Tag Archives: good times

London, in reverse.

On warm summer evenings I sit on my bed and hear, through our open windows, the sounds of children having their tea in the houses on my street. It’s a sound both happy and sad, makes me feel comforted and lonely, all at once.

A year ago I moved into my flat in Queen’s Park. The jasmine is in bloom as it is when I first came here, up and down the road. In the morning and evening it is a heavy, heady smell that always seems to be two steps past the mass of little white blooms themselves. I have never seen so much jasmine.

I lived in Hammersmith before then, for four years. The longest I have stayed in one place since my childhood, back in Wales. I grew tomatoes and honeysuckle and lavender on the terrace, cared for them reverentially every night when I came home, stood barefoot on the wooden decking in the warm darkness and smelt the sharp crackle of water on dry soil, the echo of perfume from blooms and growing things. Across the street teenagers gathered outside the fried chicken shop, and shouted and laughed and fought through the night.

In 2009 I moved into a flat of strangers in a beautiful mansion block in West Hampstead, to be nearer to my then boyfriend who lived nearby. We broke up a week before my moving date. There were roses in the communal gardens outside by the street, but I don’t remember ever smelling the flowers. I wasn’t very happy there.

I first came to London aged 23, having unexpectedly secured a job that needed me to begin almost immediately. I moved in with old university friends of my brother’s in a small flat in Stockwell. I hadn’t spent much time in the city before, and my ideas about London were formed from my parents’ memories of life there in the seventies and early eighties. I expected the city to be hot and orange-tinged like my mum and dad’s photos from that time, and London did not disappoint. I clambered out the rickety sash-windows and sunbathed on the too-hot asphalt of the flat roof, and the shop by the tube station played Bob Marley’s “Is This Love”  out loud all summer.

This weekend I move to Watford to stay in the spare room of some friends, and if all goes to plan, before the end of the year I will ship my belongings to America – a bigger move than I have ever made before.

London has been good to me. I have had good times and sad times and every-day times. I have been desperately lonely and surrounded by friends and, usually, somewhere in between.

I am going to spend the summer thinking about why I love this city, and the seven years I have spent here – before I leave it for a new city, and new memories.

It’s The Great 2014 Round-Up!

Photo copyright of Gunnar Guðjónsson

Photo copyright of Gunnar Guðjónsson

This year has been an extraordinary one. A corker. There have been some ups and downs, some round-a-bouts, a see-saw, one of those wheel-of-death jobbies with the motorbikes. I may be getting carried away with myself a bit here, but trust me, it’s been that kind of year.

I’ve traveled more in 2014 than I think I have done in all the years leading up to it – Normandy and Iceland and Paris and New York – with friends where I could, alone if not, in love where possible.

I saw the northern lights with a group of strangers outside a porter-cabin hotel in the Icelandic highlands, and spent an hour under the dancing lights, smiling until the wind had chilled my teeth to a painful hum. The aurora borealis is the sort of thing that makes you want to hug the person next to you or tell someone you love them, and to see it alone was a bittersweet thing, but perhaps it was right. Was it eerie, my friends asked when I came home – was it weird? Gunnar, our guide, had explained earlier that day that the aurora, just like the volcanoes that loomed on every horizon, was a sign that the earth was healthy and alive. A planet without tectonics is a planet that is dead.

But even so, there was nothing remotely eerie about the lights. They were beautiful, and magnetic – they pulled us from our beds to stand in the frozen midnight air, miles from home. It felt….significant. It felt like a sign. Good things, dancing there in front of me. Good things, pole-to-pole. Maybe I’m naive, and hopeful, with a leaning towards sweeping spiritual statements, but I don’t think that matters. Maybe it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, maybe the act of hoping is as good as getting what you’re hoping for. Maybe.

2014 was also significant – for you all I’m sure – as my thirtieth year on this planet. I know, I know, my youthful face and collection of Doctor Who toys make me seem much younger. But it’s true: thirty bloody years old. I suppose I can concede that I feel more like an adult now than I ever have before, but, that’s not really saying that much, is it?

This year I dabbled in the mucky world of Tinder, briefly. Dating often made me feel like a lone lost astronaut in an alien world, where I understood neither the rules nor the reason for them (“So…okay…you might reply to my text messages – three days later, yep, okay – but we mustn’t speak on the phone? We can have sex with each other….but we mustn’t be facebook friends? O…okay….”). The whole thing ended not with a bang but with a whimper, like a sad little fart in a next-door room. But out from my slightly pathetic foray into the world of internet dating came the desire to keep the momentum going, after years of professional dust-gathering on the shelf. I’d been hammered into shape by this point: I understood that love was about feeling constantly afraid and unsure and unattractive, it was about compromise and hiding, little bits of yourself shoved down the back of the sofa and under the carpet, control underwear and pretence and omission.

Most of all, it was the finger-wagging voice in your ear telling you you can’t have everything, you know.

Until, of course it wasn’t.

This year I’ve learned that love can still be terrifying, but instead of the lost, confused wandering of before, it’s a joyfully overwhelming thing. It’s free-wheeling headlong down a hill on a bike, someone with you, sat on your handlebars – you hurtle along, neither of you ever really knowing how high this hill is or if you’ll crash horribly at the bottom or land safely in a life you’ve built together along the way. And that’s it, isn’t it? You can never really know, no one can, but it’s the trying, that’s the thing. That’s all any of us want, surely? Someone to say they’ll try with us.

And now I’m with someone I would never have expected. Who knows what will happen, and it’s not perfect (living 3000 miles apart is a little inconvenient) and neither are we, but sometimes I look at him and marvel, because it seems as though someone stuck a pipette in my ear and sucked him right out of my brain when I wasn’t looking, three-piece suit and fedora and all.

And of course I haven’t really learned anything about love, because this is the first time I’ve known it, and it comes in many guises, and I’m only thirty. Perhaps when I’m old and grey and eighty I’ll know, or perhaps I won’t.

A week or two before I went on the first date with him, and began the slow, tentative process of falling in love, I wrote a piece about what I wanted in a man and published it on this blog. If I was going to be picky I had a long list of qualities, ending in his looking exactly like the actor Kit Harrington. But I wasn’t being picky, I didn’t want to be picky. I just wanted someone kind. Well, I think I’ve found that. And as he recently told me after coming back with our drinks in a soho pub. “I just stood next to him at the bar. That guy from Game of Thrones. You know, your boyfriend. And I’m taller than him.”

So, suck it, Kit Harrington. I’m off the market.

FUCKING FINALLY.

D-Day 70

Last night I returned home from a  few days in Normandy to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Operation Overlord, or in other words, D-Day. I just want to write about it here so that I can get it all down, to remember it later.

I had wanted to go for years to see all of the places that I’ve read about for so long, and to pay tribute to the people who performed such extraordinary actions. It took quite a bit of planning (organising what started as 12 and ended in 9 people) and there were so many issues right up until the last moment that at one point it seemed as though I wouldn’t be able to join my friends there, after all that planning, but in the end everything came together.

I have serious withdrawal symptoms now. Everything seems….smaller. In comparison to the things we heard about or saw or felt over there. It felt like an incredibly privilege to be there, seventy years on. Somehow, I managed to pick us an absolute corker of a campsite,  beautiful, friendly and full of lovely chatty people who were all there for the same reason.

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I can’t put into words how I felt to walk the peaceful, windy Utah beach as the sun came up on the 6th of June, or stand the night before in a field above our beautiful campsite with 30 strangers suddenly become friends, and watch fireworks illuminate the 80 km stretch of landing beaches on the coast laid out before us. 70 years ago to the minute, the paratroopers and gliders were landing, scattered in that dark stretch of countryside, attempting to take key causeways, bridges and roads that were vital to opening up the Normandy countryside and get the troops off the beaches as soon as possible after the landings began that next morning.

Utah beach was a beautiful, peaceful place on the morning of the D-Day anniversary, and it felt surreal to walk there and think about the chaos of the landings (even though Utah beach would have already have been taken by the time we arrived, about 8.30am). There were still quite a few bunkers and fortifications that we got to look at, with out resident military history student Nick to give us a guided tour.

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Walking further up the beach we came across a number of re-enactors (all French), and headed towards the museum at Utah where a ceremony was just finishing. As the few veterans came out and were applauded by the crowd I was very glad that I was wearing sunglasses because I was suddenly overwhelmed with the need to cry.

After Utah we headed to Sainte Mère Église, which was the key objective for the US Airborne in the early morning of D-Day. It’s also famous for the paratrooper John Steele who became caught on the church spire – a dummy paratrooper still hangs there to this day (don’t worry, he survived).

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This was a big deal for me, being a bit of an Airborne fangirl. The paratroopers were the elite and the job they did was a heroic one (imagine parachuting into battle, which incidentally, had never been done before, carrying everything you need with you, often landing right on top of the enemy). There was a great US Airborne reenactment camp at Sainte Mère Église which was brilliant to walk around.

1959313_547598648614_3441081316262783053_nHere is the frenchman dressed as a US 101st Airborne trooper who saw my Camp Toccoa  paratroop training camp t-shirt and said it “fit very well”.


10447076_547583179614_597051926459968413_nHere’s my reaction:

10403421_547583249474_6902248154812243127_nThe Airborne Museum was a busy but brilliant place (containing lots of artefacts and displays, including an original horsa glider) and I’m so glad I got a chance to visit it.

10402855_547598938034_5886257508318494606_nEverywhere you went there were people dressed in period clothing, 1940s music floating out across the countryside, the low throttle of distant engines that rumbled into C-47s and C-130s roaring low over your heads, jeeps and trucks and motorbikes everywhere.

10411775_547608129614_8608924875523143795_nAfter this we stopped off at Grandcamp Maisy, a German trench and bunker system that is still being uncovered and cleared. It was great to talk to the “owner” (if that’s the correct term), a passionate amateur who has dedicated his life to uncovering this little-known (and from what he explained to us, quite a contentious amongst military historians) position.

Also, here I bumped into an actual American dressed as a 101st Airborne paratrooper. He and his buddies saw my t-shirt and clicked their toy cricket (a little metal clicker that was given to the Airborne to identify each other in the dark) and I clicked back, which opened up the conversation. And I didn’t mind at all when he asked to have his picture taken with me…

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After this we returned home hot, exhausted and sunburnt for a great group meal in the barn with the rest of the campers and the owners of the site. There were a couple of birthdays so cake was passed around, and my lovely friend Marie started up a little whip-round for the kids that had been serving us food and wine all night.

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That night there was an awesome lightning storm at about 3am which was, frankly, terrifying. The ground literally shook and it felt like being in the midst of an artillery bombardment, the rumble of thunder and the flash of light was continuous for about an hour. Terrifying, but oddly fitting.

The second day we headed to Pointe du Hoc and Omaha beach, which was another vast sandy beach, though this time with rocky bluffs rather than the dunes of Utah (one of the reasons why it was such a bloody and long battle)

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From there we walked miles down the sand towards the path up to the American Cemetery. Though packed with visitors it was still an incredible place, moving despite the people and the noise and the hot, sunny day. We found the graves of the unknown soldiers particularly moving, and I got especially choked up when I stumbled upon a grave marked with the name of my little brother. It struck me suddenly that he, being twenty years old, would have undoubtedly have been called up to fight somewhere. It was staggering to see the white crosses and stars stretching on into the distance, and despite seeing it in photos and on tv and film nothing could accurately depict the place itself.

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There was so much I would have loved to have seen and didn’t get a chance to, but even this little taster was an incredible experience. Despite being fascinated with all the places that we saw, and the odd experience of being surrounded by re-enactors, it was still a very moving and emotional few days. The hot, sunny days on peaceful beaches and crowded villages both seemed to walk the line between commemoration of the lives lost and the unimaginable heroism of the men and women who took part, and the celebration of a country and people liberated. There were a few things that I felt could have been done better, despite how friendly and helpful the locals and the gendarmerie were – for instance there was so much that we would have loved to have seen but had no idea was taking place as there seemed to be no official website listing all the ceremonies, reenactments and events. But I can’t really complain. I’m in seriously withdrawal now. As my friend Tom mentioned earlier this morning, the things we saw and learned in Normandy for the 70th anniversary puts the details and drama of everyday life into startling perspective.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2013! Keep the change, ya filthy animal!

I can’t really complain. 2013 wasn’t too bad: I wasn’t admitted to hospital once, I didn’t lose my job or get framed for a crime I didn’t commit. However, I also didn’t win the lottery, become the lifetime face of Galaxy chocolate thereby furnishing me with a lifetime supply of Galaxy chocolate, or marry Michael Fassbender, so in summary, 2013 was a total bust.

Nothing much happened to me, but I did make a lot of stuff happen, which is probably better. I went on my first proper grown up holiday all by myself. I sang blues in a band.  I bleached my hair and lost a bit of weight, purely to see if I could, and I liked it, and I felt good. Being blonde is strange – people behave in a different way towards you, which makes you behave differently, and on and one, which is all just a bit strange. Builders and weird men are a lot more shouty, people look at you more, though I’m not sure if that’s something that people assume about blondes or the fact that a girl with short blonde hair and black eyebrows stands out a bit more, and also looks a tiny bit more like Miley Cyrus. And no, it’s not annoying at all when people point that out.

New York was a short but incredible experience. Sick of waiting around for someone to go on holiday with, either amongst my dwindling pool of single friends or one of those mythical  “boy-friend” creatures everyone keeps banging on about, I decided to just do it myself. What’s the worst that could happen? Many things, my compulsively anxious, pteromerhanophobic brain supplied. But none of them actually happened, thank jeebus.

Traveling alone is a funny thing, equal parts soaring pride and bitter-sweetness. New York is amazing, as I’m sure you all know, but every time I saw or did something amazing I wanted to turn to the person next to me and say “Wasn’t that amazing?! But there was no one there. Well, there were thousands of people there, but I was too scared and British to speak to them.

Work has been a funny old thing this year too: it was pretty heartbreaking to leave the studio building I’d worked in for the past 5 and a half years, and even more so to leave the people I’ve worked with for that time too. But our studio went on hiatus, and I was installed in an attic office for one, like Miss Haversham surrounded by mouldering Peppa Pig merchandise. Saying that, I actually love my little office, and my job, and even all the Peppa Pig merchandise which is not in the slightest bit mouldy. Working alone has its low points: the most human contact I usually have in a day is with the night security guard on the desk downstairs, whose name I don’t know but have decided is probably called Marcel, and who sometimes tells me to have a nice evening in a lovely, avuncular security guard sort of way. But on the plus side, I get to sing along to questionable music choices without fear of mockery, and generally just get on with shit. I am master of my domain. Unless my bosses pop in or shit gets heavy, in which case I am merely the caretaker of my domain.

I’ve drawn a lot more this year, developing my style and the sort of things I want to draw. I’ve met some great people on Twitter (another result of minimal human contact on any given day) and some cool people in real life too. I’ve been commissioned for some great little jobs (which reminds me I’ve got to do my buggering tax return) and got to work on some pretty cool projects in my day job too (Peppa Pig Big Egg Hunt egg! Peppa Pig stamp!)

2014 is shaping up too: in an attempt to see me through the post-Christmas slump I’m planning a trip to Iceland (can’t decided between summer or later in the year, to hopefully catch the Northern Lights). I’ve got a couple of projects in the pipe-line, fingers crossed. And who knows what else?

If anyone knows Michael Fassbender, give him my number, yeah?

Cosmic rebates

Everybody goes through those times I suppose, when not much of anything can give the day-to-day of your life a sort of trudging backing-track of misery, or loneliness. You can hide it quite well of course, because it’s nowhere near the surface. It squats at the back of your mind like something dark and heavy, and taints the edges of your day, worries the edges, frays the ends. There’s nothing to put your finger on, nothing to blame, which adds a nice bagpipe-drone of guilt to the the whole affair.

It’s not depression – not quite that. It’s just….hard to breathe deep.

But then, sometimes, if you’re lucky, the universe can thrown something so bloody fantastic at you. And it’s small and insignificant and won’t change your life. You might not even remember it tomorrow, but it might help you through the right now.

I’m trying to make a real effort to see these things. It’s easy to be blinkered enough, especially in the city, that you don’t notice them passing you like little lay-bys on the hard shoulder. And it can be anything. The other night I was feeling pretty crappy, when, walking along Carnaby Street in the evening rain, I noticed the blue neon lights reflecting in the puddles at the exact moment that ‘Sound and Vision’ started playing in my headphones. “Blue blue, electric blue!” sang Bowie. Bloody brilliant, I thought.

My first summer of university my friends came to stay with me, back in Wales. We hiked up Cadair Idris, swam in the lake that was carved ages ago by a glacier like a bowl beneath the summit, then drove home for a barbeque in the front garden. We ate fresh fish and drank cider and watched the sun set out to sea, over the dark blue smudge of Ireland (the conditions are clear enough, once in every fifty years or so, said my Grandfather). That night we stuck our heads out of tent flaps into the night to watch a meteor shower above. An utterly perfect day.

There’s a 1930s bath-house in Rotorua on New Zealand’s North Island. I spent three evenings there, nine years ago. I floated on my back in their open-air pool heated by the natural hot-water vents of that volcanic area, my two best friends beside me, Glen Miller piped out on the speakers, watching the steam spiral up into the starry sky.

Once I was walking to work along Regent Street when a coach full of six-year old schoolkids pulled up at the lights. Their sheer bloody joy when I waved back at them carried me along for an entire day. Imagine, being that genuinely giddy, just because someone waved at you, I thought. I can just about remember when life was that small and simple and days came one at a time, with no worrisome future to pull you back down.

That’s what it’s about, I think. Finding the little things, stand-alone moments with no past or future. That’s what being a child is, living your days with no notion of consequence or understanding of how cruel or stupid or unfathomable life can sometimes be. But it can still throws these little gems your way, every now and then. The trouble is keeping your eyes open wide enough to catch them.

Clever girl….

My new flatmate Colette is a very very clever girl – an incredible makeup artist, hairstylist and wigmaker currently working for the English National Opera (she’s also a wizard with prosthetics, she did our awesome zombie makeup for Halloween 2011 and turned me into a syphilitic Edwardian zombie. Now that’s a real pal for you.)

Anyway: she wanted a face to paint, I’ll happily submit to being dressed up like a doll, our fabulous photographer friend Claire Bilyard of Scarab Pictures was enlisted to shoot the whole shebang, and what pretty pretty pictures she made. I will never tire of this: I’ve always been obsessed with dressing up and pretending to be someone else, and I love how utterly unlike me the person in these photos looks. Claire and Colette are incredibly talented artists, and I’m a very very lucky girl. FUN!

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Remember the old, ring in the new.

Bloody hell – 2013 eh? A year so fantastically futuristic sounding that if we don’t get a move on and invent hover-boards, jetpacks and brain implanted wifi for all (incidentally, my political manifesto) by the end of the year I think the Scientists will need to sit down and have a long, hard think about their behaviour.

But I want to look back at 2012 now, which in itself has been a pretty incredible year. It feels to me as though it’s sped by, but I think that’s just because I’ve packed it full of adventures, new people, and 7-day working weeks. Not that I’m complaining at all: this year I had the unutterably joy of walking in to a bookshop and picking up a book with my illustrations in it. Of course this was then followed by a titanic inner-struggle against the overwhelming desire to shout at the poor till-worker that those there are my drawings! Mine! I know, right?! People have started paying me for that! SO COOL!

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Michael Caine, for Andy Nyman’s book The Golden Rules of Acting.

Then there was the fulfillment of the last of two of my childhood fantasies (practical ones, I’ve realised that the chance of me actually becoming Indiana Jones at this late stage are minimal) when I got to be a bridesmaid to my best friend Bridget at her wedding. Now I just have ‘Be an angel in a nativity play’ to check off the list and I can put those ghosts to rest. But that won’t ever happen, because I was an unfortunate looking child, and am, despite trying, still not blonde, so don’t fit the requirements. (If you’re interested, I was the Narrator. Every. Fucking. Time).

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I also ended up at the Twilight: Breaking Dawn part 2 European premiere, but that’s not really something to shout about. In fact, even though the tickets were free I still feel as though I should be due some kind of remuneration for this. I also did a bit of proper catwalk modeling (for the gorgeous Vivien of Holloway), which was terrifyingly fun, but for which I’m sure the entire audience are also now seeking remuneration.

Then there was the Jubilee, which I – being a ’50s obsessed Royalist sissy-girl with a penchant for bunting- enjoyed hugely.

And of course, 2012 was also the year that we all discovered we actually gave a shit about sport. Being a London resident I of course was fully of the view, prior to the event, that the Olympics were nothing but an excuse for the owners of multi-billion dollar companies to add yet more extensions on to their gold-plated money museums, because I read the Metro and spend a lot of time on twitter, which is often where optimism goes to die. In the run-up, London felt awfully like a grim place where brand-nazi Death Eaters would swoop down with a well-aimed avada kedavra if you even dared to mention, or think of the O-Word, or utter the name of Lord Seb ‘He Who Must Not Be Named’ Coe.  But once the opening ceremony began I, streaming it slowly and pixellated on my phone whilst on the train to Cardiff, was besotted. After all, how could anyone not be utterly charmed by an army of Mary Poppins’ drifting down to battle the Child-Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? Or the Queen parachuting into the stadium with James Bond? In your face, organised sport event haters!

I’m sure everyone has something to say about the Olympics, and something that will say it more eloquently than I ever could, but the opening ceremony itself seemed to sum it up so well: it’s great to finally feel that you can be patriotic without needing to be reminded of all the crap that the Empire, the government and our rulers have committed over the centuries. Danny Boyle’s ceremony showcased some of the pretty awesome stuff that people from Britain have done. And flying in the face of Mitt Romney’s “what have the British ever contributed to the world?” comment, we could stand up and say, hey, you misogynistic backwoods twat-face, ever heard of Shakespeare? Elgar? A little something called the Industrial Revolution? Votes for Wom….yeah actually it sounds as though you haven’t actually heard of that one.

And there followed seventeen days of drama, pride, victory and defeat, underdogs and Usain ‘It’s in the bag’ Bolt. People from all walks of life who’ve defied odds, trained, grafted and slaved towards their goals. Men and women with healthy bodies who achieved incredible feats after a life spent striving towards that moment. Which was why it was so disappointing to close the whole shebang with a closing ceremony showcasing the “best” of British. If you take “best” to mean a bunch of alien-thin supermodels famous for embodying the wholly disgusting term “heroin chic” and beating up employees, and the  Spice Girls, precariously balanced atop swerving mini-coopers. Back to reality, eh?

And with the closing of the phenomenal Paralympics it was like being suddenly dumped by all of the sports at once. London ceased to be a quiet, largely traffic-free sunny city with a kind of camaraderie and tender affection for tourists from across the globe, and went back to being the grumpy, bleak city that we all know and love. But, as my Grandmother affectionately barked at me after my ex and I broke up, “Get used to it Jemima, it won’t be the last time!”.

Thanks Grandma, and thanks Seb Coe. Better to have loved and lost the Olympics than to never have loved them at all. And unlike my previous relationship, I’m pretty sure this time the feeling was mutual.

So 2013, sitting there all new and shiny, fat with possibilities – you better step it up and bring those hoverboards if you’re going to even hope to compete.