At times you’ll be tempted to just follow in Richard E. Grant’s footsteps in Withnail & I. And while smothering yourself in Deep Heat and getting up against the radiator till opening time seems the only solution some mornings, remember that you’ve got months more to get through.
I’ll also assume that, unlike Withnail or I, most of you are employed. In which case you’ve got the freeze-overheat-freeze conundrum of London’s public transport system. We’ll deal with this shortly.
Rubbish insulation, damp, and a tendency never to open the windows, resulting in more damp, are the main issues. Where there’s no central heating, you’re going to be stuck rubbing your hands over a heater as you consider ways to seal the gaps in those huge warehouse windows you thought were so attractive in summer.
Unlike the dream of loft-living, however, the crap heating problem is real. There’s nothing like damp, grey cold to make you see things like a true Londoner.
Yet there are ways to get round the freeze and the cynicism during winter in London. From time-saving travel tips to hot little theatres and steaming coffee. Let’s go.
Beating The Freeze At Home
All you renters – I advise you to get proof from your landlord that the boiler or central heating system’s been serviced
within the last five years. This may not be forthcoming, depending on where you’re renting.
When the heating breaks down and you’re looking for a portable heater (that your landlord should pay for), try the oil-filled ones. They stay hot longer than plain old electric models without being plugged in. Which means your energy bill won’t skyrocket as painfully high.
Surviving Winter Travel
If you’re leaving home in the dark to go to work, and leaving work in the dark to get home, then sign up for free text alerts from TfL about disruptions to your DLR and tube routes. It saves you from standing at a bus stop with loads of other grumpy, cold Londoners for 20 minutes when you could be a) in bed or b) finishing work you don’t want to do on the weekend.
You can also get live bus arrivals for stops of your choice, as long as you have connectivity on your phone.
If you’re going clubbing or hitting the pub any distance from home, keep in mind that the minicab joints often have waiting times of 30 minutes or more. Hailo is useful in relatively central areas – it’s for black cabs only – but less so if you’re trying to get back from a warehouse in far east/west London. Cabwise gives you three local taxi numbers by text (text CAB to 60835), but there’s no guarantee they’ll be available.
Anyone taking a night bus should be prepared for long waits and some truly horrifying scenes. In fact, night buses deserve coverage in a separate post. Preferably in verse.
For those days when you need to warm your paws and stomach before work or for lunch, food trucks are the answer. Spices do you good in the cold, so let’s start with Mexican.
Luardos is a personal favourite for their carnitas burrito with fresh salsa. They’ve got two trucks – Jesus is usually in
Whitecross Street, off Old Street, and Mary roams around King’s Cross. There’s also Daddy Donkey in busy Leather Lane, off Clerkenwell Road. Super sauces for heating your insides. All these trucks serve up good portions for your sterling too.
West London weekenders should definitely head for Stall 65 in Portobello Road Market. The Spinach & Agushi crew cram plenty of jollof rice plus meat and veg stews (your choice) onto your plate. Plantain, beef, coconut chicken and groundnut – it’s all fresh, tingly-spiced, and quality Ghanaian.
Keeping on the spice theme, special mention to Henry’s Coffee Bar truck in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. Once itinerant, now a
fixture in the square, this kitchen cupboard-style van saves your soul with chilli hot chocolate and strong coffee. Plus LSE student discount (for LSE students, of course).
I’m not a spa freak, but I do get crazy tense muscles from unhealthy computer work combined with winter weather. When I lived out East, I’d go to Spa London, which is a kind of council-social enterprise set-up and the only clean Turkish baths around. It’s in the York Hall Leisure Centre, Old Ford Rd, Bethnal Green.
They’ve kept the old-school tiling in the three Turkish baths (warm, hot, hotter) for that 1920s look. And you can do massage therapy, hammam, sauna, plunge pool, and this ice fountain thing to kick your circulation into gear. Day entry for non-members is £24.
You can also warm up those atrophied muscles by getting a serious sports massage at the Tottenham clinic of the NLSSM. It’s the national school of sports massage and they need volunteers for students to practice on – don’t worry, it’s only when they reach a good standard that they’re let loose on you. Or you can pay by the hour for a range of pro treatments at the Student Clinic.
Every guidebook and site talks about panto like it’s soul food. I hate musicals, so I’m sure panto would be my living hell. But I can say that fringe theatres are smaller, warmer, cheaper, and regularly better than any West End extravaganza.
Try the tiny Old Red Lion Theatre (above the Old Red Lion Theatre pub, 418 St John St., Angel, EC1V). My pick would be the three short GB Shaw comedies for £15 in January.
More old school, and right in Piccadilly, there’s the Jermyn Street Theatre. So if you’re looking for one-off revivals of Ibsen, Novello or Miller, or slightly crazed cabaret musicals, this is the place. Tickets are £20.
Foraging For Chesnuts
And on a final note, if you don’t fancy paying £2 for 8 carbon chunks from a surly street vendor there is the great Richmond Park where you can grab fresh chestnuts. You should find plenty left in December. Yes, there is a Royal Parks notice up asking people not to take them, but everyone does because it’s London.