Thursday, 28 January 2010

Pins and needles

As those who read my post on getting hot and sweaty in the city will know, I have been an enthusiastic, if not yet fully competent, Bikram yoga bunny for a year or so. I admit however that with the strains and stresses of my Masters I have not been keeping up my usual attendance. When I do go however I love that I get a full 90 minutes of silence (and yes, pain) away from the constant flurry that is this city. Musing whilst in a session a while ago, I wondered what I would do without this escape, if I had to leave the city, and could not find it elsewhere. I determined that now, spoilt by having it as I am, I would struggle. Despite the chaos and noise, the manic pace of my life here I have found peace and quiet in a number of places. One of which I have been visiting for the past year, in line with the yoga, and have found to be a valuable refuge.

Now if I were to say, after all my ravings about the wonders of punishing yoga, that what I am referring to is acupuncture, you will all I imagine draw one of two conclusions. Firstly, I am a masochist, filling my days with pain and torture, and hence I am also probably certifiably mad. Or secondly, that I am somewhat hippyish in my approach to keeping my body ticking over - no synthetic drugs for me, just sweat, needles, and, like, holistic healing, maaann!

If city-life has taught me one thing it is that there isn't an artificial substance in the world which makes keeping up with it possible. You need to be kind to your body, as your primary method of transportation through the city streets, and keep it running in better nick than TFL. No caffeine-induced energy highs last long enough, no sugar or drug-induced rush is worth the ensuing crash; a healthy body and mind are your best assets living in a city. But I confess I cheat. I do not spend hours meditating or eating the perfect diet heaving with nutrients aplenty. I have, however, a phenomenal acupuncturist; a doctor, therapist, counselor, dietician and general guru of all that is nourishing and energising.

After a tiring day at work I can take a vile tube train (which usually misbehaves and makes me late for my appointment) and within minutes of my arriving at my acupuncturist's sanctuary I am in a different place. And not just in a geographical sense. Cosy in a wonderful, palatial shed at the bottom of a peaceful garden, I have my vital pulses checked and the Accidental acupuncturist and I briefly recap my health of the past few weeks. Soon, I am lying down, a human pin-cushion with a few tiny needles (pretty and pink!) working on my pressure points to realign me and my crazy energies. Staring at the clean white sloping roof and wooden beams, I sometimes hear squirrels scampering across the roof, but nothing else. Silence. And no, the needles don't hurt. Once they are in I usually can't even tell where they are. I lie back and clear my mind for a few quiet minutes. It is blissful. And vital.

Initially seeking help for, quite literally, blinding migraines, this form of Chinese medicine goes well beyond merely treating symptoms, but recognises that a particular manifestation of pain can be an indicator of a much larger strain which your body may be fighting without your knowledge. One forgets how much you put yourself through in the city. Solid concrete, filthy air, the germs of a million people, endless greyness and gloomy weather. So you need to make time to recharge and realign, and mount a defence. If not, London's going to get you!

For more information about acupuncture visit

Saturday, 23 January 2010

"Listen to an [Accidental] Londoner" @ Little London Observationist

Since I began this blog I have discovered that a blog is not a standalone writing project. A blog is part of a wide network of writing and ideas. There is a vast community of people who put hands to keyboards to write, read and comment, providing encouragement and inspiration to each other, shaping more than their own writing.

Within London there are hundreds of bloggers, the work of some of whom I have got to know, and they in turn have provided support and tips. One of the first London blogs I began to follow was Little London Observationist, written by Steph Sadler. Her photos capture London life and all its foibles wonderfully, and she has a number of regular features which shine spotlights on local artists in particular, and Londoners past and present more generally. Today, I am thrilled to say I am the featured capital-dweller in her Saturday feature "Listen to a Londoner". Please do check out Steph's blog, and many thanks to the Little London Observationist!

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

WANTED...Brutal Vocalist

Err, yeah...

Now I know this is not my usual mode of posting but when I saw the above I just felt the need to share it. In the interest of clarification, here is the detail transcribed:


Wanted for Progressive Doom Metal Band.

Great Material Written.

Influences: Mastodon, Crowbar, Pink Floyd, Godflesh." (And then someone has hilariously pencilled in "Beyonce, Jay-Z")

To those au fait with their doom metal, it will not come as a surprise that this missive was taped to a phone box outside "The Intrepid Fox"; not a Roald Dahl appreciation pub, but a goth/metal rock bar in Bloomsbury. A leering gargoyle hovers atop the entrance, and the bar has a somewhat forbidding air from the outside. It is not exactly a regular Accidental watering-hole.
"I don't even know what Doom Metal is!" said one bewildered Accidental chum with whom I made this discovery. "And who are Mastodon?" - with a name like that we found it hard to believe that they were that stylistically similar to Pink Floyd.
At the bottom of the flyer however was a series of jagged tears indicating that plenty of other Londoners did know, and were keen to audition. I suddenly had a wonderful vision of a group of aspiring rockstars, with long, matted hair, a fondness for ripped, black clothing and KISS-esque eye make-up; "So, fancy yourself as a Doom Metal rocker, do ya? How'd you sum up your style?" "Well, if I had but one word it would be, errr, 'brutal'." Imagine meeting someone at a party and the conversation going a little like this; "So, what do you do?". "Oh, I'm a brutal vocalist for a doom metal band." Room backs nervously away, and conversationalist looks hurriedly for that nice, boring accountant they met earlier.

Fittingly I encountered the above on exiting the Dominion Theatre where I had just watched several hours of the most tenuously strung-together musical, based on the music of Queen. It was basically a few undeniably epic rock numbers cobbled together by some rather gratuitous innuendo and swearing, with a very thin futuristic story-line about the search for outlawed live music. I refer to the jukebox musical "We Will Rock You", which has been rocking (or at least stirring in a slightly uncomfortable way) the Tottenham Court Road since 2002. We had arrived late for an Accidental friend's birthday celebrations, hurriedly greeting each other in the auditorium's semi-darkness of the opening projection. "Cake?", another chum enquired as I shrugged off my coat. "What?" I whisper-yelled over the prelude, as a plastic tray of bright pink cupcakes was thrust into my hand...and the house lights flashed on, to reveal me, half out of seat, clutching said cupcakes, looking confused. Not an auspicious start. Although we munched along to "Radio Gaga" to looks from our fellow theatre-goers I like to think were deeply envious.

Rock is evidently alive and well in London Town, in many different forms. The city's proud musical heritage is not being entirely undermined by plastic popbands and X Factor runners-up. Needless to say however commerce is cashing in. You can take a tailor-made tour of the city, visiting sites associated with famous musical legends; from Abbey Road's famous studios to where Elton John lives when he's in town. As of last year you can even stay in the Sanctum Hotel, a "rock 'n' roll hotel" in Soho. It describes itself as "an alluring haven of hedonism", but looks rather too plush to be truly rock 'n' roll. If you wanted to hurl any TVs out of the window here you'd need to first prise them from the walls on which they are firmly fixed. Rooms are full of media gadgets, including Guitar Hero game consoles if you want to jam all night long. Just don't expect to get much sleep during your stay. But then that'd hardly be very rock 'n' roll...

Friday, 15 January 2010

Going up in the world

In a city where property prices are so ludicrous a single room costs the same as a family house up North, business owners are having to get creative. Inventive basements and sky-high extensions are no longer attractive design extras but necessities. Not only do businesses have to maximise the space in which they can afford to retail, cook or consult with clients, but they need a hook; something that their competitors cannot offer. Italian chain Buono Sera have embraced this challenge with imagination in their Chelsea restaurant; Buono Sera @ The Jam. What "The Jam" refers to I know not, although if I had to hazard a guess it could refer to this problem of space maximisation - how to "jam" as many people keen to eat Italian food as possible into a wafer thin slice of SW3 real estate?

Walking past the restaurant you could easily miss it, dwarfed by neighbouring Paperchase, but at second glance there it is. And clearly its discreet entrance does little to dampen its trade; when the Accidental Cousin and I dined there yesterday the place was buzzing.
Go through the glass door into this sliver of an eaterie and you feel like you are entering a tree-house. Wood is everywhere, and the tables go upwards. Yep, this is the only restaurant I've ever been in where I have been required to scale a ladder to reach my table; and in high heels, I can tell you, this is a serious matter. With a traditional layout the restaurant could probably feed about 30 or so people, who if they didn't already know each other intimately when they arrived would certainly leave with that dubious qualification. But by building what are essentially bunk-benches above the existing booths this number of restaurant covers doubles. (Although I fear the odd tipsy diner may well be lost on the descent once in a while.)

When I booked I was asked if we wanted to sit "upstairs" which invokes the same grandeur as the estate agent who once tried to sell us 3 bedrooms with built in bunk-beds as "3 double rooms with mezzanine sleeping areas". But in the spirit of adventure (remember how exciting it was to climb a ladder at bedtime when you were 8?) I said yes, and on arrival, up the Accidental Cousin and I climbed. After getting over the initial wave of vertigo we settled into our timber cabin, and had a very nice meal; mains were pretty standard Italian fare, desserts were fabulously beautiful ice cream creations. But all food was surpassed by the novelty of this restaurant's layout. The wait-staff hauled themselves up and down the metal scaffolding-like poles holding up the second layer of tables with glasses of wine and huge plates of food with great skill. Fellow diners clattered and chattered, seemingly unperturbed by the proximity of the air-conditioning system to their heads, or how only a bit of scaffolding and timber separated them from the floor a few feet below.

Has it come to pass then that we go out for dinner not to eat but to be entertained by novelty and clever set design? I suspected as much after my experience drinking in a freezing ice cave last summer. Restauranteurs must be both thrilled that the pressure is off their cuisine, but also disappointed that their hard work in the kitchen is eclipsed by their haberdashery. We may no longer go out for dinner and actually look forward to the food we will eat, but I shall remain grateful for the novelty themes and obscure decorations when service is slow; at least I'll have something to look at while I wait.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

A tale of two cinemas

From time to time myself and the Accidental Ally (a great chum who keeps me sane in the office) pootle down from work to Mayfair to go to the finest cinema in London. The Curzon is tucked quietly away amid white pillars and shiny black railings, easily missed amid the expensive offices and pubs full of Saville Row suits. Inside its unassuming facade there are no greasy popcorn machines or pick 'n' mix shelves, merely a dark, shiny bar and polite, well-spoken ushers. The films the single screen shows are not special effects blockbusters but intelligent dramas and documentaries. We adored the fabulousness of "The September Issue". We were impressed by the entire cast of "An Education", including an ex-drama school chum of the Ally. Something about being able to luxuriate in sufficient legroom with a glass of wine rather than a plastic bucket of sticky coke in this cosy, dark cave makes the cinema experience here more pleasurable than in any other screening facility in the city.
The Curzon cinema in Mayfair (image courtesy: Curzon)
This evening however we made an unwise decision. We had decided we would ignore the diabolical reviews and go and see Nine; a film adapted from a musical, in turn adapted from a Fellini opera. Somewhere along the adaptational line, I fear, the plot had alas been lost. I could not for the life of me tell you what the film was actually about; even why it was called "Nine". Numerous (although not nine) ladies danced and sang, Daniel Day-Lewis looked tortured and showed a staggering lack of taste in women. Worse still the discerning Curzon Mayfair had swiftly decided this for itself and declined to screen the film. We therefore had to abandon our traditional cinematic haunt, and head instead to the Camden branch of a well-known international chain.

When we arrived the cinema was spookily empty, filled only with the pervading smell of popcorn grease. Indeed by the time we had picked and mixed (somewhat elderly though the chewy sweets seemed; "I've found a fried egg from the time of Henry VIII" the Ally exclaimed loudly in front of cinema staff), and taken a flight of stairs to what felt like the attic, there were scant fellow-viewers who'd joined us. Thirty minutes of tedious adverts (which the Curzon Mayfair keeps to a scant ten at maximum) and an odd crowd had assembled, including six young men who looked as if they'd have been more at home in front of a bloody shot 'em up. "Oh look, rudeboys!" said the Ally excitedly. They proceeded to sit in front of us, blocking our view of the small screen with their beanie hats. We moved. Twice. The rudeboys called each other on their mobiles and laughed loudly. The film started, and so did they, narrating the story (that which existed), cheering at a flash of inner thigh, telling a depressed Daniel Day-Lewis it would all be ok; "Aww, s'awright bruv! Look e's cryin', innit.".

Twenty minutes in we realised our total mistake. We had no idea who was who, or what was happening (even the narration service wasn't helping). "You didn't tell me it was practically porn!" chastised the Ally, who by her own admission is rather a hole-in-a-sheet kind of girl about graphic cellular writhings. A further hour on and many of our fellow watchers could take it no longer. One couple got up and left. Another swiftly followed. Thoughtful ushers even turned the lights on to allow leavers to see where they were going. The Ally collapsed in hysterical giggles, and began to sing along with every song, making each tune up as she went along. I shrank further down into my seat, and redressed with the many layers of clothing I had worn on the way over, in order to make a speedy exit.

When the final credits rolled, to numerous sighs of relief from the audience, we bolted from our seats and fled into the icy night. "Never again!" we vowed - no more terrible big-budget glitzy films in horrendous cinemas. Back to the Curzon Mayfair from now on, where the plot-lines are cleverly crafted and the Sauvingnon Blanc is perfectly chilled. Nary a gangster in sight, and where the writhing, if any, is kept to a strict Catholic minimum.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Football in London - is it really such a 'beautiful' game?

The pubs throughout Putney were packed last night as I walked across the bridge. Men draped in black and white scarves stared fixedly at widescreen TVs, clutching half-full pint glasses of beer. Across the river the floodlights of Craven Cottage stadium, the near-Hammersmith home to Fulham Football Club, splashed across the water. Inside the stadium thousands of fans watched their team beat Swindon Town. Twenty two grown men chasing a ball around some grass for an hour and a half providing entertainment for those with nothing better to do with their Saturday night. And today the scarves will be blue, around the necks of numerous different fans, as Chelsea FC play down the road in Stamford Bridge, which confusingly is in Fulham.

On match nights the entire area changes. Pubs are rammed full, some often with signs on their doors saying "Chelsea fans only tonight", to avoid messy clashes between "home" and "away" fans. Swarms of people crowd the pavements, spilling on to roads around the stadiums. Outside Stamford Bridge burger vans and flag vendors throng the streets.

A match plays havoc with transport, as roads are closed and both buses and tubes are over-crowded. A Chelsea match diverts my usual No. 14 bus along the New Kings Road, which seizes up with overspill traffic. The District Line tube, notoriously slow at the best of times, becomes a lethargic slug, packed with Chelsea shirt-wearing fans and disgruntled commuters who didn't know there was a match on.

Being in a local pub to watch a football match is an experience in itself. (Pick your pub wisely girls, and you may find an answer to the age-old question "Where have all the good-looking men gone?"!) Bar-takings must double, if not treble, in an evening as people cram into pubs to stand pressed together on sticky floors in the absence of enough seats, yelling and swearing in a surprisingly un-South West London kind of way. As the match progresses the pub gets fuller, and the atmosphere gets more tense, helped along by too much beer and the rising temperature of too many hot bodies.

With the game over most people carry on drinking or spill out into streets to wend their somewhat unsteady way home. Fights are not uncommon, particularly during or after Chelsea games. Nothing as manic or scary as Millwall's matches down in Bermondsey, which, I am assured, by a keen Arsenal fan, are the most terrifying in London. The team has a long-running association with the kind of unsavoury hooliganism and violence that throws the odd Chelsea fracas into sharp relief. That said, however, the police presence during matches at Stamford Bridge is significant. They appear on foot, on horse-back, in mini-buses with riot guards across the windows, lining the pavements, and keeping a close eye on ticket touts and potential drunken trouble-makers alike. One of the Accidental housemates worked for a while above Fulham Broadway tube station, and reported stepping over a sizable blood puddle outside her office the morning after a particularly tense final match.

The Fulham fans, with their picturesque riverside stadium, appear to cause much less trouble; they at least warrant a far less evident police staffing schedule. Maybe it is the different area, and its different local supporters. I have a theory that the long walk back along the calm Thames after the game, through the gardens of Bishop's Park, lowers the raised blood pressures and soothes the over-excitement. The ever-flowing river provides a reminder for the departing fans of time moving on. More matches will follow, there are more chances to win and lose. Teams will move up and down the league tables each season until the end of football itself. Life goes on. It is only a game...
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