My ‘Real’ London

The view of Canary Wharf from Greenwich Park.  (Photo my own)

The view of Canary Wharf from Greenwich Park. (Photo my own)

Last Saturday, I was running super early for work and decided to stop and have a coffee before going in.  Hey, I’ve been working loads of extra hours lately!  So I grabbed my extra strong cappuchino from a chain coffee shop and sat outside with my book, ready to indulge in 45 minutes of reading time.

And then I noticed this guy, standing on the sidewalk, smoking… and staring at me.  ‘Oh jeeze,’ I thought.  ‘Here we go.  Don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contact.’  As that mantra went through my head he approached and asked if he could sit.  Nice person that I am–’Oh of course, feel free.’  I mentally face-palmed myself and tried to make it well known that I was absorbed in my book.

And then he started going on about how he was visiting from Canada and where was I from?

‘Kentucky.’

‘Oh, that’s not too far from Canada!’

Clearly this guy had never looked at a map.  On the same continent, yes.  Nearby?  Ehhhh, not so much.

So then he asks me what there is to do at that time in the morning (pre-7.30AM).  He wanted to know where he should go.  The only thing I could think of, partially because it involved him getting on the Tube and getting away from me was Leicester Square.  Guy had no clue what that was.  I explained Leicester Square to him, told him Soho was great, the whole area was quite famous, particularly to tourists.

Nope.  He wasn’t ‘into that.’  He wanted to know where the ‘Real London’ was, what the ‘Real London’ was like. I honestly didn’t have an answer.  I wasn’t about to tell him what my ‘Real London’ was like.

My ‘Real London’ is

  • counting the days to payday
  • spontaneous dinners in the park because the flat is too hot because there’s no such thing as A/C here
  • nights out with friends that inevitably turn messy and beyond late
  • going to pub gigs and singing along to an Ed Sheeran lookalike belting out his cover of “Baby One More Time”
  • early morning wake ups to be at work by 7am
  • sirens at 2am
  • a tiny studio flat that you share with your partner that you’ve managed to fit your ENTIRE life into (and you won’t upgrade because you can’t afford anything in the area you live in which is the most PERFECT location EVER)
  • competition… for everything.  Jobs, seats on the bus/Tube, the last leg of lamb on 50% off…
  • tourists everywhere and people assuming you’re a tourist because you’ve got an American accent
  • getting made fun of for being American by your co-workers
  • never knowing what the hell the weather is going to do and forecasts never being right
  • hour long phone calls home every Sunday afternoon
  • occasional bouts of homesickness, sometimes chronic
  • curries so hot they make you feel sick
  • takeaways because you can’t be bothered
  • fresh flowers every Saturday (I’ve trained my husband well)
  • wandering the West End or Oxford Street with friends on shopping trips and ending up in All Bar One instead
  • the Montague Pyke in Leicester Square which seems to be the meeting point for nearly every night out
  • everything being super expensive
  • feeling sort of like a badass for living here

That’s only a fraction of my ‘Real London.’ How could I tell this guy that?

And then he asked me where he could get a drink.  At 7.30 in the morning.  Go hard or go home, I suppose.

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If you’re interested in getting in touch, tweet me at @stephanie_khani or @londondiaries1. Alternatively you can email me at emailthelondondiaries [at] gmail.com.

 

June 2014 Book Wrap Up

June sure went by in a blur, didn’t it??

June books

Books Read: 8

Books Abandoned: 1

  • Run a Crooked Mile – Janet LaPierre  (Ok, I’m guilty of abandoning this book just over midway through, despite it being a Sister Read.  Thankfully, D hated almost as much as me so there was no problem giving it a less than stellar review.  I stand by my claim that life is too short for crap books.)

Currently Reading:  Black Box – Cassia Leo

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If you’re interested in getting in touch, tweet me at @stephanie_khani or @londondiaries1. Alternatively you can email me at emailthelondondiaries [at] gmail.com.

The Life You Left Book Tour

The Life You LeftThe Life You Left – Carmel Harrington
Publisher:
HarperImpulse (HarperCollins)
Release Date:
19 June 2014
Rating:
4/5
Source:
NetGalley
Synopsis:

Sarah, I’m not coming home tonight. If you love me, you will give me the space I need… Tell the children I love them. Paul

It started out like any other day for Sarah Lawler; getting the kids ready for school, making the pack lunches and juggling baby Ella’s feeds.

There was no way of knowing that her husband, Paul, would leave for work that morning and simply not come home.

Now the questions are piling up quicker than the unpaid bills and, unable to answer her children’s questions about where their Daddy is, Sarah is getting desperate.

But it turns out she isn’t quite as alone as she thought she was. When her beloved childhood friend, Edward, comes back into her life, Sarah thinks she’s finally been thrown a life line.

There’s just one problem with Edward: no one else can see him.

Edward is an angel. And he has a message for Sarah that will change her life and the lives of others forever. For it is only in the most difficult of times that Sarah can discover how strong she truly is.

Set in a small coastal village on the beautiful Irish coast, The Life You Left is a story of redemption and the strength of love.

This review will be slightly shorter than normal as I’ve got a lovely surprise for you in just a bit!

Carmel Harrington’s second book, The Life You Left, is very different to her first (smashing) novel, Beyond Grace’s Rainbow. The plot is twistier, darker and there are so many more elements and plotlines within her second book. In The Life You Left you’ve got a dissolving marriage, single parenthood, murder, angels, psychics and a main character finding love again. To say there’s a lot going on would be an understatement.

I’ll be completely candid and say that I wasn’t so sure about the psychic/guardian angel theme in the book. I’m not an overly religious person and I don’t really believe in psychic abilities either, so that aspect of the book was a stretch for me to get behind. I’m sure that it will appeal to loads but that’s really the only bit that just wasn’t for me.

One of Harrington’s strongest points are her characters. In The Life You Left, she takes the time to craft her characters and make them completely realistic. Even the children are included with their own distinct personalities and traits—you can tell Harrington is a lovely and experienced mum. I really did find each character to be quite well rounded and unique and a joy to read… except for Michelle! She’s a bit of a snake!

All around, I really enjoyed The Life You Left. I liked that Harrington’s writing has matured and started to encompass broader plotlines and subjects. I for one am greatly looking forward to whatever comes next from this brilliant author!

 

And now… a quickie interview with Carmel Harrington herself!

Thanks for stopping by The London Diaries on your book tour, Carmel!The Life You Left and Beyond Graces Rainboware two very different books.Which was easier to write, and did your writing style/technique differ between the two?Carmel-Harrington-213x247

Its my pleasure to be here! Yes, they are very different. I think my writing style is the same in both, Ive been told I have an almost conversational style, I write as if Im in the same room as you, telling you the story in person. Thats the Irish in me!

I think if Im honest, The Life You Left was harder to write, only because it was the second book and I really wanted to make sure that it was a worthy follow up to Beyond Graces Rainbow.

Do you have any habits, rituals or superstitions with regards to your writing?

I dont have any superstitions, but when I finish the first draft of my books, no matter what time of the day or night, I will have a brandy!

I greatly enjoyed the characters inThe Life You Left and Im sure readers will as well.  Did you have a favourite character inThe Life You Left?If so, who was it and why did you latch on to them?  Likewise, which character was the most challenging to write?

Im so pleased to hear that you enjoyed them! I loved James, his cheeky but very loveable nature was a dream to write, but equally, I think Sarah is a great character, with huge inner strength. I did find writing all the baddies challenging at first. Paul, Sarahs husband, I found particularly difficult, because I can not understand a parent who walks away from their children. But it happens. He was harder to write than Mal or Michelle, who are both pretty horrible!

Other than promotingThe Life You Left, whats next for you this year?

Im working on my third novel right now, which takes up Abbys story, from Beyond Graces Rainbow. It will have all the gang too, with lots from Tom and Gerry too in particular.

Last but not least, my favorite question and possibly the most revealing! Hemingway once wrote a story in just six words (For sale: baby shoes, never worn.). What would be your six word story for your life so far?

Amazing question!

Loves family, Loves Life, Loves Books

Carmel Harrington’s The Life You Left is available now on e-book and soon in paperback.  You can snag your copy here.  For more info on Carmel, check out her HarperImpulse author page!

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If you’re interested in getting in touch, tweet me at @stephanie_khani or @londondiaries1. Alternatively you can email me at emailthelondondiaries [at] gmail.com.

On… things

jewels2I’ve recently gotten back into listening to podcasts. I’ve discovered some brilliant ones but my favourite is Radiolab, produced by WNYC. The show is about, among other things, curiosity. No two shows are alike and they’re always interesting. The first show I listened to, titled “Things”, aired earlier this month and, as I listened to it while I cooked dinner last Thursday, I had no idea how appropriate it would be the next evening.

In the “Things” episode, the Radiolab crew discussed all things, well, things! These are things that mean something–things that hold you and captivate you, personal things, big things, small things… any things, really. And they also talked about whether it’s better to hold on to things or to let them go. In some cases, there’s no real choice; sometimes you’re forced to let go through no action of your own. Sometimes letting go is a forced choice.

N’s mum has this plate. This plate was one of a set that belonged to her mother who passed away several years ago on Bonfire Night (5 November). Over the years, pieces of the set broke, were lost and so on until it was just this one plate left. This plate never left home, it was never used to transport food elsewhere and it was only ever used for one dish—Spanish omelette.

If you don’t already know, N’s mum’s side of the family is Spanish and food is a big thing for them. Spanish omelette is one of her specialties and basically consists of just potato, egg and onion made into sort of a tortilla. It’s amazing, delicious and one of the first things she ever cooked for me. N and I love it so much we call it ‘Mom-lette.’

This particular plate was the perfect omelette plate. She’d told me that numerous times and even told N she had no idea how she’d ever make an omelette without it. It was the perfect size for flipping the omelette (always the trickiest part) and always made her think of her own mum.

And then…

N and I were planning a picnic dinner in a local park. N was going to make a Spanish omelette and, after asking his mum how to make one, she offered to make one for us. Not ones to turn down free (and delicious food), we happily said yes. N was in North London on the Friday and made arrangements to pick it up from his mum who lived locally. He would then take the Tube home with the omelette, we’d pack up and be on our way.

His mum made the omelette and, without thinking, left it on the special plate. She wrapped the whole thing up in foil, stuck it in a shopping bag and handed it over to N. He got on the Tube and put the bag next to his leg on one side and on the other side he sat his laptop bag down.

I think you know where this is going.

At some point along the line, a dodgy guy got on. N said he just didn’t look right and he consciously checked his wallet and laptop bag and made sure they were secure. What he didn’t check was the shopping bag with the omelette inside. A few stops later the guy got off, hooked his fingers around the carrier bag handles and walked off with the omelette.

N’s heart sank… and that was before he even knew about the plate. He got off the train, notified transport police and so on but, let’s be honest, they’re not going to go gonzo for an omelette, are they? Then N called his mum and his heart dropped even further as she told him about the plate which he hadn’t realised had been in the bag. It was horribly sad and awful that this thing that she’d kept safe for so many years and had been so careful with for so long was gone in the blink of an eye—all because some dishonest person thought he was getting lucky with my husband’s shopping bag. He had no idea just how irreplaceable the contents of that bag were. To him, it was just food—fodder for the bin. To N’s family, it meant so much more.

As I sat on the couch and cried (yes, I too knew how much the plate meant) I couldn’t help but think back to the Radiolab “Things” episode that I’d listened to the night before. It seemed almost serendipitous. Why do we latch on to objects that, other than the memories we associate with them, actually have no meaning at all? Why does a lost plate bring my mother in law to tears even now, a week later? Why do I still have plane tickets from my first ever trip to visit N in London? Why have I carried a letter from my Memom since it was sent to me in 2005?

The simple answer is… I don’t know. Maybe these things, these objects are a tangible way of accessing those memories that we associate with them. Maybe they’re talismans of our past, keeping us physically in touch with those that are no longer around or with feelings that have long since changed.

Do you have any ‘things’ that you hang on to? What are they? Why do you think you hold on to them?

I highly recommend giving Radiolab a listen. It’s smart, funny, immersive and the writing is superb. Check out their website for more info on how to donate to the program, download/stream episodes or subscribe to their podcast feed.

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If you’re interested in getting in touch, tweet me at @stephanie_khani or @londondiaries1. Alternatively you can email me at emailthelondondiaries [at] gmail.com.

May 2014 Book Wrap Up

Slower month this month as I took a bit of a break on the speed-reading front and just decided to enjoy a few (very) anticipated novels!

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Books Read: 5

Currently ReadingLove Me for Me – Jenny Hale

If you only read one book this summer, make it Lucy Robinson’s. Seriously… it’s beyond amazing.  She’s grown so much as a writer and The Unfinished Symphony of You and Me really impressed me.

The Imperial Durbar – Tooting Bec

Imperial Durbar LogoJust doors down from Tooting Bec Underground Station, The Imperial Durbar’s weathered, turquoise facade and papered up windows have attracted local attention and curiosity and generated a buzz on Tooting Online among other websites.

Owned by brothers Nick and Alastair, the soon to be open Imperial Durbar is something of a unique oddity in Tooting Bec. Coffee bar by day and cocktail bar by night, the guys, along with a cracking team of baristas and mixologists, plan to offer up exceptional coffees and chais and drinks inspired by their time in India with a splash of Victorian London.

I was invited down (they’re literally around the corner from me… score!) for a walkthrough tour and a chat with the brothers. Plaster dust and loud banging greeted me as I stepped over the threshold of what could have very well been a bomb site–albeit a well organised bomb site!

Nick took me through the entire concept of The Imperial Durbar–a Victorian era Indian trading outpost with lots of little quirks and surprises awaiting visitors.  Though incomplete, the brothers’ vision is anything but; they know exactly what they want and how they want it and they’re diligently hammering on to get there.  The front of the bar will host tables and chairs along with a coffee counter and cakes made locally–ideal for commuters hopping on the Northern Line just a few doors down or for people wanting to stop in for a spot of coffee and cake.

While there I was treated to a bit of coffee sampling by their coffee consultant (how do I score that job??) Michelangelo.  Trust me, the coffee will be exceptional if my sampling was anything to go by!  Michelangelo certainly knows his coffee, even down to the correct brewing temperature (not one degree off, mind you!).  He’s a master of his craft and The Imperial Durbar’s coffee is in good hands.  Nick even goes so far as to call him the “Jesse Pinkman on the Breaking Bad coffee front.”  Referencing Breaking Bad? That’s a tall order to fill!

I’m also told the chai is exceptional and will be one of the first things I plan on trying as soon as they’re open on June 9.  I’m a chai lover and Nick assures me that the Durbar’s chai is nothing like chain chais and is slightly addictive!  “Our chai, be it iced or chai masala will put us on the map as I haven’t tasted any better so far,” says Nick.  “We have a cracking recipe that breaks away from using those sickly syrups which initially put me off the drink. As it is so fresh and light it makes it good for both the café and a great mixer on the bar front.”

Towards the back of the shop will be a couple of areas that can be hired out for private functions (my birthday is coming up… ahem, ahem) and a large seating area.  There will also be a back garden which is already beginning to grow nicely with vines and passionfruit plants.  Also in the back, the guys plan to have a telephone set up with a direct line to The Cardamom Club a few doors down, allowing patrons to order a curry with their drinks and have it delivered to their table.  Smashing idea!

The Imperial Durbar opens on 9 June (and I can’t wait).

The Imperial Durbar - TwitterFacebook
14 Trinity Road
London, SW17 7RE

Opening times:

Mon – thurs 6.30 till Midnight
Fri 6.30 till 1am
Sat 8.30 till 1am
Sun 8.30 till 12pm

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If you’re interested in getting in touch, tweet me at @stephanie_khani or @londondiaries1. Alternatively you can email me at emailthelondondiaries [at] gmail.com.

Taking a step back

Things around here will be fairly quiet for the remainder of May.  I’m in the middle of so much right now from reviewing to (very) actively job hunting (hire me, please?) and I just need to lessen the load for a few weeks.

I need a bit of breathing space and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I’ll still be reviewing over on Judging Covers and things will be taking off soon with Two Sisters, Reading so do check both sites often.

I’ll see ya’ll at the end of May.

steph2

If you’re interested in getting in touch, tweet me at @stephanie_khani or @londondiaries1. Alternatively you can email me at emailthelondondiaries [at] gmail.com.