Broadway Baby?

So I have to admit, that when I had a baby removed from my uterus by Caesarian section several weeks ago, triple timesteps were the last thing on my mind.  In the operating theatre, the hospital operated a dubious policy called the “gentle Caesarian” method.  Oh goodie!  I thought, they’ve finally invented a method of C section that doesn’t involve sawing you in half like a lady in that old circus gag, cutting through the lion’s share of your innards and making your insides look like a latticed blackberry pie (my husband’s words, dear readers, not my own).  Well, it turns out that wasn’t true.  The “gentle Caesarian” method means you can bring in your own i-Pod.

The anaesthetist was an old boy of my brother’s school.  He lived in the same town as my old school.  I decided not to mention that my old school was known as the “Whorehouse on the Hill” by his old school and braced myself for an NHS spinal block paid for by the great, marvellous British taxpayer.  Much quicker than an epidural but twice as numbing, I then lay back to enjoy my first of two minor panic attacks.

“I feel like I am having difficulty breathing,” I gushed to Anaesthetist No 2, the one who hadn’t been to my brother’s alma mater and who had one of those upside down faces that, thanks to his beard, meant his head looked identical whether you were looking at it upside down or the right way up.  I was, in this instance, looking at him upside down.

“Don’t worry, you are fine,” he said in that intensely mild-mannered, slightly condescending tone that medical experts use to idiots who understand little about things. “It’s because the anaesthetic has made you unable to feel yourself breathing, that’s all.  You are fine. Would you like some more painkiller?”

“Yes please, yes please, yes please.”   The upside-down man anaesthetist rolled his over-educated eyes up over my now cut half way in half body to the young anaesthetist who went to my brother’s school. “I think we need some music”.

My husband is the King of the Playlist.  He develops playlists for every family event from school graduations to funerals.  So, unsurprisingly, he was on the ball, musically speaking.  We started with “Starman”, which meant I briefly got obsessed with Mick Ronson, and kept asking whether he was a relative of Mark Ronson, as it did seem odd to have two musicians sharing a surname who weren’t related.  I was, of course, off my tits on drugs, but I think I was intensely listening to my husband’s response (No,  Mark Ronson does not have a Hull accent) to distract from the fact my laid back surgeon had just used the “F” word : forceps.

In the middle of the second chorus of “Waterloo Sunset”, they winched out our 6 lb 9 oz son who had matching purple bruises at the bottom and top of his face thanks to the forceps and we turned the iPod off.  But it got me thinking : music is incredibly important when you have a baby.  You spend more time singing Daisy Daisy than you thought humanly possible, of course, but you constantly wind up musical toys, sing lullabies and use music as a lulling tool, much as the anaesthetists tried to do with me.  I think it’s only a matter of time before someone invents an incredibly singing dummy that gets your baby off to sleep whilst it plays the back catalogue of The Prodigy.  Plus, with a baby, you are at home all day.  We have, as attentive readers will have noted, not one baby but two, although the older is a toddler.  We spend much of our time indoors as getting out of the house takes two outfit changes, two Nurofen (for mummy), a double buggy, a raging breakdown, a nappy change, two change bags containing suit changes and juice pots and a definite loss of the will to live.  And this is to get to Tesco.  And Tesco Finchley, let me tell you, is where hope goes to die.

As our second child veers spectacularly towards his sixth week, my birthday looms.  As many of you would have realised from previous posts, my favourite thing in the world is to get mildly pissed, sit in the first twelve rows of a great theatrical musical and weep.  I am a seasoned graduate of the Teeth and Tits School of Musical Theatre, albeit it was so long ago we all still believed Tony Blair was a good idea.  But with No 10 Downing Street going back to the 1980s by harbouring it’s own, dowdy, slightly sinister Mrs Thatcher, it only seems right that The Theatre Royal Drury Lane does what it did in the 1980s and put on 42nd Street.  I saw 42nd Street there on my 10th birthday.  The lead was a young unknown called Catherine Zeta-Jones.  My memory is hazy as I was mainly obsessing about my french plait I’d got done that morning in the village hairdresser, but I do remember walking down the central aisle at the end of the matinee to peer over the top of the orchestra pit to see my brother’s godfather, the late great Lennie Bush, playing double bass, his great mop of fuzzy white hair rocking side-to-side to We’re In the Money. 

You better be in the money to see this production.  Top Stalls seats are £125.  £125!!  I’m a mum on maternity benefits, one hundred and twenty five squid can keep our house in Pampers and SMA for weeks. £125!   I can fly to Rome and back for less.  But the production is hugely expensive.  A chorus of 43 with 10 further principals puts the cast at just under 60.  That’s 120 tap shoes.  Once you add the full orchestra, team of technicians, choreographers, stagehands and directors you’re looking at nearly 100 people.  The production must cost six figures a week to run.   But it’s my cup of tea : it’s the ultimate celebration (and rumination) on vaudeville that has ever been written, with the most exhilarating opening in musical theatre history.  And I am a sucker for a shuffle ball hop.  I love tap dancing.  I used to love doing tap dancing until I lent my shoes to a friend who was appearing in We Will Rock You (makes no sense, no tap dancing in Queen) and never got them back.  I haven’t double timestepped since the late nineties.

Will it come back into fashion now?  Will people be seen, hurtling out of the Drury Lane theatre and around to the other side of Covent Garden, to Pineapple dance studios because they have seen something so uplifting, so fun, that they want to try it themselves?  Tap dancing is remarkably satisfying.  You can imagine you’re jumping and tapping on the head of your enemies – what bliss!  Plus it’s LOUD.   So, I booked the second tier of Stalls seats which wasn’t £125 a seat but was still a “credit card moment” for the matinee of my birthday.  Yes, I have become a matinee person.  You do when you’ve two small children and you want the lunch time wine to wear off by the time you return home to relieve your mother from the childcare and put your two year old in the bath.  I used to be a strictly evening theatre sort of person.  An evening at a show wasn’t an evening at a show unless it ended with a dozen Dublin Bay prawns at J Sheekey in the company of West End Wendies who would eventually fall into the gutter in Brewer Street seven gins down – but, the world changes.   Now if I had seven gins I’d have to be hospitalised.

I will of course report back after shuffle-shuffle-shuffle-hop-hop-hop-step-LUNGE-single timestep-oops-I’ve-split-my-tights has been seen.  Expect an expert breakdown of this homage of the Great White Way, seen through the misty haze of Barrafino Rioja and musical theatre nostalgia, on my birthday, and  – before you ask – no, I’m not saying how old I’ll be.   [Flounce. Step turn lunge.  Exit stage left]

 

*The writer has since confirmed that Mick Ronson and Mark Ronson are not father and son. Annoyingly for Mark Ronson, there was an internet rumour that Mick Ronson was in fact his father.  It got to the point where Mick Ronson’s widow called Mark Ronson’s mum to say, “Did you have illegitimate children by my deceased husband?”  The issue is further confused by the fact that for a while Mark Ronson’s stepfather was another musical Mick – Mick Jones from The Clash.

 

How to study part time with a full time toddler : an easy guide

Two winters ago I stood in the main hall of the British Library and caught my reflection.  For a moment, I realised, in that strange intensity that public mirrors provide you with, what I looked like and what was about to happen.  I was about seven and a half months pregnant with our first child, looking like a ship in full sail, four months into a PhD.  How, I asked myself was I going to cope with it all?  Would I cope?  Would I give up the studying?  Apparently, babies give you no time for anything else.  They also eat your brain cells when you’re not looking, and turn them into poo into their nappies, leaving you with hormonal mental whiteouts and limited intellectual capabilities.  How on earth was I going to write 100,000 words on Victorian sensation thrillers with that going on?

Two winters later.  I am standing in the same place in the British Library.  I am in the same maternity dress although it has a new stain on it of unidentifiable origin.  I am at the same stage in the pregnancy of our second child.  Only this time, I have kept my PhD going, albeit at a very slow pace, as well as running two jobs whilst supporting the family.  How do you do it?  People ask me all the time – how are you doing it?  You’re so busy!  But I’m not really.  I spend a lot of time eating cookies and sitting down.  It’s simpler than you think, and mostly it’s just discipline and honing your organisation skills.  Here’s what I’ve learned throughout the last two years.

Difficulty and complexity are not the same thing

Of course, it’s difficult being sleep-deprived, and of course the first three months are a haze of greyness, nappies, milk that won’t come out, milk that won’t go down, milk that goes down but doesn’t stay down and comes up again, mopping, white muslin washing and very very strong tea.  But it isn’t complex.  Looking after babies is, in theory, quite simple because they only do the biological basics of sleep, eat, poo and wee.  Once you hit the one year mark they become an utterly challenging species, one whose desire to be happy can only be fulfilled by slowly wiping pea and ham hock soup over the walls.  Caring for a newborn depletes your physical resources and wears you out, but – and this is a very important distinction – it doesn’t deplete your mental ones.  It’s a groundhog day of sexless bras and tiny white babygrows drying on the rack.  But it’s not mentally complex.  Your body is not your own.  But your mind is.  Bear this in mind.  Push yourself a little mentally every day, even if its only an easy crossword.  Reading and thinking is more possible than ever because you’re off work, and it’s the way to pull together the muscle that holds your brain in, which leads me to point 2….

Physical tiredness and mental tiredness are not the same thing

About fourteen years ago I went to my GP, because I kept experiencing palpitations after having a virus.  I couldn’t understand it.  I’d be sitting there watching EastEnders (not, despite what they tell you, as thrilling as all that) when suddenly my heart was beginning to beat out of whack.  The GP asked about my lifestyle which, at that point, revolved around an office, late nights, early mornings, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo in cheap Homebase wine glasses and Marlboro Lights.  I was always busy, always seemed to be on my way to somewhere.  But I couldn’t sleep.  The GP said something so laughingly obvious I can’t believe I didn’t consider it myself : I was mentally drained and emotionally exhausted, but physically I wasn’t.  I was demanding no physical exertion from my body.  He advocated regular exercise, enough to get the heart rate going three times a week, and this was the very beginning of my swimming obsession.  I swam three times a week and I loved it.  Within a fortnight the palpitations had gone and if I wasn’t sleeping like a baby then I was certainly sleeping like a ten-a-day smoking, slightly anxious city dweller in my late twenties.   Well, when you have a baby the opposite is true.  Your physical muscles are tired but your mental muscles haven’t had a workout.  The brain is a muscle, and unless you want to become one of those people who can’t string three sentences together after the second child, for God’s sake prioritise the nurturing of it.  Keep reading and turn the fucking television off.  I can’t say this enough : TURN IT OFF.  Television stimulates your optic nerve in entirely the wrong way, especially just before sleep.  It does nothing to a tired person but irritate.  “I’m just relaxing,” you say. Television is not relaxing.  “I’ve just had a hard day with the baby, I need to veg out.”  Do you? You are not a carrot.   If it’s relaxation you want, have a hot, candlelit bath.  For three nights a week : go to bed at 8.30pm with a hot chocolate and a book that really pushes the way you need to think critically, if you’re studying.  You’ll discover mental resources you thought you were too tired to possess.  For the other four nights a week I give you full permission to veg out in front of reality TV and turn into a carrot.

Paying to outsource domestic duties is far more practical than paying to outsource childcare

Childcare is expensive in Britain, and you can only do it on a half day (it’s never actually a half day rate, more like 60%) or full day basis.  When you’re a new mum and you’re struggling to remember how to spell “criticism”, you can’t think or read or write all day anyway.  What you need are 90 minute to 2 hour bursts.  That is all you really need, and all you can manage.  Every day, until your child is about two and a half, they will sleep for 90 minutes or 2 hours in the much-yearned-for- Lunchtime Nap. This may occur pre-luncheon, post-luncheon or during luncheon when they suddenly slump in their chair in front of Hey Duggie! with a spoonful of macaroni cheese half way to their faces.  But, by God, they sleep.  This is your time.  The problem is the Goddess of Housework has determined it isn’t to be your time.  She’s here to nag you that now you can clean the loo, iron the shirts, get the wash on, wipe the kitchen floor, dust and hoover.  You must get a cleaner.  A cleaner obliterates the nag of the Goddess of Housework, and four hours a week’s work for her will not only be cheaper than a childminder for one day but will be more practical for the way you work.

Keep five days a week Nap Time solely for your study and do not get drawn into anything else.  Disable Facebook and social media during this time.  For the remaining two Nap Times a week, cram in those jobs you just can’t delegate or avoid – the car tax, dental appointments, work calls, arranging your weekly crate of bespoke gin for delivery etc.  (NB If you do have a childminder (I got by using mine 8 hours a week and sharing childcare with my husband the remainder of the time) and are lucky enough to have a bit of flexibility with her/him, use them strategically.  Cram in as much as you can for those few hours.  You are, after all, paying for it. Working from home with a nanny and toddler awake and noisy in the home at the same time won’t really work).

The astute multi-tasking skills you develop as a mother are the enemy of intellectual focus

You have to become that person who stirs a bolognese whilst singing Wind The Bobbin Up, combing your little one’s hair, mentally making notes to get your shoes re-heeled and writing up a supermarket list.  Look, you just have to.  You aren’t going to get through without splitting yourself into multiple people in your own sleep-deprived mind.  But here’s the thing:  if you’re not careful you’ll forget how to concentrate on one sole thing.  If you can potty train a two year old not to shit on the floor, you can train your brain to rein itself in to single-minded vision again.  Boring as it may sound, quiet evenings without music, social media or television will be your greatest friend.  As will early nights with books about Emily Bronte’s lack of sex life (or whatever you’re studying).   But be vigilant : the multi-tasking muscle is just around the corner waiting to trip you up again, and get you thinking about whether he should have Marmite or Philadelphia on his toast in the morning.

The busy paradox : “I’ve no time!”

Busy people always have time to tell you how busy they are.  But stating “I’m busy” is like stating “I’m tired” – it’s a claim but not an undisputed fact, and if you’re not careful it will turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.  I was much busier when I worked full time before I had a child.  When you’re at home with a child more (I worked three and a half days a week to support the family in the first 18 months) you aren’t busy.  You’re doing a hell of a lot of cleaning up and cooking and tidying, but busy isn’t the right sort of word.  You’re consumed, you’re preoccupied, you’re fixed on your child’s needs.  But that’s not really busy.  First there’s that two hours a day to yourself (no one in an office has that) and then – if you are fortunate – there is the evening time after your child has gone to sleep, which is yours again because you go out a hell of a lot less than you used to.  This is easily another 90 minutes.  So there’s three and half hours a day that you can use.  It’s just that you have to learn the art of using them properly. Again, I’m sorry, but television is your absolute enemy here.

The exhaustion paradox : “I’m so tired!” 

Don’t thump me.  I’m not calling into doubt your mind-numbing, teeth chattering, howling, espresso filtering tiredness.  I know you’re physically knackered but just think about what I said above about mental tiredness not being the same thing.  Think about how the social obsession with fatigue and exhaustion only came about after the advent of modernity.  Imagine someone in 1512 saying “Gawd I’m farking knackered!” and sitting down on a sofa for three hours every evening.  You see?  You can’t.  Exhaustion is a post-industrial invention and post-industrial society is obsessed with it and wants you to be too.  Be vigilant against the divisive way that thinking you’re tired mucks up your brain.

 

Wherever possible, walk don’t drive

Walking time with a pram is a marvellous opportunity to think.  When you drive you cannot think as you’re busy trying not to crash into things.  With cash being tight as a new mum, you won’t be able to afford gym fees.  Walking as much as you can in local parks, woods, or around the shops whilst your baby /toddler sleeps is a great time to note-take in your head, think about a project and get some much-needed fresh air.  Always carry a notebook.  When your child goes to sleep, find a nearby bench and work solidly for 20 minutes, setting the timer on your phone and putting your phone into flight mode to avoid email alerts and unwanted distractions  This is easily organised so long as you don’t fall into the trap of over-timetabling your toddler’s life into unnecessary classes and commitments which see you constantly having to battle to get a 19 month old into the car so they can pick their nose through a sing-a-long session at a playgroup which neither of you really needs to go to for the sixth week running.

Some days it won’t work – and that’s fine

It won’t.  You won’t find reading mentally stimulating and enjoyable.  You’ll want to curl up in an old tracksuit and cry because the baby threw up three times on three separate suits in one day and you can’t remember what your middle name is. You’ll be spent, feel fat and unhappy and eat 17 chocolate digestives whilst watching episodes of The Affair from the Sky planner.  That’s totally fine.  On evenings like this, make a plan for the next day which involves carving out half an hour – just half an hour – for yourself to think again.  You’ll go to bed feeling better about looming deadlines if you have a system in place that provides you with a little space the next day.

 

As I was saying….

Gosh, but it’s a been a while, eh, readers?  Over the last year I had various blog “pangs” urging me to fly back to these pages and drop down a word or seven of current thoughts and opinions, but – goodness, there’s a piano lesson to give, a PhD book to read, and a toddler toddling toddling toddling through the living room in danger of eating a polystyrene letter “W” that he has flagrantly ripped from his Toys-R-Us alphabet floor jigsaw.   Indeed, my absence from these pages since January 2015 has been felt deeply by me.  It might have been a relief for you, however,  but HERE I AM.  Betcha missed me.

Now, this not a blog about becoming a piano teacher, or becoming a parent, but it is a blog about this frustrating, beautiful, over-priced, laconic, wildly compelling city whose skies shelter us.  Clearly, I could talk to you about my caesarian scar but it wouldn’t be appropriate.  Instead I shall labour on the beauty of Aldwych, Virginia Woolf, the loneliness of the long distance PhD student and London from the view of someone pushing a rice-caked encrusted buggy through the tube.

Firstly, I remain here.  I mean, I can still live here, clutching on for dear life through the leaf-strewn outer suburbs of the metropolis.  For how long, God (or my mortgage broker) only knows, but there is a sense of sliding out – or off – from the city as our family threatens to outgrow our small patch.  Nevertheless, I see still being here as one of my greatest achievements, alongside:  1.) Being the first person ever to step onto the Somerset House Ice Rink fifteen years ago, immediately falling  down and ending up with a photo of this event in the Evening standard and 2.) Living in London for 22 years and never once going to M&M World.   Secondly, during my first 10 years in London I refused to travel by bus.  I thought that the bus was for saddos and the tube for the sexy people.  I now realise the tube is shit as our 15 month old son is frightened of it, sulks and sits in the corner kicking idly at the paintwork from the buggy and refusing to smile at his fellow commuters (can’t think where he gets it from….), and buses are Things of the Gods.  They have special doors on the back for the oldies / unemployed / disabled – and buggies.  And apparently going up the Finchley Road whilst facing sideways and staring at red brick houses and cross people standing at other bus stops makes small children deliriously happy.

You know what makes me happy?  Coming to terms with the inescapable fact that I have to read a lot of spatial theory and philosophy in order to have the tiniest clue what my PhD thesis is supposed to be about.  Yep.  Makes me delighted and delightful in equal measure.  Also makes me prone to rattiness and gin drinking in the evenings, when instead I should be reading about nineteenth century views on the developing field of psychology.  Oh, do me a favour. I just wanted to read books, do a thesis and then get an earnest and slightly fabulous job as a lecturer wearing excellent 20 denier hosiery and drinking Bar Italia house blend in my University study, salivating over the prospect of a public sector linked pension and the fact that the British State is paying me to read books.  But in order to do a literature-based thesis, I have to know so much about everything else.  Lots of everything else.  All everything else.  And for the first time in my life, I am being really, intellectually pushed.  And this is where Virginia Woolf comes in.  Because she always does.  Because we won’t let the poor cow rest.

You’d think that no one else in the Fitzroy Square area had ever written anything between the wars.  The entire sections of early twentieth century literature shelves in our best bookshops think of “Modernist” writing as four words : James Joyce Virginia Woolf.  And that’s it.  I am not one to deny these two writers their genius, but there are so many other neglected scribblers from this period.  Virginia Woolf is, sadly, not content with being dead.  She has reared up again, as an enormous, characterless building at the Aldwych end of Kingsway, and she is the new home of the Kings College Arts & Humanities department.  It is known as “VWB” – The Virginia Woolf Building.  Junior lecturers and students send emails to each other about “coffee in VWB” and “Post-Colonial Reading sessions in VWB”.  Virginia Woolf isn’t going To The Lighthouse.  She’s going to the Comparative Literature department for a supervisor update session so she can check her Facebook on the University Wifi.  An eerie waxwork of Virginia Woolf sits in the lobby area, shrouded by glass.  She appears to be sitting in a tiny, wooden train compartment, and looks like she’s desperately trying to escape in the direction of the VWB Ground Floor Coffee Station.

This is where I go every four weeks.  I love my supervisor there – I really love her.  She knows precisely how to stop me being a twat, and how to lead me in the right direction in my research, yet never tells me implicitly how to do this.  Instead, she lays a map, steers me along the library shelves and pathways, until I find myself exactly where I need to be (always a surprise, like waking up accidentally at the right tube station) and turning around amidst piles of papers and half-drunk mugs of Nescafe, suddenly proclaiming “Aha! Yes I see! Aha!” like some ghastly, mad-haired, sleep deprived Alan Partridge.   I am always asked questions in my supervisor sessions.  I never know any of the answers, but I am beginning to realise that might be the point.  I did not realise this for the first two years, however, and just thought I was being an idiot.

I was the only person who rocked up to my PhD Freshers week five months pregnant, waddling past those trays of plastic cupped wine I could not drink, in a Dorothy Perkins maternity dress thinking :”What have I done this for?”  Everyone else on my course is putting the “fresh” into fresher – young faces, bright with determined, academic clarity, just down from Oxford, each aged about 14 and three quarters.  Even though I had stilton in my fridge older than some of my contemporaries, I felt a strong mother hen influence to protect them.  “Ahh, bless”, I would think, as they took some group discussion of critical reading incredibly seriously in the first week, banging on about Russian Formalists and impressing each other by showing off that they knew how to pronounce Ferdinand de Saussure.  The mother hen instinct evaporated as soon as I moved into the third trimester, and I grew to hate them, but hey, that’s hormones!  By January I was a bus, a charabanc, a wide saloon veering majestically down High Holborn in the eighth month of pregnancy, constantly looking for somewhere to have a bitch about Wilkie Collins and a wee.

I took six months off for maternity leave.  During this time our son exclusively slept so I busied myself with knitting him cardigans rather than reading Mary Elizabeth Braddon novels.  I came back to the PhD in September, and mercifully glued the stagnant sections of my brain back together, and got the muscles up and running again, feeling as if the epidural had numbed my head instead of my spine.   And now, eight months further down the line I might actually have a plan.  I might – just might – have a first chapter for the upgrade panel – a rights of passage through which all M. Phil students must pass to become PhD students – which I need to get done by September.  And I will get it done by then – not because my supervisor says I have to but because the longer I take finishing this thesis the longer I have to pay for the bloody thing.   Knowing I had to come back to it after maternity leave plugged my brain in again.  I am so grateful I got some of it kick-started before I had a baby.  Would I have had the energy to commit to it afterwards?

So, the blog is back.  And it’s lovely to be writing it again.  I hope you will continue to read.  But, be patient with me; updates will not be at the regular time of every Thursday, as they were for three years.  They will be intermittent, and on a variety of subjects I hope you will enjoy.  The Reading List will be updated shortly with my recent reads and I’m looking to get the Bluebird Short Story Competition up and running again.   London, as I have discovered, has not gone anywhere.  Neither, dear readers, have I.

 

This train terminates at Sainsburys

A business proposal to transform the 26 “ghost” stations of the London Underground network has been proposed this week, which means that whereas people used to use stations for travel and going to work they will now be using them to access branches of Costa, Click & Collect their Ikea furniture shopping and generally attend shopping mausoleums below ground amidst diabolical overhead lighting and Take That being piped in at a friendly decibel. (It’s always a friendly Debenham’s-level volume, and it’s always Rule The World ).  Of course, there is a need to use ghost stations.  It’s not entirely fair that the ghosties should have first dibs on them.  But I’m not entirely convinced that what our metropolis needs is another ball-clenchingly orange Sainsburys shoving red pepper hummus at commuters and essentially taking business away from local shops and more money away from us.

Sainsburys have yet to recover from the lunatic shame of their Christmas commercial, whereby they inferred that wars could be won much easier and with far less bloodshed if we exchanged bars of Dairy Milk instead.   Whilst not adding war propaganda to their list of unsavoury achievements, they are now convincing us to buy their savoury and unsavoury nasties from a former ticket hall at a station that was used as an emergency replacement Cabinet War Room (when the original wasn’t available) during the War and has since been used only in James Bond films starring Daniel Craggy McCrag Face Craig.  34 sites in all have been identified, one of which may be turned into a herb garden (Hello the disused station of Clapham North!) and another a nightclub (Leinster Gardens!).  York Road will be incorporated into the Kings Cross residential and commercial development triangle, which shows little signs of stopping.  Down Street, the afore-mentioned Cabinet War Rooms stand-in for Churchill when the Germans were busy bombing his other one, is the deepest, and the one with the most potential.  But the plans are so recidivist and reductive that they are tragic : a waxwork Churchill presiding over a muddling mock-up of his war time fags, cigars, champers etc whilst offering the visitor a tour of his daily life (sleep, half bottle of Moet, ham sandwich, RULE, CAMPAIGN, snooze, port, lunch, SPEECHES, snooze, Bordeaux, cocaine lozenges etc).  Another tourist-inciting museum in the centre of what should be a working city?  Another non-station trying to convince us that what we need are waxworks, which haven’t been thrilling since 1978, and only then to 11 year olds?  In addition to that Churchillian melting pot of wax nightmare on Platform No 3, there will be a restaurant and above ground retail zone – which is brilliant obviously, because London doesn’t have enough of those.

We don’t need more waxworks.  We need real things.   We are talking about a total of 10m sq ft of land, much of which is in some of the most expensive areas on the planet.  What is it that London is beginning to lack, that these ghost stations could aid in creating?  The obvious answer would be affordable housing, but not everyone would want to live underground like eerie characters in an HG Wells story.  The plan currently is that TFL would lease the properties out to business clients, and the profits from the leasing will be fed directly back into the public purse.  Therefore the renovations of the ghost stations will cost you and I nothing, but will benefit those who use the TFL system on a daily basis as the profit will be spent there.  Yet there are practical difficulties.  Many of the sites are very close to live railways, and therefore require investment to ensure safe change of use before Waitrose rock in and open up.  Procurement law dictates that all bids for stations must be open to a series of commercial tenders.  TFL want to accept the more interesting and appropriate ideas that celebrate individual stations’ histories, but may not find themselves able to do so.  It had been hoped that Brompton Road tube would be opened as a museum to celebrate its history as one of the RAF anti-aircraft secret underground divisions in World War Two, from where V1 and V2 rocket attacks were monitored.  But then, suddenly Brompton Road was sold to luxury developers last year (presumably by TFL?).  There goes another good idea up in Russian billionaires’ cigar smoke.

So, what should happen to those 32 stations:

1.  Five of them should be turned into community resource centres, with free internet and library services.  Whilst many of London’s community centres are non-profit, independent organisations, this will include a small annual fee.  This gives book-lending rights for the library, access to printers / the internet for those seeking work, and the introduction of homework clubs for the children of working parents.

2. Five of them should provide small scale, minor ailments assistance to people, assistance that A&E departments all over London are currently struggling to provide : drop in centres for sprains, cuts, basic antibiotics dispensation and non-emergency illnesses.  Funding will be an issue, so Londoners will each pay a fee to use medical facilities and private nurses.  Central London disused stations will be particularly vital for people who have drunk themselves into vomit and bile inducing oblivion during a West End night out too.

3.  Three of them should be converted into temporary fire stations, especially in light of the raised terrorist risk to the UK (and the fact that the West End actually only has one fire station – Soho).

4. Five of them should be grant leases to local, sustainable cafes and restaurants within a 5 mile radius of that disused station to promote the growth of local, small businesses and ban the presence of all supermarket and coffee chains.

5. Five of them should house some of the permanent collections that our 240 museums cannot permanently display and which are currently languishing in archives.

6. Five of them should provide temporary homes for those business that have been silently “cleared” in Soho / Denmark Street over the last decade thanks to the development of the Crossrail project, at affordable rents.  The rents are paid directly to TFL as landlord.

7. Four of them should be granted temporary live music licences and offer affordable gigs and evening concerts to schoolchildren (and grown ups) across the capital.  The concerts and gigs will have a cover charge which will be processed into a system to ensure musical education with the possibility of several hours of free music tuition to all London children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

There you go.  Do that and those stations will never be empty.  There won’t even be room for the ghosts.  You see, only two of the seven points are not directly funded by the pocket of the consumer (The Fire Brigade and the Museums).  The rest we will pay for.  My argument is, we will be happy to pay for them if they provide us with some meaningful improvement in the nature of our civic life.  I’m just not entirely sure that a Tesco Direct with a large shoe shop on top of it will offer us anything at all that we actually need.  It only offers us something that we might, from time to time, require.

London is getting beyond itself; we need to identify precisely the kinds of services – civic and retail – that we need, in a city overrun with greed, new restaurants and endless opportunities to spend money many of us feel like we don’t have. Money for vital services is far more required in a city where the numbers are growing but both wages and access to services are not.  The difficulty with over-bloating the market with retail outlets is it implies that we all have the desire to spend money on things that we only ever buy through choice.  A Tesco muffin is a Tesco muffin.  So what?  What I propose is that we are encouraged to make the choice to buy things we as a city currently need as a necessity.  If London’s empty spaces can’t create this for us, who on earth can?

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog is now updated intermittently, so please add yourself to the mailing list to ensure you receive updates.  Thank you!  The London Bluebird. x x x.

Alice in Wonderland

And so to 2015.  Another year where I still don’t know what those enormous bell-type things are on the pavement at the corner of Finchley Road and Circus Road, NW8.  Have you seen them?  They are like enormous giant’s earrings or houses for gremlins or garden gnomes.  I think at this time of year, if we were to hesitantly open them up they would be full of the Bastard Wishes of New Year’s Resolutions, tiny Londoners with futile expressions attending spin classes in miniature Virgin Active Gyms for they have forgotten that their bodies are only going one way, and that is wherever gravity sends them.  When it comes to moobs and flab it’s a tireless race against the inevitable. It’s down, down, down….falling through life’s rabbit hole.

So maybe, for the ageing student here, it’s a moot point that the only bit of my body I am focusing on is my brain – which is a clever tactic as its moobs are hidden inside my head.  But the problem is my brain has displaced itself into a nether hormonal region of highly strung madness as I am seven months pregnant.  Everyone else is concentrating on dieting and getting smaller, but I have the ultimate opt out and am out of the control seat here.  I just get bigger.  I see those adverts at bus stops for people to get miniature meals featuring grains delivered to their office desks at exorbitant prices and now I guffaw.  Although I’m sure I did guffaw last year.  The EAT‘s and Pret A Manger’s are overflowing with quinoa and nasty things to exercise your colon when all you want is a hearty bowel of porridge.  My hormonal craziness is almost liberating.  Today I saw a corgi outside Baker Street Station and wanted to kill it.  They don’t tell you this in the Baby and Fashionable Breastfeeding Guide from Udders.com.  I am not making up Udders.  They are a company, a company that provides terrified first time mothers with extremely bad taste shawls in which mothers can choose to feed who they breed.  Apart from killing corgis, other desires have been turning around and saying “I’m NOT your darling” to some innocent, 50-something painter and decorator type – whose stomach was at least twice the size of mine – who was offering that I go in front of him in the queue at Pret A Manger in Bond Street Station.  The bastard.  I look forward to degenerating into total mental disarray in the next 10 weeks.

At Ageing Students HQ, I met with one of my supervisors who told me, entirely unprompted, not to worry about the “adulterous dreams and sleep orgasms”.  It took me a quarter of an hour to work out she wasn’t talking about my PhD.  Two framed photographs of blonde angelic children sit perched on her bookshelf alongside The Cambridge Companion to Dickens.  She said she had a dream of such sexual lucidity at some point in her third trimester that “I can never bring myself to tell my husband about it”.  I would like to know about it, I said, so that I could go home and tell my husband. It would be a refreshing parlour game, and certainly a change from what we have been playing since Week 28 which is me, sitting on the sofa asking “Can you see my feet?  I can’t”.   She wouldn’t tell me.  However, it was reassuring.  The previous week something dreadful had occurred at night in my subconscious involving Russell Brand, and I felt cheated, because I have never once fancied Russell Brand.  He has a really cruel face, so that’s him out.  But there he was lurking in my fetid imagination, refusing to dislodge.  I’m just grateful a corgi wasn’t involved.   Of course it’s not too late for that.  I’ve got 10 weeks to go.

London is usually full of pregnant people, or at least it seemed to be when I wasn’t pregnant.  Now I feel like the only pregnant person I have seen.  I have been quietly impressed by the people who stand up for me on the tube, and buses.  But why are they always women – usually in their late 50s / 60s who, frankly, look as if they could do with a sit down?   People are kinder than I thought about standing up on the tube (I don’t go for the nonsense of one of those “Baby on Board” badges.  I don’t have to.  I am huge).  But mostly they don’t look at you with kindness.  They look at you with pure, unbridled pity.  “Oh, God, I remember that,”  their tired City eyes seem to say.  “You’ve not seen your own vagina since October have you?”  It feels churlish to reply to people when I’m having imaginary conversations with them in my head, so I keep schtum, but the pity is interesting.  I think they should save the pity for childbirth where I’ll be rolling around on a bed screaming for diamorphine and an epidural (knowing my luck Russell Brand will arrive to inject it).    Meanwhile, I lurch around London like a latter day Alice in Wonderland, who has taken a magic “drink me” bottle of potion that means I shall get bigger and bigger and bigger, until, like her I wave goodbye to my feet at the fender and end up with bits of me sticking out of the chimney.  The Londonist sends regular updates to my email box daily, reminding me of all the fabulousness of the City that I am not seeing, and shall not be likely to see for several months, as the highlight of my day seems to be perusing the daily email from Bounty and eating mammoth supplies of expensive out of season raspberries.  Sometimes I wonder how I will finish my PhD.  Sometimes, I think I will finish it because I haven’t given myself an alternative career plan so I have to.  Sometimes, I realise that I have spent precisely 1 minute and 54 seconds, and £2,500, on it, since September, and am perplexed as to how I will manage to spend as much as 1 minute 54 seconds on it in the coming year.  Sometimes I think I will rely heavily on strong coffee, like Balzac, but coffee has not passed my lips since June 2014 and may have a dramatic effect on me.  But then, as Manuel in Fawlty Towers once said “I know naathing…..”  Nothing about any of it.  Nada.  Zilch.  Nil.  Oh, I’ll pick it up along the way.

Central London has been a place I have commuted to for 12 years, five days a week.  What will London be to me when that stops becoming a characteristic of my daily life?  Will London do nothing more than allow me to shrink my life into four rooms for as many months?  I look at the view from my second floor Bond Street window and imagine the person who will take my place sitting out and looking at it instead.  The city churns and moves and pushes forward outside the window, whilst I will be out in Zone 4, working out what the best thing for cracked nipples is  (and to think this time a year or two ago I thought a Cracked Nipple was a kind of cocktail).  I got heady when I returned to Oxford Street after the Christmas / New Year hiatus.  That, dear reader, was a gap of 11 days.  It seemed overwhelmingly exciting and strange.  What will it be like when I come back to work part time after 6 months?  I shall probably have a collapse and be found hysterical and unbalanced in a gutter in Wardour Street, but then that seemed to happen most Friday nights in my 20s.  In those days we thought we were the only people in the world who had discovered mojitos.  We spent so long discovering them we drained the rum reserves dry and competed wildly for Type 2 Diabetes thanks to the sugar syrup.  I am not allowed alcohol now.  Sometimes I have a cup of Darjeeling tea, and I get somewhat off my tits.  I’ve lost the ability to process toxins and drugs, which isn’t at all helpful when you considered the smorgasbord of drugs that childbirth involves on the NHS, courtesy of the Great British Tax Payer.

What shall happen here, I hear you cry?  What shall become of The London Bluebird during this biological transition?  Well, I shall be taking a rest from the blog, and going on maternity leave in February for a few months, but I shall be back…..By February it will be, incredibly, the blog’s 5th birthday.  Please stay with me.  Please keep The London Bluebird in your bookmarks and visit again in the autumn, where I shall be again, writing happily into the ether to you, dearest unknown friend and reader, unaware who is reading and what is being read but hoping that somehow these words end up out there somewhere.  I never know where my words end up, or who you are, or what compels me to report fortnightly but something does, and the thought that you all might be enjoying it on some level is certainly up their in the Top Three Reasons to Keep Hammering Out the Articles.  I’ll be seeing you once more before I disappear, with a further update in early Feb.   As updates become less regular please sign up for our email alerts, which will tell you when I have recovered enough from sleep deprivation to write something.

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  This blog will be now updated intermittently. Please sign up for the email notification to have The London Bluebird delivered directly to your inbox in future! The London Bluebird xx

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 9,300 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Kiefer Sutherland as Alan Turing?

Oh dearest readers, how lapse this Christmas reindeer has been – I did not update when I said I would last time – and now it is December 18th.  I always remember December 18th because when I was 13 I memorised it as Kiefer “The Lost Boys” Sutherland’s birthday.  Therefore, every December 18th since I wake up and the first thought in my head is “How old is Kiefer Sutherland today?”  rather than “Why haven’t I completed my Christmas shopping when I work in Oxford Street?”  Today, Kiefer is 48.  Happy Birthday Kiefer.

Kiefer was born in Paddington in St Mary’s Ospedale.  That is because his father was making The Dirty Dozen here at the time.  Kiefer was not born in Paddington Bear, nor was he anything to do with Paddington Bear, though I think he should have voiced him in the film.  Yesterday I decided to not see Paddington Bear the Movie as I suspected I may not like it, so I went to see The Imitation Game instead which was all fur coat and no knickers (great cast, pretty pretty, oh-so-English sets, and a script that a 14 year old could have wrote) at the Curzon Mayfair.  I like the Curzons but they are ever so smug about their brilliance in the catering department.  “You’ve got time to grab a Berry Bros & Rudd wine before the film starts!”  the screen crows at you, two minutes after you’ve sat through the trailer for Ridley Scott’s new exodus movie (Christian Bale as Moses?  REALLY?)  Well, the screen may as well have shouted ” Look!  Look!  We have the Queen’s personal vintner on tap – they’re in St James’s you know!  This is the fucking Curzon, darling…”  Of course no one did get up to purchase a glass full of Berry Bros brilliance, mainly because they were going back to work (middle aged gents), still had shopping to do (ladies what lunch) and were just over six months pregnant (me).  So we all sat there and wept at the Waitrose ad instead, where an unpopular girl at school bakes gingerbread for a school fair and discovers people like her because they eat her biscuits.  Then we all cried at the trailer for It’s a Wonderful Life and then I looked around and realised no one else was sobbing that it was just me and my pregnancy hormones. And I don’t know why I cried because I don’t even like James Stewart.  Hormones weren’t funny to Alan Turing in the film though, because they tried to give him lots of what appeared to be HRT to stop him feeling gay and he was so upset he killed himself, so that bit wasn’t nice.

Could Kiefer Sutherland have played Alan Turing?  It would certainly have been more entertaining – and I for one would have enjoyed it hugely.  Emilio Estevez could have played Winston Churchill, and Charlie Sheen the Charles Dance, snooty Admiral character at Bletchley who thinks that Alan Turing is a twat.   I think they should let Kiefer Sutherland play Alan Turing as it’s his birthday and it’s only fair.   I mean, if a drunk-driving Canadian TV / film star can’t play a World War II code breaker at Christmas when it’s his birthday, exactly when can he?  He could growl about Bletchley with that strange jowly jaw of his, which I often think he has had some sort of corrective surgery on – either that or so many strippers have sat on his face over the years it’s sort of ironed itself out.  He could fall foul of the dastardly Official Secrets Act and invoke a car chase with M16 around rural Buckinghamshire whilst waving a shooter out of the window and screaming “You’ll never take me alive you goddamnsonofabitch…!”  whilst complaining about cheese rations.  How can I fully express that I feel my life will be incomplete until I see Kiefer Sutherland singing Roll Aht The Barrel whilst dressed in khaki green serge and talking cock-er-nee whilst trying to take some flibbertygibbert over the Siegfried Line?  It’s cinematic genius.  I shall write postcard to Mr R Scott post haste.  That’s Ridley, not Ronnie.  After all if Kiefer was born in St Mary’s, Paddington, he’s practically a died-in-the-wool, strike-a-light-guv’nor cock-er-nee – cor! It’s the Bow Bells! Londoner anyway.  All we have to do to convince audiences he’s a Englishman is coat him in grey rain for 20 years and feed him jam roly poly and bisto until he chubs up like he did in the mid-1990s.  The Brat Pack massacred the Wild West film genre with Young Guns – why not allow them to destroy the war time codebreaker blockbuster as well?  You could even hire Lou Diamond Philips.  It’s a time of year for breaking the rules.  I, for one, have been eating Percy Pig sweets for breakfast.  I like to walk on the wild side.  I may even have hummus as a late night snack.  Although I find it impossible to believe it is actually Christmas as 1. I am not drunk (see gestational state ref above) 2.  they are not yet showing Love Actually on a continuous mump-and-vomit-inducing loop on ITV2  and 3.  No one has been shot on EastEnders this week by Samantha Janus whilst Phil Mitchell runs over a nearby child, screaming.  We bought the festive Radio Times, but it has so many channels, and film watching itineraries and Picks of the Day and Picks of the Week that I can’t actually understand it, and don’t know what’s on.  And no, as you ask, dear Londoners, I have not purchased a ticket to the local pantomime as I don’t believe in pantomime and walking within a five mile radius of one brings me out in hives.

But can we take a moment to return to Paddington?  Not the Paddington of 1966 where the erstwhile Mr Sutherland emerged alongside his twin sister (I was a research-heavy child) but the Bear which has invaded our streets and our psyches and, it appears, that bastion of expensive, Christmas luxury – Selfridges department store.  They have opened an Everyman in the basement of Selfridges.  Do you understand the enormity of what I tell you?  You can go to the shop and see a film three times a day.  And it’s Paddington loopy.  Marmalade jars on every surface, and clay Paddingtons installed on plinths with the particular aim of terrorising the under 4’s. And it’s not just Paddington the movie you can go and see – you can see a whole range of other films, whilst pretending to your spouse that you are in Selfridges buying their Christmas present.  Of course I shall be there  – you’ll spot me, absconding from the office, weeping uncontrollably into my bag of Revels at the latest Tesco commercial and wishing Kiefer Sutherland was playing Moses.

Happy cool Yule to you all and may your festive holly be green, spiky and flushed through with Christmas fayre.  See you on here in 2015!  Happy New Year x x x x x

Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this.  Or if you enjoy Kiefer Sutherland.  Or a bag of Revels.  Our next update will be on Thursday 8th January and we wish you a happy holiday.  The London Bluebird x x x