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London Calling – Should I stay or should I go now?

What would Paddington Bear think? In the very road where Mr Gruber has his antique shop, a new hotel is about to open dedicated entirely to gin! Not only has this spirit completely re-invented itself in the last decade (2016 will see gin sales in excess of £1bn/€1.27bn for the first time in the UK), Portobello Road Gin are opening a fun new spirit-inspired hotel this November.

Ged Feltham, co-founder of the company, says: “The distillery will prove to be a mecca for all fans of the drink and will, we believe, become the finest address in gin.” There will be a gin museum, a blending room, and a Spanish-style ‘Gintronic bar’ together with a restaurant, shop and fantastic boutique-style accommodation. Guests will even be able to blend their own gin recipes.

London has some of the finest hotels in the world but dotted around the metropolis are also plenty of quirky venues if you are up for staying somewhere a little different. Through airbnb, you can stay in an eclectic VW camper van adjoining a local artist’s studio in Dalston, East London for that real ‘lady in the van’ experience. And also in the East End, at nearby Hackney it is possible to stay a night or two in luxury accommodation on an authentically renovated houseboat through Bert’s Barges (

Meanwhile, in West London you can really live like a king, renting an apartment in the Georgian House at Hampton Court Palace, the London home of King Henry VIII or sample the finest bed and breakfast accommodation in a North Kensington water tower.

My favourite discovery though is a Yurt in Highgate, just two minutes from the tube. For the ultimate city camping experience, this place, complete with wood burning stove and Persian rugs, is certainly different. Give it a try, again through airbnb – just £99 (€125) a night!

London’s Burning

Well, it was 350 years ago this summer. Although very few people died in the blaze, which started on September 2, 1666, some 436 acres (176 hectares) of the city were devastated and over 13,000 houses and 87 churches were destroyed.

Expert historian Dorian Gerhold now claims to have discovered evidence that the fire did not actually start in Pudding Lane – as taught to generations of schoolchildren.

Gerhold has established that although the fire did indeed start at a bakery owned by the Farriner family, it seems the actual location of the oven was in Monument Street, some 60 feet east of Pudding Lane.

The Doric column, known simply as ‘The Monument’, states that the fire started 202 feet away (the same height as the column) and using a survey from 1679, Gerhold has been able to pinpoint and cross-reference the position of the oven to a now open part of the cobbled street.

To mark the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London, the Royal Mint is issuing a commemorative £2 coin and the wonderful Museum of London at the Barbican has a special exhibition ‘Fire! Fire!’, starting on July 23. Located just a 15-minute stroll from the Monument, this exhibition will include charred bricks, melted pottery and leather fire buckets from the time. Annoyingly available for group bookings only at this stage.

The air that I breathe…

London is one of the busiest cities in the world and suffers from increasing levels of air pollution. Now an organisation called the New West End Company, which represents traders in the busy shopping areas of Oxford Street, Regent Street and Bond Street, is calling for radical action to improve the lives and experience of workers and shoppers.

Oxford Street alone has one of the highest concentrations of nitrogen dioxide pollution in the world and now is the time for action, according to Jace Tyrell, Chief Executive of traders’ organisation. Visitor numbers are expected to increase dramatically with the introduction of Crossrail in the next decade and more cooperation between traders, not only to introduce and share electric delivery and service vehicles but also to coordinate waste collection more efficiently is essential, says the group.

London’s new mayor, Sadiq Khan, has famously promised to turn Oxford Street into a “tree-lined, shoppers’ paradise” but then virtually all London mayors and hopefuls have promised some sort of pedestrianisation or radical solution and failed to deliver.

The problem is, as ever, with the booming capital, where will the traffic go? Alternative routes are already heavily congested and Tyrell says their preferred solution is “reduce, not divert”. He is pushing Transport for London to accelerate introduction of the Ultra Low Emmissions Zone so that all buses and taxis entering the West End are run on electricity rather than diesel by 2018.

To this end, in March, Chinese bus manufacturer BYD unleashed the world’s first fully electric, double decker bus on the streets of London and there are now six whirring around. The bus can travel 180 miles (or about a full working day) without the need to charge and at around £350,000 (€445,000) each, they cost about the same as the more glamorous new Routemasters. The future is here!

London Olympics 2016?

The attention of the world will be on Brazil when they host the main event there this summer but once again a small corner of the Olympic Park in Stratford, East London is set to come alive when a ‘mini Olympics’ takes place at the Copper Box Arena.

Around 1,000 disadvantaged children will take part in 30 sporting events ranging from BMX polo, wheelchair basketball and roller skating to more traditional sports like football.

Jane Ashworth of Street Games, the charity behind the August event, said: “This is important because the kids are from disadvantaged backgrounds and highly unlikely to come anywhere near such an iconic venue or attend such a large sports event where they can take part.”

The Copper Box Arena is so named as it is essentially, well, a large copper box, sports hall, and was home to the handball and fencing events at the London 2012 Olympic Games. So if your budget doesn’t stretch to a trip to Rio, head for Stratford on August 4, take in this great venue and support this wonderful event.

By Richard Lamberth