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Wednesday, 8 December 2010

"Twelve months" in Estonian . . .

                                          Tallin's gorgeous Old Town

Against all the odds six boys and one girl (me) made it both to and from Estonia's beautiful icy city of Tallin. It was the annual wronk to somewhere East; a long weekend of debauched and ridiculous adventures in the Baltic. The boys are four of my best friends from a small rural village near Sherwood Forest (three pubs, a Co-Op, a couple of paedophiles, at least one fraudster and a bench), and my lovely boyfriend Sten, and whilst this wasn't exactly a cultural trip we were hoping to see some sights. And oh my, did we see some sights . . .! Rocking up at the seven-bed apartment, complete with sauna and mental Finnish neighbours at 9pm Esto time, we went a-wandering.

                           Quink ready for some sauna action in his Bowie pants

Coming from 'frozen Britain' I for one was delighted by the amount of snow - three-foot long icicles were draped from roofs, and the white stuff was three or four feet deep in places! Wowzers. First thing I did was to try and make a snowman, but to quote British transport, "it was the wrong kind of snow". So, on go the coats and snow boots - apart from Jonny who had forgotten a coat (!), and Hennerz who was in Primani plimsolls - and off we head into the dark soviet unknown. We hadn't gone very far before the snowballs started, and it soon became clear that this was going to become something of issue. Before I knew it every walk into the town became a half hour epic ice war of wrestling, treachery and ambush.

                                          A vicious ambush

The first pub we found was sufficiently unfamiliar to us, and after a drink and a round of looks and shy nods we found ourselves engaged in, well, some kind of communication with a man with a fascinating lack of teeth and a HUGE wolf hat. Which I fucking hated. He sang some songs, loved Dylan, and encouraged us to stay to listen to his accordion playing friend. We did just that for one more drink out of politeness, but then it really was time. By this time we were a tad pissed and on the look out for a nice spot of traditional sit down nosh. I came across Potato Planet, effectively a baked potato kebab shop, and was in heaven. I had the word vegetarian written down by the barman on a scrap of paper – and had been openly laughed at by Wolf Hat – but I wanted a bit of a head start so that the inevitable bread and vegetables would be sufficient.

Potato planet did it for Sten and me, but some of the boys had got carried away by the prospect of a nearby bar that would be full of Estonian girls – cue round after round after round of the charmingly renamed ‘Every Hole’s a Goal’, which was two parts of fuck knows what and a glacĂ© cherry. The obliging barmaid was swilling the stuff down – she was also giving numerous Estonian translations of 'twelve months'. I suspect the other staff disliked her as she was by far the ugliest but had ensnared the attention of a bunch of foreign lads with her massive boobs and uber low cut top!

                                   A bottle of twigs and berries - just add vodka

                                    The teams psyching up for 'The Boat Race'

I believe that we took ourselves off to a karaoke bar at some point – and I have some memory of singing Lady Marmalade and I’m Too Sexy (yes Fred), but the night predictably disintegrated. At some point I took the initiative to round up the motley crew; Sten was making strangers cross by being stranger, Olly was being erratic and dancing unpredictably, Quink was confusedly searching for his only source of warmth and Hennerz was having an emo moment. Friel and Si were nowhere to be found.

Through the windows of the bar opposite I could see a lot of pole dancing going on, and put two and two together. The two were not there. By 9am when they eventually returned shell-shocked and bewildered it transpired that they had indeed been in a strip club, were minus 40 pounds, spent some time in a florist and returned with an empty, sequinned purse that smelt like a very cheap whore. Nice.

                                                    Theatrical wink - subtle

                                          Mischief afoot

We had the luxury of a sauna in our apartment, and much of our time was spent in the healthy pursuit of drinking in said sauna (Liz Earle’s worst nightmare) followed by running out into the Baltic conditions and rolling around in the snow. None of us came away unscathed – by the end we all had cuts and scratches courtesy of over-zealous rolling. By the fourth day this sauna time was beginning to sap us quite thoroughly – we finally began to consume water, and we looked around for an alternative drinking pursuit. It was at this time – just as we were all having post-sauna showers – that the door opened and two Finns burst into the room wearing Smurf hats (although they claimed they were some Finnish Christmas tradition). They demanded that we go upstairs to ‘make party’ with them, and were very insistent indeed. The woman – short, stocky, (oh alright, butch), with what Hennerz claimed was a tattoo of a snake raping a lion – had clearly seen a little something of what she fancied as a damp, towel-clad Hennerz made a dash from shower to bedroom; she chased him and spent twenty long minutes trying to get into his room.

                                          Sauna to snow

By this time the boys had lost interest and wandered off to make party, leaving only me to witness Hennerz’ feeble cries of ‘help, help’. I discovered her making attempts to force the lockless door, whilst Hen, naked and worried, had only his weight and patience to protect his modesty. Admittedly I was also a bit intimidated and didn’t know quite what rescue attempt to make. Luckily Si had returned to our flat for the Jagermeister, and as an ex-teacher he took swift and effective action; “Right, it’s time you left”. Simple as that. I had a bit of a fright myself when I came out of the shower in a now empty flat to discover a big, strange, wasted man in my bedroom. English to the core, I politely asked, “Can I help you” to which his reply was to point his finger skywards with the direct instruction of “party”.
When I finally made it upstairs, it wasn’t quite what they’d hyped it up to be; a bunch of drivers for Finland’s Olympic teams – essentially it was a taxi drivers’ Christmas convention. One friendly lady was wearing her pyjamas and the obligatory Smurf hat – she was on her fourth bottle of wine and apparently had once been the last person standing out of a two hundred strong whisky drinking competition. I was impressed. In the meantime Sten was being hit on unawares by a very enthusiastic gentlemen wearing a head torch – it’s his long curly eyelashes that do it, and the group had earmarked the one Finnish female in the room under thirty-five for potential conquest. Mikaela ended up joining us in Tallin’s famous (infamous?) club, Heaven, and by this time she and I were best friends.

                     The night predictably disintegrates: world's strangest job interview


Life and Times . . .

So, it has been a year. Well, a year on bonfire night actually. And here I am – same place. Wow. A bit of background for you: I am an unemployed graduate. Big wow. I have big ideas, a big shoe collection but a very small pay package. So I am living a poor, all-be-it entertaining, existence on the infamous Cally Road, Islington. This blog tells a story. Not just my story, the tale of the many thousands in this position.

I left uni with a first in English Language (think linguistics, not books. I read those for pleasure not a degree) and a massive plan. I can’t reveal that plan to you, the world, just yet, because I don’t want to give my arch-enemies the chance to foil it. However it is safe to say that I will get there by hook or by crook, and a lot of luck. Now, English Language is an interesting one – fascinating actually, but it doesn’t really guide you down any specific career paths as such.

“You could be an academic” suggests my mother, longingly. Such a pity that she never had the chance to go to uni, I think she would be running the world if she had. I don’t want to be an academic - I like getting my hands dirty, I get distracted by books in the library and the whole structured education thing makes me a bit fidgety to be honest. Oh alright, trapped. There, said it. I contemplated politics – in fact I applied to be an MP for Monsieur Cameron, although as I was doing my application on a temperamental computer in Siem Reap, I missed the deadline. In hindsight I think it was for the best – what’s the point in being a politician if you can’t travel first class? 

I believe we are in the midst of something interesting; we have a whole generation, the Lost Generation I have heard us called, who have the world at their feet and their hands tied. Admittedly we went to uni with the intention to come out the other side and make a shed load, become an actor, make up our minds a bit, or at least teach. Ah now then, that brings us to another point – perhaps we as a generation threw ourselves a bit too enthusiastically into the whole uni thing. Perhaps it would have been far more sensible to just get out of school and make that shed load, start that business, become apprenticed etcetera etcetera.

Perhaps if we had we wouldn’t have such a saturated job market and degrees wouldn’t have essentially lost their value. Well too bad, because we did and they have. So, as discussed our hands are rather bound. This generation has been left impotent; so full of hope and good intent, desperate to work and utilise skill sets, yet destined to work part-time in Sainsbury’s. It has to be part-time you see, 16 hours or under else you don’t qualify for Job Seekers (retch) and ultimately Housing Benefit (double retch of self-loathing) and then we would really be in a serious pickle. I don’t work in Sainsbury’s, mind. I make coffee. So you see we really do have the most highly qualified set of check-out operators that have ever lived.

And the world is at our feet. Well, hopefully. That’s all this is by the way, mere observational musings. But really, right now things are changing so immensely – attitudes, politics, travel, and the world, that we have every opportunity. We have a Prime Minister called Dave for Gods sake! Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later – everyone knows a Dave. The point is that with changing attitudes comes potential – the potential for something big and exciting. Now that we all know we aren’t going to pop out of the university factory into the job that would buy us a nice flat (let’s not even go there) and afford us a comfortable lifestyle with a couple of holidays a year, it is time we thought our way round this blip!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Is it snowing?

The snow hadn't even hit London when people began to panic. Personally I love it; if I open the curtains and there is a blanket of thick white snow - and plenty more falling from the sky - I get excited. But when I verbalise this, I am made to feel entirely infantile. Perhaps I am. In fact I think that I definitely am.

So the country is now under 10 inches of snow, Farnsfield had made the East Midlands news for panic buying milk (they take tea very seriously in the country), the boys have been snowboarding in the village, and I am JEALOUS. I tried throwing snowballs at my neighbours' window, but doing it by myself felt somehow dirty and a bit wrong. Nottingham has also made the news for the amount of police complaints about people throwing snowballs. I don't think I want to delve into that issue for fear of unearthing unpleasant truths.
It's the 2nd December 2010 - honestly where HAS the year gone?! As far as I can tell I was in Edinburgh for Hogmanay a few months ago, wetting myself at Gibbo's impressions of our camp Scottish actor/ impresario for the city ghost walks. We survived the Tom Tom’s New Year joke, i.e. sending us 20 miles away from civilisation and into the teeth of a snowplough with a grudge.

Jonny verbally loving/ abusing a tolerant bouncer at about 12.20am on New Year's day - shortly before he had a much discussed battered haggis.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Snapshots of 2010 - Morocco, Wales and Cornwall . . .

The beautiful Windy City, Essaouira.

Charming Taghazout

By April, Sten and I were in Morocco, surfing with jellyfish, buying paintings and drinking mint tea. Summer was a (clearly not endless) round of cheap drinks at the infamous and sticky Zenith bar with GetMoreLocal crowd in Islington, park excursions and expeditions around the countryside. Now, these expeditions merit a little more detail: the first was a wet, windy and rather exhilarating trip to north Wales (no, really). Lovely part of the world; with 2 dogs, a pregnant woman, a Jordan, and Howard Moon's scatting, jazz bumming, tash-twirling twin in tow, it was always going to be entertaining. With cliff jumping into the lake, a spot of catamaraning and some good old-fashioned rock climbing, this was a wholesome British holiday indeed. Although Sten and I did have a leaky tent, with broken zips, no coats and only one sleeping bag between us (we started out with 2, the loss is a mystery), it was still a triumph.

The mission to Cornwall was mildly more frustrating: an Irish girl (lovely though she is) and her boyfriend got us a brand new VW campervan and we all set off for a spot of surfing - no actually, we set off (via a 5 HOUR diversion in the suburbs for surfboards) for a great deal of surfing. 15 HOURS LATER, we were still in that god-forsaken truck.

Early days - still happy camping (10 minutes in)

I'm not sure why the only real driver (yes, me) had not been put on the insurance, but I am amazed to this day how between the 2 drivers no-one lost a licence. Anyhow, we were navigated by the visually challenged (sorry Steve), and in spite of us setting off on the 7 hour drive to Cornwall at 7pm (yes, really), by 11pm we had seen a sign to Stonehenge and essentially U-turned 65 miles back to London (unknowingly would you believe) to rock up at the ancient site to take our place snuggled on a lane between doggers and a guy with a bus turned trance-wagon. Now, you might be asking why I was so passive throughout all of this - the answer is that I had bitten my nails to nothing, had argued a lot with Sten, and had no choice but to pretend I wasn't there. On the plus side, I woke up in the morning to find myself face to face with Stonehenge through the net window. It was cool, misty, bloody early and rather ethereal.

Cornwall was ace. Scones, surfing, free camping, family 'theme park', lovely Sennen and general niceness.

Our last surfing trip was - would you believe - even more arduous. It involved missing the first train from Victoria (my fault entirely), which started a chain reaction of missed trains and buses. We were carrying a surfboard, 2 sets of wetsuits, a HUGE tent and lots of general stuff. Even when we arrived safely in Swansea's delectable Llangennith, we would have a couple of miles to walk down to the beach . . . were we not rescued by the best bus driver in the world (link to his fan page to follow as soon as I find it).

It was soooo very pleasant to find ourselves back at Gennith - we met at Swansea Uni, and were regular frequenters of the Gower in all its moods. I have a memory that I am convinced happend, although logic and reason would tell otherwise - imagine a mercurial sky, rain lashing down, and a grey brown winter thrashing your body and your surfboard. Imagine now, that sea sometimes parting, and you being thrown down to the depth of the ocean bed, being twirled and hurled around with salt water fish, then thrown back to the surface again where you franctically snatch some salty air. The way I remember it, it was like a budget production of Gulliver's Travels, with a cardboard boat/surfboard travelling up and down the peaks and troughs . . . anyhow, I digress.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Secret Garden Party 2010

So, jolly British holidays all round - which after 15 months of traversing Asia, living out of a rucksack and getting by on £5 a day, is just what the doctor ordered. We skilfully combined these with a few festivals: my first was the divine Secret Garden Party, with free tickets courtesy of good contacts. The outcome was 3 of us in a 2-man tent; I had a small suitcase - which for 2 days I thought was mildly extravagant. They both had full sized suitcases.

(Below) Noon - still lucid.

On our arrival we settled down for some booze and some makeup retouching. Holleigh, a makeup artist (an excellent one at that) rolled out a set of 40 brushes stating that she, "only brought the ones she thought she might need". Our helpless laughter soon alerted her to the brilliance of that comment. As we were all trying to decide what to wear, a steady trickle of visitors passed by with exclamations such as "my god there really are 3 of you in there". Word had spread and we were a tourist attraction. In an attempt to be vaguely practical, Holly and I had spent 50 quid at the Kings Cross Tescos, and whilst we did not seem to have purchased much, we had bought 3 very large potatoes with plans to "put them in the camp fire". Needless to say, the potatoes stayed behind. That weekend consisted of early morning vodkas, laughing gas, writing on passed out strangers ("Love me, love my tractor" was one little gem), tea parties, nonsense in caravans and lots of pies. Most of this I only know from photos, such as the one of me drinking from a sweetly painted teacup, at a tea party in a field, with the mad hatter, wearing the white rabbit's head.

                                       Holleigh, dressing fancy.

                                                    Increasingly blurry

Confusing to say the least. I also recall being sat in the middle of a field with Holleigh at 8am, 2 hours before we had to get a train. A man mildly insulted us, then fell over our legs and stayed down, breathing quietly. After a while there was a bit of dialogue, and we found him quite entertaining. We all seemed to be yearning for some hippie crack (another excellent deadpan quote from Holleigh "the problem with laughing gas, is that I NEED it 24/7") . . . the problem was neither of us had any money left. Oh poor, naive, foolish boy that he was; out of nowhere (still face down on the ground) he held up his wallet to the sky (an awkward manoeuvre it was too), with the words "I've got money!” Needless to say, we all giggled and giggled until the money ran out, and our loveable but very unwise companion went tripping off to pastures new.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

The Big Chill 2010

                            A more cultured clientele

What a pleasant festival this is. We were packed and on the cross-country voyage to somewhere around Malvern in Dave’s car by mid-afternoon; I thought this would be a scary prospect – when Dave goes, he doesn’t really hold back. And he tends to ‘go’ most weekends. So, the return journey was my main concern, although we did have a dicey moment on a motorway when we thought a portal to another dimension had ripped through the sky. Turns out it was a ridiculously low flying aircraft, but there we go.

                              Captain Dave at the helm

After all the immense traffic jam, game of ‘eye spy’ and saga of ‘would they discover the absinthe?’ and ‘let’s hope they don’t pat us down to discover dozens and dozens of Noz canisters’, we were in, and there the adventure began. With 3 main stages and hundreds of stalls and attractions, Big Chill is one of the nicer festivals – and that is in no way a bad thing. We made hats in a tepee, skulked around the fabulous Victorian velvet cinema house, The Lost Picture Show, and saw Newton Faulkner, Massive Attack, MIA, Roots Manuva, Layo and Bushwacker, Kruder and Dorfmeister, High Contrast, London Elektricity and the Craig Charles’ Funk and Soul Show – to name but a few. Oh and of course Lily Allen, who stole the show. MIA tried to, by encouraging everybody onto the stage and creating a huge headache for the organisers, but Lily did it with a sweet voice, down to earth lyrics, and some cheeky DNB drops.

                                   Stage invasion

Our side of the valley was populated by some handily placed large lit globes by a big tree – perfect for sleeping, thinking and talking nonsense by. One night I made an accident cocktail – I was sent back to the tents to restock, but got chatting away to Georgie (an utter sweetheart who works in a boys school – they all utterly adore her). Distracted, I thought I was topping up the concoction with lemonade. I was not. I was pouring liberal quantities of red absinthe into the mix.

We named it Pink Death, although it was quite palatable after a while; Cherry Brandy, Vodka, dark rum, lemonade, a dash of red bull and of course, l'Absinthe Rouge. So, after a night on the Pink Death we were quite ready to chill by the globes until about 7 or 8 in the morning, by which time I was ready to de-costume (we were Robin Hoods – very fitting you see) and curl up. Dave however doesn’t really sleep. So, after we’d compromised – a shisha from the 24 hour cafĂ©, we left Dave to his various (de)vices and off we went.

                  Twenty-four hour shisha cafe overlooks the valley

We later learnt that Dave had spent some time with lots of randoms, before being mildly alarmed by some naked people turning up for life drawing. He got over this little shock, and carried on with sitting until he was later completely freaked out by the sudden arrival of lots of naked people – only this time there were hordes of them, painted from head to toe - some yellow, some blue, some green. It was Spencer Tunick’s mass nude art shoot at the Eastnor Castle. I think this is what did him in, and finally sent him to bed. For some reason we later felt the need for a walk which saw us break out of the festival (unusual) and clamber into the grounds of Eastnor Castle ourselves. See photoshoot below.

                   Our own installment at Eastnor Castle

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Volunteering at V Festival 2010

This was an unusual one. It was my first time at V, but without meaning to sound snobby or pretentious, it had always struck me as seeming a bit commercial. However, Faithless (always amazing), Goldfrapp, Madness (sunshine skanking), Kings of Leon (like listening to a CD) and Prodigy (angry) were headlining – which meant I wanted to be there. We managed to wangle free tickets through V-Inspired, meaning we worked a 7-hour shift everyday (in this case we were essentially litter pickers) and we got tickets, camping, and £25 a day for food. Ace. We were working for the Coca-Cola recycling campaign, and there was a bottle crusher at the onsite Coca-Cola garden, as well as a swap shop where festivalgoers exchanged plastic bottles for T-shirts, cap, ponchos and the rest.

It was so much fun – it was good to go to a festival with some kind of structure, as it meant I remembered sequences of events and the like. We were in the staff camping and easily distinguishable – a mass of flimsy red tents made from recycled bottles (yes really!). Bizarrely enough, the moment we’d put up the tent I heard a familiar midlands twang, and one of my best friends emerged from a neighbouring tent. Jonny and Ed were also there on freebies, as Ed is in the music business, darling. Tinie Tempah had been spotted camping nearby (not by me – I have no real idea of what he looks like).

One entertaining episode involved Sten and I sneaking backstage to interview people about recycling; we ended up wandering around the artists’ lorries, where I asked if we could interview what I thought were hairy bus drivers. Only when I whacked the camera out and started filming - and they promptly vanished into the bus - did Sten click that it was The Eels. All I can say is that one of those dudes has some great sunglasses.

On the last night we snuck into the artists’ free bar (I say snuck, what I actually mean is rolled through wet grass under a fence, with all the grace of a cat trying to swim). We received lots of free mojitos and sat down to drink them at a table with a couple of Madness – who were very fucked. Lee Thompson was particularly amusing – and belligerent too. A slight dispute ensued between Lee and myself and whilst I seem to recall it got quite heated, I'm relatively sure it ended amicably enough. After a wander around with one of their sons who'd stolen a crate of beer from some artists's van, it was absolutely pissing it down and we'd resorted to wearing the Coca-Cola ponchos (also made from recycled bottles, and also utterly crap. I might have well just got naked and saved my clothes from the rain.