Posts tagged ‘London’
An evening of tech networking at a trendy bar in Brick Lane last Friday evening kicked off to a resounding start when I had the pleasure of being searched as part of a terrorist operation by London’s finest. (Or should I say the pleasure was all theirs?) Apparently what transpired is officially classified as a “Stop and Account” – and I’ve a souvenir to prove it. Okay, I know I can get a bit intense sometimes, especially in romantic situations, but to be stopped by the police as a possible terrorist suspect? Bad enough my poor bear had to contend with a body search last September at San Francisco International Airport, but now me? Is something wrong with this picture?
I know; you probably don’t believe me anymore. Hell, I don’t believe me either. My life just seems to get more and more ridiculous by the day – and these are just the little tidbits I choose to actually tell you about. Can you imagine the bits I don’t disclose? Why, it doesn’t bear thinking about! Now before you go getting all hot and bothered, let me clarify the situation: it was not a body search. There was no patting down of my bits (they just love doing this to me at Heathrow!), and no bodily orifices probed. (I prefer to reserve that for special occasions.) Besides, it was too bloody cold out to strip off for the London Met. No, it was more of a handbag search – and a superficial one at that, as if we were just going through the motions…
…As perhaps we were.
Why me? That’s a question I always ask myself – a question for which I never receive an answer. I can only conclude that it’s my aura. It was all my fault, I realise that now. I saw people being stopped left and right, and wondered why there was such a huge police presence on Brick Lane, especially at only half past six in the evening. I’ve been there many times and never have I seen this. I mean, had someone stuck a bomb in a curry? Had one of the Bangladeshi sweets exploded with nails? Maybe I should’ve taken the hint and gone off in the other direction, but I couldn’t find the venue where this geek and meet was supposed to be held and frankly, I was getting annoyed.
I noticed one officer standing about with nothing to do, so I went over to ask him for directions to the bar, which to all intents and purposes either didn’t exist or didn’t want to be found. Well, not only did he give me completely erroneous information (guess he wasn’t from around these parts), but he glommed onto me for this terrorist schtick. I told him that I’d always thought London coppers were supposed to be nice, not like the big bad mean ones in America with their big guns, whereupon he assured me that London coppers are nice, and they don’t carry guns. (Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?). He then proceeded to take down my vital statistics (well, those I chose to give), even asking for my address. I should have lied. For all I know that cheeky copper will be coming round with a dozen red roses and a box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day. I mean, you can never tell these days.
Now I don’t want to get all controversial here (or maybe I do), but it seemed odd that in an area of East London so heavily populated with ethnic minorities I saw not even one member of an ethnic minority being stopped – only those who were clearly not members of an ethnic minority, just pasty English folk (or, in my case, pasty Hungarian-American folk). Granted, perhaps if I’d hung about longer it might have happened, but I was there long enough to suss the setup, and thereby conclude that what was purported to be an all-inclusive “Stop and Account” did not appear to be so all-inclusive.
Was this a case of reverse-discrimination tactics by the police to prove a point to those in the local community who are generally the targets of such discrimination? Because I can’t help thinking that if someone from a minority had been stopped for a terrorist search (and possibly detained), all hell would’ve broken loose – especially in this part of London. The incident would have hit every television channel and newspaper in the country, with every solicitor in the country fighting one another tooth and nail to take on the case pro bono. Hey, I can only go by my observations, and that is what I observed, so please don’t lay any accusations of racism on my doorstep (though I’m sure someone will still have a go at me). I had a long-term relationship with a man from a country on virtually everyone’s shit list – a country accused of sponsoring terrorism; I doubt the BNP will be welcoming me into their ranks anytime soon!
As for my new career in anarchy, despite the very respectful and friendly demeanour of the officer in question, I wonder if I should have kicked up a fuss. I mean, how often do you hear about expat American authors being “profiled” by the police? I might start a whole new trend. In retrospect, however, it was probably a wise move on my part to omit the fact that I write and edit erotic fiction when speaking to the officer, even though I could have gotten some book sales out of the deal. And it was probably wiser yet to keep stum about my foray into crime fiction with my anthology Getting Even: Revenge Stories (
Ca). Think what might have happened to me then!
Mind you, don’t most prisons have WiFi access these days?
Well, I’ve barely been back in the UK for 24 hours and I already have an all-new train adventure to tell you about. I mean, I didn’t expect this much excitement so soon after returning home to Blighty, but as they say, “It’s all go round ‘ere!”
It all began when I dragged my jetlagged self into Central London on Saturday to meet a friend for lunch, with us starting out in the South Bank and ending up at a curry house in Soho. Okay, so the vindaloo nearly killed me (more like blew the back of my bloody head off), but I managed to survive both it and the usual swarm of Saturday afternoon humanity one tends to encounter on Oxford Street. I’m sure my face was still beet-red from the crowds and the vindaloo by the time I reached Tottenham Court Road tube station, having to reroute myself there after the big Gaza demonstration screwed up any chances of making it into the Oxford Circus station, let alone crossing the road to John Lewis, where I’d hoped to find an adaptor. Instead I glommed onto two confused-looking women and hurled myself in the opposite direction, just wanting to get the hell out of there asap.
The tube wasn’t very interesting, but my train ride back to Essex was. (If you’ve been keeping up with my blog posts you’ll know that something always seems to happen on my train.) Being an early Saturday evening my car was crowded with passengers on their way home from their various outtings in the city, so I sat with a trio of lads, who instantly took me under their protective wings and welcomed me to their little party. I must’ve looked more lost and forlorn than usual, so I was happy for the distraction and hilarity they provided – and they provided it aplenty! Indeed, there was never a dull moment with this charming troika, who started out by offering me polite little smiles, after which proper introductions ensued. Obviously I didn’t tell them that I was a famous author of both erotic literature and revenge stories (
Ca). After all, a woman must maintain some aura of mystery, right?
I had a front-row seat as one of them received a phone call, the booming male voice on the other end giving him a right bollocking for not turning up for a job interview. The rest of us were trying to contain our laughter so as not to make the situation any worse for the hapless job seeker, but we weren’t too successful. I don’t usually like to laugh at other people’s misfortunes, but in this case I made an exception. He probably wouldn’t have gotten the job anyway. I mean, if he’d wanted it badly enough he would’ve gone for the interview surely? He soon saw the funny side of it after the caller rang off, whereupon he decided to discuss Michael Jackson until I cut him off, informing him that I can’t stand Michael Jackson.
After disclosing that two of them were aged 19, with the one next to me a seasoned old man of 20, the lad across from me (their chief spokesperson from what I gathered) played a game of “Guess the Accent” and got mine right on the second try (Canadian is usually the first guess). He next began to interview me as to my relationship status, gaping in disbelief when I told him. He digested this information for a moment, then asked politely and respectfully if I’d consider going out with him, only to engage the shy lad beside me into this romantic discussion, suggesting to him that he might “walk the nice lady home” from the train station – that “nice lady” being me. Seems all three of them wanted to walk me home, and it wasn’t even dark yet! Who says there’s no gallantry in the Englishman? – or, for that matter, the Essex chav? And before you scoff, let me say this: I didn’t hear one single curse or foul word pass through the lips of these lads. Now if that isn’t proof that God exists, I don’t know what is.
Anyway, they invited me out for a night on the town (or rather the town we all coincidentally live in). In fact, there was even a mention of a dozen red roses. Although I didn’t give them a definite answer, I didn’t say no either. Just before they got off the train at Romford (they decided to kill some time at The Brewery since I’d said I was jetlagged and planned to just crash at home for the night), I was given the phone number of their head honcho.
I tell you, if an artist had to paint my life, it would definitely be Salvador Dalí were he still alive. Nevertheless, I have to admit, those lads from the train made me laugh, and they were very sweet and gentlemanly too. I could do worse. (And honey, I have!)
So what do you think? Should I take them up on their offer?
They don’t call this country “Blighty” for nothing. It seems like everyone’s always ailing around here, especially me. I get shot of one malady, only to have another swoop down and carry me off in its germy clutches. In the past few weeks I’ve been hit by a cold, followed by what may or may not have been food poisoning, followed by bronchitis (with severe laryngitis) combined with a head cold (that’s still going on). I average something every four weeks now, except for the summers, when I get time off for good behaviour. I shudder to think what would happen if I was forced to join the daily commute in and out of London with millions of germy commuters hacking and coughing and sneezing their way through the morning and evening rush hour. Frankly, I’m beginning to think the plague was never fully eliminated from Britain.
Some time back I was out for an evening in Blackheath with a bunch of Cockneys (I do seem to know a lot of Cockneys, don’t I?) and I was given a most interesting history lesson. Apparently the heath itself – which is a green space situated between some of Blackheath’s village streets – can never be built on. Now let me say to those blissful in their ignorance, the heath itself is one hell of a nice piece of real estate… until you hear that there are plague victims buried there. Oh, sure, there are mixed reports on all this, but when was the last time you saw anyone spending a Sunday afternoon on the heath with a bucket and spade? I mean, would you let your children play there? Er, well… providing you actually LIKE your children, that is.
Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not blaming Blackheath specifically for my maladies! I guess if I were to place the blame on any one particular location, I’d probably have to opt for Eyam, the famous plague village in the Derbyshire Dales, since I’d been there way before I’d ever stepped foot in Blackheath. When I lived in the dreaded north (by that I mean Sheffield, home of the Arctic Monkeys, Sean Bean, and assorted bits of steel cutlery), I spent quite a lot of my free time in Derbyshire, hiking about in The Peak District, only to end up in some wonderful country pub afterward (that really was the whole point of the exercise, if I’m honest!). If you want to know of a good pub in the Peaks, just ask – I know them all. There were very few Sunday afternoons when you wouldn’t find me at some cosy country pub with a pint and a plate of some tasty pub grub. No frozen rubbish there. The food was fresh and often bordering on gastro-cuisine, and there was always room for sticky toffee pudding. One tends to work up an appetite hiking and climbing and teetering about on cliffs, believe me.
I’ve had some very enjoyable experiences in the Peaks. In fact, I’ve even taken some literary inspiration from the area via my short story “Bakewell, Revisited” originally published in Erotic Travel Tales 2 (
Ca). It’s set in the market town of Bakewell and involves its most famous celebrity: the absolutely divine Bakewell Pudding. Mind you, I’m not entirely certain the Bakewell Pudding’s founding fathers (or mothers) had envisioned quite the scenario I’d conjured up for my story, but…
Anyway, let’s get back to those Peak District jaunts before I get myself into trouble here. I tell you, you haven’t lived till you’ve been right in there among the heather when it’s in its full purple glory. Oh yeah, you’ll have plenty of company buzzing about too, which can be a bit of a challenge. I’d already had some nasty run-ins with wasps on a remote mountaintop in the Greek islands (Epinephine anyone?), so their English cousins were not exactly winning me over – especially when one of the cheeky buggers got up my skirt. And honey, I mean WAY up my skirt. Let’s just say this could have been a la petite mort that would have truly been mort.
I’d probably have to say that one of the absolute highlights of my time there (the Peaks, not Greece) was when I was out one Sunday afternoon with my walking/hiking mate Liz and a couple who were visiting her from France. After a scenic drive, we partook of a brief walking tour of duty along a hilly country lane, which wound past a farm full of sheep bleating and whatever else it is sheep get up to. Indeed, our Frenchman was so inspired by this pastoral English setting that he burst into song, serenading these farm residents with the Edith Piaf classic “La Vie En Rose”. (Oddly, there was no applause when he finished.) We then trudged our way back up the hill to the pub, whereupon he ordered the lamb for dinner. I never quite forgave him for that.
Meanwhile, back to the plague. The crazy thing is, I was never ill this often when I lived in Sheffield – and that hilly city is far colder and much windier than The Big Smoke by a long shot. Perhaps those salt-of-the-earth Yorkshire folk are hardier and not as prone to germs as these spoiled Southerners are – after all, they come from steel mill and coal pit stock. Now I’m not saying the dreaded lurgy never sank its talons into the locals, but I don’t recall anything quite to the extent of what I’m experiencing here. Mind you, it could just be me. In fact, I’m certain of it.
I wonder if someone’s trying to tell me something. Is that a voice in my ear, whispering “Come to California! Come to California!”?
Nah. Guess I must’ve imagined it.
Is it possible to love someone so strongly, so overwhelmingly, you’d be willing to sell your soul to the devil to have him?
That is the opening line to my short story “Hell is Where the Heart is” from my anthology Getting Even: Revenge Stories (
Ca). Having to repeat it again and again for the camera on Monday afternoon caused me to revisit a sentiment that has been amplified exponentially from the time of the story’s conception. But read it I did, for the planned filming of my performance reading was a year in the making. And, on a cold winter’s afternoon in London’s South Bank, it finally came to fruition.
It began over a year ago at the London book launch of Getting Even, where I planned to do a reading of my work. Because my story was so heavy on dialogue, I realised I needed to find a legitimate Cockney to perform the part of my character “Alf” the Cockney Devil, since I didn’t want to get any Dick Van Dyke comparisons being hurled at me (cor blimey Mary Poppins!). So I’d put out a notice on Facebook and voila, enter Bob Boyton – as Cockney as Cockney can get, and in possession of an accent that could slice through a jellied eel in milliseconds. Yup, I’d definitely found my Alf!
Judging by the reaction of the audience that evening, our performance went down a right treat – so much so that let’s just say I was made an offer I couldn’t refuse. Enter Paul Atherton from Simple (TV) Productions – a gentleman who kindly offered to film the reading. Well, I won’t say I got all starry-eyed and fancied myself as Lana Turner being discovered at the soda fountain at Schwab’s Drug Store (yes, I do realise I have star quality!), but I did imagine the video being watched on YouTube and anywhere else it was possible to upload it to.
Having lived for a time in El Lay, one tends to become rather blase about such creatures as actors. However, after an afternoon spent in various locations within the Royal Festival Hall – an afternoon consisting of back-breakingly hard work reading bits of my story again and again and getting them shot from various angles, I will never again be dismissive of those who have chosen or received the calling for the Thespian life. As if it wasn’t difficult enough trying not to flub our lines, we were forced to put up with Muzak playing in the background, espresso machines whooshing, cleaners banging and emptying bins, and individuals so stupid and inconsiderate that they couldn’t shut their mouths for two seconds when walking past what was clearly a film shoot. I mean, does the camera with the microphone sticking out of it not offer a tiny hint of what is transpiring? We were even interrupted by some daft old duffer asking why the door to the auditorium was locked. Um… probably to keep daft old duffers like you out! I nearly shouted. Instead I gave him my Hungarian evil (albeit myopic) eye, at which point he fell over dead with a heart attack. Well, okay, so maybe that isn’t what happened. But you gotta admit, it sounded pretty good.
After we finished the shoot, I went back with Paul to his flat to do some editing. Well, if the filming wasn’t labourious enough, just try editing it! To add insult to the injuries incurred courtesy of the Royal Festival Hall, the cable that was supposed to feed the film into the computer decided not to work. Fortunately another cable was secured – a nifty little red one – and after getting all the footage transferred into the computer and selecting passages to slice and dice, we found ourselves being further thwarted by technology when said computer, for some arbitrary reason known only to itself, decided not to automatically save the work it was programmed to save, and we had to start all over again.
By this time I was utterly convinced the project was cursed and that my tragic aura was having a negative impact on the equipment, and very possibly on Paul. I mean, the day had begun with a text message that pretty much shattered my universe, so why not have the film project shot to hell too? But Paul is nothing if not a consummate professional, thus when I left him late Monday night, he was still toiling away editing the video which, if no other mishaps occur, should be done and dusted by this coming Monday. And yes folks, I will post it on Facebook (including my group page and fan page) and MySpace and every conceivable place there is on this planet to post it, including here. I bet you can’t wait, huh?
Solo reading, Part 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZ2hvlxqYbM
(Sunday S&M lunch…)
Can someone please tell me what in hell is up with this “bespoke” business? Lately I’ve been seeing it all over the place. The first time was in conjunction with a clothing establishment. Apparently this is no longer the situation. Because if it were, then anyone who frequents the East End of London could be in serious trouble, since everything there seems to be bespoken of these days. (So much for the traditional Cockney culture of wide boys and jellied eel.) It’s now posh all the way in the East End and, for that matter, in the famous Spitalfields Market. I mean, they even have bespoke pastry. Next thing you know it’ll be bespoke oysters, bespoke chocolate, bespoke toilets, and maybe even bespoke bangers and mash. Oh sorry, they don’t call them bangers and mash anymore. Not upmarket enough, apparently.
Which brings me to the point of this blog post: bangers (oops, I mean sausage!) and mash. What began as a covert mission on a late Sunday morning to collect my person from outside Liverpool Street station led to what could only be described as a low-speed pursuit, with my mate driving around the city for nearly an hour hunting for a place to safely deposit his car. He finally found a legal parking space a couple of blocks from St. Paul’s Cathedral… at which point we were forced to amend our plan. We would now have to get the tube from St. Paul’s, and return back to Liverpool Street (where we’d started out!), then walk in the rain to Spitalfields Market, which fortunately is covered. Unfortunately there was a big fly in our ointment – St. Paul’s tube station was shut. We made it to the market two hours later than initially planned.
Needless to say, by that time I was starving. In fact, I was SO starving that I didn’t even care anymore about perusing the goods for sale – most of which I considered vastly overpriced for what was supposed to be a traditional East End “market”. Well, at least anything I wanted to buy was overpriced. Hey, I’m a good haggler, but getting a 65 pound handbag down to the 20 quid I thought it was barely worth was likely not gonna happen. So much for all that bespoke business. Besides, I had to eat. And I had to eat something substantial. Now I ask you, what’s more substantial than Great British Grub? And there it was, mere steps away – a little cafe with steamed-up windows and a crowd of people inside and a crowd of people outside queueing to get inside. How bad could it be? Well, considering the name of the place…
Indeed, I must confess to being a wee bit concerned about entering an establishment that called itself “The S&M Cafe”. (Perhaps the owner had read one too many of my M. S. Valentine erotic novels.) And the steamed-up windows only added to my increasing sense of disquiet. However, they had on offer “The World’s Number One Comfort Food”… or so they claimed. Sounded just right for a rainy downer of a Sunday afternoon. If said comfort came in the form of a plate of sausage and mash, so be it.
Once it was established that the place was, in fact, a cafe specialising in one of England’s favourite traditional meals (at least I hoped the S&M in their name referred to sausage and mash), we went inside, where we were shown to a table by their non-traditional Turkish manager. By then I was hysterical with hunger, only to find myself in the predicament of not knowing which kind of sausage and mash to order. I perused the menu like a burglar casing out an expensive home – a menu which, of all things, also boasted an S&M Teatime. If that wasn’t worrisome enough, it was then that I noticed a card on our table that had a picture of Santa Claus with a balloon coming out of his head saying, “How about a little S&M at Christmas?”
Talk about Ho Ho Ho.
Let’s just say that my doubts as to the wisdom of entering this establishment were rapidly returning…
(Would I lie to you?)