31 January 2008


Outside Liverpool St Station, London
Outside Liverpool St Station

You know when you're in a new place, a new country, it's all so fresh. Things like ads on the tube have a kind of fascination that distracts you from where you're trying to go. People on the street, you look at each of them, trying to absorb the details of their faces. You have to work hard to remember your own house number, the path that leads to your new front door.

You kind of wish for that comfortable familiarity that comes from spending a long time in one place.

Ten months later, it is the middle of winter. You catch the same bus every day at the same time. Pass the same land marks. Get stuck in traffic. Maybe you've come across that comfortable familiarity and maybe you don't like it so much now that it's finally arrived.

It took the photo above to swing me back towards liking the everyday. It's mundane, it's a photo of two guys crossing the street. But actually I like their shadows and the texture of the road. And I like the fact that I didn't have to think about finding my way to Liverpool St Station on the tube. There's something to be said for familiarity after all.


Vintage Book Pages, Portobello Market
Vintage book pages, Portobello Market

The sun came out today, just in time for my kids to go birdwatching. A nice lady came and took them out into the yard to spot such species as robins, magpies and wood pigeons.

The nice lady was telling the children how quiet they would need to be when they were bird spotting, when suddenly one of my kids blurted out
"Where are the ears?"
The nice lady took a step towards him with a puzzled look on her face. Then she realised what he was thinking.

Turns out birds' ears are on the side of their heads, just like ours. But they're covered in feathers.

I wonder if birds' hearing is muffled?

27 January 2008

Behind Brick Lane

Near Brick Lane, London

Imagine you're standing in a quiet alley off Brick Lane. Streets away from neon signs and hawkers who stand around trying to pursuade you to come into their curry house. Away from crowds and people selling junk on the street. Sorry, but let's call a broken watch or some old clothes or cracked vases what it is. And people inside the market hall selling great Asian food. Clothing created by up-and-coming designers. Funk music and cheap vegetables. And Beigel Bake, where you can stand right next to the kitchen watching the man with the beer gut sweating over boiling the bagels in water, putting them on wooden boards and shoving them in the oven. I bought six for a pound twenty and an apple strudel. Cheap as chips.

House, Near Brick Lane, London

21 January 2008

Walk This Way

Hiking Sign, La Clusaz, France
Sunshine and Hiking Sign, La Clusaz, France

The weather in London at the moment is like walking through a long, dark tunnel that has been painted grey on the inside. Oh, and inside the tunnel is rain. Damp, misty rain that gets into everything, seeps into the cracks.

Thank goodness I know what's on the other side of this damn tunnel. Summer. That, and a few days in Barcelona in February AND a few weeks in Australia in March. Just have to keep walking towards the end of the tunnel...

20 January 2008

Confessions of a Map Nerd

I have a confession to make. A few months ago I bought a box of maps - 50 walking tours of London. I know. I'm such a nerd. With all the travel lately, I've discovered a strange obsession with maps. Today I followed one of them, a trail beginning at Tower Hill tube station and ending up near St Pauls.

Leadenhall Market

The trail led to Leadenhall Market, a well-preserved market hall that has existed since Victorian times. It's gorgeous, all maroon, gold and dark green paint. The market was closed and nobody was around, just me and the dripping of the rain.

Ceiling, Leadenhall Market

This is the ceiling in the middle of the market hall.

Halfway on the trail, you go through this skinny windy little maze of alleys and come across London's oldest coffee shop - 'The Jamaican Wine House' - which was established in 1652. I wanted to have a coffee but it was closed.

Then there was the Clock Museum - a funny little room filled with the most amazing, intricate gold watches and clocks. The place was eerily filled with the ticking of clocks and every couple of minutes a different one would chime. To get in I had to put my bag on a conveyor belt to be checked for guns, or whatever it is that the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers consider dangerous. I was the only one in the museum. As I left, the guard had fallen asleep on a sofa.

Angel, St Paul's
Angel, from a fountain at St Paul's Cathedral

The tour ended at St Paul's. There's this great French patisserie/boulangerie chain called Paul, which has a shop right near St Paul's. I sat in there with some Earl Grey tea, wondering whether the shop assistants really had French accents or whether they had been trained to speak with fake accents when they got the job.

13 January 2008

A Bit More Of Brussels

It's a lazy Sunday in London and I've been going through holiday photos. After a week of real work, I'm back to dreaming about holidays. I thought I'd show you a few more photos from when we were in Brussels.

Along the Tourist Route

Lauch, Andrew and I did a walking tour around all the best bits of Brussels. It's hard to get lost on a walking tour - especially one from the Lonely Planet - because the rest of the tourists are doing the exact same tour so you just follow the crowd.

Red Door, Place Saint-Gery

Take note! This is the kind of red I would like our front door to be. (Actually our front door in London is this colour).

Letter Box Cobbled Road

The letter boxes in Brussels - and in London - are actually in people's front doors. So if you're home when the mail comes, you hear the creak THUMP of letters coming through the door.

The street signs are in both French and Flemish, and many people in Brussels speak French, Flemish and English. Apparently in some parts of Belgium people get cross if you speak the "wrong" language to them - if their region is predominantly French, for example, and you try to speak Flemish. Nobody has got cross at me yet... but surely they will one day because the only Flemish word I know is "wafel."

Brussels View

This view is from the Palais de Justice. Sylvia says that Brussels typically has quite grey skies like this. It has kind of a steam punk aesthetic.

The Waffle Vendor

If you turn around directly from the view of Brussels, there's a waffle vendor. We went to Brussels twice and he was there both times, so obviously that means he must be there always. His waffles are good. Very good. You have to be careful with the chocolate sauce though because it is very sticky and your fingers can end up looking like they're covered in brown glue. Not that this has ever happened to me.

Brussels View Red Door, Place Du Beguinage.

After gorging ourselves on waffles, wine & beer, cheese & bread (from the French part of our trip) we went home and decided to go on diets. For the rest of the year.

7 January 2008

Hello 2008

Houses, West London
Houses, West London

Tomorrow is back to work and it has been a fabulous holiday. It feels strange to begin the new year by immediately going back to work but perhaps I will be more productive. I love the sense of starting over, a new chance, a new opportunity to dream of better things that a new year brings. I always have a million things in mind to achieve and do differently, this time around.

Happy new year. I hope 2008 looks as good from your window as it does from mine.

1 January 2008

The Big Cheese

It was dark when we left London. Gradually out the train window appeared little square French houses and pointy churches poking through fog. Lauch and I negotiated our way from the Brussels Eurostar station to Sylvia's flat through winding cobbled streets.

It took eight-ish hours to drive from Brussels to La Clusaz. Me, Lauch, Sylvia, Andrew, several packets of chips and the station wagon speeding along highways of frozen white trees and the French takeaway chain L'Arches.

Somewhere near 11pm we wound our way down the mountain and stared wide-eyed as the headlights lit up a thick layer of snow. Finally we found our rented chalet, guided by the elderly owner waving a lantern from the balcony. That is how it began.

This holiday was all about:

Cheese! Everywhere! We ate so many baguettes filled with Brie or Reblochon and whole wheels of other cheeses whose names I forget. The smell of cheese drifted through my dreams.

The feeling of skiing down a slope, swaying left and then right and then left and then getting terrified and suddenly losing my nerve, falling over, skis tumbling over my head and sliding down the slope backwards while snow collected in my bright orange ski trousers.

And it was about Christmas: blue skies during the day, lights everywhere at night time, drinking mulled wine and celebrating in a different way, far away from home. A million thanks to Sylvia for letting us stay with her in Brussels on the way back to London.

Watch and laugh!