Wednesday, 21 December 2011

2011 The Year Where Everything Changed

This time last year I was sitting in my freezing cold house in Mile End, with tights on under my leggings, under my pyjamas. Now I’m sitting in my lovely warm (thanks to our new Dyson heater!) warehouse, and it’s time for a bit of reflection on what an incredible year it has been. Some highlights from your resident EastEnd Girl in San Francisco.

1. Working Part 1, Working Part 2, Working Part 3: Cock SParrer, Rebellion, Blackpool, August

Not just the best festival in the world, but with my favourite people in the world, seeing some of my favourite bands in the world. Especially the old boys. They are my favourite band to see live, ever. I never have more fun than at a SParrer gig. And for this one I was on the barrier, Oi-ing my little heart out, not prepared for all three parts of Working. As a medley. And executed perfectly. When I realised they were playing all three parts, meaning Marbella as well, I lost the plot a little bit. I never thought I’d see that live. Ever.

iphoneaugust 098Afterwards in the bar, when Dad told me that the reason they did it  was to see the reactions on people’s faces and mine was the one he was watching. And it was the reaction they wanted. I knew then that that would make number 1 on my list of highlights of this year. Not that the others are in any particular order.

2. “No sweetheart, look at what the dealer’s showin’, doncha worry, I’ll show ya what to do”, Las Vegas, May

iphone may 11 031I had one aim when we went to Vegas, to play blackjack at an actual table. That was it. I had $40 in my purse and that was all I was spending. Thanks to Tony, from Boston, who was 94 and had been stationed in East London during WW2, and who showed me the ropes, I played for 3 hours. He took me under his wing and taught me where I was going wrong. A very interesting man with some great stories. Cheers Tony!

3. Going Out In Style, my send off from London, The 12 Bar, Denmark Street, London, July

Although I technically left in April, I had a massive knees up in the summer where I officially bid everyone a fond farewell. My favourite venue in the world was packed with everyone I knew, and the buffet was beyond your wildest dreams – if your dreams are cheese and pickled onions. Which mine are, so my mates got it perfect. From the DJs to the bands to Tahira rodeoing Kunt (see the video on YouTube if you don’t believe me) I don’t think I stopped laughing and dancing all night. To the organisers, who I love dearly, you know who you are and I will buy you a Jagerbomb or three next week.

4. A sisterly dinner, London, August

A definite highlight was having dinner with Steph and Grace when we all happened to be in the same city at the same time. If you know me, you know how important family is to me. There is nothing more important as far as I’m concerned. Bringing people together and watching them get on like a house on fire is one of my favourite things, and it’s even more special when the people involved mean so much to you. Here’s to future girly dinners!

5. The summer with the monster, June-August, Gidea Park

Blackberry 269 One of the biggest things I miss is not so big at all. I have three beautiful godchildren, and don’t get to see any of them nearly enough. I was lucky enough to see one of them regularly when I was in the UK, and I loved every second of it. She is a funny, charming, beautiful little monster, and we swam, made daisy chains, baked cakes, played with the chickens, danced and giggled through every day we spent together. She’s now big enough to understand Skype and that I’m really far away. She’s also asked Father Christmas for a Hello Kitty computer so she can Skype me and ‘do work’. I’m not sure what this work is but I’m happy about the prospect of seeing her little face on a more regular basis.

6. Starting my MA, SFSU, August

Going back into education after working for 5 years was fairly scary. The first meeting we had where we met our classmates for the first time was very intimidating. Everyone looked like they knew what they were doing, knew their way around and had it all sorted. I was worried about going back to university, mainly because I hadn’t really written anything substantial since my undergrad. It took me a while to find my writing style, and to learn how to read massive quantities, but I think I’m there now.

It’s been a great term and I’ve made some great friends from all over the world. The classes are mainly interesting and the professors are mainly engaging. Next term I’ve got classes on a Saturday, which is officially rubbish. Prepare to hear me moan. A lot.

7. Veronika and Lada’s Wedding, Czech Republic, June

Veronika and Lada's Wedding 2011 081 When two of your friends get married it’s always a cause for celebration. If anyone knows how to celebrate it is the Czechs and this was no different. From having to get the key to the castle, to Patent’s bowtie, to Jamesy borrowing Damon’s shirt, to dancing with Lada Snr to Johnny Cash, the whole day was incredible. As was the evening, the first dance, the BBQ and the copious of amounts of Slivovice (two thousand bottles of slivovice!). And now two of my favourite people in the world are married with a small Rejman on the way! To say we are excited is an understatement!

8. Our first Christmas tree, San Francisco, December

A Saturday a few weeks ago I was too hungover to move from the sofa (blame the Harrington Saints, it was entirely their fault). So I watched The Muppets and bought tree decorations online. I found new homes for all the decorations I had in London when I moved here, and so had the opportunity to start from scratch. 

We now have a gorgeous tree, with red and white lights, red baubles (not ornaments and it is a word!), red and white candy canes, plus some guitars in a variety of colours, disco ball ornaments and some yellow 45 adaptors. Let’s call it a vague colour scheme. We also have a small devil strapped to the top (I couldn’t find an angel) and the very top has a star made from Downtown Struts stickers… What do you expect, this is the house that punk built. And I love it.

9. Wend’s Party, August, Colchester

My mum was 50 this year (she will have no objection to me putting this on here before anyone says anything!) and we had an enormous party. With penny sweets on every table, a drink in every hand and a dance floor heaving with our nearest and dearest, it’s fair to say that a good night was had by all. Just don’t let Joz drive the golf buggies.

383672_583498504997_283600210_2683789_1043210942_nI didn’t enjoy getting up on an hour’s sleep to say goodbye (TJ ,I blame you for that!) and drive to the airport but I wouldn’t have missed the party for the world. My mum is the most incredible woman I know. She’s loved and respected by everyone. She’s generous, smart, funny and one of the hardest workers you’ll ever meet. Seeing her enjoy herself made my year. Definitely.

10. Every morning, San Francisco

After however long of living in separate cities, the absolute highlight of my year is waking up every morning next to the person you love. There is nothing better.

This list unfortunately didn’t have room for the following which were also highlights; Volconicity = Kez’s drink pouring, Karen and Barnet’s wedding, climbing a mountain in Yosemite, Punk and Disorderly in Berlin, Steph’s bridal shower in San Diego, starting the New Year in Prague, finishing working at the Howard League, plant stealing, my full time stint at Skunx and my crazy family there, cotching with the E3 massive, Calippos and the roof, meeting all the amazing people at Punk Rock Bowling, getting trashed with the Bouncing Souls backstage in London, dedications from The Grit onstage at P&D, and from other bands at Rebellion, owning my first bowler, not getting any major tattoos (I stuck to my promise!), Tahira’s curry nights and moaning about Coldplay really loudly in the garden, living with Kezzie, go-karting, birthdays, weddings and plenty of other celebrations (including, it’s Monday and Gary and Andy are playing The Dev, woo let’s celebrate, I’ll get the cheese, you bring the crackers).

Plus West Ham aren’t doing too badly at all at the moment. Happy days.

The plans for 2012 are starting to shape up and it looks like it’s going to be even more exciting than 2011. More festivals, more travelling and more adventures. See you at the bar.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Weird SF Day 19

Sheena sat in the window squeaking at the birds outside on the wire. For 15 minutes. And she has some lungs on her.

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Weird SF Day 18

Not all shops deck the halls in the traditional sense...

(for Kelsey, Mike Longshot and all the other Canadians in my life)

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Weird SF day 17

JFK under the freeway on Townsend...

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Weird SF Day 16

In our neighbourhood if you have a Portaloo (I'm guessing for builders) you have to make it look camoflauged...

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Thursday, 15 December 2011

Weird SF day 15

Weird for people who saw them play their high school... This didn't happen in London let me just point out. It happened in California. Let me be clear on this one.

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Monday, 12 December 2011

Weird SF day 14

Yes I looked it up... In the Christmassy spirit, here's an old couple out in the Mission yesterday, in their slippers. Bless.

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Weird SF Day whatever

I'm not too proud to admit I've lost count and am too lazy to look it up...

We put our tree up today, bought from the place behind Safeway where all the money goes to community organizations.

And I love it!

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Saturday, 10 December 2011

Weird SF Day 12

The leaves are still slowly falling here. Doesn't feel like winter yet.

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Thursday, 8 December 2011

Weird SF Day 11

I'm not sure what this is supposed to mean... Any ideas?

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Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Weird SF Day 10

What can't you get in a vending machine?

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Weird SF day 9 - SF fashion

San Francisco definitely has it's own sense of 'style'. Here's a few of my faves...

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Weird SF day 8

Ok so I missed a couple of days. I have weird photos of Juggalos and Birthday clowns for the missing days. I promise to post them later.
Instead I thought i'f introduce you to my neighbour. She stands in the sunshine at our bus stop sewing and singing to herself most mornings. She's about 90, has 4 teeth and speaks no English, despite this we seem to get on fine. She is quickly becoming the highlight of my mornings... Not a photo I know, but better.

YouTube Video

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Sunday, 4 December 2011

Weird SF Day 5

I know this is in the wrong order but it looks like yesterday's post didn't work so here it is again.

Occupy SFSU pitched their tents this week in the quad in front of the Student Centre. It looked a bit quiet. Essex did it better.

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Weird SF Day 6

Today has mainly been comprised of our sofa and the Muppets. Last night was immense fun and I definitely let off some much needed steam, so in honor of that, today's photo is of last night's opener. Here's the Sydney Ducks in full flight.

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Friday, 2 December 2011

Weird SF Day 4

And there are none as weird as the original punk rock kitty, Sheena. Our little wildcat is half monster half old lady. When she's not sleeping or sunbathing, she can be found annoying pirates, squeaking or eating the plants. This was her this morning, looking cute. For once.

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Thursday, 1 December 2011

Weird SF Day 3

On the 22 bus. Not only does it reek of piss even with all the windows open, but it's beautifully decorated too!

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Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Weird SF Day 2

Day Two: Weird San Francisco

A protesting monster, stood on the back of a truck. I went past twice but didn't have my glasses with me so couldn't see what the monster was protesting. Any suggestions?

Monday, 28 November 2011

An Eastend Girl's take on day to day San Francisco

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may know I regularly post photos from around San Francisco. I appear to have developed a crush on the very old Chinese women on the bus, particularly their hats.

I've been trying to find a way to keep this blog more current and I think i've found a way.

I'm going to post a photo every day between now and when we leave for London, to try and give you all a view as to how I see life in San Francisco.

So for today you get...

A delivery on Mission and 16th

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Saturday, 26 November 2011

London, my tastebuds and the anticipation

San Francisco has more restaurants and places to eat per head than any other city in America. I have eaten well since I have been here. When you couple this with the fact that I live with one of the best cooks in the world, my stomach and tastebuds have been happily satiated since my arrival.

That said, I am going to back in London within the next month and I’ve started to get really excited about food. And I’ve started to list all of the places I am going to eat when we’re home. I know you all love lists as much as I do, so these are my priorities after touching down at Heathrow.

1. Chip shop chips, with a mountain of salt. Ideally from Chris’ Fish Bar at The Drill, Gidea Park. We send my Dad, who always manages to time it as the new chips have just gone in, and he has to wait for them to be cooked. Enough time to snarfle a savaloy… Then I’m going to make a chip butty with seriously-bad-for-you white bread. And then die of a heart attack

bricklane_pic 2. Indian from Brick Lane, from the Standard Balti House to be exact. Kerry and I have been returning to the same Indian for years now. And we always order the same thing. Mushroom rice, veggie dansak (for me), chicken tikka masala (for the Babylegs) sag paneer, bombay aloo, garlic naan, poppadoms and plenty of mango chutney. And it’s not like Indian food in San Francisco is inferior to London Indian, but it’s just that Brick Lane is superior to everywhere in the world. Fact.

3. A cheddar sandwich made with a French baguette from Sainsburys, made with Flora, cucumber and lettuce.

crumpets4. Crumpets, with mountain of real butter.  They are my earliest memory (trust me to have one associated with food!) and the only ones I can find in SF are from the freezer section in Whole Foods, and they just aren’t fat enough. You can read this as ‘don’t soak up enough butter’ if you like, either way I can’t wait to much some of these bad boys.

5. Sultanas; they just don’t exist over here and they are a much better snack than raisins in my opinion. I don’t miss them everyday, just every once in a while so am definitely going to stock up.

6. Wagamamas – the Yasai Chilli Men and Green Tea. And from Wagas in Camden, not in Angel. There is a difference you know.Summer 2011 028

7. I am going to sit at a bar and knock back Jack and Cokes, mixed at a ratio that I am used to. I want to have about five of them, accompanied by quavers, wotsits and frazzles. This is not a picture of Jack and Coke but I’ve decided that I also need Cuba Libre’s Happy Hour Mojitos. Are my other trainspotters up for it?

8. CALIPPOS!!!!!!!! Needs no explanation for those in the know.

9. My mum’s roast. And my dad’s roast. Combined. Because they are both as good as each other. And I want to eat both. Roast potatoes, parsnips, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower cheese, stuffing, gravy, yorkshires, potato bake, leek gratin. Apple crumble and custard. All of the above.

10. You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned any chocolate products, or a fry up. Brunch and breakfast is something done incredibly well in San Francisco, and particularly in our house, plus our off-licence sells all manner of Cadburys goodies, so I haven’t really missed them. I think my final meal I am going to make sure I eat when I’m in London is one of the two staples made by my sister; ravioli and salad or potato boats. Accompanied with pints of lemon squash. That is something I am definitely missing…

And I’m going to return to San Francisco the size of a house!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Being a grown up means…

It was my birthday last week. I am now closer to 40 than I have ever been, according to my smartarse younger sister. So what did I do to celebrate? I decided to spend the day at an amusement park. Magic Mountain to be precise. I’d seen it a few times on our trips elsewhere, and knew there was nothing really like it in the UK. Plus I hadn’t been on a rollercoaster in years. Why not?

Now, due to the fact that I haven’t been on a rollercoaster in years, I hands up acknowledge that I may have missed out on some developments in the world of turning people upside down really fast. But when you consider that my real frame of reference is Peter Pan’s playground, in sunny Southend, you can get an idea of how much this park was a culture shock. (I am kidding by the way, about Peter Pan’s I mean, I definitely went there once after the name change…)

As it was Veteran’s Day, a drizzly Friday in November and one of the last days the park was open this year, we were lucky enough to have no queues. Which meant we could ride at the very front of every single ride we went on. Except for the rollercoaster where you stand up, we were second row back on that one.

Yes, you read that right, the one where you stand up. We did that after the one where you lay down on your back and go up the hill backwards, hanging down over the tracks. Right before we did the one where you lay forward and assume a flying position. That was next to the one that goes upside down seven times, behind the one that’s famous for making people scream loudest.

I can honestly say that I have never experienced anything like it. And never had my body, which reacted violently to being thrown around all day and causing me to make a hasty escape from our final rollercoaster of the day to be reacquainted with my lunch. Because apparently that’s what being a grown up means. When a rollercoaster makes you puke, you make it to the bathroom. I am now officially a grown up.

When I climbed a mountain and didn’t hate it

So Tom and Kels have returned from their adventure, and I realised that I should be doing with this blog what they did with theirs. In short, I need to tell you a bit about California life. From the perspective of an East End Girl naturally…

Autumn 2011 163We spent the weekend at Yosemite National Park, staying with friends, one of whom works and lives in the Park itself. We left SF early on Friday afternoon and drove through the Central Valley, the agricultural heartland of the State and where 90% of the world’s lettuce is grown, according to the adoptive Californian tour guide in the driver’s seat.

Having only recently gotten accustomed to the enormity of roadside attractions on our journeys to other parts of the state, I was expecting more of the same, particularly looking forward to whatever could rival the monstrosity that is the Crystal Cathedral, next to the 5, somewhere near Bakersfield I believe… It was great to experience a completely different side of California instead.

As we drove through Modesto and the surrounding areas, the roadside sprouted fruit and veg stands of every size, shape and stock. Nearly all had half price pumpkins. Most were unfortunately closed.

As the clouds moved in, I was reminded that wishing it didn’t rain on your first trip to one of the world’s shrines to nature’s beauty, breaks the first rule of angering the rain gods. And thus, the heavens opened. (Luckily though, we’d attracted our fair share of the Central Valley’s bug population on the windscreen, and the torrential downpour sent them to their watery graves).

The road dropped to a single lane as we got higher into the Yosemite 11 008mountains, at various points causing me to lean into the centre of the truck, away from the sheer cliff face we were driving by. I know I’m safe but it’s like when you play Mario and subconsciously jump your hands over the plantpots, it just makes me feel better…

We got to our destination as it was getting dark and remembered to take our leftover pretzels into the house. You know. Just in case any bears break into your car in the middle of the night looking for a post-game snack. That was pretty cool. As was being woken up by the sound of someone knocking on the wall outside. The wall that is 20ft off the ground. We’d been warned that the neighbourhood woodpeckers liked to make themselves known in the mornings, but nothing prepares you for seeing them knocking on the outside of your house in the morning sunshine (yes, we were very lucky, it stopped raining).

Our first day hike was up the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls. And I’m pleased to report that I really enjoyed it. Most of you will know my lifelong aversion to exercise was cured a few years back, but I haven’t done anything like this since then. It was a good test of my overall level of fitness, which I’m very proud to say, didn’t really let me down.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there were definite parts where I had to stop and catch my breath, and my legs still feel like jelly two days later, but overall, I didn’t hate it. Which meant I could enjoy myself, and the stunning, breath-taking, insert adjective here scenery that we were in. Whatever you have read about Yosemite is true, and no human creation will ever come close to replicating its beauty, or how you feel when you stand in the park. 

When we got to the top, which followed about a million steps (NOT an exaggeration), we were at the top of the waterfalls and could see for miles. It was brilliant having people with us who knew loads about the Park and following the lead of three experienced hikers, I mainly followed their steps. Except when they went too close to the edge. My stomach turned over a few times, let me tell you, there are certain members of my family who would not have made it up there.

But I did. And I’m pretty pleased with myself. Next step, camping. Just not in the snow if that’s ok…

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Life as a grad student is weird…

So week 2 of proper classes continues, and I’m getting used to some of the weird stuff that occurs here at SFSU.

Rather than keep mentioning them randomly, these are my top 5:

1. The tails. On the bags. Real tails. I don’t know why either.iphoneaugust 028 It feels like every other female on campus has got a tail hanging out of the end of her bag. It looks like they are all carrying round the decomposing corpse of a raccoon in their bag. Sick. (and not in a good way).

2. The mini dogs. The yapping. The carrying. The annoyance. Those of you who know me will know that I have very little patience for dogs that easily get squashed underfoot. Get a real dog not an oversized rat. There are millions of these on campus. Dressed in the school colours. Cut it out. You are NOT in legally blonde.

3. Greek life. Fraternities. Sororities. Teenagers in matching hoodies. I know the Greek tradition at American universities is longstanding. I had to ask what they actually did yesterday and the response was ‘they are good for building networks and we do community work’. She then turned round and started shouting through a megaphone about how they were the most sociable sorority to join. Jokes about community work not needed thank you.

iphoneaugust 1124. It’s bloody freezing here compared to at our house! I can be sweating in Portrero Hill and freezing my knackers off at  uni. As a consequence of which I’m dressed like a bag lady most days for the additional warmth of the layers. Not weird stuff at SFSU but a pain in the arse nonetheless. Even though this picture has blue skies don’t let it fool you. Literally brass monkeys.

5. The short term memory. The association. The feeling like you own the place. I know that whenever you get to a new stage of academic life they tell you that this one is the most important. And it feels so. And this is still the case. My undergraduate degree doesn’t mean much (as in no-one cares about it) and I’m loving being a grumpy old graduate student. Bring on the cheese and wine nights!

iphoneaugust 113

And this last picture is the latest of a long line of enthusiastic but badly spelt graffiti. I love the sentiment displayed in the ladies in our department. Worrying at university level to be spelling things wrong like this… It’s like tattooing, use a bloody spell checker!

Laters alligators…

Friday, 26 August 2011

All change, all change

It's a grey overcast day here in Portrero Hill and I'm planning on reading all day intersected by either lunch or swimming (depending on if the Pirates go out or not). Not a massive to do list but this week has been the start of my MA and so I'm a little overwhelmed. Tea and pyjamas might just be the order of the majority of the day.

And when I say overwhelmed, it's not in a perjorative sense, because despite the shock to the system of being a student again, I'm really loving it. As you can tell by the photo of me on the front step on my first day of school. Keeping up the tradition and keeping the mums happy.

San Francisco State has over 30,000 students on a campus that doesn't look a million miles different from somewhere like Leicester Uni, but nicer with lawns and flowers and the like. This week I had a graduate induction where I found out that an alternative to writing a thesis is something called Comprehensive Exams - you get four questions and two weeks to do them in. Seems a bit of a cop out to me, and I think that if there is one thing my professional CV is lacking is a writing sample, so a thesis seems like a good shout at this point in time.

I had my first classes in two of my subjects - Research Methods and Urban Power and Politics. Although very different subjects, I'm actually looking forward to getting cracking in both of them. Which is good because it's not a light workload. Which I didn't think it would be, and I'm pleased to see that this will be a challenge. So far I'm not freaking out at anything I have to do, I know how to go about doing most things we've been set for this semester, so it's just a matter of getting going.

Yesterday I found the gym. Today I can really feel it. Thank goodness for tea and the ability to read from home...

In other news, the intrepid explorers have had an adventure elephant trekking and hungover cycling on a motorway. Keep up to date with Tom and Kelsey's Long Detour Home on their blog.

I'm going to try and stay working with both the SF Living Wage Coalition and the League of Women Voters of California, but it will depend on the workload so at the moment I'm being cautious and not taking too much on. Sensible. I know. I was surprised too.

So that's a little update on what's been going on. I really need to change the intro on this blog now...

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Boycott Tattoo School

The television channel TLC is about to start showing a programme called Tattoo School, following a group of people with aspirations to become tattooists as they go through a two week course. For $4800, and 80 hours of ‘lessons’, these people are then sent away with a brand new tattoo machine to continue their lives as tattooists.

Here at Skunx we think this is not just irresponsible but also an insult to all of the artists who learnt their trade by apprenticing with a licensed expert. The artist who has set up the schools is not someone we’ve ever heard of.

Becoming a tattooist is not something that can be taught in two weeks. It's not simply about knowing the mechanics of how to tattoo, it's about creating the best possible tattoo and experience for the person involved. Knowing how to prevent infection, cross contamination and other potential risks is one of the most important things that a tattooist needs to learn.

Aside from these health concerns, we also think the show raises questions about the ethics of sending people out to potentially scar others after mere weeks of training. This programme is giving the impression that learning to tattoo is a short process which can be undertaken by anyone. It isn’t.

We are regulated and licensed by the local authority, who we pay to regularly inspect the premises and our equipment to ensure the highest possible standards. Working in this profession is not something that should be undertaken lightly. The thought of people thinking that they are fully qualified to tattoo after two weeks horrifies all of us here.

The industry is fighting back and we would implore you to sign this petition calling for the show to be pulled from the air

Nick, Steve, Kerry, Darren and Hannah
Skunx Tattoo, London

Thursday, 30 June 2011

I love the internet

So I’m back in London for a while, spending some much-needed quality time with my family, friends and yes Sharon, my girlies. And during the past half an hour, it’s occurred to me that our lives are so truly dependent on using the internet now that I can’t begin to imagine life without[1]

I’m back at work at Skunx Tattoo, with the brilliant Nick, Steve, Kez and Darren (and great to see Sanna too!). I know that on the rare occasions we lose the internet or have computer issues, finding references to communicate ideas is always slightly trickier.

My friend and I have just ordered an indian. I was craving London Indian and rather than brave Brick Lane, we decided to kotch at home (that one was for Sara). When we didn’t recognise something on the menu, we looked it up. Did I mention we were ordering and paying online? And they deliver right to the front door. And we’ve got Eastenders.

I’m currently excited by the rumour that the BBC are about to launch an international iPlayer subscription. Just starting a Masters this is as equally as worrying. But I’ll finally be able to see MOTD! (And I’m monitoring the comments, so I’ll know which ones of you are pointing out that it won’t be actually MOTD I’ll be watching…)

And let’s not forget that without Skype, Facebook, Twitter and emails, the chances of me falling in love and moving 6000 miles away would be greatly reduced. It has enabled me to maintain relationships with my family, friends and random people I’ve met at Cock Sparrer gigs that would otherwise be impossible.

Veronika and Lada's Wedding 2011 081Plus it means that I can share this picture and its brilliance with as many people as possible.

I love the internet.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Some cultural differences…

Now when you bear in mind that most of us have grown up watching The Cosby Show, Roseanne, Cheers, Frasier, Friends, The Simpsons etc., one would think that there aren’t that many things that would be a surprise about day to day living in the US.

You’d be wrong.

Here are my top ten favourites:

1. Please exit the bus via the rear door – can you imagine London bus drivers being calm about people ignoring the rules? Me neither. It’d be carnage. San Franciscans board and depart buses wherever they want. Sometimes they walk past the driver and not pay.Sometimes they bring all their worldly belongings onto the bus in a nicked shopping trolley. I find this fascinating.

2. Whilst we’re on the subject of transport, most American drivers don’t know how to use a fast lane properly on the freeway. Like Southend wide boys, they sit in the passing lane getting on everyone’s nerves until you either have to undertake or accept driving at their speed.

3. Pieces of A4 paper have three holes in not 2 or 4. All those notepads I stole from work are completely worthless…

(I would like to point out that all notepads I own were bought and paid for by me, not thieved from the office).

4. To bring / to take seem relatively interchangeable. Which is confusing.

5. Milk doesn’t have the skimmed/semi-skimmed distinctions, instead they grade by fat content. We were out for breakfast, I ordered tea and had to ask for milk. The waitress pointed out the coffee creamer, so I asked again for milk. She asked me if I wanted 2%. I looked like a numpty foreigner when I replied ‘Can I have some milk please?’…

6. Packing brown paper bags with shopping is a very different skill to those previously acquired at Tesco. A skill it’s fair to say I don’t have. The checkout assistants must have been very good at Tetris. I take my hat off.

7. Asking for a Jack and Coke in a bar gets you what you ask for, rather than a Coke with Jack, which is what I’m used to drinking. Consequently, it only takes three of these free-poured drinks until I lose the ability to speak. Luckily enough I have a sensible boyfriend who has taught me how to order it properly.

Sensible or had enough of my drunken ramblings?

8. Moving the car for street cleaning – once a week or so, one side of the road gets swept. If you leave your car there you get a ticket. So lots of people have to move their cars from one side of the road to the other for a few nights a week. Which I think is a good, if confusing, idea.

9. Coins basically mean nothing and are a pain in the arse. Unless you go to a laundrette. All I appear to be doing is accumulating them.

10. Like in Wayne’s World, we have a clap on clap off light. This isn’t really a cultural difference, I was just excited by it and wanted to share…

Laters dude, I’m totally stoked, it’s been rad chatting with you…

Thursday, 21 April 2011

The current day job…

So I haven’t just come to California with a hanky on a stick and a cat for companionship, I’ve lined up a number of things to keep me occupied whilst I’m here. My Spanish lessons start next week. I’ll keep you posted.

Last week however I commenced an internship with the League of Women Voters of California, working as a Communications Assistant. So far it’s been a mixture of editing web copy, social media comms and ghost writing, something I’m relishing.

The organisation is an unusual choice for a campaigner as the League is strictly non-partisan, not backing any candidate or party. It provides information so that voters can make their own minds up about issues. Something you may guess I feel strongly about. They encourage voter registration and explain the democratic process. It’s quickly becoming obvious that it's a very good organisation for learning the many levels of California government and the mechanisms for influencing them. A perfect deep end to be thrown into.

Plus, I get to work here, how sick is that?

iphone april 11 005

Monday, 18 April 2011

Missives from the 94107

Hello one and all,

So I've done it. This is the first blog post from the city by the Bay. Yes indeed I've upped sticks and got myself over to San Francisco, and having arrived almost two weeks ago, I've been putting off this blog and feeling reasonably guilty about it.

I've been trying to work out why I haven't written anything and the general rule of thumb I write by is that with my writing, there's no sense pushing it. Something will happen when it happens, and then I've write about it. And yes, whilst in the sense that I've moved 6000 miles, a lot has gone on, in terms of things to write about I've still been waiting for inspiration.

I think my current writer's block can be in part attributed to two things; firstly, this blog isn't a diary of my life and there are lots of things that happen that I'll never share on here as it's too personal. This isn't, nor will ever be, one of those blogs. And secondly, after working every day for almost a year, and after keeping myself busy to the point of exhaustion, I am simply loving doing nothing. I've slept off a hangover until 11am and can't remember the last time I did that. I spent an afternoon hoovering and dusting, not the usual 10 minute speed clean of the last 12 months. And I baked a cake. Laugh all you want but it was pretty tasty.

So there you have it, the first post from San Francisco and I'm telling you nothing except how much I'm enjoying domestic bliss. Let's hope something grabs my attention this week!

PS RE the title, E3 was where I was living, 94107 is where I'm living now...

Sunday, 13 March 2011

A love letter

Dear London,

It feels slightly formal to be writing to you like this, but I had to put this on the record somewhere. I wanted to tell you that I appreciate everything you've done for me over the past 26 1/2 years and I wanted to thank you for helping shape me. You've made me love humanity, in all its varying forms. You've made me fight for the things I consider to be important and I've defended you whenever people have made disparaging comments. I've walked your streets, the ones by the river and the ones in E3, and I've known that I've been part of something. Something much bigger than myself and my life, and you gave me a better understanding of the world. More importantly you gave me the aspiration to improve it.

You taught me perseverence and the patience to cope when things don't go your way. Don't get me wrong, this particular lesson is familiar to anyone who has tried to use the Tube on the weekend recently, but you learn to accept what you can't control and find solutions to problems. I like to think I approach life in this way, or at least I try to.

You confused me when you elected this buffoon as Mayor, I think you took your foot off the brakes on that one. That was the job I wanted one day. I told people I wanted to be at the heart of you, improving the lives of real people in a city that I love. That's not going to happen now because I'm leaving you. It feels wrong to tell you like this but I've found a new place that I'm going to give a go for a while.

It doesn't mean I don't still love you, and I'll visit whenever I can, but my heart belongs to someone else now. I know there will be days when I'll be longing for the grime of Aldgate or the tranquility of Hyde Park. I'm sure I'll long for your greasy spoons and your old man pubs. And when that happens, it will remind me that wherever I lay my hat, in my heart I'll always belong to you.

Keep safe,

Love H xxx

Friday, 4 March 2011

Birth control, language and honesty

Some of you may know that I'm about to embark on adventures new in the great state of California. In light of this, I've been looking at various medical insurance companies and one of the things that struck me is the difference in terminology used.

Specifically what I'm talking about is how contraception is referred to as birth control. And it got me thinking. Does calling the pill, 'the pill' actually diminish our understanding of it, making it sound innocuous? We don't refer to paracetamol as 'the tablet', or Lemsip as 'the sachet'. British society shies away from using the word contraception in public or in schools, preferring instead to cloak what we're talking about in a description that masks the meaning of what the medication does. If we used the expression 'birth control', would we feel the need to explain that it doesn't protect from STIs? I get the feeling that we wouldn't. It controls whether or not you give birth (after a few long months obviously!). Simple.

In the same way that condoms have a million different contemporary slang terms, the etymology of the word is just as wide and unconfirmed. According to Wiki, Casanova in the 18th century was one of the first reported using "assurance caps" to prevent impregnating his mistresses. There may also have been a Duke of Condom but this has never been confirmed.

The language used around sex fascinates me. Why in fact do we use the word contraception? No-one uses the word conception to indicate pregnancy. You might say that someone was conceived in a particular place, or a couple had trouble conceiving, but aside from 'miraculous conception' the vernacular is now widely considered outdated. So the phrase against (contra) ception means very little to young people.

If you've read my blog before, you may have gleaned the fact that I'm pretty passionate about talking to young people about important issues with openness, honesty and as little bullshit as possible. The less confusion the better.

There may not be much to praise the US medical system about, but this is one thing I think is a good idea. Birth control explains what it does without any of the additional confusion. It doesn't make any false promises or unrealistic expectations about what it does or doesn't do. And the more we have of that the better.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Should we be worried that 48% of the UK would support a new anti-immigration party?

I wish I didn't have to, but to cut down on the abuse from numpties, I feel the need to point out that I have been a committed anti-fascist, anti-racist campaigner for as long as I can remember. I am proud to live in multi-cultural Britain and the love I have for the diversity of London knows no bounds (except for tourists who stop at the top of escalators on the Tube with suitcases, you I can do without).

A new poll, conducted by anti-fascist organisation Searchlight, has shown that almost half of Britons questioned would support a political party that was anti-immigration, however the violence associated with the only parties currently articulating this view prevents them from doing so. The Guardian then infers that if the BNP, EDL and the like gave up their violent tendencies, they would get greater levels of support from British voters.

I want to clear something up firstly. If you'll ever read a BNP manifesto, one of the more surprising aspects is that it doesn't all focus on immigration and race. There's a whole lot of other crazy in there. Like the policy of giving everyone over the age of 18 a rifle. I think the Ashley Cole incident this weekend just shows what can happen when you give idiots firearms. Even if the far-right dropped their violent associations, there's no guarantee people would vote for them. Just wanted to point that out.

But back to the issue. When this article was published, a friend of mine claimed that he was 'highly concerned' by Searchlight's findings and the fact that the research was conducted in the first place.

I don't find this worrying at all. I think it is attempting to open up a sensible debate on immigration, an issue that we on the left need to tackle particularly in the context of the PM's hideous speech on the failure of multi-culturalism.

To my knowledge no-one had ever asked these questions before. From my own experiences on the doorsteps of Barking and Dagenham, I know that some of the support for the BNP was because Labour weren't talking about immigration AT ALL.

We need to stop burying our heads in the sand. As a Labour party member I know that we're devoting a lot of time, money and resources in battling the fascists; and rightly so, but it kills me when you realise that we're spending time countering the far-right when we could be enagaging voters on our issues and policies. The far-right gained traction because we weren't having a sensible debate on issues related to immigration and national identity. Voters care about the issue and wanted someone to talk about it. The results from the Searchlight research shows that they still do.

A different friend argued that if we were better at showing the positive benefits of immigration, then people would be less concerned about it. It's also worth pointing out that whilst the British public believe that 23% of the UK population is made up of immigrants, the actual number is less than 4%. Everywhere you look it's hysteria, panic, myth and more hysteria. This is no way to conduct a sensible discussion, especially one we so desperately need.

I firmly believe that if we can take the hysteria out of the debate on immigration and national identity (and take the extremism aspect out of everything - can we agree that extremism is wrong in any form?) the BNP and the EDL will lose support from people attracted to them because they are the only people saying anything on the issues. When my friends get spat at my EDL supporters, I want to fight back, but I want it to be in a constructive way. I think this research kick starts what I hope is a sensible debate.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

A funny story about life in E3

It's not unusual to be walking the streets of Mile End and smell someone smoking a spliff (and I've just given my Aunt a heartattack...). It's more unusual to identify the smell before 9am. My friend told me about such an experience last week and it made me laugh so much that I thought I'd share it.

A few weeks ago, she left her flat and was walking down the road towards the station. Ahead of her by about 10m was a young man, aged between 20 and 30. She could only see the back of him so it was hard to pin down an age. He was dressed relatively smartly, walking along, smoking a spliff.

Fair enough, she thought, some people enjoy a smoke in the mornings. Maybe he works nights and is on his way home. Whatever.

At the end of the road is an all boys school. Lining up along the street outside the school were a class of young boys in their school uniforms. As they got closer, she wondered what he was going to do with the spliff.

Sure enough, as they got within 20m of the boys, the young man stubbed it out. She thought he was being respectful and not smoking in front of children.

Then he approached the boys.

'Morning class, so who's ready for a day at the Natural History Museum?' he asked his pupils.

My friend's mouth dropped as she continued her walk to the station, past the excited class of school children. Just another day in Bow.

My Big Fat Gypsy dichotomy

Those of you in the UK can't have missed the current Channel 4 programme 'My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding', a series of five documentaries examining traveller life and culture. Following a one-off show last year which proved massively popular, the series takes more of an in-depth look at the births, marriages and deaths of a highly secretive community. It focuses on the wedding ceremonies of a number of very young traveller women; following them as they plan their weddings, buy their phenomenally extravagant dresses and leave the family home for the first time.

I think the programme makers are intending the series to provoke debates about a group of people who undoubtedly have suffered persecution in various forms for centuries, and last night's episode gave a superficial cursory glance at a community facing legal challenges and issues around land ownership, eviction and homelessness. However, let's not beat around the bush here, all that anyone is really talking about are the dresses and the dancing.

Enough has been written about the wedding dresses and custom to have the biggest, most outlandish wedding dress that money can buy. You can read the usual bile from the Daily Mail here. There will be, I'm sure, many people who just watch the programme for this titillation and the opportunity to gawp at the traditions which are unfamiliar to the majority. (I also think we'd be even more critical if the cost of these dresses was revealed).

What particularly sits uncomfortably with me is the sexualisation of the young girls, and this is what I refer to when I mention the dancing. The 6 year olds emulating Beyonce and Rihanna's bumping and grinding are not dissuaded from doing so, because that's the way that you attract a husband and therefore secure a future for yourself and the traveller way of life.

The problem I have is that it is a false dichotomy to talk about the sexualisation of these girls and young women, because the girls interviewed for the programme were very clear: there is no sexual activity before marriage at all. Being seen on your own with a young man is enough to provoke exclusion from the community.

And that's the crux of the problem; it would appear to me that the Great British public aren't sure what to make of this group of young women who dress and act in a highly sexual manner, but have no sexual activity at all. I've heard comments in my office which have ranged from 'Why do they dress their little girls up like slags?' to 'They all just look a bit dirty'. But in the same breath the girls have been praised for their purity, for want of a better word.

It upsets me that traveller girls are expected to leave school from the age of 11 to help clean the house and when they have no ambitions other than to secure a husband. The courtship tradition of 'grabbing' does appear to be an odd and violent way to show interest in a woman. And issues around the legality of settled sites, taxation and support services have yet to really be examined. Next week's episode focuses exclusively on women and their role in the community, and I'm sure I'll have a more informed opinion then. I'm enjoying watching the series as it's examining a community and customs that I know nothing about, but it does upset me. Hope this goes a little way to explain why.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Farewell to The Gaff and all who sailed in her

This Sunday saw the final trading night of The Gaff, a small music venue on Holloway Road. As with many of London's small venues they were living hand to mouth, and when the landlord was offered a more permanent future, in the shape of an offer from the Costa Coffee chain, he 'jumped at the chance' according to one member of staff I spoke to.

The Gaff was open for less than three years and had recently started gaining momentum in terms of audience number and frequency of gigs. Yes the toilets leaked. Yes it wasn't the easiest place in the world to get home from. Yes the handstamps didn't wash off for days, even with strong soap. But it was the venue of choice for many of the London punk, skin and rockabilly scene, and without it we're back to our other spiritual home of the 12Bar or paying extortionate entry and drink prices at places like the Underworld (which has an even bigger problem with their sewer system!).

So farewell then to The Gaff. I celebrated birthdays there, I organised a benefit for Strummerville there, I got on stage and sang with The Grit there. I've been pegged, I've danced and I've loved it. Thanks to all the staff for making those nights memorable. To all my mates and the rest of Team Special, I'm glad we saw it off in style...

Votes for prisoners: tough shadow ministerial soundbites don't help

This weekend I had a piece published on Labour Uncut, and following the comments on Facebook, I thought I'd post the link here as well:

The philosophical arguments around prisoner voting have recently been discussed by the excellent Martin Kettle in the Guardian, so all you fans of John Locke might have something to say on this article...

Whilst I'm still refining my view on the issue of prisoner voting rights, the reality is that the franchise will have to be given to at least some of the 83, 780 men, women and children in our prisons, otherwise the government will be facing a damages claim of millions in a time of economic austerity. And with today's 'double-dip' announcement, they know this is something they can no longer afford to put off.