London Life #2

Unlike most major cities on great rivers – the Thames is almost an afterthought to my daily life.  Until fairly recently, there was no good venue to just meeting friends and watch the water flow.  Instead my memories of it are of cold drafts when leaving the warm tube stops at Temple, Embankment and Blackfriars.  Oh and there was the one boat party when I did unglamorous some things in my twenties and which has never been repeated (smile). 

London and the Thames

London and the Thames

Most of the time, I only really encountered it when I had friends visit who had not been London before.  Then we went to its banks to see the House of Parliament, London Eye, Somerset House and the various other historic buildings that were built when water transport was quicker and safer than on foot and the shipping hub more promenate in people’s life.  I always lamented this – as having spent a fair bit of my formidable youth in Hamburg, Germany – as the water was simply part of the decor.  I met for example one of my closest friends sitting on the stairs of the Elbe while trying to write bad poetry and watching the swans swim in sun.  It always made me wonder why the Thames had become really more of a geographical restriction that denoted the ‘north’ and ‘south’ divide rather than something to show off and enjoy?

The London Eye

The London Eye

Obviously I wasn’t alone and in 90s began several major developments that have utterly rejuvenated the Thames.  There was the OXO Tower, which personally I think is nice to look at – but I am less thrilled with the over engineered interior.  Then there is the breathe-taking Tate Modern.  Here are some links that talk about its historical and architectural unique points which are much more eloquent than me.

The Tate Modern

The Tate Modern

But it was certainly the redevelopment of the South Bank Centre that cemented that the Thames will and cannot be forgotten as one of London’s focal points.  Over night if felt that it went form one of the most unglamorous places, to THE place to be.   The ‘South Bank’ is really a hugely complex group of museums, galleries, music venues, theatres, bars, restaurants and everything else your heart desires.  It’s the crème de la crème of it all – the National Theatre, the London Symphony/Royal Festival Hall, the British Film Institute, Hayworth Gallery … and it so on.  

Buying books with the National Theatre in the Background

Buying books with the National Theatre in the Background

At least once a month I land there whether I want to or not.  What is strange is that all of the venues have been there for a very long time, so actually what the ‘redevelopment’ was about was making it safer, adding a bit of glamour to type of food/entertainment venes, giving the whole place a facelift and adding cafes at street level to entice people to loiter.  Plus it capitalized on its 1960s architecture to focus on ‘urban’ life – such as graffiti, pedestrian zones and transport links – and made it all artistic. 

The bike and Skateboard Arena Covered in Urban Art

The bike and Skateboard Arena Covered in Urban Art


Today is a special day.  It is my one year anniversary of not smoking.  On Sept 29, 2008 I woke up, went to make some tea and in my half awake state put a nicotine patch on.  I had not planned to quit.  But I really wanted to.  The time found me.

I had smoked pretty much non-stop since I was 16.  I started while in school in Germany and after a fight with my non-smoking boyfriend – I met up with his cousin Claude.  She smoked like a chimney and in retaliation I lit up one tiny cigarette and was literally hooked from the get go. 

Over the years and living mostly in Europe, I have seen how smoking has gone from something very much accepted to a habit that actively repulses most people.  In Germany, Hungary and Holland I smoked directly at my work desk and was put out when I had to go to a meeting in a non-smoking room.  In London my hourly (at a minimum) cigarette habit became my sanity checks.  They were my quite moments to get a way from work or even relax enough so I could continue my creative tirade with gusto. 

Even socially I used the excuse to go out and smoke as a crutch to centre myself and find smalltalk things to continue conversations going.  Plus, its true that smokers tend to gather around each other in public and so I often met real characters outside while the ‘rest of them’ were crammed together in a room.  But my favourite moments were when outside on a busy street where I could watch people pass and just enjoy being a silent observer.

The addictive force though was more than then the simple act of smoking – it was how it felt.  I know it sounds slightly insane (but aren’t all addictions to some extent), but I loved inhaling my cigarette, the way the blood rushed to my head and watching the smoke dissipate when I exhaled.  The whole act of smoking is sexy in my books.  And there are days even now when I have to let my mind go through the act of smoking a whole cigarette – the touch, taste, the emotional hooks – to keep myself from begging a random stranger for a cigarette.  This kind of vision-letting-experience is a necessary release and a key element I think for getting myself through the past 12 months. 

So here is today.  12 months on.  I did it.  And if I did – really anyone can.  But the decision to quit has to come from deep within and each person has to find their own successful crutches (mine were frozen grapes that I ate so much of that my digestive system rebelled a few times – too much information I know). 

I am pretty damn proud of myself today.



I had a lovely day cycling around Richmond Park with my friend David.  I will get pictures uploaded once I get a moment, but I had – during this whole process with work – decided to join (gasp) a dating website. 

Who should I happen onto with 5 minutes of joining. 


Charming.  And his pictures are pretty out of date or at least he looked nothing like that over the past two years that I dated him.

(Note after the initial shock – he is also mis-stating his age by 3 years.  What a surprise.  Not even a dating profile can be honest.)

London Life #1

The City of London on a Friday night

The City of London on a Friday night

I moved to London the first time in June 1996 at barely 25 years old. After spending three and a half years in Eastern Europe, I was in awe of how everything worked. But the little things caught me off guard. I never had the right change for the bus, spent hours in the supermarket looking in shock at everything one could buy, developed an expensive taste for shopping at Harvey Nichols and had almost more than a few accidents walking across the street looking the wrong way.

And I went through probably my worse egoistic, superficial and money-hungry phase of my life. My friends were all the diplomat or very wealthy Eurotrash crowd. I lived initially in the Nell Gwen House, which alongside the Chelsea Cloisters, was where all expats City kids were transited through in Chelsea. Then I moved to Millbank, overlooking the Thames, opposite the looming MI5 building and next to the Tate. I spent my weekends skirting from parties to visiting exhibitions and doing girly lunches along the Kings Road.

The Mayor's Office from the Direction of the Guildhall

The Mayor's Office from the Direction of the Guildhall

I also worked insane hours and was so exhausted most days that I barely took off my clothes before getting up and doing it all again. I had thought in Budapest that I was pretty cool and so anticipated that the move to London would be pretty easy. Basically I was young, ambitious and not a little bit full of myself. So it was initially hard for me to fathom how mistaken I was. I walked into a job that I was woefully inexperienced for and very out of my depth in terms of the level of major corporate politics. Men would come up to my desk and insist I make them a coffee, my boss got me drunk on a regular basis to feel me up and I had a company credit card with no limit. It all felt so cheap, but filled with my own and the ‘jobs’ self-importance (can one even say that?) – I pushed on with a hunger that I have rarely felt before or after.

The Juxtepose of Old and New - Beauty and well Something from the 1960s

The Juxtepose of Old and New - Beauty and well Something from the 1960s

And I was so in love with London. The architecture, multi-culturalism, the music and art and the food … especially after years of shortages in Eastern Europe! For someone who left their small town at 16 with the sole aim to travel the world, it felt like I did not have to go anywhere to experience the world – it was just at my feet when I walked out my door. Its no wonder that every time I have left it for any amount of time, I was like a boomerang and bounced back.

Something inside me has lately wanted to re-explore the city. I feel this need to document what I love about it and share the many memories I have collected over the years. So alongside my many random ponderings, I hope you enjoy this series of London.

A Sculpture outside WestLB

A Sculpture outside WestLB

Over the past 10 days I have been up, down, had moments of slight paranoia, bouts of crying (totally random) and lets just say pretty out of sorts. After a Saturday in which I pretty much experienced ALL of those in various moments of the day – it occurred to me that something wasn’t quite right. More importantly I figured out why it was happening.

For various reasons my doctor has recommended that I take the pill. Now I am not going to go into my sexual history – but I have avoided the pill most of my adult life. And I am really amazed about how much it impacted so quickly my mental state. So I spent a fair bit of time yesterday reading research and forums and found all kinds of statistics and comments that were very worrisome, such as:

“I was suffering from terrible symptoms such as mood swings, crying at the drop of a hat and a general numb feeling about my whole life,” she said. “I found the site [Aphrodite] by typing into Google – ‘pill that does not make you crazy’, kind of as a joke, and here I found hundreds of women suffering from all my symptoms and more. I developed the survey to record how many women were experiencing the same symptoms as me.

Holi’s survey found that 57 percent of respondents reported mood swings, 63 percent were irritable, 65 percent experienced irrational crying, and 69 percent felt anxious and depressed after taking hormonal contraceptives.

Furthermore, of the 66 percent of respondents who stopped taking hormonal contraceptives because of side-effects, nearly two-thirds noticed partial or complete recovery from their symptoms.

Other statistics from the survey revealed that 73 percent of respondents stated hormonal contraceptives had a negative impact on their lives, and over 50 percent of respondents who were taking anti-depressant medication were doing so to treat depression that occurred after beginning hormonal contraceptives.”  From http://www.aphroditewomenshealth.com

How do women function on the pill? Or are there such significant differences between types and not all have such radical affects? While I know the pill has revolutionized a woman’s ability to take control of her reproductive system – but is the side effects worth it? I guess that answer would have to a ‘yes’ over an unwanted pregnancy. However some of the comments I read on the various forums were pretty scary! So on some level I find it kind of ironic that some guys rely that women take it and I wonder if they would take a male equivalent if it messed with their emotions and mental state so much?

Has anyone else had a similar experience and if so, how have you ‘fixed’ it? I will go and see my doctor this week but I have understandably stopped taking the one he prescribed.

I awoke before the alarm this morning to find my cat Laci sitting over my head and starring at me.  No matter how often she does this, I find it more than a bit freaky to open my eyes to find fierce yellow ones intensely trying to send me mental messages.

What is she thinking at such moment? If its ‘Get you lazy butt out of bed!” It worked.  But perhaps there something more philosophical involved and to that I will never know.

She is though an old lady at 16 and hugely demanding.  We went from ‘wake up vibe’ stares to meows to turn on the tap in the bathtub because she only likes fresh water.  After a good cuddle, I threw her out for her morning constitutional, but right now she is threatening to scratch the glass out of my window in trying to tell me to let her back in (alas, we don’t have a cat flap).

And have I told you how much I LOVE my cat! 
But as cute as she is … do you blame me?

There is something not quite right in how things are being forced to happen. Living outside of the country and therefore free of Fox news and the usual political rhetoric that one enjoys with a home town newspaper, I have been slow at understanding how due process is being side-stepped.

A few weeks ago my level-headed brother and I were talking about his move to recent Texas. He lamented very lightly the fact that his boss was a staunch Republican. I immediately on the bandwagon with a bit of gusto on the insanity of their whole movement … until my brother pointed out that actually there are times when they have a point. For example, how Obama went about rescuing of the automobile sector was very worrisome and he hoped it was a not a trend to come.

Specifically, there are times when the markets are right, legal due process is fair and the externalities of decisions must be taken into account. The state of the US automotive industry is due to bad management, competitive markets (sorry – but people have a right to buy better vehicles at lower prices) and a strong legal union rightly afraid what bankruptcy would spell for its members.

I look at the Chrysler bailout and Obama’s text regarding his outlined deal

“While many stakeholders made sacrifices and worked constructively, I have to tell you some did not. In particular, a group of investment firms and hedge funds decided to hold out for the prospect of an unjustified taxpayer-funded bailout. They were hoping that everybody else would make sacrifices, and they would have to make none. Some demanded twice the return that other lenders were getting. I don’t stand with them. I stand with Chrysler’s employees and their families and communities. I stand with Chrysler’s management, its dealers, and its suppliers. I stand with the millions of Americans who own and want to buy Chrysler cars. I don’t stand with those who held out when everybody else is making sacrifices. And that’s why I’m supporting Chrysler’s plans to use our bankruptcy laws to clear away its remaining obligations so the company can get back on its feet and onto a path of success.”

I struggle to see how an investment company’s legal obligation to look out for their own shareholders (such as the small person with a pension invested in one of the above funds that happen to be invested in Chrysler) can be so misconstrued as evil is worded in the above text. I hands down lean towards socialism as my own political ideology, but there is a limit where something is a pure drain on the economy. So I find it ironic accordingly that Obama names using fair use of bankruptcy laws, when he just overruled the investors due legal right in bankruptcy court? This kind of behaviour reminds me of a Bushism.

Now to health care. Having been fortunate to live in a few countries with state healthcare – I think I have an idea of the cost benefit analysis as well as some core sustainability qualities. When I moved for example to Germany back in the 80s, the country practically offered noholdbar free and quality healthcare. I had to have tumour in my abdomen I even had a plastic surgeon stitch me up and I thankfully have no scares!

Germany realized that it could not afford to keep this system going and while I am not too sure how the ins and outs of how the new system works – I do know when I worked there for a year in 2000 that both my company and I had to top up my state insurance and I was given a whole array of bells and whistles, excesses to choose from. Legally what I paid was still part of the state system, its just that I had to cover it myself – but the costs were still very manageable as I would imagine they adequately subsidized. Plus, there were healthy economic practices inbedded – such as a bonus for non-usage to decrease the problematic free-rider principle (e.g. someone runs to the doctor for every ache and pain) that plagues state systems.

As I now live in the UK, I can hands-down say that I LOVE my NHS (give me a button and a whistle please). It is though not perfect and its hugely costly. The quality of care is lower than Germany was for example, and the moral of the story is that while both are state funded … the devil is the detail … and Obama seems to be missing this. Undoubtedly its insane how much money US Healthcare providers make funding other people’s misery, which in my books just wrong. However good change management theory is about communication, debate and analysis. I find that this whole healthcare plan is being PUSHED and anyone who points that or disagrees with components seems to be deemed un-American . Somehow that sounds a lot like what happened post-911 and when people like me protested to the war in Iraq. Maybe someone actually needs to start talking to those heckling the townhall meetings to see if the have anything of value to say instead of levying pure criticism in their direction. I had to admit that I desperately want the US to have state healthcare, but I also want it to be sustainable. In its current form – through my experience in Germany for example – it won’t be. And to me failure in the medium-term is a bigger risk than doing better research and analysis and having a truly fair stakeholder consultation to find a structure that works decently.

All I am asking for democracy to work, for us to have a good and fair debate (even if we don’t quite like we hear). Else Obama’s government is starting to show qualities of Bush’s regime … and they are not good ones.