Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Scooterworks Caffé, Lower Marsh

September somethingth, 2009
(bless me father, for it's been a while since my last post.)

The Bitter: Telling anyone else about this gem - it's becoming a little too popular at lunchtimes for my liking...

The Sweet: Everything else, from the little suntrap at the back to the dusty vespas at the front; from the mismatched chairs to the ever-present cats sleeping on them.

6. A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi

So I have this friend at work who is Italian. She's innately chic, but in a way that seems to communicate that she hasn't tried at all; she just fell out of bed that way. She's arty and fun, and we have shared many a tip on the kinds of things we do at weekends - me, a band or film; she, a flower market or gallery opening. It's all very 'Stuff White People Like' ; which coincidentally (or perhaps not), encouraged us to go and see the author speak at LSE this week. It rocked.

But anyway, she recommended this place for lunch last month which is spectacular. It's called Scooterworks, and according to their website it used to just be a scooter repair shop that served coffee to customers having a bike or scooter fixed. Lower Marsh is peppered with little scraps of old London like that - it retains a real east-end community feel, from the Iceland that still manages to exist there, to the Job Centre, somehow strangely at odds with the burgeoning gentification in the area - "but surely you can get a job sir, there are two organic restaurants across the street looking for sommeliers!".

The place is achingly hip, in that same way that my friend just fell out of bed looking great. It's darkish, dingyish, and dustyish, but has fantastic faded Italian Vespa and French coffee posters everywhere and the mismatched tables and chairs all add to the beatnik charm. A sunny little patio at the back with plants and Moroccan-looking tiles attracts those hazy afternoons that ask to be photographed, and suitably attractive smokers.

I have it on good authority that this was Ethan Hawke's preferred hangout when he was working at the Old Vic down the road. I have no doubt about that - it's like an amalgam of all his characters' hangouts in each of his lo-fi indie films.

Five neon letters spell 'CAFFÉ' on the wall above the bar, and they certainly mean business on that front - their coffee machine is a vintage Faema machine from 1957, salvaged from somewhere near Bologna. It makes a mean cup - wouldn't you, if you'd had 50 years of practice? - but won't be rushed.

This is a place for slow-food activists, a cause they give the nod to on their website. No tall skinny caramel frappuccinos here, and your coffee will take as long as it damn well takes.

More importantly...they have several resident cats! Check out the one snoozing here:

I was both amazed I hadn't found it already, and exasperated that so many others had already been seduced by its charms. Each time I go I find out more about it that I like. On Mondays they have film screenings in their downstairs room - decent, arthouse or classic films, like Respiro, or Blade Runner. On Wednesday evenings they have live music and open mic sessions.

But best of all, you can bring your packed lunch and eat here, because they don't yet do any food other than biscotti and cakes. You're never hurried, and no one gives you stinkeye for bringing in your homemade ratatouille or leek and bacon soup (my friend and I have tested this to its limits, sloshing in our tupperwares and ordering the bare minimum - a coffee). In a Starbucks this would be akin to climbing up onto the little counter with the sugar, stirrers and cinnamon shakers, pulling one's trousers down, and pooing into the little hole that the used stirrers and napkins go into. Here, you're silently applauded for making your own sandwiches and not being tempted by the Greggs down the road. I bet that soon, there'll be lunch clubs held here, with pot luck dishes and people comparing recipes. Maybe.

Really, it's quite commendable. I highly commend it. But don't tell anyone else, ok?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Hakkasan, August 26th 2009

I was surprised with a birthday dinner here in late August and had a stupendous time. I can safely say it was one of the loveliest London outings I've ever had...and I've had many a lovely London outing.

Mostly that was definitely at down to my company for the evening (gorgeous), but everything from the scent of the jasmine incense wafting up the stairs upon entry, the greeters at the front of the restaurant, the fresh flowers on the (incredible) cocktails, to the food itself, not to mention the dark wood and sexy low lighting everywhere - really impressed me.

We began with a drink at the impressively stocked bar (nice tactic, Hakkasan) and drank in the ambience along with a Purple Emperor and White Buffalo (both lip-smackingly good). The place was buzzing; some business types, some families, some couples - good for people watching!

We started with the dim sum platter and sweetcorn soup. The 8 dim sum were filling, each one better than the last. The sweetcorn soup was a far cry from the usual glutinous goop served in takeaways and lesser restaurants. Mains were wolf fish and claypot-cooked king prawns with taro and black beans. Seafood definitely seems to be the strong suit here, but next time I'd love to try out the dim sum menu.

We were far too full for dessert, and I was glad I'd plumped for a starter instead, although the sound of chocolate ganache, morello cherry sorbet and praline mousse did have me tingling...maybe next time I'll leave room!

A very lovely place with a spectacular vibe and memorably good food and cocktails. I would wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone with a special occasion coming up.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Summer Bubble

The Summer Solstice (Sunday, June 21st 2009)

So, there's someone, suddenly. Today, this someone I’m just getting to know - there have been 8 truly lovely meetings – found a long, silver hair at the back of my head as we left the house and ventured out into sunshine. I was mortified. My birthday is coming up and I’m continually reminded of my mortality. But no, said he. 'It needn’t be a negative thing. It’s a sign of transition.'

Isn’t it just.

Wednesday, June 24th

Last night I saw him play a gig in Kentish Town. He sang, played guitar and compered the entire evening of live music. He thoroughly charmed everyone’s socks off, including mine. His voice is delicious – deep and soulful, and the women he sang with had voices that complimented his own well – treacly and smooth. I enjoyed watching him work a room. I’m always most attracted to those who can.

Monday, July 6th

It was the 16th meeting on the 4th of July. We walked around Battersea Park at dusk and kissed by the river, the lights on the Albert Bridge twinkling at us coercively. We sighed at everything, and somehow fell into an easier rhythm than ever before. Suggestion was in the air – from the fading light and the sounds of starlings to the lamb burgers that crackled and hissed on the griddle at just before midnight. Spinal Tap kept things light for a while, and the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble carried us on their groove, but soon The Boss gave us his blessing and we were Zorbing with Stornoway into the night.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Bank Holiday Weekend

May 22-25, 2009

The Sweet:

waking up rock-star late, meeting an old flatmate who is Spanish and says my name like theeeeeees, taking a bus to East Dulwich, going to a hand-knitted organic muesli kind of café for lunch, picking out vintage clothes and spending way too much on a spotty dress, running back to change into said spotty dress, going to an 80s prom and dancing all night to really bad-good songs, drinking prom punch, then waking up and making a picnic and going to the common, meeting a random half-Maltese Canadian who was in London for 24 hrs, sunning myself and making hamburgers for everyone back at mine whilst watching Pretty in Pink, then going back to the common the next day and randomly bumping into a colleague who left me with his mates to watch cricket, drinking lots and lots of Coronas (with limes when I had some). Brill.

The Bitter: 

damaging my feet with supposedly ergonomic birkenstocks, being faux-bullied by a coworker who reminds me of Beaker, getting the night bus to my friend's house which decided to stop halfway and turn off its lights because some chavvy litle snarkers decided it would be a good idea to push the stopping button continuously for about half a mile around Elephant & Castle, accidentally defrosting the freezer (oops) before being woken up at 2.30am by the house party of complete misfits next door and making a 3am vow to relieve them all of their voiceboxes if they didn't shut up, eating a disappointingly squidgy ice cream from the bottom of the Sainsbury's freezer section (what? I was desperate), running out of limes halfway through an evening of Coronas, but still...utterly lovely. 


Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Barbican Centre, Barbican

Thursday 21st May, 2009

The Bitter: A gift shop selling a set of salt and pepper shakers for £60

The Sweet: The sunlit terrace, replete with wandering mallards and all kinds of people to watch

5. From Charles-Édouard Jeanneret-Gris to Le Corbusier

A colleague and I were talking the other day about what we had done before coming to our present jobs, and she mentioned working for several architecture firms in New York before she arrived in London. I mentioned a fleeting relationship with one particularly analytical architect, and although it was a relief to not be with someone so critical, I confessed I missed the opportunity to learn from someone who was passionate about his surroundings. I liked that a walk was never just a walk with him, but a tour of all the little details I’d never notice on my own. I was encouraged to look up at the city around me; and to keep thinking, always thinking, about why and how and when.

In theory, I like the idea of being with someone both creative and (mildly) critical and ordered; someone who has a keen sense of what they do and don’t like, but is open-minded enough to try new things. I can imagine that architects, like all other creatives, must need to be on the lookout all the time for new ideas and inspirations – something I find incredibly appealing.

Much more importantly, my newly single colleague was rather keen to check out the architectural talent here in London, so we decided to catch the Le Corbusier exhibition during its last weeks at the Barbican.

I didn’t know anything much about Le Corbusier except that he designed some iconic chairs (that and what I managed to wikipedia a couple of hours before the exhibition), but culture is so important to me, and has been such a big part of my life since escaping the cultural black hole of Orpington (I blurted it all out here) - that I am always more than happy to surround myself with art in all forms, whether I know I’ll get it, or not. The most interesting fact I found on the great man's wiki entry was that his name was a pseudonym:

in 1920, Charles-Edouard Jeanneret adopted Le Corbusier, an altered form of his maternal grandfather's name, "Lecorbésier", as a pseudonym, reflecting his belief that anyone could reinvent himself.

What a twonker, I thought. But then, hardly any writers use their real names, so I should stop being such a judgemental cow. And it's true - anyone can reinvent themselves. Just why though, do people want to?

We went during the late night opening on a Thursday and the place was heaving. A queue formed from the ticket desk all the way out to the lifts, full of quirkily-dressed designers in black thick-rimmed glasses. Maybe I was tired. Maybe I wasn't in the right frame of mind. I'm probably just a philistine. I tried my best to look at his early works - paintings that seemed to ape Picasso (although they were probably earlier);

sculptures that looked like children's toys;

the wooden models of Chandigarh, and the Unité d'habitation in Marseilles, and feel something for them, but I was left cold. The standout point of the exhibition for me was seeing the heinous 'Plan Voisin' for the beautiful Marais and feeling angered and relieved all at once that this pretentious man with the 11-letter pseudonym hadn't gotten away with it (good work, Parisian planners).

My colleague was noticeably more interested in our fellow exhibition-goers than the works, so we took the lightest of tours, cooed at the chaise longue, and then headed for the gift shop, where we saw a pair of exorbitant salt and pepper shakers for £60. They looked a little like dumbbells, but that was it. They were still just salt and pepper shakers.

They, in some neat way, summed up the entire evening surrounding the artist himself - just a little bit bloody ridiculous. Why did M. Jeanneret feel the need to change himself anyway? Why did I? I might not have understood the point of much of that exhibition, but what was pulling at me to go and see it anyway? Who was I still trying to impress?

The two glasses of wine that followed, sipped on a sunny terrace, (watching our fellow culture vultures discuss the works they'd seen like their lives depended on it, then seeing the mallards waddle by, oblivious), made everything seem right again.

Reinvention? Who needs it, anyway...?

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Trafalgar, Chelsea

Thursday, May 14th 2009

The Bitter: Not having seen my good friend A for far too long

The Sweet: Reasonably priced food and comfy chairs

4. How the other half live

The King's Road, typically, is somewhere I avoid around the end of the month, just before payday. It tends to induce the odd minor spending frenzy, and can be a dangerous place to start drinking, simply because of all the temptations in the vicinity. If my mum knew just how much I spent on going out to eat and drink, she'd probably have a coronary, and I can't shake that guilt sometimes, especially not when confronted by all the excesses of Chelsea. It's definitely not a place I'd head to, were I seeking less expensive options.

Having said all that, The Trafalgar is proving its worth as a very credit-crunch friendly midweek destination. The pub itself is really pleasant when it's not overly full (avoid Friday nights if you don't want to be surrounded by braying Trustafarians), and I like the low lighting from red lamps and the comfy leather chairs scattered around the place. 

I met my friend A by the tube and we sauntered down here last Thursday for a bite to eat in an otherwise pricey neighbourhood. We weren't disappointed - even though emphasis was certainly more on the drinks. They have a good selection of wines, draught and bottled beers, plus a regularly changing specials menu with a selection of dishes for a fiver. Last week I tried the fish cakes, which were surprisingly good and hand-made. There’s also an offer for two meals and two drinks for £15; also really excellent value for money, but the ordinary menu isn’t expensive either (most dishes are under £7).

If you’re in the area and not feeling as flush as some of the locals, I’d recommend a stop here – it will certainly keep you and your tastebuds happy and your credit card out of trouble. I can recommend the chips. Yum.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Konditor & Cook, Waterloo

Monday, April 6th 2009

The Bitter: Bumping into the one who broke your heart

The Sweet: Great coffee and sinfully good cakes

3. Spring Awakening and A Sweet Defeat

You surprised me today. You crept up on me in MY favourite lunchtime hangout, in MY neighbourhood, unannounced, and uttered some innately smooth line as I stood deciding on which bag of fatty, unglamorous crisps I should consume for lunch. Oh, the horror. Why is it always when you feel tired, ugly and hausfrau-like whenever a former love of your life is within spitting distance? You might have had time to size me up, to decide whether I still looked good enough to warrant talking to. I guess you judged I did, but I still felt exposed.

“So many choices…it’s a hard decision,” you said. A line that sounded so flippant, I thought maybe you were a staff member making small talk.

Turning around and finding you there beaming at me was the last thing I had expected. Your smile genuinely disconcerted me. The last time we had met, pain was etched into your face. It was a battle to keep from holding you then. Today the battle was with how fat and happy you looked. You, the sinewy dancer. The health-conscious paragon of aesthetic virtue and sleek lines. The walking Alessi product.

You seemed to have grown with your happiness, in many ways. You certainly looked more your age. Your hair, a little greyer. Your clothes a little more filled; your belt a notch or two larger. Your eyes a little crinklier at the edges. But you were you. Happy and smiling and adorable, your eyes swatches of sea glass. You, my boy, still got it.

I could only stand there, grinning like a simpleton, my stomach in my heart, crammed into my throat. All I could do was turn on myself; cursing my appearance. I wished I’d worn the newer shoes, the ones that pinch but make my feet look dainty.

I wished I’d put on a slick of lipstick. I wondered whether my skin was looking as young and unblemished as you might have remembered. And I wanted my clothes to be newer, more pressed, more tailored. I also wished I could have uttered something more intelligent than the standard “How are you? How have you been?” Instead, I stared at you. You stared at me, and smiled. It was awkward, and also thrilling. I felt my stomach/heart combo do a somersault.

There was a large earthquake in central Italy on that day. And I felt its rumble there, in that coffee shop, as the tremor of seeing you shook me to my core. Was it her, your new woman, who had fed your body and your soul? If so, why were you smiling at me that way? What did you gain from drinking me in and asking me if I had five minutes to spare?

I didn’t. But I wanted to.

I can't remember much about what I ate that day. But now I find myself in this quaint little coffee shop more often than is strictly necessary; with adrenaline, not caffeine, coursing through my veins. I’m finding that the cakes are much, much sweeter with a sprinkling of danger and a pinch of longing.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Grove, Balham

Sunday 1st February 2009

The Bitter: £45 for 2 roast beef dinners and a bottle of house red

The Sweet: A nice-looking Young’s pub with kindly staff

2. The Bitter End

A bit of background for you…

For the past year and a half, until the 1st of March, I lived with a writer. He’s a fantastic talent, and a kind and generous man. His writing style can be strange to the un-initiated; somewhat outré and wicked, but he has a natural flow that makes me green with envy. He’s too secretive about his work, but suffice to say I have every faith that he’ll be very successful at what he does.

We met two years ago. In my first post I mentioned the joining of a London social networking site, and he was the site’s editor. I joined on the recommendation of a friend of mine, with whom I worked on a short story magazine, which we were trying to promote at the time. My writer approached me for a quick interview about the magazine for the site, and after a few informal emails, and the piece went live, attempted to ask me out to something literary.

At the time, I was reeling from a particularly heartbreaking encounter with a wildly unsuitable older man. I didn’t accept the first invitation, but after having had my interest stirred, I messaged to apologise for not having made the first event, offering him the opportunity to invite me to something else. Which he did. We met on a clear February evening at the BFI and hit it off immediately. One drink turned into several, which turned into a goodnight kiss and the promise of further dalliances. Fairly soon we were inseparable, and after a heady (yes, whirlwind!) four months, we were living together.

Another 12 months, and he asked me to marry him, on my 26th birthday, in the most beautiful setting I could have imagined – at the end of an alfresco dinner in the cloistered courtyard of a 16th century French chateau.

My family were staying nearby, at the home of a family friend, and the following morning I couldn’t stay in bed; so excited was I to break the news. We rushed back to tell them everything and met with a distinctly lukewarm reception. I had thought my mother, aunt, uncle and cousins would have been ecstatic. But they reacted with ill-concealed caution. It was as if they didn’t expect things to work out. Maybe no one ever does. But they weren’t hiding their feelings as well as most of us are trained to.

They turned out to be right, in the end, anyway. We lasted 23 months. Our change was sudden, but we both knew what was happening. It’s strange: I’ve been in relationships that didn’t mean as much to me, that didn’t have the potential to affect my life on such a grand scale, that I fought harder to save. Why? I think we both wanted to spare one another the massive, crippling heartbreak. We meant too much to one another. Dragging out an inevitable decline wouldn’t have done either of us any favours. We’ll always genuinely care for one another; I still feel that acutely, a month later, in a different continent, as I travel for work.

I know what you’re thinking. Where the hell does The Grove pub in Balham come into all this?

He and I had often talked about writing, namely, how I wanted to do more of it, but had a lot of trouble ever finishing anything. He, on the other hand, could happily sit in his pants all day, tapping away on the keyboard, until I got home from work. Some days he would forget to eat, so engrossed in his work was he. I'm incapable of that kind of dedication, as a natural procrastinator, and I'd pretty much have to be suffering with a month-long bout of gastroenteritis to forget to eat. But he was full of ideas for me to get writing again, regularly. He saw how much I liked to post reviews of things, basically anywhere we went and ate, or slept, or enjoyed something. I'd started to keep little notes on what we'd eaten, and tried to remember what wine we drank, and how much it all came to, and I'd post reviews almost as soon as we got home. It became a bit of fun, but I really enjoyed knowing that people were reading them. He had a few ideas for me to translate this enthusiasm into something a bit more substantial. The one that stuck, and the one that has inspired me to start blogging, was this: write a novel... in the form of reviews.

That might sound a bit odd, but writing in manageable little pieces like that really appealed to me. The past few months have been full of memorable visits to London sights and eateries. And now, all the notes I've taken seem poignant and like they need to be documented, somehow, in a way that makes sense of the earth-shattering change that has befallen us.

So I've decided to give that concept a go. Yes, it may seem like I'm being a bit flippant and reviewing the relationship, but I'm honestly not. And he knows that. But it's only a fitting tribute to the idea he gave me that I try firstly to sum up our trip to The Grove pub, in Balham, where my most recent life-changing event took place.

It was unusual, to say the least. Our meal was a pretty excruciating affair, with streaming tears, noses, and plenty of hand and tissue-wringing. I hardly noticed the food: unheard of. Here's what I can recall.

I remember the portions were generous – they seemed massive at the time, and the prospect of finishing the meal was daunting. The beef was good quality – pink in the centre, a little chewy, but flavoursome nonetheless. Roast potatoes were stodgy and still had their skins on – something I’m not a fan of – but the other vegetables were fresh and not overcooked. Our bottle of house red was really quite lovely. This meal would have been idyllic on a freezing Sunday afternoon, and the ambience in the pub was good, with a mixture of families with children, young couples, and groups of friends patronising. I don’t remember much else about the place. I know the waiter serving us felt decidedly awkward, but dealt with this quite well, considering he would have noticed tears cruising down my cheeks each time he brought anything or took anything away from the table. I must have seemed bipolar.

I suppose other people must have realized what was going on, but at our table at the back of the dining area, we carried on trying to make the outing work at least as an exercise in gastronomy, trying to swallow back tears and lumps of cold beef.

There was nothing terrible about the pub at all, but it will remain fixed in my mind as a place loaded with negative connotations. It was here, halfway through a meal that had gone cold because of the pregnant pauses in our conversation, that we decided to give up the ghost, and those terrible final words rang out: “I guess that’s that, then”.

This was February 1st, the day the snow started to fall in London; snow that would disable the city and give nearly 7 million people a day off at home. As we left, I looked up and remember thinking that the weather was symbolic. It was proof of huge change befalling us, of a new and frosty beginning; a period of strange hibernation. The streets of South London were blanketed in white and insulated overnight, in preparation for the chaos that was to ensue.

Chaos, change, a gradual thawing out - these things continue.

But Spring is on the way.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Bittersweet Beginning

1. Crossroads

When I was younger, I wanted nothing more than to be a novelist. At university I started a novel, which apparently showed promise, but I could never bring myself to finish it, or even go so far as to identify an ending. In the end I submitted a half-finished rough draft of four chapters as a novella, and I got away with it. I was awarded my MA (with Merit - what does that even mean?) for writing a fairly liberally fictionalised account of how my parents met. The real version is good too, but at the time I wasn’t sure enough of my writing to give the truth a go.

I still write, but a terminal laziness and a busy day job keeps me from tackling that particular story. I have ideas that won’t go away, but won’t quite come closer to completion, either. I’ve only ever finished three short stories in the past three years. One was published in a friend’s magazine, but I think it might have been out of kindness. My poetry is for shit. I keep the flightiest of diaries, the kind that only flourish when I’m on holiday or have had my heart broken and I’m flailing around, flaccidly self-pitying. (See? I'd make a horrible poet.)

But there is one kind of thing I can write, with heady abandon. Maybe even two or three in an evening, if I’m feeling flowery and full of beans.


I'm really keen on these bite-sized snippets of information, and because I like reading them, I love writing them. It could be somewhere I’ve recently had a cupcake, downed a cocktail, watched the latest Woody Allen, or laid my head in a new city. I’ve reviewed all kinds of things. Every time a place has made an impression on me in the last year or so, good or bad, I’ve reviewed it on one of these two sites: welovelocal.com or trustedplaces.com. I’ve sadly abandoned the former of late in favour of its flashier counterpart, and because I was getting more feedback (i.e. readers) on TP.

As soon as I realised that people were reading my reviews - and that the time I put into ensuring that they were accurate, contained no spelling errors, and were informative and hopefully entertaining - was being appreciated, I began writing about everywhere I went, in earnest. And I still do.You can read them here.

I haven't even started on my love of cooking and good food shared with good people yet - one of life's greatest pleasures. That will take a few other posts to really do justice to. It's safe to say, I can eat. And I'll always happily sport the slightest of muffin-tops rather than leave the last forkful of something divinely tasty.


But possibly even more than food, I love London. I really enjoy living here. I didn’t want to come here at all; I was forced into moving here, my mother’s place of birth, when I was 10 years old. I guess we can go into that story in more detail some other time. But when we moved to the UK from the US, back in 1993, we didn’t really live in London. We came to reside in the town my mum had grown up in, to be near to her mum - in Orpington.

Orpington. Yes, you may have heard of it. It’s been immortalised as pretty much the most dangerously boring town in England in a TV advert for Honda.

See, Orpington is technically in London. It’s in zone 6. It has red London Transport signs on all the bus stops. It’s located within the London Borough of Bromley. Your oyster card will still (just about) function there. But it really isn’t London, in any humanly imaginable way. Many of the people there have lived there all their lives. (I think one of the Orpo-ites even proudly states as much in the comments on that YouTube clip.) It feels small, yet too large to navigate properly on foot, or on public transport. Have a look at the town Leisure Centre, and bear in mind that this is where people are expected to go to relax and have fun in their leisure time, and you have some idea of what I mean.

It has an unhealthy concentration of old people and Tory councillors and an unholy amount of foul-mouthed chavs. It’s really a horrible soul-sucking grey little cesspool, with a high street that looks like it threw up a bellyful of half-chewed, permanently damaged people onto the freshly laid carpet of a nightmarishly ugly 60s grey concrete shopping precinct. And precinct is the word. This place is an assault on the word precinct, which I’ve always thought is a horrible word associated with lawless expanses of dystopian metropolises.

Anyway. We can come back to Orpo later, but I think you get the point. It’s not at all like living in London, not even zone 3, which is where I currently live. No, no. My adolescence was spent yearning for things to do and the places to do them, which is why I went and did silly things like go and get inked at 16 down the local Orpington high street tattoo parlour, or lose my virginity to a hideously unsuitable older boy, who was mean and bad and –zut alors- had a flash car and a myriad of ugly-as-sin piercings, including a flesh tunnel that was a whopping 20mm wide open hole in his right earlobe, and smelled like the inside of your belly button if you’ve stuck your finger too far in.

No, Orpington’s not a pretty place, and this is truly reflected by its people. Don’t have a go at me – I did pretty well by Orpo boy standards to find him. Once again, I’m digressing.

The point is, I was bored. And so when, after university, and once I had a proper (ish) job, I could finally afford to move out from the confines of my mother’s charming, but nevertheless cooped-up cottage on the greener outskirts of Orpo, to the comparatively intoxicating melée of Balham (Gateway to the South), I leapt at the opportunity. From there I got out and I explored London.

I began with the central parts that I knew from temping in offices; making coffee, photocopying, and answering phones, zombie like, whilst I worked out in my head what my real job might be one day. Slowly I began to link streets together on my mental map of the city and began to see how it all fit together. I began to be able to walk more instead of taking the tube. I would ride always on the top decks of buses, piecing together the roads I knew with those I didn’t to improve my bearings.

I made sure I got out most nights, to do something, see someone, go somewhere. I was a Yes Woman. I turned no invite down, let no friend not include me in their plans. I saw countless unknown bands at the 12 Bar Club; I went to LSE lectures I knew nothing about; found arts and crafts make-and-do parties in Bethnal Green; went to the big galleries on late-night openings; saw young comedians in the basement of the Albany on Great Portland Street; joined Amnesty and went to their fundraiser club nights; and even joined a London social networking site and got steaming drunk with a room full of complete strangers.

I was hungry for the city, and the best part – London was hungry for me. ‘Where have you been?’, she seemed to say. London will keep taking from you if you let her – the temptress. She never tires of pocketing your money or enticing you with some new frippery – a new show in lights here; a trendy new fusion restaurant there; a life-changing exhibition; an irresistible patisserie; a Cuban bar; a Japanese boutique, a German cinema night – the possibilities, as they say, are seemingly endless.

This, I love. And when I'm feeling flush and full of life, it's a place that makes me feel blessed that I live here. But,like all London-dwellers, I've had my fair share of ups and downs here too. Certain places hold memories of breakups and breakdowns, and this city can be a lonely place. The same thing that appeals to me about London - the fact that you can be completely anonymous here - often also makes me a little sad.

Thanks to Natalie d'Arbeloff, the photographer of this picture, and to Dave and Dana at Postal Poetry, the fantasic site I found it on.

This blog will document my ups and downs in this dirty old town, in the form of quick capsule reviews of places I've been and things I've done. I'm hoping I can give you ideas on where to go and what to do in this fine city and am hoping you'll keep coming back for more. That's what London makes you do too. And I always will.

I'll start with a place that will remain important to me for many reasons. For that, dear reader, you'll have to make sure you return for the next post...