This week, Stockholm!

In praise of Norwegian, a budget airline company who flew me to Stockholm and back this weekend.

The whole experience was great compared with other budgets carriers, in the general sense that they didn’t actively obstruct every part of my journey with overzealous process, demands for money, or both. They were just, you know, nice and pleasant. Respectful rather than implying things would be a whole lot smoother if I wasn’t there at all. You all know who I mean – and there is more than one of the them – and have enjoyed many hours in their capable hands, I am sure.

Anyway, Norwegian, as well as being decent people also had on-board WiFi. Maybe this is a thing on proper long-distance international flights but I’d not come across it before. So I took great pleasure in telling Twitter and Tumblr that I was 10,000 metres high and IN THE FUTURE.

And not only was there WiFi, but it worked. And by worked I mean it didn’t do any of the following:
– require me to register, or fill in any personal details, at all;
– take minutes to load a single page;
– cap me in any meaningful sense.

All of which are common features of free WiFi on the ground.

OK, there were a couple of issues. It struggled a bit with some https sites because the authentication process got disrupted. Email worked, twitter website struggled but the app worked. And, naturally, it blocks streaming sites like iPlayer but I expect that on a volatile signal. It also blocked Victoria Coren’s website – was it the gambling or the pr0n that triggered it, I wonder? – but let’s be honest, that’s hardly crucial mid-flight viewing, even for me.

On the way home I wanted to see if it kept the same standards. It did. The signal was a little flaky. It probably worked about 75% of the time, but I can’t begrudge them that, being in the clouds and all. (I wonder if it was connecting via the cloud, ho ho ho shut up.)

I also spent more time on their web portal and that’s when it went from a pretty good experience to impressive. It’s the little things. In some situations having a machine follow you across the north sea might be considered a touch intrusive. But when you’re in a metal cupboard in the sky (that description © John Finnemore) and ultimately desiring little more than to be back on the ground, then it’s rather sweet.

Here’s where I am on my journey:

And here’s my specific flight status. 45 minutes to go before we arrive in a rainy London. Although, that weather report could just be static text. Either way, the tiny considerations like that were what made it.

Like I said at the beginning, it’s not just that they had working WiFi, it’s that the whole experience was thoughtful. They could have really hashed this up and I would have still used it, in a grump, bemoaning the fact I was supposed to be on holiday but even though I’m 10,000 metres in the air I still can’t stop swearing at computers. But it wasn’t like that. The whole experience was so gentle and intuitive, it made me want to tell everyone about it.

One final point. See the bottom half of that second screenshot? That’s a video on demand service. It’s early days; there are very few programmes and it’s just on a trial basis, but – it is the future, isn’t it?

Bringing it all back home

Hello.

I’m in the UK. I’ve been here two weeks and haven’t properly unpacked yet. I’ve already been on holiday twice since. And -gasp- working. And catching up with people and proper beer.

Basically: sorry for the silence. I will write some proper soon, promise.

How’s Latvia? Kā Latvijai iet?

Apologies for the communication lag. I hope you will agree that weeding through 226 comments trying to sell me viagra and fake passports was punishment enough.

I’ve spent the past 10 days in Britain. In fact, Tufnell Park, London, in the house I called home for three and a half years. While there I visited the same friends in the houses they still live in, met another friend in our usual pub, went to church in the same school, and spent yet another runious hour in the Oxfam bookshop in Kentish town.

All of which, when combined, kidded me into thinking I’d never left. People would ask how Latvia was and rather than respond with my stock phrases – kids’ centre, stupid languages, no/too much snow, strong beer – I found myself wondering aloud, as most people in the UK do, ‘Where’s Latvia?’. In November I was choked with culture shock. At Christmas I was too soporific to think anything. This time I was blazed by the sunshine and positive temperatures and could only see my immediate present.

My visit was built around the Word & Sprit conference, hosted by my sister (parent?) church that I used to attend before I upped sticks to the Baltics. I almost don’t want write what it was about for fear of getting it massively wrong, but here’s what I took from it: churches must be firmly based in the bible (the word) but strong the (holy) spirit i.e. the supernatural power of God. It says in the gospels (e.g. Matthew 15:30) that Jesus healed the sick, and that through the power of the holy spirit we can do the same (John 14: 11-12). I believe this, and I did see healing this weekend: I saw a leg grow two inches before my eyes as it was prayed for, and I saw someone able to walk free from pain because of it. I believe in Jesus and I believe that he heals, even today.

I also believe I am a ridiculous fan girl. Forthose of you in need of a bit of light relief, here is a picture of me in a deer-stalker / death frisbee.

Part two of ‘What I did on my holidays’ will arrive tomorrow. This is because I think I can make some kind of intelligent point about how stalking celebrities has changed in the Information Age ™ and I’m overdue a UX expert opinion think white paper piece.

‘Til we have built Jerusalem

A strange paradox has been building these last couple of weeks. On the one hand I feel very at home in Riga now. I hadn’t realised quite how much and how calmly I’d settled in till last week, when I returned to England for the first time.

I flew to Gatwick and spent two days in Reading and a third day in London. I heard English, native English in all its crassness and imperfection, northern and southern accents, business coversations and senseless banter. (Not that the business talk wasn’t senseless either). Yes, the European I hear here is imperfect, but it’s imperfect through lack of confidence, where in England its flaw arise from laziness, the simple ease with which we can communicate means the speech becomes impure. It hard to say why this struck me the most, of all the things I could miss, but it did.

Staying in London was an odd sensation, a mix of past and present crashing into each other that I can’t quite pin down. Think of it this way: I spend a night in my old house in Tufnell Park, only I slept in the living room. Everything the same, everything different.

I am lucky that people don’t figure in this confusion. My friends and my family don’t sucumb to the same disorientation; I’m pleased to see them wherever in the world we are. Place and person have always been disassociated with me, so while the streets themselves were unsettling, the people were a welcome relief.

And so, when I returned to Riga yesterday, it did feel like going home. And I did want to go home, if only because it’s a bit painful to live in two places at once.

Now the other side of the paradox. I’ve just said I was relieved to return, but while here a very strange desire overtakes me: to return to Anglia. Anglia is the best word, because what I keep wanting is to join an Anglican church, in England.

This is silly for several reasons:
1. I’ve never been part of the anglican church
2. I don’t think I would actually like it if I was
3. I’m in Riga.

So silly, but I think I know why. When I say Anglican I mean traditional hymms, safe, middle-class, tea, cake, tea, coffee, bit cliquey, don’t ask-don’t tell, bumble along nicely with your life, tea, don’t bother with God unless it’s Sunday christianity. Tea.

This may be grossly unfair on all Anglicans from Betty Royal downwards. In fact, it definitely is. But the reason I want all that is really because it’s the opposite of my church life at the moment, an image of comfort projected through my predjudices, in the face of the messy changable experimental church that’s just birthing. Though there is still plenty of tea.

I want, or think I want, safe and boring because church planting is not those things. I want them at the same time as knowing that they’re not for me, that I’d get frustrated at the tradition, bored of the liturgy and choke on the insense.

This longing gets fed by my media habbits. I watch Rev., listen to Ian Hislop, Rev Richard Coles, Victoria Coren… all a mixture of the intelligent, honest, silly, godly – and all somewhat instituationalised in church, media or both. That also points me to Anglican, even if they’re strictly not.

So in summary, I was slighly glad to leave the England I love, but want to return to a Anglia which doesn’t exist and I’d hate even if it did. It sounds like an issue, but it isn’t. I’m learning that missing a loved place can be as emotional as missing a loved one. I know how I’m easily influenced, but still grasp the difference between grass-is-greener escapism and true desire. Most importantly I know that God called me here, to Riga, and for that reason alone this is the place to be.

Cuttings from his glory days

I’ve walked Las Ramblas but not with real intent.

I’m a big fan of the local library. Not library as I might usually mean it, not the slightly over-heated, out-of-the-way, never-have-what-I-want-in cubby holes that I treasure dearly. But the other local library, the streets of London and beyond which I tread daily, living and breathing the present but so often the past, or the made up.

Here, in Tufnell Park I am in spitting distance of the following:
– The house George Orwell used to live in
– The Seven Sisters which Brett Anderson left ‘for a room in a seaside shack’.
– The Hotel Splendide which inspired a Bernard Butler bside
– The Good Mixer which cooked up Britpop until it boiled over
– The St John’s Road, Archway where Spike Milligan used to visit his friend Harry Edgington
– The house where Spaced was filmed. (I even shop in the same Londis as Tim did.)

The locations in songs, TV and books captivate me as much as the emotions, and send me on stupid Saturday morning missions to seek out a brick wall somewhere in Highgate. Cast the nets a little further, to the rest of London, Worthing, Sheffield and the list could go on.

You know, I walked around Merrian Square in Dublin, and sure people know Oscar Wilde lived there, but who else spots the estate agent Morrisseys on the corner and Yeats’ house opposite, and sees Cemetry Gates made flesh? And then I walked down Las Ramblas in Barcelona thinking of Orwell and thinking of Nicky Wire feeling inadequate in his steps, and I felt inadequate in both their steps, but was somehow thrilled, as if I was doing a secret thing which only I knew about.

Often it’s me on a treasure hunt but sometimes it’s accidental and it catches me unawares. Take this week. I have been reading High Fidelity by Nicky Hornby. It’s set around here, Crouch End, Seven Sister Road, Camden, Kentish Town. Familiar terrirtory but I don’t recognise many of the road or shop names. I know Crouch End well so there’s no need to seek it out.

But then, the book finds me. On Friday evening a friend of mine from work, Rachel, invites me to see her band play in Camden. Suddenly I’m in the Hope & Anchor and the Purple Turtle and seeing Rachel sing, meeting the band and their friends and having awkward but fun conversations and the memory of the book, of Marie’s gigs comes crashing in. Waves of sensation – something like deja vu – make me laugh and I find myself asking my new aquaintances what music they like just to keep the illusion going. It’s not even as if the personal situation is similar, it’s the same thrill as Baracelona – being in a joke that no one else is.

Saturday morning I walk to Oxfam Books & Music in Kentish Town to see what I can dig out for my scruffy book pile. The guy in the shop is berating his younger assistant: “I can’t believe you haven’t seen Zulu! How can you not have seen Zulu? Where have you been?!” I take my books to the counter and he critiques them, all the while continuing to tell his assistant how great Blondie are. As I’m paying the assistant is asked “OK, top 10 records from the 80s?”. On my way out I ask them both if they’ve read High Fidelity. No, says the man. Yes, says the assistant. “Well,” I said to the assistant, “he is definitely Barry.”

She giggles, I leave. But not before I catch the expression on her face, which I know well myself. It’s the joy of being in on a joke that you can’t explain and you couldn’t even if you wanted to.

Still so in love with you

It’s that time of year again, when everything kicks into gear. Not because it’s autumn or anything, but when I open my diary and it’s a mess of train times and confirmation numbers. My head, to match, is a mess of organisation, revelation and glitterly disintergration. Time, in short, for a Manics tour.

A new album too, to add to the adventures of my imagination this month. I’ve been seeing the world through a mixture of Sherlock, Phill Jupitus, Chalet School, Edwyn Collins, Fry & Laurie, Bret Easton Ellis, Edingburgh Fringe, and Patrick Wolf, plus all my usual temptations.

Now’re we’re in September and things are kicking up a gear.

Exhibit A. On Monday we see Stephen Fry read from his biography part 2. I’m re-reading volume one, Moab is my Washpot in anticipation. It’s been a while and I’d forgotten how close to the bone it was. Not in circumstance but in sentiment. I keep having to come up for air during passages. Sometimes I can’t process a whole sentence at a time, the feeling is so thick. I adore it, but it feels like I’m being turned inside out in the process. I remember when I first read it I knew it would change me. That was about three years ago and I was right. The next link in the chain, the next big touchstone for all I’d pick up, read, frame my thoughts through. You’ll either get that or you won’t but either way, it started in Moab.

Exhibit B. I was in York this weekend gone and with two hours free shopping, hit the charity shops to stock up. Very succesfull – Mark Gatiss, Alan and Victoria Coren, a previously un-owned edition of Moab, Grahame Green and Miles Kington all showed themselves. So did a Billy Ray Cyrus CD and a horrible book titled ‘The Smarties Guide to the Galaxy: Space, the universe and everything’. I did not buy these last two monstrosities; I put Billy to the back of the rack and hit the Smarties one against the bookshelf because I am mature like that.

Exhibit C. There’s lots to write at the moment, so I must take notes properly as I go pootle along so I don’t forget all the things I’ll put to page when I get the bloody time. I must keep hold of the Edingburgh spirit when I stayed up all night discussing sketch craft with the UCL Comedie crew. Sketches are where I started. I still have a Monty Python-esque fear of punchlines.

These things might sound like diversion but they’re all the same thing really. Swimming deep in inspiration, infatuation and validation. I love it. It makes we want to work, to create, to design and write.

So after Fry there’s a couple of weeks respite until the Manics tour, which takes up most of October. In between all this introspection, I must organise trains, hotels and myself. I must attempt to remember which of the hundreds of editions of the album/single I’ve ordered.

And then I’ll hit the road. I’ll be working, travelling, and singing, but probably not eating or sleeping. No doubt I’ll come back with a million new in-jokes and a whole host of new favourite lines. Let’s end on another one, Jarvis this time. Why live in the world when you can live in your head – and cringe at the number of hours you’ll spend waiting in Birmingham New Street wondering where the hell you’re headed next?