Lost in London

A look at London and life in general through the eyes of someone who sometimes can't bear to watch.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Long train running

I’m on a train to Scotland. Well, the train actually *is* in Scotland: we pulled out of Inverkeithing a few minutes ago. I am on my way to Carnoustie to see my father. It will be my first time in Scotland for over a year and a half. Because it’s a six hour train journey, I opted to go first class, which I always try to do if getting the train to Scotland. First class isn’t usually a big deal at all- the seats are a teensy bit bigger and there’s fucking endless cups of tea on offer- but this time it’s one of the older trains and it feels much more luxurious and less sterile than the new ‘fleet’.

As soon as the Firth of Forth came into view I felt a strange wrench in my stomach. I have felt this before, but usually I am getting off at Edinburgh so the wrench is all but gone by the time I’ve humped my bag out of Waverley. This time, however, I was carrying on through so the wrench remains. I don’t for a moment regret leaving Edinburgh but I do have a strange affection for it that I don’t feel for pretty much any place, even the town I was born and grew up in.

Most train journeys bring me hilarity thanks to some of my fellow travellers but this time it’s all been strangely pedestrian. I had a youngish, balding woman sitting at the opposite table who scowled her way up to Edinburgh and wore a Manic Street Preachers T-shirt. She was joined by a friend at Newcastle and was very curt and dismissive to him- so much so that I silently hoped for the speedy loss of the rest of her hair, preferably right in front of me. That really is quite cruel of me.

I ate a cheese and ham toastie which tasted like it had been retrieved from a supermarket floor by someone with dog shit on their hands and was charged £3.50 for the ‘pleasure’. I was almost charged £5: when the steward gave me my receipt she walked away and when I asked for my change claimed she had given it to me. She was quite persistent but I pointed out that I would have had to have been a magician to gave pocketed it; my hands had not moved at all and the receipt still rested accusingly on my right palm, right where she’d plonked it. I diagnose the early onset of dementia or perhaps ‘light-fingerus vulgaris’.

London was bright at 10.30 this morning but the skies darkened the more northerly I travelled. The sun broke through at Edinburgh, as if it were trying to tell me something, and the tall houses of the Old Town seemed to glimmer. Edinburgh can be a terrible flirt but I’ve fallen for that trick before; I turned my head back to my computer screen and did not glance up again until we reached the Forth Bridge.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Vision on

I don’t really watch that much television. Well, I say that, because I don’t feel as if I do. If you were to ask me what my favourite TV programmes were (as someone once did in a job interview), I would stutter and stumble over my words before reeling off the only programmes I could remember, usually from the previous night’s schedule. This isn’t because I think watching TV programmes is anything to be embarrassed about, or that having favourite shows is something to be ashamed of; there just aren’t that many TV shows out there that interest me as much as they used to.

I have Freeview at home, which I bought three years ago and only because my then nine-year-old sister was due to visit and used to having 70,000 channels on cable at home, of which she watches about two and flicks through the rest. I’m always finding leaflets in the mailbox which all try and find new and exciting ways to gently push me over the invisible precipice that separates a casual TV viewer and a card-carrying telly addict. Apart from a very miserable four months lodging in a flat in Rosyth I have never lived in a Sky-viewing household. Perhaps my view of it has been tainted by the lanky moron I lived with, but there’s something so male and menacing about satellite and cable TV companies and their marketing strategies, whether it’s a one-time A-list Hollywood actress suggesting that having a few extra channels will make your peanut into a dong or montages of lots of men doing sport and looking really manly. I recently entertained the idea of buying a Freeview box with a hard drive meaning I could record all of my ‘favourites’. I then remembered that I don’t have any favourites and that there is little more depressing than watching a recording of a TV show that was on days ago because there’s zero of note happening on screen now.

A couple of nights, we have experimented with actually not turning on the TV when we get in from work. My partner will perhaps sit on the computer as I make dinner. This doesn’t last long as the silence is too much to bear and with my partner engrossed in the internet, the need to be spoken to by someone- anyone, even a tight-mouthed regional news presenter or dead-eyed docusoap participant- supersedes my good intention to be TV-free.

One thing I refuse to do is rush home to watch TV. ‘Appointment to view’ shows are a waste of time on me. I’ll never break my neck to watch someone else break theirs on Strictly Come Dancing.

I know some people who even go as far as to not have a TV, which as choices go is perfectly acceptable, I suppose. The type of people who make this choice, however, tend to be quite evangelical about it and will reach for the crucifix should you start to twitter about a contestant on The X Factor. Like music snobbery, I find looking down on someone because of the TV programmes they watch very dull. Yet at the same time, I chastise myself for sitting motionless in front of the TV despite the fact there is nothing to watch. “There is such a thing as an off switch, you know!” is an often-heard scream from those whose programmes are criticised, but sometimes, in my case at least, there isn’t. Even if I’m on the computer, which is even less sociable than the television, I like the TV on in the background, guzzling electricity supplies and keeping the neighbours awake.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Afternoon delight

I went to The Ivy last week. This is not a boast post, don’t worry. I took a friend there. She had a baby in August and I thought rather than turn up with a bunch of petrol station flowers and the same BabyGap dungarees as everybody else, I would be that clichéd gay best friend and take her out for a nice meal and be fabulous, which isn’t usually my kind of thing. I went to The Ivy for my 30th but she’d never been before. We were both very excited, me mainly because despite my frosty exterior, I actually like doing nice things for people.

We’d met in Selfridges where I was buying a coat and I’d already had a glass of champagne on an empty stomach thanks to stumbling on the opening of yet another branch of Reiss (why is that shop so expensive? It’s not *that* nice), so by the time we got into the cab to go to the restaurant, the gid factor was up to 99. I’m not suggesting we were jumping up and down in the taxi, but there was a warm glow coming from us both: I’d been sooo busy at work that I hadn’t relaxed in ages and she has two children, which is like having ten full-time jobs at once.

Those of you who’ve been to The Ivy will know that it’s no big deal: it’s not posh at all, but the atmosphere is great and the food is generally very good. We had a lovely time guessing the lifestyle of our fellow diners and spent a lot of time trying to work out the relationships of a group of gays a couple of tables away who had one solitary, rapt woman sitting with them. This prompted my friend to ask if she were a fag hag, and I thought that she wasn’t. Is ‘fag hag’ a derogatory term? I’ve never attracted them so am not entirely sure.

I’m not sure why people revere The Ivy so much, but I do like going there. Maybe it’s because, despite the fact that the food is just what you can find elsewhere (albeit more tasty), you really feel as if you’re being looked after. Of course, there are some who go starspotting, but I think all the celebs moved on years ago.

After lunch we trudged to a bar in Seven Dials. I’ll name and shame as it was the biggest pile of cunt in the world: Dial. My friend waited ages to get served and when she’d been ignored for 15 minutes we decided to try our luck elsewhere and went to the pub opposite, which smelled of dirty dishcloths, and found a seat precariously perching on bar stools which everybody wanted to get past. I don’t know where they were all going, but half of London must have squeezed their arse behind me to get to it. Few of them made the return trip and there were no seats beyond me. Perhaps Narnia had opened a new portal. We started to feel faintly ridiculous dressed in our ‘Saturday lunchtime best’ and quickly realised we were coming down from our prosecco high. I left her at the tube station and went to meet the other half in the Lamb and Flag.

Sorry about the dull, whimsical post. I don’t often have Saturdays where (almost) everything falls into place and is (near) perfect. I think I’ll aim to spend fewer Saturdays digging my nails into my palm as I wait in a queue in Urban Outfitters and more of them doing something nice. Is it too early to book in a New Year’s resolution?

Friday, November 02, 2007

I know where it's at

Crossing Borough High Street and trying not to get killed this morning, my eyes caught a road sign directing traffic to Waterloo and Elephant & Castle and it occurred to me that the ambition I had the longest was to move to London. Career aspirations- teacher, actor, writer, journalist, pop star- and personal goals- be thinner, be richer, lose freckles- have come and go but the one ambition which burned inside me the longest and has, of course, been achieved was that urge to move to what people used to call the Big Smoke (do people still actually say this?)

My first visit to London was a school trip when I was nine. I think the trip cost £50 back in 1985, which was a pretty big deal, and I was very excited. I found the train down from my hometown into King’s Cross absolutely fascinating. Like a country bumpkin introduced to electricity for the first time, I marvelled at the fact the train had tables and that you could get food on it. Along with my school friends I questioned the purpose of the silver clip inscribed with ‘Tariff’ and placed at the end of the table closest to the window.

We stayed at a hotel in Kensington called Hotel Europe which was the sort of place missing east European teenagers are found dead in and we were allowed to watch Coronation Street if we liked. Sights-wise I was agog at Big Ben, kind of bored at St Paul’s, mesmerised by the Tube and dumbstruck by Tower Bridge, which we sailed under and drove over. We had a workbook to fill in which I pored over long after the trip was finished and there was also a trip to the theatre to see 42nd Street. It was only three days but the excitement I’d felt was burned onto my mind for long afterwards.

After the London trip, Yorkshire felt boring and my attachment to my hometown was all but severed. Life seemed pedestrian and so ‘local’. Before regionalisation came back into vogue, England was a pretty London-centric place and it almost hurt not to be able to live there. Reading magazines and newspapers, it seemed as if everything I wanted to do was 200 miles south of where I was. Even now, I think people who grew up in London are lucky. Perhaps those who spent their childhoods in some of the city’s sink estates might not agree.

I am glad, however, that I didn’t grow up here. I’m slowly starting to appreciate Yorkshire again and am all the more grateful that my London experience is still relatively fresh and exciting after ovejavascript:void(0)r five years.

This weekend brings me fireworks in Blackheath for the third year running and, after the gym, a super lazy Sunday possibly involving a walk over Tower Bridge. Sometimes the familiar still has the power to amaze.