Friday, 26 March 2010

The Rules

Is it a rule that, if you've closely followed five programmes in a six part series, something will prevent you from watching the grand finale?

Is it a rule that you'll get a spot on your nose just when you've got friend you've not seen for ages coming to stay?

Is it a rule that it'll rain the day you've had your hair done?

Is it a rule that really fat* people have to sit next to you on the bus?

Is it a rule that taxi drivers have to stop so that the passenger door is right next to a big puddle?

Is it a rule that someone will call for a chat when you're up to here (*gestures point quite high up) with things to do?

Is it a rule that, just after you've hoovered, you'll drop a big pile of something dusty or granular?

Is it a rule that, when you put black jeans in the wash, there'll be a tissue in the pocket?


(NB I'm actually in a fairly prosaic mood. I mean, all of the above rules have proved themselves to exist today, and I've dropped a few things, lost a few things, accidentally hoovered up a few things, but I'm feeling fairly tra-la-la about it all. Just, y'know, avoid giving me any sharp objects of children to hold in the next 24 hours, just in case).

* If not fat, then smelly. If not smelly then squirmy. If not squirmy then downright flaming mental.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Super Nova

Today, I received a text message from my friend Bally. It read simply, "Ahh, memories," and came with this photo.

Ain't she a beauty?

This is a photo of the back view of a Vauxhall Nova Saloon. Oh yes!

When I passed my driving test, my Mum had a black Nova, just like this one. A21 PKR. Occasionally called "Parker," but really just called "the car". It was too simple a car to warrant anything as fancy as a name. It had two doors, and drop-down seats to get in the back seats, where the windows didn't open. It had a medium wave radio, so you couldn't listen to the charts, but you could listen to French cricket commentary. It had a one litre engine. Well, almost. 993 cc's raw horse power. C'mon!

After a while, we traded it in for a maroon one, JUST like the lovely little number in the photo. The NEW Nova (as it is still referred) had a 1.2l engine though. I know. Wild. And we bought a cassette player for it in Argos. We knew how to live the crazy life, my mother and I!

Like most late-teenagers, I was one of a group of friends, genetically incapable of going anywhere in anything less than a small tribe. If we went anywhere, we went mob-handed. Invariably it would require us to take two cars, and both cars would be packed full.

Two of our favourite venues were on the other side of hills. This was never a problem when we were going. Down hill, three six foot tall lads in the back, with a tail wind, that car would really shift! Coming home though, was troublesome.

The Hook and Hatchet pub, in a village pleasingly called Hucking, was remote. Really remote. The Hook and Hatchet is in a place where, when it's dark, it's REALLY dark. The Hook and Hatchet is in a place where you don't want to break down. Leaving the Hook and Hatchet with a car full meant that there just wasn't enough time to build up a head of steam to get up the hill, so instead, I would stop at the bottom of the hill to let out all my passengers, drive up the hill slowly in first gear, high revs, faint smell of burning, then stop at the top to let them all back in again.

Henry's Table was more trouble. It's on the other side of Detling Hill, which is about two miles of twisting dual carriageway steepness. It's scary, man! On one occasion, coming home from the weekly Henry's Table pub quiz, I had to drive two passengers up the hill, leave them in the Happy Eater car park at the top of the hill, go back down to get the other two and collect the loiterers on the way past to head home.

Aw, that little car! I wonder where it is now. (Scrap heap? Bottom of the Medway? Stock Car Heaven?) It was, if we're honest, not a good car. But thinking about it has brought back lots of happy memories.

Thanks Bally! Now I wonder if I can snap a brown mini to send you?

Sunday, 21 March 2010

This weekend (5) ...

1) On Thursday, friends were in town for the day to celebrate a birthday, and invited me to join them for cocktails in a fancy-pants bar. After a fairly intensive afternoon at work, I gratefully sank a dry martini (olive, not a twist) whilst they regaled me with stories of champagne, dim-sum, trying on overpriced and overfrilled evening dresses, and afternoon tea.

2) Friday morning dawned fine and dry and as spring like as the week before it. After a quiet morning pottering and shuffling around the house, I went into Tooting for a late breakfast in my favourite cafe, to watch the world go by. The good weather seems still to startle some, who walk around the corner blinking into the sun; and be rather too well embraced by others, in shorts and flip-flops already.

3) I had a list of jobs to do, errands to run, tasks to undertake this weekend. Paint the dining furniture, buy a wall unit, tidy the garden, clean the car. And with all these things in mind, I went to the cinema on Friday afternoon to see Alice in Wonderland. What a terrific surprise to discover that it's in 3D! Was I the only person not to know this already? Must have been living under a rock, I think.

4) With catching up to do from Friday's negligence, I set the alarm for Saturday morning for a not-too-early-not-too-late time. But I woke ahead of the alarm (most uncharacteristically), and got to snuggle down under the duvet to enjoy the luxury of dozing for a while.

5) Some very most favouritest friends came to London to go to an afternoon party, but arrived early to meet me for lunch. We went to Wagamama and the children were given a sheet of games to play. Next to a dot-to-dot picture of a bowl of ice-cream was the question, "do you know what this is a picture of?" I read the question to the six year old, who looked at me blankly. "What's the answer?" I asked. "Yes!" she answered. Well ... I suppose she's right ...!

6) We've had a date in the diary for weeks to go for dinner to celebrate a friend's birthday, but at the last minute we've to change our booking from 7:30pm to 9pm (disagreeable for those with small children, and immensely preferable for those without). The birthday girl arrived early at my house for a glass of wine and a natter whilst we got ready to go out, and we set the world to rights.

7) Over dinner we give our friend her gift. A pair of purple Hunter welly boots. She made all the right excited noises as she took them out of the box and stood them on the table, much to the amusement of the people sitting around us.

8) The lovely Gillian and I set out for the Midcentury Modern fair at Dulwich College. As we went out to the car, I asked her, "roof up or down?" We both looked at the sky and then at one another. "Top down! I've brought my headscarf with me!" So for the first time this year, we went topless!

9) After the fair we headed to East Dulwich to the Chandelier tea room. We were to meet friends of Gillian's there, so were looking for a large table, which was clearly most inconvenient for the staff. After being shown to one table, we were asked to move to a table that clearly wasn't big enough, then waited for ages for menus, and even longer for our tea to arrive. (If there's one thing that makes my arse twitch, it's bad service!) But the tea arrived with a slab of banana cake with a creamy frosting, so perhaps I'll forgive them.

10) A text message from an old friend. A boy I've known since I was eleven. "Is it bad having a bottle of wine solo on a Sunday night?" I reply, "Not ideal. But it's only 8pm, what will you do with the rest of the night?" "I'm only half way through. Watching Desperate Housewives. I think I might be gay." "That depends on the wine. Red, white or rose?" "White. It's not looking good is it? It would be better if it was red, wouldn't it?" "At least it's not rose dear. You're fine."

Have a good week, folks!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

My day starts

Monday to Thursday (my (slightly slack) working week) the alarm sounds a quiet b-b-b-beeb, and vibrates slightly on my bedside table, emitting a low rumble. It's not enough to wake me, but enough to disturb my sleep.

Five minutes later, the radio starts. The first song an a half, and the news pass me by, although sometimes I hear something on the news later in the day, and realise that I already knew it. I get out of bed with the opening jingle to the breakfast show.

I get to the bathroom, but rarely remember the journey along the landing. I could have floated there for all I know. Shower on, and hop in. By the time I've finished shampooing my hair, I'm awake. By the time I'm conditioning, I'm also working through the day. What's on? Who am I seeing? What am I doing this evening? Then, whilst I'm washing, I work out what I'll wear today. Perversely, I usually start with the shoes, then piece together an outfit in my mind which will go with them.

Out of the shower. Brush teeth. Deodorant spritz. Towel dry hair - never a hairdryer. Splodge on some moisturiser. No perfume anymore - I'm allergic apparently. How dull. Get dressed. Change my mind. Decide on something else. Realise it's in the laundry bin. Put the first thing back on. Find jewellery to match. Have a sneaky boogie to something on the radio, and sing into a hairbrush microphone.

I trot back to the bathroom, remembering more of the journey this time, put some goop on my hair and generally rearrange it, then put some slap on - a process with takes progressively less time every day. Soon I'll just be dunking my face into the make up bag, and wiggling it 'round a bit.

The radio goes off, and I head downstairs to sort out my handbag, pulling out things I don't need, and dropping in things I do, and prise the zip across. Coat on, and quick paranoid check for purse, keys, phone, book, then out the front door.

I speed walk up the road, thinking about nothing. I get to the station having no idea what's passed through my mind on the way. I never run for a train - I have an inbuilt paranoia about falling down the steps onto the platform. Rather than risk it, I'll allow one train to go and wait for the next one.

I have a spot on the platform. Opposite the last but one sign on platform one. It's the right spot when I get off at the other end, but not so busy that it's a scrum. If I'm lucky, I'll get a seat on the train. Otherwise, a leaning post will do. And I get my book out.

Train through the common to Balham, to Wandsworth, another common to Clapham Junction, and through Battersea. No idea what's going on around me. I envelope myself in my novel for fifteen lovely minutes.

Then the train crosses the Thames, and every morning I look up from my book to watch out of the window for a minute.

And that's when my day starts.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Spring has sprung

Well, I hope it has. The signs, thus far, are positive.

I feel like the cold started a lifetime ago. I feel like I've spent years planning coats and scarves and gloves and hats. Tights under trousers and spare socks on top. Vests under t-shirts under jumpers under cardigans. I feel like I've spent every other day doing laundry because I've been wearing so much so fast. I feel like I spend my journey home from the office living for the moment that I feel the fuggy warmth of the central heating.

One of my early posts was about the thrill of feeling the first bite of winter in the air. That post was written by a stupid person who WAS NOT IN HER RIGHT MIND! That post was written by someone who clearly had forgotten what being cold is like.

THIS person remembers. And THIS person is gleeful to see blue sky, flower shoots, buds on trees. This person has a bunch of daffodils on the kitchen windowsill, nodding their happy spring heads at me when I walk in the door.

These last few days have been like a new world. I've felt the sun on my face, and seen banks of crocuses. I've come home and turned the thermostat down on the central heating. I've left the house without gloves, put my scarf in my bag, and unbuttoned my coat. Yesterday I even went coatless!

Resolutions ought not be made on January 1st. They should be made now. This is the time of year when things feel optimistic and positive. It's now when there's reason and incentive to look to the future.

Is anyone nervous that I might burst into song? You should be. I am. A couple of sunny days and I'm prancing around like Maria Von Flaming Trapp!

Ach, who cares! Spring in the air, and a spring in my step. And thank the Lord for that!

Friday, 12 March 2010

Coming Home ...

I’m going away this weekend. Well actually, since you’re now reading this, I’ve gone. Toodle pip! Three days in Kent with my parents. The first time I’ve seen them since Christmas, even though they are only a short hop away. Shameful!!

News flash! I’m not actually a Tooting girl (*gasp*). I’m a Kentish girl. Actually, I suppose I’m not even really a Kentish girl. Born to a Geordie mother and a Welsh father, in fancy Surrey, and moving to Kent when I was three, it’s a wonder I’m as balanced as I am.

Nowadays, when I speak to Dad on the phone he asks, “when are you coming home for a visit?” and I always dodge the question. Not because I don’t want to go, but because it’s not home, and I don’t know how to say that without hurting feelings.

As is, I think, pretty normal, I spent age 18 – 21 “treating this place like a hotel” whilst I darted back and forth to University, then moved out proper. Since then I’ve lived in six homes in three postcodes. To start with, I suppose I did still think of their place as “home” and my place as temporary lodgings. Perhaps it’s part of the internal instinct to protect oneself from the shock of having flown the nest, and suddenly being responsible. Culpable. Or perhaps it’s just that it’s still really where the heart is.

In any event, slowly, over those first few years, home became Home, and now, when anyone asks where I come from, I say Tooting, without questioning the longevity of that answer, or what it means that I’ve left behind, and am sacrificing.

Nevertheless, here I am, sur le train (as they say in foreign), heading south. Out of Victoria station, over the river, past my favourite lovely Battersea Power Station. Through the less salubrious corners of South London, where the buildings on the rail side are more graffiti than brick, and sneaking unnoticed over the boarder into urban north Kent.

Into a tunnel next to a business park, and suddenly out, on the other side, in the county. And equally as suddenly I get a pang of nostalgia.

There’s the field with the derelict barn in the corner that I always thought had potential to be done up into a fancy country house. Looks like someone’s doing it now. There’s the field with the strange patterned white and brown, patched horses. My brother calls them cow-horses. (“What noise does a cow-horse make?” “Quip quip quip!”) There’s that pair of cottages, permanently wrapped in scaffolding and being extended. Can we still call them cottages? Over the last twelve years they’ve become sizable houses.

The familiarity of the journey brings a warm and stabilizing comfort. I’m finding myself fidgeting with anticipation for that first point where the train pops into the Medway Valley, from where the river and the towns look so quiet and gentle (and not a hint of the run down chaviness that Medway really offers on the ground). Once there I can mentally follow the journey out the window attaching a memory to each view. The roads that I learned to drive on. The roundabout that I failed my first test on. The cafĂ© where my friend Lou used to work. The lane that Jo lived in. The housing estate that my brother and his girl moved to. Churches where I’ve attended weddings, christenings, funerals.

And finally, Sittingbourne station. Where I’ll bump into someone I know within 100 yards of the station. And where my Mum is having coffee with The Girls. And where, when I walk in to the coffee shop to meet them, the lady behind the counter will say hello and bring me The Usual.

So maybe it is home after all.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Feeling Creative?

My word, but you look like a creative bunch!
Fancy tapping that creativity? Then sign up for the lovely Amelia's new Experimental Art e-course.

Amelia is a neighbour of mine, a fellow local creative type, and also a pretty splendid friend. She also writes a fabulous blog called 101 Bird Tales about all sorts of things, but mostly about following your heart and doing what makes you happiest. If you're seeking a spot of inspiration, I can recommend it most wholeheartedly.

Anyway, she's launching an e-course on a theme of Experimental Art, which you can sign up for one her website here. It's a six week course which aims to encourage you to try your hand at a range of artistic techniques from the comfort of your own home. So if you are someone who's always meant to do something creative, but never got around to it, or someone who wants to try some new creative styles, or just fancies trying their hand, then this is, surely, perfect for you! Go and have a read. She explains it much better than I do.

Whilst you are there, check out the rest of her website. She's a talented lady. She did the lovely embroidery below for me, which I love.

Ah, go on! What are you waiting for! Who knows what lovely think you might create!

Happy creating!


PS - I feel duty bound to assure you that I am not earning any kind of commission for this promotion, but I am hoping that I might get invited to the Critchlow residence for a cup of tea and a jaffa cake some time soon.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

This weekend (4) ...

... has been a bunch of poo.

But you don't want to hear about that. And I've been getting into a bit of a "this weekend" kind of a grove on a Sunday evening, so I think we should continue, setting aside the poo, and instead picking out some poo-less highlights.

And so we begin ...

1) I met up with some old colleagues after work on Thursday. They are from two jobs ago, but walking into the bar to meet them, it felt like no time had passed. We fell straight back into the old patter immediately. "I am a very important person." "Well ... fairly important".

2) Fridays are normally Tooting based, or for escaping the city entirely. But this weekend, I headed into the West End as a lady-wot-lunches. It's a rare treat to be a tourist in my own city, and to amble without purpose or timetable.

3) Lunch with my friend Abi was, as predicted, highly entertaining. She has been internet dating on E-Harmony (as seen on TV) but complained that no man they matched her with was attractive. "Abs, isn't that the site where they match you on a deeper level?" "Yeah, but bugger that!"

4) I stopped my drifting mid-afternoon to sit down for a cuppa. Casting my eye around the other customers in the coffee shop, I spotted a "lady" who must surely be a man. It's the wig that first gave it away (it was a tad skew-wiff), but the square jaw and lack of waist completes the look. But I realised, when looking at him (her?) I was really thinking, "I'd kill for legs like that."

5) The late morning train to Dorking involved changing twice, which was far less trouble than I feared. As I got off the train at Deepdene station my friend, who had travelled from Brighton, got off the same train and we discovered that we'd inadvertently done the last leg of the trip together.

6) We wandered into a dress shop, selling beautiful things that neither of us could afford. Part of the window display was a lovely carved hand mirror which I pointed out to my friend. The shop assistant says, "that's not our display. That's for sale." It's now hanging in my bathroom.

7) The sunny morning woke me up bright and early, and I was uncharacteristically keen to hop out of bed. After a spot of breakfast and a few chapters of a pleasingly trashy novel, I set to, blitzing the house, hoovering into all the corners, scrubbing the floors, wiping down every surface, and the house feels so much bigger for it.

8) A late Sunday lunch in the pub with friends. Roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, red cabbage, carrots and ... the mystery vegetable (turnip, we thought. Or maybe celeriac. Or mashed parsnip. Or a combo of all three). A board on a shelf had a strange message on it, which no-one could understand. None of the staff even knew who Dave Legge was. But we all agreed that he's probably a bit big for his boots.

9) A pot of flowers was on the reduced counter in the supermarket, but I couldn't see why. A red primrose, some bright yellow narcissus, and a hyacinth waiting to burst, are now sitting on my kitchen windowsill bringing a bit of the springtime inside. I've already had my 99p worth!

10) I've promised banana cake to a colleague, who doesn't believe that it's the best cake in the world ever, ever, ever (the Nigella recipe from Domestic Goddess. I think it might be the ample measure of rum that does it ...). The house is full of a deliciously fuggy loveliness which is making me wish I hadn't promised it at all, but could keep it all to myself.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Managing expectations

We have a few pithy catchphrases at work, largely rolled out as a means of teasing one another during those there-but-for-the-grace-of-god moments. "It's nice that you don't feel the need to file anything," for the times when you open a file to find that it contains one sheet of paper (usually the fee invoice!) "The devil's in the detail," when you discover that someone has entirely missed a fairly fundamental point. "He's carrying out essential market research," usually means that he's in the pub.

"Manage your client's expectations," refers to those times when our clients already have a fixed, if flawed, view of what they want us to achieve for them, and, no matter what we do, we'll never achieve their goals. We end up spending more time tempering what our clients are wanting us to do, than actually doing it, and still come away from the job knowing that the perception is that we've done a bad job. It happens a lot, especially at the moment, when most property owners seem to think that, by some miracle, their building is the single one defying the effects of the global recession.

But I've been thinking a bit about managing my own expectations.

I have a sort of expectation that everything will stay the same. Always. At all levels. When things change by my own hand, then, once I've decided it's time, I'm pretty good at embracing those changes. My new house (ok ... not so new anymore!) is wonderful, and I love coming home to it, but it took me a while (about 32 years ...) to talk myself into thinking that it was time to buy it. My new job is, without question, the best move I could possibly have made - once I'd decided to leave the old one, I knew pretty quickly that life could only be better elsewhere. The new car ... well, I'm working on that. I know I need to do it, but I'm nooooot quite ready yet!

I get vexed when things change beyond my control. I hate it when you go to buy, say, a mascara that you've been buying for years and love, and when you get there it says "new formula" on the case. AAGGHH! What was wrong with the old formula?! I hate it when friends move away, even if I know it's what's best for them. I get all discombobulated when restaurants I like are suddenly "under new management" and the thing I always hankered after on their starter menu is no longer available.

There's the question of managing hope too. I'm a bit of a one for pinning hopes on something, then feeling let down when it doesn't come off. Just last week I had a new recipe to try which looked fabulous - all of my favourite things in one pan - and when I made it, it was best described as bland. Sob sob sob! And I think I'm going to have to stop buying lottery tickets - every week, when I go to check the results, I know, without question, that I am a millionaire. Then I read the numbers, and check them against my own. Then I double check (surely there's been some kind of mistake?!) and then I deal with the abject disappointment of having to wait a whole week longer before my numbers come up. Really. It's not good for my bloody pressure.

I've been learning lessons about managing my expectations of people too. I think I put people into boxes. I think that they are one thing, and then they do something which makes me realise I'd mis-judged them. It works both ways, of course. A bunch of flowers from someone to cheer you up, when you hadn't realised that they were close enough to notice you were uncheered. A well timed phone call from someone to wish you luck for something you didn't realise anyone knew mattered. It's lovely to realise that someone is more than you thought they were.

I just wish that I wasn't disappointed when people turn out not to be what I'd hoped they were. And I wish I didn't take it so personally when they behave in a way which is, to be fair, entirely in character, but against the way I'd have them behave. I wish I didn't assume they they are in Box A, when really they were in Box B all along. Or worse, that I didn't make such strident efforts to push then into Box A that I inadvertently forced them into Box B.

I wish that I could learn to manage my own expectations more adequately.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Building Blocks

This is a slightly nerdy post, for which I make no apology. But you do deserve a warning.

I like buildings.

There. I said it. I work in property, but really at quite a functional level. It never crossed my mind to be architect and to be able to frame the appearance of a place, but I don't know that I would have had the vision for it anyway. A unique career - deeply technical and scientific, but vastly creative and imaginative. Geniuses, basically.

Modern architecture is a wildly creative thing! A sort of functional art form. I love the idea of an architect sitting down with a blank sheet of paper, and creating a masterpiece which is not only beautiful, but has purpose, and is a feat of engineering.

Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao

In the 1960's, when the average architect consumed enough mind altering drugs to kill a donkey, some of the most miserable concrete boxes were thrown up. I'm right with Prince Charles on this - the National Theatre DOES look like a nuclear power station. Birmingham Central Library DOES look like an incinerator. Most of all though, they are boring. Bo-oo-ring.

And these architectural blunders put people off concrete buildings entirely, conjuring up images of council estates and crematoriums, and that is a great waste.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Solomon R Guggenheim Museum, New York (built of concrete!)

The Guggenheim in New York took fifteen years (FIFTEEN YEARS!) to design, specifically for the purpose of displaying modern art, but when the building as opened in 1959, 21 of the worlds most promising modern artists of the time wrote to Mr Guggenheim to say that they wouldn't have their work show there. They were worried, you see, that the building would outshine their own creations. OK, so admittedly, this might mean that the point was temporarily missed, but what a fabulous credit to a building as a work of art. And these days, of course, artists would sell a kidney to have their work shown here. It's all good. And it's all cast in concrete, but not a bunker in sight.

There is no limit now to the lengths that we can go to to create something beautiful and perfectly formed. Architects are willing to design something that requires an extraordinary amount of work to create, purely because it fits their own vision. I love the indulgence of it all!

Beijing National Stadium ("The Bird's Nest") by Herzog & de Meuron

Isn't the Bird's Nest a wonderful thing? It's the biggest steel structure in the world - tonnes of the stuff! (110,000 tonnes, to be precise) and yet it looks like it's been spun; sort of whipped up out of nothing. Amazing, don't you think? The tragedy is that, having seen the 2008 Olympics through, it's hardly been used since. A very occasional opera, a token sports event, and that's really it. The Chinese government are planning, saints preserve us, to turn it into a shopping mall. I like a shopping mall as well as the next chick, but really. What a terrible waste.

The Savill Building at Windsor Great Park by Glenn Howell

The Savill Building is a kind of visitor centre in Windsor Great Park. It's magnificent, but no photo does it credit. Do this for me ... go to Google Images and type in Savill Building and look at them all, from every angle. It is too wide and gliding a structure for any one photo to do it justice. It kind of ripples. Anyway, all the wood for it comes straight from the Crown Estate's Windsor forest, which is a nice touch I think. More pleasing, however, is this fact ... it took twenty carpenters twelve months to make the roof structure for the building, and in that time, they drank, between them, 7,500 cups of tea. I do hope the Queen has a Costco card.

Of course, all of this is made possible by the fact that there is now more flexibility in building materials, and in finishes. I have an idea (probably a woefully inaccurate one) that someone walks into a design office with a lump of mental, concrete or glass and says, "watcha gonna do with THAT?" and someone rises to the challenge.

Selfridges at The Bullring, Birmingham, by Future Systems

It's mesmerisingly wonderful, is the Selfridges store in Birmingham. Don't you think it has a sort of bubble-wrap appeal? I have a deep rooted desire to push the buttons, even though I know they aren't really buttons, and, sadly, wouldn't "toot toot" when pressed. Still. What a great idea! "We've got to make this shopping centre look a bit ... interesting. What shall we cover it in?" "How about loads of upside-down satellite dishes?" "Toot toot".

In the course of thinking about this post, a couple of people have said derisory things about glass buildings, which I think is a little harsh. There are some ace glass structures kicking around, and they are quite lovely.

The British Museum, London by Norman Foster

The central courtyard at the British Museum was meant to be ... well ... a central courtyard. A public space when the museum was first built. But then, in a slight panic, some time in the 19th century, they stuck the Reading Room in the middle of it, and sort of buggered up the long term plans. Towards the end of the last century, therefore, They decided to see if anything could be done to open up what had, essentially become a giant stock room. OK. So Norman Foster's answer to most questions is, "have you thought about covering it in glass?" but I think this is my favourite example of that theme. Aesthetically, it's fairly damned gorgeous, but it's also opened up what was dead space to the public. And I do like the whole old-meets-new bit.

And I haven't even started on my own "Bigger is Better" theory. Let me tell you. Size. Matters.

I'm not talking about tower blocks in rows of dullness. I'm talking about Tall Buildings. There is a certain bias against them, which I can sort of see - I mean, they do rather define the skyline. But that's only a problem if it's big and ugly. If it's big and fabulous, then I give a big double thumbs up to defining the skyline, and we all should. After all, Christopher Wren only did St Paul's like he did because he was on a whopping ego trip and wanted everyone to be able to see it from everywhere. If it's good enough for him, it's good enough for me.

The Shard, London by Renzo Piano

Can you imagine, then, how excited I am by The Shard? It's coming out of the ground now, and will be open in 2012. And it's tall. Taaaall! It will be the tallest building in the UK by a margin. The viewing platform will be ish at the same height as the pointy bit at the top of the Canary Wharf tower. That's floor 65. There are seventeen more floors, and a spire above that. Wowee! Oh, and the Shangri-La hotel which will be in the middle of the tower, will have an infinity pool on the 52nd floor. How wicked will that be?! They should give me a job marketing that baby.

Anyway, let's recap. I like buildings which are creative in form, and indulgent in design. I like interesting shapes, fancy finishes, new/old juxtaposition, and have a love of tall buildings that would make Freud blush.

So it might surprise you to know that my favourite London building, and one that I get to see twice a day from the train, is actually none of the above. It's far from the tallest, and certainly not creative. In fact, it's shape is very plain and functional. It's built of bricks. Not too radical. And for all my witterings about new design, my pet building is a wonder of Art Deco loveliness. By all accounts, the fittings inside, although a bit more than shabby, are some of the most lavish in the country.

When it was built in the early 1930's, it cost £2,141,550 to build. To put that into perspective, as, effectively, a derelict site, it was bought by an Irish investor in 2006 for £400,000,000. Four hundred million pounds! It is simply lovely, and it always makes me gawp. Ladies and Gentlemen, the Tooting Squared Good Building Award goes to ...

Battersea Power Station.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Food, Glorious Food

I love food. I bloody love it.

I love delicately balanced starters, robust main courses and elegant puddings, presented to me lovingly in a restaurant with proper napkins. I love stinky cheese and pate and bread and olives and cold meats laid out to graze on. I love Chinese and Indian and Thai and Japanese food with a hint of the exotic. I love meaty French meals and simple Italian. I love fish and chips.

And I wouldn't consider myself a faddy eater. I consider myself easy to cater for and positively breezy in the food department.

Well I did. Until now.

At the weekend I was away with friends and, over the course of a few conversations, I discovered that I am, in fact, an obsessive compulsive food freak.

Firstly, I don't like nuts. This puts me on the fringe of society. It's not that I'm allergic to nuts. I just fricking hate them. And the thing is that, if I say to a waiter, "are there nuts in that? Because I don't like them," the waiter will say, "no," but mean, "yes. They're minced up small so you won't see them, but they'll sully every mouthful," or, "yes. They're contaminating the chocolatey goodness as we speak," or, my personal favourite, "yes. They are sprinkled all over the top so they are the first thing you'll see when we bring it to you." So now I say, "are there nuts in that? Because I'm allergic to them," and waiters find out whether The Devil's Seed is in the food and tell me honestly. Of course, they might also spit in my food, but them's the breaks.

Secondly, I don't like to share. If I order something, I'VE ordered it. I read the menu, I chose, it's MY food. That includes the chips and any other small, easily-stealable morsels. They are mine too. Hands off! And you could have ordered the same thing, so don't you come crying to me. OK?

But it works both ways. If I've ordered badly, then I will have to watch you eat your nice meal whilst I move mine around the plate. I won't eat of your plate, because it's yours. You live by the sword, you die by the sword. Thank you very much!

There are obvious exceptions to the food staring rule. Tapas, dim sum, anything bought "for the table", anything called a "sharing platter". They're all fine. But if anything involves dipping, then when you re-dip the second mouthful, dunk the opposite end, not the one that you've already had a good chew of please.

This brings me onto food order. A plate of food will inevitably include some things which are your favourites. These are a quandary. My Grandpa George always used to advise that you shouldn't save the best 'til last because you might die before you get to the end. This is slightly more morbid that I'd personally go for, but the gist is right. What if you're full before the end? What if the phone rings and your dinner gets cold? What if a bird flies through the window and steals your plate? It's important to mix the good in with the average.

Some things, of course, have a natural course. You eat a jaffa cake around the edge, then the sponge, then the chocolatey orange circle at the end. A twix involves nibbling the chocolate up both sides, then the biscuit, then rolling the toffee into a snail and eating it in one. A kit-kat HAS to be broken into fingers. It's the law.

Oh, there's so much to think about!

So perhaps they are right. Perhaps I am a bit obsessive compulsive. But I won't know for sure until I've turned the lights on and off 17 times.

Monday, 1 March 2010

This weekend (3) ...

Hiya! Remember me? I used to write a blog until I waltzed off, without so much as a by your leave, and abandoned it.

So, I've not been 'round much recently for a few reasons.
  • I've been flat out. Flat. Out. Work stuff, social stuff, stuff, stuff, stuff.
  • I broke a finger nail*.
  • I've been working on a couple of extremely intellectual and high brow posts (which are taking some time ...)
  • I'm feeling a bit meh. Lots to think about and not enough to say. I haven't really known quite what to write without being a moper, which is dull. So I've taken my mother's advice. ("Young lady! If you don't have anything nice to say don't say anything at all, thank you VERY much! Now DO put on some lipstick dear, or you'll never find a husband**.")
  • I've been away. I left Tooting (*gasp*) and went on a mini-break in the Cotswolds. So would you like to hear about it? Here's my ten point Weekend Report ...
1) On Thursday night I left work quick smart, hoofed home, made up the mixture for the BEST chocolate cake known to man, popped along to the pub to win the quiz, ran back home to put the cakes in the oven, packed, painted my nails, and fell into bed. Phew!

2) The people I went away with are all Figaro owners. That's how we all met, but not why we're all friends. We're friends because ... well, just because we are really. But for reasons that are too many (and too expensive) to go into, my Fig spent the weekend on the
Naughty Step, and I hired a shiny, new, non-vintage motor instead. Figaros are automatic, and my hire car was a manual, so I've spent the last couple of weeks worrying about whether I can still remember where to put my feet, but the BRAND NEW (!) Golf that I was given proved very forgiving, and I've had a blissful weekend jetting around the countryside. Vroom vroom!

3) Towards the end of my journey, a text message arrives. "I'm here. It's a bugger to find." And it was. Side roads off main roads. Lanes off side roads. Drives off lanes. Private gates. But it was worth finding when I did.

4) Lots of hellos. Lots of welcomes. Lots of exploring our beautiful home for the weekend. Lots of warm laughter and cups of tea. Lots of unpacking bags of goodies and ooohing and ahhhhing at the contents.

5) We play a game. Apples to Apples. I can recommend it most heartily. Players take it in turns to turn a green card, and then lay a red card from their hand which most adequately matches it. Of course, sometimes it's easier than others to find an apt match. Our efforts to meet the description "dirty" showed that hairballs were deemed the dirtiest, but chorus girls come a close second.

6) Saturday morning. I wake up to the smell of bacon frying. Nom nom nom.

7) Everyone gets their boots and coats on to head to a nearby Cotswold village, but I decide to stay behind and mooch. Intentions to go for a walk are thwarted by bad weather, so I explore our house instead. Amongst other things I find windows with views I can't get enough of ...

... and windows that are tantalisingly out of range ...

8) We head out for a night on the town, in our own particular style; dinner at a lovely restaurant. We enjoy amuse bouche of celeriac soup, assiette of beef, pork tenderloin, and a heavenly cheeseboard. It's all cool and sophisticated. As we leave the restaurant in down-town Cheltenham, a hen party, resplendent in pink feather boas and white heels are fighting in the street, and for all our cool sophistication, we can't help pointing and laughing.

9) On Sunday morning the group divides; those who want to lounge and those who want fresh air. We walk along drives and lanes to the village church, where we shuffle around the church yard and soak up atmosphere. I was particularly touched by this small plaque towards the top of the hill which reads, "Goodbye. We'll miss you. Enjoy the view." So I did.

10) Officially the coolest thing I saw all weekend. Behind the church is a smallholding, and as we walked close to the fence, we saw the inhabitants of the closest field. They didn't take much convincing to come and investigate whether we'd brought food (we hadn't), and to have a good snuffle around whilst they were there. Really. Tell me. If you've ever seen a cooler hairy pig thing, tell me. Because I think this dude wins prizes.

* That's not a real excuse. I'm trying to find reasons to justify my absence. Humour me.
** In a film of my life, my mother will be played by Maureen Lipman.