Tag Archives: London

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.

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?

“I did not AX for this!”

It’s hot. It’s so damned hot. It feels like it’s been hot forever. Next week when it’s freezing I know I’ll conveniently forget how hot and hellish it is right now, so for the benefit of Future Me: it is so hot that I can’t be a hundred percent sure the sun is not hurtling towards me as I write this, thus negating the possibility of the existence of any kind of Future Me.

It’s so hot nothing I write makes sense any more. They’re just scrawls. They don’t mean anything. They can’t express this heat. There are no words. The streets of Central London have become an airless ungodly frying pan of reflected heat and utter, utter misery.

It is so hot that I have cried at least 3 times this week, for reasons directly related to the heat. It is so hot that, for the first time in my experience, the Piccadilly Line is cooler than street level. Positively refreshing. I’m not shitting you.

It’s too hot to eat. I have no clothes that cater for this weather, but that’s okay because this weather is only really doable if you wear little or no clothing. It is not the weather of smart casual. It is not the weather for anything but sweaty flushed indecency. And NOT IN A GOOD WAY.

That distant roar you can hear right now is all the people who live in hot countries laughing themselves stupid. It’s the Aussies, guffawing at the stupid sunburnt Poms, it’s all the people in former British Empire colonies, wetting themselves as we wilt and droop and drop like flies. We are mad dogs and we are Englishmen but please don’t go out in the midday sun because you will surely be obliterated, like little bugs under the magnifying glass of a vengeful God.

If you’re lucky enough to be a teacher or a school-kid on summer break, if you’re on holiday or you’re unemployed (you lucky bastards) you won’t know what I’m talking about. You’ll be lounging around semi-naked drinking cool cocktails and looking all sun-drenched and lazy and sexy. But know this: I hate you so much right now.

I am in an office with no air conditioning. I tried to buy a fan earlier in the week, but the only ones left for sale in central London were £400+ Dyson Airblades, or small desk ones. I bought the small desk one. The box -a good 12 or 15 inches across – looked promising, but alas, the thing itself was a tiny usb plug-in desk fan. I am alone in the studio, so in theory there’s nothing stopping me from stripping naked and trying to get into our needlessly large studio fridge, but I feel a modicum of decorum must be maintained, not to mention professionalism. Still, it’s always an option.

Meanwhile, I pray for rain, the sweet relief of a two degree temperature drop, or the cool embrace of unconsciousness.

(This lady knows what I’m talking about. This lady too hot. Shit.)

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.

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.

BAFTA – ode to a little piggy.

So some of the posts here are for me to get my thoughts down, or because there’s something I feel like writing about, while others are more straightforward journal-type entries so that I can record an event to look back on in the future.

This is definitely one of those posts – not particularly well thought-out or written, but recorded for posterity. Last sunday night I was lucky enough to go to the Children’s BAFTAs. Peppa Pig was nominated for Best Preschool Animation, but also the voice of Peppa, Harley Bird, was nominated for Best Performer. This was a real achievement in itself, bearing in mind that Harley is only 9 years old.

I was very lucky to fall into working at Astley Baker Davies a little after graduating from university. I’d reached a point where I thought I’d never get out of my small home town, and then suddenly in a whirlwind so fast I’m not quite sure to this day how it happened, I was deposited in a flat in Stockwell S.London, with a job in an animation studio on Regent St. And not just any animation studio, but one making funny, quality shows that people seem to love.

When I started work at the studio I was a Runner, which meant I got to try a bit of everything. One of my jobs was to go along to voice records and take notes to be used later when the editor was looking for the chosen take. As such I was there on a summer afternoon, not long after I’d moved to London and started the job, when five year old Harley came along for an audition.

We’d been looking for a new voice of Peppa as, starting the 3rd series, the previous voice artist was now unfortunately too grown-up to really work as the voice of a 4 year old. Looking through the suggestions sent by the voice agencies we use, we were immediately drawn to Harley’s mischievous smile, freckles and bright red hair tied in big bunches on top of her head. She certainly seemed to embody the cheeky but sweet attitude of the Peppa character. Listening to her voice reel we were surprised by how much she sounded like the original Peppa, with a husky quality to her voice that was so unusual in a child.

She aced the audition of course – confident and mature enough to get through the lines while bringing a real child-like quality to the takes. (Bear in mind that a lot of children’s cartoons are voiced by adults). And after a few months, and no longer a Runner but a Production Assistant, I was asked to go in the booth with the kids to help them with their lines. A lot of the older children were happy by themselves, so I was only really needed for Harley and the other younger children.

And now, although not technically falling under my job description as Assistant Designer, I still go to Harley’s voice records and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Truth is Harley is now such a pro she doesn’t need me in there any more (gone were the days of helping her read the script, or literally having to pin her to the chair to get her to sit still, or go for a run around the block in a break in recording to get out excess bouncy energy) – but I still enjoy going. So it was especially wonderful to get to be there when Harley won her BAFTA – none of us were expecting her to win, being that it’s rare for a voice artist to be recognised in such a way, but hearing her name get called out was such an exciting moment for everyone involved with Peppa there at the BAFTAs that night. She is more than a voice – she is  Peppa. But more than that, she is an accomplished, hard-working, funny and natural actress, and she completely deserved that award.

In the long run-up to the announcement I could see that Harley was getting more and more nervous, so I went over to see if she was okay and her mum Gill asked me to go up with her to accept the award if she won. As it was Harley raced onto the stage with excitement when her name was called, so I barely caught up with her in time – and then backstage for interviews and photographs, me trying not to blub like a baby (I’m surprised I didn’t come back to the table afterwards face smudged with tear-streaked mascara).

Then, as we made our way back to the table bouncing with excitement, Peppa was announced as winner in the Preschool Animation category, which was just the icing on the cake. We’ve won this before but it’s still so nice to win, and on that night with Harley recognised also it felt like everything was going our way!

In truth the rest of the night passed in a bit of a blur of champagne, dancing till my feet hurt and smiling till my face hurt. Harley kept getting stopped by people wanting to congratulate her, or have their photos taken with her, or have her record a message to their children on their phones. Everyone was so lovely and it felt like people were really pleased that she’d won. Harley was desperate to speak to the Horrible Histories table, so, not needing that much persuading, I took her over to chat with them. Of course they were all very lovely and kind of Harley, and we got a chance to tell Martha Howe-Douglas (who was up against Harley in the Best Performer category) that we were huge fans and that we’ve spent many idle moments in the voice recording booth singing her Boudicca song. I hope it didn’t sound false but I wanted to tell Martha that, if Harley hadn’t won, we would have wanted to lose to her! She’s definitely deserving of it, so here’s hoping she’s nominated next year – the funny girls need to be recognised!

All in all it was a fantastic night, and I felt so so lucky to be able to share in it, and to be there to celebrate Harley’s win. But also I feel lucky to have been allowed to work with her- from that first day she came in for her audition, through all the many many voice records, jokes, drawing sessions, and songs sung. She’s made me laugh till tears streamed down my face more times than I can count. This little piggy has worked hard indeed – and I’m sure there’s a bright bright future in store for her.