Friday, 28 September 2012

It's been 2 years

It's been two years.

I woke up a month before, beginning of August probably thinking that I needed to escape. Escape from something, from somewhere. It was too safe.

Just as I returned from my holidays, I received the unexpected email. Expected though.

I packed my bags and said bye to my dearests. Left it all in less that 15 days. I still remember my great father, asking me: -'are you sure? You can wait...'. - 'It's now or never', I answered, excited yet a bit scared. I didn't have time to prepare much. I was going to the unknown but something told me that I was not going to regret it. A two and a half hour flight after, here I was, breathing the damp atmosphere of London City, rolling down the streets of Pimlico in search of my hostel. I left my mom crying at the airport.

I couldn't wait more. The next morning, I threw myself out of the bunk bed and explored alone the streets of the town that was going to be my neighbourhood. My big neighbour.

What happened then is all history now. I met my lovely classmates; they were just literally a handful. I found them, confused, as we were all in a building in Aldgate East, my first real contact with the City. Just as I finished my registration in the building in Tower Hill (does not belong to the Uni anymore), I clearly remember running to Marks and Spencer to 'treat' myself with a cheddar-layered salad that I couldn't finish. I sat by 30 St Mary Axe, commonly known as 'Gherkin' and it is when it all started. Since that day I decided that my little camera was going to follow me everywhere.

A couple of days after, thanks to my great classmate (and now friend, obviously) J, I found the house that I live in ever since. There is where I found my second little family. I still remember the day I visited the house for the first time, I knew I was going to stay the moment I set a foot in the house. And I did learn a lot from my second family: I remember a conversation with one of the member of the house: 'Where have you been in London before then? What have you visited?'. Very naively I answered: 'I have seen it all'. But just as was pronouncing those syllables, I started regretting my words. I knew I had been in all the major landmarks, but within a couple of months, I began to ignore them and be able to focus my attention in other, much impressive details from London.

But yes. A lot has happened ever since. It feels like it happened yesterday, but in reality, it has been more than 730 days of adventures. We all have cried. We all have laughed. Actually, I have laughed more than I did on the previous years before I came here. I have laughed a lot. Tears of joy and phrases to remember ((I need tequila to f***ing live!!!, remember guys?)).

A lot of people have left, but a lot have stayed. And it is the great influence that I have had, the one that is absolutely priceless and don't regret a single second of it.

I have learnt about myself. I learnt how to be accompanied. I learnt how to be alone. I have grown up. I have become a little sponge: I want to know it all.

I have survived underground disruptions. I have survived train strikes. Snow, endless rain. Foxes as cats. The riots! I survived the riots and I still remember how scared I was, even though my neighbourhood was ridiculously quiet. I have survived my graduation. My phone theft. Somebody breaking into our house. I have survived my vegetarian phase. I HAVE SURVIVED THE OLYMPICS!

I have witnessed a fight with a broken nose and blood included. A bloke playing the sax in the bus stop across the road at 3 am and thought I was going mental. I have witnesses the opening of the Overground line to the East End. I tried to teach Spanish to my housemates. I have visited really random places and travelled far for it. I have been in beautiful indian seasonal festivals. I have seen most of my adore music artist live at spit distance. I have gone to the hospital to visit my friends. I have been totally skint. I have survived bedbugs and mice. I have experienced a wintery summer. I have experienced the hottest day of a summer in 7 years on a trek to Hampstead Heath (and almost fainted while trying).

I have played the Argos catalogue game. I have helped scare a new housemate on their first night out with us. I have bought a guitar in Denmark St and learnt how to play it. I have been a volunteer for the Camden Crawl. I have managed to hate Picadilly Circus. I have learnt how to make brilliant poached eggs. I now like tea with milk. I made the kettle and extension of my arm. I have discovered a deep love for East London. I have managed to like the Boxpark. I have managed to like my neighbourhood in spite of how dodgy it is.

But all in all, I have realised HOW much I love this city.

And I am here to stay.

Hopefully what will be quite a few more stories.


Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Crossness Engine House

At the time I started preparing this post, I was borderline crying, hugged by my housemates, lacking of tea bags, and yeah, essentially moaning together after being in the cold windy rain all afternoon. Because in spite of being sunny and warm enough to be having pint in a terrace down in Kennington the day before, Sunday was miserable. We all were feeling like soaked sewer rats.

It all started when I wanted to make the best out of the last day of the Open House weekend, as I had ignored despite of all that I had planned in advance. I filled myself with braveness, and well suggested by my housemate, I added an extra layer of clothes for a foreseeable chillier day.

I travelled down south to London Bridge, where I catch a train to the unknown. I passed landmarks from different angles; angles that I couldn't recognise. Greenwich from the back door, the O2 Arena hidden behind residential areas and Woolwich Arsenal. But I kept travelling until I arrived at Abbey Wood. 14.9 miles away from my comfort zone, but still, that didn't put me off.

Right at the entrance of the station, covering from the already painful wind and rain, there was already a queue of around 20 people waited to be carried to our destination. The promised minibus arrived and got filled instantaneously, leaving me the first in the line awaiting for the bus to come and go for the next batch. -- Oh god, i thought. But just in time, just like an American movie hero, an old lady, wiser of the minibus driver showed up announcing that she would be carrying four more persons in her own private car. So I didn't haw to wait.

The 10 minutes ride from the station to the site where used to figure out that the closes bus stop near the site was unwalkable distance, and even more with the horrible weather, that there was a travellers site nearby and a bit more of fun facts about the surroundings and the place itself.

But we finally arrived, and run hopelessly to the entrance of the building to cover from the rain and gain some warmth. And there is was, the main hall of the Crossness Engines House. It opened as one of the few occasions during the year as part of the Open House London 2012 and I knew I wanted to containing a dozen of historic local and period memorabilia for those collectables fans.

And a main queue; because in all remarkable (or not necessarily) event, there is a queue to go through. However, in this occasion, it didn't last more than 10 minutes; just the necessary time for the great volunteers to process the used hard hats and give them a quick wipe for the rest.

And the rest is history indeed...

The first thing that we all came across is the STUNNING balustrade of cast iron remarkably decorated in primary colours. And the first thing that comes to your mind is how amazing is putting together such a beautiful peace of architecture with its purpose and function of pumping out the sewage from the City back in Victorian times. Just like a circular terrace overlooking at the internal patio of a house. Really really beautiful.

Crossness was engineered by Joseph Bazalgette, and himself was the chief engineer of the MBW. The engines house itself was part of a big and terribly important engineering solution for the Great Stink during the summer of 1858, helping to relieve London from cholera epidemics by creating a sewer network (and also helping to clean the Thames at that time, that as we can all imagine and its documented, it was pretty gross).

It is a fact that the history of the British Empire during the reign of Queen Victoria is not part of my direct history knowledge but landmarks like this make me learn quite fast and interestingly. It makes you imagine about the greatness and the power of the Empire, the wealth, the engineering, and all and all, the incredible attention to detail of such a mundane and avoided thing as sewage management.

And the you bump into those massive pumps and pistons, now restored and fully functioning on the left hand side, and the original and rusty on the right. Mastodontic structures of tones of weight of steel, moving seamlessly up and down, and you are able to picture how the whole thing works.

From the main 'square', as I called it, to the right, there was an almost empty room. To the left, the gigantic pistons. Right underneath, a beautiful non-painted cast iron staircase led to the insides of the pump, where it could be serviced. All housed in a room that could easily part of a bunker or a secret cave. Again, the signs of more than 50 years of neglect and be clearly seen on the right hand side.

Pipes, structures... all so big that makes you feel like an insignificant bedbug. How the hell did the mange to get all that in there?

The views from the upper deck were also impressive. For some weird reason, the beautiful shell-shaped grid, gave me vertigo. Probably the wholes were too coarse.
Oh, and I managed to hit my head while walking down the stairs. So turns out the hard hat is useful after all.
And the day turned out to be like the typical grim and sad day in winter. Unexpected temperatures below 15, cold wind and incessant rain. The windows were steamed up and don't allow us to see very far. The clouds just above ground level, just like thick Victorian smog caused by the sleepless exhaust from the factories revolutioning the period. But no, it is 2012 and I can distinguish a parking lot and more visitors approaching. Back to reality. But for enhanced experience, it could have been fun to experience a watered down version of the great stink. Just for a few seconds.
Somebody said tools? Those were pretty big...
We don't have such details these days. Who would take the time to paint the inside of the floor grid in red so carefully? None. That's why everything is so boring nowadays.

Worth the pneumonia? Definitely, but next time, I will go by car or in a sunny day. I was tempted to Hugh strangers just to gain some warmth as we were waiting for the minibus to return. Again, main door wide open, letting the wind and the rain come inside uninvited while we were queueing at the door. Certainly not the best conditions for most of the 70+ years old visitors around. Such a shame that I didn't have the strength to actually wander around outside and take pictures of the building itself and the ducts around... Too cold, seriously.

But yes, good decision, and I am glad I managed to have a little chat with a couple of the 60+ visitors, well aware of these sorts of gems around London and their induction about the Cornish pioneer steel.

I'm a geek. But that's another story.


Sunday, 16 September 2012

Fifteen Street

It all started with a Tweet, once again. Retweeted the hashtag #fifteenstreet and the rest is history: we all saved the date for the event.

The official description: massive weekend long, street food party. Hosted by Jamie Oliver's Fifteen as part of their 10th anniversary celebrations, featuring the 2012 British Street Food Awards, Ginstock and Rumstock.

3:00 pm and we were all stamped up and ready to go.

Without forgetting our free beer courtesy of the secret password from Tweat Up unveiled a couple of hours before. 

All kitted up, and hour friend K, advises us of the queues for the food.

I looked to the right, and read FAT written in very big brush strokes of black paint, and I though: Wait a minute, is Jamie Oliver encouraging us to be overweight? Is he insulting us?

Turns out there was a person covering the lower part of the E at all times, so really the painting said:


Makes sense.

Peace, Jamie. 

First trader that I can identify, right at the entrance is the now well famous Sorbitium. I discovered them in one of those evenings at Street Feast in Dalston (now moving to Hackney Downs studios). 

K greeted us with a big hug (we hadn't seen her in a really long time) and assertiveness towards the stall to queue at. 

She wanted fish, so we queues at The Fish Hut (from Suffolk). As she made us aware in advance, the queue was considerably long. Taking on account that, although this was street food but not fast food, each portion was carefully made freshly on the spot, the waiting time was not very agile.

Nevertheless, the day was absolutely gorgeous and we had free beer, so we queue, because that's what we do in London. We queue.

Needless to say, the street in which this food fest was taking place was also gorgeous. Right in the middle of Old Street, between converted industrial warehouses.

Booze was 'reasonably' priced: beer for £3.50 and festival sized cocktails for £10, that considering a normal cocktail in a club is £7, value for money is not bad.

15:45, right at the beginning of the queue and hungry, in spite of the massive english breakfast that we had in the morning, news of the first casualty of the afternoon: No more fish, sorry.

Erm... what? It is just 15:45. There was still crab balls (sounds bad said like that) and the third item that I cannot remember, but the lost felt a bit bitter, so we moved on to search for more options.

Walking down the wide alleyway that is Westland Place, we devised the Ginstock / Rumstock area, that was undoubtedly crowded, and the queues probably even bigger. As we were not there to trial Gins or Rums, we kept of sights in search for the perfect meal.

Luardos, Mexican street food was there, a

And Yum Bun

So we headed back to the main road, a bit worried of what we could find without waiting for hours. So Mussel Man was right in front of the exit of the Ginstock, and remembered how I read about their pop-up event of Mussels and Prosseco in Dalston, so could be the perfect choice (and the queue was small).

Perfect, this can't go wrong. 

Oysters were on the menu, but we thought the winning option was the pot of mussels and chips for a fiver. Cannot fail.
Our watery mouths turned dry by the time we got to order: 16:10 and another bomb dropped: Sorry, no more chips.
- What? I can still see chips frying there? - we said. 
- Er, these are for these other orders - said pointing at 4 or 5 other tickets.
We sighed - Alright, we'll have just moules
By the time our order was prepared, there were stills frites on the fryer. We demanded some, obvs. 

It was getting more and more crowded.

Samples of the Gin / Rum stock.

Posh loos but just around 8 for the, let's say, 1000 persons in there... Not enough. Imagine the queues.

Too drunk? .... nah, just the camera.

Little patch with grass, straw and matts to hang out.

Half of the group left the green patch to queue another our for a Baja Fish Taco, made of friend fish, chipotle sour cream, cabbage shreds, lime, coriander and beans. According to them it was totally worth the wait.

We finally all gathered with full tummies by 17:30, it was time for ice cream for Ginger's Comfort Emporium.
And of course, there was a queue, and one of their guys was signalling the end of it, as they were about to close (17:30!!). Fortunately the guy was hilarious, and convinced him of us being the last on the queue, while trying to get from him the hint for the best ice cream of the menu.
Salted Caramel & Peanut Butter.

17:53 and almost everything had run out of food.

Overall, lovely place, lovely stalls, lovely traders and lovely food, but too many people and food running out too soon. 

Was the 4 pounds worth it? I would say that the Tweat up's secret password beer paid for the entrance and the food was probably reduced an average of 1 pound all the different food options in price. We want to think that the those 4 pounds charged were there to pay for the organisation and the traders did not pay to get there, but it could have perfectly been for free (with limited wristband availability).

Street Feast works smoothly every Friday...

Anyway, sunny feast-y London, don't go. We still have many stories left.