Monday, 25 November 2013

 Saw this border as I was coming out of the Leicester Square Underground station in central London. From a distance, it looks almost Egyptian, but with a closer look, I see it's London Transport's initials. Very cute and the sort of decorative detail folks were very good at once. I think most of the Underground stations were built in the 1930s... Ok, my wrong. 1906. Yup, that's the year Leicester Square Underground station was first opened. Those crazy Victorians were big on their decorative details.

Got to love the English sky. So expansive and, with the double whammy of being the first bit of land a lot of weather finds when it comes across the Atlantic and being an island, those skies are often fast moving and interesting to look at. This one was seen on a walk toward Ivinghoe Beacon, on the Bucks/Herts counties border. Just before the cloud came in, the sky was a perfect china blue (you can still see a scrap of it in the distance) and the the way the sunlight fell through the trees and lit the yellow and orange leaves that still haven't fallen was so pretty it made us stop in our tracks.
Again, the light providing pretty tricks for us as we walked along the edge of a turnip field. Just beyond the trees, but too far for my now-sad iPhone 1.0 to capture with any clarity, was a chalk lion carved out of the topsoil on a hillside – much like the Uffingham White Horse in Wiltshire – only this one made by Whipsnade Zoo. Still pretty cool.

The bedroom painting goes on (and on), but at least the wardrobe doors are on and this weekend I had help, which definitely broke the back of this project. Am beginning to get excited about how it will look when it's finished. I know, small things for small minds, but when you've been scheming for almost 8 years about how your home 'could' look, it's a bit fun when even a little part of that comes true.

Am rewarding anyone still reading with the view we got from the top of the hill. Lovely, n'est pas?

Goodbye weekend - hello, Monday!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Once a year, in mid-November, in a small club in north London, Dylan Night is held. Local musicians come to perform and they can play anything they like, so long as it was written by Bob Dylan. Every year it gets more and more popular, and this year was a particularly good one. Lots of the performers positively encourage the sing-along aspect, which has a bonding effect on the crowd  – and it's already a friendlier bunch than any other I've come across in the UK, except maybe ones you find in places perceived as being outside the confines of accepted cultural behaviour, like Glastonbury.

Today was a home-making day: cleaning, washing, shopping and cooking. I see that my neighbours with the big apple tree have put their windfalls out in sacks on the pavement. Was a nice idea to share, and I did have a pick through, but couldn't find one that wasn't too bruised to use, alas...
 That big building you can see way off in the background is Alexandra Palace, which appeared to be hosting an all-day rave, judging by the amount of noise emanating. It could be heard even from where I took this picture. Not to be a party pooper, but the idea that this place will become 'the Southbank of north London' – as has been bandied about – might not be such a good plan: those silly Victorians just didn't think through the whole soundproofing thing...

Friday, 15 November 2013

You know when you have some free time coming up and you think about all the things you want to do with that time? Things you've been putting off, things you just haven't been able to do because there hasn't been enough time, things you want to do now you'll have that time? And then the free time comes, and you try to do all those things and next thing you know, the time's gone and all those 'things' you were going to do are only half-done...! Here's what I learned from my recent time off: choose one thing and one only. Do that. If you finish it, choose another thing. Do not be tempted to do a bit of one and a bit of the other, and don't even begin to imagine you'll do everything.

A busy period this 'free' time turned out to be then! To the preview of the Hunger Games: Catching Fire Friday evening. Love that young adult storytelling and the strong female lead. A great role model. Saturday night saw us at our lucky friends', whose house is a perfect little 1930s Art Deco gem, all curves and metal window frames, and with a sneaky roof terrace that makes you feel you've gone on holiday.

Monday found us at the 100 Club seeing the obscure and original indy band, Pere Ubu. Hadn't been to the 100 Club in maybe 100 years, but it's reassuringly the same, though maybe the graffiti in the ladies' has been updated, though it's hard to tell. Someone had written the name of one particular band over and over all over the place, but weirdly, I can't remember what it was. So much for saturation!

Tuesday we were all in 3D glasses watching Free Birds at yet another press preview. Can I say better than expected, but I still prefer The Hunger Games?

So the 'free' time is all gone and it's a tight work schedule from now until lift-off for the annual New York Christmas. The bedroom is still only half-painted, the novel hasn't progressed (though I did finish a short story) and I can't even remember how the other days slipped away, only that they did...

Still, it's Friday, which usually puts the world into a good mood, so have a happy one!

Monday, 11 November 2013

It's that time of year when the holly starts to show its berries and yesterday was so beautiful – all blue sky, no clouds, but with a real winter bite to the temperature – that, like homing pigeons, we felt compelled to head back to the Ashridge Estate. In a nutshell, plenty of deer, including a fabulous stag who simply stood on the side of the road as we inched past in the car. Definitely a day to be out walking.

Before I go any further, a big thank you to the lovely 'fellow Londoner' who found my son's phone on the tube on Friday evening and then took all the sensible steps to reunite it with him: texting the obvious numbers to say it had been found and was in safe hands, and making a plan with me for him to pick it up. Turned out this kind stranger was an intensive care neonatal doctor who works 12 and a half hour shifts, 9am-9.30pm, and she still took the time and effort in her off hours to make sure a stranger got their property back.

There is something about kindness, particularly the kindness of strangers, that is touching beyond words. To this woman I say, I know a box of M&S chocolates doesn't equate, but I hope you enjoyed them and may good karma follow you all your days.

And so to Monday and the second one in a row when I'm not expected in an office. Is one of those freelance things, where the days just fall like this once in a blue moon. Almost afraid to say it out loud, so will whisper it, but I quite like not going out to work. Having said that, days off spent at home are hardly 'off' at all, filled with all the chores put off when there isn't time, like painting my bedroom, renewing my US passport (they actually misspelled my first name - somehow you don't expect that!), submitting tax info, yadda, yadda, blah, blah. Not to mention the work that still goes on with the magazines I edit, which can be done from anywhere. And the short stories and the novel writing... So, the time gets sucked away before you can say, "What? It's dark already? At 4pm?! Noooo!"

A picture taken as the sun began to dip yesterday.

Sending thoughts and strength to those affected by the typhoon in the Phillipines.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Free tickets in the stalls to see One Man, Two Guv'nors? Yes, please! So off to the West End on Monday evening. While waiting for the curtain to go up, a jolly semi-skiffle band entertained. The man second from the left is playing the washboard - not something you see every day - or maybe it is if you're in this play. The old London theatre's are such a treat. Small, ornately decorated, as the Victorians were so keen on lots and lots of patterns and carvings, and always laid out like rabbit warrens. Even the safety curtains are interesting to look at. And the play? Some bits laugh-out-loud funny, other bits maybe not so much, but the price was right!

Not sure what to say about yesterday's drive to Birmingham and back on behalf of a non-driving friend who needed the lift. Was lovely to spend time chatting with the friend, but Birmingham on a wet, cold, November afternoon as the daylight finished 'round about 4pm? Well... I struggled to find the positive. The best things about it? The number of independent coffee shops (I counted four at the little intersection where I whiled away the time while my friend was at her appointment); the big, beautiful, mostly Victorian villas on the side streets; and the helpful Parcel Force man who said, "Follow me!" when we asked for directions after neglecting to take the right turn during jam-packed rush-hour traffic. The brutal, concrete downtown; giant motorways intersecting the city and general air of downtrodden despondency didn't appeal. Sorry, Birmingham. Am sure your fans will support you, but I was ever so pleased when it was time to leave.

It was about 9pm when I dropped my friend at her home and I was tired, but I was also aware that down in town were a group of workmates - all freelancers like myself who have met each other at various jobs - gathered for a pre-Xmas drink or three, and I couldn't resist! So off to the West End, where I found them in jolly mood at the Crown & Sceptre on Foley Street, W1.

And then off into the night to tube it home, laughing and rollicking down the street together and, wow, check out Oxford Street, looking like someone coughed a bunch of cotton-wool balls along its length. Maybe living in London isn't so bad after all...

Saturday, 2 November 2013

This little guy looks so much better when the photograph isn't grainy, but it's still a cool bit of street art over in Shoreditch. Apologies and maybe an explanation are in order for the lower standard of pictures today. I had a startlingly quick accident with my flashy iPhone, which was - alas! - too delicate for this world and so was called to that place above the iCloud, where its maker was waiting (not even sure who I mean – maybe Steve Jobs? Or is this getting too weird...? Anyway...). Tragedy was averted as I have been able to appropriate my son's old iPhone -3, or whatever vintage it is, which is fab in every way except that the quality of picture-taking is not on the same level (ie, no flash).

It was on my way home that I got to see one of the street artistes in action. Somehow, and possibly unreasonably, I feel a mild prejudice against those who do it while others can watch (isn't part of the point of graffiti that it's done under the radar?).

Later yesterday evening, a musician friend and I went to Hampstead for a drink in the Holly Bush, which I can happily report remains unchanged at least since 1980, when I last visited. What a strange feeling to poke my head round a doorway, looking for an empty table, and see the exact place I sat for one company Christmas lunch back in the days when I worked for the Ham & High (that's a local newspaper for those unfamiliar with it). Felt almost like I was looking back in time.

The nice man who seemed to be security (OK, so some things have changed!), took us upstairs for a private view of a beautiful room and told us how the pub was originally the stabling for the local houses' horses. "When was it converted into a pub?" my companion asked.

"About 250 years ago."

Ah, well, that explains all the fine coving and fireplaces and such like then!

After our drink, we looked at our options and chose d) Wandering around Hampstead as our rest-of-evening activity. So that's what we did, just poodling down little alleyways, discovering dead ends and quiet corners. One door had the words: Kit Kat House written on the window above it and underneath the year of its construction: 1745. I took a photograph, but as already explained, with no flash there really wasn't anything to look at. You'll just have to trust me when I say, it felt as if we were wandering around an old village where very little has changed in centuries - except, of course, the prices. The going rate for a house seems to be in the six to seven million bracket...