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Clapton Weekend

I could peacefully observe the red flower on the windowsill from where I lay on the leather couch, the trees of Clapton beyond it, and I thought of a tiny black dot speck on its side as perhaps a flea, but it wasn’t, it was something else, a fleck of dust, and so I meditated on it, on the flower's beauty, its aliveness, of how it was like so many beautiful young people I know, fresh to the world. I was unaware that only a few centimetres away, in the soil of that flower pot, lay a dead bird.

It was a weekend I'd spent in Clapton in East London, dogsitting Jack for friends – Jack Bowie, as I like to call him due to his heterochromia iridis. A dog who kept coming up to me on the couch, hoping I'd rub him with my toes. A dog that needed at least four walks a day, who I gifted with a long walk on the Saturday, past Clapton station, towards the River Lea, then up the towpath until Springfield Park.

It was there, watching the barges slowly move north, that I rememberd K. and mine's adventure on the narrowboat last year, how we had moored in this very area around September 2018, just before we went on holiday to Palermo, Sicily. As Jack and I took the towpath towards the park, we fell into pace with a boat carrying three people and a dog. The dog noticed Jack and got angsty, wanted to run to him but was stumped by the water in between them. It barked and its owners stopped their conversation to look at me. “Frankie!” they shouted at him, trying to call his attention back to them. Jack was nonplussed.

Further up the towpath, by the Anchor and Hope, we came face-to-face with a working class couple with many children in tow and a snappy little dog. The husband told the wife to pick up the dog but I said there was no need, Jack was friendly. They promptly put the snappy dog back down and it scuttled towards Jack for friendly sniffs.

“What a lovely dog,” the mother said, puffing at a cigarette. The children were quiet, the husband smiled. “What’s his breed?”

“We don’t know, he was found in a bin.”

“A bin? As a puppy?”


“Oh, look at his eyes,” she pointed out to the children. Further ahead, a young cyclist had stopped and watched our interaction with benevolent patience. I wished the family a lovely day and nodded a hello at the cyclist. Jack was my ticket into the world of pleasantries.

When back in the flat, I spent most of my time on the leather couch with a slim volume on Buddhism by Steve Hagen for company. When I took breaks, I put mindfulness into action. Watched my thoughts, watched the now. The now was made up of seagulls flying above the flat, of bird songs, of sunshine interspersed with bouts of raining, of the brazilian guy, Mauricio, also staying in the flat (a friend of Jack's guardians who lives in São Paulo and was visiting London for the week), who K had correctly described the night before as a "gentle giant". So gentle in fact that he eased my life story out of me in just half an hour of conversation.

Mauricio wanted to leave a gift for Jack's guardians, who were away in Sitges in Spain and would only return when he was already flying back to Brazil. I suggested a walk to the local organic supermarket so he could buy chocolates and flowers for them. On the way back, we stopped at the Clapton Heart for fish, chips and a pint of lager. He didn't know the Clapton Heart was once the most dangerous pub in London, the beating heart of Murder Mile. Gentrification had now wiped that all away and left in its trail a bartender with flowy silver hair, glasses and gym-made muscles. A bartender who turned out to be Brazilian and took Mauricio's breath away.

No Place Like Home

It's been nearly a year since I joined Pride in London as their Head of Fundraising. A year of great learnings and work, of meeting new people (and making new friends), of getting pushed out of my comfort zone - of growth. A year of gaining a new family.

On Saturday, I joined other volunteers who are part of the core team[1] for the first All Team meeting of the year, where we discussed our successes last year, our challenges, and the new theme we are going to be working on for this year. During the meeting, they aired the video that was made last year and shown on TV, which features Somewhere Over the Rainbow:

It was a lovely day for catching up with some colleagues, meeting new members of the team, and then having a nice drink afterwards with two members of my team, who also got to meet my boyfriend (who had just finished his Spanish lessons in preparation for his summer move to Madrid.[2]) My boyfriend and I then quickly popped into a local Prêt a Manger for lunch then fortuitously stumbled into steer, who had just finished a workout and was on his way to a pub. We also got the chance to wish him a happy birthday in person.

On the way home, on the Number 8 bus, the Wizard of Oz song still stuck in my head, I saw a poster outside a bank -- I think a poster about mortgages -- featuring Dorothy, with the quote: "There's no place like home."

When I got off the bus in Bethnal Green, a busker played the accordion nearby... Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Now my curiosity was piqued: I love a synchronicity. I got home and sat in the living room, enjoying the flat all to myself (the housemate was out and the boyfriend had stayed behind to shop for new trousers at Uniqlo.)

A few days earlier, on the Thursday, I'd been to our local bookclub to discuss Anna Burns' Milkman. We've been part of this bookclub for many years - nearly from the point we moved into the tower block just south of Victoria Park, back in 2005, which we lived in until 2014. My landlady, who was also a friend from work and lived on the same street as the tower block, invited us to join the fledging neighbourhood bookclub back then, and we grew with it over the years, became friends with everyone in it -- only taking a break during 2014, when I moved back to Brazil to help run my mom's guesthouse, and then last year, whilst we lived in the narrowboat.

I was warmly received by everyone in the bookclub and we had a good evening discussing the novel, which we all loved, as well as getting some inside scoop on Anna Burns' creative process, as she happened to have dedicated the book to one of our members! As it also happens with this bookclub, we eventually got talking about other things, and for this evening it was the current issue with pollution in London and what everybody was doing about it. While everyone chatted, I thought of my other bookclub - recently formed with colleagues at the BHF - and our current read, Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch.[3] I thought of how long it was (over 800 pages) and wouldn't it be nice if this bookclub also chose it, so I wouldn't have two massive novels to get through in the coming month.

Someone then mentioned the death of insects across the UK -- an apparent drop of nearly 70% -- and of how their memories from the 70s were of driving through the countryside and having their windshields covered with bugs, and how this didn't happen anymore. But then someone else mentioned that birds seemed to be returning to their garden. "Did you see the goldfinches?" she asked. "They are coming back."

Two days later, sitting alone in my new home, thinking of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, I opened The Goldfinch and a few pages into my reading came across a passage where the characters discussed Judy Garland's addiction to sleeping pills, and how she was served strong tea in the morning so it would flush the barbs out of her system. Then, a few chapters later, the main character (a 13-year-old boy called Theo who had lost his mother to a terrorist bomb in a NYC museum) visited a convalescing survivor of the attack and, in her bedroom, noticed a poster of The Wizard of Oz above her bed.

And what was the book selected by the bookclub on Thursday night you ask? Not The Wizard of Oz, I'm afraid, but Marilynne Robinson's Home.

[1] About 150 people volunteer all year round to help put on Pride in London - the capital's 3rd largest celebration.  The largest is the New Year fireworks display, followed by the London Marathon.
[2] I promise I'll give an update on this soon!
[3] As soon as the book was chosen -- from a byzantine process involving an online random list generator -- I tweeted millionreasons if I could borrow her copy, as I knew she'd have one -- and a week later, while sitting in a vegan fast food join in Camden, she handed me a hardcover copy which had been gifted to her by her parents.

My Week with Moo, Part 2

Last Saturday night, some time in the early hours, on a dancefloor in Vauxhall surrounded by gay men in various states of inibriation, the DJ played the KLF's Justified & Ancient (All Bound for MooMoo Land), featuring Reba McEntire[1]. I stopped in awe - struck by how long since I'd heard this song - and smiled maniacally at my boyfriend: "Moo Moo! Moo Moo!"

My boyfriend looked at me with an all-too-familiar expression of what you going on about.

"Little Moo Moo," I said imbecilically, but he wouldn't know that was the nickname I'd given to Moo. He hunched his shoulders instead, smiled understandingly, and we continued to dance.

Little Moo Moo and I got into a nice little routine during the five days we were flatmates. I'd wake up somewhere around 4 in the morning with him stuck in the front of the house, calling to be let in.  I'd sleep some more and then, at 7am, feed him.  I'd leave for home with him already gone outside (probably to the neighbours, who Jane and Andrew suspect feeds him a second breakfast).  Then at night I'd be greeted by him on the hallway as I turned the key and stepped in.  I'd fend off his little paws as i prepared my dinner.  And we'd finally wrap up the night with him falling asleep by my feet in the living room as I watched something on Amazon Prime or read in bed.

On Wednesday, I got to work from home and observe Moo a little more closely and what he gets up to during his day. It involved a lot of back and forth from the house, staring at the garden from the living room's glass doors, prowling the garden while looking at the trees, or napping on the sofa/bed.

In the evening, I chose another film for our Moovie Night, this time the documentary Walk With Me, on a Buddhist monastery in France set up by the exiled Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh and narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch. Moo slept through the whole thing. He missed out a really nice concept discussed in the film - the concept of ringing bells that play across the monastery every 15 minutes and which are a signal for all to stop what they are doing and be mindful of the moment (even people who are visiting for the day.) I imagined bells spread out across Jane and Andrew's flat and garden, and what it would be like to enter mindfulness every time Moo knocked one of them... you'd be mindful all day.

[1] 4 in the morning, on our way home, as we sat in an Uber in Stoke Newington, waiting for one of us to collect bagels and croissants from a 24 hour bagel shop, the radio station, set to 88.8, came alive with... Reba McEntire hosting a country music show.

My Week with Moo, Part 1

Having a Mooment
Having a Mooment

My housemate arrived home on Sunday evening with his boyfriend, from a day out cycling in Cambridgeshire, just as my boyfriend and I were wheeling a suitcase out of the flat.

"Where are you off to?" they asked.

"Off to cat sit in West London."

"Say hi to West London," they smiled. 

And it really is West London — deep, far away West London, past Richmond Park, nearly an hour and a half on the Overground plus two bus rides, in the little known enclave of St Margarets (last night, on the train platform, four friends embraced and one of them quipped in a very East London manner: "ok, where the hell are we.") 

All this traveling to take care of a cat called Moo. I've heard a lot about Moo via Facebook. His guardians, Jane and Andrew, took him in after their previous cat, a sleek black panther-like  killing machine called Grufus left home one evening and never came back. Jane's Facebook has become a veritable chronicle of Moo's exploits, and so I decided I'd add to it by documenting my time with him.

Moo is everything Grufus was not: cow-like in appearance and gaze, jumps on everything and knocks everything down, gets between you and the dishes when you are washing them, follows you like a puppy, gets confused outdoors and ends up at the front door, crying for you to let him in and, in the evenings, climbs in bed with you and lies on your neck.

Read more...Collapse )

The Wheel of Fortune

Returning home, December 2018

The boat adventure came to an end. She went back to her permanent mooring and will now be sold.

I flew to Brasil afterwards for Christmas, he went to Canada. In January, we housesat a friend’s flat in West Hampstead while searching for a new home in the East End.

House share interviews are like dates – if it goes well, you worry about when the next call will come through – if you’ll appear too eager if you contact them first.

But on Wednesday they WhatsApped: we want you!  A cosy flat just by beloved Victoria Park, with a handsome cinematographer.

One year of sailing

Autumn on the River Lee

It's been a year since we moved into a narrowboat in London.  

The original plan was for us to stay until the end of this year and then return the boat to its permanent mooring and find a new home on land. More recently, however, the owner of the boat suggested we could return to it next year if we wanted, when boating season resumes (start of March). We have agreed to take up this offer.

Like last year, we'll remain in the boat until the start of December and then moor it for the winter. We'll look for sublets/cat sitting gigs that cover us until the start of March and then resume our floating adventure.  For how long?  Probably not too long — we are still thinking of moving back to Canada.  It's now a matter of going carefully through the necessary papers (for common law partners) and getting the process going. It could potentially be during the summer of 2019.

This time last year we were somewhere in Angel, central London, slowly learning the boat's ins and outs, slowly moving towards the EastEnd, adjusting ourselves to a new routine (the hardest one being the prioritisation of public toilets in order to prevent the boat's chemical toilet cassette from filling up too quickly.) 

Every time we had to move the boat (in the UK, if you don't have a permanent mooring, you need to move your boat every 14 days), anxiety took over us — where would we end up? Would we find a spot? Would we have to double moor with another boat?  And would they mind? 

Down the Regent's Canal we traveled, always finding a sweet spot, always going for a celebratory meal and drink afterwards. Boaters along the way offered guidance and advice, and people on the towpaths took photos or helped us with the locks. Slowly, we gained confidence in ourselves.

Today, we woke to beautiful sunshine over London. We are currently moored in the River Lee, just by Homerton (North of the Olympic Park), on our way back to central London. On my way to a laundromat on Chatsworth Road I overheard a couple say this will be the last warm weekend of the year. It's a perfect weekend to tidy the boat, get our winter clothes from my boyfriend's studio in preparation for November and contemplate what's ahead.

On Monday, it will be 20 years since I went on my first date with my boyfriend... to see Bride of Chucky. (Romance isn't dead.)

I am feeling... a little peculiar

The Miseducation of Cameron Post

I need to see more queer films, I think to myself, sitting by myself in the cinema. A lesbian couple sat beside me laugh, and I laugh with them. And when their breath catches, mine catches too; and when the credits role we say to each other wasn’t that a good movie? It was a good movie.

Set in 93, the year of the Breeders, and of 4 Non Blondes “What’s Up?” (one of those songs sneered at the time by now imbued with a little poignancy.) If the sex had been between boys, it could have been a Gregg Araki film.

Only Desiree Akhavan’s second film. Already looking forward to what she does next.

(And it features Jennifer Ehle, the Elizabeth from the best ever Pride and Prejudice adaptation - the one with Colin Firth! Doesn't get more 90s than that...)

Swans outside my boat’s hatch when I step outside in the morning.

Not watching television anymore.

Too many books to read.

Yoga on Thursdays, pull up challenges in the office’s health room, and evening runs around Regent’s Park.

Slow walks down canal paths in East London, the horizon lit beyond the trees.

Not needing to say much.

Lying in bed at night, hatch window open, taking in the breeze and the drops on the River Lea, like faint thoughts passing by.

Not having a fridge.

More money to spend, more evenings spent in the company of friends.

You are OK.

Don't Judge Me

6.30am, leave the boat for the London Aquatics Centre. Ballardian sunshine, ongoing heatwave. Water thoughts cool my body.

Get to the lockers, pull out shorts, goggles, flip flops and… where’s my towel?! Damn… see myself cancelling the swim, walking back to the boat, grabbing the towel (which I hung by the diesel furnace last night), and heading into work.

Or… what’s the worst that could happen? Slightly wet clothes. Dry in the Olympic Park. Cooled down by the Overground’s aircon.

Smile to myself, lock my belongings, head for the pool. Middle lane boy. Use the outside of my underwear afterwards.

Sunny Weekend

We went to a vegan pub in East London for his 43rd birthday. It wasn’t a gay pub but it felt that way –our friends naturally mingling with beautiful young men who came and went.

He got the “Yoga Bible” from me: B. K. S. Iyengar’s Light of Yoga. He received flowers from others. He shared with me a secret smile when handed sunflowers – we have been talking about getting matching tattoos designed by him.

On Saturday, he received from his publishers the printed copy of Great Adventurers, which he spent a year and a half working on. Happiness!

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