Thursday, November 19, 2009

Kan Du Tale Dansk?

I forgot to mention something that I'm very, very excited about: I've enrolled to start learning Danish! It's been something that's on my mind since February, when I dated a Dane, and the urge only became stronger when I fell in love with Denmark during our week-long romance. I worry that I'm turning into someone like those spotty weird teenage boys who aren't interested in anything that isn't related to Japan, but instead of talking about manga and vijuara kei and other cool stuff, I'm blathering on about a country that counts cheese and chairs as its most exciting cultural exports.

Anyway, the language is basically insane, the linguistic equivalent of the homeless guy who pees on the bus. Half of the letters that are written down aren't pronounced and, as is my understanding, they basically have no sentence structure: so long as you cram all the key words somewhere in the sentence, you'll be understood. English is a similarly nutty language, but more like a quietly demented elderly woman rather than the fan of public urination we met before. My Danish friends have expressed incredulity at my desire to subject myself to their language, but well, off I go.

I've been out of university for three years, and I think my mind is itching for a challenge. I was thinking about going back to study next year, but since I'll be tied down in Europe until at least April, that won't happen. So this will help me stretch out my brain muscles a bit in the mean time.

Things About London What Is Good

So, I have recently been accused of being "a whiny backpacker", "a knapsack of emotions" and "a little shit face everyone hates". No, I'm not suddenly a wildly successful blogger whose words ignite his enormous readership into arguments about whether he speaks the word of God (it's true) or whether he's a mealy-mouthed hack (it's not true). This hate mail comes from two people who I once considered my friends. No, I kid, whatever problems Ainsley and Josh have with anger-management and their complex complexions (you're blotchy - I'm saying it as nicely as I can, okay?), I love them very much.

So, in an attempt to win their favour and to avoid this page turning into the endless moaning of an angsty emo, I thought I'd write about the fun things I've been doing lately so future Liam can look back and think "wow, living in London was pretty cool and I sure wasn't a little bitch".

I've seen plenty of amazing cheap gigs, notably Mew, a Danish indie-prog band who sound so much better than the descriptor "Danish indie-prog band" suggests, and Patrick Wolf, my favourite artist of this decade, putting on a show at The Palladium with a string octet, backing singers and ridiculous outfits (black jockstrap and silver body glitter, anyone?). Coming up, I have Gary Numan playing The Pleasure Principle in full, Marilyn Manson, Luke Haines, Pet Shop Boys and Emilie Autumn.

On the subject of music, I've been listening to BBC 6 a lot. I haven't listened to the radio properly in more than a decade, but I found out that Cerys Matthews, the singer of Catatonia, one of my favourite bands as a teenager, hosts afternoons on BBC 6, and her show is fecking awesome. So is the dude that follows her, so I've been tuning into that. It shits all over what passes for radio in Australia.

I've just moved house, and the area near me is clogged with Polish delicatessens and African restaurants. Australia is really multicultural, but has a predominantly Asian and Mediterranean influence. This proliferation of eastern European and African cuisine and culture just doesn't exist in Sydney, so I'm enjoying it while I can. (In fact, I took myself out for a meal of borscht and golabki when I was feeling down on myself the other week, to remind myself of why Europe is awesome.)

Some friends and I got lost as we were heading towards Brick Lane for dinner. We were stumbling in the rain and trying to hold onto umbrellas, but our aimless and impromptu tour took us past many notable Monopoly addresses. So that was fun, albeit damp.

My mum's in town this week (more about that later), so we've been doing the whole musical thing: we saw Les Miserables, which we both love, and Salad Days, which Mum performed in while she was at high school. Salad Days was ridiculously fun: the theatre was set up like a 1950s university lawn, and as we arrived, the actors, dressed as professors, congratulated us on our graduation and showed us to our seats. The musical was a very campy, old-school one, until the plot was bizarrely derailed by the arrival of a spaceship in the second half - a completely ridiculous and unexpected deus ex machina, but still, it was a stupendously fun night.

Shopping. Good God, the shopping. The supermarkets here are stupendous, and shopping centres are open until 9pm every night. EVERY NIGHT. Not just Thursdays. It's outrageous and I love it. Of course, I'm dirt-poor, but it's fun to wander and look at the different food and fashion they have. (While we're on the topic, what do the Brits have against natural fabrics? It's nearly impossible to find something that isn't blended with at least one other unpronouncable synthetic material.)

Loving the food. While I'm a fan of the stodgy pub food (pies! burgers! bangers and mash!), the produce here is amazingly fresh and cheap. People had warned me that I wouldn't be able to find good fruit and vegetables. True, if you eat out, but the supermarkets are crammed with excellent produce. I've been outing out a lot while Mum's here, but apart from that, I've been taking salad snack boxes to work and making amazing sandwiches and stir fries.

History. Museums, random old buildings, anything old: I love it. It's been a busy few weeks, so I haven't been exploring much, but I love popping off to the British Museum or the Tower of London when I can.

And I still get a kick out of working for the BBC. (Or, in the words of Ainsley and Josh, "You’re working at the BBC! The BBC! You are peaking! You will never be more than what you are at this moment. You’ll be like the hot girl in high school who’s ass got big! The BBC!" Thanks, guys.)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Housing Hell

Shit. Shitting shitty shit. House-hunting is so hard. It's a whole new world of social conventions I don't understand! I've always lived with friends or family, so this whole meeting strangers and trying to impress upon them what an excellent housemate you would be thing is very difficult. Also, I don't understand the protocol. I figured the people with the house are in the position of power, so it's up to them to make the decision, since they'll have many people wanting to move in. The London flat-share market is pretty cut-throat. So I looked at a really nice flat last Friday night, and told the girls the room was perfect for my needs and they said they'd discuss their housemate options that night and text me the next day. It's now Sunday and I've only just heard from them. They said:

"Hey Liam, Don't know if you were interested in the room, but just to let you know, we have now found someone to move in. Best of luck with the search!"

Now, that's all very nice, but it makes me feel like the fact that I didn't get the room is my fault. I mean, they said they didn't know if I was interested in the room, but how much clearer than "I'm really keen, please let me know" can I be? I figure they should decide who they want to live with and then go down the list. Apparently, it's like getting a job, and I'm going to have to call repeatedly and hassle people.

Anyway, I think I've decided to stay where I am. This room I saw on Friday and one I saw the previous week were perfect i.e. cheap, clean, and well-located with nice, quiet-seeming housemates. Apart from that, they're all more expensive than where I am now if you factor in bills, and a bit further flung-out, transport-wise. One had a carpeted bathroom - weird, I hate that shit - and another was with housemates who had a very limited grasp of English. Ah well. I really like my area: it's close to work and a big supermarket, and it's pretty easy to get in and out of the city. What I really miss is having a living room, and the fact that this is a business-run house, so the housemates change regularly. There were two awesome Aussie girls in the room next to me, but they'll be gone soon and who knows who'll take their place? But there are a few other people who are planning on staying here until February or March, so hopefully we can built up a bit of a rapport. I'm on contract with the BBC until March, so I guess I'll reconsider things then.

Anyway, house-huntng took up the weekend, only for me to learn I'm happy where I am. (I can't help but feel that the weekend's efforts serve as a metaphor for what I've learned about Australia by travelling abroad.) I've caught up with a few friends though, which has been good: I went out for drinks on a boat-bar on the Thames on Friday night, and went dancing last night. Mum arrives in a week, so I've got to plan activities and stuff for her arrival.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Another Open Letter

Dear Sydney,

I never thought I'd say this, but...I miss you. I knew I'd miss my family and friends, but I'm surprised that I miss you. I'm going to come across all Joni Mitchell and say I didn't know what I had 'til it was gone. It was so easy to take you for granted. You were always...just there. I'd reached a point in my life where I began to wonder, am I just with this city because it's easy?

And so I had to leave, but I miss you. Sure, you aren't as pretty as Aarhus, or as historically interesting as Berlin or London. Even in your trendiest suburbs, you can't compete with Stockholm. But despite all that, Sydney, I accept you for what you are, and I look forward to coming home to you one day.

That said, there are a few things I'd like you to improve. First, your public transport. Cityrail love to complain and protest that Sydney's train system is so complicated, don't they? I've seen Berlin, I've seen London. Their systems are just as complicated, if not more so, and they run beautifully. It's not just a European thing, because Melbourne's mass transit system shits all over yours. I can't believe you've managed to ignore the fantastic innovations in engineering and technology that are being employed across Europe. Sort it out, Sydney.

Next, your weather. I know there's not much you can do about this, but I want to point out that, although I still think you're too hot, I apologise for all the cruel things I've said in the past. Last night as I sat on a step in Charing Cross, my testicles frozen to the concrete through my jeans, rubbing my hands together to stop them turning blue, I couldn't believe that I was yearning for a Sydney summer. Yes, I miss your too-hot embrace, spending nights enfolded in your clammy arms, Sydney. When I get back, you'd better scorch the shit out of me.

And do you know what? That's really all. Although you could make a few proper indie dance clubs that aren't disgusting hellholes. That would make me happy. Spending time with other cities - a night here, a week there - I've realised you're not the cultural wasteland I always thought you were. You're doing alright. I'm having so much fun here in London, so I'll be gone a while longer, but I hope you'll wait for me. Life with you isn't so bad and, for better, for worse, for whatever, my home is with you.

See you some day soon, Sydney.


Liam xxx

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

An Open Letter

Dear London,

I'm sorry I wasn't kind to you in my last post. You see, I'm still warming up to you (just as you're cooling down, ironically enough). It's hard to like you when I'm busy trying to find a house, and I'm still so confused by everything you do. Your prices are weird. You have different names for things. On the other hand, you're very familiar at times, and perhaps that's why it's so disorienting to be around you: you aren't wildly different, like Warszawa or Aarhus, but you're just different enough that I can never quite relax. Sometimes, I just want to leave you and go back to Sydney, where I know and love everyone and everything. Other times, I just want to pack up and move to Copenhagen. Oh London, why can't you be Copenhagen? I know that we're together now and I shouldn't be thinking of other cities, but every time I close my eyes, I see the canals and cathedrals of Copenhagen. But don't worry: I would never cheat on you. I made a commitment, and I intend to see it through.

Of course, I've been dreaming of this for years, so it's no surprise that the reality never quite measures up to my fantasies. But I enjoy spending time with you. I like your palaces (especially now that I've bought a membership to the Historic Royal Palaces), I love your parks, your plentiful and affordable gigs, your lovely pubs with their artery-cloggingly delicious food. I love the way the clothes in your shops look, but I hate the fact that they're all made of synthetic fabrics. I hate that coffee is so expensive here, but I guess that I should be thankful that it's not as expensive as Aarhus. Stupid Aarhus and its ten dollar coffee. I like that you gave me a job at the BBC. I like that I have friends living here, and have already made new ones. I love your museums. Almost as much as I love The X Factor.

So London, once again, I'm sorry if I've seemed distant. You seem really cool, and I want to get to know you better. But whatever happens in our relationship, I hope we can always stay friends.


Liam xxx