Some of my very fondest memories of my time in England were of having tea. It was everywhere.
The minute you walked into a home or any communal space in a workplace, the first question is usually, “shall I put the kettle on?” The British seem thoroughly convinced that a cup of tea can make absolutely everything better and I’m not convinced that they aren’t correct.
Telling a friend about a fight with your boyfriend? She’ll likely respond with a sympathetic cluck and ask you if you’d like a cuppa. Commiserating with a work colleague over some looming deadline? Out comes the PG Tips. It’s just what the British do.
So I didn’t think it was such a big deal to have tea in London on an otherwise cold and dreary day. In fact, it seemed like the perfect thing to do on a cold and dreary London day. Except in the eyes of my manpanion-for-life.
Oh, he went along with my afternoon tea plans at Sketch, but there were a lot of questions, puzzling looks, joke-making, judging, maybe even a few eye rolls. He seemed utterly perplexed by the whole thing.
To be fair, Sketch does skew a bit quirky and in a very feminine way. There’s a hopscotch board drawn onto the floor, as if you’re going to merrily skip your way through the restaurant.
The tea room or “gallery” is full on womb pink, for crying out loud.
The artwork is loopy and looks like something a school girl would draw on the cover and back of her Lisa Frank notebooks.
Even the bathrooms are all white and rounded edges and slightly womblike.
The cleaning crew were wearing pinafores and frilly maid caps!
So yeah, not a very masculine space, to be sure.
And I understand that while I may love some Coronation chicken salad, crustless finger sandwiches are hardly a manly meal. XFE would have had to eat about 50 of those things to feel satiated. I completely understand.
However, I don’t think that’s the point of tea.
The point of tea is to sit back and let a cushy, overstuffed chair (or, even better, pink velveteen settee) enfold you in its familiar embrace. Tea is meant to allow you to take a little time out from whatever drama or stresses may be unfolding—and these days, there’s quite a bit of it. Tea is meant to be a quiet time of reflection, a time to put the world on pause and find a bit of barely caffeinated comfort in the bottom of a pretty piece of porcelain. Maybe even having a nice little biscuit and or a small sandwich with bland fillings just to give you something to thoughtfully chew while you ponder what to say next or how to respond to what you’ve just heard or gather your thoughts on what to do with the rest of the day, the week, your life.
Or, if you’re XFE, tea can provide a perfect excuse to tease your girlfriend. And do some not-so-secret people watching.
It’s ok. Tea can mean different things to different people. The main thing having tea provides is a sense of community. We’re doing this together. We’re taking a time out and reconnecting. I think XFE would agree with that sentiment as well.
(AKA: The great British treat of extended pinkies and wasted afternoons.)
(Editor’s note: This post was written by XFE. Check back on Monday for the MUCH shorter “Hers” version of our tea at Sketch.)
This post is most likely a bad idea and will get me in trouble.
But somewhere during a very lovely afternoon spent with Sheryll in London in March, we hatched the idea to do a “His-and-Hers” take on the same British tea experience.
This tea outing was something that Sheryll wanted to do and I truly went in to it indifferent, having no real prior knowledge of what to expect.
Let me just say on the outset that I had a really lovely afternoon. While I am not sure she felt that was true at the time (due to my non-stop joking) and I know she will not believe me now after she reads the rest of this post (due to my continuing non-stop joking).
But in all seriousness it was a great experience doing something new with the person I love. The post has merely been crafted to engage readers through the more entertaining aspects of the experience and not comment on the truly lovely time I had with Sheryll.
Editor’s note: We’re doing something a little different on ThePoeLog and declaring Friday’s “Football Friday.” Guest editor and soccer expert XFE has kindly written up a series of posts on the soccer games we went to in London. The first one can be found here and the second one here. You can read more about the chaotic atmosphere around this particular match–West Ham v. Tottenham– here and here and here.
After three days of food, gin tours, museums and more starchy British food, it was time for game two.
This time we would be really showing our metal as we traveled with the Tottenham away fans to see Tottenham play at East London rivals West Ham United.
As a result of all this, local leaders had taken precautions to board up player statues for protection from the oncoming visiting fans and police presence was expected to be high.
We left the hotel wearing our recently purchased foot warmers layered between two pairs of socks and our scarves tucked into our coats to hide our Tottenham allegiance for the Tube right to East London.
Tube delays prevented us from arriving in time for a pint at a neutral pub and instead we arrived to a packed station where the platform was covered with fans all trying to get up a single staircase. With game time just around the corner, we patiently tried to work our way through a very dense crowd heading for the Tube station exit. Finally, we emerged up the stairs and exited the station into dimly lit streets, rain spitting down, police on horseback and the incessant barking of police dogs. It was clear that we were in for a different London football experience.
As we moved away from the Tube station and headed for the stadium with other fans, both home and away, the police presence continued as streets were lined with fans and others for the game scheduled to kick off in minutes. Hurrying along, Poe paw in hand, I recalled my earlier glance at Google maps and where the visitors are supposed to enter the stadium and broke left to cut down a street that I believed would take us to the away fans entrance.
As we turned the corner we were greeted by mounted police, and were asked to show our tickets to police. The police confirmed that this was indeed the right entry point for away fans as others (home fans) were turned away.
We continued down the street to another police checkpoint where again our tickets were checked before allowing us to move another few blocks forward. As our tickets were being checked, an away fan approached hollering about someone having been hit up the street and around the corner. As the horse mounted police turned and galloped down the street to investigate, we were ushered through to a pedestrian walkway that led towards the stadium. Two twists and turns later, we emerged in front of a tour bus storage facility at the dead end of a street running alongside the stadium, and to the away fans entrance.
We were within sight of the stadium, and despite another column of police and barking dogs, we entered the stadium just as the last of the bubbles floated across the field and the game kicked off.
For those not aware, West Ham United has an affinity for bubbles and before each game, bubble machines blow bubbles across the pitch and into the stands. I am sure there is a proper historical reason for the bubbles. Probably not intimidation, but who knows.
Inside the stadium we found our seats in the last row of the lower away fans section tucked in the northwest corner of the stadium. Typically, away fans are segregated from home fans to help avoid issues, and one of the best ways to do that is to put them in a corner. Conveniently, this also means some less-than-desirable viewing options for the away fans. So it was on that brisk, March Wednesday evening in the East London, as Poe and I found ourselves surrounded by 1,998 of our hard-core, Tottenham-loving peers.
We cheered, we sang, we complained about referees and we moved to keep warm. We watched those closer to the action hurl insults to West Ham fans seated in the adjacent stand and we loved every minute of it. Well, at least I did. I am pretty sure that if Sheryll were pressed, this would be one of those things she did because she loves me or as pay back because I finally let her have a second cat after her 10 years of trying.
Either way, I think she had some fun along the way, and we did it together. We tackled a Premier League away game sitting in the away section—a true test of bravery and fan loyalty.
In the end, the game was tough and not super memorable. It rained most of the time and after an early West Ham score, it was tough going for Tottenham to try and find a way to get level or win. In the end the game ended 1-0. A valiant effort, but it was not to be our evening.
Game over, we now knew we needed to safely navigate our path back to the Tube station and head for home. As the game ended, we tried to make a break for the exits to beat the rush only to be stopped mid-dash. In fact, it was not just us, but the entire section of Tottenham fans were not going anywhere.
We did not know it at the time, but apparently the plan was for the West Ham fans to be released and disperse into East London before the Tottenham fans would be allowed to depart. So we waited, standing in the stands as the rest of the stadium slowly emptied.
Finally, as lawnmowers started on the pitch and ushers began collecting trash, we were allowed to funnel out of the stadium to a proper British drizzle. Here, in front of the same dead-end tour bus company, we ran into full-on riot police, accompanied by what had to be 15 barking police dogs and mounted units.
Yet again, the Tottenham fans were delayed further. For what, I’m not sure, but here we were in a large mass, pressing to move forward we were stuck, and waiting for something to set us free to find our way to the Tube and a warm train home.
After what seemed like an hour, we were released, only to find that 2,000 fans, mostly men, now had to file through a pedestrian walkway about 10 feet wide. So as the mass of fans pushed, shoved and shuffled, we all slowly worked forward through the same twists and turns we had navigated on our way to the game.
We emerged onto residential streets only to find the police directing the Tottenham fans down a single road, different from the one we had used for our arrival. With more space available, we walked towards the Tube only to be directed back to yet another small, narrow pedestrian walkway where the pushing shoving and jostling again became the standard for moving forward.
Once we made it through the last pedestrian walkway, the street opened up and we approached the main road between the Tube and the stadium. Here the center of the street had been divided by steel control fences, police, police vans, horses and the now all-too-familiar barking of police dogs. Reaching the main street we turned right for the Tube station where the temporary barricades were now holding back straggling West Ham fans to allow the away fans to directly funnel into the station and waiting trains.
Throughout our journey from Upton Park to the Tube station, the crowd, rowdy and defeated, attempted to show team spirit with chants and songs, but the reality was it had been a long evening with a disappointing result. So most of the cheers disintegrated into insults and jeers about West Ham United, their fans, and in particular, the socio-economic background of the local neighborhood we were routed through. Not anyone’s finest moment but a clear sort of indication of how soccer fans and a “pack” mentality can take a relatively calm evening, and escalate it quickly.
We did not witness any real issues, and I am sure the cold evening and delayed exit, dampened the crowds ambitions, but it was clear that this mass of fans could have easily erupted to cause trouble and damage a player statue or two. Where Sheryll and my level of participation in such activities would have rated will have to wait for now.
In the end a quick Tube ride cross town and a stop for a kabob and chips got us back to the hotel to warm up and live to fight another day.
Check back next week to read about our final English Premier soccer match, and by far the biggest game on our agenda–the North London Darby against Arsenal.
Once upon a time….o.k, 1981…there was a young girl who lived way out in the dusty fields of West Texas who became infatuated with princesses and castles and royalty.
One day when she was nine years old, the little girl got up very, very early to watch a beautiful blonde maiden in a humongous poofy white dress marry a not-so-fine prince in a gorgeous spectacle in a faraway place called England.
Everybody on the television was lining the streets, cheering and wearing jaunty party hats and waving Union Jack flags as very refined-looking people in brightly colored jackets and matching hats and red military uniforms made their way towards a giant, Gothic church in horse-drawn carriages. There were trumpets. And commemorative tea mugs and towels. And a big fancy photo op, complete with a kiss on a palace balcony.
It was nothing short of magical and about as far away from the reality of everyday life in a dusty West Texas trailer park as you could get.
And that was the day that I fell in love with England. Actually, obsessed is probably a more accurate word.
I become obsessed. Completely, singularly focused on all things British with the ultimate goal being to one day live there. And lo and behold, thanks to a student work visa, I did get to go live in London for six months in 1997.
And it was freaking awesome. Everything I dreamed it would be. Believe it or not, England totally lived up to all the unrealistic expectations I had created. I embraced it whole-heartedly. I bought a bike and on my days off, I would take it on the train out to small country towns in Essex and Kent and Surrey and would ride around just gawking at the adorable small towns and the patchwork quilt fields. I joined my friends Jill and Gil on their drive through the Lake District to Edinburgh, then rode the train back to London. I went to museums, stately homes, churches, West End matinees for musicals. I sat for hours in pubs, just listening to the accents all around me. I went to Glastonbury and got stuck in the ridiculous mud. I made amazing friends, I made bad decisions, I made so, so, so many memories.
I loved it all.
So when my personal travel planner XFE asked if I wanted to go to London for my birthday, oh, and sorry it’s not as exotic or as exciting as Australia or Japan or any of the other places he’s taken me for my birthday the last several years, I jumped at it. It’s not every day that you get a chance to travel back in time and see a place again with completely different eyes.
And this visit to London was equally, if not more, awesome than my first stay. Because this time, I had a co-conspirator to share it all with. I got to introduce XFE to all my old friends and favorite places. We went to see a show and we didn’t have to line up for the cheap seats. We visited new places and sat in pubs–and also, really, really nice restaurants–for hours on end listening to the accents around us. And I got to make a ton of new memories with my beloved, ever-patient schmoops, who had to hear me wax nostalgic and tell the same damn stories over and over again, all of which started with, “When I lived here 19 years ago….”
Not pictured: my schmoopies, XFE, who prefers not to be on the blog. And no, that’s not him sleeping at the theater on the bottom right. That’s a grumpy old man who scolded me for having my coat sleeve hanging over his seat arm.
Even if I have (technically) outgrown princesses and fairytales, and I no longer fantasize about living in England, I still pinch myself every day that I have my own super-fine prince–with a very nice mini-castle here in Northern Virginia–who has created this wonderful fairytale life for both of us to share and enjoy.
Editor’s note: We’re doing something a little different on ThePoeLog and declaring Friday’s “Football Friday.” Guest editor and soccer expert XFE has kindly written up a series of posts on the soccer games we went to in London. The first one can be found here.
Now on to the games.
Sunday, February 28th. We arrived at Heathrow at a bright and early 6 a.m. and quickly grabbed an UberX to the W London which was our home for the week. When we arrived, our room was not quite ready yet, but the hotel allowed us to use the spa facilities to get a quick refresh before storing our bags.
After raiding the front desk for our mail (we had ordered game day gear from the Tottenham Team store), we donned our new Tottenham hats and scarves before heading out for brunch and then the Tube ride to White Hart Lane (Seven Sisters Tube stop). Now mind you, this is London in February, the sun is out but the wind is also howling and it is already shaping up to be a cold and long day outside. Even though we were layered up, it was difficult to stay warm.
Riding the Tube, we sat across from other riders clearly heading towards the stadium, which only added to our anticipation, and it was not long before we made the long walk from the Seven Sisters Tube station to the stadium where we were able to find the ticket will-call window and the pub No. 8 Tottenham across the street.
We had to show the doorman our Tottneham tickets in order to be allowed into this home supporters bar, but once inside, we found a packed British pub that opened up to a courtyard complete with grilled meats, fried chips, dance beats, beer, fans and more beer. Instant regret for the brunch we had just consumed was quickly replaced by beer and a midday G&T. A wooden bench and some intermittent sun became our home for the next couple of hours as we fought jetlag and rallied for the game.
Finally, it was time and we made our way to the stadium, our assigned entrance gate and seats. We entered the stadium excited and ready to see “our” team live in person. Sorry Pinot, but this game will not be watched from the sofa in Alexandria. This game will be watched from the stands in London.
Now, Sheryll may not have been feeling quite the same sense of awe, but I was excited. I mean really excited–almost to the level of disbelief–that after three plus years of being a fan of a certain North London football club, I was in the stands ready for kickoff. Sheryll, I think was already getting cold as we sat waiting for kickoff against the Welsh football club Swansea City.
From our seats on the upper level of the stadium, we joined the crowd around us cheering and watching until a Swansea goal in the 19th minute took the wind out of the crowd’s sails. Tottenham, ever resolute, pushed on with several great attempts but ended the half trailing 1-0.
On the agenda for half time: Bathroom breaks and a little standing to try and get blood flowing to the toes that were growing colder by the minute. Sitting in a concrete stadium in February in London is cold!
As the second half kicked off, Tottenham was aggressive on the goal just below our seats and their continued onslaught of great chances kept us overly engaged in the match. While attempt after attempt went wide or hit the post, the crowd was clearly becoming worried, downright concerned. Finally, in the 70th minute Nacer Chadli scored the equalizer. The crowd surged with a renewed sense of belief and rose to its feet and erupted in support of their team. The wait was short as only seven minutes later Danny Rose buried the winner in the back of the net after a Tottenham corner kick. All was not lost and we were all convinced the win was eminent.
Thirteen minutes later the game ended with a Tottenham victory in hand. We moved with the masses to the exits and started our long cold walk back to the Tube. We stopped midway for a pint and a quick warm up, but having flown in that morning, getting back to the hotel for a room was high on the priority list. However, as we exited the Leicester Square Tube station full bladders led to a pub bathroom and what I think ended up being Poe’s favorite fish, chips and minty peas of the trip. Back at the hotel, we warmed up and went to bed riding the high of a Tottenham win.
The real highlight of being a Premier League fan in England is the media. Every television channel has dedicated, goal-to-goal coverage, and the morning and evening newspapers are filled with 10 or 12 pages on the latest and greatest. So our Monday morning started with a proper tea and a complete recap of the prior day’s Premier League action. Just like a real EPL fan.
Check back next week to read all about our first experience as away fans at an English Premier League soccer match, including navigating hostile East London streets, dodging riot police and dogs, and, of course, trying to stay warm on a rainy, cold London day.
Editor’s note: We’re doing something a little different on ThePoeLog and declaring the next couple of Friday’s “Football Friday.” Guest editor and soccer expert XFE has kindly written up a series of posts on the soccer games we went to in London.
That’s right our recent trip to London was fabulous, filled with tea, tea sandwiches and most importantly football (soccer). Lots and lots of football. Poe survived. She liked some of it, hated some of it, was a little scared at times, and I am pretty sure she experienced pure joy as well.
In a recent post I shared how we would not be enjoying the game, but this is all about what we did do.
As we’ve mentioned before, we are avid Tottenham Hotspurs fans and follow them religiously. So our focus this trip was on seeing our team in action, and fortunate for us, they were scheduled to play two games the week we were in London for Poe’s birthday trip.
After we decided to take a pass on the prohibitively expensive VIP experience, we set about working with our hotel concierge to get tickets to the two Tottenham games that would be played while we were in town.
Despite being two months before our trip (usually, tickets are only released to the public much closer to match day), the concierge worked with a London-based ticket broker and we were presented with options and prices. We quickly confirmed our desired tickets and arranged payment. In the end, we had two tickets in the away fans section for the Tuesday game at West Ham United and two tickets for the Saturday North London Derby (pronounced Darby) against Arsenal at White Hart Lane.
So tickets reserved, we went about the rest of our lives feeling confident that we had tickets and that our trip was coming together nicely.
One thing to note about soccer leagues and individual team schedules: they are fluid during the season, meaning they can and do change. A game time of 4 pm may change to 2 pm or 7 pm as the television networks adjust their own schedules to show the “most popular” game in the best window of time for viewers.
Also, because English Premier League soccer teams are playing in multiple competitions simultaneously, a game may be cancelled and rescheduled for a future date because the team is in another competition or the scheduled opponent is in another competition. These risks exist and are real, so a little caution is always warranted when buying or reserving game tickets too far in advance.
For this particular trip, one of our original two games was similarly impacted. The West Ham game was moved by a day from a Tuesday to a Wednesday to accommodate another game (Swansea) that needed to be played on the preceding Sunday. That meant that Tottenham would now be playing on a Sunday, a Wednesday and a Saturday—all within the same week.
When we first became aware of this schedule change, we were bummed out because we were traveling on that Sunday and would just miss the opportunity to try to see three games in one week.
But about a week before our trip, I noticed that tickets were available on Stubhub for the new Sunday game against Swansea, and that they were reasonably priced (relative to the other matches we were attending).
After a little airline and hotel searching, I found that we could make some adjustments and change our travel day from Sunday to Saturday. So after convincing Poe, I bought the soccer tickets, changed our flights and added a hotel night. We were now going to get to see Tottenham play three times during our visit.
Check back next week to read all about our first big English Premier League soccer match, including how we fought jetlag, tried to stay warm on a blustery London day, and how our full bladders led to the best fish and chips of the trip.
I’d love to tell you that this was an informative blog post full of tips on how to see and do London on a budget. Something along the lines of “have a practically-free-yet-utterly-fabulous time in London on less than $50 a day.”
But that would be a really short list because (1) London is ridiculously expensive and (2) not to sound bougie or whatever, but $50 a day is really not a lot of money.
Heck, I’m not even sure I exist on less than $50 a day here at home because (1) the greater D.C. area is ridiculously expensive and (2) if I do, for some reason, sally forth from my nice, comfortable home office, the cumulative expense of hours not worked (ah, self-employment) and money pissed away during an Old Town gallivant that probably includes stops at Anthropology, Bluemercury, Gap Outlet and a red velvet cupcake from Bittersweet certainly tallies up to way over $50.
It’s not that I don’t know how to do London on a budget. I lived in London for six months back in 1997. I was a poor college student/waitress and I rented a small, freezing one-room bedsit in Islington with a plug-in electric radiator that would put a scald on whichever side of your body happened to be closest to it, but did nothing to heat up the rest of the room. Also: No TV. No radio. No computer.
As you can imagine, I did not spend much time in my bedsit/prison-I-actually-paid-money-for. Instead, I spent a lot of time getting to know London, and since I didn’t have parents footing the bill and I was living on my meager waitressing salary, I spent a whole lot of time doing free/cheap stuff, ie: going to museums and churches, browsing in stores, seeing cheap West End shows during the day, nursing a single cider for hours on end and reading a book at a pub.
But thankfully, those poverty-ridden days are long behind me, and while I’m certainly not rich, our last trip to London confirmed two things for me: (1) I am, in fact, bougie, and (2) London is a lot more fun when you have a little bit of money.
So, here’s a roundup of some not-so-free things we did in London.
Black Cab Tour – This was my manpanion, XFE’s first time in London. Thankfully, all he really wanted to do was go to every possible soccer match (see below) so we didn’t have to do too much touristy stuff. Still, I felt it was my duty to give him at least a rudimentary amount of exposure to the glories of the British Empire. So, I arranged a private tour in a black cab. We did the Classic Grand Tour, a 3.5 hour whirlwind through about 1,000 years of history.
We got driver David Cannell and I’m pretty sure we were the easiest, most low-key clients he’s ever had. We hardly even stopped for photos (neither one of us are really big into selfies). I happily chatted with David about British history (I got especially excited hearing all about Tyburn Tree, because who doesn’t love a good public execution?) and XFE watched the scenery whizz by. (Cost: £175 GBP or around $250 US. I will say the cab could have held up to 5 people, which is quite affordable.)
Gin Tour—XFE’s other major interest is gin and—as one would expect in a place where the consumption of gin was causing so much strife and ruin it had to be banned—there were a lot of gin-based activities to choose from. But the Gin Journey’s Shake, Rattle and Stir tour worked best with our schedule. We started at a small, very dark underground, totally hipster bar called the Whistling Shop in Shoreditch where we were introduced to our very cool guide, Cocktail Kate.
After getting a brief history on the star of the evening—gin—and quaffing some Sipsmiths, we set off in a mini-bus for stops at five more gin parlors/distilleries/bars (dipping in and out of the City, Shoreditch and Hoxton, mostly) over the course of 4.5 hours, enjoying specially selected premium gins and fine gin cocktails made just for us. The tour was mostly made up of Londoners (with a couple of non-English speaking Italians in the mix) and was a really fun way to spend an evening. I can’t recommend it enough. (Cost: £60 GBP per person or around $85 US)
Tea at Sketch—I know I said I didn’t drag XFE to a bunch of touristy stuff, but that’s not entirely true. I did have one London bucket list item I insisted on crossing off the list.
Despite having lived in London for six months and downing copious amounts of the stuff, I’d never actually been to a proper English tea*. Like in a fancy tea room with mini-sandwiches and cakes. I decided to skip the traditional, stuffy hotel high teas (sorry, Dorchester) and go for something more modern and fun: Sketch.
This restaurant/tea room/coffee shop/lounge nestled in an 18th-century townhouse right on the border of Mayfair and Soho is kooky as hell. The vibe is very Alice in Wonderland with oversized doors, coat check closets hidden behind swing out bookshelves, toilets hidden in egg-pods and quirky staff uniforms (the waitresses in the tea rooms were wearing these sort of World War 1 nurse’s pinafores, for lack of a better description).
The tea room decor was a suffocating plush ballerina-pink cocoon that made me think: this is what it must be like to live inside a jewelry box. And it was packed to the gills with (mostly) female tourists, even on a weekday in March. XFE was pretty much the only guy in the place, unless you count the guy wearing a dramatic silk scarf, lip gloss and some heeled boots in the corner banquette (his tea companion was a gorgeous, exotic girl with a wrap shirt that kept gaping.)
The tea itself was pretty meh—we manned it up by splurging for the Champagne Afternoon Tea. Sandwiches included coronation chicken salad, egg salad, a posh grilled cheese, the usual suspects; sweets included assorted cakes, some lemony pudding thing and that most overhyped of all cookies, the macaron, of course. The people watching though: that’s worth the admission price. (Cost: £57 per person or $81 US)
*(I had, however, had a Devon cream tea with clotted cream and scones, and honestly, I liked that way better.)
Soccer matches—If I end up living in the poor house or becoming an indentured servant (or worse, working as a barista at Starbucks….again), it is because I gave all my money to the English Premier League in 2016. Specifically, the Tottenham Hotspurs.
We went to three games while we were there, one against Swansea at Tottenham’s grounds, White Hart Lane. The second against West Ham at their playing grounds, and the third against Arsenal back at White Hart Lane.
Buying tickets to overseas soccer games is usually a bit of a difficult enterprise involving months of research, repeatedly checking the team websites, Ticketmaster, StubHub and any other online resource you can think of. It usually requires the assistance of a hotel concierge, who can’t really provide any confirmations on successful acquisition of tickets until much, much closer to the match day, when the teams finally, reluctantly release tickets to the general public. It is not at all uncommon for us to get on an overseas flight without knowing for sure if we have tickets to a game or where our seats will be.
London and the EPL, however, are even more insular and stingy with their tickets, so the whole process requires the combined efforts of a hotel concierge, online ticket brokers, bicycle delivery personel, plus copious amounts of cash (in all three cases) and subterfuge (in at least one instance). It’s almost, ALMOST enough to make you think that splashing out $1,113 for (guaranteed) VIP tickets to a game is reasonable and sane. Almost.
These hoops and hurdles prove to be particularly true when you are dealing with major London rivalries like Tottenham and Arsenal, and most especially when it’s close to the end of the season and those two teams specifically are in a hot-and-heavy, three-way race for the top spot in the League. I’m not allowed to divulge any more information into how exactly we got our tickets, particularly to that last game, but I will say it probably would have been easier (and cheaper) to get “Hamilton” tickets (flights included). (Cost for three EPL games: I don’t want to talk about it)
I’m about to say something highly controversial: I love British food.
And I’m not talking about “crisps,” because, let’s be honest, who doesn’t enjoy a little salty sliver of fried potato goodness? Although, the British do tend to test that love with some rather unique flavoring options. Beef and onion? Roast ox? Prawn cocktail? Don’t even get me started on repeat offender/intrepid flavor alchemist, Tyrell’s.
But crisps are easy to love. What I’m talking about is heavy, stodgy British fare with funny names and a heavy reliance on the aforementioned potatoes or other mysterious carbs (what starchy root vegetable is a Yorkshire and why is it made into a pudding?)
I like the stuff that, in a pinch, could be used as a building material. You know, to stucco something perhaps, or be a passable substitute for mortar. We’re talking bubble and squeak. Bangers and mash. Jacket potatoes with baked beans and cheese. Toad in the hole. Welsh rarebit.
I didn’t even scratch the surface of my love of British food during our recent trip to London. I had forgotten all about my love of a good Ploughman’s lunch until we were almost departing. I never did seek out a Lancashire hot pot or a Cornish pasty. No stottie cakes doused in gravy (to be fair, stottie cakes are generally hard to find anyways). We’ll have to save all those delicacies for next time.
Here are a few British things I ate and loved this trip:
Full English breakfast – Since our hotel, the W Leicester Square, included a breakfast buffet every morning, we really only went out for breakfast once – our first morning in London. We were jet lagged and tired from sitting on the plane but we couldn’t check in yet (we’d been upgraded to a suite, which is all very nice, until you find out that the previous suite occupant has asked for a late checkout).
We went to a place recommended by our friend Amy, the Grazing Goat. It’s a small, bright gastropub that’s part of a boutique hotel on one of those posh, Georgian townhouse-lined streets near Marble Arch.
Since it was a Sunday, there were quite a few families with small, needy, yelling children smearing dippy eggs and soldiers all over their pink British cherub cheeks. If I liked children and their hippy parents, I’m sure I would have found it adorable. As it was, it was a lot for my jet-lagged self to handle.
The tables were (of course) wobbly and the service was a bit spotty, but the English breakfast made it (mostly) worthwhile. Eggs, streaky bacon, sausage, tomato, mushrooms, beans, toast and hold the black pudding, please.
I skipped the tea and went for something a bit more caffeinated, but I cannot for the life of me imagine why I didn’t get a Bloody Mary or mimosa to soothe my nerves and pre-game for the Tottenham soccer match we went to later that day. Did I mention we had literally just flown in? I think I was worried I’d fall asleep if I started drinking.
Fish and chips with mushy peas – My default British meal (and everyone else’s). I think I had these at least four time over the eight days we were there. Maybe five. Each place had their pros and cons: one place had better chips, another had better fish, yet another had a better batter. My favorite was the place we went on our first night: The Brewmaster Pub in Leicester Square. The haddock was great, the chips were triple fried, the homemade tartar sauce was wonderful and the mint in the mushy peas really cinched it for me.
Steak and kidney pie – I’m generally not a fan of offal, something that is very hard to avoid in jolly olde England. They’ll eat just about any organ over there. But, when your black cab tour guide suggests you try the steak and kidney pie at the oldest restaurant in London – Rules in Covent Garden — you just do it. Plus, it was the only pie option on the menu and it looked very, very good.
I even ate a few of the kidney bits, all mixed in with the steak and awesome gravy and pastry, and washed down with lots of red wine. It was actually very good. Well, at least I didn’t die or anything.
The old clubby atmosphere at Rules and plethora of animal trophy heads (there must be hundreds) can’t be beat, either. Just be sure to take your coat with you to the bathroom…those back stairs are drafty.
(I did have a steak and ale pie at another pub later in the trip, but it was pretty meh.)
Sticky toffee pudding – After so bravely swallowing many small bits of gamey kidney, I figured I deserved a dessert. And my favorite dessert in the whole wide world is sticky toffee pudding. Rules does it up right, serving the (yes, sticky) toffee syrup-soaked cake with a dollop of just slightly tart crème fraiche. It was not my only sticky toffee pudding this trip, but it was by far the best. Maybe it was because of all the animal heads placidly watching me devour something not derived from them.
Sunday roast – The event I had been planning and waiting for the whole trip and it did not disappoint. We had so many options to pick from, but I had read an article in Time Out about London chefs and what their favorite new restaurants were in 2015. Blacklock was mentioned time and again. It was my birthday and Mother’s Day (in Britain, at least) so I was extra glad we had made a reservation.
The restaurant is located in a Soho basement and has lots of communal tables full of folks sharing plates heaped with slabs of meat.
This was after our appetizer of bone marrow, because, well, England and weird meat byproducts. (Seriously, is there anything more invasive than eating the marrow of another animal? “Let’s see. I could gnaw at your tendons and tear your flesh into bite size pieces, but that just doesn’t seem to be sufficient. I know! Let’s crack open a bone and get at the gelatinous molecules inside there.”) I try to be a good sport and try everything, even if I have had it before and didn’t like it because you never know. But no. Still not a fan.
We ordered what I’m affectionately calling the Gluttonous Americans Special, also known as the All In: roast lamb, pork and beef with duck fat potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, carrots and some broccolini, and a large, delicious boat of salty brown gravy– all for 20 GBP a person.
The waiters were wonderful, very chatty and friendly and they politely looked the other way when I ate all of my Yorkshire pudding, half of XFE’s and the entire third one that I think we were supposed to share. They humored us while we marveled at the fact that Sunday roasts with all the trimmings hadn’t taken off in the U.S. yet.
Sadly, Blacklock did not have sticky toffee pudding and I know this because I asked, even though I was uncomfortably full and sweating meat by that point. I’m pretty sure I would have found a way to get one last dessert in.
Editor’s note: Seems XFE has really taken to this whole blogging business and has come up with another post to fill the void while we’re in London this week. Enjoy!
You recently may have gotten your football related fill here on ThePoeLog, but we are currently in London to celebrate Poe’s birthday week, and we have football on the agenda three times here in London. Once we return I will have a full break down on the games we attended, but in the meantime I figured I would share part of our experience getting tickets and more importantly the “Matchday Experience” we considered but ultimately decided to skip.
Once we settled on London as the destination for this year’s birthday trip, I immediately turned to the current schedule for the Barclay’s English Premier League soccer and most importantly our beloved Tottenham Hotspurs. Thrilled beyond belief it looked like Tottenham was playing an away match at East London West Ham on Wednesday and a home game against rivals Arsenal in the North London Derby (pronounced darby) on the following Saturday. Two Tottenham games, all in London, the week we are planning to be in town. The mere coincidence of these games aligning with Poe’s birthday brought tears of joy to my eyes.
(Editor: please note that after XFE wrote this little post, he convinced me to move up our trip up by a day in order to attend a THIRD Tottenham game — this one against Swansea this past Sunday.)
Sure, the schedule included a random weeknight game in Stoke-on-Trent that I briefly was going to try and work into the program, but two games in London for our team was the minimum and I was excited.
What started to happen next can only be viewed as a blessing and a curse. First, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United started the season in less than the outstanding form expected by most and the League took on a bizarre life of its own where Leicester City was leading the standings and others were struggling to keep pace.
Second, our Spurs started winning and, even more importantly, not losing. Meaning that by Christmas, they were real contenders for cracking into the top four and even pushing higher in the table. (Note: At the time of writing, Tottenham sits in second place, tied with Arsenal, but a game between writing and publication of this post may change the live standings. If you want live standings, go elsewhere, I am not Rebecca Lowe, for heaven’s sake.)
So, as the New Year launched and Tottneham climbed in the table, my worries about getting tickets increased to a level of pure concern and angst. No tickets for sale were showing up on the usual suspect reseller websites and there was no way we were getting tickets through the club being the lowly American foreigners that we are. A £89 British Pound fee can get you a membership to the supporters club, but that does not guarantee you tickets, just the right to buy tickets from the club towards the back of the line. So rather than waste £89, we started exploring other options.
Fresh off our recent VIP experience in Bilbao, we discovered the Tottenham VIP experiences on their website and sent off an email to inquire. The next morning I awoke to find a very nice email informing me that VIP tickets were still available for the Arsenal home match in something called the “Bill Nicholson Suite.” Wow, this might be easier than I expected. This would get us guaranteed access to the game, meaning that I (we) were guaranteed to see at least one of the two matches for our Hotspurs.
In addition to having availability, the email included the following in response to me mentioning why we’re attending the game:
“On top of the listed details, to make it extra special for your Girlfriend’s birthday, I’d happily get her name included in our Matchday programme and arrange for her to have a photo with a first team player after the game!”
Well, just send the Best Boyfriend in the World trophy over right now, because this competition is locked up. Sorry, Ronaldo! So what else does this experience include?
Seems like a nice way to spend a day enjoying our team, and “buffet” means I can avoid another international soccer VIP experience incident with Poe like the one we had in Bilboa. And free bar “throughout” the day, what can be wrong with that? Digging a little further, we can find some nice pictures of the room and it looks perfectly acceptable. There is a dress code, but I am sure we can work with that little requirement.
So now, the only question I had was: What is this little experience going to cost me?
If you have felt the anticipation building, you were right to feel that way and here you go. This wonderful British soccer experience can be yours for the low, low price of £649 British Pounds plus VAT per person. Well, that sounds….expensive? Not expensive? I don’t know.
For those without calculators handy, let me help. Currently ,the VAT tax is 20% and in mid-January when I received the email, £1 was equal to $1.43. So, adding the VAT, which was £130, and the currency conversion meant that each ticket would cost $1,113.68 per person! Yep, that’s right, for a mere $2,227 Poe and I could have a great birthday experience at the home of our favorite EPL team.
As the shock settled in, I actually considered spending the money. I didn’t want to, but I did want to go to the game.
My head was working overtime trying to justify the expenses and rationalize that I had used points and miles for the flights and hotels, so this was going to be my big expense, etc.–all the usual tricks to say “yes, this is worth it.”
I think I had even manage to convince Poe that we should just bite the bullet, but in the end, we said “NO.” My Boyfriend of the Year trophy would just have to be earned another way, because the Tottenham VIP experience was not going to be my ticket to glory.
So this week while we are in London, we will be skipping the Tottenham Bill Nicholas Suite Experience. But fear not, we will still be going to the game. In fact we will be going to both of the games we identified for our trip. (ED note: Plus one more).
Yes, it will be expensive. No, there will not be a buffet or bar available to us during the game. But in the end, I am perfectly happy eating Pukka Pies and getting buzzed at the local pub before sneaking my road flares into the game.