Saturday, 31 May 2014

Upsets of the Stomach

Was greatly looking forward to hooking up with bails and getting a few drinks apr├Ęs work on Friday night. Good to let the hair down after a week of work. She had something to do that kept her late. I hung out a bit before making my way to the Royal Festival Hall - it's a good place to meet initially when we need to formulate a plan.

By the time I got there I was a bit hot, and feeling unsettled in the stomach. All the smells of people eating warmed meat sandwiches contributed to a queasiness that I couldn't quite shake off. First drink I had to decline and had a glass of water. Shortly after which I ran towards the toilet hand over mouth and didn't quite make it. Vomited on the floor, ran into the loo with a handful of sick. Grossed out. But felt a lot better. We sat and chatted a bit more, watched the world go by and a youth dance group practising. Only to be struck again with a dash to the loo. Decided we had to call it a night.

Rolled up in bed later with a discomfort that only could be ignored by sleeping.

In the morning there is the fear of eating but the craving of hunger. Can't tell you how lovely it is to eat cereal and milk. It feels sort of clean and comforting. And has no adverse effect. So maybe that's it and it's only a 24hr bug. 

Thursday, 29 May 2014

The Barrow Boy and Banker

"Meet you at the barrow boy and banker (sounds like a gay porno)"

I've been in the pub before, it's always full of after-work wanker bankers chugging beer as fast as they can before catching their trains from London Bridge to the commuter belt. Lots of male guffawing and banter. Good location to meet but not my favourite pub.

Was rather looking forward to going in there after the suggestion that it would make an excellent title for a gay porn movie. I can imagine the scene - lively crowd, a mixture of cockney wide boys drinking after working all day in the market wrapping up ripe fruit for rich ladies and fancy chefs and bankers in pin stripes and loosened neckties, slowly descending from a mass shedding of clothes to an orgy revelling in their hard bodies. Sadly the venue of the meet up was changed before I got there. So the gay porno will have to wait.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Flicker of recognition

The bars are full of excitable young people spilling out onto the pavements, corralled into smoking areas or queuing sections. Overseen by bouncers in black coats. Walking past I get a thrill, would so like to get involved rather than dodge past it all attempting to get home. Passing revellers coming the other way or dawdling in my direction. Lure of the bright lights of the late city. Pass a group of guys. Laughing as they fall out of a joint and steer round a crowd of people. Four of them. Pass by. And then there's one of those out-of-context late recognition moments. I spin round as the leading guy also turns round smiling and points at me nodding. I smile. Work. This is a man I know only by sight at work. And then we pass. They melt into the background crowd on their way to their next stop. We have never spoken but I had a sudden feeling of missed opportunity here - I could have asked how their evening was going. Perhaps I'll have to ask how it was on Tuesday. 

Saturday, 24 May 2014


"I'm so lucky that my nicest finger is my marriage finger. So lucky. Nicest by far"

Friday, 23 May 2014

Travel writing workshop

Peter Carty - Travel writing workshops

Never been to a writing workshop so I had no idea what it was going to be like. Arrived 5 minutes early but still too late to hide in the back row. It was like being at school again - posturing to find out where we were in the group and trying not to catch the eye of the teacher. There were lots of middle class white young women and then some older people.

We had to do that classic icebreaker where you chat to your neighbour with a view to introducing them to the group. This was where the contest for most-exotic-country-visited was played out. Living in Hong Kong, recently been to Borneo and flew in from Sydney came top. I felt like a fraud - more interested in the writing part of the workshop in an attempt to expand what i write (a blog post is never going to be a short story in my current style) than in the specifics of travel writing. My partner and i both decided we were a little intimidated by the rest of the group - we both were bloggers but by no means felt like professional writers, although she was a copywriter so she kind of beat me.

The first part of the course was about writing itself - making it interesting, balance between fact and experience, the atmosphere of a place. Lots of discussion about the use of cliche, hackneyed phrases of the genre, very interesting thing about beginnings (many of which were actually more like the start of novels - better at drawing me in personally than some of the gushy, over-enthusiastic travel writing we find in brochures - this was a bit of a revelation to be honest, started to feel like there was a path to be followed potentially), lots of discussion about the pieces of writing we had been asked to read before we came - some liked them, others didn't for a vareity of reasons. Then we had to write 100 words on one of three themes:
  • view from a high place
  • beach scene
  • sunrise or sunset

A slow ascent looking out over the green fields of Hyde Park intersected by white paths and milling people shrinking into the distance. Up over the tree tops until we could see Marble Arch and the buildings at the top end of Oxford Street. Grey London rooftops, traffic in Park Lane. Suddenly whipped face down back to earth with the g-force of the Tornado we were riding on.

Some were enthusiastic reader-outers, others of us hid in our seats and tried not to attract any attention! It all seemed a bit too soon for public consumption of my lowly blogger efforts in my own quaky voice. Later we had to do 100 words that would be an introduction to somewhere we had been recently (not having been terribly far recently I thought back).

"Barrier, barrier, barrier" the man hanging out of the window shouts. We pile into the vehicle, people, shopping and live chickens, me the only abronyi on the bus. The conductor slides the door shut and we take off into the traffic on the dusty pot-holed road, quietly crossing our fingers that the string holding the door shut is strong.

Not being called on to read out again, left me with a false sense of security in my own blogging-bubble (nobody needs to hear it, therefore I can avoid being ashamed of the drivel I may be writing - perhaps thats what is comforting about blogging - not that much critical feedback comes in, and you can bathe in the stats of readership that at least someone out there likes to read the drivel, perhaps over and over!).

Final part of the morning looked at structure and how to make sense of a place, quotes and interviews from local people, local knowledge gleaned from 'interviewing' people, some facts, some sense of how the writing experienced the place and neatly rounding up a piece at the end (perhaps returning to the beginning, or a recurring theme) to make it seem whole. And then we were thrown out to get some lunch and write a postcard on one of a number of local places.

Icons of London [I'm thinking of this always in the tune of Werewolfs of London by Warren Zevon - for some unknown reason]
Fitzrovia is a slightly shabby back street neighbourhood in the heart of London overseen by the British Telecom Tower. Once the tallest building in London at 627ft, it was the iconic skyscraper of my childhood - cylindrical, glass and covered in satelite dishes - a prominent pointer to a digital future. It remains one of the better London tall buildings even now with the city's burgeoning high-rising skyscape. In my early childhood I was promised a visit to the famous revolving restaurant on the 34th floor but sadly the IRA bombing of it meant it was shut before I was taken. Opened in 1965 when Fitzrovia was probably a more industrious neighbourhood it is now planted in an area surrounded by student accomodation, neighbourhood restaurants and independent art galleries. Slightly grubby and vacant the Telecom Tower is a much-loved icon still.

Afternoon sessions were about pitching, selling yourself as a writing, writing your first piece, how to get published (market, which publications, type of travel those publications would be interested in, difference between writing for web and writing for print, cold calling). Extremely valuable advice for people getting starting as travel writers. Making it not seem exactly easy - but certainly achievable if you follow the guidelines. We worked in groups pitching ideas of destinations to one another, feeding back as a group. Each individual's idea was given feedback - very useful to get you thinking about how to write travel pieces (what to write about if you are going to a common destination - how to think about what is interesting about your trip, never start with the journey for instance, remember you may be on holiday with your family but you are also working - set the boundaries before you go). Useful not only for budding travel writers, but also potentially for student potters who may want to sell their work.... but I digress.

And then fatefully we had to read out our lunchtime tasks, and I didn't manage to escape this time. Feedback was: more local interest needed - interview people, more of me, fewer facts. Its an issue of a. speed writing and b. not quite knowing what I'm trying to do. Blogging is a short thing, usually for me. And I manage to do it in my head as I go about. This is a proper task. And perhaps I shouldn't have been writing about the tower as much as the neighbourhood, and getting a sense of its atmosphere more than just this is what it is. I don't have to consider any of this kind of thing with the writing I generally do. So its a very useful exercise - think about the purpose of the writing, and who the audience is - write to that criteria, don't pander to your own eccentricities. And with that we were turfed out onto the street again. An extremely thought-provoking workshop.

Thursday, 22 May 2014


A Mini Cooper in red with white bonnet stripes takes an empty side street between tall buildings bathed in evening post-storm sunlight and turns into a traffic jam on Tower Bridge Road. 

Thunder and lightning

Absolutely amazing rain - thick and heavy - huge crack of lightning directly overhead. Rumbling thunder. And then the shard reappears from the grey as the storm moves on.

Lightning hits the Shard

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Modern life

Here is an indictment of modern life - two people come to a cafe together for a coffee and spend the entire time plugged into their own phones, heads down in Facebook, email or some other social media and fail to say two words to one another for an entire half hour. Isn't it one of the joys of company that you can talk to each other? In person. And have a conversation that develops through voice? 

Perhaps we are becoming too concerned about missing out. Unable to focus on the present and what is right in our real sphere for fear of missing something more exciting happening elsewhere. No wonder mindfulness is having to be raised as an issue/idea. 

Sunday, 18 May 2014


It might be a little known fact but I am an arsenal supporter - at least through a succession of dalliances I have grown to consider myself a supporter - perhaps not fully fledged red army (he was thinking I might be red TA). Anyway we went to see them parade the cup (FA cup for those of you who may not be in the know)- and a jolly good time was had by all, waiting on the side of the street at Highbury roundabout, walking along in a throng towards the town hall on Upper Street and then to the pub for a drink before going down to the stadium. 

Friday, 16 May 2014

Length of Service

Paul was reminding Bails how long they had been together. It turns out - six years. Thats a sizable length of time. Especially for some of us. So interestingly her response wasn't, it seems like only yesterday, or, wow that long! Her response was Oh my god what a nightmare! Swiftly followed by the caveat i didnt mean that how it came out. Tactful as always!

Thursday, 15 May 2014

The Drunk and Disorderlies

Me and the drunk and disorderlies (pops and his cronies including an almost-shared birthday twin of mine divided by a decade or two) went to eat Argentinian steak at the Bariloche Grill in Battersea High Street. Absolutely delicious melt in the mouth meat. Much wine imbibed followed by shots of flaming sambucca. Pops fell off the front door step and did a wide circle of the pavement before his legs caught up with himself and the waiter managed to get a hold on his arm to steady him. Average age of the group was probably 70, mostly not too great in the hearing department - much talking, not so much listening. Carcophany of voice. More drink, more volume. Weird being the youngest and parenting the elderly because you are being the sensible one. Really. What is the world coming to? Feel it might be time to try to reverse this trend. 

Friday, 9 May 2014


There's someone on the bus with bad breath. Dont know if its the young man next to me who is leaning against me while playing a crap phone game. 

Earlier there was a man in a leather coat which had a fur lined collar. He stank of dog. Which was strange - he looked cool and most unlike a street person - y'know trendy, well kept. I had to turn away sometimes because it caught in my throat and stopped me breathing.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014


Bright sunny day walking from Bank along King William Street with lots of bankers on lunch breaks, serious suited, women in court shoes and slick american-style dark blond hair. Two teenage girls dolled up a la Towie stars - all fake tan, pitch black hair, and track suits with legging-style bottoms are mingling along the road. One closes on a group of women and barks as she passes making them jump. The girls walk off laughing like hyenas. Passing Starbucks she flattens herself on the glass licking it as she slides down in front if a man in a crisp white shirt and tightly knotted tie sitting inside the window eating a sandwich. He is somewhere between bemused and amused. Moving on along the road she barks at women and propositions men in a manner that has the effect of scattering the serious workers as if they have been suddenly repelled by a magnet. Much to the girls continuing mirth. 

Thursday, 1 May 2014

London Bridge Sheep Dip

London Bridge station is being renovated to match the glass and steel look of the Shard. They have gradually removed the Victorian steel and brick train shed that used to let snow through in the winter and replaced it with concrete brick flooring in a parquet style and platform roofs in undulating waves. 

Platform 15 is the current perimeter of the station on one side and still has fencing dividing the platform from whatever major building work that is going on beyond. Platform 15 is therefore very narrow. And serves a popular route. Lots of people off, lots of people on. So, they've introduced a herding mechanism to help with the traffic calming. The last time i saw corralling like this was at the Great North Fair when they are trying to keep handsome bulls calm enough to do a circle of the ring showing off their stocky solid muscles and massive balls. Or at sheep dipping time when the dogs have slinked around and managed to get all the ewes and their lambs through the gate and into the sheep dip in an effort to escape. 

There was a section of fencing today allowing people off the train into the station concourse in single file. To say there was a pile up that wasnt pretty is putting it mildly. And on the other side the  people trying to catch the train were attempting to scale the fences while being told off by the station staff. I thought of a programme i watched earlier in the week when a bull in a bull ring got so mad he lept out of the ring into the bleachers full of fans. 

Its going to lead to trouble. The public only takes so much crowd control before rioting was what it felt like today. 

Finding some peace

Its the day after the 48hour tube strike. A day when i find my resiliance totally depleated. Its raining. Properly raining. I run across the road to catch the 318 bus which is sitting at the bus stop. I shouldnt have - its a little one door bus that goes round the houses and is picking up heaps of local sorry-arse people too thick to move inside the bus properly and allow their fellow passengers to get on after them. This delays the bus. At every stop. It takes a long time to get to the station this way. I am now late. And sweary. 

The tube is packed. Everyone is irritated. A woman wraps herself round the central pole in a way that nobody else can hold onto it. At my interchange at Highbury the train is due in 6 minutes. Too long for my agitated self to wait. Back onto the Victoria line - one stop to kings cross to pick up the Northern line instead of riding the overground to Moorgate. 

The Victoria line train is packed still. I squeeze myself on. Shoulder to shoulder with a man my height and my head bent out of shape by a woman's arm hanging onto the overhead bar. Behind me a tall black man's buttocks fit into the small of my back. His lower back rests against my back. Its a strange in the moment thing. But i find i don't mind. Its a sort of intimate strangers' touch that makes me reconnect with human kind. Touch. It can be very important. And it replenishes my reailiance enough to complete the commute more calmly.