Monopoly walking (and bus) tour

Hi folks! Back in 2015 I put together a tour around London taking in the famed properties of the Monopoly board. It took all day and was mostly on foot, although a couple of bus rides make it quicker to travel between some of the far-flung places.

It was great fun, and I learnt a lot about the places we visited. I thought I’d share it with everyone. It’d be great if someone else wanted to give it a go! Here’s all the information, and maps, plus bonus points of interest along the way, marked with an asterisk.

 

LONDON MONOPOLY TOUR

Meeting point: Elephant & Castle tube station (morning).

Opened in 1906. The first baby born on the underground was born here in 1924. Press reports claimed she had been named Thelma Ursula Beatrice Eleanor (so her initials would read T.U.B.E) but this was false. She was actually named Marie Cordery.

Said to be a corruption of ‘Infanta of Castile’ after a Spanish princess once engaged to Charles I, but in fact named for the emblem of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers, one of the ancient City of London livery companies, given royal charter by Henry V in 1416. The cutlers made swords and knives, as well as razors and scissors. The emblem shows an elephant with a castle on its back, which seems to be a European derivation of the Hindi ‘howdah’, which was a seat or a carriage carried by an elephant or a camel. For the cutlers, the elephant represents the ivory used for handles in their high-end products, and carrying a castle is a symbol of strength.

Here, the name comes from a coaching inn. The earliest record of the name is from 1765, but the site had previously been occupied by a blacksmith and cutler. And in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, in Act 3 Antonio says, “In the south suburbs, at the Elephant, is best to lodge.” 250 years later, in March this year (2015) the current pub had its licence revoked after a drinker was stabbed in the head with a pen, which had to be removed in hospital.

Charlie Chaplin and Michael Caine both grew up in the area.

– Go to bus stop E, catch no. 63, 363, 453, 168, 53, or 172 to 3rd stop, Dunton Rd / Tesco

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  1. Old Kent Rd – £60 – equal cheapest

One of the oldest roads in England, part of the Roman road from London to Dover via Canterbury – ‘Watling Street’ during Saxon times. Pilgrims in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales travelled along the road. A little further down was the bridge crossing called St Thomas-a-Watering over the River Neckinger and in 1550 was considered the limit of the City of London’s authority. Nearby is the Thomas a Becket pub, marking the first resting point for pilgrims en route to Canterbury. It was also where criminals were executed, then their bodies left on display.

– Walk back to a northbound bus stop, catch no. 42 to Tower Bridge

* Bricklayers’ Arms roundabout: coaching inns on the site for over 600 years. A stopping point where coaches to or from the City of London would set down or pick up passengers to and from the West End.

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Tower Bridge: opened in 1894. There’s a cast iron chimney (on the Tower side) painted to resemble a lamp-post. It’s a flue for a former guardhouse, now a café.

The upper span of Tower Bridge was originally a walkway but it was closed in 1910 as it had become a haunt of prostitutes.

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  1. Jail option 1: The Tower

Established by William the Conqueror in 1066 – he was known as William the Bastard before he conquered England. Used as a prison from 1100 to 1952 – the Kray twins (Ronnie and Reggie) were among the last. During World War II, it was used to hold POWs. The last person executed at the Tower was a German spy, Josef Jakobs, killed by firing squad in 1941.

The royal menagerie was founded by King John in the early 1200s. There were all sorts of animals, including lions. There was also a polar bear, said to be the luckiest animal there, because it got the chance to hunt for fish in the Thames, on a long lead.

*Crosswall: crossed the Roman wall. Previously John St, after King John, but renamed after wall was discovered after bombing in 1940.

  1. Fenchurch St Station – £200

The first station built in the City of London, opened in 1841. Fenchurch in Douglas Adams’ So Long And Thanks for All the Fish was named after it – conceived in the ticket queue.

Crutched Friars: Catholic religious order, named for the staff they carry, topped with a crucifix. First came to England in 1244, and settled in this part of London in 1249.

* Houndsditch: name first recorded in 1275, and was actually a trench outside the wall where dead dogs were buried. In 1989 several dog skeletons were unearthed, possibly Roman.

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  1. Whitechapel Rd – £60                                                                                       

Being outside the city walls and official controls, over the centuries Whitechapel became increasingly overcrowded, and the poverty in the 1880s described as worse than Russia or New York. The police estimated that there were 1,200 prostitutes and about 62 brothels. But the juxtaposition of extreme poverty with great wealth attracted reformers and revolutionaries including George Bernard Shaw and Lenin.

Once part of the Roman road from Aldgate to Colchester, and like Old Kent Rd had numerous coaching inns. In the 14th century a chapel-of-ease was established here – an additional church built in part of a parish where residents can’t easily reach the main parish church. It was whitewashed, and known as the ‘white chapel’. The Victorian church of St Mary built on the site was destroyed during the Blitz, eventually demolished, and the site became St Mary’s Gardens in 1966. In memory of victims of racist attacks, it was renamed Altab Ali Park in 1998 in memory of Altab Ali, a 25-yr-old Bangladeshi clothing worker who was murdered by 3 teenage boys while walking home from work.

Just up the road is the Whitechapel Bell Foundry, Britain’s oldest manufacturing company, established in 1570, but they can trace their founders back to 1420. In 1752 they cast the Libery Bell, and Big Ben in 1858. Parliament had burned down in 1834, and it was decided that the new building should have a clock tower. At 13.5 tons, it took 20 days to solidify and cool. When it was taken to Westminster, the streets were decorated and people cheered as it passed, on a trolley pulled by 16 horses. After 2 months of use, it cracked, due to being hit with a hammer more than twice the recommended weight. Out of service for 3 years, it had a piece cut out and a lighter hammer fitted. The crack gives the bell its distinctive tone.

Wash House, Old Castle St: now part of the London Metropolitan University and holds the Women’s Library. Built in response to the 1846 Baths and Washhouses Act, for local people to wash themselves and laundry.

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Bishopsgate: named after one of the original 8 gates in the London Wall. In the Domesday Book, it was called ‘Porta Episcopi’, supposedly after St Erkenwald, bishop of London for 11 years in the late 7th century. Anglicised by the 12th century.

 

  1. Liverpool St Station – £200

Built in 1874 on the site of the old Bethlem Hospital, which treated the mentally ill and became known as ‘Bedlam’. In the Crossrail building site, a burial pit has been uncovered with a headstone marked 1665 and thought to be a plague pit. Roman skulls have also been unearthed here. The Walbrook river, paved over in the 15th century, is thought to have washed bones out of a Roman cemetery that then got caught at a bend in the river.

From 1938-1940 the Kindertransport brought around 10,000 mostly Jewish children to the UK. Those who arrived at English ports with pre-arranged billets came here by train.

– Cross the road and TURN LEFT for bus stop F, catch no.205

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(Note: the bus travels from SE to NW)

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(Note: the bus travels from east to west. Alight at The Angel Islington and continue on foot.)

  1. Angel Islington £100

The first public house known at this spot was the Sheepcote in 1614, and the first confirmed use of The Angel name was when it was rebuilt in 1638, taking the name from the Angel of Annunciation on the sign. It was a coaching house that offered entertainment by groups of travelling actors. Demolished in 1819 and rebuilt, then rebuilt again near the turn of the 20th century. The only Monopoly space named for a building, included because a man from the manufacturing company and his wife decided to include it while having tea there.

  1. Pentonville Rd £120

Britain’s first ring road, built in 1756 and called New Road and intended as a new drovers’ road for herding sheep and cattle to Smithfield Market. Captain Henry Penton, MP for Winchester, began to lay out London’s first planned suburb.

  1. King’s Cross Station – £200

Named for a statue of King George IV that stood at the junction of Euston, Pentonville and Gray’s Inn roads from 1830. It was removed after 15 years because it was unpopular with the locals, but the name stuck and was given to the station when it opened in 1852.                                 

Believed to be the site of the battle between Boadicea and the Romans, and her final resting place – supposedly under platform 9. The battle took place at Broad Ford, the place to cross the River Fleet in the valley between King’s Cross and St Pancras, and became known as Battle Bridge (there’s a little street back between the stations with that name).                     

St Pancras: in 597, Roman monks brought relics of the martyr St Pancras, and built a church where St Pancras Old Church now is (behind the station).

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  1. Euston Rd – £100

Also part of the original ring road, it formed the outer edge of the city, like the M25 of the 18th century. Named after local landowner the 2nd Duke of Grafton’s country seat of Euston Hall in Suffolk.

Catch bus no.205 or 18 to Marylebone Station

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(Note: bus travels from east to west)

  1. Marylebone Station – £200

Opened in 1899, the youngest and smallest of London’s mainline stations. Also diesel-only, having no electric lines. And the cheapest major London station for filming: some scenes from The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night were filmed here. George Harrison went on to marry one of the schoolgirls who appeared in the film.

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  1. Oxford St – £300

Europe’s busiest shopping street. Originally called Tyburn Rd, as the Tyburn River had run along here. The road connected Newgate Prison and Tyburn, and condemned prisoners were taken along it to be hanged from the Tyburn tree at Marble Arch. In 1962, Beatles manager Brian Epstein visited the HMV to discuss turning their demos. The disc cutter was so impressed that he called a publisher from the top floor, who in turn called George Martin at Parlophone Records, and got them a contract. In the ’80s and earlier, several people claimed that there’s a cobbled street beneath it, with abandoned Victorian shops, that’s accessible from some of the modern shop basements.

  1. Park Lane – £350

Hyde Park used to have a high wall along it. After it was replaced with a railing in the 1820s, and the entrances were refurbished, it began to become a fashionable place to live. Fred and Adele Astaire lived in a penthouse at no.41 in 1923 while performing in the West End. Several buildings were damaged by bombing during WW2.

  1. Mayfair – £400 – the only space named for a suburb

Named after the May Fair that took place in the open fields of Shepherd’s Market at the east edge of Hyde Park. At its peak it lasted for 16 days, before being moved to Haymarket in 1764 after apparently “falling into disrepute” and attracting “undesirables”.

  1. Electric Company – £150

Brown Hart Gardens, off Duke St. Originally a communal garden, in 1902 the Westminster Electricity Supply Corp. suggested building a chamber for transformers and covering it with a garden. The Grosvenor Estate board weren’t impressed, but continuing complaints against “disorderly boys”, “verminous women” and “tramps” in the garden helped convince them. Designed by C. Stanley Peach, it opened in 1906 and it might be the only place in London where quarrelling is forbidden by law.

1map11 * Berkeley Square: famous for the song A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square. The plane trees were planted in 1789. 50 Berkeley Sq (down the west side) is supposedly the most haunted house in London, and it’s said that every person who has witnessed the apparitions has died of shock. And a psychic will apparently feel the equivalent of an electric shock just by touching the brickwork. The Queen was born in a house in Bruton St.)

  1. Bond St – £320

Developed in 1700 by Sir Thomas Bond, and has always been a popular shopping street. The ‘old’ part, at the southern end, was developed first, with the ‘new’ northern part added 14 years later. The two parts have always had a separate names, and a council plan in the 1920s to just have the one name was rejected by locals. Look out for the spot where you can find both streets signs together: Old Bond St, and New Bond St.

* Burlington Arcade: from 1819, the oldest covered shopping precinct in the world. It is officially forbidden to run or whistle inside. Prostitutes once used rooms on the first floor, and would whistle to alert the pickpockets down below of police. But Paul McCartney was given an exemption.

* Savile Row: tailors starting working in the area in the late 18th century, and house frontages were altered to add more glass to give more light to the tailors’ working areas. The term ‘bespoke’ is said to have originated in Savile Row. To be part of the Savile Row Bespoke Association, tailors need to put in at least 50 hours of hand sewing for every 2-piece suit. 

  1. Marlborough St – £180

In Soho, which is said to be an old hunting cry.

Liberty’s Tudor-revival store was built in 1924, from the timbers of two ships.

  1. Regent St – £300

The world’s first shopping street, created in 1825 to link the Regent’s Park area with Charing Cross. It’s a protected conservation area, as every building is listed, although they were all rebuilt (except the church) with strict conditions after 1895 as they were small and increasingly unsuitable.

  1. Vine St – £200

It used to be longer! The name seems to come from the Vine public house, which existed in the 18th century if not earlier. From 1829 it became best known for its police station, said to be the busiest in the world. In 1895 the Marquess of Queensberry (famous for the boxing rules) was brought here for libel against Oscar Wilde, that ended with Wilde being imprisoned for gross indecency.

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  1. Piccadilly – £280

In the middle ages, known as ‘the road to Reading’. Around 1611, Robert Baker bought land in the area and became successful by making and selling piccadills, stiff lace collars like those worn by Elizabeth I, and locals derisively called his house ‘Pickadill Hall’. It was previously known at Portugal St after Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II.

  1. Coventry St – £260

Designed for commercial and entertainment purposes rather than residences, in 1681. Named after Henry Coventry, politician and secretary of state to Charles II. Between 1890-1900 Charles Hirsch, a French bookseller, sold French literature as well as expensive pornography. The street suffered significant bomb damage.

  1. Leicester Square – £260

One of the earliest maps of the area, created between 1570-1605 shows the site as a drying-ground for clothes, with cattle grazing nearby. Laid out in 1670 as a residential area, and named after the 2nd Earl of Leicester. At the end of the 17th century it was a famous duelling spot.

  1. Pall Mall – £140

Pall Mall runs parallel to The Mall, and both are named after a fashionable ball game played there in the 17th century. Pall-mall or pell-mell comes from the Italian pallamaglio (‘mallet ball’). A round ball is hit with a mallet through a high iron arch, and whoever has the least number of hits wins. Like a cross between croquet and golf… When Henry VIII laid out St James’s Park in the 16th century, a wall was built along its north side, along the road from Charing Cross to St James’s Palace. In 1630 the area’s first pall-mall court was laid out north of the road. In 1660 a new one was made in the park, just south of the wall, but suffered from dust blown over from coaches on the road. So they moved the road north, and called it Catherine Street, but it was commonly known as Pall Mall Street. 

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  1. Income Tax (HMRC)

Walk south down the eastern edge of St James’s Park. Turn left (east) onto Great George St, then left (north) onto Whitehall to see the HQ of the UK tax office on the left. You’ll see the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey on the way.

* Big Ben: in 1995 a flock of starlings landed on the minute hand of Big Ben and put the time back by five minutes.

  1. Whitehall – £140

Named after the Palace of Whitehall that was destroyed by fire in 1698, it was originally a wide road leading to the front of the palace.

Look out for the Monument to the Women of WW2, from 2005. 

  1. Northumberland Ave – £160

Built on the home of the Dukes of Northumberland in the 1870s, designed for luxury accommodation.

  1. Trafalgar Square – £240

Completed in 1845 as a redevelopment for former royal mews. Nelson’s Column is 170 feet tall, but was originally designed to be more than 200 feet. Hitler had a plan to dismantle it and display it in Berlin.

The lions were cast in bronze melted down from the cannons of French and Spanish ships in the battle of Trafalgar.

The fountains were installed in 1841 to counteract the reflected heat from asphalt paving, and also to reduce the available space for public gathering and potential rioting! They were replaced in the 1930s, with the originals now in Canada.

Set into the steps are the standard Imperial measures of length in brass plaques. Centuries ago, the Exchequer used ‘tally sticks’ in 2 parts to document its accounting, so recordings could only be done when both parties came together. As the clerks became literate, the sticks became outdated, so they were abolished. On the 16th October 1834 the Clerk of Works at the Palace of Westminster decided they should be burned, in the furnace that heated the House of Lords. It set fire to the panelling, and destroyed most of the Palace of Westminster, including the standards of the Imperial units of measurement. New standards were created in triplicate to prevent losing them again, with copies in the Guildhall, the Greenwich Observatory, and here.

Smallest police station – a light fitting hollowed out in 1926 to keep an eye on demonstrators, with a phone link to Scotland Yard. If the phone was picked up, the light on top would flash to alert any nearby officers. Look closely at a windowed pillar at the eastern side of the square.

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  1. Strand  – £220

The word ‘strand’ in Old English means shore, and referred to the shallow river bank. The street’s name was first recorded in 1002 as Strondway, and by 1220 La Stranda. It was used by the Romans, and in the Middle Ages became the main road between London and the Palace of Westminster

* The Savoy: the magnificent Savoy Palace was the residence of John of Gaunt, Richard II’s uncle, but was destroyed during the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381. In 1512 it was rebuilt as the Savoy Hospital, but was demolished in the 19th century.

* Twining’s: London’s oldest rate-payer, operating continuously from the same site since 1706. They also have the world’s oldest company logo, above the door since 1787. It’s very tiny, and opposite the very large Royal Courts of Justice, so look closely!

Covent Garden: actually a spelling mistake. It was used by Westminster Abbey and was known as the ‘garden of the abbey and convent’.

  1. Bow St – £180

Developed in 1633 and named ‘Bow’ because of the shape of the road. Oliver Cromwell lived here for a time, as did woodcarver Grinling Gibbons. In the early 18th century it developed a reputation for pornography. By 1740 there were 8 pubs, that hid several brothels.

Marlborough, Vine and Bow street all have a connection to the law.

  1. Fleet St – £220

Named for the bridge over the River Fleet at its east end.

Famous for the newspapers that used to be based here, and still used as a term for the British press. Publishing began here around 1500, mainly supplying the legal trade in the area.

* Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese: a pub, and was the first new building to open after the Great Fire. It once housed a parrot known far and wide for its extensive vocabulary of swear-words. When it died in 1926, obituaries appeared in newspapers around the world.

 

THE END!

Phew! It was a very long day, but it was actually really enjoyable, and we finished up with dinner at a pub. I highly recommend the Cheshire Cheese mentioned above for its old and meandering interior. There are a couple of other pubs on the Strand (plus a McDonald’s), and also some nice ones along Whitehall.

~ L.Q. ~

 

 

 

 

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suffice for life

Ah! So true. There’s someone I know who fits this to a tee. His heart isn’t mine, but when I met him his smile brought warmth and light to all the corners of my being. So I worked on letting go of wanting his heart, and I try to focus on smiling because of his smile. And in those moments when I can let go, it is enough.:-)

Words on Empty Ears

even if their heart isn’t yours.
you can continue to smile because of their smile.
and that should be enough.

© Duc Nguyen WordsOnEmptyEars, 2016

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Ode to a tree

“Give me a tree
Or three,”
Said she,P1210172
“And ever shall
My heart be free.”

“Give me a view
Of blue,”
She’d coo,
“To help my mind
Run calm and true.”

“Show me a hill
So still,”
She’d trill,
“To let me wander
Where I will.”

“But give me a tree
Or three,”
Said she,
“And I’ll show thee
A happy me.”

 

It came to me while wandering in my favourite park (Kensington Gardens) this evening. Hope you’re able to enjoy spring or autumn, wherever you are!

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~ L.Q. ~
P.S. I take a lot of photos of trees…

Down The Ink Road – My First Tattoo

On Sunday afternoon, it finally happened. After three previous failed attempts (including a long weekend in Cagliari, Sardinia, planned exclusively for that purpose but which I filled with sightseeing instead) my decision to get a tattoo was finally realised. 

I’m writing this as a diary of my experiences. Who knows, maybe someone else thinking about getting their first ink will find this in a search engine and learn a bit more about what they can expect. 

I’ve come up with a number of different designs over the last few years, to suit different parts of my body, all mulled over and tweaked until they seemed just right. Curiously, the design that’s now imbedded in my torso was a fairly quick decision – a quote from Hamlet with some little watercolour splashes around it. It’s placed vertically, stretching from near my hip bone to just about my bra line. 

The artist prints the design onto special paper that transfers purple ink onto your skin, for them to tattoo over. After some time spent carefully aligning it where I wanted, I lay down on the bed and she prepared the inks. 

She began at the bottom, near my hip bone. It definitely feels like needle pricks! A bit like laser hair removal, I thought. While the needle was pressing on me (only a few seconds at a time) it hurt, but the pain stopped each time she moved on, so it was bearable. But I’ve read that the ribs are painful, and I definitely agreed! As she neared the top of the design, over my ribs, the pain was considerably more. I tried to align my breathing to her actions to restrict movement of my torso, and holding my breath for each bit seemed to help a little. Then she went back and put in the coloured sections – in the same general area as skin that had already been inked. As a tattoo is an open wound, it made my surrounding skin sensitive, so – I won’t lie – it was really hurting by the end. They will also put antiseptic on, which stings. 

By the time it was finished, about 2 hours later, I felt pretty battered. After she’d dressed it and stuck cling-film over it, I felt fragile, but the pain had largely receded. I also got an ear piercing straight after it, which hurt rather a lot and really added to my just-beaten-up feeling!

I’d read the studio’s aftercare advice, as well as other opinions online. My tube of Bepanthen is old, and I couldn’t find any of the regular antiseptic cream in shops, just their nappy rash cream (which has lanolin, that many people advise against as it can prevent a tat from breathing). So I bought coconut oil. Now, I’m not a fan of using oils on my skin, because, well, they’re oily, make a mess, and don’t seem to be absorbed very quickly (hence getting on my clothes and making a mess). 

My skin really, really stung after this. Not from the oil, just from – very gently – touching it to wash it and dab on some oil. I’ve read a number of comments comparing the pain to sunburn, and I’d agree. As I was told, I didn’t put any more cling-film on, and tried not to sleep fully on it.

Day 1: The next morning (Monday) it was starting to look bad. The colour seemed faded and it was all a bit raised, as if it was done with 3D ink. Now, from various things I’ve read, and heard from a friend with a tat, it seems a normal part of the healing process. I didn’t realise it would start so quickly, but healing anecdotes tend to include words like ‘scabbing’ and ‘flaking’. There were little black dots on my surrounding skin. 

So, I dabbed on some coconut oil, and went to school (I teach). I decided not to take the oil with me (too messy!) and by the end of the day it felt really tight and getting sore. Also, my artist, and plenty of others, only recommend treating tattoos twice a day to ensure they can breathe properly. 

More coconut oil when I got home, and this time it was REALLY FECKING STINGING afterwards. Yee gods! it was bad. And I was as gentle as I could be. Please note I am NOT suggesting that the oil made it sting. My skin was dry and ultra-sensitive. Fairy kisses would have hurt. It took ages to calm down. I ended up lying on my bed with a book for a while. (Then later, I somehow upset my new piercing while cleaning it, so it too hurt like blazes for a while! It was all just too much.)

Day 2: This wouldn’t do! I had to have something with me at school to use during the day. Although I’m not touching it in between treatment, my torso moves so often that I can easily tell when it’s getting tight. I’d bought some of the Bepanthen nappy rash cream in the end (you’re always told to get new tubes, but can you even get their antiseptic cream in the UK..?), but thought better of using it after agonising over online comments advising against lanolin on tats. This makes me anxious because I adore lanolin in regular moisturisers. 

So…after some more um-ing and ah-ing I decided to take a punt with my old Bepanthen antiseptic cream. On inspection this morning, the ink had looked even more 3D, and starting to look very scabby and faded. Quite awful, actually! I know not to pick at it, but there are plenty of little flakes falling off. I’m so glad I’d already read about the scabbing and flaking, otherwise I think I’d be horrified! I’m just consciously trying not to judge it artistically yet. I liked it when it was finished, so I need to just remember that!

A second night had obviously done some good. Gently smoothing a little cream over it didn’t make me wince, and the skin felt loose enough afterwards when I moved. 

I used more when I got to school (washing my hands first of course) at about 8am, then more before I left at 4pm. It’s now 10.30pm, and I’m about to have my first post-tat shower (couldn’t face it last night, it was so painful). I wore a loose top today, and although it’s been sensitive, it wasn’t as painful or tight as yesterday. 

Day 3: Wednesday. So much more manageable today! It wasn’t particularly sensitive when I put Bepanthen on this morning, and it didn’t look too flaky and awful, either. I forgot to take the cream out with me though, so I had to make do with a tube of Savlon from the Boots near the station. 

I only used the Savlon once, this afternoon, but my skin didn’t feel too tight today. I’ve read a number of warnings against over-treating tattoos, as well as my artist only recommending twice a day for that reason. But I’m also trying to listen to my body. If the area where the tat is feels tight, I assume it needs a little more cream. 

The black script is still a bit raised and rough, and the coloured bits are still dull, but I’m trying to ignore it and not be disheartened. The waiting continues…

Children’s Story: ‘Laurence and Big Dog’

A while ago I wrote a little story for my two young nephews. I made it into a brightly-coloured storybook, and coloured in some pictures I found on Google Images. My brother read it to them, then filmed their response the next morning. Now, considering they’d been asleep since they heard it (and are only little), I was amused rather than dismayed to hear the elder one answer the question “Was it a good story?” with a disinterested “No…” Don’t worry, he got the right answer when asked a second time!

But I thought I’d share it here. If anyone does fancy reading it to their own kids, I’d love to know if any of them respond well to it. Otherwise I’ll assume I failed, and try harder next time!

A few words and phrases may seem a little odd, but certain things are aimed specifically at my nephews. 😉

Falling For The Angel

Have you ever met someone who seemed to be in your life for a reason? Perhaps to show you something, or teach you? And there came a moment where you realised that your life, or beliefs, or thoughts, were altered or improved because of their influence? I’ve come across a couple of these people, and I’ve dubbed them ‘angels’. Not because of any religious belief, and not because they seemed perfect (because they didn’t). Just because it somehow seemed that I met them for a reason.

Last spring, I was desperately looking for a summer job. My work as a supply teacher was soon to end for the school holidays, and I didn’t have enough savings to pay my rent and expenses during that time.

I despaired. I searched and searched, and wondered a) what I could bear to do, and b) what jobs my teaching qualification, yet lack of other experience, might actually be suited to…apart from teaching. I even signed up for survey sites! (I created a new email address for the purpose. No doubt it’s imploded by now…)

Just before the one-week school break in May I’d seen an ad for staff recruitment at a museum. Just general visitor guides, it seemed. Great! I could do that.

I applied. Heard nothing.

Until June, when I received a phone call inviting me to a group interview day. I’d completely forgotten about my application, and assumed it was for another position I’d recently applied for. So I was confused, at first, to see the email containing all the details for the interview, including the museum’s address!

It went well, and I became a member of the museum’s new summer team, hired to increase staff numbers during a very busy time of year. Our original contract was six weeks, but most of us were offered the chance to stay on as casuals, which I chose to do.

Here are some important details about my state of mind, and character, at that point. Firstly, I was feeling pretty depressed by my lack of money, but relieved to have found a job I thought I could survive turning up at for six weeks. But I was also in a fairly low place emotionally, because of the stressful and often unpleasant nature of supply teaching. Too many angry teenagers who clearly had a host of problems that schooling could not fix, and too many schools not addressing the culture of disrespecting supply teachers. And I was gradually coming to the conscious realisation that the classroom really was not the place for me. My life felt aimless and somewhat hopeless.

I’m also not a very sociable person. ‘I hate people’ is a phrase I often say, because people tend to bother me. (‘And you took a job where you’d come into contact with the public?’, I hear you say. Yeah, well…) I have a tiny number of real friends. Unfortunately, there aren’t a great number of people I really, truly care about – and not too many who really, truly care about me in return. I’m not good at small-talk, and I’m not good at making new friends. It was about six months after I moved here that I met someone who became a friend rather than stayed an acquaintance.

I’m okay with all of that, for the most part. And so when I looked ahead to my summer, I just hoped to get along with my colleagues well enough, and that it would be a pleasant working environment. I had no real hopes of making friends (especially since I originally thought I’d be leaving in six weeks).

I wasn’t prepared for the shock the place would give me.

Over time, I found myself really growing to like my fellow newbies. Despite our different circumstances and ages, we got on well and I generally enjoyed chatting with them. I felt an air of mutual respect and acceptance, but most of all, niceness. How rare a quality that seems to be. How many people do you know, dear reader, who could truly be described as nice?

And my discoveries continued. After the calibre of men I found in every secondary school – authoritarian and often appearing quite unsympathetic – I was floored to discover the gentle friendliness of the men at the museum. Most of the men in my team were in their 20s, but all were nice. The men in the security team, too. Always ready for a friendly chat or word of advice (free of bursts of misogyny or innuendo, I might add), and always prepared to hold open one of the many doors in the staff hallways. I actually discussed this with an older woman on my team, who had worked there for some time. Her theory was that it’s the sort of place that attracts – and keeps – ‘nice boys’, and that those with a different temperament just wouldn’t last. (I’m choosing to leave out the fact that there is one man I actively try to avoid because he’s a smooth-talking flirt who makes me feel awkward, but he’s the only one, and further mention of him will grossly sully otherwise lovely thoughts.)

Not to say that the women weren’t friendly too. It just happened that working in secondary schools was apparently not the place to find many lovely, gentle, men (at least not their at-school personas), and so I noticed the difference.

And in particular, James.

We had three days of training with our managers, then a day partnered with an experienced member of our team. On the fifth day, we were on our own. I can’t remember when exactly was the first time I met him (so many new faces and names to struggle to remember!), but I know I thought he had a friendly face right from the beginning. Moderately attractive in that general well-put-together sort of way, but I remember mostly thinking that he seemed nice.

He was one of the first people to remember my name. I think he probably learnt all the newbies’ names quickly. He has a quiet and gentle manner, mostly, and although young, he looks trustworthy and experienced. He can be playful, and at times gently teasing, but would answer any of my inexperienced questions with patience and understanding.

I don’t know if it’s just coincidence, or if any of my colleagues find the same, but I tend to see a lot of the same staff regularly, and some only rarely. And unfortunately, James is one of the lovely people in the latter category.

So I began to arrive at work hopeful of seeing him each day, wondering if I’d be lucky enough to cross paths with him. And in my bland and emotionally empty state of melancholia, James became a beam of sunlight in my days. I know that’s a terrible cliché, but even months later, I still can’t think of a better metaphor. He’s nice. It’s easy to think the word implies someone simple and boring, but in its truest definition, it’s a great compliment. He is nice. He’s good. He’s a gentleman. He displays no arrogance or entitlement, nor any domineering behaviours. Yet he is by no means weak. He has firm ideas and is well-read – actually, he’s one of those people you can debate with quite enjoyably. I wish I could show him off to some of the teenage boys I’ve taught as a top-notch example of adult masculinity.

It’s the gentle warmth that emanates from his face when he smiles and says hello. The effortlessly helpful way he offers to help parents lift their baby push-chairs up the stairs at the main entrance. The manner in which he blends professionalism with good humour. It’s his slightly uneven loping gait, in trousers a bit too short for his long and slender frame, that looks both purposeful and unhurried. His easy-going nature and affability, but with a certain something in his countenance that suggests he knows what sadness, and perhaps pain, feels like.

And the way he’s looked at me during our few proper conversations – as a friend, as someone he’s choosing to talk to rather than because we happen to be in the same spot. The way he’s made me laugh by telling anecdotes about the public and other staff, and the odd things he’s said that have amused me but that other staff have apparently thought peculiar. And the conversation we had right before I went on holiday for three weeks, where he answered my innocent inquiry into his Christmas with a less-than-happy tale about his family, and then allowed a couple of further gentle questions, before the conversation turned to his favourite band, which he thought I might like, and blushed a little while saying so.

It wasn’t long before I began to think that James had entered my life to remind me that there are still lovely people – lovely men – left to find in the world. That there are still people who can actually leave their surroundings brighter, and bring out the happiness in those around them. Because he brightened my days so much, and managed to revive the parts of me that still wanted to smile contentedly, and laugh easily.

And so, many days have made me think I was falling for him.

I have a long history of bad luck with men, and so the thought that I might be attracted to someone isn’t exactly an exciting one. And although he has always been friendly, I’ve rarely thought he displayed any particular preference for my company over anyone else’s. I do get the sense that he can be a little shy, as some of our conversations have begun in rather a stilted way before something happens to magically kick them into gear. I can be shy as well, and am so used to rejection that I can never assume a man I’m attracted to might feel the same. Because of this uncertainty and awkwardness I sometimes deliberately avoid seeking their company because it’s just easier – I know, that’s a bit messed up – which leads me to ponder if another possibly-shy person might do the same. But he’s also about nine years my junior…which has caused me alternating bouts of concerned discomfort, and preferring to throw caution to the wind…

I don’t know where this will go. I don’t know how long either of us will work there. Thus far, we haven’t socialised outside of work. He hasn’t asked me, and the time I asked him, he was unavailable.

But maybe we’re not supposed to fall for the angels in our lives. Maybe they arrive with the purpose of teaching us something. Or in my case, reminding me of something that my circumstances made me think was lost.

Perhaps we’re just supposed to glory in their presence, and bask in the glow of whatever they are giving us. And then, when the time is right, they will leave, and send us onward: smarter, happier, or healthier that we were before.

~ L.Q. ~

NB: ‘James’ is not his real name. Because if I’m going to gush about someone in an anonyblog, then I’m going to hide their name!

What can you say?

I feel like writing one of those ‘hug your children / tell people you care before it’s too late’ type posts today.

I had never recognised any face on a ‘missing’ poster til a few days ago. The young man whose poster I was sharing on Facebook and Twitter is no longer with us. He was well-liked and a talented artist, and 25. I’m sorry to say that I barely knew him, as we rarely worked the same days, and he was a bit of a quiet type. But right away I thought he seemed like a nice person who I hoped to get to know – the kind of person we could all do with finding more of. When I’ve thought about how many really lovely co-workers I have at this job, he’s always been on the list.

I don’t know many details regarding the last few days, but it seems at this point that his depression may have been a significant factor. I won’t make any assumptions about the particular shadowy road he may have been travelling, or the type of black dog that might have trailed him. I’ve set toes upon a similar road, and felt a tail brush my leg, and I have friends who have taken many more steps along roads of their own. And this is why I don’t know what to write, even though I feel a need to write something.

What can we say to someone we suspect is struggling, if they’re not able to talk about it or ask for help? I’m being realistic. How often do we say to people we’re not close to ‘Hey, I think you’re a great person and I’m glad to know you’ simply because it’s a nice gesture and it might be something they desperately need to hear? How often do we tell our closest platonic friends that we love and value them?

I don’t have any answers. I’m not trying to preach. But I spoke to someone today who couldn’t understand why a young person with so much going for them might choose to end things. And that way of thinking needs to change. Mental illness doesn’t make sense. The demons don’t do logical monologues and only visit the down-and-outs. People who have success and love in their lives can still become shrouded in a maze of darkness. And sometimes, they don’t find a Hoggle and a worm and a Ludo and a Sir Didymus, or a seer with a talking hat, and can’t find their way out.

I don’t know what to say, but I know what to think. I think that no-one fully knows anyone else’s story, and as adults we should have learnt to help build people up rather than pass negative judgments. If we can see mental illness as being more like cancer and less as a lifestyle choice.

I don’t know the rights words to say, but I believe in focusing on positivity, the beauty in people, being polite as much as possible, and helping those around us to be mentally strong by showing them that *not* being so isn’t the same as being weak, or a failure.

So yes, go and hug your children and let them know it’s okay to be sad or scared. Don’t remind them of what they haven’t achieved, but support them in whatever healthy goals they might have. Goodness and kindness will make better people than money and awards ever will. And treat the checkout chicks the same way, or the cleaners, or your waiter or bus driver or airline cabin crew. And try to let your friends know you love them. Keep your word (or apologise sincerely if you can’t, and keep it next time). Remember your promises. Show respect.

To borrow a couple of phrases from the very excellent people at To Write Love On Her Arms,

Love is the movement.

Hope is real.

You are not alone.