Monday, June 4, 2012

Miss K - back at the keyboard

What?  Could it be?  Miss K has finally come out of hiding to start posting again?  Yes, gentle readers, I am back. Again. Some more.  It has taken me slightly longer to get myself sorted out in my new life than I had thought it would, and this is why:

1.  Orientation. I had general orientation, I had company orientation, I had department orientation.  It was all very time-consuming and I was so damn oriented that I actually had no idea where I was or what I was doing most of the time!

2.  Internet access - Well, they say that living in the Middle East teaches you patience, and they're not wrong.  It took days just to get my log-in ID and then ages before my wifi got set up at home - it's not that I couldn't have used the connection at the library but it was very hit-and-miss and I just ran out of patience at that point...

3.  Bureaucracy - there were layers upon layers of things to deal with and wait for.  I couldn't get a phone without a bank account.  I couldn't get a bank account without a permanent company ID.  I couldn't get a permanent company ID before I got my passport back.  I couldn't get my passport back until I got my multiple entry-exit visa.  And I couldn't apply for my multiple entry-exit visa until I got my iqama (my residence permit).  You see what I'm saying?

 4.  Social life - when you move to a new country, you have to get out and meet people and the only real way to do that in a place like this, when you're living on a compound, is to go to absolutely every single thing you're invited to, whether it's grabbing coffee with a colleague or going to an enormous party on another compound that goes on until 3am.  You name it, I've been doing it. Out for dinner?  Sure.  Beach party?  You bet.  Mongolian BBQ (don't ask)? Absolutely.  So my time has been well-spent in the sense that I now have a pretty good social life, but that has meant my sad neglect of you, gentle readers.  I am sorry about that, but I had to make friends here - after all, you're not going to come to spend party weekend in Bahrain with me, are you?  (Actually, I shouldn't ask that - knowing you cheeky monkeys, you probably would!)

5.  Housing - I am very happy with my housing situation here, but the decor?  Well, let's just say that the prison hospital waiting room from 1972 called up and they want their furniture back.  So I've been haunting Ikea and various other home stores in order to get my place looking decent.  But it's no easy thing to go shopping here - I will go into detail in a future post, but believe me, it's a verrrrrrrry time-consuming process...

So that's basically what I've been up to here so far - it hasn't been particularly exciting, but unpacking and settling in never really is.  But I do have lots of travel planned and I do have about a billion photos from Paris that I still need to sort through, so I'll have more posts coming soon.  No promises as to when (you know what I'm like), but soon-ish...

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Scenes from Saudi Arabia #1

Even in a remote province of Saudi Arabia, there is still no escape from Spongebob Squarepants. Now you know...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Arabian (days and) nights

I'm sorry, gentle readers, have you missed me?  To be honest, I've kind of missed myself - the past few weeks have been so crazy that I feel like I have been a bit lost!  Relocating to a foreign country when you're already in a foreign country, having also gone there from another foreign country - well, it's no picnic, my pretties.  I'm sorry I haven't been able to post, but now I have a zillion things to tell you about - thoughts on serendipity, the insane amount of work it is to close down your life in Paris, my first impressions of life here in Saudi Arabia, and much, much more.  BUT - I know, I know, there's always a but - the problem is that my home internet access here hasn't been set up yet, so I am writing to you from the terrace at my local library, basking in the balmy 25C temperature at 9pm, and admiring the amazing crescent moon in the sky.  Which is all great, except that my laptop battery is about to die and I simply won't have time to write anything else right now.  But I shall return shortly, my pretties, and start posting more regularly...promise!!!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Letters from London #8

All right, my pretties, I know you're thinking that I haven't posted recently because I had a craaaaazy St Patrick's Day here in Paris and I've been recovering ever since, right?  Wellllllll, no.  I did go out for St Paddy's with a bunch of Irish people and we did go to some Irish pubs, but at a certain point we just got fed up with the crowds and ended up at a champagne bar instead.  Not very authentic, but far more relaxing...

Anyway, my absence was not caused by too much partying (unfortunately), but rather because I've been in London and my internet access there was very sporadic and I just didn't get a chance to post.  But since I'm mentioning London and since it's late and I just need to post something, how about another Letter from London?

Written somewhere around July 2001

Well, after the overwhelmingly positive reaction to my last letter, I've decided to turn over a new leaf.  Yes, I'm ready to become a kinder, gentler Miss K.  From now on, I shall be nauseatingly nice, sickeningly sweet and a beam of sunshine in the lives of all those fortunate enough to come into contact with my saintly-yet-humble being.  I will forsake malice, spite and cynicism in favour of graciousness, charm and generosity of spirit.  People will come from all around simply to bask in the warm glow of my goodness... Okay, did anyone buy that?  What, not even for a second?  Oh c'mon... Anyone?  Friends?  Relatives?  No one? Really??

Anyway, I don't have a theme for this letter, so here are some random thoughts about nothing terribly interesting.....

New Experiences (A) - One of the many things I like about London is the opportunity to try things that I might not have done in Toronto.  For example, I took a ballet class for the first time in my life a couple of weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed it.  For those of you who are rolling around on the floor laughing hysterically at the thought of me doing anything that requires grace and coordination, go right ahead.  Your mental picture is entirely correct - I galumphed around the room like a drunken lumberjack, sending willowy ballerina types fleeing in terror, and I made a total fool of myself.  Like I said, I had a fantastic time.

New Experiences (B) - Another thing I just tried was floating.  Huh?  What's that?  Well, it's a bit hard to describe, but basically you hop into a sensory deprivation tank and float in water that has about 800 lbs of salt dissolved in it.  And that's all: you just lie there in the dark and float for an hour like a cross between an astronaut and an embryo.  Question - why?  Answer - Because it's quite possibly the most relaxing thing you'll ever experience.  Strange but true.  Once you get the hang of it, you totally lose track of your body and you just feel like a big ol' head floating around in the dark.  I know, it sounds weird, but ohhhhhh, it's soooooo gooooooood....

Music - I've always been a fan of the blues, and it amazes me how well songs from the 1920s translate to the new century.  I recently picked up a Bessie Smith CD and really, you'd think she was singing about my life.  For example, here are some of the song titles: "Me and My Gin", "No One In Town Can Bake A Sweet Jelly Roll Like Mine"(if you know what she's saying, and I think you do), "Empty Bed Blues", "I'm Wild About That Thing", "A Good Man Is Hard To Find", "You've Got To Give Me Some", and my personal favourite - "Put a Little Sugar in My Bowl".  Sing it, girlfriend....

Fashion - Ladies: I hate to tell you this, but London fashion has clearly lost what passes for its collective mind.  You can be totally in style this season if you wear any of the following: 1940's floral prints, army camouflage, disco diva, cowgirl, or any combination thereof.  I've always prided myself on my eclectic style, but this might be a bit much even for me.  We shall see.

Work - I'm currently employed in Hell, which means that I work for the Devil.  Yes, the Devil has many names.... Satan..... Beelzebub..... Lucifer.... Stephanie. You might not have been aware that the Supreme Evil Being in the universe is currently incarnated in the body of a petite woman from New Zealand, but now you know.  Consider yourselves warned.

Today's Story - I thought I'd share this experience with you even though it has absolutely nothing to do with London.  When I was in Los Angeles a couple of years ago, I visited the famous slutty-lingerie store Frederick's of Hollywood (much to everyone's surprise, I'm sure).  As I was browsing, the following happened: a young English couple skulked into the store, clearly embarrassed at being there.  They approached the salesgirl next to me, and the English girl (who had a huge rack) shyly asked her: "Excuse me, but do you sell minimizer bras?"  An ominous silence fell.  The ultra-sassy black salesgirl (who had waist-length blonde braids, four-inch fingernails and more attitude than Madonna) looked at her with the undisguised contempt she might have shown for a urine sample and drawled, "Giiiiirl....this is Frederick's of Hollywood.  We MAXIMIZE!!!"  Hee!  Heeheeheeheehee!!!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Shamrocks and shenanigans

Oops, sorry, my pretties - it's been rather a while since I posted, but I hope you'll forgive me as it's all a bit of a blur at the moment while I deal with all the things I have to do before I move away!  But Miss K has plenty to tell you - in addition to running around Paris like a maniac, checking things off my "must-see/do-this-before-I-go" list, I've been on road trips to the Loire Valley and to Normandy on the last two weekends, and as soon as I sort through the bajillion photos I took, I'll be sure to tell you about those rather fabulous adventures.  

But in the meantime, here we are on St Patrick's Day, and as it's my third (and final) one in Paris and I've posted about the last two (I still can't believe there was reggae in 2010 and  The eyes have it. Well, they used to in 2011, which happened right after St Paddy's Day, so let's count that as my entry from that year, shall we?), I should probably keep on with tradition and post about this one too.  Well, gentle readers, pray for me and my liver, because this year, I am spending St Paddy's with actual Irish people (and plenty of them)- which bodes extremely well for a good time, but I shudder to anticipate what sort of state I'll be in tomorrow!    Well, as long as there's no black eye this year, it will all be grand.  I'll let you know how it turns out as soon as I can string together a coherent sentence, so....probably somewhere around Tuesday? 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Big changes

Have you seen the movie "Up In The Air"?  Well, there's a scene where George Clooney's character describes being in an airport as his home - and I know the intention was to make everyone think "oh, that man's life is so empty", but honestly, it just made me envious.  Do you realize that it's been more than a year since I've even set foot in an airport?  This wouldn't bother a lot of people, but Miss K is a travel weasel and an airport is my natural habitat - I don't do well in captivity and for me, not being able to afford to travel has been like a prison.

But, my pretties, I have some big news - this travel weasel is staging a prison break, and this blog is going to be changing, for the very simple reason that my location and circumstances are going to be changing.  Yes, it's true - after two and a half years in Paris, I am moving on to sandier (and far more lucrative) pastures: Saudi Arabia.  

I hope that tales of my expat life there will still be of interest to you, but my plan is to change the Expat Postcards to more of a general travel blog - you seem to have enjoyed the Letters from London (thus far, there are still more to come) and I have a number of similar posts that I wrote about other places I've visited (which I'll post in due course), and since I plan to be on a plane to somewhere new and exciting every time there's a three-day weekend or a holiday, there is plenty still to come.  So I'm hoping that you'll still tune in for more of my silliness?

And don't worry, Paris won't be disappearing completely from this blog, I still have a zillion photos that I haven't posted and lots of stories to go with them, so you'll still get your Paris fix from time to time...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Friday, March 2, 2012


Well, gentle readers, today I hang my head in shame -  I just met fashion blogger extraordinaire Garance Doré, (one of my personal style favourites) and I was wearing the most boring outfit of all time.  Ugh.

Let me back up a bit - I like to keep a few outfits ready to go at all times (the clothes, the footwear, the accessories, even the underwear, all carefully chosen and hung up together so that I can just throw it all on and get out the door), which makes me sound like one of those ridiculously organized people who has their entire life under control, but nooooo.  This is actually the reason:  Miss K is not a morning person.  I can't even begin to tell you the number of times I've been late for work because I've been staring, slack-jawed and bleary-eyed, into my vast wardrobe, trying to find something, anything to wear (I'm not the only one, right?).  So a few years ago I got into the habit of spending a couple of hours on the weekend putting together my outfits in advance for the coming week:  outfits for work, outfits for social occasions, casual outfits.  And this has worked very well - no more last-minute panic about what to wear, with the added benefit of ensuring that I actually wear everything in my wardrobe.  Ladies, you know what I'm saying - there are always a few things lurking in the closet that never get worn because you never have time to figure out what it actually goes with, and so you end up wearing the same old things over and over again.  

So, as I was saying, this little system has been working well, but today I learned a valuable lesson:  one should also have an outfit ready to go in case one has the opportunity to meet a style icon such as the fabulous Miss Doré, as mentioned above.  I checked her blog this morning (which is - if you are at all interested in fashion, you should definitely be reading it) and she mentioned that she would be doing an interview today in Paris, to which she invited her readers.  Well, of course I had to go, but with only 10 minutes to get ready, what to wear to such an occasion?  Not that she would care what I was wearing, but I cared.  But I panicked, flailed around, threw on a black sweater-dress and went.  God, how embarrassing - dull, dull, dull

But at least I got to meet her - I have read her blog for years and I like her writing style so much, she really inspired me to start this blog when I moved to Paris.  And she was just as delightful in person- she stayed for ages after the interview to sign autographs and pose for photos with fans, which was particularly nice of her since it was boiling hot in the room and she must have been dying to leave.

Anyway, so the moral of the story is this:  always be prepared to be fabulous, even at short notice.  Really, shouldn't I know this by now???

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Letters from London #7 (Part 2)

Continuing on from the previous (these are actually #6-10 on my original list, but the numbering has gone weird and I can't be arsed to sort it out)...

  1. I love St Paul's Cathedral, The Tower, The Eye, Westminster Abbey, Camden Town market, the Imperial War Museum, Trafalgar Square, Madame Tussaud's, Hampton Court Palace, Hyde Park, St Bartholomew-the-Greater, the Golden Hinde, the Globe, Somerset House, the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, Leicester Square, the Tate, the Tate Modern, St Bride's, Soho, Harrods, Harvey Nicks, the London Dungeon, the V&A, Borough Market, the Houses of Parliament, the Portobello Road market, Southwark Cathedral, Oxford Street, Lavender Hill, want more? I've got more....plenty more....don’t even get me started on pubs.

2.     I love the fact that you have to hail buses.  You might think that standing at a bus STOP would be enough of an indicator that the bus should perhaps do something other than keep right on going, but you would be wrong about that.  No, you actually have to wave them down to make them stop.  The first time I did it I felt like an absolute idiot, but I have since seen the error of my ways and realized that this is a stellar opportunity for me to strike a pose.  I now hail my bus with all the flair and élan of Audrey Hepburn hailing taxicabs in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" - admittedly, I'm not dressed in Givenchy and I'm not a European aristocrat, but I do my best. 

  1. Speaking of European aristocrats, I recently applied for a job working for Prince Charles. Okay, not actually for Prince Charles himself, but for someone who works for someone who works for someone who works for himI didn't get it, of course, but I love the fact that these opportunities exist here.

  1. I love the situations I find myself in.  I was in a Japanese restaurant in Soho last weekend where they sit several groups at one large table and this is what was going on around me: a couple of Asian students with approximately 600 books on astrophysics, a middle-aged French couple who ate their body weight in sushi and never spoke except for grunting with pleasure and ordering more food, and my personal favourites:  an earnest lesbian vegan couple sitting beside me (sample of conversation: "If you left me, I'd have nothing but my dog."  Hee!).  As we left the restaurant, we were almost run over by a huge group of Hare Krishnas in robes and woolly hats (well, it was cold out), out for a night on the town with their bells and gongs.  Interesting.

  1. I love the people you meet.  Due to circumstances which would take too long to explain, I was at a big charity party last night.  I had just gone to get my 470th glass of champagne when I suddenly realized that I was standing next to Elle Macpherson.  (Yes, someone who grew up next to a swamp in the deep dark wilderness of rural Ontario is now hanging out with international supermodels – that's right, check out the coolness of me.)
Q - Is she really that tall? 
A - Yes. I looked waaaaay up at her from my pathetic 5'8" (cursing my the genes inherited from my tiny mother) and she's about 6' tall.  Hate her.
Q - Is she really that gorgeous?
A – Annoyingly, yes.  I comfort myself with the fact that she's obviously a member of an alien species trying to conquer Earth and not actually a woman at all.  Hate her.
Q - Does she deserve her nickname of "The Body"?
A - Yes.  Really hate her.
Q - Is she sweet and charming and gracious?
A - Yes.  Hate her, hate her, hate her.
Q - Is it incredibly vexing to discover this?

So there you are: "10 Things I Love About London".  I leave you with a final image: as I was leaving the Tate Modern a few weeks ago, the setting sun turned the sky behind St Paul's into a wash of gold and lavender, the river smelled like a fresh spring day, people were smiling and happy and I was suddenly exhilarated beyond my powers of description to tell you about it.  I was broke, I was unemployed and I was more celibate than the Pope, but all I wanted to do was sing and dance my way along the South Bank.  If I had been wearing a hat, I probably would have twirled around and thrown it up into the air (even though you can only really get away with that sort of thing when you're Mary Tyler Moore and it’s the 60s and you have your own TV series).  That particular moment has passed, but they do happen pretty often.  Frightening, isn't it?  Hey, if the thought of the ol' kid acting like a frisky kitten hopped up on speed is disconcerting to you, imagine how alarming it is for me

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Letters from London #7 (Part 1)

Gentle readers, I am off to London tomorrow for a brief visit, and in honour of that fine city, I think we should delve back into the archives of my Letters from London...  (This is another long one, so I'll split it up and post the second half tomorrow. )

Written somewhere around May 2001

For those of you who have been wondering about my disappearance off the face of the earth for the last couple of months, allow me to explain.  No, I did not crawl into a cave to hibernate and live off my body fat (although anyone who has seen the size of my arse recently might suggest that this wouldn't be a bad idea),  I actually went through several weeks of a financial crisis so severe that it involved me staying home every night and existing on nothing but jam sandwiches.  But I'm now solvent again, which makes me as happy as a masturbating monkey, so I thought I'd do something a little different in this letter.  After my last effort, someone with a stunning lack of imagination accused me of not liking London, so this one is officially titled "10 Things I Love About London".

  1. I love the fact that I don't need a name here.  I have been addressed as dear, darling, ducky, love, lovey, mate, sweetheart, petal, poppet, and many more.  You might not think that I would enjoy this, but I'm actually quite charmed by it.  Hey, I'll take terms of endearment wherever I can get 'em.

  1. I love the fact that tax is hidden in the price of products.  If something is priced at £10, then £10 is what you pay for it, as opposed to having tax added on at the cash register.  Taxation is a bit like your parents having sex -- you know it goes on, but you really don't want to think about it. 

  1. I love the way that small things become absolutely essential.  I used to think a hot water bottle was a pleasant thing to have tucked next to my feet from time to time.  Since I moved to London, my hot water bottle has become the thing I love most in the world - I'm eventually going to have it bronzed and endow a scholarship in its name. 

  1. I love the fact that almost every office job gives you four weeks holiday a year to start with. How good is that???  I need to stop temping and get a real job just so that I can go on vacation for a month.

  1. I love the fact that the English pickle everything: pickled eggs, pickled walnuts, pickled peaches, pickled cabbage, pickled limes (does citrus really need to be pickled?  I ask you), and I swear I once saw pickled newt. It seems like the only things they don't pickle are cucumbers.  Okay, okay, they do sweet pickles and some tiny horrible things called gherkins, but try to find a decent dill pickle anywhere in the land?  Good luck.  Grail, schmail - if King Arthur had really wanted to send his knights off on an impossible quest, he would have forgotten about some overrated mystical goblet and sent them off to find a nice jar of kosher dills instead.  Hey, it might not be the stuff of legends, but they really improve a sandwich...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Things you might see on a menu

You know what I like?  I like it when a restaurant menu just says what's what.  I mean, come on - greedy pancakes?  Okay, so it's not perfect English usage (yeah, as if I should snark at anyone else about that - hee!), but boy, it sure is descriptive, right? Mmmmmm, greeeeeeeeeedy pancakes.  Love it.  And don't even get me started about the alcoholic pancakes - I actually had something else when I ate there (I know, right?  I'm an idiot), but rest assured I'll be going back to try those bad boys out...

Monday, February 13, 2012

Penis bread epiphany

You might think, from the title, that perhaps I have had some sort of epiphany about penis bread, but no.  Despite the fact that I post about it every so often, I don't actually spend much time thinking about penis bread at all, unless of course I am wandering through the Marais and find that the always-delightful Legay Choc bakery has done something new and exciting with it, which they did for the holiday of Epiphany.  This holiday is rather a big deal in France, and if I could be bothered to go into detail about it, I'm sure you'd find it very interesting.  But I'm lazy and there's a whole internet out there and I wouldn't want your mad Googling skillz to go to waste, so go ahead and look it up if you like.

But the point is that Epiphany in France involves a special cake called a galette, which you can buy anywhere here all throughout January.  Galettes come in all sorts of variations, but I've never seen this version before...

Friday, February 10, 2012

How Miss K got her Louvre back

Gentle readers, I have a confession: I have lived in Paris for two years and three months, and it's taken me that long to visit the Louvre.  And, what's worse, I spent most of that time living right next to it.  Seriously, when I first moved here I was living on rue St Honoré (see these posts: Saturday mornings, Street talk  for details on that rather lovely neighbourhood) and if not for the buildings across the street, I could have leaned out my living room window, thrown a rock at the Louvre and actually hit the damn thing.  It took me exactly one minute to walk to the Louvre from that apartment, but did I go?  Mais non!  Now, you are probably horrified and thinking that Miss K is some sort of heathen animal who doesn't appreciate art but you are wrong, my pretties, so wrong (okay, fine, I am a heathen animal, but I'm also an art-loving heathen animal, thank you very much).

What happened is this:  on my first visit to Paris, about eighty bajillion years ago (I believe dinosaurs might still have been roaming the planet at that point) I was madly in love with the city and I wanted to do everything, including the Louvre.  So I went there on a Wednesday when it opened at 9:00am and stayed there until it closed at 9:45pm, and aside from bathroom breaks and sneaking into a stairwell to eat an orange and drink a bottle of water, I never stopped (and if you've ever been to the Louvre, you'll know that three hours is about the maximum amount of time you can enjoyably spend there in one visit).  So of course, by the end of the day, I was exhausted, dehydrated, bug-eyed from art overload and my feet were so swollen it felt like I was walking on flippers.  I mean, the experience was totally amazing, but I was so traumatized by the whole thing that I couldn't bear the thought of going back.  I avoided the Louvre on several further visits to Paris, and I really avoided it once I moved here, but now the Louvre and I are friends again.  We're quite literally friends - I even have a card that says so, because last month, I bought a year-long pass for the Louvre and I've started using it and it's fabulous.  I flash my card to go through a special entrance and don't have to wait in line, but best of all, I can just stop by for an hour or two and really enjoy my visit.  The Louvre is best appreciated in little, bite-sized chunks (which is not all that helpful for tourists, but it's great for locals with passes - like meeeee!) and I really like being able to just nibble off a piece whenever I fancy it.  Yes, picture Miss K perched on the Louvre like a gargoyle, gnawing away at the walls of the building and you'll get the general idea; last week I chowed down on Etruscan sculptures, next week, I'll be digesting Italian Renaissance paintings.  Get in, enjoy great art for a couple of hours and then get the hell out.  Ahhhh, bliss...

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Monday, February 6, 2012

A few words about loincloths

Hello, my pretties, I'm back!  Yep, that's right, I am going to pretend that y'all noticed and cared about my absence from the blogosphere, so just let me live in my happy, delusional world, where there are also unicorns,  no-calorie chocolate, and hot men in loincloths (yes, I just watched Spartacus, don't judge me!).  In January I decided that I would try to be one of those bloggers who posts something every day, and I did try, gentle readers, for 23 days in a row, I really tried.  But here's the thing - I just suck at it and after those 23 days I needed a break.  Miss K is a fickle creature, as you should know by now, and when I have to do something, it just becomes a chore and a bore for me, and a major snore for you.  It also doesn't help that in January, I just don't really do anything (as you long-term readers are perfectly aware), I'm always broke, it's always cold, I'm always trying to detox and catch up on the eight thousand projects and emails that I'm always behind on.  God, BORING!!!

So it's a good thing I decided to share some of my Letters from London last month or I wouldn't actually have had anything at all to post about.  So here's the deal - it's my damn blog and I want to enjoy doing it so I'm only going to post when I have something to say or a story to tell or a pretty photo (or crappy outfit) to share.  Some weeks it might be every day, some weeks it might just be once, but I'd be happy with a nice, steady 3-4 times a week - I hope that sounds good to you too, my pretties.  So I'll be back soon with some stories about those hot men in loincloths - wait, what's that?  You don't want to hear about my vivid fantasy life?  Well, fine - how about some brand new penis bread photos instead?  Yep, I knew that would interest you, you cheeky monkeys - stay tuned, I'll post it soon...

Monday, January 23, 2012

Letters from London #6 (Part 3)

Continuing on with yesterday's silliness on London "sports" - this section is probably my personal favourite from all the Letters from London that I wrote.  And whenever I go back to visit and I take the Tube, I realize that this is still as accurate now as when I wrote it - anytime you're in London, I guarantee you'll end up playing at least one of these...

Written somewhere around March/April 2001

3. Underground Games:

Body Climb - this is played when your train pulls into the station and all you can see when the doors open is hundreds of people crammed in like unhappy sardines in overcoats.  Getting onto this train seems impossible, right?  And you call yourself a Londoner?  Shame on you!  Didn't you see those two inches of space on the floor?  All you have to do is wedge your toe into that space, and then fling yourself at the crowd over and over again like a demented lemming until you finally get a hand onto a support of some kind.  Hey, now you're really in business!  You've got one foot and one hand in, never mind the fact that your arse is still hanging out in front of the other twenty people on the platform who are kicking themselves for missing the opportunity that you so cleverly spotted.  Now this is where training is very important; at this point, you might still fail in your mission.  Don’t worry, just make sure your foot and your hand are firmly planted, then grind your way in with your pelvis like you're Elvis on Viagra.  Eventually your arse will make it past the doors, and once that's in, your head and your remaining appendages will follow, I promise.

The Imaginary Shag - the object of the game is to select an object of desire among your fellow passengers, one that you fancy enough to fantasize about. And if they get off the train before you do, you have to choose a new person.  Oh, what's that?  Easy game?  Oh, but I beg to differ.  It would be an easy game in a lot of places, but London ain't one of them, kids.  Why's that, you ask?  Because some of the other games you can play on the Underground are:
Who hasn't been to the dentist since 1974?
Who's a bleary-eyed drunk at 11 a.m?
Who smokes so much they smell like the Marlboro factory?
Who's completely unacquainted with the niceties of personal hygiene? 
And there are many, many more, but you get the idea.  I play this one all the time, and consider myself to be a very advanced player, but some days it's just an impossible challenge.

Self-Control - oh, this one is fun.  You can only play this when the trains are really, really crowded (which, in London, is every rush hour, so you can play this a lot).  What you have to do is wait for some uncontrollable impulse; for example, your left eyebrow is itchy.  Oh yeah, it's itchy.  Itchyitchyitchy.  You have to scratch it, there's nothing in the world that would make you happier than to scratch it, if you had a million dollars you'd give it away if it meant you could scratch your damn eyebrow.  But you can't scratch it.  No, no, no.  That's the whole point of the game.  When you're stuffed into a train like this, the mechanics of moving any part of your body become very complicated. Your right arm is pinned firmly to your side by a fat man in a pinstriped suit.  His face is red and his breath is like that of a piranha.  You wonder if his wife lets him kiss her with that breath.  You know he has a wife, because his left hand is desperately clinging to the pole next to your head, and his wedding ring is directly in front of your left eyeball.  Your left arm is in the air, desperately clinging to the pole above your head.  There is an ugly man directly in front of you, desperately clinging to the same pole as you, but he's much taller, and therefore his elbow is jammed firmly into your right nostril.  You are only peripherally aware of these things, however, because the need to scratch your left eyebrow is becoming unbearable.  Any minute now you will either scream, or offer to sleep with the ugly man in front of you if he will just use his free hand to scratch your eyebrow.  You are opening your mouth to do one or the other, you're not sure which one yet, when you suddenly realize that the train is rocketing into a station and is about to stop, which means that you only have to hold out for another couple of seconds before you can stop desperately clinging to the pole and scratch your eyebrow at will.  And that, boys and girls, is how you play Self-Control.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Letters from London #6 (Parts 1&2)

A little piece of silliness I wrote about London "sports" - it really amused me to write it, so I hope you enjoy reading it (I'll post Part 3 tomorrow as it's quite lengthy).

Written somewhere around March/April 2001

I thought I would take this opportunity to talk a bit about London sports.  You may not know this, but London is a hotbed of athletic activity and everyone has to participate, whether they want to or not...

1. Pedestrian Games:

The Scamper - what you do when the traffic lights might change at any moment but you cross the street anyway.  You don't dash, because that would be uncool, but you don't walk, either.  Therefore you scamper like a nervous bunny.  Everyone can and does play this one.

The Dash - what The Scamper turns into when the lights do change while you're in the middle of crossing the street.  When you hear 400 cars shifting into gear, you suddenly become less concerned about looking cool and much more worried about being smeared all over the front of a Jag. Not advisable for children or old people, but okay for everyone else.

The Crunch - can occur during either The Scamper or The Dash.  When two pedestrians are both jaywalking in opposite directions, both intently looking to the side in case of stray homicidal drivers, the occasional full-body Crunch does happen.  Don’t worry about this, you’ll be fine as long as you outweigh your opponent.

2. Umbrella Games:

The Spear - when it’s not actually raining and you carry your long, sturdy umbrella with the point jabbing backwards every time you swing your arms. The object of the game is to see how many unwary people you can gut while pretending not to notice the carnage you're leaving behind you. This one is not for amateurs, and you should really leave it to the native Londoners, who have spent their entire lives practicing.

The Joust - an outdoor game.  Much like the jousts of medieval times, or the automotive game of "chicken", this one involves two people with open umbrellas charging toward one another, neither one deviating from their path until finally someone loses their nerve and moves to one side to avoid an ungodly collision of umbrellas.  Of course, more often than not, the ungodly crash does occur, which is why you should invest in a large, strong umbrella, not the cheesecloth-on-a-coathanger type that I own.  I joust a great deal, being more stubborn than sensible, but since my umbrella is well on its way to being shredded, I am retiring from the sport until I upgrade my equipment.

Eyeball Spearing - ahhh, now we're getting into the blood sports.  This one is a particular favourite with Londoners and it's pretty self-explanatory, really.  The object of the game is to collect the eyeballs of your fellow pedestrians by spearing them on the spokes of your open umbrella.  Anyone can be a Spearer, but trying to avoid becoming a Spearee requires a high degree of skill, so you should really learn to jerk your head around like a spastic snake before venturing out into the rain.  Sure, laugh now, but when you're looking at Big Ben with only one eyeball, don't come crying to me.

Scalping - very similar to Eyeball Spearing, but involves somewhat less skill, as the object of the game here is simply to plough a furrow down the skull of your prey with the aforementioned umbrella spokes.  Some of the more advanced players will actually try to take your scalp right off as a trophy, but this is generally frowned upon as being dreadfully rude.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Letters from London #5

More laziness from me, so more Letters from London for you.  But the real question is: will I post #6 (about London "sports") tomorrow?  It's a particularly good one (if I do say so myself)...hmmm...we'll see...

February 2001:

1.        Penis Education: In regard to my little grammatical challenge from last month about why the plural of penis is not peni, here’s the all-time award-winning answer from my friend The Banker:  "Nope, they're definitely not peni. Merriam Webster says that the plural is pe·nes or pe·nis·es.  Personally I'd look at it another way:  We know that the plural of is happens to be are.  Therefore, it should be pen·are.  So, of course, there should be a certain pirate voice that you put on when you said it, so it's actually more like pen·AAARRRRGGGHHH!"  Hee! [Miss K from 2012: I am still laughing about that one, so thank you, Banker!]

2.        My Apartment – It belongs to an architectural style I believe is called English Eccentric – the  ceilings are about 12 feet high, there's one very long hall with right angles and steps scattered along it for no particularly good reason, walls bulge outward in a rather alarming fashion and all the rooms have windows facing both outside and inside (to the hallway).  Why?  I don’t know.  There are three quite large bedrooms, one very large kitchen/dining room, one large living room and one medium-sized bathroom with electric-green ivy on the tiles.  My room is purple, and is furnished with a mixture of old stuff that came with it, and new stuff I had to buy at Ikea.  It's an odd mixture of stuffy antiques and Swedish modern, so if you picture Mary Poppins and the mayor of Stockholm living in the same room, you'll be getting a good idea of the decor.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Letters from London #4

Well, it's been a long week and I'm tired, so here we go again with the Letters from London...

January 2001:

1.     Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the Underground
Not a creature was stirring
Except for the old drunk next to me.

We were both waiting for the same train and while there were probably visions of sugarplums (among other things) dancing through his head, he was clear on one point:  "Ten years wasted on her, ten years of my life wasted on that woman."  Well, mama always said not to talk to strangers, but hey, I'm a sucker for an unlucky-in-love story, it was Christmas Eve and he was a sad old man, so I nodded and muttered sympathetically once in a while as he rambled on about it.  Anyway, when we got on the train, he insisted on giving me one of his beers and then, before he got off at the next stop, stood up and proclaimed to the entire car what a wonderful human being I am.  I was, to put it mildly, mortified (I mean, I agree and everything, but jeez, you don't have to make a scene about it).  At the next stop, another guy got on, saw the can of beer that I had put on the seat next to me, asked if it was mine, and when I shook my head, he popped open and guzzled it there and then.  So I hope this little story serves to remind you all of the true meaning of Christmas:  free beer provided by complete strangers. 

  1. English Language: After writing about "Puppetry of the Penis", a small grammatical point occurred to me.  Since the plural of octopus is octopi, and the plural of Elvis (as everybody knows) is Elvi, why is it that the plural of penis is not peni?  Can anyone answer this for me? 

  1. Why You Should Listen To Kenny Rogers – I was thinking about having a juicy, messy, horrible romance that would fill me with angst, spite, and creative energy, but I just can't be bothered right now.  To paraphrase Kenny Rogers (who can actually be counted on for good advice in most of life's dilemmas -- he's kind of like a country 'n' western Yoda), I'm a-folding and a-running.  Thanks, Kenny!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ghost lobster

Okay, I am not entirely sure why anyone would require a large lobster knitted out of metallic silver yarn, but if you do want one, this little fella is going for the bargain price of only €80.  Don't all rush down to the store at once...  (sorry about the glare from the window, but I actually think it makes the photo cooler - doesn't it look like a ghost lobster?)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Where's the love (again)?

Gentle readers, where's the love? You may not have noticed, but I have been making a huge effort to post every day (successfully so far, I might add), but today I looked at my stats and...well, my pretties, *I* have been here, where the hell are YOU?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Things you might see on the street #23 (Bastille)

Ahh, how I've enjoyed the last three posts - partly because it was a fun stroll down memory lane and partly (mostly) because I'm a lazy little sloth and it was bliss to just post things I had already written.  If you enjoyed them, you'll be happy to hear that I'll be posting more of the Letters from London at some point, but for now I should probably get back to talking about Paris.

Or, in this case, showing you photos of Paris - in this case, a complete lunatic riding a unicycle into the traffic circle at Bastille, one of the busiest roundabouts in Paris.  It looks quiet in the picture, but all those blazing lights on the left-hand side of the photo are oncoming headlights...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Letters from London #3

Okay, tomorrow I am definitely getting back to Paris-related matters, but boy, it's hard for me to resist the lure of a) reminiscing and b) being able to post just by pasting in something I already wrote.  Sorry, gentle readers, you know I love you and of course I want to put in all sorts of effort for you...but not today.  Hee!

December 2000:

  1. Housing: Obviously there was some sort of major computer malfunction at the North Pole this year, because even though I've been very naughty, Santa still brought me a great big apartment as a Christmas gift!  Yes, it's true.  In the great tradition of seasonal miracles, I was rescued from the Dickensian misery of the hostel in the Jolly Old Saint Nick of time.  The apartment is in a cool area, it's huge, in a great building with a very large garden, and it's affordable.  Of course, this probably means that my roommates (English guy, Australian girl) will turn out to be devil-worshippers who sacrifice goats and howl at the moon every second Tuesday, but as long as they don't expect me to bear Satan's child, we'll get along fine.  Yes, I did watch "Rosemary's Baby" recently, why do you ask?

  1. Theatre: Last month, in the pursuit of cultural enrichment, I attended the theatre in the company of three other refined ladies out for an evening of intellectual stimulation.  Yes, it was that masterpiece of Australian theatre: "Puppetry of the Penis".  Well, what can I say?  The ad is not misleading in any way -- there are indeed two men, there are definitely two dicks, and there are no pants whatsoever.  It's a little bit hard to describe what they do, other than to say that they manipulate their genitals to look like landmarks, animals, and objects (and there is a very large video screen so that you don't miss a single close-up detail).  The two gentlemen involved seem to possess a great deal of, er, flexibility in their parts, because the aforementioned parts were twisted, bent, wrapped, curled, stretched, and even tucked away completely (and not the way you might think) in the course of an hour and a half.  It was very strange and very amusing, indeed.  Actually, my big worry after the show was whether or not I would ever be able to look at male genitals again in real life without a) laughing hysterically, or b) asking if it does tricks. 

  1. This occurred to me the other day, and I find it mildly alarming: I have not had an alcohol-free day since I got here.  In Toronto, I used to go months and months without drinking (of course, this would usually follow an intoxicated binge where I completely disgraced myself, but that's totally not the point), but it's so much a part of the culture here to go for a few with your mates every night that you don't even think about it.  If I don't smarten up, my liver is very shortly going to be the size of my head.

  1. I leave you with this final thought -- I saw a homeless man sleeping on the street the other night.  Suddenly, a mobile phone rang.  Was it mine?  Nope, it was his. London is an odd, odd town....

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Letters from London #2

Well, I was going to get back to posting about Paris today, but I'm still in a bit of a nostalgic mood for London and my early expat days.  (More importantly, I'm feeling very lazy tonight and this is already written, so this is what you're getting...)

November 2000:

1.       Hostel Highlights:
  • Imagine, if you will, a pig.  No, not some cute little oinker like the one in "Babe", I'm talking about an enormous, full-grown sow.  Now imagine this pig walks upright, has long, witchy black hair, is wearing a dress made of fishnet and boots with 4" platform heels.  Got that?  Good.  Okay, now imagine that this pig invades your dorm at 3:00 in the morning, turns on the light, stomps around, yells about her bag having been stolen, and proceeds to rummage drunkenly through your belongings.  Boy, living in a hostel is awesome.  I’m so glad I moved to London without knowing anyone, without a job and without a place to live – what a clever, clever decision.  
  • Imagine, if you will, the worst snoring you've ever heard and then multiply it by about a thousand.  This guy (who is as big as your average grizzly bear) checked into our dorm last night and I have never in my life heard anything like his snoring.  How can you describe the indescribable?  The closest I can get is to suggest that you imagine the offspring of a wild boar and a vacuum cleaner trying to have sex with an unwilling donkey, while it's playing an out-of-tune saxophone under a blanket of mucus.  
  • Imagine, if you will, four pasty, pimply Scottish boys who get up for work at 5:30am (an event which involves all four of their mobile phone alarms going off and their buddy coming to bang loudly on our dorm door) and mill about like a herd of dazed, loud-mouthed Highland cows as they get ready.  I'm now into my third day without sleep and things are about to get ugly, if not downright homicidal.  Every night, we explain to them that this is not their private dorm, and that the other four people who sleep there have paid good money for a bed and that there are a few simple rules of hostel courtesy that should be followed.  Every night, they look shamefaced, mutter "Och, aye, ye're right, sorry" and go to bed, only to repeat their actions in the morning.  So I'm not sure if they're all a) suffering from a rare form of overnight amnesia, b) as thick as pig manure, or c) sadists who would make Vlad the Impaler weep with pride.

2.        A stunning Australian guy I met at the hostel last month came back to town and stayed here just exactly long enough to stomp all over my heart, so that's great news. I was worried that I wouldn't manage to have a doomed romance in London, so I'm really glad that I've been able to check that one off my list.  In fact, I'm going to go out and look for a long black cloak with a hood so that I can mope around the city in the rain like Meryl Streep in "The French Lieutenant's Woman". (I know, "The Australian Mechanical Engineer's Woman" doesn't have quite the same poetic ring to it, but that just can't be helped.)

3.        Londoners are still fascinating me with their behaviour.  They'll line up in an orderly fashion for a mile and a half for just about anything, with the sole exception of the Underground.  As soon as they see a train coming in, they turn into a rabid, snarling, pushing, shoving pack of wolves.  The other day, I was elbowed aside by a little old lady who was a) about 80, b) no bigger than my leg, and c) a nun, of all things!  I swear I'm not making this stuff up.

4.        Despite succumbing to the all-grease, all-fat English diet (which isn't nearly as much fun as I thought it might be), I've lost an astonishing amount of weight so far by the simple expedient of only eating about once a day.  When you live in a hostel that has no kitchen facilities whatsoever, you figure out how to survive on this.  I'm sure the next time I see a vegetable, I'll run away screaming in terror because I won't know what it is.

5.        Fashion: I went to my first really pretentious London bar on the weekend, and I so do not have the right clothes for this town.  Even on the best slutty-clothing day of my life, I would look like an 1850s schoolmarm here.  When I have recovered from my sleep deprivation and my ferocious cold, and when I again resemble something that might once have been human, we'll have to see what can be done about that.

6.        In the "and you thought there were no miracles in modern times" category, here's one that will amaze you:  I, Miss K, am now the proud owner of a brand new, bright, shiny bank account!!!!  It took me a whole month and the next-to-last bank I tried basically accused me of being a money-laundering drug lord because I didn't have three years of British addresses to prove who I was.  Well, of course - money-laundering drug lords often work as temps in their spare time.  Who needs diamonds, yachts, and champagne when you could be typing, filing, and making coffee for people who a) don’t appreciate it and b) think you’re a moron?  Good times!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Letters from London #1

Okay, here goes - while I'm still in this nostalgic mood for London, I'm going to share some of my Letters from London with you from time to time.  Blogs didn't really exist when I first moved there in 2000 and I had a lot of friends who wanted to hear about my new life, so these were the mass e-mails I sent around (and I hate mass e-mails, so I tried to make sure mine were fun and colourful).  I haven't read these in years so it's funny for me to look back - ahhh,  I was such a baby expat then...

October 2000: 

  1. I had one of the single worst experiences of my life yesterday while trying to open a bank account in London: "No, Miss K, despite the fact that you have every form of identification in existence, a letter from your Canadian bank saying that your accounts are in good order and crammed full of money, and a plane ticket showing that you just arrived yesterday from Canada, we won’t open an account for you if you don't have three month’s worth of utility bills showing your address on it.”  I tried four banks and got the same attitude at all of them.  Hmph.  Great Britain, once a magnificent, globe-spanning empire, now reduced to one tiny island floating in a sea of red tape.

  1. I've figured out the reason why you don’t often see a truly obese Londoner, in spite of the all-grease diet.  It's because even if you're the laziest person who ever lived and you take the Underground absolutely everywhere, you still end up walking miles and miles and miles and then more miles of corridors to get anywhere, and don't even get me started on the number of stairs and escalators.

  1. I experienced my first London rush hour on the Underground a couple of days ago (an experience also known as "Miss K Goes To Sardinesville") and I've almost recovered from the trauma.  Just don't stand too close to me...

  1. Staying at a traveller’s hostel and sleeping in a room with seven other people from different countries can be a rewarding and entertaining cultural experience.  It can also make you wonder if murdering someone in their sleep because you can't take another second of their body odour (which could strip the paint off a Buick, I ain't lying) has any kind of justifiable defence in a court of law.

  1. More guys have tried to pick me up here in a week than in Toronto all year.  Hell, throw in last year too.  It's quite something.  It seems that I'm pretty hot stuff, in the parlance of the 18 year old lifeguard/surfer from California who tried to seduce me (without success, in case any dirty-minded folk amongst you were wondering about my moral fibre) the other night.  He was 6'6" and so gorgeous he looked like he should be carved out of marble and placed on a pedestal somewhere in Florence, but alas, I have not become that much of a degenerate.  Yet.

  1. The following is going to make you wonder if I've lost what's left of my mind, but I swear it's true.  There is a show at a theatre not far from Trafalgar Square called (wait for it.....are you ready?....I don't think you'd better sit down.....are you sitting down?.....I don't believe you.....just sit the hell down......okay, fine, when you fall over, you'll only have yourself to blame) "Puppetry of the Penis".  The line above the title is "Two men.  Two dicks.  No pants." The line below the title is "The ancient Australian art of genital origami".  Now pick yourself up off the floor and don't look at me like that, I told you to sit down.  Anyway, not one word of this is a lie, and it leads me to three inescapable conclusions:  a) I will be visiting this theatre with my camera in order to capture this sign for posterity. b) I will be visiting this theatre in order to see the damn show, I don't care what it costs, are you kidding?  Aren't you dying of curiosity? and c) I will most certainly be visiting Australia in the none-too-distant future.  Any country that involves genitalia in their ancient arts is well worth a visit…

  1. Men - if you operate in the business world, I have bad news for you - the double-breasted suit with big, bold pinstripes is all the rage here.  Al Capone would be so proud; London looks like Chicago during Prohibition (well, aside from the insane amount of drinking here, of course). Ladies - the colour of the moment is gold. If you go out at night and you don't resemble a chandelier at the Ritz, forget about it. 

  1. Hostel Highlights:
  a) Smelly Guy #1 departed our room (alive, I swear), only to be replaced with Smelly Guy #2, an American who had to be in his late fifties but still thought he could get away with being a punk.  You know, I'm not one to judge people.  I'm famed for my fair-mindedness and reluctance to leap to conclusions about my fellow human beings (shush now, it’s true!), but I just have to say this: men who are old enough to be my father really shouldn't be walking around wearing more chains than the ghost of Jacob Marley, and if you've already lost most of your hair, you shouldn't be shaving what's left into weird shapes and dying it purple.  I'm just saying...

  b) The latest comment-worthy denizens of my den are two American girls from, like, the sovereign state of, like, California, who make the cast of Baywatch seem like the Nobel Prize selection panel.  Sigh.  The charm of meeting new people is starting to lose its shiny gleam.