Looking up again

I wrote recently about my battle with London-induced SAD and my plans to fight it with general ‘doing stuff’ and ‘going outside’ (big goals, I know). Since I’m the QUEEN of totally legit excuses (boom, blog idea!), I feel the need to report back, for a little accountability.

I’ve done pretty well so far, although there have been a few creative interpretations of the rules, I admit. One day’s ‘leaving Mile End every day’ part of the equation involved a short stroll to Bow when I realised at 7pm I hadn’t left the house and didn’t particularly desire to. Luckily I did desire treats and coffee, soooo… two birds an’ all.

Since I’m hindered by a budget of exactly zero pounds (Zing! But no, I’m not talking about my love life), I’ve turned to my pal the Timeout mag/site whenever I’ve had nothing already planned. I love that there’s a whole ‘FREE‘ category, always in nice bright red capitals – they just ‘get’ me. Although perhaps it should be in green, since it’s the only category I can GO to.

While some of these events are a bit hit or miss, it has taken me to places and events I wouldn’t otherwise have thought of. In the two weeks since my resolution, I’ve been to a Muesumised house/art project that is only open a few days a year, a book swap in a pub in an area I’d never been to (swapped crap books for sweet books ohh yeah), a Passion of Jesus play in Trafalgar Square, a display on water of the age-old rivalry of Oxbridge, and perused the Faberge(ish) eggs dotted about Covent Garden over Easter. Random, certainly, but a few of these have prompted blog posts (some in my head, some out), so they’ve been thought-provoking if nothing else.

But, by far the thing I’ve enjoyed most about my Happiness Project is the conscious effort I’ve put into seeing things differently.

I wrote a post near the beginning of this live-in adventure about the difference in perspective between a traveler and a local, and how you can spot a tourist because they look up and around themselves and out of themselves. It’s been a recurring theme, I’ve realised, featuring in drunken poetry and rants about history alike. And this is something I wanted to get back.

I’ve been close to failing my mission a couple of times already, and resorted to an open-eyed walkabout to fulfill my self-imposed duties. With the blinkers off and gaze dragged from the pavement, it surprised me what I saw and felt wandering on new paths or even trails I’d ploughed through a dozen times before but not really ‘seen’.

As I took myself on one putter along I thought, you know, I really kinda like walking in the snow – it’s like soft, fluffy, chunky rain, that doesn’t get you particularly wet (insert innuendo… In your endo). At least I thought this until my ‘looking up’ philosophy resulted in icicles to the eye, the soft, fluffy aspect betrayed itself as tiny, stabby pointiness, and blinking only served to sweep the little jabbers more evenly across my eyeballs.

Nevertheless, ย once I regained my sight, I appreciated the vision of a usually dirty London street cloaked in a deceptively-cleansing layer of white-out. The ominous greys turned bright white and I contemplated my sunglasses back on the shelf at home (and how stupid they would make me look). I squinted, and I laughed, and for once I shared that laugh with other slip-and-sliders on the road as I almost-fell over and over again.

As a counterpoint to the quintessential misery of London Winter I pressed play on my ultimate Kiwi playlist and marveled how it perfectly counterpointed my surroundings with the sounds of sunshine. As the Finns crooned ‘Four Seasons in One Day‘ I thought yes, that’s right. Here it is Spring but feels like Winter. Back home it is Autumn and feels like Summer. And damn this city is one Crowded House that ozzies and kiwis alike claim as their own (sorry Brits, in-joke).

I glanced across the street and saw a bright, freshly-painted red phonebox against a backdrop of graffiti on grey. Trailing out to the side was a veritable line-up of assorted walks of life, in suits and hoodies, mini-dresses and burkas, all huddled in hunched shoulders with eyes on the cracked pavements and a rainbow of races. THIS is London, I thought – the image presented to the world of kitsch icons and the history, overlaid with the people actually living it.

Another FREEZING cold Monday I took the very long way home by bee-lining for the river and then following the Thames Path. Don’t let the name deceive you – this will kick you off the waterfront every half-block or so, and it begins to feel like a challenge to actually stay by the water. But I got to put my cynical jerkbrain aside and appreciate the sights, especially thanks to the pleasing dearth of tourists due to the polar ice winds racking the city. Walking past the Tower of London I remembered the first time I saw Tower Bridge, the most beautiful and somehow girly (despite-the-grizzly-history) of the Thames bridges, and thought that it’s really kinda cool that I live in ‘tower hamlets’, named for THAT tower (but not THAT Hamlet).

Since I was the only lamo stupid enough to hit the waterfront on such a feral day, I had the very strange sensation of being freaking ALONE for long stretches of the way. WIth bare-faced apartment buildings on one side, the Thames on the other, and anyone on the other side the size of ants, I surprised myself by feeling rather unnerved. What if I fell ill and needed help? What if I encountered some riverside nutter? What if… I fell in the river (a fate worse than death with the colour and temperature of that cesspool)? Apparently I’ve become so used to the constant hordes that I don’t quite know what to do when alone. Thank gawd for CCTV eh?

In case this post didn’t prove that I’ve been meeting my targets (we all know I could make this all up), I’ve taken some obligatory photo-evidence for you. My aim was to show some of the ‘normal’ things I walk past but find interesting again now that I’m looking out at the world again. Yes, this did win me some damn odd looks from strangers who did NOT understand what I was taking a pic of. They judged me just the way I judge tourists who take pics in front of dull signs. Damn them. Damn me. Here’s a selection! All of these are taken by me in my wanderings (a-la i-phone) and the last one may be as much a surprise to you as it was to me – sunglasses wtf?!

12 thoughts on “Looking up again

  1. jo mckenzie

    I love this piece so much. I felt transported to what you were describing, as though I was actually there, and it was so great to do that through your words and then have the photos at the end. Love how you are looking up, so many ways to read that phrase. And you in sunnies at the end made my heart smile at you. So easy to take sunshine for granted. It’s autumn finally here now, feeling like autumn more each day. Yesterday I stopped in the gardens and smelled a grey pink crushed rose and it was divine. Your “looking up” took me back to that scent settling in my nostrils and made me think how I need to do that more. Gona practise! xx

  2. Basketcase

    Awesome ๐Ÿ™‚
    And I love the photos. Thats actually a really cool one of the gerkhin of all things.
    Autumn finally feels like autumn now. I went into the hospital complaining of the heat, and came home worried about keeping a newborn warm. What a difference 4 days makes!
    Am thinking I should follow your lead, looking at things new. Wellington has been home for most of my 30 years, so I find it boring at the moment, I need to fix that.

    1. shapelle Post author

      Spring doesn’t entirely feel like Spring when it’s still 3 degrees, but baby steps. Speaking of baby steps… CONGRATS New Momma!

  3. Ruth

    I always thought the gerkin was more of a tampon…. But silliness aside – loved this post Shaps and the pictures. I would enjoy more pictures to accompany your adventures more often – makes me feel much more there and close to you! Miss you loads xoxo

    1. shapelle Post author

      Dammit, I used my cache of pics up too soon didn’t I? I will keep tryna take pics but I also have to battle the shame monster when I’m taking a pic of something that I know the passers-by won’t get. Meh, I can be a weirdo if I want to. AND I DO!

  4. shmennikins

    Agree with Ruth about the Gherkin looking very unlike most gherkins I’ve seen, but I’ve always thought it more cigar-shaped – a nod to City excess, perhaps? And the pictures are awesome. Especially frozen fruit!! Also, lol humps. ๐Ÿ™‚ And also also, the church before the ‘Boy who set fire to himself’ (weird Hunger Games fanfic sequel?) – is that in Camberwell, right by Oval station? Looked so familiar! Can’t wait to see all these sights again, especially that last pic! โค

    1. shapelle Post author

      Nuh uh, that church is from Shoreditch High St, but I did note that it looks very like another one nearby (towards Spittalfields) so there’s obvi a bit of a theme goin’ on. But the ‘humps’ are in Oval, right by quiz!

  5. Pingback: You want it? I’m gonna give it to ya | 1in12million

  6. Roxie

    shapelle, you’ve done a marvelous job with this post! I love the pics and am really inspired by your writing…thank for swinging over to my site and leaving a comment so I could discover your fab casa!


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