Saturday, 12 April 2008

London Cobblestones

Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the Missing Dishes

When I arrived at 'the flat that hygiene forgot' here in Fitzrovia (not Covent Garden, as I originally thought), I noticed the dearth of basic kitchen necessities. A quick survey uncovered 2 mugs, 4 bowls, 1 scotch glass, 1 rusty apple-peeler, 3 plates and 1 cherub corkscrew (with the screw coming from somewhere decidedly un-cherub-like). Along with the unpredictable cutlery drawer ('Will there be any spoons this morning? Or will I eat my cereal with a fork?'), my groceries kept disappearing as well.

Considering Hannah was never at home, and Peter left for Canada a week into my stay, that left one possible suspect: the remaining flatmate, Peter the second. He seemed quite nice until he pulled off his mask Scooby-Doo style and revealed himself as the dish-hoarding chain-smoker from the seventh level of hell. That sounds a bit harsh, but read on...

After I revealed to Hannah his predilection for grazing upon my groceries and his tendency to buzz in at 3.30am after losing his keys, she wrote what I could only suspect to be a rather sternly-worded note (signed from the both of us, though I am still uncertain of its precise content) and slid it under his door.

The next day when I came home, the missing kitchen necessities had materialised on every available benchtop. There were mugs and glasses and bowls and cutlery and plates, and - considering I had never seen some of these items over the course of two whole weeks - I could only guess how thick and thriving the colonies of bacteria must have been in amongst the dried spaghetti sauce and mystery brown gunge.

Perhaps it was just a coincidence; perhaps it was an act of defiance against 'the note'; perhaps he just didn't like the cut of my jib. Whatever it was, I had an hour of washing-up spread out before me. Unstable multicoloured skyscrapers of bowls and pots and mugs. Long-established bacterial communities to massacre in a cruel tsunami of lime-scented liquid. I was tempted to leave it all there, but I remembered an oft-encountered lament of Mum's: 'If I don't do it, no one will'. One thing that is definitely NOT oft-encountered at home, however, is dried-up cigarette stubs lying in an ashy grave at the bottom of countless blue Ikea mugs. I don't think Peter has even been home since I did the washing-up, so I can't even avoid asking him about the 'dish situation' as I (more than likely) otherwise would have done.

Living here I have also been haunted by the mail of residents past. A new name affixed to Flat 225 comes through the slot almost every day. Luckily someone amongst this group had taste: on the bookshelf upstairs I found a copy of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and Damned.

Snow and Confetti

The weather hasn't been too bad since I've been here, but last Sunday I awoke to white fluff floating around outside my window. Kyle and I had already arranged to go to the Tate Modern, so we walked there in the snow, stopping once on the way so I could wrap my frightened fingers around a comforting coffee.

The great thing about most of the museums and galleries in London is that admission is free to the permanent exhibitions. The Tate Modern had a paid-entry exhibition of Marcel Duchamp and Man Ray, but I was happy enough to stumble upon Giacometti's 'Unique Forms of Continuity in Space' and Miro's 'Woman and Bird in the Moonlight' (which some of you may recognise as my MSN user picture).

A sneaky shot with Miro's painting

The work that really caught my interest was a video by two Brazilian artists - Rivane Neuenschwander and Cao Guimaraes - called 'Quarta-feria de cinzas (Ash Wednesday)'. Using what must have been a phenomenal camera, the video follows a parade of ants carrying colourful flecks of confetti. Because the ants are dark and tthe ground is full of 'natural' colours like brown leaves, moist-looking grey rocks an dark soil, the confetti - in various colours like fuschia, fluoro yellow, lime green, bright blue and reflective silver - sometimes look like they're floating and twirling and bumbling their way across the landscape on their own. Even when you can see the ants, if you 'soften' your vision it looks like these round bright discs are sliding down the sandy ant-holes themselves, bring 'drawn' there by some mysterious alien beam. Sometimes you'll be watching this incredibly sharp picture of one ant carrying one pink piece of confetti up and down rocks and through leaves, and other times the leafy floor has various swirly flecks all bobbing and weaving in the same direction. It is mesmerising to watch. It also has a very subtle soundtrack of little crinkly, poppy, chirpy, buzzy noises. I think because the sounds are slightly 'mechanical', it adds to the sense of an overarching, unknowable 'force' that is directing this confetti-gathering movement. It is too 'cute' to be creepy, but the whole setup leads you to suspect some kind of cult-like 'purpose' behind the meanderings of these ants and their colourful plunder.

That's enough arty-fartiness for one post. I will put down my pen-of-high-pretention now.

Hackney: some say it's up-and-coming, some say it's down and staying there

One of the problems with moving to a new country is that, as yet, most place names are meaningless to me: they carry no positive or negative associations. 'Elephant and Castle' may sound quaint and interesting, but it isn't until you talk to a Londoner that you are filled in with the sordid details of drive-bys and ghetto-style housing. Before Peter the second turned into the dish-hoarding somnambulant, he gave me a quick North-South-East-West comparison of London with Sydney. They were fairly 'sweeping' comparisons, and he did point out a few anomalies, but basically it ran like this:

North London = laid-back like Bondi
East London = funky like Newtown or Glebe
South London = poor like Redfern
West London = rolling in cash and Maseratis like the North Shore

Based on this comparison, you might be able to guess which area of London I would most want to live. Kyle and I had decided to look for a flat-share place together, so we arrived with a skip and whistle to a lovely terrace-house in... Hackney. The place was about 10 kabillion times better than the flat in Fitzrovia, but it wasn't until a girl at work told me that I might want to pack a bulletproof vest if I was moving there that I began to have serious doubts. Walking towards the house to sign the papers, I took in the brownness and the seediness and the swirling of sirens and began to feel very 'small'. The 'bulletproof vest' comment had me severely rattled. The landlord had made Hackney out to be a magical place where children gather on weekends to dance around maypoles and distribute daisies to the elderly, but of course it was in his interests to skip certain uncomfortable details. My 'character-judgment' radar was refusing to bleep at me, however, and he took us for a walk around the neighbourhood and let us have a private conversation with the other flatmates before we attached our names to any paperwork. One of the girls managed to convince me that Hackney has this huge stigma attached to it, but that it is now a safe (if ugly) place to live. I myself witnessed a robbery right around the corner from the flat in Fitzrovia, so it seems like there are few places in London that are 'untainted'.

On the bus on the way home I also realised that I've spent my whole life up til now living in a place outsiders consider a 'dive': Western Sydney. So I'll just have to take up my habitual position as 'defender of stigma-riddled neighbourhoods'. I can always throw around Bansky's name (, who has been known to work in the area, or I can just pretend I live in Shoreditch, which is 10 minutes down the road.

So, for better or worse, Hackney will be 'my hood' for the next 3 months. It is an unfortunately named place: something between a cliched expression and the charming sound of phlegm.

Catering for London's Elite

I have managed to score a fairly decent 'back-up' job as a waitress with a company that caters for upmarket events all over London (they did the Queen's 80th, for example). One of the perks of the job, apart from the opportunity to work at some amazing venues I might otherwise never have seen the inside of, is that we - the gallant and black-bedecked waitstaff - get to eat all the spare 5-star meals. This week at Plaisterer's Hall ( I could help myself to, for example:

Entree Beetroot cured Scottish salmon on horseraddish fritter with beetroot creme fraiche tapenade, chive oil dressing and a soft herb salad.

Main Roasted rump of lamb studded with garlic and rosemary on a roasted garlic creamed mash with roasted root vegetables and a rosemary jus-lie.

Dessert Mandarin torte with a rich bitter chocolate sauce.

They also had vegetarian options like roasted veggie stacks and strudels, and, for dessert, fruit platters with kiwifruit, pineapple, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and rockmelon arranged in concentric circles. So even though £6 an hour is unquestionably dismal, I'm sure I can put up with blueberry cheesecake with mixed-berry compote and a sprig of fresh mint every day until I find something better. (Before you leap in with your 'Heathrow-Injection-I-told-you-so's, Jaxon, I haven't actually been snapping up the cheesecake every day!)

Okay. This is actually, believe it or not, the second time I've typed out this whole thing, so my eyes are beginning to plead for mercy. Hopefully next time I'll learn to save my drafts. Goodbye from this little internet cafe on Tottenham Court Road! I'm going to miss being so close to everything when I'm living out in Hideous Hackney.


LastExit said...

Hackney? Wow.

Any chance you can move to Kensington before i come visit you? (assuming you're still alive)

I kid, i kid...

Treat it like the questionable areas of any city, look more fucked up and nuts than the next guy and you will be fine, if not one of the very reasons someone else choses not to more into the area...

Unknown said...

You are Making Me Hungry, my dear, with your description of your "perks". Glad you seem to be settling in some more!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I have always admired your turn of phrase Sarah, but never before have I been so entertained as I was with your description of the daunting dirty dishes.

Question: Your second job is as a waitress. What is your first job?

Have you met Miss Julie yet?

Paul E

Unknown said...

I have always admired your turn of phrase Sarah, but never before have I been so entertained as I was with your description of the daunting dirty dishes.

Question: Your second job is as a waitress. What is your first job?

Have you met Miss Julie yet?

Paul E