It’s hard to make time for wholesome pleasures when the city exerts a relentless pressure to be productive, but you have to! Everything is riding on your capacity to feel alive. When you’re overwhelmed by work, social life can mean saying ‘yes’ to the pub, or a party, or whatever-it-is lubricated by booze. Over-drinking doesn’t always spell drama; it does cause tiredness. So how can we tap into London’s more energising riches?
My goal here was to track down pursuits that could slot into a routine without too much fuss or expense. Whittled down from a long list, these all left an afterglow of pure joy and made me feel that maybe, just maybe, life is good?
How to feel wholesome in London
Hampstead Mixed Pond is okay; Hampstead Men’s Pond looks lovely; Hampstead Ladies’ Pond is a tranquil haven. The water is sharp: afterwards your body tingles. Inside you share space with assorted pond life. Also, water rings float mid-pond so you can cling to them and chat with your swim buddies.
Most joyful moment Seeing a heron take flight from the water’s edge.
How recklessly, hedonistically opposed to the ethos of capitalism it is to host free concerts nearly every weekday lunchtime. Singers, pianists, string quartets and assorted other artists take to the stage to share their musical gifts. The building, all homely and wooden, had my wholesome-ometer needle spinning and, frankly, it has yet to stop. Lunchtime concerts are held every Tue, Thu, Fri. Free.
Most joyful moment I asked a student the way and he dropped what he was doing to guide me, as if my desire for music was an emergency.
Shops that live in underground stations usually possess a nuclear-bunker-style gloom. Not so in the overstacked cavern that is Camden Lock Books. Don’t be fooled by the name; this is in Old Street station, opposite Nincomsoup (also wholesome in its own warm, soupy way). It begs to be browsed in. Books are organised and disorganised, filed alphabetically, thematically and in piles because the books-to-space ratio is dominated by the former, creating the ambience of a scatty English Lit tutor’s bedroom.
Most joyful moment When the cashier impulsively gave me a bag of crisps (Wheat Crunchies).
Minutes from the hell-hub that is Euston station is the Wellcome Collection. Exhibitions are appealingly visceral, hinging on medical curiosity. ‘This room contains human remains’ is a sign that appears in more than one place. The Reading Room is a nirvana for anyone who has ever craved a place to think amid the city bustle, and is replete with unexpected activities – such as self-portrait sketching.
Most joyful moment Crossing the threshold of the Reading Room to see people quietly working on laptops beside graphic and playful art.
Torment and turmoil can be (briefly) calmed by the sight of otters. They move like sleek underwater bullets with little furry bodies and faces like whiskery colonels. Even when they squeal at each other it’s cute. The rest of the Wetland begs to be explored post-otters. Huge grounds burst with flora and fauna, including many varieties of duck. The trail is vast enough to make you feel happily alone amid all that nature.
Most joyful moment Every little thing the otters do is magic.
Venue says Award-winning nature reserve in the heart of the capital. Enjoy fantastic views, wildlife, lakes, gardens. Plus shop, café and playground
We’re spoiled for parks in London. But Crystal Palace Park is no ordinary green space. It’s a former Victorian pleasure ground, baby, with attractions touched by that era’s gothic artistry. Magnificent dinosaur statues look like kaiju movie monsters, and signs explain that science has moved on since they were made. There’s also a maze, Greek statues, an Olympic pool, running tracks, a climbing wall, herons, and acres upon acres of green moseying space.
Most joyful moment Finding hypnotically impressive Victorian dinosaur statues.
It’s surreal and perhaps not exactly admirable to be a lone adult pursuing the same animal-contact-highs as a group of schoolkids, sometimes low-key competing over who will pat the horse first. Vauxhall City Farm has (deep breath) pigs, cows, horses, donkeys, ducks, goats, rabbits, guinea pigs, sheep and a room of mystery small animals. Star attractions are the three beguiling alpacas: Tom, Ben and Jerry.
Most joyful moment Realising how truly soft an alpaca’s head is.
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