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"He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it." Douglas Adams (1952 - 2001), The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Golly, the time does fly. Today, shortly after 4 pm, Dan and I are getting on a flight to Calgary, Alberta where we will begin our multi-city exploration of my lovely home country. It is difficult to process that it's been over eight months since I've been there and I can't explain how surreal it feels when, every now and again, I realise that I am living in England. Despite this eight month gap, there are parts of me that still feel like I am going home after an extended vacation.

I can't wait to see friends and family and I am looking forward to knowing exactly where I am going at all times, something which is pretty rare in London. Strangely enough, I am even looking forward to the food in Regina. I am in no way fooled into thinking it is actually better, but it is familiar and comforting and I hope it's as good as I remember. I am especially looking forward to Viet Thai, a cheapy cheap little Vietnamese/Thai restaurant that serves up noodles and spring rolls. I've had epic dreams about this place! Though I have managed to find two similar places in London, it's just not quite the same.

Other culinary experiences I am looking forward to:

  • The lunch buffet at India House
  • All you can eat sushi (yes, in North America we like our buffets)
  • Butler's Fish and Chips at Regina Beach
  • Steak cooked on an outdoor BBQ
  • POUTINE!!
When I was a child, whenever a major event or holiday came up I would almost always get really sick, usually landing in the hospital, an IV in my arm, the result of a dreadful asthma attack. Though I thought I grew out of that, I must be feeling a lot of stress because last night after work I began to feel a heaviness in my chest and my voice started going. This morning I woke up to solid congestion, wheezing and absolutely no voice (Dan will be happy - he won't have to listen to me prattle during the ten hour flight). I am up steaming and drinking tea and it seems to be helping a bit. Ugh! The last thing I want to do is spend ten hours trapped in an airplane feeling like this or waste any of my vacation feeling ill.

Oh well, back to steaming. I feel like a dumpling.

x

(Image via Robert ParkeHarrison)

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A Love Letter



Dear HSBC,

I know that you are a gigantic multi-national bank and that you probably don't care about a small fish like me. I do not have millions (or really, even thousands) of pounds in my bank account. I do not have a mortgage with you or anything else through which you can drip me dry of my savings through fluctuating interest rates. And I generally tend to pay off my credit card bill month to month, which means that you don't even get to earn money off of my most frivolous purchases. I am a dud of a bank customer.

I should feel fortunate that you ALLOW me to have a bank account at all, really. I am a Canadian after all, and you know what we are like. We tend to be wishy washy peace keepers, we aren't involved in the oil race in any meaningful way and we tend to limit our pillaging. As a result, we never have the big bucks.

Although you call yourselves 'The World's Local Bank", which I understand to mean that you are international in nature, and even though there is even one of you in the medium size Canadian prairie town I come from, I should count myself lucky that it only took two months for you to let me set up an account and that you are only charging me a £12 per month premium for the luxury. Thank you HSBC for enabling me to allow you to make money off of what is mine.

Most important, I don't want you to worry about me having any expectations related to customer service. I am paying for the luxury of having you as my financial institution, not for service. I don't expect my Internet banking to work on a regular basis and I am just fine when, for no apparent reason, I get security warnings that force me to call you and sit on hold for a half an hour only to have you get me to pick yet another security number. The fact that you can't explain why this keeps happening must be stressful for you and I hope that you know that I am clear that none of this is your fault. I must be doing something wrong.

Although it is my money sitting in your bank, don't think that I want easy or regular access to it. Being unable to take out cash only makes me appreciate the value of a pound when you do see fit to allow me access. Feel free to put security flags on my account any time you want. Decline my purchases and don't bother calling me. Just do it. It's not really my money, is it? Oh, right, it is. But still. I'm sure you have your reasons, though you are shy and unable to clearly articulate what those are.

Last Tuesday night when I was in a strange area in North East London and my card ceased to function, it all worked out in the end, didn't it? I didn't get stabbed, or beaten up, I didn't have to pan handle, and thanks to the kindness of friends, I didn't even have to walk the three hours it would have taken me to get home. When I called you from the rainy streets of London, I appreciate that you saw fit to get to me within 45 minutes. Efficiency is your middle name. And don't pay any mind to the fact that the call used up almost all my mobile minutes for this month or that your customer service number is not one that is included in basic free calling minutes so I paid for every second you had me on hold. If I didn't have to work for it, how would I ever really appreciate all that you do for me?

When we did finally connect, you made me realise that it really was my fault that my bank card stopped working. Even though the card said it was good until May 2010, I should have been paying more attention to the piles of mail you send me because at some point you did post through a new bank card, which I must have missed. You can't really explain why given that the current card was working fine, but I guess I should consider it a special gift from a friend. I know your computer system told you that I hadn't activated the new card yet, but you needed to teach me a lesson, which you did by turning off my perfectly functional card. You're a real pal.

Finally, I really appreciate the fact that when my Canadian mother went to her local HSBC branch in an attempt to transfer money to me, you wouldn't help her. I know I have a checking account, savings account and credit card with you, but it would be ridiculous of you to be able to apply money to any of these accounts from anywhere other than my local Cardiff branch. Just because you are international doesn't mean we can expect you to function, erm, internationally. The problem is really all those people (like my mother) who have unrealistic expectations. You are only a bank after all.

This is a bad time to be in your line of work. You are suffering, through absolutely no fault of your own. I just want you to know that I am going to stand by you through all the financial mismanagement and shoddy service. You are going through a difficult time, and we always hurt those who are closest to us. I am there for you. Hell, I am willing to pay for the privilege.

All my love,

Amy
x

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Yoko Ono and the Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger


Photo of Yoko Ono and John Lennon used with permission from Ken Ross.  © Ken Ross


Dear Internets,

Last night I went to a gig in the middle of nowhere North East London at a tiny little club called Cafe Oto to watch Sean Lennon's new band, Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (GOASTT) perform. The evening began rather miserably. Dan's back was and is bothering him and I had a twisted ankle. It was windy and rainy and to end all things my stupid bank put a security flag on my debit card so I found myself in long gone nowhere without access to any money. After a painful half an hour on the phone with the bank, finally something was sorted. I am thinking of changing banks, but that is for another post.

We were wet, we had gravel in our eyes and we were somewhere that seemed to only have tiny dirty looking restaurants with stained laminated pictures of their food (never a good sign). At one point I said to Dan, "If I get stabbed tonight, I'm blaming you!"

Happily things got progressively better from there and no one was shanked. We met up with two friends in a Turkish themed restaurant for some beer and mediocre hummus and then over to Cafe Oto where Sean Lennon was debuting his new act to a sold out, intimate London audience. How Dave Joyner consistently manages to get his fingers on these kinds of tickets is beyond me, but if you want to see anything cool on almost any given night of the week, he's your man.

Though I was curious and a bit excited to see Sean Lennon, I was completely star struck when I saw that his mother Yoko Ono was also there, sitting a few feet away from me. There is this history of music and whether you like her or not, Yoko played a pretty significant role in it. Not to mention that I am an art geek and she was doing ridiculous performance art before almost anyone else. She is tiny - maybe just over five feet tall and small boned like a little bird. She was wearing a black suit and a little black top hat with gigantic black bug sunglasses (though it was darkly lit in the venue). She always had an entourage and despite the fact that the woman is an icon, she wasn't bothered much for autographs or pictures, though this was a hipster London crowd who were probably cultivating their "I don't give a fuck" vibe.

Though I would have died to have a picture with Yoko, I just couldn't bring myself to ask her (or her bodyguard) if it was OK and it was just too dark in the venue to get a good on the sly picture.

GOASTT was a sweet little folky act consisting of Sean Lennon and his girlfriend Charlotte harmonising with one another in these little poppy ditties. The push behind the Lennon name is what has clearly made this act viable, as I imagine in almost any large city in the world there are dozens of beautiful kids doing exactly the same thing. Still, it was nice.

It was pretty obvious that Sean Lennon came alive when playing the guitar but unfortunately the dynamics of their group doesn't allow him much room for this. On the two occasions when he did a solo, Charlotte (who doesn't seem to play anything except for the tambourine) seemed a bit awkward and lost.

Here is a very dark and grainy video of one of their songs last night:



At the end of the night, the unthinkable happened. The crowd seemed to want more and there wasn't any more to give from the scheduled acts so Yoko Ono decided to get up on stage and do an improvised song, her son accompanying her on guitar. In true Yoko style it features guttural yelling and screaming the words "I feel bad" on repeat. Absolutely brilliant. Here is a snippet (again very dark and hard to see):



Seriously, an amazing and unforgettable night in London.

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London Naked Bike Ride



The weather in London has been uncharacteristically hot, sunny and dry. Like most everyone who lives here, when the weather cooperates Dan and I scuttled outside to enjoy the sun (actually, Dan doesn't much like the sun. I scuttle and he is a good enough sport to pretend to scuttle along with me). On any given day the question isn't so much what should we do, but what shouldn't we do. The rumours are true. London is just as exciting and filled with possibilities as you imagine and it is usually a matter of deciding what you can fit in rather than being at a loss to think of something to occupy the time.

Yesterday we could have rented a paddle boat and floated around Hyde Park, we could have taken a train to Brighton or some other nearby sea side community, we could have gone to see a theatre production or to any number of wonderful exhibitions. Instead we opted to take in the London leg of the World Naked Bike Ride, which traveled 6 miles through London's centre. To be clear, we didn't participate but rather stood on the side of the road taking in the spectacle and snapping pictures of the colourful naked folk as they rode by.



In past years over a thousand people participated in the London rally and this year was no different. There were people from pretty much every age group - one cyclist even had her small baby strapped to her naked back- ethnic background, men women, big and small... According the website, the rationale is that it is
a peaceful, imaginative and fun protest against oil dependency and car culture. A celebration of the bicycle and also a celebration of the power and individuality of the human body. A symbol of the vulnerability of the cyclist in traffic. The world's biggest naked protest: 50+ cities and thousands of riders participate worldwide, including around 2,000 in the UK in 2008
It was pretty hot in London yesterday and I couldn't help but feel sorry for all those bare asses glued to their hard little black leather seats. It was great entertainment, but there really has got to be an easier way to get the point across...

Ah, London.

Photo by me. To see the rest, visit my Flickr Summer '09 London set.

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The Water Rats Theatre Bar


The Water Rats Theatre Bar, originally uploaded by oladybug0.
Weird places like this are one of the reasons I love London.

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Paul Sucks



Dan and I just had lunch in a patisserie called Paul (Soho branch). Apparently it's a chain, though it does genuinely look like a cute little Paris shop with its red banquettes and pretty looking sandwiches and pastries.

We each ordered a sandwich and a Sprite to share. At over £4 each, the sandwiches were quite a bit more pricey then the ones at Pret a Manger, another very popular local chain. The Sprite was warm and the baguettes were hard little bricks. It was actually difficult to eat the sandwich without scraping off the insides of your mouth and my jaw ached from the effort it took to chew. The fillings were mediocre and sparse at best.

When we were walking out Dan said thanks to the woman behind the counter. She barely mumbled a response and was something on the opposite end of the spectrum from pleasant. Basically, there was nothing good.

I won't be eating there again and I don't recommend you do either.

(Image: Talk of Tomatoes)

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Stop. Hammer Time... No, SERIOUSLY.

London is considered one of the fashion capitals of the world along with New York, Paris and Tokyo. As a result of this, walking down the street on an average day it isn't uncommon to see people exploring avant garde trends. Although sometimes I can't resist pointing a particularly odd ensemble out, I genuinely find this to be a really interesting and inspiring part of living here. The diversity and creativity in a city like London is made into a physical thing through the interesting things people wear.

But there is a line and these people have crossed it:


(Image)


(Image)

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(Image)

Almost daily, I see people walking around London wearing what can only be described as a hideous combination of Hammer pants and bloomers. Apart from conjuring up the memory of terrible music and dancing from a year when I undoubtedly had a perm and spotty skin, on its own they look very much to me like the wearer is wearing a baggy diaper, soggy with some kind of body fluid that I would really rather not think about. Even in the pictures above, the people have an unsure look on their faces (maybe with the exception of the last image). I feel like they are looking at the camera thinking, "Someone told me this is cool, but I'm really not sure. I kind of feel like my ass is dragging on the ground."

I remember a long time ago a horrible expression was going around my high school. I am almost embarrassed to post it here but there is really no other word... Deep breath and read no further if you are easily offended:

The word is gunt. I am not going to define it, but will leave it at saying that these trousers make even these stick people look like they have one. Use your imagination.

Seriously people. Don't touch this.



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Air France, Coraline and Memory



The missing Air France plane is really getting to me. The idea of a plane crashing with over 200 people on board over the Atlantic Ocean is horrifying enough without all of the mystery and conjecture surrounding this particular event. The idea of something so big, with so many people on board loosing contact and disappearing seems like it should be impossible in this world of technology and constant connection. It moves me between feeling absolutely terrified at the thought of getting on an airplane (or in fact of ever leaving the house again) while simultaneously being grateful that I am here and that my life is really pretty wonderful.

People will often talk, usually referring to teenagers, about how some people think they are invincible. I think to some degree we all walk around the world assuming we will be OK, otherwise no one would ever go out and life itself would grind to a halt. Although I certainly don’t walk around terrified, I can honestly say that for as long as I can remember, I’ve never felt a sense of absolute safety.

When I was in late primary school and into high school I can remember my grandmother showing me newspaper clippings of murdered or missing women and girls and saying, “This could be you. Be careful because this could be you.” I know it sounds morbid and horrible, but it did instill in me a sense of optimistic caution. I’ve never assumed that I am untouchable and have always been a bit in awe of my more crazy and reckless friends. I sometimes wonder if men struggle with feeling secure in this world in the same way that women do. I’m not sure.

On Saturday night Dan and I went to see Coraline at the cinema. Although it looks like a film for children, its PG rating and direction by the man who produced A Nightmare Before Christmas indicated it was something more. I thought it was wonderful and dark and weird. It played with so many of the strange and complex fears that people have, especially as children, like the idea that you don’t really know your own family. Beneath the exterior of the nuclear unit is some strangeness that can do emotional and sometimes physical damage. That even at home, security is not an absolute.

The evil character in the film is called the Belle Dam by the children she has trapped in her lonely other world. I can only assume that her name is a reference to the Keats poem La Belle Dam Sans Merci (translated from French means the beautiful woman without pity/mercy), which, strangely enough, was one of the rhymes I can remember learning as a child. It’s about a knight who meets a beautiful, wild woman. He takes her home and believes they are in love but when he falls asleep he has horrible nightmares of death where the ghosts warn him that he is in her thrall. When he wakes up, she is gone and he is alone on a cold hillside:
And this is why I sojourn here
Alone and palely loitering
Though the sedge has withered from the lake
And no birds sing.
The most terrifying thing about the character in Coraline is her need to remove the eyes of her victims in order to control them. Her little world is filled with people who have buttons where their eyes would have been all robotically under her power. Slowly things begin to literally and metaphorically disintegrate around her as Coraline collects the lost eyes of the children she’s stolen.

Easy to overlook and a bit sad is that the Belle Dam seems to be seeking something to love more than anything but her love is carnivorous and destructive. She can’t sustain it once she’s caught her victims. Her desire eventually consumes her and the precarious little world of illusion she’s built crumbles away.

It’s well worth a watch and if nothing else, it is lovely to look at. It’s the first animated film that has actually made me jump in my seat. It’s funny how all these little blocks of experience – films, music, books, world events – bring up old memories and in some ways reshape them. Maybe it’s because I am so far from home, but lately from this vantage point, I am finding myself understanding my life in different ways. Memories really aren’t solid things and are subject to interpretation under the lens of new experiences. It is equal parts exciting and scary to see that the foundation isn’t really absolute.

PS: For those who prefer to read the book first, Coraline is based on a novella with the same name by Neil Gaiman.

(Image pulled from Forbidden Planet)

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A Good Lido is Hard to Find


(Image from Art of the State)

Today I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. There was no particular reason. I'd had a good sleep, the sun was shinning, everything was in order, except that I felt like my body and mind had been inhabited by a petulant child just waiting for things to go wrong so that it (I) could sulk.

First of all, I burned my omelet due to the fact that this London flat has limited kitchen utensils and not a proper plastic egg turner/flipper thing. Golly, did I ever get angry about that, despite the fact that I've known of our limited flipper utensil situation for months and have yet to care enough to do anything about it.

Then, as I was eating my burned omelet, a fly came in the living room through the window and started buzzing around, slamming itself against the glass trying to escape. This was the perfect opportunity for the bad three year old inside of me to become furious that people in the UK haven't embraced the simple concept of the window screen. In North America, it is pretty unheard of not to have a neat fitting window screen to keep out all manner of pesky bugs. Granted, we do have mosquitoes the size of bats, but still. Between gulping down my bad eggs and fighting back tears, I tried to convince Dan that it is inhumane of the British to not have screens because unfortunate bugs are lured inside for a premature demise. When he tried to suggest that they don't have long lives anyway, I got all soppy about how the fly in question probably had at least one more lovely day to look forward to before flying in through the damn screen-less window, trapping himself to death. Never mind that I would as soon smash a fly to death with a rolled up newspaper, old shoe, book ... anything ... as look at it.

Despite my bleary mood, the weather was lovely and hot for the second day running in London. We did what all people do in a place that is rainy over 80% of the time, we tried to find a patch of outdoors to soak it all up. Initially I had this cockamamie idea about going to the seashore, but despite the fact that the UK is an island, it was more challenging (and time consuming) then I'd imagined to get to the sea from here. Brighton was an option, but the beach there is rocky and not terribly nice to sit on. This was, obviously, another source of my agony. (Damn Brighton! Damn rocks!)

After a long think, I decided we should go and find an outdoor pool, which is not so easy in London. There is one in Kentish Town that seemed the least painful to get to and so we set out. I need to qualify the concept of least painful. Most things in London take a long time to get to by the standards of anyone living in a modestly sized city. To get to Kentish Town we needed to take the tube, transfer once - the whole thing taking nearly an hour. Once we arrived at our designated station, it was about a 20 minute walk to the pool, which is located in Hampstead Heath, a big park.

By the time we got there it was well into the afternoon. Apparently a lot of people were looking for some outdoor water today because there was a fairly intimidating line at the entrance of the brick building that enclosed the pool. Possibly the worst bit was that the line was composed of pre-teen children, mostly without adult supervision, all clearly high on the ice cream treat they probably had on the way to the pool and the prospect of an afternoon without their parents. Instead of waiting in the line and facing the shrieking crowd within, we decided to sit on a hill in the park. Although this was undoubtedly the best decision (I would have probably drowned the first shrieking little person I saw) I was still ridiculously angry. The park was mediocre at best and probably not as nice as Holland Park, which is only a ten minute walk from where we live. To make everything worse, there was some track and field none sense going on and a very stupid man kept shooting off a starter gun to my great annoyance. Oh, I was a misery!!

At one point I witnessed a little boy of maybe four or five start sobbing and kicking his feet, little fists in angry balls. He looked as ridiculous as I'd been acting. Then again, if it were socially acceptable for adults to have tantrums, I wonder if we wouldn't be better off. Or maybe that's just an excuse for wanting to misbehave.


(Image by Jill Greenberg)

I am feeling much better now, thanks for asking.

A tip for non UK readers: A lido is what they call an outdoor swimming place. Yes, just another thing to be annoyed about...

XOXO

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