Thursday, 28 May 2009

You Don't Have to be Mad to Live Here...

... but yet nutters still reply.

My North London houseshare is going through a phase of transition. After three and a half years, a handful (we are a rather large house of nine people in total) of housemates moved to pastures more glamorous (Stratford-upon-Avon, Athens and Berlin are infinitely more glam than Holloway Road).

As we bid sad goodbyes to lovely (read: clean) and fun (read: contributes to communal wine cupboard regularly) housemates, our thoughts turn to finding people to replace them and the gumtree gauntlet.

For those not familiar with houseshares in the 21st Century, Gumtree is the source to find "randoms" to replace housemates. It's a internet message board used to pimp out rooms to the great, good and desperate of London – and, I imagine, beyond.

Replies to our ads come in and a good majority of them are nonsensical. It seems that some people are using a hammer to type out words, with the effect that there are at least three extra letters in each word. A person who uses a hammer to type won't make a good housemate, so they're relegated to the "ignore" folder.

Once we get our short list together, we begin interviews. I won't deny, we're a raucous group of housemates when we're together. It's sink or swim when you come to interviews, although we try our best to make the interviewees welcome. We've had a guy that didn't take his coat off and looked petrified. We've had an Aussie girl who was positively reeling, but didn't quite know when the polite time to leave was without giving away her horror. We've also had a guy turn up drunk, tell us he's been made redundant, likes the room and is now off back to the pub thanks very much. Perhaps most worrying of all, all of these fellows told us that our place was "the best place I've seen in so long". What do they do if they hate a place?!

And I'm not saying it isn't bad from the other side either. A friend of mine went to a housemate interview where a guy insisted on taking a polaroid of each person, as if it was a model casting. "I knew then that the flat wasn't for me. It totally put me off!"

It's all very well doing interviews but you'll never really know what someone is like to live with until you live with them. You might think you know, but you have no idea. I've lived with people who've seemed perfectly normal but have turned into horror shows after a while. There was a guy who only ate fried eggs – morning, evening and night. He went through a box of 24 every few days. Consequently, the house stank like a greasy spoon cafe. I like a good fry-up with the rest of them, but I could live without greasy eggy frying pans at every turn. I've also lived with a guy who banned us from turning the boiler on, even in winter in the cruel, bleak north west of England. He informed us that we should "wear four jumpers and run up and down the stairs a few times". I suspect he's not the only person in the world to impose such sanctions on a boiler to save a few quid, too.

Tonight's the night we're doing housemate viewings. Despite all the egg-eating, boiler-Nazi freaks, I remain positive we'll find someone decent. The recession is on our side - if the Metro et al is to believed, there are more renters out there now than there has been since 150BC. The law of averages says that we'll find at least one person who will donate to our wine cupboard...

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

I _ _ _ e Dan Brown

I am a self-confessed book snob. It's awful. I judge people if they claim The Da Vinci Code is their favourite book, I shudder (on the inside) when people say, "Oh my God, I love Harry Potter. Did you read the latest one, The Enchanted Monkey from Elsavor?" In short, no I didn't read it because I am not a child.

I am all for children's books - I love them. There's nothing better than reading The Tiger Who Came to Tea to my two-year-old nephew. I mean c'mon, the tiger drank all the water in the tap and Sophie got to eat in a cafe - what is not to like about that? (Sorry about the spoilers) However, that's in the spirit of things - I am not reading about a greedy tiger alone, to myself, in my room at night. That's what irks me about Harry Potter fans - there are so many good books out there but they're reading books intended for a child – with no excuse. Ditto those Twilight books.

You see, I approach reading as a means to explore different styles of writing. I enjoy savouring new words and different approaches to narrative. I love the English language - it's beautiful when employed well. I know this might all sound very pretentious to you. You might even still be reeling for the revelation I've judged you for enjoying Angels & Demons. The thing is, with books, you can afford to be snobby. Sure, read for enjoyment, but also read something that is vaguely going to stretch you, teach you something new, inspire you in some way otherwise you've wasted your time reading some crap which you could have spent reading something magnificent. And life, as we all know, is too short for that.

My boyfriend almost visibly shudders now when someone says they've read a Dan Brown and loved it, or talks about Harry Potter. And not because he's a book snob - he's quite open-minded accepting people, whatever their personal library. He shudders because he fears one day, what he's been fearing might happen for over four years is about to occur; I might open my mouth any moment and say, "Why are you reading that crap?" and slurge forth the above rant. He is a doubting Thomas though - I might be a book snob but I do have manners.

I have a friend who changed her life after reading The Time Traveler's Wife. Whilst I read that book and was much more indifferent to it than most people, that book changed her life. OK, not every book is always going to do that, and not every book will lead you to a good place even. But at least you're in with a chance of feeling challenged by a book if you plump for something with a bit of depth to it next time you're at Borders.

I suppose there's a chance that there are people out there that don't want to be challenged. That's a strange idea to me. I doubt we'd get along...

Monday, 11 May 2009

Cupcakes and baths, Portobello style

This weekend I went to Portobello Market to see my lovely friend, Phoebe and her equally lovely boyfriend, Neil. We met up at 11am, having not eaten breakfast so headed to The Hummingbird Bakery. I got the recipe book from the lovely Charmaine (read her blog, food fans) but had never eaten any of their infamous cupcakes.

Phoebe and I walked in to an incredibly fresh, vanillay baking smell and were seduced right away. All the cakes look incredible - cookie cheesecake, carrot cake, banana bread, red velvet cake. I plumped for a chocolate brownie with a cheesecake topping which was then also topped with lashings of fresh whipped cream with raspberries muddled in. Chocolate and raspberries is one of my favourite combinations.

I fell in food-love on first taste, as did my boyfriend Andrew, who ordered the same. Phoebe got a black bottom cupcake (chocolate, with cheesecake inside and a cream cheese frosting), but I think Neil ate most of that after demolishing his apparently unimpressive savoury muffin.

Anyway, I'll definitely be making those brownies as they're in my recipe book.

After cupcakes, we battled through the crowds and antiques to the food stalls and gapped at the mile-wide (might be an exageration) paella pans filled with delicious seafoods and golden rice. We were almost regretting eating the cupcakes first. I picked up a few treats from Lush - my favourite sakura bath bomb, along with a new find - their vanilla bath bomb (comes complete with a vanilla pod). I also got a melting marshmellow island thing for my bath. I'm not keen on Lush's sickly sweet smells, so I'll see how that goes.

We eventually made our way to Ladbroke Grove tube. It took about two and a half hours. This is because so many bad idiots got in our way. I think you need a lot of patience for weekend markets in London.

Thursday, 7 May 2009


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