Isn’t it Ironic? Chuggers, Health Food Shops and Homelessness

charity

There are many ironies in our big bad city. The Evening Standard, for example, have just run a huge campaign on tackling food waste, in a newspaper that must rack up mountains of rubbish as people flick through the news and discard of it. Or the fact that many of the adverts within the paper are promoting the organisations which the Standard are criticising, a simultaneous condemning and supporting of the offender. Of course, I am completely behind what the Evening Standard are trying to do – a thoroughly worthy cause and a no-brainer in terms of using waste products to the benefit or hundreds of people.

Recently, a number of other ironies have caught my eye whilst walking the streets of London. An employee, for instance, of a well-known and pretty pricey health food shop was at the store’s side door, obviously on a lunch break, chain smoking and drinking Red Bull. Naturally, I am not expecting everyone who works at this place to be nibbling on quinoa and sipping on a green juice before whizzing off to their lunch-time yoga session, but I did chuckle to myself at the juxtaposition of the wording on the uniform and the contents of the employee’s hands.

Perhaps, though, the most startling and disturbing ironies I witnessed last week was involving an individual known commonly, I believe, as a ‘Chugger’ – a charity mugger. These are the sort of people who hang around in the middle of the pavement with bibs blazing charities’ names, trying to get the public to sign up to regular donations to THE MOST worthy cause (much more than the guy’s on the other side of the road, they assure you). For starters, if I am going to support a charity, I am going to do it off my own back, not because some chirpy twenty-something in a sandwich board has grabbed me en route to the tube station, and won’t let me hop on the Central Line until I promise to direct debit £2 a month to change lives. Anyway, this is not a rant about the various methods that charities go to in order to obtain more donators.

This Chugger on this particular occasion was from a homeless charity, as his primary coloured bib, thrown on over the top of an expensive looking coat, informed me. ‘Can I ask you a quick question?’ he would ask passers-by. ‘Just a few pounds a month can give a homeless person a bed for the night’, he informs the incoming people. The irony here, though, was in the fact that this Chugger was completely oblivious to the homeless man sitting next to him at the side of the pavement, sleeping bag, sleeping dog, and a cardboard box to sit on.

I looked at the man, and looked at the Chugger, who was trying to get people to donate to a cause that aims to help those in need SUCH AS THIS HOMELESS MAN RIGHT BESIDE YOU. This was outside a Sainsbury’s, for goodness sake – a better way to help this cold, hungry and homeless man would be to grab him a sandwich, talk to him for a bit, and perhaps alert one of the various organisations within London, such as Street Link run by St. Mungos, who will send out someone as soon as they can to help. Rather than signing up to a charity that spends massive amounts on adverts and campaigns, the public, and the Chugger, should have opened their eyes to the problem right in front of them, which was being completely ignored.

But it was getting late – the Chugger was probably more interested in when he could go home, probably via the over-priced health food shop.

 

 

 

 

This is London: Change Gonna Come

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I’m going to say it plain and simple: I don’t like change. They say change is good, and maybe for certain people, at certain times, it is. But when something comes along and disrupts you just when you are feeling settled and comfortable, when things are safe and familiar, I just want change to buzz off.

Imagine my horror, my utter dread when I found out that change was going to happen – a change I had utterly no control over. This was a change governed by the Gods, the ever-powerful TFL.

When I discovered that ‘essential maintenance works’ were going to be carried out on Holborn station from August 2016 until late 2017 I applauded Transport for London’s recognition of the much-needed improvements. They were making an effort, I thought; they are trying to make our lives easier. Bravo. And then I read the signs properly, as in stopping, taking my headphones off, and absorbing the words.

Picture my well and truly gasted flabber when I realised that between 7:30 and 10 am, Monday to Friday, Holborn station would be exit only, with no Central and Piccadilly line interchange. ‘But how’, I asked the big red sign, as if it was the fountain of all knowledge, or at least half as clever as Siri, ‘how will I get to work?’

I did it people, I had to accept that there had to be change. Hard as it was, I properly changed my route: I had to venture into unknown territory and take different tubes, with different people, and different journey times. However, I have to say, not attempting to squeeze onto a Central Line train in rush hour was somewhat of a relief. Whereas my usual journey was choc-a-bloc with suited city workers, abounding with laptop bags and Costa coffees, my new changed one seems slightly calmer.

Taking the Piccadilly and Jubilee lines feels less ‘commuter scramble’ than my original Central and Northern combination. Getting a seat is almost guaranteed, and not once was I knocked by a wayward backpack, or did I find myself with a take-out latte spilling on my arm.

This change in route may actually be a good thing.

Sometimes, it seems, a change comes and hits you like a wet sponge, and you just have to take it: you never know, you may end up feeling suitably refreshed afterwards…

So maybe I am not completely opposed to change. But in future, I’d like my change to have an advance warning and a guaranteed refund policy should I wish to return it. Opportunity to exchange my change for a less changed change would be much appreciated.

London Tourists – and other Summer Holiday complaints

telephone boxSummer holidays mean one thing for us Londoners – hell. Why, we ask, are these swarms of people descending on our turf/tarmac? Maybe it’s time to escape the big smoke…

 

The ability to spot a tourist comes as second nature after living in London for a few years. If it’s not the tell-tale backpack (with optional front-pack) or the matching caps, it’s the M+M souvenirs or London hoody. If you spot a snaking line of confused looking individuals following a lady waving an umbrella in the air, these are no doubt also tourists. Likewise, chances are that anyone standing on the left side of the escalator is probably on holiday in the capital.

And then there are the children – taken on a day trip to London to visit a museum, see Big Ben, or generally get in the way. These are more easily spotted by looking for a frazzled Mum: key signs here are the frizzy hair from tube-induced heat; darting eyes attempting to keep track of all four children; or the look of shock that they have just spent a small fortune on sandwiches from Pret.

Why, when we Londoners are trying to get to work, or pick up a pint of milk, do these tourists and families make it harder for us, I hear you complain. I think we forget, living in this vibrant and cosmopolitan capital, that London is actually a pretty cool place. We take the Tower of London, the Southbank and the V&A for granted; we see the Shard as a piece of the furniture; and being able choose from twenty different cuisines on one street is frankly our right. Isn’t it? This is what London does to a person – we become blinkered. We see London as the norm and everything else as the exception, when in fact, London is a flippin’ special place.

So cut the visitors some slack. If they are struggling with their Google maps trying to find the British Museum, point them in the right direction. If they look fed up queuing in Starbucks, suggest a cheaper and quieter alternative round the corner. If they are walking on the right or standing on the left, mention the laws of the land.

And when you yourself are on a city break in Paris, Berlin, Milan, and the locals there are probably viewing you with the same annoying glances and frustration; or when you yourself are occupying the role of parent-on-edge, making sure that the kids are fed, watered, all accounted for, and that they haven’t stolen anything from the museum gift shop, you may think differently. It’s all a matter of perspective. But in the meantime, take a breather and accept that people just want to see our capital. Let’s share the awesomeness of our city, and think, hey, we are immensely lucky to call London our home.

Berlin Walls: Street Art in the German Capital

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You no longer have to be in a gallery to see incredible art, neither know about everything from the Renaissance to Pop Art to be deemed an art critic. The great thing about street art is that there is no arrow pointing to where you should look, or a piece of card explaining the artist, name of the work and the materials that were used. You have to look and find these things yourself; an art treasure hunt, if you will.

London is well-known for its street art and graffiti; it’s clear you’ve entered the hipster hub of Shoreditch when you start to see quirky drawings on the side of buildings, and provocative words sprayed onto breeze-block walls.

east side wall

Berlin, however, takes the whole street art phenomenon to new levels. The sheer quantity of stunning designs on every street corner is obvious as soon as you get off the train at the main station. It somehow makes the city seem instantly more laid back, and gives you the sense that the graffiti police are not so fussed about stray spray cans in Germany.

Like a lot of outdoor ‘art’, a fair amount of Berlin’s arguable vandalism is just that – I’m not pretending that every wall is adorned with next year’s Banksy – but there is an awful lot of impressive stuff out there.

For the ultimate experience of wall art, the East Side Gallery is a no-brainer. This is a remaining part of the Berlin Wall which is still standing, a harsh reminder of the former divided city. However, in contrast to its previous life as a grey, stark symbol of the partition between East and West Berlin, the wall here is now a giant canvas. This is the biggest, most impressive, varied mural you have seen.

climate change

Interspersed with messages about climate change and thought-provoking statements are reactions to the fall of the wall, and the union of the country. Pictures evoking the persecution of the prior years alongside the promise of newfound freedom distil the 1989 Berlin Wall collapse into hard-hitting realities.

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For incredible art as well as an education about what divided Berlin meant for society, forget the traditional galleries and museums. This art experience is completely free: it is street art as you’ve never seen it before.

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http://www.visitberlin.de/en/spot/east-side-gallery

 

Coffee Encounters

 

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Just because London is a vast and busy city, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t meetings and conversations that are resonant of village life…

 

It was a Monday morning – generally, I reckon, the nation’s least favourite day. Especially, I would have thought, a Londoner’s least favourite; cultural endeavours and weekend lie ins are abruptly brought to an end by a commuter train full of Metro papers and backpacks in faces, and another working week is started.

My Monday morning, however, was spent drinking coffee and writing essays, a core part of student life. Caffeine and work goes hand in hand like the Hammersmith and City Line and delays– one without the other somehow seems absurd. So it was not unusual, not out of the ordinary, to be set up in a café with an open laptop, books on the table, and a caffeinated beverage in hand.

The disadvantage to this independent set-up, however, is that it is a rather solitary exercise. Of course, this is often conducive to a decent essay, but sometimes it is social, useful even, to have a co-worker to share coffee runs with, or mind your station when you need to make a toilet trip.

A coffee down, I found myself wishing I had someone to mind my bags and laptop whilst I could nip to the loo. To my right was a quiet middle-aged man, nose in a newspaper and a toastie on the table. His plain black turban seemed rather conservative in comparison to his brightly coloured patterned jumper, which looked like something an aunt may have knitted. Interrupting him from his run-down of the day’s news, I kindly asked him if he would mind keeping an eye on my things for 5 minutes, to which he said ‘of course’.

On returning, I thanked the man, who nodded at me and then absorbed himself once more in his newspaper, by this time nearing the back sport pages. He then folded up his paper and turned to me. ‘One question’, he said. ‘How did you know to trust me? I could have run off with your laptop, taken your bags… You don’t know me’.

‘True’, I replied. ‘I don’t know you. But somehow I felt that I could trust you – you seemed content, quiet, and have a friendly face. Of course it was a risk, but if we never take risks, we won’t get anywhere in life’.

‘I feel touched’, the man continued, ‘you have made my day. How lovely to know that I seem like a trustworthy person. In such a big and busy city, people in London always expect the worst – there is not enough trust. I am going to mention this on my chat show tomorrow, this meeting’.

After talking to the man, it turns out he is a chat show host on the Sikh Channel, and opens each episode with an anecdote, of which our encounter would be one of them. On leaving, he gave me his card, the newspaper he’d finished, and offered to buy me a coffee (to which I politely declined, thinking ahead that this would induce more toilet trips, and therefore finding more laptop-watchers).

‘Thank you for trusting me’, he said, ‘and have a splendid day’. Even in a place as bustling, dangerous and hectic as London, there are glimpses of humanity, instances of conversation, and encounters that may never happen again, yet add a certain smile to your day. This was one of them.

Is London really ‘All That’? Or can we learn something from the Germans?

cologne river

London’s My Lobster went on a bit of a trip recently. This trip was to the far away land of Germany, specifically to the awesome city that is Cologne. Living in London, we (mostly) all think that this is THE city to be in – London has it all, doesn’t it? When people gawp at the fact we have chosen to live in one of the world’s most expensive cities, one overwhelmed by tourists, high rents and delayed trains, we brush off their ignorance. Sometimes, it takes a visit to a completely different place, in this case, Cologne, to look at London in a new light. I think we could learn a thing or two from our German counterparts….

 

Cologne vs London

 

Train prices:

London: 40 min train ride from London Liverpool Street to Stanstead airport: £22 (return)

Cologne: Half-hour train ride from Cologne city centre to Bonn/Koln airport: €2.80 (one way)

 

Beer/Bar Etiquette

London: queue for approx. 30 mins at the bar, elbowing punters en route, to pay a fiver for a mediocre pint.

Cologne: in the Brauhaus, people come to your table with beer, and simply tally on your beer mat how much you’ve drunk (at a rate of about €1.70 for (an admittedly small) 0.2l Kolsch right out of the brewery)

 

Live Jazz

London: approx. £10 entry to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club

Cologne: free jazz every night at Papa Joe’s Jazz-Lokal, with all drinks being a couple of euros more expensive than other places in order to cover costs

 

Supermarket Booze

London: £7-8 for a bottle of fizz

Cologne: €5 for a pretty decent bottle of Prosecco

 

Student Love

London: about 10% discount for those of us slaving away at uni, and paying £9,000 a year tuition fees.

Cologne: consistently discounted entry prices at all museums, galleries etc. (some at nearly 50% off regular adult price). Oh, and university here is FREE people!

 

Perhaps London could take a leaf out of Cologne’s book. Of course, I’m in no way advocating that we Londoners immediately start sporting Lederhosen or having sausages on the menu at near every restaurant (note: this is not being stereotypical, these things actually happen in Cologne), but maybe if transport was cheaper, pubs were more chilled, people were more trustworthy and education was free we wouldn’t get that look of shock, horror and disbelief from non-Londoners when we say we live in London. Instead, they would say ‘well aren’t you lucky, living in a place with such good principles and ideas. One might say, slightly German?’ I wait with bated breath…

 

P.S. further comparison in the area of stairs: if you think that Covent Garden station is a bit hard work with their 193 stairs, try the Cologne cathedral – 533 steps up a narrow spiral staircase (not pretty when you meet a school trip coming down when you are attempting the epic journey upwards). TFL, do not take on this idea for future tube stations.

Made in China: Rethinking the Label

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With an increasing number of Asian designers taking to the catwalk at London Fashion Week, is it time we looked at the ‘Made in China’ label from a new perspective?

Seeing the familiar ‘made in China’ hallmark on something you own is not unusual. In fact, it is so commonplace that it is almost surprising if something is not made in China. However, the label hardly screams ‘artisan’, ‘unique’ or ‘fashion forward’: for a long time it has instead been eponymous with, let’s be honest, a sense of mass-produced and low quality tat. But, in 2016, should we be re-thinking this ‘Made in China’ phenomenon? Is it time to forget all that we know and relearn what actually is being made in China?

Primarily because of the lower labour costs, many fashion brands take their production to China – this is not unknown. However, what is less talked about is the fact that high-end brands are also getting on board with this; Prada, Armani and Coach are among the designers moving their production to Asia, where high-end manufacture competencies are growing. So, even more things are being made in China: the question is, whether many things actually designed in china? Shanghai, like any other capital city in any other country, is home to a large number of up and coming, innovative and quite frankly stunning designers. Arguably, though, their location is a disadvantage; the reputation of China as a source of one-off creative pieces is overshadowed by their role in the mass-production of flimsy Kinder-Egg toys.

 

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A piece from the Favotell pop- up, showcasing emerging Shanghai designers

But times are changing, and people are starting to recognise that just as your leather bag might bear a tag saying ‘Made in Italy’, clothes which proudly state they have been ‘Made in China’ could equally be a sign of a good quality, well-made and exquisitely designed item. With London Fashion Week underway, the emergence of Shanghai based and Asian inspired designs cannot be ignored. Designers such as Minki Cheng, Huishan Zhang, Ryan Lo and Tommy Zhong are proudly exhibiting the talent from China through designs inspired by the East, championed in the West. One such company that is aiming to re-educate the public on the growing number of emerging designers in China is Favotell, who aim to create a cultural bridge between Shanghai and London, exposing England to the huge talent from across the continent. London seems a sensible place to introduce these up and coming Shanghai designers to a wider audience; the huge number of art students and creatives in one place is bound to create some innovate mixes and merges. Favotell is exploring one cultural merge that has so far not been much explored – the link between Shanghai and London, and in December of last year launched a pop-up at Gallery Different near Oxford Street to showcase a selection from some of Favotell’s Shanghai designers. If other’s take Favotell’s lead, this could be the start of a ‘Made in China’ overhaul.

 

At this point, I think we should look at the ‘Made in China’ tag with fresh eyes: far from just being a means for cheap production, this could signal bespoke creation and innovative design. Watch this space.

 

NB: This blog was unashamedly made in England