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.