Monthly Archives: November 2006

london tales 1

crossingOn my way to see a flat I walk up Abbey Road, a totally nondescript suburb of nowhere. On a pishing wet Sunday there are literally queues of people on either side of the famous crossing, waiting to stand astride it and get photos. Local drivers honk horns and curse. People in wax jackets hang about nervously giggling, as though John Lennon might at any moment claw his elbows free of the asphalt and give them an autograph.

The walls near the studio itself are covered with tawdry ink missives. I heart beatles.

compassLater, I go to meet my cousin Jo in a nondescript pub on Columbia Road. Busy but atmospheric. Unruly hair. Scarves and chunky glasses. Gay guys in tight shirts. Ex-Eastenders actress and pals, unnoticed. The realisation comes that these are the same pubs that your TV heroes go to. Pegg, Ayoade, Lee, Herring, Mitchell, Webb. Exciting (given that you know the right places to go).

The next day, I committed that most heinous, schoolboy error: I came out into central London without my mini A-Z. At night. Among crowds of equally lost people. In the end I had to hire a rickshaw to get me to the cinema in time for Pan's Labyrinth.

The thing I miss having most is my toy compass. Useful in well-laid-out New York, absolutely vital in London's insane sprawl. I got the plastic gem – functional, amazingly – in exchange for ten (normally worthless) tickets at Coney Island, after playing Skee Ball with Caitlin. I wish I had ten more just like it.

hunting in London, II

baconpost-viewing

I'm hungry so I tube it over to Leicester Square for a wander. Most shops still open all evening, very lively. Find a branch of Japanesey shop Muji. Some east-asian girls come in and I listen to see if I can identify them, Chinese or Korean or Japanese. They sound definitely Japanese and I am suddenly surprised to find it actually kind of hurts not to be in Tokyo.

Bahs.

Into the swilling square itself, and in a frown of recognition I manage to stare down Richard Bacon off the telly. You know the feeling of hacking through Princes Street on a Saturday afternoon? That's pretty much my constant experience of London so far.

Some KFC and then an early night.

hunting day 2

cawfeeFriday is very up and down. The first fancy flat (with gym & sauna) cancels – it's taken. The second Shoreditch place also cancels – the tenants aren't ready. With limited time, these setbacks are irritating in the extreme. Stiffening my upper lip, I decide I can usefully spend the time getting oriented with different areas.

Here's a quick rule of thumb to indicate your target demographic: count how many coffee shops you see while exploring. After a decent stroll around Aldgate and Whitechapel, I confidently conclude that they are Total Shite Holes (witness coffee score: zero). Next I ping over to walk from Barbican to Farringdon. Much better: cool design shops, and find fabric. Which is probably good.

Incidentally the coffee-o-meter isn't just a measure of affluence; it also works in posh areas. In the same way that the Antarctic classifies as a desert (against intuition), Westminster scores badly for the parched and sterile atmosphere.

By 1pm (that's half a vacation day gone) I haven't seen anywhere.

After lunch I go see somewhere on London Bridge I got persuaded into seeing by Mr Pushy Foxtons. It's not as agoraphobically immense as the previous favourite, but it's in a super-nice area (Shad Thames [map]) and it's all furnished and modern inside. It's within a 20 minute commute to work. It's less than 300 a week (a miracle). I get underground parking.

By this point my optimism is stretched and flats are clearly getting snapped up within hours of being viewed. So I make a few calls to gauge Actual Londoners' reaction to the new address, which comes up positive. And finally I sign my soul away to Foxton's for a flat in Vanilla & Sesame Court (eesh).

Foxtons are great for seeing places quickly. Yes. But they will happily skin you 300-400 pounds as a 'letting fee'. You won't find that on the website front page.

hunting in London, I

huntI am hunting for somewhere to live. First sign of danger: prices are universally quoted per WEEK, not per month. Presumably so they don't frighten people off with four digits. And that's flat prices, not people's hands.

viewing burst #1

Three flats via cruel giant agency Foxtons. Two are identical flats in a super-modern block called Haggerston Studios, between Islington and Hackney. Lovely, but unfurnished and BIG. Like embarrassingly big and empty. I'm not sure I'm ready to spend 00s/000s on furniture again. It also means using council trains ("buses") so I hold off for now.

viewing burst #2

The streets of Westminster are clean, quiet and populated exclusively by doddering packs of aging women, yowling in cut-glass accents. Group Dispersal Schemes are in operation to dispel hoodies. St James' Park tube station is polished and pristine. The residential blocks are lovely to look at, but inside are cramped and fit only for dying geriatrics.

and relax

Crowne Plaza wants to be a nice hotel but isn't. Free bottles of water is a good start, but disturbingly the super-inviting tray of crisps and chocolate is equipped with pressure sensors that automatically charge your balls off just for picking up the merchandise. Like Indiana Jones and his wee bag of fucking sand. After stupidly picking up some kettle chips (£2.75, extortion fans), the prospect of reversing my decision was too undignified to attempt (you have to take the item down to reception to prove you haven't consumed it). And there was no DVD player. And the LAN cable didn't work. Useless thieving gypsies.

My missing post

There's nothing I hate more than having to rewrite something that I've already written, but it happens all the time due to my bloody ineptitude. (It was meant to be on this thread).

I don't think I said anything about the departure of our good friend. There was no apology for turning up at a party empty handed, drinking all the drinks, not writing in the special book, not taking any polaroids, and not helping to tidy up despite being one of the last guests to leave.

I did witter on about ArcMap and clever stuff that I can do with old and new maps.

And an exhibition I really want to see.

And the statistical chances of surviving a night on a park bench in Paris at the beginning of December.

The human memory is a completely unreliable record.. it can be corrupted, augmented, and voluntarily (or involuntarily) deleted. Does anyone know if witness statements are trusted as evidence in the absence of material or circumstantial evidence?

I can't be bovvered working today I'm too excited.

sleepers

zzzSleeper trains are great. And quite weird at the same time.

Upon arrival you have to 'check in' with the clipboard-wielding conductor. You drag your luggage inside and the cabins – 'berths' – are lined up along one side of a coach, leaving a tiny corridor to squeeze down. Inside your cabin there is barely room to turn around. The walls and fixtures are a brutal lilac-blue. There are mirrors and hangers; compartments and fold out trays; a bottle of water and a top notch washing kit.

The Lounge Car is much more like the romantic ideal. Red drapes and soft lighting (though sadly no black/white flooring). Chairs that aren't fixed to the floor – an amazingly jarring experience on a train. A waiter taking your orders. I horsed some bolognese and an unnecessary half-bottle of wine before retiring.

On no account travel less than first class on a sleeper. I wouldn't want to contemplate the farcical indignity of managing a top bunk in such an enclosed space. Thankfully the beds are long enough for lanky punters like me.

Sleep itself is not sound on your first trip, though I suspect it improves with practice. Trains are noisy and move like crap fairground rides. They lean and wobble and creak and clunk; fluids gurgle. Exactly like sleeping in the belly of a machine. With the conductor promising to wake you up with vigorous knocking – at your desired time, with tea, a bacon roll and The Scotsman – I only kept one earplug in. The advantages of asymmetrical hearing.

Finally at London Euston – feeling pretty tired – the absolute need for first class becomes clear as you stroll into the Virgin lounge. Comfy chairs, wireless internet, showers. In my case the towels had run out, leaving only the option of a head-to-toe hairdryer marathon. This is a strangely Zen experience that I recommend.

And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed…

… — if all records told the same tale — then the lie passed into history and became truth.

The cheerio party went very well and lots of people turned up. If you were there I really appreciated it.

Especiale thanks to Milnorc, Peasland and Keira for giving me stylin' things to put in my new flat (photo scans will follow sometime this century). And to those who scribbled in the book and took nice polaroids. And to Ryan especially for clearing up and making the aftermath bearable.

Saturday didn't happen, Sunday was a non-day and Monday was very tough. Today was pretty good though.

I am now going through paperwork and figuring out what I need to do before I disappear flathunting for a week or so. The trip down is on a sleeper train – first class, so I don't have to share a cabin with Farty McStranger – which is quite exciting.

And I found a clever website where they've overlaid tube lines on Google Maps, looks useful. Will let you know how it goes.

…and finally tonight

As Trevor McDonald* said.

stopwatchI am leaving Edinburgh after 6 truly excellent years. I am moving to cruel Landan to take a shiny new job and hopefully a nice flat. My last real day here will be the 22nd November.

I am having some people over to drink and lament our mutual loss in an inexplicably fun way. You are invited.

  • What: leaving drinks @ mine
  • When: Friday 17th November. Usual kind of time.

Can I advise that you call my flat number on the night (0131 226 ….) as reception is patchy. Text me if you don't have it. Hope to see you there!

* who I used to believe was a good role model. Until I realised a few years ago what a fucking travesty the ITV news is. A shocking amalgamation of The Sun, The Daily Mirror and Fox News.

great week I: bumming for Jesus

TedIf you watched The Root of All Evil? you'll undoubtedly remember the megachurch founder Ted Haggard. Evangelical, creationist, gay-hating, Bush-advising Ted. Here he is having a cosy chat with Dawkins. Watch our Ted go into total creep-out at 5:10.

Turns out that while Ted was stridently preaching his message of intolerance and damnation, he was spending his own spare time (and his untold wealth harvested from deluded Christians) in all-out bumming sessions with hairy man-prostitutes. And – for good measure – snorting chunky lines of meth for extra kicks.

So Ted isn't too popular in the New Life Church any more. Unlucky. Does this mean you go to hell Ted, you fucking abomination?

I don't have anything against personal drug use or consensual penetrations of any kind. But the hypocrisy.

Tax. Huff.

Well, had to happen sometime. I’m putting in an offer on a house tomorrow and i’m all stressed because it’s grown-up, shit scary and sort of cements my feet in Edinburgh for at least a year hence. Quite daunting stuff too. Maybe the rest of the world know all about this somehow, but I was shocked at quite how hard the system rides you as a first-time buyer. For example, do you know that a typical offer over the asking price is 22% here? Yes indeed. That’s twenty two grand’s worth of your own subway-steak-and-cheese pennies you have to magic out of any available money oriface for every hundred grand the property’s worth. No one will give you a mortgage for the actual amount. Then, right, there’s this thing called Stamp Duty, right? A fee introduced by the government in December 2003 to help pay for postmen or something. Basically, up to 250k it’s 1% of your total house price* and after that, it climbs to 3% *of the entire sum*. So if the place is 100k, you pay £1000, and if it’s 251k you pay over £8,000. Then you have to pay for surveys and solicitors, (fees being subject to 17.5% VAT) and that’s before before you even start letting the mortgage company stick it to you sideways**

I deserve Damehood. I totally do.

* ie, offers over the asking price.
** Apparently you repay your mortgage more than twice in twenty years. THE SWINES!