Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I have a broom, therefore I am a street sweeper

Seeing as though I'm not putting my Journalism degree to use in London, I figured I would look into short courses that would broaden my knowledge and would hopefully stand me in good stead when I do go job hunting in my field again.

I was amazed at the sheer volume of courses available to me - and all affordable and within reach! The difference between the South African and British governments is that the latter wants its citizens to study and be the best they can be when it comes to education and supporting themselves and their families. Every council has an adult education centre where one can study anything from basic computer skills to street cleaning. Yes, street cleaning.

Apparently, cleaning streets is not just about sweeping rubbish into stormwater drains and then taking a nap on the freshly-cut grass. Nosiree. To be able to proudly call yourself a street cleaner in London, you need to be able to assess the area to be cleaned, know which cleaning products to use, know which litter needs to be segregated, know the proper procedures for emptying out bins and be able to identify problems and report them to the council. And I haven't even touched on health and safety procedures yet.

Becoming a taxi driver in London doesn't involve buying a licence and finding a people carrier that's in semi-working order. London's Black Cab drivers take great pride in their jobs (although you wouldn't say so judging from the amount of obscenities that are shouted from those particular vehicles). They often choose that career because their fathers and grandfathers were drivers. It's a generation thing. And it's not easy. Cabbies have to study for an average of two years before they can start carting passengers around. They need to be knowledgeable in London's 25 000 streets and know where all the tourist hotspots, hospitals and places of worship are; not to mention the best place to get a chicken burger at 3am.

I've come to realise that South Africans have it easy in the sense that they can pick up a hammer and call themselves a builder; yet they have it extremely tough because there is no support from the government. Further education institutions are mostly private, charging R3000 for a course I can do in London for R700. It seems almost criminal, really. Education should be free to everyone - and should be of a superior quality. If half the South Africans were trained to do their jobs properly from the start, perhaps half our problems would be solved.

All I know is that I hope to take full advantage of London's adult education system while I am lucky enough to be in a position to afford and appreciate it. First course: photography. Because I want to know how a camera really works and because my pride won't let me pick up a camera and call myself a photographer.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I don’t want to miss a thing

I’ve come under a lot of pressure lately from people I know, and people I don’t, to relocate to London permanently. While the thought has crossed my mind on numerous occasions, when I think about it, there’s more pulling me back to South Africa than there is keeping me in London.

Truth be told, I can’t wait to go home. To hug my family, to snuggle my pets, to be silly with my friends… While I am loving (almost) every minute here, home really is where the heart is.

I worry every day that I am being selfish in not wanting to forget everything and stay. My husband loves it here (actually, I think ‘love’ isn’t a strong enough word), and while I acknowledge that there probably are better opportunities for the both of us, I’m just not getting excited about the prospects. For hubby, London is the obvious choice: his line of work is more accepted and mainstream; he has access to virtually any artist and is learning amazing things from them; and everything he wants, whether it be a new machine or fancy inks, is in reach for him – both physically and financially. It’s no longer just a pipe dream.

Granted, I could probably say the same for myself. I probably COULD get a fantastic job; I probably COULD get some awesome experience; I probably COULD earn a half-decent salary, but I couldn’t be bothered to go out and look for it. Perhaps I’m too scared that something good will come along and then I won’t WANT to leave – that terrifies me.

Being in London for three months, I have missed two friends’ weddings, another friend’s pregnancy and, most importantly, my nephew growing up, my brother’s first real girlfriend and the most exciting time of my sister’s life. I am petrified that something should happen to someone close to me in SA while I am here, and I won’t be able to say that I spent their last few months with them or that I was there to experience something thrilling in their lives. While this is something I could probably overlook until early next year when we are due to come home, it’s not something I could live with permanently. I don’t want to miss out on the important things.

Yes, the transport here is super-efficient, but I miss my car and not having to rely on bus schedules. Yes, it’s great not having to worry about crime, but I’m still convinced it’s a false sense of security. Yes, there is a ton of cool stuff to do and places to go, but I miss not having my best friends around to share it with. Yes, anything is accessible, whether it be a fancy flatscreen or the latest iPhone, but I miss good old family time minus the material bullshit.

I want to live a life where my sister is just a phone call away, I can pop over to my folks’ whenever I want to, and have a handful of close friends over for some good laughs. I don’t care about free medical, once-a-year insurance and super-fast trains.

That's not important to me. Family is and I don’t want to miss a thing.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A life lesson learnt – from an animal

I was gutted to learn the other day that Sam the Koala had died.

Those that follow the news will remember the devastating AustralianSam  fires of last year. We were flooded with heart-wrenching stories about kangaroos with burnt paws, tortoises with melted shells, baby wallabies with burnt ears and birds dropping from the skies because of the fires – a result of suspected arson. God, how selfish we humans are. And yet Sam served as a beacon of hope when she shimmied up to a fire-fighter and accepted a drink from his water bottle. If nothing else, I’ll bet that very moment made the burnt lungs and hours of tireless work worth it for this fire-fighter. Apparently, koalas aren’t the friendliest of creatures.

Sam2 I remember crying after seeing pictures of Sam with her singed paws all bandaged up; and then laughing when I read that she had met a boyfriend, Bob, at the shelter where she was recovering. Despite the hundreds of lost lives, the miles of burnt forest, and the thousands of devastated lives, the story of Sam made it all somewhat easier to accept. It was no longer about loss and suffering; but about a lesson that one precious animal had to teach us humans: that, yes, shit happens, but it’s up to us to make the most of the shit situations, even if it means getting off our high horses and accepting a little assistance from someone we normally wouldn’t give the time of day to.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Piercing Bible – a review

A review I was asked to write on The Piercing Bible by Elayne Angel.


Thank the powers that be for Elayne Angel! Her book, The Piercing Bible, is a must-read for anyone considering this art form as a career, anyone thinking of getting pierced, anyone who is already pierced and everyone in-between.

Elayne leaves no stone unturned in this thoroughly researched guide to safe body piercing. She delves into the history of piercing and the effect this has had, and will likely have, on many generations, before exploring it in its current form as well as its future possibilities. From deciding what to pierce, to finding an accomplished and conscientious piercer; from hygiene issues to piercing trouble-shooting, Elayne has touched on it all.

Being relatively new to the art, I found myself starved for solid, trustworthy information and, with decades of experience under her belt, Elayne shares a wealth of knowledge, dispels many misconceptions and offers sound advice from the effects your new piercing could have on society’s perceptions of you to lifestyle changes that might be necessary if you want to live in harmony with your piercing. The book also discusses different jewellery styles and sizes, equipment used during the different procedures, stretching of piercings, retiring of piercings, problems that may arise, and special situations such as breastfeeding and sex that may be compromised, or enhanced, by the piercing.

The industry has waited a long time for this book and, after reading it, you might be able to tell your doctor a thing or two about infection control, blood-borne pathogens and cross-contamination.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The right to die

There's a big hoo-ha in London at the moment about assisted suicide and the right to die, as well as the ethics surrounding it.

This comes after the Royal College of Nursing moved to a neutral position on assisted suicide (from being opposed to it) and has called for more guidance on the issue. Understandably, this has opened up an entire can of worms and has sparked a heated debate focusing more on terminally ill patients than on highly-strung teenagers who off themselves for random reasons.

This got me thinking - who are we to tell a person who is living in agony that they have to continue living in agony until they die naturally? Surely if that person's quality of life has no chance of improving, it is entirely their choice whether they want to end it or stick it out? Personally, I think the bone of contention here is the word "assisted". Granted, it is quite a morbid thought that someone would help a family member commit suicide and this would undoubtedly have knock-on effects for the former's mental health, but again, is it not a matter of choice? If the family member is convinced that he or she will be better off, and they are comfortable with helping, then why not?

Ironically, humans are quick to euthanize an animal who falls deathly ill - are the animals ever asked if they want to live or die? No. And that's because we believe they can't make those kinds of decisions for themselves (not taking into account the fact that we can't communicate with them, of course). But the difference is that humans CAN think for themselves and if they want to die, if they KNOW they do not want to live out the last few months or years of their lives in pain and uncomfort, why put up barriers? They'd do it themselves if they had the means to anyway. We had a Boxer who I was hopelessly attached to and, in his old age, he developed a heart defect. The poor animal could not walk or breathe properly and lay, slowly dying, on the dining room floor. My dad made the difficult decision to put him down even though the vet said that with a traumatic operation and feeding him pills everyday, "he might last another six months". Why do that to him? Is it not more cruel to force him to live another six months in pain than to kiss and hug him and wish him well on his journey to doggie heaven?

While discussing the topic with friends the other day, one brought up the issue of abortion and referred also to animals whose lives are snuffed out without a second thought if they are born with a disability. He believes that it should be ok to abort a human baby who is going to be born mentally disabled and will never have a chance at a normal life. While I have never thought of it in this way before, I think he has a point.

Concerns have been raised that if assisted suicide was legalised in the UK, then the elderly would feel pressured into committing suicide, rather than becoming a burden to family members as they lose the ability to care for themselves. While incontinence may not be pleasant, it definitely should not fall into the same disability category as being permanently paralysed or brain damaged from a car accident. I know that if I had become a vegetable as a result of my accident, I would look back on my life, say it was a good one; and then ask for kisses and hugs and well wishes as I continued with my journey to the after-life.

But maybe that's just me.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Say what?

The Brits and I seem to be having some trouble understanding each other. Up until a few weeks ago, I honestly thought the South African accent was one of the easiest to understand. Apparently not. Neither is the British accent.

I started realising this while going about my daily working activities. Most of our piercings cost 30 quid; but whenever I tell this to the Brits, nine times out of ten, they hear 50. It’s not easy correcting them when they’re already in a state of shock – £50 for a piercing?! “No, no,” I say, “It’s thirty, three-oh, thirty.” They look back at me, their faces blank, they’re still hearing thirty. Now I have said the words ‘thirty’ and ‘fifty’ over and over to myself, but I’m not hearing the similarities – even if I pronounce them with a British twang.

One of my recent misunderstandings definitely deserves ‘priceless’ status. I walked into a coffee shop and asked how much their filter coffee costs. The dude behind the counter looked at me as if I’d just crawled out of a piece of particularly smelly cheese and said, “Photo copies?!” Yes – that’s what I said. I walked into a coffee shop and asked for photo copies. Right.

Besides struggling to get used to the accent here, I’m still trying to adapt to the different names they have for some things. For instance, it’s not a pram, but a “buggy”; it’s not an ATM, but a “hole in the wall” (?!); it’s not lip-ice, but “lip balm; and it’s not a braai, but a barbeque.

I definitely am not used to being called “love” and “mate”; while I’m still not sure how or if I’m supposed to respond to the standard greeting of “All right - (insert above-mentioned ‘love’ or ‘mate’ here)?” Rhetorical question, perhaps?

If somebody gets you “nicked”, they’re reporting you to the police; if somebody tells you, “See you next Tuesday,” they’re not being polite; and a Yorkie is not a small dog.

I guess it just takes a little time to get used, ‘innit?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

How do you take your Smarties?

So I heard via the grapevine that Nestle has relaunched Smarties in SA sans artificial colouring – and that the end product is dull and tasteless. While this brings SA in line with the UK in terms of taste and colour, there are a lot more options available in London, making them a bit easier to, erm, swallow.

So how would you like your Smarties?


As they are? (Smarties come in a tube here, not a box).


In a packet of tubes?


Or just in a packet?


Perhaps in the form of cake bars?


Or maybe cookies?


How about mini bites?


Or just plain mini?

If you’re more partial to ice-cream, you have three options to choose from:




Or maybe you prefer yoghurt?


Planning a birthday party? Like Smarties? At least you don’t have the cake to worry about!




Or the cupcakes…


Or even the doughnuts…


But if that STILL doesn’t cut it, you can just make them yourself.




Wednesday, July 1, 2009

There’s a heat wave in London!

I never thought I’d be saying this, but good grief it’s hot in London! The temperatures have been stifling over the last few days with no one knowing where to shove their heads to hide from the sun and extreme humidity.

As I write this, my house-mate is hosing down his cat and dog to provide some much-needed relief to the poor animals. Children and the elderly have been advised to stay indoors and the truth of the matter is that I don’t think London is prepared for heat like this.

Before we left home, everyone was harping on about how cold London is and how we’re not going to manage; but the difference is that London is actually prepared for winter: insulated houses, central heating, thermal clothing, thermal blinds, built-in heaters, the list is endless; but come summer and its sweltering temperatures and everyone seems to have been taken by surprise.

Every single shop we went to in search of a fan or air conditioner was sold out and despite being told by shop attendants that they would not be getting new stock anytime soon, the steaming Brits still stared intensely at the shelves, biting their fingernails as if some would magically appear.

The local weather service, Met Office, has issued a level three (out of four) heat wave alert – the first time it has done so since June 2006 – with temperatures expected to hit some 32 degrees Celsius. While this doesn’t sound too warm, it becomes stifling when combined with the humidity. The situation does not improve when the sun goes down, with night-time temperatures hovering around 18 degrees.

Walking down the street is extremely uncomfortable and it’s not long until you’re a dripping, sweaty mess. But it’s not only the humans that are suffering; according to reports, rabbits in Biggin Hill have been given special ice packs and are sheltering under umbrellas, while dogs are standing in containers of water to keep cool. Bristol Zoo Gardens is feeding its monkeys ice-cream cones topped with carrot sticks, while monkeys at another zoo are munching on fruit pieces that have been frozen in ice blocks.

Of course, fingers are being pointed in one direction – climate change – with warnings that summer temperatures could hit 40 degrees this year, bringing with them flash floods; a huge knock to the economy as people pull sickies to take advantage of the sunshine; and an increase in insurance claims as many are expected to leave their windows open to air out their houses, leaving them vulnerable to burglars.

I just feel sorry for those poor tennis players in Wimbledon. Now, where did I put that ice-cream?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Erm...excuse me, but they're Shetland Sheepdogs

I refer to my post below - and, more specifically, the part about the miniature Collies. We managed to flag down an old lady the other day who was walking her mini Collie. While she was more than pleased to let us take pictures of her prize dog; she wasted no time informing us that they weren't Collies, but Shetland Sheepdogs.


That might explain why I couldn't find any pictures of these hounds on the net ... and almost convinced myself that they did not exist and I had, in fact, imagined the whole lot.



Armed with my newly-acquired knowledge, I was able to find a picture of a Shetland sitting next to a Collie just to give you an idea as to why I would have come to my mini-Collie conclusion.


They still look like mini Collies to me…


And damn are they cute!

Monday, June 22, 2009

My next pet...

I want a fox as a pet. And a crow. Maybe even a ferret. These are just some of the creatures that often roam the streets of London looking for their next meal. The foxes come out at sunset to scavenge amongst the rubbish; while thousands upon thousands of crows always litter the parks, nibbling on tasty morsels left behind by picnickers. I have always thought that crows are magnificent birds and, after only seeing one or two in South Africa, I find it such a treat to see hundreds of them gathered together in one place.

We went to a pet store the other day. Forget puppies and kittens; here one can get more unusual pets, like ferrets, chinchillas and giant house bunnies. They're massive! You can put their front paws over your shoulder and cradle their bums in your arms - they're the size of a small child! Driving down the street, we saw a girl walking her ferret - too cute but also very funny because the ferret walked sideways in a sort of crab-like fashion.

I kind of feel sorry for the pets here because the gardens are so tiny so there's not much room for them to move around. Some places don't even have gardens. We drive past a block of flats to work and every day we see a husky on the first floor. Although it's terribly adorable, it breaks my heart to see him propped up against the porch wall, with his front paws sticking through the bars, watching the cars go by. I can only hope that he gets taken for a walk every now and then.

It's amazing how many Boxers, Staffies and Pit Bulls there are in London. I have seen some of the most magnificent dogs here and it tugs on the heart strings and makes me realise just how much I miss my animals back home and my boxer, Bean. Apparently it's quite expensive to buy an animal here and one can usually only get them through registered breeders. This is because the government has put restrictions in place in an attempt to minimise animal abuse and over-breeding. I wish SA would implement something along those lines. To the left is a picture of one of the Boxers we saw - so beautiful and so well looked after.

Other dog breeds I didn't even know existed are miniature Border Collies and Huskies. There are a couple of the Collies in our area and they are just too adorable! They have the shortest legs and are about the size of Staffies - maybe a bit bigger. We've never been able to stop and take pictures but I sure as hell am going to try - I can't even find pictures of them on the internet so I'm imagining there are a few people that don't believe me!

For now though, the only pets I want are my own. Apparently ferrets smell funny.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Week One...

I think they got it wrong when they said New York is the City that never sleeps - "they" should visit London! It has been nothing but craziness since we set foot off the plane. We had one day to find our bearings (well, try to at least), then it was straight to work and trying to navigate this new way of life.

The tattoo studio is situated in what is regarded as a quiet town here. Back in SA, Kingston could be likened to Melville. However, my idea of quiet does not involve people constantly walking around, sirens screaming past every five minutes, shops closing at 10pm (some of them until midnight, or never) and the sun setting at 9:30pm! That has been the hardest thing to adjust to. According to my body clock, when the sun sets, it's about 7pm, dinner time, and we would be settling in to watch a sitcom. In London, 7pm sees us trawling the shops, not even thinking about dinner, or sitting outside on the porch getting sun-burnt - yes, sun-burnt!

London is the most charming place I have ever seen. The buildings are mesmerising! There is a church down the road that is 700 YEARS OLD! Imagine what that building has seen in its lifetime; if only those walls could talk!

In my first week of living in London, I never imagined that I could:

  • Get caught in a traffic jam at close to 1am

  • Buy Smarties in any form possible: cookies, cakes, cupcakes, ice-cream, cupcake mix, dessert...

  • Listen to somebody speak English, but not understand one word they are saying

  • See a 12-year-old pushing a pram - her baby's pram, and

  • Have the guts to ride a roller coaster that rockets from 0-80mph in two seconds

If this is only one week in, I can't wait to see what the next seven months and three weeks has in store! Hopefully in my next entry, I will be able to tell you that I mustered up the courage to stick a needle through someone. Then again, maybe not.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Watch this space

I'm off to London in two weeks' time. Be sure to visit this page every other day as I share my very first Starbucks experience; my first trip on the underground tube and all the other wonderful things I'll be getting up to in London Town!