An Alternative To Fulham

When Flight Of The Conchords postponed their gig at London’s O2 Arena, my girlfriend and I were torn at what we should do as an alternative. With trains already booked for the capital on the day and a hotel in Birmingham lined up for our 2am crash on the way back, we had to decide if the journey would be worth it.

Naturally, I checked the night’s football fixtures for a new ground to visit on the tour. There didn’t seem to be much choice other than Fulham against Leeds at Craven Cottage. But when we checked for tickets, we found the cheapest to be £35.

Had we not been in a spell where visits to Wrexham, Walsall and Aston Villa all coincided within a 17-day period, we probably would have shelved out. However, we couldn’t justify that price. So, with a proverbial middle finger up at the cost of professional football in the modern era, we made the decision to head to London and only partake in free activities. This is how we got on.

Isle Of Dogs Exhibition

Saffron had been keen to see Wes Anderson’s new film, Isle Of Dogs, since the first announcement that the director of Fantastic Mr. Fox would be making a second stop-motion feature. She is a huge admirer of that form of filmmaking, whilst I, too, believe it’s one of the most impressive feats of craftsmanship – particularly when constructing a feature film is the goal.

Over the Easter weekend we watched Isle Of Dogs and were not disappointed by the film’s stunning visuals. It was the perfect time then, with all the images still fresh in our minds, to take in the free exhibition at Store X where some of the actual sets and props from the film were on display.

They didn’t disappoint either. Their scale impressed me the most. I was expecting the models to be hand-size but they were like action figures, with some as big as our heads. Meanwhile, the sets were equally as grand and contained amazing levels of detail. Like the tiny bicycle perched on a railing in the set of the Megasaki cityscape.

I think that display was our favourite but there was much to behold in each location and character model. Music from the film also played in the room and added to the experience. It was definitely worth the half-hour total queuing time.

MinaLima Harry Potter Tour

The film theme continued as we headed to the West End. Just around the corner from where Harry Potter And The Cursed Child was being performed at the Palace Theatre sat the House Of MinaLima graphic design shop that contains many of the concept art from the films.

Founders Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima created their own graphic design studio under the name MinaLima in 2002 and have since worked on building the on-screen worlds of Sweeney Todd, The Golden Compass and The Imitation Game. But it’s their work on the Harry Potter franchise, and now the Fantastic Beasts saga, which they’re most famous for.

The House Of MinaLima has three levels above the ground floor shop that can be visited for free by obtaining a ticket from behind the counter on the day. Tours are every half an hour and you’ll be guided by one of the shop’s staff members, who give you plenty of information and stories.

We arrived too late for the quarter past five tour but had a nice walk around nearby Chinatown to pass the time for the quarter to six one. Which was handy as we found the location for our next free activity as a result.

When we got back to MinaLima, the small store was full for the tour. Each room was pretty tight as a result but everyone was given plenty of time to take photos of the detailed replica prints such as The Daily Prophet front pages and the covers of Hogwarts’ school books.

Although we thought the guide lacked a bit of knowledge when asked questions, we were given a lot of background information on the displays as well as a number of hidden secrets that are in some of the designs. It was a fascinating tour and, considering it was also free, it provides a great alternative to the £50 Harry Potter Studio Tour near Watford.

Skott Acoustic Set

Once we’d finished the MinaLima tour, we headed back to Chinatown and the W Hotel. Saff had found out via Design My Night that Swedish musician Skott was playing a free acoustic gig there. In our heads we thought it would be quite a few people gathered in a small venue. However, it turned out to be a lot more intimate.

Things started strangely when the guard on the doors had no idea there was a gig happening. Saff showed him our tickets on her phone and he directed us to the first floor lounge. We thought this would be a spacious open-mic-like location but when we got there, it was literally a hotel bar. Albeit, a really swanky one.

People working there welcomed us with warm smiles and pleasant greetings as we tried to find out if it was the right place. One of the waitresses confirmed that Skott would be playing in the lounge at seven in an area that had less space than a wedding DJ would.

We ordered a couple of moderately priced drinks (two lemonades at £3.50 each) and awaited the rest of the crowd to gather. None appeared. A couple of people actually left while Skott was in the room talking to her entourage. It all seemed very strange.

When she got on stage – fashionably late at ten past seven – there were about 10 people there to see her and half of them knew her.

The strangeness then lifted as she delivered a wonderful set backed up by one of her entourage playing an electric guitar. Skott is a singer who would be on stage supporting Danish pop star MØ the next day. Yet there she was looking us in the eye as she gave her songs’ backstories and then performed them with a killer voice that induced goosebumps. For free!

It only lasted 40 minutes but it was probably the best gig of my life. The only downer came from a nearby group who were treating the bar… like a bar, and having quite loud conversations over the music. Skott’s crew were getting visibly annoyed. One person almost went over to give them a talking to but was persuaded to hang back. Weirdly, the loudest member of that rowdy group went over to Skott at the end for a warm chat and autograph.

It was definitely a strange gig – completed by me nearly walking into the ladies’ toilets because of the bar’s house of mirrors design – but was so worth scoping out.

Best Of The Rest

London is up there as one of my favourite cities in the world as it offers endless experiences, many of which can be enjoyed for free. Walking around the city centre is always compelling no matter how many times I’ve seen the sites before. I could spend a day happily walking by the River Thames. (I’ve spent a night doing just that before.)

So, alongside the major attractions, we also took in some food in Regent’s Park. As did the birds, who we enjoyed watching as they flocked around a man we dubbed the Bird God. There must have been 50 or so pigeons around him as he walked past and gave them some bread. A few jumped on his back in excitement. We figured they knew him as a regular food source. The Bird God always provides.

Other things we took in during our visit included Somerset House. We didn’t actually go inside (although it would have fitted into our free agenda) but we admired the courtyard and its many fountains both during the day and at night. Meanwhile, the Moomin Shop located in Covent Garden gave us a nice detour on our walk to House Of MinaLima.

The only purchases we made all day were for food, drinks and a tube ride from Baker Street to Embankment. A successful journey for both our minds and wallets.

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