The more I get to know London, the less I realise I know of this city heaving and overcrowded with history. And the more I get to know the city, the more I love living here for now.
My New York blogging buddy, jacquelin, told me about Postman’s Park, just behind St Paul’s. I met up with my husband one sunshine-filled lunch time last week, and we walked across the London Millennium Footbridge over the Thames, towards St Paul’s Cathedral – a sight that still takes my breath away – and we walked around the massive and awe-inspiring church to this little spot:
This little spot is interestingly one of the biggest parks in the City of London. It was built in 1880 on the site of a churchyard and burial ground of St Botolph’s Aldergate. Named as it is because it stands on the former site of the General Post Office where postmen often sat to eat their lunch, Postmans Park is also home to a sheltered wall commemorating, as something of a protest against the upper class, ordinary people who lost their lives heroically trying to save others. G F Watts, the painter (1817 – 1904), came up with the idea and he commissioned Doulton to create the hand-lettered tiles to honour the otherwise unheralded and unnamed heroes.
In a similar vein, one of my colleagues showed me this little site just down the road from our office. Known as Cross Bones, this is an unconsecrated burial site, going back to medieval times, for “single women” and paupers. (“Single women” was a euphemism for prostitutes, known in the area as “Winchester Geese” because they were licenced by the Bishop of Winchester to work within the Southwark area known as the Liberty of the Clink.)
According to Wikipedia, the Liberty of the Clink lay outside the jurisdiction of the City of London, and as a result became known for its brothels and theatres, bull and bear-baiting. The age of the graveyard is not known: John Stow (1525 – 1605) wrote about it in A Survey of London in 1598, and by 1769 it had become a paupers’ cemetery for the poor of St Saviour’s parish. It is believed that about 15,000 people are buried there.
When the London Underground planned the construction of its Jubilee Line through the area, between 1991 and 1998, archaeologists found this overcrowded graveyard with bodies piled on top of one another. Test showed the deaths to have been caused by anything from smallpox to TB, Paget’s disease, osteoarthritis and Vitamin D deficiency.
The find captured the attention of local community members who created an informal group – Friends of Cross Bones – to campaign for a permanent memorial garden on the site, which has also become the site of annual Halloween festivals – held every year since 1998 – marked by processions, songs and candles.
Today is officially Squirrels-Gone-Mad Day. I know you might have been expecting a Royal Wedding post from this heaving city because nothing much else seems to be happening here at the moment. People are camping outside Westminster as we speak to get a glimpse of the family-that-is-not-boring and the couple-who-are-also-not-boring as they get set to tie the royal knot on Friday. But squirrels captured my attention today; they just did.
As I walked to my bus this morning, I decided that the squirrels in our ‘hood had gone nuts. Firstly, I saw a squirrel scurrying towards the water as I crossed the dock. There was no tree in sight and, I know it’s been a bit warmer here, but I didn’t realise squirrels liked the water. Although I saw no towel or swimming cap (health and safety considerations, of course), I think my squirrel friend was going for a squim.
Then, when I walked past a row of weeping willow trees, a couple of squirrels rushed past me and scurried up a tree. I heard a crinkling sound and then saw that one of the squirrels was carrying a large, crumpled-up piece of paper in its mouth. I watched it as it ran to the top of the tree, towards a nest. (Do squirrels have nests?) I thought maybe the squirrels just wanted to do anything to take their minds off this royal madness all around them; it was their equivalent of sticking their fingers in their ears and going “la-la-la-la-la-la”! I know the feeling.
My version of doing that is to share a few more of the things that I love about life in London and, in so doing, to keep the attention away from the you-know-whats.
1. Sir John Soane’s Museum
Friends of ours told us about this little hidden gem in the heart of London. Sir John Soane was the Royal Architect (sorry for using the “r” word) in 1806 and, according to his website, began “to arrange the Books, casts and models in order that the students might have the benefit of easy access to them and proposed opening his house for the use of the Royal Academy students the day before and the day after each of his lectures. By 1827, when John Britton published the first description of the Museum, Soane’s collection was being referred to as an ‘Academy of Architecture’”.
We visited this Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Field near Holborn in central London a few weekends ago. We stood and waited our turn to enter the hushed and hallowed halls of this building that was home and house to both a family and an exorbitantly large collection of stuff. The number of visitors to the house at any one time is limited to about 20, as space to move is at a premium. I had to put my handbag into a plastic bag and hold it in my hand, to avoid the risk of knocking over artefacts that are stood and stored everywhere; all cameras and laptops were surrendered at the front door and no photography permitted. No washing machines either.
When we got the nod, we stepped into a surreal world of compulsive collections of artwork, furniture, paintings, statues, stained glass, casts, architects’ models and history. Our eyes stood out on stalks, our senses were overloaded and the abundance of assembled heritage from every corner and age of the world just about blew my mind. The house itself is a fascination of levels and sunroofs and alcoves and cellars and nooks and crannies. Every available surface and space is filled with another piece of art.
The “monk’s cellar” at the bottom of the house is home to a collection of Egyptian art, including a sarcophagus, complete with hieroglyphic engravings as well as a wooden mummy case. A cellar-level courtyard hosts the final resting place of “Poor Fanny” whose inscription on a massive headstone tells of a greatly revered personality, laid to rest in pride of place. I asked one of the staff members who “poor Fanny” was and was surprised to learn that “she was, madam, Mrs Soane’s dog”.
We were ushered into a high-ceilinged room whose walls were lined, from floor to ceiling, with paintings. The door was closed behind us and a white-gloved curator proceeded to talk us through the profusion of artworks that covered the walls. He talked with perfect comedic timing through a series of William Hogarth paintings, A Rake’s Progress, and then described the provenance of each other gem hanging from the walls, or should I say, cupboard doors, as they opened to reveal a further collection of artworks lining the inside of the doors and the real wall behind the doors. The opposite “wall” was also so composed, with one difference: the doors opened to reveal another set of doors which then opened on to an open space above the monk’s cellar, where Soane’s model of the Bank of England stood proudly for all to see. We all gasped and applauded.
The rest of the house brought with it equal numbers of surprises and sensory treats; it certainly requires a second and third visit and you can be sure that we’ll be back to discover more.
2. Charity in London
I work for a small charity that does remarkably big work in London. I never cease to be amazed at the level of dedication to our work that I see all around me every day, and the pace of change that results from passionate and focused campaigning.
Ten days ago, we stood on Tower Bridge and cheered on the 100 or so runners who joined the 36,500 others to run the London Marathon 2011 in our charity’s colours towards a goal of raising some quarter of a million pounds for us. It’s far and away our biggest fundraising event of the year, which makes sense: the London Marathon is, I am told, the “biggest fundraising event on the PLANET”.
Each person running for us had a reason to run for us: to raise funds for world-class research that might change the course of his four-year-old son’s life; to run in memory of her nephew who died 15 years ago, aged 16; three university students who ran because their mate is in a wheelchair and he’s an awesome guy; brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, friends – all honouring someone close to them and supporting them in this amazingly tangible way. There are no more words.
3. Endless eavesdropping opportunities
Last week, a woman sat behind me in the bus on the way to work. She arrived at her seat mid-conversation on her cell phone. She had a slight accent, and from what I could overhear, she was whingeing about someone; female I think.
The conversation continued in a monotone and then I heard her say, “But you know what? I’m really worried about the herpes.” I then began to wonder what kind of a weekend she’d had, exactly, and began to understand why she was so irate with this other person.
“Everything else is okay, the shoes and everything, it’s just the herpes. And I’m really worried. I don’t know what to do about it.”
I was about to move seats, when I realised I was heading off down the wrong track.
“You see, the thing about the herpes is that … well, it’s more like a veil than a herpes. You see?”
She was talking about a “hairpiece”.
4. Riding along the Thames
I am quite proud of myself because I can still ride a bicycle. Well, ride might be too generous a word. I can stay upright on a bicycle and not fall off. Just.
Easter Saturday was a beautiful, sunny day with a light breeze. My husband and I set off on our newly-sorted bikes to enjoy a little ride along the edge of the Thames. I haven’t been on a bike for about 30 years but, as they say, it’s just like riding a bike. I managed to stay pretty much balanced and didn’t wobble myself to a complete standstill.
Thank goodness we didn’t ride in traffic, just along the Thames footpath, and I mostly managed to avoid hitting any pedestrians. For a short distance we rode on a road with traffic and I discovered a have a unique instinct: instead of fight or flight, I have my own response: act like a complete idiot. Fearing being knocked over by a car, I do the sensible thing when I hear it approaching: I ride towards it.
I don’t think that approach will lengthen my life, but I’ll stay off the busy roads just in case. It is also a bit of a challenge riding a boy’s bike that is slightly too big for me, but I’ll get over it. In fact, I did! And the uncomfortable saddle. And the handlebars that seem designed for gorilla-length arms. But you know what? The freedom of riding along in a gentle breeze, alongside my best friend and along the edge of a raging river that’s been churning and flowing since time immemorial, made me feel alive and unbeatable.
Until I hit a cobbled path and riding over it was like being aboard a jackhammer at full throttle. It wasn’t a pretty sight.
This post has felt a bit like Sir John Soane’s museum – nothing really makes too much sense; it’s filled with bits of this and bits of that and peppered with randomness and collections of thoughts and observations, with nothing really to hold them all together except that they all come from me. I don’t think there’ll be people queuing for a viewing of my thoughts but you never know; this is London, man, and people here are crazy.
There’s a really cool guy who comes to clean our offices in the evenings. He listens to music through earphones as he works, and, quite frankly, he fascinates me. He looks so trendy and interesting, and the other day I found myself wondering what his story was. And that reminded me …
A few years ago, back in Cape Town, I went to night school to study. I had two young sons, I worked full-time and I studied part-time with a bunch of mainly youngsters who had just completed their undergraduate studies, and had continued straight on to this course. Most of them still lived at home, most had nothing else to do except the course. I thought about that as I juggled supper, washing, helping my sons with their homework and trying to study for a test the following evening.
I also thought about that the one evening when our lecturer told us to “cast your minds back to 1978”. I got totally in the zone … where I was, what music I listened to, who my friends were, the level of insecure that I felt as an awkward teenager in her second last year of high school … when I was shaken out of my reverie by a fellow student who said, “Bob! Most of us were only born in 1978!” Was I ever glad I didn’t open my mouth?
One evening, our first lecture in research methodology was about to begin. Students had gathered and seated themselves and were chattering noisily throughout the lecture theatre. The lecturer arrived and put his books on the podium, and we all settled down in silent anticipation of the riveting lecture ahead. He greeted us, welcomed us and began to introduce his topic for the evening.
The doors – which were near the front of the lecture theatre – opened dramatically. A tall, gorgeous, James Dean-esque vision in denim stood in the doorway. Perfectly coiffed and beautifully sculpted, he surveyed the theatre to see where he was going to sit for the evening. A million of us wished we could raise our hands and invite him to sit next to us, but we all just stared, open-mouthed, fascinated and speechless.
He took a pew and we all – males and females alike – repositioned our jaws and turned our gazes, reluctantly, back to the lecturer.
A few weeks into the course, we were invited to form ourselves into groups – where we were sitting – to discuss a possible research topic. We were encouraged to think about topics relevant to our work, if we worked.
A delightful and infectiously smiley fellow student sat in front of me. He knew everything and everyone. And what he didn’t know he would find out. Lecturers loved him, he made everyone laugh and he became everyone’s best friend. He joined with the students on either side of him to form a group with the four students sitting in the row in front of them. The Eastern European James Dean was sitting in the row in front, and joined that group.
We began to discuss the topic in our group, as did others all around the lecture theatre. My smiley friend in front of me suddenly sat up tall and swivelled his head around at me, like an owl. He stared at me, wide-eyed and open-mouthed like he was yawning, but he was sharply inhaling, not yawning the air out. Then he wrinkled his nose into a full concertina and, when he could breathe properly again, he whisper-shouted to me, “DO YOU KNOW WHAT HE DOES FOR A LIVING?”
I kind of wrinkled my nose too. I had to; the situation called for it. Then I whisper-shouted back at him, “NO. WHAT?”
At this stage, the smiley guy was swivelling his head backwards and forwards, not wanting to miss out on any conversation in his group and wanting to report it as quickly as he could to me and my group.
From that moment onwards, we all took a renewed interest in that tall, handsome Eastern European guy in our research methodology course. We wanted to ask our lecturer to arrange a special “show and tell” evening in the course, so everyone could share a little about their work. But I know the internal auditor guy in the grey suit would have totally hogged the limelight. He really loved his job.
I remember a joke from a hundred years ago, when I was a child. It went, “What goes hahaha-bonk?” The answer, which had me laughing like a drain, was, “A guy laughing his head off.” We’ve done a fair bit of that, lately, and I wish we could have done more.
I spent a day in Liverpool last week. I went there for work and, apart from seeing (from the outside) the Beatles Experience Museum and spying the shining waters of the Mersey, I could have been in any city in the world. I’d love to go back and spend more than twenty minutes exploring the city.
I travelled with three colleagues to a meeting in Liverpool, and we really had a lovely and useful day. We stopped at Crewe to change trains on the way up, and we decided to go and buy some sustenance for the continued journey. We stood and waited for about 20 minutes to get served at a station cafe and eventually abandoned our would-be purchases and ran. It’s not like we had a train to catch, or anything.
I spotted a well-known UK comedian in that station cafe. I am pretty sure he’s still there today, waiting for his sandwich. He’ll gather good material doing that.
On my return from Liverpool, we went to have supper with some friends. They invited us, after supper, to go with them to a comedy night at their local community centre. “Apparently it’s really fab,” our friend told us.
We got to the community centre, knowing little about what lay ahead and even less about where on earth we’d find a place to sit. We eventually benefited from the kindness of a stranger bearing chairs, and sat and waited for the show to begin.
The first half of the show was a Whose Line is it Anyway? kind of deal. Four comedians – I’m not sure if they were professional comedians, but they sure were funny – took improvisation and improbable scenarios to a whole new level. They would glean ideas and suggestions from the audience, and work off each other to great and hilarious effect. They shared the telling of an improbably-titled story at the random, pointed command of one of their colleagues. The story rambled and roamed in all directions as each one took the mic. It was clear they worked together often, as they played off each other so crisply and intuitively.
My favourite was the monologue of the Latvian cat-juggler, kindly interpreted into English by his fellow comedian. The disconnect between the body-language expressed as the Latvian cat-juggler spoke and the words that emerged in English, was just cryingly hilarious. The interpreter said, “All of which leads me to my favourite Latvian folk song that I am now going to sing to you.” Too funny.
We laughed ourselves silly in that first hour. There was then an interval, and we waited in anticipation for the second half to begin. The MC introduced the next act and when he couldn’t think of any more descriptive words to say about him, than to say “he’s a real ****er”, I thought we might be in for trouble. Enter the manic, un-funny clown, with his physical, slapstick and hysterical (in the true sense of the word) act. We sat wide-mouthed and hopeful that he would actually become funny, but it didn’t happen. Not even once.
When we got home, I Googled him to see if I could find out if he was for real or not. Turns out he has the dubious accolade of having been the first person, live on TV (in Germany’s Got Talent, no less) to have placed a firecracker in an unmentionable orifice (of his own) and set it alight. I think you get what I mean. He must have laughed his *****cks off.
This morning I woke up and saw that it was 6.13am. The alarm hadn’t gone off and I wondered why. I turned the radio on and tried to shake myself awake. Then I remembered it was Saturday. I lay back and fell again into delicious slumber land. Relief.
That feeling took me instantly back to my childhood. I was very young when I went to boarding school in another country. When I was nine, my 11-year old sister and I travelled by aeroplane or bus from Zambia to Zimbabwe to go to school. Going home for the holidays was the most amazing and wonderful thing in the whole world. I remember waking up in the mornings, expecting to hear the clang of the rising bell that the matron rang to wake the city, and then I’d feel the soft sheets of home and remember I was not at boarding school. That feeling, for me, defines relief.
My mom would come and peek around the bedroom door to see if we were awake and then she’d come and sit on one of our beds and chat to us until we got out of bed. Ah, precious memories.
When we lived in central Zambia, on the Copperbelt, travelling to boarding school was a simple bus trip. Then Zambia closed its borders with Rhodesia (as Zimbabwe was called in those days) and our bus trip became tricky. We travelled by bus literally to the line that divided the two countries, to be met by a bus on the other side of the line. We got off the bus, walked across the line to the other, the drivers exchanged contents of the holds (trunks and suitcases and bags) and we continued our journey to Harare.
Thereafter it was easier to travel by air. However, because the borders had closed, we couldn’t fly directly from one country to the other so we had to fly via Malawi. Then we moved further north, to a small town called Kasama, close to Lake Tanganyika (where we holidayed once – what a beautiful, unspoilt paradise). Our journey from northern Zambia to Harare usually involved about four or five separate legs. We’d start with one or two flights in very small aircraft that left from rough and rural airstrips where the “airports” were small, dome-shaped buildings made from corrugated iron.
Those short flights would take us to the relatively massive airport in Ndola and from there we’d fly to Blantyre’s Chileka Airport in Malawi. And it was there that we – two little girls – would sit for up to six hours waiting for our connecting flight to Harare. The airport shop (there was only one) would close between scheduled flight arrivals and departures. So we’d sit on a wooden bench and swing our legs and talk about our holiday memories and what awaited us at boarding school. It was a boring wait, although sometimes my sister would imagine her next home-theatre production that she would write, produce, direct and star in. I loved travelling with my best friend.
And then we would board our flight to Harare where we’d be met by a matron, for our onward journey, by car, to our school.
The return journey was equally circuitous, but somehow when our hearts were filled with hope and longing to be home with our family, the journey seemed so much shorter.
So today is Saturday, I’m not at boarding school any more, and we’re about to go and explore the day, by bus. Today we have no borders to cross.
As I arrived in central London today, I realised I could have chosen a better day to go and have my hair done. I unwittingly booked an appointment at my Soho salon – just off Oxford Street – at the same time as about quarter of a million protesters walked along said street to deliver a powerful message about the government’s cuts in public spending.
The police got jumpy, the protests got messy and what the Guardian website described as a “generally good-mood” became “soured by violent and destructive attacks on symbols of wealth including the Ritz, banks and a luxury car dealer and an occupation of Fortnum & Mason”.
I couldn’t catch the bus from my area to Tottenham Court Road, as I would usually do, as all the roads around Oxford Street were closed. I caught the tube to Bond Street and emerged at the Oxford Street exit directly into a heaving mass of shoppers, onlookers, riot police and protesters.
I turned right out of the tube station and shuffled along in the midst of a mass of humanity for about ten minutes before I realised I was walking in the wrong direction. I turned around and shuffled back through those same relentless crowds, and walked towards the Soho salon.
There’s a kerfuffle in the crowds and I hear the faint chanting of “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” in the distance. As the singing gets louder, I realise that Boots (a health and beauty store) across the road has been closed; it is fronted by police in riot gear, and a bunch of protesters dressed as walking wounded, with “blood-stained” bandages around their heads, are singing the oddly bizarre Christmas song to the grim-faced police officers.
I discover most of the large stores are closed and fronted by riot police. Many smaller shops have boarded their shop fronts. It’s an odd afternoon of business as usual, shoppers out for a bargain, against a backdrop of one of the largest protests in the past ten years.
I walk a little further and faster, trying desperately to look discreet and remain under the radar. The growing crowds, mounting evidence of riot police and chanting protesters all around, are just plain menacing.
I think, “I shouldn’t be here, I shouldn’t be here, I shouldn’t be here”. I soon hear police whistles, raised voices and, as the police storm a crowd of people in the middle of the road, a mass of humanity surges forward in my general direction. I see a sea of people, I see no space to go and I seek panicked shelter in the doorway of a nearby shop. A police officer tells a buggy-pushing dad that it’s not safe to be on the street with a buggy. The panic dissipates as the police presence recedes and the protesting crowd continues on its set path. I unclench my jaw and breathe again.
A little further along the road, I see a crowd gathered around an inordinately tall man. He is dressed in a fluorescent yellow worksuit and I assume that he is a side-tracked protester. People are taking photos of him; he is inviting one gentleman to feel his leg to see that he is not wearing stilts, and cameras click all around. He must be seven foot tall. What a bizarre diversion.
Eyes back on the road. I continue through crowds that ebb and flow. In the midst of an ominous flow I decide to step away from the main street. I walk down past the London Palladium, past Liberty and, with Carnaby Street in my sights, I turn into my chosen street in Soho. It’s quiet down that road, except for a protester walking towards me bearing a banner that reads: “Nick Clegg is a chopper”. I am so glad to enter that familiar doorway and find solace and shelter in my cosmopolitan hair haven.
I greet the multilingual receptionist, and, with a dramatic sigh, I tell her I could’ve found a better day for my hair appointment. She looks at me with a confused smile, until one of her colleagues says, “Oh, right. The protests.”
I am shown to my seat by a young Greek stylist, who settles me down, capes and covers me, and offers me coffee. I ask him if he’s seen what Oxford Street looks like. He tells me he went to the Apple store earlier (excuse me all you Apple-geeks for not knowing this, but apparently some new gadget was due for release today), and he was amazed to see such a crowd of people waiting to get into the store.
“Crazy, hey?” he says to me.
I realise we are speaking at cross purposes and, after acknowledging the stress of an Apple-storming crowd, I tell him about the protests and that they are becoming quite heated. He tells me he has no TV so had no idea what was happening, and asks me if I know why the protests were happening. We have a short discussion and then he says to me, with a sad and wry smile,
“No matter how bad things get here, they will never be like Greece.”
He says that that was the worst time of his life, when the streets of Athens were a burning, destructive mass of economic protest. Every time he returns home, he tells me, more shops have closed down and more businesses are struggling. He is due to fly home again tonight, and he’s unsure what sights will greet him this time.
My Bulgarian hairstylist, bubbly and constantly smiling, glides across to take care of business. I drink my coffee and remind my shoulders to subside. I begin to relax.
Half an hour later, four siren-blaring police vehicles storm down the quiet Soho street in front of the salon. Hot on the wheels of the vehicles are about 20 sprinting youngsters, dressed in black and wearing face masks. The hairstylists who don’t currently have scissors in hand all rush the front door and watch the action. The seriously gorgeous Australian owner of the salon watches out of the shop window and shouts, “Go, ninjas”, as his scissors fly this way and that.
It is with much trepidation that I emerge back on to the street, newly coiffed. I look up and down the street and decide which way to go. I turn right, and right again and eventually end up heading into the eye of the storm. I realise Piccadilly is not my desired destination and turn to go back to Bond Street. I walk through thick and thin crowds of people, some with banners, some with face masks, all animated, all looking exhausted and all, it would seem, heading towards Bond Street station. The air feels heavy with tension.
I get on to the tube and I stand all the way home. I see a young guy, tousle-haired and anxious, looking through photographs on his camera. I watch along with him for a few minutes and see a range of blurred, close-up and random photos of protesters. A few sight-seeing photos pop into view, showing token protesters in the foreground, and he seems to be searching for that right shot. I couldn’t work out if he was a paparazzo or a tourist. I conclude that he must be both: a tourazzo.
I get home, and I realise how relieved I am to feel safe. I turn on the television, and see that an element of the protesting public has gone ballistic in Piccadilly, smashing ATMs, hurling metal grates into bank and shop fronts, spraying graffiti on building walls, letting off fire crackers and, ultimately, starting fires in the streets of central London.
Right now, I have no idea where this will end. It’s been an afternoon full of cops and yobbos. I’m so glad to be home.
We arranged to meet in Marylebone at 10h30 Saturday morning. I set off early from my home in south east London, caught the tube, fought my way through the thronging mass of tourists outside Madame Tussauds and walked down a quiet side street to our deli meeting place. The moment we met, we were instantly friends. Lovely to meet you, Renee from Life in the Boomerlane!
Renee had flown in from DC to spend a week in London with her daughter. She said her daughter found it weird that two blogging buddies from opposite sides of the world were going to meet up for breakfast. I guess, if you put it like that, it was kind of weird. But, despite the fact that we had the novelty of communicating verbally – no laptops to hide behind – we talked like old friends. Nearly three hours went by at lightning speed.
We started off talking about writing and blogging and things we knew we had in common. It wasn’t long before we were talking about everything else and laughing and joking and pointing out interesting people in the deli! I guess that’s what we have in common. We love life, we love people, we love noticing things about others, and we love telling stories.
What a wonderful morning it was, what a lovely person you are, and such fun it was to meet you, Renee. See you next time you fly over this way and until then we’ll continue to chat in the cyber world. LOL.
In the past few weeks, I’ve been nominated twice for the Stylish Blogger Award. Am I stylish, as a blogger? Is my blog stylish? Heck, I doubt it, but I’ll take what I get!
Thank you so much to Todd Pack over at Todd Pack’s Messy Desk for his generous nomination; Todd is one heck of a writer, whose commentary on popular culture and his beloved south is not only brilliantly written and insightful, but it’s also really funny. The second nomination came from workingtechmom over at her blog called Ouch, Fired! Workingtechmom writes about family life and work life, the balance required, as well as the challenges and the demands of working and not working. Thank you both for nominating me.
As with most blogging awards, there’s a task involved and that is to tell you seven things about myself that you might not know. Here goes:
I am something of a global phenomenon. I am the current reigning world champion sleeper-in-front-of-the-television. I have slept through more movies and television programmes than anyone else I know, and my sleeping has absolutely nothing to do with how good the movie is, how much I’m enjoying it or how much I want to watch it. If I’m tired, I will sleep. And I hate that I do that. I once tried to watch Finding Forrester with my elder son, when he was a teenager. I fell asleep before the titles rolled, and my son kept calling me to wake me up:
“Watch this cool part, Mom! It’s really funny!”
Each time he rewound the movie to cue it to the part he wanted me to see, I would fall asleep. He tried about five times with one particular scene, without success, and then asked me if he could just pretend he was watching the movie alone. Oh dear.
I hate washing up potato peelers.
This one is a bit awkward: I keep checking my letter box and I have now come to the conclusion that *my Royal wedding invitation has got lost in the post*. Does anyone know the Royal protocol to pass on this kind of embarrassing piece of information? I know they’ll be waiting to get my RSVP. What to do, what to do?
I have a ridiculous fear of heights. I have managed to do things like go up in the cable car to the top of Table Mountain in Cape Town, travel in a small gondola up to the top of Mount Titlis in the Swiss Alps and go up in the London Eye. When I can look ahead and avoid looking down, I can do it. If I look down, my stomach churns, my palms drip with sweat and I have to back away. And tell everyone else I know and love to back away too.
I have started writing my book. My friend, Renee, over at Life in the Boomer Lane – a hugely talented, published writer who never ceases to make me laugh – has recently very generously shared her experiences regarding the process of writing a book. Everything she said made sense, especially the bit about how you need “to find your sentence” and then the book will flow from there. You will be pleased to know, Renee, that I have found my sentence. It made me cry, but I’m writing.
I once suffered a bruised hip, playing rugby. Picture this: Muizenberg beach, Cape Town, a slow Sunday afternoon a few years ago. Our family and my husband’s brother and his family were enjoying a walk along the beach. Given that there were seven boys and three girls in the family group, we did what any similar group would do: decided to play a game of touch rugby on the beach. It would be rude not to. We split up into two teams. My team was gaining ground; we were dominating in both territory and possession. We were playing, if I may say so myself, spectacularly. I needed to give my team my all, so when one of my team mates threw me something of a hospital pass, I grabbed the ball and tried to make the best of the situation. I ran down my opponents and headed speedily towards the try-line. My legs ran too fast for my body, unfortunately, and I threw myself down – somewhat involuntarily – a short distance ahead of the try-line. It would have been an outstanding try if the beach hadn’t come up to meet me so quickly and dramatically and so far shy of the try-line. But I landed on the ball and that is how I bruised my hip.
I have a new job. I have been hired as the publications and communications manager for a charity in London, and I started there last week. I am thrilled at this appointment, it will be a challenging and busy job, full of variety and possibility, and I am thrilled to be working in a small and active charity that really makes a positive difference in its sector.
As with similar awards, there is an obligation to pass this award on to fellow bloggers. I can honestly say that all of the blogs that I read are stylish and wonderful; they all make me think or laugh or cry or reflect and all of them keep me inspired and keep me reading and wanting to write better. If any of you would like to take up the mantle, please be my guest and go ahead. Just be careful not to bruise your hip.
(This is a re-post of the second post that I wrote, and one of the main reasons I started blogging!)
If all the world’s a stage, then London public transport is scriptwriter’s paradise. And absolute bliss for a new blogger like me.
From overhearing an animated conversation among a group of priests – yes, as you guessed, they were talking at length and with passion about “Alice in Wonderland in 3D” – to watching a group of overweight, under-talented and slightly less than sober commuters pole dance on the Jubilee line, I’ve observed enough dramas, soap operas, musicals and scary movies on the tubes, trains and buses, to write a library-full of books. And I’m still watching.
A while back I was sat on the tube, waiting to go home at the end of a busy work day (yes, I did have a job then!), when the crowded carriage of Friday commuters was interrupted by the arrival of a young, fresh-faced woman, who ran on the tube in a fashion reminiscent of Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music”.
She literally ran into the tube, her face filled with awe and wonder and amazement; she ran this way, she ran that way, she looked up, she looked down, and then, when all foreign eyes were upon her (local commuters generally don’t look up), she slinked over to the end of the carriage and stood at the window, facing the next compartment.
She opened the window, put her iPod earphones in place, and began to sing at full volume. I thought she was serenading a friend in the next door carriage, but it seemed she was singing for whoever would listen. Occasionally she sounded like someone singing through headphones, at other times like someone auditioning for a reality TV show, but mostly she was singing for the amusement of the commuters in both carriages.
The tube stopped at the next station, and who should walk into our carriage but a busker! Complete with guitar, and skirt made from a Union Jack flag … which wouldn’t be so bad if the busker were female. However, he introduced himself and said he wanted to entertain the evening commuters, asking for 10p per song, and promising he wouldn’t use the money for drink or drugs,
“Although,” he added, “it is Friday, so who knows?”
As he began to sing “Satisfaction”, a song he told us he wrote with Mick Jagger, the giggles of my fellow commuters could no longer be stifled. One person asked where the cameras were, and if the guitarist and “Julie Andrews” were taking the mick. Our in-carriage drama queen said,
“Oh, no. He’s a professional singer. I’m just annoying.”
The busker sang a few songs, walked down the carriage and, while he attracted very little funding to feed his habit, he did attract much mobile phone video attention. He walked down the carriage, singing enthusiastically and occasionally in tune. Miss Sound of Music watched in melodramatic anticipation of his next song, as he jumped off the tube at the next stop.
As the tube moved on, Miss Musical discovered, to her hair-grabbing horror, that she was travelling in the “wrong direction”. Thinking and agonizing out loud, she walked this way and that as she decided what to do about this increasingly tragic situation. After many dramatic utterances of “OMG!” she alighted at the next tube station, amid flutters of giggles and chatter on the tube, and cynical echoes of her words. It was the first time I saw unity among commuters, albeit at the expense of a would-be dramatic actress and a drug-fuelled singer/songwriter.
And then there was the time I was waiting for my tube at my local station, when I noticed a fairly mousy, innocuous-looking middle-aged woman a little way down the platform from me. When the crammed tube arrived, the doors opened in front of her, and there was not one centimetre to spare; there was literally no way she could possibly consider climbing into that tube. Not even a hardened London commuter would have braved it.
But she was different. She launched herself headfirst on to the tube, only – after some jostling by the heaving mass of in-train commuters – to be spat out on to the platform like a mango pip. Undeterred, she gathered herself on the platform, turned around and forced her way backwards into the tube. She leant back at an acute angle to ensure the doors wouldn’t close on her, and off she went, leaving commuters on the platform open-mouthed, amazed and perplexed at her dogged and surprising determination.
Another time, I noticed on my crowded tube that one of the commuters was travelling on a different tube from everyone else. His tube was much bouncier than the one the rest of us were travelling on, and every so often his went over a particularly bumpy patch. No-one around him noticed, especially not the city suit next to him, who was moving and swaying to the rhythm of his personal entertainment centre, nor the chap nearby launching battle in a deadly game of snooker on his mobile phone.
It’s all there, folks – and I’ll keep telling you about it!
It’s awards season. Everywhere. The movie-loving eyes of the world have been on Hollywood and the Academy Awards over the past 24 hours and the news and entertainment channels are bursting with news of the winners.
My focus today is on those who didn’t win. Don’t get me wrong – I’m thrilled that Colin Firthwalked away with the golden statuette for his title role in “The King’s Speech”, and I’ve no doubt that every other winner was worthy and deserving.
Because of where I’m at right now, and where I have been, my heart goes out to those whose names were not written in Academy Award script and hidden away in golden envelopes. It’s hard to be magnanimous when your heart is bursting with disappointment, and when the cameras focus on the faces of the other four nominees at the moment they found out they were unsuccessful.
There cannot be a nominee who didn’t want to win. There cannot be a nominee who hadn’t planned an acceptance speech and imagined himself delivering it. And, watching the Oscar winner thanking the world and his pet for making this possible, there can’t be a nominee who’s not thinking, “that could have been me standing there”.
Spare a thought for sound re-recording mixer, Kevin O’Connell, who received 20 Oscar nominations between 1983 and 2007, and never won one. With his 18th nomination and non-win in 2006, he earned the unwanted moniker of “unluckiest nominee in the history of the Academy Awards”. He then went on to break his own record twice after that.
How many speeches did he write and rehearse in front of the mirror? How many years did he arrive on the red carpet and imagine himself walking away, statuette in hand? How much would he have longed for his status to change from Academy Award nominee to Academy Award winner?
I have grown to hate the word “unfortunately”. I can relate, in my own small way, to Kevin’s relentless seesawing of hope and disappointment. Until the one thing you’ve been waiting for comes along, it just doesn’t do it to be an also-ran.