Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Finally, I feel better about work.

Here is the reason why.

Show your support for the public sector strikes happening across the country today by finding out more.

  • The Guardian has a page covering activities, with photos and comment from across the UK public sector.
  • Twitter: #strike #solidarity #righttostrike
  • The UCU website, for anyone working in Higher or Further Education, is a great source of information for those who are new to the sector or have just recently woken up and joined. (That's me, then).
I feel better already.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Hot Stuff

I am pleased to say that last week the second of my foodie interviews for the hyper-local South Lambeth blog, Tradescant Road, was published. (I am mostly pleased that I managed to submit it, because it took me ages to get around to this one as a direct result of being a human incubator for the dreaded lurgy for the past three weeks.)

Anyway, this time, I interviewed Raj Dawood, the owner/manager of the area's premier BYO Indian restaurant and takeaway: Hot Stuff. He was brilliant fun and was a thoroughly nice bloke, even showing me around the kitchens and letting me take photos of chefs playing with fire.

If you've ever been to Hot Stuff, you'll know why it's a local institution and why the tiny original restaurant was always packed to the rafters, and so they've opened a second, thank goodness. You can read the interview in full here.

P.S. Hot Stuff food is an excellent cure for the common cold, it would also seem.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Other End of the Northern Line

What a spectacular autumn this is turning out to be. On Monday I had a bonus day, a special, gold starred kind of day when the rest of the world was at work, and I was off and the Mister was off, and it was 27 degrees. In October. We woke up and blinked our way outside into the sunshine, scarcely believing our luck.

All summer long the Mister had wanted to get up to his old stomping grounds in the frozen north (a.k.a Finchley). Hampstead Heath was also high on the list, but the weather hadn't played ball at all and we had been enjoying the new neighbourhood too much. Finally on Monday, we took the plunge - and the tube ride didn't seem so far as it had seemed in high summer (hah!) when the Northern Line was a seething, sweaty mass of tourists and commuters jostling for elbow space. We called my mum and she came up all the way from Orpo to meet us, and glad for the escape she was too.

It was so worth it. Yummy mummies, pedigree dogs, Japanese tourists, perroflautas*, the elderly, the young, partially clothed lovers, swimmers, the very wealthy and the unwaged alike had all descended on the Heath's verdant curves and sparkling (ok, some were a bit scuzzy) ponds. Empty cava bottles strewn along Spaniards Road signalled the excesses of the previous balmy weekend. Clearly a higher class of drunkard frequents leafy NW3 than in SW8.

We stopped and had a drink and a fish finger sandwich at The Spaniards Inn, one of London's oldest pubs and apparently the birthplace of Dick Turpin. John Keats is said to have penned 'Ode to a Nightingale' in the beer garden. We just had a Pimm's.

The leaves were just beginning to turn and the colour of the sky made me stop and promise to myself that I would go outside more. I was reminded of reading Thoreau's Walden, which made me acutely aware of the power of nature over us poor pallid city-folk.

"Let us first be as simple and well as Nature ourselves, dispel the clouds which hang over our brows, and take up a little life into our pores." - Henry David Thoreau, Walden (1854)

And as much as I am in favour of more recognition for South London's charms (perhaps not full-on transpontine independence, but a hat tip to the lofty ideals that Free South London's supporters champion), North London's not so bad, is it really.

(Now can someone who lives in NW3 please write an equally nice post about South London?)

*NB Thanks to Lo-Sal for the amazing word perroflauta, which roughly translates as 'Spanish crusty with a dog on a string and an undercut and/or dreads.'

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Cure

Who says there's no cure for the common cold?

For the first time in maybe nine or ten months, I'm sick. My nose is streaming, I coughed up at least one lung during the night, and I shocked even my mirror this morning. I look like a crack-addicted raccoon. A Crackoon, if you will.

I loathe myself a bit when I'm ill. This is mostly because - I admit - I do quite like having time to myself at home where I can do nothing but stay in my leopard print dressing gown and legitimately revert to eating instant noodles. However, I tend to get rather lost in the internet and I forget to brush my teeth and then usually have to run around like a mad thing 45 minutes before the Mister comes home to tidy up a bit and make the house look a bit less like my room in student digs.

Anyway, ignoring all that, today has been BRILL. I watched This Morning (it's been far too long - last time, Fern was still on it), Supernanny USA (wow, some parents are dumb), and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which I've been meaning to watch for years, dosed up on lemsip, all wearing said favourite dressing gown.

It made me wonder if rather than looking for a cure, I should just enjoy another day at home.  Perhaps the cold was actually the cure for the burnout I've experienced lately. So rather than spurn my unwashed self, I've come to terms with her today. I am a crazy-eyed skank with nutella all over my teeth and tissues strewn everywhere and I Am Proud. And why the hell not? It's just for a day.

It's quite embarrassing to admit one's complete lack of perceivable work ethic I suppose, but I could probably live every day a little bit like this.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011


This time two weeks ago, I was waking up on a sunny morning in Bordeaux, looking for the first café au lait of the day. The Mister was across the road, buying pains au chocolat, and we were looking at one another sadly, for it was the day we were due to fly back to London.

We had three hours to kill before it was time to get on the airport bus; that most depressing of transport types. We had already walked most of the length and breadth of the city but we knew it was important to keep moving and not think too much about the holiday taking its last gasps of air, and light, before being consigned to a dusty suitcase of memories.

We walked around until lunchtime, as the students at the University streamed out of classrooms and onto sunny squares, as office workers took cigarette breaks and murmured covertly over cups of coffee, and as more new tourists streamed into the city, gaping up at the magnificent sea-horses at Girondins, and snapping the circus big top pitched at the Esplanade des Quinconces. We met a sweet German couple in their seventies who asked us to take their photo with their old 35mm camera. They beamed for the picture like two lovesick schoolchildren. The Garonne glistened and beckoned as children played in the fountains at the Miroir d'eau.  I took a breath, on the tram back to the Gare St Jean, and held it, sitting very still, while I listened to that little voice inside, which said, why not stay?

Collecting our bags from the hotel, we had a minor argument, about something trivial, like luggage tags, or whose bag held the dirty laundry. It was only because we were both sad, and we had nothing to be angry with Bordeaux about. It was like it was something to do whilst waiting for the airport bus, because it was better than thinking about what we were doing; leaving this beautiful place which had enchanted us and made us want to stay and do anything just to have a little dog and live in an apartment with a balcony and raise French-speaking children.

We put our things underneath the bus and they got pushed to the back, as they always do. A family of South Africans sat near to us and talked very loudly about their cars and houses, their tannned blondeness and plentiful gold watchery seeming out of place on an airport bus. As we passed the Grand Theatre, and then the Piscine Judaïque, and finally the international school,  I cried a little. I turned my head away to the window, so no-one would see, and I made a promise to myself.

One day, little voice. One day soon, I will.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Doing the (South) Lambeth Walk

The summer is definitely on the wane, but with the start of autumn, a new project has begun - this always makes me happy. I'm now contributing guest posts to this great local blog, Tradescant Road, which covers happenings in and around SW8.

My first post went up yesterday and was an interview with Marco Rebato, the owner of a legendary and  long established local tapas restaurant, Rebatos. You can read the full interview below, or on the site here.
“So where’s good to eat in Vauxhall then?” My mum asked, a few months ago.

I remained silent.

Ok, I hold my hands up. I’m new. I didn’t know before moving here in June, that Vauxhall, oft written off as an ugly intersection between the river and leafier suburbs, was going to be just quite as awesome as it is. And I certainly had no idea there would be so many gastronomic delights to sample.

Before living in SW8 I lived in SW2. (That’s Streatham Hill, for the postcodally challenged among us.) I wrote semi-regular reviews for the restaurants in the area, in the hope that more people would get out there and use them, because many were never very busy and I was frightened that once I found some I liked, they’d close down.

We certainly don’t have that problem in many of Vauxhall’s finest. Each time I’ve walked past Hot Stuff, or The Canton Arms, or the ever-popular Estrela, they’re fit to burst. People evidently like to go out and eat here – the strip of Portuguese cafés selling frango piri piri and calamares seem to have no shortage of takers despite their similar menus. And oh boy, am I looking forward to trying out everything in the vicinity that looks good. Recommendations are always welcome!

Rebato’s, 169 South Lambeth Road, SW8 1XW
Tel: 020 7735
Twitter: @rebatos

In the midst of the longest strip of Lusophone shops and restaurants I have ever seen outside of Lisbon stands what I now understand to be an Institution with a capital I.

Rebato’s, which has been serving South London’s finest since 1984, is still offering authentic tapas to the locals of Vauxhall and Stockwell. I had the privilege of a chat with Marco Rebato, the owner, in the elegant back room of the restaurant, and tried to find out a little bit more about the story behind this SW8 foodie legend.

Marco’s father’s family hailed from Madrid and came to take over the site, formerly the restaurant ‘La Casina Rossa’, on South Lambeth Road in 1984. At that time, he recalls, Vauxhall was not such a desirable area. The restaurant was one of only around three serving tapas in London, and was certainly the first, he says, in south London.  Tapas was something considered unusual, perhaps only eaten on holiday by many Brits, and so Rebato’s first menus were simple: tortilla, meatballs, cockles. At the time, sharing plates of food in restaurants was not altogether typical either.

Still, the lunch trade from local businesses flowed in, bolstered by office workers at nearby BT, Otis Elevators, and Freemans. As upper and middle managers at these businesses discovered the restaurant at lunchtimes, Marco says, and found no equivalents in the suburbs where the lived, the dinner trade grew as they brought back their wives and children. Some of these loyal customers remain and travel into town to visit still.

Marco is unashamedly proud of the food they serve, and his eyes light up when I ask him about his suppliers. Mostly they are London-based, and so he knows the provenance and ethos of the food. One of his oldest suppliers been providing pork to the restaurant for nearly 27 years; Pugh’s Piglets from Preston, Lancashire breeds the suckling pigs the restaurant has become famous for on Wednesdays. Specials in the restaurant are created based on the best buys from the market that particular day, which is why their vegetable and seafood dishes are ever-changing.

Having dined in the restaurant recently, I asked about the rabbit I had eaten. French rabbit, Marco grins. English rabbits are too tough, and need stewing, but these can be griddled with just a little salt. Clearly a lover of good food, I ask Marco what his favourites are from the menu. Prawns are always good, comes the answer – but the real measure of any restaurant, he says, is to try their calamares – if they’re frozen, you’re in for a bad ride. Clean squid, griddled with olive oil and salt is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Marco also has a soft spot for the food from home he remembers at Madrid dinnertimes: Spanish tortilla, salad, crisps, and a few anchovies, if you were lucky.

The goal of Rebato’s has stayed the same since its inception – to serve quality family food. I ask about the changing tastes of the clientele – is tapas more or less popular now, with the emergence of ‘small plate’ restaurants such as Polpetto and Spuntino, The Salt Yard, Caravan et al? Marco maintains that the menus change regularly, but that they are always looking for new ideas, especially in these times of austerity for all. The latest addition to the menu is called “Tapita & Chatito”, designed to get locals out eating quality food at lower prices. Sample dishes will be gambas al ajillo, tortilla, albondigas, and calamares, starting from £2.50 for smaller portions, all washed down with a chatito of wine for £1.50. 

As well as being passionate about food, Mr. Rebatos is clearly also passionate about community. He is proud of the longstanding reputation of the restaurant and its 27-year history. Contributing a £100 dining voucher as a prize for a local street party raffle, doing cooking demos at a nursery in Streatham; Marco is proud of being able to give something back – all the more important after the recent riots. People can do a lot in their local communities if they look up once in a while, he says.

It’s getting towards 7.30pm, and the restaurant’s lovely panelled bar at the front is starting to fill up. I ask Marco, finally, what he feels the future of the restaurant is. He isn’t sure. Vauxhall is still changing; he feels there aren’t so many families, or businesses here anymore. He hopes that the area’s transient nature will not impact too heavily and will allow his family to continue his legacy. With a head chef, a manager and sous chef of 25, 26 and 12 years’ service respectively, it’s not just the local community that would be at a loss if this restaurant ever had to close its doors.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Aftermath (Or, Why I Love This City)

true dat.
This past weekend, the Mister and I spent some of both Saturday and Sunday in Brixton. We don't live that much closer now than when we were in Streatham Hill, but somehow the bus journey or walk there seems easier, and it's our favourite place for many things: the amazing cinema; eating out in one of Brixton Village's many treasures; meeting friends; going to Morleys department store. I bloody love Morleys.

On Saturday evening we went to the Ritzy and saw Super 8 (if you want a review, I've not got time here - but this about sums it up). It was a lovely evening with a semi-sunset and we sat at the bar after the film and marvelled at how brilliant Brixton was.  Each time we come here since the redevelopment of Windrush square we always comment on what a good idea it was to just turn those benches t'other way around, so that no more shady deals go on, out of view from the road. Now the whole area is teeming with life; the area in front of the Ritzy is a social space, with nice plants and funky lights and people sitting on the grass playing games. It warms the cockles.

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On Sunday we came back for a trip to the shops and to have a look at Brixton Splash. It had rained that morning and so it seemed like things got going a bit later than expected, but by the time we were out of Morleys around 5pm it was all going off. The sun had come out and there was a large crowd on Coldharbour Lane, dancing to a badass remix of Amy Winehouse's Rehab. There were even dancing Elvises. Elvises, I tell you!

The Kings, dancing in front of The Prince - cheers @voicefromspace

Standing in the sunshine that afternoon, swaying with the crowd, and knowing that Tottenham had suffered riots the night before, I felt lucky to live in such a peaceful, awesome, multicultural melting pot of cool. I tweeted as much, feeling safe enough to joke that riots in Brixton were 'so last century'.

Then the next morning I woke up to see this.

I felt utterly devastated.  As events unfolded throughout Monday and intensified that night, a wave of sadness came over me. Had we been completely wrong about the feeling in Brixton that day? Was the community really so quickly and easily on its knees, to be ripped apart by mindless thuggery?

The feeling that day was one of ever-increasing tension as reports of violence spreading to other areas multiplied. It was desperately scary across London on Monday with mass riots taking place in seemingly every corner of the city, twitter going crazy with chinese whispers of where the next mob would target, friends checking on one another via various mediums, everyone listening out for sirens, shouts, or the sounds of smashing glass. It was a dark night for London.

But here's the good news. In the days since then I am extremely pleased to report that the fantastic spirit I love about London and its people has been has been brought to the fore. In many cases, acts of mass care and kindness have been carried out with renewed fervour, matching any destruction and terror with peace and love, man. Especially in Brixton.

Some examples of this (and they are numerous) which have really warmed my heart:

  • The @riotcleanup movement, started by people bound by a need to do something good to counter all of the destruction
  • The Do Something Nice for Ashraf blog, which aims to help the Malaysian student who was filmed being mugged by youths who had initially helped him up from the ground after he was hit by a piece of debris thrown by rioters.
  • The free cupcakes offered by a shop in Brixton, the free tea, coffee and sandwiches offered by the Battersea Arts Centre, the free storage offered to flailing businesses by a secure storage company - and there are many other examples - all show a human kindness that goes beyond 'good PR' or 'effective marketing' to just plain, simple, old fashioned community spirit and loveliness.
  • Some MPs are out on the streets, doing their bit to reassure and comfort their communities. Some, like Chuka Umunna, do it even when there's no news camera rolling, because they're genuinely good people.
  • This photo. Says it all, really. God bless this town. May she recover quickly.

Saturday, August 6, 2011


Polpetto, 49 Dean Street, London W1D 5BG 

The Bitter: Very small tables; seating for 28 in a space the size of a large living room; no bookings taken in the evenings; probable queues

The Sweet: Lovely small plates of cicchetti; friendly staff; fantastic people-watching opportunities; wine by the carafe; no bookings taken in the evenings

This is probably the thousandth review of one of either Polpo, Spuntino, da Polpo or Polpetto to be found on someone's blog, so I'll try to keep it short.

Polpetto is the first of these restaurants I have been to, and it came highly recommended by many. It's certainly a trendy place to say you're going - usually met with an appreciative 'Ooooh!' quickly followed by, 'you'd better get going, they don't take bookings in the evenings'. It's tiny, seating only 28 diners, although it felt like maybe they'd managed to cram in more than that last night. We walked in at five to seven and luckily nabbed the last table, sandwiched between beautiful Soho couples on the banquettes at the back.

Our waitresses were friendly punk rockers, some sporting a pierced septum, one with Ramones t-shirt, all with tattoos. There was none of this 'cooler than you' rubbish that you get at many a trendy London nightspot. The service was fast and unfussy, and we were left to pour our own water and wine. I enjoyed that. Wine, by the way, comes in carafes - brilliant - of either 25, 50, or 75cl. A 25cl small carafe (about 2 glasses) of house white was £5.50, which is unheard of in this part of town.

The menu is concise,with four main areas : breads, fish, meat and vegetables/salad. The Mister and I ordered one plate from each area, starting with brown shrimp w/braised baby gem and Devon crab with trofie (Ligurian pasta twirls, I now know). Both were tasty but the pasta dish won out, with a red chilli and parsley garnish, it was just the right side of too salty and managed to be decadent in a really simple way. Next up was our bread: baked ricotta bruschetta & grelot onions. Two pieces of toast arrived with a beautiful caramelised whole baby onion on top. They were oily and sweet and cheesy and soft and crunchy all at the same time. I used mine to mop up the remains of the sauce from the brown shrimp. Dee-lish.

We also ordered the chargrilled zucchini, pecorino and honey and a bistecca served with rocket and fennel. The steak was a very upmarket minute steak, soft and perfectly beaten out, free of any fat and entirely delicious, but a little small for the price of £9. The zucchini, by comparison, was a huge overflowing plate which was well worth £4.50.

Small plates do fill you up, it seems, and we were sated by the time we were asked about desserts, but I'd heard they were excellent here, and it seemed churlish to share a pudding (in Soho?! Never!), so we ordered both the tiramisu pot and the pannacotta with blackberries. Boy, was I glad we did. The tiramisu was about as authentic as they come, with a heavenly dark cocoa dusting and very alcoholic sponge at the bottom. It was gone in about four spoonfuls. The pannacotta was light and sinful at the same time, with the most amazing red topping from the fruit. Espresso served in a small glass was thick, rich and moreish, finishing off everything perfectly.

We enjoyed the the small plates, and the ambience, and couldn't fault the service. Still, it struck me that if you could get here by 6pm with a big group of friends and take over the entire place, it could be one of the best nights ever. As it was, crammed in next to Soho's beautiful people, it was still pretty good... even if those tables did make my arse feel positively enormous.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Aaron & Jane

Some of you may remember reading about my colleagues Aaron and Jane (yes, their identities have been protected) who were getting up to all kinds of tricks last year, like going to parties dressed as Smurfs, or ringing each other up from adjacent offices to do the 'eh-eh-ehhh' noise from Little Britain and then hang up. You know the ones.

Well, we're coming to the end of an era. I feel an update is needed now, as I nurse a very sore head from going out to Aaron's leaving party at one of South London's 'premier tiki bars' last night. 

The leaving party marked the dawn of an altogether unfamiliar new age: next week, the office is losing Aaron to Glasgow as he embarks on a career with the Civil Service. Lord help us. In fact, Lord help Glasgow. 

Aaron's had a lot of ribbing about what a life-shortener it will be to live there, but I have rallied resolutely for its charms, telling him about everything from the amazing eateries like Stravaigin, The Left Bank and The Ubiquitous Chip and the lovely little watering holes there like Tchai-Ovna (they sell tea, not whisky, before you ask) and The Lismore (they sell some amazing whisky) to the general friendliness, wit and spunkiness of the people there. 

Tchai-Ovna, Otago Lane
The Left Bank, Gibson Street

The Ubiquitous Chip, Ashton Lane

I feel nothing but love for Glasgow, it's a vastly under-rated place and at its best that way. I'm sure Aaron will feel at home in no time at all. He's full of tales of misadventure and craziness to regale the good people of Glasgow with. And if there's anything I've learned from living with someone who left their heart in that fair city, it's that Weegies love a good yarn. Also, any city whose statue of the Duke of Wellington is continually (and repeatedly) enlivened by the addition of a traffic-cone hat has got to have a wicked sense of humour. 

I am going to miss their double-act though, Aaron and Jane. Just last week they came back from the Benicassim festival, and Aaron was predictably a fetching shade of cooked lobster, having fallen asleep open-mouthed in the sun on more than one occasion. He was also sporting a new head of hair, having sun-in'd his mop to within an inch of his life. Because said new hair has been stripped of its bounce and shine, and is looking rather straw-like, Jane has taken to affectionately calling it "Ken hair".

In a city that doesn't take itself too seriously, I think he's going to be just fine. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Today a momentous thing happened. The Mister and I opened a joint bank account.

Not so unusual, I know. We've been living together for over a year and a half. We share most things already:

  • Bills
  • Milk
  • Not toothbrushes. (well, ok, once. I was desperate and we were staying away from home.)
  • A really weird penchant for trying to guess the students' subjects on University Challenge before they announce them. (It's pretty easy to spot a Physicist. They usually look like Brian May.)
  • An annoying propensity to play 'the adverts game' even when in public, at the cinema. (This is when you try to name the company or product first, without it being mentioned or flashed up on-screen, for the uninitiated). He ALWAYS gets them. It's ok when we play at home, except that every time he guesses it's the Kindle advert correctly, I have to listen to him humming the annoying music for the rest of the ad's duration, whilst doing an annoying little victory dance.
We're both only children (with the exception of half-siblings we didn't ever live with), so you might say that we had to be taught to share in a way that I suppose those in larger families do not. Or maybe it's the opposite. Maybe if you had many brothers and sisters around you, clambouring to stick your prized lego up their nose, or eat your fingerpaints, you'd learn to hoard.

Anyway, I digress. This sharing is different. It's the first time in my life I've ever linked myself with another human being to this extent. It's not about the finances. It's about the trust.

I trust someone else to keep up their end of the bargain and pitch in. And that's a nice feeling.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

We Are What We Eat

We spent the past weekend in northern France, in the picturesque town of Montreuil-sur-Mer, with the Mister’s relations. His step-mother has a cousin in St.Remy Au Bois whose family have lived there for 20 years and now run a successful jam-making business. Their high fruit content jam is organic and delicious, delicately packaged up in little jars and sent off to the crisp white linen-covered tables of The Dorchester, Claridges, and St.Regis hotels, amongst others. They live and work in a lovely barn conversion with huge windows, open fires, and lots of dogs, in a bohemian whirlwind of paperwork, packaging and sticky jam spoons.

Long before this visit I had been itching to visit and see the jam farm idyll for myself. I was secretly hoping that we would be able to proffer our services in getting in up to the elbows in jam in exchange for bed and board for a summer (or longer).

This is something how I imagined our future might go: we’d prove ourselves to be confiture-confiseurs extraordinares, lending our marketing and new media savvy to the operation, and the distant step-relations would soon realise that we were utterly indispensable. They would start to plan for early retirement, knowing the business was safe in our hands. We could do all of the grunt work, thinking we were living the good life, and they could retreat to St. Barts or Martinique or wherever, living off the spoils of their genius idea to move to France and entice these poor overworked cityfolk to do their bidding and ensure a steady stream of income into their sizeable pension fund.

And you know what? I wouldn’t mind one bit. I would happily work my fingers to the bone to have what they have. Their peace, their independence, their knowledge of working for something they created and love and believe in.

As it was, the distant step-relations were utterly charming and had thrown their doors open to all of their friends that weekend, both local ones and those from their lives in the UK. They listened sweetly to our excitable chatterings about how well their jams would do in food festivals and markets across London, and nodded politely at us, even though I suspect they already knew what we were telling them. They blanched a little at the sound of an idea of ours to sell some jams for them in the newly revamped Brixton Village, but they took it pretty well, considering they probably haven’t visited Brixton since the 80s, and might still think of it as a hub of iniquity. They even invited us back to stay, so who knows? Maybe that pipe dream isn’t so far away. Of course, there’s still  the learning how to make jam bit to cover…a minor detail, mind.

The strawberries I tasted there were the sweetest I have ever eaten. Maybe, just maybe, it was a taste of freedom.

Monday, June 6, 2011


This is a short post, which will cover the following points, very briefly:

1. Our new neighbourhood is, as suspected, awesome.
2. Proximity to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern and the bars under the arches near Vauxhall station mean that we can refer to the vicinity as "VoHo", which tickled me when I read it.
3. Despite leaving leafy Streatham Hill's suburban enclaves, we do have a really cute garden with a pergola (not a pagoda, as the Mister told his mum on the phone).
4. Weekends currently feel like we're on holiday somewhere in the Algarve (see below - our first meal at one of the many cafes lining out street).

5. I can now leave my house at 9am and get to work on time.
6. I am considerably happy.

More to follow!

Sunday, May 15, 2011


I once had to do a Criminal Records Bureau check at work to be able to do volunteer work with some little'uns, and had to list my addresses for the past five years. I couldn't remember every postcode, of course. There were at least six or seven addresses - I'm sure every other London-dweller has a similar tale to tell.

I think it's gone something like this: Orpington (shudder), Southampton (university, a.k.a. many, many long days of pyjamas, films and the munchies), Balham (the first sweet taste of SW London and will always remain close to my heart), East Dulwich (lovely, green, but enormous 4x4 buggy central), Tooting (a near escape), Clapham (rah, happy singledom and bars, yah?), and finally Streatham (which brought domestic bliss, in an unloved area of SW2 that feels a bit now to me like a ratty old pair of shoes that are also my favourite and I can't throw away). And so it goes.

In less than 3 weeks, I’ll be upping sticks again to an area colloquially known as ‘Little Lisbon’, which is enough to make me all dreamy-eyed thinking about that fantastic city I love, with the beautiful horizon and the seascape and the trams and the elevadores and the fado and the inevitable pasteis de Belem

All right, with that I fear I may be building it up a smidge, but our new flat will be a 15 minute walk from the river and the Tate Britain, a stone’s throw from the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, that queer institution of raucous comedy and drag acts (a local tells me that Lily Savage lived on our street once), and already, putting out the feelers for local community projects and hangouts is really coming up trumps. A search for ‘Pilates classes Vauxhall’ brought me to the Bonnington Centre, a Community association in a sweet little house in Vauxhall Grove which lets rooms out by the hour for classes, meetings and therapy sessions, hence they have a regular schedule of yoga, tango, acupuncture, psychotherapy and bi-monthly film screenings, plus a cafe.

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A stroll around the new neighbourhood a couple of weekends ago saw us find a unique venue which has been winning accolades for its café's food from everything from the Evening Standard and Time Out to May's Eurostar magazine, so it’s generated quite a buzz. This is the Brunswick House Café, located at the Lassco architectural salvage shop at Vauxhall Cross. Walking through its many rooms stuffed with antiquities, reproductions and oddities, it feels like a museum you can touch everything in - an appealing cross between John Soane's house, the Antiques Roadshow, and a very upmarket car boot sale. I swear I will never buy another mirror or door handle at Ikea again.

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So, an exciting new set of delights to discover awaits us. But as with all new beginnings, something else must end, and so we have to say goodbye to Streatham Hill. I've come to feel a fondness for this area too, although unloved by many and considered to be on the periphery of what is an appropriate commute from our friends in North London to come and see us, it has a charm all of its own and the most diverse community cross-section I've ever come across, in any part of London I've ever lived. Good work is being done here, too - from the valiant efforts of StreathamPulse to both unite and inform to the laudable local work of our MP Chuka Umunna. There are so many new businesses here which are thriving too, from the gorgeous Earl Grey and Rose cafe to The Hamlet bar and Thompson's deli adjacent to Streatham Hill station. The latest addition which has drawn rave reviews is The Manor Arms gastropub on Mitcham Lane, serving up Sunday roasts at £15 a pop and pulling in the punters. Me? I'm just as happy at Bar 61, drinking cheap red wine and nibbling on tapas for under £4 a plate. The point is, there's variety, and it's a good thing. I'm sure there's more on the way for Streatham, and it will be a shame to leave just as it finds its feet. But good things await SW2 and SW16 - of that I have no doubt.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Gods of Lust and Money

We’re supposed to be feeling full of beans in the midst of savage public sector cuts and rising unemployment for women and young people at home, complete chaos in Libya, more earthquakes for an already devastated Japan, predictions for catastrophe in Nepal and increasingly worrying world weather patterns, an indicator that we have really and truly fluffed our best chances of having a sustainable future on this planet. Oh, that and we’re all going to die next year


There was a time during the past winter when I thought: there must be more than this. Going to work in the dark, coming home in the dark, why would I do this? What am I doing here?

Now that Spring is here and the days are longer my thoughts are not quite so downcast. And of course I can appreciate the beauty of a British summer - I love Pimm's, Wimbledon, and have no problem with having a go at Making The Best of It. But as soon as it's not all Darling Buds of May I want to high-tail it out of here and my thoughts continually return to sunnier, more chilled out climes.

Sometimes I feel a bit like a mango in the fresh fruit section of a supermarket (bear with me here) - grown in a hot, tropical place, picked before being fully ripe, and flown over to sit in a chiller in grey old rainy old London-town. (I know, I know, there are better analogies. I can't find one right now though, so we'll leave that terrible one in.)

A Bad Analogy

 Is it London that I'm getting tired of? Maybe if I was living in the countryside the seasons wouldn't be such a mystery and I wouldn't feel so disconnected. But it’s more than the weather – after all, it’s been warm and sunny for the past week and I’ve still felt like I want to run away and bury my head in jam.

No, part of the problem is the feeling that I'm toiling away in the big bad city for, well, not much really.  I’m not managing to save, despite the laughable ‘London weighting’ portion of my salary. I’m not going to be able to buy property here.  I’m disillusioned with my job and the unfettered change that seems to be sweeping the sector. I don’t believe in what I’m being paid to say anymore. But annoyingly, despite being paid more than ever, it’s doing nothing for my happiness (nor my savings – I just seem to spend more). Finally, I’m fed up with fighting elbows, armpits and women with big bamsies (as my dear dad would have called them) on the journey in and out on the bus every day. Let David Cameron commute for a bit (for REAL, Dave, not with the car carrying your briefcase behind you). You stand up among the many baby buggies Cammo, and get jostled for a space to stand, by druggies, whilst listening to EVERYONE ELSE'S MUSIC EVERY MORNING via their ridiculously loud personal headphones. Or worse, their phones, with no attempt to make their musical experience personal at all. 

Not quite the overcrowded number 59 from Streatham, is it Dave?

Of course, I know I should be grateful for small mercies;
  • We’ve got a little bit of green space to plant things in.
  • My commute does not require taking the underground.
  • The new Spanish upstairs neighbours aren’t anywhere near as fat and stompy as the previous ones, and they seem to be much less loud and bonky than in the beginning. 

Not to mention the big things, like:
  • We have great friends here.
  • I have nice colleagues.
  • London is still full of bloody brilliant sights and people and I used to love living here. 

So what’s happened? If anyone out there is experiencing a similar crisis of faith, please share. Did you get over yours? Did you move away to run a knitting group or start a home school or pursue a long-desired career as a beekeeper? I feel I need some help falling in love with London again. 

Especially as we supposedly only have 1 year, 8 months and 4 days to go

PS. Speaking of crazy bus journeys - check this dude out.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Just Testing

...The RSS feed thingy, for those who are using it.

Nothing much to see here just now, move along please. There's plenty of other interesting stuff to look at here and here.

(Come back soon though.)

Graffiti on a wall in Nicosia, Cyprus, in February

Sunday, March 27, 2011

March 26th, 2011

Clearly these Lambeth Teachers' Association workers aren't about to cause any trouble, but rather are discussing what to grow on their allotments.

Yesterday's anti-cuts, union-led march has already made the headlines for mostly the wrong reasons. 'Police battle rioters', 'Luxury stores targeted', 'Hundreds arrested and dozens injured' are just some of the less sensational announcements, designed to sell newspapers. My own experience of the march was completely different. It was a day when I saw the good in people again, where I felt I wasn't the only one despairing or suffering from the threat of savage cuts in public services, and I also saw the real potential for the 'Big Society' - a country united across the usual dividing lines of class, race, and status, against blatant injustice from their government.

Of course, there was always going to be a contingent of radicalised, angry young men and women who felt the need to smash things up and have a go at battering the police. But for the majority of the 250,000 (
BBC estimates) to 500,000 (The Guardian estimates) people like me and my family members who marched to try and speak up for the common good, it was a day of peaceful protest, camaraderie and fellowship.

This feeling of togetherness was illustrated brilliantly in the pub we stopped into on Whitehall (yes, to use the facilities - but we also bought a drink, before you say anything about being heathens). The ladies' toilet queue was positively hilarious. People were striking up conversations over nothing at all, and discussing where they had travelled from and what they did for a living. We even got tired of waiting and -YES WE CAN- comandeered the gents' loo. What made me proud was how very un-British it all was. These people were actually choosing to strike up conversations - and how without fail, most of these conversations ended up with Cameron and Clegg really getting it in the neck.

Suckle Up Economics from our dear leader, the tit.

Whereas the downstairs of the pub was full of protesters, the upstairs was almost empty, save for a few groups of bemused-looking tourists, trying to have lunch. I asked two gentlemen if I could take a photo from the window they were sitting next to. "What is theees all-about?" came the query from one well-dressed middle-aged Italian. I explained that a lot of people were angry with our government, and that because we came from all kinds of backgrounds and had united today to protest, you really knew that the coalition was in trouble. "We can relate to you,"said his friend. I joked that however bad it was, we didn't have the same trouble as the Italians did, having Berlusconi for a leader. They looked shocked that I knew anything of Italian leaders. We shared a good-natured joke about Il Cavaliere. "Che cazzo, eh?" Ah, politics. Really warms the cockles.

Whitehall, yesterday

The march continued down Whitehall and began to slow as we reached Trafalgar Square. The atmosphere was electric. Not knowing what was ahead, the crowd began to get impatient and chants and cheers would break out every now and again, to keep the spirits up. No matter how ebullient we were, however, the pervasive feeling of malevolent surveillance was hard to shake. Sirens and helicopters were heard over our chants throughout. There was definitely an air of preparation for any trouble to be stamped out immediately, and we all knew how many pairs of eyes, both supportive and distrustful, were upon us at all times.

Reports of violence from Oxford Street and some parts of Piccadilly were certainly unnerving, and we knew something was afoot as we passed The Ritz with cracked windows - but for the most part, it felt like a peaceful, inspiring day that had the potential to spark real change. It felt like Britons from all corners of the country finally had a common cause to unite - something which I haven't felt in a long, long time.

Cameron may have had a different 'Big Society' in mind, but yesterday felt big enough to topple his government's shortsighted and irresponsible plans.

For those of you reading this who went, thank you for making it such an incredible day - you have my applause. Please feel free to share your comments below. It would be good to hear from others who had different (or similar) experiences of the day.

Now, let's all keep our fingers crossed for a similar outing planned for April 29th. Wouldn't it be a shame if the royal couple had to elope...?