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!