Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Looking Back on 2008

I meant to post this yesterday, but eating and drinking got in the way of finishing it!

As the year draws to a close, it's the ideal time to look back and review the highs and lows. This year was the start of my writing journey -- the end of my corporate life. It was difficult for me to give up the vision of corporate success I'd been striving towards since leaving university. I'd always taken pride in being good at my job and successful in the working environment. But the past few years have shown me that getting promotions and making more money doesn't automatically equal happiness. Sounds obvious, but I found it a hard lesson to come to terms with.

So over the past year, I've been my own boss. A scary concept, being in charge of yourself. I found that I needed to be constantly vigilant, on my guard against my more slothful side which would whisper in my ear: It's OK to take a little nap! Go get that piece of cake in the kitchen! You've worked hard, take a little break!

I've overcome those voices to some extent, producing three novels -- one that's completely finished, and two that are in varying stages. I'm proud that I've managed to do that in my first year, despite having a part-time job which sometimes morphed into a full-time job.

So without further ado, here are my best bits of 2008:
- It goes without saying that the best thing this year has been starting my serious writing journey.
- Travelling home in August to see my parents, my new nephew and one of my best friends get married.
- A weekend trip to Berlin to fill my eyes with theatre, art and an alternative scene unlike any other.
- Receiving a very inspiring critique on my second novel from the Literary Consultancy.
- Celebrating the completion of my first novel with a feast of burgers and chips.

All in all, it was a great year, and I'm looking forward to 2009! Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Leicester Square: The London Pit of Hell

I don't hate many parts of London. Even the dodgier bits of the city are interesting to me for their character -- and characters. But Leicester Square embodies all that is wrong with touristy London: terribly overpriced food in bland chain restaurants; tacky clubs with the bass music annoyingly bleating; suburban teens eager to show their presence with loud voices and attitude. All in one small square.

Last night when our original plan for ice skating at Somerset House failed (all the tickets sold out!), we found ourselves inexplicably drawn towards the Square of Doom. To make matters worse, smack dab in the middle of the square was a funfair. Now, I am all for rollarcoasters and various other thrill seeking rides. I am not for paying an arm and a leg for some stupid swings that didn't even scare me when I was five. However, we did fork out for one ride that seemed to be the scariest of the lot - 'Insania', which just swung round in a giant circle. Pure craziness.

Fear whetted our appetite and we headed towards Chinatown. The one good thing (the only good thing) about Leicester Square is its close proximity to the cheap, good food of Chinatown and the buzz of Soho. A short five-minute walk away is The Man's favourite Chinese restaurant, The Golden Dragon -- or, as he calls it, King Prawn (he's terrible with names).

You can tell a restaurant is good when there's a queue. I've never been to the Golden Dragon without having to queue for at least fifteen minutes. But it's well worth the wait. The food is fresh, steaming hot and delicious. Starving, we glugged our jasmine tea and scoffed down spring rolls and garlic chicken as we waited for our mains of fillet steak with ginger and spring onions; squid and black bean sauce; and crispy noodles with seafood.

Barely able to move. we maneuvered ourselves out onto the cold street. Backs to Leicester Square, we walked away from the torrid lights, vowing for the millionth time never to return.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Neighbourhood History

Coming from a country where 'old' generally means anything pre-1950 (OK, I'm exaggerating here, but still -- Canada wasn't even a country until 1867), I'm constantly amazed by the history of things around me. This includes the very neighborhood in which we live.

The Man moved to England from his native Cairo almost 11 years ago now, and our flat in Kensington was his first London abode. He knew the area mainly because of the Royal Albert Hall, which he'd read about from Egypt whenever a famous musician from his country would play there. When the estate agent showed him the flat, he immediately put in an offer.

I can see why. Our flat is tiny (by Canadian standards) and on a busy street, but you can't beat the location. We're on a stretch well known for its antique shops, smack between Notting Hill Gate and High Street Kensington, and only five minutes to Kensington Palace and the green of Hyde Park. Surrounded by tiny bookshops, great pubs and wonderful cafes and coffee shops, it's a wonder we still have any money left!

And in the summer when the Proms are on, The Man still can't believe his good fortune as he relives his childhood dream of walking through Kensington Gardens to the Royal Albert Hall and listening to some of the world's best music for only a fiver.

As part of his Christmas gift, I found some old photos of our neighbourhood. It really brought home to me how wonderful it is to live in an area that's existed for hundreds of years, and how we're now part of its fabric.

High Street Kensington, 1811

High Street Kensington, 1929.

Notting Hill Gate, 1800s

Notting Hill Gate, 1920s

Muzio Clementi's house, Kensington Church Street

Kensington Church Street, 1970s

Friday, December 26, 2008

Merry Christmas!

One day too late, I know, but I couldn't tear myself away from my food-induced stupor yesterday to even contemplate the mental energy it would take to write a post. I hope everyone had a very good day, wherever you are!

Christmas Day in London dawned a mixture of sun and cloud, and after opening our gifts and scoffing some pain au chocolat and nuts, we decided to take a walk on the South Bank. The streets were surreally quiet without the ever-present red double-deckers, but there were plenty of people out and about (mainly tourists, I divined by the presence of maps and guide books).

The wind along the South Bank was brisk and clouds moved in but we persevered, crossing the Millennium Bridge and entering St Paul's for a nose around (mainly, to get warm). I had every intention of heading out to the Midnight Mass the night before, but as in the past three years I couldn't rouse myself to leave my warm cozy flat in the near-midnight hours.

We wrapped up again and headed back to the other side of the Thames, stopping for a glass of mulled wine at the Founder's Arms. Back at the flat, darkness fell as we curled up on the sofas and snoozed to the comforting sound of Wallace and Grommit, punctuated only by the sizzles of turkey fat dripping onto the oven burners.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I'm a Star! (Of My Own Story)

Thanks to Mario at Someone Once Told Me for inviting me to send in my photo! I discovered the website thanks to Londonist, and blogged about what a cool concept it was. To my excitement (doesn't take much!), Mario emailed and asked me to send in my own photo.

'You are the story' is something a news director told me when I was interviewing for a TV reporting job in Canada. It stuck with me because it went against everything I learned in journalism school. But it is true - we are the star in the story of our lives.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas in Kensington

Londoners cannot compete with North Americans when it comes to decorating their homes for Christmas. But the understated lights and shop-window decorations have a festive air all their own.

**I should preface the following photos by saying that first of all, my phone takes rubbish photos at night (always easier to blame the phone). But secondly, I am the world's worst photographer. I can never keep my hand steady! So I apologize for the quality of the forthcoming shots!**

The Churchill Arms. Delicious Pad Thai!

Front window of &Clarke's, Sally Clarke's deli. Delicious, delicious goodies inside here and my favourite - Monmouth Coffee.

Window of one of the many antique shops on our street.

The only house with Christmas lights in our neighbourhood!

Wine shop around the corner from our flat. This is why we drink so much wine!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Good News for Books?

After reading one article after another on how the credit crunch could bring about the downfall of publishers (and the world in general), it's nice to see a positive take on the future of books in these economically challenged times.

On his Guardian Book Blog, Robert McCrum has the following to say about the value of books versus other, more expensive, forms of entertainment.

The only welcome news about these hard times will be that it's probably good for reading (as in staying quietly indoors with a book), while the consumer cuts back on more extravagant distractions. Books have always done well in crises. The First World War was literary as well as lovely; the Second turned out to be the making of Penguin.

So I'm betting that bookshops selling novels and poetry, not Nigella and Jamie, will do better than expected during credit-crunch Christmas. The publishers will moan like hell, but good books won't stop selling. To some people, this will seem doubly odd. On top of the recession, there's a widespread complaint that "books are so expensive these days".

Is that really true? About 50 years ago, in the bleak aftermath of the Second World War, George Orwell wrote a famous Tribune column, "Books v Cigarettes", in which, after conceding that "it is difficult to establish any relationship between the price of books and the value one gets out of them", he concluded that, compared to a good smoke, books were a bargain.

Since that's no longer a comparison that has much meaning in smoke-free Britain, how about books versus DVDs, CDs or a night out at the theatre ? For the sake of argument, let's say that paperbacks average £10 apiece and that new novels are £18.99 (though discounting makes these figures almost meaningless). Meanwhile, the average hardback is £25 and a lot less if you go to a second-hand bookshop.

Against a CD (maybe £14.99, assuming no cheap downloads), paperbacks do rather well. You might play the CD scores of times, but the paperback will become part of your collection. Even a favourite DVD probably has less replay value (how many times can you watch Some Like It Hot ?), but at £19.99 it's about the same as a hardback novel. Plus you probably know what you're getting when you buy it.

To read the rest, go here.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Reading List 2009

I spent yesterday afternoon coming up with my reading list for next year. It's a work in progress, but here's how it stands so far. Any suggestions are welcome!

Beloved - Toni Morrison
The Kitchen God's Wife - Amy Tan
Music and Silence - Rose Tremain
I Know why the Caged Bird Sings - Maya Angelou
Small Island - Andrea Levy
Pillow Talk - Freya North
Riders - Jilly Cooper
Herb n Lorna - Erik Kraft
The Best a Man Can Get - John O'Farrell
The Consolations of Philosophy - Alain de Botton
Little Black Book of Stories - AS Byatt
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - Robert M Pirsig
A Year in Provence - Robert Mayle
Nineteen Eighty-Four - George Orwell
His Dark Materials - Phillip Pullman
A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
Complete Poems - Elizabeth Bishop
Summer Lightening - PG Wodehouse
The Outcast - Sadie Jones
A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini
The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga
The Secret Life of Bees - Sue Monk Kidd
A Mercy - Toni Morrison
The Believers - Zoe Heller
The Secret Scripture - Sebastian Barry

Friday, December 19, 2008

I (Won't) Be Home for Christmas

(OK, I know the title is a bit wonky...)

As much as I love London, I have to admit to getting a wee bit homesick around this time of year. I HATE snow, ice, cold etc etc (except when skiing or snowboarding), but it does lend a certain air to the Christmas festivities. In London, with the grass still green and the temperature on the positive side of the Celsius scale, one could almost imagine it's spring. Well, a Canadian spring, anyway.

Halifax, the capital, in yet another snowstorm. Actually, looking at this, I don't miss snow that much after all.

So to amuse myself and perhaps assuage my yearning for home, I decided to post these pictures of my homeland, Nova Scotia. In Canada. East of Toronto. The first thing you hit when you head across the Atlantic. No, not New York, or Boston....

An ice storm mid-winter.

Lighthouse at Peggy's Cove.

House in Sydney decked out for Christmas.

Portobello Wanderings

My love for London was rekindled recently after wandering around Portobello. It's a good place to get into the Christmas spirit.

Buying a Christmas tree outside the Duke of Wellington pub. These ones cost £45!

Inside the Duke of Wellington, purveyors of the saltiest nachos I have ever tasted.

Fruit and veg.

Stirring massive skillets of paella.

Crowds on Portobello under a darkening sky.

A sea of buttons.

Queue for delicious cupcakes outside Hummingbird Bakery.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dancing the 'Let's Meet Up' Jig

I've lived in a few cities in the world. Montreal, Wroclaw, Ottawa -- to name a few. But never have I found it as hard to arrange a meeting with someone as in London.

First of all, you can forget about spontaneity. Calling someone on the day - or even the day before -and trying to arrange a time to get together is as likely to happen as getting on the Northern line without a delay. No, you must call at least two weeks in advance, and even then you can be sure that trying to find a bit of mutual free time is a challenge.

Even if you've managed to hit on a night (usually a month into the future), it still doesn't necessarily mean your plan will come to fruition. It's the dreaded 'call to confirm' a few days prior to the engagement that runs the risk of throwing the whole thing off. The confirmation phone call provides a handy out for either party, in case of rain, fatigue, Tube delays, and any other sundry excuse.

'Oh, my hamster just died, so I can't make it. But I'm free next month, on the night of the 12th, between 7 and 9! I'll give you a call the day before to confirm, shall I?'

It's a miracle anyone in London manages to meet up. No wonder Londoners are the loneliest people in the UK.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Wonderful World of the Unemployed

Since I graduated from university (heck, even throughout some of uni and all of grad school), I've never been without a paying job. Yes, I do consider writing a job, but it's not one that: a. I leave the flat for; and b. I get paid for. It's a strange feeling to be at the complete mercy of ME, while relying completely on the Man to bring in the funds.

I've never been dependent on anyone before, except my parents, and it's going to take some getting used to. While we've had a joint account ever since we moved in together five years ago, we still kept individual accounts for our own sundry expenditures (in my case, mainly hair and clothes. God, that sounds shallow!). Now, my own account is dwindling despite my best attempts not to spend any money, knowing there won't be more coming in. No end-of-the-month pay cheque for me!

While the Man insists what's his is mine (and vice versa, of course, not that I have anything), it's still something I struggle with. Granted, 'chasing my dreams' is worth every sacrifice for me, but is it worth it for him? Is it right for me to put a slight strain on our finances just so I can attempt to do something? And what if that something results in nothing?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ginger Loaf (Without the Ginger)

I may have mentioned a thousand times or so that I'm not a cook. I was banished from the kitchen by my mother after my experimental cinnamon buns set the oven alight, and I never really learned how to bake properly. Since then, I've come a long way, mostly through more experimenting and pure trial and error. Every now and again, I actually feel the urge to bake something, and today the urge struck.

After putting up the Christmas tree yesterday, I was in the mood for something holiday-ish. I settled on ginger loaf, found an easy recipe online with some yummy cream cheese frosting, and of to Tesco's at Notting Hill I went! We are not a cooking couple, so the trip necessitated some staples like flour, applesauce, vanilla essence, cinnamon and the all-important ginger.

My first confusion came when I surveyed the arrayed of flour in front of me. Plain flour, self-raising flower, organic flour.... what the?! True, I didn't bake that much back in Canada, but I only recall there being one kind of flour - the generic white stuff! Taking a shot in the dark, I chose the self-raising but then I had to debate whether I still needed to buy the baking powder or not. Tesco Notting Hill on a Sunday is not a place for deliberation. I was hit in the knee on at least three separate occasions by annoying posh children on their equally, if not more so, annoying scooters (shouldn't that craze be over by now, anyway?).

Forgoing the baking powder, I scoured the spices for ground ginger. Nope - not there. Surely there must be some, I told myself. Notting Hill Tesco is not your run-of-the-mill grocery store. They have everything from star anise to Indian saffron, but there was no ginger to be found. After so much trouble, there was no way I was giving up now. I grabbed some mixed spices, nutmeg and cinnamon and high-tailed it out of there.

Back at the flat, more trouble ensured. The first step in the recipe said to preheat the oven to 375 F. Well, ovens in the UK are in Celsius and I had no idea what 375 F converted so. Our Internet was down at the time, so I had to ask The Man. Engaged in his film editing, he was not happy at being interrupted for such a trifle and had no idea how to convert the temperature. No loaf for him, then. I took another shot in the dark and turned the oven to 175 Celsius.

OK. Now for the ingredients. Again, more issues. In the UK, the measure everything by weight. So, while our recipes might call for a cup of sugar, theirs would require 100 grams (or whatever). To this end, people usually have a set of kitchen scales they use when cooking. The recipe in front of me used North American measurements. And do you think we have measuring cups in our cupboard? Again, I had to resort to trial and error as I mixed the ingredients.

Here is what the baked loaf looks like. (The top is a bit mangled after all my testing to see if it was actually cooked... it took 55 minutes at 175C).

And here's the loaf with the cream cheese frosting!

Hopefully it tastes as good as it looks! If all else fails, I'll just eat the frosting.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas Tree, London Style

Putting up the Christmas tree has always signalled the real start of the Christmas countdown. Growing up in Nova Scotia, we used to trek out to the woods behind our house, often through knee-deep snow, and lop down our chosen tree, usually followed along the way by our anti-social cat Mittens. The tree generally didn't look like much, but the search was as important as the end result. As we got older, we abandoned the search in favour of Christmas-tree lots, where we could buy fresh, perfectly formed trees for minimal cost.

Canadians would die if they knew what was being passed off as Christmas trees in London. When I first saw the trees being sold in the flower market down the street, I couldn't believe that trees so small actually existed. Or that they were being sold for £40! I flatly refused to buy one from the market, thinking it was a rip-off... until I discovered that these these trees were the norm. Of course, most Londoners live in flats with not much room for trees, but STILL! I gave in, and we carried our tiny tree home. It looked even smalled in our flat with our very high ceilings. Oh how I longed for home.

Now, five years later, I no longer balk at either cost nor appearance. That's just the way it is in London, and if I want a real tree, that's the price I'll have to pay. Literally.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Food Factor

Why is it that when I'm writing, every other activity away from my desk immediately become extremely attractive? Especially in the afternoon, when my concentration begins to wane. It's incredible how strong the urge is to scrub the kitchen floor, given that I'm not exactly obsessive about cleanliness. Or how the half-mouldy loaf of bread on the counter suddenly acquires the allure of a freshly baked baguette.

Onto food. It's it dangerous thing to have around when you're procrastinating, hence the reason I try not to buy anything 'naughty'. I know that despite my best intentions, I'll fabricate excuses to go to the kitchen until it's gone. Here's a list of foods I can no longer buy owing to my disastrous lack of willpower:

Rice cakes - I can't stop at one. Especially the salt and vinegar!
Pine nuts - or any nuts for that matter. One handful is never enough.
Bran Flakes - yes, I've even found a way to crave the blandest of bland cereals.
Hot chocolate - big mistake to buy the mixing powder. I actually resorted to eating it sans liquid.
Sourdough bread with rosemary - Whole Foods is evil. This bread is SO good, especially toasted with tons of butter. One loaf = one day.

I'm sure there are more but I don't want to think about it too much for fear I'll call up any suppressed memories.

How's the Writing Going?

Nothing strikes fear into my heart more than this question. The Man, a film director who's been editing his feature film for the past two years, has lots of practice answering this kind of question and has schooled me to answer: 'I'm currently working on various projects all in different phases of development.'

But while this may work in the film world, in my world it inevitably leads to a furrowed brow and the follow-up question: 'So do you have a published book yet?' To which I sigh and explain that NO. I do not. And I do not even have an agent, the first step to even getting published. And YES, I have tried. I add here with feigned cheerfulness that I have now been rejected about twenty times, and usually the questioner abruptly ends their line of interrogation.

I have to admit I naively thought it would be easier, too. But I am realising that much of writing is about practice. I'm on my third novel and I have a long way to go as a writer before I may even get an agent. I started out as a journalist, and I thought that would give me a head start. Now, I'm thinking it may actually be a hindrance. It's taken me almost a year to tear my mind away from reality and get my head around the fact that its OK to use my imagination. And I'm loving it!So... the writing is going well. Great, even. But the publishing? Well, that's a question that will remain unanswered, perhaps forever.

Christmas in London

This year, like the two years before, I'm staying in London. As much as I love Canadian Christmases, the unpredictability of the weather combined with the exorbitant prices means just getting there can be a stressful trip. One year, the man and I almost missed Christmas with my parents due to a snowstorm in Toronto that had grounded all connecting flights to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Luckily, we made it, but let's just say I wasn't a happy travelling companion for a while there. Nothing brings out my irritability more than airports!

I love London at Christmastime, actually. The city drains of all its usual frenetic energy and leaves behind empty streets you can amble down without fear of being elbowed aside by a frantic commuter. The man and I make a big feast (LOVE M&S Christmas food!) with mulled wine, sit under our £35 tree that only lasts one week, and listen to Christmas carols on the BBC. We keep meaning to go to the Christmas Eve midnight service at St Mary Abbots down the street, but I usually flake out on the sofa after stuffing myself with mince pies and yes, you guessed it, wine.

One year we decided to go for a walk on the South Bank. It was a cold Christmas day and we wrapped up warmly. Driving through a deserted Piccadilly Circus and down the empty Strand, we were at the South Bank in a record ten minutes. We walked along the river, crossed the Millennium Bridge and stopped at an open pub for some wine before heading back to stuff ourselves silly, falling into bed with the windows still steamy from all our cooking.

Last year's rain foiled a repeat, but hopefully this year we'll get out again. So yes, I'm staying in London for Christmas. And I couldn't be happier!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Most Embarrassing London Moments

Yes, this is recycled content. Apologies to anyone who's read it before! If you haven't, please feel free to revel in my humiliation. Enjoy!

Strangely, both incidents occurred my first few months in the city. Maybe they seemed more embarrassing because of my heightened sense of being a fish out of water. But in or out of familiar waters, they were embarrassing nonetheless.

Embarrassing Incident Number 1: Pride Cometh Before a Fall

I'd just arrived in London the week before and was trying my best to find a full-time teaching job for the following September. The day before, my agency called to tell me that a posh private school out in Surrey would like to see me for an interview and have me teach a class. BINGO! I didn't know much, but my limited experience with supply teaching in state schools had already convinced me that private school was the way to go. The only problem was that I knew hardly anything about the British educational system and their many acronyms, and I struggled to pull together a lesson plan.

My anxiety about what to teach meant I sorely neglected the question of what to wear for the interview. That morning, after spending hours on the Internet trying to figure out how the heck to get to Esher, of all places, I managed to throw together black trousers and a black blazer, completing the ensemble with my high-heeled black boots. With photocopies for the class, lesson plan, and well groomed exterior, I was ready.

Sadly, that didn't last for long. As I neared the Highgate tube entrance - a series of ten stairs leading down into the ticket hall - my heel caught in the cuff of my black trousers. I struggled to free it but the jerking motion only served to propel my body forward. With horror, I felt myself falling head first down the stairs. My nicely presented lesson plan and meticulously prepared hand-outs hit the grimy stairs and streamed down as commuters trampled them under dirty soles. As I fell, I managed to break my downward motion by grabbing onto the railing - but not before my head slammed into the side of the wall. I slid down a few steps before coming to a complete stop about half-way down the stairs.

So there I was, one week into my London adventure and on my way to an interview for my first teaching job, lying prostrate and bloodied on the stairs as people stepped over me. Ah, London!

Note: Actually, some people did stop to ask if I was alright. I had a massive bruise on the side of my head and scrapes down my arm, but other then my injured pride and a splitting headache, I was fine. As for the job, well - I didn't get it. I managed to retrieve my handouts and did a passable job teaching the lesson, but it certainly wasn't my best effort.

Embarrassing Incident Number 2: Southwest Trains Freebies

When you think of Southwest Trains, you certainly don't think of freebies. Exorbitant train prices, delays maybe, but nothing free. Well, I got more than I bargained for.

I'd been in London for almost three months supply teaching and the school-year was just ending. The British school-year ends in July, which to me is just plain WRONG. Yes, there are extra holidays throughout the year, but summer vacation to me has always meant July and August. After three months of constant supply teaching in Godforsaken locations such as deepest Essex to darkest Hackney, I was ready to call it quits.

Many of my jobs necessitated the use of the overland rail system, and I became very well acquainted with Southwest Trains. For this particular school, I had to take two Tube lines and then connect with an overland train. It was an arduous journey that took me through many of London's busiest rail stations.

After a long day teaching, I leaned back into the bright red seat, hoping the journey would go smoothly. It was a nice bright day - actually warm, no need for a jacket for once - and I was enjoying watching the greenery flash by the window. We reached my stop and I got off, dodging the commuters and tourists with my 'I'm a Londoner, I know where I'm going' attitude. Onto the Tube, crowded as usual, and down the street to the flat.

I slumped onto the sofa in the lounge, drinking in the wonderful silence of home. The Man handed me my wine and gave me a strange look.

'What's that on your back?' he asked, puzzled.

'What do you mean?' I moved to the mirror quickly, imagining all manner of horrors. Spit, pigeon poo - on the London Underground, it could be anything. But nothing prepared me for what I saw.

There, covering the whole top half of me as neatly as if I had placed it there myself, was the Southwest Trains velcro cover for their headrests. The massive logo and emblazoned name left no mistake as to what it was or where it could have come from.

I had just travelled across half of London with a head-rest cover attached to my back. And NO ONE told me!

Someone Once Told Me

'The story you tell yourself about your life is what your life becomes.'

I should be writing but I was distracted (as usual) by a great website, Someone Once Told Me. It's a brilliant idea by a Maltese artist living in London. People from around the world take black-and-white shots of themselves holding a sign they've written. Simple idea, but stunningly captivating. Even more so when you're procrastinating!

'Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.'

I'm struggling now to think of what I would write. 'I'm going to get published if it kills me' (uttered this morning around 7 a.m. to the Man)? 'People deserve the government they get' (contentious statement over dinner last night, discussing American Bush-isms).

What would yours be?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Holland Park, The Hidden Gem

One of the best things about living in Kensington is the amount of green space. Growing up surrounded by trees and woods, if I didn't have access to parks I think I'd go crazy. We're so lucky that Kensington Gardens is just around the corner that we tend to forget Holland Park is only a ten-minute walk away.

Kensington Gardens is always populated by tourists gawking at Kensington Palace and the Diana Memorial. But Holland Park tends to be locals only. Rarely do you see tourists wandering through the immaculate Japanese Gardens or examining the peacocks by the Orangery.

While Kensington Gardens is neatly groomed, with paved walkways through widely spaced trees, Holland Park has dirt paths through winding pines. You almost feel like you're in the forest, away from everything - remarkable when you're surrounded by 8 million souls in the centre of the city.

One of my favourite memories of Holland Park is of one summer night, when the Egyptian and I went for a walk just as dusk was falling. As we pushed aside the gate into Holland Park, opera music from Mozart's Magic Flute drifted through the warm air, coming from the Open Air Opera that's performed every summer in the park. We sat on a bench and listened to the music as darkness tainted the sky, watching the lights of the planes on their way to Heathrow. Without paying for the £50 ticket, we had a brilliant performance in one of the best seats in the house.

My Perfect London Day

After reading Londonelicious' description of the perfect London day, I was inspired to write my own. 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.

8:45 am:
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.10:30 am:Peruse the best sellers and 'Local Authors' sections at Waterstone's. Spot my novel on the shelf. (I can dream!)

10:45 am:
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.

12 pm:
Lunch at Falafel King just across from the Westway.

1 pm:
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).

4 pm:
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.

9 pm:
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.

Honourable mentions:
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!

Instant Inspiration

I'm not one for cheesy photos with schmaltzy music, but even I couldn't help but feeling a twinge of inspiration when I watched this: The Joy Movie.

Creature of Routine

Despite my earlier determination, I have to confess to feeling slightly uninspired lately when I think about blogging. It's hard, now, not to associate blogging with the negativity of recent events - although I am actually looking forward to all the free time coming my way! I will need it as I restructure my second novel.

One of the hardest things about my part-time job was that I could never quite establish a weekly routine, since the rota changed each week. I'm excited about having some continuity in my writing week. In the past year, I've nailed down a daily writing routine which seems to work for me. I get up at 7:30, make some strong coffee and peruse The Guardian and The Independent. Then, I'm at my desk by 8. I write until 10:30, when I take a break for a snack and some brainless telly (right now, I'm all about Homes Under the Hammer). Back at the desk until 12, out for a run and a shower, then writing again until 3.

In the late afternoon, I dedicate my final few hours to reading agent and publishing blogs, trying to get my head around how they actually work! A glass of wine, then the man comes home and we dissect what I've done for the day while he turns on his plethora of machines and takes over the study for his film editing.

And that's me done!

Notting Hill on a Sunday Morning

I took this shot of the gleaming white terraces on our way to meet some friends for brunch at Raoul's in Notting Hill. It was a cold day (by London standards, anyway) and the sky was a brilliant blue. And Raoul's was good, too! The perfect Sunday morning.