Organising Your Finances When Living in a Capital City

As a Londoner of almost 7 years, I would vouch that living in a capital city or other major urban centre comes hand in hand with a whole host of benefits. You will generally find yourself in a bustling area that has the widest range of jobs on offer. No matter what field you work in (unless you happen to specialise in agriculture or marine biology), chances are that the major names and employers in the field are based nearby. You also don’t have to worry all too much about getting to and from the workplace on your morning commute, as urban centres tend to have the best public transport links available. This can benefit your social life too. After all, they’re simple and relatively cheap ways to get to all of the local entertainment on offer: restaurants, bars, clubs, and cinemas, alongside more cultural attractions such as museums, art galleries, and theatres. It’s really not all too surprising that so many people will flock to live in these spaces. The drawback? Living in a major city is by no means the cheapest option to consider. All of these benefits generate high demand, and chances are that you won’t get all too much space for your money either: the price of land in inner city spaces skyrockets, and property developers then build upwards in blocks of small flats to make the most of the investment. Rent and mortgages are high, so the price of everything else becomes high too. People start adding to the price of anything they’re selling to cover their own running costs. Food is expensive, drinks are expensive, entertainment is expensive. You know the drill. So, how can we benefit from living in a major city without sinking into debt? Here are a few steps that you too can take to organise your finances efficiently.

Budget

The first step towards staying in the black is to budget effectively, knowing your disposable income. Pull up a notebook, as it tends to be easier to organise things when everything is written down in black and white. First, note down your take home pay, that is the money you get with taxes deducted (a mistake I have made when I started freelancing, but it’s easy to make as employed too, especially when first starting work). Once you have this figure, you need to deduct your necessities. These include your rent or mortgage payments, payments for energy bills, and basic grocery shopping (and no, no matter what I might say about needing it to survive, wine isn’t one of these!). Anything left over is your disposable income and what you have left to use at your leisure. In my case, since I don’t buy new clothes and rarely buy shoes, it’s for the wine. If you make sure that you don’t exceed your disposable income, you shouldn’t have to worry about falling into debt (especially if your salary is £40K pa…you know who I’m talking about…).

Borrow Responsibly

Of course, there are situations in life where you may find yourself in need of borrowing money, and not everyone has recourse to the bank of mum and dad when hit by unexpected expenses beyond the money they earn. Borrowing gets a bad reputation because of the many loan sharks, which offer speed and convenience but come hand in hand with extremely high interest rates, and people find themselves struggling to keep up with outrageous payments and may slip further and further into debt as a consequence. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Most people can access better options, and before you write yourself off as not eligible (I thought my credit score would be low as I’m a recent-ish migrant, but I’m doing better than I expected), browse different secured loans. You will have to put some form of collateral down on these, but as long as you pay on time and as agreed, the collateral won’t be touched, and you should be able to clear the loan quickly and efficiently with a lower interest rate.

Create a Savings Account

Something I wish I had begun to do earlier was attempting to save. Even if earning enough, when working most hours of the day it’s easy to fall into the trap of wanting to treat yourself, whether it’s a bath bomb or a bottle of wine or dinner out, or even a mere coffee to take a break from strolling around a big museum. Most people who save are saving for something other than a rainy day, which gives them motivation, but setting aside some money in an account where it can gather more interest is a good move to make, even if you’re not sure exactly what you want to gather savings for. Then, down the line, if you want to make a big investment (such as putting a deposit down on a mortgage, or heading away travelling, or you know, get married…), you will have the funds readily available rather than having to postpone your plans for months or years. Your savings account can also come in useful if you are hit by further unexpected expenses (like mousegate), as you will have money readily available to bail yourself out rather than having to borrow further or go without.

While inner city living is inevitably going to be a relatively expensive lifestyle choice, there are steps that you can take to organise your finances effectively and efficiently that will keep you financially positive and self-sufficient. Incorporate the above steps into your lifestyle as soon as possible in order to benefit from them as much as possible!

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Dine like Oscar Wilde: where to find “fin de siècle” architecture in London

Drawing Room with period furniture

It is no surprise that I am a foodie. It is also no surprise that I like to eat in beautiful surroundings, be it taking a picnic to the grounds of a castle in Derbyshire or a restaurant I wish I had decorated myself. Most people are used to me being obsessed with the 18th century, but another period in history that I love (for its arts, architecture and literature) is the fin de siècle, or for the English-speaking audience the end of Queen Victoria’s reign and the beginning of the Edwardian age. While it is very much a Parisian thing, and this love for it goes back to spending hours reading Verlaine and the other poets in my French Literature textbooks as a teenager, there is plenty of it in England, and in particularly London, too.
The very first design of this blog incorporated a famous quote from The Picture of Dorian Gray, “The only difference between a caprice and a lifelong passion is that the caprice lasts a little longer”, and I have talked about my love of Oscar Wilde before, although maybe never to the extent of my youth, when you would really have thought I must be an elective descendant at best, reincarnation at worst (it’s still in there somewhere!).

Pizza Express, Coptic Street (Bloomsbury)
A view of the Pizza Express on Coptic Street, London

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hidden in the area most famous for being the home of the Bloomsbury group and the British Museum, this corner building (between Coptic Street and Little Russell Street) was once the home of the Dairy Supply Company. Built in 1888 by architect R.P. Whellock, the dairy is partly preserved not only in the outdoors structure of the building, but also in the interiors of the restaurant, with the original round windows and tiles giving an original touch to what is a chain that looks the same wherever you visit a branch.

📷 copyright Ghostly Tom’s Travel

Bibendum and Bibendum Oyster House at Michelin House (Chelsea)

Long distance picture of Michelin House in Chelsea

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Grade II listed 1911 building by François Espinasse, with features that are Art Nouveau and features that are to be Art Deco and images that betray its past as the UK home of French tyre giant Michelin even if you had no idea that Bibendum is the nickname of the Michelin Man. The architectural features are more visible from the Oyster Bar than the restaurant, but since the restaurant is run by Claude Bose and you walk through the ground floor to reach it I thought it’d still deserve a mention. While Chelsea isn’t lacking in good architecture, Bibendum’s fish soup is lush.

Byron Proper Hamburger, Strand (Covent Garden)
Interiors of Grade II listed building turned into Byron burger restaurant

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American food in the former home of the Adelphi Theatre’s restaurant, who would have thought it? Enjoy the burger chain favoured by the previous tenant of no 11 Downing Street the night before a budget and enjoy the reflected light from the massive mirrors, golden mosaic ceilings and (modern) chandeliers of this Grade II listed 1887 building by Spencer Chadwick for the Gatti Brothers.

Leadenhall Market, Gracechurch Street (the City)
Central arcade, Leadenhall Market

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the Leaky Cauldron is not, alas, an option, there are plenty of good eateries (and drinks retailers!) at this historic covered market. While the market itself dates back to the late Middle Ages, the current arcades were designed in 1881 by Sir Horace Jones.  Catch Fine Wine Wednesdays at Amathus for discounts on selected wines, including cases, and it’s really worth getting a privilege card if you work in the area (more discounts than just Pizza Express!). The Old Tom’s Bar is almost a best kept secret at the market, but it’s worth looking for because of the original 19th century tiles incorporated into their decor.

Granaio at the Criterion Restaurant (Piccadilly)
Neo-Byzantine interiors of upmarket restaurant in Piccadilly, London, the Criterion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you, like me, are a sucker for the adorableness of Charles Edwards as Michael Gregson, you know this interior inside out from too many re-viewings of Downton Abbey rather than expensive eggs on toast at Savini (reopened this past summer as rustic Italian restaurant Granaio). The 1873 neo-byzantine opulent building by Thomas Verity is one of the oldest restaurants in the world, the setting of the first meeting of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson and the meeting place of many meetings of female suffrage organisations so, while slightly early for the scope of this post, I think it deserves a mention.

Harrods Food Halls and Tea Rooms (Knightsbridge)
Harrods Food Hall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With 23 restaurants covering a variety of cuisines, this 1884 building (completed in 1905) by Charles William Stephens had seen walking into its doors Oscar Wilde himself among other contemporaries and celebrities of later years (including members of the Royal Family), and still shows features of the day in what is the floor the least affected by the most recent ownership. The food court isn’t as tacky as the rest, but if you can’t bear to stop for a bite to eat just have a wander around (be aware it’s very busy) and leave with some of their amazing dates with candied fruit and Christmas presents for easily impressed relations you don’t really like that much. The tea room on the 4th floor, based in the old Georgian Restaurant, is also worth a visit, if only for the stunning open ceiling.

The Langham Hotel (Marylebone)
Exteriors of the Langham Hotel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the building by John Giles was completed in 1865, and it’s in an earlier style than this post, I thought it fitting to round up the list with a restaurant that has a real life connection to Oscar Wilde. At the restaurant of this hotel, he had lunch with the publisher that commissioned the story that would then become the Portrait of Dorian Gray. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was not only meeting the same person (Joseph Marshall Stoddart) at the same lunch, but also set A Scandal in Bohemia and the Sign of Four in part at the Langham. The interiors are mostly exquisite and they have their own tea if you’d rather have an afternoon feast than dinner. I really recommend the Artesian cocktail bar, but the interior there is a modern take that may not suit everybody’s taste (you’ll forget it if you drink enough).

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The Sense of Wonder and Delight #LoveBlog2018

 

I seem to create potential converts by taking people to the Brompton Oratory for Mass, but never would have I thought that someone would ever call that “one of my most romantic gestures”, even though for a long time I have wished that, if I ever found someone crazy enough to want to spend the rest of their life with me, I would get married in that church.
The reason for it is that it is an enchanting building (you can take a virtual tour of it on their website), as well as one of the few places where you can get a NO Mass in Latin said to the East, and more importantly a place infused with deep and tangible sense of the transcendence, like a taste of heaven on earth.

Dorothy Day famously defended the choice to rebuild a grand cathedral in San Francisco following its destruction into a fire saying: “The church has an obligation to feed the poor, and we cannot spend all our money on buildings. However, there are many kinds of hunger. There is a hunger for bread, and we must give people food. But there is also a hunger for beauty – and there are very few beautiful places that the poor can get into. Here is a place of transcendent beauty, and it is as accessible to the homeless in the Tenderloin as it is to the mayor of San Francisco. The Cathedral in San Francisco is one of the few places where the poor can go and sit down and be with God in beauty…”

In my teenage years, I too wondered why we had such rich churches when there were so many social justice issues to deal with. I was Biblically illiterate, and I also had no real understanding of the teaching of the church I was baptised into, especially I was never taught about the real presence despite undergoing catechesis for my first holy communion. I had no idea that the wealth of the Vatican was more perception than reality, but even if that wasn’t the case (and really it is)  had no grasp of the implications, and not only the moral ones that Dorothy Day, someone with the biggest heart for the poor and an attachment to radical politics so far from my own, so beautifully expressed; the beauty on display for the faithful to be reminded of the source of all beauty also attracts people who visit out of interest in the art and donate (or pay entrance fees in places like the Vatican Museums) for the privilege of seeing these things. It may also be the case that the beauty around them will plant a seed for their conversion.

The romantic gesture had more to it than just a beautiful church, and a clumsy attempt to explain what was going on as the choir sang the Creed in Latin, and the whole congregation genuflected in unison as if they had rehearsed a choreography, which made me keenly aware of just what beauty there is in many aspects of the rite of the Mass, especially if you are a spectator and not a participant. As we’ll be in the 3rd week of Lent soon, my favourite part of the liturgical year is coming up (Holy Week). It had a lot to do with me sharing something that is important to me. I have noticed in recent times that a prayer prayed a long time ago had been answered, and I do not mean to be arrogant when I say that people have begun to respond to my faith in different ways ever since.

One of my ex-boyfriends once said that they loved to hear me speaking about history, because I glow when I talk about things I am passionate about. Mr Knightley says the same about both history and my faith, among other things. It is (should I say it?) enchanting. It may make some people clutch their pearls, because they usually associate the word enchanting with magic, thanks to the long history of the word meaning that in quite practical terms, and magic is seen as negative, and for good reason. However, the dictionary definition of magic means: “the power of apparently influencing events by using mysterious or supernatural forces”. Magic is a pale imitation of the power of miracles. In the book of Exodus, when God sends the ten plagues on Egypt, the first two of them are replicated by Pharaoh’s magicians (Exodus 7–8).

In a world of disbelief, people are more and more seeking fulfilment of the thirst for enchantment in the wrong places, but that does not mean that we shouldn’t find “the sense of wonder or delight” somewhere. That somewhere, for me, is beautiful churches like the Italian Baroque architecture of the Oratory, with its dark and smoky atmosphere and silence that fills it, or grand Gothic and Gothic Revival buildings with their tall arches reaching up for heaven, and the incense-filled rites that take place in them.

Today’s blog post has been part of the Love Blog Challenge 2018 on the subject “Enchantment”. Find the rest of the series here.

Flowers and graphic saying the titles of the challenge

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A night out with #MegaMysteryBus

Megabus in Portman Square from the front

Sherlock Holmes, Megabus and 26 bloggers trying to save London from Moriarty: the recipe for a fun night out.
My only experience with the company, which, if you somehow have missed its iconic blue coaches and jolly yellow-shirted conductor Sid, runs travel services from all over the country to London, and vice versa, had not been the greatest, but I am the biggest sucker for mystery games so I had to say an enthusiastic yes to the invitation to be part of the lucky first 26 on the #MegaMysteryBus. I’m so glad I did. Now, we’re talking about around 3 years ago, but I did not remember the coach I was on en route to Liverpool to be so spacious and comfortable, and I’m a big fan of companies which keep improving themselves, so I would definitely travel by Megabus in the future. In fact, I find the time we spent on the coach was not enough to enjoy just how comfy the seats are (I had spent the whole day wandering around the Surface Design Show, and if it wasn’t for the adrenaline of a competition I’d have gladly napped between stops, which were Portman Square to Westminster, Westminster to Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden back to Portman Square).

The game itself was really impressive, as there was something for everyone as well as enough to make my £27000 history degree worth it: it had a scavenger’s hunt that required some displays of creativity, an observation game with visual clues about the location and questions to answer, some guessing games, video challenges, photo challenges and some challenges to get clues out of Sherlock Holmes himself, Inspector Lestrade and a criminal putting into danger the patrons at Covent Garden piazza, who have enjoyed the spectacle of a some very competitive people running around shouting things that made no sense unless you knew it was part of a game. Some lucky people even had a chance to be part of the game, but I can’t say more without giving away the clues!

Group of ladies playing a mystery game in Trafalgar Square

While there was something for the talents and interests of everyone, the game is organised in a way that the team needs to stick together and work together, which fostered a great sense of camaraderie among us, thanks to a shared competitiveness that had us finish second out of four, which isn’t the result I was hoping for (especially given the 2 weeks down with tonsillitis that followed!) but it’s still decent and I’m proud of our work. It was a very diverse group of bloggers, some I was familiar from other events or Twitter and some I had never met before, and it’s a great way to bring together people who would have likely never met each other if they had not been randomly put together in these teams, and I think that’s really lovely. It would be so lovely also to do it with people you don’t know if you just moved to London, or want more friends, or have no friends who like to do mystery games, but it’s also a great idea for parties of all kind so I hope this becomes a thing, and that when it does it can be booked either way. (Please Megabus, it would be brilliant!)

We were joined by some company representatives (as well as the lovely team behind Search Laboratory who were responsible for the organisation, and feeding us lovely food-blogger-approved nibbles and wine at the Radisson Blue where the night began and ended – a perfect event as usual!), who really enjoyed to watch us running around (quite literally) trying to get things done on strict timelines because time is precious when there is a city to be saved from an evil mastermind trying to blow us all up, so I’m thankful to M&S for the cute but practical new loafers I wore on the night. They talk about how much they enjoyed it too on the Megabus blog. I think it makes the company quite forward-looking to organise a thing like this, and I’m not saying that because they bought me off with LoveHearts (although there were LoveHearts in our goodie bags so they totally bought my forever love with LoveHearts). They are the market leaders in budget inter-city coach travel, with fares from £1 plus 50p booking fees, free wifi on all coaches and tickets including a 20kg baggage allowance, covering over 90 locations in the UK alone, which makes them the ideal company for young people (and anyone travelling on a budget) anyway, but having them throw such a fun night out has definitely changed my perception of them. Budget doesn’t have to be a dirty word!

Megabus in front of St Margaret's Church Westminster seen from the side

Not all journeys with Megabus will involve an actual Sherlock Holmes-themed adventure, but with the low cost and availability of destinations they can become a part of your adventures around the country, discovering sights unseen and local food in places far away instead of just being students’ preferred method of going back home from their university town! (I still think the #MegaMysteryBus needs to become a thing)

All pictures in the post are courtesy of Matt Chappell and Search Laboratory. 

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#Tribe17 International Arts Festival

Conference season is over, and the politicos have all returned to their occupations, or went to their own beds suffering from the effects of the infamous Conference Flu, which in my case predates conference but the in-out from hot and busy buildings into the cold and damp air of Manchester definitely didn’t help. Anyhow, it is back to Croydonia and the hustle and bustle of the local elections, somewhat re-energised in spirit from the proceedings of party conference in a way that my significant lack of physical energy would never suggest. The change in the PM now that the closest team has changed is very tangible, she seems more positive and more human and her husband is lovely, by the way. I feel like I need to make a point of it because when the PM is a man married to a woman the first lady gets so much attention, although a lot of it is negative and from the Daily Mail judging her clothes and how much weight she put on or lost. I think he deserves some positive attention too, as he has the difficult role of being the spouse of a powerful person, and that’s one supportive role if ever one was written (having said that, I have watched S01 of The Outlander while ill and Black Jack Randall is a brilliant character, and Tobias Menzies is brilliant in it, although I could have done without the TMI in ep16…). Anyway, contrary to the narrative in a lot of the media, the conference was largely a success, the fringes were swinging as always, the overpriced G&Ts at the lobby bar were flowing and the free wine was at every reception (including back at the Youth Reception, which was packed). We intend to soldier on and do what we do best, get on with the job. Grant Shapps included, although nobody is entirely clear what his job is anymore…the jester?

However, if you miss being in a big space with a lot of strangers and are in London fret not, I have the remedy for you. And if you aren’t a politico with conference blues you might be interested in this as well. Over the next few days (12th to 15th October, from 10 to 6pm) the #Tribe17 International Art Festival will be taking place at the OXO Bargehouse (which isn’t the tower, be careful). In its 3rd year, this festival run by Chrom-Art (a social enterprise whose aim is to connect emerging artists and art enthusiasts, and make the arts market more accessible) will be showcasing “over 200 international and UK-based artists from the world of contemporary art, music, and performance” in what sets out to be an energy-filled, family-friendly, cross-disciplinary show. I know what you are thinking, the Tory girl who is basically Roger Scruton talking about modern art and an exhibition that isn’t snobs, champers and canapées? Indeed I am. While my opinion of so-called artists with no aesthetic merits trying to be edgy and creative for the sake of it, with no meaning behind it, is nothing new, I’m also a known fan of Jackson Pollock and anyway I don’t think that anything made after 1860 is rubbish a priori. I can be wowed by a light installation as much as the next person (if not more, I really like lights…). There’s a painting of a fox kept at Matthew’s Yard that is just so good, but I digress…

This year’s theme is love, and as much as I made a profession out of being single, I am quite enamoured (pardon the pun) with the concept, the theory and all the romantic drama of the poets and dramaturgists (yes, I know Romeo and Juliet were just horny teenagers…). So that’s already a plus for me. Their concert, in which you will experience sound and spatiality around a philarmonic orchestra playing pieces about love from our most beautiful musical tradition sounds like a great event (Saturday at 4pm). It may be unusual compared to sitting in the Royal Albert Hall but maybe it’s fun. It reminds me of the episode of Downton Abbey when they tried to show Downton on parade and ended up with an indoors pic-nic, which is comedy gold by the way. If you haven’t watched it you should.Anyway the catalogue itself contains some gems. To look out for, in my not-so-humble opinion the work of Izabela Kulman, Nicolas Eftychiou, Plácido Rodríguez, Sal Jones, Samantha Reilly (if you want a bit of a 1976 throwback), Amy Oliver, Andrea Chisesi and Aneta Kosin in particular, but I’m sure there’s more to enjoy or critique. There are still some free tickets for the 10am sessions, so it looks like it’s going to be a popular event.

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