Back when I was living in London I had the absolute pleasure of attending the Tate Modern’s critically appraised exhibition Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy. It ran between 8th March – 9th September 2018.
I didn’t attend “1932…” until late on, days before it was due to close. Why? Because I’ll be honest, Picasso had never really been my bag. I appreciated his reputation and there’s no denying Guernica is a masterpiece of political demonstration, but otherwise I just saw the man as someone who took a lot of credit for not a lot.
Don’t shoot me.
In the end, it was a little voice inside my head that urged me to go, that I’d only regret it if I didn’t. (Also, because at the time I could get in for £5. Minor detail.)
I’m so very glad I went. For one, turns out the man is just as trigger happy on the paint brushes as I am on my blog. In one year he produced over 100 works of art (mostly of his mistress). Secondly, some of his work isn’t too shabby.
Don’t get me wrong, I still had questions. Most of my secondary school art projects were on par with Yellow Belt.
And yet God knows, you never saw my Art teacher praising me as the Second Coming. I took a snapshot and sent it to my Mum, she still insisted I keep the day job.
So what has all this got to do with socks? Well, sometime after the exhibition I was browsing the wonderful world of Far Eastern shopping when I came across some socks printed with the iconic painting The Dream.
I’ll spare you my cobble-dash description on this painting but yep, the way he painted the face is intentional (classic playboy Picasso). More information here.
Short story, shorter, I found a pair of socks online depicting this masterpiece (or, as the sellers called them, “style #3 sleeping lady”). Don’t ask how or why, it’ll be easier for us both. Neither did I enquire as to the copyright, given the same people were also selling “magic man” socks of Jesus.
12 million months later my socks arrived, looking something like this:
First observation – no way in hell were these made for a ladies foot-size 5 (EU 38). Definitely men’s socks. But still, the print detailing was alright and the image had been flipped. Without disclosing the price, (*cough* 99p), you get what you pay for.
I couldn’t wait to try them on.
Then I looked down…
Because the socks were bigger in size than expected, I’d had to pull them up higher, and because my calves are the size of tree trunks, the print was stretched-out even more.
Far from looking mellowed after a bit of artist lovin’, Marie looks genuinely pained from having her face stretched to that of a horse. And let’s not even go there with where that places Picasso’s perceived manhood.
I’m still gonna wear them though. I mean, Picasso socks! How cool is that?!
1998 this song was released, 19-flipping-98. Still a belter but golly, are we all getting old. And please, don’t come back to me saying you have no memory of this track or, worse, you weren’t even alive then. I-I just can’t.
After the questionable success of my previous post, My Sister, On…, here is the “me” version of that. Don’t worry if you haven’t read said post, you’ll get the hang of this very quickly.
Alice, on…Responsible drinking
Alice, On…Effective conflict resolution
(For context – I picked a fight with a pavement.)
Alice, On…Tropicana on a budget
Alice, On…Workplace integration
Alice, On…Open bars
Alice, On…Bathroom fittings
“Alice, why are you taking so long to rub the sun cream in?”
“Well then, can I get up?”
“DON’T YOU DARE GET UP YET!!”
Alice, On…”Does my bum look out-of-proportionately big in this?”
Alice, On…Any kind of headwear
And finally (for now), Alice, On…Basic photographyskills
Oh, trust me, you’re welcome
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This post is dedicated to my lovely little sister, Bubba B.
It’s also dedicated to my old photo achieves I’ve been trawling through with zero regard to common decency. She let me take these photographs, she knew what she was signing herself up to five/six years later.
(At least that’s what my lawyers will say.)
*Cough* anyway, here we go.
My Sister, On…
My Sister, On…Contemporary Art
My Sister, On…Prehistory
(My Sister, On…World Domination of Prehistory)
My Sister, On…Geology
India On…Hipster Coffee
My Sister, On…Making Friends
My Sister, On…Interior Design
My Sister, On…Cultural Portrayals of the Female Body
My Sister, On…Wine Tasting
My Sister, On…Home Removals
My Sister, On…Interpretive Dance
My Sister, On…Travel
My Sister, On…Motivational Talks
(And finally – for now) My Sister, On…Questionable Photography
There you have it! Stay awesome, sister of the sea.
(PS, because no one is perfect…)
Yeah, I’ve no idea either.
(There may be an “Alice On…” sequel, or two, coming soon.)
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Candles, erosion excitement and a scurvy-inducing diet, we’ve got all the reasons (and more) why I’ve quite possibly still yet to become one half of a “smug couple”.
Why Alice is Still Single…Probably
First Things First
I can’t help that a pandemic happened.
I don’t proactively choose to shun humans (Yeah, I’ll call up my insurance firm now. “Hello, I’d like to record my profession as ‘Aspirational Spinster’ please? What do you mean, that’ll increase my premium?”)
Although, for the benefit of reassurance, I am attracted to humans.
(But I am also attracted to that part of YouTube.)
I’ve Made My Memory Foam Bed, and it Serves me Well
I live where I live and do what I do. And before you give me that Sliding Doors baloney, “if only you’d taken that fictional job somewhere else, then maybe things would be different”, I mean, sure but…
A) Not God.
B) There are loads of amazing things I’d have missed out on.
C) I lived in London for a year and guess what? Despite getting my bag stuck in the Tube countless times and missing countless more trains altogether, John Hannah still didn’t show up and I’m still not Gwyneth Paltrow.
(But at least my accent isn’t that grating.)
My Cooking is Beyond Questionable
Case in point, I routinely eat leftover Chinese with pasta. I call it “East Meets West” (no, really, I do).
I know what you’re thinking and yes, I am the kind of girl who brings a stapler and a rack of business cards to dinner (and you thought the Chinese was hot stuff).
As a rule of thumb, the dishes I cook involve three ingredients. E.g. scrambled eggs: eggs (no milk), bread, butter for bread. Soup: tin of soup, bread, butter for bread. Chips, fish fingers, peas.
I also routinely snack on dry cream crackers.
I’m Not in the Market of Being Someone I’m Not
I’m so out of habit with makeup I barely wear it nowadays. The idea of putting all this stuff on my face to create something to satisfy everyone but me just doesn’t do anything for me (you can’t see your own face after all).
Looking at this from a positive angle, this is presently the worst I’m ever going to get:
*Well, excluding when I’m chilling out in the back of Shoreditch clubs.
Everything Excites Me…But Men
Things like having David Nicholls, author of One Day, like my Tweet:
(Reason .5 for staying single – I like using words like golly)
I also like seeing the effects of coastal erosion on tiny pebbles:
I didn’t even care they only were available in a men’s size. Why? Because I’m now the proud owner of Picasso socks. Duh.
It doesn’t take much to get me excited, but on the downside, it doesn’t take much to get me excited. I don’t need a guy to be the *sole* provider of my joy…unless you have Picasso socks. And yes, pun intended.
I Have Awesome Friends
Granted, things are a smidge surreal at the moment, but I still have my girl (and guy) friends. And if I can’t meet up with them in real life, I still can connect with them digitally.
Dressing up and dancing around my bedroom, it’s like the teenage years I never had. Back when I was too busy wearing jeans and playing about with hair straighteners and knives.
Oh, Cotswolds, you do crack me up.
Nb, that was taken on my eighteenth birthday. Disney need to do a rerun of that film, 13 Going on 30.
We’ll call it 30 Going on 13, and it’ll be 90 minutes of me struggling to comprehend water installations in urban environments:
Ten years on and I’m still trying to work them out.
Hmm, I think we’ve gone a bit off topic somewhere around here. What were we discussing, again? Oh yeah, why I’m single.
Me, Myself and I; We’ve got Our Own Thaang Going on
I Already Have an Interim Solution, and it’s a Candle
I can’t quite fathom how Glade have done this, but I swear this candle smells like a ‘best of’ man collection. It’s kinda musky and has a nice cologne-like secondary smell. I think it’s a honey and chocolate combo.
I can’t share the smell, but trust me, it’s solid. And no, I’m not backing down on this.
And Then There Are the Creeps
Ooh! Bear with, just got a new match.
Right, let’s open this up…
Your best bet is to cook me something with four ingredients, invest in quirky socks and dip yourself in molten wax.
Guess what? I’m eighteen years old in that one too.
I need to get into teen movies. Where is my non-existent agent?
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“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there” – L.P. Hartley
A year ago today, I returned from a London city break and published my first post. I’d spent a year living in the UK capital, so for me it marked a refresh of the best bits of city-living, including art galleries, theatre performances and catching up with old friends.
Days after my return I was left encumbered, battling a mystery illness. Those following weeks I pressed on the best I could, putting it down as another one of those viruses which circulate in densely populated environments. A year later I’m no closer knowing what struck me down; we all have our theories.
Back then, my friends and I had whimsically noted the high-adoption of face coverings being worn by the predominantly Asian tourist base. We mused on the foreign illness that was gripping other continents, but to comprehend the possibility that our own country could already be rife with disease was a step too far. We were better than that, we were British. Instead, we continued to pack ourselves into dense sweats to watch live music, feasted in noisy restaurants and embraced fondly.
If only we’d known.
So, with perhaps a naively romanticised view of what were truly the last days of normality (late January 2020), here are all four parts of London Recalling.
Just a quick reminder that I’m still here, earning tumbleweed from my writing (well, actually, tumbleweed would at least be something…)
A big, big thank you to those who have donated so far (you lovely people know who you are). For those less aware, I have an active donation page called Buy Me A Coffee, a platform which helps creatives get money doing what they love and keep producing content for their fans.
If not for me and my coffee spilling antics, it’s worth checking out to discover some hidden gems from people across the world.
I’m always reviewing the page and just recently added two funky new extras you can buy as a one-off. Check out the website to find out more.
Thank you in advance!
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As part of the UK’s approach to tackling Coronavirus, a number of establishments have implemented methods as part of ‘track and trace’.
I get it, makes perfect sense. What I’m less supportive of is how a lot of venues are using as a way to get hold of personal details for marketing cr*p.
Do I really need to informed of your new banana loaf range? Oh, great, you’re offering 2.5% discount because it’s the CEO’s daughter’s 25th birthday BUT ONLY THIS WEEKEND! God, can we get GDPR in to fix this again?
So, in a mark of defiance, I am now now using an alternative details on any wifi login that demands it. Just for clarity, if it’s strictly track and trace I am providing accurate information. However, you asking me to set up an account to order a cup of coffee from the counter literally three meters away? Nah, girl ain’t having that.
In those occasions this is what I’m registering myself as:
Yes, that’s right, my name is now Ms Boom Town (although where possible I choose to not identify as a specific gender). I was born on 1st January 1950 (because we all know that was the birth of Boom Town) and my email is a randomised mix of letters @GenericEmailProvider.com.
So there you have it, from henceforth I insist all my food and drink orders sent over public access wifi are made in the name of Boom Town.
You got a problem with that? STOP EMAILING ME YOUR SPAM THEN!! (Thanks.)
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A perhaps more sombre video (pretty blue compared to the stuff I normally produce, I admit), of the four days I recently spent in York. I wasn’t going to do anything, that was until I came back and Mumma B said, “when are we getting the picture presentation?”
So I quickly pulled this together, complete with backing music which I heard whilst watching the world go by in one of the nammed coffee shops below.
Big love to the city of York, big love to whoever controls the weather for giving me sun and zero rain and big love to ‘The North’ for giving me a warm welcome during my visit.
It’s been a tough few weeks powering through illness but finally, dear God finally, I can see light at the end of the tunnel. My body is finally kicking out the nasty virus that’s had me confined to my bed for so long.
As I reenter the real world and crack on with life, it seems apt to now find myself reaching the conclusion of this tiny fragment of a life well-lived. Time to reflect and move on.
I awoke on the Tuesday wanting to get on and make the most of the day, but painfully aware of the hot breath of fleeting time breathing down my neck. The final day; when the clock becomes so familiar a sight that it could be better described as an uneasy relationship, a bitter partner always demanding attention.
Before considering anything else there was a more pressing need to address. With my four blueberry muffins now little more than a sprinkling of crumbs in a plastic packet, I needed to get myself a solid breakfast to set me right. From previous visits when my parents had travelled to see me, I knew that Café Rouge did a morning offering (and the one at St. Katharine Docks had a considerably better view, tempting as the Wetherspoons on the main road opposite the hotel was).
I packed the non-essentials in my bag, ready for a speedy get away when I returned and headed out into the bright Winter sun to that familiar place once more.
At Café Rouge I placed my order and happily sunk myself into a History magazine and people watching. I tried to guess where the passers by were heading, what type of jobs they had based on their attire. An easy and difficult game to play; those wearing long black coats, accompanied with pressed black trousers and leather shoes jutting out beneath, well, they were clearly heading off to jobs in The City. To meet clients or handle their valuable assets. Everyone else though, they were harder to work out; their determination and singleness would strongly imply they were going to work, but the clothes varied to such a degree it was possible they could have sat at the bottom or the very top of their respected payrolls.
I flicked through the magazine whilst picking at my fruit-topped pancakes, enjoying the contrast of life in the near empty restaurant and the pedestrian rat-race outside. How enjoyable it was to reconnect with History as a leisurely activity as opposed to spending hours locked in a library.
While I was sat there the odd person came in and out, spending the whole experience glued to their phones. Seldom did they even look up to take in the view. It didn’t surprise me, it certainly wasn’t the first time I’d felt strangely old and antiquated in my solo habits, but I almost felt sorry for them. They’d clearly come by themselves to this establishment for some reason, yet it was hard to see how staring at a mobile for half an hour could constitute as a particularly enjoyable, or memorable, an experience. It’s central London; you couldn’t walk fifty yards without hitting a coffee shop or take out, yet these people wanted to dine in.
Did they want to say they’d been there? Did they want to clear their heads? Or did they simply just want someone to cook for them? Unanswered questions; they departed before I could ever vocalise them.
The day was shaping up to be a beautiful one. The sun was bright, the sky a cool, clear blue and the weather unseasonably mild. Taking a stroll around some of the newest recruits to the yachting ranks, I undid a button on my red coat. It almost felt impossible to even consider this morning to fall under the gloomy banner of ‘British Winter’.
By the time I returned to the hotel and swept up the last of my belongings there was only five hours separating me and my inward journey back to Wiltshire. The hotel’s policy on baggage being a friendly one, I left my weighty case at reception and hacked off on foot in an Easterly direction with large handbag bulging with my fully charged laptop.
Time may have been limited, but for where I was headed it was plenty sufficient. I was returning to the zone two suburb that for over a year had been my home; I was returning to Wapping. Wandering around those old streets with its rich history and Overground line. You could almost say I was Wapping free…
A tenuous link, granted, but certainly catchier than…
…At any rate.
Wapping is, in my opinion, one of central London’s best kept secrets. As any map will clearly demonstrate, the little nub of a suburb is located only a stone’s throw from Tower Bridge to the West, and cradled below the trendy Shoreditch to the north. Via the Overground line you need only devote half an hour of your time and find yourself in any number of well-known spots around the capital.
To paraphrase a well known cinematic quote…
…Everything below the A1203 is Wapping. And that shadowy place? That’s Shadwell and I learnt very quickly that I must never go there…especially in Summer clothing on a hot day.
And yet, despite this, throughout my time during and after living in London, no one ever seemed to know the area. At a push telling people it sat below Shoreditch or Whitechapel, sometimes that jogged the die-hards, but otherwise it just became easier to tell people I lived in East London or by Tower Bridge.
Maybe because it lacks the buzzing night-life, maybe because it’s pumped full of millionaire residential flats and well-to-do families with privately educated children, but Wapping never drew the young professionals or the reputation other, similar, areas had gleamed. Whatever the reason for it’s amolimity, I was fine to accept my lowly status of ‘single professional’ in amongst the converted warehouse buildings.
The community watch reports were always printed on the highest quality paper with the most colourful of photographs. You’d find them stuck harshly next to the old lifts by some local who had access to the lockable noticeboard with brass-coloured pins that were starting to rust. Still, these seasonal reports were reassuring and amusing documents.
“No anti-social behaviour spotted on recent night walk with local police, other than a worrying rise in the number of discarded laughing gas canisters littered in alleyways. Will continue to monitor.”
I many regards it often felt like I was back living in the Cotswolds once more.
Due to youth and circumstance I could only afford accommodation on a single, long street of ugly council and ex-council tower blocks, a street that ran through the heart of Wapping like an artery vein and what I’m sure the wealth of the area would probably rename ‘the embarrassment of Wapping’ if they could. But, if it meant I could both walk to Threadneedle street for work and feel safe and removed from the reputation of other districts then that was fine with me. I’d take the shady looks as I crossed down between the overflowing rubbish dumpsters; we all had the same postcode, I just had it for a fraction of the price.
Below is a great mini-documentary of Wapping that’s nicely pitched somewhere between slow TV and attention-demanding:
After roaming these streets freely in the present climate, the daylight and general lack of other people making the experience all the more satisfying, both feet and shoulder were ready for a break from carrying their heavy loads.
I briefly popped by a place I used to work from a lot as a change of scene, a cafe/eatery that was owned by the local community but rented out to private enterprises, the Turk’s Head. As I stepped inside I was taken with how drastically the interior had changed, I could only assume it was due to a refresh or change of ownership. Gone were the plain white walls, the barrel-top tables, the scratchy chalkboards; now there were normal tables, and stylish green colour pallette. It was busier than I remembered it to be.
I decided quite quickly that this wasn’t the place to stop, but not before I tacked up a business card on the community noticeboard by the door, just as it had always been. I ducked out onto the street just as a member of staff caught my eye and started heading towards me.
Cinnamon Coffee Shop, named after the street it corners, it was the one place that I had been determined to visit on my trip above all else, even before I’d set foot on London soil. Even if I’d put my head through the door and been unable to find a seat, I still wouldn’t have forgiven myself if I hadn’t at least tried.
When I lived in Wapping, Cinnamon was local to the very letter. I could leave my flat on the fourth floor and less than five minutes later be sat on one of the curbside seats watching dog-walkers stroll by as I sipped a hot Americano. If I could compile everything I loved about Wapping (and most of London for that matter) it would be the phrase, “my local is an independent coffee shop”.
In my more navie days of London living I’d fantasized about visiting the joint early one Sunday morning with some imagninery guy I’d have been seeing, taking the bold step of introducing him to a closely guarded secret; the place that serves the best coffee.
Sadly or unsadly (the jury is still out on this one), this fictitious scenario never played out and, in the end, it would only ever be my younger sister that got taken on a ‘date’ to see Cinnamon. Entering the shop around eighteen months after the ever first visit, the feeling now was just the same as it had been then. Nothing had changed and neither had my feelings. I’d finally returned.
I handed my loyalty card to the barista; the little piece of card bent around the edges from having spent the best part of a year waiting to be redeemed. Once produced, I lifted the latte (cinnamon, of course) to my window seat where it joined my laptop and book.
Like any great and all-consuming love, I spent over two hours in the same spot, escaping my bubble only briefly on two occasions; one to ‘freshen up’, the other to order a panini at the counter that was less than a meter away.
Even thinking now to this part of my London trip, it seems strange to picture myself planning a day around a coffee shop, only for the time there to be spent mostly staring at a laptop screen. But I suppose in a sense that’s the very definition of happiness or an appreciation of something, when you take it completely for granted. And in my mind it still seems daft that I love this one little coffee shop so much, in the same way that I got a bit emotional when I went to attach my business card to the bottom of the noticeboard, only to find they still had the old one there.
The original had been placed there little over a week before I moved out of London. A different time, a different frame of mind. I once visited a different coffee shop in Wiltshire only to find a week later the owner had striped away everyone’s adverts, so the unusualness of my card’s presence in Cinnamon after all this time, well, it only reaffirmed my respect.
Cinnamon had seen me through the good and bad times of London living, my unchanging urban rock.
I glanced at my watch and realised that time was nipping at my ankles. I tidied up my belongings and found myself, somewhat painfully, having to walk double-time to make my way through Wapping and back to the hotel where my suitcase was being stored.
From the hotel I made my way to Tower Hill underground to catch a Circle Line train back to Paddington train station. To get cheaper tickets I had booked a very specific train, the 16:04. God help me if I missed that and had to face up coughing up for a same day, weekday rush hour train!
(Oh, and I am very much aware of the parody by Amateur Transplants – but let’s not. This a family show after all. I’ll stick with a song about nuclear Armageddon, thanks.)
No trip to London would be complete without a bit of drama, even if it shouldn’t have surprised me. Major delays. Major delays across the entire Circle Line. If that wasn’t enough, it seemed my usually reliable mobile application Mapper was bailing on me too. On one platform it clearly stated trains from that side were going Westward to Paddington, yet Mapper was adamant that I should board trains on the opposite side of the station. Cue the most manic fifteen minutes of my life as, with suitcase and heavy bag of cactus plants in tow, I went back and forth multiple times while I tried to work out which platform to board from. Because of the delays I only missed one train in that time, although I later questioned if I’d followed my gut and the large signs, I’d have got to my destination a lot quicker and less flustered.
Little time to take in the sights of my old friend, no sooner had I arrived at Paddington than I found myself jumping straight into the open arms of the Great Western train that would shortly carry me home.
My ticket specified a particular seat I was assigned to, yet given the length of the train the logistics of even getting to the coach with my luggage would prove a challenge. Let alone potentially dealing with the awkward conversation if I found someone sat in it already.
Instead I played the risky game I was all too familiar with; sitting in another person’s reserved seat in the hope they didn’t show up. I’d like to say I spent my last ten minutes in London musing on my time spent and idly watching life go by in the busy station, however it became a strangely nerve-racking experience. My phone’s battery power must have taken a hit from the constant time, nay second, checking. Each shuffling person in the gangway a reason to tense up and avert my gaze. Thankfully the seat was never reclaimed; I felt my body relax as the tubular bulk of machinery started to pull away.
The last time I’d left London on a similar train I’d been crying, which seems completely daft given London is only an hour away, but completely sensical given (up until the age of 14) I used to religiously cry at the end of every holiday. At the risk of sounding very middle class, I often wonder if my parents bought the holiday cottage in Devon just to shut me up.
13 months in London was always going to compare differently to a week holiday in Norfolk or a two week vacation to Florida. It had started off as a tick box exercise, a short fling to make my CV look better, but it had turned into something so much more substantial than that. Lustful, if not a bit abusive, at times, but an all-consuming affair nonetheless. A chapter was closing, the future was blurry and the things I loved most (the museums, the experiences, the local coffee shop), their accessibility was slipping through my fingers before my very eyes. Can anyone blame a girl for getting emotional?
Looking back on it now, I can fully understand why I’d been so caught in culture shock on moving back to Swindon the year before. All the young professionals, the culture, the high-flying men tripping over themselves to get to know me. And Swindon…just Swindon. That feeling of deep loneliness.
Over time I got over this. Writing was my saviour (as always). The time I used to spend visiting art galleries or on dates or lying in bed sick with frequent migraines, I started to invest that time into doing what I loved most. I told myself that it was okay to not be constantly booked up, that sometimes I needed to offer myself the luxury of a night off.
‘As long as I remember,’ I thought, glancing down at the cactus in my bag as the train gently hummed.
Our speed was increasing rapidly; another sign that we were escaping the clutches of the capital. It was around the time we hit Slough that I thought about a clip from the hit British TV show The Office…
And reading my humble book I smiled to myself, the idea that London could be a bit of a David Brent character when it wanted to be; full of itself and now irritated. Despite four days of passion I was still going scurry back to that poxy little town in the middle of nowhere, back to Swindon.
I looked up from my book and out across the green hills that distinguished the world outside the M25 motorway, musing on many different things. The sun was shining, its setting rays feeling warm against my skin. I closed my eyes and thought deeply of all the things I’m lucky to have in my life. Health, family, a home, a job. And in there somewhere, deep within the list, the ability to visit London whenever I wished. That I’d had the chance to live it fully and now had the luxury of keeping the city on a tight leash. London could have me, but going forward it would be on my terms and my terms alone.
A song sprung to mind and then, as if from nowhere, I heard myself aloud as I started whispering the lyrics against the cold, cold glass.
‘So-called Mr. rock and roll, is dancing on his own again.
Talking on his phone again, to someone who tells him that his balance is low.