Tuesday, 30 October 2012

We'll meet again...

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls.  Today is the end of an era.  Three years have passed since I started to write this blog – but today, my friends, I shall be loving to hate London for the last time. 
Actually, that isn’t strictly true.  My home town for the last eleven and a half years will no doubt continue to do my head in at times and its quirky charm has yet to be lost on me.  But I will no longer be writing about the trials and tribulations of life in the Big Smoke here.
Alas – fear not!  I shall still be around, and London life will still be a big part of what I have to say on t’internet.  My monthly musings on the city can still be found in my Underground Overground blog http://blogs.angloinfo.com/underground-overground/ and you will be able to find my capital news and reviews on the soon to be re-launched website Capital Life www.capital-life.co.uk.  
But, the best news of all?  I have started a new blog – on my BRAND SPANKING NEW WEBSITE!  Woo hoo!  Not only will I be telling you what I have been up to and reporting on what is hot and what is not, I will also be keeping you all up to date on my creative pursuits – from blogging and writing fiction to painting and crafting!  In fact, at www.shellyberryoriginal.co.uk I reckon you’ll find out something about your little friend here that you didn’t already know.  Take it as a challenge...
Of course, I am still on twitter http://twitter.com/lovehatelondon and personal friends will find updates on Facebook, but if you don’t do social media, you can still sign up for my newsletter using the simple form to the left of this page.  Okay, so they aren’t very frequent, but hopefully when my email pops into your inbox it will be worth the wait!
So there you have it.  It’s been sweet.  But, my lovelies, it’s time to move on.  I’ll see you soon on the other side...

Monday, 22 October 2012

Here's (not) looking at you...

The observational among you will have noticed I haven’t Loved to Hate London for a while. Those who read my Underground Overground blog will know it’s because I’ve been ill.  And folk unlucky enough to know me personally will have heard all the gory details – and are probably as sick of my moaning as I am  of, well, being sick.
Not only do I, like everyone, hate feeling lousy, but I’m also atrocious at doing nothing – especially when you feel so crap that all you can manage is dozing in front of daytime telly.  And daytime telly invariably means that at some point you will find yourself flicking over the channel and coming face to face with Jeremy Kyle.
I try to avoid Mr Kyle at all costs but, after day three in front of the box, he found his way into my living room.  Not only do I find him irritating, obnoxious and a lot of other things that I really shouldn’t say in public, but I find his show quite boring.  Whilst my recently retired dad finds it fascinating, sadly my work in the public sector has made the folk televised as they demand their partners take lie detection tests nothing out of the ordinary.  And yes, that probably makes me sound like a terrible snob, but sadly, where I work, airing your dirty laundry in public is not unusual – and, trust me, I’ve seen some cases badly in need of a large dose of Persil.
And whilst I admit I am a snob about Jerry Springer cases, I really can’t stand people at the other end of the spectrum either.  People who love attention as much as the chat show freaks – but seek it in a very different setting.  A couple of weeks ago (in fact the night I got ill) I went to a private viewing at a gallery in Mayfair.  Whilst I found the artwork quite interesting, I got the distinct impression that most of the people there were more interested in being seen than looking at a few pictures and a couple of sculptures – and decidedly ungracious when those of us who wanted to see the wares on show tried to squeeze between them and the cameras.
I think my problem is with people who just want to be seen no matter what the cost.  Wherever they fit on the spectrum of society, they just want to get noticed, for good or bad.  I mean, take fashion.  On Saturday I fought through my fever and went to the V&A Ballgowns exhibition.  I admit, I loved it, and my friend and I had a hoot offering our criticism of the frocks on show to anyone who cared to listen.  But, some of the dresses were just plain hideous – and I honestly think that it wasn’t only in my humble opinion.  Some designers seem to forget aesthetics in the rush to do something different and, whilst some of the more outlandish creations were beautiful too, others had got lost in their need for attention.
So, Londoners, take note.  Whoever you are and wherever you are from, if you want to get noticed, go ahead and get yourself out there.  But, if in doing so you sacrifice your taste, integrity or general decency as a human being, don’t expect me to keep watching whilst you make a spectacle of yourself.  

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Nowt as queer as folk

Readers... I have a confession to make. It is now three years since I started to write this blog and I have to admit that these days I find it hard to find something to say about loving to hate London that I haven’t said before. I often ask my friends to help me find my inspiration. Recently I went to a leaving do for some folks I worked with years ago. I ran into an old chum who told me he keeps tabs on me via my blog. I shared with him my predicament. He looked at me and shrugged. “Why don’t you write about the people around you?” He suggested. “Not a bad idea,” I agreed. And, through by beer-induced haze, I started taking mental notes.

Looking back, I now fully appreciate what a fantastic group of people I worked all those years ago and, sadly, how under-appreciated some of them are. Let me start with “Marie” (names changed, naturally). Marie is excellent at her job and has a quiet thoughtfulness about her that means she is probably overlooked in a world where those who shout the loudest get the furthest. Last week she was made redundant when, in reality, she should have been promoted into the jobs “Ann” and “Joan” had secured, not through hard graft and skill, but by knowing who to get pally with to get ahead of the game.

Then take my good friend “Vivian”. Vivian is a smart cookie. She has been through the mill since I’ve known her but has come out the other end stronger, sharper and wittier than ever before. She should be running her own business by now but admits that, by the time she returns home at the end of the day and finally makes it to the weekend, her energy has been zapped in a soulless job she took in the hope it would help her move into something more rewarding. Needless to say, I am working on her.

But what of those at the top of the pile? You may ask. Well, one manager has had their comeuppance and shown the door. Another, Ben, has left now, but still hangs around, no doubt in the hope that he will sniff out an even better position – and failing that, a bit of stuff to keep him entertained.

As for me? Well, I’m glad I escaped – even more so now I can see how much I was held back in such an oppressive workplace. It was only when Vivian pointed out that Ben had got in the way of my attempts to progress my career on more than one occasion that I realised that, perhaps if I had returned one of his looks with something other than disgust, the might have been a little bit less obstructive. The thought makes by blood boil - and my stomach turn.

But, you know what? I have moved on with my life and my career. Yes, I might not have missed out on certain opportunities if I hadn’t worked there for as long as I did but, you know what? I don’t think I have done too badly. As for Marie? And my good friend Viv? Well, call me an old hippie, but I believe in Karma and know that, one day, they will find their niche and be content there. As for those who have made life so difficult for the rest of us? Well, Karma works both ways…

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Turn on, tune in and cop out...

Something very irritating happened to me on Friday morning. After crawling out of bed I made myself pull on my joggers and head out with my iPod and water bottle.  Yes, I was going for a run.  I started off with a fast walk to warm up before putting in my headphones and pressing play.
The battery was dead.
I almost groaned out loud.  For a moment I contemplated turning back to grab my phone for entertainment instead, but knew that if I went back into my flat, the lure of my duvet might just win over my good intentions.  I made the decision to run sans music and kept going.
It turned out to be quite an enjoyable experience.  I headed to the park where autumn was in full swing.  The wind was rustling crisp leaves, birds were chattering away about their imminent departure to warmer climes (well, that’s what I like to think anyway) and children were laughing as they played in the last of the summer sun.  And, although it was not my longest run, being able to hear my own breathing was actually very helpful – and the order to “speed up” by a passing OAP mildly motivating.  So, as I headed home, I made a decision: for the next four days, I was going to go about my London life headphone-free. 
It was a revelation.
I shall start with the tube.  Notoriously overcrowded and renowned for moving millions of people from A to B every year, you would think it would be a good place to eaves drop.  Sadly not.  There’s something about the tube that makes everyone shut up.  I think this is down to two things.  One, the absence of mobile signal (it would appear Londoners are better at talking to people over the phone than in person), and two, the noise of the train roaring through tunnels being too much competition for even the gobbiest gossip.
The buses, however, were a completely different ballgame.  When on our mobiles, we Londoners don’t half talk shit – and we don’t mind who hears us either.  I spent a (mercilessly) short bus ride from Holloway to Highgate being subjected to one woman’s story about an argument she had just had with a neighbour over and over again as she called every number stored on her sim card.  And , later that day, I caught another bus at about 3.15 – just in time for the school kid rush.  This was not pleasant, and, without the anaesthetic powers of my music, reading became an impossible task.  By the time I got to Moorgate I was sorely missing my tunes.
So, do I recommend foregoing your iPod when you head out into the big bad world?  No.  But then, don’t plug in by default.  Listen to the world around you.  Who knows, you might hear something you like, something that makes you laugh, even think.  And, if you don’t?  Well, turn on, tune in and cop out...  

Monday, 24 September 2012


Today, folks, I am not feeling the love.  Work is driving me insane, it’s been grey and drizzly all day and, quite honestly, I’m fed up.  It’s enough to make me run to the hills, literally – preferably one with a nice cottage with a roaring fire, a goofy mutt at my heels and a nice bit of self-employment which, preferably, I can practise from the comfort of my sofa.
But, let’s face it, it isn’t gonna happen.  It’s pure fantasy.  Right? 
Well, maybe not.  Maybe my pie-in-the-sky dream of opening a creative café somewhere on the coast isn’t really that unachievable?  I think it’s easy to forget the opportunities that there are outside of the big city.  Take tourism for example – in the current financial climate, “staycations” are all the rage.  Plus, more and more people seem to be quitting the rat race for a more simple life – and not just the over sixties either.  Mothers are looking for a better start for their kids, fathers are searching for a healthier lifestyle, and everyone else is just looking for a bit of meaning to their lives, especially now that the pursuit of material wealth has become so untenable.
And people do it – and do quite well out of it, too.  Only ten days ago I was sat in a pot painting shop in the middle of North Yorkshire chatting to the owner as my other half painstakingly finished decorating his mug (NB:  it’s a great way to keep your man quiet for a couple of hours).  I asked her how things were going and, although she admitted that there were peaks and troughs, she had kept her business afloat for five years – and had been able to create her own artwork at the same time.  Okay, so it might not have the same footfall as similar places in a city, but with locals and tourists looking for something to do on a rainy day, things were going quite nicely for her.
And that isn’t all.  Whilst up in’t moors, I listened with interest to a conversation between two locals about an on-going case of anti-social behaviour.  My ears pricked up.   What was it?  Drug dealers?  A crime wave?  Prostitutes infiltrating the countryside?  No.  It was someone using an electric saw early in the morning.  Yes, I know what you’re thinking; time to call in the army.  In the five days I was there, I only heard one siren – and, as the offending ambulance zoomed through the village, it struck me how noticeable the sound was after three days of hearing nothing louder and a dog bark.
So, maybe life in the country is achievable.  Maybe it is better for us.  And maybe we would all be a lot healthier and happier if we jacked in our jobs in the city and put down roots in the sticks.  And maybe, just maybe, life would be so good we’d have nothing to complain about.
And maybe all that peace and quiet might send us all a bit crazy too…

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Capital Comparisons

The observant of you will have noticed that I haven’t been around for a little while.  Those of you who know me will know why - and will no doubt be rolling your eyes once more as I announce, not that I am going to New York, but I have now well and truly conquered it.  Yes, in five days I think I cracked it and in turn it has massacred two pairs of my shoes (and my feet) as I pounded its pavements.  Of course, I haven’t seen it all, but hope that when I return (which I will) I'll be able to kick back and relax whilst fitting in an exploration of Harlem, the Bronx and Queens – plus a trip out to the Giant’s football stadium for some foam fingered fun.
As I wandered around taking in the sights, smells and shops New York offers, I couldn’t help but compare it to London.  MOMA?  Not unlike Tate Modern at all.  Fifth Avenue?  Bond Street, eat your heart out.  Lower East Side?  A little bit of Camden Town with its indie shops stocked with bongs, crystal Buddhas and boho dresses. 
I could go on.  But, as I headed back to London, I started to think about how my home city compared to the other heavyweights around the globe that I have visited and loved.  Unlike Vancouver and Barcelona, it doesn’t boast a beach... but then the Southbank is almost as tranquil as any seafront.  It may not have the fairytale skyline of Budapest and Prague, but the beauty of St Pauls and the majesty of the Tower and Albert Bridges can’t help but take your breath away.  And it may not have the romance and food of Paris, but it does have the excitement of Borough Market and the culinary delights from around the world found in China Town, Tooting and Wood Green to name a few.
So yes, I was sad to leave New York a week ago – but I was also looking forward to getting home.  Okay, so seeing Silence! (a parody of Silence of the Lambs) nearly made me pee my pants, but I am looking forward to catching a new play at the Arts Theatre with a friend for £3 on Saturday.  And yes, there is nothing quite like a blueberry bagel or a giant pretzel to set you up for the day, but then there is nothing as satisfying as a big box of noodles at the Stables Market in Camden to tie up a day of shopping.   And although the Jazz at the Lincoln Centre was pretty awesome, it wasn’t as bargainous as Daylight Music at the Union Chapel.
And that isn’t all.  Okay, so New Yorkers are a fascinating bunch – from the mad taxi driver who told me how much he loved Henry VIII, the American-Albanian who was pro-Romney and the old guy who took it upon himself to be my personal tour guide of Central Park – but they don’t beat Londoners.  And, quite honestly, I can’t wait to immerse myself in their self-centred moodiness once more.  Because that, my friends, is where I belong. 

Monday, 3 September 2012

Running scarred

It’s Monday morning and I’m sat on my sofa in my pyjamas.  Yes, you’re right, I should count myself jolly fortunate not to be chained to my desk, but in all honesty I’m feeling a bit sorry for myself.  And I blame sport.
As I’m sure most of you will have picked up from previous blogs, I have been less than enthusiastic about the Olympics but, subconsciously or not, I think I too have been inspired by the achievements of our athletes.  On Saturday I decided to diversify from my usual exercise regime and went for a swim.  I quite enjoyed it and, although speed is not my strength, I did a good 60 lengths at not a bad pace. 
I should have left happy – but sadly my mood was dampened (no pun intended) by the attitude of another swimmer sharing the medium lane with me.  Yes, I wasn’t the fastest swimmer in the lane (but certainly not the slowest) and I do expect the odd speedygonzalez to whizz past me on occasion – especially when there isn’t a fast lane for them to occupy.  But what I don’t expect is for them to cut me up when they overtake.  Or to dive under other swimmers to get past.  And certainly not to swim on top of me.
Yes, this happened.  I looked around to see the said water-baby actually on my legs.  She looked up at me.  I looked back, waiting for her to, well, stop, and at least smile an apology.
“If you don’t like people overtaking you, you should swim in the slow lane.”
I was dumbfounded at this response. 
“You might be better suited there.”  She continued.
I gave her my most withering look, shook my head in disbelief and carried on swimming.  There was absolutely no point arguing with this woman who was further up her own arse than her grannyfied swimming costume.  But I couldn’t help but feel outraged at her lack of manners – and sheer cheek.  A prime example of how having a plummy accent doesn't always mean you’ve been brought up well.
However, I will not be defeated by fitness freaks who like to belittle people who aren’t quite as good as they are.  So, on Sunday, I went for a jog.  The start was hard-going - a steep hill followed by a slight but relentless incline before flattening out and gradually going downhill.  Which it did in more ways than one.
I was going at a respectable pace and feeling good.  After the hard slog up to Highgate Woods, I was debating jogging all the way to Finsbury Park – and keeping going until I got home.  However, a small and unseen rock poking up in my path put an end to this, and within an instant I had added diving to my repertoire.  As I glided onto the floor my water bottle rolled to the feet of a couple walking by who, either down to common decency or a lack of choice, checked that I was okay.
“At least you missed the dog poo.”  The woman offered and I managed a little joke in return.  As they walked on I assessed the damage.  My elbow was scarlet and my hand pretty grazed too, plus my knee was throbbing.  I hobbled home to lick my wounds. 
After a shower and a liberal application of Savlon to my affected bits, I decided to relax in front of the telly with a plate of beans on toast.  I flicked it on, hoping to find an episode of Come Dine with Me or Deal or No Deal.  What did I find?  Bloody Paralympics. 
Don’t get me wrong; I think the Paralympics is fantastic and much more inspiring that it’s big brother.  But after my recent experience, I really didn’t want to see people much less able bodied than me whooping my ass in the disciplines I had just failed so spectacularly at.  I mean, you don’t see any of them being belittled in the swimming pool or sprawling head-first across the athletics track, do you?  Whereas I, all limbs intact and with a body that is supposed to function as it should, can’t even manage that.  NOT good for the old ego.
And, let’s face it, when you’re feeling a bit beaten by the world, you want comfort telly.  For me, that is Channel 4 with its lifestyle programmes and silly quizzes.  With dismay I realised that the sports coverage was on until late at night and, mildly disgusted, turned off the telly and tuned into Radio 6.
So, the moral of the story?  Sport is not always good for you.  Physically and emotionally.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to reapply my Ibuprofen...

Saturday, 25 August 2012

And Now for Someone Completely Different...

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again:  London is chocker-block with interesting folk. No-where else I have lived has such a diverse population.  And I’m not just talking race, sexuality, etc etc – I am talking people from different backgrounds with different beliefs (political, religious or otherwise), different lifestyles, and, even though we live in such close proximity to each other, completely different views.
Let’s face it though, we very rarely meet and mix with people from different “sets”.  Don’t get me wrong, I like to think my buddies are a diverse lot, but we’re all pretty much the same – middle class, university educated young professionals trying to find our way in life and having a bit of fun in the process.  Okay, so there are some deviations and some of us are faring a little better than others, but you get my drift.  Even at work where my colleagues probably come from a much broader catchment of society, we all have a very similar outlook on life – working in the public sector can guarantee that you are probably more interested in doing something beneficial for others than going home with a fat pay-check at the end of the month.
Every now and then, though, I get to meet someone whose lifestyle feels completely different from my own.  Take this week for example.  Although under less than happy circumstances, I met a 59 year old man who was a self-confessed “old hippy”.  He reminded me of a nicer version of Bill Nighy’s character in Love Actually - he’d lived the high life in the seventies and was now having to face the consequences.  However, despite his sorry state of affairs, he fascinated me.  His flat was full of books about spirituality, his walls were covered in photos of rockers from years gone by and his sofa was strewn with cushion covers and throws that wouldn’t have looked out of place at Woodstock.  All in all, I thought he was pretty cool, and if I had met him under different circumstances, I would have loved to listen to him tell me stories about his life over a pot of tea – or something stronger.
Then, last night, I met the creator of a lifestyle magazine who was looking for new bloggers (watch this space!).  We met in an Indian restaurant in the City where he was filming a promotional video.  Not only did I end up being an extra in the film (sans make-up bag – eek!) but I also got a couple of free vodka-tonics – and a scrumptious Indian meal to boot.  But what was fascinating was meeting a group of people who lived in a world of PR, marketing and Mayfair – not a world I am particularly familiar with.  The guy I met had created the magazine on his own from scratch – and everyone who was launching a new luxury item wanted him to cover it.  Yes, he has worked his butt off to get where he is today, but as he arranged to meet his friends at China White later that evening – and get them all on the guest list – I admit my eyes widened in awe.  I felt like Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada, the only difference being that this chap was not only successful but absolutely lovely too.
So, after a lovely weekend with my nearest and dearest up in Peterborough, I hope to hear from my new media muse – and get another glimpse into his life.  And, in a week or too, I might just arrange a visit to my old hippie – on purely professional grounds, of course.

Monday, 20 August 2012


I ain’t happy.  Tomorrow I have to go back to work.  This is bad for two reasons.  Firstly; I will need to tackle a four-day weekend worth of emails as well as an already groaning to-do list.  Secondly; I will be forced to use the office toilets. 
I don’t understand it.  I work in a seven-storey building and share the third floor with a handful of teams including HR.  However, some of the women I have to share WCs with have some shocking habits. I’m not just talking toilet roll and hand towels strewn over the floor, the occasional un-flushed toilet and taps left running either.  I am talking urine on the floor – and, once a month, worse.  They stink all the time, and the cubicles have warped to the point that the doors won’t lock.  To summarise, they make your average portaloo at Glastonbury look luxurious.
Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not exactly anal when it comes to housekeeping, but I have standards and appreciate a nicely kept bathroom.  That does not make it okay to expect people to pay for the convenience of, well, using your conveniences.  In London, this is a bit of a problem.  Public loos are few and far between and quite often when you do find one, you have to pay.  And then there are those pubs and clubs who employ someone to sit in the bogs with a face like a slapped arse who expect you to tip them for squeezing the soap. 
It goes without saying that the nicest restrooms I’ve sampled are ones that I haven’t had to pay to use either.  It is a well kept secret that there are some clean, well stocked and – wait for it – FREE toilets in St Pancras station – putting the ones next door in Kings Cross to shame.  And then there are the pubs that not only trust you to wash your own hands and keep their loos smelling sweet, but equip their rest rooms with comfortable seating, provide hand cream as well as posh soap and decorate their facilities to a standard Phil and Kirstie would be proud of.
So, come about ten-o’clock tomorrow when my first coffee of the day has hit my bladder, please think of me as I attempt to hold my nose whilst keeping the broken cubicle door closed in the ladies.  Or, if they are particularly nasty, you might just see me hopping across the road to St Pancras station.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Going for Gold

Okay, so I admit it. I’ve been ever so slightly cynical about the Olympics. Call me a pessimist, but I just had visions of an unbearable underground, bursting buses and trains full of tiresome tourists. With the economy on its knees after years of living beyond our means, a massive overspend seemed inevitable – and so did a humongous Council Tax bill to match. With the events of 7/7 occurring just the day after our bid was won, London began to feel very vulnerable – and the Olympics started to look like a missile-magnet long before the first diggers descended on the East End.  In short, I wasn't looking forward to it.

But, you know what? I think the last two weeks have been more than bearable. The bus journey into work has if anything been quicker and, although there have been an increase in cameras, maps and rucksacks worn back to front, Kings Cross hasn’t felt much busier than normal. And, what’s more, I think it has put everyone in a good mood. The news has been dominated by gold medals won rather than jobs, businesses and, essentially, money lost. People are proud of their country again – Britain is great once more. Even I was moved to see little Jess Ennis win her gold (it was on in the pub) and felt a shiver run down my spine as I walked through the streets of South London last Saturday night to the sound of elated cheering coming from every direction.  And, despite a little bit of a slip up with security, I don't think our mates Seb and Boris have done a bad job.  In fact, if TFL functioned without line closures and the rest of London ran this smoothly all of the time... okay, so that might be a taking it too far.  Let's just leave it that I am quietly impressed.

So, as the closing ceremony approaches, maybe I feel a little bit of regret for not getting a bit more behind Team GB. Okay, so I’ve kept an eye on the results table and put it on for a bit of background telly once in a while, but I’ve not exactly got Olympic fever. But I think it is fair to say that the rest of the country has got into the swing of it and, for the first time in ages, there’s a whiff of optimism in the air. And, as far as I am concerned, is a result worth waiting for.

Friday, 3 August 2012

I'm loving Angel instead...

It’s Friday afternoon and I’m watching the clock.  Not because I’m at work - a lovely flexi-day has seen to that – but because I’m off to Angel in a little over an hour to meet my favourite, if a little mad, American.
I imagine some of you will be rolling your eyes at this point.  Angel, on a Friday evening?  Such a cliché.  Okay, so it might not be as trendy as Hoxton and Shoreditch or as la-di-da as Kensington and Chelsea, but it has a hell of a lot going for it.
Last Saturday I found myself at everyone’s favourite blue square on the Monopoly board once again.  I met a couple of friends at the Union Chapel at two, and, having caught the last twenty minutes or so of the Saturday lunchtime session have vowed to return in the autumn for some very reasonably priced – and really rather good – live music. 
We then pottered over to the Business and Design Centre to have a look around the Czech House. Being frugal types, we weren’t prepared to pay the fiver to get in – but were in awe of the art installation outside.  The almost life-sized double-decker in front of us showed off its stamina with a series of press-ups from its muscular arms – and, ladies, it’s bottom was pretty peachy too.  No, haven’t been smoking anything I shouldn’t have.  Go on, head to Upper Street – you have to see David Cerny’s giant sculpture to believe it.
After a spot of lunch on the green (or a blueberry flavoured Samba Swirl iced yoghurt in my case – yum!) we walked down to the Victoria Miro gallery near Old Street to see Grayson Perry’s tapestries.  They beautifully illustrated his study into class and taste as documented on his recent TV show for Channel 4, In the Best Possible Taste.  They were magnificent – and thought provoking.  No matter which “class” you consider yourself to be, I can guarantee you will see a bit of yourself in at least one of the pieces – even if you’d rather that you didn’t.
After a swift pint of two in The Narrowboat, I headed home with my friend to get ready for a spot (or rather a lot as it turned out) of dancing.  After a rather tasty curry and a couple of beers in front of the telly, we got changed and headed back to the capital of Islington.  A couple of drinks later (including an espresso) we went to the O2 Academy for Club de Fromage – and were delighted to find out that, for an extra three quid, we could have entry into Feeling Gloomy too if the cheesy pop got all a bit much for us.  We had a great time – the music was a palatable cheddar (with a few tasty chunks of stilton thrown in for good measure), made all the more digestible by our ability to interchange with the sedentary indie next door.  Okay, so there were the usual pissed, rude and annoying people in the crowd, but generally the atmosphere was quite chilled, and even the men who tried to woo us with their moves were cool when we politely turned them away.
So, yes, Angel isn’t the coolest corner of the capital, but I can’t help but love it.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to put my face on and decide what to wear...

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Oh to network...

As I type, I am sat on a train with two of my favourite things next to me:  a selection of yummy chocolates from Cologne courtesy of Mama Berry and a lovely fat glossy copy of Red magazine, courtesy of, well, Red.  Technically this copy was given to me by its creators, along with lots of other goodies, at their most recent networking event for wannabe writers.  Okay, so I had to pay for the privilege, but not only did I get my money back through the medium of goodie bags, Prosecco and canapés, I also made contact with a fellow blogger and writer – who has offered to pass some work she was offered my way.  Result!
You see, I have discovered and whole heartedly embraced the wonders of networking.  And, trust me, in London, there are plenty of opportunities.  It started relatively small with monthly meetings set up by More to Life Than Shoes.  There I met women who, like me, wanted more from their lives.  They inspired me to start my novel and, over two years on, I’m nearly ready to send it out into the big bad world, plus they introduced me to a children’s writer who needed an illustrator – and took me on.  Okay, so I’ve yet to get that elusive book deal (and I WILL get it!), but it has been a hell of an inspiration.
Then there has been my book group where I met my blogging muse Paperback Reader.  She not only got me started in the world of blogging and twitter, but also introduced me to the wonderful ladies at Grumpy Young Women who I wrote for before one of the editors they closed for business.  I stay in touch with them and shall soon be providing an image for a project one of the girls is working on about cool girls and their sewing machines – and am insanely flattered to learn that I apparently fall into this category.
Amazingly, sometimes a new opportunity to network just lands on your lap.  Take the other week.  I was sat outside a pub with a friend, bemoaning my lot and swooning over a flat I’d just seen for sale in Brighton that had “Shelly” written all over it.  My chum did her best to bring me crashing back to reality by pointing out how tiring the daily commute would be.  The chap sat next to us chipped in, explaining that he lived in Brighton and commuted to his job at the Birmingham Institute of Arts.  Needless to say, as the evening went on and the beer flowed, I told him about my heady days as a Visual Art student - only to find out that he is personally acquainted with two of my old lecturers and would happily but me back in touch with them.  Proof enough that drinking is, in fact, good for you...
It doesn’t end there.  On Monday I shall be swanning off to the launch of Alarmist magazine, a new publication packed full of wit, writing and art.  I forget how I heard about them but sent in one of my illustrations for consideration.  Sadly it was not for them, but... they invited me to the launch anyway.  Hurrah!
So, if you will excuse me, I have a glossy to read, a new acquaintance to email and an awful lot of chocolate to eat.  And, who knows, the guy sat across from me might just be a really handy contact...

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Something old, something new...

This week I am rather proud of myself.  On Monday, I finally got around to visiting the Horniman Museum.  I’ve been meaning to visit it since before I moved to North London in 2005, yet it was The Body Adorned exhibition that finally lured me down to Forest Hill.
The Horniman has to be seen to be believed.  With its collection of model, stuffed and pickled animals, along with an eclectic mix of artefacts from around the world including masks, marionettes and mummies, it’s an eccentric Victorians treasure trove that I suspect even Ripley would be proud of.
Despite its ageing collection, the Horniman embraces the new.  The surroundings are clean and modern; the aquarium, although much smaller, rivals the one sat next to the Thames in the city centre.  The anthropological approach of The Body Adorned exhibition studies the attire of man throughout the ages and around the world – as well as that of the contemporary Londoner.
After a good couple of hours mooching around the museum and a wander around the gardens (cut short by some decidedly autumnal weather), I couldn’t help but admire the Horniman’s blend of old and new.  But then, I guess it shouldn’t really surprise me.  If London is good at anything, it is mixing up the past with the present.  Take architecture.  Today, the Shard, Gherkin and Eye sit alongside Big Ben, St Pauls and Monument like peas in a pod.  The Tate Modern and National Gallery are loved equally by Londoners and visitors alike.  The V&A showcases fashion and design of yesterday, today and often tomorrow within its four walls.  Who can help but love it?
And, in a city of politicians and students, business and medicine, London isn’t short of ideas and new thinking – and never has been.  The capital’s museums are shrines to the brains of our past, a legacy of the philosophy and science of our predecessors.  In fact, the mind boggles at the thought of what has grown out of London – and how it continues to blossom.
So, next time you find yourself in a stuffy museum or at a bizarre exhibition, take a moment to remember how far we have come – and how amazing the Londoners of yesteryear really were.  They have made our city what it is today – and are the foundations of what we will make it tomorrow.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Pro People

I have a small problem.  It appears that, despite my best efforts, I have been struggling to find things to hate about London.  This is most problematic, not because I particularly enjoy being pissed off, but because the name of this blog is, well, Love to Hate London.  If Trading Standards or Ofcom were to read my most recent posts, I might be in bother.
This has lead to a lot of soul searching.  It is true, things about London still really do my head in.  But the good really seems to be outweighing bad.
Take people, for example.  During the last week there have been times when London’s inhabitants have really got under my skin.  From the woman who let me hold a door open for her and walked through it without saying thank you to the dumb-asses who just don’t get the concept of moving down the buses and the “youths” who insist in loudly cursing and abusing whilst they spit and smoke skunk, there are some Londoners who I would really love to see propelled into outer space.
But, even so, there are so many people I have met here who fill me with positivity – the pros who outweigh the cons.  A couple of weeks ago, after a rather inspirational wedding reception, a friend and I decided to find a barn dance in London – and we did at Camden Ceilidh Club.  We had a blast, skipping, swirling and hopping along with the best of them.  And, as well as being a fab workout (next time it will be leggings and a vest at most), everyone was incredibly friendly, encouraging us to join in and, despite our lack of expertise, clapping us along as we jigged our way through. 
Last week I met another group of like-minded people at the Southbank’s Open School.  Artist Tracey Emin and writer Jeanette Winterson spoke to a group of creatives about the use of autobiography in their work.  It was fascinating to hear their thought processes and really refreshing to be in a room full of like-minded people.
But, you know what?  The most inspiring people I’ve met in London of late were a group of children I met on Sunday who I was lucky enough to sing along with at a concert in Camden.  In a city (and country for that matter) that often demonises young people and focuses on the few who cause problems for the rest of us, it was great to see so many young talented people using their free time so constructively.  And, between you and me, I suspect a few Adele’s and Amy’s of the future were in attendance.
So, I shall continue to search for something to moan about.  But, I suspect, with such a cool crowd in the capital, I’ll always find something else to love as I go about my life in London.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Giving it a go...

Last night I found myself in a familiar situation.  It was 10.22pm and, as I slipped on my PJs, music began to pump from a neighbouring flat.  Surveying their open window, I considered my options; either screaming up at them or calling the police.  Luckily for all involved the noise subsided before I felt the need to do either - only to wake me up 90 minutes later.  Needless to say I was NOT amused.
But today, I am happy.  I have the perfect excuse to get my revenge.  You see, I am in my workplace’s “Staff Choir” and we have a concert with a local school on Sunday.  Which means I need to practice.  And I sing first soprano.  Shame...
Getting my own back for years of bad music, stomping and a general lack of consideration for others aren’t the only reasons why I’m in the choir.  I really enjoy singing and, although it may be considered a bit geeky, I jump at the opportunity to warble along with a large group of people who (thankfully) drown me out.  For me, it is a perk in a job that I bemoan rather than brag about.
You see, this year I’ve decided make the most of a mediocre nine til five situation by having a go at new things.  As well as singing (which is not a skill I expect will help me gain future employment) I have taken on the role of project managing and organising an educational community event.  It was a real headache and I admit I had to rely upon the knowledge and experience of a lot of my colleagues, but I pulled it off – and even got a thank you from the head of my service.  Last week I boosted this experience with a day’s workshop in project management - so, next time I see a job advertised which asks for this skill, I can tick that proverbial box with confidence.
Last week I also volunteered to talk to some school children at an event near Holborn.  I was absolutely dreading it – I’m not great with kids at the best of times and the thought of talking to a load of ten year olds is not my idea of fun.  But I decided to give it a go.  And, you know what?  It wasn’t too bad.  They actually took some interest in what I had to say and even the little darlings labelled as “difficult” engaged with me.  In fact – dare I say it? – I quite enjoyed myself.  And not just because I got a free lunch out of it.
So, although I’ve spent most of today ploughing my way through an avalanche of emails, I took the time to contact a colleague to start putting together another project.  And I’m actually quite looking forward to it.  Okay, so it’s not the same as signing a book deal or selling a painting, but it’s something different, something new and, essentially something that will benefit my work, the local community – and myself.  And, until I can retire on the royalties of that bestseller, that will do for me.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Changing Places

Okay, I admit it – I don’t really know London like the back of my hand.  For a start, London is quite a bit bigger than my paws and eleven years is nowhere near long enough to explore every nook and cranny.  However, I do like to think that I know certain corners of the city pretty well.
I lived near Oval for about four years before moving to Islington and l used to think that I had nearby Brixton pretty much sussed – where to eat (the noodle bar on Coldharbour Lane), where to dance (Living Room), best place for a tipple (Ritzy Cinema bar) where to find something to read (the second hand book shop on Coldharbour), high street clothes (Selbys), quirky accessories (Joy) and gifts (the tiny shop on Station Road).  Whatever your want or need, I could point you in the right direction.
Or so I thought. 
On Friday I arranged to meet a friend at Brixton Village Market.  My first surprise as I turned down Coldharbour Lane was that my old Saturday night haunt Living Room was no more.  Bummer.  My second surprise was less of a disappointment – in fact, it was something of a revelation.  When I lived down south, I dismissed the Village Market as somewhere that offered nothing more than a few fruit and veg stalls and couple of dodgy take-away units.  How wrong could I be?  Crammed with shops full of quirky clothes and accessories for yourself and your home, bars, cafes and restaurants, I was seriously impressed – and slightly sore that I had not discovered it sooner.  I met my friend Laura who had just popped into Brixi where she sells her funky greetings cards (and where fellow crafty-chick Pippa sells her fabulous flying women) and wandered around for a bit before heading to Franco Manca for arguably the best pizza in London – and an alternative to the usual Udon soup.
So, even if I do manage to turn over every proverbial stone in every street of all 32 boroughs, I still won’t really know London.  It’s constantly changing, a chameleon of a city that always keeps its inhabitants guessing.  There’s no space to get bored when the view from your office transforms before your very eyes.  And I guess that’s why, even though it drives me mad with its extortionate rent, flagging public transport system and general disdain for anyone and anything, I’m still here.  

Sunday, 10 June 2012

One Hour Away

It’s 1:52pm on Sunday afternoon and, after promising myself to dedicate my day of rest to writing, sewing and other craftiness, I have only just sat down to my computer.  My resolution to also go for a jog is partly to blame, as is run of the mill housework and a rather shoddy 10am start - particularly poor as I was in bed before midnight. 
I would of course have got some of these tasks out of the way yesterday, but I was in Cambridge.  My friend and I decided that we were overdue a girly get-together and, as she lives near Peterborough, we decided that it would make a good meeting point.  Not only is it a mere 45 minutes away from London (and 50 from Peterborough), it offers everything a couple of girls could need on a day out - restaurants, shops and, for when shopping gets too much, the good old pub.
Of course, it offers much more.  There’s punting – and having eyed up some of the, er, punters, we were both quite tempted.  Then there are all the lovely old college buildings, where my chum informed me you can go inside and see original textbooks that are hundreds of years old by the likes of Charles Darwin.  Pretty cool.  Along with the walking tours, bike hire and a smattering of high calibre buskers, we could have kept ourselves busy for an entire weekend – which we vowed (over our second beer) to do with our men this summer.
You see, another thing I love about London is, when I start to hate it – or just need a break from concrete – it is easy to escape.  A few weeks ago I met a group of friends in Peterborough.  Okay, I agree, not an obvious mini-break destination, but I actually had a lovely time.  Saturday evening was spent at the dogs, and despite a marked lack of profit at the end of the night, it was hard not to get caught up in the excitable atmosphere and fun was had by all.  On the Sunday we wandered around the cathedral which, with its unusual wooden panelled ceiling and the workings of the original clock on display, was certainly worth a look.  Then, of course, there was shopping, where I was successful in finding a stone-coloured shrug for my hols and a birthday present for another of my friends.  In true Shelly style, the day ended in the Beehive pub where I sampled a couple of beers from an extensive collection and munched a bowl of chunky chips before heading back to the station.
There are loads of other places you can get to within an hour of Kings Cross.  When a friend lived in Hertford I often enjoyed pottering out to see her – and a rather chilled weekend of country walks, pubs and amateur dramatics at the tiny theatre.  And there is always Brighton.  Most excitingly though, whilst walking through St Pancras station this week, I noticed that they have a strain service that goes directly to Margate – via Broadstairs.  Me thinks I shall be heading out that way again soon for some quality vintage shopping and further exploration of Margate’s up and coming arts scene.  Hell, after spending four nights in a self catering apartment several times the size of my own (with the added bonus of a sea view), I think I shall be investigating house prices too. 
But, in the meantime, I think a few more day trips are in order.  I just need to decide where to go next...

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Re-balancing the rat-race

Happy Jubilee everyone!  Whether you love or loathe HRH, having an extra bank holiday is enough to make most of us hum along to “God Save The Queen” – and not The Sex Pistols version either.  For me, it conveniently tags a couple of days to my two week holiday allowing me to to unwind, unpack and re-acclimatize to London life.  Today has been a rather chilled affair, lying in, making Jamie Oliver’s Breakfast Bread (highly recommended) and pottering around Greenwich Market.  Sweet.
Sadly, there is a niggling worry at the back of my mind.  Work.  In 60 hours I will be sat at my desk, trawling through what I estimate to be around four hundred emails and slowly losing my cool as my “to do” list grows to astronomical proportions.  My fear is fed by the memory of my last week at work before I went on leave.  Without a doubt it was one of the most challenging weeks of my career, with numerous unresolved cases to get to the bottom of – and a handful of incredibly difficult situations to deal with.  By the time I managed to escape the office on the Friday at 6pm I was exhausted – and just thankful I had at least managed to work through my “URGENT” list.
Needless to say, Saturday was a manic affair, packing, cleaning and shooting into central London to catch a must-see exhibition, suitcase in tow, before catching the train to Gatwick.  It took me a good 48 hours of sun, sea and sangria to slow down, relax and get into the swing of holiday life and it was day five by the time I was able to embrace the Spanish siesta. 
I’ve been back in Blighty a week now, but rather than being back in the big smoke I’ve been taking it easy in Kent, kicking back with a couple of girlfriends in an apartment in Broadstairs.  Within seconds of walking into our home for four nights I was wondering how much the beautiful two-bed flat with a sea view would set me back in today’s market.  24 hours in I had visited the up and coming Old Town in Margate (yes, really) and was fantasising about setting up my creative cafe among the galleries, craft shops and vintage boutiques already thriving in the quarter. 
So, here I am, back in my one bed flat, having spent most of this afternoon stuck on public transport, wondering if it is really worth it.  Would life be simpler out in the sticks?  Could I find my niche in a less pressurised job?  Maybe I could.  Or maybe I just need to rebalance those scales once more.  Either way, two weeks away from the rat race has got me thinking.
I guess I just need to put some of those thoughts into action.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Size isn't everything...

It’s Saturday morning and after having had to set my alarm once more I am sat on my sofa, munching away at my porridge and typing as fast as my fingers, still hungover with sleep, can manage.  You see, today I am off on my jollies.  My flight to Alicante is not until this evening, but I have defuzzing to do, a suitcase to pack – and an exhibition to check out.
No, I don’t really have time to pop into London to enjoy a bit of art and yes, I am my own worst enemy, but when I heard that Ron Mueck of the Sensation exhibition of the late nineties fame was showing in town, I knew I had to take a look.  I popped along to the private gallery Hauser and Wirth on Monday but it was closed.  Being a stubborn type, I will not be beaten by that restrictive beast known as time.
Luckily my pilgrimage into town on Monday was not a complete washout, despite the wet weather.  I also went to Somerset House to catch an exhibition of paintings by Japanese tattoo artist Horiyoshi III and another small private gallery, Hayhill, to see Jamie McCartney’s Skin Deep or, more specifically, The Great Wall of Vagina.  Both exhibitions were real inspirations and I recommend that you try and catch them before they close.  But I’m no art critic, so I’m not going to go into the content of the work and the social commentary it offers. 
And here comes my confession.  This Monday was the first time in nearly eleven years of living in London that I have been to Somerset House.  Shocking, I know, especially when you take into account the art, gigs, films and world famous ice skating rink that it hosts.  It isn’t the only heavyweight venue that I have visited for the first time this year.  A couple of months ago I had the opportunity to go to the Royal Albert Hall for the first time.  Again I wasn’t disappointed and I can’t wait to go back with my folks later this year.
The flip-side to my confession is another one – I tend to avoid private galleries and usually gravitate towards lager public spaces to get my art fix.  Why?  Well, I think it is down to a preconception I have that when they clock my appearance (i.e. high street rather than Bond Street) they will decide that I am wasting their time and look down their noses at me as I enjoy their wares with absolutely no intention of buying.  Well, the receptionist at Hayhill blew that idea well and truly out of the water.  Despite my rain sodden jeans from Next and ancient scruffy black jacket, she took the time to ask me what I thought of the work and to explain how the artist had photographed the incredibly striking images.
Again, when it comes to gigs and theatre, I tend it forget about the smaller venues across town, but again, compared to the likes of the Albert Hall and Nottingham arena where I saw my girl-crush Florence Welsh on stage for the first time, they offer a more intimate experience – and, quite honestly, a better view.  I returned to Soho Theatre this year for the first time in ten years to see the Crick Crack Club and, despite being towards the back of the audience, I had a premier view.  Same goes for the comedy night I went to recently in a pub in Piccadilly and Seasick Steve’s gig at The Electric Ballroom last year – okay, so a bit bigger, but still small enough that I didn’t end up watching the entire thing on a big screen.
So, there you go.  When it comes to venues in London and elsewhere, size really isn’t everything.  Sadly the same doesn’t go for the suitcase I now have to pack. 

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Wild Thing

For those of you who know me (or at least follow me on Twitter), the following two facts will not come as a surprise.  First, I like watching documentaries on Channel 4.  Second, I have a bit of a soft spot for furry animals – especially little baby ones.  Needless to say I’ve been keeping half en eye on the above channel’s investigation into the nation’s population of foxes for the last couple of weeks.  I know a lot of people who don’t like foxes, whether due to fear of attack, memories of childhood pets falling foul of their need to feed or those who just think they look a bit mangy.  I, on the other hand, find them fascinating. 
Living in London, you don’t see a lot of wildlife, and coming across it, for me, is a real treat – not just because I’m a big softie.  It fills me with hope to see wild animals adapting to the urban landscape.  Let’s face it, without this ability, they wouldn’t stand a chance of survival.  So, when I see a fox trot across the street on my way home from the pub, or a squirrel scamper up a tree on the commute to work, it makes me smile.
Yes, I have heard about the attacks on small children and indeed I am aware that grey squirrels have pushed their rusty-coloured cousins to the corners of the country.  But is this really their fault?  If the world wasn’t so over-populated and devoid of their natural diet, foxes would be much less likely to put themselves at risk by attacking their mortal enemy.  If people hadn’t released grey squirrels to the UK they would be thriving in their country of origin – and not playing a Darwinian version of tug-of war with their rivals.  What they are doing is surviving – and in what is more often than not a hostile environment.
Okay, so the summer before last my entire crop of salad leaves was destroyed by a healthy colony of caterpillars and I often blame a bad day on a solitary magpie.  But, along with the birds I can hear singing outside my bedroom window and the spiders who weave their webs between the plants on my terrace, they keep me in touch with the real world.  A wander around Hampstead Heath fills me with memories of childhood walks with my mum as I spot bluebells and violets.  The aroma of wild garlic adds to the atmosphere of Highgate Cemetery, and even though it’s giant trees are responsible for a lot of damage to the majestic tombs that watch over London, they add to – in fact, create – the Victorian site’s beauty.
So whilst some people might dismiss the city’s four legged inhabitants and bemoan trees that cause structural damage to their houses, I welcome them.  They act as a reminder that London wasn’t always the polluted concrete jungle that it is today.  
I think it’s about time we made the foxes and the flowers feel welcome again and show them a bit more respect.  At the end of the day, they were here first. 

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Get Real

Tonight, I am grateful.  I’m grateful it’s nearly the weekend.  I’m grateful that, for the first time in far too long, I feel like I’m getting on top of my workload again.  And I am grateful to have a night in, at home – and a bit of peace and quiet.
Despite my moaning and groaning about central London, on two occasions so far this week – as in 50% of my precious evenings – I have ended up in the West End.  Monday was a particularly horrific experience.  Having arrived back in London after a weekend ooop north I headed to Covent Garden for a spot of shopping before meeting my chums.  My shopping list was short but precise – two birthday cards, some face wash from Lush and a hip flask from the Monday market.  First I headed to M&S to pick up a bottle of cloudy lemonade and my greetings cards.  By the time I got to the self check-out I wished I had bought something stronger to quench my thirst.  The place was heaving with tourists and, like a swarm of midges, they were really starting to irritate me.  And I hadn’t even got to the Plaza.  This was not good.
With gritted teeth I fought my way through the throngs gathered around a variety of street theatre and found my stall – sans the perfect present I was looking for.  I asked the stall holder if he had any more and he promised to order some in.  As I thanked him, my heart sank with the realisation that this meant I would have to return soon.  With a sigh, I walked over to Lush – to find it closed for renovation.  Things were not going well.
I'd managed to claw my way through the crowds and was well on my way to my Holborn rendezvous when I realised I had forgotten my cashback.  Luckily when I got back to M&S they were able to sort it out for me, but by the time I got to Starbucks I was well and truly strung out, stressed - and sick of being back in London already.
The fact that my evening was in sharp contrast to my weekend probably didn’t help.  Friday afternoon had been spent with my folks at Thoresby Hall in Nottinghamshire, walking in the countryside, mooching around a handful of craft shops and warming up with a cuppa and cake.  Saturday was spent wandering around York with my beau, window shopping, lunching at Betty’s and catching up over a pint.  And then Sunday?  A day at a spa, swimming, steaming, sauna-ing and indulging in a face and body "ritual" which left me in a blissful haze for about six hours.  Monday morning ended my weekend away perfectly, sitting in my parent’s sundrenched garden with my laptop as dad did his Sudoku.
On Wednesday I found myself mounting the escalator at Leicester Square and pushing through the crowds once more.  After a particularly arduous day at work, it wasn’t a great start to my evening.  However, after meeting my friends in the suitably civilised Foyles', we decided to head up to Goodge Street for burritos at Benitos Hat.  Once we had a passed the hordes at Tottenham Court Road, I started to feel calmer. Yes, it was still busy, but we had escaped that central hub of tourist activity – and found London again.  So Goodge Street isn’t the most exciting of locations – but it is London for Londoners.  People visiting the capital don’t tend to venture into the area nestled safely between Oxford Street and Camden, and for the locals it is a bit of a haven. 
Okay, I know, tourism brings a lot of money into the capital – and provides many of its inhabitants with jobs that are few and far between.  But I can’t help but wish that it was a little bit more true to itself.  Let me try to explain - in recent months I have visited two other European cities, Prague and Budapest.  Prague, I’m sorry to say, was a bit disappointment.  Yes, it is a beautiful place, but it felt like it had sold itself to the visitor and forgotten it’s true self.  Budapest, on the other hand, hit the spot.  The capital of Hungary is, to me, just as beautiful with its own intriguing history – but the emphasis on tourism seemed absent.  Whilst welcoming to the traveller, it was also there for its inhabitants, giving it a sense of authenticity that can so easily be lost.
Over the Bank Holiday weekend I am in danger of a similar crash.  On Saturday I am heading out to bonny Buckinghamshire – which will be followed by a May Day outing with another mate somewhere between my North London flat and her home in Dulwich.  And, although the mid-point seems like the obvious choice, I shall be suggesting somewhere a little more off the beaten track.  Somewhere a little bit more... real.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Water Washout

At the end of last year I started to see a life coach.  I only saw him about half a dozen times, just to iron out a few chinks in my armour, but it was certainly a valuable experience.  One thing he helped me with was my guilt.  After explaining how it gnawed away at me like a hyperactive rodent, he enquired,
“Are you by any chance a Catholic?”
If I was, it would explain a thing or two.  But I’m not.  And, whenever there is an opportunity to feel bad about something, I grab it with both hands.  Take “green guilt” for example.  I feel shamed if I have to take a carrier bag at the local supermarket and lose sleep if I discard an empty Coke can or exhausted newspaper in a general waste bin.  And despite my coach’s attempts to put my feelings of guilt into perspective, it has recently got worse.  You see, I now have “drought guilt.”  I kid you not, but after my Saturday morning ritual in the bath, cleaning, laundry, hand washing and mopping, I don’t think I could have felt much worse that if I’d just kicked a malnourished puppy.
So, on Monday I sought redemption.  A week after moving to a new office at work, I walked into the ladies to see one of the taps running freely once more.  With a tut I twisted it off and marched back to my desk to call building maintenance and demanded that it be fixed at once.  Two days later, the problem has not gone away.  I think back to the total number of minutes that I had water running over the weekend and calculate for how many hours that tap has been spurting out London’s most valuable commodity du jour, and – you know what?  I get bloody angry. 
Let’s face it, big businesses and corporations waste gallons of H20 every nano-second – probably because they can afford our steep water rates, which I am sure will go up if we get to the point of actually buying water from our better-stocked neighbours.  Which reminds me – what on earth has happened to the world when a natural and necessary substance such as water is traded this way?  I’m sorry, but it just seems, well, wrong.  I mean, are we going to start tanking it over to sub-Saharan Africa and sell it to them too?  My mind boggles.
Of course, this would bother me less if the sun was shining and it hadn’t been absolutely chucking it down for what feels like an eternity.  And now, of course, we see that some parts of the country are at risk of flooding.  Yes, I know that this extreme weather is down to global warming etc etc (and yes I do feel like my recent flight to Budapest is single-handedly to blame for these recent conditions) and that when rain falls so quickly it is less easy for us to harvest, but surely, in this day and age, we have the engineering and technical know-how to do so – and pipe it from one end of the country to another?  Come on people, the UK isn’t that big.  Surely this is possible – and a worthwhile investment? 
Sadly, as much as I rant, I know that I shall still feel guilty if I linger under the shower for too long in the morning.  But, as I arrive at my bus stop, already sodden from a misjudged puddle or inconsiderate driver, I shall remain more than a little pissed off that, for some inconceivable reason, we still have a water shortage – and the powers that be have yet to figure out how to balance this contradiction.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Mix 'n' Match

I have a confession to make. I’m not sure how people will take it, but I feel like I have to come clean. Okay, here goes...

I love Ikea.

I’m sorry, but I do. I went there the other weekend, and, although I only came back with a new picture frame and a furry rug, I could have spent a small fortune. I’ve been craving one of those wooden framed rocking chairs for ages and, if I had the room, I’d have one in every colour. Coupled with their current special offer of a cinnamon bun and coffee for 50p and their range of weird and wonderful food (reindeer salami anyone?), it is, for me, a shopper’s paradise.

I know people who pride themselves for having never set foot in the place. Others who refuse to enter their local Tesco Metro and look down their noses at anyone who has ever indulged in a KFC. Guess what? I am guilty of both of those offences too.

And yes, guilty is the right word. With my left-leaning morals I should know better. And, living in London where there is such an abundance of independent retailers, I have no excuse. But the truth of the matter is that although I love local, sometimes I just want the convenience of walking into a shop and walking out five minutes later without having spent half the afternoon rummaging around for that unique/organic/vintage something special.

Don’t get me wrong. When the mood hits me, I can quite easily spend an entire weekend mooching around London’s markets. Whether it’s brownies and bratwurst at Borough Market, art and fashion from Spitalfields or fun fifties furniture down Brick Lane, when the time is right, I can’t get enough of it. But when I’m on my way home from work, pay day is a million light years away and I just can’t be arsed? Sorry but there’s no competition. And every little really does help.

So there you have it. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have a locally purchased bottle of wine to devour and two Birthday presents to get in the post. Yes, one of them was purchased last night in Grotesqucoes. The other? My favourite independent retailer in Kings Cross. Now where did I put that re-cycled wrapping paper?

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

City Secrets

Tonight is the fourth night in a row I have been at home left to my own devices. It’s been all very pleasant, but, needless to say, I am getting rather bouncy and looking forward to a night at the National Portrait Gallery tomorrow, pay day drinks on Friday and a weekend with my folks. Happy days.

Yet, despite my interest in the work of Lucien Freud, there is part of me that really doesn’t want to head into central London tomorrow. You see, I really need to do a little bit of shopping and, without making a major de-tour, that means one thing: Oxford Street. Yes, okay, so I could go on a different occasion but I really want to get to H&M whilst the bath mat I so desire is still in stock and to visit Paperchase whilst they have their sale on – and I really don’t want to have to dedicate an entire afternoon to High Street Hell.

That’s the problem with London – so much of it is so big, so overwhelming and so rammed with tourists that I can understand why it puts a lot of people off. I admit, when I first moved here I quite liked its brazen boldness, but as our relationship has developed it is a side of London that I have realised I don’t really care for.

Luckily, over the years, I have been able to take a peek at the capital’s alternative underbelly – and I like what I see. It is the hidden gems, the little nooks and crannies that make London so great – and constantly full of surprises.

Let’s start with museums. An Australian friend of mine was looking for something new to do the other weekend. She fancied a museum but had done all the big players to death, so I suggested the Old Operating Theatre. Tucked away at the back of London Bridge, it is crammed with old medical apparatus, bits of preserved bodies and the theatre itself – viewing gallery, blood stains and all. To me it is a proper museum – dusty, dark and more than a little bit macabre. What more could a London girl ask for? I know there are other like-minded places I have yet to have a poke around in – one of them being the better known Horniman Museum, which I shall definitely get around to visiting this year in order to catch its The Body Adorned exhibition (think tattoos, piercings and the like).

It’s also a relief to know that there is a wealth of other things I can get up to in the evening that are a little bit off the beaten track. I’m not a huge fan of musical theatre, but had a magical experience at the Soho Theatre a couple of months ago, listening to stories told by the Crick Crack Club. When I fancy a night on the dance floor, rather than your run of the mill superclubs, there are nights arranged by the likes of B&H events where I can step back in time, dress up and lose myself in another era.

And, if you have a big party to arrange and don’t fancy a bar crawl around Leicester Square – fear not. As well as speedboat rides on the Thames (as raved about in a previous blog), there are also places like my favourite, Drink, Shop, Do, in Kings Cross. For my friend’s Pre-Wedding Girly Get-Together (I wasn’t allowed to call it a Hen Do) we tucked into afternoon teas “with a kick” – whilst attempting to make garters. It was great fun and I have to say, I don’t think I’ve ever seen my girlfriends so engrossed in all our years. And we are talking a lot of years...

So, there you go – my whistle-stop tour of London’s less flashy leisure activities. It just goes to show, first impressions can be misleading, and big doesn’t always mean better. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to book tickets for the opera – as performed in a gay bar...

Friday, 30 March 2012


The last two weekends I have been out of London. As well as being pleasurable in their own right, they also reminded me how much more you get for your money outside of the capital. A pint of scrumpy in Somerset? Just over two pounds. A beer in Budapest? Even less.

But, one has to remind oneself that cheaper does not always mean better. And, nine times out of ten, when something is free... there is a reason for it. It could be because it is a new product or service trying to gain new custom. It might be to lure back old customers. Or... it is sometimes just because the very thing they are giving away is, pure and simply, shite.

Take my recent trip down to South London. I ended up in an old man’s pub called The Trafalgar. So far, not a problem. I partook in another pint (or two) of real ale and listened politely as my friends continued to wean me onto lager’s decidedly flatter cousin. I was quite content.

Then the evening’s entertainment started. Needless to say, it was free. Some of you may know Steve Whalley as the lead singer of Slade before Noddy took the reins. Anyway, he and his side-kick treated us to a taste of the blues. Okay, so the man could sing, and the strumming was more than passable. Then I started to listen to the lyrics.

So, what was he singing about? 6’3’’ blondes. Prostitutes and how they love selling their bodies to their pimps and punters. Naked robbers and women riding horses in tight jodhpurs. The feminist within me was not amused, and it became clear that even some of the men in our party were less than impressed too. So... we left. And I don’t think we’ll be back.

But, fear not, freebies can be fabulous too. Last week I met one of the girls (I had been with on that frightful night) for a curry and a bit of comedy at Ruby Tuesday’s, The Queen’s Head. The curry, although not free, was pleasant and reasonably priced; the comedy; gratis. I knew that, especially as it was in the heart of Soho, it might be a bit rough around the edges, but my mate had been before and assured me that it was okay.

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. Okay, so a couple of the stand-ups were a bit leftfield for me and there were one too many poo jokes (although one of them was particularly funny), but some of the acts were really very amusing. I particularly liked the Swedish stand-up’s take on public transport here and there, and the lovely Blossom’s musings on what it means to be beautiful on the inside.

So, when you end up going out for a freebie in London, be prepared to make a swift exit. But, on the other hand, keep your mind open and you might just have a top night. And, if you do? Please let me know. The northerner in me loves a cheap date...

Thursday, 22 March 2012


Today I realised that spring is well and truly here. Why? Well, it was the first day this year that I looked at my coat pegs heaving with woollies and thought, mmm, time to put them away and replace them with my light-weight jackets and silky scarves.

Yet, despite the optimism that the warmer months usually inspire, I noticed a cloud hanging over London today. I went on Twitter, where people were bemoaning feeling out of control of their lives, groaning about having to deal with difficult people and apparently feeling pretty shitty about life in general. Why is everybody so blue? I wondered. But then I thought back over my day. It had been long and hard, yes. But the real killer? The bus journey home.

Yes, I know, I often sing the praises of buses and prefer them over the tube any day (and not just because they are cheaper, although, being a tight arse, that is a real plus). But, let’s face it, at the end of the day they are the lesser of two evils. And, when they want to be, they can be pretty darn devilish.

Take last week, if you will. On Tuesday, after a swift pint, I attempted to catch the bus home. It was seven o’clock, so the worst of the evening’s rush hour had been and gone. The only problem was that at the exact moment I decided to mount the 91, a group of protesting cyclists decided to over-take us – and proceeded to pedal up York Way at a snail’s pace. Yes, okay, so they wanted to assert their rights as road users and celebrate the life of those cyclists who have picked fights with bigger vehicles and come off decidedly worse, but - seriously? At the end of the day, I wanted to go home. And by getting in my way, they weren’t warming me to their cause.

Cyclists, don’t curse me yet. You aren’t the only ones who make my journey on the average double-decker more than a little tedious. There are the bus drivers who watch you as you run towards their gigantic red beast, handbag flapping at your hip and Tesco carrier bag tangling around your legs – only to pull off when you get within five metres of them. Or those who, despite traffic grinding to a standstill, refuse to open the doors until you are at the next bus-stop – even though nothing is moving within a mile radius. And yes, both these scenarios happened to me last week, too.

Okay, so you could argue that these bus drivers are just doing their job. They are playing by the rules, and there is no room for manoeuvre (quite literally). But then you have the bus drivers who blatantly lie to you.

“There’s an empty bus just behind me,” I was advised as I, along with a gaggle of commuters desperate to get to their desks and first coffee of the day, tried to squeeze through the door on Wednesday. I made a fatal mistake. I paused, and looked up the road to see if he was telling the truth. Needless to say, he wasn’t – but the doors had already slammed in my face as the driver hurriedly thrust into first gear and pulled away. Apparently, in his world, “just behind me” means “about ten minutes away – if you’re lucky.” Thanks, mate, just what a girl needs at eight in the morning.

I guess the moral of the story is, that no matter how sunny it is, how well paid you are or how yummy your lunch was, there is always something in this city to put a dampener on your mood. But, you know what? I will not be beaten. Despite the trials and tribulation of TFL, I will be unbreakable. Or rather, if I am broken, it will not be my something as trivial as London’s arthritic public transport.

So, my advice to those travelling by bus? Pack light, take a good (paperback) book with you, and grin and bear it. And, no matter how painful it gets, don’t let the bastards grind you down...

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Rural Suburbia

Dare I say it, but... I think spring is peeking around the corner. This morning for the first time this year (when I have been at home anyway), it was warm and dry enough for me to get out on the terrace and prepare for the change of season. I spent a very pleasant hour pulling dead leaves off plants, weeding and sweeping up the winter debris before sitting outside with my book and a cup of coffee. A perfect way to spend a Sunday morning.

It is a pleasure to be able to spend a decent amount of time outdoors – that doesn’t only involve hopping between shops or walking to the office. Last week I got some proper fresh air when I was back up north visiting friends and family. I spent an afternoon with my folks at a wildlife reserve and went for a quick three-mile trek around the lake with my dad before enjoying a cuppa in the cafe. I was just what the doctor ordered.

However, last Saturday I discovered a little gem just at the southern end of the Northern Line. I headed down to Colliers Wood to meet a couple of friends to plan a holiday. We decided to have a bit of fun before settling down to the internet and went to Merton Abbey and Watermill. A centre for the Arts and Crafts Movement in the 18th Century, my chum has been raving about it for ages – and I can see why. With a working water mill, crafts shops, a market and a good range of eateries and watering holes, it’s the perfect place to while away a few hours. Whilst there I picked up a birthday present for my mum and managed to track down the crystal Buddha I have been after for ages – for the reasonable price of four quid.

But our wander didn’t stop there. 5 minutes away was the Merton City Farm. Well, I was as happy as a pig in mud! There were sheep, llamas, goats, chickens, Edna the barn owl, and – most excitingly – a plethora of rabbits and guinea pigs.

My human pals pulled me away from my new furry friends with the promise that our day out in the urban countryside was not over yet. We walked further out to Morden Hall Park. With a wetland nature reserve, gardens, a beautiful hall framed by bridges across a small stream and the obligatory National Trust shop and cafe, we could have easily spent the entire afternoon exploring. We rounded off the day window shopping in the garden centre and aquarium before heading home. I have made my friend promise to take me back when the weather is warm enough for a picnic, when we have more time to talk to the animals and my bank balance will allow me to fully appreciate the old abbey’s delights.

So, as night falls over London on one of the warmest days of the year so far, I am really looking forward to spring and summer, and future visits to my friends south of the river – and hopefully further discoveries of countryside escapes in the capital.

Maybe we should have just planned a staycation...

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Scream if you want to go faster...

It’s no big secret that I like the River Thames. Maybe it’s because I’m a water sign – I’m attracted to the sea too and love nothing more than a bubble bath on a lazy Sunday morning. Anyway, last weekend I was happy to find myself spending an awful lot of time at Embankment, on the South Bank – and on the water itself.
Sunday was nothing unusual really – a date with friends at the Hayward to see David Shrigley’s first major exhibition (Note: VERY amusing) followed by a cup of tea and a slice of cake from the Southbank Sunday market. My chocolate and peanut butter concoction gave me a good weeks’ worth of cocoa-fix and the masala chai was much kinder to my hangover than the alternative beverages of Polish lager, stout or scrumpy. After a quick mooch around the Southbank Centre Shop, I returned home a happy bunny.
Saturday, however, was something quite different. It was my friend’s Hen Do – and a boat trip on the Thames had been arranged. Now, let me explain – this was not any boat trip. This was the Thames RIB Experience. A.K.A a ride in a speedboat. Pretty cool, I figured when I agreed to come along. Well, I’ve always liked boats and had never been on one with a bit of speed to it.
Little did I know what I was getting myself into.
It started off tame enough. Yes, we were moving faster than most the traffic on the river, but it was nothing extraordinary.
Then they treated us to a little swerve. Nothing major, not even a 45 degree tilt to the boat – but enough to make us scream all the same. As our nervous laughter faded we were lulled into a false sense of security. The skipper gave us a bit of a commentary on the sites of interest that we passed, and we all got snap happy as we floated by the Tate Modern, the Tower, and St Paul's.
Then we got to Canary Wharf. And all hell broke loose.
It started with a marked increase in speed. Then the James Bond theme started to pump through the air.
It was fiercer than any roller coaster. We swerved from side to side, our vessel at a right-angle to the water. We screamed. We laughed. Our faces streamed with tears, spray and mascara. Every now and then we had to grip on for dear life.
It was bloody brilliant.
Grinning manically and hoarse from our screaming, we tottered off the boat - and headed to another one. Sadly this one was static – but it served booze, and after our adrenaline rush, we were all ready for a glass of vino or three.
The rest of the evening was really rather pleasant. We wandered over the Wobbly Bridge to the Wharf on the Southbank for dinner (I can confirm that the house burger was very acceptable to my taste buds) before staggering (well, it was getting late when we left) to the BFI bar – okay, so rather pricey, but with its comfy seats, laid back music and a good selection of all things alcoholic, it was worth it. Luckily, the blushing bride managed to avoid getting into a fight with someone over who got to a free table first (it would appear she gets feisty after wine) and we wandered back to Charing Cross more than a little well-oiled.
So, yes – last weekend, the Thames out-did itself. And yes – if I get invited to another do on a speed boat I shall be there. With bells on.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Museum Musings

So, we have established that London and I are getting on quite well at the moment. It hasn’t always been like this – and I’m not just talking about my rants on this blog about rude people, crappy public transport and a general lack of space. When I was a kid I visited London a few times with my family. I remember walking over one of the many bridges crossing the Thames and thinking that I would never get to the other side, and trudging for what felt like miles to see Buckingham Palace and the changing of the guards – and being less that convinced that it was worth the exertion. Later visits involved museums – and lots of them. My sister was thinking about studying archaeology so a trip to the British Museum was inevitable. We walked around for hours looking at old coins, bits of broken pot and grisly mummies. I’m afraid to say, it didn’t float my boat – and, quite honestly, it still doesn’t.

I’m sorry, but I just don’t get looking at old things. Okay, so I understand that they tell us a lot about our ancestors and how human society has developed, but I’d much rather spend an afternoon in a gallery looking at things that teach me about the world around me through the means of artistic expression.

Last weekend I found myself at the British Museum once more. Greyson Perry’s The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsmen was showing, so I invited my mum down to the Big Smoke have a gander with me. I really enjoyed it. Not only was Greyson’s work thought provoking (he had plenty to say about contemporary culture, from gender issues, social media and the rise of surveillance) but his use and appreciation of ancient crafts bridged the gap between art and history seamlessly. It is on until the 26th February, so it you can, go and take a look – you won’t be disappointed.

After a spot of afternoon tea in the Great Court, we decided to wander over to the Foundling Museum. My primary reason for suggesting it was to see the exhibition by Quentin Blake. As a life-long fan of Roald Dahl, I have grown up with Blake’s quirky illustrations and was keen to see some of his more recent work. The images on show were copies of paintings commissioned by a range of institutions, ranging from clinics for those suffering from eating disorders to care homes for the elderly. The paintings of mothers swimming underwater with their new-born babies created for a maternity ward were particularly beautiful – and quite moving.

Whilst we were there we checked out the rest of the museum, dedicated to the Foundling Hospital opened on the site at the end of the 19th Century. It briefly told the story of how the charity now known as Coram was set up – and what it was like to be a child growing up in the institution. My work in Social Care has exposed me to the organisation before – and the important work they still do with disadvantaged young people. I firmly believe that by the time a child gets to their teenage years, damage done is almost irreversible – and charities like Coram are essential to steering them in the right direction.

Okay, so I admit it – museums are okay – as long as their subject matter is something that grabs my attention. Random bones and old cooking utensils? No thanks. The story of an interesting person, organisation or industry? Okay then. But, throw in a bit of social-commentating art, and I’ll definitely be there.