Sunday, 30 November 2014

One woman's struggle with a train window

'Escaped to the country' for a spot of Christmas shopping when the mere thought of attempting it in London gave me severe palpatations.

I haven't visited Cambridge in such a long time, and I missed it. Just under 50 minutes on the train (and only 20 from my front door - train (I timed it, because I was late as ever)), I figured I could spend just as long travelling to various shopping areas in the capital, so a spontaneous decision was made!

Even more spontaneously, I text mother on the off chance that her and dad weren't already headed for an incredibly busy weekend, only to discover that their Saturday was also clear of any social events, so we arranged to meet!

After my panicking that I was going to be the last person to set foot on the train, probably as the doors were closing, despite waking at an unearthly time on a Saturday, I actually made it in good enough time to walk allll the way to the front so that I'd have less walking to do at the other end (genius).

The journey was beautiful; forgotten music from the depths of my SoundCloud in my ears, magical colours in the sky and a distant mist making for a very pretty vista. Directly opposite me sat a woman beneath an open window which shewas trying desperately to close to no avail, to my left (I sit sideways on trains; naughty) two suited men discussing photo shoots and football, and on the 4 seats in front of me, a middle aged lady with a foul mouth and a lacy jumper I'd probably wear too if I were 20 years older.

I arrived only fifteen minutes later than mum and dad, but already they had gone ahead and found a place for a hot drink. So I joined them, and we said our hellos, caught up on important events from the past week or so, and decided on a plan of action for the day!

Admittedly, on my last Christmas shopping excursion, I left feeling a strong sense of alliance to Norwich. I feel as if I might have actually written about it a year or two ago! I decided that Cambridge did not feel quite as festive as it should, and that the lack of independent shops made finding small and unique gifts quite difficult. 

Nevertheless, it felt so good to be back in the city; it's definitely still one of my favourites, at any time of year! I walked through all the little back-streets to meet mum and dad, admiring unusual door knockers along the rows and rows of cute terraced houses. No twinkling lights on trees in windows yet, but a wintry chill in the air still had me feeling festive.

A second mug of Earl Grey to kick-start me again after my early start and hypnotic train journey, and we were off! One thing Cambridge certainly is equipped with is an abundance of Charity shops. So while mum and I were actually managing a 'sweep browse' of Primark, dad was browsing in charity shops along the road. When we reconvened, he produced a Moomin book to add to the collection; I do adore Tove Jansson! This might even mean I actually get around to doing some reading over Christmas (I doubt I'll get beyond children's literature, but it's a start at least?)!

It's not usually necessary to spend much time at the Grafton Centre end of Cambridge, but we lost ourselves in Hawkin's Bazaar for a good amount of time; me dropping almost everything I touched, mum making cringe-worthy jokes about her purchases to the shop assistant and dad trying his hardest to pretend he wasn't with us (not really, we're all as bad as each other)! Playtime over, we popped in and out of a few more shops via biscotti and olive tasting before making our way to the city centre.

One huge advantage Cambridge does have over Norwich is Fopp. Fopp! I love Fopp! In fact, I could spend a lifetime in Fopp. On this occasion I had a time restriction in the form of our lunchtime reservation, but I still managed to make three film purchases. A notorious film novice, I have recently been expanding my film horizons, and Fopp is a place I like to buy the ones that jump off the shelf at me (sometimes literally) because they're often only £3, so even if I discover they're not for me, I've not even spent the price of a cinema ticket! Elf, I'm sure will be watched within a matter of days, but I think I'll save the other two for more dedicated film-watching time.

Once upon a time there was a Christmas hat impaled on that chimney.

Lunch was at Pizza Express, in the most fancy Pizza Express I have ever set foot in! Set in the historic building of Pitt Club, this restaurant did not even have signage outside, so it was very quiet indeed. There was no piped music, the floors were carpeted and books and black and white photographs of club members lined the wooden panelled walls. We all said as we sat there that we could quite easily forget where we were (and on a side note, the Christmas menu looks amazing)!

After lunch, we wandered along the most historic part of Cambridge, past the different college buildings which looked particularly glorious in the winter sun! Another point to Cambridge comes in the form of Heffer's bookshop, where mum and dad lost me in the children's section as I spent Christmas money on a plethora of picture books (perhaps for school, perhaps for my own reading pleasure).

We definitely picked the right end of the day to be in the area, as the setting sun behind the buildings made for a very beautiful skyline above the market. Before I knew it, it was time to head back. Of course we stopped for a final tea along the way, and to give me chance to sort my mass of shopping bags. Absolute saints that they are, my parents took most of my purchases home with them to avoid me having to take them on a million train journeys back and forth between Cambridge, London and Norfolk. So I left with two small bags; my DVDs, school milk bottles with paper straws for future cocktail drinking, my Moomin book and a Christmas present to pass along.

Despite knowing that I'll always see them again relatively soon, saying goodbye to my parents is always sad, and I don't know why but saying goodbye at train stations always seems that little bit more moving. Films have dictated that time will pass in slow motion, and tears will be shed (they weren't, but you get the scene I'm setting). A fond farewell said to Cambridge, mum and dad, I headed back to the Big Smoke for an evening in the cinema with my dear cousin; I just never stop!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

London Aquarium on a 'relaxing' weekend

What better way to spend a Friday night than with fish (and champagne)?

Last Friday saw my first 24 hour stint in a long time with farewell drinks for my TA, carol singing at Leadenhall Market for the Christmas light switch on, dancing my heart out to Anile, Etherwood and Keeno at MedSchool in Elephant & Castle and then finally rolling into bed at half 5/6am, having woken up at a similar time a full 'day' before. Feeling a little too 'old' (at least on a Friday) for all that these days, I was rather looking forward to a quieter time this weekend, and very excited for fish!

I've probably been to the London Aquarium before, but when Hunstanton Sealife Centre (please imagine I said that in my overly enthusiastic with a hint of sarcasm voice) is on my doorstep at home, we've probably never felt the need to journey to such a place; I certainly didn't have any recollection of a visit anyway. After my incredibly fun experiences of Zoo Lates at London Zoo, and Science Museum Lates at (you've guessed it) the Science Museum, I decided that London Aquarium must be done as soon as it caught my attention!

Gone are the days when you could stroke these guys...

A complimentary glass of champagne upon arrival, I was more than happy! There is something truly wonderful about not feeling obligated to move aside for small children struggling to peer into tanks! Instead it was initially a little more like the battle upon entering an already sardine-like tube train, elbows out and everything! However as some people raced ahead to find the next bar, we decided to take our time.

So stingrays evolved from sharks. Who knew?

Determined to get our money's worth, we oggled at the weird and wonderful in every tank, waiting patiently to read signs that would inform us what said 'weird and wonderful' were actually called (the Fox-faced-rabbitfish had to be my favourite name, although I wasn't entirely sure where the name came from...)! It transpired that shark tanks are pretty hypnotic, and before we knew it, it was twenty to ten (we had arrived at twenty past seven)! So we tore ourselves away and went to find the penguins!

Drunken seahorses.

Pretty piranhas!

Unanimous oohs and ahhs echoed around the crowd as we eagerly anticipated their descent into the pool for a swim. Sadly it never came, but they still looked sweet waddling around their enclosure (if a little trapped; the murals on the walls of the world beyond where they now live seemed a little cruel)!

Penguins waved goodbye to, the rest felt like a come-down (although a fish swimming through a tiny tube adjoining two tanks was a pretty entertaining highlight (perhaps the alcohol was kicking in by this point)). Before we knew it, we found ourselves exiting and we came out by the arcade and McDonalds; quite the opposite to the inviting entrance!

More sharks...

... just because they're sharks.

Once we were back along the Southbank, we decided to venture into the festive enclosure where this year's Winter Festival awaited us. We discovered a Christmas tree maze (magical), a 'lodge' serving all the Rekorderlig, and an incredible array of inviting Scandinavian food stalls. After a wander around to make sure we were about to make the best drink (and maybe food) choice, we settled on a table and chair straight out of Ikea in the lodge for a tipple. As we sat there, our minds turned to the intriguing food stall situated right outside the lodge, and before we knew it we were tucking into a mighty burger and a meat ball sandwich with lingonberry jam and some sort of gravy; yum!

The rest of the weekend was pretty restful; on Saturday evening we returned to Southbank to try out another food stall and to catch up with friends not seen in far too long (I even managed to get a little something for Christmas while we waited)! On Sunday I finally saw The Shawkshank Redemption (in bed, of course), and loved it, before my 'relaxing' weekend was topped off with Linkin Park at the O2 Arena; so much nostalgia!

I'm definitely starting to feel fully festive!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

A part of me restored

Last Tuesday, I had my first choral audition in 5 years. No doubt I have moaned before about not performing at Christmas for the past two years, and this festive season I could take it no more; I had to join an ensemble! So I took to Google and found the City Chamber Choir, based near St Paul's. In an over-enthusiastic moment, I thought I'd get in touch, just in case they were looking for any rusty second sopranos (at least at this point I hoped I could still call myself a second soprano)!

I had a realisation the other day, which still seems most odd to me, that I have not been in an ensemble the entire time I've been writing this blog. Two long years have gone by, and I am sad to have spent so much time apart from musical performance. However, this year sees a shift, and with carols only two days away, I am beyond excited!

The thought of an audition after a day raising my voice to project across an enormous classroom, let alone after two years of no choral singing left me rather weak at the knees. Fortunately, with half term the week before last, I had requested that mother dig out my old music for us to bash our way through, first to discover whether I could actually still sing, second which therefore would make a good audition piece.

We settled on an old favourite, Adam Lay Y Bounden, and the day arrived. Voice lost part way through the day, I wasn't particularly full of hope. On the other hand, I wasn't feeling as nervous as I knew I should have been, either. I guess it had just been such a long time since anything of the sort that I'd forgotten about nerves! It was an atrocious day for the weather, raining continuously meaning that my feet were soaked upon arrival. Umbrella up, ducking and diving between speedy city slickers, I frantically followed Google maps (as is my style) to find my destination, hardly allowing myself to believe that it could really only take twenty minutes to reach from school.

Nevertheless, at quarter past (due at half) six, I found myself outside the door of a church half melded into an office building; The Gresham Centre. Lights were on, but nobody was home. Having walked around the sides I could access, I finally admitted defeat and called the lady with whom I had been having email contact. I discovered that they were meeting in an alternative location before the rehearsal, but would arrive in a short while. Not fancying the thought of standing outside the door in the rain (I hoped that if my singing did not sound at all up to scratch, I might at least be looking like I knew what I was doing), I found a cup of tea and a soft seat to shelter with for the time being.

My audition went past in rather a blur. I have never sung a scale in my life, yet there I was, singing scales as though it was all completely normal. Next came my prepared piece, and the acoustic was very flattering indeed (despite the fact that by this point, choir members were descending and I was definitely shaking like a leaf). Finally, the sight singing. After the sheer comic value of mine and mum's afternoon of singing, I was full of suspense, wondering (but probably not actually wanting to know) what on earth was going to happen. Praised with 'well you obviously know what you're doing' as the piece (and the audition) came to an end, I suppose I must have made it through without too many rogue notes!

I was asked to stay for the rehearsal, so took my seat amongst the second sopranos.

It's been such a long time since I've been in a choir. As I sat there (on the front row, which I'm usually known to avoid), I was thrown back to university choir and Kings Lynn Festival Chorus before that; to my antics, incessant texting, giggling and 'subtly' drinking red wine. I knew this rehearsal would be of a different nature, but I was still feeling highly nostalgic and completely in my element.

It probably sounds strange, but I love the way that singing feels to me like I'm 'playing' your voice, like I'm actually pressing keys somewhere inside me to produce the notes, and the way harmonies come together in a full choir is such a lovely feeling. I'd also begun to forget what it was like to spend time with other classical musicians; quite the stark contrast to the circles I now move in (of course I was the youngest by about 10 years, as usual)!

All in all, a glorious feeling. After the rehearsal I was told they'd love to offer me a place, so I beamed and maybe even sang a little all the way home! Now after my first proper rehearsal, I can officially say I am so pleased to feel like I have got a missing part of me back. Also, I am beyond excited for my first performance of Christmas carols on Friday (never too early)! Life in London really is coming together!

Monday, 3 November 2014

God's Own Junkyard

Long-overdue hair cut, lunch with my Hugh, a journey on the X1, games, walking and talking with family, new house-friends, London walks, pumpkin carving, Halloween fancy dressing followed by much needed bed/home-made pizza recovery and a day of antiquing, tea & cake, Brick Lane browsing and roast dinner eating; it's been a busy half-term week as always.

In a quieter moment I found myself re-visiting posts from a year ago when I finally moved into London properly, and they got me thinking; I haven't been on so many 'proper' Laura adventures recently! This sudden realisation meant that the thought of a full week to myself was almost a little daunting. Nevertheless, at the same time I suddenly became very excited indeed, and a plan was formulated for Friday (a week 'to myself' was not lonely at all once I'd filled it with people, so Friday ended up being my only day alone)!

I discovered the existence of God's Own Junkyard in an article I read in the Evening Standard on the train back to London from Kings Lynn. It was literally just referred to in the article, but the concept of a gallery full of neon signs was more than intriguing, and when the website talked of

'New & used neon fantasies, salvaged signs, vintage neons, old movie props and retro displays',

I knew I had to see it for myself! The 'wonderland of creativity' (as it is also described) is located in Ravenswood Industrial Estate in Walthamstow, so even my route there was full of excitement! Going Northbound beyond Seven Sisters felt very strange indeed, but once I had alighted from the train and began to follow directions from the very lovely lady of Google Maps, I found myself in Walthamstow Village and forgot all about my disconcertion. From Central to the Village, it was as though I had stepped through some sort of teleportation device; an absolutely magical and surreal place, and as it transpires, the perfect place to find a treasure trove of neon! As I practically skipped along, truly in my element (I really do love anywhere with a faint likeness to home), I came close to my destination, taking a final left turn down the road claiming to provide me with pedestrian access to the industrial park... instead I was confronted with a very large, very locked gate. Not wanting to look too shady, I gave it a very meagre nudge and nosied through to ensure I was in fact in the right place before dashing off in my usual manner of 'I know exactly what I'm doing/where I'm going' and abandoning Google Maps to find my own way round to an alternative access point. 

Finally, I found my way in, and just... wow! It was so much more than I could have ever imagined, neon heaven! I was so overwhelmed by the entrance alone that it took me a moment or two to recover myself from temporary paralysis on the doorstep. Upon finding use of my legs again, I made my way inside very slowly, not at all sure where to look; neon covered every surface from ceiling to floor, creating the most magnificent blend of light and colour. Next thing I knew I found myself sitting in the café (yes, there was a café, as if I wasn't already happy enough!) for a cup of Earl Grey. I say I 'found myself' there, by this point I was in such a hypnotised state, I was glad of somewhere to sit down and to take in my surroundings in more detail at a slightly different angle. I became particularly entranced by the bright green bulbs above my head which reminded me very much of sitting on rides at the fair when all you can do to avoid absolute terror is stare at the bulbs as you whizz around and around or up and down. They were still calming when sitting still. An hour later and I finally mustered the will power to stand up again and take one last gentle wander around, just in case I'd missed anything (or mainly because I didn't want to leave) before thanking the salesman who informed me that the gallery was currently looking pretty empty (!?) and tearing myself away. 

The sense of being 'back to reality' when I sat on the train again was more than depressing. I have never been made to feel so happy by something so unexpected, but I absolutely intend to return soon now I do know what to expect (and come on, there's TEA. As if I can resist)!