There are many different kinds of secrets in the world and in a big city like London most of them have already been discovered by someone. There are tourist guides that will help you find these so-called “secret places” of London but how secret can they be if thousands of people buy the book and they all go on the same trips to discover all the same secrets?
I recently discovered a place in the middle of the city which is not only a well-known, very public secret but also one that has been discovered by millions before me. Yet, when my friend Claudia and I went to Holland Park last week, it really felt exactly like we were discovering a hidden secret, as if no one else has ever been there before us to realise how wonderful it is. Unlike many of the other much bigger public parks like Regent’s Park, Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, Holland Park wasn’t a very busy place when we went to see it and it felt secret exactly for that reason.
I have mentioned a couple of times on the blog that I feel really grateful for the experiences and opporturnities I have been given in London. I have not only been lucky but I have also been encouraged while being in the city to really put myself out there, to be brave and participate, and it has resulted in some pretty memorable moments for me.
Last year I volunteered to be a student speaker at a conference for the Bicentenary of the Norwegian Constitution at UCL which was a really fun experience to prepare and be a part of and which also got me invited to a dinner with the Norwegian ambassador. Last Summer I also won a competition to attend a Peirene Supper Club, where I got a chance to meet Meike, the publisher of Peirene and Norwegian author Hanne Ørstavik. And this year I have had the pleasure and honour of being a tour guide at the V&A.
The trains rumble past on the bridge above with a sound like thunder, turns into a magnified rattling in the tunnel that hides the glass-roofed market below. There, underneath the high arches of the bridge lies Borough Market with its delicate and ornamented iron structure, painted in emeral green and butter yellow, making you think most of all of a colourful greenhouse.
There is a smell of fresh fish, from the prawns and oysters and salmon that lie there with their staring eyes on a bed of ice; of olive oil, freshly baked bread and garlic-like truffles. Of ripened, red apples and tomatoes. And from time to time, still that same thundering rattle above when the trains rush past, reminding you that you are still in the city, even if in that moment it seems far away.
I remember my dad carrying an analog SLR camera around on our holidays when I grew up. He would use it to take pictures of us, at restaurants in front of massive dinners, at the beach for an evening swim at twilight or placed next to interesting beedles or animals that we had found. When I think of my dad from that time, I see him with that camera; as a part of him.
The first camera I owned myself was the disposible cameras that I was usually given by my parents before going to the yearly summer camp around the age of 7 and 8. Later on when I was old enough to save up for it, I bought a “cheap” digital point-and-shoot camera that wasn’t very good and sadly didn’t last very long. I used it mostly to take pictures of the cat or the things in my room, like my books. But my first proper camera is the camera I am still using now. On a whim almost from one day to the next I realised I wanted a DSLR camera and fell in love with the Canon 1000D, which I bought only a few days after with what was a very large and significant portion of my savings. I was 18 at the time.
I’m not gonna lie, the past couple of weeks have been rough. It has been time for another round of dreaded essays before the big start on my final dissertation and while essay time is unpleasant enough at the best of times, I have also been rather ill. So the essays have been put aside for now and I have had to give myself some much needed time off to recover. This has turned out to be a good idea and I am now finally starting to feel better.
And today has been the most beautiful, perfect Saturday in a long time. Today has been all about doing what I have longed to do while I was stuck in bed. After an exciting morning delivery of Daniel’s latest camera aquisition, a 15-85mm lens, we hurried out to the car and went on our way to the perfect spot for a photo shoot; a rapeseed field he had seen in a rural part of Kent on his way to work one day.
On the UK World Book Day back in March I wrote a review of the English translation of Danish Helle Helle’s This Should Be Written in the Present Tense and promised you guys that I would post some more suggestions of Nordic literature in English translation. Since it’s the World Book Night in the UK today (and World Book Day in the rest of the world), I thought it was the perfect day for me to write about Nordic translated literature.
At the end of my parents latest visit we did not only have sore feet, tired legs, happy tummies and in my case, a camera roll full of pristine photographs (metaphorically speaking of course, as I always shoot digital). We also had a whole new round of fresh adventures and new memories to look back on and (dis)covered many more kilometers of the city streets, as we wore our shoe soles thin. It would be a bit much, both to write and I’m sure to read about all of the things we did together; far too many things happened in that one week to mention in a single blog post.
Instead I have created a little list of just a few of the things that we got up to, which I am posting here along with some snapshots of what we experienced on our trips together:
As I mentioned in my last post my parents recently came to visit me. It always means a lot when my family and friends from home take time out of their calendars (and money out of their wallets) to come and spent time with me here. They get a holiday in a different country and we all get to spend some much needed time together. For me, it breaks up the routine from my every day life here and it gives me a chance to be in London as if I was on holiday. But having them here is also an ambivalent experience because it reminds me of all the little moments and big events I miss out on at home and all the time we could have spent together if I still lived in Denmark.
I almost always feel homesick and a bit funny after these visits, unsure if I’m making the right decision to live here; if it is too big a sacrifice. And then I remind myself that although we don’t see each other every day, like when I lived at home (something which was inevitably going to happen anyway when I got my own place), we get to have these experiences of the city together, which have become really special and important to me.
It was Virginia Woolf who wrote about the importance of having A Room of One’s Own. The same can be said for a walking space. It’s no secret that walking in London is one of the best things I know. But it can also be one of the most tiring. Anyone who are familiar with London knows how hard it can be to find a good place for walking; a long stretch of space that allows you to walk freely, uninterrupted by traffic and indisturbed by the hordes of other people seeking a place of the city to trace their own steps.
My parents recently visited me and it was their suggestion that if the weather turned out nice we could go for a walk by Regent’s Canal and follow the canal around the park all the way down to Little Venice, in the same route that the longboats sail tourists to and from Camden Lock Market.
Earlier this year I realised that with only 2 lectures every week I would be spending a lot of my time at home reading by the desk, alone. I also quickly realised that I needed something else to keep me going and motivated, something completely outside of the academic world, which could give me energy and make me feel involved in London life. And thats when I discovered CreateVoice.
CreateVoice is the V&A’s Young People’s Collective. They is have a monthly meeting, tours and workshops, where you can meet artists and designers, get behind-the-scenes talks and meet other young people who are interested in culture and art. I love going to these social evenings, meeting film producers and experience designers, hear them talk about their creative process and their way into the industry. One of the best things about those meetings is the tours that take place afterwards, presented by other members of CreateVoice. And for the last couple of weeks I have been busy trying to learn how to be a really good tour guide.
Its World Book Day, so today’s post is going to be about literature, of course.
I have been meaning to write this post for quite some time now. For years actually but especially since November, when an exciting package was pushed through my door. As a Danish former literature student I have often wanted to tell everyone on my blog about the fantastic literature that is being written not only in Denmark but also in my fellow Scandinavian countries. But every time I have tried to sit down and write about my favourite Scandi authors I have come up with the same problem: Few of them have been translated into English, so what’s the point. Some of them have been translated to other Scandinavian languages, French, German and even Czech. But in English?
I’m home again! It’s reading week at Uni and with a surprisingly (and unfamiliar) empty academic calendar reading week has actually meant a week of reading for fun for once! I have been able to go home and have a proper study-free holiday, the kind where I have been sitting on the sofa indulging in uninterrupted hours of reading and tea drinking, and been able to spend time with my family and friends guilt free, as I don’t have other things I really should be doing instead. But my visit at home haven’t just consisted of staying inside, cuddling up next to the cat on the sofa where its nice and warm, I have also been out and about almost every day.
Yesterday my mum and I had planned a trip to Copenhagen for some much needed mother-daughter quality time. It feels strange to think about this but I am much more familiar with the different areas and streets of London than I have ever been with Copenhagen. I have always lived in a suburb far from the city center and Copenhagen has always been a place I went to on daytrips, for shopping, cinema trips and birthday celebrations. Or a place I commuted to for work or lessons when I was taking my Spanish A-levels.
I don’t know what has been up with me this Winter. Winters are always hard, with their cold and gloominess, the long days spent in darkness in the mornings and when you come home at the end of the day. I always struggle during Winter and run out of energy and passion, even for the things that normally make me feel alive.
But this winter I have been even more negative than usual and I haven’t been able to feel enthusiastic about the things that normally make me feel excited. University is getting a bit old and the lectures, which has always been my favourite part of Uni experience has become a thing I just need to overcome, even when they are interesting. I have struggled to find essay topics engaging, even those in research areas that used to make me feel giddy with excitement. Bad health has meant that I haven’t had much energy at home either to do any photo projects or write on my novel (in those sadly few periods when I actually have the time).
It was the cat meowing out in the hallway that woke me up on Christmas morning. My presents lay in a neat pile in a corner of my room, unwrapped the evening before after our Danish Christmas dinner and our traditional dance around the candle lit tree. The calling of the cat made me get out of bed and into the hallway, where I picked her up. It wasn’t until I turned around that I realised what had happened over night/during at the night/until I saw.
Soft, large snowflakes was falling quietly down from a cloudy sky, the bright whiteness of the snow reflected in the impenetrable clouds. Over night, sometime in the 8 hours when we had been asleep, a fine layer of snow had laid over everything, on the whithered pot plants and herb bushes in our small garden, on top of the garden’s wooden fence and on the branches of the tall trees in the playground on the other side of it, a layer that grew thicker and thicker as I stood looking out the window.
Footsteps on cracked pavements, echoing between Georgian terrace houses on half empty streets. Under a harsh burning sun in a heatwave in October, when the leaves are falling yellow, orange rust and cinnober red from the London Plane trees onto the broken tiles. Or beneath the orange-yellow glow of a black streetlamp in misty rain at night, shining down on the black tarmac, making it shine.
The surprise of turning a corner and suddenly looking down a quiet row of 2-storey mews decorated with wild plants and doors in orange and forest green. Of turning yet another corner and discovering an unknown square for the very first time, like a secret that belongs just to you. Or the pleasure of a moment where you find yourself lost, that split second of uncertainty, and then the decided resolution that it does not matter. The happiness there is in that.
I might not have spent my childhood in England, having Charles Dickens famous novel “A Christmas Carol” read aloud to me on dark winter nights in December but I did grow up seeing the many film versions of it. I have to admit I am not the biggest of Dickens fan out there but if there is any literature I always link with Christmas, it is that story of the old, rich man who learns to be generous at Christmas.
Last year I heard that the Charles Dickens Museum in the house where he once lived in Bloomsbury had decorated the old Georgian Town house with traditional decorations used in his time and I popped by to see the museum and get into the Christmas spirit. The house on 48 Doughty Street was Charles Dickens house in town from 1837 to 1839, fully restored with original furniture and belongings owned by the author. You can almost feel his presence in the house, see him walk through the many rooms and up the tall, narrow staircase, all the way up to his writing room where he sat writing Nicholas Nickleby among others.
From the moment I first stepped foot in London I began a long list of favourite places that I come back to again and again but for reasons unknown I never really took the time on my holidays here as a tourist to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum. Then last year my mum suggested that we went because both of us would be able to find something of interest there. For me the photography collection, for my mum the galleries of glass design and for both of us the amazing jewellery room. Later I came back for lectures with my History of Art class and so slowly, the museum grew on me.
I think it is like that for many of the people who love the V&A and come back again and again. Like the city itself, the museum has so many things to see and discover that you are never really finished with it. I think I might have seen about 10 % of the collections, if even that! My love for the museum has only grown since I recently got involved with CreateVoice! the museums Young People’s Collective, as I now also see it as a place to meet other like minded people and a place that belongs to me, in the same way I feel about St. Georges Garden or Gordon Square in Bloomsbury.
To me, there are 2 very special days every year. One is my birthday in March, which I take very seriously. The other is Christmas.
I will be going home to Denmark in less than a month and I can’t wait to get home and be with my family, hopefully bake (and eat) homemade biscuits and cookies, eat pork roast with crackling and decorate the house and tree with all the baubles, tree decorations and elf figures that have been a part of Christmas every year of my life. Christmas is all about family, traditions and (for a light-depraved Scandinavian) also a celebration of light in the dark and of warm cosy evenings with lit candles and fuzzy blankets, tucked far away from the frosty cold outside.