Monday, 11 February 2008

Year of the rat

Yesterday was Chinese New Year – this year is the year of the rat. To mark the occasion, we went to China Town and caught the last few seconds of the last fireworks display in Leicester Square! We’d been out in greater London, visiting Kevin’s brother and his family, who live north of Hemel Hempstead – it’s still ‘London’ but only just. Much fun was had bouncing on Kevin’s niece’s trampoline, enjoying a roast chicken lunch and watching football on their massive TV.

Anyway, although we missed the Chinese fireworks, we did wander around Chinatown for a bit before getting cold and hungry and having a snack in “London’s only Hummus Bar”. Hmmm. Not sure I can see it taking off as a concept – you get a plate of hummus with a topping of your choice and a couple of pitas. Faintly interesting as a novelty but really, there’s only so much chickpea-based fun you can have.

On the subject of it being the year of the rat, the Observer yesterday reported that,

“Driven out of sewers by summer floods and an urban building boom, then nurtured by warmer winters and the leftovers of fast food, rats have been moving into homes, gardens and even cars around the country.”


Wombling around

There has been a run of glorious weather here over the last couple of weeks and it’s been getting steadily warmer, to the point that Saturday was actually T-shirt weather!

We had our usual list of weekend chores to do (sorting out bills, cleaning, tidying etc) but the day was too lovely to bother with any of that. So we decided to head for some green space and started to make our way to Richmond Park. The vagaries of the underground thwarted us though, as we realised when we got to Westminster that the particular branch of the particular line we needed was closed. As luck would have it, the other branch of said line went to Wimbledon so we decided to go to the Common and do some wombling instead.

Wimbledon is one of these bits of London that is unnervingly white and affluent. Our part of London is hardly ‘disadvantaged’ (stuffed olive with your sea-salt crusted, home baked bread infused with rosemary, anyone?) but it does at least have some diversity to it – which to me, is one of the most stimulating and enjoyable aspects of living in London. Wimbledon is very lovely to look at, and the Common is a fantastic space, but the overwhelming ‘mwa mwa yummy mumminess’ of it all just suffocates my spirit!! (sorry yummy mummies everywhere)

Living la vida social enterprise

Ended up out for a drink the other night with various people of a social enterprise leaning and found ourselves chatting to Ted and George, who have been involved in just about every bit of community development in and around the area we’re living. It was a privilege to talk to them and hear all about our local history.

The street we live in was one of the first initiatives between the community and the GLC back in the eighties. The land and buildings over a couple of acres were formerly the Courage brewery (our block was the office building) and they were redeveloped through a partnership between the council and the community into affordable social housing. Since then, there’s obviously been a bit of ‘right to buy’ leakage (presumably what has happened to the flat we’re living in) but the whole area remains one of the few centrally-located bits of social housing in London.

Round the corner from us is the Borough Market, a social enterprise which has been around for around thirty years and which brings hordes of middle class shoppers into the area every weekend. Our local pub is the Market Porter, which we were delighted to find out is actually owned by a local charity – guilt free drinking!

A few minutes along the Thames is the Oxo Tower Wharf, part of the Coin Street Community Builders development, which is more social housing (co-operatives and community-owned), combined with a whole set of bars, restaurants, boutique shops and galleries, again bringing money into the areas. We had dinner at the Oxo Tower 8th floor restaurant on Saturday night (thanks Kevin!), and I would highly recommend it for food (melt in the mouth flavours), wine and amazing views (see above for evidence!)

Democracy discussions

One of the perks of being self-employed is that I can make a unilateral decision to take Monday morning off if I want to. Having just got a load of work in last week, I’m taking advantage of the chance to do that just now - and it’s exactly what I did last week, spending the morning with my brother, Paul, who was visiting for a few days. We went on a boat trip up and down the Thames, followed by a wander around Westminster.

We had a lively discussion about human nature, liberal values, democracy and “the people”, whether rationality and happiness are mutually incompatible, and all kinds of related topics that I can’t remember now. As Paul said, it was good to be having that kind of discussion while walking around the Westminster corridors of power, instead of just taking pictures. But we did take a few pictures too – here’s one!

To run run run

Marathon training is going reasonably well and although I’ve not done as much as my original training plan says I should have done, it’s still much, much more than I’d done at this stage in 2004 when I ran my first marathon. So I’m feeling quite pleased with it all and am looking forward to the last 8 weeks of training before the big day in Paris on 6th April.

Running in London is a real joy – it’s flat, it’s not too windy, there’s loads of stimulation and it’s a great way to get to know how different bits of the city fit together. Yesterday I ran for about 2 hours (roughly 12-13 miles), following the Thames along to Chelsea Harbour and then turning back. This is what I run past:

The first few miles take me past Shakespeare’s Globe, the Tate Modern, the cultural bit of the South Bank (the National Theatre, the British Film Institute etc), the London Eye, the London Aquarium and the former GLC building (now a McDonalds!). This first bit is great when it’s fairly quiet, as it was yesterday (because for once I managed to get out early instead of procrastinating for hours!). When it’s busy with tourists it’s a nightmare and I’m sure I run twice as far, weaving in and out of the crowds – although it does mean I get to feel all smug and virtuous about being a ‘real’ Londoner (as if!).

Then I reach Westminster and as soon as I get past Westminster Bridge, it’s incredibly quiet. The stretch of the river past the Houses of Parliament is one of my favourite bits – such an amazing view. The next bridge is Lambeth Bridge and I normally cross over to the North at this point, then continue heading West along the Embankment towards Battersea and Chelsea. On the way I pass Battersea Power Station, an immense building and Battersea Park (which I avoid if I can because of the vast numbers of yappy little dogs, but which is handy for a loo stop if I need one!).

Then it’s on to Chelsea and through into Chelsea Harbour, through the grounds of the Conran hotel, past the Yacht Club and along the river again. I keep expecting to bump into Frank Lampard, John Terry or Ashley Cole - it has that footballer, loadsamoney feel to it! One of the yachts I saw yesterday was called “Hot Chihuahua”. I think that says it all!

Then it’s time to turn round and go back home again. The views, especially when it’s clear and sunny, are truly stunning. Not that I didn’t enjoy marathon training around Glasgow four years ago, but this is quite different!

Saturday, 2 February 2008

A week in the life of...

Things I’ve done this week (apart from getting aforementioned big news!):

* Met with the people behind Wedge, a loyalty card for local shops which aims to get people shopping with independent retailers more and more – hopefully going to get involved with them in some way to help them grow.

* Been to a Junior Chamber London members meeting (young professionals networking & professional development). The main subject was how to manage email more effectively. Some useful tips and things to think about. Apparently email traffic doubles every two years.

* Continued co-ordinating a conference in the Highlands!

* Done lots of hard thinking and writing for research I’m working on into “Social Return on Investment” (a way of placing a financial value on the social impact of organisations).

* Watched the first DVD in 24 series 6 (have just joined lovefilm).

* Listened to far, far too much radio 2 and eventually re-tuned to BBC 6 Music after I couldn't take any more middle England twaddle and twitter

* Cried while watching a short film about Cyrenians Farm, which I helped to support in my last job

* Been running three times, 22.5 miles in total.

* Got a letter from my lovely friend Will, who’s only got a few months left in Tanzania. It made me really miss him and I can’t wait to catch up when he gets back.

* Drank too much wine in the Founders Arms
last night and had a loud, drunken and pointless debate with Kevin on the way home about the potential for drowning in the Thames.

All in all, fairly busy and now I'm looking forward to an evening of watching mindless TV and eating spicy meatballs courtesy of my fabulous partner! Also looking forward to a visit from my brother tomorrow.

Big news

Quite unexpectedly and much sooner than we'd anticipated, we got the news this week that our visa application for Australia has been approved. I think we'd both talked ourselves into thinking it wasn't going to happen so it was a bit of a shock to get the "yes"!

So we leave in July, which feels very soon - it's great news and we're both really pleased and excited. We'll be there for a couple of years and I'm looking forward to actually being in once place for more than six months!

I think I'm going to keep doing self-employed work for the remainder of our time in London, maybe supplementing it with some temp work along the way. And we'll have to crack on with getting through our "50 things to do in London" list!