London Life

I’m writing this from a Starbucks, drinking tea of course, after having met up with a new-found friend whose show I am to see at the Soho theatre tonight. This morning I went to work by Tube, instead of bicycle because I had to go out after. Today was a half-day (to theoretically accommodate the writing-dream) but really is there such a thing as a half-day; by midday I had resigned myself to the workload and went for lunch (mistakenly getting an egg-noodle broth instead of rice noodles, the latter being superior, as we all know) before staying two more hours trying to get stuff done.

When I walked out of the office, I made my way to Soho. Walked past the squares with their stately homes and houses, the tea rooms, the theatres, the cinemas, the cocktail bars. I bought an ice cream, in my favourite place where they don’t use scoops but turn your flavour choices into ice cream roses. I sat outside and watched the world go by: lovers, colleagues, tourists making their way over the cobble stones. Friday afternoon, early evening giddiness in the air. Hotel terraces are packed with wine-drinking ladies in power-dresses, men with the top button of their collar undone: the relaxation and expectation of the weekend.

Called a friend to see if she was interested in joining me for the performance but she had plans but pointed me in the direction of someone else who might be interested before inviting me to a party later tonight. We agreed to stay in touch and play it by ear. One text message later and I got myself some company to see the show.

I made my way to our meeting place, an Italian coffee bar; checked Facebook on my phone and saw he was running late. Ordered an amazing coffee and sat down to write a postcard. Sipping my amazing coffee, I sat by the window by myself: once again looking at the people passing by. My new friend arrived and we moved because the music was too loud to talk.

When we sat down, we spoke about performing, about writing, about creativity and parental expectations. We talked about siblings, about travel, about feedback, about the importance of deadlines and moving on.

He has left to prepare for his show and the barrista tells me that they don’t close til 10pm. So I stay and wait, I stay and write, I stay and marvel at my London life.

The Correct Utilisation of the Bicycle Bell

After a month’s break from this blog and running ( 26.2miles really was a long run…) I break the silence as an urgent matter has exposed itself. During these lovely summerdays (yes, I am making a note of this in case I ever look back on my London years and remember them drenched in rain…) I have been taking my bike to work. I am very lucky because most of my route to the office runs in fact past the canal and is not shared with cars. It is however shared with pedestrians, kids on scooters, dog-walkers, wheelchair-riders and canal pub drinkers.

Cyclist, we have one, one!, ‘weapon’ in our arsenal: this is the Bicycle Bell. It looks like this:Bike bell 1

Or this:

Bike bell 2

The sound it makes isn’t very loud but when travelling down a quite road or say, hey crazy example canal towpath, it would be ideal. Now over the last few weeks, I have noted with great astonishment that the average Londoner does not know how to operate the bell. So here a short essay on The Correct Utilisation of the Bicycle Bell.

The purpose of the bell.
The classic purpose of the bicycle bell is to let other roadusers know you are there and you want to over-take them. Note: this is over-take, not under-take! If we ride on the right, you over-take on the left, if we ride on the left, over-take on the right. Road rules still apply when you are a cyclist! If you ring the bell I move further left to let you pass – if you try to undertake me, we might both end up in the canal and nobody is a winner.

The adapted purpose of the bell around the towpath is to let people know you are about to go underneath a bridge. Especially if the bridge is on a corner, it is hard to see if there is oncoming traffic and the path is narrow. Cyclists, this might surprise you but BOTH sides use this method! Which means: you don’t only ring your bell like mad while you speed around the corner, you have to listen for other bells. If it sounds ‘echoey’ – you know, like a sound made underneath a bridge – then for the love of God, WAIT before proceeding to cycle on. We might collide, both end up in the canal and nobody is a winner.

Timing
It is a little tricky but generally speaking: you anticipate. Example: you are on top of a slope, about to ride down and you see a lovely old lady walking her dog. She is walking away from the slope with her back turned to you. Do you:
A) Ring the bell when you are right behind her, so you all get in a panic and a fluster trying to coordinate dog, lead and bike.
B) Ring the bell as you spot her, so she has time to move.
C) Not ring your bell at all because you don’t want to cause a fuss, even though this mean you nearly ride over her dog and scare her into the water.

A and C are remarkably common… So in conclusion: dear London cyclists, if you feel very British and shy about using your bike-bell, try saying ‘thank you’ when someone moves over. That should balance things out.

Actions Not Money (Marathon)

Dear Reader, I need your help – not your money. Let that be the disclaimer for this post.

FxCam_1398697567878It seemed such a good idea at the time: after running three ‘halves’ to run a whole marathon this year. Yep that is right, the whole 42km or 26.2 miles. Several reasons for it, the one just mentioned, the big birthday coming up and mayhaps a drunken wager that should I finish the race (IT IS NOT A RACE) that one of my darling friend would stop smoking… Were I a cruel person, I would name and shame this person but let’s just call him “Hans vd Eertwegh”. As it happens, “Hans vd Eertwegh” is going to be a first time dad this year, just to crank the pressure up for healthy resolutions.

Anyhoot, the marathon is three weeks. As I am not a natural runner, I have been training my arse off (or on to be exact, the legs from hips to calves have never been in this condition, tell you that much.) I added weight sessions to my running so my legs would be able to carry me the distance. It has been tough, there were nights that my whole body was tired and in pain. I have experienced that state beyond ‘hangry’ (angry hunger) called desperation. When after a work-out I forgot my debit card at home and I couldn’t buy food, I nearly cried. I have gotten up at 6am to get a run in before work, I have speed changed home to get a run in between shifts, I am beyond pasta… If there is anything I can take away from this challenge it is: never again.

Taken 2min ago - with high hopes...
Taken 2min ago – with high hopes…

Two weeks ago during a long run, misfortune struck and my right knee stopped working with me.  After a virtual consultation with an old school friend turned sports-physiotherapist, I have been trying to keep training. However there is no denying, it is going to be hard as the knee is not well. The leg is not pain free after my last run (25km on Sunday) and though I am taking it easy, I am simultaneously worried about my progress. This is where you come in: I decided not to run for a charity because it is up to you to be charitable. However I need your help and support: I won’t be pain free, there are no pacers (people who set the pace and who you can blindly follow to keep on track) and according to a weird law in Scotland, I am not allowed an MP3-player… Screen shot 2014-05-01 at 16.42.52 This is going to be a mental challenge if ever there was one. So I found this website called DoNation, where I can ask for sponsorship not in money but in actions for a better environment. No tree-hugging as such either, you can choose a challenge that suit you and your life-style: recycle more, turn your computer off, take the stairs, quit smoking… My aim is to get a list of 26 challenge, one for every mile I run – I’ll pretend the person who pledged it, is running with me so I won’t run alone.

Please will you help me out? It is all fun and games now but when the bullheadedness runs out by mile 17: I will be forever grateful. You can find my page by clicking here. 

With love.

It’s a Good Friday…

For nearly a month, my friends and I have started our own take on #100happydays in a little Whatsapp group. The initial concept has its own website here but in a nutshell: find something that brings you happiness every day for 100 days. As we share our happy moment with the group every day, we become more aware of the little things in life. Even when the day heads to be disastrous, we find or create something that can turn the moment around.

Lots has happened since the last time I wrote, so here a handful of happy moments:

  1. A few weeks ago, I went home to the mothership and as I ran my miles via cycling lanes, it reminded me of the routes I used to cycle while still in secondary school. It made me realise how weird and wonderful my life actually is: an ambition to write in a second language and a marathon goal, when you are clearly not born to run (the guy with asthma used to overtake me in PE). Yet every draft and every mile is a mini-victory.
  2. Last Tuesday, I went to see The Weir at the Wyndham’s Theatre, on my own – just because I could. FxCam_1397585508763It was an event 10 years in the making: I once took an Irish Playwright module during my BA in Devon, where the lecturer tried to liven up the class with recording of the radio version. For an hour I sat there, in near tears, listening but not understanding a word of the Irish accents. This week watching and understanding the full performance in a London theatre was a delight.
  3. I have started to cycle to work, which also feels like a triumph. Not just because of the London traffic but I feared mostly my dire navigational skills. Same routes do stick though and guess what: if you do ride the wrong way, you can just turn back.
  4. Ah yes, so I am office based once more: the lack of paid-job shifts that scared me last month, freed me up for new opportunities and I am now learning a new skill with the same company. It so happens that there is still time left to pursue my other projects.
  5. The workshops I co-facilitated made me sign up to a showcase and present a scene of my own work. It was exciting to see my words performed on stage by a gorgeous bunch of actors, in front of an industry audience. I say ‘exciting’ but in truth, words cannot describe my emotions as I watched from the back. Another step made.

Bonus: by the time you read this, I will be on my way to Wales. Roadtripping.

Happy days, kids. Have an amazing weekend.

Musical chairs

Over the weekend, someone shared a metaphor with me:

“Turning 30 is a bit like musical chairs… At 29, the music is playing and everyone is dancing; at 30, the music stops and everyone sits down. Not even on the most comfortable or prettiest chair but on the most convenient one – everyone sits down and holds on for dear life. And there is always one person left, standing in the middle of the room, looking at all the others clinging to their chairs, thinking: “WTF just happened?””

Don't settle! (Pic by Daveynin Flickr)
Don’t settle! (Pic by Daveynin Flickr)

2014 has just started but in my circle of lovely friends, two babies are (to be) born this year and the e-invite for the now near annual hennight has just come through, in preparation for a near annual wedding later this year. Less cynical than the metaphor though, I do like to think that my friends have made their moves as conscious choices; smoothly moonwalking to that 2-person Chesterfield sofa as the music enters the final chorus…

Not even on the most comfortable or prettiest chair but on the most convenient one; at 30, everyone sits down and holds on for dear life.

Yes, as we enter month two of year 30, it’s possible that the one person still dancing in the room might well be me. I’m not sure what happened to my track but I seem to be playing the Baz Luhrmann extended version. Still bopping away, while my friends happily wave their baby’s hand to me (hand still attached to the child, of course!) from their comfy seats. Those moments are still unreal to me, the idea of a third person where there first were two.

At times I get tired of dancing and I envy my friends happily stretched out on the faux-leather sofa but you can’t stop until the music stops – those are the rules! As for settling for the wonky old kitchen stool for one: never. Though tempting at times, even I can see in my weariness that it will only be a temporary comfort until it breaks.

Dancing among the toddlers is not really how I imagined my life to be but then again, I never saw much further than 21 and that was overrated. So as I am slowly being pushed one generation along, I like to think I am embodying the spirit of this crazily American but still kind of cute video for all the new additions on their first days here: “There’s plenty of reasons to dance, you just got to look for ‘m.”

Running with my head aka Counting to 21.

Royal Parks Half Marathon poster
Royal Parks Half Marathon poster (Photo credit: HowardLake)

Lemsip and porridge for breakfast, pasta throughout the day, a funny strained muscle feeling in back… Oh good, the half marathon must be coming up soon. Oh well, who needs to be able to breathe when all you need to do is run. As we all know, running is done with your head anyway. Here a little insight into my thoughts come Hyde Park, Sunday morning 9am:

0-5K: “I need a wee. I hate running.”

I can pretty much guarantee you this will be the mantra for the first few minutes of the run. Although the surge of people will push me forward as soon as we start running, the waiting around makes me so paranoid I will think I need the toilet. I don’t. All those men who stop after the first few miles to relieve themselves against a tree: A) Really? B) Just keep running, it will pass.

The first few K’s my feet are cramping up and it’s annoying to the point of “I HATE RUNNING I AM GOING TO STOP NOW” but I never do. I just hate myself, quietly in my head . My body is all over the place, bystanders shake their heads at this pathetic version of Bambi on ice and suddenly… cramp subsides and my field of vision opens up. Bam, first barrier gone.

5-10K: “Let’s do this… Oooh, shiney things…”

My body has now resigned itself. I can start adjusting myself, get the breathing right, tighten the core. Run on the ball of my feet, get the rhythm right. I can look around me, appreciate other my fellow-man: smile at cute babies and dogs, nod at other runners. When I get too distracted, I refocus on my breathing and pace. I’ll try to find a chaser but this is pretty tricky, rule of thumb: Wobble gives you trouble. The best runners to follow, are steady pace, straight back. They might be ruthless, they might be boring, but hell, they can keep a steady pace to pull you through the hard bits.

10-15K: “My body is A Machine.”

… around 12K:  Everything will go so easy, runner’s high kicks in. I will go several K’s not even thinking about things. I Am Running. I AM RUNNING! SEE ME RUN! There is fluidity in everything, I will try to hold onto this as long as I can… This is why I run: to feel my body do this.

15-18K: “Are we there yet? … What about now?”

Slowly slowly, steam will run out. I am trying hard to keep pace (if I still follow a person this is the moment I find out if I chosen the right one) I am getting tired. If there is a niggle somewhere – a sock not quite pulled right, back muscle nagging, T-shirt chaffing, an itch on a toe – this is when I will feel it. All. The. Time. I am tired and more and more uncomfortable.

18K-20K: “You”

That is right, to distract myself I will think of you, dear Reader. I will think of the people who would want me to keep running, I will think of the people who I’d want to keep on running. One by one, friends from different times and different places, members of my diaspora family will pop up. Either they are suddenly running with me, I see them waving or I imagine them at the end of the race. When I am too tired to even count the mileage signs and dodge the crappy people who stop in the middle of the road, I will see your faces and keep going.

20-21K: “This is crazy, this is amazing.”

One kilometer ( bit less than a mile) is pretty long when you have just done 20. Yet the further you get towards the finish, the more actual people are shouting and waving (not just the ones in my head). This is amazing. It is a crazy wonderful emotional feeling. It’s a feeling though because if you are actually there waving, I probably won’t see you. All my strength is now focussed on the finish line, on keeping pace, on the finish line, on ‘can I go a little faster’, on the finish line, on ‘let’s not speed up too soon’, on the finish line, on ‘damn that is still further than I thought’, on the finish line,  on ‘ok let’s do it – now’ , on the finish line…. On The Finish Line.

 

Being Dutch

When I left for the UK, I wanted to break free from the small country in which I was born. Ironically enough in the ten years to come, I would become more attached to my nationality. Perhaps because I see the past through rose tinted spectacles, perhaps because being on foreign grounds leads you to appreciate your roots. Who knows.

“If it ain’t Dutch, it ain’t much” is  a tongue in cheek slogan that has been used by my very cool sister and I.  Awareness of one’s nationality is so subtle, so inexplicable until you feel it.

I felt it when two weeks ago The Ice skating Tour of Tours  “De Elfstedentocht” (Eleven city tour, which is a tour that leads overfrozen streams past eleven cities – quelle surprise.) was hyped and then cancelled because the thaw set in. The last tour was 15 years ago and I’m sure the whole country felt disappointed.

I felt it today. It was just announced that one of the Dutch princes, Friso, who got hit by an avalanche on the Royal Family’s annual skiing trip last week, might not wake up from his coma. If he does, he will need years to recover. He’s a complete stranger of course, still there is an inexplicable sadness for his mother, the Queen,  his wife and small children.

It’s another small drama really but perhaps one that is quietly felt by 16 million people.