Lost in London

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

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Take me home

I’m on a train again. This time heading to Yorkshire for Christmas. King’s Cross was utter chaos this morning, but everybody seemed quite cheerful. Queues for Burger King snaked back miles yet even though only two tills were open, nobody complained and everyone smiled broadly. Ah, the Christmas effect. I’m doing the same journey again in January; it’ll be interesting to see if everyone’s still feeling sunny then.

I’m in first class once more. In total contrast with my Scottish trip, which was sedate and lovely and everything a train journey should be, this is like sharing a cage with some sleep-deprived tigers. Everybody seems to be on edge and the staff look quite menacing and pissed off. There’s a family of two parents and two children sitting diagonally to me. The offspring have whinged, griped and bickered for most of the journey. I’m not surprised: their parents have brought nary a book or magazine to entertain them. Have they ever met a child before? Children are always bored. I watched in wonder as the father allowed the child to wrest the spectacles from his face and poke him in the eye. The mother is in her thirties but has a voice like a 12-year-old, which seems very affected. Why do some people talk like this? I can barely listen to them, so I’m powering the loudest music I can find through my headphones.

I find it impossible to travel light, despite all my measures to curb my over-packing. I even sit down the night before I pack and plan out meticulously what I will wear each day to avoid the usual panic packing of throwing seventy T-shirts into my case at the last minute. I also downsized from a huge case the size of Namibia to a manageable one that would allow me to get on and off trains with relative ease. As a consequence, I now struggle through the station with four different bags, all stuffed to the brim. I sensibly ordered some presents from Amazon and had them sent to my mother’s ready for me to wrap in my arrival. Unfortunately I must have forgotten I had done this because now I have bought twice as much in London.

And now, a week of eating, drinking, dancing and, of course, present opening awaits. All internet access-free, which is kind of a relief. It’s my birthday tomorrow so I get to have a practice run of present opening. Those closest to me have long since learned not to pull any ‘this is a joint present for birthday and Christmas’ shit, thank goodness. You wouldn’t turn up to someone’s July birthday party with a Christmas card, would you? I will be thirty-two and I really don’t know how to feel about it or what to say about it, so I won’t say anything. Except for Happy Birthday to me- and Merry Christmas to you. x

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Spice up your life

Purely by accident, I went to see the Spice Girls in concert on Sunday. We had intended to go to the cinema but when we pitched up at the O2 were greeted by the sight of a girl dressed in a Union jack-inspired tutu and realised that the Spice Girls were in town. Despite having never owned a Spice Girls record nor having any particular interest in them musically, I’ve always found their cultural impact fascinating. Purely as a spur-of-the-moment thing, we decided to see if they had tickets left for the show which was due to start in an hour. They did. Right next to the stage. I bought them. Feeling light-headed and, well, poorer, we made our way top the auditorium and queued up with a whole gaggle of gays, girls and their mums for access.

The press has been particularly vicious about this reunion. While nobody accused Take That of cashing in on former glories, the Spice Girls were vilified and painted as money grabbing milkmaids giving the withering teat of their fame one final, desperate squeeze. Given that they are still, long after their chart bothering days have ended, featured in the newspapers almost every day must mean that there is an appetite for them. The tour was billed as ‘The Return of the Spice Girls’, but have they ever really been away? It took a tear-jerking documentary to reignite interest in a Take That reformation, whereas there’s been interest in the Spice Girls performing since, well, since the day Geri pulled off her platforms for the last time.

I had read that they were playing to half empty venues, but save for our row, which we had all to ourselves, the place was packed. We were apparently sitting in seats originally reserved for guests of Roberto Cavalli. A flushed PR girl bustled around us and asked if we were the Cavalli guests. I thought she was trying to get me to move and so was rather defensive. With hindsight I should have pretended I was a Cavalli guest; there may have been free champagne involved. Crowd hysteria reached fever pitch when the Beckham children came out to take their seats. Literally the entire stadium rose to its feet, screamed and craned to take photographs of three very ordinary looking children. I did not rise from my seat, not even when David Beckham came to join them; the flash of camera phones and the bellowing sound of what I guess what you’d call fandom started to make me feel a little uncomfortable and I almost regretted my decision to come to the gig.

The concert was good. Victoria Beckham is just as skinny as ‘they’ say, can’t dance and, from what I could hear, can’t sing very well. No surprises there. It was actually quite hard to decipher any contribution form her: the crowd would scream wildly any time she got a solo. The other girls all performed well. Despite myself, I enjoyed it. I also found that I knew more of their songs than I thought I did.

The days of security guards getting uptight about people taking pictures at gigs seem to be far behind us: the crowd was a sea of camera phones held aloft by pale, ample arms. The performers themselves posed and beamed straight at cameras proffered by the audience. Perhaps the papers are right: maybe the girls are still hungry for fame and that’s why they didn’t object to adoring fans taking fuzzy pictures on their camera phones. The brightness of the flash bulb doesn’t matter, just as long as somebody, somewhere, loves you enough to take your picture and freeze frame that moment- your moment- for ever.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Somewhere only we know

Someone, possibly a Marx brother, once said: “I wouldn’t want to join any club that would have me as a member”. It’s a damning indictment of my laziness that I can’t even be bothered to Google to find out who first uttered that quote, but there you go. Although the speaker may not have wanted to belong to a club, many people now do, with private members’ clubs cropping up all over the place. Even Edinburgh has some!

Of course, in days of yore, private clubs were pretty much men only and activities within generally confined to smoking, reading newspapers, pretending women didn’t exist and buggering schoolboys, but now the world and his wife want to belong to one. And most of them are succeeding.

The concept puzzles me somewhat. Depending on your chosen club, you can pay around £400 per year for membership. This membership doesn’t include anything other than the ability to get in through the door; any food you consume, booze you imbibe or hookers you fuck are all extra and not usually part of the service. So, in effect, you’re paying a door entry charge in advance, and you might not even go. And if you do go often, you’re likely to spend a healthy wad of your hard-earned cash on ‘exclusive’ food and drink.

I’m not a member of any private club as I don’t really feel the need. From the times I have been in one, it seems you’re not guaranteed a seat, the bar is just as noisy as the Dog and Duck and while the people may be wearing more expensive jewellery than your average pub-goer, attitudes can stink just as much whether dressed in Prada or Primark. You can usually move relatively freely around a pub but at one of the members’ clubs I went to, there’s a girl with a clipboard on every floor to look you up and down to make sure you are where you’re supposed to be. I’m not sure how they identify those who belong and those who don’t. Perhaps the clipboards contain photo montages comparing this year’s designer collections with their H&M rip-off versions, instantly outing anybody who pays less than £150 for plimsolls.

I learned today that Home House, of which Madonna and Sting are members, is to open a non-West End branch round the corner from my flat. Quite what the local residents will make of that, I don’t know. Most of them probably won’t even realise it’s there: the club will be surrounded by luxury apartments and a boutique hotel, so that anyone enjoying the luxury of being grilled by a clipboard-wielding posh chick won’t have to look at the sight of dozens of council blocks and can remain cocooned in their fee-paying, ‘isn’t this wonderful’ revelry.