South Londoner Marian Cowler is one of those people who is always at the heart of something interesting. She was there for the explosion of London’s music scene in the 70s and was right in the middle of the punk and ska scenes, hanging out with bands like The Members.
Over the decades, she’s worked at some of London’s most interesting music venues and theatres. As well as doing stints at Soho’s jazz bastion Ronnie Scott’s and The Tabernacle in Notting Hill – one of Joe Strummer’s favourite venues – she was also the first female manager of the notoriously hedonistic nightclub Heaven.
The list of amazing things she’s done doesn’t stop there. She also worked at the NME, was the PA for actress and comedienne Pamela Stephenson (now better know as The Guardian’s resident sex columnist) and spent a good part of the early 80s organising official funding for a series of anti-racism gigs in London.
Now, she works for Wandsworth Council, one of London’s big local borough government organisations, so she knows more about the background workings of the city than most.
She’s seen London change a lot and knows it the way only someone who has seen all the faces of the city can. On top of all this, she’s also found time to be the mum of one of our favourite people – our resident photographer Jessy. In honour of Mother’s Day (which is today in the UK) we invited her to be this week’s London guide.
My favourite place for a calming walk: Cannizaro Park and Buddhapadipa Temple, Wimbledon. These are both well worth a visit and so close to each other it’s a shame to miss either. Cannizaro Park is beside the Cannizaro House Hotel and, perhaps because it looks private, it’s never really crowded. It has a Haille Sellasie Garden in honour of his stay in Wimbledon and wonderful ornamental landscaped grounds. The Buddhapadipa Temple is like a Rupert Bear illustration come to life, a lovely 1930’s house with an astonishingly beautiful temple in the garden, the only Thai temple ever built in Europe. I swear it cures hangovers.
My favourite central London hangout: Bradley’s Spanish Bar. I first came here when I was still living in Surrey, with old friends who knew the owners, two Spanish Boxers (or wrestlers…). They looked like twins. It was like being in Spain. For decades I continued to visit and it was always the same, comfortable, unpretentious, friendly. And increasingly crowded. Apparently it’s still doing the same thing, and I’m glad of that. I must go again soon to inspect it. There used to be an illegal 24 hour drinking club near there towards the end of the alley where the Blue Post Pub used to be. But I fear it went the way of most buildings where property developers are concerned. I don’t recognise Tottenham Court Road since they pulled the Astoria Theatre down. Still, that’s progress!
My favourite place for a drink: The Doodle Bar. Speaking of property development, get down to the Doodle Bar in Parkgate Road, Battersea, before this last little artistic oasis is “improved”. The bar and its surroundings are a breath of fresh air, creativity in crumbling buildings, a reminder of how Notting Hill, Brixton, Hackney and other pre-improvement areas gave us all a bit of unpolished joy. It’s called Doodle Bar as you’re encouraged to daub on walls, furniture, anything really – and although they claim it’s ok to scribble on the staff, I found no volunteers… You have to experience being told it’s ok to write on the walls before you know how conditioned you are against doing just that. It’s great to break free! I saw a local councillor do it, it’s ok, they don’t prosecute you or anything. Feel like a graffiti artist god there and look at the other lovely places beside it, galleries, artisan food with your beer and brewery loveliness. By the river. You can look at where the millionaires live on the other side of the water on the terrace with a pint. Smashing.
My other favourite place to find alcohol: The Ram Brewery. Talking of Brewing. Did you know that the Wandsworth Ram Brewery site is the oldest continuous beer brewing site in England, if not Britain? We’ve been making beer there for more than 500 years. Thanks to John Hatch and his crew, a micro brewery continued to keep the history alive even after the Young’s family sold the site. It’s a story worthy of the Lavender Hill Mob and John, although booked up by months, will give you a history talk and a few rather wonderful pints of brew for donations to keep the micro brewery going. The site has now been bought by Chinese developers, and I fervently hope that they will appreciate the antiquity and value of the place as much as fans of good beer and history do. (see more photographs of the Ram Brewery by our resident photographer)
My favourite place for an amble followed by dinner: Battersea Park and Captain Correlli’s on Battersea Park Road. I’ve always loved Battersea Park. Even before I was fortunate enough to work there, riding about in a golf buggy shouting “I am not a number, I am a free woman” (a quote from the 60s TV show “The Prisoner”. Look it up, it’s worth it). LOVE that park. I watched the Peace Pagoda being built and was then fortunate enough to get to know the Reverend Nagasi, who looks after it. The Albert Bridge adjacent is the prettiest bridge I ever did see, day or night. And when I’ve had enough of the splendours of this beautiful park by the River Thames, I just walk across the park to Correlli’s and the very best unpretentious home cooked Italian Food you’ll get outside of Italy. A dear friend introduced me to this place and we have had many good meals and conversations in there. The staff are exceptional. It goes with the food. Home made gelato. And now they are open in the evenings. Don’t tell too many people about it please.