Life In London: Quarantine Edition

Unprecedented Times Call for Unprecedented Measures

Or, Remembering What It’s Like To Sit

[[Disclaimer: I wrote this blog as an example for my students, to get them blogging and journaling their experiences of lockdown too! Just a bit of fun, or, important historical documents..???]]

It’s Saturday 25thApril. The sun is out, and it’s streaming through my kitchen blinds, lighting up my flat, and making me realise that the house could probably do with a good hoover. Why not, it’s not like there’s anything else to do. I’m coming to the end of my 6thweek of self-isolation and the country’s 5thweek of lockdown – and my house has never been so clean.

Work From Home Station

Most days, I struggle to sleep in after 7am, so, in a lame attempt to Seize The Daylike Tommy Wilhelm in SaulBellow’s excellent novella, I get up, make coffee, and sit and work for an hour or two whilst the sun’s warmth grows stronger on my face. At around 10am, I have that sinking feeling that there isn’t really any day to seize, so I eat breakfast with the news playing in the background – and start to feel better once the porridge has hit my stomach. 

I am spending huge portions of my day sitting by the window and looking out. People watching has never been so in fashion. Everybody’s doing it.

Vice News recently described the Coronavirus Lockdown as an excuse for certain countries to ramp up their state-wide surveillance of citizens.  Now we are seeing countries like Russia and China using facial recognition software in their street cameras – technology which derives a person of real freedom and autonomy. It all sounds very dystopian, and far away,doesn’t it.

But now, this week, the British Police have urged the public to “spy on their neighbours” so that police can “take action” where necessary. I must admit, I have been accidentally spying on my neighbours, who have two large dogs and no garden, and therefore leave the house at least three times a day. At first, it annoyed me when I saw them leaving for a third, or forth time, but, around week 3 of ‘lockdown’, I reminded myself of some excellent advice my Mum used to give: Mind Your Own Bloody Business. 

Who am I to decide whether or not this third walk of theirs is truly necessary? What if they’re going to pick up medication? Or volunteer for the local council? Or what if their dog’s got an upset stomach and needs to relieve himself at the park? Who knows? Not me.

So, as I said, today is Saturday. Before the lockdown, Saturday mornings were normally spent at home anyway, so this is one portion of the day that hasn’t changed. I will have a properfry up(treating myself to sausages and bacon, because it’s the weekend and bacon belongs to the weekend) and then laze around, reading my current book – An American Marriageby Tayari Jones. It’s an excellent read, leant to me by a friend. When she gave it to me she said “Barack Obama loved it – what else do you need to know?”.

For the rest of the day, I’ll probably go for my “one walk” to Jubilee Pond (of Wanstead Flats), which is a only a minute away, talk to some ducks, nod at some strangers, hold my breath when I can’t avoid being close to someone, think about how silly I am for holding my breath, and then come home, do some more work, avoiding – at all costs – looking out of my window and spying on my neighbours. 

Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit

This band is a folky, acoustic guitar God-send. Not the twangy, spangly, auto-tuned kind of folk that makes one want to rip their ears off, no, rather, the technically accurate, banjo-meets-violin kind of folk that evokes nothing but ear-joy.

A Church in Bethnal Green, ft. Johnny.

Apologies for the blur.

I am incredibly anal about email inbox being kept under-control (unlike my boyfriend, who has committed the heinous crime of allowing his emails to get into quadruple figures – sickening).

Anyway, because of my need to obsessively control my inbox, I dislike being pounded with spam emails throughout the day, and therefore, only subscribe to three mailing-lists:

  1. http://johnny-flynn.com
  2. Tesco Clubcard offers
  3. Amazon Prime deals

I don’t know if number 2 & 3 even count as subscriptions, but that only goes to show how important number 1 is.

Give them a listen. I have been doing so for over a decade and still haven’t tired of their music.

As is the case for any true fan girl, it takes more than one hand to count the amount of times that I have seen this band perform. Again, I don’t think i’ll ever tire. Whether they are bringing out Laura Marling for a duet, or Marcus Mumford for a surprise jam, or even if it’s just Johnny going solo, they never disappoint. The front-man himself exudes sincerity and calm, and the lyrics are south-eastern poetry. They even have a song about ‘elephant hunters from Ebbsfleet’, and for some reason it’s called Wayne Rooney.

Rough Trade East was the location of Johnny’s most recent London gig.

The “independent music and media store” has a Narnian-Wardrobe quality to it; the record shop itself resides on a dirty backstreet off of Brick Lane, next to a few bars and a couple of late night food trucks.

However, step inside and find yourself in amongst it; mood lights, wall art…gin and tonic cans costing almost a ten pounds each, and books, lots of books, which, for some ungodly reason, are placed right where you would have liked to stand, to see the performance better. It was similar to how I imagine those children felt, standing in that cupboard full of scratchy winter coats because their sister promised them magic. But, like Lucy, if you stand amongst the out-door-attire for long enough, magic shall arrive.

My only issues with the night were, in fact, brought on by my own human error:

  1. I arrived late, and therefore, could not see the stage
  2. On the way to the gig, I left my glasses in the door of the car and therefore, could not see the stage

So, to summarise:

  • If you have a prescription, take it seriously – keep your glasses on your face
  • Get down to you YouTube and give a listen to Johnny Flynn and the Sussex Wit

HIP CHIPS, SOHO

These chips [crisps, for us English folk] are good.

There are many dip options, which are ladled liberally into little plastic pots. Im talking blue cheese, jalapeño, sour creme and chive, and many many more.

What I really enjoy about these crisps, is the fact that they are tipped and wrapped into decadent, cumbersomely large shoeboxes.

Places to enjoy your ‘chips’

  • Green Park, surrounded by strangers on sun loungers, including but not limited to French school children. They will, inevitably, be throwing some kind of ball at each other, dangerously close to you. People Watching: 10/10
  • Soho Square Gardens, much smaller but much closer

DO NOT ‘leave them till later’. They get sweaty.

Homeslice

THE tastiest pizza in london

What makes it special, you ask?

  1. Thin, crispy, sourdough crust
  2. Mushroom, pine nut and balsamic glaze topping
  3. The size of the slice (or slices)
  4. The reasonableness of the price

If you hate mushrooms [grow up], then you can opt for one of the meat toppings; equally delicious. If you are with someone who doesn’t share your taste buds, you can only bloody ask for a half-and-halfer! Take away a huge slice, or sit and eat in, in one of their restaurants.

My personal favourite is the Shoreditch branch, as it’s situated in-between all of the decent pubs and bars, and you can count on them (almost always) having a free table.

Head to Covent Garden in summer (if you are willing to queue for a minute or two) and find yourself a shady spot in the ever-bustling, ever-beautiful Neal’s Yard.

Taste: 10/10

Vibe: 10/10

Price: 10/10

Hand-to-mouth-ness: 8/10*

*Toppings will fall.

Treat yo’self

Prague – It's So Much More than a Stag City

When I booked flights to go to Prague, the person who was most excited was my Grandmother.

She told me to look out for bullet-holes in buildings and to make sure I had my fill of goulash [sadly I had none]. I distinctly remember my Mum cracking up when I told her Nan had said this, and making a remark along the lines of “oh, how morbid!”.

It was my first trip abroad for over a year, due to the sudden and unprecedented fear of flying which I had developed during my final year of university… Bougie 1st world problems, I know.

But me and my friend weren’t going to look at bullet holes – we were going for a neatly packaged, air-bnb-budget-escape from the day-to-day drag. God, what a mouthful.

The highlight of the trip was (and my boyfriend will laugh at me for saying this) the vibe.

Think: Amsterdam meets Budapest… and has a baby.

As I have tried to highlight, in that crap metaphor, Prague is a really small City. But its smallness only adds to the charm – you feel like a local within hours (if, like me, you spend the first hours of a holiday trying to cover as much ground as possible before collapsing into a bar).

The bridge is great, as is the castle, and all of the churches and pastel-coloured buildings on nearly every main road, but the real reason to go here is the side-streets and the side-bars. My friend is far better at navigating than I am, and she came up with a variety of names for the roads that we happened upon more than once; snake street, the big hill, that place at the top of Petrin Park, river road, the cobbled lane with the waitress who ‘let us take our time’ because we were smilier than the other customers.

So, places to go include:

Black Angels – A downstairs bar, situated on the square, dedicated to crafting unique cocktails and [no paps though -sorry instagrammers]

Chateau Rouge – A Jazz club and a Club-Club, insisting on live music and late night debauchery

Petrin Park – A hillside park. There’s a restaurant at the top of the hill – it’s worth the steep, steep climb. A good place for dog lovers and carb-burning.

Ungelt Blues and Jazz Club – An underground, table-service Jazz bar – be prepared to meet the musicians after the music ends, and be transported to a different era.

Visual Pleasure: 8/10 (It’s the lazy-man’s delight really. You can see it all in a few hours and then crash out in a bar and watch the world go by with a beer in hand.)

Street Food: 7/10 (I’m sure it’s better than that, we just didn’t get a chance to eat much)

Daytime Vibe: 7/10 (The bridge was just a little too busy, and it was April. Also the wall art / graffiti was good, but no match for Hackney Wick if I’m 100% honest)

Night Time Vibe: 9/10 (friendly locals, bars with ‘no cameras allowed’, men in waistcoats etc.)

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Do you favour lightness or weight in your life? Reading this book will help you find out.

Taken in a plasticky, touristy restaurant in Prague where me and my best friend ate a lot of spaghetti in order to cure a hangover and ready ourselves for an evening of less touristy Jazz.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera rekindled my love of reading for pleasure.

I had the pleasure of being leant this book by the intelligent, (slightly off kilter), yet respectable mother of one of my best friends. It during was my final year of University. Everything was uncertain – except the fact that I knew I was going to become a TeachFirst teacher (I hadn’t yet figured out why on earth I was doing this, where in the country I would be sent, or what kind of person I was going to become).

I hadn’t experienced a page turner in a long time (especially not one that I hadn’t been given to read as part of my degree) and as you perhaps glean, I was in great need of escape. The fictional novel is three parts romance and one part history, and details the story of multiple narrators, all who desire love, some who desire certainty.

The backdrop to the romance (which I won’t detail any further) is Prague, 1968, and the oppressive influence of the then Soviet Union.

Call me cliched, but the book made me think, and not in the head-scratching ‘am I a bit thick’ kind of way that some of Kundera’s other fiction has . It forces its reader to consider the ways in which we enact our various different types of love, and honestly, it’s lovely.

Rating: 10/10

*Of course this rating is pointless, as are all ratings, being completely subjective in nature, but who cares!

Twenty-two year old me in Prague (a year or so after reading the novel) looking unimpressed. In reality I was really rather impressed.