Categories
blog

My Mild Fear of Flying

FB_IMG_1470400646788

My mild fear of flying had been building for a while. I didn’t fly much at all as a child. Once to Paris when I was 10. Next time to Rome when I was 17. After that it wasn’t until my mid twenties when I started to fly on holiday once or twice a year. Last year we took a lot of mini breaks and visits to friends and flew quite a bit. With this sudden increase in flights, I’d started feeling nervous about flying. We had a particularly difficult landing coming back from Rome last January, in the dark. People all around us were making panicky noises and grown men across from us were trying their hardest not to look too pale. It wasn’t pleasant.

After that I’d been a bit jumpy about flights and in the days running up to them I’d been nervous and withdrawn, which has not been the best mood to be in before or at the end of a holiday.

I decided to do some googling about (as one does will all problems these days) and found various tips and ideas. These are ones that have worked for me recently. Although I was still nervous and not exactly comfortable (especially during landing) I was much happier and better than I would have been, had I not prepared myself.

 

Look at the flight paths

This made a huge difference to me. In the week leading up to the flight every now and again I went onto Flight Radar 24 and watched all the planes snake their way across the map. It’s amazing how many are about. Watching them takes the mystery out of the process. You can see that planes do circuits in the areas around the airports, it’s totally normal. You can follow the long line that stretches from San Fransico up across Canada and the arctic circle and then down over Iceland, then Ireland, then Wales, then England into Heathrow. Looking at this reminded me that flight is amazing. Something to really marvel at. Imagine what your great-great Aunt Agnes would say if you told her you could be in New York before dinner time!

 

Deep Breaths

Not just in the car on the way to the airport. Take a deep breath whenever you’re sat down, doing anything at all. Just remind yourself of the moment. Do this in the week leading up to your flight. At home, at work, on the bus. Then on the way to the airport, on the plane, before and during take off, during the flight, and landing. It will definitely help.

 

Timing

If possible make the flight earlier in the day so you have less time to get nervous. Reduce your caffeine intake as much as possible, this was a struggle for me but I know it really helped.

 

Reframe the feeling of bumping about

One thing that I disliked a lot is turbulence or even just the normal bumping and shaking about that comes with flying. To help with this, in the lead up to the flight I took notice in the car, train or bus, whenever I was bumped about. I thought to myself: I’m not worried about this, this is a normal thing about travelling. If this happened on a plane it would be normal too, nothing to worry about.  If you take notice, you experience and ignore much more buffeting about on a car journey than you do on an average flight. It’s just about reframing this experience and normalising it.

 

Sit at the back by the toilets

This one we stumbled upon by accident. We were sat right at the back of our Ryanair flight, when I wasn’t reading or chatting I was watching the constant activity of the flight crew, their little private jokes and movements up and down the aisles, miming drinks to each other to bring down as they’d run out, calling someone to help make change after a passenger had paid for a panini with a €50 note. I became quite fond of the flight crew just from watching them work, they seemed happy to be doing their job and I can imagine it is a busy and tiring job. Watching them was a brilliant distraction. On top of this, every now and again, people shuffled by to the loos, which was another distraction. Sitting at the back felt busy but not noisy or frustrating.There was also a free row in front of us which meant we had more leg room and I felt less constrained. We also managed to get off the flight very quickly out the back door and were straight through to passport control, we’ll be booking the backrow again!

 

Book choice

Choose a book that is complex or interesting enough to really grab your attention. Make sure you’re already a few chapters in before the flight so you can just start reading. I wouldn’t start a new book on a flight just in case you don’t like it or can’t get into it. I had a nice book of critical theory and a book of poems, the opening poem was about the beauty of a plane flying into a gap in the clouds at sunset, so this was a nice thing to read on the flight. My other book on the way home was an Agatha Christie novel I was 3/4 way through. Perfect distraction!

 

Marvel at the view!

Leaving UK we had a perfect view of the Isle of Wight. It was beautiful seeing the whole island fit perfectly in the cabin window, to see the little ships dragging themselves slowly across to Portsmouth. The slow movement of life below. I’ve always found planes fascinating, looking up at them from the ground and wondering. It was nice to think that I’m up here now and people down on the ground are looking up thinking about where we’re going and where we’ve come from.

 

What actually happened on the flight:

Chilling on the back row, it was myself, my partner, and a lady in the window seat. The flight was totally fine, as we were late we taxied on to the runway and went straight into take off, without a moment for me to become nervous. Take off was exciting, the bumping and buffeting around stopped as the plane’s nose eased into the air. The weather was good and the views were beautiful. Everything was fine until we were coming into land in France. Due to the heat of the day, there were thermal updrafts near the runway which were causing turbulence. This meant the pilot could not make a clear approach of the runway. We had all been prepared to land but it was feeling quite rough and the pilot decided not to land. It was rather unusual as all of a sudden the engines whirred until action again and we tilted upwards. The crew made the annoucement about it being a missed approach. This alarmed a few people around us as we accelerated and banked to the right. People across from us (one of whom had been sat there crying during take off) started to throw up. Cabin crew had to rush about with a few sick bags. You can imagine, this was exactly the sort of thing I had been dreading. But I was actually fine. I took deep breaths, watched the scenery from the window (a gorgeous chateau with gardens, the fields, the snake of the river) and trusted that the pilot knew what he was doing. I felt safer thinking, yes people are in control of the plane, they’re doing their job, all is well. (silly though this sounds, it helped!)

As we were flying in a circuit to approach the runway from the other angle, we chatted with the woman next to us who was not at all bothered by any of it. She said, “I wouldn’t mind landing at some point, feel like I’m on a merry-go-round”. There wasn’t an ounce of panic in her voice at all, just the mild frustration, like she’d been delayed at a red light. A delay was all it really was. After we landed with a bit of a bump, applause struck up from the passengers and we came to a stop. A girl whose baggage was above our head came over to wait to get off and chat. “Ooof a few people suffered with that one didn’t they!?” She was totally fine and happy. No panic from her, no utter relief at it all being over. It was all fine. One member of the flight crew came by holding a sick bag, still with a smile on her face. Everyone around me was fine. Only a few had really suffered. And this wasn’t because the extra part of the flight was bumpier than before or the turning was sharp, it was just normal flying. People were being sick because they were anxious, having prepared themselves to land, we weren’t quite landing yet and this was disrupting. I realised it was more about experience (I’m sure the people who were nonchallant had been on more flights than I had). It’s about keeping yourself from suffering. I was really happy with the way I handled the landing after all my nerves about flying. I took deep breaths, looked out the window, carried on chatting with my partner and the woman next to us. I normalised the unsual feelings of being buffetted about and bumping at landing, thinking if I were on the bus, this feeling wouldn’t even register as scary. It was all fine. I was pleased to be off the plane but I wasn’t scared to get back on in a week’s time.

When we flew back I continued with my deep breaths and the whole flight was fine, even if the landing was once again a bit bumpy in the final approach (at least we only made one final approach this time!) There were some young kids sat behind us and the young girl was telling her mum how excited she was about flying, she said coming into land was her favourite part because she loved the sinking feeling, watching the ground rush up to meet the plane and the bump of being back on the ground.

Categories
blog News

Remixed Borders

 

I was very lucky to be a poet in residence as a part of the remixed borders programme. A collaboration between London Parks and Gardens Trust and the Poetry School. Here’s my write up of the Open Garden Squares Weekend, where I was poet in residence for Branch Hill Allotmetns, Hampstead.

Categories
blog

Open Garden Squares Weekend: Branch Hill Allotments

 

 

What a lovely weekend it was and how long ago it now seems! Open Garden Squares Weekend was 18th and 19th June. Through a scheme called Remixed Borders, a collaboration between London Parks and Gardens Trust and The Poetry School a handful of poets were collected and then scattered across gardens all over London to write poetry and engage with those who use the spaces every day and those visiting just for the weekend.

I was very lucky to be sent to Branch Hill Allotments in Hampstead. Look at my little profile on the website! I chose this garden as I live nearby in North London and Hampstead has always been a favourite place of mine. I was attracted  to the allotments because of the history of the area, the site was once part of the gardens to an Edwardian mansion owned by John Spedan Lewis, founder of the John Lewis Partnership. As an ex John Lewis shopboy I was very happy to be part of the site’s history. John Constable lived nearby and painted a view across the allotments, John Keats wandered the area when it was still part of Hampstead Heath, Gerard Manley Hopkins lived down the road. Poets and painters were everywhere!

 

I made a handful of visits before the open weekend, these were arranged with Annie, my contact at the allotments. The site is on quite a funny corner, a little downhill from a handsome gatehouse which used to serve the manor house, there are black iron railings and only a the noticeboard inside the site lets on that this is the allotments. Annie would meet me at the gate and unlock it to let me in. We’d then stroll down the hill with the site unfolding to our right. The plots range in size and shape, they respond to the natural undulations of the land as the ground slopes down to the bottom lefthand corner, which was a pond in the past. I walked circuits of the allotments, thinking about the space, about what I saw, the huge crops of rhubarb, the bee hives. I especially loved seeing all the repurposed recycled, plastics and wood, reused on plots. Old kitchen sieves used to protect fruit from the foxes, fish netting to cover raspberries. All the compost bins full of homewaste with a whole little world of worms living in there. I chatted to those who were gardening (but was very careful not to disturb anybody and extra careful to not offer to shake anyone’s hand while they were wearing their gardening gloves, you only make that mistake once!) I loved the peace of the site and felt really priviledged to visit and write there.

 

 

Over the weekend I sat at a lovely table in the far corner of the site, meeting most visitors half way on their wander around, I chatted with lots of people about poetry and my time writing about the allotments. I gave out postcards which had poems on the back and print offs of the poems I had written about the allotments. Visitors were very kind and interested in my work and many were very happy with the postcards. I think I have around 6 left of the 50 I ordered.

The Remixed Borders project was such a wonderful opportunity for me and something I am so grateful to have been selected for. I’ll always be proud of my allotment residency as this was the first time I’ve undertaken a poet in residence scheme. I feel I have made connections with people at the allotments that will last and have also made friends with my fellow remixed borders poets.

This is one of my poems, Land

 

 

Land

 

London is a marsh knitted together by rivers.

It is valleys with sharp hillsides and rocky outcrops.

Deep woodland that mulches autumn leaves

through spring and summer.   

 

London is this quiet combe

you walk into for protection.

A steady valley, where you can go

to watch time pass from week to week

watching the onions blossom,

and the carrot tops rocketing upwards

into a row of lofty green fireworks.

Watch how the rhubarb leaves spread out

like floating parachute silk. Hiding

The scraped-knee red of the stalks underneath.

 

London is land on which you can grow.

Land that is soft under your feet.

Categories
blog lunchtimes in bloomsbury

Lunchtimes in Bloomsbury: Waterstones Gower Street

 

I’ve already eaten my lunch at my desk as it’s been raining all morning. I’m still keen to leave the office for some cold fresh air. I cross Tavistock Square under my umbrella. Looking down at the weathered stone pavements, they look worn, shaped like a relief map of a landscape in Geography, bumpy and collecting little lakes and river deltas.

I walk on past the grand Church on the corner of Gordon Square, sandy yellow old stone stained and wearing away in the rain. I walk past the coffee guy with his little van he parks up each day, by the wooden benches that usually have students lounging about on. Waterstones is on the corner.

The building is a huge piece of gothic revival architecture. Ornate turrets with green copper roofs, stone relief work everywhere you look. It’s a huge statement of a building. Inside it is a large, multi-roomed sort of place. Most sections have their own little antechambers, military history leads on to world history, leads on to travel. I walk to my usual section, up the central stairs and to the right, into the poetry section, where they have a little armchair. I read across the rows and rows of poetry book spines, nodding when I see something unusual or especially good. I pick up a few books to read the first poem the book opens on. In this Waterstones, they mix in secondhand and antique books with the rest of their sections. It’s nice to see a few of the vinatge penguin poetry collections, with their vibrantly pattened front covers.

In the furthest corners of the buildings, the turrets provide reading nooks. The turret in the children’s section is a cosy nook festooned with toys and picture books, with a gorgeous view (even on a rainy day) from the casement windows out to the Georgian terraces on Gower Street. At a little table and chairs a dad goes through timestables with his daughter, waiting for the rain to slow or stop.

I don’t buy anything this time. I do another circuit of the building to avoid the rain, move down through the various categories towards biographies in the basement, next to the Ryman’s in house franchise.

I ready myself with my umbrella and swoop out onto the street, the rain steadily singing away above my head.

 

 

Categories
blog

That time they printed my letter in Attitude Magazine and it got weird

tumblr_mcdtr1cT6e1qiwicqo1_r1_500
This was the least porny attitude cover I could find

When I was 16 it was the year 2000. We had email and chat rooms then but nothing close to what we now call social media. We had to phone up each other’s landlines and ask our friend’s parents if they were free. We had to chat in hallways or our parent’s bedrooms, as the phones had to be plugged in. It was hard for me when I came out, as I’ve written about at length before. I was really lucky to have a best friend called Chris at that time who was also coming to terms with his sexuality. When we were feeling brave after school we’d go to W.H. Smith and look at Gay Times and Attitude. At that time it was a huge deal to be that open about it. Boys from our school would see us and laugh and shout at us, the usual homophobic things they shouted at me. They got away with it at outside of school just as easily as at school.

Sometimes I was brave enough to buy my own copies. In the letters page of one edition (I think Dermot O’Leary was on the cover) there was a letter from a boy called Tom, 16. He was talking about how lonely he was and how hard it was to be gay at school. I felt the same, obviously. I was being bullied severely which caused my depression, I was a mess, my parents didn’t know what to do with me. But that little letter in the magazine made me feel a bit less alone. At this time you could only go on the internet during times when someone wasn’t using the phone line so I used to stay up late on Friday nights to go online. Feeling brave on Friday night, I wrote an email to the editor of Attitude magazine, which was sort of like this:

Hello,

I saw the letter from Tom in your previous issue. I am the same age and feeling very isolated. Would it be possible to be put in contact with Tom?

Many thanks 

Ed 

 

After I sent it I didn’t really think about it much. When I bought the next edition of Attitude I was reading it on the train sat across from a friend called James. Suddenly this cold chill panic feeling  set upon me when I saw MY LETTER and my name Ed,16 on the letters page. James didn’t really understand what I was talking about and when I went to pass him the magazine, he didn’t want to touch it (not that me being gay bothered him, of course, but he didn’t want to touch a gay lifestyle magazine, he was a great friend). I had not at all intended for them to PRINT that letter. I was lonely and isolated and then all of a sudden, everyone knew. The editor answered my letter by saying that they could not put me in touch with Tom but in a few magazine’s time they would be doing a special on isolated gay youth. It made me feel lonelier that I was in print, my little glimmer of hope, that I might be able to even chat to someone. I do feel the editor could have replied directly to the email, instead of printing it in the magazine for everyone to see. When I was 16 I was so desperate for a boyfriend, to even kiss a boy seemed so impossible. I didn’t know how I was going to make it happen. Sending that little email was another way I thought maybe it could. I felt really embarrassed that all the grown up gay men, the ones in London and Manchester who had boyfriends and flats together would see my sad little letter and pity me. It was horrible.

A few days after the magazine stuff had happened, I got an email from someone out of the blue called Tom. He said that the editor had passed on my address even though officially he’d said he couldn’t. Tom only wrote very short emails  but I wrote long replies, going into my interests, my love for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sheryl Crow, the film Cruel Intentions and Brian Molko from Placebo. How sometimes on Saturdays me and my friend Chris would go to London for the day to go shopping on Oxford Street and then walk around Soho. Tom only sent a few emails back and he didn’t tell me much about himself. But thatfirst moment of seeing his name in my inbox was amazing. Somehow he’d found me! I thought. I was so excited. I didn’t know what he looked like, who he was at all, but that didn’t matter because we had a connection because we were going through the same thing. After a week the emails stopped coming and then I was back feeling really down.

One evening after school I got a call from Chris. He’d called me to tell me that he was Tom. He’d set up a fake email account and started emailing me pretending to be him. At first it was such a weird revelation I sort of didn’t believe him and laughed. He’s jealous that I’ve found someone to chat to and maybe meet up with I thought. But when he said it all again, quoting some details from my replies about Sheryl Crow and Cruel Intentions, I started sweating against the phone at my ear. I was so upset and disappointed. I didn’t understand how or why someone would set up a fake email account with a different name. He said he was sorry. I was really upset and just wanted to know why he had done it in the first place. But Chris couldn’t really answer. He’d taken pity on me too. Looking back on it now, in a way it was a kind gesture that he had not properly thought through. He could see how lonely I was, and how desperate I was for a boy to notice me. And reading my keen replies he could sense I was starting to gear myself up to asking Tom to meet up and the consequences of his actions dawned on him. He was really sorry.

Chris and I were friends for a long time after this but we were, fundamentally, very different people. I was always more withdrawn and he was always the extrovert. Our friendship grew out of that secrecy we both had to keep as teenagers. Never telling our parents what was happening. Never answering questions about whether there were girls we liked.

I want to just say how glad I am that we have the technologies we have now, where we can meet each other through twitter, instagram, and dating sites. We can, if we like, hook up with people who happen to be nearby at the right time. It’s incredible. I’m not saying these opportunities are always positive, and don’t in themselves make people feel lonely in a different way but it’s better than the world I experienced.

These days there’s a whole television show about what is now called Catfishing, this is when people pose as someone else online and string along unsuspected lonely people. Catfishing is more than just a hotmail account, it’s fake accounts on Facebook full of pictures, with fake friends and family. Growing up in the year 2000, as I did, the loneliness and isolation I felt was very real and hard to live with, of course things aren’t perfect, but I’m glad things are at least different for teenagers now.

 

Categories
blog lunchtimes in bloomsbury Uncategorized

Lunchtimes in Bloomsbury: Gordon Square

I20160509_122052 cross the very busy road at the zebra crossing at the top of Tavistock Square and as I walk the streets get quieter. Crossing onto a quieter corner, I’m in Gordon Square. The gardens here are like a wild meadow, overrun with long grass and flowers. Parts are roped off from the public and allowed to grow tall.

Today is a lovely warm day, with a breeze and I eat my lunch watching the people wandering about. The gardens are full of students sprawled on the grass, stressed out academics (who bring their mugs from their offices into the park) and men who for whatever reason need to sleep in the shade of the trees here. It’s the quietest square in Bloomsbury I know.

Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group met in a town house in the square, now a part of the Birkbeck’s School of Arts. These days the basement of the building is the university creche.

 

There are two statues in the gardens, one to the Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore and another to the incredible Noor Inayat Khan, who was posthumously awarded the George’s Cross and the Croix de Guerre for her work with the French resistence in the Second World War.

After finishing my sandwich, I follow the meandering path around the square. By the cute kiosk which sells hot drinks, I notice a bench with a plaque which reads:

 

“Here beats the happy heart of

our emotional geography

Jack & Rachel

20150807_121232.jpg

Categories
blog Uncategorized

Paper Bags from Independent Bookshops: Boring Conference

At the weekend I gave a talk at the sixth annual Boring Conference. “Boring” as those in the know call it, is an all day fiesta of mediocrity, an event packed with tedium where subjects which initially seem hilariously tiresome reveal themselves to be fascinating.  I’m a big fan.

My talk was on Paper Bags from Independent Bookshops. Paper bags of all types are a subject I have long held a passion for, but I thought, just to keep the talk short, I’d narrow the scope to those from Independent Bookshops.

I read a poem as part of the talk which I cannot post here as the poem is under consideration for a poetry magazine and publishing on blogs would discount it from consideration. I can assure you, the poem was really good.

 

Here’s the talk:

I’m Edward Long and I’m a poet. Being a poet is a wonderful label to be able to give yourself. It’s a cover-all excuse for all of my curious behaviour.  And it’s something I definitely take liberties with.

I always wear odd socks, I talk to myself in German, and I live in a constant state of wistful nostalgia for the past in general and my own past specifically. My talk is going to demonstrate this last one very clearly.  

I’m here to talk about Paper Bags from Independent Bookshops. I spent a lot of time in independent and secondhand bookshops because big chain bookshops don’t stock the poetry books I want and I like to be surprised when I go into a bookshop, I want to discover something unexpected. I’m going to go through three paper bags and take you through where I got them from.

Whenever I buy books from independent bookshops, I tend to leave them in their paper bags on my desk for a few days afterwards. Almost to keep them as a little present to myself, like bonbons from a sweetshop. As you now know from my poem the paper bags join my other sentimental papers like plane tickets, postcards and museum maps.

 

Here are three paper bags from my collection:
20160503_182627(0)*******

Skoob Books

I went into Skoob Books on my lunch break due to feeling a bit stressed. I wandered around finding that the poetry nook was full of THREE MEN! I could barely see the anthologies let alone get to the collections. I was shocked, This never happens! Because I couldn’t browse the poetry section I went to the penguin section and bought myself a gorgeous penguin book of Virginia Woolf’s Between the Acts. The bag is very modern with the website on it as well as the phone number. It seems unusually narrow but it has folded side gussets which provide a bit more space. You’d be okay with any other Virginia Woolf paperbacks for this bag, but something over 300 pages might be a bit of a stretch so definitely no James Joyce. The person who served me folded the top over, creating and very pleasing sealed book parcel.

20160503_182652*****

Stoke Newington Bookshop

So I went to Stoke Newington Bookshop on a weekend when I was feeling a bit sorry for myself. I dragged my boyfriend along to Stoke Newington so we could have lunch and have a wander around Abney Park Cemetery, one of my top five favourite cemeteries of all time. Obviously we had to go to the bookshop. So here I bought three of those black penguin books and a collection of poetry by Alice Oswald called Woods, Etc. FUN FACT I already had a copy of Woods, Etc in my bag but it was a hardback from the Poetry Library and I loved it so much I decided I needed my own copy. I’d say this bag was very spacious. It felt almost like a bag you’d get from a bakery with a seedy loaf in it. I especially love the way they decided to smush Stoke Newington together into a sort of incomprehensible keyboard smash. I love the drawing of the outside of the shop. And I love that it’s a white bag with blue print as usually you get a brown one. It makes it seem even more retro than it is. You could fit a hardback Hilary Mantel novel in here. It’s by far the biggest bookshop bag I’ve ever seen.

20160503_182741

 

*********

Gay’s the Word

Gay’s the Word is an amazing bookshop in Bloomsbury which focusses on books for the LGBTQ community. Lots of politics and identity theory, lots of art books, magazines, and hands down the best second hand gay and lesbian erotic novel section I’ve ever seen. I cannot recommend them highly enough. I work close by and go there on my lunch breaks just to really fulfil my destiny as a bookish gay nerd. They do not have branded paper bags there. They do offer plain brown bags. To protect anonymity I’ve used a stunt paper bag from a Swedish bakery. The absence of a branded paper bag says a lot about the power of a branded paper bag. Gay’s the Word is a specialist bookshop for a community whose members may not always wish to be advertise that they have been there. Instead of a branded bag they will slip a discrete bookmark into your book. I have several of these knocking about and, as you can see, they’re a bit fabulous. I bought Andrew McMillan’s poetry collection, Physical, which is filthy.
20160503_182843

Conclusion

Of course there’s something incredible about paper. It feels right to hold paper in our hands. It feels right to open a book, turn the page and feel it between our fingers. The paper bags are a part of that too. They cover the books in this crinkly skin that makes the books special. The bags are souvenirs, little testaments to your visit to them. For me going to bookshops is so personal and so important that every aspect of it has become ritual.

I love that the designs and the sizes of the paper bags vary. It makes me sad when I see that bookshops only offer plastic bags. It’s just not the same, Waterstones! There’s something so gorgeously tactile about the paper bags and their printed designs, each completely unique to the shop, probably designed by the owners decades ago and left unchanged.

I can encourage you all to visit your local independent bookshop as I can guarantee they’ll have books there you won’t expect to see and when you buy something make sure you get a paper bag and keep the books in there for a bit, like bonbons from a sweetshop, keep them as a little present for yourself.

Categories
blog lunchtimes in bloomsbury

Lunchtimes in Bloomsbury: St George’s Gardens

 

8932265e-38bf-45a5-8173-a8a972b211a7

St George’s Gardens is tucked away, down a side street across the road from the Brunswick Centre. When you enter the gates and walk down a small slope, you walk into what initially looks like a normal, sort of narrow park. It’s only as you walk further into the space it becomes obvious that this isn’t a normal park but a burial ground. The space opens out either side and the path splits and snakes about following a route that, I assume, avoids the graves that were once there. The further into the gardens you walk, the more it feels like a graveyard. There are large tombs scattered about, one totally surrounded by iron railings. Another raised up on a red brick plinth. One of the more ornate tombs belongs to Oliver Cromwell’s Granddaughter. Most of the names and dates on the gravestones have worn away now. On the right hand corner surrounded by trees is a grand obelisk that pierces into the lower canopy of the nearby tree.

Running down either side of the boundary walls are planted borders and small trees. On lunchtimes I’ve seen the same man from the council digging and tidying it all up. Gravestones are pressed against the boundary walls, grown up the walls like ivy. The man from the council digs away at the ground right by them.

I sit on a bench opposite a cluster of tombs, eating my lunch as others do. I wonder how much they think about our surroundings. It must have been a long time since someone was buried here. Mourners won’t turn up to question how appropriate it is to eat my cheese sandwich near to their Grandmother’s final resting place. The grass is generally undisturbed but I do wonder about the graves down there.

I decide to walk to the other side of the gardens and exit a way I’ve never been before, just out of curiosity. I walk down a quiet back street towards Mecklenburgh Square. When I walk round the corner, one of the houses has a blue plaque to the poet HD who lived there.

Categories
blog Uncategorized

Red Lights, Zebra Crossings and Pavements: Cyclists in London

 

zebra2
A Zebra Crossing in London

 

I wish these things didn’t bother me but they do. Sitting on the bus in traffic on the way into work in the morning. Red lights at Kentish Town, a flurry of cyclists, some in high-vis jackets, lycra and sleek helmets, some on vintage bikes with wicker baskets on the front, some on those fold up bikes pedaling twice as hard and others on third-hand mountain bikes, they all just keep riding across the busy intersection, jumping the red light. The pack of them weaving in between the scattered pedestrians trying to cross the road before the Green Man flashes back to red.

 

I wish I could cycle in London. I used to love cycling back home in the countryside, but as a country person transplanted to the city four years ago, I’m still scared of crossing the road sometimes, much to my boyfriend’s amusement, so cycling on it would scare me to death. 

I cannot help myself, I get angry about it all. Tutting with the fervency of a woodpecker and rolling my eyes like a bowling ball rolling languidly down the gutter.

When I tweeted about what some cyclists do I got a few random haters (with bikes as their profile pics) telling me I should be complaining about car drivers who drink drive, run red lights, cause accidents through stupidity. With only space for 140 characters, there’s just no room to tweet about everyone who is awful. The use of the word some to qualify I wasn’t talking about all cyclists let me off the hook (I was told by another twitter user with a bike as their profile pic). That aggressive attitude says a lot. Searching twitter for mentions of the word “cyclists” and then jumping down that person’s throat for tweeting something is a bizarre thing to do.

The fact is, I don’t know what it’s like to be a cyclist in London. I’d love to have that freedom, but I don’t have the confidence to take those sorts of risks. Ultimately cyclists aren’t really supposed to run red lights are they? And they are supposed to stop at Zebra crossings when people are crossing aren’t they? Like cars (mostly) do. And cyclists aren’t allowed to cycle on the pavement are they? Especially weaving through a crowded pavement at speed. In the short walk from my bus stop to work I see all of this behaviour most mornings. I also see people rent Boris Bikes from a stand right near Euston Square station and then either cycle on the pavement or cycle the wrong way down a one way street.

I get very angry about this these days and it’s making me sad. I’m starting to say things to cyclists in the street if they’re breaking the rules. Recently when I was crossing at the zebra crossing right by my office building’s front door, I was half way across and a cyclist clearly wasn’t paying attention, she managed only just to stop before hitting me. She was very apologetic but I was grumpy and said to her, “JUST FORGET IT”. As I walked onto the pavement and into the entrance hall, she cycled up onto the pavement and FOLLOWED ME INTO THE ENTRANCE HALL OF THE BUILDING. I didn’t realise this was happening until I got into the lift in the foyer, turned around and saw her sitting there on her bike saying sorry as the doors closed.

I don’t hate cyclists. At all. I just don’t like rule breakers of any kind. I am essentially still the kid from primary school who would start up the chorus of “UMMMMMMMMM” when someone else said a naughty word. I am the person who will give people dagger looks if they don’t respect the bus queue, or the Pret queue or the Starbucks queue. My rage at impropriety on the Underground is well documented.

The other day I was coming up to a different zebra crossing with two cycle lanes on either side. I could tell this particular cyclist was not going to stop but there was a woman and child already crossing from the other side. Because there were cars on the road, they couldn’t see that someone was cycling towards them. The cyclist could see that I was waiting to cross, but had decided not to stop for me and obviously not considered that someone might already be crossing. I shouted “WATCH OUT!” to the cyclist, who completely ignored me and cycled on through, luckily the woman and child had heard me as well and stopped. It could have been quite a bad accident.

All I want to say is that the selfish-driven-blinkered way we are all forced to behave in London should not extend to road safety.  We need to all look out for each other. Cyclists especially. If cars have stopped at a zebra crossing or a red light that means you probably should too. Cars don’t tend to drive at full speed down pavements either, so perhaps you should reconsider that one too. And my fellow pedestrians, perhaps if we all nag cyclists who we see aren’t behaving, that might make them stop? Maybe they’ll follow us up onto the pavement to offer a face to face apology.

Categories
blog Uncategorized

Why are we so weird about being Middle Class?

 

meze
A Mini Mezze Pack from Waitrose

 

Twice last week I had a Mini Mezze Pack from Waitrose as part of my lunch. The first time I got it, I sat in the park on my lunch break looking at it. Unsure why I’d be drawn to it. Olives, dried tomato and cheese were all things I liked but why did I feel weird about getting it? Then a gut reaction kicked in, Olives, manchego Cheese, “Mezze” …  it’s a bit Middle Class, isn’t it?

For those who are not English, I have some explaining to do. There are generally three classes in contemporary English society. The Lower/Working Class, The Middle Class, and the Upper Class/Posh People. We spend our lives in constant anxiety about our position within this continuum, feeling guilt whenever we meet somebody who is not from the same class as us (or even the same section within the same class). Middle Class people will put on a posher voice when talking to posh people and a more working class voice when talking to working class people. It’s a bloody nightmare.

Food, accents, fashion, work, hobbies, interests, television programmes can all be markers of what class you belong to and these need to agree with what class you belong to otherwise people feel uncomfortable. Posh people don’t watch TOWIE, or I’m A Celebrity, or anything on ITV (HOW BASE!) Working Class people don’t watch BBC4 or Sky Arts (why would they be interested in CULTURE?!)

I grew up in a comfortable home, but my parents were self-identified working class (Mum always says Dad grew up more Middle Class but he disagrees) and they both had to work hard to raise us, always trying to give us the best they could.

Now back to the Mini Mezze Pack. There’s a lot to be said about food as a marker of class. Just going to Waitrose alone is a mark of someone who is Middle Class. Olives are a number one Middle Class food (along with foreign cheeses and wines that cost more than £7.99). I like olives, but I’ve had to get used to them. This is another marker of being Middle Class, the process of olivifying yourself so as not to look out of place at a party or work function where all you have to eat are olives.

My parents have always wanted the best for me (and as with most parents) they wanted me to have opportunities that they didn’t. I definitely pass as someone who is middle class, I have the RP accent, the education, I drink soya milk, I know my Assam from my Lapsang souchong, I read poetry. That’s all a bit *sharp intake of breath* Middle Class isn’t it? I guess I am middle class now, but this is only due to my parent’s hard work and aspirations for my upbringing to be a bit more comfortable than their’s. Surely its a bit rude to feel guilty about this since our parents worked so hard?

Why are we so ashamed of being comfortable and affluent, to the point where we can have slightly expensive food for lunch? It’s something about being English, where no matter what happens, we’ll feel guilty about it. I mean, we don’t need to be all showy about it (we’re still English, come on) but maybe we should cut out this guilt about being Middle Class, labeling stuff as middle class as if that’s a negative thing and just enjoy eating our bloody olives?