Amy Fox

Writer. Editor. Bad at blogging.


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The Tube and the Tate: 5 things I learned in London

So after my initial coming-to-London post which, reading back, is laced with just a whiff of an oncoming breakdown, I realise I did not publish anything for two weeks. Probably looks a bit worrying, but I can confirm that I was not swallowed up by the hungry jaws of the city. I even got used to my breeze blocks and empty flat, although I never met the owner of the muller corners in the fridge. I can only assume that there actually was a yoghurt-loving ghost in the room next door.

In truth, I just got so caught up in the day-to-day process of going to work, meeting friends who lived or worked nearby, then going home and going to sleep, that blogging was put on a back burner.

Unlike the Olympics, empty seats are a blessing which you taunt you only by their absence.

However, I am back now, and there’s only a week before I’m back at uni in Norwich and things really do get busy. So here’s some things I learnt in London while I was there:

1. I can read pretty much anywhere.

At peak time in the centre of London, the tube is pretty full, and no one around you is happy about it. Sure, there are some tricks to ease the growing sense of claustrophobia (such as going to the end of the platform and getting on the oft-neglected final carriage). However, sometimes even they don’t prevent you from being squashed in with a bunch of strangers. But even in the smallest of spaces, I could still find room to turn the pages of the first book of my pre-reading for third year: Belinda by Maria Edgeworth (1801). It’s not too bad – it has lots of disease and unhappy marriages, and even some controversial mixed-race unions. (Racy stuff.) Plus, I can now confirm that the questionable decisions of our heroines Belinda and Lady Delacour were just as baffling and socially uncomfortable pressed up against a stranger’s back on a packed Piccadilly train than they were in my room on my own.

2. The Tate gallery is infinitely more fun whist playing spot-the-dick-symbolism.

Now, I’m not one of those people who regularly dismisses and mocks modern art for being “worse than my two-year-old’s”. For one thing, I don’t have a two-year-old. For another, that’s clearly balls, and I actually think a lot of it has the potential to be more emotional and interesting than more traditional stuff.

“Gothic Landscape” by Lee Krasner, painted after her husband Jackson Pollock died in a car crash, was probably my favourite.

But that doesn’t mean that it’s not even more fun to point out every phallic symbol you can find amongst all the other pretentious art critics.

3. Camden Market is as good as everybody says.

Slightly overwhelming when I first stepped into the market, I was soon swept up in the atmosphere and tempted to buy everything I laid my eyes on. Maybe it was the magic of the first time, but I would still rather find something there than Primark. My only complaint was that, for some reason, the legendary Goths who apparently spend all of their time there must have got tired of tourist season and found somewhere more hip to hang out. Sad face.

4. Even the booze is better.

Chando’s may sound like a cross between the two most unappetising words in the contemporary English language (“chunder” and “Nando’s”), but it is actually a pub just off Leicester Square, and it was a beauty. I always feel a little awkward at these fancy hipster pubs which sell a hundred different types of independent beers. I’m not exactly a connoisseur of these things, and the pressure of wanting to order something cool is only added to by the fact that, without my glasses, I can’t read the labels of most of the stuff they sell anyway. Am I supposed to ask the bar staff for recommendations? Make something up which so that they think I know about even more obscure and independent beverages than even they stock? Point at the nearest thing and yell “PINT OF THAT” in a sheer panic? I don’t even like beer anyway! In the end, I usually cave and order vodka and coke because I know that everybody in the world is going to stock it. Then I shuffle back to my table in the shame of my unoriginality. But at Chando’s, their independent hipster vodka and independent hipster coke made it completely worth it. No cheap Asda knockoff and 2-for-1 diet cola will be the same again.

5. If I could find a flatmate, a flat and a job to fund myself after graduation, I’d probably be happy.

Any takers?

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Breeze blocks and single beds: I must be back in halls

From the window I can see a bike rack and an air conditioning machine. I am surrounded by breeze blocks and sitting on a narrow bed. Down the hall, there is a stack of about five different ready meals with my name on them.

That’s right, I have fulfilled a life-long dream and moved to London. The capital city. The centre of the UK journalism and media and all the things I want to be a part of.

Except that it’s only for two weeks and I’m spending it in student halls which really make me appreciate how good I had it in my first year at UEA.

For one thing, I had an en suite then. Let’s not just gloss over that like it ain’t no thing.

For another, in my first year of university I met people who would become some of my closest friends living just down the hall. There appears to be evidence of another human being living here (two muller corners in the fridge and some toiletries in the bathroom) but I have yet to see them and it all feels a bit deserted. When I arrived, the man at the desk hadn’t even heard of me. I am sort of beginning to wonder whether this entire building isn’t actually haunted, a separate dimension, or a figment of my imagination.

Basically, if Matt Smith doesn’t show up in a TARDIS pretty soon, I might start getting worried.

It’s okay though – tomorrow I am starting Even More Work Experience, and this time it is in London, so I have my best first impression outfit waiting, a tube map in my bag, and I have Google street-viewed the walk to the office more times than I can count.

Okay, twice.

And now I have to go and do the washing up. Because no matter where you go, there are always things with food in which need to be clean again. Life lessons, people, life lessons.


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Amy goes to the Olympics: Part two

Where we left off: I missed my alarm, got on a tube, and saw a game of handball. It’s probably easiest if you just read part one.

11.08am Just watching people act so energetic had worn me out completely, so I go to buy more coffee in the break between games. Unfortunately, so does everybody else, and there is only one coffee machine, desperately trying to feed our caffeine addictions. This is probably the worst-planned part of the entire day.

11.49am At half time of the second game, Brazil are beating Angola, but it is extremely close once again. I have decided by this point that my favourite thing about watching live handball is the song selection. This was one of the great things about the Opening Ceremony, and apparently a theme across London 2012. They play the line “These girls fall like dominoes” whenever more than one person falls over at once; “I get knocked down but I get up again” when the dominoes stand up and continue to play; “under pressure” for the penalty shots; “we will rock you” seemingly for just anything else.

Pretty sure this is not what the Big Pink had in mind.

12.07pm My stepmum leans across and tells us that she has just realised that the Olympic logo makes the numbers “2012” out of shapes, which is basically why we all love her.

12.47pm Brazil win, but only just. In a typically British fashion, the crowds had adopted Angola as the underdogs about halfway through, and cheered them almost to victory, so that in the end Brazil only won by three goals. This time it was well over a goal a minute.

1.08pm After leaving the Copper Box, we go to World Square and get food. The Thai green curry is pretty good.

1.41pm So is the orbit.

It’s so GIANT.

1.53pm As another example of just how bizarre the experience could be, at this point the speakers – currently playing my beloved and completely mental Nicki Minaj – are drowned out by one of the volunteers busking. I don’t know if it is her break, or if she has been hired specifically to add more of a street feel, but she is singing a song of which the only lyrics are: “Kids are gonna get their feet wet. You’ll be fine, you’ll be dandy” over and over again.

2.05pm I’m not saying it is related to the singing, which was quite good considering it made absolutely no sense, but then there is a downpour and even our umbrellas are not enough to save us.

2.10pm My stepmum and I hide in the ladies toilets, which could have been a lot worse. I mean, they are in a temporary building which is basically a shack, but we’ve all been to festival toilets, so I can’t really complain.

2.34pm We watch Ben Ainslie win GB a gold in sailing on the large screens at “Park Live”. Park Live is basically two giant screens back to back, surrounded by grassy hills so that as many visitors to the park as possible can watch all the sports they don’t have tickets to. This would be weird later, when we watch the cycling with the velodrome in sight.

2.45pm What is more important? Inherent suspicion of almost all displays of nationalistic pride, or free face stickers?

I mean, which did you think it was going to be?

2.59pm  Once we’ve walked around the park a few times, we start running out of things to do. There’s only so long that you can look at cool buildings while knowing that cool things are happening inside that you can’t see. So we finally give in and look around the merchandise shop.

It’s weird.

3.04pm Other attractions include a weird BP-branded building which is set up like another attraction. I don’t know what is in there, but people are queuing for it. I can only assume it is some kind of building full of PR stunts desperately hoping to distract from the fact that they caused one of the biggest environmental disasters in living memory.

We do not go inside.

3.12pm Far more exciting is seeing the Olympic village from a distance. They have all hung their country’s flag from the windows! It looks so fun!

3.30pm ICE CREAM.

3.56pm As if ice cream isn’t enough, the next volunteer busker we see is doing an acoustic Call Me Maybe, which is naturally a highlight of the day.

4.15pm We camp out at Park Live long enough to see Murray win the tennis, and a bunch of cycling. There are a lot of people sitting on the grass doing the same thing. So many that every time you move position slightly you end up in someone’s way and there is a chorus of tutting. And every time someone moves position in front of you and obscures the only part of Murray’s forehead you can see anyway, you become that chorus.

Incredible views at the Park Live experience.

5.56pm We have a train to catch, and we’ve been up and walking around since 7(ish) so we decide to head home.

6.06pm Walking through the gates, there are hundreds of signs saying “Take the fastest route to the City Centre: West Ham!” We begin to follow the signs for West Ham.

6.20pm A sign tells us there is still a 20 minute walk until we reach West Ham. I am reasonably sure that it is only the “fastest route” because you walk half the distance first.

6.40pm We finally get on the tube. I cry inside. Olympic athlete I am not.

9.45pm There are a lot of boring train things, including me reading Oscar Wilde because I’m pretentious, but the most important thing is that we are back in time for Bolt’s race, with five minutes to spare.

9.50pm BOLT!

10.15pm There is a Doctor who trailer on the BBC. I freak out.

10.25pm I watch about a bazillion episodes of Parks and Recrecreation before falling asleep. I only have one series to go. I will probably finish by the end of the week. I need to go back to Uni soon.

It is just the best you guys.

Photos by Geoff Adams. Other that one of Parks and Rec, which is by THE INTERNET.


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Amy goes to the Olympics: Part one

So I recently went to the Olympics to watch handball! And, dutiful blogger that I am, I recorded what time things happened so that I could produce a day-in-the-life and get it online the next day. Four days later, and it’s finally here. It’s sort of like that time I liveblogged all of the Lord of the Rings films for you, but with fewer innuendoes.

Man, maybe I should start again.

7am Waking up in the morning. Gotta be fresh, gotta go downstairs. Gotta have my bowl, gotta have cereal.

Well now that song is in your head, what actually happened was that my father knocked merrily on our hotel door and said “Are you ready to go to breakfast?” and I stumbled out of bed, opened the door, squinted at my well-dressed and shiny looking parents through a haze of sleep and unbrushed hair, and said “I do not think that my alarm went off when it said it would.” But not quite as coherently.

7.20am I arrive in the breakfast area just as the rest of my family are finishing up. The toast is cold, and the filter coffee has been out for some time, so I have to balance the time of the morning against the fact that the coffee is really kind of gross. Time of the morning wins, so I just triple the amounts of sugar.

7.45am We arrive at Ilford station. Considering the transport panic (“Don’t travel in London! There’ll be so many people travelling in London! Are you thinking of going to London? THAT’S A TERRIBLE IDEA”) there aren’t that many people around.

7.55am The train arrives. I could have had 10 minutes more sleep.

8.13am Getting off at Stratford is fine, and as we approach the park everyone is incredibly friendly. All the volunteers welcome the crowds as they walk past, and one lady had a megaphone and was telling everybody that it was a beautiful day, we should all smile, we should get our tickets ready, we wouldn’t be allowed inside without tickets or a smile. It sounds annoying. It was actually quite cute.

This is my brother Jack and I. We are channelling the Olympic spirit of jazz hands.

9am After walking through the park, which is pretty impressive, we eventually reach the venue for the handball. It is called the Copper Box. It basically looks like a giant box made of copper.

9.16am To warm up the crowds, the host (who was wearing a flatcap and shorts, despite being over eight years old, and not a Victorian orphan) gets people dancing on the big screens if they were being individual enough. My brother and I make damn sure we appear on that screen, while my stepmum conveniently chooses that moment to investigate the loos.

It is probably the closest I will ever get to being on TV.

Although looking at it again, there’s nothing about this outfit that isn’t perfect.

9.30am Worn out from all that positive energy and cheesy dancing, the handball game actually starts. I should point out here that I had absolutely no idea what handball was, or how you played. It turns out that the ball is not actually made of the hands of the losers, or even zombies, both of which had been previously suggested. Instead, the female Swedish team come bounding in and high-five the Republic of Korea, and then they all start running up and down to get warmed up. There are so many ponytails. They have so much energy. It is all so wholesome. I am exhausted just watching.

11am Eventually I managed to get a good idea of how game worked. Basically the aim was to throw the ball into the goal, except you could only hold it for a certain amount of seconds, and run for a certain number of steps. If you broke those rules, you had to give up the ball and everyone would run to the other end of the court/pitch/arena/prison. Eventually Korea won, but it was very close, and there ended up being 60 goals in total, making it far, far more interesting to watch than football.

And it’s okay, because apparently the Swedish handball team were spotted that night helping Usain Bolt to celebrate his 100m gold medal. So I’m sure they were fine.

Just like football, but with your hands. And better.

Photos by Geoff Adams.