When I was young…

This is potentially one of those terribly dorky “I love my friends” posts, but – fingers crossed – I’ll manage to rise above it. 

I’m quite proud of the longevity of several of my friendships – there are quite a few that are past the decade mark, others that are just about on 15 years, while another is fast approaching two decades. This last one is a classic ‘we met on the first day of secondary school’ friendship. As I remember it, we were sat together writing out our timetables and I was impressed that she could fit ‘geography’ into one box (as ever, it’s rather odd things that attract me to people).

Over the years our friendship’s survived severe competition in academic stakes (my diary from this period is full of references to our termly grade cards – what I got is always followed by what she got); my family’s move to the shire; university; her marriage… Often we’ll go months without seeing each other, but just recently we managed to meet three times in under two weeks.

When we were young, I felt like a total short-arse next to leggy Babs. When we met again as adults, I was delighted to discover we were pretty much the same height (and, even better, the same shoe size). Talking about this recently, she refused to believe that there had been such a difference – until she came across, and texted me, this photo last week:

Oh goodness – the 1990s were a harsh decade. And yes, that is a bum-bag. Woe is me…

The fact that she’s actually leaning on my shoulder reveals just how much of a titch I was in comparison to her! I’m pretty sure Babs was just exceptionally tall for her age and probably hasn’t grown that much since this photo was taken (July 1993, in a hypermarket car park in Boulougne, on a school day-trip to France), whereas I had my growth spurt at some point after we’d moved to the shire. I definitely wasn’t particularly short as I never suffered any of the teasing my sister did – she was so short (for ages and ages) that our Maths teacher used to joke that she could sleep in a shoe box.

Anyway, things have evened out now:

See – practically the same height. The third person in our school trio is Viv (whose recent book launch included Fish & Chips canapés) and she’s definitely tall (and was wearing heels that particular evening) – still being in touch with her is also miraculous. The three of us ended up studying history at three different University of London colleges and are now doing very different things with our identical degrees…

When Babs sent me the 1993 photo, I dug out my photo album to see what I had from the same trip. I didn’t discover much – this being an age of disposable film cameras – but amongst a blurry headshot of Babs and some other girls on a coach, I found what may possibly be the first example of me ‘doing a Liz’ (except as it’s 1993, it would be ‘doing an Elizabeth’):

I could blame the frizz on an early start & long coach journey – but that’s just its natural state. For the last decade only the good work of John Freida’s Frizz Ease has tamed it. Terrifying.
One final thing, this might be a good opportunity to publicly apologise for a reference made to Babs’ wedding on this blog – and a story I’ve shared far too widely. She didn’t have strippers at her wedding reception; they were a tasteful burlesque act and almost certainly will never be bettered in terms of wedding entertainment no matter how many nuptials I attend. 

Friday Fun in the pub

Pubs are good places to go on Fridays.
Heck, pubs are good places to go any day. (Though probably not every day…)

In pubs, one can buy beer. If you’re in Sweden, or a Swedish pub you could buy beer (ok, lager – but I’m a cider drinking girl so the difference between the two is lost on me) that’s officially sanctioned by God – look:

God’s own lager. Check out the groomed moustache Nils too.

Actually, this wasn’t in a pub, I was being a tad misleading. It was a Swedish restaurant – Fika on Brick Lane in case you’re interested. One of the few places outside of Ikea where you can eat Swedish meatballs (though sadly without the special sauce) and, if you’re adventurous, Reindeer sausages. Sadly, neither me nor the God’s Lager drinker fancied the latter, but I did get a glass about half a metre tall for my pear cider (there may be just a slight exaggeration in that sentence). I also discovered a problem with such tall glasses – their centre of gravity isn’t quite where you’d expect it to be, which could, if you were a bit of an idiot, lead to an embarrassing moment of accidentally spilling cider down you and all over the dessert menu. You’ll note I said ‘could’, not ‘did’… 
On the subject of random restaurant adventures in the capital, Wahaca (a Mexican restaurant with a few branches across the capital) is also worth a visit. Not only is it recommended by my genuinely Mexican friends, but it also has this in the (unisex) toilets of its Soho establishment: 
In case you can’t tell, it’s an odd water feature/stream thing. It’s fed by the sinks in the toilets.

People do look at you oddly when you take photos in public loos, I wonder why? When I showed this photo to my mother she pointed out that it might, rather unfortunately, be mistaken for a urinal by some men. Lovely thought. 
Hmmm, it’s just struck me that ‘Friday Fun in restaurants’ would perhaps be more apt, but I don’t think it quite has the same ring to it… Forgive me. 
Sorry, this isn’t particularly ‘fun’ – unless you’re on the look out for world cuisine choices in the capital. Life is not giving me much time for blog writing (or any of the other kinds of writing I really need to be doing) at the moment (hence the lack of blog content this week, which saddens me) – hopefully next week it will improve. In the mean time, I can only reiterate last week’s suggestion of checking out The Hairpin, which has kept me amused all week – particularly an article entitled: “Do you wear underwear under leggings and tights?” to which my response (before I’d clicked on the link) was “Yes!! Who the heck doesn’t??”. Read the article and the comments – your mind will be boggled. 

Photographic catch-up

It’s been a long, tiring day. Actually, life in general is pretty knackering at the moment. This evening I got home at 9pm after a loooooong working day and for some reason decided that it was time to catch up on some Flickr uploading (as you do).

This in turn reminded me of some photos I’d forgotten I’d taken, so I thought I’d share…

A rainbow in the fountain at the Royal Festival Hall
This was taken the day of the first tube strike (September 7th) when it was still warm and walking all over London was a pleasure, not a hypothermia inducing chore. 

Remember the grammatical graffiti discovered a while back? 
I didn’t get any photos of Tobacco Dock (its location) at the time, but took these one evening a couple of days later when I happened to be back that way. 
(Didn’t dare go inside on my own though.)

On this week’s tube strike, I decided to walk from Trafalgar Square to Paddington via the Royal Parks, despite the Arctic conditions. 
Along the way I stumbled into Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland 
– not a pleasant experience, but fairly pretty on a quiet Monday afternoon.

Assorted photographic randomness

One of the things I thought I wouldn’t get overly excited by amongst the whole ‘I’ve got an iPhone’ thing was the camera. I’ve carried my own camera (infinitely better than the iPhone’s) with me pretty much 24/7 for over a year and prefer good quality photos to shabby ones.

However, the temptation to take random photos and have them instantly uploaded to Twitter can be rather overwhelming, and thus, a week on from the iPhone’s arrival my camera roll includes a random collection of shots. There was a purpose to all of them, but not all have made it on to Twitter/Facebook, so I thought I’d share…

1. The office reception gets over-run with bean bags:

That’s a lot of bean bags (there were more behind me too). They were on their way to a youth conference, but sat there for more than a day looking ever so tempting. Is it just me, or would others be tempted to launch themselves upon them?

2. A Perfectly Posh Gingerbread House (& what was needed to make it):

I liked the look of Perfectly Posh in Bristol’s Clifton Village, but sadly it had just shut when we got there. I’m posh and I’m perfect, so I’m sure I’d have fitted in straight away… 
3. A sign outside an aquarium on Great Portland Street:
I know, very immature! But honestly, if they’re going to have that sign right on the pavement for all to see, it’s just asking for people to take photos. Actually, this wasn’t a surprise – I’d heard mention of it on Radio 1 (it’s just across the road from their studios) and vowed I’d look out for it. Despite frequent walks in that direction (is it wrong that I sometimes deliberately route journeys past Radio 1 in the hope of celeb spotting?) I’d never found the aquarium – until today. It vastly improved an otherwise uninteresting lunch hour. 
The thought process behind photographic tweets is rather random. That’s certainly the only explanation for how a photo of forlorn cherry tomatoes at the end of an M&S pesto salad ended up there. (Despite this year’s successful eating of this fruit, I still generally avoid them.) Apologies. 

A nerd’s idea of a fun day out

Last weekend, while enjoying a perfect autumnal day and realising that I had the coming Friday off work, I started to formulate a plan for the nerdiest day out…

For a long time, as I’ve mentioned (seemingly numerous times) before, I’ve harboured a desire to seek out the disused train stations that are scattered across London. In order to have a relatively stress-free expedition, it would need to take place on a weekday (avoiding weekend line closures and tourist crowds), so Friday seemed perfect.

It didn’t quite go to plan. Firstly, it was a solo adventure (I’m not entirely sure if this is a negative, but it would have been fun to share it) thanks to a couple of similarly nerdy friends having other plans [though fear not, I have other such expeditions up my sleeve which you may join me on]. Secondly, the weather was abysmal. So abysmal that I wore my wellies and got soaked to the skin thanks to issues with holding an umbrella and taking photos simultaneously – this photo (taken during my 15min wait for a train after just missing one) illustrates the conditions:

Anyway, back to the nerdiness. I planned my route with the help of the Abandoned Tube Stations site, choosing to concentrate on those with buildings still visible above ground and, on this occasion, those accessed via the Northern Line. The plan was to work my way up from London Bridge, hitting abandoned buildings at City Road, Angel, South Kentish Town and Highgate. I set off with a backpack containing a couple of nerdy books (London’s Disused Tube Stations and What’s in a Name? Origins of Station Names on the London Underground), my camera and wearing my nerdiest glasses…

1. City Road (closed 1922)
Between Old Street and Angel sat City Road station, though lack of use marked it out for closure early on. All that’s left is a ventilation shaft, which made it quite a challenge to spot given as I had only a sketchy idea of where it was located. It turned out to be closer to Angel than Old Street (thus making even more sense of its early closure) and quite an unremarkable building.

2. Angel (Re-built 1992)
Just a few minutes up the road is the old entrance to Angel tube station – a station that hasn’t closed, simply re-built with its new entrance around the corner from the old one. Over the years the old building has had a variety of purposes – I’m pretty sure that when I lived in the area as a student it was a pizza restaurant. There’s some interesting classic tube architecture, though most of its blocked by hideous metal walls. On the plus-side, there was a weird horse sticking out of the side of one wall…

3. South Kentish Town (closed 1924)Re-joining the Northern Line at Angel, I headed up to Kentish Town in pursuit of a station that I have travelled past at least 500, if not nearer 1000 times (on my way to and from school for 3 years, then later while at university). You’d have thought I’d know exactly what I was looking for, but no – it was on the opposite side of the road than I’d expected and further away from Kentish Town station than I’d thought.

The station’s between Camden and Kentish Town, and again was a case of too short a gap between other significant stations. It’s also responsible for an event that’s gone down in London Transport folklore – when an absent minded passenger alighted from a train at the closed station while a train was stopped by a signal. He had to stay on the platform until another train picked him up, but the story spawned a number of fictional accounts – each detailing increasingly ridiculous ways in which the passenger made their way  to safety. (Though, for anyone who’s watched the terrifying Creep, getting stuck in a deserted tube station is truly the stuff of nightmares.) Anyway, it’s now a truly unremarkable branch of Cash Converters, though much of its classic exterior is still visible:

4. Highgate high-level station
Nostalgia got the better of me in Kentish Town. I was approaching home territory (the wilds of proper north London) and seemed unable to stop myself from re-tracing past journeys. As there was no 134 bus (which goes straight to Highgate) forthcoming, I jumped on a 214 to Highgate Village instead – fancying the opportunity to see Parliament Hill fields and the village. Sadly it terminated early, at the fields and only half-way up the hill to the village. I’d forgotten just how steep Highgate West Hill is (we used to walk it as teenagers after afternoons spent snake-boarding on the heath, but I realised en route that my friends’ house was only part-way up the hill!) and my calves are paying for it today. By this point the weather had also got a lot worse – I could barely see a thing through my rain spattered glasses.

After a little bit of getting lost (I always get lost in the village) and some further nostalgia in my favourite children’s second hand bookshop, I was at Highgate tube station and made a shocking discovery…

I’ve walked past the high-level platforms on countless occasions (this was the station I commuted from for years and years) and never fully realised that they were there! Walking down the path from Muswell Hill Road, I wondered where the best view of the platforms would be – then I looked to my right and realised I could see them! It’s rather eerie, above the tube station is an almost perfect set of station platforms and buildings, just totally deserted since the railway closed in the 1950s.

The station could be a blog post in its own right, but here are a few glimpses:

An old station building now in someone’s garden and a glimpse of the platform from the hill.
The view from the car park – though you can’t actually see this, thanks to a high wall & some barbed wire. My camera got round it though. 

By this point I was soaked and exhausted (and it was only 1.30pm!) so I abandoned plans to discover other stations for another day – yes, there will be further instalments of this super-exciting adventure. There are quite a few photos on Flickr, if it’s your thing. If it’s so much of your thing that you’d like to join me on a future expedition, let me know – I’m sure it’ll be a case of the more the merrier!

A couple of things I’ve realised in engaging in this activity:
(i) People aren’t as judgemental about this kind of thing as you might think. Yes, it’s nerdy, but in reality, most Londoners are so dependent upon the tube that anything to do with it can become fascinating. Having said that, I’m not quite so keen on the fact that one friend thought this was a great fact with which to introduce me at a gathering where I knew no one. (He will be quick to point out that everyone he/I told loved the idea, so no one thought I was a loser, but the risk was there…)
(ii) We can be so blind as we go about our day to day life that we can miss these places. The fact that that two of the buildings were ones that I’d passed frequently yet never fully noticed says a lot. Keeping your eyes open and looking out for something out of the ordinary is a great skill to have.