a city through the eyes of a girl who's not sure how she ended up here

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Bloggers at work

A couple of weeks ago I met a new blogger. I love meeting new bloggers. You always have so much to discuss with one another, and for that reason they feel like new friends very quickly. The lovely Jo, from The Only Place, had announced that she was doing a collection of photos of bloggers at work, capturing the spaces and places where blogging happens, as well as the faces of those of us who lay claim to the title of 'blogger'.
She kindly agreed to include me in her series, and trekked up to North London one sunny Saturday to take some photos. We nattered for ages, drank copious amounts of tea, and then we got down to the actual photography business. Jo took a range of photos of me in various spots around my flat - which, we have since agreed, came out of this photo-shoot looking like an interiors all-star.

You can check out Jo's series over here on her blog. Jo was a super photographer, who instantly put me at ease, and lined up shot after shot without it getting boring. She's also a great person to have chat with about blogging and London and many other things, so I hugely enjoyed getting to meet Jo as much as getting to see the photographs she produced! If you are a blogger who fancies being involved, drop Jo a line and invite her to come take some photos of the space in which you blog...she's currently after some more blogging models so do get in touch if you'd be up for it.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

In search of inspiration

I have been a terrible blogger in recent months. Infrequent, uninspired, inarticulate. My job has taken almost everything out of me this year so far, beginning with my creativity - the first casualty of stress and tiredness. And so, yesterday I took a day off; to recharge, to do unexciting but necessary tasks around the house, to sit in one place and drink a whole coffee before it went cold, and to try and feel a bit more like myself. My brain needed a jump-start too. So I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington, one of my happiest of London happy places, to indulge in a late afternoon potter in search of a little inspiration. 
The V&A is an extraordinary museum. Enormous, seemingly endless and eclectic, it is a wild celebration of all that human creativity can achieve. Its halls are magnificent - ancient in origin yet modern in design. Within its handsome walls lie thousands of collections, from photographs to sculptures, and carpets to ironwork. The articles within these collections come from every corner of the world. You can step from ancient China into renaissance Italy by way of a single staircase. 
The museum shines and glitters in its polished silver and its stained glass windows. It quietly glows behind the glass of a thousand framed sketches, photographs and display cases. It glories in both the utilitarian and the frivolous. Plain, battered metal spoons are offered up to the visitor with the same care and attention as perfectly polished diamonds. Here, says the V&A, see the vision and craftsmanship in the creation of all these things. See how we humans have created for hundreds of years. See how we have created wherever we may have been, and look at how we have made use and beauty out of each imaginable material. See how we can value creativity, in every one of its most peculiar forms. 
I wandered awhile, from room to room, visiting my old favourite articles: the tiny, detailed netsuke in the Japanese court, the imposing, black iron archways and doors on the first floor, and the beautiful 1920s designer gowns, hung on solid mannequins which reassure me that style and beauty has not always been equated with a perfect size 0. I sat out in the central courtyard gardens with a coffee in a paisley-covered paper cup, and I watched off-duty staff chatting, and children playing in the fountains, and tourists comparing snapshots on their iPads. I thought about the collective years and miles and imagination captured in this single place. And I felt the fog begin to lift. 

Back inside, I found a polished wooden bench, between a case of silver chalices and another full of golden saints, sat down, pulled out my iPad and wrote. Just like that. Finding words, inspired by ideas from the ages, and the thousands of things all around me. Creation begetting creation. 
I sat typing for almost half an hour. And then I headed off for more, looking and appreciating rather than feeding off the things before me; my earlier need for thoughts and inspiration satisfied. I raised a silent thanks to the artists, the weavers, the stonemasons, the woodcarvers, the seamstresses and the metalworkers, who two hundred, three hundred, four hundred years ago left me so many messages, and reminded me how to write again.

Friday, 4 April 2014

February and March

Where is 2014 going?! Days and weeks are just whizzing by, and here we are in April already. What have I been getting up to in London? Well, actually I've been doing a whole lot of work which has cramped my city-exploring style somewhat, but you can't keep a good blogger down.

Here's a quick spin through February and March in and around the city...

1. Chinatown celebrated Chinese New Year, decking itself out in red and gold lanterns, which was rather cheering in the constant rain with which February spoiled us. I took a lunchtime stroll down there towards the end of the month; returning to the office with sodden feet but a tummy full of hot steamed buns, and a camera full of shiny, colourful photos.

2. Yeah, so, this rain. It. Did. Not. Stop. For. Weeks. The Accidental Ally and I managed to spend two consecutive lunch-breaks getting soaked running errands - so much for trying to get away from one's desk at lunchtime, eh? I surrendered a grand total of three umbrellas in two months to the great dustbin in the sky, due to overuse and the tearing winds that accompanied the rain.

3. To keep my spirits up amidst the grey and damp I did a lot of eating. And this included checking out the new Five Guys branch that opened up in Angel (oh-so-handily/dangerously positioned near the Accidental Boyfriend's house). This branch also sports an Accidental Londoner sign (so proud!), so of course I had to go and see it for myself and get all over-excited again...!

4. I got shown around the New Covent Garden Flower Market in Nine Elms towards the end of February, getting a crash-course in the international flower trade in the process. The tour was completely fascinating, and my mental city map now has another place to associate with the area of Vauxhall, other than that hideous transport junction outside the bus station.

5. The rain finally stopped! There was a brief patch of ridiculous warmth and sunshine. Shorts and flip-flops were sighted on the streets - crazy times. It was a time for wandering along canals, and hanging out in Regents Park, and most importantly, for leaving big winter coats at home and soaking up some rays. The whole city got a much-needed Vitamin D injection, and spirits finally rose out of their winter slump.  

6. And then we took a little break from London for a long weekend in Wiltshire, at the Beckford Arms. This place is truly special. Phenomenal food, exceptionally accommodating and friendly staff, and super-comfy beds. Had breakfast - served with a large glass jar of handy hangover cures - not been so delicious, I might still be hiding beneath one of their duvets right now.  

7. Back in London, another foster kitty came to stay. Wispa slept like an angel (as he's doing in the photo above)...but only for about twenty minutes at a time.  The remaining hours of the day (and night) he liked to spend exploring the flat - particularly the inaccessible bits - and digging things up, climbing stuff and breaking everything within furry reach. Wispa even managed to ruin a shower curtain (how?!). But fortunately by the middle of March he was in a new permanent home, and very happily settled. My shower curtain is feeling much better too.

8. I was brave. I went south of the river more than once in the past couple of months. In March I was enticed down to Waterloo to dine at Chateau Marmot, a pop-up restaurant outfit which was opening its temporary doors for three days at the beginning of March. We were fed course after tasty course, and sitting at the restaurant's communal tables met some interesting fellow diners. We also got a brief education on the Lower Marsh area, its market and local independent shops, many of whom had contributed ingredients to the night's feast.    

9. The office claimed my soul for most of March. But at least when BBC Sports Relief started throwing celebrities off the top of the BT Tower next door we were well-placed to watch their descent. Some made it down rather gracefully, whilst others (ahem, Blue Peter lady) appeared to be bouncing off the face of the iconic tower like a toy on a piece of elastic. But thanks, guys and gals, not only did you raise a lot of money for charity, you also gave us something else to stare at besides our computer screens.

Here's to more non-work frolics in April! 

Monday, 17 March 2014

"Always carry an umbrella" or Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Moved to London

From time to time a familiar email lands in my inbox. It goes something like this..."Hi, Accidental Londoner! I'm moving to London from Krakow/Brisbane/Manchester/[insert other place here], and was wondering if you had any advice you would pass on to someone moving to the city?"  I usually email back, and make a few suggestions about useful resources for finding a flatshare, or fun blogs to read up on cool things to do.  But then after I hit 'send' I always remember other things I could have suggested and wish I'd written more. Maybe I should have a stock reply - a do's and don't's for life in London? Kind of like a Mary Schmich-esque commencement speech that the Accidental Londoner would share with an assembly of future citizens of this great place. (Mary Schmich? She wrote this, which Baz Luhrmann later repackaged as this. You know it.) So I've had a go at bundling up some advice for future Londoners...Oh, but a caveat first. Like Mary Schmich's essay, what appears below has "no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience". Take it with a pinch of salt. 

Find a decent place to live. East, West, wherever you like. Even South of the river if you must. Just make sure you share it with nice people. If your housemates turn out to be psychos, move.
Don't live anywhere you feel scared to get home after dark. Don't live anywhere where you can see or smell evidence of damp/rats/mice/previous owners. Avoid living near drug-dealers - they keep supremely antisocial hours.
When choosing a decent location for your new home, apply 'The pint test'; if you can buy a pint of milk and a pint of beer (not necessarily in the same place) somewhere within easy walking distance, you're golden.
Accept that all estate agents are out to shaft you, but don't let them. Try and live somewhere where you can see green space and sky, whatever colour it may be.
Always carry an umbrella. Invest in a utilitarian range of footwear. Buy a big winter coat.
Resist the urge to take all your clothes off on the first sunny day of the year. Be patient and wait for the summer - it will come. Eventually. Drink ro on the pavements after work when it does.
Respectfully share the buses and tube trains with your fellow Londoners. Do not begrudge them their elbow room and they won't complain about being able to hear whatever you're listening to through your headphones.
Do not read other peoples' newspapers on the Tube. Get your own. Just not The Sun.
It's pretty hard not to Mind the Gap, but don't run for closing train doors - it just scares everyone who's already on the train and who thinks you're about to have your head removed from your body.
If you must use Boris Bikes, buy a helmet and use it. If you ride on the DLR, sit at the front of the train and pretend you are driving.
Be open to meeting new people everywhere. Don't reject the possibility that this may take place online. Today, it's really not that strange.
Learn to rebuff unwanted attention. Learn to entertain yourself. Learn how to stare down and trample meandering tourists in the West End.
Don't let London's exterior unfriendliness get you down - there are good, fun, kind people here; seek them out.
Never shop on Oxford Street. Don't regularly frequent bars where a round of drinks costs your weekly pay-cheque. Shop local, and learn your newsagent's name.
Know who your neighbours are, and say hi to them when you pass in the street. 
Embrace opportunity. Say yes to the jobs that don't sound like a dream role, but which offer you something you want. Sometimes good is good enough.
Never work for free unless you truly want to.
Don't worry about a fixed career path - doing something is better than doing nothing at all. Whatever anyone says, no one else's job is perfect either.
Use your holiday allowance. Don't eat lunch at your desk. 
Make life easier for yourself. Buy an Oystercard. Set up auto top-up. (Don't be the person who has to wait in line at every station, whilst your friends tap their feet on the other side of the barrier.)
Keep the number of a reliable taxi firm in your phone for dark, rainy nights when you find yourself miles from home on the other side of the city after the last Tube.
Pay your council tax bill, however eye-wateringly expensive - that's what pays for the streetlights that get you home after a night out.  
Don't be scared of the city, but stay alert. Guard your bags and your pockets.
Don't get lazy - London will call you on it. The city constantly changes, and you may have to too. Change is good; embrace it.
Learn what to do if you lose your wallet or your phone is stolen. In all honesty, it may well happen. But it's not the end of the world.
Nothing here is permanent. This can be both good and bad. You may miss familiar things, but you can also discover wonderful new ones.
Look down every alleyway, particularly the dodgy ones. Walk a different way each time. Explore, and build your own unique mental map of the city. 
Don't think about it too much. Either the decision to moving here initially, or the choices you'll have to make once you get here. If I had truly sat down and thought about some of the biggest things I've done since moving here, I wouldn't have a Masters degree. Or a flat. I would probably also have had the same job for the past six years. 
Oh, and once you're here, living and working, you're a Londoner. Don't let anyone else tell you otherwise.

This post has been written in collaboration with Urbanest. Although I was remunerated for this post, any opinions expressed in the above post are those of The Accidental Londoner alone.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Columbia Road Plus: The New Covent Garden Flower Market, Nine Elms

I was out of town last Sunday. But a quick glance at Instagram suggested that many of my fellow Londoners were all in one place on Sunday morning: Columbia Road Flower Market.  My but there were a lot of photos of metal trolleys groaning with orchids, and pots of pansies, and armfuls of lilies.  Columbia Road - if you live anywhere vaguely north or east in London - is just one of those places you visit from time to time. You take visitors and out-of-towners to peruse the tiny street lined with flower-sellers; you meet friends there for a coffee, a bacon roll, and a lavender plant in a pot; you elbow your way through the throng of others to snap 100 floral photos and Instagram the hell out of them. It's sort of an East London Sunday morning institution.   

But at a dinner party last month I met a florist. And when someone mentioned Columbia Road, and asked if she bought her supplies there, she politely pointed out that real florists visit a proper, daily tourist-free market for their blooms - the New Covent Garden Flower Market. Not that the market - despite its name - is actually in Covent Garden. The New Covent Garden Flower Market replaced the actual Covent Garden Market, of My Fair Lady fame, over 40 years ago; shifting the city's flower trading hub across the river onto the South Bank. No wonder the rest of us at the dinner party had never stumbled across it.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Before I die...

"Before I die..." proclaimed the title above the boards. Down by the Regents Canal, six big blackboards stood, attracting a crowd of wanderers, tourists, cyclists and runners, all gawking at the chalked responses. There were no instructions, no "First, take a piece of chalk...", but it was obvious what was expected of passersby: In a blank space, complete the phrase "Before I die I want to...". Share your  innermost dreams and deepest desires with everyone who walks along the towpath.

Pin It button on image hover