Category Archives: London

London Lover

We’ve just returned from 2 weeks back in the UK and, as dorky as it is and I was unnerved by how much I had missed London; and furthermore, how much I was still hopelessly and foolishly in love with it.

Oh, sure, attempting to drag my heavy sports bag through Trafalgar Square on the Saturday before Christmas was hideous; and, oh, yes, drunk Chelsea fans screaming at each other across the carriage of an otherwise peaceful afternoon Victoria line tube was beyond parody; and, oh, yes, I pretty much hemorrhaged money every time I turned around; but, oh, still, isn’t London just wonderful?

There’s really nothing specific in London that explains such strong feelings. A few years ago I might have blamed it on London’s ‘theatre scene’. Certainly I still have lots of friends in London.

But, it’s something more than that. Despite all the terrible things you can say about London (and there are some terrible things you can say about London. See this video and article for further evidence of London’s terrible modern character: http://i100.independent.co.uk/article/this-advert-for-luxury-london-flats-is-bordering-on-the-apocalyptic–e11dUJmBqe), I can’t help but constantly glimpse of the London I fell in love with in the first place. The watery mirror image of St. Paul’s and London Bridge in the old Thames TV logo. Long rows of grey-brown terraced houses that shared one long roof like in C. S. Lewis’ ‘The Magician’s Nephew’. 50 pence pieces that may just turn out to be magic and grant me 7 wishes just like Melody in ‘The Queen’s Nose’.

There is the reality of London; and then there is my imaginary London, crafted out of books and TV shows and movies and photos and paintings and scraps of anecdotes and biographies and histories that I have collected over the years, and rather than the former superseding and destroying the latter, they exist side by side and feed off each other and make each other more wonderful. A skeleton of Chaucer’s House sits in a modern roundabout. Old tube lines are now overgrown, green pathways, leading you through abandoned tube stations, not on the platform like a person, but on the tracks like a train. You go for a drink at the backstage NT bar and who is drinking with you, but Dr. Who, of course, and as long as you don’t talk to him and force yourself to ruin the illusion and realise that it’s only an actor, it’s only Peter Capaldi, you can pretend the Tardis is probably parked just around the corner and you’ll see it on your way out.

My brain is not entirely comfortable with this level of rose-tinted whimsy, but apparently my emotions are in no way interested in being reigned in. I love London, hopelessly, irrationally, irrevocably

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Lovely London Days

I know I haven’t blogged in many many months and there are reasons for that and they are good and proper and many and they are: too busy and was writing other things.

Mainly I’ve been writing theatre reviews, which has been great and not only gotten me free tickets to some excellent (and some not-so-great) shows, it also stretched my brain a bit. In terms of busyness, well, I’m not going into much detail, but all my time has been occupied and maybe some day I will tell you more about that and maybe some day I won’t and maybe it’s totally obvious and maybe it’s not, but it’s been a wonderful, jam-packed 4 months.

On top of being too busy to write, I went through a very strange period at the end of last year where I wanted to keep everything to myself (I know, right? Weird). I think it was also an acknowledgement of the amount of crap out there on the internet to distract you and rot your brain and I decided I didn’t want to be another contributor to the steaming pile of brain-rot poo. But, hey, now I’m on my own in Berlin and I don’t have the internet (am writing this on Microsoft Word to be uploaded later) and I don’t speak the language and I don’t know where to go and so I’m all lonesome (and bored) tonight and suddenly recording all the little thoughts that have gone through my head in the past 4 months seems not only a good idea, but the only useful thing to do with my time (yes, I should be writing my Edinburgh Fringe play, but, shhhhh… procrastination is the only way I get OTHER things done).

I have had many a lovely London day in the past 4 months, which I have neglected to record. However, in honour of me leaving London behind (*sob*) I thought now was the perfect time to get caught up in a haze of nostalgia and talk about some of those lovely days.

First of all, going all the way back to February, I went on the Deptford Creek Discovery Walk. And even though I got the WORST two-week cold afterwards (and I do kind of blame the walk), this was awesome. Deptford Creek is a little creek coming off the Thames and running through Deptford and Greenwich areas. The walk takes pace IN the creek at low tide, so your ticket includes thigh-high waders, waterproof jackets and long walking sticks to put ahead of you in the stream to measure the height of the water ahead of you. Because of all the rain on January and February in the UK, the water was unusually high and fast, even at low tide, which made the whole thing that more fun. There was a real thrill to standing in the middle of the creek and feeling icy-cold water rushing against your rubber waders at the knee level and yet not getting wet. We had a very charismatic guide and some enthusiastic volunteers and they took us through the history of the area, helped us identify interesting objects on the shores of the creek and explained the local ecology. What was most interesting to me was hearing our guide rhapsodise about rubbish like carpets and shopping trolleys being dumped in the river. He said most people don’t like to see that sort of thing in the river, but actually, because we have so altered the environment already, most of the ‘natural’ habitat of the critters in the creek has disappeared. Therefore, man-made things like carpets and trolleys can provide excellent substitute habitats. I thought this was a really interesting point, which I had been pondering a few months previously in regards to London and other big cities. With conservation we are constantly talking about preserving some kind of pristine ideal. In highly built up areas like London, this is obviously impossible. ‘Native’ animals have long since moved on or adapted. These places have a new urban ecosystem. We seem to ignore the fact that we have essentially destroyed whatever previous system existed in this spot to create our new urban paradise.

Me in Deptford Creek

Me in Deptford Creek

Anyway, enough ranting. The rest of the day was spent wandering through the beautiful Greenwich, Deptford and New Cross areas. I really love this area of London. It gets a bit of a bad rap, but I think it’s an utterly fascinating area – not yet gentrified or hipsterfied (though its fast approaching both), it’s also got the grittiness of an inner-city university hub due to Goldsmiths being in the area. It also has one of the most stunning views across the water to the city. Stunning because it’s an angle you never see – not on postcards, not when you’re wandering about trying to get places. Stunning because it takes you by surprise – you don’t realise you’re that close to the city and you don’t expect that view exactly where it appears. There are many cute pubs around (including one in which Shia leBeouf has now been beaten up – TWICE – holla to any Shia fans) with excellent cider and board game choices (essentially my only requirements for an English pub).

In March, I was taken for a wander from Finsbury Park to Highgate via an old railway line. If you love trains (I LOVE TRAINS), this is the walk for you. It is nice and flat, has beautiful views over North London, but best of all, you walk past various derelict, overgrown station platforms and under train archways. It’s almost like YOU ARE THE TRAIN. But, shhh…. Don’t tell too many people. There were already loads of people up there walking around and I don’t want it to get like… the rest of London. I’ll tell you guys ‘cause I like you. The walk ended with oh-so-pretty (but crazy over-priced) toasties, quiches and tea from a oh-so-twee Highgate cafe. We didn’t have enough time to go all the way to Alexander Palace (there’s a second, more secret part of the walk, so even more shhh….), but, next time, Gadget, next time. To top it all off I saw the statue of Dick Whittington’s cat and headed off to do a show at Victoria in the evening.

Part of the old railway walk (Parkland Walk). Found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Parkland_Walk_-_2007.jpg

Part of the old railway walk (Parkland Walk). Found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Parkland_Walk_-_2007.jpg

 

Dick Whittington's Cat

Dick Whittington’s Cat

The final lovely London day was a very large walk from Limehouse to Blackheath, where I thought I had never been. Blackheath had been pointed out to me when on the Finsbury Park/Highgate walk and as Blackheath in Australia is one of my favourite places I decided I had to see London’s Blackheath too. The walk down the Thames was wonderful, with many entertaining apartment blocks to mock along the way. There was a stop in Greenwich Park where we watched children turn tree branches into trampolines (more successful then you would at first think) and many beautiful old houses to ogle. Of course, after walking a good 3 hours to get there I realised, oh yeah, I had actually been to Blackheath before, which was a bit of a disappointment. But, never mind. We had a beautiful lunch in a little Italian deli and then waddled back again, stopping at my NEW FAVOURITE PUB IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD (which I now cannot remember the name of – don’t worry I’ll google as soon as I get the internet UPDATE: Its the Traflagar Tavern!). It’s in Greenwich and it hangs out over the Thames and it is lovely big windows and it is SO NAUTICAL. And there is nothing I like more than a tastefully nautical setting.

As long as it’s not an actual boat – I mean, I get terrible seasickness.

So, yes, out of all the many lovely London days I have enjoyed over the past 4 months and even further back – these were some of my highlights. New places, new stories, new pubs, good food, lots of walking and wonderful company. It’s quite easy to keep me happy.

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Soho as a Person

I had to write this for an application. And, look, I’m not going to lie, I was pretty pleased with it. Who knows if that means the application will go well or not, but in the meantime, you lucky people get to read it.

Also, you might have noticed I’m struggling to write things at the moment (ANY of the things), so I figured I should share WHATEVER THE HELL I HAD.

So, anyways, here it is. Soho as a person.

 

In her younger years,

Her voice was like a knife that cut through the darkness,

Because she only woke in darkness

And she didn’t talk, she screamed.

 

Even now,

When those around her are nestled in floral pastels,

Sagged in softly collapsed settees,

Their wrinkled fingers wrapped around waning cups of tea,

She has a penchant for sharp lights and sharper sounds:

Seeks them out and lets them cut her.

She likes the prettiness of glitter,

Not for its delicacy,

But for the hard edges of the sparkles and

The hidden pricks of corners that catch under your fingernails.

 

She has had a hundred lovers,

A thousand,

So many that it would take a lifetime to think back and speak their names aloud,

One after the other,

With the significance that each deserves.

(She takes a quiet pride in not favouring a ‘type’,

Because,

‘Oh, how boring,’ she’d sigh on perfumed breath,

Chin sinking towards her flattened palm and eyes rolling heavenwards).

She coaxes them still:

men, women, young, old,

The endearingly hopeful and the quietly crushed,

Her alternating faces the siren’s call making

Each new devotee feel at home.

And each new one thinks they know her

Deeply and completely

Intimately and concretely

But each is wrong

Because what one person could see

All of her at once and not be consumed by confusion?

 

Her single constant is the

Blood red still clinging to her lips,

Which on other women might cause mutters of,

‘Mutton’ and ‘lamb’,

But on her looks correct,

‘Proper’

As if she was dragged into this world so garish and so gory

(and she probably was, if anyone was left that could remember back that far)

 

But, careful.

She is not just the aging party girl,

The one whose diamonds are cut glass,

And whose bronze and blonde colourings are stored in bottles.

Yes, she knows all the people you see in the magazines,

The shiny-teethed smilers from the telly.

The gods and goddesses of the silver screen,

Are regular guests, pressing their cold hands into her warm one.

But this old bird has seen things and done things,

Felt thing and said things

You wouldn’t dare face in your nightmares:

Heaving, disintegrating green-grey houses,

Sunken-eyed and leaking corpses,

A pregnant woman pierced with nails,

Are all images she tries daily to forget.

So if she spends her time now

Winking at the young and the witty,

Flattering the powerful and the beautiful,

Seeking out the rich and the stylish

Well, then, who can blame her?

She’s had her fair share of broken hearts and broken limbs.

 

Sometimes she thinks she’ll move to the country,

To search life’s meaning

In the silent significance of slow nature.

But the screech of hot rubber on tarmac

And the smell of a thousand bodies twisting through

Frenetically jumping lights,

Pull her up each time.

And she thinks,

What could be more meaningful than this great mess of humanity,

Bumping along,

Trying desperately to fit together?

 

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Harrow

I’m crap with the blogging, I know.

[insert self-flagellation and excuses here. If looking for inspiration, just check out previous blog posts]

A week or two ago I went to a book club. Because I am almost 30 and people who are almost 30 do things like go to book clubs and wear sensible pastel clothing with good shoes rather than dancing all night and taking drugs and piercing every piece of spare skin that is thick enough to jab a piece of metal through (yes, ok, you got me, I never danced all night and/or took drugs and the only piercings I have are in my ears. And, once, at a time when other kids were terrifying their parents with their rebellious, self-destructive behaviour, I stayed up all night to read “Memoirs of a Geisha”. In fact, I would have gone to a book club as a teenager if the opportunity had presented itself, its just the other teenagers didn’t seem interested. Really, wasn’t high school just an enforced book club? Which is probably why I loved it so much and got so offended when people didn’t do the readings).

Anyway. I went to a book club. It was being hosted by my friend who lives in Harrow, which was quite exciting, because I had never been to Harrow and I had this crazy idea a few months ago that I would attempt to visit every tube stop on the map before leaving London and detailing my experience/impressions of each place on the blog. It is a crazy idea I have done nothing about, because we all know how my crazy blog ideas work out. That’s right, they don’t.

So, basically now I am just keeping score, in my head, of how many tube stations I have managed to get to. And Harrow gave me the opportunity to tick off another.

The first exciting thing about Harrow was that I had to take the purple Metropolitan line, which I had never taken before. I know, I know, when will the excitement end? But, seriously, guys, it is exciting, because there are no stops on the Metropolitan line in Zone 3! (People not familiar with London’s tube map will not understand the significant of this. Basically, the inner-city is Zone 1 and then it fans out in concentric circles in increasing numerical order to Zones 8, 9, 10, where you’re not really sure if you are in England anymore, let alone London. So, to not have any stops in Zone 3, its like, woah. This train is going out to the suburbs, man. And, straight out to the suburbs. Once you get on the train to the suburbs, you don’t get off until you’re in the suburbs)

Harrow on the Hill. Where I went there was colour, though. Found at: http://www.oldukphotos.com/middlesex_harrow_on_the_hill_2.htm

Harrow on the Hill. Where I went there was colour, though. Found at: http://www.oldukphotos.com/middlesex_harrow_on_the_hill_2.htm

Anyways, you get out at Harrow station and that’s when you realise you’re not in London city anymore. Because they don’t have maps everywhere for the tourists. Also, because everyone here has enough money/is grown-up enough to either own a map, or (more likely) own a smart phone. So, free maps are not really on offer, which rather ruined my normal mode of getting about in London. Instead I (rather cleverly, I have to admit), walked to the local gas station on the hunch that they would sell road maps. They did. I did a big act of picking up each road map of the area and looking at it and considering it and then finding out where my friend lived and then replacing each map, shaking my head and sighing and muttering to myself, ‘Its just not quite right’ with a look of consternation (I might point out that the nearest shop assistant was approximately 3 metres away from me. I also had my back to them, so most of this fine and subtle acting was lost to… pretty much everyone in the shop except me. But I figured it would help to get into character of a woman looking for a particular type of road map and had not found it, just in case anyone did get out from behind the counter and challenge me. I’m totes method).

I continued my journey away from the gas station and realised that as soon as you turn off the main motorway, Harrow gets pretty real quick. And that kind of tasteful, old-worldly pretty that looks like it should be in a Miss Marple episode. It also stinks of money. Actually, ‘stinks’ is unfair. It implies that I wasn’t enjoying the view. And that would be untrue. Harrow ‘wafts’ of money. It was all very tasteful, very pretty money. I liked, very much, to look at it. But I was also aware, in my cracked Docs and my black pants and my denim jacket covered in homemade badges that I didn’t *quite* belong. I was walking around very cautiously, arms pulled in, like one would walk around one’s grandmother’s living room, terrified of accidentally knocking over and breaking all of those china figurines she has so proudly displayed. In fact, I was half-convinced that someone was going to come up to me and ask me to leave. Like those sales assistants in ‘Pretty Woman’, except they’d be asking me to vacate the entire suburb. This was only enhanced by my encounter with two Harrow residents who were dressed in a fine selection of tan, white knits and high khaki wellies that looked like they hadn’t even heard of mud, let alone walked through it. These two fine elderly folk were walking down a completely empty footpath towards me and instead of going single file to allow me to pass (as one would do in busy London), they forced me to walk in the gutter. The gutter! That’s what they thought of me! They turned me into a guttersnipe!

The book club itself was delightful fun, with far too many brownies, tartlets, dip, quiche and biscuits. There was considerable discussion of the book, NW by Zadie Smith, but not too much as one of the people in the group hadn’t finished it yet. On the way back to the station, we walked over the hill and through the park, where families were setting off loads of fireworks for Guy Fawkes Day. On the pitch-black hill, trying to ignore our irrational terrors of zombies and ghosts and murderers, we looked out across the Northern London suburbs and watched as fireworks flew into the night-sky from all over the North of London, speckling the darkness in a sweetly haphazard and charming way. Sure they weren’t as spectacular and considered as the ones let off Sydney Harbour Bridge each NYE, but it was rather like comparing a homemade cake to a store-bought one. Good things about both, really and it just depends on what you’re in the mood for.

And so I thought, ‘well, there probably are some nice things about the suburbs and turning 30 and being domestic, after all.’

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A Practically Perfect 24 Hours

There are a lot of ways to fill 24 hours.

I should know. I’ve had to do a lot of filling of hours over the past few weeks, all of my own accord, with little-to-no assistance from employers or money. One can fill one’s days staring at an empty document on one’s computer titled, ‘Personal Statement’, whilst drinking cold tea. One can fill one’s days watching wish-fulfilment-science-fiction-fantasy TV shows that have a slightly incongruous ‘After School Special’ feel (see: ‘Being Erica‘). One can fill one’s days recovering from a hang-over; or lying in bed, watching Twitter change; or cooking inedible biscuits with whatever you can find in the cupboard (you’d assume that coconut and vanilla really would be a winning combination, so maybe it was the self-raising flour?)

You can spend your days being miserable and unhappy, watching minutes stretch into hours and all because its easier to keep doing what you’re doing than it is to come up with something better to do.

But, from approximately 7:30pm onwards last Friday night, I filled up a practically perfect 24 hours.

It all started at The Albany, which is a lovely little venue I have been to a couple of times in Deptford. Deptford is an interesting place. It is very ‘diverse’ in that polite, not-really-saying-anything liberal speak so popular with bureaucrats and real estate agents. It’s going through a process of gentrification, but it’s well-behind the trendy East (even those bits of the trendy East that are only on the Overground), so its still ‘interesting’. That is, you still meet real people instead of ‘people-doing-a-long-form-durational-live-art-interpretation-of-the-idea-of-a-human-being’ (hipsters, students and artists). Anyway, Deptford is an interesting place. The Albany is also an interesting place. It was one of the first places I saw theatre at in London after I moved – a friend (at the time she was a friend of a friend) was involved in a re-imagined Odyessy, which you experienced as a walking tour through the streets of Deptford. It was excellent – interesting, well-crafted, memorable, I had a great night. I don’t think I’ve been back to The Albany since, but it was such a great night that I keep returning and returning to it in my memory and it feels like I’ve been there a hundred times. I really don’t think I have. Isn’t that weird.

Anyway. I was late, so I was stressed and running. I don’t like to be stressed and running. I don’t mind running on a treadmill. I don’t mind stressing in a stationary position (though I’d really rather do neither), but the two combined is awful. Especially since I had on my new favourite wardrobe creation, which I have dubbed ‘gypsy-hippy-artist-woman’, involving a red headscarf, a lot of swishy black clothing and big round earrings. I look like I’ve either stepped out of the musical ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ or was a 10 year old involved in a very serious game of dress-ups. Suffice it to say I thought I looked amazing. But the running was doing nothing for me.

Of course, the show was running late. This annoyed me. There was nowhere to sit. I had run in a stressed manner when my clothes indicated my mode of movement should be slow, gliding and mysterious. I was sweaty and smelly. I wan on my own so had nothing to do except to pretend to be interested in the free flyers (there is only so many times you can pick up a flyer for an Over 60s social lunch club and raise your eyebrows to the heavens and nod in a way that suggests, ‘Ah, what an interesting project. Sociability! Over 60s! Lunch! What a winning combination! I have never seen such a thing and will immediately pass this on to my many and varied Over 60s friends!’ without beginning to look a little bonkers). Just as I was starting to passively aggressively sigh and stamp my feet (those FOH people had no idea what hit them!) I realised this late start was partially my fault, as the FOH staff were waiting for more audience members to arrive. One of those people was my friend, who I knew wasn’t coming. I had meant to tell them when I picked up my ticket. I hadn’t. The only person holding up this show, therefore, was me. However, I decided to deal with this like the fully grown adult I was and… not tell anyone.

Despite this, the performers decided to get going. Most of my irritation melted away when the first performer, Leo, opened the doors, gave me a big smile and shook my hand. He had salt and pepper wavy hair, a gold earring and was slightly shorter than me. I liked him immediately. Inside, I found the second performer, Patrizia, a with hair so naturally voluminous it added glorious inches to her height. She stood in front of a blackboard and took the name of the ingredient we had bought.

Oh, yes. Did I forget to mention that? Wrapped inside my fake fur coat (which I had taken off because of all the sweating) was a packet of courgettes (zucchinis), hidden from the audience members. Everyone had bought a secret ingredient to contribute to our group meal, which we were all going to cook, and eat, together that evening. That was the premise of the show. It was called, ‘Only Wolves and Lions’ based on a quote from Epicurus, ‘Only wolves and lions eat alone’ (which is an excellent title by the way. That title made me pick up a flyer in Edinburgh. And that flyer brought me to a show in London. So, excellent title guys. Well done). One by one, we presented our food gifts to Patrizia, lay them on the table and sat down.

We ended spending about 4 hours there that night, no ‘interval’ or anything, just cooking, cleaning, chatting and the occasional performance and directed discussion. It was fantastic. A lot of people had come with their friends, but it was quite nice being there and knowing no-one. There was a big discussion about communities in London and whether or not community was something that was being lost and whether or not that was a bad thing, or was that only a middle-class experience, or a youth experience or an immigrant experience etc. etc. etc. Some people got very grumpy, which was interesting in itself, because… well, because I come from a nice Anglo-Saxon family and people aren’t supposed to argue with each other about things. Especially not at parties. You know, no religion or politics?

Anyways, it was about 11:30pm by the time I got going. I retraced my steps, jumping on a bus and hoping to get to Queen’s Road Peckham before the Overground stopped. But, by the time I had gotten off my bus, the only trains left were not going to my station. My only choice was to catch a Night Bus. But there didn’t seem to be any buses going past me in any useful directions. So, because I can’t stand waiting around for things (especially in London where I’ve gotten used to buses and trains only ever being between 3 – 5 mins away), I decided in the end to walk from Queen’s Road Peckham to Denmark Hill, where I could get a more regular bus. For those of you who do not know London, this is what I did:

Queens' Road Peckham to Denmark Hill from Google Maps

Queens’ Road Peckham to Denmark Hill from Google Maps

Which isn’t that long really, but it feels longer at 12:30am. To some people this might be hell. But, to me, night-walking is bliss (And, as a side note, to me, waiting for a bus pointlessly for 25 mins with no book, no seat and drunken people falling around me is hell). So, I walked. I’m not sure what it is about night-walking that I so love. Certainly the fact that the city is quieter, emptier is good. I usually do it post a show or a gig or a party, maybe something that’s been quite stimulating, possibly loud and the chance to walk and clear my head, or think some more is usually welcome. Maybe part of it is feeling special because you’re walking around and seeing things that others are missing because they are inside sleeping, watching the telly or stumbling around outside drunk. Maybe I just have a death wish or enjoy taking risks. Really, I don’t think that it’s that I enjoy the risk part of it, though, because whenever I think seriously about the potential risks I feel very guilty and ashamed that I sashay about places I hardly know just for the joy of seeing street lamps lighting up bitumen. I think its that I block out the risk part of it and just go with my gut feelings, which is that I just really really really like to walk around at night. And, hey, they’ve got to have lit up all the streets for someone, right? What’s the point of burning all that energy if no-one’s around to see the pretty lights glowing orange in the blackness? Exactly .

I tumbled into bed around 1am and slept as soundly as a huge meal and big walk deserve. When I woke up it was beautifully sunny and I decided that I refused to stay indoors any longer pretending to ‘work’ and ‘write’. Instead, I was going out somewhere green and I was going to walk for hours. Because it was Saturday and the weekend, I took my time getting ready. I had a lazy breakfast and tea. I was enraged to discover that the internet was not working when I woke up, but then remembered that I hate looking at the internet and social media first thing when I wake up, but do it anyway (my lame-ass self-destruction). So, instead I picked up a play from the many unread plays strewn about my room and I settled in. It also has an excellent title. The title made me buy the play even though I had never heard of it. The title is, ‘If You Don’t Let Us Dream, We Won’t Let You Sleep.’ It was about Occupy and anarchism and politics and the left’s lack of direction and identity and it was, yeah. It was a good read for a Saturday morning.

I then headed to Clapham Junction to take a train to my chosen green destination: Richmond. I had gone walking by the Thames there with a friend a few weeks back and her knees had given up well before I was ready to (there was a village I could see! Just ahead! Just up ahead! Quaint English village! SO CLOSE! SO CLOSE AND YET SO FAR), so I wanted to head back and do the walk again.

At the train station there was a huge crush of people on my platform. This displeased me. It confused me too. Where was everyone going at midday on a Saturday? Had everyone had the same idea as me? Then I saw that the trains on my platform were going to Richmond and then to Twickenham. Something twinged in the back of my brain. Twickenham. ‘That’s a sporty kind of place, I think’, said the tiny, poorly used and ill-informed part of my brain that deals with sporty things. ‘Perhaps horse racing?’ It guessed. ‘The Twickenham Races? Yes, yes, I’m sure that’s right,’ it said and went back to sleep. The rest of my brain then analysed the facts and decided there weren’t enough women in ridiculous hats and pointy shoes for it to be the races, so my curiosity getting the better of me, I turned to a friendly looking gentleman and asked in my plummiest English, ‘Sorry, this is probably a daft question, but is something happening today?’ He laughed the uncomfortable laugh of a person who has just suddenly and unexpectedly had their life choices and passions brought into question by a stranger’s indifference and ignorance of something they care too deeply about. ‘Oh, its a Rugby match. England vs. Australia.’

‘Oh, yes,’ mumbled the sporty part of my brain, ‘Rugby. I knew it was either Rugby or Racing. Very similar… same letter, you know…’ and then slumped back into a coma.

I eventually managed to squish onto a train with a variety of burly Rugby fans who proceeded to discuss the perpetual existence of Australians wherever it was that you happened to be in the world. Considering this was a game being held against Australians I was a little bit surprised at the burly gentlemen’s surprise at finding more Australians surrounding them, but I kept my comments to myself.

At Richmond, after finally getting free of the Rugby hordes, I sat down to have my lunch by the Thames in front of a very lovely boat cafe/restaurant/bar which is currently the scene of every friend I know’s imaginary wedding. That is to say, its not that they are telling me they want to get married there, its that I look at the boat and I think, goddamn it, SOMEONE should get married there and I want to be there when it happens! And if it takes wildly inappropriate and unasked for matchmaking and wedding planning, well then, that is just what will have to happen!

After lunch, I started the long walk towards my English village. Things were going very well to begin with. The sun was out, there were children gambolling down the pathways and jumping in puddles, there were fluffy dogs running beside their owners. The Thames was ridiculously, comically swollen, so that a ledge I had drunkenly swung my feet over on at a picnic in May causing my friends to worry that I would fall in, now had water spilling over it and onto the grass. There was a difference of at least 2 metres. As I got closer to the promised English village, however, things started to look iffy. The path was overflowing. Not just overflowing, but up to my knees in some sections. Approximately, that is, as there was no way I was wading in just to measure how far up I’d get wet to accurately describe to you guys in this blog.

I had only been walking for 40 minutes and I had wanted to walk for hours and hours. Slightly annoyed, I turned around and headed towards Richmond Park instead. By now the sun was gone and people were scurrying back towards their fancy cars and lovely homes. But I was not to be deterred. I was walking for hours and hours! I walked straight into the park and about 10 minutes later it started to rain. But instead of turning around and heading back I decided to keep walking. I ended up walking from Richmond to Kingston-Upon-Thames, at which point the rain was pounding down and I decided I was beaten. I would go and find some kind of public transport and head home. But at the end of the road, instead of public transport, I found a pub called ‘The Albert’. Remembering there was a rugby match on, I approached cautiously. But the place was only pleasantly full, no TV and instead, a huge roaring fireplace with 4 giant armchairs sitting in front of it. Empty. I approached the barman quickly.

‘Can I just order a tea and sit anywhere?’

‘Yes.’

(almost breathless with excitement) Can I sit in front of the fire?’

(slightly confused) Well, yes, as long as there’s a table free… (gaining more confidence) Of course you can!’

At which point I nearly fainted from happiness. Fainted straight into one of those giant armchairs in front of the fire that is! I sat in my armchair (with pillows) in front of the fire, with my tea and reading another play until myself and all my clothes had dried out and the sun was shining again. I then headed back to Richmond Park and walked all the way around to the Roehampton Gate. I essentially walked over 3/4 of the perimeter of the park:

And though every walking muscle in my body ached, I felt amazing. The view back towards London was beautiful. The light was beautiful. I saw a flock of parrots. I don’t know why. Don’t ask questions. They were just there. It was weird and beautiful anyway.

The light was beautiful

The light was beautiful

The light! The light! Oh man, the light!

The light! The light! Oh man, the light!

 

Eventually I stumbled onto a train back to Clapham Junction, jumped in the shower and got prettied up in my favourite ‘1980s does the 1950s dress’. 

And there you have it, a practically perfect way to spend 24 hours. Not that exciting really. Go to the theatre. Make good food. Eat the food. Walk. Sleep. Read. Eat more food. Walk some more. Have tea in front of a fire. Walk all the other places you haven’t already walked. Have a shower.

Life really is pretty easy when you don’t think too hard about it.

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The Terminal: Favourite Poems

Oslo, 21 

With the last of our kroner

We buy milk and biscuits

To eat cross-legged on the floor,

Like children.

Swigging from the carton

Because we have no cups.

Giggling in the half-light

Worried someone will catch us.

Because don’t you know?

Children aren’t allowed

To drink straight from the carton

To have milk AND biscuits

For dinner AND breakfast.

Children aren’t allowed

To be alone in airports

At 3m on a Tuesday:

They have school the next day

And should be in bed.

Tromsø, 18

It is already night

And an unearthly glow

Shoots skywards from

The buildings.

Capitalism

And Electricity

Have replaced The Sun,

Lighting the Heavens the

Wrong Way Round.

Tromsø, 28

Early morning light

At midday

Turns the snowy mountains

Into soft pastel piles of

Ice-cream.

The peaks and troughs

No more menacing

Or impressive

Than the gouged-out buckets

Of Haagen-Daaz

In Leicester Square.

Buoyed by artificial warmth

And a barrier of glass

I know I could

‘Tame the Ancient Mountain Trolls!’

“Bend the Northern Wind to My Will!’

And

‘STEAL THOR’S THUNDER!’

But the Quiet Norwegians

In their sensible wool

Pay no attention.

Calling me instead

To my gate

and Home.

Heathrow, 21

On our first big trip

Together

As Adults

Chocolate bars were more important

Than a night’s accommodation.

We fold ourselves

Into plastic chairs

Make our bodies tight envelopes

For our valuables.

All Around us,

Human-luggage-bundles

Do the same.

Sighing and snoring and shuffling

Objects and people

Breathing as one.

Guards pace slowly,

Stare with red eyes

Stopping occasionally

Where clothes look like rags

Skin looks like coffee

Or heads are covered.

‘Oi. You.

Where’s your ticket?’

Santiago, 24

The British Man

Thinks Steve is:

‘An Old Soul’.
I think:

The British Man is

‘An Old Twit.’

But Steve is

Good and Kind

To Everyone.

The Canadian Girl

And I

Plot together

At the back of the pack.

Shoot death stares at Britain.

Talk telepathically

About his short-shorts

And his stretches

(And the combination of the two).

‘Who stretches in an Airport?’

We scream silently

Eyes tearing up with the effort.

Cork, 29 

There is nothing

More beautiful

Than my friend’s children,

Running through

Cork Airport together.
They give me

Sticky chocolate kisses

Press flushed round cheeks

Into my cool, pale hands

Throw their voices

Carelessly in the air.

Mathematically,

They are less than 0.05%

Of the space

Of this airport.

But when they leave

The building is suddenly

Empty.

Stansted, 27

I am uncertain

How cold I am.

I start

Wrapped in layers,

Each piece of skin

Coyly concealed

Each limb restrained,

Neatly tucked

Into each other

Like complex origami.

Hour by hour

I strip silently, sleepily

Releasing colour and cloth

To gently fall

In haphazard patterns

Beneath my flopping limbs.

I wake to curious stares

Not for my skin,

Suddenly exposed,

But because I’ve built

A Nest

In a place people are

In a Hurry to Leave.

Hobart, 23

The summer air is cleaner here

Cooler here

Emptier here

Here you breathe oxygen

Not smoke

Or smog

Or sweat

Or stress

Here you breathe air,

Actual air,

Which is light,

Just like the people always said.

‘As light as air.’

Florence, 27

The airport is white-hot

Concrete

And the air-conditioning is

Broken.

I am hung-over

(Friend’s wedding the night before)

I buy a bottle of water

As tall as my chest.

I see

An old man doubled up

On a plastic chair

And then notice more and more

A field of people

Wilting in the heat.

Cairns, 20

I think:

‘I have never felt humidity before,’

Which is silly,

Because I am 20

And live in Australia

And of course I have.

But I am 20

And prone to flights of fancy

And dramatic statements.

So, ‘I have never felt humidity before.’

The heat here is different.

Is heavy.

Is pushing against the glass that surrounds us

Using its terrible weight

To crack

And warp

And menace.

It is thick

Filling all available space

Outside you see it

Settling on people’s foreheads,

Their cheeks

Their armpits

The back of their knees

That soft spot just behind their ear lobe

And turning to moisture.

Inside,

It is a temperate climate,

And I think again,

‘I have never felt humidity before.’

Minneapolis, 29

I always forget

When the Customs Officials

Ask Questions.

They are not genuinely interested

In the answers.

No.

That’s not right.

They ARE genuinely interested

In ‘The Answers’

As Answers.

They are not genuinely interested

In Me.

As a person.

A person made up of ‘The Answers’.

Separate to ‘The Answers’.

For whom ‘The Answers’

Are not statistics,

Clues,

Warning Signs,

But History,

Memory

Identity,

And Life.

I can’t help feeling

In Another Time

In Another Place

This blonde boy would offer

Tea and Biscuits

A floral seat on his mother’s couch

And Some Answers of his own.

Newcastle, 14

We are a gaggle of girls

My cousin and aunts and I.

Newcastle Airport

Is one large room

And we fill it with chatter

With girly plans

Of shopping

And swimming

And more shopping

And eating

And even more shopping

And lying in the sun.

I have grown up with boys

And I’m worried.

Will I be girly enough?

Am I somehow defective?

Maybe

In one store

I will choose something

And they will know instantly:

‘She’s not a real girl.’

Seattle, 28

I am hiding from people

I know

But don’t know

Around corners

Behind columns

Under books

And in music

Call my flight!

Please!

I’m no good at invisibility.

Albuquerque, 12

My Dad likes deserts.

We have come to stare at

Deserts.

To drive through

Endless plains of Red and Gold

Flat and unchanging.

I like the thrust of Mountain Ranges

The crispness of snow

The colour blue.

‘Dad why did we come

To stare at Deserts?

We have deserts at home.

All of home is a desert.’

‘There are deserts

And there are Deserts,’

Dad replies

His eyes bluer

Than I have ever seen them.

LA, 21

I am so thin

I am L.A. thin

I am Kate Moss thin

I am pants falling off thin

I am ‘turn to the side and I disappear’ thin

I am ‘breathe too hard and I blow away’ thin

I am ‘oh God how did you lose all that weight???!!’ thin

I am ‘didn’t have enough money to eat 3 meals a day’ thin

I have never been so thin

I have never been so happy

I have never been so worried

About putting it all back on again.

Adelaide, 14

When they last saw me,

I was 8

And my mother had died.

I am scared because Lisa is crying.
Then she explains

She isn’t really crying

Her tear duct is fault

And sometimes it fills with water

For no reason at all.

And I realise,

I wasn’t scared.

I was touched.

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Filed under London, Random

The Terminal Revisited

I was involved in an amazing live art project on the weekend, which was both challenging and incredibly rewarding.

Me at 'The Terminal'  http://the-terminal.org/

Me at ‘The Terminal’
http://the-terminal.org/

The theme of the weekend was to explore an idea of ‘non-space’ and places in the modern world that can conceivably described as ‘non-space’. This would tend to be in-between places, places of transition, places of borders, border crossings etc. Hence the project’s name, ‘The Terminal’.

10 international artists were chosen to participate, all responding to the stimulus in different ways. Some political and historical: Abu Ghraib prison; Irish women travelling to the UK for abortions; the position of the immigrant in UK society; the transportation of cows for food. Some were more abstract: deconstructing an object and using it for something entirely different to its original purpose; attempting to become invisible; bringing one’s awareness to the objective physicality of the space around and inside one’s body and the connections between them.

My proposal was quite literal: I proposed to write a poem about every airport terminal I had ever been in my life. Furthermore, I would use the poems to build a visual representation of my life in airport terminals, mapping my life in a very different chronology then the ones commonly used. I would also invite the audience to share their memories of airport terminals in an attempt to create an alternate map of the world through memory, rather than through longitude and latitude.

My idea was looking at ‘non-space’ and ‘borders’ on several levels. Obviously it was looking specifically at borders and trying to represent what happens in those points of the world where there are borders and we are trying to cross them. However, it was also about attempting to represent temporal ‘in-betweeness’, as memory exists/is created in the past, but is remembered/recreated in the present, so sits in a half-way place between the two (in my opinion). Finally, it was also about a state of creative ‘in-betweeness’, in that I was displaying these poems before I had the opportunity to properly polish them. Mostly I was doing only 2 drafts and then inviting people to read them. They were also being invited in to watch me (as a writer) work. Not that watching someone write is necessarily that thrilling, but they were able to sit in this creative in-between space with me and see what that was like.

Those things all sounds very well-thought out, but the truth is most of my justifications were discovered through the course of the work. I told the curators I wanted to write poetry about airport terminals, they said ‘sure thing’ and then as I was working through it I realised all sorts of (more) interesting ways that my work was related to the theme of borders and border crossings and terminals.

When I went into the space on Friday, I was terrified. Reading all the other artists’ bios, they seemed to have much more abstract, well-thought out, political ideas than me and they were all much more experienced. But at that point there wasn’t much I could do.

Waiting to head in and make more art. Me and some of the other artists.

Waiting to head in and make more art. Me and some of the other artists.

I had made a list of airports ahead of time, which clocked in at about 47 separate airports that I had been at. Many of those airports I had been at multiple times, but the main aim was to get just one poem about each terminal up and if I managed to get some more out that would be an awesome bonus.

The first problem, once I had put the map on the wall and set up my writing lamp, was that I did not know where to start. To be honest, I don’t really write poetry all that much. I mean, I write poetic plays, which is related. But I wouldn’t call myself a poet. How does one even start with a poem?

I began with my first ever memory of an airport, of travelling overseas at 3 years old and decided that was as good a place as any. I scribbled down some lines. They seemed ok. So, I put them on the wall. And that’s how I started.

Friday was difficult. I constantly struggled with the fact that me sitting in the space and writing was very dull. Without many poems up and attached to the map, the space didn’t look that interesting either. I had deliberately chosen to do something very insular, very non-performative as I think my performances often suffer from a desire to be constantly entertaining, constantly physically and emotionally active. I wanted to do something that was very much taking place in the brain. That was quiet and still and see how that felt.

Well, it felt goddamn weird. Every pore of my body was revolting against it. My brain was screaming, ‘Be interesting! Be interesting! Put your pen in your mouth! Make a face of concentration! Look like a wise writer! More wise! Don’t worry about actually writing! Just look good!’ The fact that people would come in and stare at me (which was the idea, which was what I signed up for) was also very disconcerting. I like to write in cafes. I like to write around people. However, I’m usually the one staring at them. I’m usually on the edges, not in the middle. They usually ignore me. And I like that. It was strange to be so ‘on display’ for what is usually such a private act.

By the end of the night (11pm) I felt I was finally getting somewhere and easing into the work. I was starting to draft pieces before attaching them to the wall and it felt like they were getting better because of it. My perfectionist side was still not very happy about what I was deciding to display (‘This is shit, its not even poetry. This is shit, its not even poetry.’ Was a fairly constant refrain throughout that first night), but because of the need to create this alternate map and visual representation, as well as the need to write down at least 47 ‘poems’, I had to kind of get on with it.

I got a good start on writing on Saturday morning before a lot of the audience came in. But this then started me on another issue. Whilst I was not getting naked like some of the other artists (another worry from the night before – ‘I’m not being edgy enough! I’m not being provoking enough!’) the poems that I was writing were ridiculously personal. Because what I realised early on Saturday was that the memories I have of airport terminals are not of the places, the buildings themselves, of course they’re not. They are memories of what I was leaving behind and what I thought I was going to. They are, on the whole, about relationships, about hopes and dreams. And my relationships, like everyone’s, have been complex, tough, beautiful, heart-warming and heart-breaking depending on the person, the day, the context, the ending, the beginning.

What I essentially ended up doing was opening up my diary, prettying up the words a bit, sticking them on the wall and then inviting people to take a stickybeak. Whilst I sat on the floor next to them. I know that I have a blog, but I don’t sit next to you watching your faces as you read each line. You can hate it in private and then tell me later you loved it, even if you didn’t, if that’s what you’re into. In this space, we didn’t have that luxury of space and time and privacy. People were murmuring to each other about the things I’d written behind me and I was fluctuating between wanting to hear every word (in case they were good words) and blocking them all out (in case they were bad words).

At the hostel, me and some of the other artists.

At the hostel, being ‘checked-in’ for the day by our curator. Me and some of the other artists.

In some ways it was easier to expose myself to strangers than friends. I found myself justifying to my friends why some of the poems weren’t that polished. The worst people, however, were probably the ones who I only knew a little, or I had just been introduced to. The ones who don’t know me well enough to love me anyway and who might decide that I’m crazy and then decide not to be friends with me anymore (and I’d care when they decided not to be friends anymore). Those ones. Those ones were the worst. I did have to warn one new friend that he might think I was crazy when he asked if he could read the poems. I told him he could read them and also reassured him I was not crazy. Just in case (He was perfectly lovely about them all, really and said probably the nicest and wisest thing anyone has ever said in regards to my writing and theatre-stuff: ‘Make sure you keep a little bit of you for you.’)

I took a break Saturday afternoon to listen to one of the talks downstairs (we were allowed one talk a day) and that’s when I noticed how done in I was. My head was pounding from so much writing and thinking and remembering and stressing and emoting. I listened to half the talk. The other half I stared at the blinds with my mouth open. I was shocked by how much energy I was using up.

One of the wonderful things about the project was that we were essentially in a lock-down. So, were not allowed computers, phones, internet. We were also not allowed money of our own and we were looked after by the curators. They shuttled us from venue to hostel (we all slept together in the same hostel room) and fed us. This was meant to be constricting and in some ways it was. But it was also incredibly freeing. I hardly ever get given the opportunity to be free of responsibility. To be cared for so that I can just make art. (I mean, how wonderful is that??? That is WONDERFUL) The lack of phones and internet and being in a strange place made me incredibly productive – the only way I could take a break was to make a cup of tea. And whilst I did make full use of the tea-making facilities, there are only so many cups of tea you can have in a day (7 cups. Its 7. That’s how many cups of tea you can have in a day). With the other performers all working and with no need to shop for food, cook food, clean up etc. there was really only once choice: write.

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Close to the end.

Which explains why I got so much written. It was wonderful. I’m considering how I can recreate these circumstances on a regular basis. I think it most importantly hinges on getting rid of the bloody computer/internet and phone. Just giving them to someone else (that you trust. That will give them back to you again). Writing by hand in a place that is not your house. And then just getting on with it.

On Sunday night we sat around drinking together and it was wonderful. There was much discussion of what I should do with the poetry I’d written (and the memories I’d collected) now, which was very exciting and I think there are some great possibilities of where it can go. It was kind of amazing to be given this space to try out some ideas and see if they had legs (They had legs. Many useful legs. Many interesting, colourful, misshapen legs. Oh, the legs my ideas had). To make art whilst also trying out ideas is pretty special and I was darn happy with where I ended up.

I’ll also share with you some of my favourite poems. Not all, because the internet is permanent and live art is transient (even durational live art is transient) and I don’t know that I want everything I wrote over the weekend up here. But some.

Over and out.

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Filed under London, Theatre