Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Argentina: dead bodies and drums

Today is our last day in Buenos Aires for two weeks, as we depart on the second stage of our mini Argentinian tour (north-east Argentina only need apply).

We decided yesterday that we would investigate the local cemetery since Wheeze has a not remotely morbid fascination with permanent residences of the dead. We set off through the city and walked forever, only influenced by my mistaken mapreading at one small point, before finally arriving. I´ve never seen a Catholic cemetery before and I have no reason to assume that they´re not all like this: a small town constructed from black marble and white stone, row upon row of tombs dating back to the 1820s. They made up rambling and endless avenues of the dead down which you could lose yourself for hours trying to find Evita´s final resting place . . . and we did. The plots were all owned by hugely rich Buenos Aires families and their plots served to make an example of this. Countless intricately carved angels and weeping women, flat slabs of smooth black granite with modern glass doors like the entrance to a particularly secretive office, crumbling towers and pillars for the oldest which were slowly being reclaimed by the earth like all of the bodies hidden away inside. Some weren´t even hidden. The coffins lined not only the bottomless dugouts underneath the visible opulence and down the darkening stairs but shelves at eye-level, huge, heavy wooden objects with rusting handles and no outward clue as to the state of the contents within.

Last night we went to a fantastic drum show called Bomba de Tiempo which my limited Spanish (and I am slowly discovering quite how limited) translates as "Timebomb". It was a group of guys playing a range of drums, the names of which I am not musically inclined enough to know, with absolute perfect precision and incredible rhythm, not dissimilar to Stomp. It was inside what looked like a warehouse, in some backwater of town with deeply cool people popping in and out, so rather like Shoreditch I suppose. Luckily here deeply cool people were more concerned with the music than their clothes so we were able to slip in largely unnoticed despite our fleeces and walking boots. We ordered beer and I discovered the benefits of the metric system as I was provided with a litre - yes, a litre cup - of Quilmes, the local brew. It was like drinking out of a bucket. I managed it though.

The show started at about 8 and finished at 10pm; phenomenally early by Argentinian standards where it´s suspicious if you eat dinner before 11pm. Emily had been recommended by a friend to pick up a leaflet to the after-party to which we, as girls, would get free entry. It is not the time to argue feminism when AR$30 (GBP4.50) are at stake so we all planned to go but after we´d stopped off at a hideously bad Chinese restaurant - the only place serving food in those lonely streets - we were all too tired. So, defeated by our still considerable jetlag, city-wide trek that afternoon and the strange London custom of eating at 7:30pm, we left and made our pitiful way back to the hostel at approximately 1pm which by Argentinian standards is barely even time to leave the house.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Welcome to Argentina

Well it only took 19 hours of travel but here I am in Argentina. So many months have passed since we booked our tickets, I had forgotten the name of the airline and indeed was almost convinced that we were due to fly from Heathrow so had a bit of a surprise when it turned out to be Gatwick. Thankfully the 5-year-old near-disaster of misremembering my New Zealand flights by 12 hours remained sufficiently strong in my head and I checked the tickets just far enough in advance to guarantee our arrival at the appropriate airport, on the correct day. Excellent start.

Air Europa is Spain´s third-biggest airline but they share more in common with their South American destinations. Our connecting flight to Madrid announced boarding an hour before we expected it to begin but took off half an hour after it was supposed to leave. This was perhaps a gentle introduction into a somewhat shaky approach to timekeeping and one which I haven´t experienced since India. It´s always a shock to the system for frenetic Londoners such as ourselves but provided us with a welcome excuse to chill out. Not wishing to disappoint those with a view of how Brits abroad should behave, we honed in upon the only screw-top wine in the entire terminal and proceeded to genteely sip directly from the bottle, accompanied by a mammoth bar of Toblerone. Thus the connecting time passed sufficiently quickly. The flight itself was helped enormously by our friendly check-in lady having seated Fizz and I by the emergency exit. Meanwhile Wheeze, the tallest of all three of us, folded her endless limbs into a regular seat but enjoyed the benefit of a proper table and no window seat, a choice position since it enabled her not to view the potential of certain death through triple-glazed glass.

After 13 hours we embarked amidst a cloud of Argentians and Spaniards . . . and were immediately sought out next to the baggage collection by the only Brit on the flight, sporting a university blazer, cut-glass accent, and spewing forth a stream of gap yah statements without a trace of irony. I judged him thoroughly before learning that he was a biology teacher and had spent five years at an inner-city London state school before coming out to Argentina. Despite his references to "tacos" (taxis), "studes" (students) and disappointment that his friends had not come out to visit thereby enabling them to "smash up the city", he was very sweet, and we shared a taxi directly to our hostel whereupon he left us with endless ecommendations for cafes, restaurants and nightlife spots and returned to the Argentinian family with whom he had been living for the last six months. Don´t judge a book by its cover. Well ok, do, but be prepared to feel just a little guilty (if not right on the money).

Although we had been travelling for what seemed like forever, it was too early to check in so we abandoned our bags at the hostel and headed for San Telmo market. A plethora of unexpected tango mixes, jewellery and dogs in clothes abounded. We sampled our first dulce du leche, leather goods and an empanada which Lonely Planet assures me is an Argentinian delicacy but looks like a bastardised version of that West Country classic, the pasty. Tasted pretty good. Still wrong though.

We are all ridiculously overtired but are now off for a steak with Emily with whom we´ve just met up since she is travelling in South America and happens to coincide with our visit by some 36 hours. So far it feels like we are in a Spanish city with touches of inaccuracies; like Cornish food and the marching band we stumbled across who sang the national anthem and then fired their muskets (?!) over the heads of a somewhat baffled crowd. I do love a bit of gunfire to welcome to me a foreign city. Makes me feel all warm and gooey inside.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Stuff that up your Olympics

For the last couple of months – no; years, in fact – there has been something of a conundrum boiling away in the recesses of my mind. Slowly, as I pondered the dilemma, the deadline approached and a verdict needed to be made. A month ago, it was decision time. Will I regret it for the rest of my life if I don’t go the Olympics?

My view on London hosting this historical event changes dramatically on an almost daily basis. At times, I’ve felt honoured and excited. At others, I’ve been utterly indifferent. I thoroughly enjoyed giving France the finger as we waltzed off with the winning bid, and then felt the colour rise when they gave it back – twice – as we fell into a recession and the rest of the world sniggered at our gargantuan white elephant. Sometimes I forget all about them until I try to get on the Northern Line at Tottenham Court Road and then I blame Sebastian Coe personally for shutting down the entire station as they build that bloody Crossrail so that tourists don’t have to cope with the trauma of changing lines on the tube which Londoners have all managed to do perfectly well for 150 years, thank you very much. I’ve resented my taxes trickling away into a shiny new stadium for people on stupid bikes with coloured-in wheels to whizz around at breakneck speeds for no apparent reason. I mean honestly, if you’re going to ride a bike, surely the point is to actually arrive somewhere? At least when you run a marathon, you get to see things. And rowing gives you all that fresh air. But there is also clearly no space for a basket on the front of those machines. Where exactly are you supposed to put your shopping?

Of course, this was all purely hypothetical. It wasn’t even purchasing; it was just application. I was up against the entire world. There are ten million people in the Greater London area, a guaranteed deluge of tourists who’ll already have bought their flights in anticipation, guaranteed ticket-holders amongst the competitors’ copious (and no doubt recently emerged) friends and family and on top of all of this there’ll clearly have been an over-subscription for the pretty events because let’s face it, nobody wants to see table tennis or rounders or javelin or fishing. Why did I even bother? It’s expensive and stupid and I DON’T EVEN LIKE SPORT ANYWAY.

So I applied for BMX and synchronised swimming.

And then I didn’t bloody get either one.

I hate the Olympics.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

HRH Robyn of Fantasia

Beneath the veneer of bitterness and sarcasm that makes up my outer shell lurks a shameless romantic and starry-eyed believer in happy endings. As a little girl, I not only wanted to be a princess but couldn’t quite imagine any other fate befalling my adult life. I wasn’t entirely sure which princes were available to me, nor did I have a particular preference either way (I was nothing if not pragmatic; it’s good to keep one’s options open) but I spent hours practicing my royal wave and drew up several versions of the speech I would give to my loyal subjects. As I carefully sketched out a selection of wedding gowns with ever-increasing petticoats, my dress swung from mildly spectacular to necessitating its own postcode.

I understood that the road to my future royal happiness would not be easy. I knew I would find myself enduring complications including enchantments, battles, evil step-relations and the occasional power-hungry sorcerer. I was prepared for this. Not for nothing had I scrutinised my Disney videos, bumper book of Hans Christian Anderson fairytales and focused with rapt attention upon the occasional cheerful interlude from the Brothers Grimm. My English teacher had long noted my overactive imagination (positively or negatively, depending on whether it was me or my parents interpreting the carefully-worded reports) and I put it to good use creating scenarios in which my prince and I would meet and fall in love, usually instantaneously. The general chit-chat of courtship was skimmed over, the practicalities brushed aside; nasty bits like kissing and stuff were inevitably brief. The dress, flowers, bridesmaids, global media attention . . . the happily ever after . . . these were the focus of my daydreams.

It took me the best part of two decades to appreciate that these dreams and aspirations were, perhaps, a little on the unrealistic side. Princesses don’t generally swear or do tequila body shots. They wear beige twinsets and nude kitten heels, not turquoise ballet pumps with purple tights. It’s not common for them to do a Sunday morning walk of shame through Clapham Junction whilst smeared in gold glitter. They can’t spend a week at Glastonbury or take the tube. They aren’t allowed to dance on a table or go skinny-dipping or flash their bra (deliberately or otherwise). The more I thought about it, the more I realised that actually, I wouldn’t make a particularly good princess. It’s hard work to be married to a prince; far harder than we romantics might ever imagine, especially if you’re what my mother kindly terms “eccentric”. It’ll be a tough man who ever asks me to marry him, should that mystical day arrive . . . a tough man with a character to match my own and ideally without a thousand years of family tradition to which he expects me to adapt.

And then I saw the wedding. And Kate looked so beautiful . . . and Wills so happy . . . and they still managed a cheeky smile and a wedding car bedecked with balloons and cans . . . and above all, a commoner marrying a prince. And suddenly, it was as if the long and painfully-installed understanding of reality was wiped from my joyful, idealistic, romance-saturated, utterly besotted mind. I’m pretty sure the only way this story will end is with me tying the knot to a member of royalty, dressed in an Alexander McQueen frock (or possibly Vivienne Westwood; equally British, after all, but a little heavier on the ribbons and sequins). Yup, it turns out it’s not so unrealistic a fantasy after all.

Plus, I’m pretty sure Harry doesn’t have a problem with party girls.

Anyone fancy a trip to Boujis?

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Eight-legged harbingers of doom

Approximately level with my nose, the spider hung delicately from a thread and swung obnoxiously close to my sleep-deprived face. Our bathroom appears to be a haven for these foul representatives of Hell and it sucks to be them, because the walls are white, manifestations immediately noted and a watery death mere millimetres away.

My standard reaction to such regular appearances varies wildly depending on my caffeine intake, company and state of undress. The buggers usually time their appearances to perfection, scuttling across the floor at the precise moment that I am struggling into a pair of tights, balanced precariously on one foot in the centre of their intended trajectory.

This morning, however, I was fully clothed, albeit with a mouth full of Colgate Total. With brush clamped firmly between my molars and unblinking stare fixed upon his grotesque form, I stepped slowly to the loo roll, tore off a double piece, folded it to the perfect size and returned to my uninvited guest. His leg twitched. So did mine. We eyed each other warily; me brandishing my flimsy shield of paper, he secure in his unimpeachable ability to leap up and kill me on the spot with the sheer force of his existence.

It was a stand-off.

But one of us had to win.

I clenched my tissue – bringer of death and destruction to all who dare disrupt my early-morning ablutions – and brought my omnipotent hand down towards his defenceless body. And as I did . . . I stopped.

I stood back. I couldn’t do it. What in the name of Darwin had befallen my remorseless insect-slaying self?

As if in a trance, I wandered into my bedroom, retrieved a piece of card, returned to the bloodless bathroom and allowed the little critter to pick his way gently on to my tenderly-offered vessel of liberation. I prised open the window and shook him free, gazing serenely as he tumbled onto the sill below and vanished between two bricks into the safety of the wall.

What had caused this sudden, dramatic change of heart? Was it an understanding of who did, in fact, hold the upper hand in this struggle for domination? An unexpected surge of zen? A peace-loving streak emerging from deep inside my inner hippy?

In actual fact it was because it had occurred to me that this creature was nothing less than a money spider. And being, as I am, mid-quest for a mortgage, I reached the obvious conclusion that to murder an emblem of the much-needed filthy lucre would be nothing short of certifiable. And so for that reason, and that reason alone, I spared his life. His filthy, terrifying, money-spinning, gold-coated, economically viable little life.

But let’s just say it was the zen.

Monday, 28 March 2011

The Great Quest Begins

Question: if you knew potential buyers were coming to take a look at your property, would you be inclined to run a duster over a few surfaces? Close your cupboard doors, shove your laundry into a basket, draw the curtains, get out of bed? I know, I know; a pipe dream. A blissful utopia. I am too naïve and hopeful for my own good.

Tenants are a strange lot; student tenants yet more so. Under the impression that we would have the run of the joint, I cheerfully followed estate agent number one (Neale “excess of personality” du Foxtons) into our second property of the morning.

The first, incidentally, was roughly one hundred grand over budget and fit precisely none of our criteria, despite me having outlined a clear and simple checklist the week before. Estate agents, it turns out, are woefully hard of hearing. But I digress.

Considering Neale had received no response to his repeated banging on the door and greetings of increasing volume, we were slightly surprised to stumble across the first catatonic form in the smallest bedroom. Expressing an insincere hope that he wasn’t dead, I donned my best Tube face (if I pretend there’s nobody here, then there’s nobody here), popped my head around the door and brightly chirruped “oh yes, it’s bigger than I thought” before trotting after Neale towards the second bedroom. He emerged rather quicker than either of us had expected, blushing crimson. “There are, er, two people . . . in, um . . . in there” he mumbled. I wasn’t too bothered. My level of shockability had been dampened by the detritus in the sitting room, my first sighting of which belies my innocence as I wondered, bemused, why someone would leave a £20 note lying around where anybody could take it . . . even if it were carefully rolled into a tube . . . and half hidden under a couple of credit cards . . . on a plastic plate . . . oh.

I can’t say that I was expecting miracles as a first-time buyer on a sub-par budget, but accidentally stumbling onto a post-coke, mid-coital couple was not quite the level at which I had been aiming.

After that, the fact that the kitchen ceiling in the third property we visited was held up with masking tape barely registered on my radar.

I think this is going to be a long journey.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Hoxton Trendies

One day, apparently, some achingly hip individual thought it was a good idea to go into the hairdressers and say “just shave off the sides, my good man, but leave a decent crop sprouting out the top of my head; enough to twist into an oversized quiff that I can curl sneeringly over my thick-rimmed, lens-free specs, which – by the way – I wear ironically”. And with the tragic birth of that hairstyle, London would never look the same again.

Oh, the Hoxton Trendies; my least-favourite denizens of this otherwise glorious city. That subset of society, the self-proclaimed embodiments of cool who glare witheringly at anyone unfortunate enough to cross their paths and not be in possession of a vintage GameBoy or a synthesiser or a flat in Bethnal Green. It’s the satirical use of 80s jewellery (Hello Kitty necklace), music (ghettoblaster trumps iPod) and clothing (I’m not wearing these neon legwarmers because I like them; they’re a postmodern reflection on our society’s inability to conceive radical new concepts and yet tragically fail to recycle effectively thus ruining our beautiful planet, yeah?). It’s the identikit clothes, floral headscarfs, slick of red lipstick and cats-eye flicks; the uniform which somehow, bizarrely, utterly incomprehensibly, lends them the wholly misguided conviction that despite being visually inseparable, they are each one of them unique in their clothing choices. It’s shoes without socks. It’s only liking unsigned bands. It’s the gigantic headphones. If they don't cause you to stoop when you walk, they're too small. If you require a separate bag to carry those bad boys because your satchel can't cope with the added burden, you're on your way. It’s the . . . oh, actually, those headphones are quite good. The bass is really thumpy . . . and the treble’s really . . . trebley . . . and they’re lovely and soft . . . No. No, Robyn. You’re getting sucked in by the propaganda. Those headphones are crap. They are poor quality and the sound is tinny and they in no way make me look as if I know more about music simply because I am listening to it through a more sophisticated and expensive medium utilised only by true aficionados of melodic and lyrical quality.

Except they kind of do.

God help me, I’m moving to Shoreditch.

NB For further understanding, I beg you to watch this video.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Bieber vs Black

Just as I am coming to terms with the reality of cohabiting on earth with pint-sized pop pillock Justin Bieber, some thoughtless cretin goes ahead and deposits the equally talentless Rebecca Black onto my plane of existence. Please universe, make it stop! There are only so many vacuous, insipid “musicians” with which I can cope in a single lifetime, and the Biebster pipped Becky to the post. My biggest consternation is the fact that I’m not entirely sure where Justin crawled from in the first place. Who is he? No really, I’m not kidding. He appears one day and starts singing about babies when he’s only about five years old himself. Who the bloody hell is he?

And now you’re telling me that if Daddy pays for me to star in a video, I too can take over the internet and power my way to global domination? (A similar route, incidentally, to that taken by Paris Hilton . . . although perhaps her Daddy was less aware of the nature of said video, and if she started it off by asking “which seat should I take”, I can’t help but feel it wasn’t with quite the same outcome in mind).

I realise that asking for talent in 21st century chart-topping popstars is perhaps on the ambitious side, but can’t we at least have a little 3D personality? A smidgen of individuality, the occasional allusion to hidden darkness, a tendency towards acne, bad hair days, leprosy . . . and preferably a few scars, implied sexual misdemeanours or a history of trauma and endless pain lurking behind those shining baby blues? Is that so much to ask? Fact: if you have to say that something is fun more than once then it probably isn’t really that fun after all. Plus I resent being taught the days of the week at the age of 26. I already know that Tuesday comes after Wednesday thank you very much. And that’s why you’re a lonely blogger and I have over 34 million hits on YouTube.