Don’t want to sleep

It’s 2 a.m., and Mike is snoring lightly by my side, snug in our new bed. Our bedroom still smells of fresh paint (with an added hint of popcorn and Sainsbury’s prawn layered salad). Zoe got on the 380 bus about an hour ago, after a giggly day of inventions and good intentions, and I’ve spent hours browsing WordPress themes and used my best endeavours to turn her emotional journeys into comedic entertainment for our new project.

The third wine bottle has just been emptied, and with everyone gone I’m rounding off the evening with some comforting tunes from the best voice in Sweden. I still can’t decide if I prefer the magic of late night quietude or the vigour of early morning sunshine. I guess the answer is to just stay awake all the time.

greenwich night

The order of things

The other day I escaped the DIY clean-up operations at home and met up with sweet Zoe again at our favourite hang, the Dial Arch. Since we last saw each other, it had been made clear that I had read and been influenced by male journalist travel writers only, and was obviously not being as honest and authentic in my writing as I should, so Zoe had put me on Eat, Pray, Love duty.  It was a bit of an eye opener, and I realised that I’m not a dry, witty, researching journalist type writer, but more of an emotional observer and analytical explorer. While I’ve been reading Liz Gilbert (not without shame – always making sure to hide the book cover when reading in public, and feeling extremely silly for doing so), the USA book has faded away to be revisited at a later time, because I think the tale of my first backpacking trip is eager to be born first. She will be the elder sibling, the laying down of the foundation. That was when I was all alone for five months and truly had to face myself and all the ugly stuff inside, as well as the beautiful treasures and surprising resources I found within me. I feel like if I figure out the arc of that first journey, then I will be able to see the shape of the second one. This might be how it wants to happen.

zoe and bella

Zoe and Bella at Dial Arch


Anyhow, Zoe got stuck in traffic so I ordered a black coffee and sat down to write. I opened the USA book and nothing came. I couldn’t even look at it. So I opened a blank document and began writing about the first trip, and before long my heart was pounding hard in my chest as the words positively poured out of me. I must have looked like a lunatic, staring intently at the screen and mouthing words as I wrote dialogue, my face contorting along with the emotions that arose with the words. When the barman came to pick up my coffee mug I was so buzzy I couldn’t speak to him.

“You done with your coffee?” he asked and began to clean up.

I surprised myself by shouting “Yes please!” and went on to stammer something about how I would order another coffee but will wait for friend because sorry just really into this!

I wrote 2,000 words in the hour it took Zoe to get there, and by the time she arrived I was out of breath and trembling. I’ve been very pleased with certain parts of the USA book, but never has the process of writing felt like that – it has more been like carefully assembling an IKEA corner desk, whereas this was more like a child let loose with oil paints.

I pounded out 3,000 more words that afternoon, and I think it’s actually quite good – but the verdict will come at the Greenwich Writers’ meetup next week. My stomach turns thinking about it.


A weekend with Swedes

Veronica is my crazy, colourful, all-over-the-place, vain, contemplative, scatterbrained friend from school.  She is a mother of three, and an amazing artist – the stuff that pours from her head onto paper is just beautiful and completely insane. She’s been to visit me six or seven times, and each time I am reminded of why I love London.

Veronica Levin

Naturally we headed to Camden, not only because it always delivers, but also because Veronica’s man Markus had never been and it’s always great fun to bring a freshman to experience the madness for the first time.

As always, it was busy and noisy and full of tasty food and colourful crafts, and Cyberdog still awakens the raver within me. The lights and the tunes remind me of epic nights spent in pimped-up warehouses and obscure vaults, dancing for hours and having the best conversations with strangers. Like Magnus, a guy I met in a balloon queue once. He had slaved away in the same office for twenty years, and one day he had walked up to his desk and just couldn’t bring himself to sit down. So he didn’t – instead he moved to London, got a mohawk, and started raving. We high-fived and felt smug about our respective escapes.

(Spring is coming – perhaps it’s time again? I still haven’t been to Whirl-y-Gig…)

It was bitterly cold and we had to keep moving, so after a brief amble through the main parts of the market we headed for the bars.



camden shops

We met up with old friends from around the UK and caught up on each other’s lives in the Blues Kitchen.

Once upon a time Veronica, our splendid photographer and philosopher friend Sarah, and I were stumbling home from a Greenwich adventure, and one of those chance meetings happened when we ran into two friendly chaps whom we later got to know as Rus the Viking and Henrik the German. They were getting on a bus to the eastern docks, and we spontaneously hopped on and spent that night in convivial company and fervent discussions about life, the universe and everything.  The following night they brought us to the Wibbly Wobbly, a boat pub (which has now sunk, boo!) where we wobbled with pints and the pub cat and yet more intriguing conversations with Rus and his cheery housemate, Kamil.

(That’s Rus below, but he’s hiding behind a mystery cloak of viking hair and is thus difficult to capture on camera.)

blues kitchen camden

So we reunited and drank and were merry, and bumbled from bar to bar.

camden pubs

blues kitchen camden

Once, some years ago, we met Veronica’s KAW friends, and we all sat on top of Primrose Hill and laughed and drank ourselves silly to the most perfect sunset over the glinting city lights. Two girls from that splendid evening, Kayley and Erica, also joined us for our Camden outing.

friends in camden

As the night wore on, people said their goodbyes and got their last trains. Veronica, Markus, Mike and I took a stroll along the canal and ended up in World’s End. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I can’t wait for warmer weather so that I can spend more long nights along these canals, which reflect the city and attract vibrant picnicers and other such fun folk with whom one could spend a carefree summer’s eve and never meet again. Ah, the sweet magic of summer.

camden lockworlds endThe next day it was just the four of us, and after a Full English spiced with Gammeldansk (“Gør godt om morgenen”) we strolled through the spraycanned streets of Shoreditch, went to the Backyard Market and bought ridiculous necklaces, and Veronica drooled over vintage art while I stared in horror at empty-eyed taxidermy creations.
shoreditch streetWhen it got dark and cold, 93 Feet East called us in with their generous seating areas and comforting heating lamps. I quizzed Markus on what it’s like to tour with a band in America, as he has done more than once, and I took mental notes for a novel which is brewing somewhere in my brain, to be fully formed at a later date.
93 Feet East

And as naturally as flow follows ebb, we ended up in Café 1001 because that’s just what we do. This is my old hood – this is where, before the smoking ban was enforced, the big chill boys of East London would sit sprawling in leather chairs and smoke spliffs to the relaxing beat of Jamaican reggae, and Karin and I would sit here with our cans of Red Stripe and feel young and free.

Café 1001 always works because it has everything you need for a good day and night – start in the outside seating area where you can have a barbecue, a smoke and a chat while the sun set betweens the tall brick walls. As it gets busier, move inside and buy yourself a vegan dessert in the downstairs seating area. When evening hits, go up the stairs and hang in the chill-out area for a bit, chat, drink, warm up. And then go through the rabbit hole to the dance floor in the back, where you can easily disappear in rhythmic beats until the wee hours. Sorted.
Cafe 1001My favourite Café 1001 wall art:
cafe 1001 wall artCafe 1001Cafe 1001Veronica Levin

It was fun and beautiful and busy and educational and utterly exhausting, and after they had gone home life felt a bit empty for a while, with nothing left but a bottle of Gammeldansk and a delicious Marabou Mjölkchoklad. I went back upstairs and carried on painting the skirting boards.

I’m sure it won’t be long before Veronica swings by again – she just can’t resist the primal calling of ol’ London town…

london is calling