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 pressed 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.

 

 

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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 by Bike for Cancer Research

I need somewhere to document my London cycling experiences and so have decided to come back to my old faithful, gathering dust in the recesses of internet google searches about TEFL and Istanbul.

I will be doing Cancer Research UK’s Cycle 300 in the month of September. It is what it says it is. 300 miles (yes miles!!) of cycling in September. I signed up to this through hearing about it from my partner who has been working on this campaign with Cancer Research. If I am honest, before he started working for them, I really had no idea what they did and was if anything a little suspicious of them. Why are they everywhere yet cancer is still here? Perhaps the conspiracy theorists were right… why would they want to cure cancer when that means they would become redundant?!

Believe it or not these are preposterous, unfounded claims based on a lack of knowledge and research. It’s one of those ones. You become so desensitised to the name of a company that you see so much,  an opinion  is formed based on nothing but a suspicion of large companies that you see a lot. Charity or no…..

I am of course speaking for myself. Does anyone else get that?

Truth be told Cancer Research do loads of amazing work not just isolated to researching cures and treatments for cancer. Don’t just take my word for it.

The best I can do is talk from my own experience. In June this year I went for the three yearly smear about a month early due to anxiety about said procedure. Oh the joys of being a woman.

Thinking nothing of it, as my last two smears came back all fine, I went about my everyday life glad I had got the dreaded thing out of the way. Nothing again for three years tralalalala. Or so I thought. When I opened the ominous NHS logoed letter,  my heart ever so faintly pounding, the majority of the words blurred to reveal merely, ‘borderline abnormal cells’ and ‘positive for HPV’. Nothing else in the letter mattered including the lines ‘this does not mean you have cancer’ and ‘ HPV is a common virus- most women will be infected with it at some point in their life’.

The letter confirmed that I would need to have a Colposcopy to take a closer look at the cells (a scary sounding thing within itself) and the words in the Colposcopy leaflet also did that suspicious blurring thing (fuck you brain) in which I could only make out, ‘some women will have cervical cancer’ ignoring the word ‘rarely’ before this most anxiety inducing of sentences. Cue blood rushing to my head and subsequent texting my boyfriend telling him to expect the worst. It’s been good knowing you.

Being the sort of person that needs to know EVERYTHING about ANYTHING that could be potentially going on within my body the next stage of the process was not a patient getting on with my life wait for the Colposcopy. Oh no. If only that were the case. It was the never ending, fingertip fucking google searching to know every last potentiality about what could, can and I had convinced myself will be the outcome of this process. Anyone who has turned to Dr Google will know it’s words to be the badly punctuated scythe of Death, capital letters and all. This is where my Cancer Research experience comes in as a beacon of light in an otherwise bottomless Dr Google pit of bad news.

You may or may not know that Cancer Research is one of many forum having websites where people can post about their experiences and seek advice from other forum users. This I am sure can be very helpful as having any sort of bad news can make a person feel scared and alone, even when surrounded by loved ones. In this way forums can be a positive experience wherein people offer each other support and new connections, perhaps even friendships can be formed. On the flipside, forums can also be negative for the reader, opening you up to all sorts of scenarios you would never have dreamed about had you not made that click. And, like anything open to posting online, hidden in it’s depths lurk trolls whose sole purpose in life seems to be making people’s days as bad as they possibly can. In this way forums can be both a blessing, a curse and in my case certainly a colossal waste of time and energy I could be spending on not thinking about my cervix.

Cancer Research forums differ slightly from your usual health forum format. Here you get the same mix of people (including the odd troll who insists doctors don’t know what they are talking about and you are going to die) but with the added benefits of Cancer Research’s own nurses who, using their years of training and experience, post rational, informed posts, bringing reason and relevant information to my otherwise confused and pessimistic mind. It was really one of the only things that made me feel better and quietened down the voice in my head telling me I am going to die. Not only this they offer a helpline for those who want to speak to a nurse for further advice. For me the forum was enough.

If it wasn’t for my excessive googling I would never have known that Cancer Research offer this and I would also not be doing Cycle 300.

So here’s to a month of aching legs and sweaty back. And here’s to Cancer Research for helping to quell my cervix related health anxiety amongst the other things they do.

Wish me luck!

 

https://fundraise.cancerresearchuk.org/page/louises-cycle-300-fundraising-page-6

 

 

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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