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October 2023
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So I flew on the new Norse Air for a very low fare, non-stop flight that ended up being $621 including seats and a checked bag. I booked it very far in advance and was a little concerned when I got a generic email two weeks from flying saying the flight was canceled, did I want to go the next day. No explanation, no other options, no email/phone # info. Going the next day wasn’t good cuz that was when we'd planned on heading to Birmingham, so after some digging, I contacted Norse via their Instagram and was told they cut the # of flights per week for fall but I could also leave on Wed. That was two days earlier than planned so I've now got a two week vacation but my friend Dana who I was staying with had no issues so off I go. This is a bare budget ride, bring your own food. I seldom sleep on planes so mine was the only light on that night. Flew into Gatwick, landed early, had to take a train into town which was a little pricey, and got the tube to Hammersmith, def. prefer Heathrow. After dropping my stuff off, we wandered around Dana's neighborhood and got a snack on a gray day. I managed a nap before we headed out for the first of quite a few drinks during London Cocktail Week ('CW' from now on) which happened to be going on for 10 days. Bar 190 is in the nice Gore Hotel where the Stones did a photo shoot for Beggar's Banquet. I bought wrist bands in advance which got you 8£ cocktails at participating bars. I didn’t know Dana *really* didn't drink so there was no need to buy two of them. It was an interesting fig drink at a gorgeous bar. Walked to the Anglesea Arms for a great dinner then yours truly rallied after all the traveling and walking and went to the Shepherd's Bush O2 (thankfully very close to Dana's) to see most of Paul DiAnno (first Iron Maiden singer) who sadly had to sit for his set. Headliner KK Downing's Priest were fine, not sure it was worth $52 but glad I went.

Back to London

Fri. I headed back to the Imperial War Museum which I had gone to with Sheena 8 years ago (RIP). We loved it but had not allotted enough time for it, so I was glad to go back. Wandered around the Lower Marsh hood, got a snack, stumbled into the cool tunnel with Banksy graffiti, then walked to my favorite Borough Market for a roast pork sandwich. Crossed Over London bridge (not to be confused with Tower Bridge which is the prettier one), took a pic of visitors from Colombia (I love to offer my photography services) and headed back to get ready for nighttime. Cheryl Eagan Donovan and Brian had heard me talking on MBR about going to the UK and coincidentally, they were in town for Shakespeare stuff, so we made plans to meet up. I started with CW drink #2 at the Light Bar on the east side. It was fine but really loud so I was happy I had extra time to check out Swift which was around the corner for an excellent CW#3. Super cute bar and nice people. I’d made a res at the Princess of Shoreditch for dinner but they were a bit late so I sat at the bar eating two veggie dishes while they had a drink and hung out.

Day Three

Sat. I headed to the cute little Maltby Market/Ropewalk and got an amazing duck confit roll up. Walked to Tower Bridge then all the way down Fleet St to Fop Records in Soho. Got a couple books on sale cuz my Susana Hoffs book was almost done (cheesy read but not bad). I had told Cheryl and Brian about the 999 show in the north part of town that evening so they also bought tickets in advance. It was in a cool little arts center with a loungey bar above and music below, but of course it was running late and not many options in the area except for a pub next door where we hung a bit in between bands. First up was 16 Tons who I'd never heard but were ok, the guitarist oddly had a Patriots sticker on his guitar but he left before I could talk to him. I liked band 2, The Phobics. Maybe I vaguely remember that name but it was like being in 1981. Talked to Nick Cash from 999 at the merch table mentioning an old Paradise show they did with the Dickies but my face didn't ring any bells (my first time backstage ever!). It was a good show with quite a bit of energy (for such old people). Went back to Hammersmith and grabbed a tasty Turkish pizza for 3.50£ to end the night.


On Sun. I woke up earlier than I needed to for the trip to Birmingham so I went to the station hoping for an earlier train but couldn’t do it without paying more. Got a sandwich while waiting and had an easy ride. The hotel was well located but in an oddly twisty location. Very cold in Birm but I tooled around, looked at graffiti, grabbed a coffee then delish coffee pastry at Marks & Spencer, walked thru the Palestinian protest going on where there was a sulfur smell after something was set off. The museum I wanted to see was closed for renovations so I stopped by the Ikon Gallery which was fine but small. Checked out the Aussie sports bar which showed American football, had the obligatory photo at the Black Sabbath bridge and walked by the canals a bit. I then headed to the Digbeth area for an early Sunday roast at The Old Crown from 1368 (tasty but the meat was tough) then got a drink at Passing Fancies in the Custard Factory complex. I had seen someone from that bar had been a guest during CW in London so figured that’d be good for a nice drink. Walked back by the canals but couldn’t find the perfect spot for football or a snack or drink, so went back to the hotel at 7:30, freezing and exhausted. Watched TV then slept 8 hrs.

More Birmingham

Mon I headed to the Jewelry District then back to the center for Ignite Records in the funky Oasis Market. The dude had a million singles on his label, Speedowax, but wouldn’t give me a break, even after talking about radio, who’s gonna buy that 90’s stuff now? I got one 7" then over to Swordfish Records which was closed, then went thru the Red Market in Digby, then off to the The Diskery owned by old dudes who Mike hung out with on his trip a couple years ago. Those guys didn’t even know who played guitar for the Sex Pistols so I didn’t talk with them haha. More walking, went thru Chinatown and grabbed a leek pastry, then had a nice latte and back to the hotel to regroup before meeting Richie Hoss (formerly of Duck & Cover) who's living outside of Birmingham at the moment. We had nice drinks (2 for 1 yay) and dinner at the gorgeous Belle Epoque space of Lost & Found, very quiet on a Mon. nite. Rich decided to come see Flat Worms (from LA) with me at the Hare & Hounds, about a 3 mile bus ride away in the King's Heath section. The pub was cool with two music rooms, totally rocking for a Mon. nite. and a great show, there was something very mesmerizing about Flat Worms. A band from Portland OR had been at the other show so we yapped with them for a while in the pub, fun nite.

Tues. was more walking around, found the Black Sabbath mural and tons more graffiti, zipped by the Bull Market, couldn't find the Sabbath stars on their Walk of Fame then headed back to London where I checked out some cool stuff at the Architecture Gallery. I headed over to Brasserie 108 in the Marylebone area for a quick CW drink #4 where they no longer offered two options, so I was stuck with this bizarre popcorn drink. Not for me. That evening I just went out for dinner with Dana and David in their hood for a delicious Lebanese dinner at Chez Abir then watched The Reckoning, about TOTP host Jimmy Saville who was a real scumbag yet hung with royalty and stars.

London Parks,
Galleries, Soho, Notting Hill

Wed. I walked along Kensington High Street thru the parks (with dogs off leash) and past the palace to the Serpentine Galleries for modern art. Then continued down to touristy Oxford St., onto Chinatown for a yummy Malaysian lunch at Rasa Sayang and while wandering thru Soho what do I see but the bar Coupette which was on the CW list. So I got drink #5 amidst industry people including the owner of the bar (we saw some of the same London shows way back), a couple guest bartenders from Liverpool and two others. It was cool. Did more of the usual Soho stuff like walk thru Berwick Market, stroll past the sex shops, made the mandatory stops at Sounds of the Universe, Sister Ray (where I actually bought a 7") and Reckless Records, got a delish flat white at My Place then a good exhibit at the Photographer's Gallery. The weather was kind of crappy but I headed to Notting Hill for a quick stop at Trailer Happiness for CW drink #6, not as friendly a bartender til I was leaving. Met Dana for good tapas at Los Molinos then went to her local The Swan to end the nite (and Dana had some Bailey's on the rocks!). At the end of week one, yours truly had averaged 9.9 miles of walking a day, crazy.

Dover and the White Cliffs

Train ride #2 on Thurs. brought me to Dover to see the infamous White Cliffs. Reserved a grand dame of a hotel right on the water (Best Western Premier Dover Marina but not your usual BW). I couldn't check in yet so I headed back out making my way up to the cliffs. The good news was the sun was out which hadn't been in the forecast. The bad news, with all the previous walking, I was a little bummed to see it was gonna be quite a climb there. Normally I would have explored more but I was done with walking so much so could have done more but it was cool to see them up close. I headed into town for fried fish which unfortunately was only okay then walked more, got an iced coffee and regrouped. Went to a cute wine bar later, Vinoteq, for a flight, then a takeout kebab. Took advantage of the cute little lounge area in the hotel for an espresso martini and called it a day. Fri. morning I hit the Dover Museum and worked up an appetite to have a proper full breakfast at the Tea Café. That was tasty and a deal. Took a 1PM train back to London, wandered around Covent Garden where I finally found a London case for my outdated phone, then back to Hammersmith to get ready for the big show at the 100 Club which I'd bought advance tix for. Got there too early so grabbed a quick CW drink #7 at the Soho Hotel. Very cool happening room and nice drink but the bartender accidentally knocked a lamp toward me so he insisted he'd take care of the drink. He was so apologetic and I caught it in time but that was a bonus. I was not into the first band so I tried to find another CW place but the area was crazy and it just didn't work. Back to the 100 Club for Rubella Ballet who were fine, they never made much of an impression on me in the old days. I'd seen Sex Gang Children eons ago at the Lyceum so this was quite a change being at such a small club, maybe you can't go home again. SGC were fine but that Lyceum show with them, UK Decay, etc. was a whole other thing. And the drummer they now have sucked. My fave song "Into the Abyss" didn’t pack the same punch, my feet were hurting, I left a little early.

Markets, music, museums

Sat. Dana and I went to Portobello Market, hit up the Music and Video Exchange at Notting Hill, got lunch, then I went to the Broadway Market back on the east side of town where they have amazing Scotch eggs (among other things). I went to this kind of casual spot Sun Tavern for CW drink #8 and the bartender was super nice, but when I went to use the bathroom, he took my drink and water away. The look on my face said it all, everyone felt bad and he came back with a little bottle of the drink to take for free. Very sweet of him. That evening was a show at a place called the New River Studios with Desperate Fun and more importantly, Johnny Throttle with Fonzy from the Parkinsons. I met him two trips ago with Matt from Dirty Water Records, so it was fun to see him again and he very kindly let me in for free. They were excellent. Plus Paul from Dirty Water was there who I saw last trip 6.5 years ago, fun time but a long tube ride. Especially since there was "an incident" on the tube (a jump on the tracks?) but it didn't take as long as expected.

More museums, music and markets

Now of course, Sunday is always market day. First stop is Petticoat Lane (kind of junky but some deals and where I got my first white leather jacket), good for odd souvenirs and 1£ t-shirts. Walking aimlessly along I hear “Joanie?? and it’s Tom Carnali (who at one point he and I might have wandered thru that market with ??) and his friend Laura, weird. Then I went to Spitalfield (nicer stands and crafts), Brick Lane, Upmarket (with tons of food options), Backyard Market and Vintage Market. Grabbed a delicious Polish sausage w/ pickles and onion crisps on excellent bread outside in the sun. Walked some more to make my favorite bar in London, Cocktail Trading Company for CW drink #9. Still friendly workers there tho they seem to have taken a wacky turn with their presentations and my rhubarb drink cocktail was served in weird Barbie motif glassware. Whatever, it was fun. But markets weren't done yet, took the tube north to the zoo that is Sunday at Camden Market. Tooled around, went to Oi the Shop and The Modfather, some record stores and ended at the great All Ages whose t-shirt I bought but no records. But as I stood outside to take a pic, I heard these kids giggling and being weird then next thing you know, they open the door, do something, and run away. The owner runs out saying they just threw an apple at him. WTF? Wish I had taken their pic My original plan was to waste time until Hawklords played later but there was too much of a gap so I skipped the show. Instead, I headed back to the west side for the last CW drink #10 at the Stables Bar in the fancy Milestone Hotel on Kensington High St. This was the way to end the week of special drinks, not only did I get a lovely cocktail but it came with a little assortment of crackers and nuts plus mini grilled cheese sandwiches. Good stuff and dinner included!

There was a long line at the National Gallery on Mon. so I hit up the National Portrait Gallery next door then walked past the skate ramps, got a proper English pie for lunch (wild boar and chorizo) at Doggett’s Coat & Badge then over to the Tate Modern. Later I went to the bar Murder Inc. on the rec of the Cocktail Trading Co. people where the CTC bartender was actually hanging out. Takeout Chinese later and back to Dana’s. Last day she and I hit the Design Museum for a special exhibit on latter day fashion in London. Would have liked to have seen the skateboard show too but both were extra charges. I then went back to Burrough Market, walked around Piccadilly, got David and Dana a thank you gift card then that evening was a nice dinner at Prince Bonaparte gastropub to thank them for the extended stay.

Wow, that was a long trip which I wrote up 2 days after I got back from Ecuador. But then I got stalled gathering and resizing all these photos and doing regular stuff and traveling, and now I'm off to Norway and Sweden in March. Sheesh, I need to step up my report game so hopefully Ecuador will be a lot sooner. Thanks for reading.


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