Friday, October 30, 2009
No matter. Weather aside, today something reminded me how much I enjoy living here. I was sitting in my study, trying to block out the incessant drilling from the building works next door. In a rare moment of silence, I heard the sound of horses drawing near. Getting up from my chair, I peered through the dust.
There, riding amidst the traffic, were four gorgeous white horses followed by an ornate carriage with five men in top-hats and blazers.
And I thought: this is why I love London.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
Still one more week, too, for you to enter my '24 Hours in Your Neck of the Woods' contest for the chance to win a copy of the book and a very lovely, highly fashionable white T-shirt.
Click here for more details.
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
The rare snowstorm last winter.
It's that time of year -- when the dark descends. We changed our clocks last weekend, and now the light does a disappearing act by five.
While I can't say I love the long nights, this is the time of year when London really comes into its own. Everything seems technicolour, recovering from the wash-out of rain or the bleach of the summer sun. Streetlights cast their yellow glow as workers rush home; mornings dawn with a sky so blue it looks like a Microsoft screen-saver.
It's the perfect season to crunch through the massive chesnut leaves in Hyde Park, duck into the warmth of a pub for a quick pint, then curl up on the sofa at home.
Monday, October 26, 2009
Since January, I've met some lovely writers through Twitter. Tweeting yesterday, one suggested the idea of a 24-hour Twitter marathon to promote my book. I like a challenge. So, I'm going to do just that!
On November 4, beginning at 5 a.m., I'll tweet London tips from my 24 Hour account, once or twice an hour, every hour until the following morning. Lots of coffee and a fair bit of nervous energy should help me through it! I'll also stream the tweets through my blogs - and retweet it from my personal Twitter account - so those who don't feel like becoming Twitter addicts can follow along.
Make sure to check in on November 4th anyway, when I'll be posting the links of all who participated in my giveaway contest (see sidebar) and announcing the winner!
Sunday, October 25, 2009
You don't want your barnet to look like this, do you? (Oh wait, I'm not meant to be poking fun at him anymore...)
As anyone who has known me for awhile can attest, I am obsessed by hair (athough in recent weeks it's lucky if it gets brushed!). Over the years, my hair has been long and short; red and black; blond; and back again several times. I'm willing to wear clothes from Primark, to eat rice and pasta for weeks on end, but I'm not willing to skimp on my hair. What can I say, I'm just that shallow -- or I have a medical condition, hairophelia (I made that up, just in case it wasn't obvious).
When I moved to London, one of my biggest concerns was not whether I could find work or not. No, it was this: who would I find to cut my hair? I'd had several bad experiences in Poland, where I couldn't speak enough Polish to accurately express what I wanted. I looked up 'highlights' in my Polish-English dictionary, then crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.
I had one distinct advantage in London: I could speak English. And over the course of several years, I finally found the stylist for me. Here are my top London recommendations:
Hair by Fairy, 8-10 Neal's Yard. Tube: Tottenham Court Road. http://www.hairbyfairy.com/. If you're anxious for a cut and you don't want the fuss of making an appointment, just head over to Neal's Yard. From punk cuts to simple trims, they'll have you in and out in no time... and there's a great organic restaurant across the courtyard in case you get hungry. Cheap and cheerful.
Toni and Guy, Kensington Church Street. Tube: Notting Hill Gate or High Street Kensington. Before I settled down with one man (my stylist, I mean), I'd go here every once in awhile. I was never disappointed. Although they seem to have a high turnover, all the stylists are friendly and competent.
And my favourite...
Gina Conway Aveda, Westbourne Grove. Tube: Bayswater, Queensway or Notting Hill Gate. It ain't cheap, but it's worthy paying when the results are this good (if I do say so myself). Ask for Kenny or Patrice, and relax. You're in the hands of masters.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Well, a few short months later, and my illusion has crumbled. Now I know the power lies in the hands of the mighty distributor, who's kind of like a door-to-door salesman for publishers. In my own very simplistic way, I liken the process to that of a vacuum-cleaner salesman. Say he has 100 brands to sell, from Electrolux (which he knows works and is a popular sell) all the way down to a new-fangled, shiny, but completely unknown brand. He mentions the unknown brand once, maybe twice, but the customer keeps going with the Electrolux. In the end, he stops talking about the new-fangled vacuum altogether and sticks with what he knows works.
It's the same thing with books (as far as I know; I must admit I don't have much insight into the process). The distributor meets with bookstore reps to sell the titles in their catalogues. Of course they're going to push the biggies while the little ones fall by the wayside. That's what will help them reach their sales targets, after all.
So smaller publishers (and authors by default) have to rely on their own marketing means to get their bookstores to order their books. For the past few months, I've cringed at tales of authors going into bookstores to plead their case. While I'm generally a friendly person and I can schmooze with the best of them, I have to admit that I don't really enjoy pushing things on people. In fact, one of my worst jobs ever was when I had to stand on the street in my hometown of Halifax, handing out flyers to passersby. Every flyer I forced onto some poor pedestrian was likely ten times as torturous for me as it was for my victim.
But today was the day. I was going to get my book into my local Waterstone's if it killed me. This bookstore has an added emotional pull for me -- it's just down the street, and even before I started seriously pursuing writing I used to go stare at the local author's section (in Notting Hill Gate, there's a whole shelf-full of local writers!) and imagine my name there.
But I needed to brush my hair (a real event before noon), put on some half-decent shoes and look the part of a real author (whatever that looks like -- I figured my black leather motorcycle jacket might help me look tough and artistic, anyway). With a few deep breaths, I gathered my book and a folder I'd put together and walked the short 200 metres to the Notting Hill Gate Waterstone's, practising my pitch in my head. It's a London guide book, it's not like the rest, I'm a local author...
I breezed through the door, trying to look nonchalant but sure I looked like a deer caught in the headlights. Already published -- and stocked -- books leered out at me from the shelves. We're good enough! We're good enough! I clutched my book like a lifeline.
Spotting two employees by the desk, I made my way over and asked to speak to the manager.
'I'm the assistant manager,' one said, eyeing me with slight trepidation.
'Um, hello, I'm a local author,' I began. Why can't I breathe? 'I've written a London guide book...' I tug it out of my bag and hand it over. 'But it's not like other London guide books,' I rush, trying to preempt any objections. 'This one's arranged hour by hour...'
I watch as he and his colleague flip through the book, making approving noises (thank God). The he types the ISBN into his computer as I hold my breath.
'Clever concept,' he says and I can't hide the smile on my face. 'I'll order five, because you're local.'
I thank him and beat a hasty retreat before he changes his mind. Sure, it's only five but... RESULT! Now I really can go into Waterstone's and gaze lovingly at my book on the shelf!
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
I know a good idea when I see it (er, I think). So, I'd like to invite you to write up 24 hours in the place where you live. Don't worry about filling in every hour (Lord knows we do need to sleep!) but hit the highlights of what you like to do in your locale. Post it on your blog, then send the link to email@example.com -- or you can post it in the comments section below. If you don't have a blog but you still want to take part, you can send it to me an email.
Then, on my book launch day (two weeks from today, November 4), I'll post all the links of everyone's 24 hour day and a run-down of what everyone's written. If you like, you can post the results on your blog, too -- that way we can share the link love.
And... one lucky person will win a '24 Hours London' T-shirt, direct from the UK (alright, Holland, where it was actually produced. But it'll come through the post from the UK!), along with a copy of the book!
I'm looking forward to learning about where you live!
Contest closes at 5 p.m. GMT Wednesday, 4th November.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
- The Pyramids. They actually exceeded my expectations. We took a horse ride into the desert to really see them from afar and you can't help but be impressed. We went inside two of the pyramids and it was hard to fathom we were inside the burial chambers of ancient pharaohs.
- Taking a feluca on the Nile at night. Getting away from the car horns and traffic and listening to the water lap against the sailboat was bliss.
What I didn't like so much:
Monday, October 19, 2009
(and yes, I'm back from Cairo! Great trip; more to follow...)
Saturday, October 17, 2009
After reading Londonelicious' description of the perfect London day, I was inspired to write my own. It's good therapy for dealing with the stressful day (see incident below), if nothing else. So... here's my perfect London day!
Weather (since it plays such a major role in London life):18 degrees Celsius, clear blue sky and aeroplane tracks criss-crossing above me.
8 am (I'm not one for sleeping in):
Mammoth croissants and strong coffee with warm milk at Patisserie Valerie, Kensington Church St. It will be crowded as usual, a nice buzz, with waiters dodging between tables. Lovely blackberry and raspberry conserves in their tiny jars dot the table.
Meander through Kensington Gardens while it's still quiet, down around the Serpentine Lake, and loop back to Kensington Church St.10 am:Check out Kensington Farmer's Market just behind Waterstone's. Drool over the cheeses, meats and fresh veggies.
Peruse the best sellers and 'Local Authors' sections at Waterstone's. Spot my novel on the shelf. (I can dream!)
Head to Portobello Market, which for some reason will not be over-run with tourists. Pick up a Red Velvet cupcake at Hummingbird on the way through. Browse the stalls under the Westway and pick up some bargain vintage one-offs.
Lunch at Falafel King just across from the Westway.
Head to the South Bank. Buy a drink (or two) on the terrace of the Royal Festival Hall and watch the buskers on the promenade below, and the boats on the Thames. Walk down to the Tate Modern, attend the Rothko exhibit, then walk across the Millennium Bridge to Blackfriar's and St Paul's. Have an sickly sweet Tarte de Pommes at the French bakery Paul and a cup of tea, then head back across the bridge to the Carpenter's Arms pub, where a crisp glass of white wine awaits (I've just reread this and noticed how much eating and drinking there is -- on a perfect day, I wouldn't get full nor unpleasantly drunk).
Pick up a bottle of champagne and back through the park to the Royal Albert Hall, where we set up camp across from the Hall to drink the champage and pass the time before listening to Yo Yo Ma in the gallery at the Proms.
Down High Street Kensington for the best burger (I am North American, after all) at Byron. Walk back home in dusk through Holland Park, listening to the lingering notes of the outdoor opera float on the air.
Brick Lane, Wigmore Hall, Camden Market, Borough Market, Sadler's Wells, Balans, Liberty, Selfridges, Whole Food Market, Harvey Nichols, Royal Court Theatre, L'Oriel, Black and Blue, Le Pain Quotidienne... I'm going to stop now!
Thursday, October 15, 2009
F is originally British, but her new beau is Canadian through and through. It was the first night I'd met him, and his forthright and friendly ways reminded me of many people I know back home. The easy interaction we had made me miss my fellow Maritimers (people from the Atlantic provinces in Canada), who are well known for their social ease.
At home you can go to a party, not knowing anyone, and have a great time. Everyone will mix together (usually in the kitchen) and although you might chat to twenty different people, no-one will ask what you do for a living or even broach the subject of careers or work. Instead they'll hand you a beer and introduce you to ten of their friends. You leave feeling like you have a whole new circle to hang out with. They promise to keep in touch, and they do.And that isn't limited to house parties. The same thing happens in a pub, on the street, at a hockey game, etc etc. People are keen to get to know you, will ask you questions, and conversation will just flow naturally (with or without alcohol). Strangers help each other out without hesitation, pushing cars out of snowbanks in -20 weather.
But in my experience, Brits tend to view openness and friendliness with suspicion and, in some cases, hostility. In my first year here, The Man and I often went for walks in Hyde Park, where I'd admire the dogs of the people passing by us and smile at the owners. It took awhile for me to clock on to the fact that my friendly smiles were not being returned. In fact, the owner would dart past us even faster. The Man finally had to tell me to stop smiling at strangers, because they didn't like it.
I resisted at first, thinking surely he had it wrong. Who could have a problem with a friendly smile? But once I was finishing sulking at his admonishment, I started to observe their reactions, and I had to admit he was right. Any attempts at conversation in public places were also rebuffed, and I started to adopt the poker-face seen so frequently on the Tube.And so, after a few years here, my transformation from friendly Canadian to (sort of) reserved Brit was complete. I don't talk to people in lifts. I don't smile at strangers. And I've become very well versed in the art of British small talk at parties (weather, weather, Gordon Brown, weather).
The change was made clear to me last years when I was taking the Tube home after a long day at work. A man about my age sat down beside me and asked, 'Wouldn't it be great if people could talk to each other on the Tube?' He came from Bognor Regis, a town on the sea, and wanted to bring some of the small-town spirit to the big city.
Exhausted and frazzled, I told him in no uncertain terms that I DID NOT think it would be great to chat on the Tube with strangers. The Tube is transitional zone between work and home, a place to recover from the day and gear up for the evening; to be alone with your thoughts or novel. I did not want unwelcome intrusions in the form of Joe Bloggs from Bognor Regis! Far from trying to be polite, I am partly proud and partly ashamed of my response.Britain -- or London, for I'm sure there are many friendly people in small towns -- has definitely exerted its influence, good or bad, on me!
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Wandering about Notting Hill a few days ago, I remembered how great the whole area is. I know I keep banging on about it, but I really do feel lucky to live so close to iconic places like Portobello Road on one side and Kensington Gardens on the other. On the weekends, The Man and I often go for walks to take-in the local sights.
One of our favourite routes is up Kensington Church Street to Notting Hill Gate, our closest tube. From there, we turn right and follow the crowds up the curving street towards Portobello Road. The whole look of the architecture changes from gleaming white Victorian terraces to small, brightly painted cottages. Notting Hill used to be piggeries in Victorian times, and then a slum in the 1960s, home to Caribbean immigrants. The whole area got a lift when the film Notting Hill came out, and since then has continued its gentrification. Housing prices have shot up and now the area is populated by media and film types, known as 'Notting Hillies'.
Standing at the top of Portobello Road, you see a mish-mash of different stalls on the narrow road and brightly coloured houses and cafes lining the street. The road is known for its variety of antiques, and many people come looking for bargains, but I think it's pretty safe to say that there won't be any bargains found here! As in any touristy spot, prices are jacked up and haggling is pretty much a no-go (but you can try!). Mixed between the jumbled antiques are cheap clothing stands selling scarfs and other items that will fall apart after one washing.
Further on down the road is where my favourite bit begins. You have the infamous Electric Cinema, where a ticket for £15 gets you a leather armchair and side table for the duration of a film. There's a bar in the back of the cinema where you can nip back to buy any drink you like. It's so comfortable, the only issue is keeping your eyes open!
The accompanying Electric Brasserie is a sure place to spot celebs and is buzzing every night. Great cocktails, too!
Hummingbird Cupcakes makes 'fairy cakes' (as they're called here) to die for, my favourite being red velvet which has a chocolate centre and cream cheese frosting. I'm salivating just thinking about it! And across the street is Gail's, an organic bakery/cafe with great sandwiches, quiches and coffee.
If none of that does it for you, you can always catch a bite to eat from the many stalls selling everything from Bratwurst to Paella and lovely churros with chocolate sauce for dessert.Mixed between the restaurants and cafes that dominate this stretch are some funky shops with one-off buys. One of my favs is Fussy Nation. If you're looking for a card unlike any other, than this is the place to get it. My favourite bizarre thing I saw there was the 'Jesus Action Figure' set.
As you continue down the street, you'll come across the fruit and veg stalls, with the traders looking like they've stepped straight out of 1960's East London. And then the Westway, a enormous motorway overpass, looms and just when you think it's over, you discover a whole new massive clothing, vintage and jewellery market underneath. You could get lost in there for hours looking at the treasure trove of items.
And if that leaves you hungry again, there's the best place in London for falafels: Falafel King. Even The Man agrees that this is fine stuff (and having grown up with the food, I trust his judgment).
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Now that I've refreshed my primary school history lessons, I am proud to say that the tradition started in my home province of Nova Scotia. The French settlers, led by Samuel de Champlain, celebrated surviving the ocean crossing. They held a feast to mark the occasion, which they shared with the Natives. So all in all, a similar story to the American one with a slight Canadian twist.
The holiday comes just as the leaves are turning their amazing colours of flaming red and orange, unlike in England where they turn brown and fall off in disgrace. And the weather usually cooperates, with the perfect combination of warm sun and crisp air. As much as I love London, nothing can compete with Fall in Nova Scotia.
Friday, October 9, 2009
I have never been to Egypt. Hard to believe, seeing as how I'm married to an Egyptian and everyone and their dog seems to have been there. But whenever we've had holidays, we've usually travelled to Canada or done our own thing. I can't wait to see where The Man grew up and meet his extended family.
Engrossed in London promotion and Paris research, I haven't had much time to read about Cairo. But I've got a book from the library today and I'll read on the plane!
If anyone has some tips for me, please let me know. In the meantime, I have a few scheduled posts from the archives while I'm away... just on the off chance that anyone will miss me!
Thursday, October 8, 2009
'Wait a second,' they say, staring at me as if my face will reveal my nationality (if they haven't already figured it out by my accent). 'You're not from here, are you?'
When I explain that I've lived here for five years but I'm from Canada, they usually nod. 'Ah, yes. Sometimes you need a foreigner to introduce you to your own city.'
While I'm not saying I know London better than someone who's lived here their whole life, in a way, I have to agree. We take for granted what we know best, and we don't have the same curiousity and urge to explore as someone who's new to town. Even though I have been here for awhile now, I still love walking down the street of gleaming white terraces, the strange cadence of the siren blaring by. Something as simple as an iron lamp-post or the gold-lettered sign on the pub will remind me that I'm in a different world than the one I left behind. I always go to end of the alley to see if something cool is around the corner -- whereas in my hometown I always chose the fastest route possible.
From the rubbish bins to the church steeples, London still holds that foreign appeal to me. And I hope that never changes.
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
I have learned one very critical lesson when it comes to blogging, which is this: be careful, be very careful, what you put out there. Because even if you think it's private; that your blog doesn't have any readers; or that no-one will ever find your rants or scribbles... you can depend on this: someone, somewhere, will. And it will be the person you least want to! Yes, that all sounds very sinister and cloak-and-dagger. But I can assure you it's true.
I had another blog I started a year ago, mainly as a reaction to a part-time job I had to make some money while writing. The job was OK -- but what really irked me was how I was treated by some of the clients. So I started an anonymous blog. (You can see where this is going...). Someone stumbled across it, put two and two together and let's just say I didn't work there much longer!
Naively, I'd stuck my head in the sand, thinking no-one would ever run across it and hey, if someone did, it was anonymous anyway! It was a great outlet for me to get my own back, and I didn't think through the what ifs properly.
So, on the anniversary of my entry into the blogosphere, I urge my fellow bloggers to be cautious about their public writings - or, at least, be prepared for the consequences!
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
I spent the whole day fighting with Google spam filters, so that seems a very fitting end.
No matter, though. I have my glass of wine, and some lovely penne The Man cooked. Oh, and did I mention the Swiss chocolate?
Who needs computers anyway?
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Fiona's going to blog her next novel, Thaw, starting on the 1st of March next year. The novel follows 32 year old Ruth’s diary over three months as she decides whether or not to carry on living.
To help spread the word she’s organising a Blogsplash, where blogs will publish the first page of Ruth’s diary simultaneously (and a link to the blog). She’s aiming to get 1000 blogs involved – if you’d be interested in joining the splash, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great weekend, everyone!
Thursday, October 1, 2009
(And no, I didn't pay him - yet, anyway! - to say those things about my book!)
Take it away, Michael!
I started this tour just as summer was beginning, so it seems fitting to end it just as summer draws to a close and autumn takes over. It’s been fun and I’ve met a lot of great people, but touring is tiring, even in the virtual world, so I’m taking advantage of that magic we call the Internet to round up the Kindness of Strangers Tour by relying on the kindness of several strangers at once.
In a way, making my final tour stop to ten locations simultaneously seems the perfect ending for it—one big autumnal burst before quietly fading away. This tour began as a means of promoting my book, but it soon became an end in itself and took on a life of its own. Very often, I found myself having such a good time “visiting” people around the globe that I forgot to mention the book.
To date, my trip has taken me from Britain to Canada, Australia, sunny Spain, Tenerife and even back to my own hometown, ending up here in London with Marsha, just a train ride away from my home in Sussex. This is a fitting stop to end my tour on, not only because it is so close to home, but because Marsha is an author herself and HAS A BOOK COMING OUT!!!!!!
She may have already told you about it, however, so I doubt I have much new information to add, except for the fact that I have actually read the book and it is simply marvellous. And I’m not just saying that because she and her husband are putting me up, letting me drink their beer and taking me out on the town tonight. (Marsha is calling it “continuing research,” but I think she just likes to party.)
Seriously, though, 24 Hours: London is a must-have book if you live in or near London or plan to visit. It is interesting, intriguing and very readable. So go by a copy. Right now! And while you’re at it, buy a copy of my book, as well. It’s not as informative as Marsha’s, but it is funny.
I have to say, of all the adventures I might have imagined for my life as a young boy, touring the blogsphere on other people’s blogs was not a contender. But then the idea of leaving my quiet, rural life, moving to England, marrying a foreigner and writing a book about it never occurred to me, either. I’m glad and grateful for having done both, however, and although the tour is coming to an end, the adventure continues. May yours continue as well.
Thanks and Good-bye from The 2009 KINDNESS of STRANGERS TOUR
Michael Harling is the author of “Postcards From Across the Pond – dispatches from an accidental expat”
“Laugh out loud funny regardless of which side of the pond you call home. Bill Bryson move over, there’s a new American expat in town with a keen sense of humor.”
-- Jeff Yeager, author of “The Ultimate Cheapskate”
Buy the Book: http://www.lindenwald.com/booksale.htm
Follow the Tour: http://www.lindenwald.com/thetour.htm
Visit the Home Page: http://postcardsfromacrossthepond.blogspot.com/