BY LAURA JANE
The photograph of Stoke-Newington in the rain seen above was taken by my amazing boyfriend Mark Rothen; I stole it from his Instagram, which you can and should look at by clicking on his name. Mark is a genius photographer and I am in love with him. We have now lived in London for three weeks and three days. For Part I click HERE.
Day 5 (Friday, July 25th, 2014)
I set my iPhone alarm to wake me up with Baby You’re A Rich Man which is pretty motivational I guess. We walked across the street to a little coffee shop called Bodega 50. The barista was a child, a beautiful fat-cheeked pink-cheeked blonde in a white t-shirt and jean shorts and off-white Converse All-Stars. She looked so cool in her Converse All-Stars that while we waited for our iced Americanos I wondered if maybe I should buy some Converse All-Stars even though I don’t really like Converse All-Stars. She shook up our iced Americanos in cocktail shakers and then poured them into paper cups. They were frothy and lukewarm. We ate vegetarian sandwiches prepared for us by her co-worker, a different child. The bread was gummy and yeasty. Mine was avocado and red pepper spread and something they call rocket here, which I think might be arugula.
It wasn’t enough coffee but it was too much sandwich. It was hot out and we walked through the still yellow heat to go look at a disgusting shithole piece of shit flat. The realtor was short and muscular and had trad-style tattoos of things like anchors and pompadoured Veronica Lodgey ladies kneeling in red bikinis and the suits of all the playing cards inked up his arms. His name was Mike in a way that confused me into thinking every other realtor we met and saw that day was named Mike. He showed us a room and in the corner of the room was a dish crusted-over with baked beans and macaroni noodles. I looked at the dish and zoned out of whatever two-bit hustle he was trying to use on us and thought about the part of The Beatles Anthology where the Beatles go to Rishikesh and Ringo brings a suitcase full of Heinz baked beans with him and then leaves after two weeks.
Mike led us down to the poorly-maintained backyard garden the room was affiliated with and I looked at all the faraway-feeling Heinzy English trash in the trashcan and thought about how when I was young whenever I felt sad or scared I would ask John Lennon what to do in my head and my head would answer back as John Lennon and I would fully take my head/John Lennon’s word for it. And I thought, the Beatles when they were Beatles were little kids so much younger than I am now and they wouldn’t have known anything about anything when it comes to being a real person shit like what is the appropriate reaction to finding yourself under-caffeinated and full of sandwich in a gnarly shithole a tattooed stranger is asking you to pay two grand a month to live in.
Mark and I walked down the street. We were in Clapton. The word Clapton made me think less about Eric Clapton than it did about clapping my hand against a board. We boarded a bus and on the bus I got mad at him about something he said I forget now and then we were quiet and I thought about how I used to tell people I’m moving to London because I’m “investing in my future.” I became shaky and teary-eyed and very much a girlfriend. I told him I would never live in that apartment and he said Yeah and it was fine. It’s a couple days later and it’s true. I will never have to live there in my life.
We took the bus to Camden Town and talked about how much we missed Yaj, our realtor from the Green. He looked like Arthur the Aardvark and came from an island called Mauritius. “It’s paradise, basically,” he said, but I guess even in Paradise you can’t accomplish all your Londony real estate dreams. In Camden we went to a Starbucks and ordered iced Grande Americanos with extra ice in them. That’s the ticket, guys. Extra ice.
The Americano did little to wake me up. We walked down Camden Road and got in a cool mini-fight that went, like, “Can we please just take the bus?” “No, we’re almost there,” “Fine” and then I tripped over my own shoe and twisted my ankle and wished I was dead.
We arrived at our next viewing. The whole time we were looking at it I was like “Hmmm. There’s something about this place I just can’t put my finger on,” and then a couple hours later I was talking to Mark about how much I hated it and I spurted out “It was just… so… lame!”
That was the something! Lameness was the something.
A guy whose name was literally Prince met us at the gate. The building was a gated community that Prince and his tacky businessman friends created so that lame idiots who hate charm could live in London moderately less expensively than if they lived someplace actually good. This was a building for people who are afraid to live in buildings built a couple centuries ago where plaster dust could potentially rain down on your forehead and every writer you ever loved probably walked past before they died I mean the exact sort of building I moved to London to live in. It was a building built for people who are afraid of life. All the rooms had plasma TVs attached to the walls above the beds although I honestly have no idea what a plasma TV is so don’t take my word for it. All I mean to say is that if you’re dumb enough not to know that you can watch literally any single thing you want for free on the Internet you deserve to live in that lame of a building.
After we looked at all the lame rooms that smelled like paint that Prince tried let’s-just-say pathetically hard to sell us on the sky erupted into pre-apocalyptic rain and we (Mark, Prince, me) all stood on the front steps of the building making “So What’s Toronto Like?”-style small talk. Prince told us about a venue in Camden Town that Amy Winehouse played at before she died. I narrowed my eyes at Prince. I hated him for making me confront how terribly I wished and wish that Amy Winehouse hadn’t died. After Amy Winehouse died I had sleep paralysis every night for a fucking month.
We eventually left although it didn’t stop raining. We just got bored of talking to Prince. We took a bunch of buses and ended up standing in the middle of a street under a tree while it rained like crazy all around us. We were covered up by the tree. I was like, “Euughhhh this is so boring!” but it was kind of fun and romantic anyway, it was nice to think of us as being our future grey t-shirt lady-style London selves looking back on that sad and beautiful afternoon when we stood under the tree after looking at the gauche gated community and hated everything but still loved everything and loved it more than we’d ever loved anything. What naïve babies we were for not bothering to bring umbrellas even though the weather website and the weather app predicted rain.
Eventually cute boredom faded into bored boredom and we ran through the rain to the Stoke-Newington Church Street. I cared so little about my hair that day. It got rained on so I tied it up into a crappy knot and it was really grey t-shirt lady of me.
It’s weird how once a day or so you see a palm tree planted in the front yard of a townhouse here. They probably call them something unusual, not a palm tree here, some Londony thing. What would they call them? A kirkcaidy.
We ate lunch at a little café. I ordered some dumb combination of salads on a plate but the guy at the table next to us ordered a baked potato, which they call a jacket potato, stuffed with mayonnaisey prawn salad and garnished with a fat avocado fan and I was so jealous of him. A prawn is a shrimp.
We took a bus back up North and on the bus we swore that if the next apartment we saw was 1) less disgusting than the first apartment we saw and 2) less lame than the second apartment we saw we would 3) just say yes to it and 4) live there calmly and peacefully and gracefully until… like, October.
The landlord looked vaguely like George Harrison, like if George Harrison had mated with an olive-complected lady in the late nineteen-sixties and together they bore a short son who aged unfortunately in the classic George Harrison style. He wore dark, plasticky denim culottes and appeared to be suffering from attention deficit hyper disorder. We said yes to the apartment and it’s not a good apartment and I don’t really want to talk about it. It’s cheap and it’s fine and the landlord told us all the crazy names (Caipirinha, Trapezius, Galaxia, etc.) of all his million blonde sons who he calls his Swedish meatballs affectionately which was sweet and made me trust him. He drove us to King’s Cross station and in his car I was momentarily terrified that the goldfish cracker crumbs and applesauce residue and pig toys were all a ruse and I emotionally prepared myself to be murdered by him. But he didn’t murder us.
I tripped down the stairs at King’s Cross station, right onto both of my knees.
“Why are you making me do this?” I asked Mark, in a painful tone that could remind a person, your heart is raw meat.
Later that night I said I was sorry for accusing him of making me do something when he obviously wasn’t. He said, “It’s okay” and I said “I was just” and he said “Asking the Universe.”
On the bus to Borough Market I saw Grey T-shirt Lady. She was in Hoxton.
At the Borough Market Mark and I had a fight beside Jubilee Place which was a car park. Mark didn’t realize that the Borough Market was a food market and I didn’t realize he didn’t realize it was a food market and I accused him of “not liking food.”
We each drank a beer. We patched things up. I was wrong; Mark likes food. “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” is the least true statement that has ever existed.
We each bought a pint of cider from a shop in the market that sold cider out of big barrels. There were three kinds: dry, medium, and sweet. Mark picked dry and I picked sweet. The guy who sold us the cider looked like a normal guy with a normal haircut from the front but when he turned around it turned out he had one long solitary dreadlock hanging off the very bottom of his hairline. The sweet cider was not very sweet and after we turned the corner we saw that Borough Wines were selling plastic cups of icy prosecco muddled with berries and leaves and one kiosk over they had the dankest-looking cups of juicy, matte and milky purplish-red sangria and I considered throwing my cider in the garbage to double-fist both but idiotically didn’t. We shared an order of coconut pancakes, smallish glutinous discs served in a paper boat that were gunky in the middle and crispy, a little black, around the edges. They tasted a bit sweeter than frying an egg in coconut oil.
We shared an order of pulled whole hog with rocket and a sagey gravey and some garlicky dumplings. Mark had a bratwurst. I had a duck wrap. The duck was pungent but not in the invigorating lamb way. I guess I don’t like duck. I don’t really respect that about myself.
The duck was wrapped up in a eh white tortilla and dressed with eh hoisin sauce, regular lettuce, and cucumber. I am genuinely surprised that cucumber isn’t called something else here. What would it be named? Greenoch.
On our way up to the river we walked past a little girl playing Awaiting On The Wall by George Harrison on ukulele. Her singing voice was wispy and you could barely hear it over the strumming and the din of the street. We passed a church framed with wisps of pink flowers. The church was a person’s face and the flowers, the green of the flowers, were its excellent haircut on a very good hair day.
The river was brown but it was a nice brownness, like the brown he means in Old Brown Shoe. You expect the river to be brown and it is brown and because it’s brown it means you’re here. You know what it’s like and it’s here. You can’t make up stories about it to lull yourself to sleep and you can’t sleep. You wake up and you don’t care that you’re tired because you want to walk outside and look at the world. You live days and you see things and then you write them down. Those are the stories now.
Sunday was uneventful. It was the day I sat in the Doo Wop (That Thing) tapas place and wished I was the grey t-shirt lady. I ate a bowl of olives and a small clay plate of eggs scrambled with aubergine and prawn. Eggplant and shrimp.
Mark got his hair cut. He hated his haircut but the next day he washed his hair and it settled and now he likes it as much as anyone can like their own hair. And on Sunday night we tried Nando’s; I don’t have much to say about it. It was like the “your own hair” of food. And we discovered that there is air-conditioning in the Oxford Street Topshop. That’s where the air-conditioning is.
Today is Day 10. I am at our new house. I am on the roof drinking Prosecco out of a tiny glass decorated with a print of six-petalled green and white flowers in varying sizes, accented by perky yellow dots. It looks like it’s old but I bought it new twenty minutes ago.
Because nothing really cool or inspiring happened on Day 7 I want to use this Day 7 chunk of space to wrap the whole thing up and I guess make you understand or really feel how I feel. I think it’s stupid to try and make you feel like how I felt on Sunday night because it’s Wednesday evening now and a lot happened on Monday and Tuesday and today even. I might never write about it but it boy was it ever not nothing.
On Sunday night I felt like how when you first take a cake out of the oven you have to let it rest, or settle. I was there but not quite.
I was raw cake batter the month before I moved. When I got off the plane someone dribbled me into a greased pan and while the oven was pre-heating the taxi drove us to our airbnb in Stoke-Newington, which was an oven. I baked and rose there. By Monday morning I was edible.
Our apartment, our flat, is on a sort of barren winding street that counts, on a map, as being the official boundary between the boroughs of Islington and Camden. Yesterday we dropped off a couple suitcases here and I cried because our mattress smelled like chemicals and it was giving me a headache and because we found out we live with a beagle and while Mark was out exploring park I went to the kitchen to interact with the beagle and I could tell the beagle was really sad. She was a really fucked up lady. She licked me so hard she banged into my chin with her snout and I told her Shush Shush Shush it’s okay it’s okay let’s be CHILL now and she’d chill for like a second but then freak out again, and eat her paw. Beagles are stupid and hyper. They need to go run around a farm and chase ducks.
The beagle really broke the fuck out of my heart. She just ran up to the rooftop so we could hang together. I want to adopt her and Cesar Milan the shit out of her. I don’t know her name; I just call her The Beagle. Oh and also I cried because Camden/Islington-boundary is cold and raw compared to Hackney. Hackney even the name is like the Old Brown Shoe but embroidered with little pictures of flowers on the shoe. It’s warm and cute like a teacake. I don’t even know what a teacake is. It sounds like something sweet and British with icing on it that I would like, or love. England is icing, and America is frosting. I don’t even know what Canada is. That crackling sugar on a glazed Timbit.
I don’t want to knock Toronto in writing. I miss my friends and being the grey t-shirt lady of Toronto and I miss how everything was so close by and easy to find. I wish London and Toronto were twenty minutes away from each other. That would be my heaven, truly, that would be my heaven.
But Toronto is so puny. And when something in Toronto is wildly beautiful you lose your mind over it and the other thousand people in Toronto who know that it’s important for things to be beautiful lose their minds over it and then after the beautiful thing has been Instagrammed and ripped apart a thousand times it is done and over and then they, you know, they open up a second location.
In London almost everything is beautiful. Truly, almost everything is beautiful. I thought I hated my neighbourhood but then I walked like a block and I thought, “Oh, okay, my neighbourhood is actually really beautiful.” And now I feel chill and peaceful in our little home. We won’t live here forever but while we live here we’ll like it well enough. Our local Argos is equipped with iPads instead of the little slips of paper and pale blue pencils I wrote about several thousand days ago, and there’s a bookstore that sells totebags of Patti Smith and The Clash and giraffes, I want to buy everyone I know a tote bag from that bookstore and I will, I think, if I get the job. The job?!?!? Sorry. I just wanted to throw in that I had a job interview today so you guys know I’m not just pooping around and scratching my elbow here. I’m doing job shit and whatever too.
You can buy Chablis and Pouilly-Fuisse at the piece of shit corner store down the street. The beagle is psychotic but at very least if it spoke would speak in a British accent. Mark is sitting next to me watching a Youtube video about Parliament, some blonde guy with a distorted face is captioned by a red banner reading WESTMINSTER. Westminster is in London. We live in London!
Nothing is perfect. Nothing has been perfect yet. Mark and I were perfect for one second, once, when I got off the tube at Victoria station and he was standing behind the turnstiles waiting for me and I saw him first and then I saw him see me and he smiled like he was a dog (a well-trained dog, a slate grey whippet maybe- not a manic-depressive beagle) and his owner (Grey T-shirt Lady) just walked in the front door. And the Universe took a picture of it, and then it was over. Now life is regular again. London has not thrown a parade for me but has begun to tentatively accept me. London is the nice whippet from the metaphor and I am a friend of his owner, who Grey T-shirt lady seems to trust but the dog is still a little skeptical of. But I will still scratch your ears, London, just sit and chill and let me scratch your little ears.
Two Monday nights ago we walked through Knightsbridge and my heart whispered to itself, “I am never leaving here” and I still agree with myself. I am never leaving here. And I acknowledge that my never leaving here means that I might desecrate this particular feeling of being here. In my becoming Grey T-shirt Lady, in my doing all the things you need to do to live a reasonable life in a decently reasonable order, I am fucking up the romance, yeah, a little bit. I am trying to be quiet; I am trying to settle.
But I am not acclimatizing to the staggering beauty of this city. I refuse to acclimatize to the staggering beauty of this city.