Swedish Girl In London

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

Monday, February 27, 2006


Your average night-on-the-razz in London? It is a pretty hallucinatory trek through some parallel universe, sound-tracked by outlandish music and barely contained hostility. Now, I’m not talking about any old Magic Mushroom-ride through the city’s groove emporia. I am talking mini-cab, yeah?

Last week, it seemed like I was forever tumbling out of various tapas-bars and wannabe cocktail lounges, in what we will call an “effervescent mood”. (After all, it is my blog and I can call it what I like.)

The subsequent taxi journeys all took on an otherworldly dimension of their own.

They started off in wild optimism, as I gave the taxi-driver my address, although deep down I knew that he would never have heard of it, or indeed any of the landmarks within a five-mile radius of it.

Once the ball-park geographic location of choice had been established (East London), the driver would get a far-off look in his eye, like I had just suggested a barefoot pilgrimage to some distant shrine in the Burmese jungle, possibly involving navigation by star-light.

“Oh, I don’t know about that,” hesitated Friday’s driver, who didn’t like reggae – he loved it.
“Ah, come on,” I goaded effervescently*. “It’s just around the corner!”

We then departed on a long journey. At first, there was a certain sense of complicity between Reggae Lover and myself. We were travellers, going we knew not where, we knew not how, and that made us a unit. But as the metre kept ticking and we got nowhere nearer our destination, cracks were beginning to show in our relationship.

To my credit, I wasn’t just sitting there. I helped Reggae Lover out by peering out of the window and making suggestions like “you could take off to the left here, if only the Thames weren’t there”.

At times, brief glimpses of the top of our building would sail up like a fata morgana, and I would joyfully shout out: “Just drive straight on now!” Reggae Lover greeted these moments with suspicion, and was proved right when different road-works pushed us off our course again.

When at last we, by some unexpected turn, arrived at my door, the embers of our friendship were not so much dying as lying on lit-de-parade. I made a joke about him never finding his way back, but we both knew that it was just for show.

“Drive straight on, my arse”, he muttered as I closed the door.
“I don’t like reggae - I hate it,” I muttered as I closed the door.

*Yes, I’m sticking to my guns on the effervescent issue.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Bonjour Tristesse?

When you meet English-speakers, they are invariably very nice about your pidgin version of their language.

“Oh,” they say benevolently, “you Scandinavians always speak perfect English.”

Of course, the next thing you tell them is: “Thinks you, I has lives here for much years” in the accent of Swedish Chef off the Muppet Show, but they pretend not to notice and there is peace on earth.

The French don’t do anything of the sort. If you happen to slip in an incorrect subjunctive, they will tell you so in no uncertain terms. After all, France is the country where you have to take classes called Civilisation Française if you are a barbarian ERASMUS student.

(A balding little monsieur drilled us in the fine art of greeting people correctly and made us recite poems by heart like Sunday school children.)

On Sunday, I’m meeting up with a French conversation exchange to get back into le groove. I’m frightened already.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


We are in a corner shop on Poplar High Street. A gnarled little man is stationed by the magazine rack. He peers out of an enormous hoodie, occasionally emitting high-pitch little noises of joy for no apparent reason. Behind the counter, an old veiled lady surveys him indulgently.

"Hello," I say.

But he is shy and retreats further into his hoodie.

I'm looking for Q Magazine, but it is nowhere to be found among the airbrushed smiles of the glossies. Further along the rack the glamour girls jut their breasts out at me like the front of a Finland ferry.

"Do you have Q?" I ask the lady behind the counter.
"If you have to queue, my dear?" she asks. "No, he's not buying anything."
"Sorry, I mean if you have Q Magazine?"

Instead of answering, she emerges from behind the counter in slow majesty and sails up to me.

"I can't see it," I say apologetically.

The old lady grabs a copy of GQ - a magazine for gentlemen who like soft-focus girlies and cars - and hands it graciously to me.

"No, no," I try. "That's GQ... I meant Q..."
"Q", she says reasonably and points to this letter in the title.

The hoodie man giggles. The lady smiles.

"Well," I try to explain, "Q is a music magazine...", but something in her enigmatic smile makes me tail off. "Oh, all right then. Thanks," I say and leave with my own airbrushed bikini version of Jennifer Aniston.

After all, for a seventy-year old lady a starkers Jennifer Aniston can't be that different from a starkers Christina Aguilera - or a Chili Pepper, for that matter.

Monday, February 20, 2006

I Love It When They Talk Science

Tell me what you listen to, and I’ll tell you who you are.

Someone’s taste in music is a good clue to their personality, according to scientist from University of Texas. Now, this is a bit disconcerting. I have spent my twenties trying to move on from the Mixed Tape fascism of my teens and instead embrace the idea that what’s in your CD stand is not as important as what’s in your heart.

A sample of the scientific findings:

People who like Dolly Parton are outgoing yee-haw types;

while metal-heads are shy, retiring people.

Well, I could have told you that! Those monosyllabic metallers back in high-school were never the most extrovert of people, in any case.

Still, I’m not all convinced that these Texan scientists have got it right. After all, when I went into popstat.com to figure out my music taste, it told me that I liked Dido.

Well, I nevah!

Does this mean I should hail my White Flag and assume a new persona of compilation CDs, sunbeds and Me-Time in the bath (my probably very unfair stereotype of a Dido fan)?

No, no, surely not! I, much like the posh popstrel herself, will go down with this ship, emitting sad little bubbles all the way to the bottom.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Behind The Bike Shed

And so the UK, this bastion of individual freedom, is finally turning to ashes and dust – at least if you believe the pro-smoking lobby. On Wednesday, Parliament voted to ban smoking in all public places, and not only in those serving food (alarmingly, crisps and pea-nuts have not been classified as food – what do they know that we don’t?).

Now pro-smoking groups are huffing and puffing about the nanny state and everybody’s right to choose.

In the Independent, a spokesman for pro-smoking group Forest is wheezing that the health lobby is not unbiased, although he doesn’t say what sinister agenda underpins its support for the smoking ban. (A desire to see us live longer, perhaps? Or an evil wish to sell more flu medicine, as poor smokers will now have to huddle outside in the pelting rain, much like breeding Penguins?)

Then there was the Guardian journalist who conspiratorially told a waitress in Nero – one of the few smoking coffee chains in London – how happy he was to be able to light up, only to be told that she couldn’t wait for a ban. “But I smoke in solidarity with the working classes”, was his defense, reminding me of Tony Blair drinking tea out of a mug to connect with the Common Man. After all, I’m prepared to bet that the waitress was the lower-paid one out of the two.

Somehow, this righteousness just doesn’t seem to suit smokers.

I mean – health lobby agendas? Class wars? It is not on these serious fields that the battle of smoking is won.

Come on, people, do you not remember why you started in the first place? It wasn’t to demonstrate your high-flying ideals. It was to rebel. That’s how it started, behind the bike shed, as you sulkily sucked your first Marlboro Light, possibly experimenting with different ways of wielding it: were you a thumb-and-index finger kinda guy, like James Dean? Or an elegant Marlene Dietrish?

So, smokers of London, stump out that stance of offended idealism and get back to your roots – on street corners, gutters, or even behind the bike shed. It is what rebels do.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Bloody Valentine

You can run, you can hide, but you can’t escape my love”, Spanish crooner Enrique Iglesias warned us a couple of years back, sounding like the sort of very persistent gentleman who would probably end up wrapping his reluctant beloved in a bin-liner.

And much in the same way, you can run, you can hide, but you can’t escape Valentine’s Day.

Last weekend I held forth at length about the preposterousness of Valentines, if I remember correctly. For instance, I think I protested against the sudden prevalence of rotund teddies. Rotund teddies were everywhere! Inspiring us all to rotund teddy lurrve! This was not my idea of romance.

“If you are of an age to buy fat teddies, then you shouldn’t be dating boys”, I believe were my exact words.

Doc retaliated by saying that Hallmark poems made him want to hurl a rotund teddy across the room and roar like a wildebeest. I added, bitterly, that flowers at work were just plain showy.

Next we tucked into the week’s fourth take-away and watched bizarre winter sports on TV.

This morning, I felt extremely distressed at discovering not one single card, or even a rotund teddy, by my bed-side, although I fear that this reaction might be unreasonable.*

*Particularly as Doc is not even here, but has gone to watch speed skating in Turin.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Auld Acquaintance

What is it about meeting up with old friends that puts your life in such sharp relief?

A round of panicky last minute e-mailing had gathered a troupe of my best uni friends in a chrome-gleaming restaurant one quite undecently cold January night in Madrid (I feel cheated. Spain is supposed to warm).

"You look exactly the same!" Tiny Dancer told me. In a way, this is of course reassuring. It means that at least my face hasn't hardened into a leathered mask, a la Brigitte Bardot after all those days frolicking sans sun screen in St Tropez.

In another way, it is ever so slightly depressing. Does this mean I have the same eager-beaver demenour displayed in all those over-exposed party shots that I keep in fond rememberance of the baccanalia of youth? I'm all home-made haircut and misguided earrings in those photos, and look like I just arrived to the big city from a childhood planting potatoes back at the farm.

Somehow I hoped that a-little-bit-jaded-but-sexy-with-it persona would have developed over the years. After all, I am twenty eight now.

But no such luck.

"Have you shrunk?" another puzzled friend asked me.
"No, don't be silly," I retorted in my best schol-marm fashion, although I was privately alarmed. (Surely not? And I was wearing wedge heals.)

By the end of the night, Cute Freak pensively said: "You never used to get drunk off one gin and tonic."
"Oh, I'm not drunk," I told her teary-eyed. "Have I told you that you are my bestest friend?"
"Taxi!" Cute Freak said.

So that's it. I'm as goofy as ever, only shorter and more easily intoxicated.

Oh - had my friends changed, did you ask? Ach, don't be silly. They were exactly the same.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Plane Scary

Whenever I’m going to fly somewhere, it somehow slips my mind that I’m… well, going to fly somewhere. Blame it on the hustle and bustle of your average low-fare voyage, but the fact that I will soon tuck into a Hobbit-sized sandwich filled with an insulation-like substance labelled mock-zarella, all the while hovering 3000 feet above the ground, doesn’t really hit home.

Instead, all my energy is concentrated on trying to determine which of the check-in queues is going to move faster. This is by no means an exact science and involves many unpredictable variables:

1. How efficient does the teenager behind the counter look? Jolly, plump girls are normally to be avoided – they actually take the time to talk to people and delay the check-in process by precious seconds. Honestly, the cheek of them!

No, what you need is the sour little trolley dolly who looks like he is sucking a lime and limits his chat to snapping “did you pack your bags yourself no sharp items in your hand luggage great now eff off” without pausing for breath. That’s more like it.

Note: However, if you are the sort of person who thinks it is necessary to change outfits five times a day during holidays, just to show off a years’ worth of desperate retail therapy – all focussed on one meagre week in the sun – then maybe you should sacrifice the time consideration and opt for the plump girl.

(I have heard rumours that these people exist, though of course I have never met one. Now, can I have a building crane to get this bag off the conveyor belt?)

2. What sort of luggage do your fellow queuers have? This is an important variable. See, one queue might appear shorter, but you will soon discover that the woman who wants to check in her cello, or the enthusiastic golfer brandishing a new set of clubs, are there to slow down proceedings.

3. Does the queue consist mostly of lonely mum-types? Beware, people, beware. These ladies might look solitary right now, but they are actually recon soldiers for a troop of sugared-up infants, sulky teenagers and baffled dads, who will join them at the last instant and add inexplicably large and complicated pieces of luggage.

It will make you scream silently (or aloud) in frustration.

With all this in mind, it is hardly surprising that the mechanics of flying never occur to me until I have actually stepped onto the plane. Actually, it isn’t until I am stripped into my seat (worrying that I must be fatter than the last passenger because of the ridiculously tight seat belt) that I get it.

“Oh, now I remember,” I always think. “I am afraid of flying.”

But by then the engines are revving and we are ready for take-off. Luckily, on my last trip to Madrid – which prompted this whole posting – I was soothed by the recorded Spanish voice telling me not to smoke in the loo. Spanish voices have that effect on me.

It almost made me forget to laugh bitterly at the warning to take care when opening the overhead locker, because things might fall down and hurt you – because that’s what we should worry about when hurtling through the atmosphere in a fragile aluminium shell: tax-free chocolate bouncing down on our heads.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Maybe It's Because I'm (Not) A Londoner

“Do you know what,” I told Aurora pensively the other day, “I think I’m becoming a real Londoner.”

Aurora spurted out a dainty little Martini shower in response. (Aurora is tiny and everything she does somehow seems fragrant and cute.)

“What are you talking about, Sauna girl?” she managed to get out between giggles.
“Well,” I said, slightly affronted, “I feel really at home in London now. I’m as one with the tube. I know that trendy organic-eating people live in Notting Hill. I know that it’s not supposed to be pronounces Le-cester Square. You know – I just feel at home.”
But Aurora wasn’t buying it.
“You’re still not a Londoner.”
“Why not?”
“Because you like London.”
“Well, I suppose I do.”
“No Londoners like London.”

And I think she has got a point there. Aurora herself is that elusive breed – that strange & exotic beast we glimpse briefly in the asphalt jungle: a born and bred Londoner.

“I think everything is grey and people are really unfriendly and houses are really expensive,” she said. “But you think you’ll ride on a Routemaster all day long…”
“…while London Calling is playing in the background…”, I supplied.
“…and a cockney chimney-sweeper will ask you to dance…”, Aurora finished.

So there you go.

Maybe it’s because I’m not a Londoner, but I love London town.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Trust Me, I'm A Doctor

My boyfriend Doc thinks he know everything.

He claims to have unearthed the Chaos Theory by the age of five, for example. By the time he was fourteen, he had developed a sure-fire way to prove if there was life on Mars (it has something to do with the DNA spiral, I think, or maybe that was the cure for cancer. Sometimes I glaze over).

Of course he was too busy snogging girls, drinking beer and smoking oregano through his teens to actually do anything about these scientific discoveries.

Yesterday, I felt that the time had for him come to prove himself in the Ultimate Test of Intelligence.

"Baby, could you record that time-cop show for me tonight? I'm meeting Le Francais, so I won't be home before nine."
"I don't think I will, either ---" (here, I'm editing out a long description of the slightly annoying habits of his aristocratic boss, prone to demanding new reports just when people have switched off their computers and are finally homeward-bound).
"Can't you time it?"
"Can't you?"
"No, of course not."
"Really, you should learn. Call yourself a feminist."
"OK, I will learn, but could you do it today?"

I stopped in my tracks.

"You don't know how to do it either!"
"You can't time the DVD!"
"In theory, I know how to do it..."
"And you said you know everything!"
"I do! Everything apart from that."
"Nope. Now I've lost all my respect for you. I don't trust your omniscience anymore."

But after a couple of minutes I relented.

"Nevermind that you know nothing. I love you."
"I know."