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Alas, dear London…So Glad I Finally Got to Know Ye Well

May 30, 2013

Go ahead and quiz me. I know where Pimlico is relative to Chelsea, Belgravia and Victoria. I can take you for a cool drink down the Kingsland Road. I won’t get lost in Hampstead Heath. I know where to nosh on the best custard tart in Primrose Hill (it’s all yours). I can find the medieval from the Renaissance in the National Gallery, get to the shoes blindfolded in Selfridges, and make a beeline for the soup section in any central Waitrose. I’m like my own little London Yelp,  full of sense memories and orientation. It only took me three stays – four years this last one.

And now I’m gone, because there is no sense staying in London unless London makes a lot of sense. I quite enjoyed having a reduced social circle for a while – so much less pressure to have fun. But I want a network again, for the prosperity it brings to one’s calendar, career and family feeling. It’s a very different bounty from that I was used to in N7, W2 and  W14, consecutively, where the simplest bike ride from A to B led me past one historical treasure after another postcard perfect landmark until I felt like a star in a Working Title feature day after British day.

I miss horse guards, and vacuum-packed steamed beets as a grocery staple, and oh my Lord the BBC iPlayer. I miss the ring-ring, ring-ring, when I called my mates. I miss listening to Today in the morning on the radio instead of in the UK afternoon on my laptop. I miss Paris a train ride away, not that I ever took it, but still. I miss fathers calling their children darling, pubs as something interpretation-free, five weeks of paid vacation a year for the most junior employees, Mind the Gap, abundant supermarket self-check-outs and God Saving the Queen. I miss who I was when I was a Londoner.

I miss living walls…

Fulham-Sloane Ave-Victoria 002

 I miss, miss, miss the V & A…Coconut mounted on a tankard…

Kensington 012

 A model for marble, Antonio Rossellino, 1465…

Kensington 023

Reliquary, about 1250-1300…

Kensington 053

The Death of the Virgin…

Kensington 060

 The Rape of Proserpina…

Kensington 068

I miss coming across places and things out of my childhood, like this square, aka the little park, where my mother would send my brother and me to get us out of her hair. Sorry, Mom/Mum, there was only so long a Corgi toy and James Herriot could last us.

Fulham-Sloane Ave-Victoria 125

Some things never change…

Fulham-Sloane Ave-Victoria 128

 I miss wrought iron…

Haymarket + Sound Installation 040

 I miss generous visiting friends taking me out to high tea (where waitresses point out the highlights with as much delicacy as the cakes – by God that champagne jelly was delish)…

High tea with Christine

 I miss the way that tourist excitement over London was different from my own, how my walk through Trafalgar Square needed to get done at a clip because I was usually late for work, how I was the one being asked to take strangers’ snapshots because as a local I probably wouldn’t mind. I miss doing the Evening Standard crossword. I miss beetling from Leicester Square tube along Shaftesbury up Dean Street to meet M for club night.  I miss knowing there were thatched roofs not too far out of town. I miss yellow vanilla. I miss anoraks. I miss lurchers. I miss her Majesty’s Post and Revenue. I’ll be back, of course I’ll be back, and not as a tourist ever again. I miss not missing London. Bless you if you’ll miss this blog.

 Walton St 009

THE END

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It’s a Sign

October 29, 2012

I remember calling the national insurance hotline here in the UK before I left Canada. The lovely chap on the phone said fortnight. I was thrilled to be moving to a part of the world where people had an elegantly fusty way to refer to two weeks. Then I got here and things got even better. I read in an apologetic shop window…”Please excuse our appearance whilst we are redecorating.” Whilst. WHILST! Who says whilst? English people, that’s who. I just love it.

It’s a rare sign in these parts that I don’t have a fondness for. The courteousness of British culture seeps into signs and gives most of them a charm to which I am laughably susceptible. Some are rueful…

Some more forthright…

Many explicitly grovel…

Some are neglected…

Some succinct…

Some commemorative…

Some break one’s heart…

Some should have more p’s and q’s…

Some are downright ghostly…

Some give directions in only in London fashion…

Not to be coy…well, to be extremely coy actually, what all these signs point to is the fact that I am waaaaaaay behind on my book. I’m in a perilous place between draft 2 and 3 and the fact is my book needs me desperado style. My point is that this had better be my last blog for a while, until I can take my ms off its IV and discharge it. If you are a regular reader, thank you and please forgive my hiatus. If you, like most people here, and have key word searched Burlington arcade, baby brogues or London cabs, I can’t imagine you’re the slightest bit bothered. It’s my England novel so I might as well work on it while I’m still devotedly here. This blog is supposed to be in support of my poor book for heavens sakes. One more sign will have to do.

Fancy That

October 22, 2012

An aeon ago, my great pal K and I decided there were two things we keenly sought in a man: quirkitude or curmudgeonliness. We were 22. Flash forward close to 30 years and there’s a problem. Middle-aged curmudgeons are a dime a dozen and bitterness only works before its time. Curmudgeonliness in a man is now successfully alienating. I’d almost, but not quite, prefer a chap who’s callow, but blithe would do. (To be perfectly honest I’d prefer a standard poodle: chocolate with a puppy cut, no pom-poms.)

As for quirkiness? I’m on the fence. I mean, now that my own Courage, My Love days are far behind me (a landmark Toronto vintage clothing store), I dress, literally, in shades of grey.  Faded black jeans, steel-gray undershirts, my charcoal and black striped sweater, soft gray cardigans – these are my standbys. Not a good thing, especially when I’m jet lagged, but on the other hand is it a problem that I can no longer pass as a 1959 stewardess (with quintuple strand fake pearls and gogo boots)?

The quirks in my wardrobe are long banished and I somewhat hope my manner is as pedestrian as everyone else’s. Likewise, it’s been a long time since I dated anyone prone to graffiti, suspenders and villain moustaches.

Help me out with this scenario. Before I left Toronto for what’s turned out to be six years and counting, I walked through Trinity Bellwoods park and saw, in the bandstand, two people…fencing. The canvas armour, the white masks, les epees, rear arms hoisted aloft D’Artangnan style, the works.  I was floored. Because I didn’t know what to think. Either I loved this quirky display in my vibrant downtown park of choice where inspiration ruled…or I couldn’t believe the assholes. I’m still unsure.

Do I tend to cut London more slack? There’s a grand tradition of eccentricity here that one dishonors Oscar Wilde by spurning. An expectation of quirkiness mellows its antagonisms. Joust in the Trinity Bellwoods bandstand at your peril but if you’re lads outside your Haymarket local at lunch hour on a Friday? By all means go ahead and have a ukulele sing-song.

I’m being terribly hypocritical at this point, because if you’re a winsome, twenty-something, strumming college girl duo with freckles in bandanas, sorry but I don’t want to hear your ironic lyrics. An engulfing tidal wave of wry ukulele-driven lyrics lessons the power of irony to a deleterious degree. The chaps pictured stuck to traditional tunes. They weren’t inviting an audience . In fact I was scared to get too close to them in case they flew off like a flock of storks.

Good on you, lads. Do your thing no matter what and who. Charmed I’m sure. Thank you for making the quirkitude of London so blessedly normal.

The Other Mad Island – A Little Thanksgiving

October 15, 2012

In Prince Edward Island people run out of house to be proud of – there’s so much pride in house, lot, road, hood, that it spills out the sides of everywhere. Behold above the sign posted at at the perimeter of the Charlottetown neighbourhood where my mother finds herself. I made my way there from Guernsey Cove early every morning, thanks to the goodwill of a good friend who ferried me along with himself. On this jetlaggy Sunday afternoon in London W14, allow me to share his commute, rife with autumn leaves, ferrous furrows, inlets, old homesteads, red barns, hilly hills, cute cows and rustly corn. As J says, it changes week by week let alone moment by moment thus keeps itself ever compelling. Experience if you will some of our 45 minutes each way, of NPR, yakking, coffee for him, snapping by me. (The dashboard bobblehead is from Hawaii. Go Barack…)

Design Week Part 2

October 8, 2012

I was resolved to subscribe to Time Out, I really was. Then fate intervened. Starting Sept 25th Time Out is to be distributed for free every Tuesday outside 150 tube stations. Righteous! It’s like I’m being rewarded for taking in Design Week at two venues. You saw the Sound Portal. Now check out the installations at the sublime V&A Museum of decorative arts.

Cloistered in the British Galleries was Ice Angel,“an interactive art work that gives each participant a glimpse of him or herself in angelic form…”

It’s based on the whole snow angel thing, obviously, but these wings are uniquely digital. Wish I’d got some. As I’m sure you can tell, these aren’t mine…

Up by glass and ceramics I found Swarm Study: “illuminated brass rods controlled by a complex algorithm” (God, those are everywhere these days). Climbing the stairs triggered a tracking camera to stimulate the lights. The effect was also quite angelic…

Way down in the learning centre, in a normally inaccessible back staircase, one encountered The Journey of a Drop. The ink drops started up here…

And landed here…

You could take a closer look with these…

Or just focus on the echoey plops.

Funny how spiritual design gets when it’s good. And unmoored from a lot of function. Diamandini truly caught my fancy. She’s a giant figurine of a robot, whose look is intended to combine “elements of classical sculpture with futuristic undertones.” Diamindini has what’s called a dialogical approach…”When a spectator approaches her, she responds physically by turning towards the person and gently moving closer to them or by avoiding the person and floating in the opposite direction.” Sounds like me during my Bonn International High School semester. Anyhow, Diamandini came courtesy of the robotics department at The University of Sydney. Something tells me those guys would know why their very first camera video came out sideways??? Hope your computer tilts.

How Green is Her Valley

October 1, 2012

I’m back from Wales. I first went to Wales in November 1976 to spend half term with E, my favourite school friend, at her family’s massive sheep farm in the Gower Peninsula. That’s Dylan Thomas country. The cliffs, of which there are many, have ancient names. We were fifteen and prone to existentialist debate in our windbreakers. When we weren’t reciting John Donne poems that is, then running on the empty family beaches as fast as we could as far as we could with our eyes closed. Then we’d go back to E’s artfully renovated barn and listened to loud Supertramp. There was gooseberry fool for dessert. One of the things I’ve most wanted to do since getting back to Britain was to see E again. Now she lives with her dashing fellow, C, in Powys, mid Wales, on another farm, organic beef this time, in a farm-house that would make the curators at the Victoria & Albert design and decorative art museum weep over its authenticity.

First we shopped at a greengrocer. Check out the basket baskets…

We were in Hay where there’s a huge literary festival, hence bookshops with quirkitude busting out their windows…

There’s also a Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra of startling quality (that was Friday night in Brecon of Beacons fame) and loads of Cambridge PhD types who’ve come here to raise gorgeous pixie children in peace and actually not that much isolation. What I’m trying to say is that culture penetrates Britain to its so-called outskirts and stays there riching and enriching. Where learning and liberality do not extend, I’ve learned the proper adjective is naff. Anyhow, Hay isn’t naff, au contraire. Check out the delightful butcher shop signage. No one ever looks like they’re headed to the slaughter when painted storybook style…

To the farm. Share my incredulity that I was here if you will. Apparently whitewashing isn’t so much a Wales thing as a peasant thing. It goes well with moss. ivy, slate and lavender culled from the garden.

Of course this was a posh place in its time. You can tell from the munificence of the windows. I mean, this is Elizabethan glass. Some of it original ELIZABETHAN glass…

The quirky marks are to ward off the devil, naturally…

Of course there was a pantry. We picked the blackberries for crumble. There is a sort of woman who is brainy, beautiful and brilliant who can make a mean crumble. I am not that woman but E is….

Crumbles el al are made in this below, eponymously referred to as an Aga, an oven which has assumed mythic proportions in the United Kingdon, for those living in the country with any elan and/or roasting inclinations. E’s and C’s runs on oil non-stop and did a great job of skate wings in tomato sauce, next day a steak and kidney pie (courgette quiche for the guest)…

Don’t eat off the pewter plates; they’re full of lead…

The requisite taxidermy squirrels playing cards glass box…

This old, old, old, old, old thing? It came with the place…

Okay, fine. First get a couple of fires lit…

Then head out the door, the amazing door, of which I have 45 other pictures…

 

Brave the geese (no wonder Rome was guarded by the honking, hissing brutes)…

Say hello to the so vulnerably quizzical cows… 

And climb a hill with E. I was too cowardly to swim the rapids with her and her lively pals on Saturday.  I did dare use a chamber bucket, however, since the bath house requires a flashlight to get to out in the dark garden, which is disruptive for all concerned come 3 am. I hope those guys got in a moonlight walk on Saturday night mind you. And had fun at the Hiring Fair, a leftover from the post-feudal indentured farm slavery days, when  hands would get a fifth upfront and blow it on the rustic arcade. Note to all: if you go to a farm in mid Wales you will need rock and roll festival rubber boots. Hunter wellies kind of go ineluctably with Agas. E kindly loaned me hers and wore her third best shoes, and turned me on to fleece lined tights which she wears with her kicky tweed skirts and Fair Isles, so much more characterful than my jeans and fleece. I’m still looking to E not just for style cues but life cues. Alas, a crumble made in Hammersmith with Tesco 2 for £3 blackberries isn’t going to taste the same.  Thank you, dear E, for the lift from Abergavenny, the whiskey-honey marmalade, and all else. I had a Wales of a good time.

ps If you want to see better documentation of E and C’s house, check out the November World of Interiors. It’s that cool.

Sounds Cool

September 24, 2012

I remember the pang of guilt and sorrow I felt upon discovering that, during the Cultural Olympiad, a foreign dance troupe besieged the London Eye with bungee cords and performed some kind of stealth aerial avant-garde number to a lucky crowd below. It’s the kind of thing I love to take in – when I’m not being hideously lazy. Why am I never at things like that? So I wondered, then fell victim to a huge walloping of carpe diem remorse.

Does anyone subscribe to Time Out for their own city? Is it too late to start being cool enough to be hip to cool things?

As documented, the week before last was London Fashion Week. This past week was London Design Week.  Intriguing things would be going down, that went without saying. God forbid I not take at least one of them in.  May I present the BE OPEN Sound Portal. Free, in Trafalgar Square: an alien black rubberised structure delivering specially commissioned vibrant sonic and musical responses in the midst of central London din.

I was hoping for, as promised, the sound of glaciers breaking-up, but the day I went it was reflective…cymbals recorded with a soundfield microphone…captur[ing] subtleties of pitch in the high and low frequency extremes…Fine, I’d take it. In we shuffled, me and a bunch of American kids, and a little boy with his dad and uncle I’d guess, and who else I don’t know, I was too busy listening to cymbals. For two minutes.

It was nice to hear percussive punctuation forefronted and made the most of. But what a feeling as I hustled out…Cool duty done, a blog that practically wrote itself, an interesting tidbit to relate to my boss when it comes to what will hopefully be my own event planning one day.  On another of those London days when I spoke not a word to a single soul, I had heard something moderately extraordinary. It was time to at least bookmark Time Out fer crissakes and get wind of more of this jazz…What did I know, the Sound Portal made it to the Hot List