The heartbeat of London is singing

5 October 2014
Ben Pentreath

We set off incredibly bright and early to Columbia Road this morning. We’d had a happy boozy night with Bridie and Andy and it felt a little too much of an effort to drag ourselves out of bed. But it was worthwhile. And this evening, I’ve just had a funny look back at blogs past. Never was it truer to say that life takes on patterns. It does seem that about this time of year, every year, I write a little blog all about London sparkling in the autumn sunshine.

But there’s something breathtaking about this moment, the first day you feel like wearing a coat or a scarf, and the sun takes on a slow clarity quite unlike spring or summer sunshine. I remember in all the years I lived in New York, that magical moment in the brick and brownstone streets of Greenwich Village, when the first cold day of autumn arrived in the city… and the smell of woodsmoke could just be perceived in the air. It didn’t matter how many times I saw that moment. I loved it.

Year after year, the quiet repetitions and patterns of life take on new meaning. And so it is with the moment, in autumn, when London looks so beautiful you could cry with happiness.

Even the tower blocks take on a serene quality on days like this.


With their lush gardens glowing in the morning sunshine, great palms and olive trees no doubt bought for a song at the market.P1060061 P1060063

Those are the railings around Sivill House, which regular readers will remember I’ve written about before. There’s a really nice blog about Sivill House and the other council estates which I’ve pointed you to before here. (nice redesign, by the way, lovelondoncouncilhousing). There’s a moment going on in London right now where people hate towers. Generally, I am afraid that they are right to – although the media campaign that’s been running puts in mind locking the stable door too late. But what are we missing today, everywhere and anywhere? The sense of optimism, the sense that we could change the world. That, I suppose, is what I miss about the Heroic age of tower building in the 50s and 60s. (It took the Heroic age of Conservation a decade later to make us realise what had been lost).

Columbia Road doesn’t change either.  I could have taken this photo at any time in the last ten years. Rows of winter pansies and cyclamen just now.P1060047

Of course new trends creep in. Last year, I’d noted a horrific stand of dyed flowers (“they’re not artificial, honest” said the trader with a twinkle in his eye as I stared, I wrote then). This year, things have gone a little crazier.P1060050

I’m really anxious to buy someone a cactus with a sombrero as a present right now. I just can’t think who. Look out.P1060055

But the best parts of Columbia Road don’t change.P1060059 P1060060

We loved this tiny mini crammed with flowers:P1060065

As we were admiring, the owner, who was extremely stylish, arrived to fill up another load. I was pleased to see her dog is mini too.

We called in at my favourite antique shop, H. Jones, and bought a beautiful chair that will be making its way to the new office boardroom, which Lucy and I have rather sneakily and a trifle pretentiously have started calling the library.  Photos to follow soon of this and the whole office renovation. We’re getting settled, and it’s beginning to look amazing.P1060067

Captured by is a new store on Columbia Road with a purpose in life and a spring in its step. It’s brilliant.

P1060071 P1060073 P1060074

I am sure regular visitors to Columbia Road will be familiar with a giant white cat that loves sitting in the sun just outside the spanish cafe having its photograph taken.P1060077 P1060079 P1060081

That cat has total star quality.P1060083

Ben Southgate is another store worth visiting.  (On, and just in case you’re worried about all these Bens around and about the place, make sure you watch this video one of these days).P1060087

The atmosphere in Columbia Road was magical this morning. Charlie had never been. A good day for a first visit.P1060090 P1060092 P1060094 P1060095

I love the cheeky flower sellers, of course:P1060096

And their typographic gymnastics:P1060097

These two little fellows were very smartly dressed for a visit to the market with their granny:P1060098

But above all there is nothing like that feeling of walking home in brilliant sunshine with an enormous bunch of sunflowers.P1060099

Back home, the sun still sparkled. A new tray of orange winter pansies waits in the roof garden.P1060102

I’ll post a few more photos of the flat properly one of these days. The light was beautiful this afternoon.P1060110 P1060115 P1060121

(Oh…if you haven’t seen the Horst P Horst at the V&A, it’s definitely worth a visit. FT article coming soon).

Outside the sunshine turned everything to gold.P1060131

Even the pipework on the corner of one of the hospital blocks had a poetry of its own. Eat your heart out Richard Rogers.P1060132

The great brick arches of Kings Cross station glowed.
P1060133 P1060134

David Chipperfield’s new building with its stunning cast iron columns glowed.P1060138

The fountains outside the Granary glowed. They were mesmeric, as always.P1060151 P1060152 P1060155

I just love what’s going on in Kings Cross. To have taken these great old buildings and injected life and energy without ever descending to kitsch or pastiche… I’m full of admiration. We had a bite to eat at Caravan. It was rammed. Insane.P1060156

I love the style of Kings Cross which puts bright yellow chairs and tables everywhere, trusting people not to take them for a walk.

I love the patterns of buildings emerging.P1060165 P1060166

We walked to meet some friends of Charlie’s over on Exmouth Market. Everywhere you looked today were glimpses of a city singing. Yellow leaves and yellow doors.P1060169

Keystone Crescent gleamed (which has to be one of my favourite streets in the whole of London).P1060171

I loved the fact that Bridie and I aren’t the only shop to have installed a beautiful reverse gilded three dimensional shop sign this year:


Yum yum Kings Cross Eyes. (I can’t find a website but I love your Facebook page).P1060177

We walked together up to Islington. P1060190

Funny, isn’t it, how even a terrace of dusty old town houses, on a busy street, with their bins, and a bike under wraps, has a poetic quality on a day like this? London – I’ve said it before, I’ll surely say it again. I love you. And it’s a stronger feeling now than ever.

14 comments on this post

We love your blog, it’s truly amazing.

Sophia Dalrymplesays:

Have you been to the vegetarian cafe in the Mary Ward centre? Surprisingly good!


Thank you Ben, a lovely Autumn post for a glorious, golden autumn. Thoughts …. I’m glad the tower blocks are going/gone … for me, there’s nothing heroic about living in one, and its pretty hard to try to see the beauty in life when that is your life. The architects of them may have had a dream about a new kind of living, but I can tell you that the reality of them was pretty hellish (for me anyway) in so many ways. sbw


Such a beautiful photo story … the many flowers, the golden leaves, the two nicely dressed boys (they look so sad … maybe they have lost some beloved person), the autumn light, the yellow chairs … and that beautiful star-cat! Thank you so much for sharing the photos! Have a beautiful October, I love autumn like you do. All the best!


Gilbert rocks!


Reading your post on a beautiful sunny spring morning and watching the light changes as it filters through the giant jarrah trees all around. London – my old home – really seems to have come to life described so poetically by yourself too. I do not know the Columbia Road area I was more of a Portobello person back in the 70’s but your photos remind of the markets back then. Enjoy your week.


Keystone Crescent looks as though Mary Poppins should come floating down on her umbrella. And as for Gilbert the cat, I can only presumed, with that expression, he’d returned from seeing the Queen. Lovely blog Ben, made me miss London. I really must go and explore the new Kings Cross when I next visit. I wonder if anyone can remember the magnificent old Victorian pub that was somewhere round the back under the arches. Both the pub and area were as rough as a badger’s bum (as they say down here in Somerset) It was true Bill Sykes territory and quite why I was, goodness only knows. Shame to think, but it’s probably a Costa Coffee now

Lesley Suttonsays:

Just in London for a week long visit, the first in 20 years, and it is wonderful. People (taxi drivers, old ladies at bus stops, shopkeepers) tell me gloomily that it’s changed. I think I know what they mean, what they miss, but I think they just don’t like the new clothes she’s wearing.

I must now add Columbia market and Gilbert to my growing list of things to do when I return.

Wednesday is British Museum and Pentreath & Hall day by the way!

Dorothy Lindsaysays:

Hi Ben…..I came over all Victor Meldrew (“I don’t belieeve it!”) at the sight of those dyed ‘heathers’!
But what a magnificent moggy! And it’s wonderful to know his name. Thank you, Elisabeth, I shall look him up.
As always, Ben, you’ve made my day, but especially on this wet and dreary Monday morning.

really delightful and makes me miss London


Second-home sick!

Elizabeth Cornwellsays:

What a lovely blog.I saw the re vamped Kings Cross for the first time this year & was hugely impressed.I remember how awful & grimy it used to be but it is amazing now.When I lived in Germany we used to go to the local stion restaurant for a night out,& laughed at the idea of doing the same in England!How times have changed.As someone who visits London rarely& then only passing through you do show some wonderful parte of the city( love the hospital pipework).The white cat incidently is called Gilbert,he has his own fb page!

Yes, I can understand why you like Keystone Crescent so much; it’s charming. Ben, I haven’t been to Columbia Rd in years. Good to see it still thriving. I have suggested it to the bf, perhaps it will be core of a weekend in London for him and I. After this last month I think I deserve it!

what a sweet post! nothing better than a nice wander around london in nice weather! had to laugh, a friend bought me a couple of those cactus from C. Road once with the fake flowers stuck on them (and they nicely survived the unceremonious removal thereof) And that cat! is like Dolly Parton or some Snow Queen (take your pick!)

thx for a nice sunday visit.

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