Lost in London

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

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The final act

It was odd to read, a few moments ago, that 'Hollywood' actor Heath Ledger had been found dead in a New York apartment. Not odd because I was a fan if his or odd because the fact that people die is odd, but odd because Mr Ledger was only 28, and despite the fact people who seem too young to die kick the bucket all the time, 28 just seems especially young. To a 32-year-old at least.

Barely three hours into the discovry of his body by a housekeeper and a masseuse, the rumour mill is wearing itself out with all kinds of claims: he was surrounded by pills; he was staying in Mary-Kate Olsen's apartment; he was naked. Some of it will be true, most of it will not.

Heath Ledger was supposedly named after the famed character from Wuthering Heights, which is one of my favourite books. This is the sort of weird fact that gets tacked onto your obituary if web journalists have run out of things to type about you. Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights was a tortured soul, eventually driven mad and, ultimately, to his demise, by the things he could not have. Looking at Mr Ledger, apparently disillusioned by his lifestyle and checking out at 28, leaving a two-year-old daughter behind him, it seems that his destiny could almost have been written from the moment he was named. Or maybe not.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

I believe I can fly

I have not boarded an aircraft for nine years this summer. The only way I’ve been able to exit this country is via the beauty of Eurostar. I have missed invites to summer holidays, friends’ special birthdays and seeing long-flown pals thanks to the fact that I am afraid of flying. This year, however, is the year I will fly again. Or at least that’s what I’m saying now. As I do every January.

I can’t remember how it started. I have not flown very much in my life; I wouldn’t run out of fingers if I had to count my flights on two hands. My first flight was a journey to Australia when I was 14. I went unaccompanied as my father lived out there at the time. I flew there and back totally solo and was not remotely frightened. My father, expecting a stressed teenager full of wonderment and excitement at the 24 hours plus of flying said that I looked like I just got off a number 9 bus from the shops, such was my calm, nonchalant demeanour on trudging through Melbourne Airport.

Somehow, since then, each flight has worried me more, culminating in a brain-demolishing trip to Paris, with a journey time of 60 minutes each way. I kind of managed to hold it together on the way there: I sat bolt upright and faced front as if only my concentration and absolute stillness were the only things keeping the hunk of metal in the air. The plane was the size of a condom packet and the stewardesses edging retirement, while still retaining an air of menace which suggested they would restrain or sedate me if I acted up. The flight back broke me and was my last. The plane, a morning flight, was delayed massively and I’d had no sleep. After we were finally called for boarding, a little bus took us out to the plane which was abandoned in the middle of some runway. I made my way to the steps to see an engineer fixing something to the wing with what looked like sticky tape. I became slightly hysterical and felt seconds away from a heart attack. I spent the entire flight clawing the backs of my hands and imagine what my scream would sound like as I hurtled towards the ground if the wings fell off. Imagining all that air beneath me made me want to smash my own head off the seat in front just to knock myself out.

But this year is the year to get over it. There are places I want to go, people I want to see and things I want to do and quite a lot of them happen beyond these grimy shores. I was kind of coming round to the idea and so was thrilled to see that there’s been some kind of crash landing at Heathrow today. Super.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Gym'll fix it

I went to the gym after work today and it was not unlike finding myself on Oxford Street on a Saturday, but with more sweat and a considerable amount of flesh on display.

It is, of course, January and the gym has been over-run with would-be athletic gods and goddesses determined to shake off the tins of Roses and extra Bailey’s they’ve acquired round their waist over Christmas.

The changing rooms were nose to nipple and I had to search as thorughly as I could for an empty locker: no mean feat when there's tens of flabby bottoms and cans of Lynx barring your way. A quick glance around told me that few of my fellow disrobees were regular gymgoers. My gym is hardly a Baywatch casting session at the best of times, but the extra inches of podge and the interesting way the carriers of it tried to hide their bodies as they changed gave the game away. I don’t hang around in the changing room and I try not to look at anybody. I don’t really feel the need to get a surreptitious shot of businessman cock and I hate those guys who stride around with their twig and berries on display, languorously applying deodorant and-ugh- talc to their shrivelled balls as if to say “hey I’m totally down with my body and am cool with you all getting a good look”. Well I'm *not* 'down with it' and my sausage is staying firmly under wraps. Ninety-nine times out of one hundred, these posturing masses of testosterone are the very guys who should be covering up.

At both gyms I’ve joined, I’ve always waited until January is over before signging on the dotted line and kissing goodbye to £50a month. By then, the novelty of gym membership has faded for even the most dedicated of resolution-makers and everyone else is back on the beer and peanuts. As I half-heartedly ‘pumped iron’ this evening, I looked around the gym and could practically see the Christmas dinners sweating out of the lot of them. I imagined the thud of a seven stone weakling dropping a free weight was actually a 17lb turkey making its escape from a weary exerciser's upper thigh. I’d never seen any of the new members before; I wonder if I’ll see them again.

The gym is an odd place and I’m not quite sure why I go. I abhorred sport or any kind of activity at school: rugby was my personal hell and as I took off my PE shorts for the very last time as a 17-year-old, I swore I’d never run after a ball or pick up a bat ever again. Of course, as my metabolism slowed and ‘something’ started protruding through my shirt that wasn’t a secreted football but- gasp- a tummy, I realised action needed to be taken. My first gym membership was like PE all over again. My instructor forced me to pick up a dumbbell over and over again because I wasn’t retrieving it from the floor in the correct way. He stood over me as I laboured on the cross trainer and sneered as I pathetically attempted to tackle the shoulder press. I lasted eight months before deciding enough was enough. My latest foray into fitness has been more successful. Having the benefit of a couple more years and a little more confidence in what I was talking about, I’ve found a gym programme that works for me and I can even now be found on the treadmill- a thought as alien to me a couple of years ago as arranging my big white wedding or going to an Elton John concert would be. While I would need to lock myself in the gym for around six months to achieve a physique worthy of appearing in a magazine, I have finally gained what you might call ‘a body’. I’m not quite sure how I feel about it; sometimes I wonder who it is in the mirror. I look a bit like a slightly out of condition swimmer recovering from pneumonia, if you can imagine that.

So I think I’ll do the very opposite of the aspirant fitness fanatics and give the gym a wide berth this month. I’ll leave it to them and try and work up a bit more belly for me to run off in February.

Friday, January 04, 2008

First things first

January’s the worst month. I remember reading somewhere that Julie Burchill thought that people who named autumn as their favourite season were boring, but she was wrong, as usual. Nothing wrong with autumn at all, with the still-warm days of September easing you out of summer and Halloween lifting the grump and then Bonfire Night kicking off the social season. Winter’s fine too, as December holds the promise of Christmas and February is a mercilessly short cobbled street leading you into March and then spring. Autumn’s triumph over its wintry cousin can be attributed to one stony-faced miser of a month: January.

It’s the fashion at this time of year to find endless lists of what was hot or rot in the previous year, because journalists and TV producers can’t really be bothered to out anything else together, so instead of bucking or fighting against this trend, I will acquiesce and produce a list all of my own. Here’s why I hate January:

1 January
There can be nothing much more depressing than that taxi ride home from wherever you’ve been celebrating the New Year back to wherever you live. It’s almost always raining, and the taxi costs loads and the radio is almost always playing Bob Marley or Enrique Iglesias and retuning itself because it can’t find a strong enough signal. I almost started crying in the taxi this year, such was my desolation at being driven around Streatham for the second time because the taxi driver wouldn’t admit he was fucking lost.

Everyone seems to have a birthday party or five to go to in January and it’s the one month you don’t really want to spend money or get drunk or see anybody you spent New Year with, but there they all are, all feeling as shit and misanthropic as you do.

Of course there are those who welcome January as a time to self-flagellate and give up absolutely everything they enjoy. They will then delight in regaling you with tales of their abstinence and how strong they are for not eating Walnut Whips, drinking pints of beer or going out and enjoying themselves. This serves no purpose other than making them splurge the rest of the year because they were ‘really good in January’ and had the most miserable time of their lives. Oh *well done* you.

I could carry on but I don’t think it’s wise. I really need to learn to love January. Right now, it's the only month I have.

Happy New Year!

*Image courtesy of someone's flickr photostream, but I forgot who. If it's yours, let me know and I'll credit you.