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wobblelikejelly |Photos of the year

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It is to my eternal regret that I don’t get enough photos printed – it’s obvious that photos look better in tangible form. In the absence of real photos, a gallery of my favourite photos from 2014 will suffice for now. It’s been a good year, with plenty to see and do. Enjoy!

Brussels is easily one of my favourite cities and having been there four times, it is somewhere I feel very comfortable in. If someone who hasn’t bothered to visit Brussels tells you it’s boring, just come to me and I’ll bore you senseless with Brussels love. Grand Place at night looks like nothing else, and with new lighting installed, everything looks more sensational than ever.

Grand Place

Norwich is somewhere I raved about back in February and rightly so. It is quite simply a great city in its own right. It is remote enough from other big cities to have to bow to anyone and it’s all the better for it. I was especially “omgomgomgomg” about the John Lewis building and my trip seemed to focus on the architectural gems of Norwich. Go!

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This year I went to Paris for the third time, but every visit feels different from the last. This time the weather treated us to a carefree April trip full of rests in parks and a daily mojito. I fell in love all over again and our trip up Tour Montparnasse gave us the added bonus of not being able to see it ruin the skyline.

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Liverpool, what a swell place! As I left Liverpool after a fantastic day of sight-seeing, I regretted deeply that I never went to university there. I doubt I’d have ever left. The cathedral was an absolute highlight for me and I’m keen on going back and just gazing lovingly at it.

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Bosnia and Croatia made up my summer holiday destinations this year, and despite being mistaken for a drugs traffiker (I’m usually mistaken for Harry Potter) sitting on a coach which was vaguely on fire for 8 hours, almost throwing up every time I went near the harbour in Split, I loved it all. Mostar and Sarajevo hugely appealed to me, even if the cities made me think seriously about the evil that humans can do to one another. Croatia had gems in the form of Zadar and Plitvice Lakes, with Zagreb offering a vibrant capital city experience.

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Sarajevo Town Hall

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Mostar

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Beautiful Mostar

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Zadar’s superb waterfront

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Plitvice Lakes

Plitvice Lakes

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Zagreb

 

If you were to sum up the holidays I have been going on on the past few years, you will keep coming back to Spain and Scandinavia – and rightly so! God damn, I love them both so much. This year I went with my friend Rokos to Andalucia and saw some sensational places, from the gobsmackingly gorgeous Ronda to the incomparable Alhambra in Granada. Cordoba had the Mezquita and a charming city to boot and Seville was just a knockout place for food, drink, sights and the shock of 35c weather in late October.

Seville

Seville

Ronda

Ronda

Cordoba

Cordoba

Seville - Alcazar

Seville – Alcazar

Alhambra - Granada

Alhambra – Granada

Alhambra - Granada

Alhambra – Granada

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Splictures! (Pictures from Split

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Split: it’s as beautiful as you had heard, it occasionally smells by the waterfront of dead animals and it’s a bit on the boring side. But it’s cheaper than Dubrovnik, more lively and there are some superb bars and eateries. Let’s all enjoy some pictures!

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And finally… Two out of fourteen channels had Mystic Meg banging on about spooky things, accompanied with a goblet of Mystic juice and images of confused looking ladies popping up on the screen.

More to come, including a rather scathing attack on the most boring meaty treat I’ve ever had to eat.

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Images from Mostar

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Day two in Mostar went by in a whirling dervish of sights. Actually, think the dervish thing is completely inaccurate but there’s a wonderful mixture of East and West here, from the mosques, calls to prayer and bazaar in the old town. Mostar is not ideal as a day trip as there’s so much you might miss. Here’s a few images from my second day in an unforgettable city.

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It’s hard to comprehend how destroyed Mostar was, but even now the scars are still obvious. It doesn’t seem like it has been twenty years since the end of the war and there’s an air of progress having halted. Perhaps the recent recession had an impact, explaining the many half-completed building sites.

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The Ottoman building of Muslibegovic House is definitely worth a visit, and it’s doable from the city centre.

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We’re onto Sarajevo tomorrow and from what I’ve heard, it’s a city built on a human scale and is supposedly easy to traverse and enjoy. Looking forward to it!

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Mostar!

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A few quick stats about the Yogslav wars to make you think:

It lasted from 1991 to 1999.
Around 140,000 people were killed.
4,000,000 people were displaced. That’s half of London out of a home.
Rape camps were set up to facilitate ethnic cleansing.

It’s so easy to mentally bypass the absolutely startling things that happened here and I’m now seeing the war anew. This article brilliantly explains the complete lack of dialogue between the east and west of Mostar, based on the differences between the people. Despite what I said in my previous post about people managing to survive in war, maybe the cracks are wider than I realised.

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Crossing the Mostar bridge is so easy, so picturesque, that it’s far too easy to remember it was destroyed for no other reason than to psychologically damage the other side. Old Mostar is a beautiful area full of intriguing warrens to get lost in but so much on the east side was flattened it’s hard to work out what’s real and what’s not. It’s a fascinating place to visit.

If visiting, a place to overlook the gorgeous scenery is Hindin Han for traditional Bosnian cuisine at fantastic prices. The Bosnian beer is a great thirst quencher and the cevapi delights the taste buds…and I’ll be honest, the salad helps. Man cannot live alone by sausage no matter how hard you try.

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Wine and more offers, well, wine and more, like pension and insurance advice. Useful* (*a lie). It sells local Bosnian wine so it’s definitely worth checking out and quaffing like a boss.

The view from Koski Mehmet Pasha Mosque declares it offers the best views of Mostar bridge and it lives up to its own hype with a stunning clear view that takes in all the key angles. It looked sensational at night and perhaps it’ll look even better in the day.

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I’ve another day in Mostar and feel this is a place that’ll live with me for a while to come. While this place is no longer hell, it doesn’t feel that it has managed to move on in the way that Dubrovnik has. I suppose tourism wins all. Hands down though… Mostar has oodles more atmosphere.

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Dubrovnik!

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Here I am in Dubrovnik with two close friends, we’ve given the city the alarm that we’re here and it best “watch out”, what with us being on our lolidays and all is calm… too calm perhaps. A Saturday night down at Lapad Bay was roughly as lively as a mortuary in full swing. Where were all the people? Apparently, according to a TV channel we watched dedicated to the beautiful main street in the old town, they were all there. There they were, enjoying the beauty and splendour of the old town, paying old town prices.

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Silly us, booking an apartment out of town! But actually, Orka Apartments is a fine place to stay if in Dubrovnik. 10 minutes from town via bus (£1.50 for a single is a true swindle but…) near to many shops and restaurants as well as being a lovely place to stay, it covers most bases.

The old town is as beautiful as people say, but is surprisingly tiny and somehow lacking in character. If I were to divine from Dubrovnik what a Croat is, I’d be stumped. Even though we stayed at a family home, there were few opportunities to mingle with locals, probably because so many people are tourists. The frontages of the old town seem standardised and very little seems spontaneous. One standout attraction is the War Photo limited exhibition which featured utterly harrowing images from the Syrian War and in the permanent collection, images from the Yugoslavian war. The images, some of which I found hard to view without almost breaking down in tears, were beautifully shot but reminded me of how endlessly pointless wars can be. The misery suffered by civilians is untold but astonishingly, the people manage to carry on with trying to make a life worth living. It was quite easily one of the most thoughtfully put together exhibitions I’ve ever experienced. As harrowing as it was, it was essential viewing.

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Lokrum Island was an antidote to all the sadness of the War Photos. It’s a sizeable island and a nature reserve to boot. We spent an afternoon wandering through Olive trees, trying to get splashed by the sea off the very jagged rocks and climbing forever to see the Royal Fort with grandstand views over the coast and city.

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Back in the city we went to walk the city walls, but at £10 it seemed steep so we decided to wander about some more until dinner at Taj Mahal, a Bosnian restaurant. Here, we hit the motherload of delicious veal, the tastiest marinated courgettes known to man and plenty of local red wine for a good price. If in Dubrovnik, find Taj Mahal at any cost. Mmm.

In the mid 90s my Dad saw Dubrovnik being shelled, and we saw videos on YouTube of this happening; it was a brutal assault that seemed unnecessarily cruel. The fabric of the old city was being destroyed one shell at a time out of human hatred. And on that note, it’s time to head to Mostar where more barbaric acts were carried out. Happy holidays!

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I love London part 2

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Back in 2012, when London ruled the world and the Olympics embraced a spirit of inclusion (hi Russia and Racist-van Tories) I wrote about my love for London and here’s part 2. The weather today has been exceptional, almost hard to imagine it’s still February, so as I wandered about a rare state of bliss overtook me. The last time this happened was in Toledo, which is as beautiful a city as any other I’ve been to. I described that state of bliss as me “powering down”, with my brain happily emptying itself.

This walk was from Soho down Regent Street and into St James’ Park and onwards to Green Park, ending at a protest about Japan and Dolphins.

 

Berlin through a Soviet lens

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I love my Zenit TTL, which was a brilliantly judged 31st birthday present from my friend Lee. Having the camera has really gotten me excited about the possibilities of using film again. I had the thought that the endeavour would be horribly expensive, and I’d end up with some awful quality lens that would just remind me of that horrible moment in my youth when we collected the film from Boots to find that the pictures of a verdant wood I had taken actually resembled nothing more than a blurry broccoli. That hurt.

As a teen without a camera phone I purchased the dreadful disposable film cameras that did the job of taking a photo without any finesse or joy. As digital came along, I never bothered with film for about 10 years and now I’m obsessed. Europa centreThe Europa Center holds strangely fond memories for me; I suppose I must have gone there both when I lived in Berlin as a child (around 1984-87) and when we visited as a family in about 1994. The lights here are evocative of many old shopping centres and it is so refreshing to see these remnants still popping up. The liquid clock is pretty cool as well.

Lovely shop

 

This shot is a stark reminder of the warmth and mood that film can give. This doesn’t look like a photo taken in 2013, but something out of the 1980s, with the beige-caramel tones really popping out.

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The above photo was taken in the Olympic Park, and it was completely freezing outside, but the architecture was beautiful enough to keep me taking snaps. The view is of the swimming complex which was sadly closed for some sort of renovation work; I had hoped to go to the pool and see if the Swastika was visible around the pool like I’d been told.

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This building, a stone’s throw from Karl-Marx Allee, is the sort of architecture that gets me all giddy. I love the staircase attached to the side and the uniformity of the block which has enough features to keep it interesting. As Berlin continues to change, many old East German blocks are being tidied up, and the city loses a little more of its eclecticism with the changes.

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Whilst not perfectly in focus (it was bitterly cold and I was close to being fingerless) there’s something about this, taken in the soulless Sony Centre in Potsdamer Platz, that appeals to me. I think I like it because it isn’t immediately apparent what the shot is of.

Walthamsnow

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The snow started early this morning and it still making something of an effort to give me a snow day, but I guess I won’t know until the morning…it’s like Who Wants to be a Millionaire, with snow money. However, snow always exictes me like a puppy so I had to get out and take many photos! Here are a few!

Lloyd Park in Walthamstow looked particularly fine!

The William Morris gallery is always a good place to go for the cafe; the caramel cappucino left me with a headrush – but then I drink coffee about once a month so that’s no slight on the coffee.

William Morris gallery

My usual route, if I stop off for a much-needed slice of cake is then onto Walthamstow village. The walk alone demands cake; there’s this little hill…you can’t imagine the utter effort it takes to walk up a slight incline. Mmm, cake.

The very modest Town Hall

 

Past the lovely town hall, lots of people were sledging down the hill. It’s always nice to see people using the grounds as local space, rather than it being all blocked from the public.

The Village has a very atmospheric church and graveyard, flanked by Almshouses (is it ironic that the almshouses are now lived in by well off folk?) and woodland.

Spooky graveyard

After this, you reach the central streets of the Village with the most remarkable Spar supermarket; they make fresh pizza in-store, have a brilliant bakery and sell lots more local and farm produce than your usual store. Sadly, living in the village is ever so slightly more expensive than buying diamonds every day and giving them to mad tramps with bad breath

Just before heading home, we popped into the Turkish supermarket and bought some of their excellent butter bread.

To sum up. Walthamstow is lovely and even better in the snow. Hurrah!

 

 

Syria 2011 – memories

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I’d love to call myself an intrepid traveller but I’m sure I’ve a long way to go; I’ve never been on a package holiday, have taken holidays in Georgia, travelled to northern Sweden to witness the midnight sun and went from house to house in Cuba. However, I know people who are off to Burma and envy those who take trips to Iraq and Afghanistan – guided tours as they are, that still appeals to me.

My trip to Jordan and Syria in April 2011 was as about as intrepid as I’ve ever been, and viewing what is now happening in the beautiful city of Aleppo is truly heartbreaking. Due to an escalation of violence in Syria, my friend and I cut two days out of our Syrian portion of the trip, from 5 days to 3 and had to regrettably bypass Damascus and focus on Aleppo and the surrounds.

21st April 2011 was potentially momentus day in Syria as Assad ended the state of emergency and regulated the right to peaceful protest. This was a full day in Aleppo for us and I got to witness some of its beauty, including a trip to the souk where two men flirted outrageously with me, one told us where the gay sauna was and conversation included the immortal line “who’d want a blowjob from Jack Straw?” as well as a man telling us his favourite football team was West Bromwich Albion! Not your usual shopping trip.

We were taking pictures of a mosque, when a man invited us in to look around which we did with a level of excitement as in Jordan we only got to see the inside of the main mosque in Amman. He told us about what they do, which included acting as a school house and I surprised myself by pointing out a picture and realising it was of the 5 pillars of Islam. Quite how I even knew that…perhaps I was more researched than I knew?

As we left the mosque, we came out and a tour guide was showing people the mosque and telling stories. Everyone seemed in high spirits and it reminded me that on the 4th month of the conflict, tourists still wanted to see Aleppo. I like to think they didn’t get to go inside the mosque and we witnessed a special moment. After this, the souk beckoned and it was a wonderful mix of heady spices, shops piled high with Aleppo soap, fabric merchants…just about anything you want. I loved it! It wasn’t particularly pushy and twice we found owners telling us that their shop was in the Lonely Planet!

Aleppo Souk

The area around the souk proved a treasure trove for photography and I was utterly in love, all the time slightly worried about where I was but also savouring every second of it and taking in the city. We found a quiet courtyard which was packed full of beautiful antique chairs, a few abandoned sewing machines dotted around the fountain and elegant architecture giving a reminder of how culturally rich Syria and Aleppo is. On leaving, a man was selling spiced flatbreads, which were sensational…still warm and perfectly fresh. There was no way we could eat just one so we ran back to find him for a second and marvelled at our first proper Aleppo food experience, our expectations already high.

Aleppo Citadel

Some more exploring led us to the square around the breathtaking citadel, a perfect place to sit for a drink of lemon and mint, which quenches the thirst llike nothing else. Around this point I noticed a distinct lack of billboards and adverts that weren’t Assad’s face, and I struggle to recall if I even had a can of coke out there.

In the evening we went to the Baron Hotel, which we find out is famous for being where Agatha Christie wrote the first part of Murder on the Orient Express in room 203 and also where Assad’s father, also a man who brutally quashed dissent through murder, stayed. The hotel owner whispered into my friend’s ear “tip the man!” when we were led off to see the rooms. The owner was full of character and was willing to show us the sights around Aleppo but we’d already found our driver by the osmosis that was so common in Syria: we look lost, someone asks if we need help, it turns out he is a tour guide so we book him up there and then. Such an easy way to do business! The Baron Hotel was fantastic; it was full of remnants of an age where train travel from London to Baghdad was possible, making me long for that age where I could take such wonderful trips! We had a great few hours there, looking around, taking photos and drinking Efes in the bar. We ate at Sissi House in the evening, apparently a favourite of the ubiquitous Assad, but thankfully he wasn’t eating there. While the food was good, the service was a bit on the “sigh, come on…eat here if you must” end of the scale and the Syrian wine was remarkably putrid. I know, I know, Lebanese wine is wonderful, but when in Rome/Aleppo. The soujouk in Aleppo is different to elsewhere, wrapped in a sort of pastry which adds something to it, and it looked like a really tasty snail.

Only on our second day, when we left the city because of the planned protests, did we start to get a sense of the crisis sweeping the country. The day was being touted as “The Great Friday” and without access to media outside the hotel, we had little knowledge of what was happening. As it turned out, over 100 people died on 22nd April; it was the bloodiest day yet and at this point the UK Government had advised against all travel to Syria, which was both a little scary and exhilarating. Alongside this, almost all foreign media had been expelled. We entrusted ourselves in the capable hands of the driver we met the previous day and he drove at the speed of light down empty motorways towards Hama, where we had been due to stay. In 1982, a massacre had taken place there and now entry to the town was impossible due to a police/Government presence of guns so we sped off to Krak Des Chevaliers.

Krak is is a beautifully preserved crusader castle which is seen as one of the most important of its kind in the world. Recently, like Aleppo Citadel, it was shelled, apparently because rebels were hiding out in there. However, the recriminations run both ways and the blame for shelling the Citadel have been levelled as the FSA and the regime. The castle was duly spectacular and my guide seemed to take a shine to me. As he showed me various amazing things, he always seemed to end up touching my arm or pointing my arm in a direction. It was particularly weird and when we went down a dark passage I suspected his plan was to hump against me but he never did. Instead, I got over it and listened intently to his stories and deep knowledge of the castle. His refrain of “I am not a tour guide, I just love the castle” inevitably got him a good tip and I felt blessed to see such a beautiful castle.

Apamea

After this, we went onto another jewel of Syria, Apamea. After Jordan’s multitude of ancient remains, Apamea wasn’t as spectacular as some might find it. After all, once you’ve been to Petra and Jerash, much pales into insignificance. Apamea was still beautiful and almost entirely empty.

In the distance, the Friday protests started becoming apparent as through the silence came insistent chanting; and at that very moment I decided Apamea needed more investigation and that leaving the ancient ruins would be a terrible thing to do. I’m not a wimp, I just really love old stuff! When even I realised that standing and staring at the same ruins while our driver was staring at us was becoming a bit ridiculous, we headed off to the dead cities. En route we came across a protest of a few hundred people and I recall the moment with perfect, bone-chilling clarity. Whereas Rokos and I had joked that we could mutter “awkwarrrrd” when in a protest, the reality was that I tried to make myself look invisible in the back of the car and I tried really hard not to look panicked. I wasn’t worried of the people nearly as much as I was worried about the Government. After a few moments I noticed the crowd were walking past us, and many were carrying olive branches. These weren’t people to be afraid of at all, but it was obviously building momentum. As we sped away from the protest, every car was going in the opposite direction, presumably to join in. Squeaky-bum time.

The Dead Cities though, another “wow” moment as you get close up to hundreds of abandoned settlements about 40 miles north of Aleppo. With almost nobody about, a pleasant absence of chanting and spectacular light, this was a really beautiful moment for me. The soil was the richest ochre and all the colours seem exaggerated, including a sky that seemed to extend forever in all directions. Our driver took us to a few of the villages, each had ruins in various states of repair but all offering great photo opportunities. As we drove back to Aleppo and passed villages and towns, I kept expecting to see more trouble, always aware that something could happen but everything was peaceful.

Another example of the brilliant character of the Syrians we met came when looking for a restaurant. I may be a bit fuzzy on how we ended up with 5 men surrounding us trying to help but in all probability we just looked puzzled. A man came to see if we were ok, swiftly followed by another and one popped by for a few moments. We are led into a shop where a woman didn’t know of the restaurant but when we mention a restuarant it was near, suddenly everyone is able to point us there. The whole thing took place on the street, in two shops and the helpfulness of 6 people. Our restaurant was excellent, by the way, and we were given free pudding. Result! I was intrigued by the American Diner look to this restaurant…of course I didn’t go when so much good Arabic food was to be had!

 

Pastry goodness

Our last day was all about getting to know the citadel better, heading back to the souk and whatever else took our fancy. In a bakery near the market, we had some fantastic pastries and asked for a coffee and tea to go with them. The owner neglected to say he didn’t serve drinks, but he despatched someone to get us drinks from the market. Amazing!

When vans reverse in the UK, they often make a squall that is as annoying as it is cross, but here’s a video of a van reversing to a cute tune. Lovely

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We ended our time in Aleppo wandering through the Christian part of the city, seeking out ice-cream and savouring the last few moments of an exceptional few days; at times I forgot I was in a country going through turmoil and I fell head over heels in lov with the Syrian people. As I left Aleppo airport, now the scene of shooting and fighting, I found it hard to equate the news with what I’d seen. I wanted this conflict, I’ve always wanted it, to stop but now things are so different I can’t imagine Aleppo will ever be the same. I’m both thankful and desperately sad about this and my trip will always be a special memory for me. I hope when I was there I was able to help traders who were seeing a drop in income, and I hope people were happy to still see tourists come and love their city.

If Syria doesn’t succomb to a drawn out, Beirut-style disaster, and if it doesn’t turn its back on religious tolerance I’ll be there again as soon as I can. I just hope that day is soon, and free of the people on both sides of the conflict who think senseless torture and killing is the answer to the problem.

Filming taking place outside the citadel filled the square with camels, donkeys and kids. Great atmosphere.

 

 

I love London part 1

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Welcome to part one of a series I’ll sporadically/never update due to my ability to – and I think this could be cute but is probably annoying – forget most things. Today I went to Chesham high street to give my beloved some vouchers he wanted to use. I arrived at Sainsbury’s without any vouchers and at that point clocked that my little journey to town was pointless, but it was a nice day so somehow it was all ok. I do that a lot. Maybe I should be a forgetful but brilliant scholar who has the ability to shamble in a room to amaze people. I have many skills to work on.

The point I intended to make at the opening is uh, about towns. I am moving to London next week, but in a way, I’m just moving to a town connected to another town. A thought that came to me today was that you can live in London or live in London, where you try and take advantage of the city and what it has to offer, rather than complaining about everything but at the same time mocking the idea that anyone would go to Zone 5 let alone leave the M25. For me, I can see the benefits of moving to London are enormous but I will fight the urges to become a Londoner who is as provincial as those they mock:

  • Zone 9 is lovely and green and the air is fresh. Spending an hour on a train is boring. Zone 3 takes me to Oxford Circus in 22 minutes.
  • Transport links in Zone 3 are (compared to anywhere I’ve ever lived) sensational. I can go to Victoria and take off somewhere. I can even use my local train station and head to Essex or the seaside without breaking a sweat.
  • I love galleries and exhibitions, and I’ll be much closer to them.
  • Night-buses! Actual buses that run all night! I can go and see my friends, many of whom live within 5 miles of my new home by bus, too!

Of course there are loads of annoying aspects of London but when the title of the post is “Bloody London: Part 257” I’ll be banging on about them ad nauseum. For now I am super excited about the new changes ahead. One is trying to go to new things – that’s what I mean about living/living in London; I could have easily have gone to the V&A yesterday and been totally content, but I do that plenty already so in the coming months I’ll be cracking out the Time Out app, going with friends’ recommendations and using Twitter to find exciting new things to do. Yesterday I visited the Mr Brainwash exhibition near Holborn to check out his giant murals on the outide of the Old Sorting Office and the extensive artworks inside.

It was a stark reminder of how lucky, how very very lucky we are to have free access to so much art and culture  when I recall the 4-hour window of free entry to MoMa in New York. MoMa was absolutely brilliant, but for $15, I’d have thought twice, paid and wept. The exhibition was a heady mix of spray-paint, vinyl artworks and giant statues made of stuff like car tyres. There was a nice nod to his film “Exit through the gift shop” where you were allowed to take two large posters, three postcards and a free drink on the way out. The cost of that exhibition must have been enormous but he can command up to $80,000 for a piece of work, so it’s all a totally glorious advert. I’m fine with that. We’re all fine with that.

After, I headed to a Mexican place for a taco – London now has more Mexican places than Mexicans, surely? It was as you’d expect, yummy. Headed off to The Photographer’s Gallery off Oxford Street and checked out the Deutsche Borse prize nominess and a selection of Japanese photobooks. For the photobooks exhibition you had to put on gloves, which on contact with the glossy paper make a noise that is as scary to me as the noise of balloons being touched. Ughhh. Yet again, it was free!So, my first lesson from the sporadic/one-off I Love London series is that good times can be had for free and also, people are still somewhat lovely on the Tube. A woman waved at me to check I knew I’d left my phone on a chair. Lovely.