Friday, 30 September 2011

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

It has to be said that London is good for shopping. What with Oxford Street, two Westfields and a plethora of markets, it has something to suit all tastes. That is, unless you don’t like crowds. There’s no escaping them, not even when it comes to the weekly trip to the supermarket. Then there is the issue of not having a car. Quite frankly in a city as congested as London, I really don’t see the point. It is true, public transport is far from perfect but even with severe delays the tube moves more quickly than your average automobile.
Which is why I have turned to the internet. Okay, so I have to pay up to a fiver for my delivery, but it means that I get my groceries delivered to my door hassle free.
Or maybe not.
I am now on my third online grocery provider. Poor substitution choices (sorry, but baked beans do not resemble sun-dried tomatoes no matter how you look at it) and wild variations in fillet sizes (think the breast of a sparrow and that of an ostrich in the same pack and you get the idea) were becoming a regular occurrence. Then, items started to go missing. The last straw was when not only my milk was absent, but a pack of fruit and essential ingredients for a planned dinner party were nowhere to be seen either.
So far, provider number three is faring okay. Apart from the small incident of the electric toothbrush packaging that was delivered without the actual toothbrush. Mmm.
It doesn’t stop with groceries. Last week I ordered a bike from Halfords. I was disappointed when it didn’t arrive on the day I had requested. The next morning I called customer services. They were very apologetic and said it would be delivered that day. And I was also offered a reimbursement of the delivery charge. Result.
When I got home from work on Tuesday, a huge box awaited me. Like a kiddie at Christmas I ripped open the packaging and started to put it together. Noticing that one of the brakes wasn’t attached to the handlebars, I consulted the instructions and, still flummoxed, Him Indoors.
Yep, you guessed it. It was broken.
Decidedly begruntled, I called customer services again. They didn’t seem surprised – apparently mine wasn’t the first bike they had sold with faulty brakes. Already more than a little bit miffed, they then told me what my options were: either swap it at their nearest store, or have it collected and, once inspected back at the store, replaced.
There were two problems with these solutions. One, how the hell was I supposed to get the bike with no useable brakes to my nearest Halfords store without a car? And secondly, why should I have to wait so long to have it replaced, bearing in mind that I couldn’t guarantee someone would be in between the hours of 9 and five for the next seven days?
So, four days after my bike should have been delivered I am sat in my lounge with a bust bike behind my sofa and no way of getting it replaced for what looks like the best part of a whole week. I’m starting to think that I should have spent the extra fifty quid and got a bike from the independent shop over at Finsbury Park. Oh, well, you win some, you lose some.
It just goes to show, if you want something doing, you need to do it yourself. And it would appear that goes for getting your purchases through your front door in one piece, too.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Rural City

This evening I am relaxing in front of the telly after a weekend entertaining my parents. As always, it was a pleasure, but came with it the usual predicament – what do we do? Where do I take them that is easily accessible and not too manic? In London this is always a challenge – it doesn’t really do relaxing, and although the tube is great at getting you out and about, it comes with it a labyrinth of corridors and staircases.
So, after some deliberation I decided to take them to Kew. It’s nice and easy to get to – a bus to Caledonian Road tube station followed by a straight forward change onto the District Line at Barons Court (there are other stations you can change at but at Barons Court you literally just have to walk to the other side of the platform). And, once you have taken the short stroll to the Victoria Gate entrance, you can wander around the Royal Botanical Gardens at your leisure – or get the little bus that runs every half an hour to do the hard work for you.
The added bonus is that, even though it is popular, Kew is big enough not to get crowded. And apart from the aeroplanes flying overhead every 90 seconds (we timed them), it’s a lot more peaceful than a lot of the other attractions in London.
Today we caught a bus up for Hampstead for a wander around the Heath and a look at Kenwood House. Again it ticked all our boxes – easy to get to, somewhere for my dad to stretch his legs and a cafe for my mum to sit down and enjoy a cuppa. After a couple of hours we popped back down to Highgate for a spot of lunch. Unfortunately the Angel Inn was packed so we settled for the Rose and Crown. It was busy there too so we ended up outdoors once more – a quiet area at the back of the pub with high walls that sheltered us from the noise of traffic on Highgate Hill, if not the wasps who took a liking to my Pork Belly.
When we returned home, it struck us all how peaceful the weekend had been – apart from a busy tube journey, we could have been back home up north. So, next time my folks come down, we might head out of the City Centre again – maybe to Hampton Court or Richmond Park. Either way, it just goes to show that London does indeed cater for everyone – even those who don’t really do urban living.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Capital Karma

You know what? I’ve noticed something. In my recent blogs, I have been decidedly kind about London, praising local gems, the variety of different things to do and the sensory stimulation that keeps me interested, even after ten years.
London certainly has its good points. But sadly the pleasures of the capital are regularly tarnished by...well, Londoners.
Take last Sunday. My chum and I hit Finsbury Park with a couple of bikes. As a beginner, the plan was to practice signalling and the like in an attempt to get me ready for a trip to Cambridgeshire. It all went swimmingly well, even though the bike I was on was a little on the small side for me. Anyway, after a good ninety minutes of winding around the park’s paths, my chum had to head home to take our dinner out of the oven.
“I’ll just do another lap them follow you home.” I decided.
However, after an hour and a half of hard work (remember, I am new to this cycling malarkey) I was pretty tired. Halfway up my least favourite hill I could pedal no more. So, I had a little rest, then decided to get going again. Sadly, a hill start was a little bit beyond my amateurish skills and, after a bit of a wobble, I fell off.
About three joggers passed me as I sat on the floor, my legs tangled up with my wheels. And not one of them stopped to see if I was okay. No even an “are you alright.” Okay, so my injuries only consisted of a grazed hand and several bruises (including to my poor ego). But that isn’t the point.
A similar thing happened to me several years ago. I was running for the tube at Kentish Town and, desperate to get on the train, I dived through the closing doors. Unfortunately I managed to catch my shin on the step up from the platform and went sprawling across the carriage floor.
Not one person on that carriage asked if I was hurt.
There is a lesson to be learned by these examples – and no, not just that I am a right clump. The lesson? That a lot of Londoners don’t give a monkeys about anyone but themselves – or if they do, they are too scared/apathetic/tired to help out their fellow citizens when they are in need.
Evidence would suggest that it is the former. Take earlier this week on the bus. I climbed up to the top deck and took the only vacant seat next to a teenage lad in school uniform, his head clamped between an impressive set of headphones. His legs were liberally spread wide – and failed to move to make room for his fellow passenger. And, when we approached his stop, he didn’t bother to say “excuse me,” let alone “please”. Instead he just stood up and proceeded to push past me. I’m still cursing myself for moving out of his way rather than "accidentally" tripping him up with my cumbersome handbag.
It doesn’t stop there. The pedestrians who refuse to move out of your way, even when they are walking five abreast and you have no way of getting out of their way other than stepping onto the road. The theatre patrons who wouldn’t move their legs to one side, let alone stand up to let me past during the interval at “Losing It” last night.
Despite this, I still try my best to be as polite as possible to fellow commuters on the tube, supermarket shoppers and gym users. And, on the odd occasion that someone does show me manners, I say thank you – and I mean it. It does happen – the chap who held the door open for me today at the Welcome Collection, the shop owner who dodged out of my way as I jogged down Stroud Green Road the other morning. But it doesn’t happen enough.
Although I’m no Buddhist, I do believe to some degree in Karma. I’m not a Christian either, but think there is a lot of wisdom in the phrase, “Do onto others as you would have them do onto you.” And I can’t help thinking that London would be a much nicer place if we all went along with these simple philosophies.
Let’s just be a bit nicer to each other, and make London not just great, but good too.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Love Local

Shopping. Love it or hate it, it’s a necessary evil. Even credit-phobes have to wander down to Marks and Sparks once in a while to buy a new pair of socks and a loaf of bread.
Even as someone who does actually enjoy shopping to a degree, there are times when I really don’t want to do it – especially when I know that the best place for me to go to get what I need is either Oxford Street or, at a push, the concrete horror of Brent Cross. Earlier this week I realised that such a date with my debit card was approaching. I bemoaned my fate at work and begged my colleagues to help me come up with a more palatable solution.
“Why don’t you just pop down to Holloway? Then get the bus to Angel if you need to afterwards?” My chum piped up. I looked at her with scorn. Holloway? For two Birthday presents, a Christening gift and a new pair of shoes?
“You can go to Selby’s. They have everything.” She smugly added before I could even speak.
She had a point. I pondered my shopping list. There was always Bedford’s on Holloway for gifts, Mothercare for baby clothes and Selby’s for the overnight bag I had been tasked with finding for my best mate. Priceless Shoes would meet my footwear needs and the local Argos and O2 shop ticked other items off my list. There was even Holloway Cycles for me to browse around in my quest for my first set of wheels.
So, when Him Indoors finally dragged his arse out of bed we headed out. Okay, so we ended up in Angel (Him Indoors needed a HSBC and Accessorize saved the day for my bag-hunt), but even so I got everything I needed within a half hour bus journey from home – no need to ride the C11 all the way to a shopping city in the ‘burbs or join the masses in the West End.
It doesn’t end with shopping. When I got back from the shops I popped out to my newest local find, Chaps and Dames, to get my fringe trimmed. Just around the corner from Stroud Green Road, it is on the outskirts of another local gem. Fancy a night out but don’t want to travel far? Well, I can always pop out for a pizza at Papagones, a pint at the Old Dairy and round off the night with bowling, pool and dancing at Rowans - all within walking distance of my front door.
So, next time I need to do some shopping, get my hair or nails done and plan a night out with my mates, I don’t think I’ll travel far. Besides, it’s nice to know that I am supporting the local economy rather than taking my money to places that don’t really need it. And I don’t need to suffer the tube or cough up for a taxi either.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Sense and Sensibility

It’s Saturday morning. Despite forecasts of 25 degrees in London, the air outside is cool and fresh. The occasional bus rumbles past the window, taking Saturday shoppers to their destination. The flat smells of the lemon essential oil I am burning. Saturday Kitchen is on the telly, inspiring me to get up and make something more exciting than the toast with apricot jam I have just devoured.
The buzzer goes, awakening me from my Zen-like calm. I run down the stairs to catch the post man who refuses to speak to me over the intercom, stubbing my toe on the way. The air that hits me as I open the door brings with it the stench of a passing waste disposal van. Back in the flat, Him Indoors gets up and starts to prance about in front of the telly, moaning already that the flat will be too hot again tonight. I haven’t even left the building and my senses have already been assaulted.
Ah, London. You tease us with your delights and then attack our senses, like a clown offering us a flower and then squirting us with water through its centre. I really should know better than to fall for your charms. However, day after day, I give you another chance, only to feel violated by the time I crawl into bed.
Last week I met some of the girls for a spot of food. We were all tired after a hard day at work, and, after being turned away by two Pizza Expresses (we had vouchers), finally collapsed around a table in Carluccio's. Three large glasses of wine were ordered in quick succession. As we waited for our food, the waitress brought us over some lemon and chilli oil to try with a hunk of focaccia. It was delicious, and quickly disappeared. Slowly, we started to relax. The tension slipped away and was soon lost among the scent of garlic and the sound of soft music.
We started chatting. Whinges about work were replaced with what we had been reading, music from our student days that we had rediscovered, exhibitions we had visited, theatre we had seen, shopping we had done. We decided that next time we met, we really needed to do cocktails at one of the funky new bars that had recently sprung up. And finally arrange that bus tour we fancied. Not to mention check out Matilda when it opened in the West End.
At the end of the meal I pottered over to my bus stop, a smile on my face. My senses had been pampered once more. Even the crazy guy shouting about his latest conspiracy theory didn’t spoil my mood. London and I were friends once more.
Whether it’s the views across London after a climb to the top of Monument, the scent of hundreds of curries being cooked in Tooting, the feel of ink rubbing onto your hands from yet another free newspaper, the taste of yet another amazing shish on Green Lanes or the sound of Big Ben chiming as you wander along the Southbank, London has something to delight all the senses. But there will always be something to taint that experience, whether it’s the drone of another drunk, the smell of rubbish dumped in the streets by yet another irresponsible business owner, the discomfort of cramming onto the tube, the taste of a crap coffee from that chain, or the sad sight of one more rough sleeper. But maybe that’s what makes it so exciting. You just don’t know what to expect when you step outside your front door.
One thing you can guarantee. Your senses will be challenged beyond their capabilities. And whichever way they are stretched, one thing is for sure: In London you will always have something to talk about when you meet your mates for dinner. But, will you gush or groan? Your guess is as good as mine.