Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cycling chic

I recently gave up wearing a separate cycling outfit to work - partly to save myself the hassle of carrying extra clothes and the faff of getting changed in the locker room; but mostly out of sheer vanity. I got sick of seeing gorgeous London girls sailing past me, dresses and heels carefully coordinated with their Pashley's, immaculate hair streaming out the back of their fancy helmets, while I trudged along in old track pants, a second-hand reflective jacket and flouro vest.

Vanity beats safety, I'm afraid. When in Rome...

Here's what I've learned about cycle chic (this was before I discovered these two brilliant websites devoted to girly-biking):

Dresses and skirts are surprisingly easy to wear on a bike - the perfect shape is a knee-length swirly skirt which gives you room to move each knee independently and still preserve your modesty.

Leggings (the bike shorts of the noughties) are your best friend. Can be worn with any skirt but work especially well with mini's.

Wrap dresses are a no-go unless you like flashing your knickers and stocking tops to all the bankers and construction workers at 8am in the morning. I sure as hell didn't.

pinup girl
I don't know what she's smiling about.

There's no need to wear ugly flouro clips - you can peg the leg of most pants by tucking them tight against the ankle and rolling up. Skinny jeans would be perfect - if you're emaciated enough to wear them (I'm not).

Heels are also surprisingly easy to cycle in: you just hook the pedal between the heel and the arch and away you go. Just be careful taking off at the lights/standing up as these shoes tend to be quite slippy.

A long scarf is brilliant in the Winter months. I advise applying the Kelly Cross (I am pretty sure I am the inventor of this technique so I hereby christen it thus). You wind the scarf once around your neck, cross the ends over your front and tie or tuck at the back. Keeps your front and your lower back warm. Works best when hidden under a jacket.

And finally, in the event of a sudden hailstorm, I advise taking shelter at the nearest bus stop/shop awning until it passes.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Home's face: how it ages when you're away

I am thirty-two years old. My last relationship broke up because I wasn't twenty-seven instead*. Shame. It hit me quite hard afterwards that actually, I am never going to be twenty-seven again; and that I'm only going to get older from here on in - what sort of a stupid system is that?! Time is annoyingly, rigidly, out-datedly linear; like analogue television. As a child who came of age during the digital revolution (I'm a paid-up member of the "On Demand" generation), having to conform to a linear schedule that proceeds in a ruler-straight line from birth to death just doesn't do it for me.

But there it is: I am never going to be twenty-seven again.

Or, to put it another way: this is as young and as free as I'll ever be.

That simple statement of truth can be an uplifting affirmation or a despairing lament, depending on my mood.

Some days I am so grateful for the incredible freedoms I enjoy - the freedom to work (even though it doesn't always feel like a "freedom", I never forget that it is a hard-won privilege), the freedom to be independent; to travel; to earn money and buy things that make my life comfortable and enjoyable. The freedom to choose a partner (and the freedom to reject inappropriate ones). The freedom to wear colourful sundresses - or indeed, whatever I choose. The incredible freedom of having time that is my own and the freedom to do whatever I like with it; which I never take for granted (even though I waste a lot of it lolling about doing bugger all).

The freedom to ride a bike.

The freedom to sunbathe.

The freedom to walk around a city by myself.

The freedom to drive along the coast (although it's been a long time since I took advantage of this one).

The freedom to listen to my favourite music.

The freedom to explore the internet.

...and other days, I just wish I was twenty-seven again.

*I hasten to add that it wasn't a case of my ex wanting to trade me in for a younger model - shame on you for thinking I would waste my time on that kind of guy! - it's just that we are at very different stages in our lives and couldn't reconcile the gap.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Share house living for introverts

Last weekend I moved* into a big new home. A new home with four other (extremely lovely) people. Four of 'em though! That's the most people I've ever lived with in my life, apart from when I was growing up in a family of five (and I don't believe that counts because we were a family of hermits).

Lovely though all my new housemates are, I admitted to a friend last week that I was a little aprehensive about how I would cope with such a big share-house situation and confessed that I was treating it as an experiment (with me as the guinea pig).

I have finally come to terms with the fact that I am a true introvert, but other people rarely seem to understand why I need time and space on my own in order to not go totally bat-shit crazy. Non-introverted people just don't get this at all; and it's hard to feel you aren't being constantly judged by the majority of extroverted people who just can't fathom why you wouldn't want company for every little aspect of your life. One girl had her brother tell her, "we didn't know you were introverted; we just thought you were a bitch", and I'm sure there are a slew of people I've come across in my life who thought that of me; or maybe just that I was shy, aloof, snobby or very quiet.

Man, introverts get some bad press.

To help with the adjustment, I have tried to make my room as much of a haven as possible (it's a lovely big, quiet room on the top floor). But there is much to love about the rest of this rambling house (besides the people, natch) - we have a backyard with a barbeque, goldfish, 5 people's worth of kitchen gadgets, and OMG Sky TV! We also have a seriously big kitchen, and I am looking forward to getting stuck into some serious baking for my new flatties. It's been a long time between muffin batches.

Anyway, I'll let you know how it goes. Fingers crossed it doesn't go horribly wrong...

* This will be my ninth address in eleven years. It's fair to say that I am a bit of an expert with the moving now. The secret is to get boys to help you.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bike rage descends

I obviously angered the mechanical transport gods (or somebody) with my last post as when I went to collect my bike from the secure area last night, I found the D-lock pushed up against the valve - and the moment I moved it, the air was filled with the anxiety-inducing hiss of air escaping. Fast. Arrrgh!

Almost immediately, the tube was completely deflated, rendering the bike as useless as an ashtray on a water ski. Not 10 minutes earlier, I had convinced my hairdresser to squeeze me in before her last appointment of the day, but that was back when I had a functioning means of transport. I stalked back in to the office, mad as hell; had a rant at the gormless security guard about the overcrowdedness of the secure area (which I was convinced had been the cause of the flat); and called to cancel my appointment. Through gritted teeth. Had a little internal monologue to myself re: the rare but extreme annoyance factor of a flat tyre vs. the common but mild annoyance of waiting more than 10 mintues for the bus.

Luckily I managed to wangle my way into an on-the-spot tube replacement at my local Evans Cycles, courtesy of the charmingly bike-mad Gabriel. He managed to change it in about 60 seconds flat, and he (rather stupidly, I thought) agreed to show me how it's done.

Me: How big is that spanner?
Him: 15mm.
Me: Can't you just use a teaspoon to lever the tyre off?
Him: Possibly, never tried it.
Me: Am I going to break a nail getting it back on?
Him: Probably.
Me: Wow, that's dirty work.
Him: Yup.

Poor Gabriel. But in the end, I was cycling down the Cut only minutes later, elated to be back in the saddle so quickly. I ended up pelting it all the way back, to arrive at the salon out of breath and more than a little sweaty - but miraculously, only 5 minutes late. Luckily the serene and lovely Kimmy just smiled, sat me down and pretended not to notice the sheen of sweat under my fringe.

Job done!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Two wheels good, four wheels make me grumpy

Now that the weather has turned decidedly Summery (yay!) and the evenings are so light, it has been more of a pleasure than ever to ride to work and around town on the weekends. It has gotten to the point where the bike feels so much a part of me that I find any other form of transport plain annoying. Walking? Nice if you've got time for it; but otherwise frustratingly slow and lacking in adrenaline. Jogging? Too ungainly and butt-shaking. The bus? Overcrowded, stuffy, slower than molasses... Tube? Forget it, I ain't getting back on a peak hour tube unless it's for a damn good reason.

Nothing tops the feeling of getting up half an hour later than the commuter crowd - freewheeling past the lines of traffic, zooming around corners and sneaking through red lights with the pedestrians - to breeze into work warm and pink-cheeked.

Deck chair couple in Green Park

I don't ever want this Summer to end!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Un gusto dell'Italia

A typical day from my recent trip: I wake up to the distant bonging of church bells announcing seven o'clock. The soporific sound of the sea shushes me back to sleep. The murmur of a middle-aged tour group wafts up from the street, growing louder as they shuffle past en masse toward the seafront. I doze on. Eight o'clock and the bells toll once more, gently nudging me back to awareness. Someone is brewing delicious smelling coffee in the kitchen. Just before nine, the fish man winds his way down the main street in his van - the only traffic in the small seaside town of Manorola - talking all the while into his loudspeaker. I imagine he is saying something like "Fresh fish! Everybody come and buy my fresh fish! My fish are the best fish for miles! Queue here for fish!", but it sounds far more romantic in his native Italian.

I open the shutters out onto the main street to be greeted by a view of rows of tall houses painted in shades of terracotta, ochre and pink with uniformly spaced windows shuttered against the bright morning sunshine. The air smells divine, fresh with sea and rock; sweetened by the profusion of fragrant star jasmine flowers draped over every wall.


After a slow start to the day, we will head out to explore a couple of the five villages that make up the Cinque Terra. The walks range from an easy (and suitably romantic) 20 minute stroll along the cliffs of the Via Dell'Amore between Manarola and Riomaggiore; and a steep, sweaty, leg-trembling 1.5 hour trek between Vernazza and Monterosso. At the first town we reach, we will typically stop for coffee and (if you are the permanently hungry kind like me) an olive oil-soaked mozzarella, basil and tomato foccacia bursting with vibrant flavours. If the sun is out, our walk might be followed by a swim in the salty, bouyant Med, during which we try not to stare openly at the smooth, tanned locals as we walk by in bikini bods that haven't seen the sun in a long, long time.

There will definitely be gelato at some point. At €1.50 for two flavours, it would be rude not to.

* * * *

On our third day, we do a 3.5 hour trek from Monterosso to Levanto, from which you are supposed to get a fantastic view of all five villages after you clamber up the first very steep section:


Never mind. We are thrilled to have made it, and it is a gorgeous walk from here on - the sparkling turquoise Med on the one side; wildflowers, ferns and pine trees on the other. It is so unbelievably quiet, so peaceful. All I can hear is my own heavy breathing, the footsteps of the girls in front of me, birdsong in the trees, and the very distant rushing of the waves below. We barely see signs of another soul, apart from one very remote vineyard halfway between the two towns where a crudely drawn sign out front declares: "Here you can drink home wine". No, grazie signore! I need all my energy for this walk, if I'm going to make it to Levanto and the pompelmo rosso e cioccolato gelato that awaits me there.

Back at our adopted home, there are apricots and cherries begging to be picked - they practically fall into your hands as soon as you touch them. They are slightly tart, but I prefer them that way. Every time we see a police man for the rest of our trip, one of the other girls tells me that he is after me for my fruit-pilfering. Non potrei aiutarlo, signor polizia!


This is surely the most beautiful, poetic, wonderful country in the world; with the best coffee and the most mouth-watering cuisine. I feel lucky. I feel content. La dolce vita, รจ per me.


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Music to be miserable to

Courtesy of the shuffle function this morning. As if I wasn't feeling gloomy enough already!

A Glow - Okkervil River
Hope there's someone - Antony & The Johnsons
What Can I Do? - Rufus Wainwright
Around and around - Mark Kozolek
No One's Gonna Love You - Band of Horses

Thank god then for the next selection:

Across The Wire - Calexico
De la Orgee - De La Soul
In the Hot, Hot Rays - Fleet Foxes

Those Fleet Foxes boys - how I love them. Listening to their music is like floating in a pond with that golden, late afternoon sunshine warming your skin - soul-soothing, gentle, uplifting.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

A quick lesson in the importance of wearing knee pads while roller blading

...even if you are a confident blader of many years experience and don't think you need them. The pavement don't care, man.
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