Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The Village of London

I suspect that my enthusiasm for befriending our whole building may be symptomatic of my rural upbringing - a feeble attempt to impose the friendliness of village life on a community of hard-nosed Londoners - but I persist with the belligerent optimism that more usually characterises BOF.

BOF, by contrast (a Londoner), doesn't like it when I smile indiscriminately at mad drunken old ladies in the off-license next door: 'She looked pretty harmless, I know, but did you see the size of her walking stick?'. But he has been making friends with the off-license proprietor himself.
A heavy night at the Pad

Mr Shop is clearly a man of fine taste, displaying extravagant brands of ribbon pasta alongside his bargain baked beans. A non-drinking, softly spoken Muslim gentleman, he appears to have decided that BOF is a bit of a lad, such that every time we pop down to pick up pasta, Mr S wows us with fictionalised tales of his weekends spent getting 'battered'. BOF, keen to fulfil the lad role, supplies long-recycled drunken anecdotes from his past, before retreating upstairs for a cup of tea and early bed.

And since we still don't have Pretty Neighbour's name, when we arrived back upstairs at the pad yesterday to find a 'Sorry we missed you' parcel slip on the floor, we were excited indeed. The slip, you see, said our parcel had been left with 'our neighbour'. No name on this either – but what possibilities.

Hair coiffed, we stepped politely into the hall predicting instant date success (BOF: ‘How about "that’s so kind of you, could I take you for dinner?"’). A bedraggled man ambled out of our other neighbouring door, and eyed us cheerfully.

'Ah, I've got a parcel for you!' he beamed, dashing off to get it.


We recovered with a quick jaunt to the pub (not our 'local' alas, a seedy hostel always occupied by the same three patrons), only to find yet more local good-will. A man was carrying his bike through the bar. When we offered help, he offered us the bike – it had been living in the pub and he was getting rid of it.

I really wanted the bike. I played it cool, of course – pleased both by the find and the opportunity to prove London's villagey friendliness to BOF. I offered the bike man money, which he wouldn’t take, and pedalled it home excitedly, making extensive bike-based plans for the following day.

Next day, I scurried down our stairs to work, stopping to check on my wheels on the way out. My pub bike was gone.

Not the countryside, after all.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

The Sporting Season

BOF's other career
Though January is traditionally the month for punishing work-out regimes and implausibly rigorous weekend timetables of self-improvement, the New Year spirit remains strong in the Pad. If anything, our commitment to sports has reached an almost embarrassing peak.

This morning found me late and munching my cereal at speed as I dashed for the door, when young BOF returns from his morning run.

He is buoyant with endorphins and the Battersea Park scenery.

‘Hello! Just had such a great run Kate I can’t understand why you don’t like running outside! I can’t understand why you don’t come for a run with me! Let’s go tomorrow, let me tell you about my route, OK...’

I am so impressed, I tell him, but I really have to go, as I’m about to be late for work.

‘OK! Great idea! Have a lovely day!’


‘Oh Kate, wait...’ I turn back, wondering if I’ve left behind my packed lunch. Or, indeed, my gym kit. ‘... Look at my stretch – it’s great – I learnt it at Bikram Yoga.... Look!’

I flee, shouting compliments on the complexity of the stretch over my shoulder.

Later, more follows.

No caption necessary
My Pimlico Guru, proud of her success at encouraging me to join her gym, tells me all about spinning. The ultimate city sport - it's for people with no space and no time. I must go because I’ll love it, I’m told. Because there is a man who shouts at you until you try harder.

It sounds like a cult.

But I go. Of course I do. PG gets me by implying that there’s a competitive element to spinning and I get embarrassingly excited at the thought.

When I arrive the spin-room is darkened and I can hardly make out the antlered forms of the sweaty bikes. Inspirational music blasts at club volume. I climb on the bike PG has saved for me (‘I had to fight someone off for you! The class is oversubscribed!’) and Shouting instructor spies me.

‘Has anyone not done this before?’ he asks pointedly, as the spin-crowd observe my feeble attempts to change the bike’s seat height. He swoops down.

‘HAH! (gesturing at PG) Did she bring you then? Are you ready for this? Are you?’
‘Erm...’ (Oh God, it is a cult. PG and The Shouter are in league.)
‘I’ll fix your bike then. You don’t have any water? You don’t have a towel? Oh dear me (knowing look) you really haven’t been spinning before have you now...’
(The whole class titter. They love him too.)

Forty minutes later and the walls run with sweat. As we reach the climax of ‘I Gotta Feeling’ (The Shouter: ‘You’re almost at the top of the hill now. How fit do you wanna be?? YOU DECIDE!!’) I eye the squash courts through the window and think longingly of Saturday morning’s Fight Club.

And then it’s over. The Shouter dismisses us and his adoring spinners throng round him gratefully as they leave.

‘See you next week!’ I exclaim involuntarily as I pass.

Damn you cult.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Balconies, Dogs and Dates

Other than the unfortunate arrival of our chum Bonny on Monday, BOF and I have been strenuously trying to make friends with the rest of our building. DIY Man Downstairs has been stinking out the staircase this weekend with industrial quantities of turps. The whole place smells like pear drops, and visitors to the Pad are looking pretty high by the time they get to our top floor doorway.

'the terrace'?

We've also received word that the extravagant characters in the flat directly beneath us are planning 'balcony improvements' over the next few weeks. But our building is balcony-free. Surely they have no balcony to improve? We are baffled. And jealous. However, we cope by fully opening our kitchen window, and calling that 'the terrace'.

Next door lives a dog called Growler. With no visit from Dogface imminent, despite a visit from MD planned for tomorrow, I have been befriending him. Poor chap, his stomach brushes the floor as he speeds up the stairs on tiny little legs. Occasionally he loses impetus before reaching the top floor, so scuttles back down again, confused.

His owner ('Pretty Neighbour'), a snazzy-looking girl, has been befriending us. She too skips up the stairs. She sings as she dashes in and out of next door. She greets us enthusiastically at every opportunity: 'Hello Kate! Hello BOF! How's it going? Beautiful morning isn't it? Yeah?'

One problem. We don't know her name. And we don't know how to learn it. It's been two months now - bit late to start introducing ourselves, especially when she, unlike us, seems to have an excellent memory for names.

BOF has contrived a plan involving getting her to go on a date with him. But we can't work out if this would help. If anything, it might make things worse. Also, it's possible that she's going out with one of the other chaps who lives next door. Which could make things awkward.

Coming up the stairs yesterday, we see Pretty Neighbour's flat door open, and she pokes her head out.

'Oh hello,' we say.

She withdraws abruptly: 'Oh god sorry that's embarrassing - I haven't got any clothes on! Sorry sorry! How silly of me.' She laughs and shuts the door again.

We retreat into the Pad and make for the terrace.

'I think I'm in there,' confides BOF.


'Third time that's happened this week.'

Monday, 7 February 2011

Newsflash: Former Tenant on the Rampage

I've just been on the phone to BOF. That's right, this is Breaking News from Kate in the Countryside.

Today at lunchtime BOF popped back for five minutes, just to check on the coffee-machine you understand. He opens the main downstairs door into an ill-parked pram and is overwhelmed by awkwardness when the child inside squawks its dismay. This turns to near-hysterical embarrassment when he is also greeted by the bottom of a bent-over thirty-year-old woman. She is at the foot of the stairs, scrabbling through the cumulated post of our building. 

True, we have not yet managed to contrive sugar-borrowing visits to meet every single one of our neighbours, but this is decidedly not a woman known to BOF. In fact, he is fairly confident that she does not live here. 

She straightens. She is looking for post for Flat C. Interestingly, that is where we live. As awkwardness reaches fever pitch, BOF fights temptation to turn and run, realising who this single mother must be....

None other than our evicted predecessor, one Bonny Umekwe. The provider of fraudulent references. The woman against whom all of our locks were (so the estate agent told us) changed. In an astonishing fit of bravery BOF admits that we have taken Bonny's post to the estate agent, so that they could forward it to her. Our fraudulent friend swears. She is not on the best terms with our estate agent.

'Sorry,' offers BOF. Suddenly his lunchtime cappuccino seems an unnecessary extravagance. Backing out, he returns calmly to work.