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Word on the Water, a unique floating bookshop

London Calling – February 2024

Portugal and Japan

London Calling is stretching the boundaries this month! There is a London link though in that your columnist found himself sitting next to a really interesting Japanese fellow guest at a lunch in the City with film director Mark Chapman.

Over fine Italian food and wine, the conversation flowed and on discovery of your columnist’s links to Portugal, a fascinating discussion followed about the links between the country and the Land of the Rising Sun.

The first affiliation between Portugal and Japan commenced in 1543 when Portuguese explorers landed on the southern archipelago of Japan. As such, they were the first Europeans to reach the country. The Japanese were fascinated by their new visitors and particularly interested in the guns they brought with them!

As there was a civil war going on, it would clearly be a benefit to one side to buy as many as possible and so a significant arms trade began. These weapons obviously then had a major impact on the war and the history of the newly-discovered island in the east. This then became known as the Nanban Trade.

The Portuguese went on to found the port of Nagasaki and became intermediaries in Asian trade, importing goods from China to Japan. There was huge demand for these goods from the Japanese, but direct trade with China was banned by the Emperor, so the Portuguese settlers stepped in.

The slave trade was widespread in the 16th and 17th centuries with Europe’s seemingly insatiable desire to uproot people from their homelands to work as slaves in their colonies and homelands. Japan did not escape this, and the Portuguese slave traders particularly valued the intelligence and hardworking nature of the Japanese.

Portugal’s influence waned as the Dutch and British empires flexed their muscles. Nevertheless, Portugal was there first, and strong ties continue to this day. One of the most popular sweet treats in Nagasaki is Kasutera, which is very similar to the old Portuguese favourite pão de ló!

‘Art of the Brick’ opens in Brick Lane from March 6, 2024

Bricking it!

Interest is building in a new exhibition which is opening in East London. ‘Art of the Brick’ has been touring the world and is on CNN’s ‘Must-See’ list of exhibitions. Some 10 million people have already seen it around the world in venues such as Paris, New York, Tokyo and Melbourne.

The Boiler House in Brick Lane is the London venue for this iconic exhibition. The building dates back to the 1830s and is, appropriately, constructed entirely of brick!

More than one million LEGO bricks have been used to create a unique display of some 150 sculptures. The building block has been the foundation of many children’s education and play for over 90 years and this innovative display joyously immerses visitors in the colourful, creative and fun world that LEGO has given us.

There are sculptures of Van Gogh’s Starry Night, Michelangelo’s David and Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa alongside a six-metre Tyrannosaurus rex, skulls, globes, and masks. This truly is an exhibition for anyone fascinated by art and the mighty LEGO brick.

‘Art of the Brick’ opens every day in Brick Lane from March 6, 2024.

On the subject of building blocks, your columnist has come across an amazing organisation called MagicBrix. These wonderful people recycle those boxes of LEGO everyone has stuffed under the bed from their own childhood, or children and grandchildren, to make packs for under-privileged families. At the moment, this is a facility limited to the UK – but the Lamberth Foundation is working with MagicBrix to hopefully extend the facility to Portugal. Watch this space! (magicbrix.org, thelamberthfoundation.org).

Water, water, everywhere!

Though not a city on the ocean, London is very much a metropolis defined by water. From the rain that seems to continually fall from the sky over winter (and summer!), to the mighty, tidal Thames that sweeps in and out of the capital everyday and the numerous lakes, reservoirs, canals and ponds that proliferate, no one is very far from open water in the UK capital.

Then, of course, the human race finds many ways to utilise this natural environment. There are water taxis; ferry services; party venues; riverboat homes and endless opportunities for watersports. Just last month, one party boat permanently moored in the West End sank in dreadful winter storms!

Your columnist recently came across something totally new though, thanks to a Portuguese friend living in London.

Word on the Water is a unique floating bookshop based on Regent’s Canal Towpath in North London. They offer a huge variety of books to visitors from shelves inside and out on the 100-year-old, permanently moored, Dutch barge.

They also run talks on art, technology, feminism and politics. From time-to-time, musicians and performers also make use of the roof as a stage to perform and there are open-mic sessions and poetry slams.

The perfect place to buy a book with a view!

Church recycling!

Some of the most beautiful churches in the world are located in London. From the famous ones like St Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey to the smaller parish churches, they form some of the most attractive vistas and cityscape views around.

However, the numbers of people going to church continues to decline and this creates issues of maintenance and purpose for entire neighbourhoods.

In fashionable Mayfair, there is a beautiful church called St Mark’s, located in North Audley Street. This was an Anglican church built in 1825 in a Greek revival style. It is particularly renowned for its beautiful Romanesque open-roof structure. It was Grade 1 listed in 1958 but then deconsecrated in 1974 with a dwindling congregation. It sadly remained empty for many years and was placed on the ‘At Risk’ register as it deteriorated.

In 2014, it was acquired by Grosvenor Estates and, in 2019, after a £5 million (€5.85 million) refurbishment, it re-opened as Mercato Mayfair. It now features a ‘cultural hub’ with a first class, sustainable community market. There are excellent eating and drinking facilities with a huge variety of choices available.

In addition, a community space in the basement is available for events to local residents, which is also an excellent, acoustic venue for frequent jazz and opera events.

And so, the fabric of a beautiful building is retained with a nod to its past through the community commitment.

By Richard Lamberth

Richard Lamberth leads parallel lives with homes and business interests in London and Portugal. He provides consultancy services to leading businesses in insurance and financial services, property and media sectors. He has four sons, two dogs and enjoys a busy family life. He likes swimming, keeping fit and an outdoor life.
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