London

How to be British

Frankly, I’m an anglophile, which is rather convenient seeing as I was born in England, I live in England, I acquired my degree in England, and I’ve spent the vast majority of my twenty-two years in England. If there is one thing that I have noticed throughout Europe, it’s that being British is very much the ‘in thing’. Americans love us, Australians love us, most Europeans have a love-hate thing for us. Everyone thinks we have the sexiest accents, the sexiest male actors, the most adorable Queen. Yes, there are some down sides to being British; the terrible weather, our emotional constipation, our politicians… people complain about our food, but personally I find that it’s so bad, that it’s the best diet ever created, despite the obesity crisis, but for the most part, being British is great, and so I wanted to take a moment to share my expertise on how to be British. Well… I suppose I should say, how to be an honourary British citizen. If you want to legalise matters, you’re on your own, I’m afraid.

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1. First thing’s first, drink tea.

My friends will laugh at this, as I spent the first twenty-two years, nine months, three weeks and two days of my life professing my deep dislike for tea (and you should note, that I am as of today, twenty-two years and ten months old). However, this isn’t a post about how British I am, but rather, how to be British, and so let’s just brush that small matter aside, shall we?

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Tea and Britain go hand in hand. If you’re sad, drink tea, if you’re happy, celebrate with tea, if you’re gathered for a chin wag, a book club, a funeral or a wedding breakfast, drink tea. Relish in the ongoing debates as to the best tea blend: Earl Grey, English Breakfast or Yorkshire, milk or lemon (the snobbiest Britains will claim that milk in tea is scandalously common, but this rule has all but disappeared now days), and if you do prefer milk, is it added before or after tea? Biscuits are recommended for dunking, most common preferences being digestives, rich tea or nice. Biscuits and instant coffee is also a very British snack of choice… perhaps partly to make the terrible taste of instant tea more bearable.

You can also drink as much coffee as you want (something that I take full advantage of), as long as you also drink tea.

Especially welcome in the afternoon, with little cakes and still more biscuits – and a circle of friends to gossip with.

2. Unofficially adopt the Queen as a third grandmother/fifth great-grandmother.

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Because she’s adorable, she jumped out of a helicopter with James Bond (that was actually real, you know. James Bond is real, the jump was real, there was no stunt doubles, anyone who says otherwise is a blasphemous fool guilty of treason), and she’s probably the only woman going on ninety who can still ride around on a horse without it resulting in two hip replacements. She’s also really stylish. I can’t help but wonder if she has that generic old woman smell that all grandmothers seem to have. Seriously, what is with that?

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3. Following the same royalist strand, grow up with a crush on either Wills or Harry

This one applies mostly to people of my generation, who remember a time before Prince William lost his hair and when Prince Harry was still ginger. Personally, I always preferred Wills; he always seemed to be the gent, while Harry is the cheeky chappy. Basically, everyone has a favourite. It’s a British generation Y requirement.

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4. Besides our two charming princes, we’re fortunate enough to have a bevvy of beautiful male actors to swoon over whenever we turn on the television. Common traits of British male actors being razor-sharp cheekbones, beautiful southern accents (with a few notable exceptions, such as David Tennant, for example.. but he can fool anyone when adopting an English accent) and velvety voices, and foppish hair, our actors have taken the world by storm, each with their own fanatic dedicated fandom: Benedict Cumberbatch (my crush of choice), and the Cumberbitches Cumberbabes, Tom Hiddleston and the Hiddlestoners, David ‘Ten-inch’ and his… well, I’m not really sure what his fans call themselves, if I’m honest… Tennantiers, Tennanterinos… the Ten-inchers? Then there’s Matt Smith, Matthew MacFadyen, James McAvoy, Eddie Regmayne, Colin Firth, Robert Pattinson, Martin Freeman, Tom Hardy, Andrew Lincoln, Ben Barnes, Jonny Lee Miller.. not to mention every actor of the Harry Potter series… five minutes on Tumblr or Pinterest will show you just how many British actors have reached a sex-god status, though frankly, if you need to take the time to visit either site to check that claim, you must have spent the last decade impersonating a cowardly ostrich.

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5. Fictional British characters from period novels are also acceptable dream men.

Darcy, Heathcliff, Rochester, we have so much to thank Austen and the Bronte sisters for. But equally, they promised us so much, while life delivers so little. I strongly believe that an introductory warning as to the downsides of dating a Byronic bad boy in the real world should  included at the front of the likes of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. What has happened to literature now days? Why are all of the crush-worthy heroes from books penned two centuries ago?

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6. Master the British humour. It’s sarcastic, self-deprecating, dry, witty and intellectual, if I say so myself. Tread with caution, as it can be misunderstood for being rude when used abroad. Rein it in when travelling so as not to cause offence.

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7. There are only two British accents that are recognizably British worldwide; Queen’s English and Cockney. If, like 95% of the population, you have one of Britain’s other 1000000003 accents, you will have to endure being constantly asked if you are Australian… usually by Americans. No one will understand you if you speak with a Scottish accent, including most English people, and there is something ever hilarious about the Welsh accent.

8. It is practically a legal requirement to read the entire Harry Potter series religiously. At least twice. While drinking tea. There will be tests in the forms of debates, reminisces and fanatic fandom fantasies. for the remains of your life in England. Harry Potter is everywhere, there is no escaping. Just accept it.

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The movies are also a requirement, as long as you immediately accept that, while the movies have their brilliant points (such as Dame Maggie Smith making the perfect Professor McGonagall, Alan Rickman making the perfect Severus Snape, and the generally awesome special effects – at present – of the later movies), the books will always be unbeatable in their perfection, and we will, as a nation, mourn the end of the series and live in longing of a revival from JK Rowling.

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9. Daily conversation requirements:

– The weather.

– The traffic.

– Endless menial complaints.

– An offering of tea.

10. Curtains are there, not to afford us privacy, but to allow us a hiding place while we spy on our neighbours’ privacy.

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11. Equally, garden fences are not there for privacy, but rather, they are there for gossiping over.

Because apparently we’re too lazy to step outside and knock on our neighbour’s front door. Neighbours aren’t neighbours without an almost-daily chin wag in the back garden while putting the washing out. With British weather being as it is, this habit does tend to go into hibernation for the winter, however.

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12. The great scone pronunciation debate.

Scone as in gone, or scone as in cone. Some will settle for a happy medium by using scone as in cone before eating the scone (with a pot of tea and lashings of jam and clotted cream… or butter if in the privacy of your home where no one can judge you), and switching to scone as in gone once devoured.

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13. If it’s sunny, it’s time for Pimms and a BBQ.

No excuses.

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14. Forget your social skills and swallow your emotions.

The stiff upper lip is not only a trait of Victorian England; it is very much alive and kicking. The most emotional we ever get is our daily list of complaints (see point 9), but when faced with anything that requires us delving into the depths of our emotions, we’re stumped. Dating can be tricky when neither party is willing to ever confess how we are feeling towards the other,

We are also polite to a fault. It’s practically law to begin every conversation with ‘sorry’, we will always refuse any offering of food regardless as to how hungry we are, if we don’t catch your name, we therefore can never speak again (though that one isn’t about politeness, but rather… what shall we call it? Shyness? I don’t know what it is, but it’s weird and yet unavoidable), we’ll jog across zebra crossings while throwing an apologetic wave at each driver, who will then usually throw a reassuring wave back. It’s almost impossible to tell our hairdresser that they are firstly scalding our scalp during washing, and secondly, giving us a look that is more Simon Cowell than pixie chic. Everything is fine, dandy, lovely. Then we go home and sob – and complain – and comfort ourselves with tea. I’ve known my Dad sample ale in the pub, order a full pint, only to then tell me that it tasted disgusting but he felt too awkward to tell the barman as such. Now that’s a british problem, if ever I saw one.

15. There is no sitting on the fence in regards to marmite.

One cannot simply be indifferent to marmite. It’s pretty much served up at customs for all newcomers to our country to sample and therefore acquire an opinion of. Personally, I hate, loathe, and despise marmite (though changing your mind with age is allowed, as I am told that I would have happily devoured it by the gallon as a toddler), but those who I know who like it, do not simply like it… they live on it.

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16. Hide from window cleaners… Jehovah’s Witnesses, salesmen… anyone who dares come to the door.. or window.

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We would rather dive gracelessly behind the sofa/under the dining table/into the laundry hamper then have to sit, watching television and drinking tea while the window cleaner gawps at us through the window, each refusing to make eye contact with the other, while we nervously sip our tea and wonder whether we ought to offer the window cleaner a cuppa. We’d much rather endure bruises from our swan dive then face house arrest because, frankly, if a Jehovah’s Witness spots us, they will simply never, ever leave. They work in pairs for a reason – so that one of them can always sit vigil on our doorsteps while the other nips to Tesco to stock up on supplies. As for salesmen… they’re just really, really irritating.

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However, I think, if our window cleaner looked like this, we’d be dragging him behind the sofa with us.

17. Never turn on the street without first checking your phone.

This one is so ingrained in all of us that it’s not even a conscious decision. We don’t walk down the street and think, ‘oh shit, I’m lost, I need to turn around and walk back the way I came, but if I do that, I’ll look like a twat, so I best check my phone and pretend to have an important text or call that changes my plans suddenly’. It’s more along the lines of ‘oh, shit, I’m lost, I need to turn around and walk back the way I came… oh, look at that, my phone is suddenly in my hand, and now I’m therefore looking at it… how convenient… andddd turn!

It goes hand-in-hand with the pride of never asking for directions.

18. For British men, Sundays are for washing the car and mowing the lawn.

I’m not one for gender stereotypes as such, but I must admit, I’m yet to see a woman either washing a car or mowing a lawn on a Sunday afternoon. Men do it themselves, and women rope in a friend. Why waste our time washing our car or mowing our lawn when our Sundays are dedicated to our weekly beauty overhaul, after all?

19. Accept that we are only good at one thing: being creative.

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Our food is terrible, most of the British industries (cars, trains etc) that once dominated the world have died out, and our tourism is focused far too much on London, Stratford upon Avon, Edinburgh and, for stay-cationers, the south coast or Wales. We do, however, know where our strengths lie; we’re rubbish at sports, and only a fool would go into any sporting event with anything more than doubtful hope, but most sports are in fact British ‘inventions’. We have a strong creative industry; our television is golden, our movies are timeless, our radio is entertaining, our comedy shows are golden and our writers are masters of intertwining their words to create beautiful prose. I mean, we have Shakespeare, Austen, the Bronte sisters, Dickens, Woolf, Conan Doyle… Not to mention, our music scene; The Beatles, Queen, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, The Stone Roses, Pink Floyd, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, David Bowie, The Smiths, The Who, Tom Jones, and most recently, Oasis, The Arctic Monkeys, Amy Winehouse, Coldplay (somewhat debatable), Radiohead… the list of musical greats born and bred in the UK is endless, and it’s where our talents really lie, I think – our creativity.

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20. Obsess over class.

I find that the British class system is the hardest thing for most of my friends abroad struggle to get their heads around. It’s not just a case of rich or poor, royalty, nobility and commoner. It’s so much more complex, and is very much still active in our society. The class system comes down to career, education (not just how far you took your studies, but which school you attended), pedigree, accent, hobbies and past times, where you live, how much disposable income you have (or pretend to have), your social circle… class will subtly affect all aspects of life.

The upper class are snobby towards the middle and working classes, the middle class are suspicious of the upper class and snobby towards the working class, while the working class are weirdly snobbish towards the middle and upper classes. No, I’m exaggerating, things are not that extreme, but naturally, as a general rule, classes don’t tend to mix, and where they do, it will be working/middle classes or upper/middle class line blurring. We’re all snobs, or snobby anti-snobs. I think it may be the biggest British trait of all.

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Looking back over this, it’s quite possible that I’ve drawn up a very (and mostly, maybe, quite possibly, extremely serious) post on how to be English, rather than British… some of these points of course count in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, but personally, I don’t think that the small matter of the 300-year old United Kingdom has done much to wear away the distinct personalities, traditions and quirks of each, so, as someone who was born and bred in England, here is a post on how to be very English, and more-or-less British, in a general sense. That would be a rather long title though, don’t you think…

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London

Another London Stroll…

Once again, me and my camera went on one of our London ramblings… oh dear, I’m already running out of post titles for these walks…

There are also one or two thrown in from last week that have since grown on me.

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London

Evening in London

So once again I thought I’d set out to explore London, just me, my camera, pen and paper. I made the most of the late night museum openings, spending hours sat in near-deserted galleries, for once able to really look at the art on display without having to peer through crowds of tourists.

Lately I’ve fallen in love with street photography and I’m having a lot of fun with experimenting with it and with finding my own style. It’s completely out of my ‘comfort zone’, not just for that reasons that I spoke about here, but also because for the past seven or eight years, I have focused primarily on fashion photography, an area in which I don’t have to worry about capturing an candid, spontaneous instant before it’s gone, but instead the model and I can spend as long as necessary perfecting their pose, their expression, explaining the story behind each image to bring character to each shot. With street photography, I get frustrated every time I miss a great shot, and I still tend to duck my head and rush off if ever someone catches me taking their photograph, but I’m missing less shots with each ‘camera walk’ and so far no one has done more than look at me curiously if they see my camera to my eye. I’m a lot more alert, constantly poised with my camera against my chin, my senses seem to have sharpened quickly to what is going on around me, and in the busy, bustling streets of central London, I never quite know where to look, aware that for each great shot that I do see, there could well be – and probably is – another one just over my shoulder. Does anyone remember that kids TV show that was on in the late 90s, about a pocket watch that could stop time? I think it was called Bernard’s Watch. If I had that pocket watch, I’d use to it to make sure that I never miss a shot again. But I guess that would be all too easy… not to mention, exhausting.

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London

Art and Afternoon Walks

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No matter how busy my schedule, I always find the time to take a long walk around London, see an exhibition or two, perhaps visit the theatre, anything that can get me out and about, drinking in as much culture and inspiration as possible, and of course, my camera has to come along with me (but for theatre trips). I’m always trying to make sure that I avoid a creative rut, and before moving to London, I did feel like my whole life was in a rut, a routine, even if, by travelling, it wasn’t a typical one. One of the promises that I made myself when I made my move here, was to get back into the habit of regularly stepping out of my comfort zone.

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For me, street photography is definitely out of my comfort zone. Oh, I can’t and have been known to snap away as I make my way around an unfamiliar place – abroad. It’s a much easier thing to do when there are language barriers, and I’m so clearly not a local. But here, in London, where people can potentially confront me over what I’m doing, knowing that I’d probably not be a good enough actress to pull of pretending to be a tourist.. its a scary thought to an introvert like myself. However, I was determined, and as you can see… I didn’t come away empty handed.

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Kudos have to go to my old college professor (hi Steve), who had a habit of shooting candid street photography discreetly from waist/chest height. At the time, I thought he was crazy he is, of course, completely crazy, but I found it to be such a great way for me to break through that shell of shyness, the paranoid part of me that was too busy fretting about whether people would notice if I take a shot of them, whether they’d confront me, but equally, being too shy to approach people and ask for their photograph (after all, yesterday it took me five minutes to pluck up the courage to ask to the wonderfully dressed woman on Brick Lane, hurried only by noticing that she was about to leave, only to be told, frankly, to bugger off).

So that’s how I began, with a few tentative clicks of the shutter from waist-height, timed to match a noisy rush of traffic. No one noticed. I came to a quiet street, with no noise to cover Canon’s irritably loud shutter. Second photo, and again, no one batted an eye lid. And that was it, boom, fear obliterated. I spent the rest of the afternoon brazenly hopping about, camera pressed to my eye, photographing anyone and anything that caught my eye. It now seems like such a stupid thing to have begun my afternoon worrying about, as after all, I have been carrying around a camera for as long as I can remember, and if ever I leave the country, I have no qualms about photographing whatever takes my fancy, so why does that suddenly change in London?

Well, not anymore.

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Everything I love about London is here for all to see; the madness, the vast, eccentric mix of culture, the mass of public art and entertainment for us all to enjoy, the laughter and how easy it is for everyone to enjoy the city together, but equally the unspoken rules of London: no eye contact, do not speak with strangers, especially on the tube. Big no, no, which as a person who enjoys a good book when travelling by tube, is more than happy with this arrangement. There’s this energy about London and I feel like I’m absorbing it whenever I leave my home; I return each evening smiling, inspired, motivated to knuckle down and work, network, create. Not that I specifically need London for any of that, but to be in a city that amplifies my creative energies tenfold, is such a wonderful, incredible feeling.

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I walked about a dozen miles… from Islington to St Paul’s Cathedral, walking south to Tate Modern (I then stepped inside for a browse, as it’s been far too long since my last visit!), along Southbank, past Big Ben, through Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus, followed by what must have been 1000 miles walking around the mega Waterstones alone (I can never resist), back along Fleet Street, and back towards Angel, back home.

Yes, I guess you could say that my feet now hurt, as do my legs and shoulders. Of course, I could have been sensible, I could have taken the tube, or the bus, but then I would never have found half of these photographs if I had done that. The aches and pains are worth it… and tomorrow morning when it’s even worse, I’ll read this back and look back through these photographs and remind myself of that fact. No, that won’t be necessary. I’ll still be buzzing from my day.

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