Dear London

I wrote this on Facebook a few days ago but wanted to save it here (with some linkification to give context to the sappiness), since Facebook will inevitably go kaput at some point in the future.

Dear London,

I was not physically there with you to celebrate winning the bid in 2005, or to stand in solidarity with you when terrorists attacked everything you stand for the very next day[1. Well, I was there soon after, but to be honest I had been quite a scaredycat about deciding to go.], or now in 2012 to welcome the world to your wonderful, unforgettable embrace. But (if you will forgive me an overblown poetic reference) just know that there’s some corner of this foreign heart that is FOREVER LONDON.

Have an awesome Olympics.

Love, Michelle

New Loves In Old Haunts

Gower Street Scene (Framed)I didn’t quite go into detail here previously on the massive holiday I was planning, apart from the Thurston Moore squee, so I should state briefly for the record that I spent about 6 weeks from mid-October to early December trying to be young again across London, Montreal, New England, New York City and Berlin. A wise man would stake no money on the chances of me blogging about that in any comprehensive way, but I do usually manage the first few days! So here’s the first day I spent in London, and let’s hope I’ll get to a few more later on.

Grant Museum of Zoology, London: The Lovely Bones

I’ve long run out of humorous excuses for neglecting this blog, the pathetic truth being that I neglect it because I don’t think many people read it, which of course engenders a chicken-and-egg problem which is so totally first-world I’m ashamed to even be talking about it. So let me launch right into the good stuff, and by good, I mean good if you’re into skeletal remains and cute furry things entombed in glass formaldehyde coffins.

Anyone who understands London at all will know that you can live there for years and still only scratch its surface, unless you happen to be Peter Ackroyd, in which case I want to transplant your brain into mine. The Grant Museum of Zoology is a classic example of how I managed to live five minutes’ walk from an intimidatingly long walrus penis bone for four years and not know it. It’s one of UCL’s museums, small but very charming, and of course like almost every other museum in London, you can enjoy it for free – something I always appreciated about London, but even more so after I’d visited New York. I realize that as someone who used to enjoy taking spontaneous detours past the Rosetta Stone or Elgin Marbles on the way home from lectures or shopping, I have been extraordinarily spoilt, but that’s just what London does – it spoils you for anywhere else.

But I digress – onwards to the walrus schlong. (Actually, don’t get your expectations up too high, it’s not that big of a deal. Well, it’s big, but I shamelessly exploited it to sucker you into reading a post about a dusty little zoological museum.)

Here’s a thumbnail gallery to help with page loading time, and so that the full-size horrors of the Surinam Toad or the Jar of Moles aren’t plastered across the front page of this blog, but the full post follows under the thumbnails.[slickr-flickr type=”gallery” search=”sets” set=”72157628495925387″ flickr_link=”on” descriptions=”on” size=”m640″]

Ecstatic Peace!

Naturally, every time I plan a trip to London, before I even bother checking plane flights I check the gig calendar to see what I can plan my trip around. This year’s check revealed that Thurston Moore would be at ATP the weekend of 3/4 December, but I’m not extremely keen on attending this one because the rest of the lineup isn’t appealing enough to me to justify the expense. So I decided to bide my time and see if the acts I was most excited about from the lineup would announce separate gigs in London, as has often happened in the surrounding weeks of ATP.

After several weeks of waiting, nothing had happened, and I was getting antsy about getting the flights at a good price. So on Tuesday night I knuckled down and was just about to buy my flights, with my last day in London to be Friday, 2 December. Just before I confirmed payment, I realized that since I hope to impose myself on the hospitality of various London-based friends for accommodation, it would be a lot more convenient for any friend I’m staying with if I left on a Saturday rather than on a Friday, in terms of returning their keys and stuff like that. So I booked the flight for Saturday, 3 December instead, and opened Facebook for some idle “so, did anything interesting happen in the last 10 minutes?” surfing.

It turns out that in the last 10 minutes, Thurston Moore had announced a gig. On 2 December. At the Union Chapel, which is one of the few London music venues I’ve been trying to see gigs at for years with no success. In 2003, I chose to forgo seeing Low there so that Alec and I could get out of London on a Valentine’s Day weekend. While it was a wonderful weekend and totally worth it, I must admit the decision still haunts me. And every time I’ve returned to London since then, the timing just hasn’t been right to see someone I like perform there, let alone the linchpin of my favourite band.

So this long story is basically why, on Tuesday night at about 8 p.m., I ran around my home screaming, near tears from happiness, and wondering how I would survive until the tickets went on sale.

They went on sale at 5 p.m. (Singapore time) today. I got one.

And now, if you’ll excuse me from this excursion into INDIE SQUEE, I have to watch X-Factor USA. :D

Landmark

Gay’s The Word, the last gay and lesbian bookstore in the UK, is in financial difficulties (rising rent, losing out to chain booksellers etc.) and trying to raise money. Unlike the people quoted in this article I can’t pretend it had any profound influence on my life. However, when I lived across the road from it, the sight of it cheered me up on gloomy days, and it was a very convenient landmark for directing people to our flat. Also, given that I now live in a country where the main gay equality lobby group gets rejected every time it applies to be registered as a society, gay sex remains a crime on the statute books and bafflingly idiotic articles (well shredded by Jol here) about how gay porn marginalizes gay men can get printed in our national broadsheet, it is nice to be reminded that other parts of the world are not like this. If one of my London friends feels like popping the price of a pint on my behalf into whatever donation box I assume the shop has, I’ll pay you back when I see you in May. :)

Anyone Up For A Ruck?

An event news snippet from the latest Wire:

“London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) has awarded £10,000 to artist Jo Mitchell to stage a reenactment of a notorious 1984 ICA performance involving members of Einstürzende Neubauten and Fad Gadget’s Frank Tovey, among others. Called Concerto for Voice and Machine, the event was legendarily chaotic, with members of the group attacking the wooden stage with pneumatic drills, purportedly in order to reach secret tunnels rumoured to run between government departments and Buckingham Palace underneath The Mall, and the audience joining in by tossing glasses into a cement mixer. It ended when ICA staff turned the power off. The reenactment is scheduled to take place in February 2007. www.ica.org.uk”

It’s not that I’m particularly enamoured of wanton destruction (unless it’s of Coldplay, in which case it ain’t wanton) but I’m impressed and quite charmed by the idea of the ICA sponsoring the reenactment of an event that, 12 years ago, involved destruction of its own property and plunging its staff into panic. Regardless of whether I’d personally classify this as “art”, I like the idea of living in a place where there are people who would. How far I have come. How far in the wrong direction.

Three Signs I’ve Been Out Of England Too Long

The first sign I’ve been out of England too long came a while ago. I was in a conversation with someone about British conceptual artists and drew a temporary blank on someone I really should have remembered instantly. “You know…the stroppy one…really minging…lives in Shoreditch…put her bed on display with used condoms and stained underwear…fuckfuckfuckwhoisit…TRACY EMIN! How could I forget Tracy Emin??!!”

The second sign I’ve been out of England too long was during a conversation with Alec and Benny where we were reminiscing about London music venues.

Benny: Where was that place we saw Public Enemy again?
Me: Um…er…dammit I can’t believe I can’t remember the name. Alec, it’s the same place we saw Fugazi. What was the name?
Alec: Uh…hmm…oh feck I can’t remember either.
Benny: Northern line tube station.
Alec: A few stops above Camden, I think.
Me: In a dodgy area. But the venue was beautiful, probably a converted old theatre.
Benny: …
Alec: …
Me: …
All: AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

[Ten minutes later, when we had totally moved on in the conversation]
Me: I GOT IT! The Forum! In Kentish Town! Thank God!

[Yes, we are dorks.]

And the third sign I’ve been out of England too long came today, when I read this transcript of a recent speech made by Rowan Atkinson and wondered in a fit of obvious idiocy why on earth the Archbishop of Canterbury was making a speech opposing the religious hatred bill.

London 2005: V&A, Serpentine Gallery, Notting Hill

Day Six: Tuesday 9 August

 

V&A Museum architecture (detail)

In the V&A’s lovely John Madjewski courtyard, we start off lolling on a shady expanse of lawn, enjoying a delicious takeaway briyani lunch and the feel of grass between our toes. Russ rolls around on the ground taking photographs of me from various angles. He uses a balletic leg in the air to point in the direction he wants me to look, which does the trick of dissolving my usual self-conscious photo look with laughter.

 

V&A John Madjewski Courtyard

Kids are running in the fountain. (Click on the photo to see them, they’re rather small as kids tend to be.) As soon as we finish our lunch, we become the only adults in the fountain unaccompanied by children.

 

These two amuse me because of their reluctance to sit on the many available chairs. They leave little wet bumprints on the ground when they stand up to run back into the fountain.

 

The hugely endearing 70 Years of Penguin Design exhibition is the main reason for our visit, but while we’re there we also take a quick look at the RIBA Stirling prizewinners of the last decade. Apart from my beloved Gherkin, I also like Foster and Partners’ American Air Museum in Duxford, the winner for 1998.

From here it’s a nice walk to Hyde Park, where we eyeball this year’s huge flatpack armadillo

Summer Pavilion and visit Rirkrit Tiravanika’s Rirkritrospective in the Serpentine Gallery. (Methinks Mr Tiravanika and I share a similar sense of verbal humour.) Two of the installations here are mock-ups of the artist’s New York apartment, and gallery visitors are encouraged to make themselves at home. People are sitting chatting in the kitchen, lounging in front of the TV, scrawling on the clapboard floors and walls. Two selections:

Dear Rirkrit,

You need to stop living in these dumps. Find a nice girl & settle down, bring up some children, get a steady job in management.

Love, Dad.

And:

I read the use-by date on something in the fridge; it expired in July.

Dinner at the Windsor Castle involves paying rather dearly for its considerable charm – £8.50 for my salad, £1.50 for a small glass of shitty mixed cola – but it’s the only pub I’ve ever been to in England which still has all its sections intact. It’s fun watching everyone else having to bend almost double to cross from one section to the next when you hardly have to do so yourself.

We get to Being Boiled at the Notting Hill Arts Club while entry is still free. Dave and Jeremy join us later on. I enjoy happy hour not because of the drink promotions (the £2 Troy beer from Turkey is pretty awful) but because they’re playing good electrohouse. Nothing special in London of course, but truly music to my Singapore-deadened ears.

Dahlia, tonight’s live act, does Peaches-stylie riotgrrrl electrocabaret while wearing lingerie, fishnets and stilettos. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I’d found her sexy but her gyrations mostly remind me of muscly calisthenics and I later reduce Russ to helpless giggles on the dancefloor with my very own Dahlia imitation, featuring a piercing gaze, a lingering, beckoning, finger, and then manic hip-jerking. It works especially well to Tainted Love, but falls apart horribly once I try it with Vitalic.

On the long tube ride back to Wimbledon I suddenly remember it was National Day in Singapore today. I had totally forgotten. I can’t help being struck by the contrast – how easily and tracelessly Singapore slips away once I am here, and how two years after leaving London for Singapore I still ache for it every day.

 

London 2005: London Wetland Centre

Day Five: Monday 8 August

Russ suddenly realizes he has to drive to Oxford today to move his stuff back to London, so I improvise a London Wetland Centre plan. Much like the Dulwich Picture Gallery, it’s another place I always meant to visit when I lived in London, but never did.


Traditional conservation goes topsy-turvy

What’s pretty cool about the place is the story behind its creation: when four Victorian-era reservoirs became redundant upon installation of the London Ring Main water system, rather than abandon the area to indiscriminate development, the reservoirs were used as the basis for this wetland centre. I rather like the idea of turning reservoirs into conservation sites. These days it seems people are more likely to do the opposite.

 

So with existing migratory routes already covering the area, they worked on the Field Of Dreams philosophy of “If you build it, they will come”, built a wetland paradise and just waited for birds to discover it – and they did.


A wader on the mudflats

I end up seeing about a hundred times more birds here today than I ever have at Sungei Buloh, and as any real ecosystem is, it’s teeming with all sorts of plant and animal life as well. The grounds are well-planned but not overly manicured, so you don’t feel you’re at yet another bird park or public duck pond.

 


Natural blues

It also has headfucks for non-bird people like me (I assume bird people already know about the Oxyura australis), who then end up stalking ducks round ponds for ages in blue-bill-induced disbelief.

 

I finish exploring the whole place in three leisurely hours. On the way home I look at the bus routes leaving from the bus stop I’m using. Tooting! I know someone in Tooting! On the spur of the moment I call Jeff (unannounced, out of the blue), and an hour or so later I am eating dinner with him. And thus ends my hastily improvised day, which I couldn’t have planned any better.

London 2005: Spitalfields, Mass, Nav (on Trisha!), Grooverider

Day Four: Sunday 7 August

(My Sunday photos were lower in both quantity and quality than for the other days – I was too busy shopping. But I’ll bung some in anyway, it brightens up the page. As usual, click for larger versions.)

A Just Married red London bus with open top deck
Match made in London.

I see this on the way to Spitalfields, but just miss the bridal couple leaving the upper deck, unfortunately. What a lovely idea for a summer wedding in London. (It just wouldn’t be the same on a bendy bus now, would it? Routemaster forever!)

 


Saddest welcome ever.

Yes, for the third time in four days I am back in the Spitalfields/Brick Lane area, which is a bit much even for a Shoreditch twat like me, but it was always such a happy Sunday place that I can’t resist, plus I just have to go to Spitalfields before the fuckers-that-be bulldoze the whole place.

 


Off Cheshire Street.

As usual, Spitalfields is full of beautiful things, most of which I’m too cheap to buy. The new “(Up)Market” (yes, really) is, thank God, no more upmarket than Spitalfields, and has the advantage of being a little less crammed with stalls and people. Throughout the markets I resist the various epicurean delights on offer because I know that as long as I can hold out till I reach Brick Lane, heaven awaits me in a Beigel Bake hot salt beef bagel. (Lovely photo here.) I end my shopping in Beyond Retro where I find, sadly, that even the British woman of yesteryear is still bigger than me and no clothes fit.

Total damage:

  • A photo-print board for Alec from Tom Shedden Photography in Spitalfields. Can’t find the one I bought on the site, but it’s a close-up of an old black and white horseracing photo mounted on weathered wood.
  • Thingy which can double as a scarf, belt or hairband, also double-sided with lovely prints on either side – £5, Spitalfields.
  • Pacman badge! £1, Up(Market).
  • 2 vintage scarves – £1.50 each, Beyond Retro.
  • Hot salt beef bagel! £2-something, and worth every hot salty beefy penny.

I rush to Ogle Street for evening mass. Fr Fudge (stop laughing) is as powerful a preacher as he always was, and like last year, I savour the differences between mass here and mass in Singapore. Old hymns, none of this meandering nu-Christian pan-pipes tedium that I keep getting fed in my parish at home. A sermon I couldn’t have just made up myself from common sense. No bloody mobile phones going off, no bloody mobile phones going off, no bloody mobile phones going off! I roll my lips and tongue and heart around the small differences in the prayers here – Trespasses. Lead us not into temptation. Became incarnate of the Virgin Mary – and treasure the taste of the Blood in my mouth.

I meet Nav for dinner at Carluccio’s, where I am crushed to find they’ve taken my wild boar ragu off the menu. I try the spicy sausage penne but it isn’t as nice. A few months ago, Nav came to Singapore and broke the news that she was going to be in the audience of Trisha. This of course filled me with absolute glee, and I along with everyone else there at the time who were familiar with Trisha began reciting clichés that Nav totally had to get up and slam the guests with, e.g. “Once a cheat-ah, ALWAYS a cheat-ah!”, “Yuh need to get up and take responsibilit-y for yuh life, innit?” etc.etc. Tonight Nav updates me on this, and as usual, she doesn’t disappoint. Apparently she chewed out the mother of a murder victim for whining on TV about all her problems when she’d never sought professional help. I love Nav so much. My only disappointment is that she didn’t put on an estuary accent.

From here, Russ picks me up and we head for Herbal. Grooverider’s there tonight, and I get in for free. BOOYA! It’s a little too jazzy for my tastes at first, but the last hour is great, sweaty, junglist action. I relish the feeling of being the only yellow skin on the dancefloor (there’s a Japanese couple around, but they don’t dance), although I do wish the three immense black guys in front of me weren’t strenuously disproving that old chestnutty stereotype that all black people have rhythm. They certainly share my tastes in jungle though – Grooverider drops an amazing raggalicious track and they go wild in what I can only describe as an ape-like dance, stomping and swaying from side to side while crouched over, heads arching and rearing with each sway. One grabs the other’s shoulders and they do the dance together, laughing and cheering. If you’re looking for racism anywhere here, don’t bother – it is the perfect dance to that song, and a perfect end to the night.