Wednesday, 29 December 2010

2010 debrief

It's time for the blogging wrap up of the year. A few moments for reflection before moving onto bigger and better things. Same questions as last year. Hopefully different answers.

1. What did you do in 2010 that you'd never done before?

Kissed a stingray; built a snowman; voted in a British General Election

2. What countries did you visit?

New Zealand, USA, Cayman Islands, Turkey, France and Wales

3. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?

More vegetables in my garden; time and head space to dedicate to my studies; another marathon medal

4. What date from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

When I heard that the 29 trapped NZ miners had no chance of survival.

5. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Writing a 5,500 word essay and thereby completing the first year of my masters. In your face full time job.

6. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Nope (touches wood). I seem to be disgustingly healthy despite all of the man-flu I'm constantly surrounded by.

7. What was the best thing you bought?

Well, it was bought for me, but it would have to be my beautiful bright red Kenwood mixer. I love it almost more than life itself.

Oh, and my fabulous little iPhone.

8. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

My beautiful housemates; Anika and Richard who upped sticks and moved to The Gambia to volunteer a year of their lives; all those involved in my wonderful 30th birthday dinner celebration; my parents - for just being fabulous; my sisters with their endless quantities of energy to raise wonderful children and animals, create gardens, run half-marathons, all the while holding down jobs and relationships; and all of my friends who are out there doing great things, locally or globally

9. Where did most of your money go?

My becoming ever-more expensive university fees; paying off chunks of my student loan; a trip to the Caymans and a week in Turkey

10. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Standing on a seven mile white sand beach in the Caribbean, and not be dreaming; watching two sets of fabulous friends get married, one in a teepee, one in a golf club

11. What do you wish you'd done more of?

Writing (as per usual); keeping in touch with long-distance loved ones

12. What do you wish you'd done less of?

Sitting in the office until all hours of the night; being anxious various aspects of work and play

13. What did you want and get?

A Le Creuset casserole dish; a trip to see my wonderful friend Belinda in the Caymans

14. What did you want and not get?

Just those things that I know are unrealistic right now, like: a pet dog and cat, a pet squirrel which eats seeds from my hand, more trips to see my family, a PhD, a living room with a built-in bookcase...

15. Did you keep your new year's resolutions and did you make any for 2011?

2010's resolutions = more studying, more crafting, more cooking, more saving, less spending.

I think I did ok with these, although I was probably working from a pretty low base.

2011's resolutions = even more studying, learn Spanish, write more letters, improve my tennis serve, pay off more student loan (maybe even all), and save some. Oh, and be with my family for Christmas.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

How to build a snowman

1. Start with a very small ball of snow. And roll it.....

2. Keep rolling it......

3. When you get bored, take a break to make snow angels while someone with more stamina keeps rolling....

4. Then realise that you'll be here all night (or you'll end up with a deformed snowman) if you don't start rolling your own ball...

5. Send some of the team off to find eyes, a nose, arms, buttons etc..

6. Assemble snowman very carefully. Add accessories.

7. Take picture of snowman.

8. Then, in order to protect snowman from any possible danger, dismantle him, carry him 300m, through the house, and re-assemble him on the garden table out of harm's way.

Wonderful weather

Mother nature must have known that I needed a pick-me-up this week. Because yesterday morning she let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.

And over the period of about two hours on a Saturday morning, London went from it's normal slightly grey colour, to a wonderful powdery bright white.

Snow turns the mundane to the magical. Today the sun rose at 8.04am and set at 3.53pm. This could get very depressing. But walking home from Christmas shopping at 4.30pm in the dark is transformed into a wonderful wintry journey as the moon shines down on the still-thick layer of snow blanketing Clapham Common.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Indoor activities

While the outdoors look like this:

There's nothing like getting back to craft. Dusting off the needle book and digging out the bag filled with fabric in all shapes and sizes.

Ever so slowly, my patchwork is getting bigger. I almost have the length, now I need to work on the width. That's what the four days over Christmas is for.

And how nice it was, last night, to sit on the sofa with a fellow crafter, talking quilting, backing and how untidy we each think our work is. And then we sat and looked at the different fabrics that make up my patchwork family. "What's this one from?" she'd ask. "Oh, that's one of my Dad's favourite shirts". Or, "that's my bridesmaid's dress from Belinda's wedding".

Today I'm planning to sew some more of my sister Chris into the family.

Friday, 17 December 2010

London - I love you but....

I just can't love your limescale.

Mostly I can avoid it, but it's when I'm making a cup of tea at work and something vaguely resembling a small lime-esque brain falls out of the kettle, that I'm reminded.

In how many places do your kettles end up rattling with all the limescale that attaches itself to the inside, and then flakes off just in time to end up in your morning beverage?

It's London's notoriously hard water which is to blame. The water which blatantly refuses to remove anything from your hair when 'washing' it. This means that anytime you shower in a soft water location, you end up looking like a five year old who was left alone with the bubble bath.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

'Tis the season...

.... to fly to New Zealand.

Everyone's doing it. Back to brilliant sunshine (or so it seems at the moment), flat whites, friends, unexpected sunburn, Monteiths Summer Ale, and family.

Whether it's for weddings, babies or visas, a lot of people decide to make the trip back to NZ over the English winter. And not surprising why.

But this time around I'm going straight through. Head down, scarf on, with eyes watering from the piercing cold, I'm charging straight through this winter with no Southern Hemisphere reprieve.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

In the thick of it

It's easy to forget that here in London we really are right in amongst it. However, a short taxi ride midday yesterday proved a nice reminder.

We jumped in the cab at Victoria and our taxi driver (after shooing away the man he'd just paid a quid not to get in his cab) informed us we'd have to take the slightly longer route because of the student protests at Westminster. Just down the road the House of Lords was voting on tripling university fees, and crowds of students (and others) were shouting their loudest to voice their disgust.

Just as soon as we had driven around the protests did we find ourselves travelling through the midst of another protest and an absolute media circus. Our cabbie just had to say "Wiki leaks", as we cruised past the court where Julian Assange, who has spent his last little while at a prison not so far from my house, was having his bail hearing.

It's funny, you're constantly reading about all these various events but only occasionally remember that so much of it is right here (outside the cab window).

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Two worlds collide

A few weeks ago, I think I went to the Cayman Islands. It was lovely and warm. We swam, and ate, read, and drank cocktails....

And then I came back to London. It was cold...

But quite pretty.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Oh my, how time flies

Last week marked three years of my living in Clapham - London, England.

After thirty six months I can now walk into the office in the morning and say 'Alright Mike' without feeling like a complete fool.

I know off the top of my head that probably the best way, of the many, to get from Blackfriars to Battersea is to walk to Temple, take the District line to Victoria, and then take the Victoria Line, southbound, to Vauxhall. Walk to the bus station and get the 344 which will drop you right on Battersea High Street.

On a really cold Saturday afternoon I just crave a good cup of tea. And after a long day at work, it's very nice to walk across the bridge and go to the slightly rundown local for a pint (or two) of London Pride.

There are rituals and traditions now. Pub quiz on a Sunday; Pancake Day; craft nights; carrying the Christmas tree home on one shoulder at the start of Advent; our fabulous catered parties...

The longer I stay here, the faster the years go by. Slowly what was once new and novel grows to be everyday, but not necessarily in a bad way; and it becomes more and more difficult to remember life without Clapham - London, England.

Friday, 26 November 2010

A small nation of great strength

Tragedy hits the world in its own way every day, but sometimes it comes too close to home.

I don't really follow the All Blacks' progress; I live through my family for significant political updates; news of the NZ weather comes to me via facebook updates; and it seems to take me many hours to get the news on local natural disasters. But when an underground explosion left 29 West Coast of New Zealand miners underground, I was right there.

You wake in the morning, and check on the miners. On the bus to work, you read about miners. Last thing at night, look for any updates on the miners. All the time hoping for a miracle.

29 different faces, 29 different mothers, 29 different favourite foods.

29 different lives. All lost.

New Zealand is just a little country. Usually sheltered from significant sorrow, this kind of disaster rocks it to the core. But just a colony of penguins in the bitterest of Antarctic winters, this great country will pull together so very tightly to make sure that everyone is ok in the end.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Winter wonderful

In my little town in Japan, you could always tell when winter was properly on its way. The trees that stood in all the gardens and parks would, seemingly overnight, be decorated with a complicated system of ropes to stabilise each and every branch. This defence was to brace them for the impending heavy snow which would inevitably want to rest awhile in the arms of the trees.

The yearly construction of this armour would always bring on a sense of foreboding in me, but was also a reminder of the immense beauty of winter in Japan.

My overwhelming memory of winter there, is one of quiet. Of all the seasons, winter was the most silent. Just the squeak of your shoes on the surface of the snow as you walked to your car in the morning.

Here in London, winter's yearly entrance isn't quite so obtrusive. She sneaks up, giving you just small clues, which only after you start to put them all together, do you realise she is well and truly on her way.

Firstly the clocks go back, then there are more red, orange and yellow leaves on the ground than on the trees. Then you switch the heating on and all of a sudden, someone mentions that snow has been forecast somewhere in the country. That's when you add up everything and realise winter has settled in for the long haul.

She brings with her crystal clear days (like today) where you wonder if the sky might just smash into a million pieces; spicy mulled wine from paper cups at Christmas markets; a dusting off of your collection of brightly coloured hats, scarves and gloves; stews, pies and soups; and a nice stretch of indoor time that is slower and more relaxed than other times of year, filled with films, craft, and a lot of good books.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Fading memories

My Wednesday run this week wasn't much like my Wednesday run last week.

Tonight I ran in long trousers, a thermal and a bright coloured rain jacket to protect myself from the cold, dark and rain.

Last Wednesday my run was barefoot along a seven mile Caribbean beach. "Let's run to the Ritz-Carlton and then back to our condo for a swim in the crystal clear, blue water".


Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Hole-in-one cover

In a fit of pre-travel paranoia, I thought I'd check the terms and conditions of my super cheap travel insurance to check that it covered, well... anything really.

In actual fact, I discovered on close examination, that it covers quite a lot.

Over and above all of the normal things (diving, snorkeling, snowboarding, hijacking) my travel insurance policy also specifies that it will cover me for: sledging, swimming with dolphins, climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge, riding in a reindeer-drawn sleigh, wheelchair basketball, and ice cricket.

But the best bit was my 'golf insurance'. If I happened to be participating in a golf competition, and also happened to get a hole in one (I do understand the odds of both of these occurring are only slightly better than my witnessing an alien landing) then my insurance would cover me for "all customary bar expenses incurred as a result of, and immediately subsequent to, achieving a hole-in-one during a competition round".

And here was me wondered about how I was going to cover the bar tab at the 19th hole, after a big day of ice cricket. Phew.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Room 101

Made famous by George Orwell's '1984', Room 101 is the place that contains your worst fear or nightmare. On a slightly lighter note, according to the BBC TV show of the same name, it is where you can send your pet peeves.

With that in mind, what would you condemn to Room 101?

I've spent some time (mainly commuting hours) collating a short list of items or actions I'd like to throw into Room 101 and lock the door.

- People who wear sunglasses inside
I don't know why this annoys me so, but it does.

- Wheelie bags on the streets of London
I have almost lost my little toe numerous times when people have decided to suddenly alter the trajectory of their bag

- Massive umbrellas
They seem to have something to prove and do their best to embed their legs into the side of your head. And they can get you when they're both up and down. The other day I just about lost my eye and my foot simultaneously from someone walking up stairs with an unruly wheelie bag and a massive umbrella which came swinging back and came within inches from my face.

On the telly version, Michael Parkinson put the small piece of cotton which holds a new pair of socks together in Room 101, and Stephen Fry sent in Australian Questioning Intonation. Other gems include: bad editing in film musicals, eating in the cinema, the skin on rice pudding, and novelty underpants.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Autumn affairs

It can be a depressing time of year, these autumnal months. Clocks going back, days getting shorter, central heating going on.. So it seems necessary to fill as many of the days with amusing events as physically possible. Halloween, fireworks, Thanksgiving and then of course Christmas. Cram in the festivals of both darkness and light in an attempt to get us all through to spring.

Monday, 18 October 2010

My Dad

My dad is one of the greatest people in the whole, wide world.

He's mathematical and musical all in one, and he'll go and build things from scratch like sheds, boats, vege gardens and even a swimming pool once.

Photo albums weave their images with early memories, making the young dad I can picture, really cool. Aviator sunglasses, and a droopy mustache, listening to Dire Straits on tape.

During my entire childhood, dad spent an inordinate amount of time on the side of a soccer field, cricket pitch or netball court. Day in, day out, he would watch his athletically mediocre daughter, in the wind, rain or frostiness. With no complaints.

He's done countless oil changes, replaced car parts, and rescued me one night from the side of the road when my clutch cable snapped. Dad taught me to use the Internet, do long division, swim and ride a bike. And the extent of my chemistry learning came from helping dad with swimming pool maintenance. But one of the biggest parts of me that comes straight from dad, is my love for the sea. Not much was ever better than sitting in the cockpit of Hibiscus II with my dad.

We've shared many an evening or weekend afternoon over a pack of cards attempting to reclaim or retain the 'gin' crown. Dad can beat me hands down on a crossword (I once brought him back a bunch of half done ones when I'd been travelling around India) but we're pretty even when it comes to cards.

As the years go by, my dad just seems to get more talented, funny, thoughtful, and even though he's now without the aviators and droopy mustache, still very, very cool.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

My family

I often think that I must surely be one of the luckiest people in the world to be born into such a wonderful collection of people. So I thought I'd write some about them. Starting with the women who immediately surround me.

A letter to my matriarchy

My grandmother, mother and sisters, so much of what I now am comes from each of you.

My granny, who, if I squeeze my eyes closed, I can just see your outline in a doorway; a kind shadow of my history. You are the soft toy rabbit I still have on my now-adult bed, bearing the scars of constant love for thirty years. You too are the faded recipes handed down to my mum, which we were all reared on. The Christmas pudding with its foil wrapped coins, and one 'bachelor' button. After a long stretch when mum thought she was going to have three eternally-single daughters on her hands, one Christmas she changed it to a 'baby' button. Footloose and fancy-free, we picked through the pudding very carefully that year.

To my mother. You, of all the matriarchs make up the most significant portion of me. My fingers which crave to be covered in soil and watch things grow. My hands that try to sculpt fabric just as you do; unsuccessfully. The three of us girls grew up wearing the products of your labour and skill; finely smocked dresses which undoubtedly ended up covered in dog hair and grass stains.

You and I have exactly the same Irish eyes, which you share with a sister; as I do. A pale sky blue like the bottom of the town lido where you'd sometimes set me free in the summertime.

And my trail-blazing big sister. You are my itchy feet. I grew up receiving your postcards from far-flung places in our rural mailbox where starlings nested. All the way from Pakistan, Iran, and Iceland you'd write. I didn't recognise you when you returned. Skin tanned from travel, your rucksack years older and full of trinkets from the world. At seventeen, I could feel my wings wanting to flap right then.

As a small child you would gather stones from our driveway, carefully putting them in mum's preserving jars and keeping them under the bathroom sink. Now I find myself on beaches and islands, on the other side of the world, picking stones to add to my collection. Next to my bathroom sink.

And I can't forget my other big sister who I spent so much of my childhood looking up to, my neck now aches. You are the ever-limber dancer's muscles that act like strings, keeping us all together. The constant and reassuring hand on my shoulder which props me up when times are hard.

And now this family has two tiny girls who join this feminine history. With the same big blue eyes, they learn from each of us. Wearing the beautiful flowery smocked dresses that inevitably end up covered in dog hair and grass stains.

And breathe...

It's done. At about 2am on Tuesday morning I clicked 'send' which signalled the end of Masters year one.

It's been a bumpy but enjoyable ride. My textbook collection is substantially bigger; not so sure about my knowledge of management theories though.

Now I'm going to enjoy that feeling of not having the small academic gremlin sitting on my shoulder always saying "you really should be studying you know".

Saturday, 2 October 2010

My world

This is my world right now. 3,500 words to go until the end of the school year.

Surrounded by wads of articles and textbooks stretched open on my bedroom floor, I type in fits and starts. Waves of inspiration coming either side of long periods of nothingness.

Monday, 27 September 2010

The not-so-fairy godmother

I'm now a godmother, twice over. One in the conventional religious style, one in a more eclectic sense.

Even though I'm not a religious person, it was really quite special sitting in that church yesterday, holding this wee little man, promising that I would help his parents to teach him the ins and outs of life. Completely oblivious, Caleb just kicked his legs and chewed the corner of the script given to us by the priest.

My godmotherly powers are required to stretch across the oceans, as the beautiful young Niamh comes under my jurisdiction as well. Remote-godmothering is quite difficult at times, but I'm constructing the tutorials for when she gets the hang of skype.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Friday hallucinations

I think I may have just seen four Abba impersonators, complete with gold hot pants and blonde shoulder-length haircuts singing right next to St Paul's. Yes, that Cathedral which has been there since 604AD. I wonder how many Abba bands St Paul's has seen in its time?

Then just around the corner I saw a middle-aged man in a suit selling The Big Issue.

I'm considering reducing my coffee consumption.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Darkness and light

My alarm went off in the dark this morning. I awoke in wonder about what on earth was going on, until it dawned on me. It hadn't yet dawned outside.

The edges of winter are almost upon us. With her long fingers, she silently closes in on each end of the day.

As I ventured down for a shower, I could see the warm glow of the street lights through the window on the stairs. Another reminder that you're up before nature intended.

As Thomas Fuller said: "It is always darkest just before the Day dawneth".

Friday, 17 September 2010

5 things that worry me on a regular basis

1. Where all the rubbish goes. Because I never see it once I farewell it into the wheelie bin

2. Where all the rubbish is going to go once the place it goes now is full

3. People can quite happily leave taps running when Yemen is about to run out of water

4. Sarah Palin might run for U.S. President

5. When I walk to work in a skirt or shorts, my legs end up with a very fine layer of black filth on them. What do my lungs look like I wonder?

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Religious affairs

The Pope's in town. Well almost anyway.

Transport for London emailed to let me know that the Popemobile may cause disruption to my travel plans over the next few days. Pope's entourage will be a man down after one of his aides said that landing at Heathrow airport was like entering a third world country. And apparently he wasn't talking about how long it takes for your luggage to come out, or even the fact that you have to queue at immigration for about as long as it took you to fly there.

In other religious news this week, I discovered I'm Catholic. Well, sort of. I was christened at the Pahiatua Roman Catholic Church a few days before my first birthday. Now I vaguely thought I had been christened, as I'm sure I've seen the photos before. But I for some reason, I didn't think it was at a Catholic Church.

Religion is a funny thing. And a pretty touchy one, as we know now more than ever. It's not something I've ever really been into, hence not knowing my allocated faith until three days ago. But I have no problem at all with other people believing.

It's typical, however, that I would end up with an association to the particular branch of religion which I have such strong doubts about. I'm wondering if I should try and get some time with the Pope, now I have a vested interest in his wacky policies. But then I remember I'm a woman, and so probably have very little sway.

Right, that's enough religious commentary for this blog.

Friday, 10 September 2010

At the check-out

Man behind the counter at Boots Pharmacy: "Do you have a Boots advantage card?"

Me: "yes. It's in my purse somewhere. Hold on a minute... Train tickets from last month.. Business card collection.. receipts for a week of Tescos lunches.. Costa Coffee and Starbucks card (for free wireless which I can't remember the password on).. Organ donor card in case of being knocked down by bus.. Clapham Picture House membership card... Oh this is it! Oh no, that's my PADI diving licence.......

Ok, here it is. Stuck between my Waterstone's loyalty card and Lovefilm gift card."

My housemate Elly just about passes out when she sees my purse. It's a good thing she's never seen my desk at work.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

When the earth moves

It's pretty scary to wake up on a Saturday morning and see photos of the second largest city in your country of birth literally shaken to pieces.

It's not that earthquakes arrive unexpectedly in New Zealand. After all, the china at Mum and Dad's place is stuck to the sideboard with earthquake glue. But as much as you spend time putting together your home emergency pack, a concept which is drummed into you from an early age; you still find it difficult to imagine ever needing to open those particular cans of baked beans.

But all the way on the other side of the world, people in Christchurch having been discovering just what they packed away for emergencies like this, or what they didn't.

Knowing what kind of people Cantabrians are, I'm sure they are getting on, in a no-fuss way kind of way, with re-building their lives. Footage of people living in relief shelters breaks my heart a little bit, but then I try to remind myself that these people will be making the best of it. And that they are lucky enough to have a government which can afford to be very supportive. Unlike all those people in relief shelters in Haiti, Pakistan...

As much as we think we can rule her, Mother Nature will always find a way to show us who is boss on this planet.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Seasonal upheaval

I wonder sometimes if the month of September struggles with self-esteem issues on this side of the world. It is a pretty tough ride to follow August, the finale of summer. When the calendar flips over into September we can no longer hide from the end of the warmth.

I remember in Japan how the seasons used to shut on and off like light switches. It would be hot for months and then all of a sudden you would wake up and immediately have to dust off your cardigan collection again.

Here the seasons flow from one season to the next, their arms and legs wrapped around each other. One day it's rainy and 15 degrees, and you swear it's all over. Then a day later it's all back on in a blaze of glory.

But it's almost time to admit defeat. To plan the Halloween and fireworks parties and to think about potential holidays in the snow. All ways of making ourselves feel better as we contemplate hibernation again.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010


It's getting more and more difficult to deny the fact that I'm a country girl at heart. And weekends knee-deep in ruralness only provide more evidence for the case.

I love London. Really I do. Her narrow and chaotic streets; acres of stretched out wild green slapped straight on city sprawl; and her hundreds of overflowing pubs where punters perch, pints in hand, on the curb edges.

But the truth is that my hands ache to be in the soil and my feet long to climb hills. I want to make friends with the local birds, and have a big fat grumpy cat which likes to sleep on my feet in the winter time.

For the moment however, I sustain myself on small bites of countryside, like last weekend in Yorkshire. Where the farmers had just finished haymaking, and the moors were painted in a deep purple hue.

(View from Roseberry Topping - if you look closely you can see the seemingly teeny-tiny bales of hay)

Friday, 27 August 2010

Teapot fancy

We've begun a teapot collection. On Sunday in Hampstead, I started it all by investing in a little red teapot.

Last night, our newest member of the family made excellent camomille tea for three. We even broke out our best Crown Lynn for the occasion.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Goodbye Pork Pie*

Vegetarians - look away.

The other day I was given a pork pie carried all the way from Yorkshire. I'd never had a pork pie before. In fact, when it came to the next available meal time, I had no idea how to eat this pie which was much heavier than the average pie.

So I did what anyone would do if they had a pie and didn't know what to do with it. I asked the internet. It told me I should eat it cold. And probably not best to eat all of it. For your arteries' sake. Unfortunately my research also told me how this pie was made, which was something that it turns out, I really didn't want to know. But it was there now, on the bench and waiting for me to try it. And I'm all about trying new things.

And you know what? It was really good. Especially with chutney. Another piece of British culinary history ticked off the 'to do' list.

(* title will be lost on anyone who isn't from New Zealand or a lover of obscure and average early 1980s films)

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Out to Africa

Today a very lovely former Franconia lady flies with her equally lovely partner in crime, to a life in Africa. Well, at least a year or two of life.

They are bound for The Gambia. For those who haven't yet looked up The Gambia to find out where the hell it is, when you do, you'll find it in Western Africa, sandwiched between Senegal.

I remember well the night we sat at the kitchen table just after Anika had found out The Gambia was on the cards. Western African geography was not a speciality of ours, so we went straight to the wonders of Wikipedia. The fact that Anika could be moving to a country we had to look up on the Internet to find the whereabouts of, was something to be marvelled at. Not to mention it being one of the few countries in the world that gets a definite article at the front of its name. That makes it even cooler.

And now they have gone. Off to new jobs, a new town, and a house with no electricity. I'm so jealous it hurts.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Corps de aeroplane

If you leave my house sometime between 6-7am on a clear-skied weekday morning, you'll get to see something quite majestic.

Walking along my road, away from the house, you hear them before you see them. Turn your head and you wont miss the first in line.

With a dull roar, this massive piece of metal passes overhead, so low you think you could just reach up and pluck it from the sky. Their bloated white bellies shine in the early morning sunlight, just their coloured tails making them different.

As this plane-shaped cut out slides across the sky, another follows straight behind it. And then another. In a long line reaching back to the horizon, they follow identical steps to a perfectly choreographed dance; the same wing dip here, an elegant arch there. All heading for home.

Thousands of people are cased in their shells, all with grainy eyes and tired legs. They're coming for business, returning from honeymoon, immigrating, and are about to begin a 'once in a lifetime' trip.

I've been up there too. Listening to the co-pilot tell me it's a beautiful day in London with a temperature of 10 degrees. Nose pressed to the window, I can see the landmarks slide by. Tower Bridge, The London Eye, the Thames snaking its way across the city. All through my own grainy eyes.

But for the moment, I'm on the outside of the window, looking up. Watching the sky dance.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Cupcake Saturday

On a greyish Saturday afternoon....

Take one slightly floured, bright red apron....

Some pretty cupcake recipe books (complete with stuck together pages)...

One beautiful, bright red, Kenwood mixer (one of my most favourite possessions in the world, probably second only to my bright red racing bike)

And create some cute little cupcakes with remarkable fluffy butter cream icing (all thanks to the marvelous mixer).

Friday, 6 August 2010

Our cabs

I saw something really cute on the way to work the other day. Down a quiet street in Southwark, there is a place where broken taxis go to be healed. There were loads of them; some parked on the street, patiently waiting for their turn; others in the midst of serious surgery, lined up with their mouths opened wide.

I do love London's cabs. Their snub noses, and rounded shape. They are said to be specially designed to be able to turn on a six-pence; and the passenger compartment has extra head room, originally for top hats. Although the flip down, backwards facing seats mean that with strong brakes applied, you could well end up in the lap of the person opposite you.

Last week a colleague and I were in Birmingham, and had a quite different taxi experience. We were collected by some Ford sedan, with a magnetic taxi company logo on the side. Aside from the logo, we could have just jumped in someone's family car. We slid across the backseat, feeling rather intimate with the driver, and a little like we might be kidnapped. When we got to the station he turned around and said "how much do you pay?" We looked at one another, completely bemused. We certainly weren't in London anymore. Eventually negotiating a fair price for both parties (£7) we slid out again, and onto the train.

It's easy to forget the wonder of London's 21,000 black cabs. Yes, they clog up the streets, and yes, they pollute the city. But I can't help think they are really quite cute.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Here's to strangers

One of the things I love about London is the mad variation of people you get to randomly meet. People who are so different from yourself, it's almost like they're from somewhere out near the 'left sock' planet.

Like the woman I met last week, who was a friend of a friend's friend, and just happened to be walking past an outdoor beer drinking pub moment. She's a very beautiful, high flyer who works on the trading floor in the City, lives in South Kensington with her boyfriend, immigrated from the States twelve years ago and takes taxis to work.

As you can see, about as far away from my London life as is humanly possible.

She flipped when I said I walk five miles to work every morning; then telling the story of the day of 7/7 when everything stopped and she had to walk home in killer heels, stopping at bars along the way for martinis.

This wonderfully friendly and amusing woman was quite happy to stand there under the trees chatting away to two strangers, sharing stories like old friends. And then, after a couple of glasses of rosé, we farewelled her as she drove off in her Kensington-bound taxi.

And so we were left there, finishing our drinks, talking about how we love interesting strangers.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Sunday down South

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, head to the Lambeth Country Fair to watch one of the Franconia ladies on stage singing her heart out. Eat a hot dog, sit on the grass, and soak up the wonders of South London.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

'Be a tourist' Sunday

Pack a picnic, grab a paper, and head towards a rather pretty part of this fine city. Have lunch on a rug on the meridian line; see some nautical history at the Maritime Museum; take in a show at the Planetarium (where, reclined in the dark, you have to force your eyelids away from sleep) and catch the view from the observatory. A tall spot where the old of Greenwich meets the new of Canary Wharf.

Great food, wonderful company, fabulous weather, and beautiful sights. A good Sunday out.

An artist's sky

Sometimes it's from the simplest of places (like on a beach towel in the middle of Clapham Common) you see the most beautiful sights.

Tube spotting

Just like trains have their anorak wearing, shoulder bag carrying, note taking friends; it seems the tube has its own breed of 'spotters'.

On a trip to Brixton a little while ago, I was joined in my Victoria Line carriage by a group for five quite sweaty men carrying tube maps. One of them was wearing a T shirt which read 'Tube Olympics 2008'. This caught my eye. I remember well the Beijing Olympics which were in 2008, but it seems the Tube Olympics passed me by somehow.

It quickly became apparent (through my blatant eavesdropping) that these men were carrying out some sort of underground race against time. It was a beautifully hot day above ground which meant the man in the T shirt spent a lot of the ride mopping his beaded bow as he regaled stories to a younger team member mostly starting 'this one time on the District Line....'

After calculating what exit to take in order to spend the least amount of time on the platform, the team sped off into the distance, maps frantically flapping and bright white trainers flashing.

All this carry-on tickled my intrigue so I found myself doing some research into just what these 'tube spotters' might be participating in. What I discovered was a rather long history of something called 'The Tube Challenge'.
The idea of this challenge is to visit all the tube stations in the fastest time possible. And it seems people have been trying this for sixty years now. The current official Guinness World Record stands at 16 hours, 44 minutes and 16 seconds.

Wikipedia tells me of Bob Robinson who is the most prolific Tube Challenger of all, having made 51 attempts between 1979 and 2000, completing 46 and setting the record time on 6 occasions. Bob obviously wasn't getting on the Northern Line at 8am. It can take what seems close to 16 hours just to get on a train that isn't packed like a cattle truck.

Of course as the London Underground network continues to expand, it becomes more and more difficult to beat records. Let's just hope they don't turn to performance-enhancing drugs and go the way of other endurance sports.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Summer love

Just like the eagerly anticipated birth of a child, after nine long months of waiting, summer has knocked on London's door, and invited herself inside. And she's not leaving yet.

Yesterday was the hottest day of the year, and after emerging from an office which always has its air conditioning set to 'Arctic' it was a wonderful feeling to step into the post-work heat.

I love to walk along the riverside on a regular day, but last night Southbank was just alive with the rest of London celebrating the end of the working week and arrival of our so elusive friend, summer. She never writes, she never calls, then just almost out of the blue, she turns up to stay for a week.

And so I found myself standing barefoot at a bar carpeted with astro turf, next to a massive inflatable, upside down, purple cow, drinking beers and chatting with some lovely people, in the evening sunshine. If I'd had more beers I wouldn't have believed it this morning. The fact it was about 30 degrees, that is.

After a late dinner, we walked alongside a placid Thames which hosted on its banks buskers of varying talents, couples getting carried away in the moment, rows of trees lit with firefly-like bulbs, and people just like us soaking up this wonderful side of London.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Oh I do love a good charity shop

Charity shopping is for those amongst us who crave the shopping challenge that Oxford Street simply doesn't provide.

Without even walking into Topshop you know exactly what will be in there, because half of the people on the street outside are already wearing it. Enter your local Age UK however, and you just have no idea what you might find.

Along with the thrill of the hunt, you also avoid any contact with sullen 19 year old shop assistants, getting instead kind and unobtrusive folk happy to let you potter your way around their store, rather than hounding you in order to meet their chain store sales targets.

And if you do like I do, and stick to your local high street, you'll find yourself sharing the store with people like you: not in a rush, or frantically searching for the perfect 'something'; just having a wee look around a local store on a Saturday morning.

Then on all those times you walk away with a gem, not only have you gotten yourself a complete bargain, and recycled a piece of clothing someone else didn't want, you've also made quite a decent donation to a worthy cause. The true definition of a win-win situation.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Little star

Last week the world lost a shining star. Someone who had defied the odds for so long, maybe I'd decided the experts just gotten something wrong, and that in fact she would be around for a long time to come. But no.

She was someone who squeezed more life and spirit into her two decades than most of us could manage in our entire, much longer lifespans. If we could all just be a little bit more like this little star then life would be a much livelier experience.

And now that this short life is over, this wonderful young lady lives on as a bunch of smiling memories, like bright yellow sunflowers, which will always stay in the hearts and minds of the incredibly large number of people she touched with her life, love, and laughter.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

10 things I'm going to do now the semester is over

  1. Write some snail mail
  2. Spend more time with my lettuces
  3. Read a book. And not one with references or diagrams
  4. Go on holiday. Turkey - look out
  5. Finally send my dad his birthday present. Sorry Dad!
  6. Make time for some friendly faces around here I haven't seen for ages
  7. Go to the cinema
  8. Pick up my quilt again
  9. Write something creative
  10. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Friday Transportation

On our way to Islington for 'post-longest day at work ever' drinks - a friend and I had a new experience. We got to ride a 'number 4' bus.

Now, in some cities that might not be so unusual but in London, it is obviously quite unique for them to get this low. I still remember the time I saw the number 1 drive past me at Elephant & Castle. Was very exciting.

So here we were on the lowest numbered bus either of us had been on, when the bus driver announced a detour. The guy sitting in front of us turned around and asked if we knew where the new route would take us. "I don't know" said my bus buddy. "We've never taken a single figure bus before", as if to explain our ignorance.

Yesterday also found me in the back of a taxi with a driver who felt he should share his 'largest fares ever' stories with us. Our entire journey from Euston Station back to work in the City. There was the time he drove someone to Cardiff for £330; to Ipswich for £200; To Gatwick for £150... "And the geezer didn't even ask for a receipt!".

I'm always amused at taxi drivers (including this one) who feel they must outline the finer details of the route they are about to take me on, as if I'm going to argue with someone who has probably spent about 34 months studying for a London navigational exam called 'The Knowledge'.

Interesting, studies have shown that cabbies in London tend to develop an especially large hippocampus, which is a region of the brain implicated in navigational ability.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Some places I've been recently

I'm not usually one for holiday snaps, but I thought I'd throw in a few nice shots of a couple of beautiful places I went to recently.

Complete opposite ends of the spectrum, with one being wild and ruggedly stunning; the other traditionally grand and awe-inspiring. Trains got me some, or all of the way each time, so no battling with Icelandic ash.

In Wales we stayed the weekend in a renovated church run by a slightly mad London woman while roaming the great outdoors, climbing a mountain, and drinking the local ales.

A couple of weekends later and the air was altogether more cosmopolitan. 36 hours in Paris with just a handbag and a fabulous friend for company. We sat in the sunshine and ate light and delicate pastries, drinking silky smooth espresso;

we visited the resting place of Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison and thousands of other grand Parisians, resting in a green oasis still within the city limits.

We saw garden sculptures, took the metro all over, ate escargot, drank carafes of cheap red wine and got laughed at by a rude French waiter. All the things you should do on a trip to Paris.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

A sweet education

Quote of the day:

"Emma generally seems to know quite a bit if you ask her about things, but if you ask her anything about English sweets or crisps, it is like talking to a three year old. She knows nothing and has never tried anything."

And so began my education.

Today it was a 'Twister'. Best described as an iced lolly on a stick, with a twist of ice cream through it, it is apparently pineapple, lemon and lime flavoured,with strawberry on the inside. Wikipedia tells me the Twister was first produced in 1982.

I have to say it went down quite nicely as a 3pm snack. Particularly as the usual Arctic-like office air conditioning was having an Amazon rainforest day. We sat there, as a team, trying to look serious at our desks, diligently doing our work, all sucking on traffic light coloured ice creams.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Tribulations of academia

It is interesting being a student again. Not in an "oh learning is so interesting" kind of way, although that is the case. No, I mean that it is interesting seeing how I do things differently to the last three times I've studied for a qualification.

I have such vivid memories of sitting in front of a computer, not even being able to bare looking at the essay anymore. I'd just print it, breathe a sigh of relief and go celebrate. These days I do like I did tonight, which was to sit in front of my computer, and dither terribly for about half an hour. Reading it again and again, checking three times all the attachments are there and I've spelled my last name correctly. Then eventually I muster the courage to send it off, after which the only feeling I get is an impending sense of doom. Not more waves of immense relief. Just fear that I've done something idiotic.

Anyway, in an attempt to feel some relief prior to the goblins of exam study moving on in, I'm off to Paris for the night. 36 hours avec fabulous friend and one small (well packed) handbag. C'est merveilleux.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Love & Marriage

I used to be a complete cynic, and whilst not all of that has washed away, I've come to realise there is something quite lovely about the institution of marriage.

This year I have been fortunate enough to witness the marriages of four wonderful people who each wanted to stand up in front of a bunch of friends and relatives and exclaim their feelings for the other. The rest of us were lucky enough to dress up nice, drink the champagne, and share the day.

The papers tell me that marriage is more unpopular now than almost ever before, but no one has told that to my friends. And my friends' friends. Which is a good thing.

As I contemplate missing another special wedding this weekend, on the other side of the world, I am pleased that some are still bucking the trend by dressing up, hiring a venue, inviting loved ones, and standing up in front of a crowd to say 'I choose you'.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

That old democratic right

Just now, mid-Wednesday evening, I sat on my bedroom floor and decided who I want to represent me in the next parliament.

It is the first time I have voted under a 'first-past-the-post' system, so felt slightly ripped off at only getting one vote, but considering I'm an immigrant, it was pretty nice of the country to let me contribute all the same.

Tomorrow is a big day here. Just about anything could happen. No more do we have to watch the terrible Conservative billboards go past the bus window; there wont be the hideous Gordon Brown election gaffs to wince at; and the amount of junk mail the Franconia ladies get will reduce right back down to Indian takeaway flyers and dodgy taxi cab business cards.

Who knows what the result will be tomorrow, but I plan on staying up all hours watching it roll in; probably until my head eventually tips back and sleep overcomes me on the sofa. My life is wild. But I love it.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Geological warfare

I always find it nice on that odd occasion when Mother Nature says "take that world! You may think you rule, but let me show you who is really boss". We had it in wintertime with the snow dumps; and now she has done it again, via volcanic activity.

Last weekend found the skies of London eerily quiet. No vapour trails slicing through the skies, but no roaring of 737s overhead either.

The weather was stunning, which led to the thought that the ash cloud is perhaps now nothing to do with an Icelandic volcano, and more about the vast number of bbqs which were lit on the afternoons of Saturday and Sunday.

Speaking of crazy thoughts, I do love a good conspiracy theory. Apparently this Icelandic ash cloud is actually just an excuse to get all the planes out of the sky because of a massive terrorism plot. Genius. Even the Met Service are involved it seems. Brilliant.

If only those in power were really that creative.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

The romanticism of rail

Yesterday, for a dull reason I wont go into, I made my way to work by train, rather than the usual red double-decker 155.

There really is something quite romantic about arriving into a grand railway station like Waterloo. I felt I should have a stack of brown suitcases and a bodiced dress with a quaint hat for daytime wear. Certainly not trainers and a shoulder bag.

But all the same, it was quite lovely to step off into a nice piece of history, rather than my usual side of a road at Elephant & Castle. It just reminded me how much I love almost everything about rail, and that maybe it is nearing time for another rail adventure.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Just a B- week

It's been a B- week so far.

One of those weeks you can't quite put your finger on why it feels average; it just does. A week that is neither a complete fail, nor a blinding success; just hovering around the darker side of good.

It is the kind of week when your toast lands jam-side down. And three mornings in a row you see the bus accelerating away from the bus stop as you get to the end of your road. A week when it is bound to start raining just as you step outside, umbrella-less.

To coincide with the B- week, it has also been one of those infamous, and much dreaded 'what am I doing with my life?' weeks. To be fair they used to be a lot more common, so I should be thankful and put up with the odd 'life reassessing' week every few months.

I had to warn my colleagues to not pander my self-reflection; and don't get alarmed at my depth of feeling sorry for myself. Still it has been quite fun shocking them with alarming exclamations all week.

I guess sometimes it is nice to wallow for a bit. And the B- weeks make the A weeks feel all the better.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Repressing bridge urges

Every morning I make my way across Blackfriars bridge, towards my place of work.

Apart from spending my bridge time concentrating on not getting mown down by determined commuters, I spend most of my crossing trying to repress the urge to throw the entire contents of my pockets over the side, and jump over after it.

Don't get me wrong: life is good. It is just that I always get the strangest urge at high places to either jump off or throw precious things over the side.

I like to call it quirky not weird...

Friday, 9 April 2010

Five great things about today

1. My morning Jedi powers in getting the lights to turn red as the bus pulled up to the stop, and my charm to encourage the grumpy bus driver to re-open his door for me

2. Cliche I know, but it is a Friday. That's a great thing

3. The thermometer says 16 degrees, and Mr. Sun is spreading his cheer across London. Spring may well have finally arrived

4. Because of the balmy temperature, this evening I'm going to enjoy my first run home for this year

5. The fact that I just remembered I have all the ingredients for the perfect gin & tonic in the house, meaning I can soak up some late-evening sunshine on the terrace listening to the sound of ice cracking in a tall glass

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Mr Fox's sunny spot

It seems nature is starting to come back to life, despite the continued chill.

A magnolia tree (my favourite of all the flowering trees) across the road from us is threatening to open up its alien-like flowers any day now. The bush in our backyard that has mountains of bright red berries for the wood pigeon in the summertime, has now re-gained its leaves. And the animals are making more of an appearance.

Despite encouragement from our kitchen window, one of our squirrels completely missed the fruits of the neighbour's Easter egg hunt this morning, instead going for something tasty in the compost bin.

And just before the rain that is now tapping on my skylight arrived, there was a spot of spring sunshine. And Mr Fox decided to make the most of it, by finding the sunniest spot he possibly could...

On top of the neighbour's fence. What a way to spend a weekend afternoon.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Cold snap

March is traditionally the time when you start to have those exciting moments of: 'am I now putting my scarf away for good?', 'is this the last time I'll wear my thick winter coat?', 'will I possibly feel like going for a run today because I actually might not be chasing my breath around the common?' and so on...

Unfortunately it can also be the time of false hope, with right now being the perfect example.

We have reversed back to winter. Back-pedalled into the ice age of the past five months. And it is a bit demoralising to tell you the truth. Especially with a four day weekend approaching, and the internet illustrating the weather to me as large clouds with quite determined rain falling from them, and a temperature hovering around ten degrees for all four days.

Right now half of Scotland seems to be completely buried under a thick wad of snow. Tomorrow is the 1st of April and the forecast for London is sleet. And I'm pretty sure they're not kidding.

Come on spring. WHERE ARE YOU?

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Fostering tube fondness

Where I can, I try to take the bus. It is altogether a more pleasant ride. But there are always those occasions when going underground is unavoidable. And as much as we all moan, whinge and complain about riding the 'tube', I do try to remind myself that it has some charms.

I guess we should remember when something breaks down there, that it is the oldest underground railway system in the world, opening in 1863. Some of the stations are actually quite beautiful with their tile mosaics and other variations of underground art.

I call it 'the underground', despite 55% of it being above ground.

I like the way the platforms of St Paul's and Baker Street come in large sweeping bends. On platforms, Angel tube station has a ridiculously wide, shiny one, making you feel a little like you're on an ice rink. That unusual feeling of underground spaciousness is quite charming.

Sometimes at Clapham Common, if you look closely at the tracks, you can see the tiny mice who make the tube stations their home. Teeny, sooty, furry balls with spaghetti tails, they are like a made-up critter from a Miyazaki film; weaving their way around the rails and occasional puddle. I saw a particularly brave one make a break across the platform at Embankment the other night.

I like that there is no mobile phone signal down there too. You don't have to sit next to someone having a shouty conversation at seven in the morning.

Although I never use them, and it would probably be a rubbish job, there is a novelty in having newsagents underground, living in what look like colourful dollhouses at some of the Circle line stations. Waiting for the newspaper or crisps emergency.

And we must remember just how many people it shifts around this grand city every day. The tube recorded over one billion journeys in 2007.

All in all it is a pretty amazing feat.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Time with a genius

Last night I was lucky enough to have ninety minutes with my most favourite novellist. Not that he calls himself a novellist. He believes he is first and foremost a poet. All the while I'm quietly despairing that the writer of the greatest book ever written doesn't even class himself as a writer of books.

Vikram Seth is a genius. The 21st century J.R.R. Tolkien. And in a lecture theatre at London School of Economics, he chatted to the crowd, whilst occasionally topping up his wine glass with what he called the 'lubricant of life'.

He was there to discuss 'Friendship and Poetry' but I would have been happy if he'd just talked about the shop he did at Sainsbury's yesterday. He was consistently witty, charming, and poetic in everything he said.

Vikram read a number of poems to us, including some 8th century Chinese poetry which he had translated himself. And I came to realise something about poetry, which I have never really had enough of an appreciation for: reading poetry is like reading the lyrics of a song; what you really need is someone to sing it for you. And in his own melodic way, that is just what Vikram did.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

The season of the triffid

We've had a visitor in our kitchen of late. A lovely amaryllis has been bringing the spring that has yet to arrive outside, inside for us.

It grew so quickly, it was unfortunately nicknamed the 'triffid'. It shot up two inches in about 48 hours at one stage. We nervously laughed at the triffid; giving it sideways glances as we edged out of the room...

But soon it started to look more like a harmless plant, and less like something from a post-apocalyptic 1960s film

And then it flowered

And flowered, and flowered.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

In black and white

My first appearance in something bound arrived in yesterday's post.

I've had stuff in newsprint before, and a stapled magazine, but nothing more complicated.

It is a nice Japanese-flavoured collection of stories by writers from all over the world and produced by a lovely man called Graham, who has his own publishing company in New Zealand. You can take a look at the book here.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Happy birthday Niamh Isabella

Dear Niamh,

I remember so vividly that morning you first came into my life. By text message. Spring was showing her sleepy face, with the morning sun slicing its way through the trees of Clapham Common as I walked to work; and small tribes of daffodils finally making an appearance.

And now my spring baby has just turned one. From my kitchen table, I can see the new edition of the season's flowers enjoying the still chilly sunshine. I hear you've now mastered the art of crawling, thereby being able to finally chase your older sister when she steals your toys.

But every time I see photos of you, a little bit inside of me hurts because I know that you're growing up without me. There is so much that I want to tell you about this strange but beautiful world we live in.

Don't let your sister tell you that you're adopted. Because you're not.

Jump in as many puddles as you can; spend time flying kites and chasing birds. Be persistent when learning to ride a bike, you'll fall once or twice at the beginning. And learn to rollerskate, because 20 something years later you might be at a rollerdisco somewhere, and it looks very cool if you can do it. Childhood is all too soon over. But being an adult is pretty great too.

See the world. Ride falling apart buses in India, and eat weird foods in China. See places which witnessed absolute horror in Europe, if only to remind yourself what a peaceful and young country you come from.

And always love your family. Because you'll discover that we'll always be there, in our own ways, quite ready to catch you should you fall.

Happy birthday little Niamh x

Friday, 5 March 2010

"Are we there yet?"

"Just around the next corner"

Now days into March, it's still cold. That kind of cold where your gloved hands are jammed into the pockets of your thickest winter coat, and you strain to keep your arms close to your body to capture any extra warmth you can.

This morning the cars are thick with a sparkling crust, and the daffodils are still curled up looking at their daffodil watches asking amongst themselves "is it time yet?"

Although we can still see our breath, the Earth has turned somewhat. The people of London can now be found, faces skyward, blinking into the light. Some even stop on the pavement for a small spot of photosynthesizing. I think I sprouted two new leaves on a trip to Tesco's the other day at lunch.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Tube encounters

It seems like every time I return to London from somewhere outside the M25, I end up sitting next to a fairly 'eclectic' person or people on my tired tube journey home.

This time I'd been on a two night work trip to Edinburgh, Bolton and Nottingham, with two 5am starts and a whole lot of train journeys and plenty of staring at a teeny laptop screen in between. Not to mention the too many glasses of red wine in Edinburgh.... It was safe to say I was tired. And so without thinking, I was pleased to finally get a seat on the Northern Line with about ten stops to go.

Next to me was a man attempting to engage the entire carriage in chat. Apparently he'd just had such a great day at the recording studio he wanted to share it with the rest of us. Meanwhile I had my headphones jammed in my ears, eyes closed, and Hot Chip singing their sweet music to me, loud as could be.

Eventually I could ignore him no longer, and I prised open my left eye, to find him inches from my face. But he got me with his beautiful brown eyes so I couldn't help but smile at him. He said I was like the Buddha, so calm in this carriage of chaos.

When we came to his stop, he turned to me and stretching out his hand, said "I might never see you again".

"See you in another tube" I said, smiling.

Monday, 1 March 2010

A lonely little pound

I was sitting on a bench in the middle of the afternoon, at a railway station somewhere in Manchester the other day, when I saw an abandoned one pound coin just along from me.

The next train to Nottingham wasn't for another thirty minutes, so I had time to sit and watch this little pound coin in between paragraphs of 'Organisational Behaviour'.

There he sat, waiting for someone to pay attention to him. But they just sat, and then stood, and pretended he didn't exist. Occasionally someone would notice him, but then very quickly carried on with their day. One guy even slid the little coin across the bench with his newspaper so he could sit down and read in peace.

Eventually I had to make my way to platform four, and so I left him there. By now, all alone again on the bench, waiting for someone to pick him up.

Sunday, 21 February 2010


Our garden was so alive this morning.

Amidst the rain, Mr. Fox was leaping over backyard fences like an equestrian horse; our big fat pigeon, hunched over on his crooked branch was lazily keeping one eye on the action, whilst the other one snoozed; the neighbour's well-fed black and white cat lorded about his territory making sure the blackbirds didn't come too close. And all the while, one of the squirrel duo had paused his pas de deux for a moment, to rest on the stump of a branch.

The rain had just started to fall again, and instead of running for cover, he unfurled his tail, flattened it and rolled it out along his back like a sleeping bag, all the way over his head so it acted as a furry umbrella.

There he squatted, quite peacefully watching and waiting; sheltering himself from the icy winter morning's rain.

Rain's Sunday morning chorus

Sometimes I love to wake up to the sharp sound of rain on my window. As I press my eyelids apart I can see the water sliding its way down the slanted skylight, almost within reach from my bed. It is as if I could stretch out and feel the drops on my skin.

It is the days like today, when I know that there's no getting up to go to work to be had; that my day will be filled with books and endless cups of tea; extended breakfast conversations in the kitchen, examining our spring bulbs and commenting on their last week's growth; yes, days like today that it is good to hear the rain.

Maybe I'll venture out later on, but for the moment I'm very content to lie here and listen to the Sunday morning fingernails of rain drum on my window as I'm wrapped in the warm, comforting hands of my duvet.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Books to read before I'm 30 - Book seven

'Affluenza' By Oliver James

I very distinctly remember being on a train in India, and having an in depth conversation with a local man who was very insistent on the fact that everyone in Western countries must be so 'happy'. How could they not be? And I could see his logic. Relatively we're very well-off; have health care which covers us, even if it is our own fault; and a welfare system to catch us should we 'fall'.

Then I remember boarding the Piccadilly line from Heathrow on landing in the UK, and looking around at my fellow passengers. I realised he was wrong. We weren't any happier. Despite all the extra capital.

Oliver James introduces the concept of 'Affluenza', an epidemic of needing to keep up with the Joneses which is making us twice as prone to depression, anxiety and addictions than those from the non-English speaking world.

I wont bore you, but this book should be read by anyone who feels they 'should' buy a house; 'needs' a so-called good job; or feels torn by the fact they want to be at home to raise their children rather than go back to work full time. In fact, just about everyone can get some good messages from this book. I certainly got plenty. A very appropriate book for someone to read before entering into their 30s.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Happy 200th post Nomadic Emma

It's been quite a ride.

We first started way back over the other side of the world at the end of 2007, with saving snails and dodging 'lady sleep'.

Very shortly we found ourselves in the wonderful city of New York, and crossing the border into Canada on a train, eating a hot dog bought for me by a mad Londoner called Tom who had just found $100 in a cab.

Soon we were enjoying the delights of London's Northern Line on our way to work in the morning. In fact we loved London so much, we decided to stay.

During our first year in London, we went on 17 dates in 17 days; went through a 'cheese of the week' phase; and started a list of '100 things to do in London before you die of chronic lung disease'.

Soon enough it was 2009, which brought with it a new visa, and Nomadic Emma's '52 shots'. A few months later and '9 things to do in the 9 months whilst I'm still 29' kicked off with the 9 course dinner for 9 people. In amongst all of that however, a new life came into the world in the form of baby Niamh Isabella.

2009 continued on its merry way, with me and Nomadic Emma just along for the ride. In August, we saw the light in the form of a beer and ale stew; then in October we climbed a mountain; and in December, baked 33 cupcakes.

Before we knew it, the year had flicked into 2010. And here we are. 200 posts later. A couple of years older, and probably not much wiser.

It's been fun. And it's not over yet. There is a lot more blogging in us yet. If anyone out there does actually ever read this blog (apart from my family - who are obliged to) thanks for listening. It's nice to have you on our page.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

And so it grows...

The 'thirty quilt' slowly grows. It is a pretty gradual process, but I'm in no particular rush.

It is bigger than it was here, and has certainly moved on since I first mentioned it here. Perhaps it was a teeny bit ambitious thinking I'd have it done in the '9 months whilst 29' but I'm happy to give myself an extension on this project.

It is nice to see it begin to take form. And wet winter weekends provide only more opportunity for expansion.

Monday, 8 February 2010

So what do you do....?

The other night at the pub post-work, we somehow came around to the conversation of whether your friends and family actually know what you do. The answer was a resounding 'no'.

Gone are the days when most of us are nurses, teachers, journalists, and farmers. Now we are account directors, consultants, project managers....

To my left's friends know he does something to do with numbers; diagonally's brother thought she was in PR for three years; and the most senior at the table's dad has always thought he is a management consultant. None of which is true.
Directly across from me once appeared in one of our campaigns, for a medical client of ours. Now half of her friends are sure she is a nurse.

Some of you may well remember the Friends episode when Rachel can't remember what Chandler's office job is, so then calls him a 'transponster'. This term now appears in the Urban Dictionary:

Transponster is now commonly used to describe an office job not clearly defined as one role/responsibility, but a combination of data entry and analysis. This sort of role is difficult for the employee to describe to friends or family, often sounding boring, confusing or both to those outside the office environment.

So there we sat on that Thursday night, a table of 'transponsters', enjoying some drinks and giggles after a hard day of 'transponstering'.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

A New Zealand Gallery - Jan 2010

Pizzas, rustic style, at Phoebe and Shane's wedding

At the beach with Beth & Niamh

The annual beer tasting gets a second go for my birthday celebration

Bath time with the Bramwell-Cookes

Looking fairly pleased with their present haul from London

Back to Piha, second year running. Once again, she turns on a beautiful day for us

Three bridesmaids