Tag Archives: London

Would London by any other name be as … Londonish?

The London corner of the UK was dead set against Brexit. Grayson Perry’s Red Carpet kind of shows why – a corner of privilege set against the rest of the country. We saw his  exhibition The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! at the Serpentine Gallery – his work is provoking, smart and highlighting the irony of white privilege championing art for human rights.

When I started learning English at school, one of the early texts we studied was Ralph McTell’s Streets of London. The story of inequlity in a wealthy country lit a fire that still burns bright. Why are some people so unbelievably wealthy, living in gilded  flats in Kensington, with a country estate for hunting and pleasure, expensive cars, and children bording at the most exclusive ‘public’ schools, when others cannot scrape together enough for a meal? Compared with the 1960s, London is possibly less occupied today, with lots of housing owned by foreigners who visit occassionally, while others cannot afford to live here and those who do live in more affordable social housing risk their lives.

Yet, for the visitor, London is just fabulous, With its glamour, culture, diversity, history, and dirt. I have loved London since the first time I came with my parents and my older brother for one hot summer in 1974. It was great cultural experience and my young imagination was captured by the history of the place: the castles, the stories of royal conquest and deceit, the megalomanic empire building. However, the holiday could also have been a premature end of this lifelong fascination: it was sheer luck that we went to see the Crown Jewells in the triple armoured basement of The Tower of London, rather than the weapons in the rather vulnerable White Tower, that day when the IRA popped a bomb into a cannon. When we came out into the sunshine police were everywhere, Bobbies with batons, guiding us to the exit. Damn, said my brother, he really wanted to see those weapons. We read all about it in the Extra, Extra newspaper that our uncle-second-removed, Brian, bought on the way back to Hammersmith.

This time we also caught a heatwave, 31 degrees and the English were nearly melting. Even as a Queenslander I have to admit it was hot, with the asphalt steaming, the bridges creaking and the hot air pushed in front of the trains in the tube only marginally hotter than the ambient temperature on the underground platform.  Our need for a cold drink was rewarded by a hand-pulled luke warm draft beer at The Dove. The pint was of course Fullers Pride of London, and we sat in the breeze on the back deck overlooking the Thames, watching the rowers launch their boats into its murky waters opposite. We reminded ourselves that the words to Rule Britannia were penned in this very pub, wondering how the Brits imagine their glorious future divorced from the Continent, and what this future will hold for London.

Enjoy this impression of London:

Any sense of style?

Dressed for Galla night at the Sydney Opera House, October 2013

Dressed for Galla night at the Sydney Opera House, October 2013

This week my yoga teacher commented on my long lace coat that I bought second hand at Mag Pie Lane in Herning last year when I needed a diversion from all the awfulness of dad’s illness.

‘You always look so elegant’, she said in her beautiful accent.

I know I don’t look elegant when I pose in Warrior One or Downward Dog. And I find it very difficult to think of myself as elegant, but perhaps my self perception is just far from how she – and perhaps others – see me?

As a child I had no interest in attire. For a long time I had one idol – my big brother – and I wanted to be more of a boy than the girl I was born as. Boys were cool and could do more cool things than pretty girls dressed in flowery dresses and shiny patent leather shoes. Not that my parents ever dressed me like that – but even taking into account that uncouth 1970s look, I think I was an extraordinarily messily dressed child; my hair typically sporting a home cut and a well-slept-on look.

A tomboy beginning. Røde Kort Børnehaven 1971. Photo: Unknown

A tomboy beginning. Røde Kors Børnehaven 1971. Photo: Unknown

My kindy photograph shows me in a striped rib-knitted short sleved jumper with combed, yet very messy hair that probably needed washing. My brother’s first school photo sports a very crooked smile. I had decided this was a good look and hence my whole face is strangely lopsided and my lower lip wierdly askewed, making me look quite hysterical and not at all cool – or elegant.

Looking, but not feeling, the part. 1974. Photo: Unknown

Looking, but not feeling, the part. 1974. Photo: Unknown

In 1974 my very cool aunt got married. I was 7 years old and with my similarly aged cousins I was dressed in a pretty white dress to be bridesmaid. I was selected to collect the bride’s bouquet in the church, while the couple knelt in front of the priest. Keen to demonstrate I was not too fond on being this much of a girl, I rudely screwed up my face  and whispered loudly: yuk! when I returned to the front pew, holding the pretty flowers.

In 1976 we went on summer holiday in London. I was 9 years old. At Portobello Road markets, traders were peddling their wares – junk, second-hand clothes, stuff that might have fallen off a truck or otherwise shadily acquired. When mum made my little sister and I try on some beautiful Spanish dresses in a makeshift change room, I was super shamed that she made me and refused to let her buy the dress for me, even though everyone around me told me how lovely I looked. I did not want ‘lovely’; that was too girly. Lovely does not let you run around and climb trees and get grazed knees and dirt in your face and mud between your toes. Lovely is something your brother does not respect and therefore you don’t either. Of course, my beautiful little sister got herself a fabulous blue and red dress with tiny little flowers that she wore till she outgrew it.

Even out of my tweens, as a young person, I was never comfortable with dresses, make-up and girlie talk. I mostly wore jeans, unshapely jumpers and sneakers. In 1990, when I first came to Australia, I was entirely shocked to learn that Queensland’s Parliamentary orders were amended to allow women to wear slacks in Parliament. For the first time in 1990! What was this focus on women looking like dolls – hadn’t they heard about women’s liberation in this country?

When I migrated and started work the following year, I was so busy fitting in and meet expectations that I bought a few dresses and skirts – and uncomfortable shoes to match – but still preferred to wear pants and suits to work. My favourite shoes were a pair of black Doc Martens. In my spare time, I continued to dress for comfort, rather than style, without any sense of the feminine – in the warm Brisbane climate people’s casual dress style (singlet, shorts and thongs) was in such contrast to the suit and tie style of office work.

In fact, I had turned 40 when I realised that I could wear a dress quite well and that my legs were not as ugly as I had imagined for years, especially in a pair of well-fitting heels. The discovery came about when I took three weeks leave to overcome stress, battle a mild depression and reorient myself in the life in which I suddenly found myself. My boss and very good friend took me on a day of shopping therapy to DFO, a brand outlet near the airport. Here I bought a very beautiful red dress, shoes and makeup. This red dress changed my view of accentuating my feminity. I felt beautiful and attractive – and girly! Even though I was fast to drop the makeup, I have since become an ardent dress and shoe shopper. My best pieces are sourced in my home country, where design is embedded in life and fashion in ways hipster Australians could only dream of.

As I child and young person, I never aspired to being seen as elegant. It would have been almost rude in my eyes if someone had said I was elegant. Yet, I felt so very good about the fact that my yoga teacher noticed and commented. It is true that the self I was as a child is not the self I am as a 47-year-old adult. And isn’t that a good thing?