A Day on the South Bank

The more I head north of the river, the more I wonder what the heck I’m doing on a stuffy Central Line train, air vents lazily exhaling hot recycled tunnel air and failing to facilitate, despite their label, much-needed “ventilation,” while the vessel shudders on tracks beneath the same tired sites on the red ribbon of train line.

This isn’t entirely true. It’s just that it’s been a particularly sweaty week to get intimate with my fellow passengers on the city’s network of underground traveling saunas, and I’ve always kind of loathed the Central Line to begin with. I feel claustrophobic, dehydrated, and anxiety wracked just imagining the sheer density of bodies that reaches peak suffocation around Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus, and I know I’m not alone in my aversion.

Also I have a vivid memory of nearly getting stuck in the closing doors of a Central Line train and, instead of recovering gracefully and nonchalantly as you might expect from someone who once took ballet for three months in elementary school, I just kind of fell forward, belongings scattering, onto my hands and knees, properly scuffed and so painfully American. Disheveled? Rushed? Audacious, even, brashly betting my own flawed human agility against the measured timing and resolute omission of the sliding doors? These are not qualities of the British temperament. At least not on public transportation.

 

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Actually pretty good advice.

Traumatic experience on Central Line aside, I do love a long stroll through Hyde Park, would gladly spend a day (and the night, if they’d let me) losing all sense of direction among the artifacts in the Victoria and Albert Museum, occasionally splurge for brunch among the pastel paintbox houses and blooming storefronts of Primrose Hill, savor the view of the skyline from Hampstead Heath, and am allured by, but can’t quite emulate (I own too many clothes from Banana Republic), the grungy chic vibe of Dalston and Hoxton. This summer, however, I’m calling Southwark a home, which means spending a lot of time south of the river where the vibe is noticeably different. No major circuses, no stark white rows of posh Mayfair townhouses. Artsy lofts and studios in ashy brick buildings juxtapose with sleek curves and edges of glass and steel. Londoners huddle in cozy wine bars and pubs tucked in narrow corners between or under bridges, and the Shard peeks over it all. It’s also home to the iconic mascot for post-industrial revitalization – the looming smokestack of Tate Modern – as well as the Eye, the National Theatre, the British Film Institute, and Shakespeare’s Globe.

Summer mornings on the Jubilee Walkway, which runs along the Thames, are worth waking up to beat the crowds for. The South Bank also makes for a great run – lots of inspiring sights to distract from the burgeoning pressure of lactic acid accumulating in your lower extremities. I’d start down near Tower Bridge. In fact, a whole day on the South Bank might look something like this.

Spend mid-morning salivating among the stands of and in the tunnels along Maltby Street Market in Bermondsey – perhaps a late breakfast or early lunch, there’s a word for this I think. Bring friends and divide and conquer. Traders shift regularly, but some staples include tender dumplings from the Gyoza Guys, the sugar-dusted progeny of a decadent affair between a waffle and a doughnut deep fried, frosted, and dished by Dhan Waffle, and the “osmosis” of Mediterranean and North African cuisine made with love at Devi’s. There are also a number of smaller cafes and a couple wine bars for drowsy Sunday mornings when the only remedy is the hair of the dog.

I recommend taking the scenic route past City Hall and Tower Bridge on your way to the Tate Modern. I love this area of town for hanging out, reading a book, and people watching. This time of year, there’s a stage for live music and kids activities, as well as ping-pong tables, seating under artfully strewn tea lights for a hipster rooftop party ambiance, and some pop-up drinking and dining options. It’s like a casual lawn party only in the seat of London’s government, which by the transitive property means it’s Sadiq Khan’s London Lawn Party and this is really cool #TeamKhan.

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“Hey MTV, welcome to my crib.” -Sadiq Khan, after his election probably

Like modern art? Despise modern art? Pretend to understand modern art in front of your friends from Brooklyn but are actually too ill-equipped to form an honest opinion on the whole concept due to your lack of exposure? The Tate Modern is a great place for a crash course in Kandinsky or a dose of Dali. Right now, I’m into Louise Bourgeois, featured in one of the Artists Rooms, for her haunting, corporeal large-scale sculpture. Go to what draws you in, investigate what repulses you, and take in the industrial vibe of the place itself. Swing back after dark on the last Friday of the month for late nights at the Tate, which feature DJ’s and special lectures and always offer cocktails. Kind of like Night at the Museum, only I’m thankful the sculptures in the Bourgeois room don’t have sentience.

I can’t suggest a day south of the river and not urge a long, leisurely, perusal through Borough Market. Navigate by free samples – especially on slower days – of British cheeses, charcuterie, artisan breads, candied nuts, and the occasional spoonful of curry. Again, bring a crew or several stomachs in order to taste the breadth of cuisine offered under the trestles. My favorite stand is a satellite kitchen from the folks at Gujarati Rasoi (here’s my initial review, a deep cut from the archives, written while still in a warm haze of slow-burning Gujarati spices), though the curry spice mingles enticingly with the berbere of the nearby Ethiopian stand. But please, give this street food mecca the time it deserves. And get dessert.

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The Shard/Southwark Cathedral. Have you guys met before?

If you can’t deny the food coma, Southwark Cathedral is a welcome sanctuary to the crowds and heat of Borough Market in the summer. Its hushed interior and spiraling ceilings can only complement your alimentary trance, and the gardens behind it offer the subduing white noise hum of the nearby crowd with the tranquility of the holy space.

Other gems of the South Bank include festivities at the Royal Festival Hall or the guy that sells books under Waterloo Bridge near the National Theatre, where you should book tickets for whatever’s on ahead of time or drop by to inquire about last-minute sales the day of. If you didn’t get tickets to a show (see: my current woe that both parts of Angels in America has sold out Hamilton style), there’s lots of outdoor seating and a bar at the NT. A drink or two with a good book or a close friend during the dusky hours of a Friday evening on the South Bank is definitely my cup of G&T.

You could take a spin on the Eye and should, of course, ogle at the Palace of Westminster and tip your hat the Big Ben across the river, but be back in Bermondsey for dinner. If the tapas gods are smiling favorably down upon you, you’ll squeeze between fellow diners for a smidgeon of counterspace at José, where Iberian ham will melt in your mouth and you will shamelessly order small plates of pisto, prawns, and patatas bravas and wash it down with whatever sherry piques your palate. Maybe go early? I don’t know, this place is always packed, but for good reason.

Don’t think about your waistline.

Any self-respecting anglophile will revel in the presence of the Globe Theatre, and catching a late afternoon, after dinner, or midnight show here is an essential experience for fans of Shakespeare. There are 700 five-pound tickets available for every show, and the price is absolutely right if you’re willing to stand with the plebs on the ground level for the duration of the performance, which is where you can catch me on Saturday, July 22 for the 7:30 showing of Twelfth Night. It will totally be worth it.

Any night in London can be punctuated with proper pub carousal, and my best advice is to wander a bit until you cross one that vibes with your mood. Walking up the bar and ordering a pint is still kind of a satisfying novelty for me. Camden Hells, if they have it. Or anything that dulls the mild ache of miles of South Bank under your feet.

You can take a rest day when you’re not in the greatest city in the world.

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Sunset, Tower Bridge. One of my favorite guilty pleasure tourist-y hangouts. 

 

A Loss is a Win for Labour

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Jeremy Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell at last year’s Junior Doctor strike in Westminster, the largest in U.K. history and, spoiler alert, I’m the one with the patterned scarf right behind him. Photo courtesy of the Mirror Online.

When Theresa May called a general election in April, she did so under the impression that Tory voters would come out in enthusiastic droves to bolster her party support in the House and strengthen support for Brexit negotiations. The first month after her announcement saw her party leading Labour, the main opposition, by 20 points, the dismal gap a trench far wider than the distance between benches in the House of Commons.

Today, the numbers have reversed. According to a YouGov poll published by the Independent, May’s popularity has dropped 44 points since she announced the snap election. Corbyn’s rating, previously at a historic low, has increased 42 points.

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Corbyn is, despite his occasional disheveled appearance during PMQ’s and media criticism of his choice in suit color, hip and unassuming. He’s an unexpected leader, but one whose left of the left politics provide a stark alternative to austerity policies that continues to squeeze the middle class. Things aren’t changing, it’s kind of unclear how May intends to proceed on Brexit negotiations (not that Britain is particularly thrilled about these negotiations in general), she successfully alienated senior, and typically

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Are May’s days at 10 Downing numbered?

reliably Conservative voting constituents, with a social care reform proposition that would halt the current automatic state pension increase of 2.5% per year, and she declined to appear in a live television debate against her opponents, indicating a distasteful cockiness or a lack of faith in her own strength and sturdiness. Corbyn is the hipster cool foil to May’s stiff, stuffy, and suspect gentility. And, for once, it was the Labour backbenchers laughing at their opposition when Parliament reconvened on Tuesday afternoon, and Corbyn delivered a promise that if May failed to form a coalition, the “strong and stable” Labour party would step in and deliver.

Although, there are certainly critics who have pointed out the obvious: a loss is, indeed, a loss, and in Corbyn’s case, his third consecutive loss in his bid for parliamentary majority and prime minister, though the circumstances under which the last two elections were called are rather unprecedented given their relationship to the once-unimaginable and now all-too-real impending Brexit. Besides, a gain of 30 seats compared to a Conservative loss of 13 is an impressive surge, particularly in light of Corbyn’s morbid and steadily declining approval ratings just months before his consistent, on-message campaign helped reverse the failing figures.

Now, the real question is whether or not May will resign. And it’s really not a question of if, but of when. How can a leader who assumed, so assuredly, that her party would strengthen and dominate remain in office when the exact opposite manifested after voters went to the polls? It certainly demonstrates a lack of confidence in her leadership abilities and perhaps a shift in loyalties. According to the YouGov poll, Conservative voters’ 85% confidence rating has dropped to 57%.

Corbyn is confident his fourth go at the U.K.’s top political leadership position is glimmering on the line where the Thames joins the horizon and has recently stated that his party is on “permanent campaign footing in anticipation of the failure of Theresa May’s attempt to establish a stable administration.” He’s also made a few new shadow cabinet appointments, including formal rival Owen Smith to shadow Northern Ireland secretary. Smith contested Corbyn in the election immediately following the referendum, when party infighting almost brought an end to Corbyn’s leadership run. The divide was (and, after this initial honeymoon period of post-election goodwill among party members subsides, will probably still be) ugly. Nevertheless, Smith has commended Corbyn on a campaign well run, and we choose to forget the days when he vehemently criticized his inability to unite his party. Ah the civility of forgiveness of rivalries pass… could you imagine if Trump actually appointed Chris Christie to a cabinet position instead of stringing him along and telling (read: forcing) him to order the meatloaf?

Though a third general election in only about a year is a prescription for election ennui, Labour is riding a wave that just might crash, with all the fervor of an anti-austerity rally set to the tune of “Do You Hear the People Sing,” on the steps of 10 Downing. Hopefully, young voters enamored with their own civic duty and electoral influence after the results of the most recent election, will return empowered to the polls once again. Perhaps even New Labour Blair-ites will shift a little farther to the left at the prospect of

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Corbyn, last April, campaigned on two wheels for Sadiq Khan, the successful Labour candidate in last year’s London mayoral election. Down to earth and totally manpowered.

a Labour majority. I wonder what kind of campaign the Conservative candidates will run in order to mobilize voters that either haven’t been turning up for lack of faith, or that have turned up only to be dismayed (pun intended) by broken promises: maybe something like “We Know We Shot Ourselves in the Feet by Prematurely or Misguidedly Calling the Last Two Elections, but this One is Different We Promise?”

In general, I think it’s safe to say that the days of full confidence in polling numbers are, well, numbered. I predict many more late election nights, the one’s that drag on into the early morning as we watch the figures pile up and wonder what reverse universe we’re inhabiting while glaring at a screen and willing the results to shift in our favor. Gone are the days of trusting the predictive information we’ve been fed and flicking off the TV before 11 p.m. to turn in for a sound sleep, assured that we’ll awake to the status quo.

There is one thing American voters, specifically those in the 18-24 demographic, should take note of from their peers across the pond – one’s vote can drastically influence elections. Choosing to refrain from utilizing the most direct and basic form of political participation because one feels disenchanted by the establishment or as a protest mechanism is not a productive means of effecting change. Rock the vote, millennials. Tip the vote over.

In less than a year, Nigel Farage and UKIP, the man and party that incited the heightened nationalism that precipitated Brexit, has been disbanded and I have hope that the umbra of hard right wing leadership that seemed to be sweeping the West may be dissipating. As evidence, I cite first the election of Macron, and now a series of British elections that may berth a Labour government and the most unlikely and unprecedented ascent to power in British history.