly, I’ve been hanging out in Koffees and Kream a fair bit lately and it’s rubbed off.

I’ll now dispense with the spell-bending shenanigans and offer a little homily to one of my favourite places in Woolwich.

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With its quirky interior, Koffees and Kream works well during the day and as a night-time venue.

First, the menu. In truth, there’s a whole lot of menu. It literally has something for everyone. Breakfasts come in sets, numbered one through six, or you can order from a dizzying list of combinations ranging from the modest (two slices of toast with marmite or jam for £1.50) to the legendary Mixed Grill comprising (deep breath) a lamb chop, bacon, mushrooms, liver, egg, sausage, chips, grilled tomatoes, onion rings, and buttered bread or toast (£7.50 the lot). Come ON, what are you waiting for?! Admittedly, I have not yet felt brave, or indeed starved, enough to face this mighty Breakfast Challenge.

Mediterranean Breakfast at Koffees and Kream.

Mediterranean Breakfast at Koffees and Kream.

I have, however, embraced the Mediterranean Breakfast of eggs, grilled tomatoes, grilled halloumi, feta, spicy sausage, olives, and fresh tomatoes and cucumber. Washed down with a glass of breakfast red wine (judge away I don’t care) it’s a sunny holiday on a plate and a nod to owner Raif’s Cypriot roots. The kitchen also does a very decent omelette served with chips and salad, and a tasty grilled chicken salad if you’re after a healthy option.

The menu goes on. Pies, jacket potatos, fish and chips, lasagne, fish finger salad (!), lamb shish, lamp chops, chicken shish, steak, calamari, scampi, grilled Scottish salmon, roasts, paninis, wraps and more. Desserts are nursery favourites. Not a part of my Australian upbringing, but I remember some from reading Enid Blyton books: bread pudding, treacle sponge, knickerbocker glory, spotted dick, and banana longboat. The chocolate milkshake is so thick and ice-creamy, it’s a dessert in its own right. All dishes are reasonably priced and boast generous portions. Oh, and the café is licensed. Hurrah!

Chicken Shish, with salad, grilled tomatoes, and fragrant herbed rice. Yum!

Chicken Shish, with salad, grilled tomatoes, and fragrant herbed rice. Yum!

The interior also deserves a mention. It’s quirky, cosy, intriguing, and arty. There are booths, banquette seats, and bistro-style chairs and tables. The lighting is imaginative and extra touches include a mural at the back and panels of corrugated steel hung as wall art. It’s a fitout that invites lingering.

Now that the café has been up and running for a few months, Raif is taking it to the next level. His vision for Koffees and Kream is that it will become a focus of the Woolwich and wider community. He’s already held a fabulous night of live music, spoken word performance, and singing, and he’s planning to hold similar on the last Friday of every month and some Sundays, too. Comedy nights could also become part of the mix.

Lusciously ice-creamy, a milkshake at Koffees and Kream is an old-skool treat.

Lusciously ice-creamy, a milkshake at Koffees and Kream is an old-skool treat.

This café belongs in the category of Things That Are Good For Woolwich and it’s heartening to see the place being embraced by locals. We need more people like Raif: professional, friendly, and enthusiastically exploring the potential of his business as well as that of Woolwich.

Follow the café on Twitter at @koffeesandkream or check out www.koffeesandkream.com

Friday nights are called KKs After Dark @kksafterdark

The café is in Calderwood Street in Woolwich, just down from the Sainsburys.