I’ve lived in London coming on two and a half years. However, as with many others who have made this mystifying metropolis a home, I’ve discovered that there is much of London Town that I’ve yet to, well, discover.
Walking briskly through central London’s labyrinthine streets, squares and ‘circuses’, my eye is oftentimes drawn to a bizarre building or a peculiar pub which I make a mental note to return to visit, but sadly rarely do.
Taking advantage of a week’s holidays I was due, I’ve decided to take some time to go back and explore those places which have peeked my attention. Needless to say, I will also endeavour to sample the city’s more obscure ales, whether locally brewed or imported from afar!
National Army Museum
On Tuesday, I visited the recently re-opened National Army Museum which is about 10 minutes’ walk from Sloane Square tube station. It may not be as well known as the magnificent Imperial War Museum in Lambeth, but, as with most of London’s myriad of museums, the Army Museum is free and certainly well worth a visit.
Having worked in a museum myself many years ago, I know the sensitivities involved in presenting the past in a way which is both impartial and inoffensive to all communities and cultures. The National Army Museum, in my opinion, does so impeccably. You won’t find floor after floor filled with guns, tanks and other high-tec military hardware. The Museum instead focuses on the life stories of individual servicemen and women in a way which is both innovative and genuinely engaging.
In perhaps another departure from your typical military museum, there is an entire section dedicated to how the Army is perceived within society both in peacetime as well as in wartime. This exhibition showcases a large selection of newspaper clips, news reports, magazine articles and protest banners.
An army aperitif anyone?
One very bizarre exhibit which caught my attention was an Army recipe card for cocktails! I’ve heard of the Molotov Cocktail, but I must say the notion of the Army aperitif took me by surprise. In case you were wondering, NAAFI stands for The Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes and according to Wikipedia, is an organisation created by the British government in 1921 to run recreational establishments needed by the British Armed Forces, and to sell goods to servicemen and their families.
The National Army Museum is well worth a visit and a credit to the staff who run it. They have planned a series of talks and seminars which I’ll certainly been keeping an eye on.
Pub spotting…. in Whitehall?
When you think of Whitehall, what’s the first thing that normally pops into your mind? For me it would be: Downing Street, the Treasury and the machinery of government busily rattling away. You might be surprised to know that Whitehall has in fact got some terrific authentic old-world pubs as good as any you’ll find elsewhere. One which stands out for me in particular is The Old Shades. I’ve walked past this pub on many’s an occasion and took it to be a potential tourist trap given its proximity to Westminster and Trafalgar Square. But, with some free time on my hands, I decided to finally go inside for a look.
I’m pleased to say that my expectations were completely wrong. This pub not only serves a terrific selection of ales like Yellow Hammer , it also has some very tasteful decor which fits perfectly with the political history of the neighbourhood. Adorning the walls are replica paintings of some towering figures like Benjamin Disraeli, prime minister during the nineteenth century.
Just a few minutes walk a little further up in the direction of Trafalgar Square you’ll find another charming pub called Chandos. It can get very crowded in the evenings, especially given its location between two of London’s biggest tourist attractions – Trafalgar Square and Leicester Square.
Nevertheless, if you manage to visit at a quiet time as I did, you’ll find a great selection of beers on tap and a nice relaxed atmosphere away from the hustle and bustle outside. I’m not a major fan of bitter ales I must admit, but I thought I’d give one a try which I hadn’t sampled before…. and was pleasantly surprised!