Monday, 28 December 2009

A new year in London

So, as I prepare to head back to the big city from my countryside retreat/confinement, I confess to feeling a tiny bit daunted as well as very excited. Much as I now love living there, London can make mincemeat of you from time to time. Its frantic pace of life, its unforgiving speed and saturated job market. Its overinflated housing market, which would make you laugh if you weren't already weeping. Of late, the Accidental job has been sapping my strength bit by bit, and what's been left has been crunched up by the Masters degree. Juggling two different sets of uni friends with old school mates, with family and work friends is a calendar-filling nightmare!

All that said however I am cautiously optimistic about 2010, which will, if all goes to plan (and stay posted for when it inevitably doesn't!), be the Year of the Accidental Londoner. Ta-dah! Aiming to start 2010 on a higher note than I've ended 2009, I plan the following for my Accidentally London-based self:  I am going to surrender myself to this city more than ever before and invest in its very fabric. Yep, craziest idea of 2009 - I will buy a flat in 2010. This will require talking very nicely to mortgage people, and I will probably be forced to live off bread and water for the rest of my life, but if I have a place to call my own here (in which to eat my eternal meal) then it will be worth it.

In moving to this city I am all too aware that I have become someone different. No longer am I the wide-eyed student, filled with a desire to change the world and go out every night. My weekends are no longer deemed a success if I spend most of them in bed recovering from hangovers. (Oh my, am I growing up?!) Mad nights out are no longer mad, but merely give me a strong sense of deja vu; I have been to this place before with these people, we have screamed the same unintelligible and uninteresting things at each other above pounding music many times before. Boring though this may sound I would love something more to show for my time here in this city than a series of blurred photos. I would love a space which is mine and mine alone; it'll be just me and my city.

I do not long for the life of a hermit (a cosy cave to call my own!), a space of my own will not surgically remove my social life, but I will be able to entertain my friends in a space without my landlord's interesting taste in pleather sofas thrust upon me. A time has come though to strike out totally from family and flatmates, alone except for my chosen mortgage provider. A time to make my own home. I know the process will be long, and for a while I will have to rely heavily on those from whom I plan to strike out, but if I can make even the tiniest corner of this city my own I will be starting out down a path of being a thoroughly intentional Londoner!

Monday, 21 December 2009

Here's something I never thought I'd say...

...I miss London.

I really do. I have been back at the Accidental parents' place for three days and something feels very wrong. The village is oddly quiet. You can look out of the window for a good fifteen minutes without seeing a single person walk by. I have seen one bus in three days, and not a single cab. Christmas shopping is deeply limited, and requires a car, (and wave bye-bye to all those lovely things you intended to buy from Heals or Paperchase). All I have to blog about is how much I miss London, unless I tell you all about the shop-lifting incident I witnessed on Monday in the local WHSmith but even that was massively unexciting. So I won't.
Waiting for something to happen in Staffordshire
Transport links and decent shops aside, however, what I really miss is the pace of life, the well-worn daily patterns enacted at top speed. I can do twelve things in one day in London; up here I struggle to manage one productive achievement every 48 hours. Life in London is like a complicated jigsaw puzzle, slotting in odd shaped tasks around hundreds of others. Up in Staffordshire it feels like I'm doing one of those puzzles without an edge, no corners, no straight lines. Somedays up here I have no idea what the design I'm piecing together even depicts.

Writing from my desk in the room which was mine since birth, I glance up at reminders of the child I once was and realise I was never a "grown-up" here, never my own person, but someone's child. The city is mine, and I am my own when I am there. There I have my home, belonging to and created by me, rather than my parents. I feel like Bridget Jones, dragged back to her parents house in Grafton Underwood for the festive season, wheeled out for drinks parties and turkey curry buffets to be quizzed about her job in London and grilled on her depressing love-life.

Family friends who live locally have expressed great surprise to see me up in Staffordshire. "What are you doing here?" they enquire, somewhat startled that anyone who begins their own life elsewhere should ever return to this slow-motion place. I know what I am doing here - I am visiting my family, and celebrating Christmas. I am missing out on some most jolly icy, snowy fun down south, up here in the boringly merely-frosty-Midlands. I am fleeing my exciting London whirl to get some much needed Masters degree work done in a suitably quiet environment. But I am also biding my time until the day I can cart my most crucial belongings (laptop, iPod, grey knitted fedora from New York) back to the big city, and settle back into my own life once more. It's a good question. What am I doing here?!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Familial nearest may not necessarily mean dearest

Now that it is officially December I am feeling slightly less bah-humbug about the hideously commercial Christmas carry-on gripping our city. That said, I feel slightly ill when I realise that "the season to be jolly" is already well over one month old. Shops cashed in at the end of October, coffee retailers released their seasonal red take-away cups ages ago. Now, however, as we're all expected to have finished our Christmas present shoppping ("We've given you a month! How much more do you need?"), it is time for us to start enjoying the festive traditions and doing christmas-y things. For me, proper Christmas itself always takes place back up in Staffordshire with the Accidental family, yet since I've lived in London, I've had a whole separate London Christmas as well, celebrated this year on 12th December.

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.

Arriving by train, or car, or bus or on stout-booted foot, us girlies from all over the country rendezvous on an always soggy December Saturday at Hyde Park, at the gluhwein bar nearest the tube station. After much hugging and shrieking, and catching up, our merry band of chums wanders about the muddy spectacle of Hyde Park's "Winter Wonderland". And this year it's bigger than ever before. My, but it was busy. I stood, attempting to locate the other girls, in a sea of people in coloured anoraks, all hurtling over my feet, feeling much as Moses might have done if the whole sea-parting thing had come unstuck; it was biblically panic-inducing. After my first styrofoam mug of hot vino however I was more charitably disposed towards my fellow Wonderland wanderers. (Not towards the ones with the buggies, with children flailing welly-booted feet at ankle-level though. They should be banned - the buggies and the children.)

We strolled (moving any faster would've been a challenge through the sea of bobble-hats, woollen scarves, and faces pink from cold and over-excitement), we drank more gluhwein, we munched the odd bratwurst. We marvelled (well, laughed in a superior we've-been-here-before-and-know-you're-being-ripped-off manner) at those stupid enough to pay a small fortune to ride on tilting, twirling rides, waving huge metal, flashing legs in the air, like giant tarantulas who'd got tangled in fairy lights. After a merry but chilly few hours, with all out-of-town girls arrived, we headed off to West Hampstead for a full turkey dinner, awful, yet unfortunately mandatory, Christmas music, and presents. Seven off us negotiated the Jubilee line without serious problems, collected two who'd got stuck in traffic then gone to the pub to get stuck into the gin, and a final tenth arrived in time to chop parsnips.

Armed with more wine, we chopped and peeled like Santa's elves on secondment to Delia Smith's kitchen. Finally, dressed for the occasion, we were all sat round a groaning table, on an interesting assembly of chairs, stools and stacked furniture. A toast was raised to Christmas and friends, the crackers snapped apart, the dreadful jokes shared and we all tucked in. Our head-chef did us proud - it was a fine feast! Two courses down, plus Christmas cake and mince pies, and the table was strewn with empty plates, torn wrapping paper, and, somewhat unwisely, winking tea-lights. (Only two blazing napkins were rushed to be extinguished in the sink however, so no serious calamities.) Silly games were played to the accompanyment of the kind of banter of people who know far too much about each other, and are rather well alcoholically lubricated. Just like a traditional family Christmas, except no enforced time with people you would otherwise never choose to see. In an age where one's familial nearest may not necessarily be one's dearest, the friend-family may well be the way forward!

Mariah Carey might only want you for Christmas, but we want our families AND our friends (and brandy butter and roast turkey and little sausages wrapped in bacon), and as long as one of our number has a house to comandeer in London, Christmas will likely continue to come twice a year for us lucky girls!

(P.S. - a disclaimer to all Accidental Family - no disparaging remarks about familial nearest apply to you. Obviously you're all fabulous - ignore the poetic licence and the overdose of gluhwein!)

Sunday, 6 December 2009

The Capital Radio Jingle Bell Ball: A festive musical fandango

Millions of Londoners wake up to early morning radio shows. And which channel coaxes you awake says a great deal about who you are and where you live. Do you go local or national? Can you bear perky adverts at half 6 in the morning? Who are your nauseatingly perky broadcasters of choice? I am a Radio 1 girl of an early morn; no adverts for carpet or car insurance on the BBC, a marginally better playlist than local stations, and less idiotically oversimplified news. Yet, when an Accidental chum rang and said her boyfriend had got us tickets to an event hosted by rival London station Capital FM I quite happily jumped ship (for the evening at least). Capital's radio station is based in Leicester Square, its presenters are overly chipper and their inane interviews laden with obvious and unimaginative questions; I almost never listen to them. Each year, however, they lay on a vast gig called 'The Jingle Bell Ball' with endless performers, held this year at The O2 Arena (now heavily sponsored, in case no one can guess, by mobile phone company O2), probably now London's greatest large music venue. Pit passes for this, with Lady Gaga as the headline act, I could not turn down.

So the Accidental chum and I met up yesterday afternoon and headed out to south east London, to the bright and shiny North Greenwich tube station, within dashing distance of the O2 (and we were dashing as London's rainy season appears to be determined to see in 2010). Like a moth-eaten old phoenix the O2 has emerged from the cinders of the Millennium Dome, a surprisingly successful reinvention of a multi-million pound write-off. Having a couple of hours to kill until collecting our passes we wandered around the arena for a while.

And my, but there's a lot there! We found a Michael Jackson memorabilia exhibition, a cinema, and a full indoor fun-fair, twirling and flashing, and hurling screaming people through the air above our heads. There was a gastronomic market complete with garlic seller, waffle-maker and gluhwein, and various packed restaurants and bars with eager gig-goers queuing out of the doors. We treated ourselves to a hearty late lunch at one of these to fuel us through the next five hours. It wasn't the greatest meal - inattentive and untrained wait-staff, rather suspect levels of hygiene in the toilets - but it gave us a good look at our fellow music fans. Families with over-excited small children, the parents looking rather less thrilled to be spending their Saturday evening with 20,000 other people. Groups of school-girls in matching sparkly stetsons and single letter t-shirts spelling out words when stood in the correct order; amusingly rearranged to spell something quite different when they weren't careful. Couples on dates looking a little scared, and wondering if dinner at Pizza Express might've been a better idea.

Once tickets were collected they were swiftly whipped out of hands and fluorescent wristbands were fixed onto wrists; a different shade of neon for each area of the arena - floor seating, first level seating, corporate boxes, the pit right in front of the stage, even the nose-bleed seats barely visible from the floor with the naked eye. We wandered in to our designated area, approximately 2 or 3 metres from the front of the stage, looking nonchalant and like we never see a gig from anywhere else, but discretely turning to each other saying "Ohmygodcanyoubelievehowgreattheseticketsare?!". After a while we headed for the bar, as security checked our wrists and moved aside scaffolding to let us pass, feeling like seasoned music professionals.

5.30pm and the fun began. To give them their due, Capital FM put on a good show - 5 hours of live music, one act after another, with minimal infilling by irritating radio hosts. (There was a slightly weird interlude where I believe we broke some Guiness World Record for the largest human joystick or some such nonsense; I could've lived without that.) The acts were certainly enough. Mostly they were great, getting the whole audience on their feet, filling the stadium with screaming and singing. Some admittedly were so dire the Accidental chum and I promptly headed for the bar seconds into their set. We thus still have no idea why the girl in Ndubz is there, or why Miley Cyrus wasn't tucked up in bed rather than prancing her 17 year old-self around the stage in her bra and shorts. Tinchy Stryder was surprisingly good but, well, tinchy - a miniature rap-star with rhinestone chains larger than his head. Jedward appeared briefly enough for one of them to fall off the stage. Twice. The girls of the Sugababes and The Saturdays were sparkly and jolly. Middle-aged mothers in the audience went wild for Westlife, while their children looked on in boredom, clamouring for boy-band JLS, who unlike Westlife failed entirely to keep their clothes on during their set. Our headliner (pictured above with her "disco-stick") drew the show to a magnificent body-stocking-clad-dancer-and-confetti-shower close. She herself managed two costume changes, some fantastic piano-bashing and stunning vocals, as well as a wee rant about the people on X factor "with no vision" who vetoed her request for live lambs to support her set. The woman may be loopy but she puts on a great show!

Having stood up for 5 hours, and drunk enough cider to get us through the more painful acts, we promptly took ourselves out for another meal, to let the tube station calm down somewhat and avoid the scrum leaving. When we finally did head home around half 11pm, streams more O2 goers were entering the former Dome, for a night out at the venue's club and bars. And on Sunday they open up and start all over again. The site must pretty much never sleep! Not bad for a failed exhibition centre.
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