Wednesday, 28 January 2015

91 to Trafalgar Square

As the red double-decker pulls up to my bus stop I glance along its length and in at its windows. I count the heads in view, calculating the likelihood of there being enough space for me to board, together with my fellow commuters huddled at the bus stop. We all make it aboard and, squashing together, join the seated riders, standing amongst them, over them, as they stare down at their laps. People rarely look out of the window as they commute, I have noticed - slaves as they are to their smartphones or occasional newspapers.
One man, in a synthetic suit and a crumpled black tie is absorbed in revising for an Arabic spelling test. Written in different coloured inks English words are scribbled beside their Arabic script translations. I glance down the words and phrases: 'duress', 'complicity', 'hijack', 'cultural contest', 'post traumatic stress disorder'.

Behind him, back-to-back, a little girl with her hair tied in bunches clutches a bright green diorama covered in luminous poster-paint. A lone pipecleaner butterfly is suspended within the box, and gloves on a pink string dangle from the girl's sleeves. On the opposite side of the gangway sits a woman, who could be the girl's mother. She holds a mangled bunch of pipecleaners that might once have been another butterfly. 

A woman casts her eyes (dusted in frosted purple eyeshadow) down to her phone, where her fingers move rapidly across the screen, sliding cartoon candies here and there. Neon trainers top off her drab outfit of officewear in various shades of black.

Halfway down the bus, a young blonde in a bright red coat (out of which poke bare legs - a brave move for London in January) holds her phone in a gloveless hand, flicking through her inbox with a naked finger. The other hand remains in a dark brown leather glove, holding on to its limp other half.

Sat over the rear wheel, right at the back of a bus, an old gentleman is one of the few people not glued to a glowing screen in their hands. His fingers grip a flimsy cream-covered text, filled with evangelical encouragement to renounce sin and all manner of wild evils. His thick fingers trace the words, and he mouths some of them to himself. 

As people get on and off with each stop the bus makes, they shuffle slowly past each others' carrier bags and briefcases. One young man remains resolutely rooted to his spot in front of the sliding doors. People squeeze past him, jostling and scowling, but he doesn't look up from his tiny screen, where the highlights of last night's football match play out just for him.

And me? I move up and down between them all, my own phone and book tucked into my bag, my hands free and my eyes up. And I just watch everyone else - they are all the entertainment I need on this bus.  

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

And there goes 2014

Forgive me. My monthly wrap-ups got somewhat defeated by the past few weeks, which have been pretty frantic. Let me tell you what I've been up to, and about a few of the places I've been exploring recently...
1. I hung out at the British Museum a bit. (I even interviewed for a job there.) Despite the hordes of schoolchildren learning about the Egyptians were buried and how Roman houses were heated, I passed several enjoyable hours checking out the museum's endless rooms. I checked out the controversial Elgin Marbles, some glorious archeology, shining Aztec and Mayan finery, and a fascinating temporary exhibition of illustrations on the subject of witches and witchcraft. 

2. At the end of October I turned 30. Without having any kind of existential crisis. (Yay me!) But I did have rather a lot of cake. (Supplied by the excellent baker and blogger, Lady Aga)

3. I started a new job, which left me without much blogging energy or exploring time, but has provided me with a paycheck again; swings and roundabouts, eh? My new role is also based in Clerkenwell, an area of the city that was previously relatively unknown to me, so I've had fun exploring new corners and wiggling side streets. (Everything I needed to know about working in Clerkenwell I found covered in this excellent post by the witty Jo of She Loves London.) Much of my time has been spent in and around the concrete-covered Barbican, wandering its highwalks, and contemplating how to make it work better as a place; for the City, its workers and the people who live there in these enormous towers.

4. In possibly the most ridiculously decadent move ever, the Accidental Boyfriend and I flew up to Edinburgh for lunch in November. (We absolutely had to get on a plane that weekend as there were frequent flier points to secure. Or something.) We ate here, and it was completely sublime. We rolled out of the restaurant and then spent the rest of the afternoon groaning about how full we were and how amazing everything we ate had been. And then we flew home again.

5. In November I attempted a crazy challenge - writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days for National Novel Writing Month (or 'NaNoWriMo'). It meant evenings dashing home from work to bash out a couple of thousand words, weekends spent going from coffee shop to coffee shop, clutching my ipad and my notebook. But really, it means you should put your life on hold and throw everything at the challenge. However, a couple of weeks into a new job, and with lots of people I needed to catch up with (including lots of family from out of town), I just didn't quite make enough time for my new novel. And I failed to produce my 50,000 words. But I stuck with it, and I tried a different kind of writing, and it was hugely satisfying. One day, I'll get round to finishing my novel, just probably not before the end of 2014.

6. A project I worked on over the summer was finally finished this autumn, and the result was a shiny new video for Cats Protection, all about fostering cats and kittens; something in which I have been involved with the charity for several years. We worked with a fabulous professional animal photographer, Steve Hoskins, energic staff and publicity volunteers for CP, and a little furry rockstar called Sahara. Whilst having to watch and listen to myself makes me cringe, I'm so proud of what we've achieved, and hope it will encourage more people to get involved with the charity as volunteers. (And yes, blood was almost drawn over who got to take Sahara home after the shoot...)

7. I had a wee break from the big city and headed up north to visit a friend who lives in Doncaster for a weekend last month. When you think of Doncaster, fine foggy fields are probably not the first thing that springs to mind. But a mere ten minutes from my friend's front door, on a lengthy dog-walk, we found woodland, fields filled with discarded turnips and even wide lakes ringed with solemn fishermen. Surprisingly pretty, eh?

8. A few weeks into my new job, I discovered that one of my colleagues, Rute Ferera, has achieved my dream and published her very own book about London. Together with Amandine Alessandra, she also created her own publishers - Tower Block Books - to launch 'The Big Letter Hunt' earlier this year. Principally created with children in mind, the book also speaks to more grown-up lovers of letters, London and architecture. It takes you on an alphabetical tour of East London through a series of beautiful risograph prints of original photographs taken by Rute and Amandine. Having done extremely well with their first print run, the book has just been reprinted again and would make a wonderful belated Christmas present or guide for exploring in the new year. You can get your own copy from the Tower Block Books website here.

9. And so Christmas...that happened too. Trees went up, carols were sung, mulled wine was drunk. Oh, and it snowed! It also went too fast. As it always does.

Thanks for another wonderful year, dear readers! Happy holidays to you all and here's to a splendid 2015.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Accidental Reads: Drink London - 100 best bars and pubs

Without wishing to sound like a raging alcoholic, I have been for a lot of drinks since I've lived in London. The city is stuffed with watering holes; from the hip, hidden speakeasy, staffed by chaps in bowlers and braces, to the quintessentially English pub, full of half-drunk pints and old baize pool tables. Some are short-lived pop-ups, some ever-full hotspots. Plenty have been around for hundreds of years. (I visited several of the city's most ancient hostelries with Charlotte of Best LDN Walks over the summer on her excellent Secrets of London pub tour.)

Of course, everyone has their personal views on drinking spots. Some people like them buzzy and busy, others like a peaceful pint. A familiar favourite can be just what one needs for a cosy weekend drink, but sometimes you fancy somewhere different; a place you can scour an imaginative drinks list for a tasty new tipple. And if you're in need of some alchoholic inspiration, you could do worse than get yourself a copy of Drink London by Euan Ferguson. Published by Frances Lincoln Limited, Ferguson brings the reader 100 handpicked places to drink all over the city.

Monday, 8 December 2014

A festive repost: 'Christmas formal' with the girls

*** This weekend, we bid farewell to some much loved friends, who are leaving cold, grey London for the sunshine of Sydney. It was emotional to say the least. There were tears, silly Christmas jumpers, turkey (obvs), mulled cider, and a round of the After Eight game that the Grafton in Kentish Town probably won't forget in a hurry.

And so, if you'll permit me, here is a little festive repost. This is how my pals and I do our London-y, pretending-we're-all-still-at-university Christmas. Next year, there will be a conspicuously empty seat round our noisy table...

"To paint a picture, once upon a time, in a land far away in the North East, 8 girls lived in a large former B&B/hotel together. They had many friends who would visit for tea, vodka and chocolate biscuits, some of whom spent so much time in their house everyone forgot they didn't actually live there. When these girlies were done being students they packed up their house and headed off to different places all over the country to start being proper working folk. But missing each other they met up frequently and, in manner of a dysfunctional, sort of non-related family, decided they would have their own Christmas each year; given that most of these girls lived in London by the time the festive season rolled round the first time, the great British capital would be the annual venue.

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