Things I think about London

Posted in Uncategorized on December 20, 2015 by helenperkins

The water is poisonous here. Or at least it tastes that way.

It makes this weird scum on the top of a cup of tea – kind of like the algae on a pond which gets too much sun. I had to switch to bottled water when I realised I was unconsciously avoiding drinking and was slowly turning into a human crisp.

I’ve been making notes about the capital since moving here in March 2015, comparing it to the Lake District, where I lived for four years before that.

Other negative features of the city – I will start with them – include the fact that everyone gets sick here all the time because there are so many people and so many germs.

Also, on a vexing domestic point, every building in London seems to have installed these kitchen taps that fire water at you. It’s like each tap hides a Force 400 Power Hose. More than once, I’ve come away from the washing up looking like I’d actually clambered into the sink.

Then there’s the anger. People get angry in London – and they lose their top over almost anything, not just the taps. They get angry at the fact the next train is in three minutes. Angry at the fact that everyone else is so angry. Angry at umbrellas and the pavement and being tired and the temperature and the bus driver.

This city is a therapist’s merry playground. And a therapist could charge about a million quid because everything in London costs about a million quid. London is like Fight Club – but this time it’s Skint Club. Unless you are a successful hedge fund manager, you are constantly finding yourself in Skint Club. But the rules of Skint Club are that no one talks about Skint Club, or else someone might get angry.

But, then, London.

London is a city of a million chance meetings, ranging from the terrifying, to the glorious and often the downright surreal.

I ran straight into the world’s most blue-eyed boy on a platform somewhere on the Northern Line, about a week after I arrived here. Blue, the colour of a child’s crayon.

He was maybe 16 or 20, dead freckly, maybe Italian or Spanish or something. He followed me onto the train just to say hello – thankfully not like a creepy teenage stalker hello, just literally to say hi.

We sat across from this drunk couple. She had her legs over her boyfriend, who was wearing a fancy dress cowboy hat and was making some pretty heavy promises to her, loudly, which were heard by everyone in the carriage.

“You can tell this is a late train,” the boy said.


“Nice to meet you.”

“You too.”

And then I got off and ran up the steps.

So yes. This, everyday. London.

You can meet all imaginable kinds of people. Life drawing models, musicians, hi-tech geek wizards, the Swiss guy who sells the world’s finest coffee out a little espresso van in Peckham.

I met Sylvan, the staff guy who says goodnight to you when you get off the train late at Brockley Station. And met Barry, a man who stands at the end of Queens Road almost every day with his ancient little white dog ‘trying to get him used to the sound of the traffic’. He used to be taught English by Chris Tarrant.

London is like this big drunk trifle. It’s overwhelming if you make any attempt to swallow it whole – there’s far too many places and people and things. All that custard.

So everyone here makes their own, special, personal mousey route. You pick your half a dozen friends. And I did. There’s the one who initially described herself as ‘the result of an accidental condom split’, the one who told me a story about a lizard that still creases me up and is surely the single best story-teller I will ever meet, another who has saved me with wine and merry chatter a hundred times now, and who has the ability to cut through nonsense like she has laser eyes. And you go to Battersea Park, where it’s quiet and there are beagles. You find your way to the Velasquez paintings in The National Gallery. You work out your Northern Line and you stick to it.


How to stretch a canvas

Posted in Uncategorized on October 28, 2014 by helenperkins

The painting training has shimmied into the dark arts – with worrying rooms full of hammers and sharp implements and the smell of rabbit skin glue and death in Watership Down. This Monday night was spent stretching my own canvas, which is both easier and harder than it sounds. Intellectually, it’s not difficult, but for the stringy-armed…well…owh.

I thought I’d share the a bit of a How To. Then I can look it up when I inevitably forget.

Here goes.

To stretch a canvas, you will need:
A decent floor space.
Two pairs of stretcher bars. So, if you want your canvas to be 18″ by 30″ you will need to get two 18″ bars and two 30″ bars. Best place I can recommend is Jacksons online. They will send them out to you, and they are likely to be cheaper and a whole lot more reliable than the ones you would turn out if you tried to butcher a tree yourself.
Canvas. This comes in all types. Get it pre-primed and save yourself hassle. You can buy a roll of it, if you’re sure you know the kind of grain you’re after.
A staple gun. And staples, obviously.
A staple extractor, for when you get it wrong.
A sharp craft knife.
Something to put on your floor so you don’t dent your canvas or get smut on it. We just got a bit piece of thick fabric.
A hammer.
A set square.

Below is the method. Additionally I’d recommend you do all this to good music, so you can’t hear the sound of yourself failing to work the staple gun.

1. Slot your stretcher bars together. One side of them will be flat and the other will be beveled. Make sure all the bars have the flat side the same way up.

2. Check your corners are straight with your set square. If they aren’t, give them a tap with the hammer. Don’t whack them hard because you’ll dent them.
3. Lay your formed canvas frame on the floor.
4. Get your roll of canvas and lay it out to work out the size. You want to leave a 20cm margin around the outer edge of your canvas.
5. Get your craft knife and cut that out.
6. Get a cup of tea.
9. Now, lay the canvas, primed side (white side) down on the floor.
10. Put your frame on top.
11. Sit in front of the frame length and turn the edge of the canvas over at its centre. You want to staple it in the centre of the length of the frame.

12. Head to the other side of your frame. This is the bit where you need strong arms. Pull your canvas, stretch it, so it’s taught with the other side – the part you have already stapled. Grip it and staple the direct opposite side.

13. Now, do the same for the centre of each of your width bars.
14. Return to your longer sides and begin working your way out – stretching and stapling evenly, so you reach the corners of your canvas at the same time.

15. You can tap in any proud staples with a hammer if they sit proud to stop them going anywhere.
16. Cut excess canvas off in a straight line.

17. Then you need to do a bit of origami – so you have a nice box edge, with the canvas folding over the same way on each side.





18. In theory, you should now have a taut canvas. You can tighten it up a little more by wetting the back of the canvas and by slotting in the nifty canvas wedges that come with most slats. They fit in at the back of the corners.


30 things my tortoise taught me

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on March 30, 2014 by helenperkins



1. In the end it is better to be striking than beautiful. And it is okay to paint your nails green.

2. It is very important to have two strong arms.

3. You don’t want to eat too much dry food.

4. It is better to see the world from one place than to blindly dash about everywhere and notice nothing at all.

5. You don’t need to be loud to get noticed.

6. Home is something you carry with you.

7. Slow and steady beats fast and stupid, every time.

8. The greatest pleasures include a good meal, a long lie in the bath, and warm sun on your back.

9. It is okay to hide if the company is not to your style.

10. Green vegetables keep you alive. Especially broccoli.

11. Determination is a like a super power all of its own.

12. If at first you don’t succeed, don’t get lazy.

13. Worry isn’t a good use of time. Tortoises don’t worry.

14.There are numerous advantages to being flat chested.

15. Having long shiny hair isn’t everything.

16. Everyone – and every thing – loves a great bass line.

17. You can live perfectly well without knowing a thing about celebrities or politicians.

18. You won’t regret one missed hour of TV, phone messaging or social networking.

19. Lettuce is important.

20. Promises aren’t necessary – if you are going to do something, you will; if you won’t, you won’t.

21. Being around is the most important part of being a friend.

22. Curiosity is underrated.

23. When you fall on your back it is important to get yourself back up – so you aren’t miserable and you don’t squash your lungs.

24. It really does take 20 minutes for every living thing to wake up. Even tortoises yawn.

25. Sometimes you can collect memories in your shell and they go no further, and that is okay.

26. You can find comfort in a friend who is 100 times bigger than you, or 100 times smaller.

27. Sleep is necessary. All living things do better with it.

28. If you are tired enough you can sleep buried under a pile of wood.

29. However, it is preferable to find a warm shoulder to sleep on.

30. It will probably take quite some time to get what you want, but that time is passing anyway. You should probably start now.

My latest painting…

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on February 22, 2014 by helenperkins


This is the latest of my paintings – a still life with bottles, skull and gourd. I’m gradually picking up my skills.


Nervous arrivals at Mumbai Airport

Posted in Diary, Story fragments with tags , , , , , , , on December 26, 2012 by helenperkins

STEPPING out of Mumbai airport felt like stepping out of the Big Brother House.

Long before I found my way to the exit, I could hear shouting and cheering. I hoped the audience waiting for me outside was a friendly one.

I dragged my suitcase through the double doors at 1am local time and was met with the full force of three-hundred people shouting and waving. Taxi drivers, families, partners, hotel owners, porters, and more taxi drivers all clamoured for attention. The crowd was held back by railings and several security employees. All these jostled and clustered around a small floodlit square.

Like a rabbit in the headlights I stood in the centre, dead still. Please be here; please be here; please be here.

And then, as if by magic and four years since I had last seen her, my friend Afsha appeared in the corner of my view, raised above the sea of people.

She headed to the airport straight after her Mumbai birthday party. I hauled my bag to the only part of India I knew, even a little bit, and followed her into the night. Her favourite taxi driver sped us across the city to West Khar, where she and her family lived.

Mumbai’s roads, even at 1am, were busy. There was the honking and screeching of cars and yellow-topped auto-rickshaws, which nipped in an out of spaces in the traffic like fairground dodgems. I talked to Afsha – I can’t remember anything I said – and stared and gawped out into the evening. We arrived at Afsha’s home and, somewhere between meeting her mum and the dawn breaking I fell fast asleep.

This blog is a visual record of my trip, with a few tales and spots of advice. I hope it’s useful, especially for anyone who fits into the category of the nervous solo female traveler, and who is also hoping to spread their wings for the first time.


Oil Paintings

Posted in Uncategorized on September 8, 2012 by helenperkins

Oil Paintings


oil on board

Your final meater reading: the end of my vegan July

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2011 by helenperkins

Tomorrow we enter August. That means I am no longer bound by my month-long resolution to avoid consumption of animal products of any sort.

Bring out the fattened calf!

Only joking.

Now I must confess: during July, I slipped up and ate animal stuff on two occasions. I will now come clean to prevent guilt from crushing me in my bed.

Last weekend, when my lovely parents came to help me move house they took me out for a meal. Nothing on the menu was vegan. Now, these are my traditionalist folks and they had come over a hundred miles to see me, I wasn’t going to snub their evening out to make a point. So that was a fish soul dedicated to yours truly.

Also, when I first met the woman who leases out my Kendal house she asked me if I wanted a cup of tea. I said yes before even consulting my meat-free brain. Tea = milk, duh, but I was too keen to appear normal and kept quiet. I mean, would you rent your property to a girl who screams ‘Oh, good God no, I can’t drink this! This has been near a living creature.”

As you can see, it is social convention that bends my vegan resolve more than the food stuffs themselves.

So, should we all be taking up veganism, did it make a difference to me, and did my skin fall off?

Firstly, let’s get the negatives out of the way. Be honest, vegan people, being vegan is a pain and a half when if comes to finding an evening meal that isn’t some rubbishy salad or a potato. You pretty much always have to cook something from scratch and that uses up time that most people, e.g. me, want to spend on other things.

After a couple of weeks of high-volume whining, and a diet consisting mostly of beans on toast, I hit the cookery books. I found one in the library called The Vegan Bible. While I can’t say I was stunned by the recipes I tried I did have some nice meals – ones perhaps even my carnivorous Dad might appreciate.

There was a big sense of satisfaction in cooking, as there always is with acts of creation. Plus, the study of it did give me a few original conversation starters.

“So, how much do you know about seaweed?”

“Can you pick me up some cilantro? I need it for my vegan parmiagiana.”

Overall though, a massive pain. The first supermarket to create a set of vegan ready meals is going to rake in the money.

 The next thing that frustrated me is all the self righteousness, hypochondria, arrogance, and confusion, which surrounds and sometimes emanates from Planet Vegan.

You get smart-arsed drunks, leaning back on the bar and talking at you with a smug tone suggesting you are a small bug and they will soon squash you with their omnipotence.

Their question arrives, dripping with self-satisfaction.

“So then, why have we got canine teeth? Eh? Eh? We’ve been given them to eat meat.”

Oh. Come on now bar bloke. Canine teeth are not divine instruction to chomp pig, just as they don’t necessarily mean you’re an actual dog.

It’s not just the vegan-haters who came across to me as slightly bonkers. I signed up for a newsletter from the Vegan Society and was sent a magazine with guidelines on ‘How to talk to carnists’ (meat eaters) on the front cover.

I don’t know why but both vegans and run of the mill Brits feel the need to draw strange battlelines. It’s us and them – weedy vegan versus snout-nosed butcher.

Okay, onto the good bits of being feat free.

New food. Vegan ice cream is amazing – in my opinion it is better than the dairy sort. Also, because you’re cooking, you end up taking more time thinking about meals, and so, inevitably your meals get better and less repetitive. This was rewarding, even if it was a pain.

Skin. I have noticed a bit of a skin improvement. Not just a lack of break outs on my face, which I have been known to call ‘my margarita pizza’ but my whole birthday suit has stepped up a bit. It’s difficult to put this all down to veganism, as I’m sure sleep and alcohol and all kinds of crazy women’s stuff plays a part. But, yeah, just maybe a bit better skin.

Energy. Don’t believe all the rubbishy celebrity health gurus, veganism is not the absolute answer to endless energy. For a start, I found I had to spend half my day munching to prevent starving – if I hadn’t I’m pretty sure I’d only have made it to the first Wednesday.

However, at work, I often get bad 3pm crashes – the sort that makes you feel your very soul is being sucked out by the reaper. Contrastingly, this month I got less of a rollercoaster afternoon surge and slump. For me, that is a big deal and a thumbs up to vegan life.

It’s for the reasons above, more than the ethics, that I’ve ended up warming a little to this vegan malarkey. I intend to try to keep it up a couple of days each week.

All the same, I miss fish and I miss scrambled eggs and I’m sure I’ll be tucking in to both. There’s only so much I’m willing to compromise for clear skin.

Tomorrow I’m starting a quit that is an oldie, but a goodie: no swearing. In a newsroom on deadline day it should be a good one to watch, this month I’m interested to see where people swear most and to try to work out why.