A Day Trip to Soho

Although life in Cambridge is wonderful, and I am equally in love with my friends and my work, sometimes I have to leave the bubble. So after hearing about a secret cocktail bar in Soho with a children’s literature inspired menu, my partner and I figured we might as well go for a cheeky day trip.

Lucky for us, the connection between Cambridge and London is very good, so as soon as we decided to go we found ourselves on a train. After a cold walk through London town, we made it to Poland Street, Soho.

And walked straight past the entrance.

We looked up the address again, and walked past the entrance once more.

Finally, after feeling awfully uncool and trying to look inconspicuous whilst checking every single door on the street, we knew we made it when we found this:

Slightly creepy, but pretty cool!

We then went up several steps, both definitely oozing sophistication, looking suave, and not nervous at all, and arrived in a very swanky, very crowded bar. We were told there was only a standing space for us at the moment (turned out this really was 1 standing place for 2), but we’d be seated soon. Oh, and did I mention that this was at 3 in the afternoon?

All of the nerves, the waiting, and people were instantly worth it when we were handed the menu. The menu is just as classy and cool as the place itself, beautifully illustrated in the style of a children’s novel. The lining is reminiscent of a primary school journal, and although this was all obviously focus grouped and highly stylized, it strangely felt organic and natural.

A fun menu mini game was to find all the references to the Blind Pig

Two things worked against us here: firstly, we are by no means cocktail experts and had not heard of a lot of these ingredients. Secondly, all of the cocktails sounded adorable and were illustrated appealingly beautifully. Making a decision was difficult.

After eyeing up what the people around us were drinking, we managed to make a decision. I went for the Hunny Pot, and my partner for the Half a Pint o’Buttah.  (This was most definitely a difficult choice, as the Jar of Dreams is served with light-up ice cubes.)

The presentation killed it and the drinks were delicious.

Was it ridiculously expensive? Yes. Then again, this is Soho we’re talking about, so considering the costs of running the place I suppose we aren’t talking about extortionate pricing here. The strange thing to us was that while we were comfortably seated and taking our time to enjoy our drinks, the people around us appeared to come there to smash in one drink – within 10 minutes most of them would be gone.

Because of the great connection to London it is so easy for a Cambridge student to escape the bubble, if only for an afternoon. To all who have the same option, or who happen to be in London anyway, I highly recommend stopping by the Blind Pig. If you’re worried about spending that much on only a drink, I say to you: save money by walking from the station to Soho instead of taking the underground. You’ll be able to explore the city a bit, feel refreshed by a doable walk, and feel less guilty about treating yourself to a fancy, delicious drink!

Come Monday, it’s back to the bubble and work again. Especially in stressful environments like Cambridge it’s so important to relax and unwind, and it’s so hard to justify it to yourself. Feel free to treat yourself every once in a while and remember to take time to be delightfully unproductive. In the words of Milne,

Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.

It’s okay to go on day trips too, though!


Tom’s Midnight Garden

Today it’s time to talk about a beautiful little book called Tom’s Midnight Garden. I picked it up from the classics section of my local bookstore, and absolutely fell in love with it! I cannot believe that I have never read this book before, especially considering my deep love for Burnett’s The Secret Garden. So, to rectify this sad mistake, I will now share this lovely little tale with all of you guys!

Tom’s Midnight Garden tells the story of Tom, who after his brother gets the measels gets evacuated/quarantined at his aunt and uncle’s place. They think he may have the measels also, so he’s not to go outside for fear of infecting others as well. Being kept indoors at all times and forced to rest, Tom, like most children, get bored pretty much immediately. Lucky for him, however, the landlady’s grandfather’s clock rings 13 at midnight, opening the garden to the past. There, in his midnight garden, he befriends a girl named Hatty – the only one* who can see him. Every night he visits her in the garden, but time seems to pass most strangely…

Much like the book itself, I’m going to keep this short and sweet. I truly love this book, it is right up there with Burnett’s The Secret Garden for me with their utopic gardens, unhappy and lonely children making friends, English stateliness and sweet happy endings. For the ending to Tom’s Midnight Garden is the kind to leave you all warm and fuzzy inside! I won’t spoil it here (in fact, I think I will leave out the spoiler section all together from now on), as it is something that should be experienced. Although it’s not a twist, you shouldn’t be thinking of it whilst reading it – it would be like dreaming of your dessert all through your Michelin dinner!
Much like The Secret Garden, this book makes me want to go outside and play like I used to when I was young. Whereas the former makes me want to go into a garden to see it bloom, Tom’s Midnight Garden makes me want to take my partner by the hand and run through the hills. I think this difference may be because the protagonist is a boy, and because of that the author diverted the focus from the blooming garden to the adventures and play of the children. Neither approach is better than the other, and both are executed superbly!

To go with this read, I recommend Night Melody by Anteaques. This tea is a delicious herbal infusion of Rooibos, lime blossoms and honeybush. It’s caffein free and actually does help with sleep! The reason this tea is great with this novel is that it is light and fresh (maybe not traditionally refreshing without the caffein), and has a lovely floral, gardeny flavour to it due to the blossoms and the honeybush. It is a delicate combination of flavours that calls for a bit of a longer infusion – I’d recommend around 5 minutes for all the flavours to be sufficiently defined. For what is better than a wild adventure in the meadows than a fresh and floral cup of tea?

I fully recommend this novel, and this tea. They are both of them perfect on a “warm” spring day, and make your skin call out for a bout of kisses from the sun!


The Secret Garden

One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands alone and throws one’s head far back and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happening until the East almost makes one cry out and one’s heart stands still at the strange unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun—which has been happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years.

It is inevitable that at some point each year, I find myself with this book in my hands. Whenever I need a pick-me-up for some undefinable reason, or I find myself dulled to my surroundings, this wonderful book is sure to make me glow and feel good for weeks on end. Every time I finish it (which is always too soon), I get filled with the urging need to go outside and breathe, to play and be merry in ways that I wrote off when I “grew up”.

Frances Burnett’s The Secret Garden tells the simple story of an ugly child, both in and out, who reconnects with both her family and nature and becomes whole again. It chronicles the development of Mary, born and raised in colonial India, whose parents and servants die after a cholera outbreak. She is moved to her reclusive hunchback uncle Mr. Craven in Yorkshire, where she is left alone to learn how to dress herself and to play. She discovers a hidden rose garden, shut off after Mr. Craven’s wife passed away, and makes it her mission to make it bloom once again. On her road to health she makes friends for the first time in her life: Dickon, a peasant boy with almost magical green fingers, and her hidden cousin Colin, a hypochondriac with tyrannical streaks.
Together these three set to bringing the garden back to life, which also reignites their dulled down flames. Both Mary and Colin form their first friendships ever through the secret project of the garden, and are reunited with their family by the end.

It is an interesting one, this book.
At the first glance, not much is happening that would normally draw a reader in nowadays. The pace is quite slow, and the stakes are not very high: never is anybody in any more danger than to be reprimanded by an adult. The setting is very small: although we first see glimpses of India, very soon we are restricted to the manor and its gardens. The adventure, likewise, is limited to Mary exploring her new home and the garden, and the children playfully keeping their secret from the adults.

But still I find myself inextricably pulled into the narrative. The beautiful descriptions of nature’s changes throughout the seasons, the scenes of the children playing together and fooling the adults are so pleasant and almost hypnotising. Although this is not a high fantasy novel by any means, as the children point out there seems to be a kind of magic linked to these simpler parts of life. The nature described is as normal as it is in real life, but it is experienced more intensely, more wonderfully. Placing the “ordinary” of a rose garden in bloom into the extraordinary of childhood imagination.

And when I think about it more, I do believe I have found the magic of the novel: it is just so nice. It is a light read, with language and style fit for both a younger and a more mature reader, with stakes that are no higher than those of real life children, and with enchanting descriptions of nature that spur you to go out and smell the grass and the dirt, touch the flowers and see them grow. Seeing Mistress Mary Quite Contrary gradually loosen up and start to genuinely care about other people, who love her in return, is a nice and non-dramatic way to show that people do change and care, and that even if you have been nasty before, your chances at friendship and happiness are not gone just yet.

Another refreshing note to this novel is that the children are not Dickensian pinnacles of innocence, speaking as adults would about love and acceptance – far from it! Mary is a snooty, arrogant little brat at the start of the story, and even towards the end she is stubborn and headstrong. Colin, a whiney tyrant, takes a while to let go of his hysterical tendencies – but always takes control and speaks for others.
The ways in which these traits are represented, however, change as the characters do. Mary’s contrariness becomes less, sure, but what remains of it is endearing and admirable: she stands her ground and does not suffer fools. Colin is a natural leader, and learns that being obeyed from respect comes from a different and better place than from fear.

Overall, this is a light and refreshing story of change. Beautifully described, you can practically smell the moorlands, the freshly baked bread, the freshly turned earth, the roses coming into bloom. To match this charming little novel, I would recommend a charming light tea. To go with the slightly romantic tone, and the beautiful descriptions of spring, summer, and the rose garden, I have selected Whittard’s Oriental Fruits. This is a black, loose leaf tea, with strawberry, cranberry, bergamot and peach – it even has rose petals!
Even though this is a black tea, the colour and the flavour are very light and gentle.

Whittard’s Oriental Fruits and Burnett’s The Secret Garden will pick you up on a dreary November day, and make you remember – sooner or later, Spring is coming.

Oriental Fruits