Tag: london living

Urban herd

Around 7:30 AM, I thought I heard the clip clop of horses. I crossed my bedroom and looked outside to see a herd of horses walking on the large road in front of my flat.

There were about thirty of them in neat rows of three. The horse in the middle of each row carried a police person, who also held the reins for the horses either side of him or her. All the horses were brown.

I watched for the minute that it took to get across the main intersection. The ‘clip clop clip clop’ is a lovely sound in the morning.

I have since seen this early morning parade of horses another two times. It seems to happen around once a month.

Obstacle course

It had rained and rained the night before and the puddle had returned. This puddle is an obstacle that regularly shows up to ambush me on the way to work.

Whenever I spot it, I loiter at the edge, waiting for a break in the traffic so that I can dash past it. It’s a good three second sprint so it has to be a large break in the traffic.

This time, the puddle was bigger than I had ever seen. I waited and waited. No cars paused, no break appeared.

Suddenly, there was a lull. It wasn’t much of a lull but I figured it was the only chance I would have. I went for it.

I had almost made it when a taxi cruised into the frame. Immediately, I flattened myself against the fence bordering the footpath, cringing in anticipation of the deluge.

A second passed and there was no deluge. I was surprised. The taxi had created a wave but it was going slowly so the wave was small. Grateful, I straightened my dress and returned to the middle of the footpath.

‘I’m sorry!’ came a faint call. I looked around. The taxi driver was stopped at the traffic lights and had rolled down his window.

He leant across the passenger seat and said again, ‘I’m so sorry!’ He looked upset.

‘Oh! It’s okay!’ I said as reassuringly as a I could.

It was an unexpected moment of London kindness.

Deluge of autumn leaves

In London, I see autumn leaves on a scale you don’t get in Australia. In some places, I walk shin deep in red, orange and brown leaves.

London’s neighbourhoods are beautiful right now. However, I do feel sorry for the street sweepers. During the rest of the year, they’re clearing up litter, dog poop, pavement pizzas and cigarette butts. Now, on top of their usual duties, they fight an unwinnable battle with leaf litter.

The sweepers fill their rubbish carts with red, orange and brown, and the next day, the trees have re-layered the roads and footpaths.

The sweepers’ only respite is winter, when the branches of deciduous trees are exhausted and bare.

There is one other thing about the leaves that makes me worry.

You see, when leaves fall and naturally decay, the nutrients go back into the earth. At the same time, carbon dioxide is released. This doesn’t contribute to climate change because when leaves grow back in spring, the tree re-absorbs the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

What I worry about is that all those leaves collected by all those street sweepers will go to the rubbish tip. This must happen because the sweepers are still picking up litter. No one is going to separate the leaves from the litter.

In a rubbish tip, the rubbish is stacked in layers and capped every night so that the rats and pigeons don’t make a mess. This means that organic material like leaves have no oxygen. Instead of decaying (aerobically) and releasing carbon dioxide, the leaves will decay (anaerobically) and release methane.

Methane is a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Over the next two decades, this methane released will trap 72 times more heat than carbon dioxide. Even after a hundred years, methane is still 25 times more potent than the same amount of carbon dioxide.

I wonder if anyone else has been thinking about this.

Hello, little girl

‘Hello, mumble mumble…’

That’s what it sounded like. I turned around and saw a man grinning widely, walking behind me on the footpath.

‘Hello,’ I replied and kept walking.

‘Mumble, mumble…’

Huh? I took out my one of my earphones and looked at him, puzzled.

‘Are you going home?’ he repeated.


Oh not, he was a weirdo. I put the earphone back in and kept walking.

‘Mumble, mumble…’

Again, I took an earphone out.

‘Where do you live?’ he asked.

I considered my options.

‘I’d rather not say,’ was what I settled on.

I jammed my earphones back in and continued at the same steady pace. I didn’t turn around but could feel him drop away.

The dog’s world is a flat

The family living in the flat next to ours have a large white fluffy dog. While I washed my breakfast dishes, I watched the boy play with the dog in the concrete square at the centre of our block of flats.

The dog looked frustrated. It was darting here and there but no more than two metres at a time because the boy was holding tightly onto its leash. I guess the boy had no option, as there is no gate to our concrete square. An unleashed dog could have run away to the wild open streets of London.

I remember seeing the boy play with the dog a few month ago. He threw a stick. The dog stood beside him, apparently confused. Only when the boy faked a sprint towards the stick, did the dog start running towards it. The dog skidded and made three attempts at picking up the stick before success.

This incident made me realise that the dog, though large, is actually quite young. A big puppy.

I also didn’t know that dogs aren’t born with the instinct to fetch.

In the first three months of the dog coming to live amongst our flats, he barked and barked. The family would frantically shush him. Soon, they too were barking. I couldn’t walk past their front door without setting off a canine and human symphony.

I think the dog has learned. I can now walk by and two-thirds of the time, the dog would watch without a peep.

Some mornings on the way to work, I see the family out for a walk with the dog. I hope they go out every day, even twice a day. It must be hard for a big dog living in a two-storey London flat.

Dream run home

A couple of times a month, I take the coach to Oxford. London-door-to-Oxford-door, taking the coach takes around two hours.

Travelling back to London one weekend, I had a dream run home. The coach trip went smoothly, arriving at Baker Street London in 75 minutes.

Within a minute of waiting at the Baker Street bus stop, my local bus arrived. The local bus carried me all the way to my home bus stop without stopping once. This is very unusual as this is well-patronised bus route.

Then as I walked home from the bus stop, every pedestrian crossing flashed green for ‘walk’.

With such a series of good fortune, I was home in less than 90 minutes.

Bike tube

When Tube workers went on strike in June, I was completely unaffected. Once again, I rejoiced in my living arrangements, particularly the 20 minute walk between home and work.

There was one aspect of the strike that did cause a twinge of envy. The London Cycling Campaign ran ‘BikeTubes’ over the two strike days. Experienced and novice cyclists joined together to travel en masse along designated routes, thus forming the cycling equivalent of a tube line.

I live too close to work for any of the BikeTube routes to be useful, which is a shame because I really enjoyed the one crowd cycling event I’ve been on.

The BikeTubes were so successful that they are now a permanent fixture on Transport for London‘s calendar. Cycle Fridays allow new cyclists to experiment with riding into work in the safe company of trained marshals from the London Cycling Campaign.

Last Friday as I waited to cross the road to get to work, I saw a BikeTube of people go past me. It looked fun.

Gordo’s by Daniel

Two weeks ago, Daniel visited us from his base in Amsterdam. Daniel and Damjan are ‘foodies’ and I like food, so we booked ourselves into Gordon Ramsay’s flagship restaurant on Royal Hospital Road in Chelsea.

We spent five hours there (7pm to 1am) on a Tuesday night. The artistically plated dishes were full great flavours and textures. The wait staff read our minds.

Daniel has a review and photos on his website so I now direct you there…


DIY Joan

Yesterday, our electric shower unit did something strange and inconvenient. Instead of water coming out of the showerhead, suddenly almost all the water was pouring out of a hole in the lower left corner of the wall unit.

After a thoroughly unsatisfactory shower, I padded back into the bathroom to investigate. The hole seems to have been designed. I poked my finger up into it and tried to find a flap or something that I could close. Nothing.

I then decided to seal the hole with electrical duct, thus forcing the water to go up to the shower head. I couldn’t find any tape in the house.

Then I tried shoving a ball of blu tack into the hole. This was unsuccessful. The blu tack seal was not watertight and the water continued to spurt out around the blue blob.

In my search for duct tape, I had come across tubes of sealant under the kitchen sink. I wondered if I was brave enough to use them to make a watertight seal.

By this time, I was getting late for work. However, I was on the scent of a trail now and I wanted to get to the end.

I hopped on the internet and found the website of Triton, the manufacturer of the shower unit. Here, I started to get answers.

Frequently asked question: When I turn on my electric shower water starts leaking out from the bottom of the unit, why?

If water is leaking from a clear plastic tube or small plastic elbow in the unit, then the Pressure Relief Device (PRD) has been activated. The most common reasons for the PRD to activate are that the showerhead has become blocked or there is a restriction in the shower hose.

That’s it! London’s water is stupidly hard. My cups of tea always carry a film of calcium. The showerhead must be blocked with lime scale.

I longed to solve the problem now but I had a teleconference with South Africa at 9am…

So I rushed to work, had my teleconference, another meeting, a teleconference with Dubai, found out that three team members (good friends) had just been made redundant, then another meeting.

After a depressed lunch commiserating with laid off colleagues, I went on the internet and paid for a new PRD to be posted to me First Class.

I worked late, got home to cook and eat dinner, then went on the internet again (what did we do before the WWW?) to find out how one goes about cleaning a showerhead.

I originally imagined that I had to do something like unscrew the showerplate and scrub it with a toothbrush. Then a colleague suggested soaking the showerhead in a lemon juice solution. My parents said vinegar would work too. I don’t have lemons at home. I do have vinegar, so I went downstairs to get a bucket and my bottle of vinegar.

Under the kitchen sink, right next to the bucket, were two packets of lime descaler! How fabulous.

I mixed the lime descaler with water and sunk the showerhead in the solution for half an hour. Then I wiggled the showerhead in a bowl of clean water, scrubbed it with a toothbrush for good measure, and was gratified to see lots of little brown bits sinking to the bottom of the bowl.

I had resigned myself to having baths for the next day or two while waiting for the new PRD to arrive so that I could replaced the tripped one. PRDs are ‘use once’ and need to be installed back into place.

Imagine my excitement, then, when my freshly cleaned showerhead started squirting out a respectable stream of water!

There is still some water (around a third of the total flow) coming out of the hole at the bottom. I think the only way to stop that is to replace the PRD. But while I wait for the spare one and while I take a couple of days to figure out how to install it, I will at least be able to have hot showers.

Hooray for DIY Joan!


By the time I had finished my dinner this evening, I still had 1.5 hours before bed time. I thought that maybe I would watch a DVD or even start some homework (I am trying to write an article abut sustainable film productions).

Instead I spent my evening helping my temporary flatmate, Cara, learn her lines for a play she’s performing next Tuesday. The play was written for Henry VIII so the language is ye-olde-and-hard-to-understand English.

I would say the line immediately before Cara’s character’s lines, and Cara would start reciting. We went through each verse around 15 times.

I found it interesting. It seemed very difficult. Even though I had the lines right in front of me, I still stumbled over sentences.

Cara is my temporary flatmate while my actual flattie, Aoife, is in New York, also performing in a play.

At my old house, my flattie Richard was an actor, and flattie Damian was a former actor before he became a catering manager.

The creative industries is the third largest employer in London. That explains why I keep meeting people working in film, broadcasting, publishing, music, advertising, the arts, design, fashion, and the performing arts, despite me being a boring engineer.