Night Bus

This is the Night Bus crossing the boroughs,
Carrying the drunken office worker,
Leaving Notting Hill, passing Marble Arch,
Selfridges corner, Bond Street and more.
Pulling up sharply, bell not rung in time:
The driver's uncaring, he's running to time.
Past sale display and gaudy hoarding
Trundling onward over the litter,
Rumbling noisily as she passes
Silent scores of homeless persons.

They turn their heads as she approaches,
Stare from the bus stops at her yellow signage.
Waved hands cannot turn her course;
She lumbers on, not opening doors.
In the flats she passes no one wakes,
But a drunk on the corner gently shakes.

Dawn freshens, the night almost gone.
Down towards Kings Cross she descends
Towards the Thameslink, turning to head up York Way,
Towards the fields of apparatus, the gas holders
Lit against the dark sky like gigantic chessmen.
A garage waits for her:
In the back seat, beside the greasy window
I long for sleep.

Yawning I stare at Tufnell Park
Tiredness too much to respond and be coy,
Receiving mumbled invitations
To inspect his cock or indulge in relations,
and myriad other supplications
Audacious lover's declarations
And yes, he nearly wears through my patience,
Babbling inanity, nothing substantial
Losing his interest when he can't engage me.
Back to my book, I stare at the margin,
Letters dance on the pages like ants,
Leaving their comprehension to chance,
Irritated, I place the book back in my bag
Rubbing my eyes to more clearly see
Rushing past lights of every hue,
The pink, the violet, the white and the blue,
The cheesy, the classy, the boring, the broken,
The cold and official and the warm welcoming,
Flickering on then flickering off,
The driver is restless; our journey is done.

Thousands are still asleep
Dreaming of terrifying monsters,
Or of friendly drinks inside a bar in Angel or Soho:
Asleep in rugged Camden, asleep in well-set Finsbury Park,
Asleep in gloomy Holloway,
They continue their dreams,
And shall wake soon and long for weekends,
And none did hear my key in the lock
With a quickening of the heart,
For who can bear to wake me next morning?

(with profuse apologies to WH Auden)

April 3, 2004 in Best of | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Chicken Soup for the Flu-ridden

Ingredients:

Water
Chicken stock cubes
Noodles

Method:

Cough, wheeze and complain.

Drag your pathetic and flu-ridden body in the general direction of the kitchen.

Locate the kettle. Probably the big white thing that looks faintly like a jug. Pick it up, move it in general direction of taps. Hold it under tap nozzle and turn on tap (hint: it's probably better if you open the lid first). Try not to drop the kettle in the sink because it's become heavy with all that water in it. Put kettle back on it's cradle, switch it on.

Collapse onto the floor from the effort of filling the kettle. Squeak as bare skin touches cold tiles. Remember that you threw off your pj's in the middle of the night because you were too hot. Shiver. Crawl across carpet to put on three pairs of socks, two tshirts, a fleece and the warmest pair of sloppy tracky bottoms you own.

Crawl back to kitchen.

Find pot from cupboard (hint: this is probably best done before you stand up again, because if you bend down you'll probably fall over), put it on cooker, turn cooker on.

Check that the pot is on the ring you've just turned on.

Check again.

Pour boiling water into pot.

Fumble with foil around stock cube.

Swear.

Lean against the worktop, still struggling with foil coating.

Pick up large knife and stab stock cube in fit of temper.

Squeeze contents of stock cube out through hole made in foil.

Wonder why you're bothering and just throw stock cube into pot, foil and all, figuring the water will dissolve the stock and you can fish the foil out later.

Add noodles.

Stir.

Strip off fleece and one tshirt because the exertion has made you all hot and feverish again.

Open fridge. Insert head.

Close fridge.

Open fridge again. Remove head.

Poke noodles with spoon until they seem like they might be soft.

Turn off heat.

Make sure that you actually turned off the ring that was on, not turned on the one next to it.

Check again.

Open cupboard door without hitting your head with it. Find bowl.

Attempt to spoon noodles into bowl.

Fail.

Use fork instead.

Fish out foil from bowl, burning fingers in process.

Swear.

Spoon stock into bowl on top of noodles.

Pick up bowl and contemplate going back to sofa to eat it.

Decide that's too much effort.

Sink onto kitchen floor again, this time clutching bowl.

Put bowl on floor.

Reach up and open cutlery drawer. Rummage around until you feel like you might have found something to eat the soup with.

Proceed to eat noodles with fork.

Try to drink stock from bowl when noodles are finished, but wind up dribbling it down your front.

Swear.

Put bowl down on floor.

Put self down on floor.

Say a small prayer of thanks to your deity of choice for cool, smooth tiles.

Fall asleep.

Wake up shivering and crawl to sofa.

March 23, 2004 in Best of | Permalink | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Six Heartwarming Tales of London Town

I'd been in London for maybe six weeks, and at my new job maybe two of those when the storeman arrived in the department to deliver the stationery. When he spoke, his accent was so familiar that I had to blink to reassure myself that I was still in London and hadn't woken up from a dream back in Scotland.

Seeing an unfamiliar face in the department, he immediately made his way over to me to introduce himself and find out who I was. I had barely managed to say my name before his face lit up and he threw his arms wide and said "Ahh!! One of my ain! Ah always look after my ain!" and then stuck his head round the door of my boss's office and told him he had better treat me well or he'd have something to say about it.

There was laughter all round, and although my colleagues had been nice enough so far, that was the moment where I really felt welcome.

-

I'd been in London for maybe nine months and in that time we'd become regulars at a fantastic Indian restaurant round the corner from where we were living. We had also become familiar faces at the corner shop a few doors down from the restaurant.

So much so, that it wasn't unusual for either one of us to pass the staff of either establishment in the street, where they'd always stop and say hi and ask how we were doing.

One night we'd been for a meal in the restaurant and as we walked down the hill, stopped in at the corner shop for the usual staples of Diet Coke and Irn Bru. As we were paying, the guy behind the counter asked where we'd been for the evening and when we told him where we'd been for dinner he told us we should have stopped in on the way there and told him where we were going, as he'd have phoned the owner of the restaurant and told him to give us money off the bill and a free bottle of wine.

We goggled a bit at this, and he went on to explain that he was a partner in the restaurant. He then went on to make us promise that the next time we were going there for dinner that we would come in and tell him so he could phone the owner and let him know we were to get special treatment. We thanked him profusely for his kind offer and ambled off home, considerably brightened by both the meal and the offer.

Of course, we never did take them up on the offer - generous as it was, but the bill always seemed remarkably cheap considering the amount of food we got.

Not long afterwards we moved away from the area.

-

As we pulled out of Camden Station, D nudged me and pointed out a gentleman sitting a little further down the carriage, saying that I should look at the incredible newspaper he was reading.

I turned round, and sure enough, he was reading a newspaper, but it wasn't an english paper. I've got used to seeing people reading things written in other languages on the tube, but this was incredible, it was almost a work of art.

I couldn't be sure what language it was, but it looked like some sort of arabic.

Just as I was wondering in my head what it was, the guy two seats down from me had obviously been thinking the same thing, because I heard him ask what the paper was.

Looking faintly startled (this is London y'know, it's just not the done thing to talk to strangers on the Tube) he answered that it was a Pakistani (Urdu is their language) newspaper.

The guy two seats down continued to channel my thoughts and explained that he thought the paper was beautiful, the lettering incredible and asked if the gentleman could write like that.

He answered that yes, he could, and reached into his bag to pull out a folder full of papers, which then then showed to the guy two seats down. One of which was a poem, written in Urdu, in coloured ink, in the shape of a flower.

I wish I hadn't been so stunned by how beautiful this was and had been quick enough to get a picture, because this was just incredible.

He then proceeded to pull other such poems out of his folder, all in stunningly beautiful coloured calligraphy, in all manner of different shapes.

Mr two-seats-down was also stunned by this, but not so stunned that he couldn't get his words out like I was. He asked the gentleman if he could write his name in Urdu for him, and the gentleman agreed. He reached into his bag, pulled out a fountain pen and turned over one of his poems and began to write the guys name down.

Mr two-seats-down then exclaimed "Ah! you write right-to-left, same as I do - I'm from Israel" and I'm sure my mouth must have gaped open as they continued to talk and compare how similar their cultures were.

As the train pulled into Archway Station, I heard mr two-seats-down tell the gentleman that he was going to get the Urdu version of his name tattooed on himself (I didn't catch where) and thanked exclaim in delight as the gentleman gave him a sheaf of the Urdu poems he'd had in his folder.

[originally posted on 27 September 2002]

-

D and I went to the local supermarket to procure enough food and supplies to ensure that, unless we wanted to, we didn't need to leave the flat for the rest of the weekend.

As we were leaving, I stopped at the door, transferred the carrier bags in the trolley to the ground at my feet and turned to put the trolley back and retrieve the pound coin.

As I turned back, an elderly lady was walking towards me, and it dawned on me that she was speaking to me. Unfortunately, a combination of the noise from inside and outside the shop and the surprise that a stranger in London was speaking to me meant that I didn't hear what she said. My brain assumed that she was asking me to move the bags at my feet as they were in the way, and so I braced myself for a telling off as I said "pardon?".

So it was a really nice surprise when she came a bit closer to me and smiled almost conspiratorially as she said in a slightly louder voice "I really like your red hair".

[originally posted on 13 September 2003]

-

A couple of months ago we moved to a flat near the area where first lived in when we moved to London. Since we were in the area, we had decided that we had to go back to visit the Indian restaurant again.

We'd booked a table, and when we went in, I sat down at the table and D went to meet Mark, who had been lured away from Camden with the promise of a bloody good curry.

When Dave came back with Mark, we made our choices and the owner came over to the table to take our order.

As he did, he turned to me and said "I love what you've done with your hair".

My jaw dropped as he continued speaking and said "I almost didn't recognise you there, you've lost a lot of weight too" and as I nodded he went on to tell me that I looked really well.

As I grinned, he turned to D and asked how we were getting on and we explained that we'd moved back to the area recently, after a year in Camden.

He smiled and we got the usual great food, good service and wonderful jazz, and once more, the bill seemed pretty low for the feast we'd just consumed.

-

Last week was a pretty heavy week for me, I had a couple of particularly brain intensive days, where I spent a large part of the day wading through financial information trying to disentangle the corporate financial reporting system and make sure it matched the figures that I'd been keeping.

At the end of what was probably the worst day, I made my way home with a blinding headache. As I got to the corner of the street, I realised that I needed bread and Diet Coke and staggered, blinking, into the bright lights of the corner shop.

As I paid, the guy behind the counter reached into the tub of chewy sweets next to the till, and dropped a strawberry chew into the bag with my shopping.

He smiled and said "that's for you, have a lovely evening" and I thanked him and went home with a huge grin.

-

There are so many more tales I could tell - little things that make such a difference.

For all the people who told me that London was a cold, harsh, unfriendly place, I can quite happily say that I haven't found it so.

It's not the place, it's the people, and just like everywhere else there's the bad mixed with the good, the trick is not to let the bad stop you seeing the good.

December 17, 2003 in Best of, London Life | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

The Pixeldiva Method - Part 1 - Biscuits and Chocolate

Using this handy guide, you too can amaze and counfound those around you with your artistic consumptive skills.

The Bourbon Cream (or any other cream filled biscuit)

Examine the biscuit carefully to ascertain which side of the biscuit should be designated "top" and which "base". A good general guide in making this decision should be which side looks like it might come away from the cream easier in one piece.

Once the sides have been assigned, hold the biscuit by the base and carefully insert the tip of your tongue between the base and the top, wriggling it in an upwards motion with the intention of loosening it and removing the top cleanly from the cream. This step can be accomplished with the teeth, but that requires skillful use of gentle pressure to avoid breaking the top in the removal process.

With regard to the cream removal process, there are two distinct schools of thought in this area:-

1. lick it all off
2. scrape it off with the teeth

I tend to find that I choose my approach based on time constraints - method 1 is more time consuming, but tends to be much more satisfying in terms of mouth-feel, enabling you to fully experience the taste and texture of the filling.

With the lid and the cream consumed, all that remains is to dispatch the base in either one or two bites, depending on the size of your mouth, and the likelihood of being made to laugh and as a result spray crumbs from your mouth in a most unattractive fashion.

The Twix

The key to consuming the Twix lies in being methodical. It is also helpful if the Twix is chilled, to assist with chocolate removal and lessen the likelihood of getting it all over your face.

To begin, carefully bite off the chocolate coating at the end, exposing the dual layer of biscuit and toffee. Expose about an inch of the finger, and remove the chocolate coating from each side carefully. You can then bite off the toffee layer from the top, and finally, bite off that inch of biscuit.

This process should be repeated until the Twix is consumed.

The Kit-Kat

This follows the same basic methodology as the Twix, but extra skill needs to be employed in removing each separate layer of wafer.

The Double Decker

Again, this follows the same methodology as the Twix, however, it should be noted that it is not advisable to attempt the Double Decker straight from the fridge. For optimum enjoyment, it should be left out for approximately 15-20 minutes to enable the nougat to soften just enough that it becomes pliable and easy to remove from the crispy base.

The Tunnocks Tea-Cake

There are two approaches to the Tunnocks Tea-Cake:-

1. Through the top
2. From below

1. Through the top

To begin, remove the tea-cake from the silver foil and turn it round, holding the base through the foil. Poke a hole in the top shell of the tea-cake either by poking your tongue through it (if your tongue has been sufficiently trained to accomplish such a feat) or by biting through the shell.

You can then either poke your tongue through the resulting hole and begin to gouge out the fluffy mallow filling, or begin to nibble off the chocolate, leaving the mallow intact. Depending on how full the tea-cake is, you can attempt to suck the filling out through the hole.

Once you've removed the chocolate and mallow, you can then nibble round the outside of the biscuit to remove the chocolate before finally consuming the biscuit.

2. From below

This method requires slightly more skill and practice is necessary to get it just right.

To begin, peel the foil back from the biscuit base enough so that you can get your mouth round the biscuit base without eating foil.

Open wide and insert the entire base between your teeth and carefully bite down. It is possible to remove the entire biscuit base in one go, but this is rare, and it will usually take two or three bites to remove all the biscuit from the rest of the tea-cake.

Once this has been accomplished, you can feel free to gently excavate and remove all the mallow from the inside of the tea-cake, before popping the chocolate dome into your mouth.

The Jaffa Cake

A complex trick, this.

If you have time to spare, you can slowly lick the chocolate layer from the top of the jammy bit, before sucking it from the biscuit, leaving a ring of chocolate around the outside of the spongy bit.

If you are pushed, grasp the jaffa cake in both hands and begin to bend it back on itself, jammy side up. The preferred ratio is about 70/30, so that you remove enough biscuit to be able to get a grip on the jammy bit and suck it out whole. This then leaves you with a chocolate layer which can be broken off, or alternatively, you can just eat the remaining part as is.

The Bounty Bar

This one gets a bit sticky, so it's generally not advisable to attempt this in an area where you will be exposed to fluff.

The premise is simple. Remove all the chocolate before eating the coconut.

The chocolate removal process is simple - all the chocolate from the edges must be removed first. The top is always next, and the base last.

The Creme Egg

Similar in principle to the tea-cake, but the thicker chocolate provides more of a challenge.

The preferred way to attempt the Creme Egg is to first of all knaw the top of the egg until breaking through to the yolk, then remove the yolk slowly and carefully with the tongue before finishing off the chocolate shell in one or two bites.

The Magnum

Generally a summer event only, this involves biting into the chocolate carefully so that it cracks, then removing it piece by piece until you are left with a virgin creamy surface.

This should then be nibbled or licked down either side until it reaches a size where it can be inserted into the mouth and sucked.

Alternatively, if you have the upgrade to Tongue Piercing 1.0, you can show off by writing your name (or drawing whichever design you wish) down each side before accomplishing the step above.

December 11, 2003 in Best of, Food and Drink | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

'No Frills' is no excuse

I was really glad to see that Ryanair are finally being taken to court over their blatant discrimination against people who require wheelchair assistance.

Some of my more recent readers probably won't realise, but I have a genetic condition which means that I have periods where I have severe joint problems and need to rely on crutches, or even a wheelchair. In fact, the whole reason I started writing a blog in the first place was to provide an outlet for some of the frustration I was feeling during one of these periods.

As a bit of background, for most of 2000 I was in a wheelchair. I could barely walk the length of myself unaided and couldn't walk much further even with the aid of crutches. Towards the end of 2000 and in early 2001 I'd managed to get myself back to the point where I could walk for short distances using crutches, and only needed to use the wheelchair for longer distances or when I was tired.

In April 2001 I made my first trip to London to see D, who had moved down the December before. To save money, I flew Ryanair and felt hugely positive that I'd managed to make the trip without needing to bring my wheelchair with me.

Well, almost.

On the way back to Stansted Airport my legs just gave out on me. I was incredibly tired and could barely stay upright on my crutches, especially with the added hindrence of my small weekend suitcase.

When I got to Stansted Airport after a massive cock-up in the trains, they wouldn't let me check in for my flight, and instead bumped me onto the next one and made me pay £30 for the privilege. I was a bit panicked because I was supposed to be going into the office in the afternoon and as a result of this delay knew I wouldn't make it. So I phoned my boss, apologised and explained and that was that.

When I was allowed to check in to the flight I'd been bumped to, I asked about wheelchair assistance, because by this point my legs were shaking so badly and I was in so much pain I was scared I was going to pass out right there at the check-in desk. I was directed to another area of the airport to go and request wheelchair assistance, which I managed to do.

I got to the wheelchair assistance desk and almost collapsed onto it in relief. I asked if I could have wheelchair assistance as I just couldn't make it as far as the plane. They said certainly and asked to see my boarding card, which I handed over.

It was about then that my day got much worse. They took a look at it and said, "oh, you're a Ryanair passenger, that will be £13.75". I nearly fell over in shock. Not only had I never been charged for wheelchair assistance in an airport before, but at no point in my dealings with Ryanair had it been mentioned that there would be a charge.

It took every ounce of willpower I had not to burst into tears right there and then. I think they knew something was wrong though, because they asked me if I was ok. I said I was fine, asked for my boarding card back and began to make my way back to the Ryanair Customer Service Desk to ask what the hell was going on. When I made it to the top of the queue, the girl I spoke to was quite rude and abrupt and dismissed me by handing me a scrap of paper with the customer complaints contact details on it.

Apoplectic with rage and in considerable pain, I made my way to the nearest chairs and phoned my mum, because I quite honestly didn't know what else to do. I wasn't sure that I had enough money in my account to cover the extra charge on top of the £30 I'd already paid to get on the flight because I'd been in London at the weekend, and I knew I wouldn't be able to make it to the plane.

So I sat there, in the middle of Stansted Airport, bawling my eyes out while on the phone to my mum, and listened while she boiled with rage too. I gave her the Ryanair details so that she could phone the complaints department, because my phone, a pay-as-you-go job, was running out of credit and the top-up system at Orange was unavailable, so I couldn't put any more on.

She phoned me back about ten minutes later, even angrier than she had been. She'd been utterly stonewalled by the Ryanair people, who seemed to think that an unexpected charge of £13.75 for wheelchair assistance was utterly reasonable, and not the blatant extortion and discrimination that it actually was.

In the end, my mum phoned British Airports Authority (BAA) who run and manage Stansted Airport (as well as Heathrow, Gatwick, Glasgow and Edinburgh) and spoke to their Duty Manager, who was absolutely brilliant, and agreed to provide wheelchair assistance for me, free of charge, and even came down personally, with his Deputy and found me in the check-in area and ushered me through security and into the departure lounge and bought me a Diet Coke.

When it came time to get to the plane, his staff turned up again to get me onto the flight and make sure I was ok.

I can't praise them highly enough for what they did for me. They really went above and beyond the call of duty.

Ryanair however, are the biggest bunch of scumbags going.

I wrote a letter of complaint to their Head Office when I got back to Scotland, and they completely ignored both it, and the follow up letter I sent afterwards. I then got caught up with other family issues and didn't have the energy to pursue it any further, which is why I'm very glad to see that someone's had the backbone and energy to stand up to them and take them to court.

To adopt a position where wheelchair assistance is deemed a "frill", such as providing a manky sandwich is laughable, and to back that up by bleating "but we provide assistance at 80 out of 86 airports" is just frankly NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

I find it extremely difficult to believe that the costs of providing wheelchair assistance at 6 more airports would make a substantial dent in their profits, and just amounts to a "not my problem, guv" attitude.

I am quite certain that should anyone in the Ryanair board, or management team, or a member of their family, for that matter, at any point require wheelchair assistance, they would expect that this assistance is provided free of cost and without extortion.

It's bad enough to have to be in the position where you have to admit that you're dependent on that sort of help, without being forced to pay the charge without warning, when you're extremely vulnerable.

Which doesn't even begin to cover the fact that it's AGAINST THE LAW.

I really hope this case doesn't get lost in legal wrangling, because there's a real need for people to know that there are consequences for this kind of behaviour. Discrimination happens, everyone realises this, and despite all best efforts it will probably continue to happen - even accidentally, but really, this isn't accidental, this is pre-meditated and wrong, and needs to stop.

... and beyond all that, I hope Ryanair get what's coming to them. Corporate embarrassment, bad PR, and a hefty fine, with an order to change their policy for the remaining six airports. A public apology would be nice too, but I'm not holding my breath.

December 3, 2003 in Best of, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Morning

Come away with me in the night
Come away with me
And I will write you a song

We huddle around the door of the bus like so many lemmings looking for a cliff. Poised and alert, mustn't dally. Places to go, people to see, work to be done.

Come away with me on a bus
Come away where they can't tempt us
With their lies

Her hair is perfect as she stands on the corner, waiting for the lights to change. I reach a hand up self-consciously in response, feeling a twinge of jealousy as my fingers try to tame my unruly locks.

I want to walk with you
On a cloudy day
In fields where the yellow grass grows knee-high
So won't you try to come

They stand in a telephone box, his arm across the opening, preventing her from leaving. I can't tell if they're arguing or sharing a moment.

Come away with me and we'll kiss
On a mountaintop
Come away with me
And I'll never stop loving you

He walks slowly along the pavement, deep in thought. His hands, clasped behind his back, work at a paper tissue, rolling it between his fingers forming it into a rope.

And I want to wake up with the rain
Falling on a tin roof
While I'm safe there in your arms
So all I ask is for you
To come away with me in the night
Come away with me

The doors open as I approach and I step inside, exchanging the milky morning light for the harsher fluorescent light of the office.

beep

I put the earphones away and step into the lift.

sigh

Another working day begins.

November 6, 2003 in Best of | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Autumn Leaves

I'm not sure what it is, but the older I get, the more I love autumn.

Everything seems so much brighter, fresher, deeper and more intense in autumn.

I love the sky in autumn. When the sky is blue, it's a much deeper, more intense blue. When it's grey, it's magnificently malevolent. The sunsets explode in many splendoured colour, soaking into the edges of the clouds, tipping buildings with jewel-esque tones.

I feel more alive in autumn.

I love those crisp days, where the sky is blue, the sun is warm on your face for the few seconds where the wind isn't slicing the end of your nose off.

I love getting up every morning and welcoming the golden autumn light into the room.

I love that every day the leaves are different. A kaleidoscopic riot of colour just waiting to be noticed.

I love the sound as I walk through the dry piles of fallen leaves. I refuse to believe that beneath each pile of leaves on the pavement is a dog turd and revert to childhood and jump and kick my way through each one.

I love conkers. I love the thunk they make as they hit the ground and the adrenaline rush of finding the freshly fallen conker before the squirrels do. I love the slight dampness of the newborn nut and the velvety softness of the spiky womb, so recently it's protector.

I love the smell of autumn in the countryside. The spicy scent of wood fires burning. Each one sending me back through time to my childhood.

I love the smell of autumn in the city too. It seems so much fresher to me, and sweeter too, as I pass the street vendors in the markets, hot fresh doughnuts here, roasted chestnuts there, mulled wine just ahead.

I love the tingling as the blood rushes back to my face and hands when I come in from the cold.

I love warming my hands on cartons of food bought from one of the many stalls in Camden Market and finding a spot on a wall somewhere to transfer the warmth inside.

I love to sit on the top deck of the bus in the twilight and watch the world go by. I love the fleeting glimpses of home life I get through curtains not-yet-closed. The night sneaks up so quickly, catching us unawares.

I love that there are places in London where you can go, and, for as long as you stay there, believe that you're not in London any more. Places where the sky, so often contained by concrete and metal, opens up around you, giving room for big thoughts and kite flying.

I love to stand at the top of Hampstead Heath and look out across London. The vivid patchwork of Highgate and the Heath giving way here and there to civilisation, with houses scattered here and there like stitches, holding the quilt together before giving way altogether to the cityscape. Cranes and concrete will not be denied.

I love that autumn makes me think of jazz. Mellow and contemplative at times, but always underneath, a barely restrained creativity, just waiting for the opportunity to break free.

Maybe it's just me, but something about the turning of the leaves ignites a spark in my brain, and before I know it, the flames of creativity are whipped up by that autumn breeze into a veritable blaze. I fizz with creativity. It flows through me with an almost imperceptable hum, reminding me that it's there. I find myself waking in the middle of the night, my brain refusing to shut down and let me sleep.

Autumn inspires change in me. I've moved house three times in autumn. I've changed jobs more often than not in autumn. I decided to change myself last autumn.

More than anything, I think that autumn gives me hope.

I don't know know that I can really explain why, but something in the way that the trees, even as they die back for the winter have so much left to give. That last glorious effort - makes me feel that getting older isn't necessarily a bad thing, and that change isn't always for the worse.

October 27, 2003 in Best of | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

A New Woman

He asked my name, and then told me his, before asking if I knew what I wanted. He had an accent that I couldn't place.

I nodded and began to explain. He listened, impassive, while I talked, then nodded and asked that I follow him, which I did.

I stood in silence as he dressed me in a robe that covered me from the neck down before indicating a reclining chair and motioning for me to sit.

I lay back, tensing in anticipation of his touch, which when it came was both firm and gentle. I closed my eyes as his fingertips danced over my scalp, stroking, tickling, massaging. Then as suddenly as it had begun, it stopped. Motionless, I waited and the hands returned. He repeated this pattern over again until he was certain I was ready for the next stage.

As I stood up, he fitted a kind of collar over the back of my neck and settled it on my shoulders before leading me back to where we started from. Once there, he sat me in another chair, this time in front of a mirror, forcing me to watch as he set about my head with various fearsome implements.

My head was pulled this way and that, his fingers pulling at my hair. The only words exchanged were when he asked if I wanted more, or if I liked it and my replies.

Time passed and he changed tools. He became more gentle for a while, smoothing my hair, then more energetic, whipping first my back, then my knees with the cable. He asked me again if I liked it, his eyes meeting mine in the mirror. I nodded yes. He was an artist, a perfectionist, who would not stop until he was satisfied.

Finally, he put down his tools and left me for a brief moment before returning with a second mirror which he held up behind me to let me see his handiwork. I was delighted and thanked him profusely.

He waited while I paid, and escorted me to the door, where I thanked him again and stepped out of the salon profoundly changed.

Catching sight of my new hairdo in a shop window as I passed, I smiled.

August 17, 2003 in Best of | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Things to do indoors...

... when you have a stinking cold and are very very bored.

- Build papier mache room decorations with all the snotty tissues you're accumulating.

- Count up every cough, and reward every 50th cough with a shot of Aftershock (or Tequila, Whisky, Vodka or any other head clearing spirits you have to hand).

- Make chicken soup (Take three chicken stock cubes, one and a half litres of boiling water and two chicken breasts cut into bits - boil the half an hour or so until chicken is cooked. Serve.)

- Change the channel on the TV so much that you wear off the lettering on the button.

- Go into the kitchen, take sundry items from the fridge, make yourself something to eat. Take one mouthful. Realise you aren't hungry and feel sick. Throw food out. Repeat at regular intervals until the cupboards are empty and the bin is full.

- Amuse yourself and anyone around by showing them how well you can now "do" Darth Vader.

- Arrange the latest collection of snotty tissues into interesting crop circle-esque patterns on the carpet.

- Attempt to sing along to MTV. Fail. Continue anyway.

- Find yourself inexplicably fascinated with a marathon showing of a home improvement show called "Trading Up" featuring two of the bitchiest friends of dorothy ever and Craig from the first Big Brother.

- Ride the mexican wave of music tv channels (the one where you change channels and the same song is on the next channel, having started playing two minutes after it started on the previous channel).

- Hit F5 on metafilter again, hoping that someone has posted something interesting to it in the last five minutes.

- Go to the kitchen to get some food. Remember it's all in the bin. Go back to laptop, go to tesco's and order more online. Realise too late that this means that it won't get here until the next day. Curse.

- Burn your nose with Olbas Oil because you couldn't smell it on the tissue until it was right against the skin. Swear.

- Read all the blogs on your favourites list, even the ones you know are on hiatus/dead/not there any more.

- Put copious amounts of E45 Cream on the end of your nose, in a vain attempt to stop it fraying at the edges, and to soothe the burning from the Olbas Oil. Sneeze. Reapply Cream. Sneeze. Reapply Cream. Repeat as necessary.

- Devise new variation of the cold drinking game, where each sneeze counts as two coughs, and each snotty tissue counts as three. Cut level of points required for a shot of Aftershock down to 25.

- Devise a way to prevent nose frayage by twisting the corner of a tissue and inserting it as far as possible up one nostril, and then doing the same with the opposite corner and nostril, giving yourself the look of a bull with a ring through it's nose. Alternatively, tear the tissue down the middle and insert one half up each nostril, leaving excess hanging out for retrieval, thus giving yourself the look of the above bull, this time with cartoon steam coming from it's nostrils. Name this invention "The Snotcork". NB - remember to breathe through your mouth while doing this.

- Go to weblogs.com and work your way down the list of recently updated weblogs, including all the foreign language blogs.

- Read all of your flatmates girlie mags (no, not that kind of girlie mags), Tatler, Cosmopolitan, etc. Wonder why you don't do any of the stuff written about in the magazine. Look down to verify that you still are, in fact, still at least technically female.

- Go to televisionwithoutpity.com and read the recaps of all the episodes of your favourite TV shows that you've seen.

- Whine to your friends on IRC that you're feeling crap, in an attempt to gain cyber sympathy. Repeat as often as you think you can, without them telling you to shut the fuck up and stop whining.

- Consider replying to those emails that have been sitting in the inbox for a while, requiring responses.

- Need to lie down as a result of contemplating such strenuous activity.

- Change snotcorks for fresher ones.

- Wail "I don't feel very well" at anyone passing, and look pathetic in an attempt to get sympathy and/or TLC. NB - the results of this can vary drastically depending on your audience.

- Watch one music channel for an hour. Make a note of each song that is played in that hour, and how many times songs are repeated.

- Start to barricade yourself into the room by building a wall with the discarded tissue boxes.

- Blog.

December 31, 2002 in Best of | Permalink | Comments (4)

Commonality

I know I said see you on the flipside, and this isn't exactly the flipside yet, but I just couldn't help myself.

We went to pick up the keys to our new place today, and on the way back (the last tube journey we'll likely ever take to Archway Station, we were sat in an almost empty carriage.

As we pulled out of Camden Station, D nudged me and pointed out a gentleman sitting a little further down the carriage, saying that I should look at the incredible newspaper he was reading.

I turned round, and sure enough, he was reading a newspaper, but it wasn't an english paper. I've got used to seeing people reading things written in other languages on the tube, but this was incredible, it was almost a work of art.

I couldn't be sure what language it was, but it looked arabian.

Just as I was wondering in my head what it was, the guy two seats down from me had obviously been thinking the same thing, because I heard him ask what the paper was.

Looking faintly startled (this is London y'know, it's just not the done thing to talk to strangers on the Tube) he answered that it was a Pakistani (Urdu is their language) newspaper.

The guy two seats down continued to channel my thoughts and explained that he thought the paper was beautiful, the lettering incredible and asked if the gentleman could write like that.

He answered that yes, he could, and reached into his bag to pull out a folder full of papers, which then then showed to the guy two seats down. One of which was a poem, written in Urdu, in coloured ink, in the shape of a flower.

I wish I hadn't been so stunned by how beautiful this was and had been quick enough to get a picture, because this was just incredible.

He then proceeded to pull other such poems out of his folder, all in stunningly beautiful coloured calligraphy, in all manner of different shapes.

Mr two-seats-down was also stunned by this, but not so stunned that he couldn't get his words out like I was. He asked the gentleman if he could write his name in Urdu for him, and the gentleman agreed. He reached into his bag, pulled out a fountain pen and turned over one of his poems and began to write the guys name down.

Mr two-seats-down then exclaimed "Ah! you write right-to-left, same as I do - I'm from Israel" and I'm sure my mouth must have gaped open as they continued to talk and compare how similar their cultures were.

As the train pulled into Archway Station, I heard mr two-seats-down tell the gentleman that he was going to get the Urdu version of his name tattooed on himself (I didn't catch where) and thanked exclaim in delight as the gentleman gave him a sheaf of the Urdu poems he'd had in his folder.

It's times like that I realise how lucky I am to be where I am just now. London has it's faults, but it's an incredible city to be in. There are things that happen here that just wouldn't happen anywhere else in the UK. The diversity that I see around me every day amazes me still.

For all the shit that I've been through in the last year, I'm glad I'm here. I'm young, I have a good job, I've been relatively healthy this year (touch wood) and I'm just about to move to a lovely flat near Regent's Park.

Life in London is good - I just need reminding of that sometimes.

September 27, 2002 in Best of | Permalink | Comments (2)