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.