London: How to be English

After stretching my legs with the royal corgis I suddenly thought, by jove, let’s write a jolly good quintessentially English blog and show those overseas fellows what we do best. Poppycock? Goodness no! It’s just a blog about doing marvellously stereotypical English things in London. And since we love raising working men’s clubs from the dust, taking Afternoon Tea, scoffing bangers and mash and to a lesser extent, donning tweed, we jolly well know the best places to enjoy them. Tally-ho everyone!

Minis

For all things mini, there’s a big showroom along Park Lane where you can select (or dream of selecting) your convertible, hatch or clubman variety. Otherwise, it’s a mini mini for you – the remote controlled kind sold in the shop along with other accessories. Just don’t blow the bloody doors off!

Rowing

Combine that most wholesome of sports rowing, with classic English educational institutions and you have a riot – or the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. The two teams have been battling it out since 1829 and crowds still congregate every year in April to watch from the banks of the Thames between Putney and Mortlake.

Afternoon Tea

Trying desperately to quell a mid-afternoon sugar craving? Remember, a specific meal has been invented to deal with these sweet hankerings. It’s called Afternoon Tea. It’s official, so just give in.

After pottering round the British Museum, pop along the road to Bea’s of Bloomsbury. For £12 you get a proper scone, clotted cream, jam, one of 4 signature cupcakes, a mini Valrhona brownie, a mini Belgian Blondie, a mini meringue plus a pot of Jing tea. From past experiences, booking is essential.

Seated in The Orangery, this charming 18th century restaurant in Kensington Palace offers a Signature Afternoon Tea for £14.85 per person with both sweet treats and dainty finger sandwiches

The swinging 60s of Carnaby street are nowhere to be seen, but wander into Kingly court and up to Camellia Tearooms for salvation. For Lubna, the owner, tea is clearly a passion. Settle yourself amongst the tea caddies and tea-preparing paraphernalia and be soothed by the sounds of the 1920s and 30s. Cream Tea from £5.95

Pubs

A quick etiquette refresher if it’s your first time in a pub:

  • You order at the bar, there is no table service.
  • ‘A half’ is half a pint of beer, bitter or lager. Some think it is not lady-like for a woman to order a whole pint unless it has a slice of lime in it. As a woman, I say balls to that.

But as the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association’s wonderful 1996 publication, Passport to the Pub, explains: “Regulars will mutter and grumble when an uninitiated tourist commits a breach of pub etiquette, but may well be unable to tell him exactly what rule he has broken.”

I’d say the best pub experience to be had is at the White Horse in Parsons Green. BBQ, beer garden, cosy interior with traditional decor and the odd creaky floorboards all top the fact they do great beers and bitters. If you don’t want the modern twist try the Nags Head in Knightsbridge with a Dickensian frontage, random memorabilia and a cast iron fireplace.

Deckchairs

The trick is don’t struggle! Once you have parked your bum in this ‘ready to snap’ torture mechanism, an evening by the bandstand in Regent’s Park can be most pleasant. We love a good old oompah oompah brass band. Concerts held every Sunday in July and August.

Working Men’s Club

The 150-year-old organisation is heavily in decline but Bethnal Green WMC has given the movement a makeover with nights such as ‘Stars up you arse’, bingo, cabaret and literary nights. Ladies and the unemployed welcome.

Tweed

Ok, so we aren’t all romping around town in this coarse and itchy weave. But when the time is right, there’s nothing we enjoy better than looking the part. The Tweed Run is held every April and involves a group dashing round the capital on bicycles donning the stuff, barely stopping except for a light bite of, yes you guessed it, Afternoon Tea accompanied by nothing less than a 3-piece string orchestra.

Sherlock Holmes Museum
On the very street described by Conan Doyle, every detail of the detective’s house has been lovingly replicated. Musty smelling antiques and waxwork suspects recreate the murder scenes. You may have noticed that the streets don’t ring with horses hooves or the tapping of gentlemen’s umbrellas but this is the closest you’ll get to Holmes’ Victorian London. Pick up a bowler, calabash pipe and deerstalking cap in the shop.

Fish and Chips

Fryer’s Delight
Admire the faded photos of Carol Vorderman and Gary Lineker (you have no idea what I’m talking about do you?) then settle in amongst black-cabbie driver banter at this retro chippy with booth seating. Your order: a mean portion of battered cod ‘n’ chips.

Bangers and Mash

S&M Cafe
No you filthy folk it stands for ‘Sausage and Mash’! First settle on your sausage; Cumberland, Somerset or something more exotic like pork, chorizo and chilli. Next choose from bubble and squeak or cheese and spring onion mash. Finally, drown it in some house red onion gravy. Side order of mushy peas? Perfect for £10.

Proper British Bunks

When it comes to hostels London has something to tickle your old-fashioned fancy. Palmers Lodge-Swiss Cottage is housed in a lovingly restored biscuit factory, once part of the Huntley & Palmer Biscuit Empire. Bunks are sturdy with charming privacy curtains – a little bit like train berth compartments – and the hostel interior has lovely period features, but with all the mod cons too!

Pip pip cheerio!

Check out our London video guide for more cheap things to do…

Thanks to Bleuchoi, flickr4jazzSimon Welshfoshiedaveograve@echiner1, Matt Shaw and Ewan-M for the images off Flickr!

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