london 2013 wanderings










plot twist: we flee from london

As my first day of being thirty years old passes, we find ourselves having forsaken London. We went out flat hunting, paperwork in hand like rifles, the tube like horses and hounds. After several false starts, I had to admit to myself that London just wasn’t worth it. Paying a thousand pounds for a small flat (bed bugs likely included) in a part of town I would be scared to walk in at night, spending an hour on the tube just to get to a part-time job at a fabulous bookshop just didn’t add up.

I feel terrible about it, but I turned down the job at the bookshop. As much as I would have loved to work there (and the fact that job-hunting in this country has been as futile and depressing as hell, but that’s the subject of another post), the part-time hours and level of pay just didn’t rationalise the ridiculous London rent. After crunching numbers, I calculated that the difference in price to live in a shitty London flat versus a decent flat anywhere else was more than I would make. In essence, living outside London unemployed would be cheaper than living in London and working part-time minimum wage.

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Site of the fabled London Tim Horton’s.

Realizing this seemed something of a relief, actually. We were both tired of London but couldn’t justify admitting it. Had we turned tail and fled without the power of mathematics on our side it would have felt like failure or cowardice. I already feel pretty stupid for having believed the glorious picture of London. But then again, a lot of people have told us since: you have to realize for yourself that London sucks. No one heeds the warnings non-Londoners give; as my cousin said, if the person telling you is from the north, you just assume that it’s part of the whole Northerners-hate-London thing.

But they are right to. Trust them. London is beautiful in the centre, terrible on the outskirts. It’s a wonderful place to visit, but not to live. Lesson learned.

So then, we fall back on Plan B, which is actually returning to Plan A. Our sights are set on Hebden Bridge or somewhere like it. And if we don’t get jobs, then we travel and write until the money runs out and then go back to Vancouver.

Plan A sounds fantastic actually. Why did we even form a Plan B?

all hail the new backpacking generation

Aviary Photo_130301705171357253Another difference between backpacking now and backpacking five years ago: the millenials have become the dominant backpacker demographic. Five years ago, I was one of the only people with a laptop—and this was pre-smartphone, pre-iPad.

I only had my laptop because I held illusions of sitting in French cafes typing out a masterpiece. But most days would pass with my computer abandoned in the canvas depths of my bag. I would only dig it out to watch a DVD in the rare event that I was alone and bored. All actual writing was done full-Hemingway in a Moleskine notebook.

Most times, I socialized with my fellow travelling inmates. But now: now everyone it seems has a smartphone, iPad, or laptop. The evenings are not taken up by idle chatter in a hostel lounge, but by machinery: laptops out, earbuds in; internet, Facetime, Facebook; scrambling for a spot by an electrical socket.

All hail the internet age. All hail the shifting demographics. All hail the millenials.


I wrote the above in the morning as I was waiting for an empty shower and drinking instant coffee. Upon further reflection, I stand by it. However, I wanted to elaborate upon and articulate that I do, in fact, understand completely the desire, whilst far from home, to withdraw into the familiar.

I suffer from social anxiety; I am just well-practiced at appearing otherwise. Large gatherings (whether full of strangers, friends, or family) fill me with dread. Strangers (one of them, a small group of them, or a large group of them) fill me with dread. This is something I am well aware I have had since childhood. In years past it took on the description “A little bit shy” or just “introverted.” Both are accurate.

As I aged, I dealt with it by confronting it. In most cases. If, in a well-enough mental space or if I simply have to, I can take a deep breath and just put on a social face. Most of the time I do this, everything works out fine. In fact, I’ve had some of the best, most fun, most rewarding times of my life by jumping into the social abyss. But those good times, even if they out-number the bad, are still over-shadowed by those bad. You know the bad: the times when I went to a party I’ve been dreading, got too drunk, embarrassed myself, and puked in my own car while a well-intentioned friend drove me home.

You see, it’s not like confronting a fear. It’s not the Disney narrative we’ve been dealt. It does not take one instance of facing the fear head-on, realising that it is not that scary after all and then ceasing to fear it ever after. Every single social encounter raises the same anxiety. It never ceases.

I only learn how to deal with it. Sometimes I can suck it up, so to speak, and happily engage in conversation with a stranger. Sometimes I just really can’t deal with it, make up an excuse to get out having to leave the house, put on my pyjamas and settle in for the night, content to live within my own head.

This is not a digression from the original post, but rather a way of saying that I understand the aforementioned millenial backpackers. Socialisation is difficult enough in a familiar world, but when you factor into it culture shock (which honestly occurs anywhere outside your usual world, not just in places where you are a visible minority/tourist), the comfort and relief of spending an hour on Skype with your best friend, or browsing Facebook pictures of babies and weddings, or even just scrolling through Buzzfeed all night, is such a welcome relief.

Social anxiety can make life a roller coaster. Travelling is a rollercoaster. The two combined can be potent. It is all about pushing yourself to the limit. The comfort provided by our internet devices does make the world smaller. But is that always a good thing? I fear it is not my place to say either way.

stephen fry – a fortuitous symbol?

It seems quite ironic (or perhaps not ironic at all) that after discovering at long last the unencumbered joy of QI and the limitless glee of Stephen Fry’s memoirs that we should spot him strolling along Piccadilly as we sip our organic coffee.

I do not believe in signs or fate or anything of the sort. They are a trick of psychology: a confirmation bias wherein we see what we want in order to justify our desires or decisions. Thus, seeing Stephen Fry in London is not a sign that we have made the right decision in moving here, or that everything will turn out fine. Yet it seems so obvious a sign. Prior to the sighting, did I not just post not-one-but-two Stephen Fry quotes (as some allegedly nuanced depiction of my inner self)?

Aviary Photo_130301708977252343Yes. But it means nothing. If this were a fictionalised account, one would call shenanigans at the utter lack of imagination in the cliché of Stephen Fry waltzing through our brave new world. It reminds me of a scene in Douglas Coupland’s The Gum Thief where the main character spots Johnny Depp leaving a shop in Paris. I remember thinking it such a deus ex machina for character growth. I remember it being the moment I realized I outgrew Douglas Coupland.

Would it not be a better sign the fact that I got a job at a bookshop?

Yes. But that still means nothing.

I am very eager to work at this bookshop, but I know that there is still so much against us. I cannot predict how a part-time, minimum-wage job is going to pan-out long-term. Perhaps our days here are numbered.

But I’m almost okay with that. Perhaps that is why I choose to ignore the potential symbolism of Stephen Fry.

The difference between London as I knew it and London now is five years. For me, that means I’m days away from thirty; for London, that means a recession. Between twenty-five and thirty lies the most transitive period one undergoes short of puberty. That’s when you really settle into who you are.

As we spent this morning moving from one hostel to another, from Bayswater to Docklands, from tube to bus (thanks “track maintenance”) to DLR, there comes a moment when you find it just too tiring to fight off that nagging realisation that “I’m too old for this shit.”

Aviary Photo_130301708622643821I’m too old for hostels. I don’t need to get to know young people from Holland only in town to party. I don’t have the patience for single beds or shared showers or a lack of privacy. God damn it, I’m almost thirty. Some most evenings, I just want to collapse into the sofa with my husband and watch a few episodes of whatever show we’re working our way through this month.

Now will someone please rent us a flat so we can get on with this already?

a diary of the latest wave of British immigration

Glib Tannenbaum

Husband has at last begun his long-promised blog. Now he too can enjoy/despair at the travails of the writing life!

doncaster minster wandering

This isn’t a gallery.

Wandering through Doncaster today, we noticed that the Minster was open to the public. As we stepped inside, a kindly woman handed us some xeroxed pamphlets and launched into a practiced spiel on the history of the church. All was quite interesting; we nodded politely, punctuating her words with Oh really?s whenever felt appropriate. The church seemed to us, avowed atheists, and to her, with such a prepared presentation, but a museum, a piece of history, an “excellent example of Victorian gothic” set between a motorway and a Tesco’s.

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But as we were leaving her to begin taking in the sun through the stained glass and memorial plaques affixed to stone, a young man snuck in behind us. He was in his early twenties, in a black t-shirt and ballcap. He had spots and seemed tired. He looked a stereotypical “youth” one might cross the street to avoid were it after dark and no one else were around.

At the sight of him, the woman lost interest in us. He looked abashedly to her. He asked quietly: “Am I allowed in to pray?” Her rigid countenance immediately softened. “Of course,” she murmured, “Of course.” She ushered him through like a mother bringing all her children to the dinner table.

Later, as Husband and I wandered through the church, we saw him, sitting quietly in one of the back pews, head down in his lap.

conisbrough wanderings

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“I like to think of myself at home in the armchair, writing, smoking and occasionally wandering down the shop.”

– Stephen Fry

land of the the bone-grinders

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Still we linger in Doncaster. Things, however, have taken an interesting turn. In his ongoing efforts to delve deeper into the eccentricities of British history, Husband stumbled across an interesting fact about the town in which we are currently staying. In 1822, it was reported in the London Observer that “more than a million bushels of human and inhuman bones” were imported into England (via Hull, because of course Hull), from towns that harboured the sites of Napoleonic battles and were thus littered with the bodies of soldiers and their horses.  From Hull, these bodies were sent chiefly to Doncaster, where they were “[reduced] to a granularly state.” Why? Because dead bodies make good fertilizer and Doncaster was the seat of agricultural trade in Yorkshire. As this 1822 reporter said: “The good farmers of Yorkshire are, in a great measure, indebted to the bones of their children for their daily bread.” Firstly, this explains all the French-speaking ghosts. Secondly, this has given me a great title for a work of historical fiction: The Bone-Grinder’s Wife. With a sepia-tinged photo on the cover, cropped so as to just cut out the eyes, the title in italicized serif type, a blurb telling you what Ann-Marie MacDonald thought, and a purple sticker, Heather’s Pick, it’s what everyone’s mom is getting for Christmas.

emperor constantine the great: the (original) inventor of draping


Also, he was crowned emperor in (the original) York, on the same spot where York Minster (actually a cathedral) now stands. The more you know.