Before I get into the bulk of this post, just a forewarning that yes I will be talking about what I was up to in London on the 21st of March and on the 22nd of March, the day of the attack at Westminster. I will not be discussing this matter, not because I am ignoring it but because I wasn’t there, around Westminster itself. London is a big place and myself and my friend Hannah were perfectly safe in another area of the city when it happened. I also think, at times such as these it is important to carry on and live through the days as normally as possible.
Last month, my good friend Hannah (over at thegirlflaneur, and who I did a guest post for about my trip to Budapest that you can find here) excitedly told me that she was going to be staying with her brother, Matt and his wife Hayley in London from the 18th of march to the 23rd. She asked me if I’d like to meet up with her down south and stay over for a night at Matt and Hayley’s to which I was like: uhh, YES. The best part about this trip was that not only would it mean getting to see Hannah, it also meant that we could go to see the ‘Adventures in Moominland’ exhibition at the Southbank Centre, together! This was exciting news because both myself and Hannah grew up loving the Moomins, Moomin Valley, Moomintroll, Moominmamma, Moominpapa, Snufkin, Little My…the list goes on.
So, on the morning of the 21st I rushed my way to York train station, making my train barely by a minute and began the journey to London. Thanks to pretty direct trains from York it only took me 2 hours to make the trip. I arrived in London at 12:30 and met Hannah outside Kings Cross. We gawped at the gross pigeons for a couple of minutes while I finished a smoke, then we made our way down to the underground. In the station I went to one of the Oyster card top up machines only to find that I had £22.70 already on there….which was a nice surprise, if not slightly alarming. Still laughing about my unexpected oyster credit we jumped on a train, heading for Southbank.
Getting out of the underground we made straight for the Southbank Centre and I started to actually feel like I was in London – Kings Cross never feels like it’s part of the city to me, it’s such a liminal, no place space. We grabbed our tickets for the exhibition at the centre and decided some food and a hot chocolate was in order. We decided on Le Pain, a cute little French style cafe chain that conveniently was right by the Southbank Centre. We both got…well exactly the same thing each. Not deliberately I might add, we’re not one of those weird friend couples. We simply, fancied the same thing, don’t judge. So we dug into our fresh scone, jam and cream and our hot chocolate, which came as two large round bowl-type cups of hot steamed milk and one jug of pure, melted Belgian chocolate. Yum, right? It was SO good, just what we both needed and Hannah started to perk up after having to be up early for breakfast with a friend.
We took our time with food and caught up on all the important info from each other’s lives. I won’t lie there wasn’t too much, due to the fact that we pretty much chat every day. Once everything was finished we wandered over to the Centre, was affronted by hundreds of children waiting for a music performance, felt terrified, went to the loo and then waited at the entrance to the exhibition, eagerly watching the door, which amazingly, was a book.
To my surprise the crowd gathering for the exhibition was made entirely of adults: which I was totally okay with. At one minute past 3 the exhibition was declared open, we were introduced to our guide and the small group of us(around 10), all hyper with nostalgia and childlike excitement, watched as the front cover of the book door was opened, then a page was folded over, then another, then on the third page there was a hole, cut out of the page and big enough for a person to walk through: a doorway.
In the exhibition itself, cameras and photography was not allowed. This was partially due to the extremely are and valuable original works, but also because the exhibition is supposed to be an emmersive, interactive journey and experience. As soon as we found our way into the first room: Snufkin’s tent, the worry of ‘taking photos to remember’ fell away and we all huddled on small benches or cut down tree logs, to listen not only to the beginning of the Moomins story, but also of their creator: Tove Janssen.
What follows the first room is an exploration into the mind of Janssen, from her life as a child and how the character of the moomin evolved throughout this time and into her and adult life.
Sandy Toksvig narrates the experience and tells us that the moomin started life as a bogeyman, hiding behind the stove and used as as deterrent by Janssen’s parents to stop her from sneaking downstairs at night for sweet treats.
Each room is also connected to one of the eight books (the ninth didn’t actually include the moomin family) Janssen wrote about the world of the Moomins and the other characters within it. I don’t want to entirely spoil the exhibition, moment by moment for anyone wanting to actually go. But, some of these rooms included a recreation of Janssen’s studio, a raft on the sea, a coastline of rocks and hard sand, a forest floor covered in snow from ‘Moominland Midwinter’ and a humid, dewy midsummer grove from ‘Moominsummer Madness’. The trail is a magical delve into Janssen’s incredible ability to make things that could be painful, beautiful.
A real highlight of the exhibition was when the guide sat us all down in another of the cosy little moomin hideouts. We gathered around a suitcase that was closed. We were told about the characters of Thingumy and Bob and how their representation in the books was a way for Tove Janssen to express her greatest secret. She was gay and was hiding a relationship with another woman, a married woman, Tuulikki Pietilä. There was a real sense of sincere emotion and sadness from all of us as we listened to the guide tell us of the two artist’s hidden love and how it manifested in Janssen’s own work.
The exhibition concludes in a room recreated from the moomin family’s home. We all took a peek into the sleeping moomin’s bedroom end exited through the cupboard, no less.
I think the exact words myself and Hannah said when we left the exhibition were ‘well that was the best £12 I’ve ever spent’. It really is a wonderful, joyful experience that truly makes you feel like a kid again.
Myself and Moomintroll at the Southbank Centre Moomin gift shop.
Hannah and Moomintroll.
Some little gifts to myself from the shop at the he exhibition.
After the exhibition we made our way back to Hannah’s brothers flat in West Hampstead, just long enough for a cup of tea, a quick play with their kitten Xen and a speedy change of clothes and headed back out for food at Taro in Soho. Myself, Hannah, Matt and Hayley met one of their friends Jess at the restaurant. I’ve never been to a Taro before and it did not disappoint. As a lover of Japanese food it was a real treat. I decided on a Katsu Chicken Bento Box which included, tuna and salmon sashimi, sushi nigiri, edamame beans, bean sprouts, the chicken katsu and some rice. It was more than enough and left me feeling happy and satisfied.
In an extremely happy and lucky turn of events, my best friend from back home, Laura turned out to work about two doors down from the Taro we were in so she met us outside the restaurant and under the direction of Laura, we headed to the Soho Theatre Bar. It was honestly such a wonderful day and evening, spent with two of my most favourite people in the world: plus the Moomins of course.
On the Wednesday me and Hannah took it easy. We lazed around for most of the morning and only headed out towards Spitalfields and Brick Lane at around 1 in the afternoon. As soon as I knew we were going to Brick Lane I immediately started craving a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel from the famous Hot Beigel shop, so we header there. It’s usually got a huge queue snaking out of the door but this time we were pretty lucky. The filled bagels are incredibly cheap but don’t worry, this certainly does not mean they skimp on the fillings. As I already said I opted for the smoked salmon/cream cheese combo and Hannah, who doesn’t usually like bagels, went for the tuna, mayo and sweetcorn. We munched away on our bagels whilst looking on to some interesting street art and graffiti outside the second and smaller Dark Sugars cocoa house on Brick Lane. The last time I was there I had wanted to go in but didn’t have the time, so I knew I wanted to rectify that. When I think of a cocoa house, or a chocolaterie, I think of what Dark Sugars is.
The raw aesthetic of the store really lends itself to its no fuss chocolate truffles, which are presented in huge wooden bowls. More chocolates are laid out simply on wooden surfaces.
The entire place smells delicious. I picked out a little selection for my mum who LOVE dark chocolate, while Hannah waited for the literal pile of chocolate shavings to melt into the milk of the chilli hot chocolate she got.
Satisfied with our purchases we wandered back down Brick Lane, admiring all the art and graffiti as we went. I love Brick Lane. It’s a perfect example of the transformative ability that different cultures and mixes of people can have on a city and it’s beautiful.
On our way down we popped into Rokit vintage, Brick Lane Book shop and admired some wonderful Penguin editions of Orwell’s novels.
Making our way back to Liverpool Street station we cut through Spitalfields, I picked up some baclava from a stall in the market, made a quick detour to a coffee shop (it had been two days) and boy was it good.
That evening Hannah and I ordered in pizza, played with Xen and watched Deadpool. It was the perfect, chilled end to two great days in the capital. What’s even better is that, even if only a short break, I have returned to work and home feeling refreshed and focused.
P.s us northerners like to hate on London and Londoners a lot, but sometimes it can be a wonderful place: whilst at Dark Sugars the woman behind the till asked if I had more change than the £10 note I was about to give her. I had a look but didn’t really have anything that could help so I just offered to pay on my card (I work in an independent vintage shop in York so I know how this feels) and she was so grateful that she gave me one of their beautiful chocolates for free. Simple kindnesses are what make our days sometimes.