Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Good Things

 I won't be able to sleep properly again until the scaffolding comes down, and it won't be coming down for another six weeks. Also the builders smashed one of my windows when they were putting it in. Also the fuse for my lights has blown and even after watching six different youtube tutorials (some simultaniously, while talking to my dad about it on the phone) I still don't feel confident that I won't burn to death in my polyester nightgown if I try to replace it myself. So I thought I'd sit here in the dark and write a blog entry to cheer myself up. Here are some awesome things I've been doing lately.

Helping Lily Smith make a music video in Hackney with some of my beautiful friends.

Going to a fascinating talk in Hackney Wick about the I Am Here Project (in case you've ever wondered who those faces in the windows in that council building on the canal in Hackney belong to). The lady who organised the project is wonderful and after the presentation I chatted with her about how Hackney Council are a bunch of dicks. It was cathartic. The talk was organised by these people and held in this lovely cafe which suddenly appeared before me like an oasis in the desert after several wrong turns - if you know Hackney Wick you'll know what I mean, it's basically a terrifying Ballardian maze.

Beautiful if distracting view from where I was sitting.

 I had actually found myself in Hackney Wick a couple of weeks prior for a meal in a Ghanian pop-up restaurant at the Peanut Factory. The food was amazing (and cheap!) and the home-cookedness made it even more charming. Sitting in a stranger's front room surrounded by their books and eating their food is a novelty. The host informed us that the table we were sitting at was actually her desk.


 The walk home was pretty too.

 I also had a brief visit from a seriously beautiful cat. Apparently 75% of people who suffer from cat allergies have no reaction to Siberians. Unfortunately I am in the minority. It was good while it lasted though.

My friend Alma gifted me a sourdough starter a couple of weeks ago and I've been feeding it up like a gross little bubbly pet. I baked my first loaf this week, and it worked out surprisingly well. I've also been on a pesto making rampage and made some walnut pesto to smear on it. Result: tasty and luminous.

So there have been some good things happening around here, it's just hard to notice when I'm tired and furious all the time. Pounding yeast does help though so expect to see a lot more food porn in the coming weeks.

Monday, 23 April 2012

The Break-In

Last Saturday night, I came home from a party and found that my key wouldn't turn in the door. Someone had locked it from the inside. I waited for an hour, my mood boomeranging between peaks of hope and pits of horror, for the emergency locksmith to arrive. Once we were inside it was obvious that my feeble but furious attempts to shove the door in coupled with my loud and creative swearing at the key that wouldn't turn had disturbed someone mid way through burgling my home. My iphone was gone and they had made a start on my bedroom drawers and wardrobe. Fortunately all of my jewellery is the kind that makes your fingers green, and the only non-clothes in my wardrobe are boxes crammed with embarrassing journals from my teens. They don't even have sentimental value, I just keep them here, out of sight, to protect the innocent.

Whoever it was had gotten in via the scaffolding, which has been erected by Hackney Council to allow me the pleasure of paying nearly £14,000 for new windows. Even to me, a non-criminal, the construction looks from the outside like a big public staircase leading to mine and all of my neighbour's back doors. I've been assured at every turn that it's totally secure, and indeed, when I phoned the building company on Monday to let them know someone had climbed up and broken in, they were still trying to convince me that 'you'd have to be Spiderman to get up there!'. Spiderman has obviously had a serious fall from grace.

It had been a fun but freezing cold evening, and I was so itchy to get back to the comfort of my flat that I had left the party early. But now that I was in, I didn't want to be there at all. I felt like I was still outside, in a public space. Going to sleep in my bed that night, after the police had been and gone, I felt like I was going to sleep on a parkbench. Not just vulnerable, but visible too. Someone has been looking in my windows as though they were browsing a shop on the high street.

I still don't feel right. The builders have nailed my windows shut and there's a massive padlocked bolt across my balcony door, but that won't bring my privacy back. I come straight home from work every day, get into bed and fall asleep with all the lights on. Even while sleeping I'm constantly alert, like a snoozing night watchman. Worst of all, what I had once reassured myself was irrational paranoia about every single bump or creak I heard after dark has now been validated. It's going to take a while before this place feels like home again.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Career Potential

Something wonderful has happened.

Long before I moved in to my flat, all the furniture, all the wall art, all the crockery, all the tea towels, etcetera, were already meticulously sourced and in many cases already purchased. I couldn't bear the idea of sitting on a folding chair many months after moving in, surrounded by bare walls, patiently accumulating ornaments and items of furniture which would eventually transform my house into a home. It was like starting off naked and being given the opportunity to build an entirely new wardrobe from scratch. Immensely personal, indefatigably fun, and a race against time - because who wants to stand around naked any longer than necessary? I don't regret my rush to have everything picked out in advance of my moving in. What I do regret is that I can no longer just pop into Habitat now and again to pick up a few colourful kitchen gee-gaws (my mother's term), as I have one of everything already and my kitchen is beginning to look like a box of crayons. I would describe the aesthetic of the living room as eclectic, teetering dangerously on the threshold of eccentric. The grey sofa is the one anchor of neutrality. When I'm tempted by beautiful homewares in blogs or magazines I have to remind myself that statement items would be drowned out in this place, even in my comparably serenely decorated bedroom which has already reached its quota of mismatched prints and ostentatious jewellery. And there is no more space. I don't mind that the flat is crowded and colourful, I just miss buying things for it.

Anyway, the wonderful thing is that I now have a job. A fabulous, creative, career-catalyst type job. Naturally, many of the personal and financial problems I was previously facing have now been obliterated, including, most generously, the one I've mentioned above. Because I have my own office. That means a whole new room full of bare walls and potential. The picture above is already hanging next to my desk, an oversized 80's mess of primary coloured squiggles, snaffled from a colleague's vacated office. The stationary possibilities are almost overwhelming. Already I find I am distracted by the dusty black in-trays that came with my desk, when this one from Habitat has vastly more retro charm. It's exciting to be on that quest again for decorative perfection. Although my eyes hurt when I think of the tray and the poster next to one another. So, for the sake of my sanity and of unsuspecting visitors, this time subtlety will be key. Let the challenge commence.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Leaseholder Blues

"Hi Michael -

Thank you for your letter regarding the required fire safety upgrade which I received this evening, taped to my front door. I would ask that in future you simply post any letters for my attention into my letterbox. The letterbox may not be 'smoke sealed' but I find it adequately serves its intended purpose, and I do not appreciate correspondence being attached to my front door in the manner of an eviction notice."

Not to sound like a conspiracist or anything, but Hackney Homes are trying to kill me. Or at least turn me into a cranky wizened old bitch who writes passive aggressive emails like the one above. Yes, I actually sent that. Yes, I'm aware there'll be a swarm of civil servants standing around Michael's computer screen tomorrow morning laughing their heads off (what is the correct collective noun for civil servants? A cluster? A herd? A murder?). I came home this evening to find a notice stuck to my front door, informing me that the London Fire Brigade had deemed our building unsafe and that our properties would need to be altered accordingly. My letterbox must be sealed. A door stopper must be installed. And, most disruptively of all, the grill must be removed from my front door. I understand, HH. I get it. The grill is a fire hazard. If a fire spontaneously lit itself somewhere in the flat, if I managed to sleep through my smoke alarm, if I forgot the not-so-secret place where I've left my keys every single day of my life that I've lived here (the key hook) and didn't manage to unlock it in time, the grill could, in theory, prevent my escape and lead to my untimely death. If I was a council tenant and I was injured in a fire because my council flat did not meet appropriate safety standards, I would be mad at the council. I would sue their faces off. But I am not a council tenant, I'm a leaseholder and Hackney Homes do very little for me except debit £125 from my bank account each month in exchange for dousing the lift with bleach twice a week. I don't imagine for one moment that HH are genuinely concerned for my safety. If they were, they would be willing to acknowledge how much more likely it is for me to be burgled than to die in a fire, and they would understand why I would rather have the grill on my front door. As I have found to be the case with so many government organisations, their main prerogative is ensuring that a certain box gets ticked. My only feeble means of retaliation is to scorn them via email. Council bureaucracy is incredibly marginalising and invasive for leaseholders like myself. The least they could do have respect for my front door, which happens to be my personal property.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Occupational Hazards

I didn't realise it had been so long since I last wrote in this blog. I think adding 'blog more' to my list of new year's resolutions might be at the root of my aversion, one clue being the fact that, now that it's February and all my other good intentions lie by the wayside, I suddenly feel the urge to write again. It could also be attributed to the universally accepted fact that January is boring. The most likely reason I haven't felt like posting here, though, is that I haven't been working for the past two months. It's amazing how indefinite free time can feel like a prison. A terrible prison of boredom and guilt. I can solemnly report I've done nothing of note over the past eight weeks apart from staying home and working on a personal project (growing my hair. It's going pretty well thanks) and celebrating my 27th birthday (see above). I expected having more time to spend in the flat would feel like a boon. In my fantasy it was an endless cycle of ordering things online and watching cat videos while I waited for the postman. Unfortunately when you don't have an income it's more like eating cereal for two of your meals and only wearing horrible clothes so you can 'save' the nice ones and don't have to waste washing powder on superfluous laundry. The cat videos part is pretty much how I imagined.

When I was commuting to and from a rowdy office in central London every day, usually with my face flattened into someone's armpit, it felt like a gift and a joy to return to the flat and spend the evening by myself. Now, without that routine human interaction preceding it, it just feels... lonely. Who knew? Netflix filled the void substantially in the beginning but in my haste to make the most of the month's free trial I seem to have bankrupted it of everything worth watching. The In Treatment box set scratches an itch temporarily but usually leaves me dispirited and dwelling on how I'm probably mental.

Unemployment has been an eye opening experience, and not at all how I expected it to be. Now that I've discovered you can have too much of a good thing, and that Fishs Eddy is coming to London, it's definitely time to rejoin the human race.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Got 18,000 Problems...

So I met all of my fellow leaseholding neighbours in our community hall last night. It was interesting to note that they all looked like slightly older versions of me. Scruffy, middle class nerds and minor variations on that theme. Some had children - although why anyone would bring their toddler to a leaseholder's meeting in a community hall beats me, and I think the toddlers were pretty confused about it too. Unfortunately I was meeting these people for the first time under calamitous circumstances - Hackney Homes (who are the building's freeholders) are proposing massive upgrade work to our properties and it's going to cost each leaseholder in the range of £18,000. That covers new windows, an extractor fan and what appears to be a huge and extortionately expensive amount of weatherproof paint. Hackney Homes, like most council-run organisations I've encountered, are unbearable to deal with. Naturally, the meeting descended into chaos. None of these nerds have any money. HH advised us to put our objections in writing. So today I wrote a letter just to let them know that, in all fairness, I don't have £18,000. I'm eagerly awaiting their response.

In other news, my new jewellery rack arrived from the States (above), ludicrously cheap from Etsy. I'll probably have to pawn all my plastic and electroplated jewels anyway in order to pay for this extractor fan. I might ask Hackney Homes to install one made of solid gold. THEN maybe it'll be worth it.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

The Neighbourhood

I love Hackney. It has a high crime rate, a high unemployment rate and parts of it looks like a shit heap but the things that attach stigma to a place are often the things that help to bolster its authenticity. I couldn't help but feel a swell of pride when the Tesco delivery man refused to get into my lift because my building was 'too ghetto'. I guess that means I'm 'ghetto'. I am totally cool with that. Here are some of the awesome things within ten minute's walk of my East End ghetto.

This is the view from my balcony. Not exactly green fields and rolling hills but if you appreciate the urban sprawl, and I do, it's a constantly changing and always fascinating landscape. It's also good for spying on people.

This cafe serves amazing French toast but they only have ONE bottle of maple syrup which can cause friction between the clientele.

There are a lot of Turkish restaurants in Hackney but this one is my favourite, mostly because it's about 30 seconds from my house. They don't sell proper Turkish tea but they do bring you Turkish Delight with your bill, which no one except me ever wants to eat.

Have you been worrying about Richard Blackwood? Good news, he's still alive and at the Hackney Empire basically every weekend (and sometimes weekdays too). Not such a fall from grace - I saw Wynton Marsalis play here last summer.

I know this probably doesn't count as it hasn't technically finished being built yet, but I can't WAIT for the Hackney Picturehouse to open. 4 screens! 3 bars! No more schlepping to the Aubin or the Rio, both of which are too pretentious to sell pick n mix, which is secretly the only reason I even go to the cinema!

This place may not look like much, and it actually looks far worse when the shutters are open, but they will do a fine job of shaping and polishing your nails for a mere £6. Just not on a Sunday.

I'm guessing 'Casa De Carnes' means 'house of meat', which sounds tantalising - unfortunately this is just a really cheap good quality Brazilian butcher shop which is actually made of bricks.

I felt a disproportionate amount of pride when London Starnight Supermarket and Video was mentioned in the Guardian - it's where I go when I want bean curd candy or to source ridiculous ingredients when I decide, ill advisedly, to open up the Ottolenghi cookbook and try again.

I admit I've never been in here and you can probably see why - it's the most terrifying looking 'shop' I've ever seen in my life and, I'm leaping to conclusions here, definitely a front for some kind of Mafia/Yakuza/secret poker game HQ.

Shonky sign aside, Green Papaya is widely thought of as the best Vietnamese restaurant in East London. It's impossible to get a table at the weekend without booking, and when you've finished your meal they'll helpfully, pushily bring your bill without you asking for it. They also bring After Eights with your bill, so that's OK with me.

I haven't traveled much but I'm willing to put it out there, as a totally objective fact, that the E5 Bakehouse (under one of the railway arches next to London Fields station) sells the most delicious bread in the Western world.

London Fields was looking very beautifully Autumnal this morning. The best
weather may be behind us but there's still plenty to do around here if you know where to look and you stay away from dark alleyways and shady characters.