The key(s) to happiness

Just because you MOSTLY only write about Christmas music doesn’t mean you are ONLY allowed to write about Christmas music. I was going to tweet this, but it’s a complex and many-layered story which won’t work in 140 character-bursts, so here we are.

It did start out on Twitter, though, when last night I tweeted this from a train that had just left Brighton:

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 12.03.06

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 12.07.15

I mean, everyone knows that tempting fate is a terrible idea, and tempting fate when you’re super-tired and relying on Southern Rail to get you home is an even worse idea. But here’s the thing: all my connections worked! I got to East Croydon in time for the 23.32 to London Bridge and I got to London Bridge in time for the 23.56 to Victoria via Crystal Palace, and I caught a bus from New Cross Gate and I was home not much after midnight. And as the lift stopped on my floor I thought, I am SO HAPPY that I’ll be in bed in five minutes, and then I fumbled my keys and dropped them down the lift shaft.

Have you ever done a proper, filmic gasp? I don’t think I had until that moment. There followed ten minutes of going up and down in the lift, trying to see whether the keys had got caught on something or were hiding on a ledge somewhere. No luck, so I went outside to the concierge and asked if he had a torch I could borrow to shine into the spaces and see whether I could spot them. He didn’t, but he pointed out that I probably had one on my phone. And he was right! I went back and had another look, and managed to see that the space underneath the lift is deeper than I expected, six feet or so, but there, just within the corner of my vision, I could see the glint of what could only be my keys.

So I went back to the concierge and asked whether he had some string and a magnet. Astonishingly he didn’t (you can’t get the staff) but he did have a long pole and some sellotape, so I fashioned a sort of makeshift fishing rod and went back to the lift (my block is across the courtyard from where the concierge lives, so all of this involved a certain amount of back-and-forth in the rain).

Shining my torch into the void whilst being careful not to send my phone the way of the keys, I slid my sticky-ended pole downwards towards the glinting object. The pole caught on something at the bottom – I couldn’t really see at this point – and I ever-so-gently lifted it out, only to discover that the a glittering treasure on the floor of the shaft was actually a piece of plastic wrapper.

I mean, what do you even do in a situation like this? Like, what do you even do? I shone the torch around a bit more but nothing was visible, so I slowly packed up my makeshift fishing rod and headed back out to the concierge, thinking that I’d have to check into the hotel opposite my block and try again in the morning, when I’d be able to retrieve my spare set of keys, which live too far away for a late-night raid and anyway, I didn’t want to call anyone up at that time of night. Fine. Except that I have deliveries coming today, and one of them has a starting window of 7am. Fine, I’ll leave a note asking them to call me when they get there and I can run down and let them i – no, hang on.

Just as I was on the point of giving up I remembered about emergency locksmiths. I Googled. The first result said “£59, we’ll be with you in twenty minutes”. That sounds OK, I thought. I mean, I don’t really have any spare cash this week but I can stick it on the credit card and it’s cheaper than the £89 it’ll cost to stay in the Premier Inn.

I called them up. “£59,” said the man. “He’ll be with you in half an hour.” I waited. After ten minutes I got a phonecall from a different man. “I’ll be with you in half an hour.” I waited a bit more. Eventually a very polite and smiley locksmith showed up, introduced himself and shook my hand. We went inside. “Ah, two locks,” he said. “You know it’s £69 for each one?”

I made a vague, tired attempt at arguing for the extra tenner (the per-lock price, while a nasty surprise, seemed fair enough) and we agreed to disagree for the time being. “I’ll have to drill,” he said. He drilled. It was LOUD. I think my neighbours were all out, because there’s no way the sound wouldn’t have woken them. Either that or they thought there was a monster outside and were wisely ignoring it.

I have no idea how long it all took; I wasn’t paying attention, which is why it came as even more of a surprise when he asked me whether I wanted the cheap lock or the expensive one.

Say what?

“Ah, the price we quote is just for busting your lock open; if you want it replaced that’s more. Do you want it replaced?”

Now, my block is pretty safe, which is one of the reasons I live there. But even so I’m not keen to leave my front door open for anyone who takes the fancy to wander in and out while I’m sleeping. So YES PLEASE I’D LIKE IT REPLACED.

“OK, what kind of locks do you want?”

I don’t know! I’m not supposed to know about locks, you’re supposed to know about locks!

He tapped away into a calculator. “OK, total is £252.”

At this point I was resigned to spending more than I could afford just so I could go to bed, but even then this seemed a bit steep. I protested.

“£200 if you pay cash.”

“I don’t have £200 cash!”

“You can go to a cashpoint.”

No thank you, it’s 2am and raining. And I’m really tired, and as I continued to protest I realised he didn’t want to be here any more than I did, and he probably wouldn’t be seeing much of this money anyway, and I should probably stop being so graceless and just agree to pay. So I did, and we shook hands again, and he went home and I went to bed, and at 9am the next morning the daytime concierge called me and said “I’ve been down into the lift shaft and got your keys, do you want to come and get them?” and I couldn’t decide whether to be sad or glad, but on balance I think the night concierge is probably also not paid enough to be held responsible for solving my late-night problems, and after all I paid with the credit card so it’s not real money, and at least now I don’t have to ring the bank and ask for a replacement dongle-thingy, which was attached to the keys.

And what last night felt like an actually insurmountable problem (“what do you even do?”) went away with the application of (1) a small amount of clear thinking, (2) a credit card and (3) the passage of time, which I think is a lesson to remember, because although of course I am lucky to have had a credit card and been able to pay that much at short notice, it really wasn’t an insurmountable problem and now that it’s gone away my mood is lighter than it would have been if none of it had happened, because happiness is only ever relative.

That said, next time I think I’m an hour and three quarters from my bed I will remember the time I said that and turned out to be four hours and £252 from my bed, and I will keep my thoughts to myself.

Advertisements

I just didn’t expect it to be so big.

Do you read xkcd? If you don’t, you should, but go and have a look at it now, to get the flavour of it. Then have a look at this entry, from last week, which I think is just fabulous.

(You’ll have to click on it to launch the version with the special surprise in it – and then click and drag your mouse on the last panel.)

Let’s talk turkey

I don’t much like turkey. And apart from the beloved, who doesn’t like jacket potatoes so his taste in food is questionable anyway, I don’t really know anyone who does. We all eat it at Christmas because we’re supposed to, but chicken is just as nice and usually nicer, and certainly easier to cook. So what’s the point of turkey?

All of which went through my mind yesterday when I realised with dismay, halfway through marinating it for a stir fry, that I had accidentally bought turkey breast rather than chicken. Oh well, I thought, the beloved will enjoy it even if I don’t. And, feeling rather saintly, I continued marinating it in walnut oil, garlic, ginger, chillies and chives.

(The walnut oil and chives are a little unorthodox, I know: it’s just that unless there’s a compelling reason not to, I put walnut oil and chives in everything, because they are two of my favourite things.)

Later on, with the addition of cashew nuts, mange tout, egg noodles and a splash of soy sauce, I fried it all up and served it with a wrinkled nose and a feeling of resignation. And you know what? It was amazing. The turkey had a richness and a smokiness that I’ve never got from chicken, but was still light enough to carry all the flavours of the marinade without overwhelming them. It tasted almost more like pork than like chicken, and contrasted beautifully with the lightness of the mange tout and the noodles. It was also, contrary to expectations, not in the least dry, but juicy and succulent, even where I’d burned some of it at the edges when I left the kitchen briefly and then forgot to go back until I smelled the smoke.

So there you go: turkey isn’t as horrible as I thought, and it’s worth experimenting with methods other than the full Christmas roast version, because now I have a whole new ingredient to start playing with.

I am still right about jacket potatoes, though.

Swimming

In an attempt to honour the third of my new year’s resolutions, which was to find a better form of exercise than Pilates, I have been thinking about going swimming. The last time I went swimming in this country was at Brockwell Lido this summer. The water was deep and icy-cold and I lasted less than a length before it started to feel like a struggle. I think I managed a total of three lengths in about twenty minutes, all the while panicking that I’d give up and drown in the deep end, even though I was never more than a few yards away from a lifeguard, and I was one of only three or four people at the pool.

But water does funny things to me. I can’t watch movie scenes filmed underwater without starting to feel nervous, and the anxiety I start to feel whenever I’m out of my depth is not nearly proportionate to the actual risk, although that must be a commoner reaction than I thought, or we wouldn’t use the term “out of one’s depth” to mean “in trouble”. I’m not a very strong swimmer, but I can float and bob around quite happily for forty-five minutes or so without needing to touch the ground, so it’s a psychological problem rather than a physiological one.

The problem is, most pools – especially serious, unheated outdoor pools like the Brockwell Lido – aren’t really designed to be bobbed and floated in. They’re designed for people who want to swim lengths. Frankly, I never want to swim lengths. I want to do star jumps and dolphin leaps and handstands. But if it’s a choice between swimming lengths and any other form of aerobic exercise, I will happily go for the lengths. I have no desire to lose weight (I feel compelled to say this in the light of my second New Year’s resolution, which was not to be bridezilla: I feel quite strongly that I don’t want to be one of those women who suddenly shoot down to a size eight in the weeks before their weddings, and as it happens this sits very happily with the fact that I have no plans to stop eating and drinking exactly what I want, whenever I want it), but I would like to be fitter and I would like to sleep better, and Pilates only offers small consolation in these departments. I need to do something that makes me tired.

So I think I’m going to sign up for a Swim London pass, which is cheaper than gym membership and covers forty pools across London. It doesn’t include the Lido, which is a shame since Brockwell Park is less than thirty seconds’ walk from home, but it does include Brixton and Crystal Palace, both a brisk walk or bus ride away, as well as the Oasis centre in Covent Garden which is two minutes from my office AND has a heated rooftop pool. I may not be able to bob and float there, but at least I’ll be able to swim a length without my lungs closing up in protest at the cold.

Because the thing is that as well as being afraid of the water, I love it. My two most vivid memories of pure physical pleasure in the last year are of swimming, once here:

Outdoor pool in Cyprus

And once here:

Lake Huron, Ontario, Canada

The first is a pool in Cyprus, the second Lake Huron. In Cyprus I swam twice a day, in a pool that was never deeper than I am tall. In Lake Huron I went out of my depth because the water was warm and soft and tasted of minerals and it wasn’t frightening. Actually there is an undertow in the lake, even though there are no tides, and the bottom has sharp rocks along it – a fact that scars on my right hand and knee will attest to. But you see, I wasn’t scared of injuring myself when I injured myself, so I didn’t mind. And when you’re out there bobbing and floating and spinning, with nobody to watch you except a few water birds and the occasional butterfly, there’s nothing in the world like it.

What do you suppose are the chances that swimming at the Oasis sports centre in Covent Garden will be more like Lake Huron and less like Brockwell Lido? Yeah, me too. But I’ll give it a go.

The park again

I took this picture in the south-west corner of Brockwell Park yesterday. I love the city views, but I really like this one too, because you can pretend you’re in the countryside:

Talking of nature, we spent a couple of hours last Sunday afternoon in the back garden of the Crown and Greyhound in Dulwich Village, where we were protected from a brief bout of rain by this monster, whose branches extend so far across the garden that nobody got wet at all:

I think it’s a horse chestnut, but I would be happy to be corrected.

Outdoor gladrags

Last Sunday was the hottest of a run of hot days in London. It was also the day the England football team lost to Germany in a 4-1 thriller in the second round of the World Cup, Kevin Pietersen’s 30th birthday, and the third and final day of Hard Rock Calling, the misleadingly-named music festival which this year featured, among other hard rockers, Stevie Wonder, James Morrison, Crowded House, Elvis Costello and Crosby, Stills and Nash.

But it was the promise of Paul McCartney which had me eagerly pressing the “refresh” button on my browser the morning tickets went on sale. I tried to get tickets to see him at the Dome back in December, but the good seats were insanely expensive and anyway, it sold out before I could buy any. Day tickets to Hard Rock Calling are £60 and you get to sit anywhere you like and see lots of other acts, so this was a much better choice.

Well, it was great and the photos are here, but in the long minutes between acts I found myself fascinated by what people choose to wear when it’s hot and they’re going to be outside all day, because if you live in or near London (or any British city), neither of those things is very often true. It’s hot today, but I am spending eight hours of it inside an air-conditioned office, so I am wearing a dress with sleeves. On Sunday, we were all exposed to bright sun and 30C temperatures for about the same amount of time. In those circumstances, deciding what to wear can be quite tricky. So I inspected the choices of some of my fellow revellers, and have come up with some guidelines, which I now present to you for free, with nothing in mind but your welfare and happiness:

1. As in so many areas of life, I agree with Baz Luhrmann. Rule number one is wear sunscreen.

2. With no shade and barely a cloud in the sky, hats are the order of the day:

people in hats
3. Be careful with straps. Straps are good, but ill-fitting or competing straps are bad. However, if you have no choice but to show off your bra straps, do it with chutzpah, so it looks like you meant it:

lady with straps

4. It’s better to wear too many clothes than too few. You recover faster from being hot than you do from being burnt (I have tried both, so I can say this with certainty). And if you wear light, loose clothes you probably won’t be much hotter than you would have been in a bikini. I liked this outfit very much:

5. Do not, under any circumstances, wear a bikini. Bikinis are strictly for the beach.

I should come clean at this point and tell you that I was wearing a jumpsuit.

In many ways they are ideal hot-weather outdoor wear: they are durable, you can sit cross-legged without risking your modesty, and they keep all the ungainly bits covered while allowing arms and legs unfettered access to the air. However, they can be tricky to go to the toilet in. I think the answer to this is to wear a baggy-ish one with no complicated fastenings, and to stay on the fuzzy side of sober. You’ll be pleased to know that I more or less managed both.

However, based on extensive research I have decided that the IDEAL festival-going hot-weather outfit is a strapless top, elasticated shorts, a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen and a wrap which you can sit on when your legs get tired and put around your shoulders after the sun goes down.

Shoes are more problematic: you need something sturdy and comfortable which you won’t get sweaty in. I wore Crocs, but I am the only person I know who looks good in Crocs, and the only reason I think I look good in them is that I never on any account look at them once they’re on. I just revel in the squish of the tread and the swish of the air as it cools my toes. The real answer is probably flip-flops on soft grass and light plimsolls on rough grass. But I will leave that to your discretion.

Sorry for only talking about girls’ clothes. I have no advice for boys, although the hat and sunscreen rules are unisex. If you are a boy, I suggest you dress like this:

dancing man in bandana

I have left the most important rule, not including the sunscreen one, until last. The most important rule, not including the sunscreen one, is:

6. Wear whatever you like. It’s a festival! Go wild.

Days off

I work a nine-day fortnight, with every other Friday off. When I came to this arrangement I thought that I would use the free day for chores and writing, and waiting in for people to come and fix things. I do use it for all of those things, but I also use it to get my hair cut, because I have to get Koto the genius hairdresser to cut my hair. I have crap hair: it is not straight or curly, it’s quite thin, and it’s going grey. Only Koto can give me a haircut that doesn’t look awful within a week. So every few free Fridays, I take myself off on the train and go and visit her in Bromley.

I never used to like Bromley. If you lived in Beckenham, Bromley was the place you went to at weekends because it had a slightly better range of shops, and a McDonald’s, and pubs where you wouldn’t bump into your parents’ friends who knew you were fourteen. Tell someone you’re from Bromley, and they look at you sympathetically. The beloved and I had a drink recently with a friend who introduced us to her new-ish boyfriend, who lives in Bromley, and we spent most of the evening commiserating with one another. Bromley isn’t a place, it’s the punchline to a joke.

But, you know what? Bromley’s kind of OK. The high street is mainly pedestrianised, so market stalls have sprung up, and in the sunshine today it looked like somewhere you might want to go and have a look at:

Bromley High Street

The introduction of PAYG to South Eastern trains didn’t make my journey as easy as it should have done. I forgot to touch in at Herne Hill, so when I got to Bromley South, where there are barriers, I asked the guard if I could buy a paper return ticket to Herne Hill, which would both retrospectively cover the journey I’d just made and allow me to get back again later. Although it wasn’t strictly within the rules, she could see that it was the simplest solution, and fortunately was not of the breed of train guard who lives for being able to charge people a fine for being idiots. So I queued up and bought my return ticket, forgetting that I’d already arranged to go and see my parents after visiting Koto, so I wouldn’t be making the return journey by train. So I queued up and paid for a journey I’d already made, and a journey I was never going to make. These are the ways I fill my time.

I have a hen weekend to go to tomorrow. There will be games. I will post photos next week, if I survive the experience.