London

The Unicorn and The Lion

Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom / wikicommons

 

When I moved to London town

I saw unicorns all around

Trotting, prancing, showing off

Their silky manes, both street and posh

Amy Winehouse with her hive-horn

Too quickly turned to crown of thorn

The gorgeous, lovely and the torn

Who’d bring it on the Tube each morn

And outside London, thought I found

Unicorn habitat all around

The ancient magick of the land

Emerald glades and pebbley sand…

I didn’t spot the British Lions

Sitting noble at their pints

Wanting to protect their pride

Gath’ring power, biding time

Shaking out their mangy fur

Memories of what they were

So golden, graceful, deadly, sleek

King of the jungle is not meek!

Claws were sharpened, teeth bared

Lies were told, tempers flared

Fighting, snarls, self-righteous rage

Ugly beasts who won’t be caged

Cruel attacks from either side

Barbs that puncture both their hides

Boris, Farage, Cameron: cowards

Rich men turning lion’s gold sour

And finally the ivory spike

Overcome by fear and might

A heavy blow, ruthless, loud

And unicorn lies in a shroud –

A silly, worthless mythic creature

Dreams slashed of charm’ed future

Now I hear the lions roar

And nothing will be as before

London innit?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

London

Like an ex you suddenly find yourself still attracted to

Such a bad idea to get involved. We made a clean break but

old habits die hard.

London

The frenetic pace of the megalopolis

Seductive adrenaline rush of desire

gives way to the sweaty comedown of failure

Again.

London

Your beautiful grotty streets

Millions of tiny dwellings chock full of humanity

in all its vibrant, glorious horror.

London

The verve of creativity bursting at the seams… I could… I should…

tap into it, I could be amazing

But you don’t want me

The pain of utter imperviousness cuts deeper, somehow, than it should… I could…

Have been a contender? Maybe never.

London

You try to hit the ground running

Keep up with the crowds, meet up with like-minded souls. A mad rush

The things you lose by the wayside

can never be recovered

Until next time, my indifferent lover,

London.

About A River

Tower Bridge over the Thames

 

The Thames

Just is

As inevitable as umbrellas in London

 

Weighted down by warships

Pinned back

by buildings and monuments

 

To the past

And glittering present

Tidal but flowing ever onwards

 

Sectioned by bridges

The powerful, and delicate

All swept by greenbrown tides

 

I tried to make you mine

The Pool of London

Familiar but unknowable

 

Not like the sky over Newtown…

But I was rushing

And you were indifferent – so strong

 

And yet irresistible

Not pretty water

Like Sydney Harbour or the Zurichsee, but…

 

Compelling, unfathomable, there

Turner’s Thames too

Shimmering on the periphery

 

OK maybe a few drops

Seeped into my soul

Absorbed from a thousand cups of English tea.

 

 

 

Things I do miss about London

Love London

Love London

I was in London over the weekend for just 24 hours and I think I’m finally ready to talk about some of the stuff I do miss about the auld town. I wrote quite a long time back on the Things I Don’t Miss About London. And, to be honest, I don’t spend a lot of time pining over the place.

Now, there’s no point in me talking about gherkins, bridges, royal palaces or the London Eye. You can read about all that stuff at my old stomping ground  www.visitlondon.com. I’m talking about the real, nitty gritty things you miss about a place you lived in for several years. The stuff that gets under your skin (or under your fingernails and up your nose, if we’re talking about Tube-grime). So anyway, without further ado, here’s

What I miss about London:

The energy there’s an undeniable buzz to London, that’s somehow enhanced by

The grittiness  the sand in the oyster? I don’t know. There’s something romantic about a bit of grubbiness and peeling around the edges, something “real”. Or is that just me? Particularly on

The houses streets and streets and miles and miles of terraced homes. Some are immaculate. Most aren’t. Oh the humanity, and

People – people everywhere. You’re never really alone in London. It can be claustrophobic. It can feel safe and comforting. And fun. Also

Conversations I forget about the vicarious thrill of overhearing conversations. Even the inane ones as some geezer quizzes a shop owner on the merits of a certain firework. “So how long does it larst?” “Fifteen seconds eh? Not vewy long then… Wot about this one?” I think I just enjoyed being able to understand the language. You also get good chat at

The pub – London pubs are so great. They can be like a big loungeroom full of all your mates. Because everyone has small houses or flats, these are the meeting spots, the melting pots. There’s nothing quite like it in Zurich. Or Sydney for that matter.

Uber wow – what a revelation. Cheap(ish) cab rides got even cheaper and easier. Can I miss something that didn’t exist when I lived there? Also falls into the category of

Cheap shit – London is cheap compared to Zurich. Believe it. Food, toiletries, taxis (see above), clothes, the list goes on.

North London – in all its ridiculous so-crappy-but-everyone-thinks-it’s-great glory. Some bits are lovely, some bits are astoundingly nasty. But… kid-friendly shops, cute cafes, pubs, restaurants, parks and streets full of families and Hot Young Things and gangstas and dogs and bikes all just muddling along with such diversity but somehow a cohesive community and it works. Or doesn’t. I don’t really know how to explain it.

Anything, Anywhere, Anytime – The Goodies‘ motto works well for London. Once Himself said he liked Joaquin Phoenix because he “looks like you could take him to bed and he’d do whatever you wanted”. London is the Joquin Phoenix of cities: ugly-beautiful and up for it. Which brings me nicely to my final point 😉

My friends – nuff said.

 

PS: Just realised I also wrote a preemptive post about What I’ll Miss as one of my earliest entries! I see Cheap Stuff and My Friends make both lists, ha ha.

 

 

 

 

 

One Year On

Now we are four

It’s been a year since we packed up the home we owned in London and moved out with all our worldly goods to a rented apartment in Zurich, Switzerland.

It still spins me out sometimes that I live here. London is one thing but to the average Australian, Switzerland is a whole extra level of exotic.

And what a year it’s been. German classes, shitty pregnancy, new baby, new car, new friends, new city, travel, gigs and holidays. This blog even. It’s funny because, without official employment, it often feels like I haven’t done much! But now I think about it, I really haven’t been idle.

They say it takes a year to get used to a new place. Chuck in the language barrier and a few extra stumbling blocks (such as morning sickness, lack of employment, depression) and I reckon it probably takes closer to two.

If I’ve learnt anything (have I?) it’s not to underestimate the importance of what’s important to me  and that these things are more mundane than I would have expected: good conversation, old friends, family and familiar smells, sights, and contact with places I love.

This move has been at the very-difficult end what I anticipated. Things were particularly bad for a couple of months there after I got back from Australia and the pregnancy was weighing me down mentally and physically. But I’ve felt better since Christmas and the new year and having the baby. Feels like I’ve solidified some friendships here and also that I’m now able to make more effort to seek out further friend opportunities.  And it’s paying off already.

I think I have surrendered a bit to the lifestyle: Ok I can hausfrau it up for a while. And while it still feels like there’s big decisions to make about where both HI and I am going career-wise and where we want our lives to be, maybe we can just cruise for a bit. Or maybe there’s no rest for the wicked!

Haarschnitt in Zurich

 

It’s taking a while between posts lately because it’s hard to blog one handed. I can do most things on my phone or kindle while feeding the baby – emails, facebook, online shopping, read books – but writing is tricky. I was going to roll a few posts into one but this turned out longer than I expected. Sorry if this entry is not terribly exciting… Coming soon: Dinosaurs and lactobling!

Haircuts in Zurich

It’s well documented on the expat forums that good haircuts in Switzerland are hard to come by. There’s tonnes of hairdressers (Coiffures), that’s not the problem. Haircuts are expensive because everything is expensive here (or if you prefer: staff are properly paid and get decent benefits). The cuts themselves are often a bit daggy because it’s like the 80s here. And, at least around where I live, most of the salons look a bit old lady-ish. Truth be told, I don’t see a lot of cool, alternative or hipster types around Zurich at all, except perhaps near Hardbrucke. Even so, most alternative types appear to be under 30. But I digress…

Not long after I got here, I had my hair cut at Haarock, a gothy / motorbikey / tattoo type place, but I didn’t find it great. You can tell within about five minutes if a hairdresser’s got the goods by how they handle your hair and unfortunately the lady who cut my hair there came up wanting. (she fell into the “goths with scissors” category – someone who looks cool but doesn’t have the skillz to back it up. Maybe she’s an awesome tattoo artist, I dunno). Haarock is probably fine for long-hair trims and crazy dye jobs (and tattoos, presumably) but not for the kind of edgy, sculptural cut I like. So I held out and went back to my fantastic hairdresser in London at Good Old Days when I was there last July. And then I got chopped at Marked Hair in Newtown, Sydney when I was there in October. Many of the expat forums blithely recommend you “Go to Germany” – which is actually the answer for a lot of things (eg: where can I find affordable/decent clothes, baby products, food, anything). But it’s rolled around to February and I don’t have any trips planned anytime soon.

[ASIDE: Even if I wanted to cross the border, I’m stuck to the baby right now and he can’t leave Switzerland until we’ve got his passport, which we can get until he’s issued with a birth certificate. Swiss bureaucracy means that a baby born here to non-Swiss people needs a shedload of paperwork to get a birth certificate, including both parents’ birth certificates, which must have been issued within the last six months… so we’re still getting all that together. Once we finally have his birth cert, then we’ll apply for either a UK or Aussie passport/citizenship, which will also take time and cost money. Anyway, it’s not a huge deal, but just thought I’d explain why I’m currently “grounded”.]

Plus, my parents were here to mind the baby so I had to bite the bullet and get a haarschnitt, or probably wait another six months! I decided I’d just pick a relatively cool-looking place I’d seen from the no. 14 tram so I made an appointment at Black & White. And whaddya know, I got the gothy girl hairdresser who’d worked in London for a year! Nice one. She did a good job and I’ll go back. It wasn’t cheap but I used to spend a fair bit on my haircuts in London so I guess it’s not so very different. I think I’ll have to keep dyeing it myself though. Adding “farbe” to the mix really does start to break the bank. I paid CHF170 (£116, AU$230) for a cut and colour. And that’s fairly standard. Although pretty much exactly what I paid in London too!

I think next time I’ll go even shorter up the back.

Note: I tend to use “goth” in a generic way to mean roughly “a person who looks like they’d go to a goth club”. Not the full-on Morgana Deathspell 😉

Poor kid, Rich town

Coogee Beach, Sydney Australia

Coogee Beach

I’ve been back in my hometown of Sydney for a week now and it’s really got me thinking about relative riches/poverty. There’s many ways to be rich and/or poor of course, and possibly even more ways to feel or perceive those states of being.

But I’ll start with the obvious – financial. I’ve read studies about whether people prefer a higher income but to be less well off than their neighbours/peers or a lower income but feel better off. And it seems that many people are happier feeling slightly better off than those around them, regardless of actual income. I tend to agree. (Google “relative income satisfaction” for actual info – I might be projecting here!)

When we lived in the UK, we were in a fairly gritty area of North London by dent of buying the best house we could afford without taking out too sickeningly large a mortgage. Anyway, we were certainly part of the new wave of gentrifiers in our particular street and subsequently, we felt quite affluent in our surroundings. Of course, in London, it’s very easy to feel poor too, almost no matter how many ££s you have. Just spend an afternoon around St James’s, Mayfair, Chelsea, Notting Hill, Primrose Hill, etc. and you start to despair that you’ll ever “make it” in that way. Give up, go home… or move to Tottenham.

In Zurich, it’s kind of the opposite for us. We are the poor kids in a rich town. Not that we’re doing badly. But there’s so much wealth there with all the bankers, lawyers, watchmakers (!) and millionaire playboys and playgirls (playpeople?) about. Plus everything is so expensive, even just normal groceries. And you need to take out a small personal loan if you want to eat out regularly. It doesn’t really worry me that much, although it’s a bit depressing to think while there, we won’t get ahead and, if anything, will slowly leach our savings away, particularly if we want to Take Advantage of All Zurich and Being In Switzerland has to offer – eg: holidays, skiing, eating food. I guess that’s what you get for moving to one of the world’s most expensive towns in the world’s most expensive country (depending on which survey you read).

Unfortunately in Zurich at this stage, we’re also poor in other ways. We don’t have much of a social life, we have very few friends so far, no family, we’re not particularly sporty and we have a toddler so adventurous hikes or suchlike are out of reach for now. Plus we’re mostly illiterate, which is horrible. Even health-wise, I’ve been suffering morning sickness and HI’s latest bout of 2 months hard yakka averaging 5 hours sleep/night has put us behind the 8-ball on that front. Thank goodness we have nothing seriously wrong and P is healthy at least.

So I’m holidaying in Australia. The world’s fourth-most expensive country. And I have to say I’m enjoying it, but it’s also making me sad. I’m loving it because I feel so rich here in the best ways: I am a wealthy woman in terms of friends, family, beautiful city, lovely living conditions (thanks to mum & dad and my in-laws), amazing beaches, birdsong. Easy shopping (and groceries seem so cheap after Switzerland!), in fact, easy everything with my own language, really. Don’t get me started on the relief I feel dealing with authorities, shop assistants, anyone when for once I know all the words and have the right accent!

But… and I hate to say this because it upsets me to hear so many people in Australia moaning and cyring poor when they have it SO GOOD… but but but… the house prices here are insane. And I think I’d like to move back. Seriously. But I don’t know if we could actually afford to. Of course, that is ridiculous. We could absolutely afford to – except we wouldn’t be able to come back and live the lifestyle I fantasise about. Which is not to say some incredible 5-bedroom villa overlooking Coogee Beach, but just a nice, proper house in a decent suburb. Our mortgage would be AUD$1 million plus for this. Insane. Or we could rent, which would be fine. And it’s not gonna happen anytime soon anyway – we need to give Zurich at least another 12-24 months. And by then, we might truly love it and have gained some wealth where it counts – in friends and good experiences.

But right now, I feel a little bit stuck between a rock and a hard place. I’m not where I want to be and I do not know quite how I can get there, or even if I can get there. And feeling like a poor kid in a rich town sux.

 

The Bubble

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I haven’t blogged in a little while because my parents have been in town and I’ve also had a lot of work from my old job in London to do (paid work) so it’s been rather hectic!

Having mum and dad here has been great. They’ve zugged off to Geneva for a few days so, while there’s still freelancing to be done, I have a little more headspace.

With my family here, I’ve been floating along in a “tourist bubble” doing things like taking them up to Uetliberg – the Top of Zurich – a lookout that’s about 20 mins on the train from Hauptbahnhof.

We took a trip to Luzern for the Swiss Transport Museum / Verkhershaus (for P’s birthday – 3!). That place is amazing. I thought it was good the first time we went a couple of months ago, but with summer coming, it’s been made even better – in the large courtyard, they have created a temporary lake for kids to practice sailing on (older kids, not 3 year olds), plus there’s loads of biggish, ride-on trains (the Gartenbahn mini steam train, awesomes!), as well as planes, cargo carriers, diggers and even canal boats for kids to shunt about. It’s the sort of place that makes me wish I was 8 years old again to enjoy it. And I’m not usually that sort of woman!

Plus we ate at the Swiss restaurant Zeghauskeller. Basically all stuff with did with other friends/as tourists before! (Need to get some new ideas…)

All this sightseeing has been lovely, but it doesn’t help me break the bubble. I guess it’s always hard when you find yourself somewhere new to make the transition from feeling like a tourist to a resident. Especially as it’s so picturesque and “European” here, and I somehow don’t quite see myself in that setting. Having extra adults to speak to also means I can push my German illiteracy a bit further away for a while and enjoy my little English-speaking bubble.

And because mum and dad are, to some degree, “home”, it feels a bit like we’re all on holiday together. Truth be told, I’ve caught myself a few times thinking what a relief* it will be to return “home” . And then I realise that home is Zurich now. Err.

Speaking of bubbles and homes. I really hope that real estate bubble in London is still expanding, because the sale of our house there just fell through. No! 😦  Rather unceremoniously, with no explanation given. I feel a bit shocked and upset but also protective: our poor little house, going back on the market without us there to look out for it, polish it up and present it in the best light.

A rather deflating start to the week. Pop. Fizzzzzle.

(*just general holiday malaise, not because I’m having a bad time!)

Soft Shock

Spring in Zurich

The weather’s come on all warm and springlike. I’m a bit tired and woozy. Although I hate to mention illness in a public (online) forum, it’s relevant that we’ve had sinusey colds and are not sleeping so well. P is still getting used to his “big boy bed” and needs a bit of reassurance through the night too, which doesn’t help. But I don’t really have anything to do so there’s a sort of pleasant… drift…

It’s the perfect day for sitting lazy in the sunshine. Maybe drinking beer. Except I don’t have anyone to do it with, and I’ve got some responsibilities (a toddler to pick up, vacuuming to do, a bit of paid work, blogging, working out what to do with the rest of my life).

I wish I had my fingernails back, a cleaner and some local friends. Not necessarily in that order.

I’ve been wondering about culture shock. I don’t know if hasn’t kicked in yet, or it’s just been very gentle. I haven’t found myself gasping at the huge spectrum of difference I’m faced with. Everything feels pretty normal and nice. Maybe the crash comes later? Or maybe Zurich is just similar enough to both London (a busy European city with lots of banking) and Sydney (there’s an echo of Australia here for me –  pleasant, affluent, quiet, aware of its position of advantage). Maybe it’s the wash of languages rather than being faced with a solid wall of German. I don’t know. But I’m not complaining.

I walked through this incredible park the other day. It was like an idealised world or Stoke Newington on crack: Stock-photo students lounging on benches placed in an arty giant-gravel piazza, happy neighbours playing a round or 2 of ping pong on the public tables, parents and kids enjoying a state-of-the-art playground. A few streets on, the incredible looking MFO Park – which is like the New York Highline on dope – a lazy vertical park dripping with foliage, populated by more brochure-style students and multicultural peeps. P was asleep in the buggy so I didn’t stop anywhere, just noted it all down for future reference.  Need to get among it…

Moving Day

The cool damp air puffs through my window

I lie awake in my bedroom for the final time

5.18am. Hearing the soft rain outside and the flat fapping of the bunting I’ve used as a makeshift guard, reserving the space for the truck

It’s not enough room. Can I ask the neighbours to move their car? Whose van is that anyway?

The fridge is empty, things are packed.

Mustn’t forget adaptor plugs.

Where did I put those tickets? Oh yes.

I hope the wardrobe will fit.

Don’t let them take the recycling bucket.

5.45am. The heater starts to tick into life

It must be time to move