A year ago today…

I had just finished my exams, celebrated my birthday and got on a flight London to Seattle.

I found myself arriving at a 22 buck a night air bnb in Highline on the outskirts of Seattle with a quarter full suitcase and lots of time to absorb my new home, write my dissertation, and quickly explore the city in five days before catching the greyhound to Portland.

I loved where I was staying instantly. A wooden structure, shared between three of us, just the right dynamics of chats, learning about our differences and expectations en transit, keeping sweet vibes throughout and respecting each other’s time needs and privacy. I loved waking up surrounded by the alpine greenness of pnw. Got my Orca loaded, and picked my daily trips between jumping on the 35min bus journey to the city centre, or 35 min walk to the coast.

Seattle is where my journey begun, and where it ended.

I got caught on the rising tide on a private beach, I studied in the most quaint little library in Fremont, strolled in unexpected familiarity up and down University Way and experienced the awe of Japanese tourists in Suzzallo and Allen Libraries the setting of some of the Harry Potter scenes.

Seattle is the uber cool without the forced coolness. It is grounded, down to earth, green, gorgeous, creative and blatant.

I couldn’t have ever imagined Seattle would have made such a fundamental mark and given me so many beautiful memories from this two month trip, and without sparing any important details, I couldn’t have asked for more.

Other than to return, again and again to soak up the atmosphere before I move on again.

 

April 2020, the month of coronavirus lockdown. My breathing exercises in spring views of East London, UK

I would like to start this blogpost acknowledging this has been one changeable mood kind of a month.

It begun in semi frustration and acceptance: this is what we need to do and we commit to it. Blindfolded into commitment, no questions asked. Then days, then weeks passed. The exhaustion of changing habits in and out of home. The disappointment of realising you can’t walk into this pub, or straight into the shop, they are either shut, or there is a queue. You can’t hug your friend or pat the back of your neighbour. And that cycle route you always thought as the best, is out of bounds, too many runners using the tow path and daddies training their little ones to cycle. So forced into rediscovering your vicinity in new conditions, you get to become the tourist again, and that is cool.

Then the important stuff happening unnoticed until you think there’s value in the time you have saved from travelling and all the social stuff you can no longer do. So talking to friends and neighbours you end up rocking up to a community space in a church build on the ruins of one that was built in the 1600s, thinking you’re not the religious type but there are enough Muslim kids and white working class families about to take the edge off.

Next thing you’re committed and talking to new people. That guy is familiar, of course he is in and out of my block, and we chat, I hear the news and off we go.

Those who are organising everything, early on in the outbreak, with little knowledge of the impact yet without hesitation, they set up shop quickly. They asked and got donations, listened unjudgmentally to the community’s input, and attracted people of all ethnicities and faiths to help. They reassigned resources quickly. The initial food was delivered to 40 odd people three times a week and now it has grown to double of that.

Today, the last day of April feels like a halfway point on a long holiday. It’s been thrilling, confusing, too long, too short, too busy, and now seems to be going too fast and to be true, I don’t want it to end yet, but I do want to be able to make plans for the future.

Somehow the reality is: I can’t, and none of us can.

As we will gradually re-enter a version of normality in the coming months, there will be plenty of vulnerable people who will still not be able to leave their home. This help will not stop with our needs being met, and not until they have their fully met. It has been challenging at times running up and down unfamiliar estates, motivating oneself to get out, cover up, do your deed, run home, take everything off, clean everything, shower. Yet it’s been worth it. The smiles, the chats, the waves, the odd requests, or the kind wishes and offers. It all makes it so special.

This month has also been one where I covered nearly 200km cycling. It’s not a lot, however in addition to my training, and the bursting energy of spring colours and smells, there was plenty of visual richness to record.

The blog and the photos are dedicated to the community leaders, and those who need their swift action. They are being both my inspiration and motivation throughout the past six weeks and the very out of the ordinary month of April 2020.

Canary Wharf

Even more so, this month I hope does not go by forgotten. Everyone has been affected by it and I purposely included the empty canary wharf development. No one is immune to this and I hope this chance for a level playing field is finally grasped like the breath of fresh air we so much need.

Ode to Michael, Andreas and Kostas

I don’t believe in God, not in the traditional way anyway. But I do believe in the power of gratitude and appreciation towards people who have come to your life to reflect a mirror of your self, to ascent and revalue what you hold dearly inside of you.

I will begin with the story of how I met Michael. Some four and some years ago. Through a common acquaintance who knew I was visiting Portland, Oregon.

Michael is a philosopher. One who has jumped the academic ship to share his true passion over the community waves in that beautiful Pacific northwestern part of the world.

Throw Michael a dice and you’ll get the idea back kindly explored twice. His accessible, empathetic yet unafraid to challenge skill says as much about his heart as much as about his mind which is open, loving, honest and growing coffee fuelled day by the day.

I need not to say I feel fortunate to have spent some hours with him and his wife talking through everything and anything, tipping things on their head for the purpose of our own individual truth as much as for those around us.

Next up is Kostas. I met one of his closest mates some 25+ years ago, his wife around 3 years ago, so the journey to him is a little deflected by circumstance.

Kostas is a scientist, with a research project in Svalbard in Arctic Norway, an explorer and a dj by the day.

I will begin my journey with the most recent interaction, coming back from my rowing training to a text from Andreas saying tune in to this radio station, our pal is playing some music.

Kostas is the guy who managed somehow to dig the most beautiful sounding punk rock tunes right uplifting and melodic enough, for a two hour set on a Sunday morning. Towering at 6 feet, this guy curated a set through geography, turned political reflection, turned dedication to his friends. And all with the same passion as he talks about the intricate details of his research lab and in kindness and humour to his team and fellows.

And last but never least, is Andreas. My pal of a lifetime. The person that knows himself so well, that he understands me and is honest as much.

We met in Rebound, the then only dark wave club in Athens, still going with freakishly beautiful human beings rocking to some of the most etheric yet often screetching 80s sounds.

Andreas is kind and generous and has the ability to conversate with anyone whilst maintaining a uniquely unpretentious level. He knows his nuclear physics, no pun intended, and I’ve seen people feeling intimidated by him including my own father who has known him since I was a late teen kid.

For me in many ways I noticed how respectful he is of my partner avoiding to offend by calling or texting, and how subtly he presents he’s there when I’m on my own, not for his benefit, but for an upgrade to a reference point we may have discussed before.

Most importantly, I feel like I can be anyone and everyone around him. After all, I have grown up parallel to his own journey and we have seen each other grow up, change, contract and deconstruct over a fairly long time too.

I am so incredibly lucky to have him in my life.

My dedication post to the three men is made in honour of how I grew up by knowing them, and still grow today. Neither of them became who they are today because of their wives, mothers, other women in their lives. Surely their partners have supported their development, but it’s all down to those boys doing it alone and remaining truthful to themselves.

I know there is a lot of material about loving and protecting men out there, but unless they had looked inwardly, there is no way anyone could have done that for themselves.

Thank you for being you.

Have you ever begun something blindfolded?

So you know how things go. You are flowing by with studies, work, friendships, relationships when something new gets introduced to your routine. It starts as an off beat recommendation, and whilst you’re not doing anything else that’s specifically central or significant in your life, you join in on the flow of this new thing in life.

Then weeks go by and despite hesitations because of other well established patterns in your life, you find yourself making more space for this new thing. Then you need to sense check, so you pull away, dismiss it, and there it goes it pops up again seeking your attention.

So you start thinking, what to do. Time invested means previous patterns are being challenged, smoked out, and you’re still unsure if it’s a fluke or will stick around for a while. And then more time goes by and it is still there. Sometimes it feels annoying, tiring, unbalanced, but you realise like with most things settling into a new job, relationship, friendship, hobby is an ongoing process of exploration.

And then the penny drops; your commitment to keep exploring is the juice of life, and as long as you don’t get stuck in a tunnel vision, the scheme of things will keep on evolving and merging with who you’ve become.

Rowing in the East End with its histories and all

Two years ago I came accross the documentary called Men of the Thames. The film is a journey of watermen and lightermen working in businesses on the Liquid Highway of London.

The story is narrated through the family histories of people with long associations to the London docks, the changes that have shaped their local industry since and their closeness to rowing.

Rowing for them is a family affair, taken up to continue the tradition of family participation in competitions, or as a means of rehabilitation from severe injury in pursue of ‘bringing those who stray back into a much supportive community’. It also highlights how tragedy is reflected upon and the power of responsibility owned by those working on the river.

The second documentary zooms in on the Doggetts Coat and Badge race.

Introduced and funded by Thomas Doggetts, the film takes us into the community within one of the oldest livery companies in London, housed at the Watermen’s Hall.

This is a single sculling race for apprentices in the lightermen and watermen sectors of London, traditionally originating East from the Tower of London.

Rowing in these parts of London was a far cry from the associations of today to university crews and the boat race.

Oared vessels were used to transport people by the river, and the importance of understanding the tides, steering in the streams and the elements in these wider parts of Thames were key to safe and time efficient passage.

Many of the references point to rowing facilities in the east of London. The London Youth Rowing, next to the City Airport is a more recent addition utilised by many regional clubs. Poplar and Blackwall District Rowing Club hosts exhibits from generations of Doggetts winners, many of whom trained from the club. Further athletes went on to row competitively in high performance national, international and Olympic events.

The Eastend is a place of transience and evolving histories, still unfolding to date.