Friday, 30 October 2009

The Real Vampires

Yesterday's lecture was brilliant! It was great to hear about the real genuine myths relating to vampires as opposed to the westernised myths from film and literature.  It all comes from the slavic and balkan regions and relates to the eastern orthodox idea that the soul doesn't leave the body until it has fully decayed.
There are various ways to become a vampire, from time of conception, to the manner of your death.  Even if you die unmarried!  Sins being absolved by a priest or the traditional stake through the heart can kill a vampire.  You can see the undead lecture here in about a week.
You'll see from my previous post that I've been busy writing, but the dark mornings and evenings have been getting me down a bit.  So I've been relaxing a little more today and watched The Man Who Knew Too Much. I couldn't help noticing that part of it was filmed in the Camden area which was interesting.
I've also been doing some cooking and below you'll find some photos of recent food.  Today's dinner of spaghetti with a home made sauce of bacon, mushroom, courgette, tomato, spring onion, garlic and fresh basil.  And beneath it my desert from yesterday, nectarines and custard.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Out of Time - a story

Residents of London will easily dismiss my tale as something of, if not impossible, then implausible fantasy. But then it is unlikely that my story could possibly happen to a Londoner, since they would not have made the mistake that I made.
I have no doubt that residents of other parts of the country, and other parts of the world, would sympathise with me, and I appeal to those within the Capital to put yourselves in my situation for a moment.
Those who know London well would agree that it’s maze of backstreets are a very easy place in which to get lost. And it was within the back streets of the area of Gospel Oak that I found myself lost, two months ago now.
I had been visiting a friend who has just moved to the area and over wine and brandy we had been debating the recent election of BNP candidates into the European Parliament. I was despondent at this fact and couldn’t understand the hatred being stirred up against minorities within the country.
My friend however pointed out that the problem of overpopulation did indeed exist, but whereas the far-Right blamed the immigrants, it was really the incumbent politicians who should be to blame. Probably as a result of turning this argument over in my mind I took a wrong turning on my way to Chalk Farm and found myself standing outside Kentish Town West station instead.
To my disappointment I could not get to Euston from here, but a map showed me that Camden Town station was not far away. And at the junction of Kentish Town Road and Castle Road I thought that I had found it.
Once again I ask you to see things from my situation. I was slightly panicked at the thought of not making my train, the confusing streets in the darkness of the evening and then the reassuring sight of the red tiles so common to the outsides of London Underground stations. This much at least I knew.
But how was I to know that this station had been closed for more than eighty years? Those who see it in daylight, as I did today before setting my story down, will see the window of a Cash Converters, with its cheap electrical goods on display. But on this particular night all I saw was the invitingly open entrance to an Underground station.
I hurried inside and since the lifts were out of order, I took the spiral staircase down to the platform. I was alone there and sat on the wooden seat in order to wait. For the first time my suspicion was aroused, but only very slightly and momentarily, by the lack of a sign displaying the time to the next train. But the platform itself being a little old fashioned, I dismissed this as nothing more than for aesthetic reasons.
I was relieved that I didn’t have to wait long for a train. As I took a seat, I immediately realised that something was unusual with the attire of my fellow passengers. Every single one of them was dressed in Edwardian clothing. At first I thought that they were all going to or coming back from a fancy dress party. But their clothes seemed too well fitting and too natural to have been on hire.
‘So what do you think of this Frenchman?’
The middle-aged woman two seats to my right had spoken, but as far as I could tell, to no one in particular. She had a London voice, but I was unable to tell from which part.
‘It’s shocking it is. That’s what I think’, she continued. ‘When you think that an English newspaper puts up the prize and then we don’t even have an entrant. And then for it to go to a Frenchman of all people’.
I began wracking my brains for the Frenchman that she could possibly be talking about. My mind churned through various subjects from sport to literature and music to art, but I could come up with nothing.
‘And with this entente cordial we’re all supposed to like the French now. Well I still don’t trust ‘em. And I don’t trust ‘im’.
I remained silent with the rest of the carriage. They all seemed to be ignoring her and that gave me confidence. Perhaps they knew as much about what she was talking about as I did. But then she turned to me.
‘What’s your view of the Frenchman?’ she asked.
My first reaction was that it would be less harmful if I did not to reply. I would be embarrassing the woman by declaring that I did not know of the mysterious Frenchman that she was talking about. But her eyes were insistent. And I now realised that several other pairs of eyes were now staring at me, probably in hope that I might be able to shed light on her comments.
‘I’m afraid I haven’t seen today’s news’, I replied honestly.
It was half question and half exclamation. I began to notice a certain suspicion creep into the eyes of those around me. I wasn’t sure whether to say more or to keep quiet. After all I would be getting off at Euston which I had calculated to be only one stop from Camden Town.
‘Where ‘ave you been son?’ The woman declared. ‘Or ain’t the news reached your part of the country yet? It’s only been two weeks I s’pose!’
She laughed at her own joke. She obviously had as much regard for those living outside the city as she did for those across the channel.
‘I’m talking about Bleriot!’
Bleriot! What on Earth was she talking about?
‘But Bleriot...’ I began.
As I had begun to speak, a strange fear and sense of things not being quite right came upon me. Of course I knew all about Louis Bleriot, the first man to fly across a body of water. But this feat had taken place in 1909, a full hundred years ago. And yet this woman spoke as if it had only just happened.
Things began to fall into place at this realisation. The slightly old fashioned looking station without its electric sign and the carriage full of people in period costume all belonged to the same time period as Bleriot’s flight. But that time was not my time.
And at this moment it occurred to me, despite my slight inebriation, that I was sitting amongst a group of people consisting entirely of phantoms. These people were dead, had passed away some time ago, and yet here they were playing out an event from a hundred years ago.
A chill ran up my spine. My first instinct was absolute terror, but then a sense of calm self-preservation came over me. But what could I do? For the moment I decided that the best course of action would be to play along with the conversation.
‘Oh Bleriot! I think he’s marvellous.’
‘But he’s...he’s French!’
‘Also a wonderful aviator’, I replied.
I thought I caught a couple of smiles break out upon the faces of other passengers. With my confidence renewed, despite the fact that I was speaking with the dead, I continued:
‘He’s carried out a wonderful feat, which will benefit all of mankind. And it doesn’t matter if he’s French, or not. We’re all part of the same Europe; England, France, Germany. And at least he’s not American.’
‘We’re nothing like the Germans’, the woman replied with venom. ‘But yes. French is better than American. I still don’t trust ‘im though.’
I remembered that the Europe of 1909 was drastically different to that of 2009 and that I should have been more careful. Some sentiments didn’t seem to have changed however. I was relieved that I was yet to be discovered.
One thing that was concerning me was that we were yet to reach Euston. It felt as if I had been on the train for at least five minutes, and that seemed rather a long time for one stop.
‘When should we reach Euston?’ I ventured.
‘Euston!’ The woman cried. ‘What’re you talking about?’
‘The next stop’, I replied.
‘This train don’t stop’.
‘Doesn’t stop? What do you mean?’
My new found relief had been short-lived and my terror returned in greater strength.
‘Where could it stop? It don’t exist. We don’t exist. We’re all dead!’
As she pronounced this she emitted a cackle of laughter. I felt my heart beating faster and sweat was beading on my forehead. I looked quickly at my fellow passengers. They were all staring forward. They seemed unaware or uninterested in our conversation.
‘But I’m not...I’m not dead.’
‘Aren’t you?’
From the way she spoke and the way she looked at me, I began to wonder. Was I still alive? Or had I indeed died? Had some incident taken place between my friend’s house and the station?’
‘No. You’re not’, the woman agreed.
I wasn’t sure whether to feel relief at this or not. I might be alive, but I was still surrounded by the dead.
‘So, ‘ow did you get on ‘ere then?’
‘I honestly have no idea. All I want is to get to Euston in time for my train home.’
‘Hmm. I’m sure ya do.’
‘Can you help me?’ I pleaded.
The question sounded stupid as I asked it but what else could I do?
‘Well. Answer me something.’
‘Is all this messing about with flying really worth it? Does it achieve anything?’
I considered this carefully for a moment.
‘It does make the world a smaller place’, I replied. ‘In a hundred years from your time, people will be able to travel to the other side of the world in a day. It gives us a greater opportunity to see how we all live and to realise that, deep down, we are all the same. In that sense, it must be worth it.’
‘Hmm.’ she replied, unconvinced. ‘Well. I still don’t trust that Frenchman.’
My mind scrambled as I tried to think of something further to say, but the woman continued.
‘I’m not sure I like all that understanding one another. But I s’pose it’s what you’re used to. You’d better go back.’
As she spoke those final words I detected a slight change in the view around me, like the transition between photographs on a computer slideshow. The Edwardian train vanished slowly, and in its place appeared a crowded twenty-first century train.
I hadn’t told the woman everything. She wouldn’t understand cheap flights that took people to sunny locations every few hours for one thing. And of course the concept of a carriage full of people from all parts of the world, I noted wryly as I looked around me. But for all its current social, political and religious unrest and intolerance, this was my world, and for that at least I was grateful to have returned.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Dark Matter - or does it?

I attended a fantastic lecture yesterday, about the search for dark matter and dark energy.  Apparantly only about 4% of the universe can actually be seen, the rest is dark mater and dark energy. This is only seen by the way that it distorts the path of light rays from distant galaxies and right now there are several surveys taking place to try to map this dark energy.  But no one quite knows what it is yet or really what it does - you can view the lecture in about a week's time at
I'm very excited about tomorrow's lecture on vampires and the undead!
I've been able to do some writing over the past couple of days too, including a short story today with a halloween type theme.  I also picked up two new books yesterday, The Twilight Watch (the third in the Night Watch trilogy - which I think now is actually a quadrilogy!) and a book by Pauline McLynn (of Father Ted Mrs Doyle fame).
More photographs now...I took a walk out onto Hampstead today, it was a bit of a grey day but all the more dramatic and autumnal for that...hope you enjoy them.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Wren and Trout

I've spent most of my day reading.  My books are due back on wednesday, and when you're not earning the last thing you need is a library fine!  Was a bit disappointed with 'The Enchantress of Florence', it left me with a slightly unsatisfactory feeling.  It's obviously well researched though.
I did think I'd give you a little treat though, and a photo of today's dinner. 

I had steamed trout fillet and asparagus on a bed of rice with carrots and spinach.  The sauce is double cream, garlic, tarragon, salt and pepper.  It was very tasty indeed!
Finally I have gotten around to organising something which I've fancied doing since I moved to London over six years ago, and that is to see all the churches in the city of london which were renovated by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire - all the ones that are still standing that is.  I have discovered that there are 31, not including St Pauls, in which the church, part of the church or at least a plan of it still remains.  I have made a map of all their locations and will keep you informed of my progress with probably some photos as I go along.
I also received confirmation of my signing up to website Ladder Writers which will allow me to submit stories soon.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Waterlow Park

Clocks went back this morning, so much more early light.  Its been a beautiful autumn morning, so I took a walk out to nearby Waterlow Park.  It's a lovely place with gardens, grass, seats and ponds.  I also read a little while there, but it was too cold for writing.  Will do that now for an hour before the big football match of the day.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Following Regulations

Strange day today.  I've been able to do a reasonable amount of writing, and do my washing, but it has been a strange day.
I tried to get my rent money from cash machines in Kentish Town road but none were connecting to my own bank for some reason.  I had to walk out to Holloway Road instead, but in the meantime I decided to get some milk from a local shop first with the cash I had...but it was training day.
"Ask for the next customer"
"Next customer please"
"Ok scan the item.  And press that button.  Ask if they want a bag"
"Do you want a bag?"
"No thanks"
"Ok press that button so that they can see price.  Press the button for cash.  Put it in with the pound coins.  Ask if they want a receipt"
"Do you want a receipt?"
"No thanks"
"Give them their change"
So that was how I bought I pint of milk.  I was later able to take out some money and went out for the rest of my shopping.  I decided to buy some wine for the weekend:
"How old are you?"
"Do you have ID?"
"I've got a credit card"
"Hmm...what year were you born?"
I guess I should take it as a compliment, but do I really look under 18, or even under 25?  I know that shops have got to be careful, but this is ridiculous.  I got the feeling that this woman would have asked my age even if I carried a bus pass, a walking stick and had grey hair.
Anyway, the wine was nice...a chilean merlot that went pefectly with my lamb stew!

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Lunchtime Lecture

Today I attended a lunchtime lecture at UCL, one of a series of free lectures held twice a week on tuesdays and thursdays, which began last week and runs until early december.  Today's lecture focussed on the clothing of three Indian politicians, and what it said about them and their politics.  To be honest it was a bit hard to follow, partly I think due to the style of the lecture, but also because I have no prior knowledge of Indian politics.  I was interested more from a writer's point of view, in how clothing can establish character.
For those interested however, here is a link to the Ghandi Lecture which gives an overview and in seven days time will have a video of the lecture.
It got me thinking about how british politicians don't really have any difference in the way they dress rather betraying the similarities and homogeneity between them.  This goes does go to another level however, with Nick Griffin, the leader of the BNP who will appear on Question Time tonight.  Anyone knowing nothing about our own politics would notice no difference in terms of style of dress between him and David Cameron, although the obvious difference would be in their policies.  However, by dressing the same as all other politicians Griffin is making himself appear more legitimate than he actually is.  Intriguing really.
Anyway, lamb stew calls to me!

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Swedish Goods

Still working on the same pieces of writing as earlier in the week and spending even more time thinking about them.  Took a walk out to Camden's central library at Swiss Cottage which was...rather imposing, I think is the best way to describe it.  A building of concrete and glass in a lozenge shape, with books around each of its curves on two storeys.
There is a large selection however, especially for non fiction, so it might be a useful place for doing research.  And I did like the spiral staircases which I think all libraries should have.  A library without a spiral staircase doesn't feel like a proper library.
I also went in search of the swedish shop in London, Totally Swedish, which is set near Baker Street.  I had been there before, but it was closed.  This time I was able to take a look around and for those who like swedish foods or possibly miss swedish foods from back home, its pretty good. Unfortunately they only have small bars of Marabou.  But there is a good choice of sill.
It reminds me though that my girlfriend was quite excited to find swedish meatballs when we visited Sainsbury's last week, and swedish toast in a more local shop.  Not to mention Absolut and Kopparberg of course.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Lonely Words

Slow morning.  Still missing my girlfriend who travelled back home to Sweden at the weekend.  The week was wonderful, but still only a week.  Didn't do any writing apart from a short lovenote on the day that she left...but i'll see her again in a few weeks.
As for the week itself, I showed her around London a little bit; the canal, bunhill fields, the gherkin, hampstead, st pancras, the british library, leicester square, covent garden, the 'Black Books' bookshop.  Also discovered the art gallery in the crypt at st pancras new church on Euston Road.  Its a wonderful setting, with natural alcoves and ante-rooms for different displays.  They seem to have regular exhibitions...the website is at crypt gallery...and well worth a look.
During the week my girlfriend needed to do some painting for her art course, so i took the opportunity to do some sketching of my own.  I was actually quite pleased with the result.
Hopefully will get some writing done after lunch today.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Books and Poetry

I've struggled with the writing for the past couple of days and so have turned my attention to other things.  On Wednesday I finally got around to getting myself a new library card.  It was so much simpler than I remember it being last time...but at least I have it now.  I got instantly excited and picked up three books, The Day Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko, Collected Short Stories by H G Wells and The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie.  I've never read any of his books before but have heard good things about them.  The opening paragraph is rather poetic.
Speaking of which, yesterday was national Poetry Day, with the naming of TS Eliot as Britain's favourite poet.  I visited the live show down on the south bank at the Royal Festival Hall, but I couldn't help feeling that it was aimed more at children and getting them enthusiastic about poetry.  There was a reading by current laureate Carol Ann Duffy which was entertaining it wasn't all bad.
There was also an announcement of Global Poetry System, an opportunity for people to send in photographs of anything they see written on walls or doors, which sound poetic.  Personally I'm not enthusiastic about this idea, since it somehow gives relevance to graffiti and vandalism as something to be admired.  I don't think that poetry should be something to be kept within the confines of the white middle classes, yet somehow it has to have a deeper cultural meaning than something scribbled on a toilet door about a prostitute and someone you don't like at school?  Maybe I'm old before my time.
I haven't been completely idle though.  I came across an interesting website called Ladder Writers and have drafted a short story to submit.  I have also written a poem this morning Words.
I am also excited since my girlfriend arrives tomorrow from Sweden for a week, so there may not be much creativity for a little while, cleaning and tidying to do instead.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009


Since the writing wasn't quite working...Pastel on cardboard...self portrait and something made up

Bizarre Neighbours

Words have been harder to come by today.  But then it is Tuesday, and I've never liked Tuesdays. Woke with a headache, the weather's been wet, but there was also that sense of fear.  Will I be able to add to what I did yesterday?  Can I still write?  I've sure everyone gets it.  The irony is that even though I've been less prolific today, I think the quality of what I wrote is better.  It was still a struggle to get out of bed though.
However I did take a walk out to the shops to clear my head and encountered some of the more bizarre people that live in my neighbourhood.  Firstly a woman who was standing at her gate and asked if I had a phone she could use (mine was at home on charge at the time so I couldn't help) because she had locked herself out.  Six weeks ago she had also locked herself out and asked me for money for a tube fare.
Then further down the road was an elderly lady who couldn't turn off the light outside her flat and asked me for help.  I couldn't see a light switch outside and asked if there was one inside her flat. She found one!..the light was off.  I'm sure she must have known it was there, but then again she was maybe just a litle confused.
Outside my local supermarket I was asked "are you the bill payer?"  I didn't know what bills the person was talking about, but thought I'd take the safer option and answer "no".  Knowing what Tuesday's are like I would probably have been thrust a bundle of bills to pay.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Christmas Porridge

When I was younger we had a tradition in my house of porridge and grapefruit for breakfast on Christmas Day, which came from my grandfather on my mother's side.  Where he got the tradition I don't know, but it filtered down to my childhood all the same to the extent that I only used to eat porridge at Christmas or when I had a sore throat.
I have since branched out to eating porridge on other days, and had it for breakfast this morning, but strangely the smell this morning immediately took me back to my childhood.  I'm not sure why, since it has never happened before.  I'm guessing that a morning where sun is streaming through the window and central heating is a distant memor isn't conducive to winter memories.  While this morning's weather, cold and drizzly, with the light still on at nine and radiators on at full blast, was.  It's a strange thing, memory.
Coffee always makes me think it's going to rain, chips take me back to Rotterdam and TCP reminds me of my Great Aunt's room with the commode in the corner and a scary Queen Victoria painting on the wall.  I can still taste the barley sugars.
I guess that porridge as a Christmas breakfast isn't all that strange, but half a grapfruit is very bizarre.  I seem to remember that after my mum passed away the grapefruit was no longer fresh, but came in tins.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Don't Be Defeatist

For the first time in over two years I'm out of paid employment, but I'm more used to heading off to faraway lands and continents.  This time I'm spending time to learn some writing craft.  In an attempt to start off on the right foot, as opposed to wrong, not left, I bought a writing magazine today.  Namely, Writing Magazine.  And it's first article has inspired my first post, not bad huh?  I didn't realise it was this easy.
The article mentioned that poets at a recent poetry festival had been asked their most hated words and it got me thinking about my own.  And after careful consideration, it would have to be the word "defeatist".  It is often used in statements like "Don't be defeatist", or "You're being defeatist" and is usually in response to me having little confidence in something happening, or something turning out correctly.
However, these people don't then try to encourage me by giving reasons why things will turn out ok.  They just leave it to stand on it's own.  It's only with my own increased self confidence and self esteem that I've realised what people were actually saying.  That either they didn't care about what was troubling me, or that they just didn't want to hear it.
The other thing about the word is that with three strong sylables, it allows the speaker to really annunciate it, making you feel even smaller than if they used a word like "negative", which is much softer.
The irony is that if you are a writer just starting out, trying to be seen and heard, trying to get published wherever you can, being defeatist is probably the worst possible thing you can be.  The chances are that the majority of publishers you write to will say "no", but that doesn't mean you shouldn't write to them.  And that's something I've got to keep in mind over the next few months.
Anyway, this has all been a bit serious, so to lighten it a little I'll mention that while walking in Regents Park today, I saw a Heron attack a Canada Goose.  I don't know why.  It was probably just bored.