Things what I’ve noticed about London

 

I’ve been in the big smoke for over 2 years now. The longest I have lived in any city that isn’t my hometown. Must be good then. Here are my observations from an interesting two years of breathing polluted air that will probably be the death of me.

People never seem to press the traffic light buttons.

So I am standing at the traffic lights with a bunch of people waiting to cross when I glance over at the traffic light button thingy to find that no one has pressed it. I press it, the light promptly changes. I just don’t get it. Upon asking a Londoner colleague she replied, ‘the lights change automatically, don’t they?’. Only at T junctions babe.

Pedestrians have no fear

Leading on from my last comment those that brave the busy roads of London by foot do so without fear and at any opportunity. Note my horror when a colleague practically walks in front of oncoming traffic. What to me looked like a near miss was actually a calculated and well judged road crossing move that seems to come naturally to those used to these mean streets.

Traffic don’t stop for no one

Ok so this is something I was aware of previously, but very unlike my native Birmingham. If you happen to make an ill timed road crossing you are literally risking death. These cars do not stop. They never stop. They just keep on moving. Whenever I have taught foreign students who come from a more laid-back culture I have often had to scream at them in order for them to realise they cannot slowly amble along with the onset of the green man on Euston Road. Do so at your peril. That light changes fast.

Beware cyclists

This is both of cycling and of cyclists. Of cyclists because I have often seen them come up with their own rules of the road leading to near misses when I have been legally crossing. And of cycling because I have seen the way the people drive here. Still to decide whether it is worth getting back on that saddle,  I have yet to learn the laws of this jungle.

There is amazing food.

Food from around the world no further than 100 metres away and it is usually reasonably priced. £3.50 for the best damn Japanese chicken I have ever tasted at Chatsworth Road market. Not great for the aspiring vegetarian. I really cannot say no to that!

If want people to hear your writing/see your art this is the city for you

The opportunities for creative writing ventures here make it a hard place not to get creative. There are an abundance of spoken word nights such as Spoken Word London’s fortnightly open mic sessions in Hackney and the more experimental, monthly You’re Hysterical, (a mixture of performance art and live  poetry). If you prefer your performance poetry with a bit of hip-hop and grime mixed in there’s Word on the Street. If you want to get all page poetry about it you can make your way to the Poetry Café in Covent Garden to see what they’ve got going on. No matter what day of the week it is there is always something. Not to mention writing groups. Words Down in Willesden Green is a good one to go to for friendly feedback on your prompted pieces. And if you can’t find exactly what you want you can set your own night up. It’s easy enough to do.

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Random under the bridge art for your enjoyment.

You will never feel more alone surrounded by millions of people

I’m sure you have heard this before but London can be a lonely place. People are always going their own way, doing their own thing. It is far removed from my native Birmingham where people make eye contact and speak to each other, stranger or no. London can feel very exclusive and cliquey at times. In saying that there are many more people who feel the same way, looking for a way in, you just have to have your eyes open.

London is almost one massive park 

Did you know, 47% of London is made up of green spaces? No? Me neither. Well at least that was until I lived here and noticed that I couldn’t get very far without falling into one.  London is the third greenest city in the world and it’s parks are almost as diverse as it’s people. From the deer in Clissold Park, Stoke Newington to underground secret tunnels in Greenwich. The big smoke I think not!

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Morning glory.

There are green parakeets that fly around

Look up or you might miss them. I don’t know how or why but they’re here and they ain’t going nowhere.

 

Overall I haven’t learned much about this city because it is so damn big.  What I have learned about it is that there is more to it than you’d think. If you manage to survive through it’s smoky exterior you will find diverse cultures and sub-cultures existing beside each other, coming together to make the city the vibrant, never boring place it is. Just be sure to look left and right before crossing the road.

 

 

 

 

So far so good London. Here’s to finding out more.

 

 

London. (For the nervous cyclist).

I have spent every weekend of September ‘splorin the city of London with my moderately OK hybrid bike. With so many fancy road bikes around and horn-honking, (that was a close call) traffic,  it can all be a bit much. However, contrary to what many may think, London can be a rather cycle friendly city. With cycle superhighways (bits of the road sectioned off just for cyclists) and much off road traffic-free cycling in it’s manifold parks and canal towpaths,  London has something in all shapes and sizes, for all shapes and sizes.  Whether looking for an alternative to the forehead-bead ridden, sweaty smells of humanity on ones commute or those like me looking for stress free weekend routes, London has much to offer.

Here are my September ‘splore picks……

The Lee Valley walk. My most visited of routes offers miles of canal-side cycling with enough variation of landscape to keep those wandering eyes busy. Think postindustrial dystopia alongside hipster-hanging party barges. All colours of the rainbow graffiti with a side of black and chrome-plated political message (we’re all fucked if you didn’t know already). Rubbish sculptures (I’m being literal not rude) and of course, leafy green quietscape.

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Rubbish sculptures, Hackney Wick

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Only in East London

To the north, the Lee Valley towpath will  take you all the way to Hertfordshire, where, once you get past Enfield to Waltham Abbey, the towpath gets all the more resplendent. Here you can venture off the towpath and explore the flora and fauna. Including but not limited to the enjoyment of espying those massive see-through winged insect creatures milling about. Dragonflies if you want to get all pedantic.  I saw at least one and that was without visiting Cornmill Meadows Dragonfly Sanctuary.

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Magic

Going South past Hackney on the Lee Valley Towpath you make it all the way to the City and the river Thames. Proper London. Innit.  I find this section of the canal more attractive as you make your way there, and because of this (I assume), more populated. My favourite part of the Lee Valley towpath can be found en- route to the city near Limehouse Cut, the Three Mills Island. It’s a bit like emerging from a thigh-powered time machine,  with all it’s cobbles and pointed buildings. Three Mills Island is also home to London’s oldest surviving tidal mill and 3 Mills Studios, London’s biggest TV and film studio. A much welcomed rest from pedal pushing, I loved stopping off for a tea and a Chelsea bun whilst contemplating which way to go next.

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Modern London believe it or not.

 

Pedalling on further South you will eventually make it down to Shadwell/ Wapping way and the river Thames path. From here you can get all the way to Richmond (bit more about that later)  but you cannot stay on the river the whole way. It’s an on again, off again, on again job. The river Thames near Wapping is rather splendid and if you fancy a pub lunch you can have one overlooking the Thames at one of Wapping’s historical pubs. The Prospect of Whitby is the oldest riverside pub in London (dating back to around the 1520’s) and was once a regular meeting place for smugglers, pirates and sailors. The hangmans noose outside, a reminder of the gruesome nature of punishments back in the day,  at what was once called Executioner’s Dock. Apparently one of the judges that would sentence the condemned to death would watch them hang as he ate his Sunday lunch at the pub. Digest that whilst enjoying your yeasty alcoholic beverage.

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Hackney park loop. Being a London borough with an abundance of parks and green spaces, Hackney is the perfect place to do a park loop. From the north start at Stoke Newington’s Clissold park, ride South to Hackney Downs then on through Lower Clapton road onto Lea Bridge Road through to Millfields park where you get onto my old faithful, the canal towpath. Cycle down to pleasantly bushy Hackney Marshes then onto the final stop in the loop, Victoria Park. One of the nicest parks in London (arguably) and a particular autumn fave with its tall trees and colourful leaves littering the floor ready to be thrown into the air in glee. On sunny days hiring a boat and having a row on the lake will give the legs a rest.

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Poetry in motion

Regents Canal. Whilst we are at Victoria park it is well worth mentioning Regents Canal. You can get onto the towpath here and cycle to Angel, here you can get off, go over ground for a bit, then get back on the canal and onto various locations in Central London. I do believe that branches all the way to Paddington in West London. A trip I have yet to make but I am sure I will one day.

Richmond/Richmond park. Going West a cycle to Richmond is worth a shout. I ended up cycling across London from Hackney to Hammersmith, which in retrospect I would not do again, due to a fear of overwhelming busy roads. Kensington Highstreet being particularly hairy.

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Hammersmith Bridge

If I were to do that journey again I would find the quickest way to the Thames along the canal and go the long way along the Thames River Path to Kew Gardens and make my way to Richmond park from there. From Putney onwards the path gets rather beautiful and a touch fancy. The thing I found most interesting was the dichotomy between working class council estate and the most expensive part of Chelsea so close they can see into each other’s windows. Classic London.

Unfortunately,  both times I have attempted the journey to the park, I haven’t made it all the way. However,  various credible (google)  sources have informed me of the 7 miles of cycle route around it, with the odd deer thrown in for good measure.  In my latest attempt I made it all the way to Kew Gardens and hopped straight on the overground back to Hackney, shivering and cursing the very earth that sustains me due to being rained on all day. Eyelashes dripping with rain tears. The heavens did not want me to see the deer that day.

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There was no silver lining.

 

Wansted Flats. Finally, on my September ‘splore I made my way from Hackney to Wansted Flats located in the South of Epping Forest. I am a nervous road cycler so this route was really fabulous for me, with cycle lanes pretty much all the way along until you get to Leyton. Once in Leyton I stopped for to get my eyebrows threaded (Ghaz’s in Leyton is a must for perfect brows) and browse in second hand furniture shop before making may way down quiet residential roads, onto the flats. The landscape here is interesting and well worth it for such an easy cycle. If I had more time I would have made the cycle North and braved the knobbly, branch strewn paths of northern Epping forest.

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Here, just a snippet of the diverse landscape (East) London has to offer the nervous cyclist. Here is to more London cycle ‘sploring, wholesome weekend activities and thick thighs.

London Lodging 1: The Lazy Landlord

As I come to the end of my first year here in London, I can sit back and reflect on how this tumultuous year has gone. London is not an easy city to move to and teaching in the UK is not the easiest of jobs to have a first year in, but I’ve made it out alive.

One thing that has been less than great here in London and which has added a massive strain onto my happiness and mental wellbeing is the rental market. Anyone in the know will be aware that London is a mine field of a rental market, notorious for dodgy, extortionate lets, paying 650 upwards a month for a room that is not fit to live in is not only not unheard of, but rather a commanilty that us hapless wannabe Londoners who aren’t lucky enough to have parents who already live here to save us the experience of paying a good proportion of our monthly salaries on a shit hole.

My experience is no different but needs to be shared for catharsis and also to bloody shine a light on the London housing crisis, highligting but one experience on the weatlth of shit that is out there.

The end of my year will see me moving for my third time. Each time moving for very different reasons. My first experience was in a shared flat in an ex-council block in Hackney. Four of us shared the flat, including the landlord and his lovely docile Staffordshire Terrier. Everyone in the flat was laidback and of similar enough ages and the dynamics worked. That flat did not become a problem for me until I got to know the landlord a bit better and realised that he was neither cut out for the role of landlord, neither did he want to fulfil his role as landlord. The man, whilst being interesting and entertaining to talk to was a 38 year old child with a God complex. He never bought his own food and instead raided the cupboards of his tenants shamelessly. Whilst laughing that we are unlucky enough to pay tax. Silly law abiding peasants!

 

That was something I could put up with. Just. The other grating thing about his personaility was that he thought he knew everything and would patronise us by telling us after a conversation about our days at work, how we should have done differently. He knows. Because he is omniscient.

Again this was not even the most annoying thing, actually, his conversations about his 6 month stint at a temple in China, his retreat to the Amazon and the witch craft he admits to personally enocountering were bizarre and entertaining.

Even the fact that he would stay away for days at a time or go on two week trips leaving his beautiful dog to wait for him, presumably starve and look depressed did not put me off. We would walk her when we were in and make sure she had food. Not through any request from him. That dog was nigh-on neglected, not through a lack of love but through the sheer selfishness of her owners and seeing her everyday made us feel sad. And in the end knowing we had to leave her at his mercy made us feel sad.

The final push to leave was made when actual water started coming up through my carpet. Water that spread and did not stop spreading. Water that made the carpet damp and smell like wet fish. Every mode of communication he ignored. I then pulled my bed out to discover black mould that had clearly been there for years behind where I would lay to rest at night. Still no response. For over a month I had to get my socks wet on that carpet and live in that damp, mould infested room. What a prick. In the end I could no longer take it and felt I had to find somewhere else.

Which leads me to my next, equally shitty situation for opposite end of the spectrum reasons. I write this post awaiting to move out of the next hell hole and into what should be my haven from the outside world… More to come….

Home is where the Birmingham is.

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I will always love my home town. Now I am in England I  am lucky enough to go back regularly. More than I should when trying to build something in a new city alone. Birmingham is where my heart is. I will defend it to the death. It has a bad reputation. Which I wish to show is undeserved. This photo is one of my favourites. We have much park space in Birmingham, contrary to the incorrect assumption by many that Birmingham is a concrete, industrial wasteland. This is one in my native  North Birmingham.  I want to show the world that there is much more to Birmingham than it’s industrial past and the architectural oddity that is the soulless shopping centre, the Bullring. Here is my first snap shot. Birmingham through the eyes of one who knows and loves it more than so.

Nostalgia, you don’t know what you got til it’s gone.

Nostalgia

What is it about nostalgia that makes you appreciate something more when it has passed than when you have it right in front of you? My photo was taken in Istanbul, a place I lived in for 10 months. A place that I loved to hate. A place that I didn’t realise I loved until nostalgia kicked in. Now it is a place I long to return to.

The grey of the cities over development was often stifling, however, the ugliness of the buildings meant that the colours of the flora were appreciated more than ever.

These were no exception.

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Tarragona, In Photos

A summary of my time in Tarragona, from a new project of mine.

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I have always had a love for photography, my first foray with a cheap disposable, my mother still marvels at how I used to snap everything. From loved ones to the seemingly mundane view from my bedroom window. I have always been fascinated with time, how it passes, how it cannot be retrieved. I still see photography as a way to cheat time. Life being a series of moments once passed that we cannot get back.

When I photograph a place  I try to capture it’s essence and how it made me feel. Tarragona is a place I lived in for almost a year, a small Catalan (not Spanish!!) city, built on ruins that are a reminder of it’s history as the capital of the Roman empire in Spain. These photos may not do justice to the beauty of the place. It is stunning. It does however, so something…

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On starting again. Catalan Style.

So my new story starts here, in sunny Tarragona, the sun  and the chill of the spring time sea wind on my face. From Istanbul to Catalonia I am on the road (over 6 months on) to finding and truly knowing myself in a new country and for the first time living abroad alone (last year I was con relationship).

My shaky flight into Reus airport felt like an ominous warning of things to come. A never ending blanket of black cloud engulfed the airport, making the descent a rattling, tumultuous one complete with screaming children throwing up on themselves and what felt like a death defying lightning strike. I was greeted at the airport by my new boss (or jefe en espanol) and delivered to my new home, greeted by a young looking friendly landlord who almost set the kitchen on fire lighting the large gas stove top.

Unlike Istanbul as soon as I arrived at the place, it felt like home. Akin to meeting someone on the first night and feeling like you have known them for many years. Sometimes things just, fit.

My first weekend was spent navigating the streets, trying to make my way down to the beach in vain, (Tarragona’s Miracle beach is right next to the train tracks which annoyingly do not have a bridge to cross over therefore there are only two points of entry to get on to the bloody thing), my ignorance leading me to a not so impressive end of the port.

One of my first observations in my new home, was that the afternoon siesta is actually a thing. Note my disappointment at leaving my apartment after a much needed lie in to find my new home a ghost town. Shutters down, streets empty. Even the Spar closes during siesta, the one time I am free to go shopping. Makes sense.

Its funny now, looking back at how different things looked back when I first arrived. At how the eyes of experience make the streets take on a different colour. These well worn streets I traverse on a daily basis once induced wonder, with a shine that perhaps can only be appreciated once they eventually become familiar and you look back and remember how wandering them made you feel.

After a school year in the big smoke, Tarragona was just the sort of place I needed to go to clear my head and reduce the resulting stress induced trauma inevitable when  living in the crazy that is Istanbul.

My photographs here remind me of the thoughts and feelings of those first few days. A new beginning in more ways than one.

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Rasnov Fortress Romania in Photos

To be able to say that I never got bored after visiting this monument four times in four weeks says a lot. Not only is it an impressive piece of history preserved, it is also situated at the top of a hill with incredible views of the always breathtaking Transylvanian fauna. Situated in the county of Brasov, Rasnov is definitely worth passing through if you are in the area.IMG_3531 IMG_3542IMG_3556IMG_3558 IMG_3560 IMG_3567IMG_3569 IMG_3575IMG_3576 IMG_3584IMG_3559 IMG_3561IMG_3541

 

 

 

Brasov in a Day

Any of my friends will tell you about how I rave about Romania. All too often the reaction I get when I tell people I taught at a summer camp there is, ‘urgh wasn’t it horrible’. If Mr Farage and the Daily Mail are the only things that have alerted you to the countries existence and your opinion has been informed by this well, then we probably shouldn’t even be talking anyway. But seriously, I am always going on about Romania as if it were a hidden gem nestled in the Eastern reaches of Europe. Too many people have never even given it a thought as somewhere they ought to visit. I want to change that.

Brasov is a perfect place to start with its Hollywood hills style sign nestled amongst a tree strewn mountain side (inhabited by bears that like to show themselves at night scavenging through rubbish bins) and its cobbled streets filled with enough bars and restaurants to please many a palate/taste. Brasov is distinctly European with its large Mediterranean esque squares whilst also being distinctly Transylvanian with the dramatic forested mountain backdrop setting the scene for ones Romanian adventure. No Dracula in sight.

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As always with me and travelling the one day spent in this beautiful city was not spent ticking off the boxes of all the must see sights and things to do. The day was spent wandering, getting a little lost in a quaint neighbourhood, eating good food and enjoying the always excellent Romanian wine. The nights festivities spent drinking it up in a Reggae bar (always my go-to bar of choice in any country) and moving on to a place frequented by locals with whom we danced until the early hours of the morning.

In the end I guess my pictures do not do Brasov the justice that it deserves, I like to take pictures of weird things like alleyways and abodes like the one above, but hopefully you get the picture.

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Quaint neighbourhood wandering

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The Strays of Istanbul

The most inspiring city in the world. Apparently.

When you live somewhere so artificially ugly it is easy to appreciate the beauty in things that would otherwise have gone unappreciated and so, in a strange twist, the world instantly becomes more beautiful. The smallest things, once previously taken for granted take on a shine that I call seeing the world through grey tinted glasses. How intense the pink of the spring bloom looks against the dank, grey wall it is fighting with for space.

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The startling purple of this plant above (excuse my lack of plant knowledge) against the back drop of the unkempt bit of greenery the locality has not bothered to keep up with, because, as with much of the space in this city, it is set to be gutted and turned into another hastily built sans-regulation block of flats.

It is not just those odd bits of flora that cause delight in ones eyes. For me, a defining feature of this city and something that one can constantly find wonder in is the strays. Anyone who has lived (or perhaps even visited Istanbul) would have had these often bedraggled creatures feature as part of their everyday. And as menacing and unappealing as they may look to the untrained eye, upon closer inspection one will find they are not the wild creatures that their look betrays in them, rather, that they are tamed to the urban environment. In fact many do not even register human beings on our daily grind, they are much too focused on the pack, rummaging for food, or lounging listlessly in the sun.

In restaurants, at the front of Sities (apartment blocks), in high end multi-million dollar neighbourhoods, lying amongst ancient ruins that now act as tourist attractions. It does not matter what section of town you happen to land in. These strays are everywhere.

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I often found myself surprised at the respect that these vagrant animals seemed to have with the locals. We looked on aghast as a stray dog followed us into the road and then walked on ahead right in front of an imminently incoming tram. I had never seen anything die like that before and I cowered behind my hands waiting for the unfortunate event to be over. As I opened one eye, in that innate way we humans are attracted to such macabre events (do not want to see it, yet cannot look away) I looked on bewildered as the tram driver slowed to a quick stop, coming within centimetres of knocking this dog over. Bewilderment soon turned to bemusement as I watched the dog amble seamlessly on, without a break in his stride, batting not an eyelid as he sauntered across to get this view of the Bosphorus. The sheer arrogance of the creature. It was as if he knew all along that there was no way in hell anyone or anything here would mow him down.

We called him Darwin.

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Darwin

In general one will find that Turkey is a rather stray friendly country. The tags one may or may not notice on the ears of the strays are not so that they could be collected and taken to kennels in the winter, as we were told by a well meaning yet misinformed acquaintance. The trap, vaccinate, neuter and tag program is Turkey’s solution to the stray problem; a way to control the population and ensure the strays are relatively healthy. Much nicer than the euthanasia of healthy animals as perpetrated in countries such as the US.

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No memories of this city are complete without thoughts of the strays. Memories of the first time walking down the dark alley home terrified as we were surrounded by a pack of stray dogs only to find that they were barking at each other and not us.  Of my family taking a diversion to their hostel on the way home down to the same misconceptions, of me looking on in wonderment as a tourist family allowed their child to pet and poke at a baby kitten when they could see the mother looking on furiously and how I felt for the child when the mother lashed out in order to save her baby from that incessant annoyance. The stray kitten taken in by a friend and then let go reluctantly upon leaving the city (I do not condone this but it is a memory nevertheless).  I cannot even begin to recount each moment shared with these creatures that will be ingrained in my memories forever. But here are a few pictures that I hope can possibly do them justice.

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One of many strays.