23 September 2014

As above, so below

We'd spent the last three weeks on buses. First, it was the beaten and battered one that we'd had to fight to get on to. We'd claimed our places on the long bench at the very back, next to one of the two open doors that passengers would use to clamber aboard, hands reaching down to pull them on. Or that the sellers would use to swing in, proffering baskets of fruit, cold drinks, and lighters. All of them were fascinated by how pale my skin was and it wasn't long until hands were touching my legs or stroking my hair - had I not been with my friend, I think it may have been difficult to get them to stop. We bounced on this broken bus for the next six hours through jungle roads and rivers, misguidedly destined for a small village on the west coast of Java.

Our stay lasted just one night; we hotfooted back to Jakarta on the same uncomfortable and unbearably hot bus the next day, but it felt different this time. We'd survived the storms on the beach, a few miles from seeing Krakatoa, that lit up the night with purple fronds of lightning, rocking the fishing boats on the horizon; we'd made friends with a volunteer at our hostel and later left her to her book; and we then made friends with a family who offered us their best room if we needed somewhere to stay in Bandarang. They even took to pushing away prying hands and eyes becoming our personal guardians as we all wilted on the sticky leather seats.

The second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth buses were a little more comfortable; the sleeper coaches ever popular with us backpackers that wound their way across Vietnam this time, up hills and corners so tight you gripped onto whatever you could, hoping you wouldn't be plunged to your death. Ho Chi Minh City, Dalat, Nha Trang, Hue, Hoi An, Hanoi - each journey was different from the one before, whether they had midnight stops, were party buses or took on locals and their chickens who slept on the spaces between beds on the floor. I always chose the upper bunks because I felt I could see more of the jungles, the clouds, the towns, the sea.

After three weeks of buses, we were finally here. We'd then spent our first night in the bay on the traditional Vietnamese junk boats. Ornate, almost luxurious, we'd been lashed to two others and we danced on the roofs until morning and then dived off the side into the cool, green water. A few days before, a typhoon had hit and the boat we were supposed to have been on was lost; sunk to the bottom of Ha Long Bay amidst the lost floating villages were fishermen built their livelihood on crates and discarded driftwood.

But here, here we were. Our night on the deserted island and it was beautiful; a small stretch of sand with a few bamboo platforms for us all to sleep. They towed a small pontoon a little way off the shore and we flipped lazily to and from it until the sun went down. The evening was spent with alcohol, packs of cards and exchanging the tamest and bawdiest stories we could think of, until there came a natural lull and everyone beatifically split up onto the beach. A few of us took one look at the water, and another at each other, and plunged into the silkily cool sea. There were no clouds - just endless miles of perfect stars where we'd already identified our very own Orion, a reassuring wordless presence above.

But it was what was below rather than above that sticks with me today. As we slipped through the water towards the small pontoon that we were ready to claim, the sea came alive with light. Thousands of iridescent sparkles shone, phosphorescence shaken up by the very typhoon that had claimed so much of what was above to the sea's depths, and as my hands pushed through the water it was like sheets of glittered satin, whole constellations, were flowing through my fingers. We reached the pontoon and hauled ourselves onto it, lying back to catch our breath, to smile, to take this ridiculous situation in. How were we all here? A world away from lives back home; the jobs, the partners, the friends, the family and all those minutes we'd lived before this place. Quiet contemplation took over and it was almost as if we'd lost our voices for a second.

For what could ever beat this moment? What could ever beat swimming with stars above and stars below.

22 September 2014

The Hackney Pearl

Hackney has been London's darling for a while now. Restaurants, shops, markets, classes - you'd be hard-pressed to find it lacking anything you really need, which is why there's something pretty good round every corner. There's a small corner of Hackney that's a little less known (unless you're an East Londoner), although no less loved, which is great for balmy evenings spent by the canal or just round the corner from it in The Hackney Pearl.

There's very much a cafe vibe to the place. Lots of benches for outside seating, mismatched furniture and bare walls inside, an open kitchen and tables that you imagine were salvaged from somewhere hugely in need of an overhaul. But it's charming. And welcoming. And open all day and night, so whether you're in for a lunchtime coffee or in the late night long haul like us, it's a great find.

We started with a pint of Meantime London Lager for him and a fittingly feminine drink for me that involved prosecco, vodka, limoncello, basil and berries and was possibly one of the nicest concoctions I've had in a while. And of course, it'd have been rude to not look at the wine list. I chose a bottle of 1997 Decenio Rioja that was syrupy smooth and perfectly on the edge of unadulterated bliss. First decisions aside, it was now down to the food.

Whilst being terribly indecisive, we shared the homemade focaccia that was brought to the table salted and with olive oil for dipping, then chose what to begin with. He had roasted fennel with milano salami and sumac aioli - deliciously simple but a nice trio of ingredients that brought sweetness to the saltiness of the meat and a bite of tartness. I went for the smoked mackerel pate and toast - it came smoother than I was expecting but well seasoned and even good enough to make the the non-fish fan across the table appreciate it.

From there, we had the onglet steak (£16) which came with huge skin-on chunky chips and garlic butter. Perfectly pink (they serve it rare) it was melt in the mouth good and a massively generous portion that was swiftly demolished? Did it need a sauce? Perhaps but we were too busy devouring everything to really mind. I had the roasted seabass fillet with roasted tomatoes (so sweet they were almost sunblushed), aubergine and courgette which blew me out of the water. Too often these vegetables when roasted lose flavour and form to become an unappetising mush but their firm sweetness was really impressive and complemented the crisp skin of the bass and the soft flesh beneath.

Another bottle of red in and we were ready for dessert. The menu here is a little disappointing and harks more to its cafe roots than offering restaurant-ready puddings. Nevertheless, we chose the vanilla and brownie ice cream and the affogato to cleanse our palates but I left dreaming of cake or something a bit more decadent.

The service was some of the friendliest I've had in London; attentive enough but laidback enough to be able to share a joke and have a conversation with. No stark uniforms here but shorts and smiles instead. And the atmosphere? We were there quite a while and people drifted in for drinks, for dinner, to use the wifi, to eat cake and bring different types of conversation to the table.  Music was good too and despite being the last ones to leave, we could have stayed all night. Nice.

There's a contrived statement in here about Hackney and pearls so I won't labour the point but it gets four and a half out of five from me.

19 September 2014

House meet home

I moved two weeks ago: an adventure in ZipVan driving, Ikea on a Saturday and building furniture with a hangover. My room's relatively sorted, I just need a few more bits and pieces to finish it off which is why I've bought these prints. I'm sensing a black, white and gold theme going on.

Find them here and here.

18 September 2014

What I'm Wearing: September


Transition seasons are the best, aren't they? When it comes to the weather in London, I'm like Goldilocks - I like it not too hot, not too cold, but just right. Don't get me wrong, I love baking in the heat of high summer or dashing around in the snow but when you've got places to be the extremes of the seasons make dressing that little bit harder. So September's a good month for me - chill enough for my wardrobe staples of jumpers and boots to be acceptable. 

I wore this combination on a date to the zoo. I know, I know, it looks a little bit basic, right? But it's all in the touches - lacy bra (unseen, obviously), lacy cami, lots of gold rings and necklaces and a slick of Lady Danger or Relentlessly Red. Sunglasses and a desire to stroke (almost) every animal totally optional.

13 September 2014

The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare's Globe

It finally rolled around. Having booked it months in advance, when the tickets get released at the beginning of the season, Mum and I were off to see our second play at The Globe in as many years having fallen in love with A Midsummer's Night's Dream

One of Shakespeare's earliest, The Comedy of Errors is one of his shortest and most humorous plays. What's it about? 
Take one pair of estranged twin brothers (both called Antipholus), and one pair of estranged twin servants (both called Dromio), keep them in ignorance of each other and throw them into a city with a reputation for sorcery, and you have all the ingredients for theatrical chaos. One Antipholus is astonished by his foreign hospitality; the other enraged by the hostility of his hometown. The Dromios, caught between the two, are soundly beaten for obeying all the wrong orders. Basing his plot on a face by Plautus, Shakespeare caps the mayhem of his Roman original to build up a hectic tale of violent cross-purposes, furious slapstick and social nightmare.
I'll be the first to admit, I'm not a huge fan of slapstick comedy. Throwing custard pies and sticking a leg out? No thanks. But right from the off of this play, I was hooked.
A glorious cast jest their way through a script that is simultaneously elegant and naughty. Complaints of Shakespeare being difficult to follow could be completely assuaged by seeing this play - the words were brought to life with such beauty that it inspired me to pick up my languishing copy of his Works. The joy of Shakespeare is that despite the somewhat antiquated language, the jokes and the passion still shine through and they're just as easy to find funny - the entire audience were in complete hysterics with some well-timed japes (and of course, a ridiculous scene involving a rubber octopus) and there was a brilliant nod to both Hamlet and Harry Potter in one understated scene.

Being able to see a play that's been performed for almost 400 years today is such a privilege, and The Globe is one of the most accessible theatres in London. Standing tickets (groundlings) are as little as £5 so you can simply wander in to watch that day or book in advance and snap up seats for a bit more - we go for what we call the best in the house - H5 and H6 on the Upper Gallery for pure, interrupted viewing.

We've vowed to go once every season so I can't wait 'til April when the next run of shows gets released. Who knows, maybe they'll do a classic Romeo & Juliet? Here's hoping.

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