Friday, 26 August 2011

And Now For Something Completely Different...

It’s Friday afternoon, and I’m counting down the minutes until I can make a run for it. The good news is, I am up to date with all my work. The bad news is, that means I am utterly bored – always dangerous territory when you have the internet at your fingertips. I have already bought a random magnetic window cleaning gadget off eBay and am struggling to resist the temptation of a new dress – with 10% off. Luckily I have recently discovered that I can access Twitter at work, but even that has its limitations – especially when your boss is sat behind you. There’s only so many times you can argue that you are doing “research” when in fact you are tweeting about your most recent purchase.
One of my favourite pastimes when my to-do list has shrunk to a minimum is to browse the Time Out website for a bit of inspiration. It’s my bible to London living, with listings for theatre and the arts through to eating, drinking and beyond. Him Indoors and I had agreed to go out last weekend so this time last week I caught up with what was happening around town. I was not disappointed. On the South Bank there was free theatre, exhibitions and a farmer’s market. At Tate Britain they were showcasing the work of photojournalist Don McCullin and the recently deceased Lucien Freud. And, if we fancied a bit of shopping mixed in with our culture, there was always Covent Garden and the nearby “Gallery of Relationships” exhibiting relics from past partnerships. In the end we settled for my old favourite the National Portrait Gallery. We saw “Glamour of the Gods” – an exhibition of portraits from the Golden Age of cinema – and the BP Portrait Award, which never fails to amaze me. Okay, so not all the styles float my boat, but the ability of some artists to capture an individual’s essence on a flat piece of canvas is incredible. We rounded off the afternoon with a visit to Ed’s Diner on Old Compton Street – tasty burgers all round washed down with a peanut butter and banana malt – heaven.
That’s what I love about London – there is plenty to choose from, and an awful lot of it is free. Okay, so it might be a little bit grubby around the edges but it has something for everyone, come rain or shine. I mean, where else can you check out our Kate’s wedding dress down at Buckingham Palace?
The diversity within London’s entertainment options spreads to the evenings too. So, can’t decide between a night at the pub or a bit of theatre? Last week I killed two birds with one stone with a spot of opera at the King’s Head in Angel. La Boheme had been brought bang up to date with references to chavs, Dalston and illegal immigration, and, not only did the theatre at the back of the pub make for an intimate operatic experience, part of the opera was actually performed around the bar. At one point I was stood right next to one of the sopranos as she chastised her hapless Tenor partner, pint of cider in hand. You can’t get much closer to the action than that.
This weekend I’m afraid I am going for quite a conventional Bank Holiday – namely a barbeque, or, if the weather doesn’t improve, an indoor picnic. But I know what once all my guests have left come Monday there is plenty to keep me entertained. Not only do I have the leftovers from last weekend, but there are still so many museums and galleries that I haven’t got round to seeing yet. Not to mention restaurants, bars, shows, tourist attractions, wildlife parks, shops...
So, my challenge to you all – if you are in London this Bank Holiday go out there and do something different. No matter what your interests I can guarantee there will be something in the capital that you have never seen or done before that tickles your fancy. You just need to look for it.
Go on. You know you want to...

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Shiny Happy People

Today is a bad day. Not as bad as yesterday, but it still sucks. It sucks because it is raining. And two days ago I was in Turkey, swimming in the bluest sea I have ever seen, sitting in the warmest sun I have ever experienced, and having a jolly old time. Post Holiday Blues doesn’t even come close.
But it isn’t just the weather I miss, or the free bar, abundant fresh Turkish food and rocket fuel coffee. I miss the people. Cheesy as it may sound, but wherever I visited, I was greeted with warm hospitality, good service and a bit of friendly banter thrown in to boot. Okay, so a lot of that was down to proprietors trying to woo me into spending a little bit more money in their establishments, but there was no pressure to part with my cash. A bit of reverse psychology maybe, but certainly preferable to the hard sell.
Every night, without fail, I would end up in the all-night bar at our hotel for a cocktail and a bit of a chinwag with the bar man. Aided by his broken English we chatted about everything and anything; what we had been up to, the global economy, and, of course, the riots back home. He asked us what we did for a living, where we lived. We asked him where he went on holiday, about his job. With difficulty he calculated that the last time he had a holiday was seven years ago, in his home country With a shrug he cheerfully shared that he worked through the night, seven days a week. And no, he had to work over the winter too. But he was still posing for photos and taking delight in adding sparklers to our drinks. And, without fail, smiling.
Coming back to London was a bit of the shock to the system. Not only have I reluctantly had to accept that I can’t expect service with a smile anymore, but I’ve had to catch up on the news. The riots started over a week ago now, but the fallout has only just begun. We will no doubt be hearing about the reality those who chose to loot businesses, burn cars and terrorise their neighbours are now facing for some time, and the political debate about what should be done to stop this from happening again for even longer.
I have my opinions about how the people who took to the streets last week should be punished, and even more about what the authorities need to do to prevent future unrest. I have my theories about why it happened, why the young (and some supposedly mature) people of London felt that it was acceptable to behave in that manner. But as I hypothesise with my friends, my partner and to myself, I think about the bar man in Turkey, working every day for no doubt not a lot. Is he rioting? Looting shops? Setting fire to police stations? No, he isn’t. He might not have a lot, but he is content with it. He is grateful to have a job, to live in a free country and be able to walk down the street without fear. He counts his blessings.
Okay, so unemployment has reached a new peak, the economy is still decidedly shaky and the weather is crap. But, you know what London, maybe we need to start appreciating what we have too. Because it is a hell of a lot more than some people have. Rather than trying to destroy our already fractured society, why aren’t we celebrating it, helping each other through these difficult times and be thankful of the support the state offers while we still have it? Maybe we’ve had it good for so long we've forgotten what it’s like to live with uncertainty and how to help others and ourselves when the going gets tough. Instead we have had a societal temper tantrum.
Maybe we need a lesson in gratitude from some of our poorer neighbours. And, Mr Cameron, if you want someone to teach the nation how to look on the bright side of life, I know just the man.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Midsummer Madness

You know what? I’m getting a wee bit excited. No, not because England won the cricket and the football season is about to start (or has it already?), but because on Monday, my dear friends, I jet off to Turkey. With the added bonus is that my friend had the foresight to book it through Thomas Cook.
Of course, the excitement is accompanied with frantic preparation – finding my passport, de-fuzzing, sorting travel insurance and the like have kept me on my toes for weeks. My mate texted me yesterday and asked if I had sorted out my currency - a helpful reminder as it had completely slipped my mind.
So, last weekend the preparations started in earnest. First, I needed a haircut. A couple of weeks earlier I bought a Groupon voucher to get a haircut, blow dry and deep conditioning treatment for under £20 – bargain. Only problem was, when I called the salon they informed me that they were booked up until the day I was due to fly from East Midlands airport. Oh dear. The last two salons I have been to failed to impress me, which when you are paying close to £50 does tend to put one off. So, I decided to try somewhere new.
Whilst training for my run I had jogged past a little place called Chaps and Dames on Tollington Park. A small place with retro barber decor and vintage clothing in the window, I decided to investigate. I wasn’t disappointed – haircuts were a mere £25 with the added bonus that they have beer on their list of refreshments, and a piano in case the owner feels the need to perform as you wait for your highlights to take.
So last Friday I trotted along. The manager did my hair, and after some deliberation we decided to cut my fringe back in. I was very pleased with the results, and had a thoroughly nice chat with her whilst she did my hair. Needless to say I shall be going back, and have already recommended the place to friends in the Finsbury Park area. And, if you fancy a funky new dress to match your haircut, they have a selection of vintage clothing for sale too. Bonus.
On Saturday, my task was a little less pleasurable. It was the shopping trip. This meant one thing: Oxford Street. I needed sun cream, sun tops and a cover up top – and was in the market for a new tankini and sarong to boot. Unfortunately a lot of shops were a bit thin on the ground when it came to summer clothes (apparently it is autumn already) and although I found a lovely dress for the office, holiday essentials were proving a bit trickier to find. So I ended up in the retail version of Hell: Primark.
You have to go to the flagship store near Marble Arch to believe it; the word Bedlam springs to mind. I managed to elbow my way through the crowds to a couple of tables stacked precariously with t-shirts, cropped trousers and sun tops. I grabbed a selection and headed over to the changing room. My heart sank. The queue was nearly the length of the shop and moving very slowly. I took the matter into my own hands and set up a changing area in the nightwear section. Luckily I was wearing a sun top and mini skirt with leggings, so I was able to slip the tops on and wiggle into the trousers under my skirt without flashing my underwear. Mission accomplished, I joined the (slightly more reasonable) queue for the till. Two sun tops, two t-shirts and a belt for £12.50. Result.
Happily, buying sun cream was a breeze – I had already researched my best options for factor 50 protection and decided to opt for “super light” rather than all day protection – I’d rather have to re-apply every couple of hours than feel like a greasy chip all day. And, of course, all sun cream was BOGOF – and Soltan aftersun half price. Super.
At this point, I decided to give up on finding a sarong and tankini and put all my efforts into finding a nice cover up – an essential for my fair skin. I had already found one in Accessorise in the sale, but at £20 I wanted to see if Debenhams had a cheaper option. They did, but in true typical woman style, I decided that the one in Accessorise was worth the extra £5. I popped into the store opposite the department store and found the one that I wanted. Except it looked like a different colour. Convinced that the one in the other store was a paler shade of cream, I fought my way back up the street and bought the first one I had laid my eyes on. Him Indoors would have been proud.
By the time I got home I was exhausted. Luckily I had the foresight to pick up something quick and easy from Marks and Sparks and was soon slumped in front of the telly with a plateful of nosh.
The next day I was up early doors to catch a train to West Sussex. My parents were holidaying on the south coast and invited me down for the day. It was the perfect opportunity to get some sunbathing practice in – not to mention R and R. I returned to London covered in sand and a bit pink around the top of my arms – apparently I had missed a bit – but decidedly content in the knowledge that I would soon be leaving the madness behind and sat by a pool under a parasol with nothing to worry about other than whether to read my book for flick though a glossy first.
Oh, decisions, decisions.