Sunday, 30 October 2011

Pubs, Pumpkins... and Peace

As I type I am sat on a train heading north to Peterborough. One of my best friends is getting married next year and she has invited me and another buddy to help her choose her wedding dress. So, in true Sex and the City style, I have a bottle of frizzante and a box of Maltesers in my bag for a bit of girly bonding over fashion.
Naturally, I am a bit jealous. No, not because she and her fella are tying the knot, and not even because she gets to try of lots of pretty dresses without looking like the hard done-by heroine of Muriel’s Wedding. But because she has a house. A lovely house. And, believe it or not she has another one too that she is currently renting out until the housing market picks up again.
You know what though? I wouldn’t swap my rented one-bedroom shoebox for her three bed semi for all the vodka in Russia. Because, despite my whingeing, I would never swap London for Peterborough.
Don’t get me wrong – there is plenty about London that does my head in, and house prices are just one of them. But, my savings are slowly getting to the point where they might be able to act as a deposit on a property slightly further out, and a two bed flat in Walthamstow is no longer a million years away.
But it isn’t just that. It’s because, in London, you can do what you want, be who you want to be, and as long as you aren’t really doing anyone else any harm, nobody bats an eyelid.
Two examples. On Tuesday I went for a late afternoon tea and pumpkin carving at my new favourite haunt, Drink, Shop, Do. I am quietly confident that not many places in the UK offer pumpkin carving, finger sandwiches and cocktails all at the same time.
Then there was yesterday. In need of a bit of respite from the aforementioned shoebox, I went to the pub for a spot of lunch and spent a couple of hours sat undisturbed drawing some illustrations. There was a football match being shown at the other end of The Old Dairy, and a group of yummy mummies meeting for a bit of informal group therapy, but other than the occasional screaming child running past my table and roar of joy as Arsenal scored yet again, it was a very peaceful afternoon.
Now, I know for a fact that where I grew up, this would be unheard of. As would sitting on a bus with Bert the pumpkin cradled in your lap. But, in London it is okay. No-one cares – they’ve seen it all before and are too busy living their own lives to really take notice.
So, no, I don’t have my own house yet. But I still have my anonymity and freedom to be me without question. And that, as far as I am concerned, is priceless.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Ringing the Changes

Today, a rare thing happened. I had a bit of free time... and nothing pressing to fill it. I had done my editing, cleaning and illustrations, and had an afternoon free of prior engagements. At first I was at a bit of a loss. What is one to do in these situations? I racked my brain as I pottered about at a decidedly loose end for an hour before I came up with my master plan. I would go for a walk. Not some 8 mile hike around Hampstead Heath or anything, but a potter down Stroud Green Road. Last time I had been in the area, I had found a shop with a few potential Christmas gifts in stock, and it was en route to a rather lovely boulangerie and the Finsbury Park Cycling Shop – both establishments that I was keen to visit, even if for very different reasons.
So, I threw on my hoodie and set off. Sadly, the gift shop I had set my sites on was closed, as was my local bike shop, but, thankfully, I was able to purchase the slice of carrot cake I was really hankering after. Not fancying sitting in the cafe on my own, I headed over to the park and found a spot underneath an amber and gold-leafed tree to sit and enjoy my Sunday afternoon treat.
It was perfect. A drumming group provided the soundtrack from the nearby arts centre, squirrels provided me with an entertaining display of acrobatics and, despite my close proximity to Seven Sisters Road, the air was sweet with freshly cut grass. My cake wasn’t bad, either.
Wrapped up in my fleece-lined top, I was decidedly content. More content than I have felt for ages. Maybe I was just well overdue some good old-fashioned me-time, or maybe it was the brightness of a crisp autumn day that had left me feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. You see, I love autumn. In fairness, at the beginning of every season I tend to say the same thing, but I really think autumn ticks all the right boxes. And this week, it was well and truly here.
On Wednesday, it started. First, my woolly hat made its first appearance for well over six months. Secondly, my first cold of the season hit before I even had a chance to get my flu jab. On Friday I was forced to admit defeat and picked my remaining green tomatoes and covered the strawberry plants on my terrace with old net curtains to protect them from the perils of the coming months.
Then there are the shops. I admit it, when I see a nice Christmas gift now, I buy it. Okay, so it’s only October, but I am desperate to be a bit more organised this year. More scarily though, is the realisation that Halloween, Guy Fawkes Night and (eek!) my birthday are all less than three weeks away. The surplus of pumpkins and display cabinets of rockets can no longer be sniffed at with contempt. Autumn is here. And winter is lurking just around the corner.
So, if you’ll excuse me, I have a Lemsip to make, the heating to put on and birthday party to organise. Not to mention a Yuletide game-plan to work out. But the best thing about this turning point in the season? Yesterday, I had my first Gingerbread Latte of the year.
What’s not to like.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Beehives and Barnet(s)

I’m not going to lie to you; this week has been manic. Work was crazy from the moment I switched on my computer on Monday – so crazy, that by Wednesday night I was falling asleep in front of the telly by 8.30pm and tucked up in bed 45 minutes later. By Thursday, after four days of hard slog, I was in dire need of a little bit of relaxation, pampering and fun.
Luckily I had pre-arranged a night out with some of the girls from the office. We had booked a table at Drink, Shop, Do on Caledonian Road, just around the corner from Kings Cross, for cocktails, food... and a vintage make-over.
After a bit of window shopping (and some mental notes for Christmas presents) I settled down to an Amaretto Sour cocktail. The ambience was perfect – soft lighting, roaring forties music and friendly service – and the food was tasty too. I opted for the spinach and ricotta tart and my girls went for a pork pie and scotch egg, washed down with some cava. Perfect.
After filling our stomachs, we approached the make-over team for our transformations. Part-time hair and make-up artists Dolly and Rhonda transformed us from frazzled to fancy whilst helping us relax with their easy chatter and a bowl of boiled sweets. We emerged a Forties lovely, a Bridget Bardot lookalike and Sixties girl about town. I have never worn so much make-up in my life, but loved my beehive and cats eyes.
Several photos later, we retired to our table and ordered another round of drinks – and another. I joined in with the cava before trying another cocktail (the name escapes me but it included gin, elderflower and lime – lovely). We left at about ten, well lubricated and a lot happier than we had been four hours earlier. Needless to say we will be going back soon.
On Friday I continued the theme with a haircut and deep conditioning treatment at Rapunzel in Barnet. Needless to say, a Groupon voucher had lured me there but, even with a hand, head and shoulder massage thrown in, it didn’t feel anywhere near as pampering as the night before. Don’t get me wrong, it was perfectly pleasant and my haircut was good, but I did feel like I was on a conveyor belt of a standard service.
So, I probably won’t be heading up the northern line again anytime soon. But I will definitely be experimenting with eyeliner and hairspray. In fact, I feel a trip to my nearest cosmetic counter coming on...

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Crafty Chicks

It is Sunday evening and I am feeling very satisfied. I’m not just talking about the bumper chicken sandwich on posh bread I had for dinner either, although it was rather tasty – I’m talking about a decidedly wonderful weekend. A weekend where I have indulged in London’s ability to encourage and showcase the arts and crafts that its inhabitants have been producing quietly in their shoebox apartments and, more often than not, around hectic day jobs that do their best to sap us of our creativity.
On Saturday, I headed down to Wimbledon to visit a friend who is participating in the Merton Arts Trail. She has been working tirelessly in the evenings to polish up her portfolio to show the public in the comfort of her own home. I have to say, I was impressed – her walls were covered with an array of paintings and prints, and her table was covered with a range of collage greetings cards that she has started selling at a market in Wimbledon and a shop in Brixton. Great stuff.
I left with four of her cards in my handbag (and my eye on one of her paintings too) and headed over to South Lambeth Market. I had decided to check it out as a woman I met at a Business Link conference has a stall there, selling her papier mache creations, but unfortunately by the time I got there it was closing.
I was decidedly disappointed. However, a trip to Spitalfields Market today with one of my girlfriends soon made up for it. Awash with original clothing, accessories and homewares, it was as always a crafty chick’s paradise. It took a little while for me to warm up... but then I came across a stall of artwork created by Jenny Rose. I was spellbound by her collages and print work, and, after quizzing her about her technique, ended up buying two of them – for the bargainous price of £15 each. I also picked up a wonderful lavender-scented “armchair buddy” in the shape of Cyril the frog – hand-crafted in Scottish tweed and created on sight. A perfect Christmas present for my cousin and her family.
So, as I sit in front of the telly, I am feeling not only satisfied, but inspired. I can’t wait to get out my art box and have another go at a collage, and my dream of creating soft furnishings to sell at a market have been rejuvenated.
Now I just need to find the time to get crafty...