May the Fourth: 4 by 4

May the 4th is Star Wars Day. It’s my wedding anniversary, by happy coincidence: we chose it to make a long Bank Holiday for people coming from abroad.

It’s also our 4th anniversary and I like the number 4. I voted for it as the world’s favourite number – see no. 7 here (I think seven cheated to win.) So I though I’d find four groups of four things about our wedding, with the four photos above.

Four Musical Things:

The Swedish Wedding March. A nod to my background by birth, for going into the register office. We’ve heard all the jokes about strangling cats, thanks.

Nick Cave: Straight to You. There had to be St Nick, forced upon a captive audience. The setting limited our choice a bit. One other devotee was happy and she’d traveled from the States; several older guests who’d come from Kent and Herts had a little doze.

North Sea Radio Orchestra. For one reason only. First dance: shortest piece of music from a band we both love.

Arash: Boro Boro. Because you’ve got to have an Iranian-Swedish crowd-pleaser. And everyone gets to do hand-waving and make up their own words.

Four Decorative Things:

Life-sized plastic horse. You can see him behind the table if you zoom in. I’ve said it before, the London Canal Museum is the best place for a party. It’s got the horse AND one of the only ice wells you can look into.

Place names: Friend did the nice writing, paper cut into strips and stuck with a pin through a pink heart chocolate. Soppy but nice. With the replacement of a black jelly baby pinned through the heart for our much-loved Welsh Goth.

Confetti cones. Not to be quirky or wedding-magaziney but because I enjoyed using old wrapping paper and sheet music to make them. And our two bloke ushers looked amusing carrying them.

Orders of Service: Sister-in-law enlisted to help cut paper as above, stick on more paper with song and poem titles, stamp with special name and date stamp, thread with ribbon and shove a bit of rosemary through the ribbon. Took ages: looked lovely. Which brings me on to –

Four Things I Forgot:

Orders of Service. Left at home. My daughter tried to tell me as we got in the cab but I didn’t listen. Sigh.

Vases. Carrier bags with the little vases I’d found in charity shops over months, for flowers on the tables, left under the table with the above. The flowers looked just as good in bar glasses.

Marylebone Register Office waiting room: It is lovely. Actually, they forgot to tell me it existed so Best Friend and I went to Starbucks before and I had to tiptoe around on a ladies’ floor with rather more urine on it than is acceptable.

Sense of humour: Starbucks and the rain made me a bit hacked off for a while. Sorry, Mum and Amelia.

Four Brilliant Things:

Going through London on our own big red bus on the opening day of the Elephant Parade.

My nervous daughter reading poetry in front of loads of people.

Friends from all over and from all stages of our lives.

Family for the first and last time they’ve all been together. Four of my half siblings made it. My birth father. And all four of my and Steve’s parents.

Seven ways London went wrong

Courtesy of @twittaxristy on April 1, 2014
Courtesy of @twittaxristy on April 1, 2014

From Sunday 31 March, I ran the @londonisyours Twitter account for a week. You’ve probably seen these curated accounts round your way, where a different person gives insights into their daily life in a town, country or continent. @Sweden is one of the most-followed and I think it’s consistently interesting.

Signing up a few months ago, I tempted the Fates with my plans. There’d be a day or so at wonderful places I support with yearly membership but never seem to have the time to visit: Kew Gardens and the Chelsea Physic Garden. I’d travel by boat, taking in Tate a Tate en route, among a plethora of shows, galleries, museums and lectures.

I’d revisit areas I’d lived, from Stockwell to Stoke Newington; the bars and cafes of Islington, the City and Barbican. There’d be fascinating crime anecdotes from former workplaces at the Home Office and Met Police, and topical observations on paying nearly £1K a month for childcare back in the late 90s.

Cue the vengeance of the London-wrecking Seven:

1. Dental misery. A visit to the dentist the previous week led to antibiotics and endless days of head in a bucket. ‘Oh, those! They make you really sick,’ said everybody, while I was being really sick.

2. Childcare. I thought those pricey days of toddlerdom were the worst. No. that’s appeared in the shape of weeks of exams where lives are at stake on a fairly literal level. So any money required for cocktails in theatre intervals needs to be spent on extra tuition and I have to give my ‘free’ time to helping remember facts about covalent bonds, cystic fibrosis and El Nino.

3. Family. Dad left almost nothing when he died in January but that doesn’t seem to have negated the need to visit out of town solicitors to whom digital has little meaning. Mum was trying to get over what would have been their 59th wedding anniversary so I needed to stay with her a little longer. Leading me to …

4. The provinces. I was born in London but left for Folkestone at six weeks. Most people I know here aren’t from London. I complain about Folkestone but it is where I was brought up and I have a lot of interest in seeing it thrive. So it was lovely to chat with one Folkestonian following the account, more followed and, on my visit, I met one lovely person I’ve talked to on Twitter for a while.

5. Work. The contract for my last job ended on the day this Londoning began. Rather than the free time I’d envisaged, this meant getting straight on with the first freelance jobs that came up.

6. April Fool’s Day. This left me frankly terrified to post anything as I am one of those people who believes that ‘gullible’ isn’t in the dictionary. Having said that, the great ‘Underground Overground Wombling Free’ sign of Whitechapel went down a storm. And if you didn’t see one of the most charming and creative charity campaigns ever, do check this post via Charity Chap on the Girlguiding/Minifig takeover. Inspired.

7. There wasn’t really a seventh. But seven is the world’s favourite number. I’d voted for four which, with a pleasing elegance, came fourth. Go forth and curate your hometown. Seven aside, it was a fun week and a great experience.



Tony_Benn_Big_Ben‘He encouraged us.’

I can’t think of a more beautiful epitaph.

I stood behind a banner with those words on, at Westminster this morning. The amplified voice of Tony Benn’s son Stephen described how his father never judged his children, but always encouraged them.

I didn’t give a eulogy at my Dad’s funeral and I didn’t cry. Maybe that’s why I was in tears, as people clapped the rose-covered coffin,  Big Ben struck noon and the sun came right out. Debbie_NHS_nurse_Tony_Benn_Funeral_KarenJKHart


I love comics; I’ve been confused about cosplayers. Comic love meant growing up with Batman, Daredevil and the Avengers; discovering Swamp Thing and joy at seeing graphic novels such as the prize-winning Maus and Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes reach wide audiences.

Cosplayers were something new. For anyone who doesn’t know about enthusiasts who dress as favourite characters at comic conventions, that link is a good viewpoint. It includes my early concerns about women in alarmingly small amounts of lycra being objects of both sexism and derision.

This is a short and simplistic post, without time to reflect more but I wanted to catch a snapshot of the first convention I’ve attended: London Super Comic Con.

The middle photo is the villain from Kick-Ass 2. I’m going to chicken out of naming names. The Chris D’Amico character in both Kick-Ass films is one of my daughter’s favourites so I got up the courage to ask for a photo.

I certainly didn’t expect to meet a charming young woman called Amy under that exterior. Now she’s Facebook  friends with my daughter and a potential bodyguard, in her alter-alter ego as Mother Russia, if Amelia gets her act together to dress up another time.

The brilliant Batman rig in the first photo caught my eye for a second request. Without any doubt, that has to be the most awesome wheelchair EVER. I was so enthralled that it took my husband to point out the accompaniment of faithful retainer Alfred: I assume that in another guise, he’s Batman’s dad. I’m honestly lost for words at the love and care and pride that’s gone into this. Not much is really awesome. This is.

And the Star Wars pair. We were on our way out when they strolled past, tall and confident. I thought they were students from our flats, before a double-take to recognise the brother and sister I babysat when she was a toddler.

‘The blaster’s in the bag,’ Stefan pointed out before they headed off on the DLR; away from school, more mundane uniforms and the daily routine.

Freedom, self-expression and great fun. Now I get it.


Digital on, real life off


Floral_door_St_Bartholomew_the_Great_KarenJKHartCafe_window_St_Bartholomew_the_Great_London_KarenJKHartSt Bartholomew the Great is a picture perfect church in the City of London. You’ve probably seen it, even though you may not realise: it featured in Four Weddings and a Funeral, Shakespeare in Love, The Other Boleyn Girl and more …

I first went to the church years ago, when I lived nearby in the Barbican. The Cloister Café is gorgeous: I had tea there a while back with esteemed artist and illustrator Gareth Hopkins.  Then, not long before Christmas, after a Bart’s hospital trip (for a first mammogram – ouch – but just do it, if you haven’t and should. Saves lives and all that), I went for a restorative mince pie with my husband.

The prompt for this post was a Twitter chat with the Queen of Storify, Kirsty Marrins. She’d noted a comment that someone hadn’t thought the Shard worth a visit as there was no wi fi. Kirsty, I think rightly, wondered if this was because he or she (or an organisation, I don’t know) couldn’t immediately share their experience with Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

I’ve already posted about leaving Facebook. Lack of a smartphone means I tend not to post many real time photos on Twitter as using the front-facing camera on my Kindle (non-3G) tends to bring on nervous collapse and whatever I wanted to snap has long gone by the time it’s sorted. On the positive side, I have never had so many photos of my hair.

I try to be in the moment and enjoy what I’m doing, or at least experience it. I posted about my Dad’s funeral last month; although I can’t say I actually enjoyed it, there was a freedom from trying to record what was going on that felt liberating.

I mentioned to Kirsty about a cliché that I’ve seen for myself: tourists who only see the Mona Lisa through camera lenses while they stand in front of it in the Louvre. I’m so advanced in years that at university, camera films had to be sent off in envelopes to be developed.

I have albums full of early photos of my daughter and comparatively few of her since I started taking digital pictures. All those processed, over the counter pics somehow mean more than the gazillions of digital shots that I’ve barely ever looked: such as those above. I didn’t take them for instant posting but I hadn’t got around to looking at them until I just scanned my Kindle to see what was there.

According to 2011 stats from the Digital Photography School, of the 50,000 of the people they surveyed, nearly half took between 20 and 250 photos a week. I bet that’s gone up since.

We had a lovely time at the café, by the way, with tea and coffee and reading the papers, buying charity Christmas cards and having a chat with the woman on the door about types of incense and wedding flowers. I somehow don’t think that would have been the case if I’d been busy telling everyone ‘ZOMG Hugh Grant was here.’


“Fact, fact, fact!”* 52 of them

The-future-of_comics_Fringe_Write_Idea_FestivalI will be 52 in April and am getting used to the idea by saying so now. I was going to write a list of 52 facts about me but think this is better because I can fit more in a short space.

That’s four already … or even five, depending on how personal this week’s Weekly Blog Club theme-setter, lovely Kate Bentham, thinks ‘some facts about yourself’ should be.

I’ve loved comics since I was small and the picture above makes me happy. This is partly because it only shows the back of my head but mainly because I’m listening to a debate on the future of comics as part of November 2013’s Writeidea Festival Fringe.

I was a volunteer on the organising panel and am delighted that I managed to suggest and bring in some brilliant speakers. They included a former executive producer of Eastenders, Diederick Santer, who is the brother of my friend Hen; he debated soaps with an Archers scriptwriter who came to my wedding reception, Mr Keri Davies. There was best-selling historical master of the medieval murder mystery Michael Jecks who I had last spoken to nearly 16 years ago at Lingfield Races.

Among others I asked were Booker nominee Alison Moore and fellow SALT-published novelist Simon Okotie, who made me cry with laughter one morning with two words (‘Hulk, smash’. Spoken by a mild-mannered Buddhist, this was for some reason hysterical.) I also asked one poet –  Maitreyabandhu, another Buddhist – a man I greatly admire for his humour and  work on mindfulness for people with depression.

I approached some people through Twitter: Stella Duffy, genius writer, campaigner and generous woman. Her blog post this week made me cry. I want you to read it and I wish her every positive thought I can offer. Melanie Clegg is wonderful Madame Guillotine, an observant and beautifully-descriptive cultural cockney who rocks blue hair in a way that (colour clash) turns me green with envy.

It made my day to have Robin Ince agree to headline the Saturday and spend time chatting with me and my daughter beforehand. Being good at English when I went to school meant ditching science and I wish with all my heart I had his dedication to educating himself in so many scientific areas.

I went to Robin’s Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People before Christmas. I think my favourite on stage was hedgehog-loving author and ecologist Hugh Warwick. My first pet was a hedgehog called Murphy, given to me when I was nine by workmen who’d found him. I adored him and was inconsolable when he wandered next door and ate slug poison.

Back to the picture above. The red hair (I wish I had the nerve to dye mine like it) and yellow dress belong to Nat Guest. I think she probably has the best username on Twitter: @unfortunatalie  I first spotted her online because of her invention of the superb Question Time Tweetalong events; I went to one at the Hackney Attic. I’d suggested the festival have a fringe for the first time and asked her if she would curate the two days.

I suspect by the time she’s nearly 52, Nat’ll be Prime Minister. If she wants. She has a network of intelligent, well-connected and creative people that makes me feel out of touch, dull and slack-jawed. She can also drink me under the table.

I’m looking forward to helping out again this year, with Writeidea 2014.

*I bet you knew that was a quote from Dickens’s Hard Times. And that’s 52 facts about me.