Saturday, 30 January 2010

Tubular Hells

From the age of about 15 I wanted to live in London. Its energy, its eclecticism, its anonymity, it all drew me in. And then there was the tube. I thought it was fantastic! You jump on at a station at one end of London and it whisks you off through the underbelly of that smoky beast to deliver you wherever you desire. Not quite a jet pack, but pretty impressive for a girl who has always relied on rickety old buses getting stuck behind tractors rumbling through the town centre.
For the first couple of years of living in London I was lucky enough to live close enough to my workplace to be able to walk. The tube was still reserved for excursions out to see sights, meet friends, shop, party – and at times that avoided the crush of the rush hour. It wasn’t until I moved north of the river that I discovered the true Hell of the underground.
Luckily my first few months of my new commute were over the winter. Although the northern line still resembled that annoying advert about grape juice, it was bearable. Okay, so you had to strip off layers as you descended on the escalator to prevent a mid-December sauna in your wool coat, which in turn took up more precious space in the bulging carriage. But, unless you were unfortunate enough to have an armpit hanging over your nose or a newspaper poking your ear, it was doable. But the summer was another matter. Although I only had to travel on the tube for about ten minutes, by the time I reached work I started to wonder why I bothered to shower in the mornings.
When I changed jobs I was relieved to find that my new place of work was once more in walking distance. Again I was free to stroll to work every morning, headphones in, head held high, my only worry being whether the pedestrian crossing will go in my favour of not. Life is sweet.
Having said that, over the last few weeks I have been using the tube more often to attend work appointments. And I’ve actually quite enjoyed it. Not only does it give you an opportunity to read your stars and the funnies, but having wandered around in the icy cold for 20 minutes or so, its stuffy heat becomes a real comfort.
I discussed this with some friends the other night. We came to the conclusion that London would not cope without the underground and it was therefore a necessary evil. However, by heading out to work just five minutes earlier (or later, if your boss is the understanding type), you can avoid the crush and travel to work in relevant comfort.
As for me, I will relish my tube-free journey for as long as I can. And when it becomes necessary once more... well I will have to try to avoid the rush hour as much as possible. Failing that... I guess I will have to just suck it up.

Monday, 18 January 2010

January Sales

A lot of people complain that London is an expensive place to live. Of course they are right – the rent I pay for a one bed flat could pay for a mortgage on a three be house in some parts of the country and if I find a pub that charges less than £3 for a pint I get a bit excited. But there are bargains to be had if you know where to look. Even the occasional freebie.
Take this last week, if you will. On Thursday, I went to a free workshop at a Traid charity shop. I took along an old t-shirt and was shown how to customise it into something a bit more funky. Not only did I get a new top out of it, but I got to spend an evening with a group of people who also enjoyed making stuff and learnt a bit about a worthwhile cause at the same time. Not to mention a handful of inspiration for the pile of clothes hiding under my bed that I don’t wear.
On Friday I went to Hampstead to see a play. For free. It wasn’t a play I would have seen otherwise but it was certainly entertaining. Even my boyfriend enjoyed it, despite the occasional interjection of dancing and cross dressing. Okay, so we had dinner beforehand, but with a bit of forward planning I could have got us half price pizza too with a voucher I was emailed by Pizza Express.
It didn’t stop there. In the post last week I received a free trial voucher for Love Film. I decided to give it a go. I have no intention of continuing our subscription once the free trial runs out, but watched a DVD for free on Saturday night and look forward to another one once I’ve returned it in the post. All gratis.
I’m hoping to introduce my boyfriend to the work of Tennessee Williams in the coming weeks. The main carrot I am using it that one of the actors was the voice of Darth Vader in Star Wars. The other is that I can get half price tickets for West End shows over the next couple of weeks – another email offer. £15 for seats in the stalls of a West End production? Okay, not free, but surely that competes with the offerings the rest of the country has to offer?
Let’s put it this way. I certainly intend to take full advantage of any offers out there.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Chill Out

London is finally loosening itself from the grip of the big freeze. According to the BBC by Thursday we could be experiencing temperatures as high as 5 degrees. Heatwave! Again we might be able to pop to the corner shop without worrying about frostbite if we forget to put our gloves on. I can’t wait, and am even contemplating a walk on the heath over the weekend in celebration.
So, have the harsh weather conditions warmed the hearts of Londoners? Has community spirit returned to London after being absent since the last world war? Not likely. A colleague told me the Metro reported last week that Londoners were happy to blame the council for the shortage of grit for our pavements. Rather than taking the bull by its horns and sprinkling a bit of salt outside their front doors, they’d rather slip slide all the way to the bus stop. Besides, why should they bother salting their share of the pavement without guarantee that their neighbours will do the same?
I’m not a religious person, but there is a line from the bible that I often find myself referring to. To paraphrase; Do to others as you would have them do to you. If more people lived with this sentiment in mind, the world would be much nicer place. People would throw a bit of salt outside their houses to help prevent their elderly neighbours from falling and breaking their hips. They would move their bags off the seat next to them on the bus to allow other passengers to sit down (the three people on the upper deck of the 91 bus this morning, you have been observed) and even stand up for those less able to stand. And, you never know, when the situation is reversed, you might find that someone treats you with the same consideration. Those young people who we are so quick to criticize might pick up on the idea and think twice before putting their feet on the seats opposite them on the train and playing their music on loudspeaker. People might start to smile more. Violent crime could drop. Drug and alcohol misuse could be eradicated, just because people feel that other people care. Okay, so I’m exaggerating, but you get my drift. Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean we have to be cold to each other.
So, have I sprinkled salt outside my front door over the last week? Of course not. I rent. Surely it’s the responsibility of my landlord...

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Supermarket Sweep

Happy New Year everyone! Tis the time of year to set New Years Resolutions. In recent years I have decided to focus on little things that will improve my life rather than huge goals like get a new job/lose a stone/give up alcohol. This year they consist of watching more movies and going out dancing more often. Last year they were to visit my cousin Up North (never happened - but not technically my fault!) and to try doing my grocery shopping online.
It has been a year now and the chosen supermarket has done me proud. Yes, on occasion they don’t get their substitutions quite right and recently they forgot my hot chocolate (fear not - I had some left) but all in all the meat is not too fatty and the veg looks fresh and healthy.
The main reason I made this resolution was because Him Indoors and I had come to dread Sunday afternoons, aka Shopping Day. Not that we particularly hate shopping for groceries, but because we hate supermarkets. I like to think that I am a reasonably calm person, but as soon as I step into our local I feel my blood pressure rise. I don’t know whether it’s the dizzying array of special offers, the lighting or the cringe-worthy soundtrack, but something happens to people in supermarkets. They stand in the middle of the aisles with a huge trolley sideways on, blocking the entire aisle, or leave their trolley in front of the shelves preventing anyone else from getting their baked beans whilst they spend half an hour choosing their chopped tomatoes. They bring their entire extended family and scream at each other across the shop. They bash into you with their baskets. They get in the way.
I have to admit this does not happen in all supermarkets. However our two other local stores are a little on the pricey side, and although we sometimes pop in to get the odd treat, shopping there on a weekly basis would slowly render us bankrupt. Hence why we turned to the web for salvation.
Unfortunately this week when I returned to London after Christmas, I had not planned ahead enough to have a delivery on its way when we arrived home. So the inevitable happened.
I tried to convince myself that it would be okay. But okay it was not. It was New Years Eve and it seemed that everyone was expecting Armageddon at the stroke of midnight and were desperately stocking up just in case. My friend and I have a fairly short shopping list, but we were in there for at least an hour. By the end of the experience, I made a mental note to continue with my pledge from 2009.
You would think that was the end of it. But oh no. A couple of days late the same friend and I had run out of beer. I suggested one of the posher stores. But the local hell-hole was closer, and it was cold…
Let’s put it this way, we needed the beer when we got home.