Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Urban Foxes

Bizarrely, we confirmed countryfolk just spent the nicest weekend of the year so far in East London!! And it wasn't half bad either. We had arranged to visit my old pal from trainee days, Brona and her family months ago and had cunningly planned our visit to coincide with Sheffield Wednesday vs Leyton Orient as she lives only 2 tube stops from Leyton. Well, it's a long trip to London, you may as well kill 2 birds with one stone! I asked Brona if she thought her 2 lads might be interested in going to the football with us (they are aged 7 and 9). She enquired and discovered that they had no interest but, somewhat surprisingly to me, said she fancied a go herself! She has never been to a football match and thought she should complete her education!

As she is a proper high-powered City solicitor (unlike me) I provided full disclosure about the necessity for pre-match drinking, the possibility of heavy-handed policing, the inevitability of bad language, the singing and shouting and awful pies. She remained keen and duly made her way through the full away match experience. She seemed to enjoy it in a sort of "interesting social experiment" kind of way and I'm sure it will feature in her future dining out anecdote repertoire but I doubt she will be rushing to repeat the experience!!

I have provided this "service" for quite a few of my curious mates. Women (mostly) who feel that they wouldn't mind seeing what all the fuss is about but want a guide through the maze. Most enjoy it for what it is but a couple have been petrified!! One found the sheer noise of the crowd scary (I just don't get it!) and cowered in her seat every time we scored because of the roar of celebration. This was particularly problematic for her as, amazingly for Sheffield Wednesday, we won that game 5-nil!! I did try to persuade her to come back as a lucky charm.....

Another friend found the surrounding clientele "threatening"! I think it was a large, shaven headed, beer bellied chap sitting in front of her who, when we scored, turned round yelling in excitement and hugged her that did it! But then some people do judge others by their appearance. As Rich is shaven headed and could fall into the football hooligan "look" I suppose I am aware of this but he's not like that - he just made a choice to dispense with his hair when it start to dispense with him!! And I do concede that what to me is fervour, passion and excitement can be construed as aggression and tribalism by others. I don't like the occasional undercurrent of aggression and violence you can encounter but, once you know how to "read" the situation, you generally find that it is pretty good humoured, honest!!

Anyway, back to East London. We had a lovely evening on Friday, first sitting out in the garden and then enjoying a lovely homecooked meal and chat late into the night. It was great to be so relaxed and know that Rich will get on with my mates even though, objectively speaking, they have very little in common. And not to feel pressured to head off to a pub - bliss! Saturday was mostly football and then another evening in which was similarly fun. I found myself noticing the sirens and even occasional gunshot more than I used to when I lived in London years ago. But Brona's house felt like a peaceful haven in the middle of the city rather than a beseiged island.

On Sunday we went up to Canary Wharf on the DLR. When I last lived in London, there were only a few buildings up there - the main tower and Canada Place - a few shops in a large otherwise empty mall and a couple of cafes and restarants. It felt rather empty and pointless and I couldn't really see what all the fuss was about. Now, I get it! It has ballooned into a proper place - loads of massive office blocks surrounded by perfectly manicured public realm; a very good (and free!) museum in one of the historic old warehouse buildings (The Museum of London Docklands); a busy shopping centre; a couple of streets of restaurants with lots of outdoor seating facing either the docks or the river itself; quantities of trendy flats; and, of course, loads of actual people enjoying the sunshine!

After an hour or so in the museum we picked a riverside steak restaurant and, ravenous, we all dived into a smart, tasty but horrifically expensive (well, expensive to us country mice anyway) burger. As my friends didn't bat an eye at £16.50 for the burger which DID NOT include chips (another £3.25 for the small bowl of fries!!), I'm presuming that this is not unusual?! Yikes - London is indeed another world.

It was good to see the world and his significant other jogging, walking, roller-blading and cycling along the riverfront path like some sort of uber-yoghurt advert. Very healthy and wholesome. My memories of London are a lot seedier - hungover weekend tramps from grotty flat to the pub along blood-spattered Clapham High Road come to mind. This was MUCH nicer. I was, however, a little freaked out by the cute little Cavalier King Charles spaniel I spotted which was wearing a baseball cap, necklace, pink tee-shirt and denim skirt! (I tried to take a photo for you but wasn't quick enough - rats!!)

And the drive home was super-quick too, only 3 hours including picking the dogs up! All in all, a good weekend in the city for us culchies.

So, here are the pics taken on my mobile phone.  I was cursing because I'd taken my DSLR camera down to London but, not expecting Canary Wharf to be as photogenic, had not brought it with me that morning.  Still, the sunshine meant that even a mobile (Samsung Galaxy with a halfway decent camera) can capture pretty pictures!  It's probably just as well anyway as, post digital camera course, I might have got a bit carried away and annoyed everyone else!

Below is the last remaining original warehouse buildings from West India Docks.  I understand that the bulk of these were destroyed during the incendiary bombing of the Blitz (the Museum had some sobering footage of the inferno).  These buildings now house the Museum and a host of restaurants and flats facing out over the docks.

My lovely boy posing as he does...

Brona's youngest, also posing madly...

A sign of the times -  a giant new building plot right on the riverfront which has been coffered and piled and then mothballed!  Not for long I suspect as London seems to grow whatever the economic climate - not so Rotherham!!

The fascinating and ever-changing London cityscape.  The Shard to the far left.

 Rich and Brona looking wholesome.

Me and Rich looking happy.


Isabelle said...

Well, that seems like a lovely weekend and I'm glad you had it, but I have a major prejudice towards London at the moment! Alas, anyway I can't go and visit Daughter 2 because of having my mum here. The husband is a good soul but he's not volunteering to Mumsit for more than a few hours, at least at this stage. So we're stuck. He could go by himself and may do so at some stage.

I don't want to visit her so much as to have her back, though (and not married to the chap she's just married.... - which is very difficult).

Peridot said...

I can't tell you how weird it is to see my 'hood on your blog! I was even there on Sunday....