Swedish Girl In London

London Life: Bright Lights, Big City. Now what's on TV?

Monday, October 31, 2005

You're A Big Girl Now

We were all collecting them back then, in 1996 – the year I left Sweden. They were called Grown Up Points.

We had just graduated from high school and being a Grown Up still seemed like a desirable, although slightly far-fetched prospect. I hate to admit it, but we really did squeal things like:

“We are, like, soooo old!”
“Eighteen! You’re an old-age pensioner!”
“My God! I look like a raisin!”

Of course, we could say these things because deep down, we knew that we were still fresh-faced teenagers.

You could accumulate Grown Up Points by doing Grown Up stuff like…

- eat After Eights rather than pick-n-mix candy
- spend time with the Sunday cross-word
- pass one’s driving’s licence
- give Couple’s Dinners
- pay rent.

Believe it or not, but we wore these things like badges of honour. So what happened? Because now we’re boasting about the absolute opposite: being childish.

“Oh, I can’t imagine having kids yet. I’m a kid myself!”
“Yay! Let’s skive!”
“Pension schemes are for Grown Ups.”

Nothing will ever shock me as the realisation, during my last year at university, that the bearded young man next to me was born in the 80s. I really felt something should be done about that. Don’t get me wrong – people can be born in the 80s, if they insist on it. I’m not impossible. They can even play with Tamaguchis and watch Alf on TV, if they want. What they can’t do is have a beard and go to university.

But in the end – what’ so bad about Growing Up? Maybe I should rename this blog Swedish Lady In London. But see, that just sounds bad – and it would get the wrong sort of googles.

Friday, October 28, 2005

East is East (but not for long)

London is moving eastwards, or so Doc keeps telling me when I longingly cast my eyes to the iridescent facades of Chelsea.

“In twenty years time, you won’t even recognise Canary Wharf”, he says. He’s got a point – just check out this development in Poplar Docks.

Still, the social scene hasn’t really kept pace with the gentrification of the old Docklands. Canary Wharf may be full of unexpected waterways and posh-looking little parks, but eating & drinking is stuck in Brand Land: Wagamama, Eat, Starbucks...

... of course, most of all Starbucks. A big penguin colony of suits spill out of the Norman Foster-desgined tube station every morning, sipping caffè latte from beaker cups. I've got a theory about why we love beaker cups so much, by the way: It takes us back to our old nursery days - a much safer time than now, when we have to face the cold world every morning and go into work. If we can't have stuffed toys and lego, at least leave us our beakers.

At the top of the rolling staircase a small, dejected man is handing out free copies of City A.M.

"Your morning newspaper! Free for you, sir!"

But people just hurry by, and for some reason that makes me a little bit sad (and even more in need of my beaker).

The times they are a-changing, though. Just along the road, you have got the gastropub The Gun, for instance, all roaring fires and Lord Nelson nostalgia - and above Waitrose, the Conran venue Plateau serves glitzy food in a Sex in the City setting.

Maybe the latte brigade can mix with the old Eastenders, in the end?

On the Sunny Side of Oxford Street

Another autumn, another H&M Christmas campaign. Were you, like me, fooled by last year’s Karl Lagerfeld malarkey? In Geneva at the time, I insisted on rushing into the nearest H&M shop, which surely is the Swedish equivalent of Brits demanding pints of lager in Megaluf or Austrians yodelling at Heathrow*: fine in your own country, but not very imaginative when abroad.

Anyway, in I rushed, only to be met with a section of non-descript, black garments. I believe I even spotted a disturbing tights-and-tunics combo. This is really all I’m ever going to say on the matter.

This year’s haute couture Big Beast is of course Stella McCartney (collection in stores on 10 November). Or Big Beast is perhaps not the best description – very small, even lap-dog sized, Beast would be more accurate. (That’s got the right Pekinese associations as well, as I can’t help but observe – although this is quite bitchy so please disregard.) Surely this is bodes better for the collection?

After all, Lagerfeld doesn’t design for young women. He’s much more at home on the planet of two-pieces. Although I have never got closer to a Stella McCartney piece than a paparazzi pic in Marie-Claire, they seem funkier, girlier… more H&M, tout simplement.

And I suppose there’s the rub: I don’t want to buy Stella’s clothes because they look Haute Couture. I want to buy them because they look Highstreet.

So what’s the point in sleeping in a cardboard box outside the shop like some straggly-haired StarWars fan? What’s the point in queing, cross and sweaty, to get five depressing minutes in the changing room? When the style I like can be found next door in Warehouse, under much calmer auspices?

Face it, expensive clothes are never going to be as much fun. I'm sticking to the sunny side of the highstreet.

*one of these two phenomena surely more common than the other

Veni, vidi, mingli

Yesterday’s mingling went reasonably well, in that I wasn’t ejected from the building or speared by a cocktail pin.

I think I might have offended a nice Japanese man, though, with the question:
“Where are you based?”
He looked very surprised. “Pardon?”
“Eh… where are you based?”
“Why do you ask me that?”

And now I was really stumped for an answer. Why on Earth was I asking him that? After all, I wasn’t planning on sending him a Christmas card or flowers or even a strip-o-gram. It just seemed like a fairly harmless conversation opener.

So that involved me in a long and complicated lie about how I’ve always wanted to go to Tokyo and was trying to get tips from people who lived there. I think I left him with the distinct impression that I was fishing for an invitation to sleep on his couch, and shortly afterwards he moved away with a polite bow. Oh well.

Thanks so much for your great suggestions, by the way! I’ll be much more socially competent at my next mingling event (probably ten years from now!). But I have noticed a new mingling difficulty: How do you politely leave somebody?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Mingle with the Pringles

A mingling event is coming up on my not-so-crammed social calendar. Now, I realise that this should make me dive joyfully into my wardrobe and emerge Holly Golightly-like in a black shift dress, suckling a diamantee cigarette holder. Instead, I fear it will be another opportunity to ponder my general social ineptitude.

I just have not mastered the art of small talk, particularly not in combination with canapés. You would think only Indian deities could handle shaking hands & exchanging business cards while holding a glass of wine and a plate with mini-quiche. However, I know for a fact that this feat has been performed by normal, two-armed people at many mingling events I have attended in the past. What I don’t know is how.

Even more difficult is actually finding something to talk about. Nothing is emptier than my brain after being introduced to a suited business contact. Nothing! Not even an East German supermarket during communism! And we all know how situations like that end, don’t we? That’s right – with a bad joke.

But this time I’ll come prepared. I have listed my Top Five Small-Talk Subjects, so ubiquitous that they can’t fail to please:

1. Mobile phones. They are the new plumbers – everybody has got a horror story. A particularly popular strand is to complain about other people using theirs inappropriately. Of course, I shamelessly play along in this and shudder at the thought of people conversing loudly on the bus. (In truth, I can’t bear to be parted from my wee Ericsson. After all, there is something so reassuring about it. Whenever you’re in the pub and your mate has gone to the loo, you get your phone up and start fiddling around with it. It’s sort of like signalling: I might look like Norman No-Mates at the moment, but see, at the tiniest click of my finger I could be in direct satellite contact with… Prince Harry. Or someone.)

2. Hmm, I’m already struggling, and that’s only the first subject polished off. Wait, I’ve got it – religion, politics and sexual orientation! No? You spoil-sports. Well, what about transport? If the mingling event is in any large city, there will surely be a deep well of pent-up tube-rage to tap into. I feel that this subject should be approached with some caution, though. Things can get nasty when free champagne is involved.

3. On a similar theme - the congestion charge. I still don’t know how it works, but you seem to be able to get great mileage out of it.

4. "Tell me about yourself". In theory this one should be unbeatable, because I have yet to meet somebody who doesn’t like to talk about their own pretty self (see this blog for evidence). It’s a little bit harder to pull off in real life, however. The risk is that you come across as a slightly creepy, US-style shrink, and we wouldn’t want that now, would we? So I’ll have to work on that one.

5. Empty. Empty. Empty! Wo sind die Grünsachen?

Are you scared yet?

Now Doc is unhappy and I’m afraid that I’m responsible for this state of affairs. Instead of drinking Real Ales in the Jerusalem Tavern, as we were supposed to do yesterday, we ended up in the cinema to feed my Costume Drama habit.

“Come on,” I cajoled, “it’s Roman Polanski! He directed Aliens!”
“What?” spluttered Doc. “Roman Polanski never directed Alien!”
“Oh, didn’t he? Maybe it was Rosemary’s baby. Anyway, something scary, just the way you like it.”
“Your definition of scary is watching Miss Marple re-runs without the lights on,” Doc reminded me.
“Tsk. Is not.”
“Then who was it that shrieked like a banshee when we went to see the play Woman in Black?”
“But that was scary!”
“It’s a theatre play. Nobody gets scared in the theatre, unless they watch the Vagina Monologues with Kathy Bates.”

And so on and on. But no arguing can change nature, which has ordained that
A) I shall be a woman;
B) Doc shall be a man...
... and you all know what that means. Yup, I got my way, and we watched Oliver Twist instead of drinking beer.

Bad karma placed me firmly behind a curly-haired Italian girl, though, which meant I only caught random glimpses of the action through her Botticelli locks. After all, you can’t really lean over and part someone's hairdo like leaves in a djungle – because messing with a girl and her coiffure… now that’s scary.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Real Ale Question

Real ales – now there’s a subject that has occupied my close friend Doc for a while. That’s not real as opposed to virtual, though. It’s real as in connected to the Land, the Past and - I vaguely imagine – Livestock & Laconic Farmers. It’s real as in “what Father Tuck would have brewed in Sherwood Forest”.

Real ales normally seem to be consumed by bearded people in dusty pubs. I also think there might be a folk music connection, although this would horrify Doc.

If you’re still not sure whether that’s a real ale in your hand, or merely an impostor with an expensive ad campaign behind it, then just check the following:
  • Are there odd-looking bits swivelling around at the bottom of your pint?
  • Does it foam like the mouth of (possibly deceased) cow?
  • Do you have to listen to long lectures from Doc or barman before taking a sip?

A great place to drink Real Ales: The Jerusalem Tavern A great place to avoid Real Ales: American Bar at The Savoy

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A Mobile Defense

Ten years on, and mobile phones are still tricky when it comes to manners, don't you think?

I suppose we are over the first knee-jerk "thrash Spinning Jenny" response of the mid 90s. Back then, you'd be ostracized for speaking publicly in a mobile phone, at least in Scotland.

"Ponce!" people said with narrowed eyes, as you cowered in a street corner and whispered into the receiver. I remember escaping into public loos with my own first phone (bought by loving parent to keep track of my whereabouts in foreign lands), but then people just thought that you were conversing loudly with yourself in the cubicle.

Now people seem to find it rude to talk on the mobile when you're on the bus, in the coffee shop or on the move in general. I'm not really sure I understand why. When else are you supposed to use your mobile? And yes, sometimes you do utter the dreaded words "I'm on the bus" - because it is the only truthful response to the question: "Where are you?"


I was supposed to meet a Spanish language exchange called Jairo outside Covent Garden tube at six o’clock yesterday, but arrived – in time-honoured Swedish fashion – early and decided to kill some time in Oasis. Two skirts (and the painful realisation that I’m NOT a size 6) later, I wasn’t early anymore, and rushed out with that horrid feeling all true Swedes get when they are more than two minutes late.

Ten minutes hence, and no Jairo.

To this point, all my dealing with Jairo had been via e-mail and SMS, which meant I hadn’t got a clue what he might look like. I had some vague idea about darkish hair and a tan, but that was more to do with national stereotyping than anything else. I think that he might have written in his last e-mail that he would be wearing jeans, which was both reassuring and useless:

Useless: as a narrowing-down piece of information, that is, not when it comes to the basic keep-you-warm-and-decent function of clothing. I mean - jeans? It doesn’t really weed you out from the masses the way, say, red bazaar-style trousers would.
Reassuring: While red bazaar-style trousers would have made Jairo easier to pick out in a crowd, it would also have made me less willing to do so.

Anyways, this meant that I was tentatively establishing eye-contact with any tanned dark man in jeans passing my way (No, that is not something I do all the time, I’ll have you know. Tsk!). This was misinterpreted in several instances. Most of the tanned men just got a worried look and hurried away, but one sleazy-looking specimen was evidently delighted and followed me around for at least five minutes.

Twenty minutes and still no Jairo.

In despair, I started to accost various strangers with the question: Are you Jairo? Now, I realise that if you don’t speak Spanish, this sounds like some sort of odd insult – the guttural sound of the Spanish J is enough to scare anybody. I also asked a girl what time it was. She looked pityingly at me and enquired whether I was on a blind date. This I had to refute violently, of course. No, no, no, I wasn’t at all the type of person who went on blind date, and even if I were, I was definitely not the type who would be stood up by a blind date. Here, painful recollections of trying on size 6 skirt in Oasis resurfaced and silenced me. The girl merely said that it was six-thirty, and moved away.

Shortly afterwards, an unrepentant, jeans-clad Jairo showed up, guided me to a Nero coffee shop, fed me with muffins and turned out to be a perfectly sweet, though unpunctual guy. The conversation somehow ended up on stereotypes, and Jairo ventured that English girls Drank A Lot, and wondered if Swedish girls did the same. I replied that I was afraid that we did & Jairo shook his head. I then suggested that Latin American girls probably did the same, only when he wasn't around to see it, and he very amicably agreed that this was probably so.

I now realise that people can be as late and macho as they like, but if they agree with me and give me muffins, I will still like them immensly.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Hot Property

If there is a theme that recurs in all London conversations sooner or later, it's the Property Market and - more specifically - How Expensive It Is. Or maybe this is more due to my age than where I live? Because suddenly, God knows how, we've all reached an age when you actually consider buying a house - not in the idle, early-twenties fashion of conjuing up cool bachelor pads overlooking Central Park or bohemian attic flats in Montmartre... but in the late-twenties real bricks-and-mortar sense with attached plumbing and mortgages.

This means that I'm constantly being buzzed around by various estate agents with various friends to look at various flats - like yesterday, for instance.

Yesterday's area: Angel.
Yesterday's friend: Alias Aurora.
Yesterday's estate agent: alert-looking person with Becks-style hair.

"I don't want to see any ex-local authority flats", said Aurora very decisively, and Becks agreed heartily, before driving us to a ghetto-like building that looked as though it should be approached in a tank.

"Isn't this ex-local authority?" Aurora asked suspiciously, and Becks once again agreed heartily that it was and shooed us out of the car. He said it would be great for us to look at, so we would know what we didn't want. I can now see several faults with this logic, but at the time we just acquiesced meekly and followed him into The World's Smallest Lift (also made remarkable by its yellow and orange colour scheme).

After looking at an equally tiny flat, where the door to the loo wouldn't close because of odd arrangement of defunct radiator, we mumbled that it was "lovely" and Becks rewarded us by letting us into the car again.

Once on the road, Becks told us to tell him again exactly what sort of flat we were interested in, and Aurora again suggested anything that wasn't ex-local authority. Excellent choice, in Becks opinion. Then we stopped by another poxy-looking council estate, passed a depressed-looking young girl with a glum wee baby in a pram, and were shown a ground-floor flat with greenish stains in the ceiling.

By now I was starting to feel as though we should all gather together, sing the International, overthrow the government and build nice-looking houses for everybody. Aurora's anger was more directed towards Becks - probably because she was the one buying the place and thus actually having to live there.

"No ex-local authority houses, OK?" she said as we stomped out.

The next house really wasn't ex-local authority, but it was on the other hand hardly in London anymore. Beck optimistically claimed that it was close to the mainline station, but Aurora merely gave him a whithering look. I, for reasons that defy analysis, had to compensate by complimenting the house extravagantly.

"What are you doing?" Aurora wheezed.

"Just trying to be polite," I wheezed back.

"Why? It's not his house, and it certainly won't be mine."

The hunt goes on. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Rollerskate Disco at Kings Cross

Hey girls, get your leg-warmers, pom-poms and blue eyeshadow out - it's time for the Rollerskate Disco at Bagleys' in Kings Cross Depot! No excuses now, Proud Mary, you know that you need to keep rollin'.

And what do you mean you can't skate? That's what the good-looking minders are there for.

Be warned, though - at first, the location appears a bit dodgy. Yes, it does look as though you are taken away to a parking lot to get duct-tape plastered over your mouth before being stuffed away in the boot of a car. Once inside, however, the disco is all palmtrees, cushy sofas and ra-ra skirts. Lycra-clad creatures swoosh around three different dancefloor, and everything is very Baz Luhrman-esque and retro.

How to Watch Football

Now, I'm not the sort of person who gets out my stripey scarf of a Saturday and trundles away to the football stadium for some primal screaming. I don't need that outlet of aggression - I travel daily on the tube, for Pete's sake.

But you cannae live in Scotland and England for almost ten years without going a bit native, and so yesterday two Spanish friends and I ventured out to the Sports Cafe to watch Chelsea vs. Real Betis.

"Glory hunters", mutter the true football fans - the ones who in infancy attach themselves to a particular group of under-achieving muppets for purely geographical reasons. Well, that might be so! Still, a wise choice if you are the sort of competitive person who injures people when playing Scrabble.

Even if you're not a die-hard football fan, there are a number of ways of keeping yourself entertained during a football match. One is to play "Look-alikes":

Ruud van Nistelrooy looks like an Ugly Travolta.
Rui Costa looks like a Statue on Easter Island.
Wayne Rooney calls to mind a baby Shrek.
The more fortunate Antonios Nikipolidis resembles George Clooney.
Thierry Henry looks like that guy in the Renault commercial.

More fun and frolics to be had at www.tffo.co.uk.

Some good pubs for football watching:

Swedish games - The Harcourt Arms in Marylbone, mysteriously enough
Portuguese games - Bar Estrela in Stockwell
Dutch games - De Hems off Leicester Square
Italian games - Bar Italia off Tottenham Court Road
Spanish games - Bar Lorca, Stoke Newington
French games - Bar des Magies in Clapham

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Model Behaviour

Two British public figures have been in trouble for their alleged cocaine use recently:

A. Fashion model Kate Moss, pictured using a mirror for something other than checking her immaculate outfits.
B. Tory leader candidate David Cameron, who has refused to either confirm or deny rumours that he has tried cocaine in the past.

The consequences have been a bit different for Kate and Cameron, however.

Cocaine is generally agreed to render Miss Moss unfit for her job as a model (consisting mostly of keeping a slim figure), and she has lost several contracts and been sent to rehab.

Tory MPs seem less concerned about drugs impeding their man from doing a good job in No 10 (consisting, hopefully, of keeping a clear head and staying away from dangerous hubris), and David Cameron has emerged as a front runner in the campaign.

Well, there you go. Who got it right? Were people to strict on Moss, or to lenient towards Cameron?

Now That's Another Tory...

The cigar-chomping bonhomie of Europhile Kenneth Clarke hasn't been enough to keep him in the race for the Tory leadership party. Last night, the Conservative MPs decided that he has delighted them long enough, and the contenders are now whittled down to:

1. Baby-faced Eton-boy David Cameron, who just weathered a "did he or did he not take cocaine?" controversy without getting his floppy mop in a tizzy.
2. Rightwinger David Davies, who in spite of growing up on a council estate and serving as a SAS reserve looks about as hard as a squidgy marshmallow.
3. Liam Fox, apparently an old-school Thatcher man, who I admit haven't registered much on my radar.

This nomination is a much more boisterous affair than our sedate, Swedish way of chosing party leaders, which seems to consist of approaching a number of horrified people, who all try to avoid the honour with lame excuses like "but I've got to wash my hair today". Finally, someone is led away to the office by his ear, and then normally stays there for, oh, about 50 years. We don't really like change much.

But, as we all know, the UK is home to a noisy Parliament and their politicos are of a more flamboyant variety. The Tory MPs will now elect two candidates, who then have to persuade the grassroots to vote for them. Don't ask me exactly how this happens - I have still not got my head around the caucases (plural? spelling? meaning?) of the US Democrat campaign and courage fails me when I consider starting all over again with the British system.

I do like this cruel talent show approach to matters though. It's entertaining. At the Party Conference, all the candidates gave speeches, and the media actually measured the length and vigour of hand-clapping afterwards. It was like a Pop Idol talent show.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Twisting & Turning

The Turner Prize shortlist will go on display at the Tate Britain today, and I bet that a fair amount of folk have already prepared their sneers for “this conceptual art rubbish”. And of course, on the other side of the fence, the art brigade will respond with their own sneers at those old fogeys who can’t deal with anything more challenging than a stud by Stubbs – or worse, a sleazy Vettriano post card.

Somehow, you have to chose your allegiance, not on the grounds of whether or not you like the work of art - but what sort of person you want to be:

Old fogey?
Or arty-farty?

London Film Festival

It's the second day of the London Film Festival, and the last day of the giant screen in Trafalgar Square. Hurry, or you'll miss the short film Lightman, a "manic short film about a man, scared of the dark, who tries to recreate the sun in his loft". (I'm definitely not one to mock, considering the electric shock I gave myself last time I switched a light bulb.)

Tonight, The Constant Gardener, a John le Carre adaptation starring Rachel Weisz and Ralph Fiennes, is showing at Odeon Leicester Square. Do check out the website: can't you smell the panic in the marketing team?

"Whadda ya mean - gardener? It's gonna make people think of Alan Thitchmarsh pottering about in Auntie's rose garden. Get some big, flashy guns on the poster."

I do want to see it, although I've got a feeling that any John le Carré filmatisation is bound to fail. How could they translate to the screen that delicious feeling of never really knowing what's going on? Or is that just me reading le Carré?

But of course, the Constant Gardener is not the sort of film you should see at a Festival. It'll come to a theatre near you soon enough. It's the likes of Lightman that deserves our patronage, if they so have to handcuff us to the seat.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Quiz Mizz

Oh come on, nobody grows out of a good quiz! I was quite fond of this quiz site (until it told me that my style twin was Nicole Ritchie) and the geek test.

And as a good Swedish girl, I have to point you towards the Ikea Family Test: Which type of furniture are you?

Yes, really.

Back To Life

Rumours abound that the old 90s TV show This Life is about to be resurrected for a Christmas Special "Ten Years On" episode - oh please, let it be so!

Set in a flatshare in London, it was the handy-cam, British version of Friends, which means bed-heads in the morning and normal teeth. The cast looked like us, listened to Portishead like we did, drank Thresher's special offer Chardonnay like we did and, importantly, didn't group hug. They did have the back-up of some witty scriptwriters, though.

The cast:
Anna, a leggy, mouthy, do-I-care Scot, who fancied...
Miles, pre-Colin Firth posterboy for posh, who possibly fancied her back.
Milly, uptight and prone to baths, mysteriously attached to...
Egg, a sweet football & lager type of lad.

Are there other defunct TV shows out there that should be brought back to the screen? Don't tell me that you're happy with "Lost" - the adventures of Buzz Lightyear on a desert island surely can't keep us entertained? And "Desperate Housewives" is no replacement for Sex and the City - aren't we tiring of Mary Alice, a woman who manages to be dead and annoying at the same time?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Accentuate the negative

The success of Mortalia's monosyllabic conversation last night has led to a rather troubling question:

Is the effort normally dispensed to produce upbeat repartee a waste of time?

What I mean is - if people seem to be just as happy with Mortalia's deathly stares, why bother trying to be pleasant and polite?

From Russia, with Very Little Love

This weekend I went out In Character, something I haven’t done since, oh, at least 2002. Going out In Character involves spinning an elaborate and wholly untruthful backstory for yourself and then trying to pass it off as God’s honest truth to various strangers in the night. When you’re in character, you should be a Nurse in a Cosmetic Surgery, or Married to the Mob.

(Why, did you ask? Hm. I’ll get back to you on that one later.)

Tonight’s Theme: My tiny, pretty friend was cast as A Happy Girl from Ile Saint Maurice, while I got the role of Morose Gold-digger from Siberia.

Then came the question of names. After some discussion, we elected…

A) Aurora for my friend, because it would surely bring to mind sunrises on sandy beaches and general holiday brochure jollity. In keeping with this, Aurora was instructed to clap her hands excitedly & giggle at all comments.
B) Mortalia for myself, since it was agreed that it made you think of Russia and death. Mortalia’s brief was to assume sombre & depressed demeanour and answer everything in the negative.

Q: “Do you like London?”
A: “No.”

Q: “Are you having fun?”
A: “No.”

At first, this turned out to be astonishingly difficult to keep up. I'm ashamed to say that smiling & prancing like My Little Pony on lithium seem to be ingrained in my DNA. After a while, though, I got the hang of it and started to enjoy Mortalia’s negative vibe.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Galaxy Far Far Away

Oh my, don't we all love star-spotting! I'm not very good at it, but since coming to London I have done my best to natch up a respectable star-spotting tab.

Here we go:

1. In a bar, a friend of mine pointed out a youngster in a velvet suit that she swore was famous, though she wasn't sure exactly what FOR. She theorised that it might be MTV Europe, but phoned me up next morning to say that it was probably Top of the Pops she was thinking of. So that's star number one: Velvet Suit, Possibly from Top of Pops.

2. In the lovely restaurant Shampers, off Kingly Street, I caught a glimpse of a leonine mane tucking into a plate of sallad. Have to admit that I thought nothing more of it until my dinner companion asked in hushed tones if that wasn't "the woman off Ally McBeal". By that time, the leonine mane had already finished her salad and disappeared, so we can't know for sure. Voila, star number two: Leonine mane, Possibly the woman off Ally McBeal.

I admit that these are quite small fixtures on the firmament. They shed their light from a galaxy far, far away, maybe. At this rate, I might get to see the Archbishop of Canterbury in a couple of years time.

Although, in my defense, I have seen Kevin Spacey and Rob Lowe - but on stage, which is cheating. And here I have to add that I find it very bad mannners to start clapping the minute the star sets foot on stage, completely ignoring the other actors who have been sweating blood for our entertainment for about half an hour already.

There! Keep those flippers still, children!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Footsie Index

Recent bookshop browsing has given rise to this random observation:

Feet = the Number One motif for Books about Girls.

Sometimes a bit of leg is also in the picture, and I've spotted the occasional mid-riff, but in general, the focus is on feet.

Just to show that I have done my research, check out these cover designs:

The Virgin Suicides
A Complicated Kindness
Cold Water
Once In A House on Fire
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight
Five Miles From Outer Hope

What did I tell you? Feet, feet and further feet.

Might it be that feet photos show just enough and conceal just enough? Look at somebody's feet, and they will inevitably tell you something about the person toddling around on them.

Sometimes feet are innocent, and then normally accessorised with white ankle socks - see The Virgin Suicides and A Complicated Kindness. Sometimes they suggest a troubled childhood, usually through some bruising and a strategically placed plaster - see Once In A House on Fire and Dont' Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight. (As for the rugged pair of Converse All-Stars on the cover of Cold Water, they are undoubtly much more suitable for the young protagonist's job as a waitress than the Mary-Janes the author keeps referring to throughout the book. )

And yet, in spite of this convenient shorthand, feet remain relatively anonymous. They don't intrude on your imagination the way faces do.

Of course, the mystery is only sustained until you turn the book over and are met with a close-up of the author in black-and-white. For reasons I don’t really get, I always have to match those photos with the feet on the front page. The images you come up with can be a bit disconcerting, the combination of Jeffrey Eugenides and white ankle socks being particularly unfortunate.

Perfectly Piccadilly

Tiny Books Etc outlets are mushrooming all over London, which is well and good if you long for a 3-for-2 offer on Richard & Judy's Bookclub, but less exciting if you want any backlist title, even by popular, contemporary authors. As a rule, only Paolo Coelho seems to get more than two inches of shelf-space (and this is all I will say on the matter of Coelho. I hope you appreciate my restraint).

So if it's a bookshop of the old-school calibre you are after, head to Hatchard's on Piccadilly Street. Here, the dust-to-books ratio is pleasingly high and, thankfully, no elevator muzak soundtracks your browsing. Even better - you are sure to find lovely Persephone titles and a copy of The Diary of A Provincial Lady in their broad selection.

For a perfect Miss Marple day, pop into the Richoux, also on Piccadilly Street, on your way home. It’s a brocade-clad tearoom where you can nibble scones in the company of ancient, Mittel-European ladies and Knightbridge housewives. The Provincial Lady would approve. Just don’t go on a weekend, when there is a minimum £10 charge per person. (Did you evah? Well, I nevah!)

Other cool London Book Shops:
Magma for graphic design
Foyles for international literature
Standford's for maps and travel literature

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Clothes Encounters in the UK

English Girls:

1. Hoxton Chicks
Flat ballerina pumps
Military-style jackets
Glittery brooches
Skinny jeans
- i.e. loyal to Kate Moss

2. Islington Birds
Peasant skirts
Random tassles
Ugg boots (still!)
- the Sienna brigade

3. Chelsea Girls
Fur gilets
Pirate boots
Jeans skirts
Expensive highlights

To be continued…

Brand New World

There’s something emblematic about Topshop’s Oxford Circus flagship store. Other Topshop outlets might look slightly grotty and force you to wade knee-high in crochet ponchos that lay discarded on the floor to reach the changing rooms – but Oxford Circus, now that’s a different kettle of fish.

Am I the only one who regresses fifteen years in age on the other side of its swishy doors? Suddenly I get inexplicable urges to behave like a girl in a movie montage: trying out wigs and sunglasses to general hilarity, buy candy straight from Chernobyl (if the colour is anything to go by) and perhaps even shoplift a strawberry lip gloss or two.

So come on, my sisters, indulge the pre-teen inside tomorrow, when Topshop has a 24 hour discount event from six o’clock onwards…

Of course, we know discounts are nothing but a gimmick: after all, the highstreet seems to have been in the grip of a perpetual sale since mid-summer. Surely we, as a retail-obsessed species, have evolved beyond the state where we make an automatic link between lurid-pink sales tag and bargain, particularly when the tag in question is attached to some ugly garment in crushed velveteen, reminiscent of musical supply teachers?

But still, still… the doors swish open, the wigs beckon, the loudspeakers blare out Sugababes – and you know you’re going to have fun.

PS. Check out the Las Fashionistas blog first, so you know how to wear pedal-pushers and military jackets without looking stupid. Apparently it can be done!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Lucia in St Paul's Cathedral

Yay! I’ve discovered that there will be a Lucia service in St Pauls in December and am of course planning to go – although if this actually happens is another story. After all, my Time Out copies are full of dutifully circled events that come and pass while I vegetate in front of the TV.

But maybe my fierce, ex-pat passion for everything Swedish will actually make me go? I feel that if the sight of dry old Singoalla biscuits in the IKEA food shop can make me yelp with delight, I should be able to haul myself away to listen to songs that really are beautiful.


Facts for Non-Swedes: Lucia is a vaguely religious feast in Sweden. For some odd reason, we've taken to celebrate a catholic saint called Lucia (though we are dour Lutherans) on 13 December. This involves getting dressed out in white robes, singing Italian songs in Swedish and balancing a contraption with lit candles on your head.

If you're not Swedish, it's probably hard to understand our fondness for this possibly incendiary outfit, but hey.

I remember my sister and other assorted Scandinavians doing the Lucia thingamejig in a church in France. The priest was very worried about the whole thing. He seemed to think that they would sacrifice a goat by the altar and burst out in lusty Viking chants.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Jose Gonzalez to London

See, Jose Gonzalez is coming to London! On 3 November, to be precise - check the link below for even preciser info.

"Oh, but he is boring," was the reponse of at least two friends, and I have to admit that you can't expect any show-pony plumes & fireworks from good old Jose, in spite of his Latin name. He strikes me as the sort of musician who'll sit on a tripod with his back towards the audience and mumble to his guitar.

But that just endears him to me, of course.


London Q&A

Things people tell you when you say that you live in London:

1. “But isn’t it really busy?”

There are three replies to this one:

You say cheerfully: “Yes, I love the big-city buzz”, suggesting that only urbane & cool people like yourself can take the pressure of high-powered London life;
or “not really, it can be quite peaceful if you just know where to go”, making it clear that only urbane & cool people like yourself can find those little havens of tranquillity.

Both of these sound a bit obnoxious, of course.

I normally go for the third option, which is to agree whole-heartedly and then tell horror stories about how you have to shoe-horn yourself on to the tube in the morning, normally departing with one extremity still flapping around on the wrong side of the door.

“Commuters are like old-time factory workers,” you say proudly (obnoxiously?). “You can tell the old ones by the number of fingers they have lost.”

I don’t know why this option seems so satisfying.

2. “Aren’t there a lot of Swedes?”

I say no, they don’t believe me, and possibly rightly so. It’s just that I never seem to come across any Swedes.

London Swedes, are you just an urban legend? Which leads to the disturbing, metaphysical question: Do I actually exist?

3. “Aren’t you afraid of terrorism?”

To which my only truthful reply would shamefully be: “Too right I am!” Of course, I don’t tell people that. “Oh,” I say airly, “you’re much more likely to die crossing the street –” probably fooling no one.

The statistics are true, surely, but since I am more scared of ghosts (that probably don’t exist) than burglars (which I have been told do), logic isn’t likely to persuade me. Kamikaze-like crossing of streets in rush-hour traffic will continue to seem like low-risk behaviour to me, while a harmless gentleman with gym bag sitting next to me on the tube sets off the primitive red alert.

Well, what can you do? (Insert fatalistic, Jewish shrug.) My strategy is to sit next to people who are eating tuna melt sandwiches. I feel that they are less likely to blow themselves up, for some reason.

4. “Oh, how lovely!”

And aren’t people who say that lovely too.

Such Swede Sorrow

I suppose being a Swedish girl in London is a bit of cliché, but at least I get to use a cute French accent when I write that.

Surprisingly, I'm not an au pair, a cool Hoxton kid or the Swedish Embassador.

What do I actually do? We'll get to that later.

Naming this blog took longer than you’d expect, particularly faced with the end-result. I prefer to think of it as Scandinavian-ly straightforward, but you are free to think it’s boring, as long as you don’t tell me so.

At least there is nothing factually wrong with the name - swedishgirlinlondon.com, as I'm sure you'll be happy to know. I'm definitely Swedish, even though people have been known to question this - it's the lack of blonde hair and sporty demeanour that throws them, normally. Oh well.

And I am definitely in London.

So there!