The Girl on the Red Bicycle

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Haberdashery Heaven

When I was living in Paris, what feels like years ago now, this was one of my first discoveries – the wonderland that is Marché Saint-Pierre. I was reminded about this haberdashery heaven last week when I made a new personal discovery in Covent Garden.

If you walk the length of the amphitheatre terrace in the Royal Opera House, you ultimately come across the windows belonging to the wardrobe department. I have been on the terrace before but during my four years of living in London, have never passed about half way and missed the delights that spying offers. For some reason, I always imagined the ROH wardrobe to be secreted away somewhere underground as opposed to right at the top of the building with a view over the Plaza, not that any of the seamstresses would have much time for casual gazing. It looks rather chaotic in there: half-dressed mannequins dotted around, extravagant sewing machines with threads running from the ceilings and material strewn across tables.

The terrace, on the other hand, is a tranquil dreamland that provides the best of both worlds – the sounds and smells of Covent Garden without the hustle and bustle. I do love Covent Garden, especially on a sunny day, but I do not always like to share it…

little-beau-blog

As you know, my mask-making attempts were not exactly appreciated at school, but that is not to say I am completely devoid of all skills in the arts and crafts. A select few reading this post are lucky enough to have already received some of my hand made ‘accessories’ over the last year or so, ranging from sock-squids (see photo below), to scarves or even knitted birthday bunting, my most triumphant creative success yet, which was given to my best friend for her 21st. These creations of mine, however, look rather humble given the materials available in numerous arts and crafts markets around Paris…

There are plenty of haberdashery shops around the city and my particular district seems to be quite a popular location for ‘haber-hunters’. At the foot of the Sacre Cœur, on the pavements of rue Charles-Nodier, you can watch Parisians sift through enourmous crates of discount materials which…

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Meaningful Words

Dearest neglected followers of The Girl on the Red Bicycle,

I apologise for the prolonged periods of silence over this last month, however, hasten to emphasise that their cause has not been for the absence of meaningful words as Pythagoras might conclude but rather the absence of free time. Well, that is the first of a very long list of excuses that also includes lack of energy after returning to lead a ‘normal’ life devoid of adrenalin, combined with the dreaded post-show-blues, and ends with a voluntary interlude of complete withdrawal spent at a meditation retreat in Devon. 

I am not a religious person and this retreat was by no means a conversion course to Buddhism, although I have to say, out of all religions, I find Buddhism to be the most accessible and least judgmental. Curiosity was the main influence behind my decision to book the retreat and curiosity now satisfied, I am not in a hurry to repeat the experience! Meditation is a skill, one that requires a lot of practise and even more patience. The latter I was sadly never blessed with and my exposure to meditation before the retreat was limited to a yoga and meditation day at the London Buddhist Centre in Bethnal Green. However, that is not to say that the experience did not have its significance.

This particular retreat was orientated around the theme of joy and how to cultivate it. Whilst there is no straightforward answer and the answer is of course different for everyone, we were encouraged to reflect on two principal values during our stay: generosity and gratitude. The importance of these factors in relation to happiness has been recognised since the beginnings of Buddhist traditions and now apparently Jon Kabat-Zinn, the professor behind the pioneering programme ‘Mindfulness-based stress reduction‘, is planning to add them to his already established list of attitudinal factors of mindfulness (the current seven being non-judging, patience, beginner’s mind, trust, non-striving, acceptance and letting go). To make up for what can only be considered a pathetic commitment to blogging over the last month, I thought I would share a personal moment of gratitude that came to mind upon reflection.

Meals at the centre were all self-service and the early evening sitting always consisted of some sort of soup or light stew, served in an enormous pot on a free standing counter. A long handled ladle with a hook on the end to attach to the side of the pot was used to dish out desired portions. This seemingly simply process of serving oneself was complicated one evening when I missed out the key step of reattaching the ladle to the side of the pot and, in despair, watched it disappear into the steaming broth. Sigh. Self-deprecating thoughts of hopelessness were clearly visable across my forehead, despite the silence that persisted.

I appreciate that this is all sounding rather dramatic but try spending two days in complete silence trapped in your own head (or my head if you are one of the few perfectly sane members of the population) and believe me, emotions start to run pretty high. In the moment, unable to see any alternative, I then started to roll up my sleeve and prepare to plunge my hand into the depths of the pot in an effort to retrieve the ladle…Buddha knows why! Thankfully, I was hastily stopped by a man standing on the other side of the counter who miraculously produced an identical ladle hiding from my view and handed it to me cautiously with an encouraging smile.

If I can take anything away from this retreat, it is the gratitude I feel towards this man for saving me both from humiliation and most probably what would have been second degree burns.

 

The name of the centre I refer to is Gaia House in Newton Abbot, Devon, and you can find more information on the website here.

Silence

Silence is better than unmeaning words.

Pythagoras

Even when…

Even when all other forms of communication fail, books will remain.

George Brockway

The Girl on the Train

I fear I am going to contradict myself again after last week’s post by providing another advantage to taking public transport that cannot be shared with cycling – or perhaps could, only at great risk and I wouldn’t advise it. One of the reasons I have been reluctant to get back into the habit of cycling and choose to take the bus to work, rather than the tube, almost doubling the length of my commute is for the hour of undisturbed reading time. I work in a publishing house, it is probably a given that I like books, although when for preparing for interviews before Christmas I was specifically warned against using the phrase ‘because I like books’ as a response to the question ‘So why are you applying for this job?’

The Girl on the Train is a psychological debut by Paula Hawkins that has been compared to the likes of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healey, not that I have personally read either. I cannot remember where or from whom I initially heard about The Girl on the Train but it was probably the uncanny similarity of its title to that of my blog that caught my attention and persuaded me to promote it to the top of the pile.

Having now finished the book (in less than a week, which is rather telling given the demands of leading a double life), that connection does not feel so strong. The principal character is a sad, 30 something-year-old, alcoholic divorcee; a category in which I do not belong…yet. Lack of personal correlation aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and it makes an engaging read for any commuter, in or outside of London. It is quite surreal when we think for a moment about how many people we pass on a daily basis, all focused on our separate lives, with little care or recognition of those around us: who they are, what they are doing, where they are going. It is even more surreal when we are forced to consider this when sandwiched in between people we have probably shared a journey with on multiple occasions but do not know the first thing about, which is what I think makes this book so captivating.

Given the nature of psychological thrillers, I cannot say any more about The Girl on The Train without ruining the plot and consequently the reading experience but hopefully I have given you taste enough to encourage you to buy it. I do find that as soon as the mystery has been revealed, however, I quickly lose interest and perhaps wouldn’t rate the end of the novel as highly as I would the first three quarters. That is probably my lack of patience than anything else; after a friend’s fierce recommendation, I did begin reading Gone Girl last summer, only gave up after a few chapters with the statement ‘this diary is so obviously fake, how could you take it seriously?’ Had I any patience, I would have continued reading and learnt that yes, the diary is indeed fake and the revelation of that fact provides the pivotal plot twist that made the novel so popular. Congratulations Harriet.

p.s. I imagine that anyone who has not yet read Gone Girl will have seen the film or at least heard of it so I will not take any responsibility in ruining that plot!

The Red Light

Previously on this blog, I have listed overhearing weird and wonderful conversations as an advantage to taking public transport. It turns out this can also be an advantage to cycling, where equally baffling conversations can be overheard such as the one I was privy to last week. (Although before anyone gets too excited, I must stress that the title of the tale does not refer to the same red light that features in the much covered song Roxanne!)

Around the Aldgate / Whitechapel area en route home, there are often a lot of community policemen milling around in the evenings, normally next to busy road junctions or in front of the tube. One evening last week I came up to stop for a set of traffic lights in the blue box reserved for cyclists; a box that on this occasion I was forced to share with an inconsiderate motorcyclist. Now, I am quite protective over my use of these reserved boxes; it has become that irrelevant subject that I like to bring up at house parties after a few too many glasses of wine as it is something about which I feel most passionately.

As chance would have it there were a couple of policemen just a few feet away who, after a several minutes of my unsubtle head gesturing, caught on to what I was trying to bring to their attention and approached the aforementioned motorcyclist. Below is the conversation that followed:

Friendly policeman: ‘Excuse me, do you realise that that box is actually reserved for cyclists and, as a motorcyclist, you can receive a fine for entering it?’

Moronic motorcyclist: ‘Well I had do an emergency stop for the red light didn’t I?!’

Friendly policeman: ‘And what about the amber light? The one that warns you that the red light is coming up?’

Moronic motorcyclist: (scoffs and proceeds to blank friendly policeman, with eyes fixed on road ahead and, when lights turn green, accelerates forward at an aggressive speed)

 

Short and sweet conversations are the best don’t you agree?

I seemed to hold two lives…

I seemed to hold two lives – the life of thought, and that of reality.

Charlotte Bronte, Vilette

Even after a week of practically living at the Royal Court Theatre, at times I am still finding it hard to believe that both sides of my double life are indeed reality, not just an extravagant product of my imagination. However, for anyone who has also had their doubts, I now have photographic evidence to share of the more exciting side of that double life: Production Shots of Who Cares. Enjoy!

So far I have managed to wake up each morning and remember which life I am supposed to be leading for the day; the fear of turning up at work on a day that I have booked off for a matinee performance is becoming a frequent (and unwelcome) disturber of sleep…

Time is what we want most…

Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.

William Penn

On the night that the clocks went back the other week, there was a radio programme on BBC 4 presented by Stephen Fry. It was all about the history of time and whether or not the action of changing the clocks twice a year actually has any value.

What I found interesting was the reference to our understanding of time and how it differs from other cultures; there is a mention at some point during the programme of how we in Western countries are dominated by a rigid interpretation of time as synonymous the clock, where everything is measured and constant. It would obviously be impractical for us to abandon all use of the clock as our main indicator of time and hypocritical of me to suggest so given I never go to bed without setting an alarm in the morning. As idyllic as it may be to rise with the sun, the true “god of time”, given the popularity of blackout blinds it simply wouldn’t happen.

I have, however, been mulling over the implications of such a time oriented lifestyle: it is hard not to when living in a city where everyone is in a rush, darting frantically through crowds for an underground train that will only be followed by another going in exactly the same direction in less than two minutes. We have all been that person so I am not going to judge, however, sometimes I do stop and wonder why we are all in a rush and what it acheives other than increase stress levels!?

I actually started writing this post last weekend when I was staying in the countryside again for the bank holiday and, despite my watch functioning at the same rate, time honestly did seem to go slower once out of the city. It sounds such a cliché and everyone says it, but it is true nonetheless. After a week back in London of 12 hour days rehearsing for the Royal Court show (which has now completely sold out), I am only finding the time now on this rainy Saturday morning to finish my musings.

April is a promise…

The Girl on the Red Bicycle

April is a promise that May is bound to keep.

Hal Borland

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The English Language

The English language is like London: proudly barbaric yet deeply civilised, too, common yet royal, vulgar yet processional, sacred yet profane. Each sentence we produce, whether we know it or not, is a mongrel mouthful of Chaucerian, Shakespearean, Miltonic, Johnsonian, Dickensian and American. Military, naval, legal, corporate, criminal, jazz, rap and ghetto discourses are mingled at every turn. The French language, like Paris, has attempted, through its Academy, to retain its purity, to fight the advancing tides of Franglais and international prefabrication. English, by comparison, is a shameless whore.

Stephen Fry, The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within

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