Posts Tagged With: London

Dear England, That’s Not Bacon

Upon moving to England, I discovered a nation that seemed as in love with bacon as I was. Every sandwich at Pret, every burger, ever salad came with bacon. I thought I had discovered my national identity soulmate, until I started buying some of this bacon-laden food, and discovered:

It’s not bacon.

That’s not bacon:

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And neither is that:

This one came with butter...it's like a little heart attack in a bun.

This one came with butter…it’s like a little heart attack in a bun.

Nope, that isn’t bacon either:

This is cheese and bacon on a bagel. Yes, that cheese is shredded and unmelted. Trust me when I say this is not what you would get in New York.

This is cheese and bacon on a bagel. Yes, that cheese is shredded and unmelted. Trust me when I say this is not what you would get in New York.

Oh sure, maybe it’s Canadian bacon, but we all know that’s just a fancy word for ham. Nobody likes Canadian bacon. Nobody.

Bacon is meant to be narrow and strippy, burnt and crispy. It should be dark red/brown, with charcoal black bits. It is supposed to melt in salty ecstasy in your mouth.

It is not supposed to be chewy. It is not supposed to have gobs of fat that taste like, well, fat, and stick in your teeth. It should not be pink like a pig because I don’t want to think about what animal bacon comes from while I eat it.

So England, it’s time to shape up. I love your ravenous, bottomless appetite for fried food, but the point of frying is to create a yummy crunchy texture…why are you constantly soggify-ing your chips with vinegar (more disturbingly, why have I taken up this habit)? Why is your bacon flat and limp and as sad as a cut out tongue?

Let’s solve this crisis, England. This is my only qualm about our long-term relationship, and it’s as heavy and demoralizing as a wet blanket…which is what your bacon tastes like. I know we can do better. And just as soon as I move out of my vegetarian house, I will show you how.

You are almost there, England. Keep on trying.

This was almost bacon, it just needed a little more time to crisp. I ate this with fried pickles, and THEY were crunchy.

This was almost bacon, it just needed a little more time to crisp. I ate this with fried pickles, and THEY were crunchy.

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Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense, London | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

34×34 #27, The Pub Quiz: A Half P(o)int From Glory

A few months ago I sent a link to my blog to a friend who had expressed mild interest in reading it (don’t tell a writer you want to read their work. They will suck on like a superstrong vacuum hose (that’s Hoover to my many British fans) and refuse to let go). My friend followed through and actually skimmed around my blog, discovering my 34×34. Game and supportive, he suggested we try a pub quiz, item #27 on the list.

Nearly every pub in London has a quiz night, but I had never done one, and had no idea what to expect. Would it be mired in British history? Pregnant with current events? Soaked in obscure and arcane factoids that no one could possibly know? I didn’t do any sort of research to compare the quality or difficulty of different pub quizzes, so I can’t tell you if mine was a representative example. As usual, I dove in without looking, choosing a pub that I like very much in Crouch Hill/Finsbury Park area that has good food (three words: pumpkin amaretto cheesecake) and a sprawling, quaint interior. I believe The Old Dairy was once…well, a working dairy, but don’t quote me on that leap of assumptive logic. The building is ruggedly aged and has nifty relief sculptures on its outer walls, which you can see here.

Obviously, it’s a classy pub, and has thus named its quiz, “Not Just An Udder Quiz.”

Names are important to pub quizzes. I had no idea. I think people exert more effort on cleverly naming their team than on winning the quiz. I honestly can’t remember any of the names at our particular quiz, but I looked up a list of pub quiz team names, just to give you the flavor of what I’m talking about, and I think my favorite on the list was “Halal, Is it Meat You’re Looking for?”

I was not prepared for the crushing pressure to be creative on the spot, so I named us “Three Davids,” after my three best boy writers, which I guess was quirky since there were only two of us, and neither of us was named David. Hilarious, right? I know.

The quiz itself was divided into multiple sections, none of which was an essay, which is where I really excel, so I guess we were doomed before we started. The first part involved a handout to identify pictures of actors…mostly British and I didn’t recognize any of them. There was a section called “39 Steps” which involved questions with multiple part answers, the total of which were supposed to add up to 39. I knew all the states in New England, and the items that the Statue of Liberty holds, and the names of the women in Destiny’s Child. Wheeee! I’m smart.

Then came the part where the MC proffered questions orally, in a variety of categories, and this did not go so well. The questions were just very British, and I clearly haven’t penetrated the culture as much as I had hoped. Nor has my companion, an Irishman whose heart is still in Dublin. The only question I knew was a guess: there was a question about which English city had been named the next “City of Culture.” I have a friend who is from Hull and always talks about what a hole Hull is (say that out loud, please) so I ironically assumed Hull would be the answer…I was right, but we didn’t write that. My Irish buddy chose Newcastle instead. (No offense, Newcastle).

When the scores were tallied, Three Davids came in third to last. Oh, sure, that’s embarrassing, right? Actually it is infuriating, because the team who came in SECOND to last won a GBP30 bar tab. We were a half point off being second to last. A half point! All that un-knowledge for nothing.

Still, the pub quiz gives a purpose to your drinking, which you’re going to do anyway, so why not contextualize it with trivia? Indeed it was a pleasant way to spend an evening, especially with a friend who cared enough about my goals to push me out of my apathy and get something done. A silly, fun, and totally worthwhile thing. To that Irish buddy I say: thank you. It means the world to have a friend who will remind you that you yourself are worth the effort of following through on even the tiniest of dreams.

I look forward to more alcohol drenched quizzes in my future. I just have to come up with a better team name.

And in case you wanted to salivate over that pumpkin amaretto cheesecake…

MMmMmmmm

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Categories: 34x34, London | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

34×34 #6: Do a pin-up photo shoot. (I’m hot. Who knew?)

This one can also be classified under “Adventures with Vouchers.” Last spring I bought a voucher for a “boudoir” photo shoot for the low low cost of GBP18.

But it played out in typical fashion. I waited until the last minute before the voucher expired and then found myself forced to go to an appointment the same day I called for it or else lose the opportunity to use the voucher.

I’ve been wanting to get pin-up shots for a long time (I believe it was on the 31×31 though I obviously didn’t get to it), but I wanted to curate it to perfection: sexy librarian, with a corset, thigh highs, the perfect cardigan, nerdy glasses and a book.

Oh, and I wanted to lose 10 pounds before the illustrious day. I wanted to look perfect. Duh.

Instead I found myself running around Oxford Street an hour before my appointment, scrounging to buy ANY sort of lingerie, thinking about the massive breakfast followed by pizza I’d eaten two days before, the endless shovel of chips into my mouth in this blessedly fry-happy country.

I tried on several bustiers and corsets and slip/nighties, and none of them fit the vision in my head. My love handles projected, my boobs strained unattractively against the fabric as I prayed I wouldn’t rip anything pulling garments back over my head. I settled for a kind of black sheer loose camisole with a built in bra and straps for thigh highs. I didn’t love it. It made my chest look weirdly pointy.

And I was worried about the thigh highs – my thighs are my horror zone. The last time I tried on thigh highs (ten years ago, and admittedly drug-store cheap) they dug into my flesh creating two matching oozy muffintops.

Not sexy.

But I was out of time and had to settle for what I could get. I showed up at the studio in Covent Garden sweaty from running around central London and terrified out of my mind. I figured if the pictures came out badly – if I looked fat, lumpy, flabby, jiggly, and generally ugly, if my thighs overtook the rest of me as they do in my nightmares – I could always buy another voucher and try again later after losing that ten extra pounds that won’t let me go the same way I won’t let go of cheese and beer and carbohydrates.

I walked in and this young woman named Charlie immediately put me at ease, chattering away cheerfully, swapping travel stories, and artfully slapping some makeup on my face that made me feel enhanced and dramatic without spilling into “glamor shot,” if you know what I mean. (If anyone in London is considering doing this, I used For Your Eyes Only, and Charlie is a star, request her).

I showed Charlie what I had brought to wear, but mentioned I didn’t mind the underwear I was wearing, and maybe if we didn’t use the negligee I could return it (student budget, yo). So we started with what I had on, which meant I finally had to strip down in front of a complete stranger.

You know what? It was easier than I thought.

I am more comfortable in my body than I realized because I took off my jeans and top without blinking. When she asked me if I wanted to do any shots topless, I thought, why not? and shed my bra immediately.

Charlie pointed me to a large platform and started a litany of instructions – arch your back, point your toes, hands here, balance on the top of your head. She did it sweetly but there was a military precision involved. I didn’t mind. I like being bossed around. The poses were actually pretty painful, and I wondered if the strain from holding them would show through in my face.

When we had finished and I had put my clothes back on, Charlie showed me the best shots.

I was floored.

I thought, Oh my God. I’m pretty.

I have never looked at myself and felt so good – so sexy, so beautiful, so powerful. Even my thighs looked strong and sultry rather than like tree trunks. Me, with my ten pounds of extra love, in my cheap Target bra and Victoria Secret panties, no corset sucking me in, no gauzy fabric covering my least favorite bits.

Just me. And I am beautiful.

The most obscene part of the experience was the cost – the photos themselves were not included in the cheap voucher for the shoot. Buying even digital prints is excessively expensive, but I swallowed my fears and got out my credit card. How often will I have a chance to remind myself that I am attractive in such a literal way? When I am 80, I am gonna look at these pictures and say, Damn. Yes. That is ME.

I’m not dating anyone right now. These pictures were for me and me alone. That feels kind of nice. I’m glad I don’t need a boy to feel sexy. Maybe someone will be lucky enough one day to see them all. And I do think that guy will be very, very lucky.

But for now I’m content to peek at them whenever I’m feeling “less” or “not enough” or out-and-out ugly.

I can look at them right now and think, Damn. Yes. That is ME.

So as usual the experience didn’t fit the vision in my head. The shots are “boudoir” not pin-up. I never got my corset. I didn’t prep and preen the way I wanted.

I would not change anything about this experience, or these photos.

Or me.

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Categories: 34x34, London | Tags: , , , , , | 13 Comments

34×34: #11 – Try 10 British Beers

I suppose it is fitting, being me, and living where I do, that the first goal I accomplish off the 34×34 is drinking a lot of beer.

I don’t really like beer. I’m a Bud Light kind of girl – weak, watery, but it gets the job done.

I’ve been amazed by the range of beers on tap here in England, though. Most bars in New York have your standard selection of American beers, with some German and whatnot thrown in for good measure. You basically always know what you’re going to get. Or maybe I just wasn’t going to the right bars.

But pubs in London offer a huge selection of small English brewery beers, never the same at two pubs. It’s always an adventure, you never know what will be available.

I tend to drink a lot of cider – which is the best part of English pub life, that cider is always on tap (you’ll be lucky to find it in a bottle at home). It’s sweeter, which suits me.

I’ve been wondering what the differences are between ales, stouts, lagers, bitters…it’s not just beer here. It’s a whole subculture I don’t understand at all. I’ve been looking to take some kind of course that explains it all, but nothing has come across my radar that is satisfactory, and finally a friend explained it to me thus (he drinks a LOT, so I trust him, but jump in if you have a further explanation of the nuances):

Most beer is lager: light yellow, fizzy, cold, and dispensed through taps. Ale is darker, not fizzy/thus flat, and kept at room temperature. It is stronger tasting, savory even, and dispensed through a hand pump (I had no idea there was a difference between taps and hand pumps. I am learning things, kids). Stout is black, and also dispensed through a hand pump. Wheat beer is cloudy yellow, flat, and cold.

All of which is really interesting, except I still can’t differentiate much in terms of flavor. It all tastes like, well…beer. I wanted to have really intelligent notes for each of the ten I tried, but mostly they tasted the same to me, unless they tasted really gross. That is about as sophisticated as my palate gets: “I can tolerate this,” or “ewwwwwww.”

There was no methodology to my drinking. I just tried to order new things whenever I went out, branching out beyond my cider fixation. Frequently I picked things based on having cool names, but sadly that rarely translated into a cool flavor. Anyway, here are the ten I tried, with any accompanying notes I managed to write down:

1. Buxton Spa Pale Ale: This one was so righteously bitter that I couldn’t even finish it. Probably my least favorite of the ten.

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2. Meantime London Lager: No notes. It tasted like beer. Bitter and heavy but not unyieldingly so.

3. Adnams Ghost Ship Pale Ale: Chosen for its awesome name. It was nice. Medium dark/copper in color, bitter but drinkable.

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4. Seafarers Ale: I drank this at a couple different pubs when there wasn’t anything new to try, so clearly I was okay with it. Not great but all right.

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5. Fuller’s Honeydew Organic Beer: I was hoping this one would taste like honeydew, but alas. It didn’t even taste like honey, which is apparently one of the main organic ingredients. I switched to something else after having a pint, so clearly not that great to me.

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6. Sambrook’s Wandle Ale: Again I just liked the name. I wrote down that it was “darker,” but I don’t know darker than what. And probably I just thought it tasted like beer.

7. Cornish Coaster: I have this minor obsession with the idea of Cornwall, so would like to say I enjoy beer that comes from there. But I don’t think I was able to finish this one, although that might have just been because I had had five or six pints already that night.

8. Moor Top Pale Ale: I have no notes. Clearly not a leader among the pack. Just something to try. I believe I switched back to cider immediately after.

9. Redwell: Well, I thought I took a picture of this and I have the vague idea it was indeed reddish, but I have no idea. I remember thinking it was crisp and lighter than most beers, and drinkable.

10. Young’s Hummingbird Pale Ale: This one was probably my favorite, I drank four pints in rapid succession. Even though it didn’t really taste like passion fruit like the tap claimed, I still thought it was light and tasty.

So there you have it. It’s not much of an experiment, but it is that ever important kick in the pants to try new things and broaden your horizons. I’m embracing the culture I live in and trying to understand what’s important to them.

So go forth, and quest, friends. Try something that you know you’ll think is gross. You’ll be a better person for it. And keep trying, because you never know when you’ll stumble onto something not half bad (the British are also teaching me to be litotic. It’s okay).

For now I’ll probably go back to drinking New Zealand sauvignon blanc. And maybe this really good Scottish cider called Thistly Cross. That was a new experience too, and a high alcohol content one to boot. Or Pimms, this beer and lemonade thing that comes with fruit: delicious and nutritious!

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There are always options. It’s a beautiful drunken world.

Categories: 34x34, London | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

Adventures with Vouchers: Flapper Brunch

Summer in London: it happened, folks. It’s just now starting to think about autumn here, but for about a month or so it’s been hot in London. Gross hot. Sticky hot. Don’t touch me hot.
I love it.

And this is exactly why we have seasons, people. I have never been so giddy or grateful for suffocating and sunny weather as I am having gone through the doldrums of this past abysmally grey (look, I’m turning English! Stockholm Syndrome is setting in) winter.

However, sweat-your-balls-off weather is probably not the ideal time to play dress up.

Also, I don’t even LIKE dress up (that’s fancy dress to all my thousands of British readers. While I love the word “fancy,” and give the Brits props for usage, it is still not an appealing activity to me.)

So why on earth would I book a dress-up flapper brunch, a period in fashion history not particularly kind to a curvy lady like myself?

I do not know. I am addicted to vouchers. And absurdity.

And brunch.

But back to the heat. By the time my friend K and I traversed the city and the environs of Hammersmith to the Betty Blythe Vintage Tea Room, our clothes were damp and molded so thoroughly to our bodies we were not too enthusiastic about clothes in general. When we discovered our reservation had not gone through, and the downstairs brunch room was closed because of an electrical outage, we didn’t much care. The sweet pinky French lady at the counter offered to let us dress up and sit in the window on the ground floor, but we politely declined.

I was kinda disappointed – the dressing up was the whole point of this surreal experience – but honestly, there was barely a fan blowing on us. I was too hot to care about anything except shoving food in my mouth hole after the long journey west.

Which is what happened: a pot of English breakfast, a pink lemonade, pain au chocolat, granola and yogurt, and more toast than you can shake a stick at. All for GBP7! Impressive and delicious.

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After a good long chat and bellies now full, the French girl let us go downstairs to play with the available stock of flapper clothing for a few minutes. It was mostly just accessories, and we spent ten giggly minutes trying on hats and headbands and gloves…not a huge selection, but it was actually good fun and we got some nice photos. And none of it would have made the actual eating feel any different – can you even eat while wearing a hat? I think those two activities are mutually exclusive. And clearly trying to eat in elbow length gloves would have ended messily and with much embarrassment – so I’m totally fine with how it all worked out.

We totally won this one: Vouchers: 1, Me – 2

I’m not ready for fall. Come on London gods, let’s keep up the atrocious, debilitating heat just a little longer…at least until September.

A selection of silly, be-hatted photos:

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Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense, London | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Back to Basics: Unveiling the 34×34

As some of you may remember, this blog began as part of my 30×30, a list of 30 goals to achieve before I turned 30 (trademark Mr. Rob Roan). I only finished maybe a third of that list, but had more fun doing it than I’d had concentrated in any year prior. Two years ago when I wrote up my 31×31 I got derailed by a little incident where I decided to go spend 6 months living on a boat with no access to land and land-based activities many days a week. Then I got home and started thinking about moving to London, so I didn’t even make a list last year.

But here I am, about to enter my Jesus year (33!) and thinking about all that man metaphorically accomplished in his creatively nonfictioned life. I have little interest in being crucified, and think there is little hope I will be resurrected thus ensuring the salvation of humanity, but I thought, hey! Why not try some cool stuff this year anyway? I’m always looking for my own salvation, so if trying belly dancing or hosting a dinner party can achieve that, I’m all in.

I am quite smitten with England and would like to stay here forever and ever, but at the moment there is an expiration date on my visa, so I figure I might as well make the most of being here while I can. Thus the list this year is full of British/European goals, mixed in with the usual things that scare the pants off me, things to focus on my career, and generally inane fun things that I just want to do but never have. My birthday isn’t until mid August, but I figured I’d give myself a running start on this one, just to make sure I get through it.

So please join me as I scare, humiliate, elevate, improve, sultrify, and sillify myself. If you happen to live or be in England, you are always more than welcome to accompany me for an adventure or two.

Please keep reading! Each activity will be parsed and analyzed and laughed over on this very page.

Here it is, in no particular order:

1. Take a photography class
2. Go to 5 European countries/cities I have never visited
3. Run the London Marathon
4. Go to Wimbledon
5. Dye a blue streak in my hair
6. Do a pin-up photo shoot
7. Go surfing in Cornwall
8. Write and submit two essays/articles a month
9. Go kayaking
10. Walk 100 miles of British paths
11. Try 10 British beers
12. Go to Edinburgh Fringe Festival
13. Take a belly dancing class
14. Skydive
15. Try all the British foods on this list: http://www.buzzfeed.com/ailbhemalone/18-weird-and-wonderful-british-foods-you-need-to-try
16. Visit all of London’s major parks
17. Take a cooking class
18. Learn the banjo
19. Meditate every day for a month
20. Go skeet shooting
21. Host a dinner party
22. Write one fictional short story a month
23. Take tennis lessons
24. Drive on the wrong side of the road (ie, drive in England)
25. See the Northern Lights
26. Do all the walking tours in my London walks books
27. Join/create a pub quiz team
28. Pitch a story for radio
29. Submit to “Just Back” until I am selected
30. Volunteer
31. Go to a literary festival
32. Write a haiku every day for 100 days
33. Learn to tap dance
34. Go to 5 nice, unfamiliar restaurants alone

Categories: 34x34, Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense, London | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

My Favorite Place in London

No, it’s not a museum or a pub or a restaurant.

It’s my nail salon.

Getting my nails painted is one of my life’s great guilty pleasures: it is a bit of a wasteful way to spend money. It makes me feel pretty in a way that indicates perhaps my self-esteem is not as deeply-rooted as it should be.

Mani/pedis are the one thing you can get cheap in NYC. I liked to go sit in the great big massage chairs getting rolled and kneaded while an Asian lady worked away at my feet. There is something uncomfortable about it, but that’s where the guilt comes into the pleasure, right? New York nail salons work with anonymous, military precision. My nails always looked perfect: trimmed short and round, shiny with evenly-coated polish. I could sit under the hand dryers as long as I liked, and I rarely left with a smudge or a chip (sometimes I did. I’m a klutz.) The Asian ladies asked me to pay before my hands were painted, decreasing the chance of digital imperfection (see what I did there?).

None of that is my experience in London.

The salon I go to costs about as much for a manicure as the combo cost in New York – and it’s the cheapest place I have found. There are no massage chairs. The women never file my nails as short as I’d like (I ask them to go shorter three times and then have to give up and accept I’m going to have a lady nail). The polish is a little uneven and doesn’t extend all the way to the edge of my nails. And without fail they tell me the polish is dry and I’m smudged by the time I take out my wallet to pay.

Still, I love it.

First, the salon is called “Your Beautiful.” It’s on the sign that hangs outside, it’s embroidered on the girls’ aprons. As a deep lover of the English language and champion of its proper use, this should probably irritate me, but I find it endearing. The people who work there are from non-English speaking parts of Europe: Italy, Hungary, Poland. They speak two languages and I don’t, and if they don’t quite have their contractions down yet, I forgive them.

I sit in a plastic chair shaped like a hand: my butt is cupped in the palm, my back rests against the fingers – the nails of which are, of course, painted.

I could sit through my sessions in NYC and not be expected to make small talk, but here I am trying to embrace asking questions. These girls want to practice their English, and I need to practice talking to strangers without feeling terror. It’s a win-win. The Italian girl has painted my nails a few times. She told me she is from a small town where everyone is shocked that she moved to London. No one there can imagine a life more idyllic than that of the Italian countryside, but she wants to see the world.

She gets some words confused: “outside” and “upstairs” are hard for her to remember correctly, and sometimes she inverts them: “upside” and “outstairs.” She told me she was planning a barbeque for her day off; until she moved in, all her flatmates ate their meals alone in their individual rooms. Now she has created a friendly group dynamic where they share time together. I believe she has the power to do it. She is incredibly sweet and smiley. She always remembers me and says hello when I come in, even if she isn’t doing my nails.

There is another girl (I think she’s from Poland but I’m not sure) who does a lot of specialty nail work – the women who come in wanting two inch fang-like fingernails (when did this become popular? It’s totally creepster to me). She can freehand tiny intricate paintings on each individual nail, and call me sentimental, but I think she’s an artist. Anytime a person has a talent and can create beauty – even of the miniscule and ephemeral variety – I envy their joy at their own creativity. We should all be lucky enough to have the confidence to embrace our gifts.

It’s just a friendly, relaxed place, and I genuinely enjoy the time I spend there. It’s nothing fancy, but there is good energy, and I always leave smiling, smudged nails or not.

I wonder that this sweet Italian girl traveled so far from her home – in a country I personally love and can’t imagine wanting to leave – to do this rather menial job so graciously. Everybody wants to be somewhere else. I’m here as an immigrant too, right? I guess we all go to great lengths to make our dreams come true.

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I am a Domestic Goddess

In my coursework studying creative nonfiction, my classmates and I often discuss what is “truth” and how frequently “truth” gets wiggled in order to create a good narrative arc, or pretty prose. It’s kind of a fascinating question. I have recently been disappointed to learn that some of my favorite writers have blatantly made things up in order to create a good story. It seems like everyone does it – creative nonfiction is NOT journalism, so whether it is allowed in this genre is a great, debatable issue.

Ultimately, it’s all about the narrative. And narrative is a malleable beast.

And that’s how I get to be a domestic goddess.

Last week this happened:

I was home alone but it was Saturday night. I did not have a single soul in this blessed city who wanted to hang out with me all weekend.

I was feeling blue. I couldn’t shake the heart crunch of a break up. It wasn’t a particularly serious relationship, but I was wallowing.

I was swamped with work but my blueness was making my mind run in circles rather than towards productivity. I was procrastinating.

My baking, usually something I’m reasonably good at, did not go smoothly. First, I didn’t read the recipe carefully and mixed the flour and sugar. I was not supposed to do that. If you have ever tried to separate out grains of sugar and flour once they have been mixed – well, you’re a better man than I. I just dumped it in the trash, wasting over 3 cups of good product. I didn’t have *quite* enough butter – damn you, metric system, I was about 20 grams off. I tried to realign things to use margarine instead but I didn’t have quite enough of that either. I decided it would be fine.

It was not fine.

I then tried to soften the butter in the oven (I live in a house without a microwave, and don’t get me started on it). The butter melted way faster than I expected, making is liquid-y instead of soft.

All this added up to create some cookies of mass destruction. You could bruise people with those cookies if you had a good throwing arm or a slingshot.

I unscrewed (yes, unscrewed) a bottle of wine and proceeded to drink the entire thing. Drunk and alone on a Saturday night.

I listened to the “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” musical soundtrack and sang along to every word. This is possibly the reason I’m single.

I called a friend and whinged at her about my sadface problems.

***

So that’s the “truth” of what happened.

But with a little bit of editing:

I was home alone, a rare blessing in my house of three where someone is always around and using the communal space.

I poured myself a glass of red wine and blasted my iPod, another rare treat when you share living space. I belted along at the top of my lungs while I turned on the oven and warmed up the kitchen. I baked sugar cookies, perfect for dunking in a cup of milky tea.

While home for Christmas, I only got see see my childhood best friend briefly, so I called her up – it’s so cheap to add international minutes to my mobile phone. We caught up in an edifying, deeply satisfying way. I love knowing no matter how long we go without talking, we can always pick up the phone and talk like we still converse daily. She will always be a part of my life.

***

In that version, I overcame an obstacle and succeeded in having an excellent night, embracing my domesticity and some me-time. If my life were a chick flick, I’d probably add the baking mishaps back in for a bit of endearing, slapstick humor.

And the cookies did genuinely taste good, they were just very, very hard.

Both versions are true. But the tone of each is pretty different. It’s all about shaping the narrative. Which is another way of saying it is all a matter of perspective.

Which is another way of saying fake it till you make it.

I am a domestic goddess. Come, drink wine and eat cookies with me.

Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense, London | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Adventures with Vouchers: Acupressure Massage

I should really read through voucher offers before I buy them.

This week I got an acupressure massage.

I had just seen the word “massage” and the cheap price and thought, “Sign me up!”

Ordinarily, I would have spaced out the acupuncture and the massage, but please see previous post about procrastinating and facing expiration dates.

I knew I was in for a different kind of experience from the acupuncture as soon as I walked through the door: there was my soothing fountain, resting on a mat of fake turf.

The waiting room was spacious, white walls and melon-colored faux leather armchairs. Expansive and generically inspiring nature shots hung on the walls: a mass of trees in blossom, a clifftop view across misty mountains. A very different vibe from the acupuncture place.

I was gently asked to put on some little white slippers, which these spa-type places should realize is not particularly relaxing, at least if you’re me and wondering who else’s funky feet have tred in these slippers previously.

I was introduced to G., my qi master. The staff wore white gis, which I imagine is a comfy work outfit, even if it did make me think of The Karate Kid.

G. spent a good ten minutes talking to me about qi/chi, or the body’s energy system. It all does make a lot of sense, really. That the body and mind and spirit are actually interconnected and one affects the other. Why is that an Eastern philosophical idea? Why isn’t it just a human philosophical idea? Why are Westerners so cynical about this intermingling, why are we embarrassed by talk about the spirit, why can “New Age” ideas only be considered with irony?

Of course, I couldn’t help but think how disappointed I would be if I ever saw G. in a Starbucks. So I guess I’m just another cynical, overly-ironied Westerner, a revelation which will come as no surprise to anyone.

Acupressure massage is not a medical, physical kind of massage. It’s all about unblocking blocked-up qi. It is performed fully clothed (me – well, and him too), and involved deep fingertip-rubbing over the entire body, head to toe, sternum to butt.

As part of the qi stimulating process, G. made noise while he worked me up. It is supposed to be a cosmic noise, a sound that encourages qi flow from master to client. The best I can do to describe it is as a prolonged “shhhh” except it was “chhhh.” It was the sound an aerosol can makes and it would be really bad for the environment if you continually sprayed a can as long as G. had to make this noise.

I get the meditative qualities of chanting, and I have an album of Tibetan Singing Bowls that is supposed to hit different bodily chakras, and I get that too, I can feel the vibrations in various parts of my body. This just sounded like spraying an aerosol can. I may have mentioned that.

But bless him, G. motored his mouth through my massage and dug his hands so hard into every inch of my body that two days later, my sternum still hurts. There is obviously no way this kind of rubbing can be bad. It might be painful at the time, but it does loosen up all your muscles and tensions, and I felt pretty nice afterward.

We chatted again after my treatment, and G. told me that I have huge blockages in my kidneys, which are the body’s battery packs of energy, as well as my stomach, which blocks energy from getting to my lower half. Maybe that’s why my feet are always cold. (G. repeated several times that he is not a licensed medical professional and there is nothing physically wrong with me. Phew.)

Seriously, I don’t want to be cynical. I want to believe in magic. If we don’t think our own bodies are capable of something mystical and special, it’s really hard to expect it from any other part of the world around us. Qi could just be another part of physics: atoms, protons, neutrons, electrons, it’s all swirling around inside us. The idea of energy, positive and negative, is the best way to describe any sort of spiritual views I have.

I want to believe in qi, I want to get in touch with my qi, but I didn’t have any sense of energy release or free flowing radiance in my body. I enjoyed the treatment, but. Sometimes it’s just nice to get poked and prodded. Realistically, I can’t have expected all my qi to start cheerfully flowing after one forty minute session. (But I probably did expect that because I am not realistic.)

G. did a soft-sell for the center’s holistic chanting/movement/meditation class. And I will really consider it. It’s just sort of a pain in the ass to get to the center from where I live. If I’m going to harness my qi and unblock my energy, which sounds like a lot of work in and of itself, I’m really going to need it to be superconvenient.

G. was too genuine and sweet for me to feel that this voucher was a scam, but I don’t know if I really got all that much out of it either. So here’s the new scorecard: Vouchers – 1, Me – 0, Qi – 1

Categories: Fluff and Philosophical Nonsense, London | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Adventures with Vouchers: Acupuncture and Cupping

Since moving to London, I’ve signed up for some mailing lists through Time Out London and Amazon. I get daily emails with a ton of vouchers for different things, basically like a Groupon. Being new to the city and looking for unique experiences, I’ve purchased a whole lot of these vouchers. Then generally I wait until they’re about to expire before I scramble to get an appointment. Typical avid wanna-go-do-see! procrastinator.

Today I went to a…spa? clinic? place for my first experience of acupuncture and cupping.

I walked in and immediately knew it was not going to be a “spa” experience. The waiting area was clinically pedestrian. There was no small tinkling fountain in the corner, just a line of claustrophobically jumbled bamboo chairs that ended with a tired looking white leather armchair, slightly slashed on the seat. Just as I handed over my voucher, three police officers walked in on a “routine inspection” which clearly terrified the staff, as no one wanted to admit they were the manager. The police asked about insurance policies and client records (the staff claimed to keep lists of clients’ names, birth dates, and procedures, but nobody even asked my name, let alone made me sign any liability release forms). The lady officer in charge asked if there were locks on the doors to the “exam” rooms, to which the Chinese girl responded no, no locks, because that would be…unsafe? (she asked, hoping it was the right answer.)

Soothing.

I then had a “consultation” to discuss my procedures. A very stern Chinese lady doctor, who did not speak English, took the pulse in both my wrists (could they be different?) while another lady translated for us. There was no talk of chi or energy or mental state…I don’t know what I was expecting. Mysticism, something inexplicably magic, I suppose. I said I carry tension in my back, particularly my right shoulder blade. After this two and a half minute in-depth discussion, we moved to the procedure room, where the lady doctor told me to “Take it off” before leaving the room. As I was still wearing my jacket and purse, I was unclear on what to take off. She told me to “take it off” again when she returned, and I finally figured out my shirt had to go.

I laid down on a table, face down…down down, my nose smashed into the table because there was no face hole. As she began applying the needles, I couldn’t really breathe because of my smooshed face. The needles were barely noticeable as they went in, but it was a mildly strange sensation once they were all inserted. She turned on a dim, delicate paper lamp, shaded with a sunflower pattern, pressed play on a CD of generic new age music and left me alone.

I skooched my face up in order to avoid asphyxiation, and noticed the lovely cut out wallpaper, patterned with trees and reeds. The CD started to skip immediately. As I find nothing soothing about faux Native American sounds, I didn’t mind, though it was an abrasive sound and I almost got up to get my iPod out of my bag. I didn’t want to disturb the needles, however, so I stayed still and concentrated on finding a comfortable position that allowed breathing. With my arms up under my head, my shoulders started to cramp.

Relaxing.

I eventually discovered there was in fact a face hole in the table, it was just covered by the hygiene-maximizing paper sheet running down the table.

I lay like that for about forty-five minutes, not feeling much of anything except my rapid heartbeat. Through a fluke of timing, this appointment came on the heels of being broken up with by a very nice man, and I suppose I had been hoping for some real external pain to mitigate my broken heart. What I wanted, I imagine, was a tattoo, the grinding sound of the needle gun drilling into my red raw skin.

Comforting.

Unless I concentrated very hard, I barely felt the needles. Every now and then a wave of tingly giddiness would pass over my head, the same feeling as children get when they pretend to crack eggs over each other’s heads and run their hands down their hair, simulating a drippy yolk (did anyone else play that game as a kid?). It’s a feeling I enjoy, but it didn’t ebb and flow as neatly as the ocean, just sporadically, beyond my control.

I don’t know anything about acupuncture – I like to jump into these situations uninformed so the magic can really hit me full force – but I thought there was supposed to be more doctor involvement, or needle manipulation. Maybe that’s a different voucher.

Eventually a not-doctor came back and removed my needles, and set about suctioning cups onto my back, drawing my skin up into puckers. This is supposed to draw out toxins and promote healing by stimulating blood flow. It hurt more than the needles, so I liked it. The woman couldn’t get the cups to suck on to certain parts of my shoulders because of my tight muscles.

Tranquility.

I laid there for another fifteen minutes with the cups, and then after a very aggressive hard sell to buy further sessions or some nice smelling body oil (it’s not like I can reach my back to massage myself) I was out the door, my back pockmarked like I’d been attacked by a lazy octopus.

It's hard to take a picture of your own back.

It’s hard to take a picture of your own back.

The woman asked if I felt the toxins being released, if I felt the stress being pulled out by the needles. Oh yes, I said.

But I did not.

Still my back might feel less tense, a little looser. Maybe that’s just because I got off my bed where I sit getting gouged by my wrought iron headboard when I write.

So does anybody have any experience with acupuncture or cupping? What are they supposed to do?

Scorecard: Vouchers – 1, Me – 0

Categories: London | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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