Category Archives: London

10 THINGS I LOVE ABOUT BRITAIN (as I say goodbye to her)

Before I launch into tales of my new adventures in other lands, I’d like to take a moment to consider the country of my birth.

As I plan to end the longest stint of living in Great Britain in my adult life (over seven years) it is tempting to justify my departure by rattling off a list of things that drove me to end my residency. The English liberal middle classes are as riddled with national self-loathing (perhaps a legacy of colonialism) and joining in with Britain-bashing is an easy trap to fall into. Considering my determination for writing positive things about other places I have lived in or visited – Iraq and Pakistan for example – it feels only right to resist being drawn into a wholly negative take.

OUTDOOR PEOPLE

England - London - Three city office workers sunbathe during hot lunchtime1. I love how we worship the sun. It only has to briefly show its face and office workers crowd to patches of pleasant green during lunchbreaks and roll up sleeves and trousers to soak in Vitamin D. I love how in the summer the sun shines long into the evening and the fact that we buy more convertible cars than the French, Spanish and Italians. images

2. I love how we love gardening. I love how we mark out our territory neatly with walls and fences and how even the bleakest of council estates will have a row of bungalows with perfectly planted pansies. Allotments thrill me.

CROWDED ISLE

images-13. I love sitting on the tube and being surrounded by people of all shapes, sizes, colours, religions, nationalities, ages, attitudes. I love how despite the diversity everyone manages to avoid eye contact.

Unknown4. I love my personal space in Britain. People don’t queue too close and mostly avoid the continental cheek peck and needless hugs. We need to maintain our large personal space and save the hugs for when we mean it. Unknown-1

5. I love how when we have really enjoyed something, we say it was “Quite good”. We need to cling on to the under-stated and save the awesome for the truly awesome.

TOTALLY SICK

Unknown-26. I love how being ever-so-slightly mentally ill can be viewed as charmingly eccentric (for the middle and upper classes at least). raynerlarge

7. I love how although we still have a class system, the middle classes now shop at Aldi and overall economic hardship is being shared beyond the working classes.

Unknown-38. I love how Brits dramatically pull over to let an emergency vehicle past. This doesn’t happen in lots of countries, and in some countries it only happens for ambulances.

9. I love that we have emergency ambulances. And free health care to those that need it. Many countries have neither.

NEVER IN IT TO WIN IT

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10. Finally, I love the English ability to lose graciously. Losing is our default starting point – but we still enjoy a good match.

 

And with the later in mind, I am well aware that perhaps I haven’t chosen the best professions to succeed at in Britain: the civil service, teaching, publishing and being an artist. Perhaps I didn’t put myself in the best place to make Britain work for me over the past seven years.  But I still think Britain is great. Not because it hosted the Olympics, or has a Queen, or any reasons associated with recent attempts to turn our national flag into a commodity. For me, it’s the cultural nuances that will help me be gently, quietly comfortable in my English skin as I once again embark on an overseas existence.

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Sleeping Rough on the Streets of London

ImageYou may think I have been taking my nomadicity to extremes.  Although I did in fact spend all of Friday night on the streets of London – sleeping “rough” might be over egging the spoon.

True, I laid my head on cardboard boxes and shivered the night away, along with 60 others – but the evening was also spent enjoying Brazilian music and a cheeky carafe of wine.  And the East End of London isn’t quite what it was either.  Expecting a bit of edge, I was disappointed to find that Spitallfields Market was really rather clean and lovely.  Even Wagamamas was in sight.  My immigrant forefathers would have been amazed.

But the night was not really about racking up another perilous adventure, despite claims by friends that I was “brave”.  It was about raising money for children who sleep on the streets every night.  It was about trying to change that.   Today Street Child World Cup let us know that our efforts raised £7000. I am sure there is more to come.

An estimated 100 million children live and work on the streets. Street Child World Cup is a global campaign for the rights of street children. Through football, art and an international street child conference they provide a platform to change public perception and realise the rights of street children.

They have had notable successes – both individual stories and real results as they lobby governments for changes in policy (e.g police round ups).
My main hope is to see a team of street children from Pakistan take part in the Rio challenge in 2014, and I know people are working behind the scenes to try and make this happen.  And one day, who knows, maybe a team from the football loving nation – Iraq.

So here are the shout outs followed by a few photos of our night:

Donate for our Big City Sleep achievement

Become a Supporter 

Street Child World Cup main page

On Twitter: @scwc2014 @daisybotha (my roughing it partner!) @abctrustuk (Action for Brazil’s Children)

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Daisy making clothes for our favela washing lines

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60 sleepers

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I think that might be John from Momentum Arts waking up next to a cardboard favela