Charlotta Buxton Posts

I’m sorry it’s been a bit quiet here lately. The truth is I’ve been a bit unsettled, slightly more unsettled than I thought I would be, by all this change. I’m still trying to make sense of it all. Of moving and getting to know a new part of London. I’m trying to prepare myself for some of the other changes that are coming. But I’m still in-between. So I’m focusing on the details, the small things.

We’ve moved to the studio next to the river. When we arrive in the morning the banks along the Thames are muddy. In the afternoon the tide flows back and the waves lap at the flood barriers. The water is silty and a muted brown. There are three ducks, two mallards and a hen living somewhere near the studio. Every time I’ve walked down to the water they’ve been there. Sometimes they jump up on the platform further out where the London Port Authority’s boats dock. Sometimes one of the mallards chases the other one and nips at his tail feathers.

On the other side of the river big ships bring sugar to the Tate & Lyle factory. The current one is flying a Maltese flag. Gangly cranes swing over it and back again with the cargo. It’s a calm and peaceful dance. Planes take off from London City Airport behind the factory. The sound lags behind the plane. I notice them when they’re already on their way. When the tail has cleared the factory and the plane is climbing steeply toward the clouds.

I spend a lot of time scanning the water, hoping to one day spot a seal. I’ve been reading about wildlife returning to the Thames. Pods of dolphins have been seen further west and seals have been spotted near the skyscrapers in Canary Wharf. London is showing me its wild and industrial side.

It’s a over month since we moved to the new studio. I’m getting used to it. London twists and turns around me. Everything radiates from the places we call home, all the routes you know lead to the areas where you live and work. My center has been north and east. Slowly it is shifting to the south. London turns around me and I’m learning to see the city from a new perspective.

Everyday life London Thoughts

On March 3 the developers will lock the doors and we have to leave. We found out on Saturday. The rubbish is already taking over the hallways – old chairs, shelves, books, tins of paint, plastic bags and various wooden sticks and metal bits. The people next door left this weekend. The building is quiet. The bathroom and the corridors already have that cold, slightly metallic scent of abandonment.

Soon there will be no more artist studios on Cremer Street. The developer called us an “eyesore on Hackney Road”. And perhaps he was right. This is a crumbling sixties warehouse with graffitied walls, dirty windows and family of stray cats. It doesn’t fit with the new wine bars or the brand new apartment blocks with their straight walls, small windows and box-like flats selling for £600,000.

Soon this asbestos roof will be torn open and the walls chewed to pieces by bulldozers. I’ve seen it happen to the old council blocks up the road. I watched as the front of one of the buildings came down and a bedroom or living room with bright green walls gaped out over Hoxton like in some disaster movie. That was once someone’s home. In a winter the old buildings were gone and it’s been a year since people started leaving plant pots on the balconies and bicycles outside the new apartments.

This was always going to happen to the studio building on Cremer Street. The pub with the English flags in the windows was turned into a wine bar. The boarded up one that used to stand on the corner was demolished before I came here, but is still there on Google Street View like a digital ghost. Small shops selling wholesale bags and shoes are being turned into cafes. The gay club has been shut down. The derelict Georgian terraces have been renovated and decorated to smug perfection. The old hospital is being turned into expensive apartments. The boards around the building site show photographs of the people that might one day live there. Pretty, shiny haired people hanging out on Brick Lane. Aspirational people.

I sometimes wonder if these people are the new Londoners. The politicians talk a lot about “aspirational hard working families”, although no one seems to know who or where these people can be found. London itself is aspirational. The tallest buildings are reaching for new heights, the house prices climbing upward with them. Whoever you are there will always be someone with more money than you, a car more expensive than yours and an apartment more expensively furnished than yours. In this city we’re often reminded that the ladder stretches far above us.

But this aspirational London is not the town I want to live in. I’d like to call this place transitional, always changing, always in motion. London has been burned down, bombed and demolished several times over the last 2000 years. It’s always being rebuilt, the old torn down to make way for the new. But like a magic trick, the city never changes. In the midst of all of this turmoil some buildings have managed to escape the bombs and the bulldozers. Cremer Street and Hackney Road will still be there when the studio is gone. The map will look the same. Some of these roads were built by the Romans.

When this building is gone the stray cats in the studio car park will move on to another spot where people will feed them. The people who move into the new apartments will go to the same cafe we go to for their coffees. The trains will rumble along the tracks on the bridge over Cremer Street. The huge psychedelic graffiti eye on one of the tower blocks further into Hoxton will keep looking out over it all. We will move our studio south of the river and everything changes and nothing changes at the same time.

***

But just so I remember there is a sticker next to the door that says “Do you wear enough black to be an artist?” I don’t know who put it there. Next to it is a stack of framed prints and screens and then the table which used to be used for screen-printing, but we now mainly use for eating lunches and packing web orders, although not at the same time. On the wall opposite is the fridge and the microwave that should have been cleaned four months ago.

There is a shelf with tea and mugs and the plum vodka Gerry’s brother and his wife gave us and I swigged out of the bottle, whilst sitting on the printing table, one day after we’d had some upsetting news (it’s very tasty, thank you!). There is a shelf on the floor full of water-based paint and spray cans. Underneath the table are stacks of vinyls and screens. Next to the table there are two large and solid plan chests.

Underneath the barred windows there is the Ikea sofa I accidentally broke when I bounced up and down on it after I heard that my book had been accepted by the publisher. Then there is our desk where Gerry and I face each other, it’s covered in papers, printers, random hard-drives and cables. We’ve scribbled messages on it. There is a sleeping fish that Gerry drew on a sticker and placed next to my laptop.

Behind him is the year planner from 2015 and a huge Wall Street print that was damaged when it fell in front of the door and we had to bash the frame in order to get into the studio. Next to him is the Ikea shelving system with clothes rails stacked precariously on top of it and stock hanging below. Then there is the corner crammed full of stock boxes, hiding all the stuff that’s been forgotten about and kept out of sight. Behind that there are paintings, not ours, they were left here by the previous occupant who uses the studio for storage. This is it. The studio. Soon it will be empty and all we will have left are these memories.

Everyday life London Plane Clothing Thoughts

Written yesterday

I’m in Humanities 2 at the British Library. There is a whiny noise, like a storm trapped in a chimney, coming from somewhere behind me. Perhaps it’s Gertrude. She’s brought snow, power cuts and flooding from across the Atlantic. Last night her gusts sounded like a giant’s fist buffeting the walls of my apartment block. All the storms have names now. This winter we’ve had Clodagh and Desmond and Frank. Now we have Gertrude. Perhaps she’s trying to join us here at Humanities 2 through an open vent. Perhaps the sound is just an asthmatic computer. It wasn’t even that windy this morning.

When I asked for my books at the counter they looked at the bookshelf at the far end, under the letter B. It still surprises me. Last time I came here regularly they always went to the shelf with the letter H stuck to it. I’m no longer the person I used to be. The cells in my body have changed. My name has changed. We change and stay the same. I’ve been thinking a lot about identity lately, about losing it and coming back to it. I’ve been thinking about choosing it. We stay who we are through the stories we tell ourselves. Because of our Facebook accounts and our Instagram accounts, those stories are more permanent and visible than ever before. They hold us accountable to who we think we are. Do storms have more of an identity because we give them names? Do they get their own social media accounts?

I shouldn’t be writing about identity. I’m here to read about the London stone and to find out more about the foundations of London. I have a meagre haul of books. The only one I could find with the title “London Stone” is a pamphlet about a completely different London stone in Staines. I think it might be near Heathrow, but I’m not sure. It has the same name, but it’s not the right stone.

I’ve also picked up Daniel Defoe’s essay on the plague and Charles Booth’s account of the London poor. I’m not really sure what I’m going to do with this selection, but I have to start somewhere. Working in the library is like sifting through soil. Eventually a few golden nuggets will fall through. I love working here. It smells of books and dust. It quietens me. Even with Gertrude, or not Gertrude, whining in the vent.

Image by Mario Calvo.

Thoughts

I’ve been meaning to visit the London Stone for a bit over a year. This weekend I decided the time had come. On a Sunday the streets are quiet, the buses glide through normally congested areas and the financial district, where the stone can be found, is silent and empty.

Heavy clouds hung over London, the pavements had a glossy varnish of early morning rain. I took the bus south and looked up the stone on Wikipedia. No one seems to know exactly what its purpose was or how old it is. It was first written about in the 1550s and even then people seemed to think it was old. Some have speculated this was the stone King Arthur pulled Excalibur out of, as if he was a real king and Excalibur a real sword. Others think it might be an index stone, pointing to a stone circle that once stood on the site of St Paul’s Cathedral. My favourite theory is that it’s a sacred terminus stone dedicated to Jupiter. Supposedly these stones were placed in the centre of any Roman city. London started out as Londinium after all, a small outpost of the Roman empire.

The bus took me past dark and slumbering office buildings. Through the windows I sometimes spotted security guards reading morning papers or chatting to cleaners. The cafés and restaurants were quiet and ghostly, their purpose lost on a day when there are no customers and no bright lights. The streets were empty, except for a few packs of tourists in brightly coloured rain jackets.

I got off near Bank and took Walbrook Street south toward Cannon Street. I realised, as you do sometimes in this city, that I had never walked down this street before. In every area, even the ones you know well, there are always new places to explore. London unfurls and stretches out like a coastline, there are labyrinths to explore. How many miles would these London streets add up to? I tried to Google it, but couldn’t find an answer.

I couldn’t remember having walked down Cannon Street before and stopped for a moment, finding my bearings. Then I set off east, looking for 111 Cannon Street, where the stone sits today (it’s been moved a couple of times). Even though I knew it’s now placed within the foundation of a WHSmith I still managed to walk past it and had to turn around at 119 Cannon Street. The stone itself is pretty underwhelming, hidden behind metal bars and glass so murky and dark it’s almost impossible to make out what’s behind it.

I tried to muster up some feelings of respect on solemnity. This was the London Stone after all, the stone that’s been mentioned by different writers and historians over the last 500 years. It’s the mystery foundation stone that might make London crumble and fall if removed. I felt slightly self-conscious. This was clearly a forgotten and unloved landmark. I couldn’t imagine many tourists stopping at this spot or the commuters heading to their offices in the city on a weekday paying it much attention. Feeling underwhelmed I moved on.

I spent the morning exploring the alleys in and around Bank. This is one of the oldest parts of the city. The streets feel heavy, the buildings loom large and tall. They even smell heavy, of dust and stone. Between them runs a maze of alleys where unexpected smaller buildings, restaurants or offices, are crammed between giants.

london city alleys

Two street sweepers were taking break in one of the alleys. Some tourists hurried past on the roads outside. In between the buildings I was mostly on my own. I passed the Jamaica Wine Bar on St Michael’s Alley and spotted a church. The choir was practicing for the morning’s service and I snook in and listened for a while. As a few people arrived for the service I made my way out, feeling like an intruder. I continued on, got lost around Aldgate, the sun broke through the clouds, I walked in vain looking for an open coffee shop. Eventually my homing instinct took me to Spitalfields, where there is always coffee. I sat down and read and wrote for a while, making a promise to myself that I’ll spend more Sunday mornings roaming around the city.

London

London. It’s eight days since we landed at Heathrow. The day after we left Finland the temperature in my hometown dropped to minus 27. Cold enough to make your hair turn white with frost and your nostrils stick together when you inhale. London hovers around 7 plus. Drizzle-gray. Sunshine and showers. Mostly showers.

Today I walked past the big house and the deer at Clissold Park. The sun was out. Orange light in the puddles. Bright and early joggers rushing past. I stopped to say hello to the deer. Then I met up with Madicken and we spent the morning writing together in a café. All the other customers had brought their laptops too. Madicken spotted an actor sitting behind us. It’s very north London. I wrote some words and I was pretty happy with them. Then I came home and read about the publishing industry and suddenly everything felt impossible. I did my taxes. I downloaded Spotify again and created a radio station based on Sia. I’m clicking thumbs down on anything that isn’t Sia.

This month is one of small tasks. It’s too early for a big picture. There is one thing and then the next and maybe soon the year will start taking shape. I took me a week to shake the post-Christmas fog. I went home to Finland and didn’t turn on my phone for the first five days. A sweet, disconnected rebellion. Gerry and I went for long walks when it was light. The inlet near the house thawed and then froze over again. The ice was washed up by a storm and looked like panes of broken glass, crushed and squeezed together. I’ve never seen it like that before. I ate well and often. I spent some time in the sauna. My muscles unwound themselves. I relaxed and stopped thinking about work, the future, everything. It takes a while to resurface from that. So here I am, tensing up again, telling myself I should do more yoga, writing lists and trying to get a sense of where this year will take me.

Image by David Marcu.

Finland London Thoughts Writing

Did I perhaps mentioned I was stressed in my earlier blog posts? Well I look at myself two weeks ago and laugh, no weep, no laugh. Stressed? I didn’t know what the word meant then. But I’m not going to go into that too much because then I’m just reinforcing unhealthy neural pathways, which is bad. Instead I’m going to breathe and ignore a third of the things I’m supposed to do today.

Why?

Because it’s my birthday. Today I turn 31 and mostly for my own pleasure and for future reference I’d like to sum up some of the things I learned this year. I apologise in advance for jumping between using first and second person in the following list. It’s my birthday and I don’t care.

Stuff I learned when I was thirty

Sometimes good things happen out of the blue. You won’t expect them. There is nothing you can do to force these things to happen, they just will and, when they do, it will be a nice surprise.

The only thing you can do is to keep trying and to do the best you can.

Small virtuous things like doing yoga regularly or meditating will start to add up and make you feel better. Exercising regularly will actually make you stronger, even though your subconscious tells you that unless you’re perfect from day one it isn’t worth the effort.

I really must remember not to eat pineapple.

Being around a lot of people is exhausting. Sometimes it’s important to sit in a quiet room with a cup of tea and just look out of the window.

I’m really very resistant when it comes to learning how to drive in London. I’ve spent a year making up excuses for why I can’t book that first driving lesson.

The winters are getting warmer.

The more I read, the better I’ll write. The more I write, the better I’ll write. There is a formula for every sort of writing. Learn the formula first, then focus on how to write well.

Worrying is a waste of energy.

No matter how much you’d like to protect someone and shield them from pain you can’t. You can only love them.

Nothing is more important than family and friends.

Not everyone can be your friend.

Being vulnerable in front of a group of strangers might feel good at the time, but quite embarrassing afterward.

Bread tastes pretty good after almost two years of gluten-freeness. So does pizza and a nice dark porter.

Eating well is one of life’s great pleasures. My most vivid memories are all food-related.

One of the best things about London is the river that runs through it. There’s no coast, but at least there’s the Thames.

Singing makes me happy. It shouldn’t matter how it sounds.

I’ve managed to create some of my best work when I’ve had tight deadlines and not been able over-think and over-analyse. Sometimes it’s best to not think and just do.

The best way to tackle fear and anxiety is to try to feel loving, either toward yourself or someone else. I read somewhere that this releases oxytocin, which lowers the amount of cortisol in your system. I have no idea if this is true, but at this point in time the semi-scientific explanation is enough for me.

I’m the happiest when I have a goal to work towards. Without a goal I start worrying about the meaning of life. That might have been OK when I was fifteen, now it’s better to just come up with the next goal.

Hate and fear will only create more hate and fear. And the world doesn’t need any more of that.

Image by Kris Atomic at Unsplash.

Everyday life Thoughts

I wrote this yesterday.

Last day of November. It’s storming outside, the wind is bouncing between the block of flats I live in and the one of the other side of the rail road tracks. It’s hitting windows and scraping tree branches along the walls. Sometimes a train rushes past. I hardly hear them anymore and only notice if it’s a big freight train screaming and whooshing.

London is still grey and it’s getting colder. I’ve spent the day transcribing an interview. I don’t often record the interviews I do anymore, but I’m glad I had this one on tape. There are good quotes that will only work verbatim.

December is falling into place and it makes me happy. I’ve started scheduling things and it’s a relief to know what will happen when instead of staring down a huge pile of stuff that just has to be done at some point. I think the most stressful part of being a journalist is the period before a story comes together, before I’ve started booking the interviews, when everything is still an idea. As soon as I know who I’m going to speak to and when I start relaxing, then I know it’s possible.

I’m starting to realise it’s the same with creative writing. I’ve come up with a new system. I need to know exactly what happens, from every characters’ point of view, throughout the whole book. The more I know the more precise I can be when I’m telling the story. In my previous attempts at writing creatively I’ve always been rushing, trying to get the story out as quickly as possible, because otherwise I fear I might lose it somewhere along the way (and I often do lose it somewhere along the way). But if I instead write it out quickly, in a not very coherent fashion, using plenty of clichés and a multitude of other literary sins, it already exists and all I need to do is slowly, carefully craft it into something that sounds good. Now that I’ve realised this one thing putting a book together seems more possible too.

Photo by Samuel Zeller.

Journalism Thoughts Writing

This is the time of the year when life speeds up. There are markets to do and mail-outs to send out, articles to write, t-shirts to fold and Christmas presents to buy. Sometimes just staying warm seems like enough of a challenge. When it rains it’s worse. The damp here is the real problem in the winter. It’s not like home where, in my mind, it’s dry cold, the sort of cold that makes your nostrils stick together, where the snow itself is cold, hard and sticky. Home where it’s dark at three in the afternoon and there are mountains of snow piled up on pavements, in gardens and alongside the houses. But this all in my mind. It’s not like that anymore, the winters are warmer.

Here in London it’s grey, sometimes sunny, but mostly grey. I’m spending some of my time helping Gerry with the pre-Christmas rush. I’m writing long lists and rushing around, but I should remember this is the time of the year when you need to slow down. It’s the time of the year for blankets, books and hot tea.

I’m trying to read, but the books I choose are exciting and speedy as well. I finished Cecilia Ekbäck’s Wolf Winter yesterday. It’s a book written in English by a Swedish author about Lapland in the 1700s. It’s a murder mystery, there is magic and snow. I liked it, but the more I write the more distant I feel from the novels I read. It’s a good book though, seek it out if it sounds like your cup of tea.

Today I might to do some more writing of my own. I’ve set myself a target of 500 words per day. Just 500 slow words. In this busy period I’ve not been writing every day, but that’s OK too. I figure during this cold time of the year when the news reports are full of fearful things kindness needs to come first. So I’m going easy on myself. I hope you are too.

Image by Sirma Krusteva.

Thoughts

Oh, hello there. I’m sorry it’s been a bit quiet here lately. I’ve had a cold and then I went to Scotland and then I worked a lot, then there was a big art fair and then I got a cold again. I’m still sniffling away and my nose resembles something of a leaky tap, but this coffee I’m drinking is helping. I’ve even managed to finish a couple of the big items on my to-do-list. Life feels a bit more manageable again.

I have been thinking a lot about over-work lately. Why does it seem so important to be busy all the time? Is this a London thing? Is it a life thing? But I won’t go into that now, because my plan was to write about writing.

“So… how’s the writing going?” I hear no one ask, because I don’t really talk about my creative writing very often. I’m going to answer the question anyway.

I’m still working on it. I’ve been working on it for three years (which isn’t very long actually and even though I’ve been writing stuff since I was in my pre-teens, I hadn’t managed to finish any larger manuscript until I wrote the book that should have stayed in the drawer about three years ago).

I have now finished three fiction books. None of them were very good, but each one has taught me something. I’ve taken a couple of writing courses, I’ve read tons and I started seeing a really lovely writing coach. It’s all helping. I’ve also sent out a couple of manuscripts to different places. Sometimes I’ve had a response (thanks, but no thanks), sometimes I’ve not heard anything at all. It’s been dispiriting. It’s hard going when you look at your own writing and wonder what the hell your doing and the small fledgeling manuscripts you’ve dared to send off to competitions might have had more readers if they’d been rolled up, placed in a bottle and thrown into the sea.

Sigh.

About a month ago I felt especially frustrated and I thought; it would be so nice to get some kind of sign that all of this isn’t in vain, that I’m improving. And here I feel I should add that I am writing fiction because I enjoy it, characters appear in my head and they need to be put down on paper, sentences are fun to look at and make better. But writing is lonely, I am self-critical and sometimes it’s nice to get a little bit of feedback from someone out there, a pat on the back, a letter saying “we like this story”.

And guess what happened. A few days after my frustration peaked I got an email. This is what it said:

Dear Charlotta
 BRIDPORT PRIZE 2015
Whilst you have not won one of the top thirteen prizes in the Bridport Prize competition I am writing to let you know that your short story:
THE SECRETS OF ICE
was shortlisted. We had just over 4,500 short story entries this year and 100 were shortlisted.

I could have kissed the person who sent out this automated email. I sent my story to the Bridport competition, thinking I didn’t stand a chance. It’s one of the biggest short story competitions in the UK, lots of talented people who have been writing for years and years enter it. Lots of amazingly talented people win it. And I was shortlisted!

I danced and jumped around for a bit. I might have thrown a fist up in the air and gone “yess”. This is a huge thing for me, it spurs me on. I will keep going, even if all I end up doing with my writing will be to put short stories in bottles and throwing them into the sea.

Image by Max Okhrimenko/Unsplash.

Thoughts Writing

Thrillist has put together a helpful guide to rents in London. The map shows the average monthly rent for a one bedroom flat within a kilometer of each tube station.

Where along the tube can you afford to live?

tmg-slideshow_xl

You can see full size version of the map here.

London The moving to London collection