Autumn and Open

London is lapsing into autumn, a season I think is quintessentially fitting for the city. London is wonderful in the spring, a bit out of its element in the summer (sorry) and at times bleak in the winter except for during and after the first snow. Although sometimes bleak can be beautiful.

Nonetheless, when I think of London, I think of it always with an autumnal lens in my mind. I arrived in London for the first time at the end of August, so as I was getting to know my surroundings, I was also getting reacquainted with a season I hadn’t experienced properly since I was around ten. I crunched brown leaves under my shoes as I paced through an open pocket A-Z guide, finding my way through the city and the season. Autumn and London seem linked together, and with holidays like Bonfire Night to look forward to, as well as smaller pleasures like when mulled cider appears on the bar of your favourite pub, it can be one of the best times to be in the city.

FIGS!!!

Although many Londoners are bemoaning the encroaching darkness as we lose the annual battle for daylight, I’m taking pleasure in the provenance of the local fruit and veg shops near me filling up with delicious harbingers of the season: blackberries, butternut squash, acorn squash, apples, FIGS!!! and plums. Soon we will be greeting the arrival of oranges at their peak from Spain and Italy, but that will come later. For now, there’s roast squash, butternut squash soup, apples and FIGS!!! to figure into savoury tarts and sweet desserts.

For the first time, I got a chance to go and do things during Open House London weekend this year. After a disappointment at trying to get into Battersea Power Station (along with half of London and much of Kent, it seems like), and further dejection at the Lloyds of London queue plus the Open House London app failing (I was able to get a programme from a nice man at Leadenhall, though), the whole experience turned out all right in the end. The outside of Lloyds of London occupied plenty of our time, even though we didn’t go in.

Lloyds of London building

Also, later on we got to ride up a swift glass lift at 88 Wood Street and see some great views at the 17th floor. It may not sound very high to Americans who live in skyscrapered cities, but London is actually remarkably low-built outside of only a handful of buildings outside of Canary Wharf, so we really enjoyed our view of the riot of buildings below, as well as the pokey bits that stood out–the Shard and the Walkie-Talkie that melts cars.

view from 88 wood street

The architect for 88 Wood Street is the same one for the Lloyds of London building as well, and it is an interesting building in its own right.

We also dropped into nearby Haberdasher’s Hall on Saturday, where Tom pointed out the symbolic peppercorn on display.

Open House Kingsland Basin

Our Sunday Open House London experience held the highlight of the weekend, which was visiting the narrowboats residing in Kingsland Basin. We got up early, and we were rewarded with an amazing insight into how a diverse group of folks–professional couples, older couples and families–live in the canals of Hackney and throughout England. There was a floating organic allotment (!), kept ducks and even beehives. The interiors of the houses were all as unique as the individuals living in them. It was colourful, inspiring and absolutely amazing, to say the least.

kingsland basin moored narrow boats kingsland basin

Plus, there was brilliant Guinness cake.

I am definitely looking forward to the next open day C.H.U.G. will be holding–that’s Canals in Hackney Users Group. Not just because it’ll be a chance to see Mary, one of the canalboat kitties, again, although she is quite special.

Mary, the narrowboat queen

We also dropped in on nearby Hoxton Hall, part of the fabric of Hackney I have likely walked past a few times without noticing. If you haven’t had a chance to go in for a performance, you should make arrangements to stop in. It looks lovely.

Hoxton Hall interior

All in all, I enjoyed Open House London this year. However, I’m sure I’m not alone when I would reckon it would be more popular if it were Open House London Week or Month, not just the weekend. Granted, I know organising events is tough work, but it would be nice and perhaps less stress on attendees if some of the larger places were set up for Open House more than just the weekend, or even just the one day. Might not happen, and may need an army of volunteers, but it would be amazing not to have to wait until next September to try to get into Lloyds of London again. However, C.H.U.G. should be having another Open Day before the year is out. Woot!

One of the things I have enjoyed this weekend is the experience of surprise I encountered again and again–and not just during the Open House London events, but in walks to get from point A to B. On our way to a pub in Islington for a friend’s birthday, we encountered a lovely neighbourhood that was quite pleasant and interesting to walk through. We also walked through a farmer’s market in Chelsea that, apparently, includes a nail salon (…?). There was also the interesting mural a side of Hoxton Hall faces, which was a nice discovery at the end of our tour.

hoxton mural

London always seems to have a surprise in store, if you keep your eyes open and you’re willing to go off-track a little bit.

 

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London Belongs To Me

From The Rooftop Bar in London BridgeOn 23 July, 2013, I was issued my biometric residence permit, which I received the following day, 2 days before my post-study work visa was set to expire.

I seem to live my life through close calls.

This residence permit allows me to stay in the UK until 4 August, 2016, so long as I am employed with my current work sponsor. (Support your local brewery, people.) Three more years of trying to figure out my place among the 8 million, among the nearly 63 million. Three more years of eking out some sort of living in The Big Smoke.

It may not be a glorious prize for some, but for me, it is a reward that is enough.

London Belongs To Me

It was fitting that I read Norman Collins‘ London Belongs to Me in June, as the title alone seemed very much like an assertion that yes, I belonged in London, because London belongs to me. Not to me solely, as that would be such wicked conceit. It belongs to all of us who look out on the view of a double decker bus travelling across London Bridge and feel a sense of satisfaction. Yes, I am part of this. Yes, this is my city. It belongs to those of us who feel the same sense of pride along the Overground, looking out at Camden and Kentish Town houses, at Shoreditch street art and graffiti, at the awkward new builds shouldering against older buildings in Hackney Wick and Stratford, at the chaotic jumble of warehouses and train tracks around Clapham Junction, the glorious St Pancras Station.

But not Euston Station. That place is under an eternal fog of grim.

So I found it wonderful to read Norman Collins’ reflections through his many characters of Dulcimer Street, as some of the thoughts, the sentiments about life and London seemed familiar to me–if not to me personally, then perhaps in imaginings and overheard conversations when in the pub, on the bus, in the café, on the train. His characters are still familiar, as they live on even today as we bustle past them to duck into the tube station or pass them on the street.

And what’s more, the London we interact with is remarkably even more vibrant.

Plus, there are kitties.

Institute Place kitty

So, I remain in London, which is a good thing as I seem to encounter a number of people in Stoke Newington and Hackney Central who seem to be in need of directions. And also, people who need good recommendations for pubs.

In other words, I can continue cultivating a sort of local knowledge, while I continue discovering new things about London, as well as exploring the rest of this part of the world.

Liverpool, Do You Feel Lonely

Despite a rather perplexing amount of negative remarks from people who have never been, I was quite interested to go to Liverpool. It was a work trip, but I had a good amount of time during the day to explore the city under my umbrella. Although most of the photos I took on my phone consisted of abandoned buildings near the Baltic Triangle and probably nothing actual residents of Liverpool would take particular pride in (except a great beer festival), I would like to think I made a good go at enjoying the city in the nine or so hours I had. Especially considering I only had about three hours’ worth of sleep.

After a coffee in Bold Street Café, I bought a fitting graphic novel that I read while I avoided the rain, first in a nice teahouse and then in Baltic Bakehouse. I wandered through Chinatown, which I found out later is the oldest Chinese community in Europe. In the end, despite my shoes being soaked like sponges, my sleepless fatigue and the surreal experience of encountering a tourism industry based on Beatlemania, I enjoyed Liverpool very much and am looking forward to a return trip.

Mad Dogs and EnglishmenFurthermore, I am now armed with my friend Tom Jones’ book, Mad Dogs & Englishmen, which will give further insight into exploring England. Before the year is out, I am likely to visit Leeds and Manchester for work purposes, and may even wander into Wales for academic reasons.

Also, I’m overdue for a trip to Brighton, so says everyone.

But there is more to explore and more to see, as tickets have been bought to attend a wedding in Italy, by train, thus enabling me to see France en route, which is very exciting. I don’t know if I’ve made it well known on this blog, but my experience of “The Continent” consists of 7 hours in Airport Schiphol coming to and heading from The Philippines with my mother and an interesting yet harrowing 30+ hours in Munich for Oktoberfest. I was having a Hunter S Thompson moment entirely on excessive free beer and lack of sleep surrounded by the disorienting oom-pah! of steins, lederhosen, clevage and wurst.

In comparison, this train journey/wedding jaunt will be far less intense than the bat country of Oktoberfest. Well, maybe save the wedding night celebrations.

Whether on the brink of exploring a continent, a country or a vast city–whether through travelling, through the books I pick up, or by the stories and recommendations of others–I believe I am in the right place for it.

It is here.

hackney sign

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Postcards, aka Analogue Microblogging

I have mentioned in this blog previously how I try to send a postcard once a week to one of my best friends back in Florida, as he’s serving prison time for some sort of non-violence offence. It’s now gotten me in the habit of writing postcards to some other friends of mine in far-flung places.

Postcards: The Original Microblog.

assorted postcardsI’ve taken to the habit of carrying around a blank postcard or two, usually slipped into the pages of whatever book or magazine I’m carrying around, so that if I’m in a pub or café on my own, I have time to jot off a quick piece of personal correspondence to a friend in between sips of strong ale or black coffee. I get several 80p stamps at a time from the post office, covering the cost of a slip of card stock with an image on one side, and my neat yet highly stylised handwriting on the back.

If we all must type addresses out in the future, I suspect my handwriting may have something to do with it.

I love postcards. I love correspondence through the mail. Now that much of my work involves being on the computer a lot, it’s a relief to be able to shut the laptop but still be able to engage with people–and not just anyone, but a communication between you and the intended recipient, with possibly a nosey postal worker, curious cellmate or friend of the recipient along the way if it’s a postcard. With my laptop open, it’s hard for me to focus on a single e-mail–I flit between browser tabs like a hummingbird of information, starting off e-mails only to find myself reading an article about The National’s new album, checking if anything’s happening on Facebook (nope) or seeing the latest cat meme someone’s sent me via Twitter. Away from my computer, I’m more likely to ignore the noises my phone makes while I finish writing, although I won’t ignore the sandwich I’m getting at the café I’m in.

There are limits.

There’s something really special about receiving a letter or postcard in the mail that has yet to be equalled through electronic means. This isn’t to say I don’t appreciate e-mails from friends–I do. But there is a small sense of ceremony involved with receiving letters when you cut through the envelope, unfold the paper and see a handwritten note that can sometimes reveal so much about what the person is up to and how that person is doing. Perhaps there’s a drawing, but frequently there might be underlines or boldly-written text that show a great deal more emphasis than just hitting “Command + B” on a keyboard. There will frequently be evidence of human error, as the writer has crossed out a word or the start of a word, or drawn a little word above a space with a “^” below.

Handwritten correspondence can show how a mind unfurls–hurried or languid, awkward, unplanned, excited: a word or two crammed into the right because the writer didn’t realise there wasn’t enough space (something I’m guilty of all the time), ink smudges from the sender’s thumbs or received through transit, the emphasis of a word or phrase that presses against the paper so hard, it can be felt on the other side of the postcard or sheet of paper.

Postcards are relatively cheap in London, with the exception of the small-scale Etsy-esque ones found in craft-tinged shops in Hackney, but some of those are well-worth their premium, particularly if supporting a local artist whose work you actually quite like. Being the big nerd for stationery I am, I tend to pick up postcards at exhibitions and art shows if I can. The V&A tends to have some pretty good ones. I’ve bought a few from Rough Trade East as well, and bought a booklet of postcards from Magma in Covent Garden.

Anyone have some recommendations on where they’ve gotten good postcards? Anyone have a favourite place for stationery in general? Would be good to know some other options, particularly as a lot of the stationery I do have might be a bit too twee to send to someone in prison. Thanks in advance.

 

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These promising blooms

Although I have heard the word “summer” bandied around, as someone borne and mostly bred in subtropical climates, my perspective on the season that currently surrounds London resembles nothing to me but a long-awaited spring.

2013-04-17 08.54.04

Even when I was still wearing my black peacoat in to one of my jobs a month ago, days after an early April snowfall, stubborn signs of the season to come were showing in the form of hardy (perhaps confused) daffodils and intrepid cherry blossoms–early arrivals in an urban environment sluggishly shaking off the long, cold winter.

Petals from the cherry trees replace the snow on the sidewalks and streets of Stoke Newington, creating little pink and white piles resembling small snowbanks as the winds shake the branches and the young, green leaves begin to emerge.

More_of_Stoke_Newington_in_Bloom_at_Clissold_Crescent___Albion_Road._Note_the_petals_on_the_pavement.After the sight of black, barren branches and layers of white and grey snow, the colours that have appeared are a welcome change, even if the temperatures are still flirting with scarf weather at times.

cherry blossoms in may

clissold crescent blooms

yellow april blooms

It’s easy to go about one’s day ignoring the wonder of natural, seasonal phenomena. Although the bright promise of spring won’t vanish the usual day-to-day woes of financial issues, personal problems, busy schedules and strained contacts, it does seem to underscore the idea of possibility–that whatever hardships and struggles one may be going through will eventually be resolved.

Even if you’ve got to put your back into now and again.

In other news, I’ve been busy dabbling in a bunch of stuff. I’ve got an article in the programme of an upcoming food festival in Walthamstow. You can read it here. It’s an article on Sarah Hardy, possibly the most inspiring person in cake and confectionary right now. Thanks to Kerrie of Edible Feasts for setting that interview up, who is another inspiring woman in the East London food world.

I have a new job, had an old job, and have another new-old job. It’s a long story. Let’s hope I remember which one to go to on what day.

I’ve been reading a lot. In fact, I read my first novel in years recently, Swamplandia!

Swamplandia!

It was very good, but it left me feeling quite sad at the end, so I’m back to raiding my stash of non-fiction books, currently alternating between the interesting essays of London: From Punk to Blair and the beer nerd’s world of Brewed Awakening, which I’ve been enjoying, but sometimes, I feel like I need a day off from the beer world every now and again.

brewed awakening

If you see me in a bookshop, please gently guide me out of it, as I tend to spend my money disproportionately on books and beer. In fact, I shouldn’t even spend money on beer, as I’ve got the odd bottle or three kicking around in my cupboards and room, either from a short stint at a beer importer or from previous wild beer-buying sprees. I have bottles of porters and stouts I’ll probably have to wind up using in a cake, because there’s no way I can drink them all without my belly feeling weighed down. Oh yeah, and the whole inebriation thing.

Oh, cake! Theoretically I can make such things now, as the kitchen in the house I’m in has been upgraded by the handy Papa Stokey. There’s even a full-sized oven that works. Well, I haven’t tried using it yet, but it’s supposed to work, anyway. Hopefully I can get back into baking again soon. I used to be fairly handy at baking, but we’ll see.

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Reminiscing the Taste of Tupelo and Palmetto Honey

Although many foodstuffs and drinks can contain the terroir of an area, from wine to beer to tea and cheese, one of the most tangible ways to taste an area is through its honey.

dansk honey, orlandoLately, while I’ve been jobhunting and trying to figure out how to stay in Great Britain, I’ve also been experiencing an odd sense of homesickness. Specifically, a craving for the honey sold by the small producers in the street markets and flea markets back in Central Florida. Tupelo honey and saw palmetto honey are the ones I’m specifically thinking about, along with indigenous orange blossom honey.

I wrote a post five years ago (nearly to the day) on my food blog on local honey, specifically my regular trips to Mt Dora to buy massive jars of palmetto and tupelo honey from an old, bearded man. In my recent reminiscence over the honey, it occurred to me that Henry Parker might not be around any more. So if anyone reading this lives in Central Florida, I’d appreciate an update on the Honey Man. Thanks.

Tupelo honey is lovely, but the saw palmetto or palmetto honey was my favourite, because it had a slightly darker taste, much like caramel or toffee.

It’s strange how, in this moment of anxiety regarding my future here in London, I feel so strongly curious about how life is back in Orlando, missing odd things such as the local honey. It could be a protective emotional consolation, that if I cannot stay in London, Orlando’s not a bad place to be while I figure out where to go next or to try and move back to the Big Smoke at a later date.

Or it could be, as I am in a relationship with someone who is very nice and very special, that I’m thinking of the things I’d very much like to share with him if I could get the chance. Tupelo honey in huge mason jars, Stardust brunches, beer-tasting at Redlight Redlight, Terrapin beer, trips to flea markets, Mellow Mushroom pizza and Ethos vegan burgers all have their special places in my memory. I think when one is good friends or in a relationship with someone else, it’s very natural to want to share the things from the place, or places, you grew up in. But when these places are so far away, or additionally, so scattered, it can provoke a bit of longing for the taste of palmetto honey, among other things.

At the same time, I’m trying to explore more of London and Great Britain while I am here, which is a bit daunting when your job situation is a bit shaky for the time being. Next month I’ll be going on a weekend trip to Devon, and a Brighton trip that was cancelled due to the recent snow will be rescheduled eventually.

Perhaps I’ll be discovering a honey here I’ll be pining for on another shore.

 

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Covered in Hush

It has been a snow-covered weekend here in London, producing many lovely photographs of the snow from Brixton to Broadway Market, Hampstead to Hammersmith to Herne Hill. Here is a photo I took on Friday while passing through Canonbury.

(snooty) fox in the snow

I have been mostly inside, admiring the falling snow outside while filling out job applications online and finding interesting article to read. I am once again in the not best scenario of looking for work, and considering how close it is to the expiration of my visa in July, I can’t say whether or not it is likely I will be able to stay in London.

It’s not where I want to be, but so it goes.

All things considered, I have done the best I could have done given the circumstances, and I am doing the best I can now, looking for satisfactory work while finishing my current job. I’ve given my LinkedIn profile a spit-shine, uploaded my CV to a few recruiting agencies (if you have any recommendations, let me know), had a phone interview and a few in-person ones. We’ll see what happens, but I can’t say my mind isn’t already trying to prepare for worst-case scenarios, including the horrifying yet hopefully remote prospect that I may not even have a suitable job nor enough money to see the visa ’til the end.

We can’t all be winners, but if we’re lucky, we can have good stories to tell.

the kentish countryside

In December, I commuted from London’s Victoria Station out to Kent every day, clocking in around 3 1/2 hours of commuting time a day. I read voraciously on the hour-long journeys on the Southeastern trains, whose cars are always redolent of piss to varying degrees.

ticket with tree punch

french-ish themeI also wrote cards and postcards to friends, particularly my friend Mike, who is currently incarcerated back in Florida. I do my best to write him a postcard a week. I’ve gotten a few letters back from him as well as updates from his wife, my dear friend Marie.

mike's first letterMarie and Mike weren’t married when I left for London in 2011, nor was he in prison then (that happened in early November last year). Having been in London now for a year and a half, I cannot say I’m not curious in how Orlando has changed in my absence. Snippets of information I’ve gotten from the social sites Facebook and Foursquare indicate businesses that have opened up or expanded. Faces have changed in familiar spots, and new names have cropped up among my small groups of Florida friends as they branch out and make new friends and extend their interests.

There are things I miss about Orlando and America: Provolone cheese, the selection of craft beer at Publix, Publix subs (with Provolone cheese), barbecues in March, Stardust, tempeh, excessive pancake and waffle breakfasts, the American accents I’m used to in Florida (a pastiche of Southern, New York and formerly general American accents that have managed to gain twangs of “y’all,” “ain’t” and “dudn’t”), the vegan burgers from Ethos, my folks, my friends.

I wouldn’t mind being around these things again for a little while, but not permanently. Likewise, the list of what I would miss about London would be huge. I tried to make a comprehensive list last time I was away and never finished it. There’d be so much more to add to now that I’ve discovered additional things, it would be difficult to even organise these snippets of the Big Smoke into a cohesive, comprehensive sense.

What I would miss most about London, I think, is this sense of the unexplored. Even if I become the flâneur of means I not so secretly dream of being, it would be impossible to know intimately all the treasures each street, each building, every heart and every mind within this city holds. There are excellent attempts at doing so, but what is so delightful about London is that there are always things that remain to be explored, whether physical places, periods of this city’s fascinating history or the stories held by its people.

Or its food and drink, always favourite subjects of mine to explore.

big smoke tea from postcardteas.com

 

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London Moves: The People We See, Volume 1

Because I’m commuting a lot more from place to place in London for my job, I spend a good deal of time on London’s transportation system. I’ve also spend a good deal of time walking, but I’ll come to that in another post.

Today, as I pinged from Muswell Hill to Mayfair, Soho to Fitzrovia to Soho again, Piccadilly to Chelsea, then somehow back to Stokey, I saw a range of Londoners, as well as quite a few tourists in spots like Carnaby Street, Oxford Circus and Piccadilly Circus. My iPod’s battery had run out, so I was a lot more aware today of the conversations around me and the people who were having them, as well as the quiet folks who kept to themselves, yet were rather remarkable.

Today I saw primary school students in Crouch End form a giddy throng on the sidewalk.

Today I saw a woman in a coffee shop in Mayfair not finish her salad in a way that was a horrible waste of perfectly good spinach. She showed off the guy she was seeing to her two friends, as there was a picture of him on her phone. I’m still slightly upset by the amount of spinach she left.

Today I saw a trio of Filipinas with a buggy, taking photos alongside Regent Street. In fact, because I was on Carnaby Street, Regent Street and in Piccadilly, I saw a lot of people taking photos. I probably walked in on some inadvertently.

Sorry, folks.

Today I saw a young kid on the 22 in a school uniform of maroon corduroy knee-shorts with long socks. No jacket or coat. I had a horrible thought that he might’ve gotten beaten up for his jacket or coat at school. He might have just forgotten it.

Also on the 22 I saw women who were properly West London. They had a veneer of perfect make-up and looked as if they stepped out of the Hobbs dressing room, clad in pretty woolen coats and leather gloves. They made you think of the words “well-to-do” and many of them were getting off at Sloane Square, where the Christmas lights are quite lovely. Have a look at them if you’re in the area, or riding past on the 22.

Finally, today I saw a man, a wonderful older gentleman, with a red satchel and a black beret, holding a guitar case. He wore half-moon glasses, and I thought he was magnificent. A classic rider of the 73 if I’ve ever seen one.

Did you see anyone remarkable today or recently? I’ll update this blog with more observances of people seen on the commute.

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