I have spent the last week at the Accidental Homestead, way up the country, in deepest, darkest Staffordshire. It's a pretty rural (read: isolated) spot, but for a few days at a time I can just about manage to hang out there without climbing the walls. Home for the holidays, I am usually asked, by people who live in the countryside, how life is down in London. The phrase 'the big city' is even occasionally used. I tell them that city-life is great, that I'm busy and interested and constantly learning and exploring new things. I tell them about a brilliant exhibition of Israeli art currently on at the Tate Modern and a fascinating documentary I recently saw at my local independent cinema. Their brows furrow, and their eyes glaze slightly. They look baffled for a couple of seconds and then they change the subject to discuss the single film playing at the single cinema for 50 miles, confident that everyone will have seen it and that they will have something insightful to add to the conversation.
Wednesday, 18 December 2013
Whoosh! So that was it, another year has just flown by. Everyone enjoy it? Great, cos here comes 2014! But of course there's the small matter of Christmas before we get there...
Ah, Christmas, that wonderful time of the year for celebrations and reflections, and families and friends and food, and mulled wine and eggnog and other improbable drinks you'd only ever drink when cold and desperate and attempting to feel festive. What is it that makes people come over all warm and fuzzy around the end of December? Maybe it's all those aforementioned drinks. But Christmas is certainly a time for sharing; not just enormous boxes of Quality Street but also thoughts, experiences, and a little bit of love too. While most of us may be content to just share our messages with a single pal or a special someone, others - and yes I'm looking at you, loud man in a reindeer onesie on the Piccadilly Line - like to spread the love a little further. Right across the whole city from the top of the BT Tower, for example. And if you have something you want to share with London right now, that scrolling LED display board on that most iconic of London buildings is yours for the taking.
Sunday, 8 December 2013
There are a handful of moments in life which are always introduced by a discussion about where you were when they happened. Where were you when you heard about 9/11 and watched those two planes crash over and over into the World Trade Center? Where were you when you heard that Princess Diana had died? Where were you when your country declared itself at war? This week another such event surely happened, as one extraordinary man died, and a world united in sadness. Where were you when you heard that Nelson Mandela had died?
I was (and still am) here, in South Africa, the country Mandela fought so hard to change. I am surrounded by those to whom he meant the most, and undoubtedly those who are feeling his loss most keenly. Asleep as Jacob Zuma announced Mandela's death to the awaiting news cameras, I awoke early yesterday to anguished sobbing coming from the hotel room next door; the kind of moaning, animal keening of public displays of grief, not the quiet weeping of personal trauma. As I waited for the elevator a little while later, a South African with tears in his eyes shook his head, and simply said "This is a very sad day for South Africa. A very sad day." By 9am across the city every flag was fluttering at half-mast. The city centre of Cape Town was peaceful, with people going about their daily lives as usual, but without making any unnecessary noise. A colleague reported driving past a group of road-repairers who were singing struggle songs as they worked. Our meetings for the day collapsed somewhat, as a cancellation was followed by a session entirely distracted by all that was going on. Later, back in the office, staff members gathered and wept before a presentation on Mandela, as Johnny Clegg played in the background.
Sunday, 1 December 2013
Silence on this blog usually suggests one of two things. Either I am feeling a little uninspired by London – which typically only happens when I’m spending too much time in the office and not out exploring – or I’m overseas somewhere without a wifi signal strong enough to send a one-line email. But the real reason for the lack of posts here of late is a sort of combination of the two. I’ve spent much of the past few weeks either in mid-air high above one continent or another (reason #2: no wifi) or whizzing from an interview to a meeting, or exploring a new community then dashing off to run a focus group (a variation of reason #1: being super-busy; but I certainly wasn't feeling uninspired). But there has also been a new element, a reason #3: the subject I wanted to blog about – the city I have been in for the past two weeks – was somewhat eluding me