Wednesday, 23 December 2009

A Touch Of Frost

In less than 24 hours I will be back up north on the last leg of my journey to the proverbial “In Laws”. For nearly an entire week I will be out of London. I will see greenery. Perhaps even the sky. Whether my sanity will still be in sight is another matter.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m really looking forwards to Christmas. But on top of the usual stress of being in an enclosed space with family for extended periods of time, there’s the stress of being stuck in the middle of no-where. Without a car. The “In Laws” live in a tiny village that, to its credit, has a handful of shops and pubs, but not enough to keep you entertained for more than an hour or so. The village my parents live in is quite a lot bigger, but even the town it is attached to struggles to keep me occupied for an afternoon. Oh well. Let’s face it, I won’t be venturing out much anyway. Way too many mince pies and sherry to consume.
To be fair, it will be nice to get away. Assuming that we can. Over the last five days there has been snow in London. Not exactly Arctic quantities, but enough to bring the capital to a standstill once more (remember February?). On Monday evening I was in a hurry to get up to Archway from Highbury Corner. It’s a journey I would normally do on foot, but with a bit of show and ice on the ground and sub-zero temperatures I decided to catch the bus.
Bad idea.
The bus took 50 minutes to go 4 stops up the road. It was total gridlock. After about half an hour I asked if there had been an accident up the road - nope, just snow. Apparently an inch of the white stuff is enough to cause havoc. Shortly after my enquiry the passengers started to revolt. They rang the bell and shouted for the bus driver to let them off the bus. But he refused. The bus was not in a bus stop you see. We weren’t moving but that clearly was not the point.
Eventually he gave in and opened the door for a split second, allowing one passenger off only. That really did it. Someone pressed the emergency exit button and a handful of rebels escaped. The driver quickly closed the doors. A stream of irate passengers decided to take their chances. The door was opened, the driver closed it. The door was opened again, the driver stubbornly closed it again. Then he really sat his dummy out and turned off the engine.
This did not go down well.
Complaints were shouted out about a "lack of decency” or “common sense”. He shouted back that we were all breaking the law by getting off the bus. We pointed out that we were still on the bus.
“My kids are soaking wet and freezing. If they get pneumonia I am holding you responsible driver!”
“There are more of us than you driver so I suggest you turn the engine back on and get moving!”
Eventually the cat calls died down and we continued our crawl up Holloway Road. It was painful but we eventually reached a bus stop.
At this point I cut my losses and disembarked. I figured probably better to chance the slippery pavements than sit on the bus for another 50 minutes.
The next day at work I realised I was one of the lucky ones. There were stories of people not getting home until 11.30, having to abandon their cars and not picking up their children from the nursery until 9. I was clearly one of the lucky ones.
The moral of the story? Buy some hiking boots and live within walking distance of work. Or move somewhere better prepared for a bit of snow.
The north is looking more appealing already.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

It's Not Me It's Them...

Last week I went to see Lily Allen at the Brixton Academy. It was a great show and Lily impressed with her live performance. However something strange was going on with the audience.
Please tell me if I am wrong, but isn’t the point of going to a gig, A, to enjoy the music, B, have a bit of a dance and C, show your appreciation? That’s my take on it anyway. But it would appear that has changed with the new generation of gig-goers.
Whilst I was busy bopping away and singing along, I couldn’t help but notice that only about half of the rest of the crowd were doing the same. Everyone else seemed to be stood perfectly still, watching Lily like she was a rare artefact, pointing their mobile phones at her constantly to record the spectacle.
I couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for Lily. It must be so strange to be stood on stage giving it your all when half your audience seems oblivious to the fact that you are a person too, not just a commodity to be bought, looked at and posted on Facebook. Having listened to Lily’s lyrics I think it would bother her. I wonder if it makes her think half her fan base just doesn’t quite get it.
For what its worth though, I will continue to jump about screaming at the top of my lungs when I go to a gig. Maybe it will catch on and people will remember that they are at a gig to have a good time, not to impress their virtual friends online.

Head In The Snow

Today I braved the sub-zero temperatures and went out for a pub lunch in Highgate. The dodgy park up the road looked peaceful and innocent covered in a sprinkling of the white stuff. It’s amazing how snow hides a multitude of sins.
Up in Highgate the pub was packed. Luckily my friend had got there early and secured us a table. Settling down to a Sunday roast (pork with crackling - heaven!) we chatted about everything; work, my boyfriend, her fiancée. We talked about her house and my flat. Then we got onto the topic of living in London.
Being outsiders, we are both of the opinion that we will eventually move out of London. The question is when? I am thinking about buying in the next couple of years. Do I go for a shoebox in the ‘burbs? Or pay through the nose to commute into work from further afield? The other option of course is to leave my current job and disassociate with the capital entirely, apart from the occasional day trip.
Am I ready to leave London? Not now, I don’t think. But if I want to buy my own place, its something I will have to consider, and sooner rather than later. But for now I am going to enjoy the beauty the winter weather offers me and appreciate it whilst I can.

Monday, 14 December 2009

More to Life than Shoes

One of the things I loved about London when I first moved here was my new found anonymity. I had lived in a small town all my life before going to a campus based university stuck on top of a hill in the middle of no-where. Being able to walk to the bus stop without running into someone who knew my business was a refreshing change.
Like even the most expensive and innovative of Christmas presents, the novelty soon wore off. Walking around in your own little bubble plugged into your IPod may protect you from having to engage with society between home and the office, but other people’s disregard for their neighbours soon becomes an irritant. Why don’t people talk to the family who live next door, or offer their seat on the bus to the elderly lady with a walking stick?
That lack of community can wear you down, especially when your friends may live in the same city as you but they are at least half an hour on the tube away. And, let’s face it, popping over for a cup of tea is just not the done thing here.
Which is why it is great that people are manufacturing their own little communities. From book clubs (guilty) to allotments (not guilty) we seem to be making more of an effort to get together to share our common interests.
I’ve just got back from More To Life Than Shoes in Islington. More To Life Than Shoes (MTLTS) started off as a website women could register on to network with other women who wanted to get something out of life other than what the normal nine to five existence offers. They have just started holding meetings over London (and other parts of the UK, so I understand) where women can meet like minded people, talk about their goals and help each other to build up the confidence to reach them.
Which is why I am blogging right now. My goal is to write a novel (EEEEK!). My goal for next month is to write and submit a short story to my college magazine (mmm) whilst setting aside time to write between 1,000 and 1,500 words of my novel a week and maintain my blog (gulp!). Oh, and I am going to post a link to my blog on their Facebook page. And add it to my email signature. In return I am writing about the renewed energy and motivation I feel from having shared with some strangers that I want to write a novel and receiving such encouragement and support, not to mention practical advice and suggestions. I say strangers, but I don’t think they will be strangers for long. They have helped me get my arse into gear, and I am going to help them grow into something truly fabulous, darling.
So yes, some people may spend their lives oblivious to the life of most of the 8 million Londoners who share this city with them. But I’m going to embrace my new little community. There’s more to life than my craving for a pair of Ugg boots, after all.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Far From the Madding Crowd

So, December is upon us. Time to start feeling festive. On Friday I intend to hit the dreaded Oxford Street to do the unavoidable high street shop before Christmas and I am praying it won’t be too bad, being a week day. We shall see. I also intend to go and see the Turner Prize which I make a point of seeing every year - not because I particularly like anyone who is ever nominated (lets face it, who does?) but because I use it as a barometer of what’s hot and what’s not in the arty world. Last week I saw the Photographic Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery - not because the photographs are particularly cutting edge (well, not this year anyway) but because it’s a perfect excuse to stand and stare at people and wonder what their story is without the risk of getting walloped. Which is always a risk in London - especially away from the polished tourist hubs and in the real world where most people (like me) live.
So, busy busy busy. It never really stops in London. It swells with tourists in the summer and throbs with shoppers in the winter. It is hard to find solace.
However last week I found it. Having finished work in London Bridge after a late afternoon meeting, I decided to take advantage of being south of the river and took a stroll along the Southbank before heading over to the Portrait Gallery. In the summer the Southbank is a hive of tourist activity. The overpriced pubs are overflowing, street vendors tempt passers by with wire nick-knacks, roasted nuts and second hand books and street performers try their best to be original in what is already a saturated market. The Tate Modern, National Theatre and a plethora of other landmarks attract crowds like bees to honey (okay, so that should be pollen, but honey sounds better doesn’t it?).
However, last Thursday at around 4.30, all was quiet. The pubs were still. The adolescent trees glistened with blue fairy lights against the darkening sky. A few pedestrians strode along enjoying the late afternoon light, occasional suits scooted along to clinch a last minute deal. But in general all was calm. The loudest noise was the Thames lapping. Yes, it was cold. And yes, it was getting dark. But, other than a glimpse of Big Ben and the Eye in the near distance, you could almost forget where you were.
Of course, it did not last forever. As I approached County Hall a small Christmas Market was set up selling mulled wine, hog roasts and Camden-stylee gifts. A couple of street performers came into view, living statues no-doubt frozen by the icy wind and a Chinese harp player adding to the almost eerie ambience.
The crowds thickened at the base of Westminster Bridge and dodging budding photographers compositions became a challenge. By the time I was on the other side of the river, my inner calm had been replaced once more by the gritting of teeth and clenching of fists as the all-too-familiar Tourist Rage kicked in. By the time I got to the gallery I was exhausted by the effort of negotiating the crowds without losing my rag. I decided on a cup of tea to warm my numb body and defrost my icy demeanour. I watched as the hoards walked past Prêt, rushing to the next show, the next shop, the next landmark in their guidebook. I felt for the fraught amongst them, those who just wanted to get from A to B without having to play dodgems with the world and his uncle. But then I thought about the Southbank and smiled to myself, knowing that there is a little slice of London that I can escape to if the going gets tough this Friday. And it seems that most of London has forgotten all about it.