Sunday, September 11, 2011

It's hot, and not in a temperature way.

I was invited into an unfamiliar new world today. One filled with sex, lust and glamour. A perfectly-figured girl danced near-naked in a window while pristine males in crisp white shirts captured her on film - it was only 7pm, on a Thursday.

I've become so accustomed to scenes of abnormality in London that I didn't even notice until it was directly pointed out to me - a bit like wandering along the sidewalk completely lost in your thoughts until you step in a dog-shit.

And by then it was too late. We were right in the middle of the action; front row seats at a strip show. All manner of weird and wonderful activities take place in Soho that maybe it shouldn't have been a surprise to an olive skinned beauty prancing in a store-window in expensive-looking lingerie while equally-beautiful men gathered with fake cameras pretending to take her photo.

What was surprising was the invitation my friend and I received to take part.
"Come in for a glass of champagne" a platinum blonde girl in a baby pink pin-up style dress said as we watched, I am sure, with our mouths half open.

My initial reactions included "Why...what do you want from me?" and "I am so not dressed for this". I'd come into central London to meet for a drink directly from work. Sure I wasn't exactly wearing my 'business outfit' but I felt like a Marks and Spencers model (a 5"3' one) about to enter a Victoria's Secret fashion show.

Nonetheless we ventured in for the promised free glass of bubbly and continued to absorb the bizarre scene. You may have guessed by now all this was a marketing stunt designed to hunt down innocent prey like ourselves who were unaccustomed to such forays into worlds of naked ladies and gorgeous men.

And it would have worked too. I definitely would have bought an item of fancy lingerie from the store we had walked into - if I had a Platinum mastercard instead of my mundane edition without even a fancy picture.

The point is, living in London you can simply stumble across an experience you would never have dreamed of having. I would never have imagined one day sipping champagne in an extremely-high class lingerie boutique surrounded by models, male waiters, and quite obviously, fashion 'IT' people. Nor would this have happened if I was walking by Farmers on Dunedin's Princes street.

While the situation wasn't my cup of tea, it was certainly an experience I won't forget in a hurry - so obscure as it was. Just when I once again began to lament about the mundane life that London affords one working in an office an hour's tube ride from home, the city brings me a surprise. Albeit, in the form of a half-naked girl who winked and licked her lips at me when we shared a brief moment of eye contact. And this experience came without me even having to go searching for it.

If this is the type of exciting glimpse into a potentially bizarre and exciting London-life given to unsuspecting passers-by, imagine the possibilities that lie beneath the city's surface. I'm going looking. Stay tuned!

Thursday, August 11, 2011


I've had real trouble sleeping this week, maybe it's the riots, or the weird summer/windy autumn weather. Long story short tonight I'm lying here shattered contemplating what I miss about home.

I'm not about to write screeds about how I'm homesick and life is crap. It's not. Life is great. But no matter how much I enjoy London and the European travel, at the end of the day there's a lot that London-life just can't compete with.

Yes I miss L&P. Yes I miss pies (Jimmy's of course), I miss a good chocolate milkshake and only having to drive 10 minutes to get to work. 9Driving! I miss driving!) But most of the material things that only New Zealand can provide have actually found their way to London. If you haven't been here before you'll probably be surprised to know that some of the best coffee shops in London are run by kiwis - who knew our coffee was so good? I certainly didn't, despite being a barista for seven years.

But it's definitely not hard to decide what I miss most. It's the people. Cue the anecdote:

Whilst in the midst of duvet tousling and pillow rearranging as sleep evaded me, I suddenly remembered I'd forgotten to call the Inland Revenue to change my address.
Calling the IRD is a chore most people loathe to undertake. ('Would you mind holding for between 20 and 30 minutes?' Sure...why not...)
But tonight I skipped down the stairs to grab the phone and dial IRD's number with optimism.

After 10 minutes holding I was rewarded with the voice of a true born and bred kiwi. Now I live with all New Zealanders, but for some reason it feels so much more significant when the kiwi accent is being funnelled all the way from the homeland.
That voice and the words it spoke got me started on my "I miss New Zealand" buzz.

The way that IRD agent chatted with me about life and how I was "bearing up" in London is indicative of the uniqueness of New Zealanders. As per the good manners my mother taught me I always say please, thank you and enquire how people are at the beginning of a conversation.

These manners are received with confusion in many a London situation, and when people realise you're being friendly it can go either way; delight and surprise, or and angry scowl as though they think you're trying to teach them a nasty lesson.

I watched a lady in the street drop a magazine today, I ran after her, picked it up and handed it back to her informing her she'd dropped it. She stared at me for about three seconds with a look that said she assumed I was going to demand her handbag, before she realised I was actually doing her a good turn.

Kiwis are polite and friendly first, angry and suspicious second. I know I'm verging on vast and unfair stereotyping, but the comfort of being around New Zealander's day in, day out is what I miss most. People that would help you if you fell, smile and ask how you are, and crack a joke with a stranger as they wait for a free teller in Westpac.

Oh, and I miss the beach. A wild and windy beach without another soul for maybe one kilometre. But that's another blog post.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

London Riots

The afternoon the riots broke out I had been enjoying sunshine, reggae and a peaceful and celebratory atmosphere in the streets of Brixton - dancing in the sunshine, then the rain, and then the sunshine once again.
Everyone was happy and friendly. However, only hours later the same streets would apparently be over-run by youths smashing windows and looting stores.
There are different theories as to why the riots began; on Saturday morning there had been a peaceful protest over the police shooting of a local man, which subsequently turned nasty.
It seems unlikely however, that the crowd in Brixton would have decided to cause mayhem for the same cause - Tottenham and Brixton are on opposite sides of the city. In my view, the crowd which had been enjoying a casual and relaxed street party may have simply become discontent with the close of the festival and wanted a bit more action.
Brixton is a vibrant and multi-cultural area of london with strong afro-Caribbean influences, whether the locals were involved in the destruction or whether it was visiting youths is unknown.

Despite what sparked the riots in the first place, the chaos spread throughout Monday until various locations around London were occupied by offenders armed with bottle, hoods, and bags to carry looted goods.
It's been an uneasy atmosphere in the capital over the past two days. Images of entire blocks on fire just around the corner from a friend's place emerged this morning, and another friend reported she'd had to retreat back to her house from a run as she was confronted with a stand-off between police and hooded offenders in her main street.

It really does appear the disturbance has been an excuse for thrill-seekers to get a piece of criminal action - and get away with it. There's a lot of political speak coming from David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Ed Miliband today - but in actual fact no one seems to care. It's about the people here who are having to deal with the aftermath. The broom as become the symbol of power in Clapham - where the offenders tore through last night.

In a sight rarely seen in a city where everyone appears to be out for themselves, communities in different suburbs are banding together to save their businesses.

Tonight 16,000 police officers are manning London's streets and the mood in the most troubled areas is apparently much calmer than last night.
For me personally, I've escaped the drama, and it really does feel like it's happening in another world - or it would do had I not been able to hear sirens persistently ringing through the office window all day and see smoke billowing from the London horizon.

It really must look like a desolate and scary place from an outside observer faced with fearsome footage from the BBC. In reality however, London is still operating as normal on the whole, and it feels like there's only so much the rioters can so until they get tired of the game.
However, I'm sure those faced with a band of bottle throwers would have a very different take on it.

It some ways it's unfortunate that young people with nothing better to do are said to be responsible for mayhem. At least if there was some political agenda behind the rioting there would be a reason and some form of rationality. Instead, those responsible are simply giving the law-abiding youth a bad name and making a nuisance of themselves. What do they want to achieve? Some have said it's the poor showing the rich they can do what they like and take them for all they're worth. I sincerely hope this is not the beginning of a class division seen in other countries like Argentina.

For the time being however, we have all eyes glued to the news reports and warnings from police in case the situation escalates. Good luck to them trying to break through 16,000 police however - the forces have all the power they need to stop the destruction, someone just needs to give the order.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

When you discover a treat...

...and I'm not talking about a forgotten-about M&M down the back of the couch.

London gets a bit of a bad wrap from people when only the surface of the city is taken into account. The latest one to lambast an element of London was Commons Speaker's wife Sally Bercow. ‘God I hate tourists, shuffling along, blocking pavement, stopping to take pics every two seconds’ she tweeted.

And it's true, but that's a story for a 'London is not hot' instalment. But then who am I to talk? Being a tourist myself on many occasions.

The upper epidermis of London is an environment over-crowed with either tourists, tired commuters,or people just simply anry at life.
And the parts of London most people see when they visit certainly do not transmit an alluring image of one of the most visited-cities in the world.

It's only after living in London for a certain period of time, or having friends who have, that you begin to uncover true nuggets of goodness.

I have discovered one such place, combined with an experience - The Tabernacle.

The venue is a unique setting with wide outdoor and indoor bar, and an intimate performance theatre upstairs.
This was where I was lucky enough to see singer/songwriter Ben Howard

I'm not sure it was so much the place that has made it a treasure in my mind or the experience as a whole. Certainly the combination of the artistic and chic venue, the similarly-presented people, and the intimate and captivating performance which made it a London experience I will relish.

Tucked away around the corner from Notting Hill not many people I've spoken to since my visit have been aware of its existence.

The third or fourth trip to the Brick Lane markets have had the same effect. Once you've been there enough times to get used to the bustling crowds, and realise where the good sections are, there's a huge array of treasures to be found in the under-ground vintage markets and independant jewllery and clothes designers.

If you're missing the green pastures from home London even caters to these withdrawal symptoms.
Richmond Park is an wilderness park with a circumference of more than 11kms, and home to resident deer, and not more than 40mins ride on the tube from central London! (That's not long at all for those of you whoa re unaware of commuting times.)

At the end of the day the locations with class and difference are the ones to remember, not the areas commercialised for the tourist market or over-taken with people determined to make a quick buck.

And the good news is, London is such a huge city I have no doubt there are many more nuggets to discover. Today London is most defintely hot.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

And you thought Shooters was bad...

London's a meat market. It's sad to say but it's true.

When I came here I expected the night life to be sophisticated, chic, glamorous even.
I'm sure in some places it is, Chelsea maybe where the girls wear cardigans and pearls.

But in the places I've experienced thus far it's most definitely not. In fact in one instance I entered a bar and was greeted by the most striking fellow vomiting at my feet. Nice.

At the time I vowed never to step foot in that bar again. Unfortunately last weekend I broke that vow. Zebranos isn't so bad generally, it's actually quite popular with an ok London crowd.

However, things went downhill after 1am when we progressed onto 'second' Zebranos, which is open till 3am.

Boys.Everywhere. Shooters territory...totes. But these guys take it one step too far.
Rather than a group of three guys gathering round you like in Shooters, men would grab you by the arm and pull you round, as if to say "you WILL dance with me".
Hmm actually I'm afraid buddy, that no I won't.
At one point during the night one certain male even told me I looked like I was gagging for it. Before you get ideas about my attire, no I didn't have a short skirt on, or cleavage on show, or red lipstick even.

This is all fine, perhaps I was just in the wrong bar, right? Wrong.
It's everywhere, even just walking down the street men (yes men, 30+ sometimes) are throwing smutty comments left right and centre.

I left work Wednesday afternoon, walking to the tube station, in deep thoughts about work-related subjects. Then I hear "'Allo gorgeous...hmm you're cheeky, don't be sad hunny gimme a smile." I'm not telling a word of a lie. (I wasn't sad, it was just my concentration face..)

What makes me furious is why these men think they can talk to women like this? There is no respect in this City.

To be honest I think it's purely because there are so many people in this city that it doesn't matter what men do, they're never going to see me again.
Don't get me wrong it's not all men, but I would say I encounter some form of gender objectification on a daily basis. A whistle, a look, a comment. And it makes life here hard.

Sure when you're 18 walking through the crowd at Shooters an innocent grope gives your ego a boost that you've never had before. At 24 in a professional capacity it's just not funny anymore. Grow up London.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Young love...and less innocent displays of affection.

Every afternoon during this past week I've seen a pre-teen couple canoodling outside my tube stop.
I remember just what it's like. In fact the word canoodling may be a little too strong a word for what they were doing.
It's been more a fondling of fingers with the shyness, nervousness and excitement all showing on their faces.
Clearly they live in different directions from the tube station and are savouring every last second of feeling the butterflies in their stomach. They'll no doubt talk on the phone for an hour tonight while Mum rolls her eyes. Ah it's sweet.

If only every display of affection in London were as sweet. Unfortunately not.
It's scary just how open people are about what they'd clearly like to do to their mate. I have personally seen a couple all but having intercourse in Hyde Park. Not hidden behind a tree or anything. Right out in the open in the middle of a large patch of greenspace. Actually, I'm not certain the show was lacking penetration. What's even worse is that you simply just can't tear your eyes's so astonishing. Surely it must be in our genes - just like the curiousity to look at the scene of a fatal car accident as you drive past.

The tube presents an even worse platform for PDA. (Public Displays of Affection - for those of you who've been living in a cave.)
Here, especially on the last tubes on a Friday or Saturday ngiht, young couples feel free to openly tongue, and more, disturbingly. In this case one HAS to avert their eyes...the space is just too small. What makes it worse is it's never the attractive couples. Why do the more average looking pairs feel the need to flaunt the fact they have sex too? Are they trying to prove something?
"Sure I may not be overly pretty...but I still get laid"!?

But unfortunately, it does get worse.
Middle.Aged.Couples. Yes, they feel it's fine to engage in this act traditionally reserved for teenagers.
During my lunchbreak last week I witnessed one couple that fits into this category pashing and hand-up-shirt-action in the middle of Nero (similar to Starbucks). WHY!?
I'm not trying to ignore the fact "grown-ups" have fun too...but it was the middle of the day, on a Tuesday. Not as though they were getting frisky in the lead-up to the weekend!

It's like middle-agers don't have to adhere to grown-up rules in London, they can simply be teenagers, or the lack of privacy means they're allowed to disgust fellow city-goers.
I don't really care what it is but I don't think I should be put off my lunch because a couple literally can't get a room. Thoughts?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Friend or foe..?

A squirrel wanted to kill me yesterday.

I know what you're is that possible? I would subscribe to your train of thought too, if it hadn't been me that stared straight into the eyes of the evil creature.

Despite belonging to the rodent family, squirrels do have a huge "cutesy" factor. It was one of the things I was most excited about when I arrived in London, the allure of seeing a real-live squirrel!

And it was pretty exciting to see them scampering between trees in St James' Park. Even more exciting was a subsequent trip to the park with nuts in my arsenal. Oh how the squirrels love Brazil nuts.

Feeding them is apparently illegal, perhaps because everyone would want to steal one after they've been involved in such a experience with a squirrel.

Yes they appear to be damn cute, and have such personality. It takes a few minutes to gain the confidence of one little squirrel before it'll come up and take the nut out of your hand. But then....they run away, bury it with surprising speed, and come running back for more.

And how do I know Brazil nuts are a particular favourite? Well I've assumed as much because Brazil nuts are the only type of nut the little rodents just have to eat there and then, rather than burying them.

So yes they're adorable, right? Maybe. Not so sure now.

Let me tell you another story. It's 5:45am. I'm running in the park, barely awake. I run down a slight hill, rounding a bend very close to the inside of the corner, just preparing to scoot around a wooden rubbish bin when I feel something watching me.
I raise my eyes and stare straight into the beady eyeballs of a squirrel less than a metre from my face.
It was just watching me..sitting calmly on top of the rubbish bin, staring. Time wound down to slow motion...(my heart goes...douf...douf...douf...)the squirrel and I size each other up in a mili-second...and it becomes clear I wasn't the one coming out on top - the furry creature hadn't even flinched.

If my life was a movie...the following events would have unfolded like so;
Suddenly, to my horror, the squirrel pounces on my face emitting a blood-curdling screech. My reflexes were no match for its speed and agility. I try to pry it off, but it's claws are embedded in my flesh. I can't see...not because it's covering my eyes. But because it's used its lighting-fast paws, normally used to dig holes for nuts, to, instead, scratch my eyes out.

Of course it didn't happen like that, I'm still able to see in order to type.

However, my face-to-face silent confrontation with a squirrel has really made me think twice about whether they're actually all that adorable.

Think about this when you look at the above picture.

What are its eyes saying? Is it; oh I'm so innocent and twitchy, if you make a sudden movement I'll scamper up my tree? Or; look at me I'm so cute...come closer, closer...and when you do it breaks from it's spell-binding gaze and attacks, all while you're led on the false-sense of security that squirrels are harmless.

On a final-note, in 2005 squirrels in Russia squirrels killed a stray dog.
Proof this story is not a conveniently made up allegation can be found here:

So, still adorable?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

London when the sun shines (finally!)

Five months of grey can get depressing.

It certainly takes a fighting spirit to come out the other side of a London winter with a positive outlook. But then finally....the sun shines and everything changes.

Don't get me wrong, London in winter was definitely not as bad as I had anticipated. It only snowed once this year. And yes it did get bone-chillingly cold, but only for about a month.

But as the days begin to get longer, and the sun's rays finally begin to pierce through the grey cloud, you can smell the optimism in the air.

It's as though Londoners anticipate sunshine so much more that there's almost celebrations and dancing in the streets when it does stream through the window. The city breathes a collective sigh of relief.

And people change. London is fraught with "busy" people. Rushing through the streets, running to catch the bus, pushing in the tube stations.
But when the sun shines everything slows down a notch and people begin to enjoy the city.

Smiles are so much more abundant, and people talk to each other!

Here's an example: Yesterday the sun was out. My friend was running to catch the bus, which it was clear she would never make in a million years, but she tried anyway. There wasn't a single person at the stop, so theoretically the bus would just keep on going. But it slowed down, came to a halt and the driver opens the doors just as said friend reaches the stop, "I knew you were going to make it" he grinned.
I wonder if that would have happened on a grey miserable day?

Another thing, the birds get confused.
The sun must be so bewildering after being in hiding for so long and the birds sing all through the night. Or maybe they're just happy the sun is out again too...
Imagine lying with the window open a crack and having birds lull you into a peaceful dream-land...

Of course there's the daffodils. My FAVOURITE. Daffodils everywhere, in Hyde Park, being sold by street-vendors, even stacks and stacks of them in the supermarket.
Nothing says "summer's coming" like a bright yellow daffodil.

In short, the first hint of spring in London is like a gold star for surviving winter.
Londoners are all the nerdy kids who have worked so hard but never get noticed, and then finally the teacher says, "I've noticed you trying so hard to get through this, you've done enough, this is for all your hard work". Then they enjoy the reward so much more because they've been waiting for it for so long.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Shopping becomes a chore...

London shopping and shoppers are intertwined in a delicate love-hate relationship.

In short: the bargins are heaven. But to get the bargins one has to go through the scorching flames of hell.

Primark is the perfect epitome of the London shopping love affair.

Yesterday I purchased a fantastic "going-out-for-dinner" number for a mere £8 (NZD$17). Add a belt for £2 and a necklace for £1.50 I had most definitely nabbed myself a bargin.
Sure it all looks good on the surface...but the House of "Primani" (Primark+Armani=Primani) puts an innocent NZ Queen Street shopper through near-trauma.

First you need to understand exactly what Primark offers. For a girl on a budget it's jam-packed with tops, dresses, pants, swimwear, sleepwear, shoes underwear AND accessories all in this season's fashion for, in most cases, less than 1/4 the price of a "legit" brand.

Yes it's amazingly good value, and cheap enough that a (wannabe) fashionista can chuck the lot ahead of next season's trends.

The physical store itself, on the other hand, is not as alluringly as the prices.

For starters, the chain allows shoppers to lug around great baskets stacked to the brim with the cheap and nasty items. Women are often seen just dragging the baskets behind them, it simply gets to heavy to carry.

Secondly, it's so popular there's barely room to breathe. Visitors from all over Europe flock to Primark.
The Oxford Street store is perhaps the most multi-cultural location in the entire city. Unfortunately the popularity means you're ushered into Primark on a multi-cultural wave of people all headed for the same direction off the street. Various languages fly about you while you try to remember what you actually came in for.
"Browsing" is simply not concept acceptable in Primark. Instead shoppers grab arms-full of items, throwing them on the floor in front of a spare mirror and begin trying them on over top of their clothes. Or in some cases actually dis-robing in public.

Why not go to a changing room you may ask. Well it takes at least 20 minutes (on a good day) to get into a fitting room.

Then there's the attitude of shoppers. Everyone is there for a bargin. Every shopper is a direct threat to another shopper - it's all competition. In addition, the sheer lack of personal space simply makes everyone angrier. People never say "excuse me" in Primark, instead they shove.
I actually saw a woman knock a child over with her basket because she was intent on getting to the check-out.

Then if you actually manage to decide on an item or twenty the line up to the check-outs can be up to 50 people long.

But it doesn't stop there. Post-Primark is almost just as lacking in style. After perhaps an hour of arm-wrestling, weight-lifting and endurance shoppers emerge exhausted onto Oxford street.

On weekends they can be seen sitting clustered along the window-ledges of the giant store, and in groups near the doorway surrounding by hundreds of the iconic brown paper Primark bags - they do still have money in their wallet though.

Monday, March 7, 2011


A woman screamed and cursed at a complete stranger on the bus today...for ten straight minutes. Not a single person intervened.

Welcome to London.

As a New Zealander I was told many different things about London from peers who had visited before me.
"It's'll have the time of your life...the tude's a b***'s HUGE".

All of these things are true. What's not is the often said statement "you'll either love it or hate it".
When I first arrived 8 months ago I hated it, then I loved it, then I hated it again, now I'm staring at the beast with indifference.

After being here without writing for such a long period I've finally found the perfect topic for the new blog. London and all the quirks that come with it. Only wish I'd thought of it sooner - there've been some interesting situations!

To get the ball rolling here's a bit of advice if you're planning on visiting: don't expect anyone to help you, ever.

I've seen an old woman fall on the stairs and people step over her, people avert thier eyes if they're in a seat a pregnant woman so clearly needs, and numerous violent situations between over-worked Londoners.

But perhaps the worst was seeing an elderly lady getting kicked and shoved in the supermarket by a hefty coloured woman, What did security do? Nothing but walk on past.

It feels ominous to start on such a negative note, but London brings out the worst in people.

If you stumble people assume you're drunk, if you drop something people will look away rather than help, and if you actually talk to someone on the tube you've become the crazy person in the carriage.

Don't get me wrong there are definitely friendly Londoners out there, and they'll be staring in future posts!