Couch surfing and Mince pies

Christmas Slippers
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I have been couch surfing all day in my new Christmas slippers, watching back to back re-runs of ‘Lewis’. This has not been the most productive first day of the New Year.

I have a cold. I always seem to have a cold on New Year’s Day. However it is an improvement on this time last year when my toilet had broken and kept flushing. I had to call out a plumber and spent most of January paying back the bill. Today I have been eating chocolates and mince pies so the only payback in January will be the pounds I need to shed in compensation. My mother keeps reminding me I’m hitting the danger zone of Type 2 Diabetes and so it would appear action needs to be taken.

I haven’t written on my blog since I started my MA in Creative Writing. The first term was billed as a writing boot camp and it lived up to its label. By mid-November I was exhausted having had to come up with a new idea, plot and premise for a book each week and writing at least 2,000 words for workshopping. That combined with critiquing my fellow students’ work, lectures, giving a presentation and two assessments nearly finished me off. The hardest part was completing all of this around my work which was still racking up 9-10 hours of my day. But I made it!

Although I had several meltdowns, I do feel a sense of achievement and I am no longer quite as obsessed by work. I now use my thinking time for my writing and not mulling over all my emails.

So looking forward to what 2015 brings. Work in theory shouldn’t be quite so demanding, as I have now given up all my management responsibilities. Hurrah! And hopefully, as the months roll by, I will squeeze out a few more blog posts and the first 30,000 words of my novel.

Five things to look forward to in January:

1. The Muskateers are back!

2. And so is Foyle’s War! (US tralier below – series starts here on Sunday 4th January)

3. I move desks next week and for the first time in three years will be working next to a window. Natural light, here I come!

4. With each day of January 1-2 mins of extra daylight which can be appreciated through my window.

5. No more mince pies. I never thought I would say it but I think I finally have sugar overload.

 

 

Bringing up a Book!

Funny Girl Student With Glasses Reading Books
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I met my old hairdresser Amie in the salon this morning. She has been off work since January having given birth to a bouncing boy. She was looking great and appeared to be handling motherhood extremely well. This was not surprising but I’d wondered how motherhood would suit her. Over the eight years I’ve known Amie she’s always presented an image of pitch-perfect bohemia. A creative hairdresser who lives in the equally creative catchment of Dalston. She does club promotions in the evenings with her musician husband and sustains a gorgeous 1940’s style along with a passion for New Orleans Jazz and black magic.

When I asked her how it was going, she said, ‘do you know Lucy it’s the most amazing journey. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing at the beginning but slowly it’s beginning to make sense. Hard but very rewarding.’ Amie has never been afraid of new experiences. One day she decided she wanted to learn how to breathe fire because she thought it would be a cool club act that she could do while her husband performed in his band. She spent hours in the shower igniting petroleum mouth washes to perfect the art.

It made me think. Two weeks ago I started a Masters in Crime Thriller writing and I haven’t a clue what I’m doing. I knew it wouldn’t be easy but I’m a little scared as to how hard I’m finding it.

One of the reasons I wanted to do the masters was because I don’t have children. I was feeling rudderless and needed some purpose in my life outside of work. I’ve always enjoyed writing and love a bit of crime fiction so this seemed to be the perfect project to take on. After speaking to Amie I’m beginning to wonder if my experiences are slightly similar to being a first time mother with a new born, except I’m a first time writer with a new book.

Cute baby with book on the white background

  1. I’m in a constant state of self-inflicted anxiety. I’m sure everyone is much better at this writing lark than me. I attended an evening lecture last week. By the time I was in the theatre my brain was fried from a day’s work and most of my neurons were frozen together. Not so for my fellow students who appeared to be firing off answers to the lecturers’ questions with the rapid creative spontaneity of a BB gun. I can only begin to find my imagination on a Sunday lunchtime when I’ve had 24 hours lying on the sofa contemplating how my story will work.
  2. I’m walking around with a kindle clamped to my chest. There is so much to read and I never seem to have read quite enough.
  3. I’ve given up alcohol this month to support the ‘Go sober for October’ scheme run by the Macmillan charity. I can’t however see myself picking up a glass of wine in term time. My fellow students all trip to the pub after the evening class. Either they have twice as much stamina as I do or they don’t need to get up at 6am and head into work to minute a two hour meeting. I’m wondering though if I’m just the wimp that needs 8 hours of sleep to function.
  4. I’m behind at work. I’ve always been in awe of working Mum’s managing to get out of the door on time. I’m finishing work on time to get to class but definitely at the expense of my workload. The emails are stacking up and the towering in-tray is starting to sway in the air-conditioning.
  5. As my brain juggles work, classes, assignments and reading, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to sleep. I seem incapable of switching off. If I’m not dreaming of hostage situations and intricate crime scenes, I’m waking up with fretting thoughts about drowning in a tsunami of unread emails.
  6. As I’m running around from ‘a’ to ‘b’ the one faculty I could really do with relying on is failing me – my memory. I used to be so proud of how I could multi-task a ‘to do’ list of forty points. Now as my focus is distracted by thoughts of where are the plotting points, what are the twists and turns – is he dead or does he survive. I’m lucky if I can remember what I did the afternoon before at work let alone what needs to be done for next week.

So I really don’t have a clue as to what I’m doing right now.

Funny Baby Girl In Glasses Reading A Book In A Library

But and there is a big but in all of this, I think I’m enjoying the experience. Despite the anxiety of not being good enough, I want to give it a good shot. My professor is mentoring me like a surrogate grand-parent. The wise one who has seen it all before, now nurturing another MA student through difficult times.

At the end of the two years when I’ve hopefully navigated the workshops, essays and presentations. I will have produced a book. 60,000 words telling a cracking story. A toddling infant which could go on to grow into a commercial success. And if my prodigy doesn’t light the publishing world on fire, I will still be able to take pride in the journey that created it.

Little boy hugging an old book, he is happy

As for now I need to remember where I’ve put my assignment notes for tomorrow.

Yes! I do Love London

London doodles
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I’m very lucky with my little flat in Pimlico in that the terrace at the back overlooks a long vista of gardens and trees. A branch of my neighbour’s silver birch tree over-hangs one corner of the terrace and with a slight breeze I’m soon swaying with the tree tops. I have a little oasis in the centre of London.  I can lie in bed and hear the chimes of Big Ben or a tourist shouting from his hotel window, ‘I love London.’

Last night I sat out on my terrace with a glass of wine. I could hear an operatic aria being played to my left, wave to my neighbour watering her plants below, hear the hammering thud of a DIY enthusiast and the murmurings of some top tunes from the roof of a house party. London is not quiet. It is a noisy, eclectic mixture of the sounds of human life. Over the summer the heat, noise and crowds of tourists have driven me a little potty. But as a new season beckons my irritations have softened and I think I’m ready to renew my relationship with this sprawling mass of urban living.

You have a choice when you live in a city whether it is London, New York or Paris. Prioritise your location or prioritise your space. Very few people are in the position to do both especially with the spiralling costs of London property whether you’re a buyer or a renter. After watching these two videos I realise how lucky I am to have bought a one bedroom apartment with outside space over ten years ago.

You often feel alone in London which is ironic when you’re sharing the limited square footage with millions of people but these people are strangers. I think being alone in a crowd of strangers can be more isolating than standing on your own in a field. Your loneliness can be heightened by the crowds of unfamiliar faces. I have felt lonely living further out in London in Zone 3 and 4 but never while living in the centre. I think for me it is because I’m living next to history and also in an area where my cultural senses can be stimulated at every turn. I can walk to numerous galleries, take a turn and be passing by Buckingham Palace, the London Eye or Westminster Cathedral. The choice of Trafalgar Square and the buzz of the West End, a walk by the river in Battersea Park or gazing in awe at the white stucco buildings of Eton Square. This is my London and the one I’m connected to.

I know for some people London is the edginess of Hackney and Dalston or the open commons of Clapham. I think you have to find your spot within this great city and I found mine in Pimlico.

There is a great phrase Kate Atkinson wrote in her wonderful book ‘Life after Life’:

‘And the English Soul, if it resided anywhere, was surely in some unheroic back garden – a patch of lawn, a bed of roses, a row of runner beans.’

I tried growing some French beans on my terrace this year and although they worked it wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t the right time or the right place to be sticking canes in a pot.

My English soul is residing in London. It is still growing and learning in London and is not quite ready to plant seeds in a patch of English countryside. One day I think it will move on to find its own patch of lawn and I have a feeling that day may come sometime in the next decade or so.  London will be the place I come to escape to and the green fields will be home instead of vice versa.

For the next two years I’m a student as I start my Masters’ course. London once again will be the background to another era in my life as I continue to learn and change. I find this a refreshing thought. I have spent over 25 years in this city. I have changed much over the years and to a certain degree so has London but it has also presented me with a solid dependable background to my changing world.  For that I’m grateful. Yes! I do love London.

The Lost Gardens of Heligan

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I have come to the conclusion that London remains home especially for the next two years while I complete my studies. I’m still feeling a slight yearning for a more rural life but since the backlash of Bertha blew through the city, taking the humidity with it, life in the centre of London has become more bearable. But more on all of that in another post.

This post I want to dedicate to a great trip I had in the Summer that is now fading when I went to the Lost Gardens of Heligan. It was the second time I had been round these beautiful gardens but still they engross me with their beauty and history. These gardens are part of the Cornish Tremayne Family Estate near Mevagissey which are now leased out to their restorers. For me there is a sadness to the story in that in 1900 at the turn of the century, the gardens and estate were blossoming in full glory. A community run by a team of twenty-two gardeners. This picture is a snapshot of the staff in 1900. Each face has a story to tell.

By the end of the Great War in 1918, sixteen of the twenty-two gardeners were dead. Every person in this picture would have been touched by the war. Their sons, their cousins, their nephews and the young man standing in the back row who would undoubtedly have fought, did he survive?

After the First World War the beautiful gardens fell into disrepair no longer able to be maintained by the few men who had survived the fighting. It wasn’t until the 1990s the gardens were rediscovered and are now being lovingly restored. But I can’t help wonder how the thriving community in the estate would have developed if the Great War hadn’t created a full stop to so many lives who were too young to die. That is history though we live with its consequences, every action has a reaction which vibrates across the centuries and you can only ponder the ‘what if’.

The gardens are now an eclectic mix of beauty and history. The lovingly restored peach and vine houses:

Grape Vines Peach House 2 Peach House

An array of flowers which would have been cut to fill the vases of the Tremayne Manor House and perhaps sneaked into a few labourer’s cottages:

Beautiful blend of purple and white Cosmos and Cornflowers

Walled gardens and terracotta pots spilling over with chaotic, colourful displays of Cornish Daisies:

Floppy Purples bells hydrangeas against old brick wall Pots of Cornish Daisies Terracata pots full of Cornish Daisies Terrace post of Cornish Daisies Wheelbarrow

The estate is huge. They have restored ‘The Jungle Garden’ full of ferns and subterranean ponds:

Ferns Jungle Fever from the Lost Gardens of Heligan.

And one of my favourite woodland walks with the statues of The Giant’s Head, The Grey Lady and The Mud Maid, all nestled into the landscape:

The Giant's Head 2 The Giant's Head the Grey Lady 2 The Grey Lady The Mud Maiden 3The Mud Maiden

It is a pleasure to walk amongst these century old gardens and I hope that somehow those sixteen gardeners who perished know that their legacy lives on.

Summer Exhibition 2014

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Art Items

As with any struggling relationship I have spent this week making mental lists as to why I still love London. For example an empty tube in the morning because most commuters are away on holiday scores a plus point but this is later cancelled out by a whack in the ribs from the rucksack of a tourist guide.

I did though manage a trip to the Royal Academy to see the Summer Exhibition which cheered me up. I am a ‘friend’ of the academy which basically means for an annual membership I get free entry to the exhibitions. For me it is great knowing I can take my time and go round an exhibition more than once. I can find it overwhelming trying to take everything in on one viewing and that goes for all exhibitions and not just the Summer Exhibition which is particularly packed with visual tastings.

I met George in the Keeper’s House which is a lovely little, fairly undiscovered bar, in the Royal Academy. It is tucked away in the basement with access to a small outdoor garden. We were attending a special ‘friends’ evening’ and decided to make the most of the cocktail offer. We only had one potent mixture of spirits each but that seemed to be enough for me on an empty stomach, as I staggered upstairs to the gallery. ‘Deep breath,’ said George as I tripped over my feet and fell into the foyer crashing my bag against the door.

We managed to get round the first four rooms before deciding to call it a night. As usual with the Summer Exhibition there is an eclectic mixture of pieces to see. From the familiar names of Sir Quentin Blake, Martin Creed, Tracy Emin and Sir Anthony Caro to the new budding and emerging artists of the future. There are landscapes, still life and a bicycle with wheels formed by petals of folded steel. Dancing life-size mannequins, a classical bust and huge hangings of colourful interpretations, textured oil paintings and a room filled with a light box for you to disappear into and find yourself.

Installation view of Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2014 c. Benedict Johnson Installation view of Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2014 c. Benedict Johnson Installation view of Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2014 c. Benedict Johnson Installation view of Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2014 c. Benedict Johnson

Of course with most of the paintings and artefacts in the Summer Exhibition being up for sale there is the added game to play of ‘guess the price’. As you wander around the galleries and see something that takes your fancy or out of just plain curiosity when faced with a hairbrush on a microphone stand – you take a guess at the value.

Seal Floyer

 

One of you will then leaf through the little red catalogue book find its number and look at the pound sign listed next to it which invariably produces the reaction ‘how much???’

We decided to go back to the RA to finish our viewing on Friday morning as had both taken the morning off. We had a lovely walk past Buckingham Palace and up through Green Park, early enough to be just ahead of the bus tours. The sun was fresh and the park was green.

When we arrived at Burlington House we decided to have breakfast in the square in front of the gallery. It is a lovely spot by the statue of Sir Joshua Reynolds and surrounded by what they call the ‘Courtyard Societies’ which joined the Royal Academy at Burlington House in the late 1800’s.

With the blue sky, the bubble of the fountains and historical London all around us, when it came down to my relationship status with this city, it was definitely ‘advantage London’. We leisurely finished our coffee and blueberry muffins and went back into the gallery to finish what we started.

 

 

I’m not feeling the Love for my London Life

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I have always said I have a love affair with London. We have good times and bad times together, frustrating moments and moments of great loveliness. Right now it is annoying me no end and I’m feeling very fed-up with my choice of geographical affection. This could be because I’ve been away for two weeks in Cornwall, staying in a lovely fishing village on the Rosalind Peninsula. I think I have the holiday blues.

I was determined to hold on to my holiday joie de vivre but it swiftly dissipated when I got off the coach at Victoria and hit a wall of oppressive heat. I’m grateful for a summer of sun I really am. I’m no longer pasty white and my vitamin D levels are nicely topped up, ready to take on the 6 months of daylight deprivation when October comes. But the humidity in London over the past couple of weeks has pushed my buttons. In my small hot box in the middle of the city you gasp for just a whiff of a breeze. If I sit out on my terrace for too long I melt, like a wax work hit by a blow torch. I picked up a hoover last Saturday, normally this is not an arduous task bearing in mind the square footage can be covered by plugging into one power socket, but within minutes sweat was pouring out of every pore. I had to take a break every five minutes to plunge my head into a bowl of cold water.

I can’t sleep at night either. The windows are all open, my fan is working overtime but still it feels airless. I had the genius idea of putting bags of frozen peas on my pulse points to cool me down which worked for a while until the petits pois dissolved into wet goo. One friend who has now moved into the cooler suburbs suggested putting Dyson fan towers into each of the rooms but this is a small flat with no storage and any purchases have to be practical for 12 months of the year, so not an option for me.

I’ve started to fantasize about buying a three bedroom house on the coast. Something I could afford to do if I sold my little patch of London real estate. Apparently the air quality in Cornwall is particularly fresh as the oxygenated air blows in from across the sea and hasn’t been regurgitated through 5 million London inhabitants. I’ve been looking at photos of the coastal walk I used to jog each morning and the little harbour front. If I attempted any physical outdoor activity in this city right now I would pass out within five minutes.

Path into Village Hydrangeas Hydrangeas next to coastal path Harbour View from Top Road Harbour Pathway Flowers by roadside Castle Pathway

Today the humidity has dropped slightly and I tried to feel a bit more positive about my environment. I decided to go out for a walk and do some food shopping. Looking at the new developing area of Victoria I worked on positive thoughts at how great the area is becoming. We now have a Curzon Cinema and the fab new healthy fast food chain Leon has opened up. Just as I was beginning to think life wasn’t so bad a very overweight, shirtless, drunk man walked past. He paused pulled down his trousers scratched the top of his flabby bottom before readjusting himself and taking a swig from his can of Stella.

Whisking myself away to a house with a scenic view over the harbour wall just became very tempting indeed.

Harbour View

 

Summer has begun

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It was the longest day yesterday in daylight terms. For London that meant 16 hours and 38 minutes of sunlight. It is the day when our pagan ancestors celebrated the Summer Solstice with midsummer fun. Apparently it is a time of cleansing and healing. Lighting ritual bonfires and jumping over them for purification and renewed energy is recommended.

I decided this was perhaps an exercise not best practised in inner London on a small terrace three floors up. I did however decide to dedicate myself to the day by indulging in the pleasure of sitting with my plants and a glass of red wine or two (it is an antioxidant after all).

I’m enjoying my terrace so much at the moment as with the recent bouts of sunshine and the odd downfall of rain it has meant everything is flourishing. For me it has been a particular labour of love to get it back to a presentable state. I had set myself the theme of Italian piazzas and terraces and inspired by the pictures I gathered on pinterest, carried out the following makeover on my few square metres.

Before

doing up terrace Terrace before 3 Terrace before Terrace before2

…and After

Hydranga and oliver tree Horizontal view of terrace heather and lobelia George Best Roses Hydrangas and Daisies Purple Daisies Terrace heather etc

It is my little haven in the middle of London, even if I am overlooked by hotels, friendly neighbours and am having to share it with a large blueberry cage.

I do love London in the Summer and now this weekend it has officially begun. It is time to experience all the great parks, outdoor street fairs and activities that London boasts during this time of year. So probably time to get out of my DIY and declutter frenzy and experience a little of what this City has to offer. But it is nice to know when I do want a break from the crowds I have my own little corner of London to return to.