Sunday in Brixton

Last Sunday I had a date with my friend Daphne in Brixton. The Brixton Splash festival was happening and I thought it’d be a great place to practice photography. Daphne and I are good friends, but things haven’t always been so rosy for us. I first met her 7 years ago when I was temping at a call centre in London Bridge. The business was growing, so they put together a brand new team of phone monkeys. Daphne joined later on and I was asked to show her the ropes. As she was new to the place, she made all the efforts in the world to fit in. She would ask me million questions about EVERYTHING! She wouldn’t stop talking! I would think to myself. “Why is she being such a keeno?”. “Leave me alone!” I can’t remember the exact moment when we ‘clicked’ but we’ve been friends ever since.

The lovely Daphne herself

The lovely Daphne herself

So yeah – Brixton Splash! I’ve been to Brixton before, but never to the festival. I decided to Google it and one of the first photos I saw was of a young man, lying on the floor, covered in blood. Luckily I’m not the prude type, so I thought at least it would be interesting.

As soon as the tube doors opened at Brixton underground, a strong whiff of jerk chicken mixed with weed climbed into my nostrils. Bear in mind that the tube is UNDER ground – it was pretty clear there was a party gong on!

It was a hot day and the only place providing shade was the bus shelter. I sat down and waited for Daphne. I then saw a woman in her 50s crossing the road. Her impressive display of slowness caused an array of car horns at full blast. It genuinely looked like she was doing it on purpose. The traffic was an absolute carnage and drivers had no patience for this nonsense. ”Attention seeking crazy-lady!”, I instantly made up my mind about her.

She finally managed to cross the road and the thing that always happens, happened – a random mentalist was walking towards me. “She’s going to talk to me!”. “I BET she’s going to talk to me!!”

One accidental eye contact later, the crazy woman sat next to me.

She stared at me for a few seconds and then complimented my hair. “Your plait reminds me of Yulia Tymoshenko’s hair” she said. This lead her to saying that she studied politics and wrote her theses on women in communism. She expressed her views on Russian foreign affairs in a very analytical way and I agreed with everything she said. The more I learned about her, the more I realised that this woman was awesome and I was the tit here. Daphne and the “crazy lady” have one thing in common – ME judging them too quickly! There’s an underlying theme emerging … Hmm.

photo 2

So yeah, Daphne and I finally met and went for a stroll. The festival was like a condensed version of the Notting Hill Carnival – incessant grinding, smell of weed, queues to everything, over priced chicken, and a lot of happy people.

Where there's smoke, there's chicken

Where there’s smoke, there’s chicken

Instead of standing in the queue for the porta loos like some filthy commoner, we decided to use the fancy toilets of the newly opened Black Culture museum. We then sat down outside and waited for Daphne’s friends to arrive.

Out of nowhere, these two security guys suddenly approached us. They handed us two bottles of water. As soon as we accepted the gift, I realised we had unwittingly signed Continue reading

For the Love of Pubs

Every day, thousands of Brits are on a mission to find the closest pub and drink till grumpy bar staff kick them out. Let me tell you about, ‘Retro’, a pub that was pretty much my second home for two years (it’s now unfortunately closed down). I’m not the one to sit outside ‘Pizza East’ or ‘Electric Diner’, desperately trying to “fit in”. I prefer something like ‘Retro’, just some good old low maintenance fun and genuine people.

The owners, Frank and Andy, were like a typical married couple. Frank would often roll his eyes, “I always do everything!”, to which Andy would just grumble. Frank was a gay Brazilian man, who had a penchant for watching and reading trash. He was a lovely guy, but if he didn’t like someone, he’d make sure they knew about it! Eye rolling, whispering, bitching – the works! Andy, however, was an extremely laid back melomaniac, whose dream was to marry Courtney Love. He was a guy who had no sense of urgency when it came to serving customers. He’d much rather sit outside, smoke an infinite amount of Mayfairs, and sigh about life.

And then, of course, there were the regular customers. For example, Peanut and Joe, a married couple, who were constantly arguing.  Mostly because Joe was an absolute liability, but somehow she always stuck by him. They lived near the pub and one time in a drunken haze, my boyfriend and I, accepted their dinner invite. Peanut kept stressing that Joe was making his famous chicken curry, which had been slow cooking all afternoon. I guess anything slow cooked is worth checking out, right?

Wrong! Oh, so wrong!

So, there we were, sat in the living room, with Peanut fiercely playing Farm Ville, and Joe talking absolute gibberish. He kept disappearing into the kitchen to check on the curry and I was getting more and more sober. I tried to stay positive by reminding myself that there was food at the end of the tunnel! After a long wait, the dinner was finally served. Or whatever was left of it. It appeared that on his little curry “checking” trips to the kitchen, Joe had pretty much eaten most of the meat. Rest of the chicken had completely disintegrated and all that was left was oil. We sat there for good few hours and I kicked myself for being too fucking polite to leave.

Then there were, Bob and Jane, a couple who started partying in the late 1970s and never stopped. Jane would always cause heartbreak and anger with her sharp tongue and quick wit.  She never hesitated to murder people with her words, usually followed by a loud masculine laugh. She would constantly wind up Frank and Andy with such classics as, ‘there’s dust everywhere!, ‘did Stevie Wonder upholster those chairs?’, ‘Andy, you look like a miserable donkey!’ and so on.  Bob  was the strong silent type. He didn’t say much, but when he did, it either made no sense or was completely irrelevant to the context of the conversation.

Another regular customer was, Stan. He looked like The Penguin from ‘Batman Returns’. The more he drank, the less plausible his stories got. He was your typical wheeler-dealer, but really sweet at the same time. Stan had a bad leg, which usually became an issue when he tried to walk home after several pints. You’d often see him reeling in the night, street lights reflecting off his bald head.

Now imagine all these people high. Yes, high. One time Stan brought in space cakes and everyone eagerly tucked in. There’s always that one person who thinks it’s not working, so they eat huge quantities. Big mistake. You will most likely end up giggling yourself to death, or staring at a chewing gum on the ground for an elongated period of time. The latter happened to Bob. It was priceless.

I saw these people pretty much every day for two years. The failed comedy night attempts, cool live bands, chain smoking, funny conversations, and colourful characters – a lot of good memories.  I love people who are mad, who are far from being perfect, but have great sense of humour and warmth. I guess that’s what it feels like to be part of a community.

 

 

 

 

Hackney and The Cool Kids

Last Saturday night I was rubbing shoulders with the ultimate cool kids of London. One of my friends was hosting a big party at a warehouse conversion in Hackney and we were duly invited. I don’t often venture to East London as it’s pretty far away and I’m lazy like that, but I figured this party was too cool to miss.

I must say I agree with these hipsters.

I must say I agree with these hipsters.

We stylishly arrived in a taxi. We are 30 years old now and therefore deserve that type of a treat! It took us ages to get there and as we got out, it was pretty clear we weren’t in West London anymore.  If there is such thing as ‘industrial chic’, Hackney definitely has it – cool graffiti, artist studios and warehouse conversions. It’s pretty clear the kids around there have also been spending a lot of time on Pinterest because crate furniture was definitely the hip thing to possess.
Industrial chic

Industrial chic

Crate-mania

Crate-mania

 

We decided to wander around the area, and when I say wander, I mean we got lost on our mission to find a corner shop. We walked across bridges, under bridges and up and down the “hills” until we reached a wasteland and decided to turn back. Someone aptly mentioned that this mission felt  “a lot like Lord of The Rings”. And it really did. It was a rather windy night so my eyes were watering and the winged eyeliner I had work so hard on earlier, was now running down my cheeks. Frodo’s struggles were nothing compared to mine.

 

Under the bridge

Under the bridge

We finally got out shizzle sorted and were ready to join the party! I thought I had dressed up pretty hip and happening but as soon as I walked in, it was clear – SCRUNCHIES are back!! Seriously! I’ve tried hard enough to forget about my childhood trauma of wearing shorts that my mum made me, together with a matching scrunchie to go with my side ponytail. Wait, there’s more –  I have two brothers and two sisters and we ALL had those matching shorts! And we all would wear them together. In public.

Shocking.

View from the 'vom' corner before it all kicked off

Party brings all the people to the yard

 

So yeah, scrunchies, crop tops and headbands – it was a house full of ‘Saved by the Bell’ extras. We got there around 8pm but the party had started at 3pm, so you can imagine most people were pretty wasted by then.

It was time to catch up with them!

There was dancing, loads of toilet paper flying around, men in drag, older ladies shaking their booties, youngsters off their faces, “oldies” off their faces, toilet queues, funny conversations, boring conversations, copious amounts of spilled drinks and ruined shoes.

 

Party time!

Party time!

 

Around 1pm, I showed those pesky 20-year-olds who’s boss, by puking outside in the dark corner. Not sure if vomiting at parties is out of fashion nowadays, because a bunch of youngsters all looked at me like I had just committed a major act of lameness. I was later joined by my friend who said: “Let me show you how professionals do it!” And so she did.

And there we were – sitting outside in the ‘vom’ corner, mascara running down the face, trying to get our heads straight.

I started feeling much better about myself when a guy suddenly appeared – he went to one of the many bicycles parked outside the building and quickly dismantled its front wheel. He then started putting it back together but there was a problem! He’d forgotten how to! He was just looking at the wheel and then the bike. He did that for a while. Don’t know what drugs he was on but he was talking to himself, clearly confused about the mind-boggling situation he was in. Not sure if he managed to put it together in the end and I sincerely hope it was his own bike.

They started kicking us out around 2am but instead of continuing on to the after-party, which I’m usually a fan of, it was time for this piggy to get in the taxi and go to bed.

Crazy Kilburn

Kilburn High Road

Kilburn High Road

Stereotypical London is all about picture perfect architecture and streets, vintage and artisan markets and fashionable people. Well, you won’t find much of that in Kilburn because this is “real” London!

I’ve been working at the music college for about two years now and therefore have spent a lot of time around Kilburn. I’ve gotten to know this area inside out and can say this place has really grown on me.

Kilburn is home for countless crazy people. Seriously, there’s so many of them! Let me see – there’s Shouty Man, Plastic Bag Man, Foamy Mouth Man, “Can I Say A Prayer With You?” Lady, Passive Aggressive Linda, Swagger Man and Mobility Scooter Pervert Man – to name a few.

But over the last two years, I’ve developed a soft spot for Fashion Man. He’s a man who simply doesn’t give a shit! He can rock a leopard print fur coat and bell bottom jeans like a true fashion hero. This guy also comfortably carries off a long vintage dress, paired with fluorescent green patent heels. All you street style bloggers would have a field day if you met this guy! But where does he get all these fabulous clothes from, you wonder? Well, he mostly resides on the steps of Oxfam and is clearly the first person on the scene when some kind person leaves their donations outside the shop. The downside AND the main reason he’s NOT my best friend is that he’s crazy. Full on mentalist. Rule number one – do not make eye contact or he will shout strange things in a language unheard to any scholar out there.

My favourite thing about Kilburn is Spicy Basil. Undoubtedly the best Thai food I’ve ever had. I’ve never been to Thailand but even the biggest of backpackers agree that it’s a very authentic place. Kilburn High Road is famous for the amount of chicken shops it has per capita. Some people even call it Kilburn Thigh Road. Take your pick, there’s – Pepe’s, Peri-Peri’s, Chicken Cottage, Chicken Village and other variations of the word chicken. And of course there’s the HQ of all chicken shops – Nando’s. Another dominant feature of Kilburn are the countless nail and hair salons. The ladies of Kilburn clearly like to get their nails did.

“Night life” around there is pretty rowdy. There’s a bar called Brondes Age – holy grail of all things trouble.  It attracts all sorts – office workers, students, drug dealers, business men, girls on the pull and sleazy guys trying to force their grinding dance moves on other innocent dancers. What they all have in common is the thirst for Jaeger Bombs and cheesy tunes. I’ve only been there once but had a brilliant time!

Kilburn is vastly becoming another gentrified area of London. They’re knocking down council blocks like there’s no tomorrow, there are scaffolding and construction sites everywhere and the shops are smartening up. The biggest construction site displays posters with quotes from Bradley Wiggins a la “Little boys from Kilburn are not meant to win Tour de France”. Be aware –  The marketeers have found Kilburn!

Kilburn is sometimes a dangerous place. I’ve seen fights, arguments, traffic accidents, blood bursting out of a man’s head, people unconscious on the ground, drug addicts, drunks – you name it! I also heard about a pregnant woman who was once stabbed in the street. Some people might say that police and ambulance sirens are the sound of New York, well, it’s also the theme tune of Kilburn.

But despite all that I love Kilburn and I’ve never experienced something scary enough to make me think otherwise. I love that place because it’s ALIVE! There’s a buzz and character to it.  I have more interesting stories to tell you about Kilburn than of any other picture perfect place in London.

Temping and Loathing in London

After the South Kensington debacle, which you can read about in my previous post, the shit seriously hit the fan! “Lucy” and I were suddenly forced to live how real Londoners lived – in a flatshare. Boohoo! Hello,  council block on Caledonian Road!  We shared the flat with two guys – an IT consultant and a Doctor. Seriously though, if people with jobs like that couldn’t afford a decent place, what chances did I have in life?

I  submitted an ad on Gumtree.com about looking for work. I still fondly remember my first job offer. I received an email from a 60-year-old man who needed a nice young lady to come to his house few times a week to provide company.

With her hand(s).

To his ‘man thing’.

But on the plus side, he said it was allowed ‘look away’. What a gentleman!

I instantly filed the email under ‘ewwww’

Few days later, I received a phone call from a hot-shot City Boy type. The interview started off with the usual “blah blah blah, tell me about yourself”. He then cranked up the conversation by giving me few mental arithmetic tests. I felt 8-years-old again –  standing in front of the class, with the maths teacher staring at me like a fat angry bull, fuming that I didn’t know the answer to “How many litres of milk does a cow produce in a day?”

So anyway, I somehow managed to solve the mathematical riddles the City Boy threw at me and I was pretty pleased with myself BUT…there’s always a but, isn’t there?

Following happened:

City Boy: “The role pays £40,000…”

I was silently already planning my retirement and deciding which yacht to buy…until:

“… You will also be expected to wear short skirts to work.”

I instantly hung up and filed this under “what a little prick!”

After sending about million CVs,  an owner of a small estate agents called me, saying he needed an Administrator to start the next day. The office was near Harley Street and I assumed it was going to be super posh. I was wrong! It was a tiny little shit hole. The owner was a dodgy business man in his 50s, and I’m pretty sure he was sleeping with his trusty Secretary, a Polish lady aka the most miserable woman of all time. On my first day she actually taught me how to use the stapler correctly! I also once got reprimanded for laughing in the office. Seriously. The whole operation was a joke and I can’t even count how many complaints I received about our properties. Few weeks later I went to the Polish woman and said I wanted to leave.

And I was jobless again…

I later managed to get registered with the Office Angels recruitment agency and I spent the next few months temping the shit out London. Temping-life can be quite lonely. You go to companies for a few days, people don’t acknowledge your existence, you put wrong calls through to wrong people and you’re eating lunch on your own – outside in the rain because you couldn’t bare the awkwardness of going to the staff room.

I once had a temp-job where I spent the whole week shredding. Shredding, shredding and more shredding. I was then promoted to the person who puts sales letters inside envelopes! Progress! Hundreds and hundreds of envelopes. And guess who had to take the huge mail sacks to the Post Office? Yes, me! I was like Santa, dragging the bags along the streets of London Bridge, dodging the judgemental looks of passers-by.

I then applied for a Sales Co-ordinator role at a cool graphic design company. They loved me at the interview and I was pretty sure they would choose me but they decided to go for the other candidate because she had more experience. I was pretty upset about this and went back to the Temping-Land, until one day I got a call from that design company again. They said it didn’t work out with the other girl and asked if I were still interested and of course I said yesss! So after working there for almost three months, I took a few days holiday to go to a wedding in Florence, Italy. My boyfriend got the dates wrong and I missed a day of work. They weren’t amused and I got the sack! As you all know, those pesky designers obviously want everything in the office to be minimalistic and made of glass. So there I was, in the glass cube aka the meeting room, getting the sack for everyone to see.  Thanks a lot, God!!!

After shamefully getting the sack, I had no option but to find ANY job ASAP! The first job I found was making sandwiches at Pret in Sloane Square. I remember my teary phone call to my boyfriend, saying “ waaah life is not fair!” I lasted a day. I then got a bar job in Green Park, which I actually enjoyed, especially because the people around there tipped like friggin Jay Z. This guy once ordered two pints of pure gin. Seriously! It took him an hour to finish them and he was so drunk he gave me £50 tip. Finally the Universe was smiling at me!

And then I found my first “real” job. Legal PA/Admin role at a small legal services company just off Regents Street. My boss was borderline psychotic most of the time. I once got a call from a lady whose husband had hung himself on the morning of getting their house repossessed. She had no idea about his debt, so she was crying down the phone, asking if there was anything we could do. I mentioned this to my boss, to which he responded: “It’s not my fault she married an idiot! Hahaha”. I don’t think I need to say any more about working in that industry…The only reason I survived there for three years was thanks to my other colleagues whom I absolutely love!

Finding a meaningful job in London is hard! The job market is extremely competitive and I have no idea how I managed to stay so positive throughout the first 5 years.  But ever since I had my big epiphany about becoming a screenwriter, I feel free, confident and I’m now very much a ‘grab life by its balls’ kind of a gal.

London teaches you to be tough. You definitely need sense of irony and humour to succeed here. I also now believe that life is not about “finding yourself” , it’s about ‘creating yourself’! So my advice to anyone is – dream big, be persistent and never let anyone tell you can’t do something because you CAN! You’re awesome! (jeesh, I sound like a cheesy motivational speaker)

*The author is now happily in full time employment at a music college and loving it

“The South Kensington Days”

South Ken Station

South Ken Station

One of my first homes in London was in South Kensington which, as you can imagine, is a very expensive part of town. I was absolutely blown away by the beauty of this area and was over the moon when “Lucy” and I managed to find a cheap room in one of those white town houses.

Unlucky 13 -The South Ken house we lived in.

Unlucky 13 – The South Ken house we lived in.

The owner of the apartment was a very mild-mannered and polite Algerian guy in his early 40s. He travelled a lot due to the nature of his work and was therefore searching for someone to look after his place while he was away. We were happy to oblige because his home was gorgeous and had access to one of those private gardens, just like in the movie Notting Hill (Sorry! I know I should know better but it’s my guilty pleasure). The owner showed me around the home and explained how everything works. He had a long list of rules and expectations and he explicitly said “No guests!”.

When “Lucy” and I woke up the next afternoon and realised that the cat had left the building – it was time for mice to have some fun! We went to the garden and had a boozy picnic and “Lucy” told me about this South-African guy she had met in the bar she worked at. She suggested we had a small gathering and invite a few people over, including the new love-interest. At the time it seemed like a genius idea because, quote, “we’re going to be really quiet”. It was all going to be fine!

The only guest who showed up on the night was the South-African surfer dude. He was ridiculously chatty, very loud and “super crazy”, one of those desperate people who has no personality so they invent one for themselves. Anyway, I was pretty tired and drunk, so I decided to leave “Lucy” and that Crazy Dude to it.

Few hours later, I was woken up by inhumanly loud shouting coming from outside. I was still a bit drunk, so I slowly staggered out of the bedroom and found “Lucy” on the kitchen floor. The furniture and walls that used to be white, were now covered in some red goo. I quickly realised she had done what any normal person would do – cook ridiculous quantities of tomato soup at 3am in the biggest saucepan known to humanity. Needless to say, she was completely fecking drunk and she didn’t make any sense.

Things got even more surreal when I went to see where the hell that shouting and banging was coming from. I went to the living room, looked out of the window and saw the Surfer Dude outside the door, demanding that we let him in. I had no idea what the hell was going on, but I decided to threaten him with police if he didn’t stop this shouting. I can’t remember what happened next but he finally left and I went to bed to sleep this nightmare off.

Next day went wrong the very second I woke up to 5 missed calls a text message from the landlord, telling me he’s coming home the next day.

Fuuuuck!

What followed next was like a montage out of a teen comedy about kids who have thrown a massive party and realise that parents are coming home sooner than planned. But my movie had a twist – I was way too old for this shit!

I woke up “Lucy” who was still completely battered. I was too pissed off to take any nonsense, so I made her wake up and clean up the mess in the kitchen. The soup was EVERYWHERE! On top of it all, there was a trail of red dots on the beige carpet outside the kitchen.

Double fuuuuuck!

After some serious scrubbing, we finally managed to get the flat back to its former self but the carpet was still a slight worry. We hoped the situation would somehow magically resolve itself.

“Lucy” conveniently had work the next day, so it was up to me to face the landlord! Awesome! When I first saw him, I instantly knew that he KNEW! We exchanged pleasantries and he suggested we went out for a coffee.

The walk to the cafe was the most awkward thing I’ve ever had to experience. We both knew we knew. We took a seat and he told me that the neighbours called him to say there was some guy banging on doors and screaming. I realised there was no way to blag myself out of this pickle, so I decided to be completely honest with him.

He calmly finished his tea and explained that it was time for us to find a new place to live.

Triple fuuuuuck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

London – The City That Saved Me

Holland Park in all it’s glory. Classic London.

I will always remember the moment when the plane was about to land at Heathrow airport in February 2007. I looked outside and saw the sea of welcoming lights and realised that shit just got real! The day was finally here! I was about to become a Londoner!

My first act as a Londoner was coming out of the airport toilet with a long trail of toilet paper stuck in my jeans. The long white veil of shame! (it was clean by the way). The first months here were mostly spent partying with a fellow traveller, let’s call her “Lucy”, and getting into ridiculous amounts of mischief that culminated with such events as getting banned from two clubs and getting kicked out of two flat-shares. We used to go to this horrible club in Leicester Square where we once weren’t allowed entry because apparently the weekend before we had been acting like ‘fucking Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie’. It makes me cringe to think I used to believe Central London was THE place to be.

This party-lifestyle started to lose it’s magic after four months and I knew I had to change everything. I had to remind myself that I came here to start a new life and it was time to do some growing-up.  It wasn’t going to be easy.

I spent a year of doing countless temp jobs in offices – filing, shredding, reception and all those wonderful little things that make you want to cry. I also worked as a barmaid in several bars, having to listen to old men and their stories, serving food to snooty customers and getting offered a fantastic opportunity of a threesome! I had to decline. I mean, she was so not my type!

I finally managed to pin down a full time job as a Legal Administrator/PA. I could write a whole different blog about my boss and my three years of working in a field that makes you seriously question humanity. I had to deal with slimy solicitors and fat cats with outdated ideals and outdated suits. It was time to move on.

I quit my job without having another one lined up. I took a risk and was hoping it would pay off. I worked the next 9 months in my local bar The Earl, just off Golborne Road, near Portobello Road. Those nine months were a seminal time in the character arc of my story. I had been completely lost all my life. I had to do some serious soul-searching and having a flexible job helped me to do so.

I’ve always liked writing and have always had a high interest in human condition, stories and experiences. I had an epiphany – why not do a course in journalism and see how it goes? I enrolled at London School of Journalism and for the first time in my life I felt I had some direction. I was excited about life again! My confidence was boosted when my feature story got highly positive feedback from the tutor. After I finished the course, I started writing short stories about my experiences in London and I was loving it. It was so exciting to be actually writing, even if it was just for myself!

I spent most of my free time writing short stories but I soon hit a creative wall.  A writer’s block so severe I left my laptop closed for months. I felt it wasn’t going anywhere, I needed to re-think my approach. Something just didn’t feel right.

But one day on the upper deck of  the number 23 bus, just when we passed the Odeon cinema in Marble Arch, I had an EUREKA moment! Why not turn the stories into a TV-sitcom screenplay instead? It made so much sense!

I had finally found my thing!

Screenwriting is now a huge part of my life and I think in a way it also defines me and even though I haven’t sold any scripts yet, I’m still as determined as ever to one day make a living out of it.

London changed my life and in a way it also saved my life. I feel I owe this city for welcoming me into her arms, for teaching me that to change your life, you need to change yourself first. I love this city and the people in it. The streets, the architecture, the light and atmosphere – it’s always so comforting. It’s my home and where my heart belongs to.