Going Underground: Thoughts on life in London, one year on – 6/9/17

I’m writing this as paint slathered on my newly-assembled IKEA bed slowly gets its fumes up in my respiratory system. After what feels like an eternity of frantic Facebook messages, unread voicemails, and offers falling through, a group of very desperate (but very wonderful) girls finally found a house to move in to in Peckham. Go us!

The move marked the end of my first year in London, and it’s been quite the 12 months. Being a serial journal keeper, looking back on things year by year is something I tend to do quite habitually. I used to do this weird thing as a teenager where I’d track my progress each year – say the date was 13 August, I might take a look back at last year’s journal to see what I was up to on or around that date, and see how I fared up. For example: ‘Since 13 August 2013, I’ve kissed four more boys and got a fringe!’ So this post is kind of like that, but with more boys and no fringe.

If you overlook the fact that no matter how hard you work, you’ll never have enough money to go out (from filing copy in the 10 seconds you get Wi-Fi at Underground stops, to never getting a lie-in at weekends to get to the bottom of a to-do list), life in London is a rewarding hustle. It took a while though.

It’s strange to think just how much has changed since I moved away from home, but now, as I sit here, totally exhausted (perpetual state) and in need of a beer (more-than-occasional state), I feel quite grateful for the risk that I took.

Living in the city can be hard, but it pays off. I grew up in a village, where the nearest place you could get a pint of milk was a 10 minute drive away. Growing up in a place with fewer than 100 people in the mid-’00s was a weird one – it didn’t feel very rural, in fact – I spent most of my time inside the house trying to perfect my Tumblr profile.

Yet living in London is different to what I expected. Some thoughts on how to do it:

You are allowed to stay in bed all day sometimes and not feel guilty about it

In Hugo Macdonald’s beautifully written book How to Live in the City, he says it’s totally OK to to pencil in days to lounge around in bed all day – and to do this guilt-free. Because city life is a strain physically, mentally and emotionally, you shouldn’t torment yourself about it, either. (I suppose, in this frazzled digital world we live, the same could be said for those residing in hamlets).

There’s an idea that you should constantly be going at the same rate as the city, but try to remember all those evenings spent working overtime, or the times you had to cancel something hobby-based to do something work-related, and collect all your zzzzzzs guilt-free as you drift in and out of consciousness (unless you’re at your desk, obviously).

Don’t shy away from building small relationships with people you see every day

There are thousands and thousands of people bobbing around a city at any one time. It’s an impossible feat to attempt conversation with everyone you pass on the street, but why does it feel much easier to queue for the self-checkout machines at a supermarket rather than conjure up the effort to talk to someone? Your day-to-day existence can feel more connected when you say hi to the guy who makes your coffee, the woman struggling with her buggy on the bus, or the teenager at the corner shop where you top up your gas. This might seem so horribly self-help preachy but it’s bound to make you feel better, and it requires less effort than you’d think. Even saying hello and – the biggest small change you can incorporate into your city lifestyle – making eye contact, will help you feel more connected to those around you.

Be a tourist in your own city

Exploring parts of the city you don’t usually kick around in is so important to do when you can. There is so much to learn from being a tourist in the place you call home.

Macdonald says: “It’s shocking how many of us have not ‘seen the sights’ in our own cities. Whether it’s the palace, the parliament, the natural history museum, the observatory, the boat trips… these are dots on a map, chapters in a guidebook and stops on a tour for good reason. They represent the history and the culture of the place in which we live. They form the lens through which others see and experience our city – and the more ways we can look at our city, the more interesting it becomes.”

So get your sneaks on and get walking (selfie sticks optional).

Making the most of your commute

The dreaded commute can sometimes feel like one of the worst things about having a nine-to-five in the city (I have to admit, I feel quite blessed when I work from home and don’t have to step outside until everyone’s tucked away in offices). But, if you flip and reverse your commuting habits, it doesn’t need to feel quite so chore-like and time-consuming.

Imagine if you lived above your office, or just across the road from it. It’d be weird! Like those kids who used to live right near school and never knew the struggle of a rotting packed lunches and near-bullying banter on the bus home.

If you can find a way to enjoy certain aspects of your commute, it can become a way to prepare yourself for a day’s work, and likewise, leave it behind at the office as you ride home on your hour-long commute. I lost my headphones for a few weeks recently, and eavesdropped hard on the funniest conversations, the sort of things you read in Time Out’s hilarious feature Word On The Street. If listening to anyone spout bullshit before 9am is your idea of hell, listening to music on your commute is an obvious way to deal, and if you curate your playlist specifically to last as long as your journey (a bit smug about this one), you are DEFINITELY bossing your commute.

If I had 100 words in which to sum up what I’ve learned in 374 days here, they would be these words:

  • Be sensible with money, but try to curb in talking about it ALL THE TIME, as everyone’s broke as shit and no-one needs constantly reminding of that fact. Instead, revel in the solidarity shared with the three other people squatting next to you near the reduced section of the fridge in Tesco. (Except for when they take the last £0.87 sushi you were eyeing up.)
  • Be kind. Kindness is so underrated, and we’re in dire need of it. Thank the bus driver; don’t cancel on your friends twice in a row; hug your flatmates often.

Over and out, and ready for a nap! Zzzzzzzzzzz

This week’s rack round-up – 29/01/17

In a weird, flu-induced haze in TK Maxx a few weeks ago, I decided that what I really needed was an organiser for all the piles of magazines and papers that were accumulating on my desk, rather than what I really went in for, which was new pants. The only paper organiser I could find instore was adorned with glittery butterflies, which I was kind of into, but was subsequently won over by the above rack with its gloriously tacky-not-tacky London skyline. The less stuff that’s stored in it, the more [landmarks] you can see, which is kind of a metaphor for life. If anything, these fortnightly posts might inspire me to keep my desk tidier. The rack is there for things to be in easy reach at any given moment, so it’s an apt representation of things that I’m currently into reading/listening to/consuming in all its forms. Welcome to the first instalment of this week’s rack round-up!

1) Been reading… this (glorious) copy of The Fader!

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Oh, Fader, how I love thee – thee who I can pick up in various vintage shops for free! What a seriously gorgeous-looking magazine, though. The quality of the paper, the heaviness of it, *breathes in smugly, nose-deep in the spine of the most-perfect perfect bound publication*. I picked this up in the Covent Garden branch of Rokit – the last in the pile – and now I’m doubting whether it was actually free for the taking. Oh, well. Whoever’s copy of Fader I stole, thank you. The interview with Girlpool by Patrick D. McDermott is one of the best things I’ve read about a band in ages, clearly trying to suppress a fan-boy admiration for these two teen queens of nursery rhyme grunge. You can read the entire thing here (thanks, internet!) – it’s kinda long, but bookmark it for later. Me and my mate Chloe saw Girlpool a couple of years ago at End of the Road festival and it was the highlight of the weekend. I didn’t realise that they were the same age as the both of us at the time, which now just makes me even more heart eyes for everything they’re about. Share the love with me! Like this YouTube video! Now!

There’s also a great feature about faith and what it means to yung thingz today. Everything with the world has gone batshit crazy and I’ve often caught myself thinking about faith of late (particularly over Christmas). Here is that feature for you to read/bookmark/print off etc.

2) *Also* been reading… this book from the School of Life series about how we can exist in cities without losing our collective shit.

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I’m not going to write at length about this (yet), because as you can see, I’ve been busy furrowing through it flagging up its golden morsels of info about how one can best get on in, and with, the city. I’ve been a Londoner now for six months and I love it so much, but as with all relationships, it requires work. Anyway, I’ll write something longer about this when it’s not a Sunday and I don’t have to get to the supermarket before 4pm. City life, amirite.

3) Been listening to… this: over and over and over and over and over. 

fullsizerender-2If a film were to be made following me mooching around in my bedroom over the past three months, this would be the soundtrack. Not the soundtrack in the sense of the album’s politically-charged and so-very-important messages, but the soundtrack in the sense that it just would be on in the background. Seriously, there’s a button on my CD player where you can repeat an album over and over – I don’t know who I wrote that for, perhaps those born post-2000 – and it fills me with an enormous sense of comfort to press that button after I hit play, snug in the knowledge that it’ll be playing as I’ve been tackling monstrous to-do lists. I’ve just graduated from a really intensive fast-track diploma (in journalism! Please hire me!), and the last few months have essentially been an uber-sized task in time management. The way each song flows into the next, how the chord progressions resolve, the way he sings about God – the album was like a lullaby (and sometimes not even ‘like a’, but rather an actual one, having to play it quietly through my phone in order to sleep). Please, for the love of the world, spend your Sunday listening to it. Its themes are particularly pertinent at the moment, when one has to truly ask ‘What [the fuck]’s [really going] on? Read more about the album in this Pitchfork review, here.

Thanks for reading!

T.A.L x

“Under the iron bridge we kissed/and although I ended up with sore lips…” – a weekend spent in Manchester

I’m writing this as my computer slowly dies, as it downloads a virus or something. Forever finding something less productive to do, I began scrolling through Instagram on my phone realising the reason I’d fired up this old machine was to write, so I really had no excuses.(I am on WordPad! There’s no spell check here. Forgive my errors but no-one should have to do this much work on a Sunday.) 

  

I went to Manchester a week or so ago to visit my boyfriend who’s recently moved there. His flat lies right near the Northern Quarter, so I got to see LOTS of hipsters all the time and ended up feeling really-not-at-all hip (I had brought doc Martens but mainly walked around in neon blue Nikes because blisters.) (I think Nike is deemed quite cool these days but I got mine from a bargain bucket at Sports Direct, and from the eyes I get from passers-by, there is just something that tells me they’re not fashion-approved.) I never really got what made trainers cool and I don’t think it will ever click. Trainers used to solely mean P.E lessons and now mean being able to walk around a city without stopping at every bench just for some relief, you know? Who cares if they stop traffic in the worst way possible?

It’s hard to say if the city was what I expected it to be like, as it always is – remembering your initial preconceptions after you visit a place. It was flashier than I thought, but then again my previous images of the place were just that everywhere looked like Coronation Street. Cobbled streets and Rovers Return, but hopefully no melodramatic, multiple-life-taking tram crashes. Anyway.

I was expecting all the industrial architecture, thanks to Morrissey’s depictions of the town in his Autobiography, and I was pleasantly surprised with how gorgeous those buildings looked against the Gothic cathedral and medieval library. 

  

 Jack was working during the first two days of my visit, so after locating where the nearest takeaway was, just in case (downstairs! Korean! Delicious seafood soup!) I set off on my own – in my Nikes – to see what the place could offer me.

I do this horrendously pretentious thing when exploring a city solo, where at every sign which points one way (towards the shopping centre, towards the cathedral) I go the other way. Usually, this winds me up in a multi-storey car park and unusually, it did this time too – I ended up walking alongside a motorway that led me into Salford. I was like, OMG! Salford Lads Club! (I’m painfully Smiths-conscious. I later found out ‘The Symths’ played in Peterborough during this weekend and I would have given up a weekend in Manchester to see them – nothing like the authenticity of a really, really decent tribute band. Faux-authenticity, it’s the next big thing) 

My life-threatening walk down this very dangerous road could now be classed as an altruistic pilgrimage. Who knows what I could discover? What indie pop gems lay ahead? What I did discover was that my blisters were worse than I thought, Google Maps wasn’t entirely sure where this place was, and like always – my truest daily struggle – I was hungry.

Therefore, as I caved into the fact I might spend the whole day turning my GPS on and off, I decided to take the plunge and go to the ‘People’s History Museum’ across the road and ask them where to find it. Upon entering, I became very shy and embarassed to ask (ironically ‘If there’s something you’d like to try/ Ask me I won’t say no/How could I?’ didn’t apply to this situation) so I stayed put and walked around this wonderfully executed and well laid out museum. 

 The People’s History Museum is essentially about society post-1819 in the city (and nationwide), the importance of the Labour Party after the war (welfare etc) and the value of the vote. There was a great section about the suffragettes which I permenantly smiled at, although with my irrational fear of mannequins the entire event became a bit of an ordeal. Usually I am alright in museums if there is someone with me to look around corners first, or if there are lots of people around. The place was unusually quiet, so I quickly paced around it, taking a few pictures, and finally breathed when I got back to the shop at the end. The fear is long-lived and TOTALLY justifiable OK. All of my worst nightmares take place in Madame Tussauds. Literally never take me there. Ever. Please. 

  

     

The People’s History Museum was a great place to visit in the run-up to the election. As I’ve said, it was well curated and actually mannequin-free (excepting a part-whimsical part-terrifying puppet of Harold Wilson that needs to just GO.)

Next, I walked along the Salford Quays and noted in my head that, in the cities I’ve visited recently, the first step of regeneration in a big city is at the docks. They (London, Dublin, Manchester) all seem to have these huge office spaces with top floor gyms, Zizzi’s and Pret’s aplenty. I like to imagine what the docklands might have been like 150 years ago and think I may have preferred it.

I stumbled on the John Ryland’s library – which I thought was the functional central library – but the reality actually made me gasp and say ‘Oh my!’ in true Dorothy style. It was beautiful (I didn’t pick up any historical or factual info to bore you with but it was well pretty with WINDOWS.)  

   

   

Then, I found the real library which was a gorgeous dome building based on the Pantheon in Rome! I know! Italian! This place was great with BFI film archive booths and tonnes and tonnes of useful things and so so busy which was great to see. 

  

The Manchester Art Gallery was well worth my visit, with a National Trust botanic display upon entrance that was lovely in a city of concrete. There was a display of dresses commissioned by the Manchester-based Cotton Board of purely French-designers, using Manchester-made cotton and designed by, uh, French designers. Pierre Cardin, Carven – and all so West Side Story-worthy. 

  

 This painting by Andrew MacCallum is called ‘Oak Trees in Sherwood Forest’ and shows oak trees in Sherwood Forest.

  

 His mission was to educate working people and said:

“Show people the best pictures you can get of beautiful common things,

make them notice the beauty of form…of colour…

and when they next see the thing which the picture represented,

they will see in it beauty,

which, but for the picture, they would not see.”

I don’t know much about art, but I think that’s quite lovely for its simplicity.

I also found a Grayson Perry vase, made in 2009 called ‘Jane Austen in E17.’ 

  

He links past and present in the work, saying: “I think of Jane Austen as the touchstone of a polite, middle-class culture in Britain. These ladies in Georgian dress represent that comfortable, bourgeois mindset – conservative – yet heavily laced with an arch humour.”

With this, there are cut-outs from gossip magazines as well as photos he took around his studio in Walthamstow (London, E17.) They are supposedly ‘symbols of how far and yet how near East London now is from Hampsire two centuries ago.’

I then moved on to see the Royal Exchange Theatre which was totally beautiful and I hope to see a play there when I go down again this weekend. Photographic evidence: 

  

 There was the obligatory visit to the Hard Rock Café, of course: 2 pints of Budweiser, 2 hamburgers, extra bacon on one. 

   

 

We went to an indie night at The Deaf Institute – achingly trendly place – called ‘I am the Resurrection’, on Easter Sunday! Oh, the pun. I insisted we went for the pun. Also drank at the ‘smallest pub in Europe’ (I’m certain every touristy city has one of these) – but George Best drank there AND a Manchester-born-and-bred woman from the ‘scum of the city’ (her words not mine) said ‘Fuck you, cunt!’ to Jack when he said he didn’t really like football. I love Manchester! 

Totally heartbroken that he’s moved up there, but very excited to visit every fortnight or so. I lost my phone and card in a club, realised two drinks later in a different bar, and went back to find it STILL THERE! Let’s just say this sort of stuff wouldn’t happen in London.