Sunday, January 30, 2011

Victoria and Albert

I've been learning that there are times when being a lone tourist is not as much fun as I'd hoped. Some things - like riding the London Eye or going to Madame Tussaud's - are not really things that I'm willing to undertake on my own. Thankfully museums do not, generally speaking, fall into this category. I say thankfully because I have a lot of time on my hands, and London is absolutely lousy with cultural shrines to everything from art to transport to war, and then some.
Easily one of the most famous, and arguably the most popular of these is the Victoria and Albert. The museum takes the obligatory art, sculpture and historical artefacts, and houses them side by side with fashion, textiles, photography and theatrical curiosities dating up to maybe a decade or so ago. I spent a day there and walked out feeling simultaneously overwhelmed by the shere amount of visual information I'd taken in and as if I'd barely scratched the surface.
This was once a toy for a small child. If you wind the handle the tiger bites the British soldier.

Japanese fishermen would wear kimonos like this one to celebrate the turn of the New Year and bring them and their family good luck.

One of these sword belonged to the descendant of the prophet Mohammad, and the other to the then king of Afghanistan. They are both inscribed with phrases from the Qu'ran. 

As much as I love history, especially the history of other cultures, I actually spent most of my time at the V&A in the theatre section.
 Guitar famously smashed by The Who guitarist Pete Townshend
The pink and blue t-shirts are from music festivals, while the yellow commemorates the Sex Pistol's infamous trip down the Thames
Costumes worn by Mick Jagger (left) and Adam Ant
Sydney Opera House hat worn by Dame Edna

The V&A also has these Friday night events once a month where you pay a fee and go look at some of the exhibits and drink champagne and pretend to know things about art. Sadly for me, that actually is one of those things I can't do on my own (hello, full circle).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

To market, to market

Over the last week I've happily started making actual real people friends - ie met and interacted with people while nobody was drunk. Yay! Life is beginning to seem legit! Also I finally got around to seeing Buckingham Palace, which was considerably more ugly and less impressive than I'd expected. I will have to go back and revistit all the touristy places I've been so far though, this time accompanied by my bright shiney new camera.
I was invited out on Saturday night by one of my new Australian friends (so far the people I've spent most time with outside the Family have been Aussies. Irony plus) on a pub crawl run by a group who also do tours across Britain and Europe. And I have to say, despite being tacky and formulaic, the night was both cheap and honestly really enjoyable. I spent five hours dancing with a group of German students and got a free drink at every bar. I'm not exactly complaining.
So far though far and away my favourite place has been Camden. HOMIGOD. Salivate. There are no words. But I will try.
Basically Camden is a big ass suburb situated right on a canal that is pretty much entirely devoted to markets.

Most people enter Camden via the train station, but I walked in along the water (through the zoo), and it was absolutely stunning, despite the poor quality weather.

At the start of the canal there's an area known locally as Little Venice because of the sheer number of house boats. As I walked past these boats I met one man who lived there, casually chopping wood for his on-board wood fire stove.
I braved the crowds and went out on a Sunday when everything was guaranteed to be open, but apparently the markets are for the most part open and operational seven days. From all accounts it also has quite the night life, but I'm yet to experience that. The best way I can describe it in Sydney terms is this: Imagine if Newtown and Paddy's Markets had a beautiful British baby, then increase the awesomeness exponentially and you'll have some idea of how goddam awesome Camden is.
Camden Lock is kind of the heart of the different markets that take place all across Camden.

I spent most of my day exploring the Stables, and I can honestly say I've never seen so much leather in one place before ever.

Unfinished graffitti under one of the innumerable bridges spanning the canal. I'll never know what the person was sorry for. Clearly one of the great mysteries of my life.
While I was at the markets I became the proud owner of (amongst other things) a skirt that looks like the product of an unholy union between a circus tent and a hawaiian shirt. It's the best skirt I've owned since I was about 3.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Silence is Distance

One of the things I was taught while getting my Bachelor of How To Be A Functioning Alcoholic aka Journalism was the importance of proximity. It seems pretty simple in theory - people want to hear about things that effect them. Sometimes it seems kind of harsh, but it's true. Ten people dying in a bus crash three blocks away from your house is more likely to pique the interest of a general readership than ten thousand people dying three thousand miles away from your country.
But up until now I'd never really cared too much about the emotional effects of this neccesary but undeniably callous practice.
In Australia the Queensland floods are top priority, as they should be. Newspapers are dedicating pages of both print and web space to the ongoing story, and on television special bulletins are the order of the day. It's a topic of high importance, and carries a high emotional charge.
In Britain, however, the floods are relegated to second or third on the news bulletins. On The Guardian website the flood story is trumped by school league tables, and The Sun puts it below both the trial of Michael Jackson's doctor and a story about a footballer's alleged "Vegas sex romp" (not actually all that surprising from the Sun admittedly, but still).
On the one hand it makes me sad that the suffering of people back home is considered to be of such mild importance. But in some ways I'm glad. The lukewarm public interest here in the problems of Australia - one of Britain's closest allies - has opened my eyes to the way I've always viewed the great problems of the world. I'm not saying I'm going to drop everything and dedicate myself to a becoming the next Mother Theresa, but I'd like to think I can keep this newfound awareness until I find a sensible - and effective  - way to put it to use.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

If you take a ride with them you may not come out alive

Well. The last time I wrote I was about to attempt to find friends in the big, scary city. And while some of the details are rather hazy, I think I can call my experiment a resounding success. Possibly too much of a success, in fact.
When your evening starts out with being significantly under charged for a meal and drink by a good looking bar tender, things are looking pretty good. I figured that, if nothing else, I could always start chatting to the bar staff at one of the many many local pubs I went to for dinner. And for a while that's basically all I did. But around 10pm a large group of people came into the pub, and I started chatting to some guy. A free drink, an exchanged mobile number and a black cab ride later I found myself at a house party in a seedy estate building, talking to the chick who lived there about her small child.
By now I'd lost interest in the guy I'd come with. Unfortunately for me, I hadn't realised he was a CRAZY PERSON, and now, two days and over 30 unreplied-to texts messages later, I'm seriously considering calling him and yelling "NO! NO! NO!" into the speaker until he gets the picture.
After a while I started heading home, plus one. Apparently, though, cab drivers in London don't know where anything is, and we were dropped off in the middle of nowhere, in the rain, with no idea how to get home. And even though in the movies kissing in the rain seems really romantic and shit, in reality it's mostly just cold and wet. Plus I was no longer wearing shoes, which made everything significantly more uncomfortable. Still it was a better option than standing around thinking about how lost I was and how I'm ACTUALLY REALLY REALLY GOOD AT LIFE. Promise.
But, as hectic as the trip home was, it had nothing on the aftermath of the next morning when I remembered that I live and work with children, and am not actually allowed to bring men home. Thankfully my windows are wide enough to fit a human body. Joking. But almost not.

Also, today I went to Selfridges, which is pretty much David Jones but fancier. And with the biggest shoe department in London. I spent an hour in there literally caressing the amazing range of designer footwear before going home and crying about the fact most of those shoes will never grace my feet. Joking. But almost not.
Selfridges also has a "wonder room", which I'd never heard of before. Apparently it's a room filled with smaller rooms, which are in turn filled with shiny beautiful things that I don't own, and that makes you leave wondering if prostitution is really such a bad career choice.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Anticipation has a habit to set you up

I've been in London a whole week today, and I've been asked a few times if it's everything I expected.
In a word, no.
Let me be clear - this is in no way because of the city itself. London (the little I've experienced of it at least) is fabulous. But I can't honestly say this week has been everything I'd  hoped this experience would be. I was so freaking excited to come over here, and now that I am everything seems to be a lot...harder than I'd anticipated. Mostly because I had these completely unrealistic ideas of what it would be like to make this move.
In all honesty, I basically wanted to pick up my whole life and transplant it - intact - to a newer, more exctiting setting. I'd expected to land at Heathrow and walk straight back into a ready made world.
Instead I've had seven days of bemused near-isolation, a couple of bouts of debilitating homesickness, and the crushing realisation that starting from scratch means exactly that. Not knowing anyone brings a fantastic amount of freedom, but it carries a hefty price as well.
The problem for me is that I haven't had the chance to socialise myself. Had I been a regular traveller I'd have stayed in a hostel, and this problem would be pretty much entirely avoided. But the only real interaction I get is with the family I nanny for and, as helpful as they've tried to be, I can't really make a seven year old into my drinking buddy (at least not without facing probable unemployment).
That said, I'm not above chucking a Billy Idol and dancing by myself. So, with that and the fact I'm not making any friends by sitting at my computer complaining about my situation to cyberspace in mind, I'm about to get myself pretty and go to the pub. Future friends or social humiliation awaits. At this point it could go either way (the smart money is on the former, though. I'm not much for failure).
Wish me luck!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Disillusions

So it turns out that first post may have been a little premature.
I woke up this morning with no idea where I was and burst into tears. Not gonna lie, without the adrenaline and moet to prop me up, being in a room with no clothes, no friends and no family is basically the worst way to spend your first half hour of the new year. On the up side I seem to have beaten jet lag, though (Shannon:1 Time zones:0).
Still, to make this transition more palatable I've decided on some new years resolutions.

1. Stop crying.
Seriously, tears at the breakfast table not only make everyone uncomfortable, they also ruins the most delicious meal of the day. Salty soggy weetbix ain't really my thing, yo, even if British food is as bad as I've been told. Excuse me while I man the fuck up.

2. Let's get some shoes.
And clothes. And friends, while you're there. London: you're one stop shop. I have about three outfits at the moment. Call me shallow, but that's really not ok with me. And if my social life revolves around a nine year old, I'm going to go loco.

3. Phone home.
Actually, mum this one's for you. Pick up your damn mobile, I've been phoning for an hour.
Convo spoiler alert: I'm not dead.

4. Relax your body.
Considering I'm shit broke there is actually zero option of going home, even if I want to. So instead of feeling sad and sorry for myself maybe I should just chill out (wow London is cold) (I'm SO FUNNY).

5. Buy a camera.
This is less a resolution than the #1 thing on my list of Things I Want, but 5 resolutions looks better than 4. Side note - Duty free shopping at KL = totally disappointing.

ex oh ex oh