The torch has been travelling, the bells have been rung (in my case via iPhone app), there are official 2012 suppliers at the station handing out free cereal bar samples and tonight the London Olympic Games begin.
Except that they actually began two days ago, when New Zealand played Great Britain in the football (previously known as soccer). When my husband first found out about the draw, we talked about travelling to Cardiff for it. I’m not sure why we decided not to, or even if we did. Perhaps life just got in the way.
Just like baby gym got in the way of me being at home at 4pm on Wendsday, ready to watch the match on TV. As soon as class finished, we rushed to a toddler-friendly pub, expecting something akin to the Rugby World Cup semi-final we watched there last year. Crowds and cheering and painted faces in support of Team NZ. Instead, the pub was almost empty and golf was on the TVs. We caught the bus home. The live updates from BBC told me that it was half time.
At home, I managed to sit down in front of the computer at the very moment Great Britain scored a goal. Great Britain won 1-0. Since then, the NZ men’s team have also been on the losing end of a 1-0 scoreline. That game was on last night, while I updated Facebook for a client. The Olympics are going to be the background noise of the next two weeks.
Tomorrow we get the keys to our new house.
Tonight’s the opening ceremony. It’s only £2,012 for one of the remaining tickets, but I doubt we’ll be able to get a last minute babysitter, so I guess we’ll just have to watch it online.No comments
The Olympics are coming to London. And we’re still here.
I started this blog when we’d been in London for one and a half years. Now we’ve been here for five and a half. Two jobs and a whole lot of freelancing. Almost three houses. Numerous trips around the country and to Europe (although none yet to Scandinavia). A nineteen month old daughter (let’s call her Boo, because I do call her Boo). And the Olympics which seemed forever away back in 2006 is now about to begin.
In a way it’s kind of snuck up on me. Sure there’s been announcements about transport, pink signs starting to appear at the stations, a sense of something happening. But then again, something’s always happening in London. This summer we’ve had the Jubilee and then Wimbledon, and they’ve been the background noise to a life that goes on. Work and play, looking after the little one. I don’t get into central London that often these days, and with a child, we tend to avoid the crowds, the stations with stairs. On the rare occasion I go into the city myself, I get quite excited by just looking at all the new posters for shows that I’m never going to get to see.
But today we did see the torch, toddler and me. First in Colliers Wood, after a busy morning of Music Mayhem at the library and a trip to Mothercare to buy a super-cute TeamGB outfit, complete with Union Jack cape (reduced from £12 to £6). There’s lots of lovely Olympics-themed clothing for kids, but most of it’s still full price, so hopefully I can pick something else up cheaper after the games are over.
With her in the red, white and blue shorts, t-shirt and cape, and me in my blue jeans, cream top and red scarf, we sat on a grassy bank outside the retail park and watched it unfold. A local running through the route with a handmade torch. People selling ‘I saw the flame’ flags, who moved along faster than the runners (or at least too fast for a mum with a pram). The police and the sponsor vehicles. The handover from one torch-bearer to another where the crowd swarmed onto the road and it was hard to know what was going on from our spot, where I was holding Boo on my hip and taking photos with one hand. Hundreds of people. And then it was over. The choir was performing over the road, outside the church, but we couldn’t really hear them. At Abbey Mills there was a band playing. We each had a juice at the M&S Cafe.
Back at home, I called the real estate agent about when we’d be able to do the inventory check-in for our new place on Saturday. Nobody could answer my query.
I googled ‘Wandsworth torch relay’. It was 5.54, the torch was due in Garrett Lane at 6.22. In Collier’s Wood, I’d heard a couple of people talking about ‘once in a lifetime’. Well, with a very quick pram-push up the high street, we managed twice in one day. The second time we were right on the road, better view, perhaps better photos (though no better than hundreds of others will have taken). No flag sellers. No proof that Boo saw the flame.
I hope she saw the flame, but in truth, she may have looked the wrong way or been more interested in the cars. It’s hard to know what’s most significant for a 19 month old.I feel that the games are going to pass me by, but at least I’ll remember them. I’ll remember being here in London at this time. For a one and a half year old, today must’ve seemed a kind of strange outing – but perhaps it’ll happen again tomorrow.
Looking at the photos now, this one’s not a lot better. And another runner got in the way of the one I took as the torch-bearer went past me.
This evening, before I put her to bed, we watched the footage of the day’s relay, and found the bit where the torch bearer passed us at approximately 4.30 (video time). By that point, she was saying ‘torch’, so that’s an achievement. Tomorrow it’s back to work for me, nursery for her.
The Olympics are coming to London, and that’s where we live.No comments
I’ve never really thought writing was much about environment. While I wouldn’t say no to a writer’s garret in a castle or a villa in the South of France, I always maintained that all I really need to get my writing done is a laptop and a deadline.
This was all well and good when I had a deadline: when I had a manuscript to finish before the end of my MA, when I had edits to finish before moving overseas. But, in the three years since I moved to London, I haven’t had that sense of urgency. And as such, novel number two remained largely untouched, month after month, six months after six months, a year then another.
My friend Caitlin had been to an Arvon Foundation course in the past and recommended it. She’d even been inspired to set up a writing group with other course participants on her return, and invited me to join in.
So, this year, as a birthday present to myself, I booked onto a course entitled ‘Work in Progress’. It was going to be held at Totleigh Barton in Devon from October 26 – 31. This was at the end of January. By the 25th of October I’d written perhaps another chapter or two, but the word count remained at around 25,000 and I didn’t know how the novel was going to end.
One week later, I’ve survived train cancellations, giant cows, two nausea-inducing taxi rides and the trauma of reading unfinished work in public. I’ve learned to poach salmon, I’ve got my hiking boots dirty, found the small village Sheepwash. And most importantly, I’ve finished the first draft of my novel.
And some of that has to be down to the environment you find at Totleigh Barton – a pre-Domesday manor house, at the end of a long driveway and miles from anywhere.
There are a lot of places to write at Totleigh Barton: long wooden tables, window seats, libraries and lounges, a shed in the garden, a barn with its own bats, the desk in my room. Despite the fact that my work-in-progress is set in the city and online, being in the country without an internet connection provided the hours and quiet to get the words flowing.
There was also such a productive atmosphere at Totleigh: from the workshops in the morning with Paul Magrs and Stella Duffy which made me re-examine my characters and the choices I make when writing, to the long afternoons when I’d find a spot to write and know that all around the house, the other course participants were writing or cooking or attending individual tutorials as well. When you’re struggling to finish a difficult scene, there’s something immensely comforting – and also motivating – in hearing someone else typing away at the other side of the lounge, working on their own literary endeavours.
There’s also something comforting about a well-stocked kitchen, endless cups of tea and wine in the evenings, the opportunities to talk about writing as if it wasn’t a strange thing to do – but something that is part of a life, something which could even be enjoyed.
Tonight I’m back in London. There’s football on the radio and cars on the street outside. I’m putting words in a box which will become a blog entry. I still love the web, but I’m going to miss Totleigh Barton.
I’m going to have to create a writing environment here.
Last night we went to Love’s Labour’s Lost at the Globe – and so concludes our summer challenge.
We’ve witnessed word play and physical comedy, identical twins, star-crossed lovers and women dressed up as men, the American Civil War and the Trojan one. We’ve endured hours of standing, resting my chin on the stage, trying not to pay too much attention to the pain of my feet or my back. And, with the support of friends and family, and buoyed up by the energy that can only be gained from a Pizza Express two-for-one deal, we’ve done it. May to September. In rain and wind. All as groundlings (well, almost all). Romeo & Juliet. The Frontline. As You Like It. Troilus & Cressida. Helen. A New World. Love’s Labour’s Lost. The Comedy of Errors. Young Hearts Season 2009.
It was a different experience this year. We weren’t stewards this time round, so no sneaking in and out during performances. No tabards. None of the vertigo of the Upper Gallery. We needed tickets and frequently forgot them. We sat down at interval, took photos of the sets, each other, and the rain of Frontline introduced a permanent squeak to our camera. We had the opportunity to introduce friends – English and Australian – to the theatre. I had the opportunity to pick ‘Lady’ from the list of potential titles given on the online booking system (which ended up being very embarrassing when we had to get the tickets reprinted at the actual theatre).
Best show of the year – that’s a difficult one. Probably Comedy of Errors for me, or As You Like It. Best modern show was Frontline – I was glad to get the opportunity to see the full show this year, after only being in the theatre for bits of it the year before. I was disappointed by Romeo and Juliet, thought Trolius was an interesting performance of a not-so-interesting play. In terms of sets and visual spectacle, this season seemed to be lacking compared to 2008. There was nothing to compare with the overhanging nets of Timon of Athens, the glowing inflatable orb of Midsummer Night’s Dream. But once again, I was impressed by the way that the actors make Shakespeare understandable, by the way I can go to a play not knowing anything about it, and still quickly pick up what’s going on.
And so, our Globe Season has come to an end, though there’s still Footsbarn’s Christmas Cracker over the winter months. We’ve got other shows coming up – comedians, musicals – but for me, no other London venue quite compares to Shakespeare’s Globe. After all those years of high school English and drama, after all those essays and margin notes, it’s amazing to be part of it.2 comments
Just got home from the last match of the softball season. It’s dark outside now, it rained today, and I’m beginning to wonder if summer is over already.
We didn’t win this evening, but it was close. 37-35. I didn’t intend to play when I left home this morning, but I’m glad that I did. I got out a couple of times; got home a couple of times. Overall, I still suck, but perhaps I sucked slightly less than usual. Continue to have issues with things like catching and not running into people.
We played in Hyde Park, Knightsbridge-side, in a strip of softball matches. Brightly coloured charity t-shirts. The Albert Memorial in the background. Plastic bags as bases, and calls that could’ve gone either way. Perhaps we should’ve won. Perhaps it doesn’t matter that much.
Caught the tube home. Stopped for a pasty. This is living in London, and yet I’m a tourist observing it still.No comments
We moved into a furnished flat here in London. It has couches, a small television, fridge and stove, pots, pans and a mug which commemorates the Royal Wedding in 1981. On one wall, there’s four-ledge bookshelf. One ledge was full when we moved in. Those books are in storage now, and the entire unit is full, two deep in places, with books we’ve accumulated over the past two and a half years.
It’s easier to collect books in Britain. They’re less expensive for a start. You quickly forget things like exchange rates, and £7.99 just seems so much cheaper than $27.99 as the average price for a book. Then there’s the fact that there’s more Bookcrossers in the UK, more books available locally on BookMooch. Friends leave the country and leave books. We travel more too, and it’s hard to resist a new book for the plane or train.
And, then my lovely husband sends me an email at work, saying that the Borders on Oxford Street is closing down. I think he knew what would happen. I hope he did.
The West End is not my favourite part of London after work. Up around the ‘Silicon Roundabout’, I can sometimes forget the number of people in this city. Meanwhile in Oxford Street, the pavements are swarming. But, I’ll brave the West End for books, especially if they’re ‘at least 50%’ off. I’ll even stay till 8pm, rummaging through the racks, moving down the floors as they’re closed off, joining the long queue for final purchases. And as a result, I’ve come home with:
- A computer programme called ‘Start Writing Your New Novel’ (£1) because, you know I should really do that sometime soon;
- The Life of Riley, Joanna Nadin (£1);
- Black Boxes, Caroline Smailes (£1);
- The Spare Room, Helen Garner (£1);
- Take Off Your Party Dress, Dina Rabinovitch (£1);
- Millions of Women are Waiting to Meet You, Sean Thomas (£1);
- Everything is Sinister, David Llewellyn (£1);
- An Atlas of Impossible Longing, Anuradha Roy (£1);
- The Great Lover, Jill Dawson (okay, this was £4, but it’s one I’ve been wanting to read for a while).
There’s quite a lot of British fiction there. And okay, it’s easier to read British fiction than New Zealand fiction because of the relative abundancy of it. And to some extent, I’ve always read books set in the UK – but whereas I once read them for their ‘other-worldness’, I now read them for their familiarity. The Great Lover is about Rupert Brooke and the Orchard Tea Gardens in Cambridge. Matt and I have been there. I read Dina’s blog, sometimes I read her columns about breast cancer in the Guardian, and yes, I do feel bad about only buying the book now, when it was on sale even though I did donate to the CTRT appeal at one point last year.
Tonight, the new books are sitting in three randomly assigned piles on our dining room table, alongside a couple of letters which I need to respond to and a stack of leaflets from work. There’s no space in the bookshelf. The Borders on Oxford Street will close soon. There are more words in the world than I can possibly imagine.No comments
One of the most difficult tasks for travel writers must be writing about where they’re from. I’ve been back in Oratia for three days now and I’m still not sure how to write this blog entry. I guess I don’t notice the big picture here. Instead I notice the details: what’s changed and, perhaps to a lesser extent, what’s different from London.
I notice that my childhood hiding places have overgrown (though Matt and I can still fight our way in), the trees that are missing, the subdivision of the orchards up and down the road. I notice how blue the sky is, the heat of the sun - but I feel it’s unfair to say the weather’s great here, because I know of so many days when this hasn’t been the case. I notice how dry the land is, but remember all the mud. I’m told that, down the back, a cabbage tree has fallen over and that our creek now has a waterfall.
There’s so much space. I remember how that space was lonely sometimes.
Mum, Dad, Matt and I walked to the new Farmer’s Market yesterday morning and bought bread, salmon, honey on the comb. We ate icecreams and there was a band playing kiwi classics in the background. On the way home, the trees above the Folk Museum were turning red – just as they did every year when I was coming home from school.
And, even though we might not get to see it before we head to Australia on Tuesday, just being here lets me imagine Piha Beach: the black sand, the violent waves, the cliffs and the windy roads, writing my study notes in the sand while the boys were surfing.
Today, we’ll drive up to the lodge where we got married, where we planted a kowhai tree, surrounded by bush. We’ll catch up with old friends and maybe we’ll walk down the back, avoiding the weeds and the spaces where there used to be trees, and check out that waterfall.
I love this place. It’s hard to be a tourist here.No comments
On our last day in Korea, we checked out of the hotel at 9.00am. We didn’t need to check in for our flights until 3.00pm. Six hours were left then, to explore Korea. We handed over our bags at the left luggage store at Incheon International Airport. We said that we’d be back round two o’clock (later, looking at the receipt, it seemed that had been understood as we’d be away for two hours – luckily everything was still there when we got back).
While Incheon may have seemed the logical city for a short visit from Incheon International Airport, it still took three train changes and over an hour and a half to get there. That said, the Korean public transport system, especially the new A’Rex commuter train to the airport, has to be one of the best that I’ve experienced. Those A’Rex trains are wide, there are seats reserved for the elderly or disabled that no one else sits on, the stations are clean, new, and suprisingly empty. And, if you speak English to the ticket agents or use the English version of the ticket machines, you hear ‘thank you’ as you go through the gates rather than the Korean ‘
Incheon is at the end of Subway Line 1. However, when all the Koreans got off the train at the stop beforehand, I got the feeling that Incheon itself is largely a tourist destination. Indeed, rather than being a particularly Korean destination, the small bit of Incheon that we saw seemed to pay homage to two other countries: China and America.
We were worried that we wouldn’t be able to find anything. We didn’t have the Lonely Planet chapter on Incheon, and were only going on what I remembered reading on the internet the night before. Luckily, the gate to Chinatown was just across the road from the station – and so we walked up the hill through Chinese restaurants and Chinese characters and shops selling lanterns, swords and slippers.
At the top of the hill was Jayu Park, where we could look out over the city and its port. One of Incheon’s claims to fame is being the place where General MacArthur and his American troops landed during the Korean War. He’s commorated with a statue in the park, along with another rather large and spiky monument celebrating 100 years of friendship between America and Korea.
On the way back down the hill, we were invited into a Chinese restaurant. It ended up being our most expensive meal in Korea (though, on conversion, it was probably only about 23 pounds, 47,000 won sounds so much more). However, it was probably the best Chinese I’d ever had. Loved the spicy chicken that Matt ordered. Also loved the Korean plum wine.
After that, it was back to the airport and goodbye to Korea. After living there for several weeks all those years ago, it was quite surreal to return as a tourist. I got the feeling that, despite the palaces and the city tour buses, it was a city designed for locals rather than visitors (which I guess makes sense). Apart from on the English language tour at Changdeokgung Palace and on the tour bus, it was rare to see anyone else with a camera and a map. That said, I enjoyed it. The language barrier and the noise, the confusion over where and what to eat, the cultural difference and the friendliness of the people – of such stuff, novels are made.
We’ve been to plenty of palaces over the past couple of years: Hampton Court Palace, Neuschwanstein, even Sleeping Beauty’s castle in Disneyland Palace. Castles in the storybooks and movies I grew up with were all about moats and turrets, winding staircases and singing tea-pots. But in 1400s, while the House of Lancaster struggled to hold onto the English throne, another palace was being built in a city that would one day be only 10 hour’s flight away.
Changdeokgung Palace was built in Seoul by the kings of the Joseon dynasty. Today, it’s billed as one of the must-see visitor attractions of the city. So, we went to see it, and then returned on Tuesday when we found that on Monday it was closed.
For most of the week, the only way to enter the palace is to join a tour. There are three daily tours in English. Ours was lead by a young Korean woman with a vast knowledge of the English words relating to palaces, and difficulty pronouncing ‘r’s. An hour or so into the tour, once we got the Secret Garden, Matt turned to me and asked “is she saying ‘loyal family’ or ‘lawyer family’?” Giving the context, I can only assume that she was referring to the ‘royals’.
It wasn’t a beautiful palace, at least not in the sense we are used to. The grounds were little more than dirt, the Secret Garden contained a distinct lack of flowers. However, I was impressed by the beautifully painted buildings and fascinated by the way the architecture hinted at what life might have been like: the way there were separate women’s and men’s buildings; the way that there was a separate, higher, path for the kings.
The tour lasted 90 minutes – which was more than reasonable for 3,000 won (especially when compared to the entry prices of some of the European castles). I was left feeling that there were stories here. Stories that, if I ever do get around to writing historical fiction, I might like to explore.
In between yesterday’s shopping and sight-seeing, we were drawn in by the smells of the street food stalls around Dongdaemun Market. We stopped in front of one, and ordered two savoury pancakes, two lots of spicy-chicken-on-a-stick. In broken English, the vendor asked us if we intended to eat it at the stall or take it away. And we said ‘take-away’, and that was our mistake.
Because, we soon found that, amongst the stalls and streets and people of Seoul, there weren’t very many places to stop and have a picnic. And looking around, it seemed that eating and walking just wasn’t the done thing. In fact, most of the Korean who were eating things-on-sticks seemed to be eating them at the stall. But we were on our way to Changdeokgung Palace for the 1:30pm English language tour, and didn’t have time to go back.
We wandered the streets. Our pancakes were getting cold.
Eventually, we found a park. Wandered in. Found a seat. Ate a few pieces of chicken which burned my mouth. Looking around, we seemed fairly out of place. The park was fill of elderly old men, many of them playing baduk (a Korean game with black and white stones). As we ate, one of the men came up to speak to us. He asked in English where we were from. Whether we were students. And told us we were in a Korean Seniors Park. I’m not sure whether he was just trying to tell us about the place or let us know that we shouldn’t be there.
We were running late for the palace anyway. There were a lot of old men. We only ended up finishing half a pancake. Next time, we eat at the stand.
Of course, next time may be another seven years from now, as we’re flying on to New Zealand tonight. Better go pack the bags…