Wednesday, 26 February 2014

 Saturday saw me attending a Great British (or should that be great British?) cultural tradition: football (that's soccer to those of you west of the Atlantic Ocean). Crystal Palace, to be exact. This is a team that has only just this season risen to the heady heights of the Premier League. There is a sense that no one can quite believe it and so it's all about staying in this giddy position. Still...

The experience began with a visit to The Albion, a nearby pub painted purple and red, which is - you guessed it - the Crystal Palace colors. A handwritten sign in the window read: 'Supporters only' and to get in, you had to show your season ticket to the guy standing outside the door. On every street corner in the vicinity were at least two and sometimes four police officers in their yellow day-glo jackets but, to be fair, they looked pretty relaxed. Gone, it seems, are the scary days of the 1980s when I lived near the Arsenal ground and my heart would pound when I saw a crowd of skinheads assembling before or after a match.

So a swift one and then on to Selhurst Park itself. It's a bit of a rough and ready place – one might even describe it as dated and down-at-heel – but this is its charm and may it ever be so. The atmosphere is close and cozy, the seats wooden, the ladies' toilets clean (though I heard horror stories about the men's – something about standing in an inch of p–– But no need to go there!) and probably the only ones in London you don't have to queue for, the ratio of men to women being in the region of 100 to one.

Pre-game entertainment included the two mascots – one male, one female character yellow eagle, going around the pitch, waving to the crowd; the Crystals – a troupe of young ladies with glittery pompoms doing low-key routines to the pop music that could just be heard beneath the roar of the crowd; but best of all was the real-life American bald eagle who flew from one goal to the other several times.
Finally the match began: Man U were the visitors and sadly for Palace, they won 0-2. But still, considering I have almost zero interest in watching competitive sport, I found myself silently urging CP on: Please score! Please get a goal! And the verdict? Good fun. As the other half said at some point during the day, "This is my tribe."

Well, it's what we all hanker for, isn't it? To be with our gang.  And so finally it all makes sense: to be one with them and get behind a common cause.

Friday, 21 February 2014

The legacy of all the wind and storms since Christmas is this big old oak, which went over in Alexandra Park, here in north London. Not sure if the sheer enormousness of the trunk comes over in the photo, but if I stand next to it, it comes above my waist - that's pretty big! Some of the older trees in the park go back several hundred years and I'm guessing this was one of them. Too bad it went over.

On other fronts, I just had a surprisingly nice birthday. I say surprising for a couple of reasons. One is that I'd been pretty low-key about it
– that is, I didn't announce it ahead of time and had decided a meal out with my son would be celebration enough. However! Come the day (thanks mainly to Facebook but, also, to a couple of dear souls who remembered it and sent cards – yes, cards! Still the most touching thing to receive on a notable day – that arrived on the morning), the lovely team easyJet Traveller folks took me out to lunch in Shoreditch, which meant pricey if delicious burgers (a fish one for me, I hasten to add, as I'm a pescatarian) and they picked up the tab, plus, they gave me a delightful pineapple plant and card. Awwww....

Then, after work, I headed to Farringdon and the most northerly branch of Burger & Lobster, where I met my wonderful son. And yes, we had East Coast lobster! I know, a terribly un-green thing to do, but such a treat. I actually had to close my eyes and pause for a moment when I bit into my lobster roll for the first time. Was a taste of Maine, Martha's Vineyard and home. Delicious. And my son simply the best company. Plus? He gave me a card and a very nice bottle of wine.

But the second reason it was such a nice day, aside from all this merrymaking and recognition the birthday brought, is this: All day, I kept waiting for the ruining. You know, that thing that would slam me down and remind me that, just because it was my birthday was no reason something – or more likely, someone – wouldn't be horrid. Can I share? When I was a child, my big brother was very good at thumping me and this was often the ruining of many a birthday. A bit later on, when I was possibly too big to hit, a father with an uncontrollable temper was equally good at ruining. So, though I quietly expected that moment of ruining even all these years later (we get well and truly conditioned when we're young!), it never came! It was just an all-round very good day. So thank you to any and all who had even the smallest part in making that happen! And thank goodness for the ability to grow up and take charge of life in a positive way. Phew! And yay. Roll on another brilliant year!

Monday, 17 February 2014

I know it's part of the British psyche to complain about the weather and, all around the world, it is rolled out as part of their stereotype, but truthfully, it has been quite Day After Tomorrow-ish here, pretty much since early January. It's all down to the Gulf Stream, which has shifted and so no longer visits these shores, combined with the artic air coming from the west rather than the east – or something apocalyptic. The upshot being that the wind has raged and the skies have opened and acres are under water and the coastline has shape-shifted.

At any event, to say it was good to see the sun yesterday is a bit like saying it was nice to eat after a three-day fast. That is, along with water, food and sleep, sunshine must be up there with the necessary ingredients to survival – at least mentally. Or, at least, for me.

And so to the Chilterns and, in particular, Ivinghoe Beacon on the Ridgeway, to get outside and soak some up. Delicious!

That was yesterday. Today we have slid back to Overcast Grey. Not as chi-chi as Elephant's Breath or Borrowed Light – in fact, if I'm honest, it's pretty depressing – but it is still February, after all. I'm practically holding my breath for Fuerteventura, which is where I'm headed next. I've never been to any Canary Islands before, so tips most gratefully received! I'm hoping that, as it will be March, it will be too early for the whole 18-30 crowd and too late for the Saga sun seekers. My driver for going is star-gazing: it's been designated one of the world's four top spots for this activity, due to the low light pollution, and the highlight of our trip will be a guided evening looking up and getting to use a whopping great telescope.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Here in the UK, the one night of the week you'll find the movie theaters full is Wednesday, because mobile-phone network Orange offers a twofer deal to its customers. And so to see Dallas Buyers Club at the local Odeon (home-brought popcorn and bottled water in our bag. I know, so cheap, but otherwise defeats the point of a low-cost night out). Did not know what this film was going to be about, beyond the poster picture. Personally? I refer seeing things without knowing much about them beforehand. If it's any good, you don't need a trailer to let you know the entire plot and you certainly don't need (or want?) half the office to tell you all the good bits ahead of seeing it. (By the way, what is that compulsion to reveal the storyline, high point, etc? Must be some psychological reason for wanting to be The One Who Knows.) Much more entertaining to allow the story to unroll like life, in which you don't know what will come next. Anyway! On that basis, all I will say is that I loved Jared Leto in this, had not seen him before so didn't know who he was, which made his performance even more believable.

Above is Seven Dials, which I have walked past the last two lunch times on my way to catch up with West End-working friends - a bonus of being based in central London for a couple of weeks. It's a wonderfully curious intersection of seven streets, all meeting at this point in London's Covent Garden. The 'dial' is a sun dial, one on each side of the top of the monument and though this place was for a long time the epitome of slummy urban London, at least until the first half of the 20th century, it is now surrounded by upmarket, single-designer shops; expensive restaurants; a theatre showing Matilda the Musical and prettily cobbled to make it pedestrian friendly. Gentrification: good thing? Bad thing? Discuss.

Meanwhile, the UK continues to become a vast lake district under the weight of tremendous rainfall and lashings from practically non-stop storms. The eastern half of the USA, I hear, is braced for another monster snowstorm and California is as dry as an overcooked chestnut. The West is becoming more and more like a natural-disaster movie.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

How is that you can live in a city for decades and still find places that surprise you? Take The Jamaica Wine House, London's first coffee house, originally opened in 1652 and visited by the famous London diarist, Samuel Pepys. Sadly, it doesn't seem to be the same building and it's now a pub, but a jolly, Victorian rabbit warren of a place, with plenty of wood-paneled partitions and tucked down one of the many medieval alleyways in the very oldest part of London that is what people mean when they speak of the City (which, unlike most cities, is the name of an actual area within the capital. I hope that's clear!).

So to the Jamaica etc last night to meet a couple of chums and drink ale with names like Spitfire and Master's Brew, sensibly taking ourselves off to find food before we went beyond the point of wanting any.

We stumbled out and turned the corner and – voilà! There was Leadenhall Market. "How is it," I practically screeched, "that I've lived here all these years and never saw this place before?!" So, like a tourist (and, with my American accent, I feel a license to behave like one at will), I began snapping away and saying the expected things ("Isn't it beautiful?" "Look at the ceiling!" And, probably too many times, "How come I've never seen this before?!")

I've now learned that it's on the site of the center of what was Roman London and that there's been a market here since, like, the 14th century. Though, obvs, this building is from the 1880s and it was used for various film sets, including Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter ones.

With its little inside/outside cafés, it reminded me very much of the market area of Bordeaux, where I once whiled away an evening by myself waiting for someone who was getting in late. And, on that note, I'm taking this as an excuse to say that, while I don't particularly like traveling alone, it's also true that by yourself everything comes into sharper focus and sits on a special shelf in the memory vaults.

And so to today. As Son has gone to Amsterdam for the weekend and Boyfriend is at the football, I have a rare Saturday all to myself, which I am already enjoying: drinking tea, listening to the wind through the trees and watching as the sky goes from the crystal-clear light I woke to, to subtly darkening grey as another – and allegedly the biggest yet – storm of this year rolls in.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

When I arrived at the 134 bus stop on Tottenham Court Road, in central London, yesterday evening there were maybe 30 or 40 people there. A lot, but then, it was the first day of the two-day Tube strike, so to be expected. I also thought, as the bus was due any minute and another shortly afterwards, that we'd soon all be trundling home. Forty minutes later, and still no 134 had appeared, but the world and her sister had. Still the board said the bus was due any minute, but at this point I knew that, even if three buses came at once, there was little chance of getting on.

Fortunately, someone nearby with a smartphone announced that the Northern Line had 'good service'. Really? Well, cool! I'm off then. Strangely? There was a slow-moving crowd to get into Tottenham Court Station, but once through the barrier, it was actually emptier than usual!

So, as Day 2 of the strike begins, I know what I'll be doing... And this is the sky I woke to: one for sailors to take warning from. Very pretty, but this country is sodden enough. Dramatic pictures yesterday on the news showing the train line to Cornwall – a scenic ride I've enjoyed a few times – hanging like a suspension bridge as all the ballast underneath is now washed away. The forecaster I heard last night said we're in for six more weeks of storms. How they know this, I don't know and, based on previous long-range forecasts, no doubt means we're in for an early, sunny spring.

Monday, 3 February 2014

This one is for all the ex-pats who have lived in the UK for more than five years. Five years, I've found, is the length of time it takes to go from feeling you've landed in an amazing place and you love everything about it – or, at least, what you don't love you find eccentrically different and quirky; to feeling that, if you don't see the particular way the light streams into a room at the latitude you grew up on or walk down a street knowing everyone around you watched the same crap TV when they were growing up as you did, you will sink into a dark well of despondency. It's the point at which you find all the quirky differences in your adopted home no longer interesting but downright ridiculous or, worse, so irritating you want to scream. 
 At any event, I post this picture of the Guggenheim because it is wonderfully New York and reminds me of home. Yes, even after all these years, I still think of New York as home.  Oh, poo. Running out of time. Enjoy Monday, everyone!