Category Archives: Lists for Africa

25 ways to know you’re poor in London

You live in London and you don’t live in Zone 6 or share a room with three strangers… but you’re thinking about it…

‘I can’t really afford to’ has replaced ‘shall we have a drink?’ as the most common phrase in your repertoire…

Your Mum wants to send you perfume as a present and you wonder how to tell her you’d rather have socks and underwear…

When you go to the Timeout London website it automatically selects FREE events even though you never clicked ‘remember my search settings’. It KNOWS…

You think about your student loan at least once a day and obsess over the lies your professors told you. Get a good degree they said… you’ll get a job they said… it’ll be easy they said…

You wish you could live at Poundland. And that’s not a euphemism…

You dread bank holidays because you won’t be paid for that Monday off and your friends are all off on holiday without you. Of course, you didn’t want to go to Ibiza anyway…

You’re jealous of every couple you know… because of their half-price rent…

You are willing to sleep inside your sleeping bag, in your bed, in ALL THE CLOTHES so that you can turn the gas heating off. Sexy…

You will go to work with the plague because your workmates can afford sick days and you can’t. Ahhhh… chew! Suffer plebs…

You hear Macklemore’s ‘Thrift Shop‘ and WISH you had $20 in your pocket…

During Winter you always meet friends at Museums because they’re the only place that will let you into the warmth without having to buy anything. #firstworldbumproblems…

The refrigerator broke but you didn’t have to throw anything out…

You drink 14 Nescafe Golds at work (shudder) coz you ain’t paying for that shit outsida 9-5…

Half the reason you want the sun to come out is so that it’s not weird to lie about in the park for 8 hours not doing anything…

You occasionally give all your rusty pennies to a good cause in hopes of some kharma…

When friends leave town you’re a gollum/smeagol combo – crying at their departure and gleefully clutching the linen you’ve inherited. Now you can change your sheets even if it’s raining!

You consider cutting your own fringe… People comment daily on how long your hair is getting… You wonder if you can string it out another 6 months to the next haircut… Chop, snip, ahhhh disaster!

You know which ATMs will give you just a tenner…

You refresh your music by creating new RETRO! playlists from the depths of your collection. Backstreet’s back, ALRIGHT!

You started making a photo montage of your clothes that have holes in them. You only didn’t post them on your blog because the 27 pics of individual holey items with fingers poking through somehow looked like a very particular type of fetish when seen together as a whole…

You miss that terrible temp job in the place with the free lunch bar… but you don’t miss the accompanying food hoarding…

You consider that £3, 1.5L bottle of ‘white wine’ at Budgens for more than 3 seconds… no, we’re not quite there yet. Maybe next week…

You have a strict no-presents rule, coz you know, we’re all adults now, and we don’t have to give in to the corporate marketing machine… let’s just be together, let our ‘presence’ be the present… unless you’re planning something costy, in which case… happy birthday on facebook!

You feel like London Grumbler just KNOWS you…

What I imagined my life in London would be like

What it’s really like:

**Disclaimer Alert – Disclaimer Alert**

Yes, yes, absolutely first world problems, absolutely chose this, absolutely still doing awesome stuff. Just giving you some insight into what people do to live in London these days!


London: the next level

As you all know, my parentals have come to London town. Yegads! But once the planes, trains and automobiles were booked, the accommodation hastily arranged, and my room ‘sanitised’ to a parent-friendly level, I had to consider the things I needed to tell them to keep them, well, alive.

I write about LIVING in London, which is why I bitch and moan and generally wank on about my ‘feels’. But suddenly I had to think about London from the point of view of a tourist, and even worse, a tourist who’s NEVER BEEN ANYWHERE. Of course, two years ago that was me, wide-eyed and freaking out about the smallest details in the face of a giant adventure.

So now that I’ve got a craptonne of countries and a year of living abroad under my Heathrow-injected belt, here are some things I would like to go back and tell myself, or anyone new to the big city, based on the past week with my parentals.

London: tourist mode

  • Stand on the right on escalators, walk on the left. If you stand on the left, a secret buzzer goes off and all commuters within a three-station radius will automatically head in your direction, to stand behind you yelling ‘exCUSE me!’ You will be lucky to survive the resultant stampede. Many do not. Others come back in wheelchairs or suffering from lifelong tremors.
    Bonus points if you sass another tourist making this fatal error.
  • If you are lost, don’t think standing still, looking about you and glancing at a map will invite those about you to offer help. The key is to aggressively leap in front of the passers-by and make the most sympathy-inducing puppy eyes. This will cause an enormous 20% of Londoners to remember that they are human beings, and you WILL be given directions.
    Bonus points if you make someone remove their earphones to help you.
  • Learn the lingo. DO NOT expect people to infer meaning from context. This is a skill you have learnt by osmosis by watching international television all your life. If you ask for ‘trim milk’ at a coffee shop, the barista WILL assume that you have had a stroke and are speaking ‘word salad.’ Stop him calling the ambulance and then explain that you meant ‘skim’ or ‘skinny’.
    Bonus points if you slip ‘jandals’ into conversation and don’t get questioned.

London: secret levels unlocked!

  • Smile at and speak to bus drivers – other people on the bus will assume this means you’re either terminally ill or have special needs, and will probably give you their seat.
    Bonus points if an old lady with a cane stands up for you, you poor dear.
  • Carry a survival kit. You may never be trapped underground but if that train grinds to a halt with your carriage still in darkness, you will suddenly realise that you are hungry, thirsty, dry-lipped, and entertainment-less. For this reason, always carry water, a snack, chapstick, and a friend or other distractor – Candy Crush being my current Raison d’être.
    Bonus points if you ace the level while a snooper watches over-shoulder.
  • Do not feel at home because you see a Flat White on the menu at the coffee shop. This version of home has been raped and pillaged by orcs, and all beans sent to a bitter death in the hell-fires of Mount Doom. Don’t take sugar? You will. I saw my caffeine-addict-but-not-coffee-snob mother THROW OUT a full coffee yesterday.
    Bonus points if you kick the habit altogether because it’s just. Not. Worth it.

I asked my parents what else they’d learnt in the last week in London, and the immediate and vehement response was ‘EVEN OLD LADIES ARE BITCHES!’ My Other Mother learnt this most obvious of London lessons on day one in town when an old piece of animated crepe paper shoved her into a baby in order to squeeze her lizard-skinned arse onto an already packed lift. Mind you, this was in a fancy-pants department store, so whaddya expect, right?

The other major lesson they’ve learnt is that EVERYTHING IS SOOOO OLLLLLD! I knew this would be ‘a thing’ for my mother since I spent many a late evening as a 14 year old passionate about Latin (yup, geek-fighter here) trying to make her comprehend the timeline I was working with. When I tried to contextualise by saying my favourite Roman author Ovid wrote about the same time as Jesus was around, I saw the brain gaskets blow.

My mother is a super clever cookie, but coming from NZ and not being a uber-dweeb, it was almost incomprehensible how old things are in London. Things that you can just walk over and touch and spit on and lick if you’re so inclined. This is probably my favourite thing about having parents in London – exposing them to things that blow their minds and make their eyes widen and give them a taste of that passion I have for the how-we-got-here, the complete WTF of where-we-are-now in the scheme of things, and the holy-mother-of-god of the where-we-could-go.

Plus, now that they have experienced at least one rush-hour tube journey, they understand the true love-hate-love relationship that I have with London.

A heart in one of the places I heart - Brick Lane graffiti heaven.

A heart in one of the places I heart – Brick Lane graffiti heaven.


Parents in London: the how to edition

At some point in their stint in London, most ANZACs will experience the big life experience of the parental visit abroad. Yegads. In my hemisphere-hopping circle of friends, these visits are ALL HAPPENING AT THE SAME TIME as we all hit the one year mark (and therefore halfway point that conveniently falls in ‘Summer’) fairly simultaneously.

There are several types of parental-invasions, including:

  • The Parenthood of the Travelling Relatives: the brief visit on the way through to other places, other family, places to go daahhling. These parents have done it before. They might stay for a weekend, but they’ll probably put themselves up at a hotel in the city. You will of course perform your childly duties by playing tour-guide, but you’ll have to do better than the Eye and the Tower, as they’ve been there, done  that, child.
  • Family Planning: don’t you even open Google hunny, they’ve got this covered. The shows are booked, the shuttles are paid for, and the timetable is set in stone. You were thinking about checking out the markets that day? Well too bad, you’re off to Buckingham Palace, whether you like it or not! Chances are, they’ve found a hotel on your street or already arranged with your flatmates to stay at your place, so you can spend every waking moment together. Yay.
  • Parental Guidance Recommended: these parents are delicate wee birds, who’ve never flown the coop before, and are easily spooked. With their limited knowledge of the outside world, they will be easily influenced by snippets of advice from others, and you will feel afraid to leave them alone for more than 5 minutes. They WILL be staying with you, because the thought of them getting lost between the hotel and your house is both terrifying, and likely. But watching them step off the branch for the first time will fill you with such pride as your wee parents go off on their own.

My own lovely parentals are watching none of the above. But despite their obvious perfection (Hi Mum!), there have certainly been several stages in the preparation for their visit:

  1. Freak out. My mother hasn’t seen me in a year! She will see that I’ve got old (thanks London water and pollution), not cut my hair, drunk too much, eaten like crap (thanks £2 pizzas). She will see all the holes in my clothes that I haven’t sewn up. She will see that I have 14 scarves but one towel. What is my life?!
  2. Breathe.
  3. Talk parentals through their own freakouts. Yes that’s enough money for a month. No you won’t get mugged. No don’t buy a belt-wallet, that’ll get you mugged. Yes you’ll figure out the Tube. No don’t buy a smartphone just for the trip. Yes bring some warmer layers (it’s London). No don’t bring a duffel coat (it’s Summer). Yes you can buy anything you forget here. You are not leaving civilisation mother. In fact, have I told you about Boots?
  4. Breathe.
  5. Give you parents a tutorial on helpful websites including Google Maps, Skyscanner, and trains.anything. This will help to answer questions such as ‘how many days will it take to fly from Paris to Berlin’ and other gems such as ‘should we hire a car to drive from London to Paris?’
  6. Freak out again about all the things that need to be booked – flights, hostels, trains, cars! Shows, plays, brunches, Harry Potter World!
  7. Prepare your room. Take out the rubbish (clink, clink), display everything they’ve ever sent you, calculate the exact moment you will have to wash your bedding in order to have both the sets you own clean and dry for both them and your couch-bed.
  8. Prepare your house. Warn your flatmates of the invasion, stock the fridge with actual foodstuffs (yeah, I eat Bok Choy every day Mum!), make your couch bed, clean, Clean, CLEAN.
  9. Get excited about all the cool ‘real London’ stuff you can show the parentals and blow their minds! Work in all that stuff you’ve been meaning to do for a while, too! Then consider just how much you can make your parents do in any one day…
  10. Make a wish-list from home. Oh my gawd. What should I ask for? This is a once-in-two-years opportunity. There are limited space and weight restrictions to consider.

Despite months of prodding from my mother, my list only contains 2x Glassons cardigans (every Kiwi female understands this request) and 2x jars Promite (no one in the world understands this, but I stand outside of the marmite vs vegemite debate). I just can’t think of anything else that I couldn’t buy here (if I had the money) or is worth bringing across the world…

If you had a mum-sized parcel winging your way, what would you request?



OMG Famous!

I’ve been nominated for a Liebster Award! 

Okay, yeah, it’s bloggers nominating other bloggers, not like a Nobel or anything, but shucks I’ll take it for sure!

What’s the deal? Well I have to answer 11 questions posed to me by my nominator, the very kindly rubymartes, then pose 11 of my own to 11 nominees. Very ‘pay it forward’ in a patontheback way for a community of fine folks who put a lot of time into this endeavour and entertain/inform/provoke us all (usually) for free.

1. What is your favourite thing to do?
A few things just sprung to mind that show what I’ve been missing out on lately: walk in the sunshine, get immersed in a huge addictive book, make out with a fellah I’m totes into. SNUGGLES. But with these things off-limits at the mo, my fave thing to do is have an interesting, lively conversation with a great friend over lots of coffee or wine.

2. What is your most hated item of clothing?
I used to hate sunglasses because I felt like I couldn’t trust my vision, and hats because they look stupid on me, but I’ve finally made peace with both.

3. Why did you start blogging?
I was having a less-than-sunny time in London and felt like surely I wasn’t the only one. I needed to vent and wanted other people to know that you could love the place without liking everything about it, just like you can love your family and they can piss you off at times. I found myself observing the differences between my two homes and I found that more interesting and thought-provoking for me than the usual travel stories of ‘I went here, I saw that’. I am more surprised than anyone that I’m still going though!

4. What was your first blog post about?
Pretty much the above explanation. My blog and style have evolved since then, but the overall expression is still ‘observational whining’ as I call it!

5. What is the craziest thing you have ever done?
Hmm… No one thing stands out… move to the other side of the world? Lose all my buddies (and money and way home) in a nightclub in St Petersburg and latch onto a Russian with a mullet but no English. Do a nudey run around a city monument. Parade around London in a sheep costume. Post poetry in public (garh!). Wake up in a room with a snake (no euphemism). Yell at a carriage of commuters (literal crazy).

6. What inspires you?
See #1 – interesting, provoking conversations with smartypants pals; other people doing what they want to do; wine; a new plan; zombies.

7. Where is your favourite location in the whole world?
Oooh hard one. I love Morocco for compliments and the thrill of negotiation; Croatia for beautiful land, sea, and people; Berlin for the best postcards in the world; Russia for the terror of a harsh “NIET”; Scotland for cheer and wildness; Budapest for being one of the few cities I’ve loved at first sight; Paris for surprising me; London for being a mash up of all things; and NZ for being so much more than I ever realised before I left it.

8. D you speak another language? If so, why and when did you learn?
I WISH! I am seriously jealous/in awe of those who do. A great proportion of NZ is monolingual unfortunately, despite the fact that we have three official National Languages. I very much wish I had Maori and Sign Language under my belt to round out the trio. I can only count, sing a few songs and use basic terms in Maori (I find it much more polite to say ‘I’m off to the wharepaku’!), and spell my name and make the signs for ‘coffee,’ ‘turtle,’ ‘please,’ and ‘thank you’ in sign language. ‘Turtle’ always comes in handy…

9. Do you prefer to read or watch TV?
I want to say read, but my last few years points to TV. As per every few months, I’m trying to reinstate my former reading habits. One possible con about blogging – it (along with failbook, my webcomics of choice, regretsy, and other internet pleasures) seems to have diminished my attention span. Video of cute animals to watch you say? *drops book, opens youtube*

10. What is your favourite blog to read?
Despite lacking attention span, and also despite being told I can be too wordy myself, my fave blogs are the typically long-winded. I like having something I can sink my teeth into for a good portion of a bus ride or lunch break. So I’d say Captain Awkward (advice for the awkward army) and Elodie Under Glass (feminism and science) are among my faves. In the visual categories, the hibernating hyperboleandahalf and the Oatmeal take the cake.

11. If you won the lottery (5 million for arguments sake) – what would you buy/do?
Oh dear, this will reveal my sensible side! Minimum a million in the bank (to live off the interest long-term). A mill aside for long-term purchases once back in NZ (e.g. house, car, etc.). A mill to spread around to mother-dear and fam/friends. Now it’s time to play! Since I’ve got another year allowed in London I’d use a big chunk for myself and friends to just do everything life has to offer here, without worrying about money, rent, holes in my boots, etc. After London, a year or two or three of going anywhere and everywhere, but never traveling like a rich person. I’d want the money to change how many places I could go, not how I go there. Then back to NZ perhaps, and at this point I wouldn’t be outrageously rich, and would have to work at some point, but would have the comfort to figure out what I wanted to do with my life (and my millions!).

My questions for my nominees are:

  1. What is your stupidest fear?
  2. What is your go-to dress up costume?
  3. How many pairs of shoes do you own and how do you feel about that?
  4. What is your favourite book?
  5. If you could be an inanimate object for a day, what would it be?
  6. Would you rather waltz or do the robot?
  7. What colour are your sheets? Seriously, I’m curious. There doesn’t seem to be a correct colour for sheets. Mine are currently purple. Is that weird?
  8. Think of a country you’ve never been to. Tell me something you know/think/feel/wonder about it.
  9. If you had to marry and spend your life with one famous person without meeting them first, who would it be?
  10. If you had to move alone to a liveable but unpopulated planet, what would you bring: a towel, a bible, or a cat?
  11. Gimme a quote. Gimme.

And my nominees are:

  1. Runaway Kiwi – another Kiwi in London, who came out of the internet and we met IRL!
  2. The Fourth Wall – mixin’ it up: gaming and nerding, history and philsophy!
  3. Maximum Wage – because his latest post is exactly how I feel about blogging, as told by GIFs
  4. Kiwi in Qatar – a whole ‘nother perspective on the Kiwi in X adventure
  5. Fish of Gold – because she has a whole section for gripes!
  6. If Women Ruled – a brand new project from a blogger who loves books and ladies (who doesn’t?)
  7. Only I stand here – for having FEELINGS about grammar and such business

… Yeah okay, I am struggling to find 11 blogs I follow who don’t have so many squillion followers that it discounts them from this game. Soo… how bout you guys tell me if you know some great little blogs to follow? This way you can do some nominating, too!

Human Behaviour

People are weird. People are especially weird when you put them together. Studies of crowd behaviour show that the more people you put together, the dumber they become as a collective. We’re all guilty of this, wherever we are, but with the population of London I feel like I see this in action a tad more often:

Amateur Paparazzi
Waiting in Leicester Square, the location of many a star-studded opening, I was not the only one perplexed by the crowd chanting “Otway! Otway!” outside the Odeon. Passing tourists asked if I understood, to which I replied (just post googling), “some failed rock star no one’s ever heard of who has a move about being a failed rock star no one’s ever heard of.” They rolled eyes at the silliness, and shuffled off in a seemingly-haphazard fashion, supposed to assure me that they weren’t heading toward the waiting crowd, and then popped out their smart phones to pap a few pics. For all the many fans back home.

There’s a line! I must join it!
Theatrephile LD has been papped herself, while standing in a 3-hour line for cheap theatre seats. As creepy as she found having tourists take photos of her as if she were a tourist attraction, the stranger thing was when people began to join the end of the line. They clearly didn’t know what it was in aid of, nor did they ask, and LD did not enlighten them, finding it a far more fascinating social experiment to see how long they’d wait. Turns out, it was two hours, until the doors opened and they realised they were lining up to pay for theatre, rather than bow to the god of freebies.

How does I walk?
There is little in the way of sense or sensibility on the pavements of London, but every now and then you’ll find everyone walking on either left or right in sweet sweet harmony. This occurs not from logic, but from the sheepish inclination to follow the leader. The problem with this bunch of pedestrian zombies trudging blithely along is that everyone’s turning signals are broken. Despite the sheer volume of people and constant need to cross ways, individuals routinely choose the path of most resistance. The house of cards falls, the Tetris layers stack up, you frown, I sigh in exaggeration, and we all get to work 3 seconds later.

Sale = Animal
The word “Sale” seems to be a trigger for an animalistic, survival-of-the-fittest respond in London women. I’ve seen racks emptied of hangers but piled up beneath with mountains of rejected items; manequins teetering against glass shop windows, robbed of their jewels; and frazzled sales assistants screeching “maximum 6 items!” in a desperate scraggy falsetto while a blonde tasmanian devil and lipsticked Wile E. Coyote run circles around the last size 5 yellow suede heels. AND IT WASN’T EVEN CHRISTMAS.

Thanks for turning in to another (attempted) short edition! Jeepers am I gonna come in under 500 words? I think I deserve a –

Small joys of London

I am a ranter. It is a well-acknowledged fact, evidenced both by my oeuvre of diatribes, and ability to talk about almost any topic at great length if provided with a willing conversational partner. Discussing last night the drunk-traits of my friend group, I chirped up (before anyone else could say it) “I talk more!” and was answered, “yes, and you talk a lot already.”

Somehow, a bunch of you still read every blog, and even to the end (thanks guys!), but to give y’all a break, and challenge myself a little, I’m gonna mix it up a bit. Don’t worry, the diatribe will never die, but I’m gonna try out some short pieces, or breaking up longer pieces, and we’ll see how it goes!

To take it away, here is a quickie on a few small joys I find in London.

Foxes and Squirrels
The internet seems really confused about whether these furry friends are considered pests, but unlike the NZ equivalent – evil, scary, hissing Possums – foxes and squirrels are cute and funny and I WANT ONE! Although their lives are much-shortened by living on McDonalds instead of berries (McDs is bad for all of us – who knew?), foxes seem to carve out a living from garbage, and find just enough hideyholes in the green spaces around the burbs, including the cemetery near my house, where I see them skittering to at night. The Squirrels are much braver (and tourist-savvy), leaping up the walls like a ninja and stopping at the top to stare at me in triumph, or eating out of hand from track-suited Yanks in the Royal Parks. Having these pastoral creatures in the city makes me feel like I’m glimpsing ‘The Country’ of yesteryear, but there’s no mistaking it – these are very 21st Century woodland creatures:

Just casually…

Service that defies expectations
It shouldn’t be news by now that customer service in London is APPALLING. But, while this is generally true, it’s not exclusively so, and this means that even just nice, plain, decent pleasantness stands out a country mile. So when the dude at the local supermarket looks me in the eye, says polite things, and (for reasons unknown to me) talks to me about the football, it really, truly brightens my day.

A murder of crows
This may seem a strange positive, but the crows here are HUUUUUGE. They are also beaky and beady-eyed, and clearly plotting things. No wonder their collective noun is ‘a murder’. When I see them stalking about (crows don’t ‘fly’ or ‘flit’, they ‘stalk’ and ‘plot’), I can’t help but picture the final scenes of The Birds. These oversized menacers give me the same thrill of excitement and burst of inappropriate giggles as a ridiculous downpour or OTT thunderstorm. Delightful!

Unexpected variety
The UK definitely lacks the ‘cafe culture’ of NZ, where you can’t get a burger before 10am, but you can get an eggs bene at 7pm if you choose. But, where access might be a problem, variety is certainly not! Yesterday I had an ‘Old Bombay’ brunch at Dishoom, and with local prices even in the rather swish Covent Garden restaurant, my Egg Naan Roll and Chocolate Chai were a steal, delicious, and a new experience in one.

Really enormous coffees
Sometimes it’s a bit ridiculous what counts for a coffee over here, but even funnier when you’re handed a bucket for a vessel. That’s a soup, not a drink, surely! I think perhaps the coffee culture here was inherited from the yanks, and therefore along with it the Starbucks style of bigger is better and more complicated is cooler. While I do miss the simplicity of ordering a ‘tall, trim flat white, please’ and knowing what I was getting, hungover Shapelle appreciates the option of a caffeine-injection the size of my face.

Okay, even a short piece is 600-something words – this is going to take practice, I can see!


Strange facts about London: Part 1

The Po-Po on Ho-Ho

The Po-Po on Ho-Ho

There are a number of facts about London that any tourist fresh off the Piccadilly Line from Heathrow could tell you:

  • There are A LOT of people and some of them (tube-riders) are mean and scary
  • There’s such diversity that no one will look twice if you’re any race/accent/style/covered in tatts/sporting a mohawk/yelling profanities/wearing a sheep’s costume, but Lord help you if you’re lugging a suitcase up stairs
  • The Thames is a disgusting shade of murk, but there’s no smog (totes expected Dickensian fog, which was eradicated when the coal fires were)
  • The sun may not shine a lot, but when it does, the Eye, the Shard, the Gherkin and Big Ben’s clock-tower shine out over the city and it’s a glorious thing to be crossing a bridge just then.

But there are other things that you don’t notice as a tourist because you are either not in the right place at the right time, or you don’t experience things enough to see a pattern. After about 8 months, here are some (very) random oddities I’ve noticed about London:

There’s a touch of the old-fashioned in the big city
Forget the obligatory nods to the past in the form of tourist traps and beafeaters, London is a weird mix of the old-fashioned and ultra-modern. My new work building is so flash that it has airport-style security and scanners (and staff that leave me wishing for a pat-down, rawwwr!), but it also has a shoe-shiner that I wave at every day on the way in. What’s more is that people actually use this service! I dunno about you, but I feel fancy if I even dubbin my own shoes, let alone have someone else do it for me… when they’re on my feet! Talk about awkward.

Step outside the door, and there are young lads cycling past on tuk-tuks, primarily advertising (moving billboards aren’t just for buses), but also carting the suited gentry from A to B. Go two stops further east to my home-station and there are Police Officers with guns on their hips riding horseback, although I hope they’re not trying to enforce local laws since they’re certainly not picking up their pet’s droppings.

They think I can’t handle a coffee
Every time I order a takeaway coffee from one of the super-mega-chains stores that are virtually the only option in London (Eat, Costa, Pret – Eat, Costa, Pret – say it with me!), it comes complete with a complementary serviette wrapped around its gillets. I admit I have experienced the odd unfortunate spurt out of that wee oblong hole we call a caffeine-dispenser: when texting/drinking/walking and the pavement gives way to road suddenly; an unexpected jolt in the car; a spontaneous falling-over (where is that sticky-uppy pavement demon?!); or, most likely, as a result of rummaging for the work ID whilst yanking off the headphones and shoving le device in a pocket and maneuvering the bag overhead to pass through security (I never did master juggling). But if such a disaster were to occur, on hopefully an occasional basis, I’m certainly not averse to brushing my shoulder off. And I’m certainly not sure that the minor potential justifies the trees that meet their deaths in those cravats for coffees.

Evangelism is alive and well at Westfield
I recently braved the Stratford mall (still povo, but I could literally see the holes in my boots, so…) and was once again accosted by the pervasive tympany of an MLK style address, complete with microphone, back-up ‘amen’-ers, and television cameras. This ego of evangelists reminded me of a very similar group (if not the same) that frequents the Shebu mall, and so it seems they’ve found their stomping ground among those with enough cash and spare time to brave the madness of the Westfield dyad at either end of the Central Line.

I find this an odd choice of location as there seems to be a certain trend among them of the recent-minority-immigrant who perhaps came to London for a brighter life, only to find their dream in the gutter when they took a job sweeping said-gutters (something I can in a way relate to), until they were helped out and tipped back on their feet by a community religious group. No surprise then that they’d want to spread the message and offer help and be thankful for the favours they’ve received. But I’m not sure the Westfields contain exactly the target audience.

I also find it difficult to swallow the rhetoric they spew forth that you can be saved, even if you are a homo, or have sex, or take drugs, or enjoy that bloody Sauvignon Blanc too much. I *just* restrained myself from giving their cameras the fingers as they were shoved in my face, because I realised that at least they said I could be saved, even if I don’t believe in the concept. There are much worse groups out there, like those Westboro Baptist kids, damning us all to hell no matter what we do. I think we can probably all agree that we’d be okay with them all going up to heaven without us, as they keep threatening.

Douching is still a thing?
If you’ve ever used the term ‘douche-bag‘ and never understood its origins, I’m not gonna explain it to ya, but you can go here, and then come back when you’ve removed the inevitable grimace from your face. I thought modern science and good old common sense had prevailed to eradicate douching from sensible society, as I have NEVER seen any such products in NZ. When you do such things to a self-cleaning organ, it’s like smearing oil on a pimply face, having more Kiwis than Ozzies on a Topdeck tour, or putting a ten-pound weight in one shoe: it upsets the balance. Nevertheless, such products are alive and well in London. I’ve seen advertising on television, posters on the Tube, and spotted specials near the counter while waiting in line at Superdrug. Who are the ladies buying these products that reek of Victorian-era hygiene-paranoia? And seriously, how are your ladyparts?

The dichotomy of views
London is a very flat city. Having lived previously in three hilly cities in NZ (Aucks, Duns, and Wellytron), I find this alternatively disorienting and convenient. I never have to worry that I’ll arrive puffing to a fancy event, but I can’t see anything from anywhere. For this reason views seem to be both rare and prised, but in very different ways. One school of thought posits that for a beautiful view you must WORK FOR IT. The ‘monument’ of Monument station is a towering Doric memorial to those who died in the Great Fire of London, and for a fee of a few pounds and a few hundred steps, you’ll get breathtaking views of the most iconic of London views. The same goes for the Dome of St Paul’s, which is slightly fewer steps and quite a few more pounds, but of course you’ll get a bit of history and definitely some more dead and buried folks along with your view.

The other school of thought is that any great view must be got to as quickly as possible (preferably by an outside-the-building lift for maximum viewership, a la Heron Tower), and celebrated with champagne. My own new work building (she of the shoe-shiners) is 42 floors, called Tower 42, and has a champagne bar at its crest called Vertigo 42. What a creative marketing team huh? But at least these people understand that while 42 may be the answer to life, the universe, and everything, life, the universe, and everything go down better with a glass of champagne.

Product diversification
Although some people here think NZ is some sort of backwards tribal island nation, we do actually get all the big brands, and have many of our own that don’t export to the UK. However, I’ve noticed that the big brands do a bit more than I bargained for here. Subway does nachos. Snickers does flapjacks. The chocolate bar Aero does ‘mouse’ (hidden deceptively in the yoghurt section). The pharmacy does a cheap sammy, drink and snack lunch combo. H&M does women’s, men’s, kid’s, shoes, accessories, tights, jewellery, umbrellas, and poor service. Everyone is everything to everyone. And while it may be convenient sometimes, it also leads to that contradictory feeling that this business is desperate for your business, but also that you are just another number, and, fittingly, that number is 12,000,000.

I titled this post ‘Strange facts about London: Part 1’ because I know that there are so many random oddities in this sprawl of a town. The problem is that things become normal so quickly. I like to be a person who notices things and doesn’t take the ‘normal’ for granted, but I know that certain strangenesses will be passing me by.

So remind me! Fellow Kiwis in London, fellow strangers in a new town, what do people where you are think is normal that you think is just a little bit weird?