Grateful for Canary Wharf

When, just under a year ago, it was announced that my office would be relocating to Canary Wharf, the reaction at work was not exactly one of hysterical joy and gratitude. We were City people through-and-through: we’d paid our dues and finally knew which was the correct exit from Bank underground station; we knew what to order from the incomprehensible Chinese takeaway downstairs (and what not to!); we had our timings for walking across London Bridge down to a tee, and we were so used to the sirens/exhaust fumes/smokers on every corner that we no longer worried about the detrimental effects on our health. What would we do without a House of Fraser 30 seconds away?! How would we cope without a direct tube link to Oxford Circus?! And you’re telling us the new office won’t have 659 meeting rooms? Outrage! Disaster! Abomination!

It goes without saying that this initial reaction may potentially have been slightly unfounded. But argue with me all you want: it is human nature to fear change. No matter how easy going and relaxed we may like to think we are (who am I kidding, those two words are not exactly my number one descriptors!), when it comes to the crux of it, we like to stick with the comfort of what we know. We all know that change is good, that remaining in the same stagnant state does nobody any favours – but that doesn’t stop us from trying to resist being ripped from our safe cocoons.

What followed the announcement was months of water-cooler mutterings; indignant conversations about the injustice of our futures: “they’re not going to let us have a toaster you know”, “where am I going to store all my papers from 1996 if I’m not allowed 25 personal filing cabinets?”, “I’ll probably have to move house with the extra journey time!” (side note: these were all me), but that first day in the new office, something just changed.

Stepping into that brand new space, a space with Scandinavian styling, glass walls printed with trees, and floor-to-ceiling windows; a space that had been created for exactly the right number of people, the rose-tinted filter on our former home in the City was quickly torn away. I saw the old office for what it really was: old, tired, dysfunctional. 

For years I had been genuinely afraid of stepping out of my own small area because I literally didn’t know who half of my colleagues even were; I felt like an intruder who was about to be found out: “you don’t even work here!”. Coming into a fresh, more open space was like starting again. As my job had also recently changed, this was the perfect opportunity to get rid of the fear, to know that I belonged here just as much as anyone else. I absolutely love the fact that I even just get to walk past more of my friends and colleagues each day, that I have the opportunity to speak with people face-to-face (and that we actually know what each others’ faces look like!). I don’t think it’s just me either: it had been a hard year for the organisation, and whilst of course moving office doesn’t just erase the past, they do say a change is as good as a rest. I felt a renewed motivation in the office; who knows how long that will last/has lasted, but it was certainly needed at the time. What also helped was a seemingly bottomless bar tab on that first evening (in which one colleague actually ended up sleeping in the new office having missed his last train: welcome to Canary Wharf) – how I wish that had set the bar for every Monday night!

I do understand that I’m being very idealistic here, and of course Canary Wharf isn’t some kind of promised land Utopia (the personal security briefing was a key highlight – you never really want to hear the sentence “If someone comes in here with a Kalashnikov…” do you?!). It breaks my heart when a colleague can’t read his children a bedtime story because of yet another cancelled train adding hours to his journey, and it makes me so cross that a friend who loves cycling can no longer ride to work because the new office doesn’t have showers. Whilst most people benefitted from their new desks, a few lost their windows or were relocated to sit directly underneath a freezing cold air conditioner. Canary Wharf is far away from home: it is in fact another world, where people queue in perfect formation to get on the tube, where we receive daily emails about a great offer on a £40 pair of tights or a £75 set menu (yes, it’s someone’s job to promote the shops and restaurants there: my company is in a small minority of non-banks with non-banker salaries); and where it is quite possible to get completely lost on your lunch break in the ridiculous network of underground shopping centres (as long as you can get yourself back to Waitrose, all will be okay!).

Of course it’s not really about the place at all; we could have gone anywhere (and I’ll always feel a touch of nostalgia for the City), but I’m truly grateful that this move happened. It’s benefited my career, it’s benefited my personal friendships, and it’s benefited my shopping addiction (in that most of the shops are so totally out of budget that it’s not even worth looking). When I compare myself to someone outside of London, I know that I’m lucky to work in such a world-renowned area for business; somewhere that puts on free concerts, that offers multiple restaurants and bars and that’s one of the cleanest places I’ve been in London. If you’re in the area, come and say hi. I’ll show you around – as long as we can meet at Waitrose.


Grateful for Rebecca Hemming

Reflecting on a weekend filled with laughter, multicoloured shots, ridiculous dancing and great company, I am grateful for the bride-to-be, my oldest friend Becci.

In a world before hair straighteners or mobile phones, DVDs or social media, Becci and I were introduced as short-fringed, t-bar shoed two year olds, and she has been a key part of my life ever since. 

Becci, you’ve been there for every defining moment in my life. We spent our entire blissful childhoods together, from that first day at nursery onwards: countless evenings playing at each other’s houses (how lucky for our parents that my brother and your sister also became best friends!), borrowing toys from week-to-week (I’m sorry I threw a tantrum when I wasn’t allowed to borrow the doll in the yellow dress; I realise now that it was probably a family heirloom and not a toy at all), to our first forays to the shops without our Mums (green hair mascara from the indoor market: why!!). When I was sick in the middle of BHS during a Christmas shopping trip, you ran for help – always the one looking after me, telling me not to worry. You’re always so calm and collected Becci, bringing me back down to earth. 

Then on to those difficult teenage years – braces, spots, Year 7 Drama class; the crushing embarrassment of having to talk to a ‘popular’ boy. On your 13th birthday you decided to change Becky to Becci, and instantly earned a million cool points.

Navigating the questionable politics of a 14 year old friendship group (which you always did so well; never one to join in with the bitchiness, you’d always be much happier letting the rest of us get on with it), we travelled through senior school together. We auditioned for choir even though neither of us could sing for toffee (and got in, which says more about the standard of the choir than the standard of our singing), joined tennis club (you could play, I most certainly could not), sat next to each other in all our lessons. 

I never really appreciated how lucky I was to have you there – somebody to walk beside me on that first terrifying day (having first taken pictures wearing our oversized blazers and scrunched down white socks, in my back garden or on your front drive), to sprint at breakneck speed with me to the dinner queue (or risk queuing for 30 minutes then having to ram down the last piece of old, dry chicken in the remaining 5 minutes of lunch break); to share in the fears and the excitement, the laughter and the tears. I was never alone.

We spent hot, balmy summer holidays with our families in France or Belgium or Holland, our parents enjoying friendships just as strong as ours. Daily barbecues (generally a competition between our fathers as to how quickly one could cremate a sausage or burger) to the soundtrack of In the Summertime; carefree days where the only stress was ensuring our room was tidier than Greg and Charlotte’s, or what to spend our Francs on in the local Carrefour. 

As we grew older, moved on to college and then university, we took different directions (but not before a quick girl’s holiday to Magaluf first!): you in Cardiff and me in Reading. We didn’t see each other often – the here and now got in the way – but nothing ever changed. We’re too cemented into each other’s histories for anything to ever break that connection. 

Throughout Mum’s illness you showered me with messages of support; we met up when we could, you never gave up hope. You hugged me so tightly at the funeral, I know you felt my grief as if it was your own. I felt your pain as you felt mine. Our mothers shared the same friendship we did.

You’re now a fully fledged ‘village person’, creating the perfect home for yourself and Andy; throwing yourself into life in a new community, making friends along the way as you always do. Your kind and caring nature shines through in all that you do; you’re always to willing to lend a hand, to do what you can and to be a friend to everyone. 

It was no surprise that your friends this weekend were just as lovely as you – how could they not be?! You were surrounded with love because that’s how much you mean to all of us. 

In a few short weeks, we’ll watch you walk down the aisle – and I’ll be so honoured to be there as your bridesmaid. Thank you Becci, for being such an important part of my life, for being there throughout the good and the bad: for teaching me to be kind, to see the good in everything and to (try and) calm the hell down! Thank you for helping me become the person I am today. 

All my love,

Clare xxx

Grateful for family time 

This Easter Sunday, I’m grateful for the times spent with my family. We’re a small unit, and although there will also be other occasions throughout the year, Christmas and Easter (along with lots of birthdays) are the two occasions when we will all definitely come together.

As a child, family get-togethers meant rock cakes, tinned fruit cocktail and ham sandwiches at my Nannie and Grandad’s, or a lamb roast with mint sauce made fresh from the garden, served on Willow Pattern china at Grandma and Grandad’s.

They meant hours playing with my three cousins: making school books out of old fashioned continuous paper and pretending we were in boarding school ‘prep’ (we read a lot of Enid Blyton), attending a meeting of The Animal Friends Club – or TAFC, as it said on our badges – (Animals of Farthing Wood-inspired; we were very concerned about animal welfare and each of us had animal aliases: my little cousin Bobby was ‘lamb’), attending a tea party in the summerhouse with plastic bowls of chocolate buttons and marshmallows and pink wafers, or transporting ourselves to another world in which a packet of beads simply had to be sorted into different colours (whilst wearing woollen gloves) to avoid some kind of scientific nightmare. These endless days would cumulate with our Sunday night staple, The Borrowers (remember Arietty and Homily and Pod? The model village and the boat made of a teapot?) – what a treat. 

I remember one Christmas where time seemed to languish on forever, endless days of games and eating; new toys piled high on the dining table. My cousin Emily had been given her mother’s grey felt horse that year, and it is ever-present in my memories of that Christmas – shoehorned into every game we were playing, carried around like a new pet. I was so jealous! When the time finally came to go home (which, by the way, was about 20 minutes down the road), I was so distressed at being wrenched from this warm bubble, my mother suggested I start writing to Emily – and thereafter, despite living under an hour apart, we became pen friends; writing backwards and forwards using our extensive stationery collections, talking about school, about the next TAFC meeting, about whatever else was happening in our little eight year-old lives. I hope children of today still do this; it’s so much more special that a Facebook message or a Snapchat. 

We’re definitely a family that loves food: double cream must be involved in at least one dish (when I moved to London, my Dad bought me an electric whisk, a kitchen essential: “you need something to whip your double cream with!”); there will always be a ‘goodly spread’ as my Uncle still calls it: I remember celery sticks dipped in salt, towers of sandwiches made with ‘proper’ butter, birthday cakes thick with royal icing, vol-au-vonts filled with creamy chicken (if it was a special occasion). You never leave a family get-together hungry. And my Auntie Anne ensures this tradition lives on: whenever we visit for lunch, the day will certainly involve at least two instances of cake and coffee (elevenses and tea time), there will be chocolates after lunch, and everyone will leave with a food parcel. Heaven! 

As we got older and my grandparents passed away, the status quo remained: vol-au-vonts and celery sticks don’t tend to feature quite as much, but then perhaps that’s because it’s not the 1980s anymore – but we still all meet up, whether at my Dad’s or either of my Auntie’s, or even at my brother’s, now that he’s the closest thing to a grown-up amongst our generation of the family. Other boyfriends and girlfriends came and went (how I wish we’d asked them to step out of the group photos at the time!), The Borrowers was replaced by whatever else was on BBC 1 at 8pm. Myself and my cousins love to reminisce, and we still like playing games – although they’re more of the board game variety now, and they’re generally accompanied by a few glasses of wine and some cheese. ‘Exploding Kittens’ was the game du jour this Christmas, a neat segue from an original favourite, Pass the Bomb! We all love to laugh, whether it’s stories from Auntie Anne’s amateur dramatic society, my Uncle making fun of my inability to open train doors, or tales from the past, when the grainy albums of photographs are brought to life – or that video of the Pope falling over one Christmas (which left us all in a ridiculous state of hysteria, having been replayed at least five times). 

Without Mum, there is a gaping hole in our meet ups. No more of Mum’s famous trifles, no more of her endless laughter, no hilarious stories of the girls at work or what happened at the latest yoga class. Nobody to remember to buy the fancy biscuits or the long candles for the silver candlesticks. Dad and I try our best though; we muddle through.

The last Easter we had with Mum – I can’t believe it was two years ago now – was as happy an occasion as ever; Mum had come home from the hospice for the night, and although she looked poorly, her beautiful blue eyes and sunny smile shone through. We ate, we laughed, we did what we always do.  

Today I’ll be grateful for all those occasions we had together, and for the different occasions that are yet to come. I cherish all of our family times; they’re so precious and they’re a gift, not a guarantee. 

Grateful for Marie and Richard

This week I was lucky enough to attend the wedding of two of my lovely university friends. An absolutely gorgeous day filled with sunshine, drinks and memories, after almost twelve whole years together. Rie and Rich have been a constant in my life since somewhere around 25th September 2005 (cripes, we sound so old when you put it like that).

From the time you accidentally broke one of my two Tesco economy plates during freshers week and immediately gave me the money for it, I knew you were a decent guy Rich. A proper Essex boy (the first I’d ever met, and nothing like the ones on TOWIE!), you regaled us with hilarious tales from your job as a greengrocer pre-uni. 

You were a little bit scary too, so different to the boys I’d known from home who wore studded belts and converse and floppy fringes (just snorted at the thought of you sporting that look Rich); steadfastly making your way through endless cans of Castlemaine XXXX before a night out, pounding the fruit machines (and usually winning), dancing with your hands in the air to your favourite (super-cool) Lethal Bizzle. Never one to shy away from sharing your opinions (regardless of how disagreeable they may occasionally be!), you’ve always been so confident, so sure of yourself, so in control. And we all know you’re an absolute teddy bear really. When your brother came to visit it was double trouble; if we thought you were a bit intimidating Rich, you had nothing on your older brother (sorry James!). I still remember walking into the downstairs kitchen to find him drinking neat vodka out of a saucepan. Wild! 

Rie, the Cornish girl with a year-round tan; a bedroom full of beachy artefacts and a wardrobe full of surf wear. We first met when you and Becky ventured upstairs to the top floor of our halls, stumbling upon myself and Jo. Along with Zoe, our group was created. From countless nights out helping each other choose which denim skirt and vest top combo to wear, taking a tentative sip from a bottle of pernod; to lazy afternoons watching Friends on my VCR or sunbathing out on the quad, during that first year our friendship was solidified.

Your caring nature came through immediately when you were the one to rush Becky and her cracked chin to hospital. You’ve always been so chilled out Rie, so calm in any situation; perhaps it’s from growing up around all that seaside air – even when in second year you made the huge step to leave uni and start working in the City, I don’t remember detecting a hint of nervousness about you. You’d made your decision and you were confident that it was the right one. As your dad mentioned in his speech on Friday, I don’t know how you managed it – holding down a sensible full time job whilst keeping up with the student nightlife; barely missing a night out then heading into London for 9am the next day, whilst all we had to worry about was waking up in time for the new episode of Hollyoaks. 

When we left uni, I used to love having you both come and visit for the weekend; afternoons sat drinking in the sun, hungover Wetherspoons breakfasts; nothing had really changed since uni, and I’m sure that’s why I loved it. As time moved on and I went through a break up, you dealt with a potentially awkward situation perfectly; maintained your friendships and avoided gossip. You’ve always been so careful and thoughtful around me.

Rie, I’ll never forget how you travelled miles to my mother’s funeral to support me, despite being heavily pregnant, and with not a hint of a complaint. You’ve always been so selfless, so happy to help others in your matter-of-fact, ‘it’s no problem’ way. I know I could ask you to help me and you’d do whatever in the world you could. You’ve always been so kind inviting me to stay whenever I like, being such a fantastic host; a delicious hearty dinner on offer and always a bacon sandwich in the morning. You love looking after people, and that’s why I know you just couldn’t wait to have baby Oliver, what makes you such a fantastic Mum and Rich such a fantastic Dad. I’ll always treasure that special day when we met Oliver for the first time; my heart swelled with love for you all seeing how everything had changed in the best possible way. Never did I think I’d see the day when Rich voluntarily changed a nappy! I love seeing how confident and natural you are as parents; how he’s brought you even closer together.

You’re such a team; your unit just works (despite the fact I will never understand your blue and pink jobs!), and it’s clear that you are each other’s worlds. It’s been such a joy travelling with you on this journey; looking back to that first date on Valentine’s Day and spying the single red rose sat waiting in Richard’s sink, to this Friday as I watched your beaming faces exchange your vows and finally become man and wife. Thank you Rie and Rich for being in my life; for all the messages of support, the nights out, the cups of tea and the laughs. I don’t need to wish you all the happiness in the world, because I know you already have it – it’s right there on your faces for all to see. 

Grateful for London

Walking across Waterloo Bridge this week, having just seen a fantastic West End show (Dreamgirls – it was amazing, go and see it), I was reminded of how lucky I am to live in the capital city. London at night time is always just a little bit magical, and even though I’ve had a varied relationship with the city over the years, seeing the Eye and Big Ben’s bright lights and shimmering reflections on one side of the bridge and St Paul’s on the other always makes me feel grateful and reminds me that I love it.

Not everybody has the chance to live in a world-renowned city, to pop and see a world-class show after work, to dine on cuisine from anywhere around the world at any time of the day or night, to shop in the same places as Kate Middleton or to eat dinner in the same restaurant as Tom Jones (yes, really!).

My relationship with London has gone through many iterations throughout the years. I remember the childhood trips in which I’d spend weeks making posters covered in union jacks and “London Baby!” (this was peak Friends season 4 time and I also loved a felt tip or two), meticulously planning my outfit and saving my pocket money for a tie die top from Covent Garden market (which definitely shrunk and faded after the first wash) or something in the sale from New Look on Oxford Street. Exploring the sights and navigating the tube as a family of four, definitely mistakenly eating in an Aberdeen Angus Steakhouse one fateful time, we had a ball. Even then I remember saying I’d like to live there one day, but I don’t think I really believed myself; always thought the city was far too cool and grown up for me.

Studying at university in Reading, London was ridiculously close – but we still only made it into the city a handful of times. During my final year I completed two weeks’ work experience at Penguin, experienced for the first time the life of a commuter – a stark and horrifying contrast to that of an English student with three hours of lectures per week. I was terrified for the duration, but felt a glimpse of the glamour and freedom that London offered. There seemed no other option but to move to London after graduation. 

That summer I applied for job after job after job; travelled backwards and forwards to countless interviews (my mother even came with me to one – we made a day of it and saw a show) with little success. I finally made it to London several months later, but Penguin’s shiny open plan HQ on The Strand was replaced by a distinctly less glamorous tumbledown office in Tooting: my first job at a remainder book company. Nevertheless, I was a Londoner! I bought an Oyster Card, met friends for drinks after work, went on nights out in Clapham and took walks on Wimbledon Common. 

My Mum came to visit; we spent days and days shopping at Westfield, on Oxford Street, at Borough Market. How I wish I’d invited her more, that we could have had even just one more day encouraging each other to buy something else unnecessary. It’s never the same without my shopping buddy. 

I moved to Balham, made new friends; the fun really started. Spending £100 on an evening out became commonplace; cocktails and prosecco were the only acceptable beverage, a new outfit was needed at least once a week and Sundays were for staying in bed until 3pm. I went to Notting Hill Carnival, a drum & bass festival, a polo match; spent all summer on Clapham Common in my bikini, nights out in Chelsea talking to boys and staying out late. Hazy, selfish days without a care in the world.

Mum became ill; I fell out of love with London. I was studying after work, trying to maintain friendships and rushing home every weekend as my world crashed around me. Constantly dragging myself from station to station, lugging a laptop and a bag full of revision notes, London was an inconvenience: a place to travel to and from in tears; a barrier between me and the arms of my mother. I sometimes wish I’d moved back home, but I somehow held onto some semblance of a normal life for the periods when I was in London. My friends kept me sane, gave me a sense of normality (sometimes infuriatingly so). I didn’t allow myself any time alone, cramming in a different friend every night of the week if I could; arriving back at Marylebone on a Sunday evening and heading straight out to dinner or drinks. 

It took a long time to get the love back again. Even now, almost two years after Mum was taken from this world, I think I’m only just there. It’s so easy to feel homeless when you don’t spend all your time in one place; I was trapped in a strange purgatory between my self-sufficient adult life and my childhood home. I had friends in London but they’d moved on without me, shared experiences that I hadn’t been part of. I had my family at home, and so desperately wanted to be there to look after my Dad, but had no other parts of my life there. It just took time. 

London can be the loneliest place on earth if you let it; people are rude and pushy and don’t have any time, but it’s also the most vibrant; the must full of opportunity and change and excitement. My friends got me through it; some of them had indeed moved on forever, but the beauty of London’s transient nature is that there are always potential new friends around the corner too. I’m so lucky to have such a strong group of girlfriends (new member applications always welcome!). 

Sadiq Khan coined the phrase ‘London is open’, and this perfectly sums up what it is to live there. There’s a place in London for everyone (I won’t make a joke about house prices here), and as last month’s horrifying attack in Westminster showed, Londoners are fiercely proud of their city. We love all that it represents and all that it offers; we love the buzz and the culture; we love the food and the landmarks; we love the fact that anyone can make it their home.

Although I don’t think I’ll be here forever, and despite the fact the city has made me an absolute snob when it comes to eating out and waiting for public transport, I’m so grateful to have had the chance to live in London. I’m so lucky to have so much on my doorstep, to live in a place that people travel from across the world to visit, to have so much entertainment and culture and good old fashioned fun on offer. (Now remember this next time you’re staying in on a Saturday night watching Netflix, Clare!)