Tag Archives: London life

Waiter, There’s A Moral Dilemma In My Lunch!

I did a very bad thing. No, not recently. It must have been seven or eight years ago. It happened at the end of a shopping trip in Brent Cross, North London. After trudging through the aisles like two people who only ever go shopping when they absolutely have to, my friend and I decided to reward ourselves with a nice lunch at Wagamama, which, back then, was still quite a hip chain of Asian fusion cuisine.

I’d eaten there a few times before, but my friend hadn’t, so I recommended a tasty stir fry, which she duly ordered. I can’t remember what I had, but I do remember that I only enjoyed the first two forkfuls of it because of what ensued.

The food arrived, looking all fresh, healthy and delicious. We started to tuck in.

“Oooooh! Yummmmmm!” My friend’s eyes grew wide and then closed slowly as she slipped into a trance of eating pleasure. “This is just the best tofu I have ever tasted in my whole damn life!”

My cardiac activity seized for a few seconds.

This was not tofu.

I had forgotten to tell her to substitute the chicken.

My friend had been a faithful vegetarian for the past quarter of a century. Until 40 seconds ago. How could I have made such a terrible mistake?

She clearly had no inkling that there was anything amiss. And why would she? After all, she was having lunch with no other than moi, a professional nutritionist attuned to people’s special dietary requirements.

I kept smiling as convincingly as I could muster while trying to make all the right food appreciation noises – no easy feat when your airways are constricting.

What was I to do?! My panicked monkey mind went into overdrive. Coming clean about my oversight and apologising profusely would probably be the right thing to do. But what good could possibly come of it? Lunch would be ruined, a good meal wasted. Right now, at least one of us was still enjoying it.

In fact, I’d never seen anyone take such delight in their food. For a fleeting moment, I wondered how someone, who went that gaga over some run-of-the-mill strips of chicken breast would react to a juicy slab of beef teriyaki or a soft-as-butter, slow-roasted lamb shank.

Nobody was being harmed here, I reasoned to myself. This was not a case of food allergy. (If anyone was experiencing all the symptoms of anaphylactic shock, it was me!) And the chicken had already been very dead for quite some time. I was, in fact, not only saving my friend’s stellar lunch experience, but also an animal from having given its life in vain. And it could have been worse – that could have been pork there on that plate. (My friend was not only vegetarian, but also Jewish.)

At this point, she turned to one of the servers who was rushing by, balancing several steaming bowls of ramen on his tray. “Hey, I just loooooove your tofu! So chewy! How do you get it to have a texture like that? Could I talk to the chef? I need that recipe!” (My friend was not only vegetarian and Jewish, but also American).

The bed of coals I was sitting on had just got hotter by another thousand degrees.

Coals

The waiter, a pimply young man on the minimum wage, flashed a flattered smile in my friend’s direction, but he did not – to my infinite relief! – relay her request for a personal audience to the chef, who was up to his armpits assembling meals for the lunchtime crowd.

After what seemed like an eternity, during which I remained hell-bent on engaging my friend in spurious conversation to draw her attention away from both the “tofu” and the wait staff, we finally cleared our plates.

“Hey, how about dessert?”, I asked, staring longingly at the door. “But not here, you know what these Asian places are like – crap sweets.” A blatant lie, at least where Wagamama is concerned. But I had no intention of prolonging this torture.

We paid and I leapt into the neon lit mall, which, at that moment, appeared to me as welcoming as a fragrant spring meadow populated by purring kittens. We headed straight for Millie’s Cookies. And never has a box of hydrogenated fat, sugar and food colouring washed down with coffee from a paper cup tasted so good.

Jane, if you’re reading this, I’m really, really sorry!

That’s Just So… North London!

I spent a decade of my life North London, and those who’ve read my previous few posts will know that I went back there last week for the first time in three years. Anyone who moves to London will suss out very quickly just how attached Londoners are to their neighbourhoods. Many will only socialise in two places: their part of town and the city centre.

There is a particularly curious divide between North and South – to convince a North Londoner to cross the river and set their Kate Kuba encased feet onto the southern Thames shore, you’ve got to come up with a pretty good reason. Taking their children hostage and threatening to force-feed them food additives should do it.

Anyway, here is a selection of pics that struck me as typically North London. Let’s start with a few shots of Hampstead front gardens and back streets…

Hampstead garden 1 Hampstead Garden 2Hampstead Garden 2

Hampstead Street

Hampstead pubHampstead street 2

Hampstead shop inside

Decor inside a Hampstead Shop

Hampstead street 3

I bet my bottom dollar that she’s got a quinoa burger on a bed of rocket and mango salsa in that paper bag…

The Bishop's Avenue

Take on Bishops Avenue, Hampstead Garden Suburb, dubbed “Billionaire’s Row”.

Highgate Tea Shop

One of my favourite Highgate Tea Shops. Oh, the cakes…!

Highgate message board

A message board in Highgate

Highgate house buyer

Now, a house in Highgate will cost you anything upwards of £3m… that’s a lot of cash propping up her pillow!

Highgate Pet Shop

What exactly happens at “Weekly Puppy Parties…?”

Highgate Car

Now, I just want to point out that I didn’t live in either Hampstead or Highgate, but in a more …erm… affordable patch wedged in between 🙂

 

Cheesecake…? What Cheesecake?!

I was walking past one of my favourite Muswell Hill bakeries today for the first time in three years. Its hallmark used to be a delicious tray of freshly baked cheesecake gracing the window. Well, it seems that standards have slipped abominably since I left town three years ago:

MWH Bakery

WTF is this?! Alien turds…???

On a more positive note, I’ve had the most fabulous day, meeting up with a number of pals and flitting from one cake paradise to another in the process.

I spent the afternoon in Marylebone, where I used to live as a student (oh sweet nostalgia…) with local resident Karolyn. She is the author of one of my favourite blogs, Distant Drumlin, and one of the most lovely people on earth.

Simone and Karolyn in Patisserie Valerie

Karolyn and I in Patisserie Valerie, dosed up on cake and Earl Grey.

Honey, I’m Home!

Lola and leavesThis is Lola, my friend Gaynor’s cat, peering at me from the depths of the clematis. Although she looks a bit apprehensive in the pic, she was, in fact, very pleased to see me, when I wandered into her garden yesterday morning. I called her name, and almost immediately, she rocketed out from behind the garden shed and came bounding up to me, covered in sand and leaves. We’d not seen each other in three years, but it was quite clear that she remembered her old friend and neighbour.

So, the upshot is that I’m back in London, this great city which had been my home for a decade, for the first time since I left for Spain. Due to a fortuitous confluence of circumstances, I’m staying in “my” old flat in East Finchley. Everything’s the same, and everything’s different – a feeling most expats will be able to relate to.

Right now, I’m floating on a rose-tinted cloud of nostalgia and my diary is choc-a-bloc. Sadly, I won’t be able to catch up with everybody in the space of just a week, nor visit all of my favourite eateries… but I’ll have a damn good time trying 🙂

 

When Dating Is Just Pure Magic!

After enthralling weirding everyone out with my tale of supernerd dating a few months ago, I thought I’d ran out of entertaining dating stories. But then, my dear blogging buddy Debbie of travelwithintent published a post featuring Treadwell’s Bookshop in Bloomsbury, and the memory of another bizarre dating anecdote came rushing back to me.

Like the previous instalment, this happened ten years ago, when I was living in London as a cash-strapped, mature student. I was still pretty new to London, and to create a bit of diversion from the daily college-clinic-job drudgery, I’d subscribed to a fuzzy networking website purporting to serve the dual purpose of kindling of both romance and friendship. I had ticked the latter box, in case you’re wondering.

These sites do yield some colourful characters, and I got chatting to this Brit, who had authored a book on… wait for it… how to fashion your own talisman and imbue it with magical powers. He was due to travel to London shortly to attend some kind of world wizardry congress. He mentioned that he was currently living in an Eastern European country with his Eastern European girlfriend, and that they were very happy together. So happy, in fact – and this was pretty obvious – that he was desperate to get laid on his upcoming London sojourn.

Now, I’m a rather incompetent reticent flirter and I avoid making promises that I’m not sure I can deliver on, so I didn’t agree to anything beyond meeting up for a chat and a coffee. I was keen to meet him, because, you see, I used to be intrigued by people who were slightly out of step with reality. Not the beyond barmy types who might gouge out your liver and then hurl themselves off Beachy Head, wildly flapping their strap-on sequinned fairy wings, but those with a minor disconnect in their reality fuse box. And this happy-relationship delusionist with one foot firmly planted in the slippery cauldron of black magic hocus-pocus fitted the bill. There was also the prospect of free cake.

So, we met on a grey and dank Friday afternoon in Bloomsbury, home to the stunning British Museum, the University of London, as well as countless cafes and bookshops, including aforementioned Treadwell’s, THE global Mecca for junkies of all things preposterous, pagan, and plain potty. If Rupert Giles existed, this is where you’d find him, stationed behind the counter, weighing out ounces of freeze-dried demon gonads.

GilesShortly after having introduced ourselves, my wanna-be wizard whisked me right into this esoteric establishment. Ushering me past the stuffed crow, the crystals and the tarot cards, he proudly pulled the fruit of his hard labours off the bookshelf, parading it before my witchcraft-weary eyes. While forcing myself very hard not to roll them, I produced an appreciative “aaah-oooh!”, and with that out of the way, I finally got to have my cake.

From my perspective, the afternoon went spiffingly. No sexual chemistry bonfire (maybe he’d overshot the target while pleasuring his dating talisman?), but the cake was good, the conversation engaging, and then we parted amicably. I was satisfied.

The seedy sorcerer, however, wasn’t. The next day, he called me and made it quite clear just how disappointing the whole affair had been for him. After airing his disgruntlement, he jinxed me with a bout of the black boils.

So far, except for a few run-of-the mill zits, I remain relatively unblemished.

But you never know… somewhere, in a galaxy far, far away, my warrior princess alter-ego may have come down with a nasty case of suppurating saddle rash.

*    *     *     *    *

If you’d like to read about another vexatious dating experience, The Big Bang Theory Of Dating, click here.

For travelwithintent’s post & picture of Treadwell’s Bookshop, click here.

The Big Bang Theory Of Dating

I’ve only recently started watching The Big Bang Theory, for no other reason than that it’s on around the time when I have my lunch. That, combined with the constant email ping pong I’ve got going on with one of my dearest friends, who’s just flung herself back into the dating game, reminded me of one of my own dating experiences, which took place well over a decade ago, when I was still  living in London.

I was a full-time, (over)mature university student back then, and I had signed myself up to The Guardian Soulmates dating website, because that’s where you stand the best chance of meeting people in possession of at least one firing neuron cluster, who are least likely come out with xeno-, homo-, common-sense-phobic rants before you’ve even slurped your way through the miso soup starter.

So, I was having my first phone conversation with one promising candidate who looked good on paper – a handsome, divorced PhD physicist of Indian descent close to my age – when he asked me, “So, what are you studying?”. I answered him, to which he replied, “Oh, well, that’s a bit of a waste of time, isn’t it?”

Whoah, I thought, half outraged, half bemused, what a thing to say out loud to someone you might, possibly, want to get off with?!?

At this point, I should probably mention that I do have a bit of a soft spot for nerdy studious types, and a touch of social awkwardness I can cope with (hell, I’ve got an extensive collection of not-so-cute foibles myself!). Though, in real life, when considering someone as a potential partner, I’d probably draw the line way before Sheldon Cooper levels of Aspergerish self-absorption (he’s one of the main characters in The Big Bang Theory, in case this reference has just passed you by).

So, despite his whopping conversational clanger, I was going to give him a chance. I was also intrigued to see if this had been a one-off slip comment, or if his people skills were as well developed as a tortoise’s tree scaling abilities.

And I was not to be disappointed. On the latter account.

Tracksuit

Planning to pull in this…?

We met a couple of days later near Charing Cross station (next to Trafalgar Square). He was on time, which pleased my Teutonic genes no end, but… he sauntered up to me clad in a beige tracksuit, because, he explained, he’d come straight from the gym.

Erm…I mean… who’d turn up in a sludge coloured elasticated sofa-lounging outfit on a first date?! It is never OK, in London, to be seen out on the street in one of those if you’re not a) actually on the way to the gym; b) taking out the trash; c) post-pubescent; d) living in a part of town, where having every inch of cartilage that sticks out of your body festooned with metal pins or hoops is considered the pinnacle of stylishness.

I wasn’t expecting him to show up in a pinstripe and tie bearing a bunch of dewy roses, but one might take a pair of jeans and a clean shirt to the gym to change into after, or,  if there’s not enough time, skip the gym and turn up in vaguely civilised work attire. It’s not so much about the clothes per se, but if you cannot be arsed to make the effort to modify your normal routine by a smidgen on a ‘special occasion’, what sort of a signal does that send…?

I was rather hungry, so I decided to stick around for dinner, which consisted of some fairly unexciting Chinese food. Dinner conversation was OK, he wasn’t wholly unlikable by any means, but there was no spark. On the way back to the station, he tried to put his arm round me, eliciting a rather squirmy response.

We parted at the station, after he foisted a rather awkward hug upon me.

Right, this wasn’t going to happen, that much was probably clear on both sides. If he contacted me again, I thought, it would be out of politeness and to gently firm up our mutual conclusion that there was no chemistry.

He emailed me a couple of days later, complaining(!?) that I had not called him on Saturday(?), as agreed. Clearly, he must have gotten me mixed up with someone else, because I had told him no such thing. (I’m pretty anal about sticking to agreements – Teutonic genes again! – when I say I’m going to meet or call at a certain time, then that’s what I do). He kept insisting, I kept on contradicting, it was all pretty irritating. Anyway, I assumed that after this message exchange, no more needed to be said.

Wrong again. I heard nothing more for a few days, but then he called me, quite late at night, pissed as a newt, telling me all sorts of disjointed rubbish, topped off by, “Oh, I think I could really love you…”

Given that my tolerance for drunken phone calls (and drunk people, in general), hovers around 269 ºC below zero (I did mention something about having certain foibles, didn’t I?), I drove home the message to him pretty succinctly to him on that occasion, in a way that any of the Big Bang Theorist would have understood.

Hmmm… now that reminds me of an ill-fated date with a conspiracy theorist…

More Flatsharing with the Crazies: When Loopy Came to Live with Me

London living is fraught with the interminable quest for the perfect flatmate. Or just a bearable one. But how can you tell, after a half-hour interview, whether the stranger you’re about invite into your life, isn’t an axe murderer?

In over a decade of flatsharing, I was lucky enough only ever to end up with three nutters. I’ve covered one of them already in a previous post, and you’re about to meet number two. I shall call her ‘Loopy’.

During said interview, conducted by my landlady and me, Loopy, a French woman in her late twenties, told us a little bit about her family background: Her parents divorced when she was in her early teens. Her mother’s new partner hated her, and so she had left home quite early, aged sixteen, to live with her older sister. The reason she was looking for a place right now was that her current domestic arrangement involved sharing with five other people. There was considerable boyfriend/girlfriend traffic, much commotion at all hours, queueing for the bathroom in the mornings and a lack of kitchen space. She was desperate to find somewhere a bit more quiet.

It all sounded perfectly reasonable. Tranquility I could certainly offer her, seeing that I’m not exactly a party animal, and that I was going to be her only flatmate. (At this point, my landlady, who I used to share the flat with, had moved into another house with her new husband.)

Loopy moved in a week later. She was nice to me, and during the first few weeks I was considering whether I might strike up a friendship with her. But there was something… not quite right…. I just couldn’t put my finger on it.

She seemed to be miserable a lot of the time, and would talk to me at length. From her monologues, a distinct pattern emerged: The whole world had it in for her. Her family, her work colleagues, everybody. Her boss, she told me, employed a number of strategies specifically designed to make her look incompetent in front of her co-workers.

Meanwhile, my landlady was having a tough time with her brand new tenant. Loopy showered her with complaints about the flat and her room that nobody had ever previously found fault with, and every effort she undertook to make the girl more comfortable, like buying her an electric blanket,  was rejected without a word of thanks.

With hindsight, I would say that Loopy’s Goth-like exterior was probably a reflection of the turbid emotional waters beneath. A natural red head with maggot-white skin, she had died her hair jet black. The contrast was quite striking. She also dressed mostly in black, but refrained from wearing the heavy make-up associated with members of the Goth tribe. But as the weather got warmer and winter garb gave way to skimpy tops and skirts, the tattoos started to emerge. One of them was the shape of a huge spiderweb spanning both her legs. I couldn’t help thinking how classy that would look in about twenty five years’ time. But each to their own 😉

©GMS

A few weeks went by, we didn’t interact all that much, but when we bumped into each other around the house, I would always smile and nod sympathetically to her persecution stories. I felt a bit sorry for her.

Then, one evening, I noticed that she had removed all her toiletries from the bathroom. The following morning, I she had left a letter for me in the kitchen. It started with the words “I think we should talk about your behaviour…” and ended with “if you want me out of here, tell me up-front.”

Oh my, where had all this come from? It was true that I felt that she wasn’t friendship material for me, but she was quiet and clean and I certainly didn’t dislike her.

Having read this bewildering letter, I sent her a placatory text message, and that evening, when she got home from work, I talked to her, assuring her that I did not want her to move out. The conversation went fine. A bit too fine, in fact. Her responses were completely incongruous with the aggressive tone of the letter. The word “overreacted” cropped up, and, apparently, she “had been worried about me” spending too much time alone in my part of the house. I did not want to make a big issue out of it. What was abundantly clear form the letter, though, was that she had a tendency to construe stories in her head about the attitudes of other people towards her – and they were all negative.

Things plodded along pretty much as before, i.e. seemingly calm, until a few weeks later one evening, she confronted me about having left the bathroom tap running the night before – ON PURPOSE! – to disturb her sleep.

I had gone to the toilet in the middle of the night, and, after washing my hands, I had failed to turn the tap off properly. The trickling of the water had woken her. I apologised, but to her mind, it had been no accident.

And this wasn’t the only thing I had done to rile her, as I was about to find out.

I had also deliberately spoiled her food in the fridge. This conclusion was based on me having accidentally knocked the temperature dial, causing the fridge to warm up, which turned her salad into mush. (To stop this from happening again, I had already fixed the dial into place with a piece of sticky tape.)

On top of that, I was hiding her mail. She had not received some of the correspondence that should have been forwarded to her from her previous address, and me stealing it was the only feasible explanation.

Oh my God, she really was totally nuts…!

After she was done hissing at me in the hallway (I had been far too stunned to reply to any of this) and slamming the door in my face, I called our landlady, who was, it has to be said, rather delighted by me asking her to send Loopy packing. Within the hour, she’d been served her notice, and she moved out shortly after that without further incident. Phew!