Ficklish Blog

Thursday, May 25, 2006

La Vida London

As I've not done anything anywhere near as remarkable as attend a ukulele concert in recent days, I hope you will enjoy the following collection of random updatey thoughts...

The Weather

This is - was – a lovely time to be in London. It's definitely getting warmer, everywhere is green and covered in flowers. Clark Kent recently took the following picture which illustrates my point nicely:

(You do realise that aside from that being a very pretty tree (and a very stupid pose from yours truly), my main purpose in posting that shot was to work out how one does such a thing… check it out, I’m so skilful, my blog has pictures!).

The day I moved into my new flat, my flatmate - who needs a pseudonym, I think, and thus will hereafter be known as Mr Juicy - invested in some excellent garden furniture to equip us for a sunny, happy summer sitting in our backyard. Still pining for my sadly fading Spanish tan, I started to get excited.

Of course (in the grand tradition of clichés that persist because they are mostly true), London has been unrelentingly cold and wet every day since. It really, honestly, hasn't stopped raining for almost two straight weeks. It has become quite tiresome. There is a giant puddle on the main street near our house that has already grown lilypads and attracted a flock of ducks who seem very excited about their apparently permanent new home.

The Day Job

My temp gig has been extended for a couple of weeks, which is very useful in terms of income. One slight drawback is the fact that this means continued exposure to Extremely Crap FM, the radio station favoured by my fellow secretaries. Seriously, you guys, it is so bad the only way I can describe it is to reveal the following terrible truth: I have heard Simply Red at least once every day for the past three weeks. Help me.

In all other ways, the job is fine and I'm having a reasonable amount of fun. Today I gave one of my bosses the finger, so that bodes well. Amusingly, he later apologised for possibly having offended ME, so my impudent irreverence seems, yet again, to have been without long-term consequence. One of these days I'll learn.


I have unpacked my luggage into my new bedroom, but apart from that have spent precious little time at the flat I fought so hard to find. I don't really mean to give the impression that I have a spectacular social life and am out and about every moment of the day, but in fact this has been a rather hectic week. There have been birthday celebrations (happy birthday, B1!), friends visiting from Forn Parts (the ever-fabulous Mitchell), acquaintances from Exeter to catch up with (the lovely DJDJK, who even after six years is still exceptionally tall) and a random assortment of impromptu visits to various drinking establishments of London town, including a lengthy sojourn at my new local, which I enjoyed very much. R to the B Dub will be especially pleased to know that in my first hour of attendance, that happiest of tunes "Paradise City" was played not once but twice.

This coming weekend is a Bank Holiday, the meaning of which is not particularly clear to me except in the sense that I am very pleased to have an extra day off. Given my exhausting round of social engagements this week I will be making a special effort to spend my long weekend as quietly as I can. Mr Juicy has hinted that he is confident of thwarting this intention, but I will resist. I will.


One activity I have planned for the weekend is a thorough study of the bus routes leading to and away from my new neighbourhood (I sure know how to party). Caught in the pouring rain late last night at Kings Cross, having discovered that apparently my tube station was closed 'at the request of the police'*, I realised how unhappily ignorant I am of the options available to me on the London bus network. In my defence, I haven't lived here long and the tube has serviced my travel needs more than adequately during that time so there hasn't been a pressing need - until now - to know how to get home any other way. I was lucky last night, stumbling across a useful route reasonably quickly, but it reminded me that it is really very stupid not to have investigated how one is to get home safely in a town where the trains stop running at midnight but I often do not.

* Because – get this – someone was shot there last night. Don't tell my mum.

Friday, May 19, 2006

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

I think the reason I like travelling so much is because it enables me to indulge my delight in the random and absurd on a regular basis. Life feels normal wherever you are: I'm the same person, getting through each day doing regular things - just transplanted. Wandering around spectacular places, meeting excellent people, having more fun than should be legal, and it feels just like life.

But I have these moments, every now and again, where I step back from whatever is happening, shake my head and wonder how on earth I got here and at what my life has become. Being away from home, on my own and without my normal posse to be the witnesses to my stories, the eerie surreality of each random situation makes my head spin.

The first was probably during the pub crawl in Barcelona, watching grown men and women play obscene drinking games with Tommy the GnR fan singing 'Civil War' in my left ear. In Valencia, I remember dancing like a maniac to the Cult with my mate Steve and thinking, 'how on earth did I get here?'. Amsterdam was one crazy moment after another. London feels more normal - or so I thought. I had my first inkling of the potential for the absurd that lurks here last Saturday night, when my welcome party stretched into Sunday morning and I sat in my new loungeroom surrounded by friendly strangers, ingesting various intoxicating substances and discussing subjects as varied as World Bank economic rationalism (and its impact on water services in developing countries), the pros and cons of various sales techniques, Australian pub rock of the 1970s and 80s, and donkey porn. One of my new friends would catch me grinning to myself every now and again and ask what was so funny - it was difficult to explain the strange displacement I felt, and how bizarre it was to be there.

Somehow all these moments have now paled into insignificance. This week, I learned that you really haven't lived until you've heard the Velvet Underground on ukulele.

I caught up with a friend from my Exeter days on Wednesday evening, accompanying him (at his suggestion) to a performance by The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

And, my friends, it was spectacular.

I'll admit that I was a wee bit apprehensive. My friend has always had reasonably eccentric musical tastes (we used to do university radio together), but I trusted his sense of fun and hoped for the best. And I was not disappointed. They were the awesome.

You can read more about them here.

Basically, it's seven ukuleles and a bass guitar. Five men, two women, of varying ages and vocal styles. Clad in dinner suits, they sat in a close semicircle on stage, one mike each for their ukes (!) and one to sing into. The repertoire was excellent and included pieces from such esteemed composers as David Bowie, Talking Heads, Status Quo, Johnny Cash, and Nirvana. They played 'Born to be Wild', the theme from Shaft, a medley that started with Handel and somehow ended up as Hotel California, and, as mentioned above, a version of 'Candy Says' that blew me away.

It was fabulous. The arrangements were complex, the playing energetic and precise. Each member took the lead vocal for at least one song, the others joining in with harmony and counterpoint. They rocked out. On their ukuleles. And they were funny! Witty banter, brilliantly executed physical gags during the songs, and a sense of infectious joy that permeated the entire hall and had the audience eating out of their hands.

It had all the potential to be completely ridiculous - and I guess it was - but this was more than overcome by their steadfast refusal to take themselves too seriously coupled with the sheer quality of the music. I spent the evening in a state of gleeful delight, and by the end my cheeks and ribs were sore from the laughing.

Those of you in London - they're playing again on 30 June, and I'll definitely be there. You should come with me. For those at home: they're coming to Oz in November, apparently. Do yourselves a favour and go and see them. It'll be the funnest thing you do all year.

This was by far the most random evening I've had to date. If I'm ever caught with that feeling of strange displacement again, I'll just think to myself, 'well, it could be weirder. I could be considering taking up the ukulele.'

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Hola, lovely folks. My apologies for the not insignificant amount of time that has passed since my last update. I know how eagerly you await your dose of the Ficklish. There are a number of reasons for my shocking absence, none of them excuse it.

You will be extremely pleased to know that I have officially joined the ranks of those earning a living through temporary work in London. Yes! I have a job. And if I'm being more than usually (or necessarily) verbose in these sentences, it must be because lawyerese is contagious.

'Tis only a temporary job, to be sure. And, let's be honest, it's not that exciting. I've had worse, that much is definitely true - but still - sitting all day with earphones on and a pair of pedals under my right shoe typing thrilling letters dictated to me by English lawyers is not necessarily the job of my dreams. What makes this gig slightly less than dreadful is that it provides occasional entertainment - one of the partners at this firm has discovered that I have a sense of humour and so is making sure to include witty commentary on his tapes, which is much appreciated and is keeping me from going completely mad.

I have learned, yet again, that my resume does not fill recruitment agents with excitement and inspiration. Well, not in the temp market at any rate. Despite my extensive education and experience, by far the most valuable skill I possess is the ability to type really freaking fast. And so, 'tis a typist I become. Let that be a lesson to all the kiddies out there.

In other news, I have a home! The flat search continued to be remarkably dismal, until last Sunday evening when I made a last-minute appointment with one of the names on my list. I had been in two minds about calling – the location wasn't on my shortlist and sharing with just one other person can be risky . However! I am very glad that I did. It is, indeed, a little further out than I had wanted, but it's well connected, transport-wise. The house itself is far from fancy, but clean and possessing all the features I had decided by this stage were no longer negotiable: a room big enough for a bed AND a wardrobe, a lounge, a backyard, and – most importantly – a housemate I can get along with. My new flatmate is a mad Englishman, and we clicked straight away. He very quickly vindicated my decision to move in by generously driving across London on Saturday afternoon to collect me and all my gear, thus saving me a tearful and frustrating attempt to relocate my ever-expanding bags by public transport. THEN he went above and beyond by organising an impromptu welcome party for me on Saturday evening that was so much fun that it was still going at lunchtime on Sunday. Mildly ironic, I guess, that after searching so hard for a room of my own I don't even bother sleeping in it once I've arrived. It was some very good fun, though I'm struggling a little today at work.

SO! There you have it. Slowly but surely, Operation Life in London is coming together. I may have been too hungover to unpack properly yet, but as soon as I do I'm going to get very busy doing the fun London stuff that has been waiting for me all this time.

Something I have learned about the English workplace so far: they are remarkably anal about internet access. I apologise if I owe you an email - I don't actually have any access at all at the moment (I believe this could be a violation of my human rights) and am currently on my best behaviour to see if I can score a password sometime this week. Whether that happens before I manage to get wireless access set up in the flat remains to be seen. Either way, I'll go on an emailing bender sometime very soon... stay tuned.

How are all youse?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

(un)Happy Places

(Essential background: I recently met up with an old friend from our Canberra days who is now here in London. He does not wish to be named on this blog, so I’ve cleverly disguised his identity.)

Last night my friend Clark Kent and I went to the National Theatre to hear Alain de Botton give a talk about his new book, The Architecture of Happiness. The book is all about the impact beautiful buildings and physical spaces (or lack thereof) can have on our sense of well-being, and the difficult question of the subjective nature of beauty in architecture (as in all things). It was interesting, and much of what AdB (as his good mate J,The likes to call him) had to say resonated with me for a couple of reasons:

Firstly, I was very recently in a place that was spectacularly beautiful, and it made me very happy.

Secondly, I am currently trying to find somewhere to live, and the places I have seen so far have been very unbeautiful, and it makes me far less happy.

Oh, my friends, the house hunt, it is depressing. I went to see a few places this weekend, and it made for quite an educational experience. Let me tell you about a choice selection of them….


Room the First

The first room was in south London, advertised as a ‘short walk from Elephant & Castle tube station.’ Well, I thought, that’s (public transport) Zone 1, that’s a good start. I remembered McBec’s glory days of living in Waterloo and wandering blithely across the bridge to Embankment to work every day, and entertained brief fantasies of doing the same myself.

Half an hour after I left the tube station I was still walking, wandering ever further south down a lengthy stretch of very dodgy street. I started to revise the fantasy.

The flat was dark and poky. It did have a living room, which was a plus (many houses use what should be communal space for an extra bedroom, to minimise rent), and a backyard – well, an outdoor concrete expanse with a dead potplant in the corner.

The room was tiny. Seriously, our bathroom at Westbury St was larger. There was no room for the wardrobe, so it was in the hallway. As devoted as I am to communal living, I don’t think a houseful of boys really need to see me stagger into the hall each morning to collect my clean undies.

The best part of my visit to this house was when I was making polite conversation after the tour (side note: why is it that I feel the need to have a full interview with these people, when I’ve managed to determine within thirty seconds that there’s no chance in hell that I’ll live there?). Anyway, he mentioned the high dodginess factor of the area, but assured me they’ve never had any problems with safety and suchlike, ‘other than the odd gang fight, but I just cross the street.’ Then he asked me if I knew Monopoly, and when I replied in the affirmative he boasted proudly that Old Kent Road, where this house was located, was ‘the least valuable property on the whole Monopoly board!’

I thought, dude, you really need to work on your sales pitch.

Room the Second

The second house was in Camden. Now, I love Camden – it’s a vibrant, bustling area filled with interesting people, great pubs and very cool markets. I was particularly excited to find a room advertised within my price range in that area, and was a full fifteen minutes early for my appointment. My prospective housemate met me at Camden Town station, and walked me less than 200 metres to the flat. This is good, I thought. This is very, very good….

The tour started well. A big, spacious living room, a great kitchen, a backyard with actual grass and gardens. Wireless! Storage space! I could barely contain myself. While my new friend demonstrated the excellence of the shower head, I held on to the bathroom railing to keep from swooning.

Then we walked downstairs to the room. I gazed in some puzzlement at what appeared to be some sort of optical illusion – everything in the room was doubled. Two single beds, two wardrobes, two matching bedside tables.

My tour guide must have seen my face fall. “Oh,” he said. “Did I not mention in the ad that the room was shared?”

No sir, no you did not mention that. Bastard.

“Yeah, we’ve had a few people disappointed about that. He looked at me hopefully. “He’s a nice guy, I promise. Italian, early 20s, very friendly.”

Now, before all of you pounce on me for turning down yet another stellar opportunity, let me just say: I don’t think so. If I’m going to pay that sort of money, I want my own room where the only 20-year-old Italian gentlemen who enter do so at my express invitation. Sigh. And so, on we go.

Room the Third

There’s a lot of engineering work happening on various Underground lines at the moment, so getting around town can be quite a lengthy process, particularly on weekends. It took me the better part of two hours to make it to my next destination, in the north-eastern corner of the city.

I wasn’t particularly inspired by the area once I got there, but I kept an open mind. Maybe this would be it. The rent wasn’t too bad, and it included all utility bills, so that had to be a good thing, right?

I was greeted very enthusiastically at the door by a 40-year-old Kiwi, who somehow managed to work into his introductory remarks the fact that he’d been backpacking for 18 years, and was still ‘loving every bloody minute of it.’ I was a little bemused by his effusiveness at first, but he seemed friendly and mostly harmless.

I can barely remember what the house looked like. This guy literally did not freaking shut up the entire time I was there. I heard all sorts of stories – about how he’s thinking of tearing down the dilapidated conservatory at the back of the house, ‘surely the landlord won’t mind’; the various leaks and broken appliances he’s recently fixed, ‘something about the electrics, but I’ve got it sorted I reckon’; the terrible problems he’s had with various females who have lived in the flat, ‘but you seem like a pretty decent sort of chick’; his status as a valued regular at three of the four local pubs, where one of his drinking mates is a brain surgeon, ‘yeah, he came in real handy last year when I busted my shoulder coming off my bike’ (?!). It was exhausting.

I think the room was okay, but I wasn’t really looking. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Strike three.


And so the search continues. It’s not all bad, I promise – I did see one place that was lovely – a little further out than I’d been hoping, but with great transport connections to many cool parts of town. The couple currently living there were friendly and easygoing, the house had been recently refurbished and had lovely wooden floors, a sunny living area and a big backyard. The room was a great size, with new furniture and huge windows. I was so relieved to find something decent I felt like hugging the housemates in gratitude. It’s probably for the best that I managed to restrain myself. The one drawback is that it isn’t available for another three weeks, but if they offer it to me I’ll take it and figure something out in the meantime. Cross your fingers, kids.

I’ve got a couple more to look at tomorrow, who knows what further excitement awaits. I think I’ll hold off on buying AdB’s new book for now, what he has to say might be a little too relevant.