Thursday, March 29, 2012


We will move into Fox Corner on Monday, and I am happily immersed in tedious chores. It's a full time job, moving house. Lucky for me I'm 'between projects' at Big Corp, so don't really have an actual full time job to distract me.

I've booked a nice Polish removal man, and sorted out parking for the van. I've alerted the friends who have been taking care of coffee tables and the like that we will be arriving with said Polish movers and van, so they must get them ready for us and resistance is futile.

The maximum telly and interweb that Virgin Media offers has been procured, although it won't be installed till long after NCAA March Madness ends, sadly.

I've paid the customs on the wine we shipped, so we can take delivery of all our stuff from New York. We may have slightly understated the value of the wine, but don't judge us. It's already been taxed at least once (when it was bought), and if there's one thing TLOML hates more than foxes, it's tax.

And I've given notice on my storage unit, home to all my clobber since 2009. I'm bracing myself for some ridicule from TLOML as I unpack moth-eaten blankets, a TV that's smaller than his monitor, and a printer from the '90s.

As I said, tedious chores. But I get a rising feeling of pure joy as I motor through it all. At last, at last, we will be settled. Nesting can begin!

I see many trips to IKEA and John Lewis in our future. So I signed up for Zipcar too. It's not exactly Heidi, the love of TLOML's life, but it will get us about, and cheaply too. If you're a Londoner who likes to buy stuff that can't be carted home on a bus once in a while, or visit somewhere near but annoying to get to, I highly recommend them. Click on the picture for a brilliant offer...

Join Zipcar and get £25 in free driving

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The gentrification of Kentish Town

The gentrification of Kentish Town has been mooted for many years, though I never believed it was real. A good gastro pub and a bookshop do not a new Primrose Hill make. As long as the Superdrug is bigger than the Boots, and as long as there are more kebab shops than bistros, you can safely say it's still an area with some grit to it. The people peeing their pants and shouting at themselves in the benefits queue at the Post Office cannot truly be said to be 'gentry'.

But I think it may finally be happening....

The evidence? Well for a start, even the kebab shops are posh now. Witness E. Mono, with its heritage shop frontage and free range chicken. London's new French school chose NW5 as its base, which explains the preponderance of beautifully accented, Breton stripe-wearing, yummy mummies round these parts lately. Then there's the arrival of Costa Coffee, Pret a Manger, and 'finest Italian fennel' to the veg stand by the tube.

And if that isn't enough proof, check this lovely urban plaza out.
When I first moved to the area a decade ago this shelter next to the tube was dilapidated and missing panes of glass. This did not deter the dispossessed from sitting on the steps underneath it, drinking Special Brew and yelling at each other.

Now, the restored shelter has a groovy coffee stand featuring ethically sourced coffee, a florist, and some cool, itinerant-free seating.

I think NW5 may finally have arrived.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The reawakening of my political conscience

I used to be reasonably politically aware, and somewhat active. A solid diet of Radio 4, BBC News and the Observer kept me fairly up to date. I voted, and I knew why I was placing my tick in that particular box. I went on the odd Stop the War march and put fake parking tickets on urban 4x4s. Okay, I wasn't exactly Michael Foot, but I was, I'd say, engaged in politics. Less so as I hit my 30s and took up gardening, but I did stay interested and informed.

Then I moved to America. A country where I had the luxury of forming an opinion with absolutely no consequence: I couldn't vote and I wasn't going to be there for long anyway.

Sadly I didn't make the most of the opportunity. My opinions were a little vague. I wasn't terribly well informed you see. But I had good reasons for my ignorance. First of all, American news coverage is pretty indigestible. I got all my current affairs from The Daily Show and E! News. Secondly, well, it just wasn't any of my business, was it?

Now I am back and my opinion counts. I feel inside me the stirrings of the champagne socialist who has laid dormant these past few years. I can vote! I can put up window stickers! The Ecover-buying tumble-drier despising Green voter inside me is reviving.

I popped around to see my cat and the Activitist the other day, and returned home with a Sack Boris oyster card holder. The London Mayoral campaign is coming up, and I for one would like to see Boris Johnson removed from office.
I offered a Sack Boris wallet to TLOML but he refused, asking me why I wanted to sack Boris.
'Well', I said, 'Apart from the fact he's bone idle, and incomprehensively posh, there's that stupid vanity bus project.'
I explained my position.
My position, explained: Boris was elected on a ricidulous platform of 'bringing back the Routemaster', those open backed buses people get all nostalgic about. Our former Mayor 'Red' Ken Livingston had replaced them with bendy buses, which are equally exasperating to cyclists - try overtaking a bus that's 60 foot long, it's almost as bad as passing a Routemaster with idiots jumping off into the bike lane with gay abandon. However they take 50% more passengers, are much quicker at bus stops, and cost less to run as they don't need a conductor.
Having been elected as Mayor on this platform of bringing back the antiquated, expensive to run, Routemaster, 4 years and £11m later the Boris bus was launched. It has aircon (in a city where the temperature breaks 30 degrees centigrade for about a week each year). It has a back door that can be opened between stops so passengers can throw themselves in front of passing cyclists, but for health and safety reasons a bus conductor needs to be present to open the door. It is a silly bus.
'So,' I concluded, 'this bus is just a ridiculous vanity project. And it costs £1 million more than a normal bus.'

At which TLOML asked 'Is that per bus? Does it include development? What will it cost per bus once they've produced, say, fifty buses? How about the running costs?'
I had no answer*, so I mumbled something about how annoyingly posh Boris is, and changed the subject.

This is what happens when my passion and gut feel encounter TLOML's lawyerly precision.

I fear I may lose many arguments. Half an ear on Radio 4 and half an ear on the Activist will not be enough to withstand his questioning. Will we have to become one of those couples who don't discuss politics? It strikes me as funny that we discover this after 3 years of blissful compatibility. Blissful ignorance, more like.

Look out TLOML, the tumble drier wars are about to begin.

*I checked with the Activist and yes, that is per bus, which is the £11.4 development cost for the 8 buses built so far. It will go down if more are built. But they aren't terribly practical so there's no guarantee more will be built.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Preparing to nest

I visited Fox Corner today, to see how the work is coming along. It is the site of much bustling, dust-generation and painting, as our new landlady prepares the flat for her demanding new tenants. The dishwasher has been installed, some fresh white paint applied, and a security system is about to be installed.
So now we have our own preparation to do, to get ready for nesting.
I'm refurbishing that rocking chair I bought, so we'll have something to sit on before we get a sofa organised.
It looks okay from a distance but needs some TLC
I am rebuilding a relationship with Jack, my fat cat, who has been living with my old friend the Activist for a couple of years, and is about to be returned to my care. All he really cares about is where the next meal is coming from, so I'm confident once we install him at Fox Corner if we keep the Hill's Science Diet coming, he'll stick around.

I have started some seeds off, so we can have tomatoes, basil, courgettes and peas this summer, if all goes well. If they fail to thrive, we'll always have the kiwi jam to fall back on, of course.
A makeshift seedling box, salvaged from the squat.
I've paid the customs bill so our shipment from New York (including a few bottles of wine) can be released. And I'm googling sports TV packages so we sign up with the right cable and interweb provider.

Meanwhile, TLOML is in Las Vegas keeping up with the NCAA March Madness, ooops, I mean, working. When he gets home I am hoping he will contribute to the preparations. In addition to the many hours of research he has done into massive TVs, that is. I see many trips to John Lewis and Argos in our near future.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Native flora

Agapanthus were everywhere in Los Angeles. They spring out from concrete planters in front of banks, the strips of lush green grass in Brentwood, flower beds in front of the Spanish style villas in the the Beverly flats, and even scrubby little rubble gardens in Malibu. For me they are the quintessential LA flower. I've no idea if they are native or not, but they certainly seem to do well over there.

I love agapanthus but had never managed to coax mine into flower in London. Seeing them on every sidewalk, stripmall and yard in LA, I never failed to exclaim 'I love agapanthus!', and then bored TLOML with the story of how mine had never flowered.

Not quite as prevalent, but just as quintessentially of the place they are in, are the magnolias of North London. Most streets in Dartmouth Park, Highgate and Hampstead have at least one magnolia tree proudly gracing someone's front garden. Many have two or more.

This time of year they are just gorgeous, laden creamy pale pink buds. As I bustle about my old manor, at least a couple of times I day, I exclaim 'I love magnolia'. If I'm on my own I say it silently, inside my head, by the way.
I had a nice chat with a man at the nice Zimbabwean-run garden centre in Kentish Town about the possibility of growing a magnolia tree in a tub. If I'm prepared to feed and water it (I am) it will be entirely possible for me to have my very own magnolia tree at Fox Corner, and take it with me when we leave in a couple of years time. I am almost more excited about this than the kiwi tree.
It's funny, but I can't think of a flower, tree or shrub from New York that had the same effect on me. Is it possible there is no such native New Yorker? Or is that just another example of my blindness to the charms of Manhattan? I may never know...

Friday, March 23, 2012


Due to visa delays and a certain amount of naivety about the London lettings market, TLOML and I have been homeless since the first of February. That's almost eight weeks.

Thanks to the generosity of that Outstanding Family, the one with the enviable property portfolio, we do have a roof over our heads. A trip to IKEA, my storage unit and some elbow grease, made it habitable. We do, after all, have a bed.

Important clothes can be hung.

A quick fix with a nail has rendered this formerly three-legged table usable as a desk. And TLOML rummaged in the basement of our squat to find this fridge and the telly. It only gets three rather fuzzy channels, and TLOML is bitterly disappointed with the quality of BBC2's daytime scheduling but it's something. I may be the only homeless person in the country who has a TV licence (blame my upbringing). Oh, and I've put the calendar that nice Brazilian translator gave me above the mantelpiece to brighten the place up.

Still, we can't really cook. That's because during our trip to the storage unit we dug up salad servers and lobster crackers but no truly useful utensils.

We pilfered the knife and spoon from the trusting pubs of NW5. They just leave these things lying around, the fools. So we can boil water for tea in the saucepan the former resident left, but that's about it. To be honest I'm not sure if we'd want to stay in, even if we could cook.

The ultimate win-win at the moment is to babysit for friends. We can make dinner in their fully equipped kitchen and watch their many-channelled TV. They get a big night out and we get that best prize of all, a nice night in.

TLOML is in the States this week, no doubt enjoying some home comforts. And I am going to check out Fox Corner this weekend, in the hope the work is complete and we can start planning to move in.

Till then, keep buying the Big Issue folks.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The way to TLOML's heart

Before we move in across the postcode boundary, I'm determined to convince TLOML of the delights of Kentish Town, the land of plenty to our east.

Obviously my campaign is entirely based on food and drink. Kentish Town has a preponderance of above average places to eat. My theory is that the presence of The Times food critic has upped the ante. Giles Coren has lived in the area for years and is a bit of a lazy sod: he appears to like reviewing places he can walk to. There are more good places to eat in Kentish Town than it's posher neighbours in Hampstead and Belsize Park, and Camden, bristling with hipsters.

At least, that's what I think. And TLOML is, I think, coming around to my way of thinking.

We've enjoyed very good curry from Monsoon, and Liberty Kebabish, Dartmouth Park's two competing, neighbouring curry houses. They are across the street from one other and both are pretty decent, though we prefer Kebabish because it has pictures of the Pakistani cricket team on the walls and we like the name. It's just a bit kebab-ish, innit?

We have sampled the gourmet kebabs at E.Mono. Maybe gourmet is overstretching it but the meat is organic, and the salads very fresh. It's a sober, lunchtime kebab. Remarkable.
The lovely E. Mono 'bab shop
We've joined the hordes sampling Arancini Brothers' lovely balls of rice. And tucked into octopus and  ragu (not on the same plate) at The Vine.
Nuraghe's fresh squid

We had those rather small but nonetheless delicious clams at Kentish Canteen. And on the fringes of NW5 we tucked into incredible, hearty, salty Sardinian fish soup and sea urchin spaghetti at neighbourhood standout, Nuraghe.

So many fantastic places to eat, and I haven't even started on the gastropubs yet. I mean, we've started eating at them. But I haven't started writing about them yet: there are too too many! And while we are squatting, we are eating out every night. So, that's another post..

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Postcode rivalry

Friends, family and readers know that the move back to London for me was not motivated by a general desire to live in the world’s greatest city. Rather, it was about moving home. Home to my old manor, with familiar pubs and perhaps almost as importantly, dear friends, living close by.

Some may have seen recent posts about the flat we’re about to rent – you know, the one with the foxes and the kiwi tree – and thought I had got exactly what I wanted. TLOML has a special ‘happy now?’ expression he adopts whenever we chat about how brilliant living in Fox Corner will be.

Far from it. Five streets away from what I wanted, in fact. Our new flat is in NW3, which is technically Hampstead. We will be very close to Keats’ Grove with its gorgeous Queen Anne houses and old gardens. A gentle uphill stroll will take us to old Hampstead Village with its excellent pubs (The Hollybush being a particular favourite), ancient alleyways, and a good branch of The Gap.

Doesn't sound so awful, I know. Okay, I’ll admit it, Hampstead is one of London’s oldest and most charming of villages. I just really really like Kentish Town.

Kentish Town occupies NW5, which starts, as I said, about 5 streets or a 3 minute walk away from Fox Corner. Kentish Town, in stark contrast to Hampstead, has a distinctly scruffy high street. There are very few chain stores. No-one travels there from other postcodes for an afternoon stroll and a nice lunch. And yet…

And yet… it has brilliant independent shops including an excellent bookshop, a nice little stationers, a big organic grocers with a Neal’s Yard counter, and a Lebanese foodhall that sells 3 different kinds of carrot jam. Being close to Camden means that sometimes young rocker types get lost and end up in NW5 (though rumours of its being ‘the next Shoreditch’ have never really been convincing). And there are about a dozen excellent, independent pubs serving really good food. Admittedly there are sometimes crazy people shouting at themselves in the Post Office, which you don't get so much of in Hampstead. And rather more tanning shops than your average North London high street too.

In a way the scruffiness makes it even more appealing: it’s that hidden gem quality, I suppose.

Anyway, as I said, Fox Corner is not in Kentish Town. It is over the border in NW3. This strikes me as a supreme compromise on my part. TLOML is not so convinced. Apparently being 5 streets away from where I wanted to live ought to count as a big win for me.

In many ways we may have found the perfect compromise. We can stroll west one day, and enjoy the beauty and fancy bakeries of Hampstead. The next day we can head east and savour the secret charms and quality beers of Kentish Town.

Truly, home is where the heart is. And even though my heart had a leaning to be five streets further East, I think it’ll be burstingly happy in NW3, with TLOML, the foxes and the kiwis.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Everything is smaller in England

Allow me to refresh your memory of the size of a New England clam. Here's a photo of one we enjoyed last summer:

A New England clam
And here are some razor and manilla clams we sampled in NW5 last weekend:
A Kentish Clam

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Vintage vs junk

The last time I had to hastily furnish a flat on a budget, I did so with a mix of cast offs, Habitat and junk shops. That was a decade ago, and, alas, gone are the days where you can buy a big, quality, stylish sofa from Habitat for  £700. Frankly, it's all gone a bit IKEA. Today's £700 Habitat sofa looks a lot like a £400 IKEA one.

Something similar seems to have happened to junk shops. They've all gone a bit vintage.

I bought 4 lovely midcentury modern chairs for £20 when I moved into my flat in 2002. I got them from a no-nonsense second hand shop in Gospel Oak. They were a bit tatty and my cat, Jack, made them even tattier. But they served a purpose and for a fiver each you can't ask for perfection. My old friend, the Activist, revamped them for a book project and they looked brilliant, until Jack destroyed them again.

It was with the memory of my £5 chairs that I struck out onto the Holloway Road last weekend. I wasn't after anything fancy. A battered old chair, a scarred kitchen table, perhaps a rickety bedside table. An honest house clearance shop, selling crappy formica wardrobes, nasty pine chairs, and the odd hidden gem.

I quickly came to doubt such shops, and such hidden gems, still exist.

This shop sells a fairly undistinguished dining table for £900. I'm no expert but it didn't look like anything special to me. For £900 I'll stick with John Lewis and age the thing myself, thank you.
And this place, which looks pretty low end, offers old fashioned shop fittings. Including a lovely glass-fronted set of drawers - which reminded me of the local sports shop we used to buy our PE kit in - for £1800. I guess I'm not their target market. I'm after actual junk, you see. Not already-identified gems.

I was a little heartened by 'Ooh La La', a few doors down. They seem to straddle the worlds of junk and vintage fairly comfortably. Common-or-garden, but charming, chairs for £30 each and a cool '60s bureau for £200. That's a little closer to what I had in mind.

But I kept moving and looking, positive that there must, surely, be better bargains out there. I'm glad
I did.

This shop is camped out in an old newsagents. I'd call it a Pop-up but I'm not sure it counts if the proprieter doesn't know what Pop-up means. 
It is run by a madhead with crazy eyes who sits in the pub across the road and runs out if he sees you go into his shop. Then he regales with you insane stories till you either buy something or flee. It's quite an effective sales strategy.

In amongst the absolute rubbish he was selling - shell suits, old Jackie annuals, worn Gola trainers, and the plastic floral display you see here - was the rocking chair.

I paid £30 for it and am pretty sure that once it's been sanded, screwed and glued, and painted, it will look like it's worth almost £50. That's the kind of vintage furniture I like.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Swapping trails for piste

The holidays I most enjoyed in the US were our trips to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Snowmass, Colorado. TLOML loves to carve up a bit of powder if he gets the chance, and it's a good excuse to spend time with family and friends in a snowy resort. So I gave it a try. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed slowly trundling down a gentle slope, falling down several times.

It's easy to learn to snowboard in the US, I think. The resorts are pretty idiot-friendly with lots of gondolas and nice slow chair lifts which will be brought to a standstill for you if you give a good enough 'I'm an idiot!' wave as you approach the top. And if you get stuck, the chances are pretty high that someone friendly in an Aspen-Snowmass jacket will swoosh up and ask if you need help (I always declined but it's nice to know they're there). I also think it's very civilised the way they heat the paths and roads so they never get icy. There's a lot to be said for a purpose-built, pampering resort.
Snowmass, Colorado, USA

But we are Europeans now, TLOML and I. So it's time to wave goodbye to happy hour margaritas and wings, and say bon jour to le apres-ski, avec le reblochon et bieres. This week we've traded in our usual hotel in Snowmass, with a hot tub and a decent bar, for a chalet in La Clusaz with a pool table and a friendly chaletier (is that a word?) who cooks us ham and eggs for breakfast, provides beers and saucisson as a snack, and rustles up incredible dinners involving vast quantities of bread, reblochon, and jambon at night. Plus I am happy because I get to hang out with my favourite little sister, her lovely husband, their awesome twin boys, and all their nice mates. I'll gladly swap the hot tub for a game of Risk.
La Clusaz, Haute-Savoie, France
Putting aside the home comforts I am a little less convinced. Instead of a nice comfy gondolier, I'm risking my life on a distinctly unfriendly drag lift. Mind you, a week's lift pass will cost me what a long weekend in Snowmass did. The West Coast powder I was finding my feet on has been replaced by alternately sloppy and crunchy Alpine snow. But there is the most incredible view: the Alps make a beautiful backdrop to even the most painful of faceplants.

And as I type this, we're sipping Kronenbourg and munching saucisson as we enjoy England beat France at rugby. TLOML does not appear to be missing the American beers and wings combo one little bit.

All in all, it's a good trade.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Falling in love again

London is lovely. I always knew it was lovely. But returning with fresh eyes has made me love it even more.

There are some changes, like the growth of hip, independent coffee shops (I know, we're a bit behind Seattle, San Francisco and New York on this one. I think the hipster coffee movement was totally stifled by the onslaught of Starbucks on London, which set us back a decade). And the rash of Boris bike stands that is spreading gradually wider. There's that brilliant new crossing at Oxford Circus. And that new cool building behind Centrepoint, which is one of many new landmark buildings I lilke.

And there are some brilliant things about London which have been there for hundreds of years, and are still there, and still brilliant. After the prefabs of Malibu and the concrete canyons of Manhattan, I love these old things even more.

For example, doors like this:

And shops like this:

And parks and houses like this:

Friday, March 9, 2012

The hunt is over

At last! We have viewed about fifteen flats in the last couple of weeks and the novelty of snooping around other people's homes was starting to wear off.

We saw some madness. Like this strange flat, with a shower conveniently placed next to the bed:
Weird, right?
We also saw some lovely but impractical homes. Like this beautifully restored 3 bedroom house with a kitchen that was barely big enough to make toast in:
I realise it looks like I'm obsessed with bathrooms. But look at this lovely loo! The rest of the house was gorgeous too. But we need a kitchen we can swing a cat in and chop veggies at the same time.
... and speaking of impractical, how about a study that's 3' wide?
Rather cramped.
We also decided against some very smart flats that were way above our budget and frankly, a little too posh for us. And some very gloomy flats that were brilliantly located, and cheap, but deeply depressing.

In the end we went for the sweet, spacious, slightly scruffy garden flat with the kiwi tree. The foxes appear to have moved out. The landlady is lovely and doing lots of work to tidy the place up and improve security. We think we will be very happy there. Fingers crossed for a move in at the start of April.
This is the jolly red door and nice tiled steps at the end of our hunt

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Laundry learnings

These two jumpers belong to me. The black one fits me well, and is shown here for scale.

The brown one is an example of what happens when an American, used only to 'hot', 'warm' and 'cold' washes is confronted by a washing machine with 12 different time and temperature settings.
 He chose 40 degrees. How is he to know how hot 40 is? He was blinded by too much choice.

To  be fair, I had just thrown it in with all the laundry in our one laundry bag. Our special 'wash carefully' bag is in the shipment of stuff from NY. So we don't really have a proper laundry sorting system, here in our squat. Sigh.

Dark times in Dartmouth Park.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

An American in London

TLOML has lived in England a few years in his childhood, and again as a student in his early 20s. So he knows the drill. Yes, you may need to ask twice for tapwater. No, you don't need to tip in Starbucks.

And I thought he was settling back in very well. Munching on Walkers crisps, hopping on the N390 without blinking, ordering pints of proper bitter, and not minding that they are served at room temperature.
It started so well - he had a full English on day one

Then we caught up with a lovely Los Angeleno friend, who is in London for a few months. My goodness, when two Americans in London get together, they come up with some crazy objections.
'How come the supermarkets don't refrigerate their eggs? Is it safe?!'
'What's the deal with the washing machines? All those symbols and little drawers, how does it all work?'
'Can you believe the number of coins you end up with? Urgh, my pocketbook is so heavy!'
'Have you ever eaten so many carbs, and so much butter, in your life?'

I sighed. And blocked from memory all the times I had said 'Americans refrigerate way too much' / 'The US Mint should introduce more coins' / 'How come there's only 3 choices on the washing machine?' / 'I miss proper butter'.

I suppose the shoe is on the other foot now. It is my turn to nod sympathetically as TLOML fits himself into British life. I must learn to shrug, in a 'I know, we're crazy' way as he rails against such madcap schemes as TV licences and Sunday opening hours.

But do I really need to tolerate publications like this littering up the living room?

Perhaps I do, for a short while. Then I'm going to replace them with a copy of The Cricketer and a Radio Times.

Monday, March 5, 2012

And the Liebster goes to..

I was recently awarded a Liebster by a kind fellow blogger. 'Liebster', from the German, means beloved, or favourite, or darling. Depending on how much you like the blog you awarded, I suppose.

Anyway, I've been pondering my favourite blogs. According to the Liebster rules I can only nominate 5 blogs. I read 5 on a regular basis, so that's easy. But there's another, which only updates every few weeks, and when it does, I devour it. So I'm nominate that as my 5th-and-a-half. Don't tell the Liebster police.

My Liebsters go to:
1)  Kentish Towner Essential reading for any Kentish Towner. Daily musings on life - park benches, new gastropub menus, obscure but useful shops - in my favourite part of London. I challenge anyone to read it and not want to move here. Actually, that said, I've been bombarding TLOML with Kentish Towner posts and he still isn't in love with NW5 (preferring instead the leafier, more salubrious surroundings of NW3). It's early days though...

2)  Green Pastures New. No, not just because she nominated me for a Liebster. But because Cumulus' posts are a fascinating, thought provoking, chuckle generating insight into a life that is very different to mine.  Cumulus has just moved to New Zealand with her husband and three brilliant and rather challenging boys. Her ruminations on the importance of tea, her efforts to secure support for her family, and other 'just moved across the world' topics are always interesting. Plus I love the way she writes.

3) A Bite of the Big Apple, Adventures of a Trailing Spouse. My friend Hannah's very own transatlantic tales. (You may know of her from my posts as the New New Yorker). An entertaining set of posts on stuff you need to know when you move to NYC - from how Brooklyn brownstones used to be laid out, to buying a bed, and fleeing the city for a weekend away.

4) Babes with Babies. A witty blog with tips on how to remain sane and stylish when pregnant. No, I'm not breaking any news: I am not up the duff. But I'd like to be, one day. And most of the time one of my friends is. I always recommend this blog to them, because I think it's so brilliantly practical and yet, glamourous. Proof that the two can co-exist. At least in the blogosphere.

5)  Aliceson Robinson, of Nine Muses. She just knows stuff. Especially about the most interesting plays, exciting exhibitions, and gourmet treats. Inspiration. I just wish I acted on it more often.

5.5) - Hemingway to Hollywood. Hilarious insights from The Euro aka Hemingway Holly on the silliness of LA life.

And finally, some honourable mentions. These are blogs which get plenty of traffic already. But I like them.
  • Little Brown Pen. Mainly for their series on colour. Many photos, few words. Some days that's all I want to look at.
  • Fashion Toast. Hugely successful. Proof that I am not the only person who likes looking at photos of a pouty doll girl wearing rather unlikely outfits. Still not sure why I like it since I always leave the site feeling like a dowdy giant. But like a moth to a flame, I am drawn.
  • GOOP. She takes a lot of flack, does Gywnnie. And yes, much of her advice is aimed at multimillionaire housewives. Still, she knows her food and the recipes are great. Plus she has a nice face.
Let me know if I missed any of your favourites...

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Flathunting (or 'Dealbreakers' updated)

In the past week we've viewed over a dozen flats for rent, including that one with the roof terrace accessible only by ladder, and a very dark but rather chic place where Roland Gift used to live. None have so far had a laundry chute but most have satisfied our basic needs. One particular flat captured our imagination for a few days: a bright and well planned duplex with a nice little roof terrace. What I liked most of all about it is the handpainted sign at the bottom of the road:

Even if you don't love Parliament Hill Fields - and I do - who wouldn't love to live where that nice bus conductor's hand is pointing? I think it's the hand of a bus conductor. Possibly it's a Victorian Bobby. Or a stationmaster. Regardless, it's clearly an old fashioned man in charge of directions. And I like the sign a lot.

But the roof terrace wasn't super friendly for Jack, the cat I hope to reclaim (he's been sofa surfing at an old friend's since I left). After a while I suspect our neighbours might get tired of him pooing on their roof terraces. Although it was a very good flat, and we could definitely live there for a while, I didn't really get excited about it.

Then we saw a different flat a few streets away. This street has two handpainted signs at the end. Although neither of them say Parliament Hill Fields, one does, crucially, have the pointing hand I like so much.

Also, crucially (yes, I'm using the word loosely), it has a kiwi tree and apple trees in the garden. Yes, okay, NW5 kiwi fruit is more decorative than edible. Still. It has a cellar. No, I don't know what we'd use the cellar for but I like it. Apparently foxes lived there for a while when the flat was empty. The thought of that makes me shudder, but then I remember the kiwi tree and feel better. It has a lovely, cosy, exposed brick living room with lots of shelves for all our books. There's plenty of garden for Jack to roam in, and space for bikes by the (rather burglar-friendly) back gate. And a nice new shower room. More to the point, did I mention, it has a kiwi tree? And the handpainted sign at the end of the road?

As you can probably tell, I fell a little bit in love with this flat. The more practical concerns I should probably harbour have flown out of the window. Perhaps it was the very same window I first glimpsed the kiwi tree through. I did a halfhearted google for back gate security solutions but within moments was eyeing up recipes for kiwi jam.

Fortunately for us both, TLOML's sentimental side is balanced by the steely mind of a lawyer with a nose for damp, security concerns, and peculiar break clauses in contracts. So he will be making some enquiries and doing some negotiating.

The jury's still out on whether we take this flat. But my heart has already moved in. And if the flathunt continues, you can consider a kiwi tree the new dealbreaker.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The hunt for a little outside space

This is not the garden of my dreams
Convenient though our temporary accommodation is, one cannot live with cardboard boxes as a coffee table for ever. So the flat hunt continues. Fortunately the agents who told us, fairly uniformly, that 'there's nothing on the market' were dead wrong. We've seen ten flats in the last few days.

We haven't yet found the perfect place though. Most of them tick most of the boxes but none tick all. We are learning quickly that the key here is to define those boxes extremely tightly. Give an estate agent some wiggle room and he'll bust out a war dance all over your boundaries.

Take, for example, our request for outside space. I soon learned that I had to explain that we wanted direct access to that outside space. If I have to put shoes on and take my keys, it doesn't fit the bill. So that patch of grass outside the building's front door does not qualify.
This would do

What we mean by 'direct access to outside space' is somewhere we can step out onto with a cup of coffee and enjoy the fresh air. Somewhere to dry laundry. Somewhere to entertain. Allow me to illustrate:
This is the ideal
Clearly what we don't want is a garden off the bathroom. Yesterday I had to explain to an estate agent why I didn't think that was ideal for entertaining. Or even for just the two of us. I just can't see us trooping through the bathroom with playing cards, and a couple of beers, whenever we want to chill out in the great outdoors.
Furthest from meeting our outside space needs was the flat TLOML and I saw a couple of days ago. It was a pretty grotty flat but we were intrigued by the promised roof terrace with stunning views, so we asked to see it anyway.

The landlord, without a trace of embarrassment, hoisted a ladder out from behind the sofa, propped it up to a hatch in the 15' ceiling, and ushered us up. The views were indeed stunning. But I can't quite see me casually erecting a ladder everytime I want to drink my coffee outside.

To be fair, it does tick the box: it was outside space, and we had direct access. So now that box is being redefined. We want outside space, with direct access, and no ladders required. Wish us luck...