Sunday, 24 April 2011

London cordially invites you...

With less than a week to go until an unassuming young woman hitches her wagon to one of the world's most famous families, London is gripped by Royal Wedding fever. See, I've even just absentmindedly capitalised the very phrase.  The city is gearing up for an event which will be beamed around the entire world.  Tourists are expected to arrive in their droves.  TfL has already warned of delays on the Tube.  Clapham Common is to be turned into a campsite for those unable to fit into the hotels which have been booked up for months.  Plastic Union Jack bunting already flutters across streets, ready for the street-parties scheduled for 29th April.

However many Londoners are eschewing the festivities, and making the most of the plentiful bank holidays which Easter, the beginning of May and the royal nuptials have supplied.  For the last few days I have watched endless taxis collect fleeing citizens from their front doorsteps, loading large suitcases into boots, bound for places where the wedding of a future monarch barely makes the front pages.

I also do not much fancy sticking around to be invaded by overenthusiastic wedding tourists, so I should announce a short Accidental Absence.  I wish all of you who stay and watch a truly lovely wedding.  I hope you all have your hats ready and your Union Jack flags to hand.  Unleash the souvenir tea-towels and prepare the street-party fayre.  I'm off to have a celebratory drink, nicely cooled by the ultimate in royal wedding merchandising...

Sunday, 17 April 2011

How does your community garden grow?

When wandering in New York I have always loved to peek in to the community gardens which are scattered across the city.  Often with little more than a small sign on a metal gate to announce their existence, these tiny gardens sit between huge apartment blocks, bars, car parks and shops, providing a much needed flash of green and natural life in a large, man-made city.  Sometimes they have children's play areas, or small ponds and fountains.  Other times they are little more than brown dirt and some straggly flowers which look as if they probably planted themselves rather than had been dug in by some careful volunteer gardener.  Blink and you may miss them as you walk right by on the pavement. (Or should that be "sidewalk"?)

Recently I was delighted to discover that this cooperative horticulture is going on here in London too.  Groups of locals across the city give up their precious free time to dig, plant, water and mow.  Using designated public spaces they transform unwanted and unused land into much needed and appreciated community facilities.  In the summer, outside space is highly sought after by over-heating Londoners.  Any space will do if it has sunshine, preferably some grass, and enough space to lie down and read the newspapers or have an impromptu picnic. Community gardens are the perfect place.

Last weekend as the sun drove everyone outdoors I discovered Culpeper Community Garden.  Outside the gates an ice-cream van idled, its tinkly music providing the classic British summer soundtrack.  Inside the garden, Islington residents were making the most of their green space.  They picnic-ed and read papers on the grass.  A crowd of small children squatted together, staring into the murky depths of a pond, wherein tadpoles made themselves scarce to avoid being poked at.
A gaggle of older kids draped themselves across a wooden bench, discussing proudly just how drunk they had been the night before.  Hard at work amid the relaxing Londoners was a volunteer gardener, spraying the parched plants with a hose (and looking like he wouldn't mind spraying the uncouth, hungover teenagers as well).  Perched on a low red-brick wall was a man having a screamingly-loud mobile phone conversation, whilst also managing to eat fish and chips.  Beside a patch of mismatched tulips, under an old hat, with a discarded beer can by his side, snoozed an old tramp.   
More than a place for frustrated Londoners without gardens of their own to exercise their horticultural skills, a community garden seems to be more like a village hall in the summertime.  It is a meeting place, and a space for entertaining.  It's a home for birds and small creatures, and a source of local food too. (There were some impressive fruit trees and vegetable beds marked out, although one row of lettuce looked as if it would feed more slugs than people.)  The city should have more of these little green spaces.  Despite the fact that they require a lot of work to keep them looking lovely, there is no doubt that they are far nicer than asphalt-floored play-grounds and wide grey concrete-filled yards.  I know where I'd rather spend my sunny weekends...

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Out on the town

Another university assignment, another break from my social life.  Nights spent in with a laptop and a stack of academic texts are interrupted by daydreaming about far more fun evenings spent out and about in the city.  Once upon a time I did not trail home at 7 or 8pm, shattered with nothing but an evening of reading articles of the empowerment of women in developing countries ahead of me.
When I lived in the Accidental flatshare, fresh from my university days (most of which revolved around watching Neighbours and staggering from one ridiculously cheap gin and tonic to another) we made the most of every free evening. Not a single Friday or Saturday night went by without some form of 'we don't have to go to work tomorrow' celebration. Now this may have had something to do with the fact that one of the Accidental flatmates worked for a well-known champagne house at the time so we had a plentiful, and pretty high class, alcohol supply. Any remotely exciting event was met with the sound of a cork popping. Seriously, any excuse. A bottle was once opened to mark the momentous completion of a first draft of one of my essays.  (Needless to say, our neighbours were not fond of us.)
Fridays in the office would be punctuated by a series of rapid-fire emails between us Accidental flatmates as we wound each other up for a houseparty that night. We would already have dancetunes crashing through our iPod headphones to get us in the mood as we sat at our desks, we'd email all day about outfits and when half five finally came you couldn't see us for dust. Once home, a huge pot of pasta would be whipped up (excellent for soaking up alcohol) and the first drinks would be poured.  Bedroom doors were propped open and three CD players would crank up, creating an unholy mash-up in the corridors and hallway.  Each of us would try on the majority of our own wardrobes before raiding those of each other.  The over-excited process of preparation to go out was often more fun than the hours which followed when we had finally left the house.  (And it frequently continued as guests arrived, then usually joined in.)

We had plenty of options for places to drink and boogie where we lived, with many of the city's  hotspots for the young and loaded within easy reach. Generally these were eschewed however in favour of nearer and cheaper venues.  As drinking out and about in London is pretty expensive, we'd usually do our drinking at home then simply head out to dance off our hyped-up energy.  Our "local" club of choice  was Putney's "Fez Club"; a classic basement club that usually got hot and sweaty pretty fast.  A favourite amongst the post-uni London immigres, one stood a good chance of a somewhat embarrassing encounter with someone you recognised from a weekly lecture on the flashing dancefloor.   If we were feeling adventurous we would hop in a cab to Fulham and wriggle on to the minimal floorspace of "Sugar Hut", where a guitarist and a steel drummer thrashed out 90s old skool tunes.
Up towards Chelsea was "Mare Moto", Italian restaurant by day and monied venue full of permatanned European lovelies splashing Daddy's cash on overpriced beverages by night.  They could spend as much as they liked on their drinks however but the club beneath is nothing special.  The dancefloors in the vast majority of London clubs will always be overcrowded, sweaty, sticky and strewn with shards of broken glass.  And gone midnight the music will always revert from club tunes to the 80s rock numbers to which everyone just loves to scream tunelessly along.

Rather than heading west from our flat we could head east and south out to Clapham, to the notorious "Infernos".  I am firmly convinced that this horrendous place was only so popular with our university friends as it was the closest thing we could find to the grotty student club of our undergraduate lives, where sweat used to drip from the ceiling but the drinks were delightfully cheap.  Infernos reminds me of an enormous working mens club.  (By which I mean the space itself was huge - it wasn't a club full of surprisingly large men.)  Depressed, and probably deaf, fish swim backwards and forwards in vast tanks next to the bars.  The carpet is permanently sodden from years of spilled vodka and cokes; after my first visit I vowed never to return wearing a pair of shoes I actually cared about.

By the early hours of the morning we would be headed home to collapse into our beds, probably still strewn with earlier discarded going out ensembles, make-up and odd shoes.  The next morning, the flat would be silent.  And then someone's phone would go, and it would be another of the us, calling from our beds to compare hangovers.  Someone would volunteer to make the tea and we would congregate (like victims in a horror film, still in yesterday's slept-in make-up) in the tidiest bit of the house to relive the gossip and drama of the previous night.  Then, when we could put it off no longer, we would crank up the CD players once more and tackle the clean-up operation.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Vote for "The Accidental Londoner" in the Dorset Cereals Little Blog Award

To all my lovely readers, would you be so kind, if you feel so inclined, to vote for "The Accidental Londoner" in the Dorset Cereals Little Blog Award?  I am very pleased to have been nominated in the Lifestyle category.  You can vote in a matter of mere seconds, either by clicking on the widget on the right of my website, or by clicking here.

Next stop, a Pulitzer!

Many thanks,
Accidental Londoner
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