London Recalling…Wapping Old Stairs

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.

London Recalling

 

This post follows Part 3, Solo Sell-Outs

Part 4, Wapping Old Stairs

 

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.

img_20200128_213033_7148020397635548494899.jpg

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 map
Rough mapping of Wapping region, as highlighted in red box

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”.

Cinnamon

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.

20200128_1153396227796118649320606.jpg

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.

He’s got nowhere to go, he’s on his own again…’

**

Places visited (in order):

Nb – I was not paid to visit any of the above, adding links for reference

**

London Recalling Series:

Part One – Straight Lesbians, Like Us

Part Two – The Creative’s Curse

Part Three – Solo Sell-Outs

Part Four – Wapping Old Stairs

Did you enjoy this content? Please buy me a coffee to say thanks by clicking here: Buy Me A Coffee

 

London Recalling…Solo Sell-Outs

Well things are really not going my way, are they? Just when I think I’m starting to shake this illness off, boom! Tonsillitis.

Given breathing state is a bit wheezy I’ll have to try and not get too ahead of myself when typing in hurried excitement. That’ll be the hardest part, just like when my teachers used to tell me off for smudging ink all over the page and up my hand. They never really did see the other side, that I couldn’t help it. That I was so keen to write everything down in my head, too impatient to let the ink to dry.

Bruise on the leg has near vanished too, so at least my body is still capable of some level of self healing.

London Recalling

This post follows Part 2, The Creative’s Curse

Part 3, Solo Sell-Outs

It was that very same night as the Sofar Sounds gig that I experienced my minor calf injury. After the meal in Wapping I found myself casually wandering around St. Katharine Docks, a delightful patch of water and wealth next to Tower Bridge. Where rich people flaunt their yachts and people like me walk along raised walkways; enjoying the chance to look down at privilege. It’s also the location for one of my favourite views of London, where Tower Bridge appears from nowhere as a mighty giant of architecture.

img_20200128_213033_7363477417342205301474.jpg

At this time the light was lacking, so I decided I’d return another day to take the above photograph.

There had been a steady drizzle of rain throughout the afternoon, causing the paths and walkways to be more slippy than usual. While the Underground stations blared the same warning to passengers over and over again, on a near silent Sunday night in January the message was perhaps less ingrained in my head as I strolled around the Marina.

Eventually the expected happened, walking down a flight of concrete steps in my flat, sodden, pump shoes, my foot skidded on the slippery surface and I tumbled forward. Thankfully I was near to the bottom, my hands jutted out of my pockets just in time to break my fall down the two or three steps remaining of the flight. My calf however suffered their bite, the impact of these remaining ledges grazing their teeth along the bone, from foot to knee.

It was too dark for anyone to see, too quiet for anyone to notice, too quick for anyone to spot; within half a second of me falling flat in a heap I’d hopped back onto my feet and carried on my way. It was only later when I got back to the hotel I discovered the full impact of the fall was more substantial than I’d originally thought. Lesson learnt; I kept my hands of out my pockets and tread more carefully for the rest of the trip.

**

Monday morning, and now it felt like the time was all mine to play with. Done were the previously agreed engagements, the catch-ups and the pre-booked tickets, now I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted while the rest of the city got back to work.

From my bedroom window I watched the suited men and women in their designer shoes and trainers as they all scuttled in the same direction, towards the heart of the financial district. It drew me back to all those times before when I’d walked the very same path, head down, headphones plugged in.

In amongst the crowd I saw one individual less sure of themselves, less familiar with the route they were taking. They reminded me of myself all that time ago, those first few days where impatient workers would dodge and tut as I stopped frequently to check the direction of travel I was headed in.

Back in the present I knew my place, I would only head out after the walking rush-hour had ceased; after 09:00 when the world was a little calmer on foot.

**

I’d never been to the Museum of London which had always struck me as odd given it was one of the few tourist attractions I’d seen so frequently day-to-day working in The City. It’s imposing lettering on the side of a large brutalist wall that trailed around a roundabout and off towards the Barbican.

Deciding there is always a first time for everything, I skirted around a large school party waiting outside and dived into the building to get a head start on the exhibits.

The first thing that struck me was the music playing loudly across the speakers. The sound of punk music overflowing into exhibitions on prehistoric London seemed initially a strange pairing, until I realised that it formed part of a temporary exhibit on The Clash’s 1979 album London Calling. The album was playing on a loop to help draw people in. As I walked past staff members I wondered how many repeats of the title track would it take before they grew sick of such an iconic band.

The music stayed in my head long after I left the museum. I may have seen some wonderful artefacts and learnt a lot about London’s rich history, but it would be the feeling of seeing Paul Simonon’s broken guitar in real life that would come to brand the entire city-break. I’d never been an avid follower of the Punk movement, but the first time I understood it a little better. I was able to appreciate it for what it represented; the first act of civil disobedience, the first time youth made a strong impact. “No, we will not be silenced!”

**

From the Museum of London I skirted on down past St Paul’s cathedral, through the buzzing crowds of tourists and across the Millennium Footbridge to reach the banks of Southwark. In my sights I had my favourite branch of Caffe Nero; one located in Oxo Tower, but before I could reach it I caught myself on an installation placed outside the Tate Modern. A walk in cuboid-like structure, hung with column upon column of white paper cups (save a couple of black columns at the front).

‘We use 5,555 paper cups a minute in the UK,’ the sign read. ‘Oh which only 555 are recycled.’

I took a step back and, like a few of the passers by, were moved by how explicit the instillation was in showcasing the amount of waste in this country. However, what was equally striking was how the majority of people had responded to the stand-alone piece. All around people were scribbling messages onto the paper cups; some were deeply emotive on the destruction of the planet, others as two-dimensional as a statement that someone had been there, like lover’s hearts engraved on trees. Whether or not the artists has intended their work to be graffitied in this way, it seemed there was no stopping it, the piece had only been erected for a matter of days and yet was already covered in human sentiment.

20200127_1526053025399157773507951.jpg

A ballpoint pen burning in my handbag, I walked forwards and scouted out a suitable cup to make my mark. Not entirely sure what to write, I eventually scribbled down some words. I stepped back to admire my work, only to find myself cringing at the terrible handwriting and the surrealness of the wording. It was missing something.

I pulled out one of my business cards from my bad and, with the help of a few drawing pins and some blu tac, I attached the small square of card to the small paper cup. ‘Yes,’ I thought. ‘That looks better.’

The final inscription read:

Alice E. Bennett, 27/01/20. Mermaids do exist and they can’t survive in our polluted oceans. Instead they are forced into moving to Swindon!

(After attaching the card I also added the words, ‘get curious’.)

20200127_1223503008172747836880424.jpg

I took a couple of photos before moving on. As I walked away I realised a few people had been stood watching me the whole time as I awkwardly attached my card to the cup. An international tourist was quick to swoop in to give it a read, though I felt quite certain they wouldn’t have the faintest idea what I was on about, I barely knew myself.

Whether I had intended it to look that way or not, I’d effectively sold out on an environmental protest.

**

I strategically placed one of my ‘duff’ business cards (ones which were printed with a spelling mistake) under the empty coffee cup as I walked out of Caffe Nero, the space somewhat busier than I expected for a Monday lunchtime. I retraced my steps and entered the Tate Modern just as the heaven’s opened and it started to pour with rain.

‘Better take my time, then!’ I thought to myself, making my way into the turbine hall to admire the dramatic water fountain, Fons Americanus, created by American artist Kara Walker.

20200127_1433227636229222831207667.jpg

I strolled around several of the art galleries, in truth I saw this as a mere fill-in experience for old time’s sake. It’s funny how spoilt you can become when you experience something everyday, in that very moment I only sought out a quick hit whereas for many this would be the highlight of their day or even their trip, to London.

A number of the galleries hadn’t changed since the times I’d been there and for me that felt bothersome, like the Tate was being lazy and people were being cheated out of an experience. But then a quick survey of the people visiting at that moment in time reminded me that for most they knew no different, they were just like me that very first time I’d entered the old factory. Just as fascinated, just as keen to photograph. I knew the issue lay more with me than anyone else; so I put my internal-tantrum to one side and took myself to a different part of the establishment.

I will spare you the War and Peace version of how I view art, but on this visitation I seemed to feel a stronger feeling of hate, divide but also a call from artists to remember we are all human. I suppose it’s not a surprise, artists always have had a reputation for expressing more liberal sentiments than other segments of society. But watching Igor Grubic’s video East Side Story where far-right extremists attack a Pride match with bloody consequences, it felt like the message was stronger now than it ever had been before.

(Warning: video below contains strong language, violence, and homophobic language.)

And then there was hope; that if we recognised the contributions of others we could be a part of something much greater than if we work in isolation. Nowhere else did I see this more strongly than in Yinka Shonibare’s The British Library, a room installation which makes the point of showing how fundamental other cultures, notably African, have played a role in shaping English literature.

20200127_1454577460434579393758365.jpg

A room of books, each covered in bold and heavily patterned fabric, all the colours of Heaven and Earth itself. Not in such a long time had I found myself at pains to stand behind the thin bit of wire that prevented me from reaching out to touch, to feel, the books before my eyes.

img_20200128_213033_7065308528420691266986.jpg

**

The rain still coming down in medium sized droplets, I hurried across Blackfiars bridge back onto the Northern bank and then, from there, Northwards to reach Trafalgar Square. When I’m set on an idea I can become really stubborn to it, even if it makes absolutely no logical sense to anyone else. In this instance I’d got my heart set on a visit to the National Gallery before it closed at 18:00. I left the Tate Modern at 15:00 which, factoring in travel time, would give me a safe two hours in the gallery before hitting the Tube to avoid the peak rush hour at 18:00.

Maybe in a bid to avoid the rain outside, the National Gallery was considerably busier than I had expected it to be; an old building full of hot, wet bodies.

I took a quick turn through the galleries, although I found myself stopping and starting multiple times as soon as I came by a suitable seat to perch on. I hadn’t quite factored in how much walking I’d done today, and in fact every other day, until this very moment. Of all the views within and looking out of the building, the best that day came simply from that of a window seat, where I could idly watch people ascend and descend a large staircase built in a recent extension.

Because I’m me, I did find a couple of humourous bites in some of the artworks; including this piece which reminded me of all the times my friends had placed bets on the length of my hangovers:

20200127_1606148823647255369103734.jpg

And this piece which looked like a screen grab from some type of low-budget documentary. Something along the lines of…”don’t tell me how to raise my kids”.

20200127_1610431376271487687703897.jpg

However, when all was said an done I found myself surprisingly keener to leave the gallery earlier than I had originally planned in my head. After about an hour of breezing through the classics, I left the National Gallery, breaking my route back only momentarily to stop off in a nearby Waterstones. I couldn’t resist plunging myself down to the basement level to enjoy one of my favourite sensory experiences; the smell of new books.

**

That night I returned once more to St. Katherine Docks to enjoy a meal at the restaurant chain Zizzi. The looks people gave me when I walked in by myself! You’d have thought I had a third arm growing out of my waist! Used to these looks of surprise, curiosity and mild judgement, I pulled out a reading book as the staff placed me on the last free table in the house. I settled down for a chilled Monday night with a glass of wine and good company (i.e. food).

20200127_2040506823557380853187645.jpg

As I sat there later, sipping on coffee and making it clear to everyone I was in no rush to leave, I pondered on the art works I’d seen throughout the day. From The Clash, to Shonibare, right through to the classical masterpieces in the National Gallery, they had all been individuals not afraid to make their mark and show off their talent to the world. They would never have considered themselves arrogant or forcing their talent on the world. They may have had rocky patches, but they’d always had a firm belief that the route they were taking was the right one, when The Clash coated brick walls with their posters they wouldn’t have worried about what people said or thought. So why did I still on occasion find myself blushing when friends rolled their eyes at me, ‘putting up another business card Alice? You’re such a sell-out!’

Just then a waiter came by, sensing his chance. I reached into my bag and pulled out a card, tapping it swiftly on the hand-held device to make the transaction and ensure the staff hassled me no more.

I opened up my phone case and pulled out one of my business cards from the inside. As I flicked the small piece of card around my finger, reading and rereading the contact details printed on it, I mused on the idea of all artists being sell-outs. That to be and be regarded and accepted as ‘something’ you have to be prepared to stand out; you have to be a peacock in a field of pheasants.

Image result for drawing peacock

I lifted myself from my seat, applying my coat onto my back in a sweeping movement. I cried out to the remaining staff who responded with a polite smile.

‘Thank you! Have a good evening!’

And then, just as I picked up by bag from the floor, I placed a business card brazenly on the table before walking out into the darkness with a secret smile on my face.

We’ve all got to start somewhere.

**

Places visited (in order):

NB – I was not paid to visit any of the above, adding links for reference.

**

London Recalling Series:

Part One – Straight Lesbians, Like Us

Part Two – The Creative’s Curse

Part Three – Solo Sell-Outs

Part Four – Wapping Old Stairs

Did you enjoy this content? Please buy me a coffee to say thanks by clicking here: Buy Me A Coffee

 

London Recalling…The Creative’s Curse

Okay, so my cold seems to have moved onwards and upwards…from my throat to my head. God I hate it when I’m constantly full of headache, I feel so useless! The bruising on my leg seems to not be quite so obvious now, although I knocked it against a table leg this evening and am very much reminded it’s still there.

While the painkillers are doing their job I best crack on with giving purpose to my life, before the throbbing returns and I’m back to lying in a dark room with music by Norah Jones being the only thing I can tolerate as comforting.

London Recalling

This post follows Part 1, Straight Lesbians Like Us

Part 2, The Creative’s Curse

On parting Cherice at Angel station in Islington, I dashed across London with enough time to check into my hotel near Tower Bridge.

‘I’m going to put you on the quiet side of the hotel,’ the receptionist informed me with a smile.

‘Thank you, that’s very kind,’ I replied, although I felt quite sure it came just as much down to which standard rooms were still free at 18:00 as much as anything else.

I’d already booked tickets to see Matilda that evening, giving me a generous 45 minutes to get back, make a speedy tea and then head out again in time to get to the theatre and collect tickets before the 19:30 start.

I’d stopped by a branch of Doughnut Time earlier in the day and the oversized, over sweetened, Biscoff treat ended up being the perfect solution to my limited time to source an alternative meal. I polished off the item while in the background I stuck the TV onto the only semi-passable, non-committal program basic Freeview had to offer.

‘Why did I ever like this film?’ I pondered as I tried to negotiate the challenges of eating a messy foodstuff out of the cardboard box. ‘What year was this film? 1999? Wow, that would be why.’

No time to change, I emptied my handbag of unnecessary items, grabbed a bag of sweets for the road and headed out into the night.

Once I got to the theatre and found my seat I was pleasantly surprised by the view.

img_20200128_213033_7128535743078347253462.jpg

As I later remarked to a work colleague, one of the few benefits of attending on a Saturday night alongside a number of families – no issues with tall people in front!

I won’t bore or ruin the details of the production, but safe to say I could very much see why the show was exported from my beloved home town of Stratford Upon Avon several years before. It felt good to finally say I’d seen it for myself.

Fast approaching midnight; on returning to the hotel, my last scraps of energy were applied to putting on lounge wear and flopping into bed. Sleep came easier to me than swimming to a fish.

**

The next morning I pulled myself awake with relative ease. I grabbed my watch off the nightstand, 9:00. The downside of thick curtains; the room was just as dark now as it had been in the early hours of the morning.

I already knew where I wanted to go; the Columbia Road flower market in Hoxton only happens on a Sunday morning and I had fond memories of being in the middle of the hubbub of those who flock to the street to buy exotic plants from strange lands far beyond the Thames.

More familiar with the route I used to take from my old stomping ground, Wapping, from Tower Bridge the route was decidedly quicker when taken on foot compared to on Tube…well, in theory it was. Because by the time I’d gone down every side street, studying each passing map like a common tourist, I was the first to accept I was a little lost. But, at only 10:00 most of London had yet to fully wake up and I found myself quite happily riding the wave of confusion as I took in the sights of a slightly less chaotic Brick Lane in the heart of the old East.

**

When I finally arrived at the flower market (spurred on by the sight of people carrying large indoor palm trees), I joined the shuffling crowds. the smells and sounds taking me back to all the times before, the gruff masculine sellers showcasing colourful tulips just as amusing as always.

At the far end of the long street there was a pianist and tap dancer busking to a large collated group of watchers. They, competing against the tradespeople for attention, the tradespeople doing similar as the two parties fought for hard-earned money. It strangely added to the effect, the lady’s tapping feet on the damp tarmac a mesmerising beat to the cries of “two for five pound succulents!”

I purchased a couple of small cacti from a stand, not because I necessarily needed or wanted them in my life, but because they would look nice next to the one I already had in my home in Swindon. A subtle reminder of a moment whenever I made a cup of tea, a way to relieve a memory without anyone else knowing.

As I reached to pick up one of the items off a rack, another cactus pricked me in envy. With the bag tapping against my thigh, I made tracks to find the nearest shop to stock tubes of Savalon balm. Once this had been acquired and applied, I carried on to one of my favourite coffee haunts.

**

‘We don’t do blueberry muffins anymore,’ the barista says bluntly.

‘Oh, well, I guess it has been a year since I last visited. Things change.’ I point to a piece of banana bread to indicate my alternative selection. I hand over my loyalty card, the edges battered and stained from a year in the depths of my purse.

‘We don’t take those anymore, manager had a crack down on them a while ago.’

‘That’s shame,’ I say. While the barista makes my Americano I look down at the small piece of card. Four previous coffees, four stamps that had now amounted to nothing. Still, not like this fifth one would help much towards the free tenth coffee. I put it back in my purse, it still seemed too much to throw it away.

Work in Progress

I set myself up in the window, one of the few people to chose this particular coffee shop as their location of choice on a mild Sunday morning. I carefully placed one of my purchased plants down on the table, rearranging it slightly just as the barista walked over from the counter with my coffee and cake. Not like either of us were in any rush.

About an hour into a session of typing, a swarm of people poured up from the downstairs cellar. Surrounded by a flurry of voices it was impossible not to learn the subject of interest; an artsy film that had been premiered below. Eventually they all vacated and it was service as usual; just me, a couple of bored employees and the words on my screen.

It took a change of a track on the venue’s carefully constructed playlist to realise how long I’d be stationary in the trend-setting shop. I took it as a sign and made my leave.

**

Back at the hotel I dodged past the remaining cleaner trolleys to return to my room, thankful of a slightly longer rest bite to unpack my case properly. I flipped open the lid on a four pack of multi-buy blueberry muffins (small supermarket I’d passed) and happily picked away at its spongy texture as I flicked through an outdated Friday issue the Evening Standard I’d grabbed outside Aldgate East.

In what felt like no time as all I was grabbing my red coat and heading out once more, this time powering towards a Sofar Sounds music gig, hosted in block of flats somewhere deep in Shoreditch. Part of the gig’s charm was the secrecy in location right up until the last minute

**

‘Hey, you!’ I cry out down the street, over the roar of local cars and music blaring from neighbouring flats.

‘Hey!’ My little friend says with a smile, lifting her hood up to expose her dark hair to the rain for the first time. She stares at the metal gate.

‘It’s definitely here, right?’

‘Says so,’ I push the gate open and we enter the complex. ‘Thing is, I have a strong sense of deja vu being here…’

‘You been to many of these things?’ Emily asks, having never attended one of these events before.

‘Sofar Sounds? Yeah, this must be my…’ My eyes shoot upwards as I calculate the number in my head. ‘This is my fourth. Two previously here, one in Swindon.’

I give my name to the lady on the door and she directs us into the block. I recognise the hallway immediately; we’re heading to the same flat I attended before with Cherice.

‘So, what’s the vibe like?’ My friend asks as the lift rattles up four floors.

‘Oh, very friendly. Everyone gets all cosy and watch three acts perform. Some of them are in commercial venues, like bars and galleries, other are like this; people offering up their own homes.’

We knock on the flat door and immediately it shoots open by, I assume, the host. I’d hoped that arriving twenty minutes early would secure us with a greater choice of floor space, however this theory was quickly dashed when the same lady directed us to a large mound of jumbled shoes before permitting us a step further.

We carefully picked our way over several groups before finding a spot to seat ourselves. I laid my coat on the floor and pulled out a bottle of water and snacks, seasoned to the ways of Sofar Sounds.

‘Would you ever offer up your place for this?’ Emily asks.

‘God no!’ I reply. ‘See what people are drinking?’

Emily quickly glossed over the room’s inhabitants, most clutching bottles of beer or small containers of wine. One lady was casually sharing out chicken nuggets between people she’d just met.

‘Now look at the floor,’ I add.

‘It’s laminate.’

‘I think you’ve answered your original question.’

**

After a general introduction, three acts were each introduced to the ‘stage’; a tiny space at front cordoned off with a flimsy string of cheap LED lights.

The room was packed, busier and more overcrowded than the time before. In order to fit in an ever increasing number of ticket holders I found myself having to adopt ever more creative positions to fit my body into the Tetris-like gaps that sprung up and closed as others around me did similar.

Within the performance breaks Emily and I had chance to catch up. I’d spent two years living with her during our University days, going through both the good and rough times life as a student can bring.

I’d seen a kindred spirit in Emily when it came to work. For her dissertation I’d often get woken up in the early hours of the week as she headed to the labs to pull her research; whereas for mine it had resulted in weekends spent living and breathing historical archives to try and locate secretive family information. No one could have ever said we weren’t committed to a goal.

I suppose now, as we both sat in this top floor flat, what changed us was the way in which our studies shaped us. I applied elements of my History degree into jobs with no strong bearing on the subject matter, Emily meanwhile was on a conquest to utilise her education in its purest form. She was in the middle of working through a Masters Degree, whilst holding down a full-time job.

When she’d first told me about it almost two years ago I thought she was mad. Now, hearing her speak so highly on her passion for the subject matter, I could only admire her strength of will all the more.

After act one we stood up to stretch our legs, the guitarist tuning his instruments right before our noses.

‘That’s one to take home,’ I observe light-heartedly. ‘”Ma, he has two guitars!”‘

‘Are you on any dating apps?’ Emily enquires subtly, taking a swig of water from her bottle.

‘Back on Hinge. You remember, the one everyone raved about at improv. event?’

‘Erm…’

I hiss through my teeth. ‘The one with the photo?’

44758935_2199344500392113_8226036079027814400_n

‘Oh, yeah, that one!’

I pop a couple of gummy sweets in my mouth, quickly chomping on them as I offer some more into the palm of my plus one.

‘Basically, and you’re going to love this, I went to a music gig in Swindon recently with a guy…’

‘A date?’ Emily quickly interjects, the story suddenly taking her interest. I lift my hand to stop her.

‘Don’t, I thought that too. Especially when he offered to pick me up and pay for my ticket.’

‘So what went wrong?’

I sighed, it never got any easier to tell the story. ‘He had a girlfriend.’

‘What?’

‘He said I should have known, that it was obvious he was texting her all night. Well, forgive me for being too distracted by the music and, you know, not being a creep?’ I munch down on another sweet whilst looking into the middle-distance.

‘Weird.’

‘Isn’t it just? But it’s kinda been the closest I’ve had to anything since God knows when and I’ve just reached a stage where I’ve been single for two years, only ever had one relationship…’

‘Was it though?’

I chuckle. ‘Lets not go there. It’ just…just…well, everyone seems to be settling down and it feels like I’m doing anything but. Guys don’t ever seem to be on my level. They all want to worship me or aren’t interested no matter what I do.’

‘Men! But still, what’s wrong with wanting to be worshipped?’

‘Not if it’s suffocating.’

I glanced over the large number of couples in the room and took in a deep breath. ‘I want to be considered an equal, to be with someone who has the same values as me but not afraid to challenge me on them just as much. Sometimes I think I ask too much.’

It was at this point we were encouraged to return to our seated positions for the next act.

**

About two songs into the guitarist’s set I found my mind drifting on the waves of the music. The man was amazing, make no mistake, but with all music that lacks the presence of vocal chords, my creative mind suddenly found the opening to run free.

I caught myself gazing at a couple sat up against the back wall. Hidden in partial darkness and at the furthest reaches of attention and music; the two were deep in whispered conversation, he with an arm around her shoulder and she clutching his spare hand in one of her own. The world around them were merely the backing dancers, extras in their sell-out performance. They couldn’t care less about the quality and type of music their entry ticket had funded.

Then my mind raced forwards to later; I pictured them leaving the flat laughing and running down the street, jovial in manner but a hidden urgency to get to the Tube.

She yanks him into the train carriage just as the doors close, his jacket narrowly missing entrapment. She holds him there, by the t-shirt collar, held in suspense while the carriage rattles and lurches in sudden, jerky, movements, the tracks screeching its siren call. Staring deep into her eyes, the urge in his body tightens; building and building until suddenly it’s too great a feeling to contain. It floods into her as he leans forward and sharply kisses her against the sliding door, just as the train pulls into the station. The woman pushes him back with a giggle, a slight nod to indicate that this is the stop to alight from.

And when they get to the flat, that little compact and scruffy space that could have been theirs for years or hers for weeks; when they finally tumble in, they interlock like time itself is as fleeting as sand in a glass. Her delicate fingers grapple and skilfully undo her partner’s perfectly styled hair with speed as she slowly steps backward to hit the light’s off switch with her oil-slicked palm.

The things that are enacted next, in that dark space warmed by both body and street light, they are the thoughts that cannot be written. How constraining and insufferable the English language can be at the times we need it most.

It’s impossible to say from this angle if the transaction is love, or little more than a sudden flare of lustful hope, but the conclusion reached is just the same. They lie there, on the collapsed mattress with passion-stained sheets, no words needing to be said to dare risk spoiling this brief moment of euphoria.

Her head rests on his body, a long tangle of jet black hair intertwining with that on his chest. Slowly, but surely, the pair drift off into a deep sleep; they have barely said a word to each other since leaving the event.

**

Someone suddenly moves in front of me and in a daze I quickly move one my limbs in the opposite direction. Bad decision, I feel something snap at the back of my left leg followed by sharp pain the full length of the limb. Biting my lip hard to prevent a yelp of pain, I look down and see that my leg must have been in an awkward position for sometime, it almost looks dislocated the angle is so unnatural.

Emily gives me a nudge, the performer has finished his set. I clap along, using the chance to curse under my breath and position myself to stretch my leg out. The pain subsides, even if for a short spell.

I glance up and see the couple on the back wall clapping along as well, although theirs seems more out politeness than in genuine recognition for the man’s talent. I slowly blink and return focus elsewhere.

‘When are you going to finish the book?’ Emily asks me.

**

For those with an interest in producing any form of art having a broad and open mindset is an essential part of our very make up. The ability to see something and pull out a deeper meaning or be inspired to create a new one. When I speak of the Creative’s Curse, I don’t mean to refer to some kind of incurable disease or superstition, more the occasional drawbacks of having a unique skill.

Seeing things you don’t always want to see, creating implausible story lines to fill a void you didn’t even know existed. The sole belief a perfect world lies just beyond one’s fingertips. Sometimes it’s impossible to predict the triggers, sometimes you don’t want to. The irony; my sweet heroin is the thing that keeps me sane. I cannot bear to imagine a world where my creativity, including the occasional bought of Creative’s Curse, was sucked from the very marrow in my bones.

**

I was sat in the local pub later that night, one I used to frequent regularly when I lived only a couple of streets away. With a hand resting across my lap; watching boats speed up and down the dark abyss of the Thames, I heard a woman muttering in the seat behind.

‘I wonder what she’s thinking…’

20200126_1959201775118427134500474.jpg

**

Places visited (in order):

NB – I was not paid to visit or promote any of the above, adding links for reference.

**

London Recalling Series:

Part One – Straight Lesbians, Like Us

Part Two – The Creative’s Curse

Part Three – Solo Sell-Outs

Part Four – Wapping Old Stairs

Did you enjoy this content? Please buy me a coffee to say thanks by clicking here: Buy Me A Coffee

London Recalling…Straight Lesbians, Like Us

I’m sat up in bed, feeling incredibly rough with a head full of cold and a nose full of…stuff. Hot water bottle, chocolate bar wrappers scattered all around (not that I can taste anything) and badly wanting to curl up into a ball and sleep (prevented by a sharp pain in my throat – I might be coming down with tonsillitis again). Oh, and my left calf is covered in bruises, but at least not so swollen.

So how have I got to be in this state? And how come, in a strange turn of events, I don’t mind it quite so much as I would normally?

London Recalling

Part One – Straight Lesbians, Like Us

I rock up to Paddington early on Saturday morning. I am sans coffee and already reminding myself what it was like only a few months ago when dragging an over weighted cabin case was the norm.

‘Where are you?’ I text my friend, although the delivered but not received tick says it all. Still hacking across London on the Underground. When we eventually catch up it’s as if only a week has passed since we saw each other. Two long-time friends who, as luck would have it, met in Swindon in different industries but bonded strongly in London working for rival banks. We hop on the Bakerloo line and speed away towards China Town.

**

‘You know what you’re having?’ Cherice asks me over the top of the menu, a quirky place tucked away behind theatres staging Thriller and Les Miserables.

‘Not sure. Maybe the eggs?’

‘Oh, okay. Because I was thinking the full English…’

‘Thank God you were thinking that as well!’ I exclaim in a garble, just as the waiter comes by.

‘Know what you’re having?’

‘You go first.’ I say to Cherice.

‘No you!’

‘No you!’

‘Well, one of us has to go first.’

‘Fine,’ I put the menu down. ‘The full English, please.’

‘I’ll have the same,’ Cherice adds, handing the menu over. They’ve put us in the window seat, the best seat in the West-End restaurant, the table where they put the cute couples.

I watch group of tourists in protective face masks walk by. ‘Why is it every meal with you turns into a flirtatious date?’

img_20200128_213033_7163449367541813111348.jpg

Cherice laughs her signature laugh, causing everyone to stop for a second to study the source. One of the things I love about her. The waiter agrees with my judgement, rushing forward with my very much needed Americano.

‘You laugh has just brightened my day!’ He chirps, leaving Cherice to squirm under the attention. I roll my eyes.

‘Every time I take you out. Just like the time in Dalston,’ I sigh. ‘When the waitress thought we were on our anniversary. Remember? When you gave me the chocolates for my birthday and she said it was cute of you to treat me to Hotel Chocolat?’

**

We’ve often spoken at length about how life would be so much easier if we could date. Cherice, with her 100 egg diet and cross-fit, in the old days it was enough to convince me I was the more effeminate one in our pairing. Then London happened and I decided the only thing separating us in that regard was that I was the more decisive one, the one more likely to be more assertive, less caring what others thought. Now, as Cherice literally held my hand on every Tube change my thoughts were scattered again.

‘I know how to board the Tube, Cherice!’

‘You’d have left your case in the restaurant if it wasn’t for me! Do you even know where we are?’

‘Urm…London?’

‘You trust me that much? I could have taken you anywhere!’

‘Cherice, a stranger in bookshop could have promised to take me to the British Museum and I would have followed. You said we were going to the Wellcome Collection and here I am.’

I was at this point I directed Cherice to our mutual favourite series, You (FYI – I still can’t bring myself to watch season two, because…well…I am far too drawn to Joe and discovered my online life is far too relatable to Beck’s. Also, I get bad bookshop envy.)

‘Fair enough.’

We walked around the collection, idly laughing about the medicinal equipment (knew the GCSE would eventually come in use) and watched children playing around some of the kid-friendly exhibits.

‘Kids don’t have the space to roam like they used to,’ Cherice pointed to a diagram. ‘Me and my brother were allowed to wonder around massive areas growing up.’

‘In Croydon?’

‘Yes,’ she says flatly. Our extremes of surroundings growing up has always been a topic of immense bewilderment to the other.

‘I guess it was similar for me,’ I say, looking again at the satellite image. ‘Not the urban environment, but the space to be able to be me. I lived in the middle of nowhere, nothing but fields as far as the eye can see.’

‘Didn’t it ever drive you mad? Having nothing to do?’

‘Not at all!’ I counter. ‘Some people create imaginary friends, I created imaginary worlds to escape into.’

‘Ah, so that’s why you’re like you are?’

‘Maybe. Depends if it’s a good thing or not!’

We pop our heads into an exhibit on the power of water, splitting up briefly before Cherice returns to find me watching a surreal video of a McDonalds slowly flooding.

‘Water is bloody scary, man.’

‘Cherice, pigeons scare you and you’ve lived in London your whole life.’

‘Yeah, but it’s the destruction water can do. Why are you still watching it? It’s depressing.’

‘It’s strangely fascinating though, don’t you think? Slow TV, but with undertones of climate awareness. Makes you wonder, where are the humans? Where is the water coming from? It’s only depressing to you because of the conclusions your own head is reaching. See, it says right here that it was all set up, it’s not even a real restaurant. Wow, the effort that people put into art, eh?’

‘Suit yourself,’ Cherice shrugs as she says this. Like anyone who has ever visited an art gallery with me, you give me an inch…

‘…Then again I used to stare at pieces in the Tate Modern for ages until I was able to force myself into finding some deeper meaning,’ I ponder aloud. ‘Anyway, shall we go somewhere else?’

‘Sure,’ Cherice says gladly as we walk away together.

‘There is one thing though that bothers me about that video…’

‘What?’

‘Well, the description says the only audio is the sound of water. When did water sound like that?’

**

We next went to a couple of Riverside bars near King’s Cross.

‘There’s more to King’s Cross than the station?’ I exclaim.

‘How the hell did you survive here for a year?’

‘I live off £7.50 a week, maybe £9 at a push.’

‘How are you still alive?’

I ignored the question. ‘This mocktail is almost double my weekly food budget when I was living here full time. You really think I was hanging out at places like this? You think I ever travelled as far out as this for what is effectively a lemon juice?’

‘Fair enough.’

‘Besides, I always got the guys to take me to Shoreditch.’

‘Alice Elizabeth Bennett!’

‘What? One of them was a Programme Manager on Crossrail! Not like those guys ever seemed short of money…’

Cherice paid for our drinks, including the service charge, before we both scampered out.

‘Jesus, how much did you just pay on service charge?’ I scoffed. ‘You didn’t even like that drink! The waitress gave us evils the whole time!’

Cherice laughed. ‘I know, what am I like?’

‘No wonder you London lot are all skint, you keep paying for crappy service because you’re too embarrassed to say no.’

‘Well…’

‘Remember the time in the Korean chicken place where I told the waitress I wasn’t paying the 12.5%?’

‘Yeah, I admired you so much.’

‘Thank you.’

‘But I also couldn’t go back there again for a few months.’

I sighed. ‘Oh, look, book barge!’

Cherice could see me jumping from foot to foot, like a child desperate for the toilet. ‘Go on…’

‘What?’

‘I know you, you want to photo it for your blog.’

‘No I don’t…I just want it for…personal reasons. It’s a pretty boat.’

I was lying, but we both knew this.

‘Just take the photo and we can move on.’

20200125_1423288429544853458702295.jpg

**

We ambled over to another cocktail bar, one with an amazing 70s theme and a DJ playing retro tracks to match.

‘I want to be this bar when I grow up,’ I thought, looking around at the interior decorations.

Cherice meanwhile was having a moment with her Old Fashioned.

‘You okay, there?’ I smirked.

‘It’s just…amazing.’

‘Question,’ I start. ‘Would you take a date here?’

‘Of course! The drinks are so good!’

‘Agreed, but doesn’t that make it a negative?’ I take a sip on my gin cocktail, the taste swarms around my mouth. I blow out a short stream of air. ‘Like that, right there. I’m having a better time with my drink right now then anything else.’

‘Thanks.’

‘Yeah, but don’t you think it’s a bit of a distraction? Aren’t you meant to talk to people on dates?’

Cherice shrugged. ‘You tell me.’

‘I haven’t dated anyone since I left London in May, you tell me.’

‘The men haven’t changed, Alice! There’s still none!’ She thumped her glass on the table.

‘Woah! That alcohol is really going to your head, huh?’

‘…It is. I think I’m going to go freshen up.’

‘Okay b…’ I stop myself mid-word.

‘You can call me bae if you want.’

‘Really? We’ve reached that level of our relationship?’ I shout across the room in joy. Seeing the general reaction from other consumers I quickly turn around. Maybe I was a little tipsy too.

‘You okay there?’

‘Jesus Christ!’ I shout in surprise at the most retro looking server to have ever existed.

‘Sorry!’ I quickly add. ‘Didn’t see you.’

Ironic, given his orange floral top and beautifully styled beard, he was the most obvious man in the whole bar. He smiled, clearly finding the comment amusing as well.

‘Did you and your friend want anything else?’

‘I think we’re good, thanks.’

**

I quickly followed suit after Cherice returned, admiring the record covered walls in awe when the retro waiter appeared out of a cubicle.

‘Here,’ he held the door open for me. ‘This one is free.’

‘Oh, thanks,’ I duck under his arm and close the door. I stared at the back of the door and pondered some of the big questions for any woman to consider in her life.

‘Do I like beards now? I wonder what they feel like? Come to think about it, does this count as flirting in the modern age? Did 70s Henry Cavill just flirt with me? And why am I standing here when I need to pee?’

**

‘Sorry, there was good music playing in the toilet. Was too busy Shazaming the hell out of the space,’ I say as I grab my coat from the back of the seat.

‘Wow,’ my friend replies as she lifts herself from the padded seat.

I do a half-second rain check. ‘I’m both sorry to myself and our entire generation that my statement isn’t nearly what it would have meant ten years ago.’

After that we agreed that there was still time for another coffee, but Cherice couldn’t decide whether to take me to Paddington in West London or Angel in Islington.

‘Any preference?’

‘I think I once got stood up by a guy who lived in Angel…’

‘Angel it is!’

We searched around for a coffee shop, most filling up quickly down the expensive boutique shop-lined streets. I paused outside a wedding dress shop.

‘What are you looking at?’ Cherice asked.

‘That’s an ugly dress,’ I observed. ‘It’s see-through all the way to her crotch! And the bit in the middle, see through again!’

‘Someone will buy it,’ Cherice commented. ‘Take it that’s not you?’

‘Jesus no! Weddings are so expensive. Why not use the money on something like a holiday or a house?’

‘…You already own a house.’

‘You know what I mean. It’s just like Valentine’s day with the overpriced roses that wilt. What’s wrong with other flowers anyway? Or just going out another night? Or even better, nothing at all. I’d rather have a toasted sandwich.’

‘Has anyone ever told you you’d be the perfect girlfriend?’

‘Hah! Bless you. No, I’m not perfect, I’m like bloody Sea Monkeys.’

‘Sea Monkeys?’

‘Yeah, you have to keep feeding me or else I will float around. That or literally start burning rice and then end up contracting rickets. It’s not a great look.’

61B8zpuWc5L._AC_SY355_

‘Wait, how do you even burn…’

‘I’d really rather not relive the trauma, Cherice. Now bear with me, I need to stick one of my business cards on this noticeboard.’

We eventually found somewhere with enough space to fit us in. Cherice had a tea, I was on yet more coffee. We hung out there for a bit longer, and chatted through my friend’s plans to move to Canada. I suppose for her, having grown up and worked in London nearly her entire life, moving to another continent is just a big a step as it was for me choosing to move to London all that time ago. Still didn’t make it any easier to accept though.

‘How long are you staying in Swindon?’ She asked, putting the focus of conversation once again back on me. I’d rather she didn’t, I much preferred her telling me all the amazing reasons why I should move to Canada myself.

‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean, really, what’s keeping you there, in Swindon?’

‘Well…I…’

‘There are no men, your family aren’t there, your friends…’

‘My friends are all over the world! Some can’t seem to keep still…’

Cherice chuckles. ‘My bad. But really, would you consider moving elsewhere?’

‘I do miss London…’

‘No!’ Cherice cries suddenly, almost knocking her soy milk over. ‘You romanticised this place, that’s your problem! Thinking London is just one big culture trip with nice dresses and fancy men in bars.’

‘Well…’

‘Remember how miserable that flat made you? With the black mould? Do I need to make the same sounds as your flatmate?’

‘Please, God, no!’ I jump in, almost grabbing her arm. ‘The only way to make her and her boyfriend stop was to play Baby Shark against the wall on full blast FIVE…TIMES..A…NIGHT. Do you have any idea how much that screws a woman up?’

‘Exactly! No, you don’t want to come here. You’d be better off in Bristol.’

‘Bristol?’

‘Yeah, Bristol.’

‘Didn’t expect you to say that.’

‘Or Bath.’

‘Not Bath.’

‘Why?’

‘Well, aside from the lack of jobs, everyone is really snooty. I was on a night out there once when, outside a kebab shop, this guy started slating off Swindon. Not a gentle poking fun, but on his high horse level. Asking me why I hadn’t married my brother already or whether I could count to ten.’

‘Okay…’

‘Anyway, so you know me, when I’ve had a bit to drink I get super friendly or super verbal-sarcastic-aggressive. There was only so much I could take.’

‘Where is this going?’

‘Well, eventually I snapped and said “fine, you tell me all about your three-bed townhouse in the centre of Bath then!”‘

‘Wow.’

‘My friend had a mouthful of food and from the surprise at my sudden bluntness she covered this smartly dressed toff in half-chewed wrap, complete with halloumi and lettuce. It was beautiful.’

Cherice laughs.

‘We then made a quick getaway. I got to the rank, hailed a taxi and yelled at my friend to get in the car. She followed me in, not realising that it was me until the last second. My own friend swooned with my dominance.’

I raised a hand in mock charm, although Cherice by this stage had become less engaged in the story, trying to pour out the last dregs of loose leaf tea into her cup.

‘…Sorry, what were we talking about?’ She asks.

‘You know what, I can’t remember.’ I paused for a second while my friend kindly paid for yet another round of drinks.

‘Cherice?’

‘Yes?’

‘…Remind me again why we aren’t lesbians?’

Image result for angel london

**

Places visited (in order):

Balans SoHo Society, SoHo

Doughnut Time, SoHo

Wellcome Collection, Euston

The Lighterman, King’s Cross

Word on the Water, King’s Cross

Spiritland, King’s Cross

Brother Marcus, Angel

NB – we were not paid to visit any of these establishments, adding links for general reference.

**

London Recalling Series

Part One – Straight Lesbians, Like Us

Part Two – The Creative’s Curse

Part Three – Solo Sell-Outs

Part Four – Wapping Old Stairs

 

Did you enjoy this content? Please buy me a coffee to say thanks by clicking here: Buy Me A Coffee

Amsterdam Calling

Some people wake up after a heavy night on the tiles unable to remember what they did the evening before. Not me though, no, no, no. In my kooky world I send letters to people and completely forget that I’d even written them, let alone what I’d written. That’s normal to me.

Take this recent letter for example sent to none other than the Amsterdam Tourist Board shortly after returning back to the UK post city break in the Dutch capital.

Dear Sir or Madam,

At any given time there are three things you need to know about me: 1) I do not have any fingerprints, 2) it is not a proper cup of coffee until I have spilt it everywhere 3) I used to share a house with a mermaid.

Curious? I would be.

It is a funny old situation when one chooses to travel alone. In this day and age you would have thought ‘fem power’ would have made it perfectly acceptable to exclaim to the world “I am a single female and happy to travel in my own company!” Instead of getting the weird looks I did at 08:00 at Kings Cross station. But then again I used to think it was normal to request a cake that just fallen to the floor if it meant I got a 50% discount (turns out there is this thing called ‘Food Standards’ that prevents that sort of thing happening, sigh).

I am probably setting myself out on the wrong foot, so let me backtrack a little. Less than a month ago I decided I was done with Brexit but also desperate to explore somewhere before the border gates went onto lockdown. Having also visited Bruges the November before I made the decision to hop onto the Eurostar once more and enjoy a four-day retreat in the Dutch capital. There was no strong reasoning behind the location, it was close to hand and I heard you guys had some awesome cultural shizz going on over there. I booked my tickets and excitedly looked forward to my arrival in the centre of Amsterdam.

I do not know how but five minutes after arriving I think I got high. In hindsight this does not surprise me much, given the only thing I have ever attempted to smoke was a cigarette in the beer garden of a nightclub in 2015 and that ended disastrously. At the time however I did not know what to make of all the smokers and the loud British people (by the way I am sorry all our men are loud, if I could stop them I would), so that by the time I found my hotel I was quite exhausted and wondering what on earth I had signed myself up for. Ever been to Bruges in Belgium? Amsterdam is probably the complete opposite as cities go (I would advise not pairing your tourist offices).

However, that being said over the course of my time in Amsterdam I had such a wonderful stay and the weather was glorious. I took great smugness as showing off my sun tan to my English friends on my return, especially when I heard they had experienced a lot of rain in my absence (in the UK it is common courtesy to discuss and compare the weather at length – true fact). I went to so many places and almost on every occasion the locals made me feel incredibly welcomed and wanted, despite being I suppose out of sorts with the groups of drunk men, loved up couples and stoned gap year students. I went to far too many places to list in this letter however I have created several light-hearted videos for my blog page, My Housemate’s a Mermaid, which I would encourage you to watch (I would attach them here, but unfortunately technology has not quite caught up yet to let me print off videos – still waiting for Apple and Google to pitch that idea to investors).

Yours Faithfully,

Alice E. Bennett

Now I’d completely forgotten I’d sent that on 23/04/19 until last week my inbox lit up with the following message.

Dear Alice,

Thank you for your letter. I read it with great pleasure, as it is a rare phenomenon these days. That is probably why it only reached me yesterday. It was, however, a bit of a disappointment that when I get the odd physical letter, it is not hand written 😉

What you ask or offer is not entirely clear to me, but I have watched your travel vlog. I enjoyed it, but it’s a too personal perspective for us to share. But I invite you to follow our social media channels and share what you feel like sharing with us. Who knows we’ll be a match in the future.

Thanks for your letter, keep up the writing and blogging and enjoy it. And of course we hope to see you in our beautiful city in the future. Just give me a heads up – preferably hand written with a fountain pen on parchment paper – and I’ll make sure we’ll have a little welcome gift ready for you in our store.

Regards/Vriendelijke groet,

Bas Timmermans, Editor in Chief Online

So there you go, one step closer to becoming a global brand and coincidentally one step closer to visiting Amsterdam again just for a mystery gift.

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

Because I Can: Solo Travels in Amsterdam

“But why are you going to Amsterdam on your own? Is it because of an event?”

“Nope.”

“…a guy?”

“Christ, no!!”

*Laughs* ‘Okay! So why are you going?”

“Because I can.”

 

Part I

 

Part II

“Giant Hamster or Tiny Rhino?” The Time I Interviewed a Senior Finance Executive

For my second of two articles I had to produce for the internal monthly newsletter I decided to do an interview with a senior bod in the organisation. However this is me and while I’m still clinging onto the famous ‘graduate’ gold pass (I’m not a graduate, but there has to be some perks to people forever calling me that), well, it seemed perfectly reasonable to take a different stance on the traditional dry corporate interview the Executive Committee usually answer via email. Even though you won’t know the guy directly I hope you get what I was trying to do here, I certainly got the feeling he did.

Jeremy Paxman got nothing on me.

 

Closed Conversations with JS, Head of Digital

 

JS: So why are we doing this?

AB: I thought it would jazz up the newsletter interview if we got to know the man behind the face. Don’t get me wrong, I love Digital strategy…

JS: *Chuckles*

AB: …but we don’t really get to know you. Shouldn’t take long but before we start I should say you’re allowed to decline questions or terminate the interview should you feel uncomfortable

JS: What are you going to ask me?!

AB: I’m just covering my back J

JS: *Chuckles* okay, go on.

 

AB: What’s your favourite chocolate bar?

JS: Galaxy

 

AB: Biggest strength?

JS: Resilience

 

AB: Football or Rugby?

JS: Rugby

AB: Favourite team?

JS: Bath Spa

 

AB: Playground nickname?

JS: Ginge

 

AB: Would you rather be a giant hamster or a tiny rhino?

JS: Tiny rhino

 

AB: Bath Spa or Swindon?

JS: As in the city?

AB: Well, yeah, I wouldn’t make you compare Swindon to basic hygiene.

JS: *Laughs* fair enough, Bath Spa

 

AB: What’s your Zodiac sign?

JS: Cancer

 

AB: Morning lark or night owl?

JS: Morning lark

 

AB: Tea or coffee?

JS: Coffee

 

AB: Would you rather meet an alien visitor of travel into space?

JS: *Pause* travel into space

 

Favourite band/artist?

JS: Anything before 1998

AB: What happened after 1998?

JS: It all went downhill

 

Describe yourself in one word.

JS: *Long pause*

AB: Just anything

JS: It’s a tough one

AB: Have you never had to answer that at an interview?

JS: I haven’t been interviewed in ten years! *long pause* Determined

 

AB: Digital or analogue?

JS: Analogue…joking! Of course it’s Digital.

AB: God, you had me worried there for your job. As if an analogue fan could head up digital, I’d have to get you escorted of the building out on principle!

JS: *Laughs*

Why Can’t Men be More Like Snack Bars?

I was recently sat in a bar with a glass of wine and my new portable laptop (best investment of the year so far) when I had a flashback to all those Jordans’ Frusli snack/cereal bars I bought before London. Remember those?

So I decided, quite randomly, to send a letter to the lovely people at Jordans to make them aware. Of course this is me so naturally it wasn’t a standard letter. I took a sip on my rapidly depleting glass of red and wrote the following:

Dear Sir or Madam,

RE: Why can’t men be more like Jordans Frusli bars?

My name is Alice and I’m a finance professional and freelance blogger/kooky lady living in the centre of London. Now I’m pretty sure you’ve taken one look at the RE there and thought “hmm, this complaint may involve the assistance of a therapist, or a year seven biology guide”. But before you fear on that front, don’t worry, I know men can’t actually be like your Frusli bars. Everyone knows men are made out of used socks, cheese puffs and that weird smell no one can ever quite place. I think it’s a mutation of Lynx. Anyway, I’m not stupid but hear me out on this.

I relocated to London in May last year, a pretty stressful process as moves go. I was leaving Swindon with not a clue in the world what to do. I assumed that everything in London was expensive and topped with some kind of skinny foam, so I thought it wise to stock pile on what I knew to be good, wholesome and something I could pretend was 3 of my five a day. In my keen to stockpile for an event that you may have thought was a new Cold War I may have bought enough boxes to reach my hip… [picture insert]

You can imagine the fun I had transporting those from Paddington to E1. With everything else my bags weighed a ruddy tonne. However, unlike the many, many men who walked on by, the energy I got from a blueberry Frusli bar helped give the me energy to lug those bags on/off tube lines and up a flighty number of stairs. The power of the Frusli!

Once in the flat I managed to locate a drawer to put my various bars in to which I was quite satisfied. The drawer has since become a mini shrine to the many snack bars I have and, unlike men, I find the content of the drawer provide much enlightenment. Do I eat chocolate? Do I go out food shopping? When I open my Frusli drawer it always shows me the way. And I tell you what, they never ask me to make them a sandwich as a solution to my query.

Frusli bars offer variety, they have a fruity content and are even eco-friendly without rubbing it in your face (I see what you did with the packaging). They don’t take up space, they can accompany any meal or make time for you any point of the day and my parents love them. In fact, in many ways they’re the perfect partner. Wait a moment, maybe they’re too good…

Ok scratch the above, this is now a complaint letter. Congratulations on making something awesome that keeps me going and kept me strong when I didn’t know where to buy eggs in this crazy city. But you’ve made something too good so now I’m unable to find a living male who is as adaptable as an apple and cranberry cereal bar. Disgusted.

I look forward to hearing how you’re going to resolve this matter ASAP.

Yours Faithfully

I wrote that and sent it without re-reading it (until now, golly gosh that Merlot). I genuinely thought I’d never get a response. Another crazy lady from London. Well I was very firmly proved wrong when today I received a large parcel from the customer service team at Jordans. Inside the cardboard box was a letter.

Dear Alice,

Well what can I say? Other than, yes! Our Frusli bars are pretty awesome and they do offer the standard when it comes to offering variety and honest goodness. I am certain however, that there is a guy out there with equal qualities who can make time for you at any point and, most importantly, help you find eggs in the crazy city. In the meantime, here are some more Frusili bars along with some of our breakfast cereals – who knows, maybe once you’ve found Mr Right you’ll be able to enjoy our Granola together for breakfast.

All the very best,

Emma Morris, Customer Experience Advisor

And under the letter was this!

Boxthumbnail

How awesome is that! Completely unexpected as well. The luxury of Jordans cereal! I’m used to handling own brand Wheat Biscuits so this really is a massive step up. And given when I had to reschedule the missed delivery Mumma Bennett was convinced that I’d be getting her quilt cover this is very much a surprise to everyone. Mumma B said I must have written a very good letter to get such a response from the company…well, now you’ve seen it I’ll leave that final call with you.

(Ps – Jordans/Emma, I’m still hunting for the best reasonably priced eggs in London and a man, in that order.)

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…