180 degrees

What have I been doing?  I forgot about the city.  But today I was reminded that there’s more to life than Woolwich.  I remembered how I love those dusty tube tracks and the ferrous air that comes pushing at us as the trains approach.  The sound of iron against iron, the clunking noise travelling down the tiled walls with their poetic Jack Daniels adverts.  I love the variety of people and buildings and shops and absurdities.  I love the people with crazy hats and purple hair.  I love the way the busker’s accordion tunes echo down the tunnels, making me feel like I’m in Amélie.

I love the graffiti and the wall art; people making their mark on the city.  I love the old bricks and the worn cobblestones.  I love the surprises lurking around every corner.

I love the way I can just go and sit by the canal and some crazy girl will talk to me and a bunch of Brazilians will play guitar for us.  I love the way a pint of Noble glints in the afternoon sunlight.  I love the willows gently dipping their branches into the canal, rippling their way through the lock.

camden lock

camden lock

I love the smell of food from every country in the world.  I love meeting Italians and yelling “FIGO!” and “dolce far niente” in their faces and we all laugh.  I love practicing my Spanish with random Colombian ladies who tell me “buena suerte!” and smile at me with their whole being.

I love the lady’s voice on the DLR – “The next stop is West Silvertown” (which always smells like poppers).  Ten years later I’m sitting on the same DLR train, listening to the same Bright Eyes songs about city life and heartbreak, yet everything is different and so much has happened.  I love the many memories that have nestled themselves into the very fabric of this city, in every corner (apart from the west – why would anyone ever go to Shepherd’s Bush?  East side forever, yo.)

kajsas hatI’ve been such a silly girl, hiding in our little penthouse so far away from everyone.  From now on I will spend my days in the city, not in Woolwich with all its drills and cranes and deceiving jippos (personal experience, not prejudice). I’ve met some funny people today, and had some nice conversations in three different languages.  I’ve bought beautiful dresses and finally found the hat I’ve always been looking for.  On the Northern Line, a man in a suit dropped a yellow jelly bean on the train floor and we looked at each other and laughed, and for some reason that felt really nice.  I’ve sung along to Elvis hits in the street and realised that nobody cares.  I can do what I want.  This life is for me.  I’m such a lucky girl.

Even Woolwich looks beautiful in a summer sunset

Even Woolwich looks beautiful in a summer sunset

woolwich

 

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

IMG_4654rs

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