About Me

London, United Kingdom
I’m John, a man struggling through life in London, circa 2009. I do a boring admin job, with moments of brief interest, and spend most of my days whiling away dreamy hours on Facebook and Gmail, buying things online and looking out the window. I then drag home and watch endless repeats and DVDs of US TV shows, or meet friends and get drunk to erase the banal hopelessness of it all. I am a frustrated writer, but I never actually write anything. Well, on 22 October 2009 I decided to turn my life around, and turn that frown upside down (so to speak). From this day forth, I will arrive promptly at my desk every morning, work diligently until lunchtime (without touching FB or Gmail), and try to leave on time at 5.30. In the evenings I will go out there and see what is so fantastic about this city we are living in, and I will take my full lunch hour, to myself, to write this blog and tell the world how this London everyman is getting on. On your marks, get set, I’ll start tomorrow. Watch this large white space…

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

One two three four, uno dos tres cuatro

Monday morning absolutely stinks. There are very few occasions when, if asked if I am happy to be a Londoner, I would reply in the negative, but catch me stumbling under blank grey skies on the way to an overcrowded public transport system, and guaranteed that will be the time when I will say ‘I hate this place’. This Monday was a real clanger of a bad one. The tube was monstrous, an endless blurred mass of people, all pushing and struggling like we were in some kind of a fight to get ahead, and I was mid-battle when I realised I had left my laptop and work papers at home. As I flew out of the tube station at work, I nearly got flattened crossing a heavily traffic-laden road while shouting into my mobile phone at my housemate, who was on the other end sleepily stabbing at the keyboard of aforementioned laptop, trying to email me the essential documents for the day. I arrived at my desk tired, drained, tense and angry, and still with five full working days ahead of me.

As I went through the daily motions of firing up my work PC and exchanging miserable mumblings about our weekends with the other office spods, I pulled my brain into ‘blog’ mode and started to think of what to do with my Monday night. My body was already telling me pretty frankly that it wanted me straight home from work, to veg out in front of the TV with a pizza, but that was unfortunately not an option. This was the new me. I would never find my London life stuck in front of the goggle box. What to do, what to do? I plumped for telling myself that I’d put my mind to it later, knowing with smug certainty that I wouldn’t be able to come up with something and would end up bottling out and trudging straight home after work.

Mid-morning I glanced half-heartedly at Time Out, but was basically resigned to failing in week one when in popped an email from my roomie. Paul is happily employed as the only straight man in his office, somewhere in the fabulous world of PR, and he was emailing about an event that very evening in Guanabara, a big South American venue in town. The event? Miss and Mr. Brazil UK, the semi-final. 15 men and 15 women, all from Brazil and all (at some point at least) in swimwear, would be taking to the stage to try and impress the judges and the crowds. Paul was doing the press and would be schmoozing with journalists, but I’d go on the guest list and my dinner and drinks would be paid for. What’s a boy to do? Free food and drink set against a backdrop of baby-oiled tanned flesh? If I was going to find my London life anywhere, it would be there.

I finish work an hour before Paul, and so I set off out into the twinkly London night with a real determination in my step. Monday night and I’d found something to do, and with an hour and a half to kill first, I was going shopping. Payday had been and gone, and if anything was going to banish those Monday morning London demons from my brain for good, it was a bout of Monday evening Oxford Street shopping. I needed trousers, shoes and a shirt, but when I finally met Paul an hour later I had added jeans, a sweater, 3 DVDs and a tie to the list. I had spent well over £200 and I felt fantastic. Who cared about the crowds? As Paul and I staggered off under the weight of my bags, I was starting to revel in the bustle of it all again.

What came next was nothing short of fabulous. We climbed stairs edged with pillars of multi-coloured balloons, before entering the venue, which was stuffed with more balloons, streamers, glitter and mirror balls. Perching ourselves at the edge of the stage and runway, we were soon roaring with laughter at the sheer campness of it all. Hoards of Brazilian boys and girls, stunningly beautiful themselves, screamed and hollered as the contestents swaggered around the stage, posing and shooting moody, sexy glances at the judges. The audience shrieked, waving home made placards as they swooned over their favourites, and in the interval we were all treated to a demonstration of ultra-impressive Brazilian martial arts. The whole crowd radiated unity and warmth. As I sipped on my tropical punch and idly took another olive, I gazed mistily at the beauty around me, and smiled at Paul. The whole experience was bliss. ‘We’ll stay for the first round’ turned into ‘Let’s just stay to see the formal round’ which morphed into ‘We really can’t miss the swimwear round’. One of those wonderful unintentional great nights out was happening.

As Paul and I headed off into the London night an hour or so later, I thought about London life, this elusive thing I was trying so hard to grasp. It was so enigmatic as to be frustrating, but it came down to the fact that the reasons we hate it are also the reasons we love it. Incredibly overcrowded and stuffed to the seams as is it, London has responded by laying on a plethora of fantastic entertainment for anyone, any night of the week. And in doing so, London offers a perfect counter to itself. Tired of the overcrowded tube? Well, why not revel in the overcrowded excitement of the shops then? Sick of packed shops? No problem, the clubs are crowded full of beautiful people. And then there’s the crowning attribute of beautifully multicultural London. If you get sick of it all, just ten minutes on a bus and you can be in Brazil. I was looking for my London life, and instead I’d found a little bit of Rio.

Friday, 23 October 2009

There you go, Astro Boy. On your flight into space. Rocket high, through the sky, for adventures soon you will face!

I left work yesterday with a sense of indefatigable purpose. I had set up the blog, and I was on my first mission. Ally-chan, a sweet Scottish friend of mine in the world of all-things Japanese, had invited me to an event on the theme of Astroboy (the Japanese comic character). I was hazy on the precise details, but it was cultural, edgy and perfect to get me started on my new work/life challenge. I was about to force myself back into the London that I had somehow accidently drifted out of.

In recent months I found myself reading articles and blogs about life in London with ever increasing incredulity. They told of life in a city of breath-taking excitement, complete with a giddying plethora of cultural attractions that are arguably unmatched in the world. Yet, this was my city, and the stories they were telling just didn’t match the life I was living. Somewhere, in the endless conveyer belt of early mornings, over-crowded commutes and long unfulfilling hours at work, I had got so bogged down with the negatives that I had forgotten I live in one of the most vibrant communities that has ever existed. I had to go back out there and find it again. And Astroboy was going to help me on my mission.

While shaking my life up and dusting it down I am also, in a vague kind of way, planning to take more exercise and be a bit more proactive about everything. So, I packed up and left work on foot, with a real jaunt in my step that I was doing so well and it was still day one. A real cultural find, and a lucky coincidence that Ally-chan had invited me on this particular day.

The walk took about 15 minutes more than the tube would have, but the pavements were less congested and it was a gorgeous evening. There was so much life as I strode through the roads that skirt the top of Oxford Street. There were little eddies of people, nobbly little shops, bright steamy restaurants, bubble-like taxis… I resolved to take it all in. Make memories, and remember these things, because these thoughts will be the ones lining your last days when all you can do is reflect on the life you once led.

I arrived in the allotted pub, and after an hour or so of tingly cider and hot pub grub, we repaired down High Holborn in the direction of Lincolns Inn Fields. I love this area of London. It’s so loud and central, but then suddenly there is this unexpected rabbit warren of streets and alleys which is satisfyingly Dickensian. We were headed to The Hunterian Museum, a place I had never heard of, which transpired to be inside the Royal College of Surgeons, a place I had heard of, but could certainly not have placed on a map until yesterday. It’s a surprisingly grand building, with big white pillars facing boldly out into the Fields. I must have seen it before, but somehow it had floated over my awareness, merging into a sea of faded imperial architecture, and failing to penetrate a mind that was probably spinning with committee meetings and Facebook.

We were late, and scurried into the lecture theatre, creeping into seats at the very back. An anime expert was giving a short introduction, which suddenly ended with dimming lights and increasing volume. The sweetly Japanese and childish voices of the Astroboy theme filled the room, and we all leant forward in anticipation, immediately channelling our inner child that loves a cartoon. I suspect I wasn’t the only viewer to retract slightly when I realised it was to be a black and white feature, but within minutes this was forgotten and I was immersed in Astroboy’s fantastical and simple world.

A spaceship had landed, containing a gravely ill space soldier. Only Astroboy could break into the space ship, but then how to cure this soldier? On Astroboy’s hunch that an army of tiny space microbes were taking over the body of the ailing space soldier, our hero and an associate (I’m a little hazy on the names) shrank themselves down to the size of atoms and headed into his body to fight back.

It was glorious of course. Childish simplicity and wonderful sound effects, with a storyline that pulled me straight back to traipsing home from school and watching cartoons on TV. We left as the next feature film was starting, and walked to a nearby pub for more cider and some tiger prawns. My mind stayed with jaunty little Astroboy, and lingered there on the tube ride home, and the walk from the tube station to my flat.

We all like to identify with the protagonist of films and TV, and yet there was so much in Astroboy that I wanted for me. Happy, indomitably optimistic and cheerful, and resolute in the face of challenges or even seemingly impending disaster, he was quite a role model. And as he had battled the army of space microbes inside the huge body of the space soldier, so I was battling the crowds and culture inside the huge metropolis that is London. Astroboy was looking for a cure. I was finding my London life...