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Giant slides and zombie robots – another day in London

“I’m near a giant pile of wool. Near the singing lift.” I’m meeting someone in the Royal Festival Hall, trying to explain, on the ‘phone, where I am.

“Are you near the weird people?”

I look around. “Um…”

“Those weird wooden figures?”

“No”, I say. “I didn’t see any wooden people. I’m by the windows.”

Eventually, she finds the singing lift and the giant pile of wool and joins me.

Later, we notice a crowd start to form outside the building opposite. They are queuing for the two enormous helter-skelter-y slides that have appeared outside the Hayward Gallery. I nip off to the loo and am informed of the news on my return: the slides are not working; people are getting stuck. We are mesmerised by the sight of the staff trying out the slides. Each is instructed at the top by a woman with a severe bun atop her head and a walkie-talkie in her hand. Each starts well enough, but slows down at the third curve and after slowly inching down to the bottom, is forced to shuffle their way out on their bum. We watch the repeated indignities, silently hoping someone gets stuck, just to see what would happen. Our attention is drawn to the right of the slides, on another of the Southbank Centre’s myriad levels, where a group of people wander aimlessly with arms out, perilously close to the edge. They are wearing what appears to be virtual reality masks. They mill around like zombie robots.

We try to work, but it is difficult with giant slides and zombie robots to distract us. But we manage, because this is London.

The people continue to fall slowly down the slide and, at the time of writing, no zombie robots have fallen off the edge.

Problematic area clearly marked

Drawing by Amy Pennington highlighting the ‘problematic area’

Drawing by Amy Pennington

Happy New Year II: In which we say goodbye to January and start again

Dear January 2015,

I know it’s hard, being the first of the year. December is a difficult act to follow, what with all its froth and glitter and celebratory wantoness. Then you come along – turning up the morning after and picking your way across a dirty carpet covered in streamers and fag-ends. You are overwhelmed by expectation. People expect change goddammit, they want something new, something better and they expect you to deliver. So you reach into your pockets and pull out your offerings: cold air, short dark days, a broken boiler. You root around for more, desperate to find gold amongst the bits of fluff and loose change. But all you can find is illness, a flu virus here, something more serious there…Then you bring out the big guns. The media go mental. It’s not your fault, of course it’s not. It’s not as if these things don’t happen to the others.  It’s just that you’ve got this reputation and frankly the weather doesn’t help. You’ve done your part. You’ve ushered in the new year, you’ve given people the excuse they needed to hide under a duvet, to stay inside, to ingest something healthy. But now it’s time to move on.

So. Let’s start again. Happy New Year. And HELLO February (Oh for god’s sake put those chocolate hearts away, what are you, twelve?!).

What I Saw

I saw it on my way to work today. Its fragile body lying stretched amongst the leaves, arms and legs reaching out to the railings, as if it wanted to squeeze through to the allotment on the other side. Its cheek was damaged – the fur bunched up where it should have lain flat. But the rest of it looked unbroken – short grey and black fur tiger-striped and strokable. I looked for a collar, an identifier, but there was none. Wondered what to do. Should I tell someone? Be late for work? Who to tell. It was probably someone’s pet. It was someone.

I left it there. Walked to the station. Sad. Moved. Impotent.

Sad for this soft creature and for whoever it left behind.

I wish now that I had stroked it.

Why you should never walk and text at the same time



It’s National Walking Month! I discovered this in the delightfully named article The slow death of purposeless walking”, in which the author reports the connection between purposeless walking and creative thinking. Apparently we’re far too distracted when we walk.


Many now walk and text at the same time. There’s been an increase in injuries to pedestrians in the US attributed to this. One study suggested texting even changed the manner in which people walked.


Hmmm…I myself no longer walk and text at the same time *smug face*. Partly because I started to practice mindfulness but mainly because of something that happened last year.

It was a quiet and sunny Sunday afternoon. I was walking to the train station, texting on my phone when I became aware of a hooded man running across the road towards me. He ran with such urgency that I prepared myself to deal with whatever crisis had obviously happened. But it wasn’t my help he wanted. It was my phone.

“GIMME YOUR PHONE! GIMME YOUR PHONE!”  he shouted and grabbed it, but I squeezed it tight in my hand and as we grappled, I held on and held on and held on. He shouted some more. I think I shouted “NO!”. Eventually he gave up and ran across the road to where a car was waiting for him. As it sped off, several pedestrians ran over to check I was okay. I was shaken up, adrenalin flooding my body as I became fully aware of what had just happened and how lucky I was to still have my phone. It dawned on me that things could have been far, far worse. In fact, why the hell didn’t I just let him have the damn thing and reduce the risk of being hurt?

In these situations, our fight-or-flight instinct takes over and mine had fought like a tiger. My arms ached for a long time after because I had held on so tight. When the police finally arrived and listened to my statement they asked how, if the mugger had his hands on my phone, did I manage to keep hold of it? “I don’t know”, I said, “I just wouldn’t let go”.  What I didn’t mention, could never mention, was why…

The text I was sending at the time was innocent enough, but there was No Fucking Way I was letting anyone see the hundreds of messages that had gone back and forth between the recipient and I. After several months of vigorous international sexting, my sim card was seeped in the juices of the finest filth, smut and kink. As I wrestled my phone from the mugger, it was not physical harm I was scared of, but rather strangers seeing the dark and dirty recesses of my mind. That and the fact that I kinda wanted to hang on to those for, y’know, quiet times.

My advice: while walking, keep it in yer pants*. Look at the trees, listen to the birds, smell the flowers. Save the sexting for boring train journeys 😉

Happy National Walking Month!

*Or ‘trousers’, for the British among you.




On love and loss and difficult anniversaries

Tomorrow is her birthday. You sit down and wait, willing the tears you’ve been carrying all day to spill down your face. But there is no release.  Not yet.

Tomorrow is her birthday. You sent a card, as you have done for the last seven years, to her parents. Seven years?! How can it be seven years? You want them to know you have not forgotten.

But you do forget.  Things…words…voices…they slip away…

You go through the rolodex of memories: lurex dresses and long, long red trousers; an apple in her coat pocket (always, just in case); long skinny fingers and pointed nails, gesticulating, gesticulating; black eyeliner and mascara – worn every day and kept in a slim plastic pencil case; the hair – god, the hair! – six foot one with a halo of curls – long dark spirals left like calling cards everywhere she goes.

Tomorrow is her birthday. You do what you do every year on this day, the day before her birthday, when you wake with it and go to bed with it and carry it around all day at work, knowing, knowing that it is there, waiting. You get home and sit at the kitchen table and you open your shirt and push through the skin, through the bloody flesh, past the knotty scar tissue and into your beating heart.  Feel the tips of it, the edges. Pull it out for a look. This is where you keep it – in this small wooden box with a silver lid, lined with black velvet. You open the lid and part the white tissue paper. Dip your fingertips inside, feel the little gems, glossy and bright and catching the light. A kaleidoscopic composite of pain and loss and love and memory. Of her tight hug…

(Now the tears come. Now the sobs rock your chest. Now your face is hot and wet and hurting).     

…T-rex arms on the dancefloor and ALL the CDs The Last Splash Indian bedspread bare feet with silver toe rings sisterly friendship deep love deep respect two skinny women making each other laugh making up silly songs together never wanting to say goodbye…

I miss you I miss you I miss you.

DAMN IT! Why are the dead so fucking elusive?

Yours was never a phone call I wanted to ignore. You were kind and compassionate and bitchy and fucking clever and funny and beautiful.

It was so easy – you were so easy to like. In twelve years I think we only ever had one argument and I cannot for the life of me remember what it was about. You were a really really good friend and I always felt good about myself when I was with you. And this pain – it’s good. It’s because you are missed. It’s because you are loved.

You pack up the hurt and press the silver lid down and push it back into your heart. The flesh grows around it, seals it in. Your heart keeps pumping.

Tomorrow is her birthday. There was a birth. There was a death. There was a life worth celebrating.

 In loving memory of Dawn Hamilton

1976 – 2007

What I did on my holidays: In which ‘Mittens’ and I visit “A Llama Park and Much, Much More”

How much more? You cry. Well, as it turns out, not so much. Unless you count the one stag, the alpaca that thinks it’s a llama and the, ahem, “Museum” – a large wooden shed, decorated with a few fairy lights and some information pinned to the walls. A little table with some colouring-in stuff for the kiddies takes care of the interactive side of things. There are facts about birds and wool (not even fun facts, either, unless you count the few that have exclamation marks at the end). There is dirty old polyester blouse to illustrate what polyester feels like in the man-made fibre area. There are also some plastic chairs and a short film about something or other on a loop, for a cinematic experience.

There is a shop, in which we are informed that the cotton nighties we are looking at are “wonderful for sleeping in, as long as you don’t mind losing your husband”. And a restaurant that smells of old chips. And lots of beautiful, nervously humming llamas which remain aloof as we pointlessly try to encourage a response from them.

A fun day out for all the llama-loving members of your family.

He's sexy and he knows it

He’s sexy and he knows it

Me, Mittens and Mr Llama

Me, Mittens and Mr Llama