Toto, I Don’t Think We’re in Swindon Anymore: On Moving to London

The below was written as part of an internal communication piece showcasing employees who have chosen to relocate for their work. My piece focused on moving to London but with a classic Alice twist.

I wake each morning and stare at an isolated patch of peeling paint. I don’t how it came to be or why I look blankly at it every morning, but it has become a weird habit I’ve developed since relocating. Everyone has habits here, some people get through their commute with a super-skinny-muchos-frappy-bean café deluxe, others smoke like the bellowing car exhausts on Tower Bridge, for me staring at length at a flaky patch is mine. And I wonder why my Mum worries for me.

The most over repeated piece of advice on Development schemes is to make your own opportunities and I suppose for me London represented this to the extreme. If I could survive in the big smoke I could thrive anywhere. Combined with an exciting placement proposition I could hear Threadneedle calling in May 2018.

Upon arrival I told myself that I wouldn’t become another digit on London’s loneliness statistics which is why I have made every effort to try new things outside of work. “Speed-friending” events are all the rage in central London, up there with humanitarian clubs and vegan veg-outs. Regardless of my outlook I’ve attended all manner of get-togethers and learnt so much of wider society. I’ve even learnt to embrace my inner hipster, sitting crossed legged at acoustic sets and hanging out in independent coffee shops in berets and neck scarves (and getting subsequently mistaken for being French. “Je suis…Anglais”, the end result of five years of the British education system).

From the moment I leave my flat each morning I’m reminded of how far removed I am from Swindon. The smell of soot in the air, angry cyclists cursing at pedestrians, the wrapper of a tourist poncho blowing down the street, admittedly my battered copy of Lonely Planet didn’t prepare me well for daily life in the capital. But through perseverance I’ve forged my own lifestyle and friendship groups and that’s what I’m proudest of. The experiences I encounter, good and bad, are shaping me into a stronger person, the person I never thought I could be.

My advice to anyone considering placement relocation comes as no surprise. Do it! In the protective bubble of development schemes there’s a lot to gain from taking a plunge. Just don’t get in the way of my morning commute, yeah?                            

Advertisements

A Pint of Blood Sir if you may: The Cloak and Dagger Tour of Southwark, London (Review)

 “Have fun on your date.”

“It’s not a date Mum. I’m going on a London ghost walk by myself, it’s a last-minute thing.”

When technology wormed its way into the English countryside I thought it would be a good thing. Get people more connected, better informed and stop my Mum asking me every five minutes if I’m going on a date. Well I was right, instead of asking me over the phone, she now texts me.

“Anyway, I’ve got to go now, it’s about to start.”

“Enjoy your tourist date.”

I sighed, dropping the phone into my shoulder bag.

Looking around at my fellow evening companions maybe having a plus one would have helped me blend in. Couple, Couple, tourists, female friends, couple. It was going to be that kind of a tour which is weird because everyone knows all men are attracted ladies with a fascination for historic execution, sewage and hanky panky. Obviously.

Our guide for the evening would be the creator of The Cloak and Dagger Tour, a man who goes by the name of Cary Galia. In the face of a number of competitors this guy decided to create his own tour of Southwark which, when you think about it, is pretty bolshy stuff. Dressed in 18th Century style attire he started the evenings activities at the historic George Inn pub, just up the road from London Bridge station. After formalities Cary lead the group into the heart of Southwark, notably Borough Market. I won’t give away all the gory facts and details for you (Cary would legitimately hunt me down if I did) but turns out I was more than a little misguided when I told my sister that the oldest part of the former pig market was “just added on as an overspill area for street food vendors”. Before this tour I clearly had rose tinted glasses on to think the block paving was only there to make the floor look pretty.

Still, time pressed on and there was a hefty round of drinks awaiting our cash in the warmth of The George Inn so we continued our tour. More gore, more History, more than some people could handle. I briefly got chatting to the only other single traveller on the trip, a middle aged lady who seemed shocked by the bloodied past of the South Bank.

“It doesn’t bother me, I used to study historic cases of infanticide. This is pretty tame in comparison.” I cheerfully replied, after which the lady didn’t approach me again. No idea why.

The walking tour was peppered with questions and mini re-enactments but the real spectacle came at the end of the tour when the group were safe back inside the historic interior of a function room. You’ve got to hand it to The National Trust, they know how to run a pub. Anyway, out of the blue another actor bursts in through the door and all hell breaks loose. Cary goes from jokey guide to full on performer, there are Northern accents flying about and to be quite honest I don’t know what is normal anymore. Where the hell am I? And where’s my pint gone? (Oh wait, I drunk it.) A dramatic fight scene, impressive monologue and the whole spectacle ends with the audience stunned in silence.

Suddenly Cary is all Southern again and returns to a normal person. But I can’t trust this man, the man of many voices and a coat I wish I owned. I eye him and the other actor suspiciously as he asks us whether we think his character was being honest or not. Silence.

“No thoughts?” He challenges again, “you’re that stunned?”

“It’s because we were so mesmerised by your performance!” One of the female friends quips with a giggle.

“Pass me the flipping bucket” I think, rolling my eyes.

We ended up coming to the same conclusion all British people have when faced with a debate; none. But that said it was a great end to the walking tour I’d had the pleasure in partaking in. I moved to London in May 2018 and have since spent a great deal of time frequenting the South Bank with, it transpires, a poor understanding of the blood and guts that used to flow down its streets.  Truth is, if you’re looking for a polished, clean take on history you’re better off spending the day in the British History Museum. But if you want to know the real, day-to-day existence for people living on the South Bank, before the coffee vendors, the refrigerated meat sellers and the hipster fruit smoothies then really this is your best bet at getting that. If you want to latter go to Cloak and Dagger Tours. But as I type this from a Wapping-side pub, glancing down at my phone, I request only one thing. Please don’t ask fellow participants if they’re on a date.

 

More information on The Cloak and Dagger Tour of Southwark, including how to book, can her found here.

 

cloak and dagger

New Year, Less Me

I’ve kicked of my 2019 in true style, by having a piece of my skull yanked out of socket. That’s right, on the third day of this year I got so bored of life in 2019 that I chose to have a second wisdom tooth removed (sorry 2019, but you really need to up your game).

For those less familiar with my life, you’ll find the delightful account of my last wisdom tooth extraction that took place back in 2016 here. I suppose the main difference between the circumstance of that experience and this is that the first wisdom tooth to be removed was a delightful little critter that was burrowing a hole into the side of my cheek. I was doubled over in absolute pain the day I stumbled into a private clinic to have an emergency removal (thanks massively to Mumma Bennett who scouted out the surgery on my behalf). The wisdom tooth being removed this time round who I will fondly as ‘Left Upper Eight’ had been giving me grief for some years now, but nothing quite like the previous tooth that had being trying to burst out of my cheek, Baby Alien style. Left Upper Eight liked to keep me on my toes, a mouth ulcer here and there, an odd antibiotic-fixing infection every so often to keep me on my toes, but day to day little more than an occasional jab to remind me of its existence.

After a particularly challenging couple of weeks around Christmas time I finally made the decision to be done with Upper Eight’s tricks and be rid of him/her/it(?) for good. It says a lot that top of my New Year to do list was call the London surgery to book in an examination and removal.

I’d had this done before, so waiting for my appointment didn’t bother me in the same way as it had done the years before. Course, the private dentist’s waiting room had had large leather seats and played Heart radio which you could listen to with an selection of Women’s Weeklies. The NHS waiting room at my London dentist is none of these things, but then it’s also less than half the price for what it clinically defines as Band Two treatment. Besides, who really cares about their horoscope for the week when they’re about to have a surgical drill put in their mouth? A Christmas present guide on the Top 111 Coffee Shops in London will do the job.

I was told to go down to the dentist, an unusual experience for this dentistry as in all my previous dentist surgeries I’d become acquainted with nurses leading me through to the chair itself. Pros of this mean no need for that awkward small talk that you have to make both sufficient and short enough to fill the ten second gap from waiting room to dentist, the con is that on this occasion I found myself walking hesitantly down into the basement area of the surgery where my dentist was ready and waiting. When going for a check-up it’s bright and breezy, but knowing you’re going to have a tooth extracted makes you feel a bit uneasy. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t going down to the hull of a ship where the dentist was little more than a drunk sailor with a saw. I put on my best normal look as I walked into the room.

“How are you Alice?” The dentist asked.

“I’m here to get a tooth removed that’s making me miserable in a procedure that short term will make me even more miserable. How do you think I feel?” I thought to myself, nut instead I said…

“Alright, I’ve been better.”

He went through the procedure and I smiled and nodded throughout as he explained the potential complications. To cover his own back, that I was sure of, although the complications became increasing gruesome. I started to squirm in my seat, the private dentist had never informed me of any potential complications before.

“And finally there’s a risk the removal of the bone can cause a hole in the sinus. Why does that cause an issue you ask…”

“I didn’t” I thought.

“Well that means when you eat food could get up your nose because the two spaces would become one. I’d stitch it though, you wouldn’t even be aware of me doing that if it happened.”

“Yippee for that” said the dry voice my head as I outwardly smiled pleasantly. Sat in the chair I forced myself to sign the form to give this man full control over something I was beginning to regret choosing. Maybe the antibiotics weren’t so bad.

Sparing all the details of what happened (more because I was both thankfully unaware due to the local aesthetic and having my eyes tightly shut) about ten minutes later, if that, I opened my eyes with a lump of surgical gauze in my mouth and the offending tooth laid bare on a tray. When asked if I wanted to keep it the drugs, gauze and moment itself made my response usual and typically Alice.

“You’re cute.” I said to the tooth. From the corner of my eye I could see the dentist and the nurse exchanging a look. I studied its shape and yellowed colour from the long hook that that previously sat below the gum line. It really wasn’t cute.

“So you want to keep it?” The dentist repeated, slight bafflement in his voice. Clearly I was one of a minority to take such interest in a tooth, at least one of the few people over the age of 11.

Sense returned to me. “Err, actually no, it’s alright.” As drawn as I was to the tooth I remembered I had plenty of other functioning teeth in my mouth to marvel at. The drugs and the moment itself started to wear off, to be replaced with a new sensation in my mouth that made me keen to release myself from the small white room.

“You’ll start feeling pain in the jaw area where the tooth has been extracted, that’s normal.” The Dentist said, before going through the aftercare process. I signed the last form, thanked the man for removing the tooth but took leave my leave quickly. I returned to the flat thankful that its emptiness meat I could groan through the gauze, my pain explicit but implicit to me and myself only.

Which puts me where I am now, currently working through a post surgery recovery plan to get me back to my normal-ish self. There have been ups and downs, downs with the pain, the unable to drink coffee until it is barely warm, unable to eat solid or large meals. Ups when the pain killers kick in and feeling neutral is a blessing, when I get over the foul taste and the salt water temporarily eases the soreness. My tongue has yet to reach that curious stage when it’ll explore that side of the mouth and find the crater that exists where Left Upper Eight used to be. In repulsion the oral muscle will then swiftly retreat back to its former position where it’ll remain in hiding for several weeks. It happened before and it’ll happen again, I just know it.

I’m glad to be rid of my second wisdom tooth and long term know I will look at this as a good decision to make in my life. Short term pain for long term gain as the gym freaks would say. Ironically I’ve been told to stay away from vigorous exercise for at least a week, so I guess that’ll be my excuse for eating cakes and hanging out in coffee bars for the time being.

What can I say? New Year, less me.

 

The Bits of London that Make the Bigger Picture

It’s been a while since I put together a heavily picture-based post and I also haven’t given much of an update into my crazy London lifestyle* (*crazy mainly because I now shop at Tesco’s rather than Sainsburys – I’m off the chain). So as I was scrolling through the very typically Alice photo reels I thought I’d combine the two and create a random post full of random images. If you want to see more photos like these check me out on Instagram (aeb_thewriter).

First off, start with this to set your weekend off right:

Maybe it’s the work, maybe it’s the general buzz of the big city but I’ve very much got into my acoustic covers since moving. Perfect music to unwind to.

And what’s a chilled weekend without a good coffee? My local haunt is a tiny little shop on the corner of Cinnamon Street rather aptly called Cinnamon Coffee Shop.

Inside there’s only a small selection of seats however every one offers a perfect people watching spot, be it people walking down the quiet back streets of Wapping or those dashing in and out with their soy lattes to go. I’ve spent many an hour in this place on a weekend afternoon, chilling with a book whilst The Beatles play in the background.

IMG_3011
I drink coffee alongside exposed lightbulbs and at 2/3 circle tables. I’m not hipster, but…

And if Cinnamon is packed out then the coffee world is my oyster. I usually hang out at Caffe Nero on the South Bank (Oxo Tower), but closer to the flat you can find me either at the Starbucks at St. Katherine’s Docks or the Starbucks at Hay’s Galleria.

IMG_3028
It’s outside, but covered over, but charging eat-in prices (but paying for take out).

And if you disturb me whilst reading…

IMG_3105

Or clean away my coffee when I haven’t finished…

IMG_3183
“The small girl took command of the situation”…by running away from the body.

That said, even though I’m arguably doing more ‘young professional’ reading (sans avocado) than ever before, I still think I have a little way to go yet. A) because an equally intellectual man has yet to act on this (“wait, you’re telling me Hollywood is a lie?”) and B) my powers of embracing all forms of Art is still a little way off. Case in point; this Sainsburys receipt on display at the Tate Modern (South Bank).

IMG_3025

You know I’d probably have found it easier to accept if I hadn’t discovered the shopper-come-artist spent over £50 and didn’t claim any of the Nectar points.

IMG_3026
That’s 26.5p in points. Wasted. And you know, back in June 2016 I’d have happily have taken those. It’s just selfish if you ask me.

But that’s the crazy thing with living somewhere where you wake up with a view of Tower Bridge and say goodnight to the bright lights of the Shard. Things and places that I wouldn’t have ever imagined having access to are now only a short walk away. I see the Tower of London twice everyday on my walking commute to work to the point of being blasé to its historic value and beauty.

Loathed as I am to say it, London has also opened me up to some great opportunities and experiences. I’ve attended fancy events with old friends I haven’t seen in ages…

IMG_2979

…and at the polar opposite I’ve got completely drenched queuing for tickets in the pouring rain.

thumbnail.jpg
I was one of the last people to get a seat but, from looking at everyone else, the worst prepared for the British weather. My whole body was so numb and shaking it’s a wonder I could take a photo.

I recently discovered that, contrary to my assumptions, my name isn’t as obvious as I had thought. This is what happened when I went bowling after work with some colleagues (including Bev and Theo).

img_2994.jpg
Hmm.

The weekend just gone marked the main celebration of Bonfire night (English tradition of lighting big fires and fireworks on or around 5th November. Has historical links, Google it). And in part because I didn’t have anyone to go with but more significantly because I didn’t fancy having to pay the money and fight the London crowds I chose to have a quiet one in. That was until I realised that my bedroom window had a clear sight of a massive firework display happening locally, which this expertly taken photo proves (and will you full on instantaneous envy).

fireworks

You really had to be there. After trying about ten times to get a decent shot I put my phone down and enjoyed the display as it was intended to be seen.

Have you ever watched a firework display in slouch clothing with a plate of Chilli Con Carne? Very novel experience.

In a pictorial nutshell those are the key elements of my life in London. Work, coffee, books, exhibitions, embracing spontaneity. So far I think I’ve got the balance right, I’m spending more money (“welcome to London hun”) but not as much as I had expected. As I say to work colleagues and friends, “I can buy a cheap-ish coffee at work everyday and gulp it quickly in front of a computer monitor, or I can invest a little more on the weekends and enjoy a hot drink and cake in a coffee shop where I can relax for an hour.” Seems an obvious choice to me.

Central London may be causing havoc with my skin and with my shopping habits (it is frustrating that the entirety of ‘The City’ shuts down on the weekend) but I have come to accept that it’s what comes as part of the lifestyle when you live so ridiculously close to work by London standards. Charm and character will just have to wait for those times I travel back to the family home (picture the opening scene of Bridget Jones).

Snowshill-iStock-909721790
Fun fact: the opening scenes/scenes of Bridget’s family home were filmed in a village called Snowshill which itself is near to where I was brought up. In case you wanted further proof I am country bumpkin.

For what it’s worth (worth being not having to pay for a Tube season ticket and live in an area of suburbia feels out of character given its location), Wapping is more than good enough for me. Who knows what the next weeks will hold as I take on this smoke-filled jungle at Christmas, but right now I’m going to focus on the more pressing questions.

For example…

1. What was going through this person’s head last Saturday at the Surrey Quays Tesco Extra?

If it’s what I think it is then they’ve missed the point. Everyone knows the quality of water is only as good as the plant feed when it comes to cut flowers. Boy are they going to look silly when they come to put those on their kitchen table.

And 2. Why are they called epanbeppies here?

img_2988.jpg

Day Two and Still Here: Parental Visit to London (Continued)

(View part one of my parent’s visit to London here.)

***

I met my parents in near the same spot as we’d parted the night before, outside a quaint little Starbucks housed in a building originally built to mark the Queen’s silver Jubilee in 1977. Not that we thought much of the buildings intended significance as we walked over the commemorative plaque in the entranceway. We took our large Americanos and admired the unusually peaceful view of the marina. Yards away Monday morning commute was in full flow, but here we were settled from the hustle and bustle of daily life. It reminded me of how days off should be spent, sunglasses in hair, enjoyable company and a mouthful of guilt-free cake for breakfast.

After coffee I led the way over Tower Bridge, stopping briefly to let Mum take photos on her camera phone. Given the frequency I utilise the tourist trap crossing the leisurely tourist stroll pace felt very much at odds with the route march, shopping on shoulder, approach I took every other day. Further along the South Bank I diverted Mum and Dad through Borough Market for an idea of how one of the main city markets looked and worked which in the same manner as St Katherine’s and Tower Bridge, was welcomed more positively for the lack of humans first thing in the morning.

West and West we went, ambling along the Southern promenade of the Thames until we reached the Tate Modern. I’d forewarned my parents about the type and medium of the exhibitions on display at this popular art gallery, but regardless they were keen to experience it for themselves. Who would I be as a local and tour guide if I ignored the requests of my guests?

Given my Father’s occupation in the Horological sphere, a trip to the worldly famous (or a least that’s what the advert said) film screening ‘The Clock’ was a must. A 24 hour film comprised of the artist painstakingly going through footage to get clips of every minute of every hour. The viewership spoke for themselves, at midday on a Monday the film screening room was about a third full, people sat in rows in front of a large cinema screen. I gestured for Mum and Dad to do the same as we walked in but they decided to remain standing on the back wall nearest to the door. We watched clips for 12:35, 12:36 and 12:37 before Dad decided he’d had enough and walked out, myself and Mum following.

“They’re all watching that film so seriously!” Dad said with amazement as we waited for the lift to arrive. “Did you see them in those chairs?”

“But don’t you see how that could be art?” I said in defence. “That someone has spent hours, months or years even trawling through footage to find a clip of that exact minute. There can’t be two 12:35s in place of zero 12:44s. The investment of time is worth something surely?”

Dad mumbled something under his breath which I took to meaning he respected but rejected my view. In a later room he made similar remarks about some lengthy pieces of brown leather that were hung from the ceiling. He defied how anyone could view this as art.

“Well what do you interpret art as being then?” Mum challenged as we moved across into a room covered floor to ceiling in printed mantras.

“Something of meaning, something of value and something I can’t do.” He gestured to the confined room we stood in, his finger ironically coming to point at one statement which read ‘stupid people shouldn’t breed’. “This is not art.”

“Well I quite like it in a weird way” Mum countered. Her acknowledgement in the face of Dad’s strong reservations surprised me, it was as if they were different people with different views. Unnerving.

After the Tate we retraced our steps and stopped off for lunch at a historic pub called The Anchor. Historic in that it’s rich history included visitations from Samuel Pepys and Edward Jenner and owned by The National Trust, modern in that it was being managed by the Greene King pub chain. Meters away from a shrine room dedicated to Jenner, city folk were chinking glasses on the rooftop terrace to celebrate successful business meetings.

“Does anyone do any work around here?” Dad commented as he reflected on the number of people he’d seen in coffee shops earlier in the day.

“It’s how they do things here,” Mum said flippantly. “It was in a copy of The Telegraph a few weeks ago, even interviews take place in coffee bars nowadays.”

For the second time in as many hours I held my tongue and sipped on my pint of cider. Was Mum becoming Londonised?

Before long all three of us were polishing up our plates and having to think of what we’d been trying to ignore all morning; that eventually my parents were going to have to get back to Paddington to catch the last pre-peak train back to the Cotswolds. Before that though there was just enough time to showcase of the City’s most iconic buildings.

“And there is Saint Paul’s Cathedral” said as we began walking across the pedestrian bridge.

“Isn’t this the bridge that wobbled when people walked across it?” Dad asked.

“Well yes, but that was when they opened it originally, it’s long past that time now and perfectly safe to cross.”

“I’m not stopping on this bridge. I don’t like bridges like this.” Mum announced as she started walking across the bridge. At first she clutched the handrail but realising that fellow tourists hogged the bar for selfies she opted instead for the London commuter approach, to storm down the middle without even pausing to look at the view. She waited patiently on the secure concrete bankside for myself and Dad to catch up and end our conversation about something so trivial I cannot remember what it was about.

“And there is Saint Paul’s” I repeated. Dad was, at first, disappointed there wasn’t the time to go in, replaced by disgust when I told him the ticket price.

“The outside is fine enough.”

Briefly stopping on a bench in the cathedral grounds we observed an Asian bride and groom having staged wedding photos done in one of the doorways, Mum and I hissed at Dad when he accidentally-purposely walked through one of their photo set ups, and then we moved on. By the time I’d shown them the restaurant location for the Channel Four reality series First Dates (which oddly got a better reception than the cathedral) we had to head back to Paddington station via the Central and Bakerloo Tube lines.

“You didn’t have to come with us back to the station,” Dad said, “we’d have been fine on our own.”

Mum looked at me from the seat almost directly opposite. She shook her head subtly so Dad wouldn’t notice and mouthed “no”. As well as seeing them off safe I had no issues with staying with them that bit longer. After all, on my day off I hardly had any other pressing engagements to attend.

I waited with my parents at the station until their platform was announced and then walked them up to the train doors where their seats were ready and reserved for them.

“Thank you so much for showing us round London these past couple of days,” Mum said. “I don’t think we’d have managed without you.”

“We’d have been fine with my map reading skills!” Dad quipped from behind.

“Thank you anyway. We’ll definitely have to visit you again.”

“Definitely do.”

“We are really proud of you, you know?” Dad said as he stepped forward. “What you’ve achieved and what you’re doing, you don’t know how much it means to your Mother and I to see you doing so well for yourself here. And Wapping is such a nice place to be living. We’re just very happy for you.”

“Thanks Dad” I said, trying to not dwell too long on the sentiment for fear of breaking a tear or two. Instead I gave each of them a big hug and told them I loved them both and that I’d text as soon as I got back to the flat and that I’d visit home very soon.

They hopped onto their carriage and I turned on my heel back down the lengthy marble platform. The old-fashioned door slammed and, in just as cold and brutal a manner, our physical connection was cut.

Half an hour later I arrived at my eastward flat as they were speeding in a westerly direction outside Slough. I was wondering what to do with myself when my phone lit up with a familiar notification. A half smile on my lips, I reignited the familiar bond once again.

IMG_2807

Chipping Campden meets Camden Market: A Parental Visit to London

Collecting my parents from Paddington station reminded me of my early outings to the English capital, back when I had depended on friends coming to meet me at the station and hold my hand as we navigated around the big smoke. So when I saw my parents approaching from the far end of platform ten I knew exactly how to make them feel at ease in the unfamiliar surroundings.

I stretched my arms wide, as if I was waiting with a banner at Heathrow arrivals, and exclaimed a little too loudly, “welcome to Paddington!”

“We’ve been here before.” Dad grunted.

“Oh yes, of course.”

“Good to see you!” Mum beamed as she grasped me in a tight hug. “We’ve missed you!”

“Mum, its been two weeks.”

“That’s a good point, when are you next coming home?”

“You’ve just got here Dad.”

“I didn’t go to the loo on the train, how long will it take us to get to Camden?”

I pulled out City Mapper on my phone. “Thirty minutes.”

“Is that to a coffee shop?”

“Well, no, it’s from Paddington to Camden station. I couldn’t guess on the coffee shop front.”

“Then I need to find the loos.”

“But they cost 30p here.”

“Yes but I’m not stupid with money like you.”

It’s always a weird feeling when your own Mother refers their child’s habit of super-saving as ‘stupid with money’, as if she’s never once mourned the closure of high street department stores on account of their free-to-use toilets.

Because of Mum’s firm stance on this matter we spent the first five minutes of my parents’ visit to the world famous London trekking up and down the length of the station to locate women’s facilities. Not sure where that features in Lonely Planet’s ‘Things to Do’.

When we finally found the toilets (meters away from where we’d first started) Dad dipped in and then swiftly came out.

“What is it?”

“I didn’t realise you had to pay.”

“I told you both before that they’re 30p to use.”

“I just thought that for men’s…never mind.”

Somewhere I could hear a dormant feminist awakening from a forty-year slumber. I rolled my eyes and changed the subject to that of the very average train journey they’d been on to get to Paddington.

Welcome to my very Cotswold parents. A Dad who thinks everything in London is a five-minute walk away, a Mum who would happily spend two days in the Paddington branch of Costa Coffee. Within the first ten minutes of their arrival I felt exhausted and ready for bed or a strong drink.

At that point Mum reappeared from the loos and, sensing that somewhere a feminist was setting up a GPS locator on my Father, I guided both parents down to the depths of the Bakerloo line. Unfortunately for us all it wasn’t just any Sunday in September, it was quite possibly be the last sunny Sunday of the year. In my planning I had not foreseen packed Tubes just as much as I hadn’t planned for the escalators to be broken at Euston and Campden stations.

“On behalf of Sadik Khan [Mayor of London], I apologise for the service on the Underground today” I said as we trudged up flight after flight of stairs.

Since moving to London some months beforehand I’d yet to visit Camden. I was raised in the small Cotswold town of Chipping Campden (which we all called Campden), near to Stratford-Upon-Avon (which we all called Stratford) so you can imagine how commonplace it was for Education Officers to assume our school was in the South East. Confusion was the most frequent reaction, on account of us being very white and middle class for the parts of London we were supposedly from. But right here and now in 2018 I was looking forward to trying something new at the suggestion of Dad. What harm could there be at trying something new and different?

Camden was bloody crazy. Absolutely insane. Music, people, street vendors, the atmosphere was stifling and unpleasant even for me. Thanking capitalism for the first time in a long while, we located a Caffé Nero and hid there for over an hour until Dad and I managed to coax Mum out. Taking a route that avoided the main strip, the three of us ventured to Primrose Hill to take in the view. Alongside the dozens of others chatting and selfie-ing at the top I absorbed the panoramic as Mum called out “is it worth it?” from behind. Once she and Dad had joined me and made their pleasing comments I gestured to the area I work in and pointed out a couple of the main sights along the cityscape. We took a couple of selfies and made our way back down the slope.

“It’s nice. But I don’t think you’ll come again, will you?” Mum asked of me.

I glanced at the pasty topless Brits lying on the dusty grass. “No, probably not. Besides, there’s a better view of London from the twelfth floor of my flats and that’s free.” I then remembered that the twelfth floor was also prone to what I called ‘decorative urban debris’ so swiftly changed the subject before thoughts were planted.

We ambled around the quieter streets for a bit, popped into a pricey hipster charity shop, popped just as quickly out, before eventfully admitting defeat and getting the Tube to Wapping, East London (i.e. my kingdom).

To prove nothing in my family ever runs 100% smoothly we suffered from a dramatic mini-incident on the Underground which chiefly stemmed from my foolishness, i.e. I forgot my parents weren’t me. At Euston station (where we’d changed trained) I rushed ahead and hopped onto the carriage with ease. The announcement on the coach was halfway through the familiar “train is ready to depart, mind the doors” when I suddenly remembered I wasn’t travelling alone, my parents were further down the platform, scrambling to catch up to my coach. I realised with horror that my parents weren’t going to make the train. I did the closest thing I could muster to screaming at Dad as beeps warned of doors closing. Dad got on just in time, yanking poor Mum in tow as the doors shut firmly on her right arm. When the automatic response released her from entrapment they revealed a few torn layers of skin but significantly more traumatic pain. As she fumbled around to put some anti-bacterial gel on the sore patch I felt awful. There may have been no physical damage but my impatience to wait two minutes had caused unnecessary stress and pain to the entire trio of us. At that point I decided that the rest of my parent’s visit would have to be drama free.

Seeking calm from the storm of the morning, on arrival at Wapping we went to my local pub and perched by the waterside with two bowls of chips. Thankfully Wapping lived up to the standards I’d set out to my parents and we all enjoyed a very relaxed afternoon. I took them on a walking tour down the old warehouses and cobbled streets before stopping at a place of personal significance. A spot on the north side stretch of the Thames where the river is wide and open and between oneself and the imposing Canary Wharf on the South is nothing but sparkling blue and passing boats.

“I happened upon this view and I just knew I had to do it. I had to move to London and I had to be here.”

As the evening came upon us each hour went by as swiftly as the Docklands Light Railway trains that passed by the window of my parent’s hotel room. Cider was consumed and food was dined on in the pleasurable surroundings of St Katherine’s Docks, but with our feet and bodies feeling the wear of the gummed-up streets and the oily tracks all three of us decided to call it a night at ten o’clock.

 

To be continued…

Everyone Must Go! The 250th Summer Exhibition in Review

Introduction: How the Art Viewer Came to be

Art has always had a place in my life, my youth filled with gallery visitations and parents doing what any middle England-class family does, giving their children cultural direction. This Renaissance painting of Jesus is beautiful, this 1980s dollop of paint is tripe.

The route to modern art acceptance wasn’t by any means easy, collectively I’ve probably spent hours sitting in front of sculptures and paintings, refusing to move on until I saw something beyond the physical. At times I’d use the description for clues, but eventually I’d be able find that tiny door that opened my understanding. And when I found that opening it would change everything. Like a weird kind of Object Sexuality speed date, I’ve approached art with little interest and five minutes later found myself deeply moved by the story it speaks. Nowadays I find myself having to contain my emotion or else run the risk of having family or friends disown me for being a posh snob in High Street brand pyjamas, but whenever I’m alone my inner deep thinker comes alive. And those are the times I get truly inspired.

The 250th Summer Exhibition at The Royal Academy of Arts, London

The Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy is a yearly event where people submit art

IMG_2385
Closing Down Sale by Michael Randy

they feel is worthy for display and, for the most part, worthy of a buck or two (as Michael Randy’s installation puts it ‘everything must go’). Less look, but don’t touch, more touch but then buy. This year’s coordinator was Grayson Perry, a popular artist well-known for his down-to-earthiness, ceramic works and cross-dressing. Promotional images showcased rooms where art hangings filled every inch from ankle to ceiling as if the organisers took immense pride in the clutter as if to say “come visit an exhibition so aspirational that the artists will take whatever space we offer!” While I’d not had the Summer Exhibition on the top of my London ‘to do’ list when I relocated here, once I’d seen it advertised I just knew I had to go.

On the day I of visitation I entered the first gallery and found myself immediately stunned. The summary online had forewarned that art would be in abundance, but some things don’t translate until you physically see it. The second sensory overload came from the volume of people. Never in my life had I attended an exhibition where so many others were present in such a small space. Initially I found these two elements a shock to the system, so quickly manoeuvred to a piece of art further away from the entrance door.

I took an early interest in a pencil drawing that depicted hundreds of couples undergoing a kind of mass marriage in a non-descript Asian country. But where was the description and artist? I flicked through my little list of works book and found the title, Love at First Sight, the artist and the sale price nothing else. No detail, no description, nothing. I looked down at the guide, unable to believe that what I was holding was just price list. Around me people flicked through the books without concern so I gathered that my reaction was a result of being a Summer Exhibition newbie.

IMG_2357
Unaffordable Housing by Carl Godfrey

The lack of information coupled with the volume of art and human traffic put my interpretation skills to the test. For some there was little to read into (even Trump and Miss Mexico by Alison Jackson made me blush) and a great deal of hangings presented dry humour or political satire. Two striking examples of these values came out in both a sculpture by Carl Godfrey that mocked new housing estate signs and David Shrigley’s Untitled grouping which parodied the devaluing of news.

IMG_2387
Part of the Untitled grouping by David Shrigley

From Grenfell to Brexit, British politics had a significant influence in all the galleries this year. A portrait of Nigel Farage hung below a painting of someone throwing up, Scream hung next to Vote to Love by Banksy, valued at £350 million (a random figure to pick *cough*).

IMG_2337
Scream (above) was almost excluded from selection but for a change of heart by Perry and the contrast it presented when hung next to Banksy’s Vote to Love.

That’s what I enjoyed most with this exhibition. It’s controversial, it’s mixed, it’s now. It’s not the political feelings and sentiments from hundreds of years ago, or even of a few decades ago, it’s real-timeIMG_2338 interpretations of people trying to make sense of the world around them. And regardless of whether art is left-wing or right, people on both sides enjoyed what they saw before them. People who clutched price lists and nothing more, others that consumed ample quantities of wine from the in-exhibition bar and debated which pieces to buy (or cursing themselves on missed chances). Everyone chuckled at a high hung piece that bluntly stated “RICH PEOPLE SMELL”. Left wing, but oddly unifying.

The human reaction to creativity has always fascinated me, how as individuals we engage with bits of framed canvas or random objects laid out for subjective review. I was at different exhibition in Bath Spa about a year ago when I overheard a room steward talking to a young couple about modern art.

“When it comes to modern art the most offensive thing you can do is not have an opinion. Love or hate, if something has created an emotion then the artist has done what they set out to do.”

In most galleries the average footfall is much more reduced and scattered, you barelyIMG_2374 hear more than the odd comment here and there. But at the Summer Exhibition there’s a buzz in every room, the taboo of silence when absorbing art has been thrown out the window and buried beneath the statue of Joshua Reynolds in the courtyard. For instance Harry Hill’s anatomical sculpture Welcome, Come on in and Close the Door (right) reminded me of the game Operation, yet it caused strong verbal reaction in a great many other viewers. Even the most far removed of works can be too realistic for some.

All Things Considered

The 250th Summer Exhibition was a fantastic display of talent, creativity and brashness. As Punch cartoons were to our predecessors, the vibrant creations on display represent an evolution of satire to now become items people are prepared to pay hundreds, if not thousands, for. It was clear that Perry’s influence in the banana-yellow Gallery III created an almost competitive spirit among the subsequent galleries to outdo the last with the overall aim to formulate a spectacle completely different and memorable to anything staged by its rivals. And you know what? It worked.

AEB

***

Ps…A Dash of Alice

Because there is always humour to be found in the most lifeless of things, here are a selection of images that inspired me to come up with funny straplines.

(From the model architecture exhibit room – Gallery VI)

img_2353.jpg

When your mate is way more invested in the telling of a story than you are listening.
IMG_2350

No wonder the theatre is empty, the acting is completely flat! (Here all week.)
IMG_2352

Dear Mr Boss Man, the only time I’m ever keen to get back to work is when you’re watching me like a creep.

(Elsewhere…)

IMG_2361

Still a better reception than the Cotswolds
IMG_2346

See, I told you a rug could solve all our problems with border control.
IMG_2384

Hmm, instead of a day out Hyde Park I seem to have become an overpriced art exhibit.
IMG_2344

When you accidentally stumble into the lair of London’s biggest equine gang #TheCobFather

The 250th Summer Exhibition runs until 19th August 2018 at the Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly, London. To find out more visit their website here.

And don’t forget…
img_2379.jpg