37 hours in Camden

Take 7 days. Add one pop-up in Camden. A Music 4.5 event. Three deadlines. Some video editing and an open studio night. What do you get? Lots and lots of empty coffee cups.

I’m spending a lot of time in Camden this week, at the Camden Collective pop-up shop, where Gerry and I are taking turns to sell some Plane Clothing wares. The coffee and the company is good. I get to make new friends and hang out with fun people like Natasha of An Original Leroy and Jennifer of Sosome. I’ve also met one of the few other Lottas in London.

Then there are the hours when I stare into space as my brain slowly freezes. There is the person peeing in a rubbish bin outside, the sirens rushing by, the fire alarm going off. Lots of candy crush. Dancing around to bleepy electro and Beyonce to keep the blood flowing. Trying not to look at the other brands in the store because the last few months of creative writing adventures has left my bank account in the state of a starved toddler looking longingly at other people eating chocolate. Retail is hard work, it’s also awesome.

There is one thing I ponder as I sit here – how do people with young children/young animals/a regular exercise routine do it? Where do they find the time, you know that extra time… the time that has been squeezed out of this week. The time that means that dishes are done, clothes are washed, books read, thoughts organised, empty wine bottles taken down to the recycling. I’m looking around for that time, suspecting it might be hiding somewhere amongst those hours I use for sleeping.

One more week of time squeeze left.

Ps. I love periods like this.

Mother Thames – a river full of skulls

It’s Sunday in the city of London, the heart of the old medieval city. The streets are quiet. All the bankers and the office workers are somewhere else, the restaurants and cafes serving them are empty. The buses are fast and every sound echoes between fat stone buildings. The white dome of Saint Pauls in the distance is attracting every backpack wearing tourist within a mile. There are tours on guided buses, someone wearing the british colours standing on the top deck, microphone in hand. All the tourists seem to nod and pay attention. It’s a nice day for sightseeing. Clear and autumn bright.

I’m heading to the river, to a talk about the myths and mysteries of the Thames. I’m going with Madicken and we climb onto the HMS President which is rocking gently at the Victoria Embankment. Somehow that gentle rocking is disturbing enough to make both of us feel slightly seasick.

It’s not even noon, the boat is packed. We learn that thirty to fifty bodies are discovered in the river every year. We learn that the Thames used to be a sacred river, a sort of Ganges, where the celts dumped ceremonial objects. The river was a way to another world. Camelot has been placed in Westminster. Arthur and his knights in London.

Perhaps that’s why the river is also full of skulls. Lots and lots and lots of human skulls resting in the riverbed. Strangely though there are no bodies and no one seems to know where all the skulls come from.

There are more stories. What we see around us today on the shores of the river are many islands. Every place which ends on an ea or ey used to be an island, Battersea, Bermondsey. It’s just like on Orkney where the ey is a leftover from my ancestors. En ö, öy, ey, an island. London Bridge could have fallen down when it was invaded by vikings and King Canute saved the country by commanding the tide and drowning his enemies, no I’m getting ahead of myself here. That’s not really how the story goes.

There are so many stories in this city, mysteries, hidden lore, hidden history. I walk these streets and I only see today, I only ever scrape the surface. But there are layers and layers of lives and thoughts, hopes and dreams, going down deep into the mud underneath our feet. This place has been a metropolis for centuries. All that energy is stored within stone walls, all those lives, loves, fears, the worship, the ambition, it’s all still here. And I love it. That’s what makes this city great.

For more Thames lore check out the Totally Thames festival. And for London mysteries look up the Fortean Society

On the night of the election

We woke up at three in the morning, the sky was an industrial orange, heavy clouds reflecting all of London’s lights. The sound of thunder seeped into our dreams and woke us up with a start, heavy rain, thunder claps loud enough to make the whole building shake, purple flashes lighting up the sky, a plane in the distance. It’s the second time this summer a thunder storm has sat right over our house, the second time I’ve seen a storm like this up close. The air held a hint of release.

We checked our phones. The first results were in, Scotland was voting no. The storm moved on, but the rumbling echoed around us. I worried about my computer being plugged in and data being wiped out. I wondered about Scotland. I fell asleep.

This morning it was clear. There will be no independence. A million and a half bright hopes, a million and a half people wanting a different future. Today they woke up to the grey same-old. Perhaps it’s for the best, because after the sparkling change, the parties, the energy would have fizzled out, like it always does when real life seeps back into idealism. There would have been disappointment, confusion, tension, polarisation.

Big, bright change almost always means that someone will suffer. Some are more revolutionary than I am. I just want as many people as possible to live a comfortable, happy life.

In Scotland 85 percent of those who can vote, voted. People cared. If they can keep caring that will be the most important outcome of this election.