Seven Little Books

“29/04/18. My arms are aching, my legs are covered in bruises and I’m completely shattered. I must be in London.”

It has been a week since I vacated my flat in central London and returned once more to Swindon. It almost feels like the past year has all been but a dream, vape steam in the breeze. Invisible, abstract and only memorable by the faint smell it leaves behind.

On 2nd May I left London Paddington station for the last time packed like a loaded Buckaroo: an overfilled holdall case, a heavy rucksack, an additional handbag, a canvas tote filled with redundant bedlinen and a heavy laptop across the body for good measure. I learnt from my mistakes moving out and managed the travel back relatively bruise free, however my body has ached for days from strain. The day before I fully moved I’d completed a separate trip to Swindon with a similar amount of goods and wondered why I couldn’t stop violently shaking. I spilt coffee everywhere at the formal work function, of course. At the time I put it down to the amount of rushing around but now I see it as the culmination of mental and muscular stress.

Other than the short term pains it would be easy to pass off what I’d been through and achieved in just over twelve months living and working in the English capital as nothing more than normal. ‘Business as usual’ as my colleagues would say. But it isn’t. And it’s not just the big things that make me say that, like moving into the flat and travelling solo in Europe for the first time, but it is the little things as well. The events I put myself out of my comfort zone to attend, the weird obsession with finding the cheapest eggs, the men (goodness the men). And as I stood in Brompton cemetery one Sunday afternoon while a random man called Nicolas tried to chat me up I thought only one thing.

Thank God I’m writing this all down.

Seven separate notebooks, all documenting the experience of spending a year in London. Seven books with unique but different personalities as I went through a deeply personal and professional journey. Just glancing over extracts from book one and comparing it to book seven the transformation is really quite something (excluding coffee spilling and egg hunting, those two are deeply trademarked parts of me). Admittedly I haven’t read any of the books in depth since writing, I want to let some water trickle under bridges first. But I remember so clearly picking the first notebook off a shelf in a stationery store and telling myself I would make every effort to record the upcoming eight months in London (as it was then supposed to be) so that I should not forget the experience when I returned once more to Wiltshire. To ensure that I never let this fantastic opportunity turn into little more than a faded dream. And maybe, just maybe, one day I will do something more with my scribbles, that people will know about the time I ended up at a celebrity wedding, when the artist Grayson Perry became a fan of my writing, the time I got screen tested for a dating show. And again, the men.

If two things show how much I’ve changed over the past year then look no further than these separate quotes.

“11/05/18…Let’s make this work.”

“06/04/19…Because I can.”

 

notebooks

Chipping Campden meets Camden Market: A Parental Visit to London

Collecting my parents from Paddington station reminded me of my early outings to the English capital, back when I had depended on friends coming to meet me at the station and hold my hand as we navigated around the big smoke. So when I saw my parents approaching from the far end of platform ten I knew exactly how to make them feel at ease in the unfamiliar surroundings.

I stretched my arms wide, as if I was waiting with a banner at Heathrow arrivals, and exclaimed a little too loudly, “welcome to Paddington!”

“We’ve been here before.” Dad grunted.

“Oh yes, of course.”

“Good to see you!” Mum beamed as she grasped me in a tight hug. “We’ve missed you!”

“Mum, its been two weeks.”

“That’s a good point, when are you next coming home?”

“You’ve just got here Dad.”

“I didn’t go to the loo on the train, how long will it take us to get to Camden?”

I pulled out City Mapper on my phone. “Thirty minutes.”

“Is that to a coffee shop?”

“Well, no, it’s from Paddington to Camden station. I couldn’t guess on the coffee shop front.”

“Then I need to find the loos.”

“But they cost 30p here.”

“Yes but I’m not stupid with money like you.”

It’s always a weird feeling when your own Mother refers their child’s habit of super-saving as ‘stupid with money’, as if she’s never once mourned the closure of high street department stores on account of their free-to-use toilets.

Because of Mum’s firm stance on this matter we spent the first five minutes of my parents’ visit to the world famous London trekking up and down the length of the station to locate women’s facilities. Not sure where that features in Lonely Planet’s ‘Things to Do’.

When we finally found the toilets (meters away from where we’d first started) Dad dipped in and then swiftly came out.

“What is it?”

“I didn’t realise you had to pay.”

“I told you both before that they’re 30p to use.”

“I just thought that for men’s…never mind.”

Somewhere I could hear a dormant feminist awakening from a forty-year slumber. I rolled my eyes and changed the subject to that of the very average train journey they’d been on to get to Paddington.

Welcome to my very Cotswold parents. A Dad who thinks everything in London is a five-minute walk away, a Mum who would happily spend two days in the Paddington branch of Costa Coffee. Within the first ten minutes of their arrival I felt exhausted and ready for bed or a strong drink.

At that point Mum reappeared from the loos and, sensing that somewhere a feminist was setting up a GPS locator on my Father, I guided both parents down to the depths of the Bakerloo line. Unfortunately for us all it wasn’t just any Sunday in September, it was quite possibly be the last sunny Sunday of the year. In my planning I had not foreseen packed Tubes just as much as I hadn’t planned for the escalators to be broken at Euston and Campden stations.

“On behalf of Sadik Khan [Mayor of London], I apologise for the service on the Underground today” I said as we trudged up flight after flight of stairs.

Since moving to London some months beforehand I’d yet to visit Camden. I was raised in the small Cotswold town of Chipping Campden (which we all called Campden), near to Stratford-Upon-Avon (which we all called Stratford) so you can imagine how commonplace it was for Education Officers to assume our school was in the South East. Confusion was the most frequent reaction, on account of us being very white and middle class for the parts of London we were supposedly from. But right here and now in 2018 I was looking forward to trying something new at the suggestion of Dad. What harm could there be at trying something new and different?

Camden was bloody crazy. Absolutely insane. Music, people, street vendors, the atmosphere was stifling and unpleasant even for me. Thanking capitalism for the first time in a long while, we located a Caffé Nero and hid there for over an hour until Dad and I managed to coax Mum out. Taking a route that avoided the main strip, the three of us ventured to Primrose Hill to take in the view. Alongside the dozens of others chatting and selfie-ing at the top I absorbed the panoramic as Mum called out “is it worth it?” from behind. Once she and Dad had joined me and made their pleasing comments I gestured to the area I work in and pointed out a couple of the main sights along the cityscape. We took a couple of selfies and made our way back down the slope.

“It’s nice. But I don’t think you’ll come again, will you?” Mum asked of me.

I glanced at the pasty topless Brits lying on the dusty grass. “No, probably not. Besides, there’s a better view of London from the twelfth floor of my flats and that’s free.” I then remembered that the twelfth floor was also prone to what I called ‘decorative urban debris’ so swiftly changed the subject before thoughts were planted.

We ambled around the quieter streets for a bit, popped into a pricey hipster charity shop, popped just as quickly out, before eventfully admitting defeat and getting the Tube to Wapping, East London (i.e. my kingdom).

To prove nothing in my family ever runs 100% smoothly we suffered from a dramatic mini-incident on the Underground which chiefly stemmed from my foolishness, i.e. I forgot my parents weren’t me. At Euston station (where we’d changed trained) I rushed ahead and hopped onto the carriage with ease. The announcement on the coach was halfway through the familiar “train is ready to depart, mind the doors” when I suddenly remembered I wasn’t travelling alone, my parents were further down the platform, scrambling to catch up to my coach. I realised with horror that my parents weren’t going to make the train. I did the closest thing I could muster to screaming at Dad as beeps warned of doors closing. Dad got on just in time, yanking poor Mum in tow as the doors shut firmly on her right arm. When the automatic response released her from entrapment they revealed a few torn layers of skin but significantly more traumatic pain. As she fumbled around to put some anti-bacterial gel on the sore patch I felt awful. There may have been no physical damage but my impatience to wait two minutes had caused unnecessary stress and pain to the entire trio of us. At that point I decided that the rest of my parent’s visit would have to be drama free.

Seeking calm from the storm of the morning, on arrival at Wapping we went to my local pub and perched by the waterside with two bowls of chips. Thankfully Wapping lived up to the standards I’d set out to my parents and we all enjoyed a very relaxed afternoon. I took them on a walking tour down the old warehouses and cobbled streets before stopping at a place of personal significance. A spot on the north side stretch of the Thames where the river is wide and open and between oneself and the imposing Canary Wharf on the South is nothing but sparkling blue and passing boats.

“I happened upon this view and I just knew I had to do it. I had to move to London and I had to be here.”

As the evening came upon us each hour went by as swiftly as the Docklands Light Railway trains that passed by the window of my parent’s hotel room. Cider was consumed and food was dined on in the pleasurable surroundings of St Katherine’s Docks, but with our feet and bodies feeling the wear of the gummed-up streets and the oily tracks all three of us decided to call it a night at ten o’clock.

 

To be continued…

An Honest Rejection

Yesterday I experienced my first authorship rejection. It also marked the first time that a group of people didn’t consider my work to be truly, fabulously, awesome. Weirdos.

The piece was short, a 500 word review which described a recent experience I had at a local restaurant. After working through a few drafts, I finally submitted the piece to the web content editor and moved on to the next mini-saga that is my life. In truth the post was quickly forgotten because a) I spew out a lot of waffle articles and b) like all my work it was a mini masterpiece, something that children will look at in the years to come and think “wow, Swindon really had some rubbish eateries in 2017”.

And therein lies why my article was rejected. The email that I had expected to contain a link to my work contained instead a put down. The web content editor had made the decision not to publish my review due to the tongue-in-cheek negativity portrayed in the copy. I forced myself to read the email again to be certain that I’d read the electronic text correctly. Realising that my article had indeed been rejected I shoved my laptop under the bed and grumbled into a cup of tea. You know, the kind of response mature people adopt.

A couple of hours later, after a sufficient amount of tea and biscuits had been consumed, I calmly reread the short email again. This time I was able to gain some reassurance at least that the quality of my writing wasn’t to blame. Essentially I had been rejected for not pampering to a catering outlet which, in my mind, didn’t quite reach the mark on the night I visited. I still stand by my views and remain of a firm opinion that any venue, author or artist should be open to both positive and negative criticism. I know that my reader base would quickly bore of my writing or disbelieve its authenticity if everything I wrote was a falsehood of how wonderfully magical everything is underneath our blue skies. Free speech and my own personal sanity is dependent on balance.

Like hitting writer’s block and slowly improving my work over time, I don’t view this rejection as a bad experience but a new one. I now know that that whilst this particular outlet has no qualms with the quality of my work, they only want to hear good news stories, not controversial. I wish they’d told me that before but at least I understand the lay of the land. What can I say? Haters gonna hate…negative writing. Besides, they’re not paying me anyway.

On the flipside, the other news outlet I freelance for love balance and spicy writing so they have happily published my work (huzzah!) You can check out the rejected review here:

http://www.theswindonian.co.uk/girl-about-town-biplob-tandoori-old-town/