Swedish Girl In London

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Mi Casa Es Su Casa (Dos)

While Aurora has become a house-owner, Football Boy is looking for a flatmate to share his extremely expensive stamp-sized pad in Knightsbridge. (Yes, Knightsbridge! Hence the stamp size.)

He is keeping me up-to-date via increasingly despondent emails. The whole process seems to be greatly complicated by the fact that the flatmate should be...

A. tidy
B. solvent
C. sane.

Interviews with hopefuls are being held at present, where Football Boy is weeding out the worst cases of untidiness, insolvency and insanity. The whole thing reminds me of a world cup qualifying group, with a host of unintelligible rules and variations of outcomes. I told him so by way of amusing observation, but was reprimanded that this flatmates was no laughing matter, and I suppose that he is right.

[I just have to think of the scrawny, frizzy-haired French woman we used to live with in Strasbourg, who accused my sister of hiding men under her bed (why?) and stole her underwear (again: why?). Her renditions of Mistingu-E-tte still haunt me.]

“I just want a beautiful millionaire’s daughter who loves washing dishes and watching sports,” Football Boy writes sadly. “Is that so hard to find?”

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Mi Casa Es Su Casa

Aurora has officially become a grown-up – she has bought her first flat! (I feel an exclamation mark is justified.) It’s in North London and it isn’t ex-local authority, despite her estate agent’s best efforts.

In the time-honoured role of admiring friend, I was there yesterday to inspect it and drink a bottle of wine.

“I’m buying furniture after Christmas,” Aurora said and produced an upside down wine box as a chair. ”I’m only little, so I can probably get some cheap stuff at The Early Learning Centre. You know, something plastic in funkadelic colours.”

We both agreed that that would be a clever post-modern tribute to retro 60s design.

The discovery that the previous owner had left his cactus collection in the bedroom disconcerted Aurora, though. She surveyed them morosely and whispered to me: “Don’t say it aloud, but they’re going to die soon.”

“Cactus thingamajigs never die,” I told her, which I knew for a fact ever since I did my best to finish off an ugly old tumour-looking one of Doc’s. It seemed to thrive on my neglect, and was just as happy when I tried to drown it in water. Aurora wasn’t convinced, however.

“I always kill plants,” she muttered.

"They even deliver to the door."

Then we corked open the wine and started making plans for the interior design that Louis XIV would have found a tad extravagant. Aurora waved around with the wine-glass to show where everything would go – “those funny Ikea light-fixtures would look great there and then I want an enormous sofa there” – while I oohh’ed and aahhh’ed diligently. By the time the wine bottle was finished, we were talking about colour schemes that sounded like a tour of Italy (Occra, Tuscany yellow, Magenta).

When I came home, our own rented place started to look a bit haphazard. Soon, soon, I’ll one the one to kill cacti and sit on a wine box.

Monday, December 19, 2005

When The Gloss Wears Off

Here’s hoping that I will never school-marmishly scold the glossies for being glossy. After all, if it’s a piece on Russian energy politics you want, maybe you should read this instead of Marie-Claire.

But still, still: it’s time to clear our own house. The glossies are getting so silicone-blank that I start longing for a dose of irony & sass.

For example, who are these women who write letters to Elle? They remind me of the foetus-like creatures brewed in incubators in The Matrix, tapping out inane epistles on their pink Blackberries in the hope of winning a set of Ayurvedic skincare products.

Surely decent folk wouldn’t gush: “I used to think that Sienna Miller was just a pretty face, but after reading your article, I am convinced she is a level-headed girl who does wonderful work for charity?” Nor would they unashamedly suck up thus: “As I was going into labour without anaesthetic (triplets!), the only thing I needed was the November issue of Marie Claire?”

For the love of God, let’s just give the women their freebies and put everyone out of their misery.

But that’s not quite as bad as the ever-running relationship advice, which all seems to go along with the same watered-down Bridget Jones copy.

Really, girls – you have to sharpen your weapons slightly. It might be tempting to huddle around the Cabernet Sauvignon and whine quietly about “commitment-phobic men” – but to what good?

Is there actually a man alive who would mind being called commitment-phobic? Did the accusation “you never call” make Rick in Casablanca cry into his whisky? Would James Bond be the least bit shaken if Miss Moneypenny slipped him a short-hand note telling him he had intimacy issues?

Now, I’m not even a man, but I know that I would quite enjoy being labelled a commitment-phobe. That would make me feel like a free spirit, a fascinating creature flitting from adventure to adventure, probably riding bareback through Afghanistan and climbing Mount Everest alone and still being back in time for dinner in a silk gown.

Because only desirable people can be commitment-phobic. After all, you can’t sit there on your own, playing Tombraider, and fear commitment. It requires the gentle nudging and pushing of a loving little woman to feed you your lines.

Once she’s gone, good old desperation descends on men and women alike.

Well, that’s me off to read Tatler and cackle like an evil witch at the unfortunate party snaps.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

You're A Star, Eurostar

Airports are another country, they do things differently there.

Entering the departure lounge, you start operating according to a different, Tardis-like logic. Diamond-encrusted model planes suddenly seem desirable. It's all right to start rocking the boat with a martini at eight in the morning. And it seems perfectly normal to be bored & sleepy at ten-thousand feet.

All in all, I like trains better. To some extent, it's probably those old Anna Karenina fantasies re-surfacing, but it's also the fact that you don't end up smelling like a perfume factory after hours of mindless sample-squirting in the taxfree, and that if you end up sitting behind a small, cross child, you can actually change your seats.

Oh, and I'm not going to panic all of a sudden, collar the air hostess wildly and demand to know: "Is this plane quite safe? What's that noise? Let me out!" It can be a bit awkward, for all concerned.

So all in all, I had a rather good time going to Brussels on the Eurostar this weekend. The train left at 6.30 in the morning - yes, apparently people get up at that hour - so most of the time I spent sleeping, probably dreaming in five different languages, since the announcements are all made in English, German, French and Flemish.

And tonight it's back to London again.

I'll tell you about my Brussels adventures later.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Christmas Turkey Awards

1. The Saddest Christmas Decorations can be found at Asda Superstore on the Isle of Dogs. Shabby-looking tinsel, more reminiscent of the bovine digestive system than yule-tide jollity, hangs draped over the special offer on own-brand Turkey Twizzlers. To complete the picture, dead-eyed people shuffle along the aisles, buying deep-frozen meals made from the sort of creatures not even Sir David Attenborough recognise.

Some Christmas spirit is awoken by the random shop-lifting alarms, however. It was buzzing piously as I tried to exit the store, leading a friendly lady to begin investigations in my shopping bags.

“Any CDs?” she asked.
“No,” I said proudly – honestly, when you start buying your music at Asda, you have really left your youth behind.
“Any schampoos?”
“Hm, I do have… some bathroom articles*,” I admitted, and yes, it turned out that it was these that were buzzing, surely as a practical joke played on me by the guy at the counter. Hmph.

2. The Scariest Santa Claus in London must be the bony, dealer-type fella who pounces on passers-by outside Angel tube station and jingles a bell fervently in their ears. I think he promotes a nearby sandwich shop, although I couldn’t tell you for sure. It might be that he trades in other little-helpers.

3. The Craziest Christmas Tune is surely that mad Mexican chanting Feliz Navidad at mega-speed to a Copa Cobana soundtrack, although I am rather fond of it. The naffest one must be the creepy “I Saw Momma Kiss Santa Claus”, which made me go right off my gingerbread latte. I have a phobia of bearded men, which is a bit troublesome around Christmas time.

What would be your suggestions?

*This is a PG blog.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Hard Sell

Given that this is the season of unbridled consumerism, my thoughts have been turning to advertising, that glossy aromatherapy oil of the whole retail machinery. It must be those marketing campaign projects I did at Uni that are coming back to haunt me… I remember wild-eyed, caffeine-fuelled brainstorming sessions at three in the morning, which always seemed to end with someone saying: “Let’s just go to bed”, and everybody else echoing: “Because we’re worth it!”

One project involved me getting kitted out in safari gear and pretending to shave my legs in the desert, but let’s not dwell too much on that. It’s definitely not worth it.

My favourite commercial at the moment, just for the sake that it makes absolutely no sense at all is Baz Luhrmans clip for Chanel No 5, starring Nicole Kidman as an international film star (method acting required). The dialogue is totally bonkers, like the director is a sub-talented five-year old hammering at pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that quite obviously don't fit.

The camera swoops in on Nicole exiting a limousine, while a man’s stubble-rash voice whispers: “I was the only one who didn’t know who she was…” Damn unprofessional, too, considering that he turns out to be a paparazzi taking snaps of her. However, he is determined to solve this mystery and the next line is: “Who are you?”, when the real question should be: “Why have we suddenly been beamed away to a rooftop?”

Now, Nicole should have retorted: “I’m an international movie star who smells good, you useless pap”, but just rips off her dress in reply and bellows: “I love to dance!”

Eh? She is clearly off her trolley, but instead of gently escorting her to a padded room, the pap clutches her to his chest in a dramatic tango-pose. And then it’s back to the limo, with the stubble-voice whispering something about her perfume.

Gobbledegook, all of it.

Another favourite is the ad using Babybird’s old hit “You are Gorgeous” to soundtrack pictures of soaring toddlers. I’m not sure why the ad agency thought a song about sexual degradation in a car park would be a good tune for a nappy ad, but let’s not even go there.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Date Etiquette

La Señorita’s date had gone swimmingly until she asked the guy if he wanted to get married. Now, there’s a difference between asking someone if he wants to get married and actually proposing, as La Señorita would point out to friends in the days to come.

After all “Do you want to get married?” is a general question, sort of like enquiring whether someone likes blue pyjamas or plans to go on holiday to Greece this summer. You know. Just making conversation, that’s all.

“Will you marry me?” – now that’s a proposal.

See the difference?

Besides, it wasn’t like La Señorita’s question was totally unrelated to the topic of conversation. They had been talking about 24, the TV series, and imagined how awful it would be if your family was kidnapped (as you do).

Suddenly the question had left La Señorita’s mouth. She could almost see it shivering in the air, like a cartoon character running over a cliff, legs pedalling in thin air for a couple of seconds before it dawned on it:

Oh my God, I have run over a cliff.

And after that, all you can do is plunge into the abyss, of course.

“Forget Jack Bauer and his longest-day-of-my-life schtick, those seconds were like hours”, la Senorita told me afterwards. “The guy was just staring at me, and I was staring at him, thinking how I could get out of it.”

“And what did you do?”

“I just started laughing. I couldn’t help it. I was laughing for the rest of the night, basically. Whenever I thought about his face, it just set me off again,” she chuckled.

“And did he laugh?”

“No. He patted my head.”

“That’s good,” I reassured. “At least he didn’t bolt out of there, jumping over furniture and crashing out of the window.”

“Ah well, what can you do?”

Monday, December 12, 2005

Wedding Bells

You know how people in US sitcoms always seem to Phone-A-Friend when they are on a disastrous date? How those Sex & The City girls slide down in their seats when the date has gone to the loo, desperately wheezing down into their mobiles: “He is a sex addict…” or “He is a gardener”… or something to that extent?

Ha! I now live in sitcom land, so could you all please laugh tinnily at my punchlines?

And this is why: On Saturday, La Señorita phoned me from a date in hysterics. First I thought that she was in tears, but then I realized that she was laughing.

“What’s going on?” I asked suspiciously (surely people can’t have fun without me?).
“I’m on the date,” she hiccupped.
“So how is it going?”
“Great. He’s really nice. I just asked him if he wanted to…” The rest was drowned in giggles.
“If he wanted to do what, sweetie?”
“If he wanted… if he wanted… if he wanted to get married!”
WHAT? Oh my GOD!” is what I wanted to say at this point, although I think it came out more as a splutter.
You can’t say La Señorita doesn’t know how to leave you with a cliffhanger. “I’ll tell you all about it later,” she hissed and then the line was broken.

I’ll take a sheet out of her book and report back later.

Dam da da dam…

Winter of Discontent

You know that it’s Christmas when a range of very peculiar objects start to crop up in shops:

- Books called “2000 Semi-Funny Cartoons On The Subject Of Mothers-

- Plastic Hong-Kong artefacts that, hilariously, buzz when you touch them;

- Machine-knitted socks with oddly cubistic motifs of reindeers and tiny

and so on ad delirium infinitum*.

These are things that nobody would ever buy for themselves, which is why December is the only time they see the daylight.

Somehow, as you stand bewildered & lost on Regent Street, it eludes you that...

if people WANTED cubic motif socks, they would be on sale the whole year around.

What? Did I hear you scoff that you would never descend into that sort of Christmas shopping madness?


Do you mind if I have a peak into that bag of yours? Oh, look! A cookie jar shaped like a shark! A scented candle, optimistically named Serenity!

See, we are all just a tiny sliver of civilisation away from madness.

*oink, oinkus, oinkae…

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Mobile Mobile

Is there such a thing as a too mobile mobile? If so, I think that my ancient, red Siemens might have crossed the line. It went walkabouts in the office yesterday, after a quick up-date report from La Señorita on her latest adventures in Barbados (where she ostensibly went to work).

Since then contact between myself and the mobile has been severed. It is totally blanking me. When I phone it to locate its whereabouts, it fobs me off with the old “please leave a message” routine.

I have left several: Please, come home!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Hey Ho

Right in my weekend Christmas shopping, I got caught in an anti-global warming demonstration that progressed solemnly along Piccadilly Street. Really, those environmentalists… is it quite necessary to get in everybody’s way like that? Some people are so selfish.

I had to join the march for about a minute to cut across diagonally to the other side of the street and suddenly felt very conspicuous in heels and leather gloves, brandishing shopping bags instead of dye-tied, home-made banderols. But come on, people – is
it necessary to look like a Tolkien troll just because you are environmentally friendly? What are you trying to make, an impact or a fashion statement?

By Green Park, a white limo jam-packed with thirteen-year old girls glided up to general uproar. Aw, bless! Wee girls high on life and attention – I love that.

And I overheard a real mushroom-helmeted bobby tell a tourist in a very slow & very loud voice: “V-e-r-y l-o-n-g w-a-y, v-e-r-y l-o-n-g w-a-y.”

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Behind Bars

Yesterday I had arranged to met Doc in The Gun for some food & a pint after work. I promised to be there at around eight o'clock, but a last minute news story kept me in the office, which made me feel very important and news-houndy. I didn't quite growl: "Gotta cover my beat, you know" , and stick a pen behind my ear while ferociously tapping away at a typewriter... but that's just because I didn't have a pen and we don't use typewriters anymore.

When the story was done and dusted, I said protracted farewells to my colleagues - because I don't seemt to be the sort of person who can just say bye & fly. It has to be a lot of humming and ahhh-ing before I can finish off with a cheery "Anyway!" and stumble out the door.

Downstairs I realised that someone had already locked the gate outside the door, which is bad news for someone like me, who is also unable to operate keys in a normal fashion. Keys don't like me, locks don't like me, and I certainly don't like them. Some Russians had randomly gathered outside and were interestedly following my wild-eyed attempts to get the gate to open.
"Vant help?" one offered kindly, but I felt a little bit wary of giving my keys to someone on the other side of some iron bars, and instead gathered reinforcements from my colleagues. Everybody arrived en troupe, very excited and brandishing kitchen knives, but the bars remaind shut.

In the end, the Russian guy had had enough of our incompetence, grabbed one of our kitchen knives and opened the door with one expert twist. We were all in awe, but also (very unfairly) a bit disconcerted by this.

Then the trains were delayed and by the time I arrived, breathlessly, at The Gun, I thought Doc would be furious. I found him by the fire, happily sipping his Guinness and in coversation with another lot of Russians.

The Russians are definitely coming, but contrary to old Swedish folklore, dating back to the 18th century, this is not a bad thing. They get you out of the office and keep you entertained in the pub.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Dateline Voice, Part II

My new dateline voice has become huskier and huskier during the day. Now, I’m not saying that I’ve totally lost the Japanese cartoon quality that normally singles it out. All I’m claiming is that if you have a spectrum where Bugs Bunny is at one end and Nina Simone at the other – then I have nudged slightly, slightly in the Nina direction.


Or should I suggestively murmur:


All in all, I have about five different voices:

The shameful purr I use to get past the secretary (male);
The sweet little-girl chime I use to get past the secretary (female);
The angry cartoon voice I slip into during arguments;
The high-pitch noise of joy that has to be emitted when my sister phones me;
The demonic growl that emerges from under the duvet before 7 o’clock.

What about you?

Perhaps It's Just A Cold

Something peculiar appears to have happened to my voice. I know this because when I bought my shameful gingerbread latte this morning, the cheery French guy behind the counter asked me:

“What’s happened to your voice?”

This – though surely kindly meant – was a bit disconcerting, because up to that point I had wandered about in the delusion that my voice sounded quite normal: perhaps a bit like Goofy on happy pills, but nothing that would elicit comments from random French baristas.

“Nothing”, I squeaked, cleared my voice and repeated: “Nothing.”

The French guy didn’t look convinced and I bolted with my latte. Then at the office, a colleague winked meaningfully at me and asked:

”You came straight here from the club, didn’t you?”

“No,” I croaked.

"Sure you have," he said. "It sounds like I should phone a very expensive phone number to hear that sort of voice."

I’m not sure what is going on here, but I quite like this newfound huskiness.