Monday, June 29, 2009

Summer in the City

Seems it's either feast or famine when it comes to weather in London! The heat has made me wilt somewhat, so I leave you with this rare sight from BBC London weather.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Hidden London: Ye Olde Mitre Pub

It's been awhile since I've done a 'Hidden London' post, but I tracked down this pub yesterday and it is so hidden, it deserve to be found.

The Man and I made a voyage to Hatton Garden, London's centre for diamonds, yesterday. We were on a hunt for wedding rings, but I knew Ye Olde Mitre was around there somewhere, so we decided to try to find it. After looking at some exorbitantly prices rings and wandering the streets for awhile, we finally decided to ask a jeweller where on earth this elusive drinking hole was to be found.

Turns out he was the perfect person to ask. He had a drink at that pub when he came to interview for his diamond apprenticeship at age 14. He pointed us in the right direction, and off we trotted.

The sign on Ely Court, off Hatton Garden.

Sadly, the pub was closed (it's only open on weekdays), but it was definitely worth a look. Apparently part of the bar is an old cherry tree that Elizabeth I danced the maypole around.

The passage-way back to Hatton Garden.

The facade of the pub.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

WAG: The Results

WAG #16 Results and WAG #17 instructions below. All are welcome to join next week’s adventure!

The theme for the Writing Adventure Group 16 was “True Love” Go people watching and select a couple. Write about the “secret” part of their relationship… the things about this couple that they don’t show to the world.

The Writing Adventure Group is on Facebook. Join us there too, and get weekly reminders so you never miss an adventure.

How to Join the Writing Adventure Group
Gail Stekler (New to WAG!)
Dan Powell
Frances Wookey
Mickey Hoffman
Christine Kirchoff
Paige Bruce

Next Week:

“WAG #17: The One That Got Away”
From your own point of view (or the point of view of a stranger you observe) write a short scene about someone from the past who comes into the picture back suddenly. It can be an old boyfriend/girlfriend, a childhood friend, or anyone you haven’t seen for many years. It can be a sweet reunion, or a total disaster! It’s up to you.

Deadline: next Tuesday, June 30th.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

On the Road (or Sidewalk) Again

Spotted about five minutes ago, out my window. Inside was a dapper man in a suit, beeping at all who slowed his progress.

He zipped by fairly quickly!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

WAG: What Lies Beneath

I've been bad, bad, bad at doing the writing adventure group's exercises lately. But hopefully, I shall redeem myself with this attempt. This week the assigment is to select a couple. Write about the “secret” part of their relationship… the things about this couple that they don’t show to the world.

This week, I was inspired by this article in the oh-so-reputable Sun newspaper. Honestly, I don't know if they try to be entertaining, but they certainly succeed.

So here goes.


'Honey, did you get it?' He lowers his voice and leans towards her.

Her eyes dart around the room. She nods. 'It's in the back garden. I gave it some lettuce. Isn't that what they eat?'

Her husband shrugs. 'I dunno. It won't be around be around for long, anyway. I've got the BBQ fired up. Jim and the boys are coming round at nine. It's gonna be one hell of a feast!'

She digs in her purse and holds out a paper. 'Here's the receipt. We can return it in fourteen days if we're not happy.'

'Honey, it ain't gonna be around for fourteen days, innit? We're 'aving it tonight!' He scans the paper. 'Hang on a second. Hang on! What the hell is this?' His finger stabs the paper.

She leans over. 'What? Yeah, I dunno, I just signed where I needed to. I didn't actually read it.'



Finally, he says: 'We'll do it in secret. We'll roast it in the oven. I don't care how we do it, we're eating that horse.'

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Great Drinking Debate

Today I'm over at Pond Parleys (thanks for the invite, Toni and Mike!) debating drink. Head over and join in the fray!

Here's a taster (no pun intended!):

It's my first week in London. Straight from the Canadian hinterland (otherwise known as the country's capital, Ottawa), I saunter into a pub for my first real night out in the big city. My friend and I eagerly head for the bar. It's quarter to eleven, and the night is just beginning.

'I'll have a glass of house red,' I say, opting for the cheapest option on the menu. I've yet to start working, and my Canadian bank account is dwindling fast.

'Sorry, last call was fifteen minutes ago.' The bartender's bored with me already. '

What?' I look at my watch. Has time suddenly shifted forward by three hours? Surely no pub would close at 11!

Click here to read more.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Summer Sales... Already!?

Yesterday, while tooling around on High Street Kensington, my eyes were drawn to a large sign in Warehouse proudly proclaiming clothes for under £20! Under £15! And -- surely not -- under £10! Yes, the season of summer sales is upon us, even though we've yet to truly experience summer-like weather.

Not that I'm complaining. My meager budget barely allows me the extravagances of Primark, let alone the high street. Still, every summer I seem to end up buying things I don't need and, in retrospect, I don't even like. A moth to a flame, I was drawn inside the store, my eyes glazing over as I took in the row after row of bargains. I plucked two dresses from their hangers and plodded my way over to the fitting rooms, my legs moving as if of their own accord.

Pivoting in front of the mirror, one refrain managed to push itself through the consumerism-induced fog of my brain: Do I need this? I tore the dress off as if it was poisoned, hung it up and shoved it at the sales assistant. I would not be tempted; I would not buy yet another useless item I couldn't afford.

Out on the sidewalk, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had escaped, unscathed. Just another two months of summer sales to go!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Living in the Back Pocket of 8 Million People

Life in a big city has lots of benefits: the sheer amount of things to do; the diversity of its inhabitants; and the fact that you'll never get tired of exploring. But it also has one major drawback: noise.

I live in a row of Victorian terraces that backs onto another row of Victoria terraces, parallel to ours, with only small gardens in the middle. This means we have a perfect conduit for all the sounds of the neighbourhood to travel, ricochet and echo their way up and down the red-bricked exteriors of the buildings, straight to my ears.

There's the neighbour who lets his dog out three times a day to bark, endlessly, at God knows what. There's the American couple who live somewhere nearby, having a BBQ in their courtyard. The family torturing their children with French lessons; the birthday party with 50 screaming kids; the graduation do where for some reason, they just couldn't seem to stop playing Deacon Blue... and on, and on.

It's interesting, these slices of life that seep through our window. It heightens the feeling that we live in a community, that there's people around us, even if I still don't know them after five years of living here! The mingling of accents, of customs and traditions, is right there -- we don't even need to leave our flat.

I could do without the barking dog, though.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Hats and Horses

The Royal Ascot mixes tradition with outrageous fashion. For lack of anything that can really top it, I bring you this. Scroll through the series of ten to get the full picture.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

BBC and Poetry

BBC Radio 3 is a wonder. No commercials, great classical music -- and poetry every morning (for six weeks, at least) at breakfast.

The Man and I always turn on Radio 3 on the weekends. Slowly sipping coffee while listening to concertos and debating the day ahead is our favourite way to start the morning. Lately, our ritual taken on an added significance with the BBC's poetry series. Read by the poets themselves, time seems to stop as we pause in whatever we're doing and cock our heads towards the radio, waiting for the words to fall through the air towards us.

Yesterday's selection was 'Shanky' by Katrina Porteous:


Shanky is all England:
A barn-conversion.
Strangers in four-by-fours. Forgotten

Names: the Butty Meadow. Shanky Hall.
The nugget of a chapel.
Faith in ruins.

Down the Long Nanny Burn
A green gate leans.
Dark, witchy hawthorns

Point along the leat
To Shanky Mill,
Its bricked-up windows, walls

Empty, its rafters open
To the swifts, the rain;
The knotted fabric of the farm

Shrunk, first, to one man
Alone in his tractor cabin,
Radio on; then

To no one
But the nostalgic, who like it here
At nightfall, when

Black cows wallow in the burn
And the low sun
Floods everything golden.

Last week, we listened to the hypnotic voice of England's new poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, as she read her new poem 'Premonitions':


Dedicated with love to the memory of UA Fanthorpe

We first met when your last breath
cooled in my palm like an egg;
you dead, and a thrush outside
sang it was morning.
I backed out of the room, feeling
the flowers freshen and shine in my arms.

The night before, we met again, to unsay
unbearable farewells, to see
our eyes brighten with re-strung tears.
O I had my sudden wish -though I barely knew you -to stand at the door of your house,
feeling my heartbeat calm,
as they carried you in, home, home and healing.
Then slow weeks, removing the wheelchair, the drugs,the oxygen mask and tank, the commode,
the appointment cards,
until it was summer again
and I saw you open the doors to the gift of your garden.

Strange and beautiful to seethe roses close to their own premonitions,
the grass sweeten and cool and green
where a blackbird eased a worm into the lawn.
There you were,
a glass of lemony wine in each hand,
walking towards me always, your magnolia tree
marrying itself to the May air.

How you talked! And how I listened,
spellbound, humbled, daughterly,
to your tall tales, your wise words,
the joy of your accent, unenglish, dancey, humorous;
watching your ash hair flare and redden,
the loving litany of who we had been
making me place my hands in your warm hands,
younger than mine are now.
Then time only the moon. And the balm of dusk.
And you my mother.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Churchill's Castle

After residing in Eastern Europe for two years, where crumbling castles litter the landscape like... well, litter, such structures don't hold the same curb appeal for me as they once did. My one and only castle (OK, palace) experience in the UK was so disappointing I never again repeated the experience. Until now.

With the rain and cold scuppering our more ambitious travel plans, we decided on a day trip to Blenheim Palace, just outside of Oxford. The accidental birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, it looked impressive enough from the outside to warrant a visit. So we piled into the car and a mere 50 minutes later (thanks to The Man's Cairo-style driving), we drove through the gates and up to a toll-booth. Turns out that despite being a UNESCO World Heritage site -- an entry fee of a mere £17.50 must be paid. Sulkily, I handed over the wad of bills.

Blenheim Palace.

But despite my sulkiness, I have to admit it was worth the price. The architecture of the palace is stunning, and the interiors do not disappoint. Filled with paintings and tapestries and with a grandiose library and dining room, it's a veritable feast for the eyes. The gardens are groomed to within an inch of their lives, and even the man-made lake looks idyllic.

The Italian Gardens.

After taking in the grounds, running through the second-largest hedge maze in the world and scaring the butterflies, we headed back to London -- £17.50 poorer but richer in culture and heritage.

In the centre of the hedge maze.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Wigmore Hall: Music Not For the Masses

My parents have departed after a rainy week in cold, cold London (all good weather always seems to vanish the minute they set foot in the country). Despite the brutal return to Autumn, we managed to squeeze in one of my favourite things: a concert in Wigmore Hall.

In the heart of quiet, staid Mayfair, Wigmore Hall never disappoints. From the minute you enter under the glass portico and spot the sea of white heads sporting suits and ties, you know some serious music will be played here. The intimate hall and great acoustics mean you never feel far from the performer, as if you're right on stage with them. Last week, we were lucky to see Bobby Chen, pianist extraordinaire.

We settled into our plush seats, perusing the cupola over the stage, and wondering just how old this Bobby Chen was. On the programme, he looked to be about fifteen. No sooner was the question out of our mouths than the couple in front of us turned around. He was thirty, they said, and we believed them: they had been his guardians when he first moved from Singapore to Surrey at age eleven. What followed was a conversation full of interesting tidbits about this child prodigy who had grown up to be every bit as successful as predicted. Apparently, after his guardians took him to Windsor Castle, Big Ben and the like, he asked them to 'stop taking him to interesting places' -- he just wanted to practice his piano.

And he was amazing. From Debussy to Prokofiev, he wooed the audience and we gave him a standing ovation in return. Meeting him with his guardians after the concert, he seemed humble and down-to-earth, slightly uneasy in the presence of so much admiration.

Once again, Wigmore Hall did not disappoint.

Friday, June 5, 2009

WAG: The Results

WAG #14 Results and WAG #15 instructions below. All are welcome to join next week’s adventure!

The theme for the Writing Adventure Group #14: Do Overs”. Think of a time where you’d like to change what happened - whether it’s to get that witty retort in or to say something you never got the chance to say. Write how it should have been and compare it to the reality.

The Writing Adventure Group is on Facebook. Join us there too, and get weekly reminders so you never miss an adventure.

How to Join the Writing Adventure Group
Nancy Parra
Nixy Valentine
Dan Powell
Frances Wookey
Paige Bruce
J.M. Strother - Mad Utopia
Peter Spalton
Christine Kirchoff
Brenda M
Mickey Hoffman

“WAG #15: Best Tool For The Job”

Thanks to Paige for the topic idea! Paige’s idea was to have the topic this week be about writing tools such as a keyboard or favourite pen, but I’d like to expand this to be any type of tool, whether it’s a gardening tool or a jackhammer or a toenail clipper. Describe a favourite tool in concrete terms, but also show how you (or whomever it belongs to) feel about using it, and how it leaves an individual or particular mark on the end product.

Post the results on your blog, and read this post about the group for information on how to notify me so your post will be properly included in next week’s list. (Note, please include WAG #15 in the subject heading and tell me how you want your name to appear! If you do not, I will use the name as it appears on your email.)

Deadline: next Tuesday, June 9th.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Way Things Weren't

This week's WAG is to write about an event in reality, then change it to what you would have liked it to have been (yes, I'm aware that is a very awkward sentence construction). I must apologise to the other WAGers; I have been very lazy about commenting on their posts and will try to do a better job in the future!

Last year, I worked part-time in a luxury spa to earn some cash while starting out on my writing journey. The job showed me a lot about the inner sanctum of the very wealthy (and vain), who stunned me with the level of patronisation they could reach. I was called 'dear' with a sneering tone; told to 'shut up', asked if I could spell the surname 'White'... and on, and on. Having been trained in the service industry of North America, where the customer is always right, I also endeavoured to kill them with kindness. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't -- people used to getting their way aren't generally that impressed with smiles instead of compliance.

But just once, I would have loved to have stared them right in their beady, Botoxed little eyes and given it to them straight: Listen, lady (or man - sometimes they were the worst!), I don't care how rich you are or how important you may be. You're hideous, you behave worse than a three year old, no-one likes you and no matter how much cosmetic surgery you have, you'll never be beautiful! Or happy! SO THERE!

Oh, to be so ballsy.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Getting Married in London... The Saga Begins

I promise not to turn this blog into a blow-by-blow description of my upcoming nuptials, but getting married in a foreign country definitely presents an interesting insight into the psyche of the nation.

Like why, for example, I need to have an 'interview' with a registrar of the borough (the part of London) where I live. Or why I need to wait sixteen 'clear' days -- with my notice of marriage posted outside Chelsea Town Hall -- to see if anyone objects to me marrying before I can actually do the deed. Or, indeed, why the registrar needs to know the occupation of my father!

So many questions, so many questions. I should point out that none of this is because I'm not a British citizen; with settlement status, it's exactly the same procedure a British citizen would undergo. Perhaps I'm just being naive (having never undergone through this whole rigmarole of getting married in Canada), but I believe that in my home land, you set the date, get a license within a week at most, the guests come, you sign a register and that's that!

It's more complicated here, for sure. The Man and I want to get married on the South Bank (borough of Lambeth) but we live in Kensington & Chelsea. Let the fun begin! First, we must go to Chelsea to give our 'Notice of Marriage'. Then, we have to provisionally hold our venues, get in touch with Lambeth, get a registrar from there to give us his/her availability for our date, then confirm our venues... then send out the invites! By the time this dance is over, any hope of finding a mutually convenient date for all parties is a moot point. You just hope you get married; sometime, somewhere!

Luckily for us, after chasing down (some might say stalking) a registrar from Lambeth, and after an 'interesting' interview with a registrar from Kensington & Chelsea, everything seemed to come together! Or at least, no-one's objected yet!

And why does the UK need to know my father's occupation for me to get married?

The registrar's answer: 'Because we're a bloody chauvinist country!'