Sunday, 25 July 2010


I can’t believe our luck. For maybe a month now, it has felt like summer. No, I don’t want to jinx it, but it’s true. Down here in London, we might have had the odd bit of rain here and there but generally speaking it has been hot, and, mostly sunny.
Don’t get me wrong my chums up north – I don’t mean to brag. But it does make a nice change. And down in London people are making the most of the situation. Or trying to at least.
Since moving to a flat with a roof terrace last summer, I have devoted a lot of time to watering my plants, attempting to grow vegetables from seed and keeping it tidy. This year we have invested in solar lights, a chimnea, and today we finally bought a barbeque. In a couple of weeks we are hosting our first barbeque party. We have invited our friends from out of London and have discussed our barbeque menu. Now we just need to pray that the good weather will hold – and that we can fit everyone into our little patch of outside. Failing that? I guess we’ll have to do what everyone does and huddle underneath an umbrella to cook the sausages whilst our guests enjoy them from inside.
But most Londoners don’t have that luxury and make the most of London’s restaurants attempts at al fresco dining. But even this doesn’t seem to quite work. Not only do you have to depend on the weather to be able to eat outside, but you need the space, and London’s footpaths don’t really offer that. Last night I went out for dinner with Him Indoors in Islington. On Upper Street the restaurants had spilled out onto the pavements, taking up most of the pedestrian walkway but clearly popular with diners. But it doesn’t quite work. People walking by hardly have room to pass two abreast. And the diners are surrounded by noisy traffic, street drinkers and litter bins. Not exactly my idea of a nice setting to tuck into a pizza anyway.
Then there is the English institution of Open Air Theatre. Having experienced it when on holiday down in Cornwall with my parents I was keen to try out Regents Park’s version. A friend offered me a discounted ticket and I jumped at the chance. It was the day before the performance and having seen the weather forecast I went for it. Would I have paid full price weeks in advance and risked getting rained on? Definitely not. But I had a great night.
So, does London cut it as an alfresco city? Well, it certainly tries, and when the weather is good its inhabitants make the most of its efforts to keep up with Paris, Barcelona and Naples. But without the promise of good weather and the lack of space to spread out into the great outdoors, it struggles to pull it off. But you can’t help but loving it for trying.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

The Weakest Linc...(sorry!)

Today I blog from the comfort of an East Coast Train, heading back to London after a weekend in Lincolnshire. And as I speed across the flat plains of the Midlands, I feel relieved. But I also have a sense of panic.
You see, this weekend I went to stay with a friend who has recently moved to a small town just outside of Grantham – I’m not going to mention it’s name as I certainly don’t want to offend anyone who hails from it, so I’ll call it Town A. Part of me was looking forward to getting out of London for a weekend and to enjoy a laid-back, semi-rural ambience.
On Saturday my friend suggested we pop into town. She explained that there wasn’t a lot there, but I agreed, figuring there would at least be a Dotty P’s to look around. But no. The nearest to High Street fashion was M&Co., closely followed by a Cancer Research Charity Shop. There was a Boots and a Superdrug, suggesting to me that the women of Town A make up for their lack of decent clothes with cosmetics. However, with an impressive array of cheap hardware stores and factory shops, it isn’t a bad place to live if you are in need of some reasonably priced Tupperware. My friend apologetically said that she was within half an hour of Lincoln which is much better for shopping. I agreed this was a good thing.
There are two things that worry about what I have just written about Town A. One of them is that it makes me sound like an awful snob. I’m sure a lot of people who have grown up in the Midlands where I spent most of my childhood would say this. Maybe they are right, maybe I am a snob. But quite honestly, if it means that I get a decent top without having to drive anywhere, I don’t care.
It doesn’t stop with fashion. My friend suggested we go to a cafe for a coffee and cake. She took us to a little independent spot, saying that she much preferred to go to places where the food was homemade than coffee shops that mass produced their over-priced skinny muffins. I agreed whole-heartedly. When we arrived she told me that a friend of hers who had lived in Town A all her life had told her that the place hadn’t changed in thirty years. I nodded, checking out the wooden panelling and plastic tables. Then my coffee and cookie came. The coffee was passable. The cookie? Well, I’m sorry, but if you put cheap chocolate in a biscuit it will taste, well, cheap.
Again, I am cringing at myself. But I can’t help but think that places like that only survive in towns where Starbucks haven’t bothered going to because the population is so small and, dare I say it, set in its ways that it isn’t worth its while. And if I had a choice between said coffee chain and the place I went to on Saturday, I’m afraid my pound wouldn’t be supporting the local business. I’m sorry, I have standards.
The second thing that frightens me is that if we move out to the commuter belt I will end up living somewhere like Town A. This would be worse than moving back to the town where I grew up, which has numerous quality cafes (including a Starbucks and a Costa), not to mention a Dotty P’s, Monsoon, Next and a New Look, to name just a few. Town A makes it look positively cosmopolitan.
Another friend of mine has recently moved to Town B, which is 30 minutes from Town A. My friend from Town A used to live there and we drove over this afternoon to meet my other friend for Sunday lunch.
“I don’t miss this place at all.” My friend scoffed. I nodded, mentally deciding there and then where I would rather live. Yes, so Town B is very similar to the place that I grew up, and although it isn’t quite up to speed in the shopping stakes, it does have a smattering of high street shops to keep your average woman satisfied. I mean, how does one survive without M&S?
So as I get closer and closer to London and Him Indoors, my resolve has been set. I have standards, and refuse to move anywhere so small that you can’t even see the Golden Arches within a five mile radius. I need shops, I need cafes, and I need pubs. And I need them to be of a certain quality as well as quantity. And if that makes me a snob, I can live with that.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Cold Wave!

It’s official. We are having a heat wave. In London yesterday temperatures reached 31 degrees Celsius. On Facebook everyone is out and about enjoying the sun, having barbeques, going swimming in the local lido, picnicking or just sitting in a beer garden with a nice refreshing pint.
Last night a friend texted me to see what I was up to this weekend. She fancied going to a festival in Hyde Park. As wonderful as it sounded, I had to say no. Why? Because, my dear friends, I have a cold. In the middle of summer.
The irony is painful. At least when you get a cold in the winter it makes linguistic sense. But in the middle of a heat wave? I can’t figure out if I’ve got a temperature or am just hot. The only thing I am sure of is that when I go all shivery my natural instinct is to snuggle under the duvet with a hot water bottle, which is just bonkers, because as soon as it passes I’m just smothered again. I’d normally have a constant supply of tea and hot lemon, but that is out of the question so I’m trying to top up my Vitamin C levels with iced Ribena.
Having a cold is annoying at the best of times. I don’t consider myself to have flu – having had the real thing in the past I know it renders you incapacitated. But lacking in energy to do anything even remotely constructive (other than moaning on my blog of course) but feeling well enough to want to do something vaguely interesting is frustrating at the best of times. But when the sun is shining and the British weather is actually delivering something approximating a summer? That’s just cruel.
I could go and sit on my terrace of course. But that would mean I’d have to slather myself in sun cream and put up with an unpleasant combination of greasy-chip sun protection with clammy skin. It would also be more difficult to regulate my temperature, which is proving a challenge in the shelter of my shady flat, let alone if I was to brave the great outdoors.
So here I am, sat on my bed with my netbook whilst everyone else is outside having fun. Him Indoors is trying to be sympathetic and suggested we watch a DVD in the evening. I smiled sweetly and bit my lip, resisting the temptation to scream “WHOOPEE DOO!” hysterically before snotting all over him. The thing is I do hold him responsible. He had Man Flu last weekend, and now I have a cold. And whereas he managed to get away with puppy dog eyes and a pet lip, my grouchiness does not seem to be winning me any favours. Hence why I am banished to the bedroom and he is plugged into the X Box in the front room.
It’s not that I want your pity, or even a show of sympathy. Just please remember me whilst you are sunbathing in Regents Park, swimming in the sea or tucking into a Cornetto. And please, when you show off your healthy tan in the office come Monday morning, don’t pass comment on my pasty complexion. Because I might just still be infectious...

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Retail Therapist

Shopping. Sigh. It can be such an enjoyable past time if done correctly. I’m not talking about grocery shopping – I gave that up about 18 months ago and turned to the Internet. Normally I am satisfied with what is delivered to my door. Okay, so occasionally a pair of chicken breasts in a pack look like one has come from a pigeon and one from an ostrich, but usually they do a good job. Although this week the packers seemed to have been taking out England’s embarrassing retreat from South Africa on a carton of cranberry juice and a packet of jumbo snack-a-jacks. Hmm. I pray that this is a temporary blip in service and I do not feel forced to return to my local supermarket and face the Saturday morning mob in Morrison’s.
Today Him Indoors woke up with man flu, leaving our plans to go to the cinema and out for dinner postponed until he feels fit again. So, left in the lurch I decided to head down to Angel anyway for a spot of light shopping. After printing about 150 photos I had taken over the last three years and forgotten about, I needed a photo album. I also wanted to take advantage of the Body Shop’s sale and pop into Jessop’s to investigate digital cameras. So I jumped on the 43 bus with my book and headed over to N1.
However, even “leisure” shopping can be hazardous in this town. Even before you even get into a shop you have to negotiate the pedestrian traffic. The rise of the I phone, Blackberry and other such fandangled phones has created a real problem. In the same way that drivers are considered unsafe if they are playing with their gadgets whilst on the move, I truly believe pedestrians should be treated the same way. Okay, if you can walk and talk, that is fine. My problem is with those people who reduce the flow of traffic to a crawl as they block a pavement walking at a snails’ pace whilst they update their Facebook status. I like to think that if I need to concentrate on something to the point that I can no longer multi task that I will retreat to the hard shoulder of the path until I have my attention on the road once more. It’s quite obvious really – if you needed to read a map in your car you wouldn’t hang about in the fast lane of the M25 at 30 miles an hour, would you?
Then there’s the small issue of carrier bags. Wherever possible I carry cotton shoppers to place my purchases in. I don’t claim to be an eco warrior, but the sheer amount of plastic bags that you can go through on a shopping trip triggers my green guilt more than when Tesco have sold out of free range chicken and I end up opting for battery reared meat. I know, Jamie would be mortified.
Today I took a large shopper out with me to meet all my needs. However this did not stop shop keepers from shoving my purchases into a plastic version before I could protest. In Boots I bought dental floss and some flu tablets for Him Indoors. The assistant looked bemused when I took them out of the bag on the counter and dropped them into mine. Monsoon also seemed confused when I announced I didn’t feel the need for a separate bag for two hair bands. The assistant looked at me with concern. “Are you sure?”
Okay, so I’ll let Paperchase off. It was a large photo album. But no match for the sac on my shoulder. Full marks to the Body Shop for actually asking me if I wanted one for the single tub of body butter I had selected. However marks deducted for asking me a million questions before letting me pay for my goods. No I don’t need anything else or I would have brought something else over to the till. No I don’t have a loyalty card. No I don’t need one. Why? Because it will just be another piece of rubbish to carry around in my wallet that I will never use because I only buy stuff from your store when it’s in the sale. Now please can I pay for my body butter and go home?
But it could have been worse. I could have needed clothes, which usually means a trip to Oxford Street. The above times twenty plus a plethora of tourists does not make Shelly a happy shopper. And to think people come to London for the day specifically for the experience. Give me Nottingham city centre any day. Although I think even Up North they champion the plastic bag still. But at least they do it with a smile on their face.