London One Month in: A Brief Moment of Reflection

At the end of this week I’ll have been living and working in the big smoke for a month and what a whirlwind of experiences it has been.

Walking past the Tower of London each morning like it’s just another overdeveloped house on the street, diving in and out of fellow commuters like it’s an art form (and, when it fails, dashing off without making eye contact). Staring blanking the world and for once the world happily blanking you back, this city is unlike anything I’ve ever encountered. It was when a cyclist yelled at me “watch the f**king road!” whilst jumping a red light that I realised I was properly London. Why? Because I did not care.

So when people in the very English town of Swindon grab me and ask “what’s London like?” or colleagues in London nudge me with take out cups “would you go back there [Swindon] now?”  I feel myself lost for words. How can you defend a proudly average town surrounded by Cotswold beauty or champion a buzzing and vibrant city that rips you off at every turn? You just can’t, especially not in one sentence (which is what everyone wants). One month in and I don’t see myself being able to formulate a succinct sound bite anytime soon.

I swore to myself weeks before moving that I was not going to let this opportunity slip. I refused to spend eight months working flat out and then moping about my bedroom complaining I had nothing to do. I didn’t want to become like some of my other London friends or indeed like myself in the Cotswolds, brought up without visiting or fully appreciating what was on offer on one’s doorstep.

In light of this, here is a short list of some of the things I’ve done in my first month (well, three weeks three days):

  • Started a diary-come-log-come-Alice’s-attempts-at-professionalism
  • Walked along the South Bank A LOT
  • Visited the Tate Modern even more
  • Introduced to and then introduced others to Borough Market
  • Speed Friending (like speed dating but a lot more chilled out)
  • Made new friends
  • Caught up with very old friends
  • Comedy gigs
  • Explored Wapping
  • Tate Gallery
  • National Portrait Museum
  • Been out for drinks
  • General landmarks – e.g. St Pauls, Westminster, various bridges
  • Burnt 1,000,000,000,000,000 calories from walking everywhere (a mix of commuting and stubbornness to pay for the Tube. 90 minute walking time is my cut off point for getting the Tube on a weekend).
  • Got ill
  • Bought my weight in face cleansers after discovering the heat and air quality was making my skin truly disgusting (FYI I don’t plan on coming out of London with an improved life expectancy).
  • Spoilt countless tourist photos and selfies and walked into a number of French school children on purpose for taking up the entire pavement. Bruises of pride.

And this is only month one. As I get more established I hope to explore more of real London as opposed to tourist London through personal exploration and using my old and new friends (no pressure guys). I want to network with people and make a name for myself. And then I want to meet a rich banker who will take me out to the opera and buy me Hotel Chocolat chocolates for no reason (not just the free samples they give when you visit a shop). And then he’ll remind me how wonderfully amazing I am when I moan about the price of eggs and then buy me the most expensive eggs at M&S to prove a point. When the latter happens I’m not waiting around, consider the man engaged.

I mean I’m not asking for much right?

Advertisements

Wow, I’m in London! (Commuter Sight Seeing)

The bed covers are on…

IMG_1230

The snack bars have their own drawer…

IMG_1382

It’s official, I have moved into my London flat.

And goodness am I exhausted. It feels like I need a week to get used to London living, to adapt to the number of people at rush hour (although that said I’ve already got the ‘don’t talk to me, I’m walking here!’ look covered). But alas I only had half a day to properly settle before getting stuck into my job this week (14th May). After a mixture of evenings (Monday – I’m in London!, Tuesday – Why am I so tired?, Wednesday – I’m going to explore, wow I’m in London!, Thursday – I’m getting writing withdrawal, I’ll just look through the window instead…)

xdd

Wow I’m in London!

If anything I probably need about three months to get used to the varying prices around here. As in I know London was going to be more money but I don’t get how in one Tesco Metro a six pack of own brand eggs are 89p, but the one just up the road sells the same box for 99p and a Sainsbury’s in the middle of the two is charging £1.05! But then at Sainsbury’s envelopes cost £1.50 but in the Tesco’s they’re £1.65. It really does take shopping around to another level. And one really did bite on one’s lip hard when forced into the corner of shopping at the local Waitrose. Very hard. However the supermarket is on the route to work so I will be making use of my free coffee rights. Big up MyWaitrose!

Speaking of routes to work, I really have a very nice walking commute into the centre of London from Wapping. This 30 minute walk (longer if you walk like a normal human) takes me via the Tobacco Docks and Shadwell Basin…

IMG_1175

Suburbia…

IMG_1383

St Katherine Docks…

IMG_1176

The Tower of London…

161103-2IMG_1179

And then The City…

 

fffs.jpg
Oh hey suits

 

Given I don’t have to get on a hot crowded Tube I’m rather enjoying the 30 minute commute so far (although worth noting so far I’ve only done it four times in glorious sunshine).

I haven’t taken many photos of my room because my iPhone 5 (don’t laugh) doesn’t have a wide enough lens to capture the full size/scope. Trust me though, it’s pretty decent for the rent I’m paying – well it’s London, nothing is ever THAT decent for the money. In terms of space nothing compares to this London hotel room which I genuinely think is bigger than a lot of London flats.

IMG_1385

IMG_1384
It’s great until you realise the only plug socket in the whole room is behind the kettle and if you’re not careful in your sleep you could accidentally set the panic alarm off (behind the pillow) thereby permitting random people to charge into the room without warning.

 

I’ve leave it at that for now but yes I am very much in London now.

Loop

I get up, I work, I sleep.

That’s how my days pan out nowadays. Nothing much in between.

Maybe come the weekend I’ll venture out and explore the world, find a hidden corner of this town that I’ve yet to discover. I’ve yet to try out that bar on Elm Street, heard good things about it. Might be worth a try. Oh, is that an email? Better give it a look…

I get up, I work, I sleep.

The Perils of Retail Therapy

A memo to the wise; if you do too much of this:

…you’ll end up with an ankle looking like this:

Ok, granted I wasn’t posing in that exact same fashion when my ankle went, but when it started to ache during a shopping trip I decided to ignore the pain and carry on walking on it. I’d decided to venture to the fair Welsh capital of Cardiff and I didn’t want to turn back before I’d even got properly stuck into my needed dose of retail therapy.

As well as the blinking obvious (walking on a duff ankle) there were other things I didn’t fully factor in whilst hobbling around the city centre on a Sunday in mid-late October. These ‘things’ feel into three categories:

  1. The impact of a particularly bad cold virus.
  2. Excitable children on school holidays, pumped up on sugar and in want of Halloween ‘stuff’.
  3. Super eager women, pumped up on caffeine and hell-bent on obtaining Christmas wares before anyone else.

The result was pure shopping chaos, particularly when I became caught up in the shopping centre at peak time. Quickly I found myself bent and morphed into shapes usually reserved only for the most brutal of Twister games. Grunting the pain away like a reindeer on Christmas Eve, I kept my eyes straight and aimed my cold-filled, Rudolf Red, nose towards the nearest exit.

Out of nowhere they came. Turning out of a shop and charging toward me at speed came a group of teenage girls. Dressed in clothes that liberated their pre-pubescent figures, the young women clutched their semi-empty milkshakes in one hand with a firmness that was nearly as strong as their grip on the pre-ripped, bloodied, shirts that were slung over their backs.

“We’ve got the dead look covered this year girls!” One of the party exclaimed triumphantly, as she pored over a small bag of purchased make up. The others nodded in mild agreement, slupping on their milkshakes and scrolling through void blocks of information. At the command of their leader, the group circulated around a black screen to appease the tiny dot before them. The first snap failing to satisfy, they posed for another photo, and another. The look of death had a time and a place, and as far as the camera holder was concerned Snapchat wasn’t one of them.

Upon realising that my collision with the party was both inevitable and likely to write off my foot (for which I felt quite sure the girls lacked any sympathetic insurance), I decided to change my path. Like a Shakespearian character my persona as flipped into a Hellish beast as I gritted my teeth and turned on the sore ankle to walk around the female cluster.

As I hobbled on, dragging my bad leg behind me, I saw bitter sweet irony reflected in the eyes of all the ghoul clad staff who regarded me with confusion and unease. Coffee stands decorated with bloodied bandages and skulls, shops festooned with beaming figurines and tinsel, each environment looked down at me with a soulless attitude that clung onto those who dwelled beneath. Of all the shopper types it was only the husbands and boyfriends that took the crown for being more out of place than I. Loaded like a Biblical Donkey, acting like a Hollywood Zombie, the men of the city took pity and avoided my half dead shape, whilst their respective partners walked in window-display bedazzlement across my path. I gave a half smile of encouragement to these brave men and pressed onwards.

It was a circular pattern of discomfort and disinterest that punctuated the day. The simple pleasures; the reading of a book undisturbed, discovering a nicely styled boot, these glimmers of joy were hard won and so easily lost. A noisy patron in the neighbouring seat, a swollen foot rebelling against a test environment. A reminder perhaps that no one can be a God in the world of the Godless. This thought whispered around my brain in mockery as I slowly staggered towards the bus station. A hissing that ended with the slamming of doors and screeching of the brakes as I departed the capital once again for English soil.

Life, sore ankles and seasonal shoppers; nothing lasts forever.

An ‘Educational’ Delay at Swindon Train Station

The weather forecast for today was predicted to be a hot and sunny affair. The weathermen and women of the UK were even daring to utter the warnings of potential sunburn. They needn’t have made such rash suggestions, it only took five words; “temperatures in the high teens”. Suddenly all of Britain snapped into action, if you didn’t have plans for Sunday 9th April then you were either a weird person or a fool. Not wanting to be labelled ‘weird’ (got my street cred to maintain and all) I decided to spend my day off in the fair Welsh capital of Cardiff.

Now, owing to awkward road routes and lack of a car (the latter being more of an issue than the former) I decided to take the train. Via Swindon’s train routes the earliest one can get into Cardiff is 10:53 which in my opinion is too late to begin with, but hey I’m not the train God or a fat CEO man so one has to put up and shut up with these things. This morning I rushed about to get everything done to a strict time schedule to enable me to be out of the door and at the station in time for the first train of the day, the 09:51 to Swansea (via Cardiff Central). Having powerwalked from home to station on a warm morning I arrived at Swindon train station, hot and sweaty, to see this:

IMG_1872

You can probably imagine how I felt right then. Delayed trains, story of my ruddy life.

After a lot of face scrunching (that I imagine resembled something like this…)

Popeye-post

…I resided myself to the truth that I would be waiting at this station for forty plus minutes longer than planned and made myself somewhat at home in my new surroundings. Surroundings that I’d seen a lot of over the years as a commuter (but to be honest didn’t really care about but now I was forcibly making myself care about to pass the time).

During my delay I learnt some interesting things about Swindon’s train station. Actually, I lie, they’re not that interesting.

I learnt that the station has an old building on the other platform for London trains. Old but not that special:

IMG_1876

I also learnt that the station parking is a right royal rip off:

IMG_1875

This part of the station meanwhile is completely overgrown with weeds. My train fare may be going on rail replacement works and cleaning staff, but would it kill someone to buy a couple of bottles of Weedol?

IMG_1877

And what, I repeat, what, is going on here in the ladies’ loos?

IMG_1873

That is no visual trick – there is a randomly empty cubicle space. It made me think of all the things one could do in such a space, but then I realised where I was and decided to not linger more than I needed to. Clearly three toilets are more than enough for female passengers, “if we give them four they will start a revolution! No, we must contain the masses and ensure that the British culture of queuing continues to live on.”

(There’s also this sad sign:)
IMG_1878

After walking up and down the same platform multiple times I had funnily enough run out of things to photo. I Googled the history of the weird clock outside on the forecourt.

3184229_84746d30

I learnt that its official title is (I think) the ‘Golden Jubilee Clock’ – very inspiring. Call me cray but I think it was commissioned in 2002 as part of Queen Elizabeth’s Gold Jubilee celebrations. Don’t quote me on that though, I could be completely off the mark on that one.

It also used to live in the town centre…

622406_6bb58a35

…before being relegated moved to the train station. How very, very, very, very interesting. Thank you Great Western Railways and your overrunning engineering works for giving me the time to find that out.

By this point I was borderline ripping my eyes out. “HOW MUCH LONGER MUST I WAIT?!” Was the repeating monologue running through my head. The feeling was mutual among all passengers up and down the platform, the tutting was almost audible. Finally, thirty seven minutes later than planned the delayed 09:51 to Swansea showed up. I smugly hopped on my train, leaving behind other delayed passengers. “Heh, enjoy your thirty four minute delay suckers!” I thought.

Upon arrival in Cardiff over an hour later I quickly dashed across the city to one thing I did know, and know it very well. After all that I needed decent coffee and I needed it asap. Cue my ultimate most favourite coffee shop, Barker Street Tea Rooms:

 

IMG_1879
Hmm, what to demolish first…
Sat there with my caffiterie and book a thought crossed my mind. “Wait, how long was I delayed by again?” I picked out my train ticket and compared the departure time with the accurate information on my mobile train tracker. With a beaming smile I discovered I had been delayed by thirty three minutes. Thirty was all that was required to submit a ticket refund claim.

Suddenly the time spent at Swindon train station a couple of hours beforehand didn’t seem like such a big a deal. I reflected on my experience and decided to write a blog post about it. I took a sip on my overpriced but delightfully luxurious coffee and lifted my cup ever so slightly in the air. “Thank you Network Rail,” I thought, “this one’s on you.”

 

UPDATE: I have since discovered that GWR doesn’t offer compensation unless the delay is a minimum of 60 minutes! What is this tomfoolery?! I’m a very unhappy bunny!

When The World Came Together at Oxford Station

Standing in the terminal of Oxford railway station I’m familiarised by a classic mix of passenger. The cyclist awkwardly pushing her bike through the ticket barriers, a toddler being led by the impatient mother, the Asian tourist with overflowing bags in hand. Watching the tides of people pour in and out of the confined space it reminds me that at any given moment the order of society, including this station, sits on the brink of collapse and chaos. All it takes is one broken signal and everything will grind to a halt.

If you thought the term ‘diversity’ could only be applied to whole streets and towns then you may need to think again. For contained in these four walls of peeling white paint, tapped across the utilitarian stained floors there speaks a more fascinating image of a fast-paced melting pot. An environment where, for the most fleeting of seconds, East bumps into West, North connects with South, rich mingles with poor. At this train station everyone is unified in the same gripes and grumbles. A delayed train, an out of order toilet, another drunk passenger, they are all received with the same unimpressed reaction.

Waiting for an old friend to arrive from London I am left to wandering thoughts which flow as seamlessly as the passengers coming in and out of the terminal. In this sea of faces and voices which type of passenger am I? Someone awkwardly shuffles behind me to get to the ticket booth I inadvertently block. Does my insistence at lingering beyond my welcome make me the tourist? Men in suits glance my way for a short period before I realise they are staring at the LED light boards above my head. If they are London bound they will need to go to platform one. Does my in-depth knowledge of platform order make me more a commuter? Next to the screaming child and passive aggressive guards it’s hard to think much beyond the bigger question “why am I here still?” It is just at this very point that my friend greets me with a cheery welcome, snapping me out of trance.

Leaving behind the dim and crowded terminal and entering the light exterior my friend’s first thoughts mark a very different take on modern life. “What an awful building!” he says, gesturing to the bricks behind. All thoughts of passengers and trains disappear as I’m faced with a more pressing question from my companion, “now, where on Earth are we headed to Miss Bennett?”

If only life and cityscapes were as easy to interpret as the passengers at train terminals.

The 12:37 Train from Swindon to Bath Spa

As I sit here on the Sunday afternoon 12:37 train hurtling towards Bath Spa it seems funny to think that what seems normal and run-of-the-mill now was a massive event back when I was nine years old. The first few train journeys I ever made were half an hour excursions to the dizzying heights of Worcester, accompanied by mum and my sister. The speed, sights and blurred colours all seemed so amazing, it was as if I was on a theme park ride. I never wanted it to end.

Flash forward some fifteen years and reality seems to have become quite different. Intrusively lit LED screens and computerised announcements are the only sights and sounds that stick in my head now and, as I sit here staring at a mobile screen, it is safe to say the stunning English countryside woos me less than my pre teen incarnation. Spoilt by a glut of train commutes, all I care about now when boarding is getting into a carriage with plenty of free double seats.

I am now arriving into another station. Is it mine? No, although they all look the same nowadays. Mostly simple constructions, their importance and status marked by the presence (or lack of) a Pumpkin Cafe, WHSmith or an M&S Food outlet at the bigger stations. These platforms appear to have none. The Victorian canopy is the only thing that suggests the station once held a degree of status in a bygone era. Not that I’m paying too much attention. Just another minor hold up on my route to Bath.

As we pull away I can see below me a flat canopy of brick and tile, interspersed with warehouses stocking mass produced, cheap, furniture and DIY goods. Glancing at it I ponder that this imagery before me could belong to any town across the United Kingdom, there are no unique features in the flat red skyline.

The light suddenly drops and the internal train lights brighten up. The little town is gone and replaced by a long tunnel. If I were not writing a blog post I could well be cursing this engineering masterpiece for interrupting my telephone signal, or my ability to like a photo on Facebook.

Seconds or maybe minutes (for who has time to dwell on the passing of time?) we exit the dark space. My mind is indifferent but my body welcomes the return to normal pressure. Over recent years my ears have taken a disliking to the changing characteristics of air in varying locations. Hills and small communities surround me and I know I must be on the final leg on my passage to Bath. These small communities must have been so isolated and undisturbed before the train line came. Is my carrier a blessing or a curse to these hillside villages?

And here I am, arriving into Bath now, where the occupied, Georgian, buildings are so beautiful and the derelict, graffiti covered, constructions are so ugly. Better pick up my belongings and quickly brush out my fringe, for the train is starting to slow down.

I now stand on the platform, gracefully dumped, and watch as the large diesel engine bellows smoke into the pure blue sky before powering on towards Bristol. He has fulfilled his promise today, for I have arrived at my destination on time. As far as our commuter-train relationship is concerned I can ask no more of him than that. Beauty and delicacy was never in our original agreement. So off I now head towards the ticket barrier, accompanied with the conviction of a girl that has done this a hundred times before.

My friend will be here soon and with the arrival of an old alliance my mind will fill with altogether different thoughts. Jobs, boys, ambitions, after two years apart there is much to discuss. The shops will sparkle with Christmas goods every so often to distract us, but conversation will undoubtedly pull us back to the heated debate over the rising price of merlot. The train will turn from hero to villain, pulling us both apart when our laughter hits its highest decibel.

Will I tell my friend about this commute? Of course not. Because, after all, what’s so special about the 12:37 train from Swindon to Bath Spa?

 

Written as part of the National Blog Posting Month (Nablopomo) challenge to write a post for everyday throughout the month of November. This post was written for day 13.