Friday, April 20, 2012

Today I am ... singing in the rain

Singin' in the Rain. Image from

You know it’s bad when you stop avoiding puddles altogether, resigning yourself to the fact that you’ll be wearing soggy ballet pumps for the rest of the day. This is the position I have found myself in all week, and I’m afraid we’re in for a damp squib of a weekend.

At the risk of sounding like a bit of a loser, I did used to quite like ‘wet break’ at school. There was a sense of lawlessness as 30 excitable children all crammed into a classroom for the lunch break, while the windows steamed up and the teachers optimistically tried to make everyone play board-games.

Even today, there's a certain novelty about a rainy ‘day of fun’ with friends. I had the adult equivalent of a ‘wet break’ on Good Friday a couple of years ago. Our original plan had been to go to one of London’s city farms such as Mudchute Farm, but torrential rain intervened so instead we co-invented the pastime of ‘Drinking Monolopy’. Seven hours later, I believe we fell out of a taxi and into the Clapham Grand.

If you can’t face leaving the house this weekend, I’d suggest ordering takeaway, setting up a tent in your front room and indulging in some indoor camping. Or why not gather everyone in your bed and sing about your favourite things? It worked for the Von Trapps.

However for people who are intent on heading out, there's also a wealth of appealing places where you can escape the rain in London.

And no, I’m not going to tell you about warming pubs (you don't need me to tell you where your cosiest local is!) or London's array of indoor markets, museums, galleries and shopping centres. Instead, here are some slightly more off the radar suggestions. I can’t guarantee you won't get wet getting there though...

London’s oldest umbrella shop: James Smith & Sons, New Oxford Street

James Smith & Sons. Image from

The first port of call for rain-dodgers in central London should be the curious James Smith & Sons, London’s oldest umbrella shop which remains nearly unchanged since it opened in 1850. It’s like a quintessentially English version of an Aladdin’s Cave. Only with less jewels, and rather more umbrellas.

These fine, handmade constructions are unlikely to turn inside out in the slightest gust of wind, having been made in the same way for more than 150 years. I particularly love the pomp of the elaborate duck-head handles and paisley patterned covers.

Rihanna may not have allowed you to stand under one of these beauties…

Muriel's Kitchen, South Kensington

Muriel's Kitchen, South Kensington

As you emerge from South Kensington tube station, you could be forgiven for thinking Muriel’s Kitchen is a beautiful mirage. It is as comforting as stumbling across your granny’s kitchen after a rainy commute. From outside, the lavender plant pots in the windows and spread of home-made pies and cakes in the open-plan bakery look impossibly inviting.

The homely theme is honoured to the last detail, with kitchen utensils hanging on the walls and lampshades made from colanders. Best of all, this is a café which understands that the best cup of tea comes in a proper mug.

It is always bustling and loud at Muriel’s, so be warned, you might have to elbow someone out of the way to get the last slice of Victoria sponge – again, just like home.

DIY wine tasting at Vagabond Wines, Vanston Place, Fulham

Vagabond Wines, Fulham Road. Image from

Where better to shelter from the showers than a ‘do-it-yourself wine bar’? With more than 100 wines on tap, and sample measures from 50p per taster measure, things could get messy very quickly at Vagabond Wines. Happily, there are cheeseboards and charcuterie to nibble on while you work your way through the samples. And when you finally decide on a bottle, you’ll be amazed by the amazing quality and practically supermarket-cheap prices, including a bottle of crisp, dry prosecco for just £9.95.

Tooting Lido, Tooting Bec (open from 19th May)

Tooting Bec Lido. Image from

No I haven’t gone mental. You’re already wet, why not embrace it?

Tooting Bec Lido is Europe’s second biggest outdoor pool, at 91.5 metres. It’s faded Art Deco changing huts are surrounded by trees and parkland, and there’s an unintentionally retro café which is straight out of a 1990s leisure centre, serving chips, jacket potatoes and ice cream.

Like Andie McDowell in Four Weddings, you won’t even notice it’s still raining (probably) once you take a dip in the cool, clear fresh water. In fact, outdoor pools are said to feel warmer in the rain. Let’s hope so – I came here on one of the hottest days of last summer and it was a bracing experience, to say the least.

(Tooting Lido is closed until 19th May, however there are other freshwater lidos in London open this month including Brockwell Lido, Parliament Hill and London Fields. Read Time Out’s review of London lidos for more information.)

Electric cinema and brasserie, Portobello Road, Notting Hill

Electric Cinema, Portobello Road. Image from

The Electric arts cinema and adjoining brasserie on Portobello Road is something of an institution, and a perfectly lovely way to spend a wet Sunday afternoon. The old school interior lends itself well to arty or romantic films, with luxurious leather seating, armchairs and footstools. Comfort food is available to buy at the bar, including home-made sausage rolls and potato skins.

Taking back-seat snogging to a new level, there are also two huge sofas at the rear where you can recline with your companion, however probably best not to book these seats for a first date - he or she may wonder what your intentions are.

After the film, you won’t even have time to put your umbrella up as you walk next door to the Electric Brasserie, famed for its brunches and popular with celebs and Notting Hill locals alike.

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