Thursday, 23 February 2017

October 2016 Abridgment

October marked the beginning of a series of shorter house sits, which we took for lack of more long-term options. 
The first was a flat in Leytonstone, east London, where we looked after a gentleman thug cat named Bowie. He was the sweetest boy with us, but apparently would regularly come into the house after a day's exploring with a limp or scratch (or even once a chunk of his ear missing).

Leytonstone is in close proximity to Epping Forest, so one day we went for a stroll. Though referred to as a "forest", I dare say that it was far from the tree-infested spaces that normally accompany such a word. While some areas of the forest contained semi-dense foliage, much of the park was open fields with the occasional tree or shrub popping up. Nevertheless, we had a good time catching imaginary creatures with the Pokemon GO app, and finding legit holly bushes - with berries! (These were something I had previously never seen in real life, hence the overly excited face.)

With only a week in Leytonstone, we didn't manage to get to know the suburb very well, but I was impressed with the café selection from the two I visited: The Wild Goose Bakery whipped up a mean soy chai latte, and it paired nicely with a decadent mini vegan chocolate cake; I had gone into All You Read is Love on the last day of the house sit, and felt immediately cosy with the book-lined walls and mismatching furniture - they even had vegan brownies and a large choice of teas (and Nabokov and Murakami novels)!

Our second house sit was in Highgate, north London, for Chutney the fluffy cat. He liked to sleep between us in the middle of the bed, and would often bring small leaves inside in his fur.

Just before starting this house sit, Yannick and I had taken a trip down to the Covent Garden Apple Store and picked up an iPhone SE for me! I was enraptured, and went about playing Pokemon GO (I had to use Yannick's phone to do so before, so usually only got a chance on weekends) and taking many photos. This one was from a bridge near the Highgate flat which has been nicknamed 'Suicide Bridge'. Sadly, many people have taken their lives here, and there have been efforts to stop this with tall spiked fencing. On the positive side, the bridge has a lovely view of the city!

A combination of Pokemon GO and being in an interesting area meant that I walked around a lot while in Highgate, sometimes up to four hours a day. I especially liked the nearby Waterlow Park, brimming with stunning autumn colours, where many a Jigglypuff was caught and I once spotted a Charizard. The neighbouring Highgate Cemetery is home to the tomb of Karl Marx, which FYI is a Poke-Gym.

Annoyingly, the cemetery has a ticket booth and costs £4 to enter. I was outraged when I found this out. Even cemeteries in Paris are free, and they have a much higher proportion of famous people than Highgate. We refused to pay the admission, and instead walked around the perimeter fence and snapped some photos.

I had never been able to donate blood in New Zealand due to the weight restrictions (you have to weigh at least 50kg and I am very short). In the UK, they don't have set restrictions and I wanted to do a good deed, so went to the West End Donor Centre. I prepared by drinking plenty of water and treating myself to many cookies from Cookies and Scream. I'm not squeamish of needles or blood, and the whole extraction process was over fairly quickly, however after I stood up and was being walked to the waiting room, my vision started to grow dark around the edges and I told the nurse escorting me that I might pass out. She acted very fast and before I knew it, she had lowered me to the ground, took my scarf off, called over another nurse, and propped up my legs with a foam block. I felt quite silly, as everyone waiting to give blood were sat there, staring at me lying in the corridor, but at least I didn't faint. A couple of weeks later I received a text telling me that my blood had been used in the hospital, and I found out that I have blood type O+. 

Our third and final house sit in October was in Crouch End for an elderly cat called Freddie. In a stroke of good fortune, Crouch End is just down the road from Highgate, so we didn't have to trek cross-city like we have to for many new house sits. 

The township itself was very quaint, and Yannick and I both decided it was a good place. Though small, there were several supermarkets and useful high street shops, as well as a clocktower that made use of three different architectural styles. The one thing that was less than ideal about Crouch End was the lack of a Tube station - we had to catch a bus to the nearest Tube, which was ten minutes away, and go from there. It wasn't terribly inconvenient, but we were accustomed to easy walking access to the underground. 

Freddie was adorable, and would sometimes sit on our laps. One day he snuggled up into the crook of my arm! When he was hungry, though, he would meow very loudly until he got what he wanted. He also had a heart condition which meant that he required a pill every day which we hid in some food. We've never had to give medication to pets before, but it generally went smoothly. 

As the temperature was dropping and rain increasing, I never went out to enjoy the garden. One day I came downstairs in the late morning and started preparing a snack. Half-way through, something niggled at me from the corner of my eye and I gave it a closer look. Foxes! In the garden! They had curled up atop a brick structure and evidently gone to sleep. Very excited, as I had never seen a fox so close before, I got Yannick's camera and went up the the second floor for a better angle. As I was taking photos, however, I began to worry. Where was Freddie? I searched the house but he was no where to be found, and I thought that the presence of the foxes might mean that he was avoiding the garden and therefore couldn't get back inside. Not knowing what to do, I rang Jemma to ask for advice, figuring that as someone from the UK she would know more about foxes than I. She helped to calm me down, and though we hadn't decided on a firm course of action, as soon as I unlocked the door to the garden, they were off in a flash! Shortly after, Freddie returned and I breathed a sigh of relief. 

The weekend of the 22nd marked the much-anticipated Vegfest London, an annual event in which a large venue is filled to the brim with awesome vegan food, clothing and product stalls. I ate way too much and had to sit down for a bit, but regardless of the comfort of my belly, I had a wonderful time. We tried many free samples, I was given a free pack of VeganEgg, and I fawned over the Nākd stall where they had laid out every flavour of their bars and I had to physically restrain myself from buying the lot (I did buy a few though, including the only flavour I hadn't tried yet: mocha).

Marc, a Belgian I had met at the Brixton Vegan Fayre, was in town for VegFest and had never experienced Cookies and Scream, so I took him and some friends to Camden Lock Market where we loaded up on Mexican and Colombian food as well as cookies, doughnut icecream sandwiches and milkshakes. Bliddy amazing.

I also met up for lunch with Yannick a couple of times, and one weekend we ate koshari in Covent Garden from Koshari Street. This is Egypt's national dish, and is served in little roadside stalls all over Egypt. With a base of lentils, rice and pasta, it's very filling. Atop that is a spicy tomato sauce, chickpeas, fried onions and a nutty spice mix. Koshari is both hearty and moreish, and I can't get enough of the stuff. 

Savouring my new-found love of walking, I got around a fair amount. Above you can see Kenwood House, an estate in the north of Hampstead Heath. (Side note: whenever I try to think of the name 'Hampstead Heath', I always say 'Heathrow' instead. It confuses everyone including myself. It's so bad that whenever referencing it to Yannick, I just say "the park that I think is called Heathrow" and he knows what I mean.) Apparently there's a lovely collection of art inside Kenwood House (Vermeers and all!), which is free to enter. 

My wanderings lead me far and wide, and I caught many Pokemon along the way. I revelled in the colourful autumn trees, which all seemed to be at a different stage of losing their foliage. One day I caught a Charmander and then sat at the riverfront admiring Cleopatra's Needle, which is a genuine Egyptian obelisk. Interestingly, the obelisk actually has nothing to do with the famous Queen Cleopatra, and was already over a millennia old when she was born. How crazy is it that this monument, chilling beside the Thames, is over 3,000 years old?! To really highlight the fusion of ancient and modern, Cleopatra's Needle is a Poke-Stop.

One not-so-fun part of October was voting in the US presidential election. The voting process was actually fairly painless, even as an overseas voter - it was the result that stung. We'll say no more about it.