Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner that I love London so. Or maybe it’s because of the transport link infrastructure. Either way it’s a very special place to me. It’s where my daughter first came into the world, where I met my wife and where I was born. Not necessarily in that order. In an effort to cobble together three disparate activities into some sort of theme I have written a ‘guide’ to this great city (and it is a city) which the mainstream media have dubbed ‘London Aye or London Nay’.
Imperial War Museum
War! What is it good for? Well, it makes a ruddy decent subject for a museum for a start. I arrived at the Imperial War Museum just in time to catch a talk given by a man with an accent not heard since the invention of colour television. He looked the epitome of a ‘thoroughly decent chap’, sporting a blue blazer complemented by grey trousers with a crease so sharp his slacks were the most dangerous thing in a building dedicated to weaponry. He came across as enthusiastic, knowledgeable and likeable: blushing endearingly each time he said the word ‘Fokker’ in reference to the German fighter plane.
I’d planned to just listen to the first few minutes but was genuinely gripped and stayed for the full two hour talk before setting out to explore the rest of the museum. The second floor is wholly dedicated to the Navy so I decided to give it a miss as this simply didn’t float my boat. I’m fairly confident that last sentence contained a joke but can’t be certain. Instead I ventured to the basement to experience a recreation of a bunker during an air raid. A small group of us were ushered into the faux bunker while speakers blasted fizzing bombs and distant sirens. We sat on a low wooden bench and were instantly plunged into darkness. A soundtrack began of a conversation between several Cockneys to give the impression they were in the bunker with us. I don’t wish to sound patronising but I do find their funny little accents simply too delicious.
The fragile illusion was shattered when the person opposite me decided now would be a good time to text. Their smugly indifferent face was illuminated by the phone and I was sorely tempted to grab it and smash their skull again and again and again. However, I restrained myself as it seemed wrong to ruin this recreation of wartime by bringing violence into it. Plus she was only about seven.
Verdict: London Aye
The London Studios
Being a celebrity isn’t easy. As the writer of a blog with a global audience of close to double figures, I know only too well the hassle of being recognised. I’m often pestered with questions like “hey, aren’t you that guy who takes a sideways look at life as a location independent graphic designer?”. To which I normally reply “yes Mum, you know I am”.
Pause for laughter.
I had some empathy then as I passed The London Studios on the South Bank and spotted a mob of autograph hunters waiting to assail guests on The Jonathan Ross Show. I can’t recall what I was doing on the South Bank (probably fundraising for charity or donating blood) but decided it could wait and joined the excitable throng. Seconds later a stretched limousine pulled up meaning we were either in the presence of a ‘Sleb’ or an Essex Hen party had taken a wrong turn. The car doors opened producing the kind of crowd hysteria reserved for rock stars, movie icons and blog authors. The cry immediately went up “Tom. Tom! Tom! Tom! TOM! TOM! TOM! TOM! TOM! TOM! TOM! TOM! TOM! TOM! TOM! TOM! TOM! TOM! TOM! TOM! TOM! TOM! TOM!” After just a few seconds I deduced this must be a reference to the traditional shortening of the name ‘Thomas’ and joined in – quickly working myself into a spittle-flecked frenzy.
A young chap with impressive ‘famous person’ hair walked towards us and began signing photos of Tom Daley the Nation’s-High-Dive-Sweetheart. Could it be? Yes it be. I was literally 14 inches or 0.0003 km’s from the Olympic hero. Tom radiated the kind of healthy glow which only comes from repetitively hurling one’s body into water at high speeds.
I realised this may be my only opportunity to meet a high dive bronze medallist so had to make it count. I considered a celebratory chest bump but was restrained from doing so by the railings between us and my conservative upbringing. Instead, I let fly with a ‘s’up’ tilt back of the head and sucked my teeth. It was a moment neither of us will ever forget.
Verdict: London Nay
Ask anybody what they think of when they hear the word ‘China’ and they will inevitably say ‘T’Pau – China in Your Hand’. However, there really is so much more to this part of Asia as the Hayward Gallery set out to prove with their exhibition: Art of Change: New Directions from China.
The show is an interactive collection of mind bothering treats ranging from a four metre tall tower of human fat to a mutilated table tennis table.
The highlight for me was a performance piece set in a small room, transformed into a forest and accessed through an Alice in Wonderland style door. An ethereal woman sat on a tree stump singing softly to herself before approaching the small audience with an eerily wide smile. I was slightly unnerved when she put her face a few centimetres from mine and stared deeply into the chocolate soulfulness of my eyes for several seconds. She repeated this uncomfortably intimate approach with others while muttering in ears and invading personal space. It was like being on a night bus at 3am with a drunk but in quite a good way.
Verdict: London Aye
Filed under: London | 2 Comments
Tags: Gadabout London, London Aye or London Nay, The Art of Change: New Directions from China, The Hayward Gallery, The Imperial War Museum, The London Studios
We knew exactly how our baby was going to be born. It would take place at our local Birth Centre, accompanied by relaxing music in a softly lit room containing a pool. Susie’s pain would be conquered by measured breathing and the generous application of my sensitive yet masculine touch.
Turns out we were wrong.
Come with me now to room three on the antenatal ward of Lewisham hospital. It’s early afternoon yet almost completely dark outside. Susie is sitting upright in bed, her worried face drained of all colour. She is surrounded by beige medical apparatus gleaming dully under fluorescent light. The due date came and went over two weeks ago and inductions have produced no result. A scan has just revealed a lack of amniotic fluid around the baby. It’s the 23rd of October, the clock is ticking and it’s tense.
A midwife enters briskly to examine Susie and tells us there has been no change: she is still only 1cm dilated. To put that in perspective I am at a constant state of 0.5cm dilation due to a hormone imbalance. If nothing happens soon we will have to discuss other options.
Early evening sneaks in unnoticed and I ask Susie if she would like something to eat. She replies “I’m not actually that huoooowwwwwaaaarrrAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHOOOOOHHHH!!!”. She is either having a contraction or unexpectedly giving her rendition of 80′s pop classic, ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’. I decide that if I do ever write a blog about today this is the point at which I’ll stop writing in the present tense. I also went and and fetched a midwife.
Susie spent the next five hours doubled over in pain, locked in a private agony. If she had been a boxer the referee would have stopped the fight and the crowd would quite rightly have demanded a refund. As I massaged her back for the 476th time (my hands were a bit sore but I don’t like to mention it) she looked at me after a particularly prolonged groan and whispered “epidural”. Having spent the last three nights in hospital with very little sleep, she was worried about lack of energy when it came to the birth. As a midwife was due to examine her in 15 minutes I suggested she could try eating a banana to get her through until that point. We would then know how close she was and take things from there. Susie weighed up my suggestion while fixing me with a stare of primal ferocity. Her teeth formed a solid, unbroken block of enamel through which she hissed those three little words “Ep! Ee! Dural!” I sensed potassium rich fruit just wasn’t going to cut it on this occasion and rushed off to fetch an anaesthetist. The epidural process took about an hour to set up and seemed to provide relief straight away. A banana would have been quicker which is all I intend to say on the subject.
A trainee midwife set about the examination rather uncertainly and hesitantly diagnosed Susie had progressed to 7cm dilated. My spirits rose: this was much better than I could have hoped. The senior midwife repeated the examination and confidently announced the trainee midwife was wrong. My spirits sank: I knew it was too good to be true. She then added that actually Susie was fully 10cm dilated and the baby was on the way. My spirits gave me a ‘make your mind up’ look before soaring to the ceiling.
Frustratingly I didn’t have my camera with me as I hadn’t been home for quite some time. You are probably thinking ‘Dave / David / Gadabout author, why not just use the camera on your phone?” The fact is my phone doesn’t have a camera and I’m afraid that is something we are all going to have to come to terms with and move on.
I calculated I could get to our flat and back in 20 minutes by taxi to collect the camera. The midwife assured us that nothing would happen for at least an hour as the effect of the epidural had to wear off first. The buzzy high offered by a banana wears off almost instantly which is all I intend to say on the subject.
We decided there was no risk of me missing the birth and it was important to have a record of the moment so I rushed off and jumped in the nearest cab. I explained the situation to the driver who sported the kind of moustache worn by a man who has always had – and will always have – a moustache. He sped off with real urgency which was encouraging although a major downside was the unavoidable fact we were going in the wrong direction. Despite my protests he insisted this was the quickest route and pressed on. It eventually turned out it was indeed the quickest route but regrettably to an address other than my own. It seemed he had misheard me. Performing a U-turn that would make the Dukes of Hazzard car sick, we roared back in the direction we had come. He promised to make up the time with a ‘shortcut’ and went blazing down the backstreets. We didn’t get very far before stopping short at an aggressively stationery line of traffic.
“That’s right, the road ahead is closed. I was here earlier, I should have remembered that. The problem is I haven’t slept in over 24 hours”, explained the driver calmly.
As I thought about my anxious wife alone in hospital about to give birth while I sat trapped in a car with a stranger clearly unfit to drive, I felt a warm glow of contentment wash over me like a million silken caresses. I felt a strong urge to express this emotion by attacking and killing the driver. I restrained myself as I still needed him to transport me and because I am a physical coward.
I told him to reverse and follow my directions. We finally arrived outside my flat and I jumped out saying I would be no more than 30 seconds. 30 seconds later I was back with the camera to find him leaning against the car lighting a cigarette. I interrupted this disturbingly post-coital scene by getting in and slamming the door shut. He took a long puff, giving me a sideways ‘hello Mr Selfish’ look before begrudgingly easing his frame back behind the wheel.
After setting off in strained silence he apologised for the earlier mishaps and offered not to charge me for additional driving time and waiting period at my flat. It was all I could do to stop myself kissing him directly on the mouth in gratitude.
Eventually we screeched to a halt outside the hospital. I noticed the cab didn’t have a meter so thrust a handful of notes at him and graciously told him to keep the change. He graciously told me I was £2 short. There followed a brief and frank exchange of views during which I’m delighted to say he agreed to act as Godfather to my first born child.
I sprinted through the hospital swing doors, went bounding up the stairs to the fifth floor and burst into room three gasping for breath. Susie was stretched out on the bed in exactly the same position as I had left her. Bit lazy.
The midwives made their preparations while I stood next to Susie and gripped her hand. She looked focused, determined and much calmer than I felt. This was it. Baby stations. All hands to the bump. I knew what my role was in this situation and threw myself into it. “You’re doing really well wow that’s amazing fantastic not long now almost there you’re doing brilliantly keep going EXCELLENT WELL DONE THAT WAS BRILLIANT PUSH PUSH PUSHPUSHPUSHPUSHPUSHPUSH!!”. I suddenly realised we were only 30 seconds in and I had started way too big with the encouragement leaving nowhere to go when things really started moving. I considered taking it down a notch by throwing in the odd “yeah not bad, seen better” but fortunately there was no need as with a sudden rush at 11.32pm we were joined on planet earth, Lewisham Hospital, room three by our little baby daughter, Emi.
From what I had been told and read, I’d expected our newborn to look like a little blue alien creature when she first arrived. Instead here was this pink, beautiful baby with ten tiny fingers and ten tiny toes each evenly segregated into four clumps attached to their relevant limb-ends. For me, the moment my protective Dad instincts kicked in was four seconds after she was born when she looked at me with an expression that said “well I did not expect this when I awoke. Please explain what is happening”. The thing is I was in no position to explain anything to anyone at that moment.
I cut the cord and she was given to Susie to hold for the first time. Whatever further gadding about awaits the three of us, looking at Susie and Emi together was the most monumentally happy event in my life so far. Susie was pale, exhausted and bathed in a feminine glow (sweaty). She cradled our baby, looked up at me and laughed “I think I’m ready for that banana now”. I laughed too but unfortunately it seemed an unknown person had selfishly eaten all the bananas during the course of the evening. Despite subsequent wild accusations there is no way of proving who that individual may or may not have been and that is all I intend to say on the subject.
Filed under: UK | 14 Comments
Tags: funny birth story, Gadabout baby, giving birth london, Lewisham Birth Centre, Lewisham Hospital
Just a generation ago a wedding was an excuse for a simple party in a local pub with a few sandwiches. These days the average wedding costs more than £20,000 and requires the kind of detailed planning NASA would consider over the top. Of course, every couple should be free to have their wedding their way and I would happily kill another human being with a hammer to defend that right. But perhaps I’m just a sweet romantic.
Once Susie and I decided it was time to start a family we had a sensible conversation about getting married and our thoughts were in the affirmative. Mills & Boon have been in touch asking to turn these events into a novel. Actually it was rather special but you probably had to be there which would have been weird.
We immediately set ourselves two wedding objectives. The first was to keep it intimate (sounds a bit sexy) by just inviting immediate family. The second was to make sure the experience was enjoyable, relaxed and didn’t cost an insane amount. And finally and perhaps most importantly to write a smug blog post about how super cool we are at organising weddings. Just a few more paragraphs to go and all objectives will have been successfully met.
That was actually three objectives but I’m pretty sure no one noticed.
We chose the Shoreditch Town Hall for the venue as that area of London has significance for us and booked the nearby Hoxton Hotel for a bite to eat afterwards. Once the email invitations had been sent to family members the preparations were complete, leaving me 10 months to obsess over how to style my hair for the big day (I eventually opted for ‘receding’).
My family and I arrived at the Town Hall ahead of Susie and were met by an official ‘Greeter’ named Simon. He greeted us successfully before asking if I would like the use of a tablecloth for the ceremony. I hadn’t expected this. The various pros and cons tumbled through my mind in an agony of indecision. After just five short, silent minutes the flamboyant part of my nature triumphed and I decided to bloody well go for it vis-a-vis tablecloth usage! Simon looked quite impressed and rushed off to fetch the tablecloth from what I can only surmise was a nearby cupboard or drawer.
He returned a few minutes later with the controversial rectangle of fabric and two formally dressed women. Simon greeted me again (unnecessarily in my view) and introduced the Registrar and her assistant. There was barely time to ask if we were paying for the assistant to be here too on this money-no-object-magical-day when Susie and her family arrived outside. Simon, sensing an opportunity to greet people hurled himself downstairs with admirable disregard for safety, pausing only to welcome me and my family to the Shoreditch Town Hall once again.
With the guests assembled, the Registrar asked everyone to stand. All eyes turned towards the door and time seemed to stop for several heartbeats. Susie’s beaming face appeared accompanied by the rest of her body and Dad, Stuart. It is something of a cliché to say the bride looked beautiful but as Susie walked across the room my Mum audibly gasped. In fairness she is asthmatic and had misplaced her inhaler. I wasn’t quite prepared for the immense tidal wave of happiness that hit me at that moment, only marginally dampened by Mother desperately clawing for air while breathing heavily into a paper bag.
The Registrar asked us all to be seated and lit up the room with an enormous smile. As she was receiving £500 for 20 minutes of reading from a piece of paper it would be churlish of me to blame her for enjoying the moment. The next few minutes passed in a blur and as we approached the vow exchanging ‘meat’ of the ceremony I sensed my emotions getting dangerously slippery although in a very, very manly way.
As I held the ring at the tip of Susie’s finger, I struggled not to subject everyone to the epically embarrassing spectacle of a grown man in a cravat sobbing like a little girl. I was taken completely by surprise as I hadn’t wept since watching darling Kenny Branagh give his Hamlet at the Theatre Royal back in ’82. Part of me urged reckless abandonment to the moment while another demanded I pull myself together. This didn’t seem the right moment to inform Susie she was about to commit her life to a man who hears opposing voices in his head and may be borderline schizophrenic. Instead I pressed on with the vows and had just one more to go when I discovered I literally could not speak. So I paused. And paused. And continued to pause while civilisations rose and fell, new galaxies formed and amoeba evolved written communication until finally, finally I managed to croak “I do”.
Susie successfully got through her reading of the vows completely dry eyed. Which is great. Really, really great. I was pleased at the time and definitely still am now. As I say, really great.
Secure in the knowledge our relationship was officially recognised by Hackney Borough Council we set off for the Hoxton Hotel to feast. A variety of lavish dishes were served including a plate of ribs. This is something I had never tried as I was concerned that ripping into the sticky flesh of a rib cage with my teeth may release the inner beast I constantly battle to control. Plus it looked a bit icky. However, I was cajoled into giving it a try so gamely tucked in, eventually declaring it exquisite. At this point, my brother-in-law Steve leaned across the table and to spare my blushes, discreetly let me know that I had been taking ribs from the already eaten pile and had been chowing down on pre-knawed bones. He then discreetly told my parents, his parents, his girlfriend, his brother, his sister-in-law, my brother, my brother’s wife, the waiting staff before discreetly hiring Saatchi & Saatchi to run a global six month advertising campaign in case anyone had missed the news. Having checked my visitor stats for this site, I figure the best way to make sure no on else ever hears about it is to describe it in detail on this blog.
Susie’s dad, Stuart, then made an excellent speech, selfishly making it harder for me when my turn arrived to say a few words. I stood and thanked everyone for coming and detailed Susie’s relentless, determined bid to woo me over the last seven years. As I reached the final part describing how happy I was to spend the rest of my life with her, it may have appeared to the untrained eye that I once again became a little choked. I would like to make it abundantly clear that this was in fact entirely down to a trapped piece of regurgitated rib gristle.
I’m proud that this is one of the very few times anyone has ever written about their wedding day and ended with the words ‘regurgitated rib gristle’.
Filed under: London | 9 Comments
Tags: average wedding costs, Gadabout wedding, Shoreditch Town Hall, Shoreditch wedding venue, susie and dave wedding
I will always remember where I was on February 20th 2012. That day is burned on my brain like 9/11 or when Prince Edward announced his engagement to PR professional Sophie Rhys-Jones back in 1999.
It was dark outside when I woke that Monday morning and something immediately felt different. I went through my usual pre-bed evacuation routine of enjoying the detailed stitching on my Spidey jim-jams before rising to open the blinds.
Overnight, Paris had been transformed into a modulating, glitter eiderdown of snow and the usual background hum of traffic was absent. Susie joined me by the window and we looked out across the now unfamiliar city. The scene before us was beautiful but our eyes fixed on just one small, closed shop opposite our apartment. The lights in the window display flickered on so we got dressed and made our way over to make a purchase. There was no need to say much as we had done a lot of talking about this moment at the weekend. It was only as we were about to step in to the chemists that I thought to ask Susie if she knew what the French was for ‘pregnancy test’.
I feel like I should really bring you up to speed. Recent blog posts have covered my run-ins with furniture and disappointing tourist attractions but have not mentioned a very important decision. The possibility of having children had been discussed over the years and we agreed that we would try at some point. The only problem was neither of us were getting any younger despite injecting industrial quantities of Oil of Olay into our pituitary glands on a daily basis. It seemed ‘at some point’ had morphed into ‘pretty much now’ and both of us felt ready to start a family.
The statisticians will tell you that a couple in their 30′s may take an average of 6-9 months to conceive with a year being normal. They are probably just saying that to get you into bed ladies so be careful, yeah? Our plan was that Susie would grow round with child at about the time our Paris flat contract ran out. Judging by the stats this meant we should begin trying in January. However, about 30 seconds after laying on my best moves ie. removing my spectacles and my socks, Susie announced she felt a bit pregnant. We thought we’d leave it over the weekend to make sure my beloved wasn’t simply suffering from immense intestinal gas but the symptoms persisted and it was time to take a test.
Safely back in the apartment, Susie set about adding the magical ingredient of urine to our little plastic rectangle of destiny. The instructions said two stripes would indicate a positive result. One stripe meant you had just wasted €15 and engaged bladder functions unnecessarily. Neither of us looked in the direction of the test as we agreed we would find out together. After two minutes it was time to check. We held hands and peered down.
It showed one stripe.
Plus another very, very, very faint stripe which conclusively proved we weren’t sure. The instructions were no help so we turned to the internet. After a short Google search we had our answer. It was definite. Susie was completely pregnant.
I sat down heavily. This is what we wanted yet for those first few seconds I felt winded and the world swam. The idea that I was to be an actual Dad seemed so unlikely. Dads had lofts and took a genuine interest in what they contained. They kept an eye on the boiler to make sure the central heating was running to optimum capacity. None of these things applied to me ergo Susie couldn’t be pregnant (actually Ergo is quite a good name for a boy). Yet her urine told a very different story.
Fortunately I quickly remembered this moment was not just about me and sensed now was not the time to whine “God, I feel so vulnerable” before bursting into tears. Susie looked a little pale and seemed slightly shellshocked but was smiling broadly. I knew my role was supposed to involve boiling a kettle and providing damp cloths at some point but for now opted for a big ol’ hug instead. My emotions were a heaving nappy full of joy, anxiety and relief but as the snow continued to fall outside our tiny Parisian apartment, my overriding feeling was one of luck that I would get to share this new adventure with Susie.
Despite the icy conditions, the flat was almost unbearably warm. I glanced at the thermostat, which was set to the normal temperature. Something didn’t quite add up so I made a mental note to check the boiler later. My transformation into a Dad had begun.
Filed under: Paris | 4 Comments
Tags: Gadabout baby, Pregnancy test, Pregnant Paris
Susie and I have been living in Paris for the last six months which has given me the opportunity to write part four of a 6234 part series of city guides. So far we have had Lisbon or Lisboff, Brno or Bryes and Berlin or Berlout. Now comes Paris or Parisn’t which offers exclusive insight into every single Parisian tourist attraction (three in total).
The Louvre is enormous. You could fit 11 full size football pitches inside and still have a room for a badminton court and maybe a cushion. Yet pretty much everybody congregates in just one relatively small room. This is because it houses the most famous painting in the world: the Mona Lisa. Rather than going to the trouble of traveling to Paris to see Da Vinci’s masterpiece why not recreate the experience yourself? Simply hop on a tube train during rush hour and instruct a junior work colleague to hold up a postcard of the Mona Lisa at one end of the carriage while you gawp at it from the other. If you stand on your tippy-toes while being shoved and squashed by angry commuters you may catch occasional glimpses of Mona’s seductively domed forehead. Et voilà.
In London a short tube journey will cost about the same as entry to one of the most prestigious galleries in the world so you won’t have saved much financially. On the plus side, you may well have just embarked on an emotionally rewarding friendship with a junior work colleague that could last a lifetime and beyond.
Père Lachaise Cemetery
This is quite possibly the most well known cemetery in the world and is the place to be seen if corporeal existence isn’t really your bag. It has a number of famous inhabitants including Jim Morrison who tragically died from shock when he heard Val Kilmer was to play him in the movie of his life. That doesn’t make any sense but we’ll go with it.
I popped along to pay my respects to the Lizard King and found four surly looking youngsters drinking lager (directly from the can I’m afraid to report) and smoking dooby cigarettes beside the grave. They were a blur of the piercings and Sanskritt tattoos legally required of every Youth Traveller while each chin boasted a fragile clump of wispy facial hair which would have formed one normal beard if combined.
I stepped over Limp Bizkit Juniors to get closer to the interred womaniser and all four heads looked up at me as one like a dreadlocked Hydra. They gave it both barrels with a series of tuts and I let their teenage disapproval bother me for almost a second.
“In my day, if we wanted to indulge in narcotics next to the corpse of a celebrity we had the good grace to wait until nightfall”, I admonished bravely in my mind. If only somebody had offered similarly sensible advice to Mr Jim Morrison he may still be with us, possibly earning a decent living as a coach on BBC1′s Saturday evening juggernaut, ‘The Voice’.
I enjoy people watching. Not in a weird way! Although it does turn me on. Canal Saint-Martin is a great place to quietly observe unusual characters as it seems to attract the occasional eccentric.
One afternoon I spotted a collection of workout enthusiasts by the canal’s edge. They were beefed up to the point of deformity with veins in their muscles that were bigger than my actual muscles. A shaved scalp appeared to be the ‘in’ look and I realised I risked temporary blindness should the sunshine violently bounce off their gleaming skulls at the wrong moment.
One lovable oddball in the group did stand out. He was clinically obese or ‘slim’ as my American readers may describe him. I instantly sensed he had a fondness for fast food, partly because the front of his T-shirt was heavily smeared with half a cheeseburger. Only a thin strip of face was visible as his hairline started just above his eyes and a wild statement beard sprouted just below them. His voluminous hair was the colour of salt and pepper, which was appropriate as I think I spotted a few French fries hidden in there.
While his companions focused on finding something heavy to lift repeatedly, our hero had developed his own unique workout technique. He stood facing the horizontal metal pole of a fence and raised both hands slowly into the air. He crouched slightly and exhaled heavily, closing his eyes for just a moment as if to centre himself in a cocoon of inner peace. Having achieved a state of supreme calm he began smacking his palms down onto the bar, one at a time with a savage, rhythmic ferocity. The meaty clang echoed across the canal as his pace increased. It was like watching a storybook giant swatting fleeing villagers or a fat man spanking a fence.
He continued this for about a minute before stopping and wandering over to a low metal gate. He placed both meaty paws on the gate and went through the same spiritual process as before. This time he thrust each knee violently upward in succession, sending them crashing into the unforgiving chainlink fence again and again.
He spent the next half hour finding various metal objects to punish with his flesh. I got the impression he felt that as he was dressed in exercise gear and in pain, this process must be doing him some good.
Canal Saint-Martin also has some restaurants and bars.
Filed under: Exploring, Paris, Things to do | 5 Comments
Tags: Canal Saint Martin, Jim Morrison grave, Paris or Parisn't, Père Lachaise Cemetery, The Louvre, The Mona Lisa, Things to do in Paris
I have been gadding about this crazy, mixed up, son of a gun planet of ours for over two years now. I have conquered Poseidon’s mighty oceans by ship, sliced the crystal stratosphere by jet and taken several coach trips. Throughout all of this you, my gently undulating reader, have been with me every step of the way. Alternatively, you may find yourself here for the first time after typing in one of the most popular search terms on my blog this week.
It has been quite difficult not to form inappropriately sensual attachments to many cities including Sydney, Melbourne, Wellington, Brisbane, Stockholm, Lisbon, Brno and Paris. However, one location has come closest to offering everything I’m looking for. It’s not easy to build anticipation when the title of this article is ‘Berlincredible’ but I can exclusively reveal that my favourite place to live so far is Berlin. Boasting a glittering mix of city buzz, parkland freshness and Germanic silliness (I’ve made one of those up), it feels perfectly safe to wander the streets at night unless I’m on the piss in which case you’re gonna get glassed you NONCE.
Rather than backup my controversial choice with more puny words, I would like to draw your attention to a video Susie has made of our time here. I should warn you it does contain footage of me being dragged around a polished floor like a naughty puppy.
We return to the UK tomorrow to be with loved ones at this very special time of year and indulge in ritualistic blood sacrifice to appease Pagan Gods. We do plan to come back to Berlin though, possibly for the longer term. Our next destination is already decided but where is it to be? Well, I guess you’ll just have to visit again to find out! Spoiler alert: it’s Paris.
Filed under: Berlin | 2 Comments
Tags: Berlin, Berlin vs Paris, gadabout video
From the blog that brought you Lisbon or Lisboff and Brno or Bryes comes Berlin or Berlout; your shoddy bible to what’s hot and what is not actually that hot in quite a few ways in Berlin. Which is in Germany.
Please keep reading. It does get slightly better.
The Berlin Wall: East Side Gallery
Paris has the Tower, Sydney has the Opera House, Essex has Lakeside Shopping Centre and Berlin has the Wall. Each landmark is iconic although only one offers free parking when you spend over £25 at Dixons, taking it to the next level. The biggest surviving section of the Berlin Wall is known as the East Side Gallery and looks about 1.3km long to me. It provides a surface for people to express joyous optimism at the fall of Communist oppression. Some take this opportunity less seriously than others.
I had imagined my visit to the Wall may be rather bleak but hadn’t counted on the brilliantly incongruous beach bar behind it, offering sand, deck chairs and ‘Essential Ibiza Megamix ’04′ on constant loop. The sun blazed so I decided to kick back with a bratwurst and a few beers in the name of democracy but please don’t label me a hero. As I drained my third Pilsner, something inside me (my bladder) told me it was time to make the ultimate political statement. I silkily grooved towards the Gents, accompanied by ‘Balearic House Beats ’02′ at which point things all went a bit Pete Tong. A woman of about 65 in a white doctor’s coat sat by the toilet door, presumably to provide medical assistance if required. Here was an excellent example of the professional opportunities afforded all ages and sexes in a free democracy. My proud reverie took a knock when I noticed she was carrying a bowl that said ‘Toilet ¢50′. I was no longer convinced she was a doctor. The bar had sold me drinks and now wanted to charge me to function bodily the CAPITALIST PIGS! It may not be fashionable but I did begin to wonder if we should pop the wall back up again? I was going to argue my case with the fake physician but sensed she was less Dr Hilary Jones and more Dr Harold Shipman so just paid up instead.
Verdict: Berlin – A fascinating piece of history. Just remember to go before you visit.
Mauerpark Bearpit Karaoke
I joined a large crowd at the stone amphitheatre in Mauerpark to watch Bearpit Karaoke – a Sunday tradition in Berlin. The sun shone, the atmosphere was joyous and what the warblers lacked in talent they more than made up for in misplaced confidence. I could sense the audience were waiting for that Susan Boyle moment when a contestant not looking the part unexpectedly go an’ put it down. That moment arrived when a dishevelled homeless man shuffled onstage clutching a bunch of plastic bags. With a wild shock of shaggy grey hair and the unmistakable waft of urine, Susan Boyle has been successful on both sides of the Atlantic and this tramp may have been hoping to emulate her. Sorry SuBo.
The spectators were one big collective goosebump as the first stirring bars to ‘My Way’ began. Our hero of no fixed abode raised the microphone to his beard, took a deep breath and began to sing beautifully in German. The pitch was perfect although the Germanic intonation did mercilessly bully air molecules into teary submission. It seems every German song I listen to sounds like a list of orders to follow. As this was the first German song I have ever heard that may justifiably be described as a wild generalisation.
As the final note soared skywards, half the crowd were on their feet. 70% of the audience were standing when he started so this could be seen as something of a rebuke. You really can’t put a price on a magical moment like this so when the organiser came around collecting money I pretended not to notice.
Verdict: Berlin – Scores an unprecedented 46.7 out of 52 on the unnecessarily complicated Gadabout fun scale.
Festival of Lights
The Festival of Lights is an annual celebration of illumination with events across the city. I chose to attend the main opening gala at Potsdamer Platz as I calculated this would be the most visually spectacular. My hunch was confirmed when I arrived to find a man on stage dressed in a leotard, spinning two glow sticks.
He was replaced after just 49 minutes by a host with an evangelical zeal that made me feel a teeny bit sleepy. He spent close to an hour introducing various sponsors with an excitement that I’m afraid may have been artificially manufactured. “Let’s hear it for Michael Richter, Junior Vice President in Charge of European Sales at Vodafone Germany! Yeah! Make some noise people!! COME ON!!!”
It was the sort of build up more usually associated with plaque but eventually the main show did begin. A giant white mask hung over Potsdamer Platz and appeared to come to life as talking faces were projected onto its surface. This was genuinely innovative, creative and very impressive so when the 30ft face boomed “lets begin the show” the entire audience held its breath. A tall building next to the face lit up in pink which changed to green then back to pink morphing to green before returning to pink and finally green. A spotlight shone from the top floor onto the stage where the man in a leotard strolled back on while juggling glowing balls. The audience let out its breath and we all disappeared faster than dirt in a Cillit Bang commercial.
Verdict: Berlout – I know the world economy is in serious trouble as I like to keep up with the news. However, if governments refuse to splurge large amounts of tax payers’ money on one-off events to create a short spectacle I might quite like then I just don’t know how we’re ever going to get out of it.
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Tags: berlin beach bar, Berlin or Berlout, berlin wall, Dfetel, east side gallery, festival of lights berlin, karaoke tramp, Mauerpark karaoke, Robbie Williams