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Yay! The long-awaited Westfield, Stratford City finally opened on Tuesday this week. Located adjacent to the Olympic Park, it boasts three floors of utter retail (and leisure) bliss covering 1.9million square feet and is the largest urban shopping center in the whole of Europe . The £1.4 billion development houses over 300 shops, 50 bars and restaurants (including quite a few of my favourites…Joy!) and a 17 screen, all digital, 3-D state-of-the-art Vue cinema. It has also created 10,000 new job. That’s probably solved a lot of the unemployment crisis in London.

Anyway, I took a trip (a day after it opened because I value my toes and didn’t want to get trampled on by the hoards of crowds on opening day) to see what all the fuss was about and toushé, point made. I totally get the hype and I’m not surprised why the call it “a city within a city”. Quite frankly, it’s enormous.

Everything is so pristine. As you enter, you’re greeted by a massive M&S to your left. Walk a short distance further and there are scores of glass-fronted stores to your, left, right, above and below you and some fancy-looking stalls, restaurants and bars in the centre of the aisles. Nice modern, swanky sofas and chairs- which I predict won’t stay as fresh for long- are placed around the centre for shoppers to rest their weary, all shopped-out feet. I was in sheer awe.

Transport links to get there are fantastic and if you drive in, theres no need to fret about parking- there are 5,000 car parking spaces available with very reasonable charges (first 2 hours are free!). There’s no wonder it brings in consumers from all over London (I’m guessing mainly to window shop though because we all know money’s to tight to mention).

Gone are the days when I’d have to travel into the West End of London to have a shopping frenzie. For me, his is so much more convenient than going to Oxford Street/Regent Street for so many reasons. The main ones being:

  • You’re indoors so the weather won’t ruin your shopping experience;
  • It’s a lot closer to where I live so I can make a quick journey there and back home;
  • It has public toilets. Unlike when I’m pressed while shopping in the West End and feel obliged to buy something at McDonalds just to use their loo, here, here, I don’t have to worry about wetting myself;
  • You can shop later here most days of the week because the majority of the stores close after 8pm.

To some extent, it kind of reminds me of American malls, where a lot of young girls and guys get dressed up and hang out there for a huge portion of their day to window shop, and not purely for clothes or shoes but for talent (#ifyouknowwhatimean).

In terms of supermarkets, I was quite surprised there isn’t a Sainsbury or Tesco (especially as Tesco seem to be opening branches everywhere) in there. After all there’s M&S Food and Waitrose.

Quite worryingly, the escalator stopped suddenly while I was on it, which is a major health and safety risk that management need to look into pronto. Funnily enough, 5 minutes before I went on the escalator I overheard a girl telling her friend about having the same experience but I thought that it was probably a one-off incident. Clearly not.

I feel sorry for  the small Stratford Shopping Centre and the stores and stall holders there that will inevitably lose some customers. It was quieter than usual when I passed through it on my way back home. I’ll still shop there but only at the places not offered in Stratford City like the market stalls or the butchers. I mean, why go to the small New Look store when there’s a larger one in Westfield provide a wider range of options, right?

I was going to have some lunch at Westfield but when I saw the length of some of the queues, I quickly lost my appetite. Fear not, I certainly won’t loose my appetite for shopping there. I’ll definitely be having many-a-day of retail therapy euphoria.

Take a look at the website for more information: www.westfield.com/StratfordCity.

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Map of London Boroughs

I had a weird encounter on Sunday that involved some pound coinsHammersmith and a Polish guy. In fact, the experience left me wondering whether I’d accomplished my good deed for the day, or been had.

Ok. It’s a normal Sunday morning. 6am to be precise. I’m waiting at a bus stop in East London to take the bus into work, iPod in ear, and me mumbling every cuss word under the sun about why my shift begins at such an ungodly hour. Normal.

“How do you get from here to Hammersmith?” someone behind me asked. From the early morning sun, I saw a tall shadow form next to mine so I turned around. Standing next to me was a tall man, say 6’2” in stature wearing a white T-shirt and three quarter length shorts with trainers. Before addressing his question, I looked him directly in the eyes. He looked a little stoned. Wide-eyed. But I couldn’t tell whether it was signs of sheer tiredness or not.

“You can take a bus to-” He stopped me right there. “No, by walking?”…  Was he a crackhead? Seriously. Walk from Newham, East London to West London? Totally opposite ends of LDN?

“Erm, I suppose you could but you probably won’t get there for another six hours.” (Random guestimation. I don’t actually know how long it takes. Never attempted to make such a journey!!)

“Ok, that’s fine, but how?” he enquired while taking out his tube map and a pen. I foolishly began directing him: “Walk all the way down this road…” then I stopped. Nah, this is silly, I thought to myself. “Why do you need to walk? Why don’t you just take public transport? I’ll be much faster”, I probed.

Then he explained to me how he was from Poland and had only been in this country for two weeks. He had fallen asleep on the bus after work and someone had stolen his bag that had his wallet, phone and personal documents in. He’d gone to a police station but they said they weren’t responsible to help him get back home.

“I ask a few people if they would give me some money for my ticket and they look at me like I’m asking for a million pounds,” he scowled.

I knew what was coming next.  I counted down in my head. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. “Will you lend me money for my ticket?”. “Sorry”, I replied. “I don’t have any change on me”

“Do you know any Polish people that could help me?”, he asked.

“No. No, I can’t say I do”, I replied. Even if I did, 1)I have to get into work and 2)They won’t appreciate me waking them up right now for whatever humanitarian reason.

My bus came from round the corner and as I signalled for it to stop the Polish guy walked away kicking the dust and stones on the floor in frustration.

Just then, my mind triggered back to before I left the house that morning when I was frantically looking in my bag for my house keys. To my delight, I came across some stray coins: four 50p coins, a two pound coin and a pound. Four pounds!

…. Anyway, as I entered the bus I shouted “Excuse me?!” The Polish guy turned around with a glimmer of hope on his exhausted-looking face. “Why don’t you take this bus to Piccadilly, then you can get a choice of buses from there to Hammersmith?”

He replied: “Yeah, but I don’t have money”. I went into my purse handed him the coins.

“Here”, I said. “Take, this. It should be enough to get you closer to where you want to go.”

“Thank you but how am I going to find you to give it back to you?” He asked worryingly. Now, I don’t know about you but I wasn’t going to be stingy over four pounds, especially as I gave it to him from the heart with genuine concern.

“Don’t worry about it”. I touched in my oyster on the bus and went upstairs. The Polish guy spent about 3 minutes asking the bus driver for the best way to get to Hammersmith… Err, I thought I told him already?…I just put it down to his desperation to get back home.  He got off . The bus drove off. Maybe he had opted to begin his journey back home by using the DLR. It was Sunday so he’d have a bit of a wait before the trains would be running.

Throughout my bus ride, I kept replaying what had happened. It must be hard living in a foreign country on your own, trying to get to grips with things and make ends meet.

Ironically, on my way back home from my gruelling 9-hour shift, the bus terminated roughly 1.5 miles from the stop I usually get off at. I waited for about 20 minutes for the next bus before agitation began to set in. So, in the 30 degree heat, I decided to walk the rest of my journey home. Got there about 25 minutes later (my petite 5’4” frame can beat anyone at power walking) without a single bus passing me! I didn’t get it.  Why was I the one experiencing such torture?! KMT (Kiss My Teeth)!!

I suppose I’ll just have to find comfort in knowing that my actions of compassion that day were done with good intentions and if the Polish guy wasn’t genuine, well he’ll get his comeuppance and karma will just take a juicy chunk out of his ass.

‘Twas my friend’s birthday earlier last week so I treated her (and myself) to see Tennessee Williams‘ Cliggiddy-Cat on a Higiddy-Hot Tin Roof at the Novello Theatre in London. And what can I say? It was a such a hoot!

I’ve never been to the place and was quite impressed at how fancy and posh-looking it was inside. Immaculately painted walls, huge fairytale-like mirrors, chandeliers galore! Nice, I thought.

The birthday girl and I (who are regular theatre buddies) commented on how that was the first time we’ve ever seen so many black people in a theatre audience. “Black people attract black people”, she surmised before getting a strange look from a white lady sitting to our right.

No adventures to report, apart from a woman who asked one of the ushers “Are those seats behind us taken? I ask because that man *she points rudely to her right* keeps coughing and spreading his germs I was wondering if we could move!”

“Mother!” Her son whispered fiercely, “Will YOU be quiet! You’re embarrassing me”. Of course, this only propelled her to make more of a fuss. But she wasn’t the only one who noticed the middle-aged man on her row that took it upon himself to spread his nasty bacteria- the whole audience did! In fact, it was as if he was the star of the show!

Towards the end of the interval, the coughing mongrel greeted his friend back to her seat with a very loud: “Here she is!” She had only popped to the loo! He then grabbed her by the shoulders and laid a smooch on what would have been her lips if she didn’t offer her cheek instead! I actually wanted to throw up! It was painful to watch…so I watched! But nothing would have prepared me for what my eyes were about to behold. As she sat down, he stayed standing and started thrusting his hips towards her before lunging forward as if trying to stretch out his calf muscles. Eeeewww! I didn’t pay my money to see this tomfoolery!….

Anyway, once again, I digress!…. As described on the official website, the all black cast is “dynamic” indeed. It’s led by Academy Award® nominee and two-time Tony winner James Earl Jones (he played the king of Zamunda in Coming To America), Tony Award® winner Phylicia Rashad (you might remember her as the mum in The Cosby Show), Olivier Award winner Adrian Lester (Mickey stone in the drama Hustle) and Tony Award® nominee Sanaa Lathan (a.k.a the eye candy).

Directed by Debbie Allen, this 1955 masterpiece (though shifted into the 1980s for this production) is about a wealthy American family from the dirty South who get up to the normal dysfunctional everyday shenanigans. The play is set on Big Daddy’s (the patriarch, played by James Earl Jones) 65th birthday. He and his wife, Big Mamma (played by Phylicia Rashad) are the only ones who are unaware that he is actually dying from cancer rather than just suffering from a spastic colon (that’s not a joke. That’s the actual medical term).

Their alcoholic son Brick (Adrian Lester), a former professional footballer, makes many attempts throughout the play to fend off the sexual advances made by his nymphomaniac of a wife, Maggie (Sanaa Lathan) because she had an affair with his best friend who drank himself to death (literally) and doesn’t feel like he can measure up. And considering Brick’s left leg is plastered and he has to rely on crutches he does a pretty good job at avoiding Maggie, the sex fiend.

Brick fears intimacy with his father but all is revealed when the two finally sit down and talk. And thank goodness he eventually gets that ‘click’ in his head that he’s been waiting for all day (you’ll know what I mean when you go and watch it).

The funniest part for me was when Big Daddy and Brick were having their male bonding chat and Big Daddy says: “You know what I want to do?” He demonstrates a fingering motion with his index and middle fingers and then gyrates his hips while saying “Bang, bang bang!” Or something along those lines. Cringe-worthy or what! But hilarious nevertheless!

I don’t want to give too much away about the plot but the play is filled with just the right balance of laughs and seriousness. The acting is second to none.

Sanaa Lathan effortlessly delivers a very sultry and sassy Maggie; Adrian Lester has a very impressive American accent and projects his character’s discontent most convincingly; Phylicia Rashad made me chortle on many occasions but I didn’t feel enough of her character’s pain. And of course James Earl Jones’ presence as the aggressive, foul-mouthed, wealthy Mississippi plantation-owner was tremendous.

I did however, wonder what Richard Blackwood was doing in it. I think he said a grand total of… wait for it…..drum roll please….four words. My friend only noticed him at the end when all the characters came out to bow. She was like “Oh, there he is!”. Pahaha! (Sorry, that was mean of me to laugh).

My only disappointment with the play lies with its ending, which I thought came to an abrupt halt.

But in all honesty, it’s one of THE best plays I’ve seen. I give Cat on a Hot Tin Roof 8.5 pearls out of 10.

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof will be playing until Saturday 10th April 2010. To book your ticket visit: http://www.catwestend.com

(Photographs: Alastair Muir- The Telegraph)

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Well, by popular demand, 2010 (to be said as twenty ten- NOT two thousand and ten-  as a friend vehemently warned me) has arrived! Ooohh! How exciting!

My night consisted of a near collapse walking up Hamstead Heath, street mongrels and a marvelously greasy chicken and chips binge!

After much deliberation whether or not I was going to stay in, go out, stay in, go out, I decided on the latter. But not by free will. I was dragged out to be precise.

Now, if you’ve ever been to Mile End (East London) during the day, you’ll know it’s an area filled with scum. Now imagine it on not just any night, but on New Year’s flipping Eve. That’s right amigos, cue Who Let The Dogs Out. As I was walking to the bust stop, some crackhead, foaming at the mouth -who probably had rabies– jumps out at me (randomly) and shouts “What! What! What!” While his friends pull him back and apologise to me for his less than gentleman-like behaviour, I, unstartled, give the disgraced fool a blank stare. “Hmmm. Someone doesn’t want to see 2010”, I thought to myself before continuing my journey as if the incident was nothing but a daydream. I hadn’t even got to my destination yet!…..

The fiend in me loved seeing people running for the bus and missing it (that’s only because I was all snug and warm on the bus, of course). Hehehehe!

New Year’s Eve bus services are just like night bus services. The drivers show no mercy. If you’re not at the stop by the time the bus gets there or don’t request for the driver to stop , best believe your ass is being left behind.

I go jogging at least three times a week but for some reason, it felt like my heart was failing me just trying to get up the dam hill. When I finally got to the top of the Heath I felt like Rocky in that famous training scene. Da da daaaaa! Da da daaaaa!…

It was actually a very beautiful sight when I reached the top. The whole of London lit up to welcome the new year in! People were setting off lanterns into the night sky (on my way back home,some woman thought they were UFOs and took the liberty of filming them on her phone *shakes head*). “Who has the actual time in seconds?” A man shouted, “Freddy does” a random female voice replied. I looked at the Freddy she spoke of. He was conked out already. Great! Well, the key was in the wheel- the London Eye, that is. While some people had reached three in the countdown, others were still on 30. Sigh. The fireworks were nice, nothing particularly special or different. Glad I wore my wellies, though! I was not a fan of that mushy grass!

En route back home, I observed that Camden was full of people in a right state! My sober self loved it!….There was a plethora of scantily clad women walking about the streets of London. “Warm are we?” I shouted at one girl shivering as I put on my ever so warm gloves.

On the bus some drunk Asian guy shouted to a poor lady, who was minding her business “Hey, white girl! Would you like to see my dick tonight?” How romantic. I actually wanted to throw up! That’s nasty!

Belly grumbling and ten quid in pocket, I risked getting food poisoning by going into my local chicken and chips shop. Packed, I pushed my way forward and made my order of 2 pieces of chicken, 3 hot wings chips and a can of coke. New Year’s healthy diet= fail. Some guy took out his student card, hoping to get a discount. “No discounts tonight, mate.” the server said. “But I got one here this afternoon!”, he protested. What? You’re telling me that in the space of 24 hours, you’ve eaten this rubbish twice? Tut!

Anywho….This festive cheer will last for what? A good two, three more days? Then people will be back to normal: screw-facing, bitching et cetera et cetera!  One thing that will definitely be carried on into the new year is this cold weather! Brrrr!

All that’s left to say is, Happy New Year to the three of you that read my blog (my, myself and I). Hope it’s a year that’s filled with amazing experiences, accomplishments of new heights, few- if any- regrets, and most importantly growth. Whoop!

What did you get up to last night? Do tell!

Follow Rebecca-Monique on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/RebeccaMonique

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Picture the following scenario if you may. A young lady going home (East London) on a dark winters evening- say around 7- from a long day at university. An African-Caribbean guy on his bike shouts “Oi, oi, oi, oi” as he rides past speedily almost startling this young lady. After mumbling a few words of discontent under her breath she gets over the near miss. To her dismay, the guy on his bike- now roughly 15 feet ahead-  looks back at her and does a u-turn. He approaches her on his bike, cycling around her. “You ‘aight baby?” He asks her with a slight patois in his voice. She ignores him. “Hello?, hello?”, he says still desperately trying to get her attention. “Can you leave me alone?”, she responds. “What?” he replies sounding upset at the dismissal. “You think you’re too pretty?”, he asks before gathering a mouthful of saliva and spitting on the left hand side of her face and in her eye. As she she reflexively swirls to her right in shock at what had just taken place- common assault- the offender rides off on his pedal bike faster than someone at the gym determined to lose a few pounds in one session.

Earlier today BBC London news reported the rise of sexual assault in London, with almost 100 reported cases of gang rape in the capital within the last year.

Two men who assaulted a girl aged 16 and doused her in caustic soda, disfiguring her for life, had their sentences increased on appeal.

In another case a 14-year-old girl was repeatedly raped ‘as punishment’ by nine members of a Hackney gang because she had ‘insulted’ their leader.

Deputy Chair of the London Assembly Jennette Arnold says that many young black men simply don’t have respect for females. That is certainly clear from all the above offences.

If you’re wondering who the young lady in the scenario was, it was me. The incident took place earlier this week only one minute away from my home. It left me more disillusioned with the behaviour of some young (black) men rather than shaken. Having been through 10 times more mental trauma in my young life, I suppose I found it fairly easy to deal with. That and the fact that my fiancé was there for me immediately after the incident. Even though he chased after the guy on the bike I’m glad he didn’t catch him because consumed with anger, his retaliation could have legally complicated the situation. The fact that I’m in a stable relationship allowed my general view of men not to be altered. After all, it’s unfair of me to tarnish all men with the same brush just because one imbecile showed utter disrespect to me.

Spitting is nasty, full stop but the sexual nature of his approach just made my skin crawl. To be honest, he belongs in the jungle if he considers that as being acceptable behaviour.  I mean, who honestly goes out of their way to do something like that?

I suppose by spitting on me, he thought I would feel degraded but I’m far too inwardly content with myself as an individual to let anyone make me feel worthless.

Without being patronising to myself, it could have been far worse. I could have been punched, slapped or kicked as well, or more seriously raped.

I don’t want to make it a race issue but unavoidably I was assaulted by a black male. I hate to say it but the stereotype prevailed. I could sit here all day debating, analysing and dissecting all possible explanations as to what may have driven him to behave in such a manner but I’d rather use my energy on something worthwhile that I can actually make a positively impact in mine or other people’s lives.

Of course, I reported the incident but only 10 minutes after it happened because felt that dialing 999 at the time would have been an futile attempt for the police to catch him, especially as my description of him was so vague. Unfortunately, the assault will probably just go down as another statistic of a reported but unsolved case. Although it may have been a one-off incident, I’ll definitely be investing in a personal noise alarm.

Useful links/numbers:

Police switchboard: 03001231212

Directgov page on rape and sexual assault

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Anti-gun-hiding poster

According to information compiled by charities and the police, teenage girls accept rape as a  normative part of joining violent male gangs.

Some are forced into to having sex with many of the gang , ferrying guns, knives and drugs without even questioning the fact that they’re being violated.

Last month, Police in London launched an add campaign warning that young women who hide guns and knives for their gangster boyfriends risk going to jail. The posters (left) were designed in an attempt to help prevent shootings in London by urging young women not to conceal weapons.

The campaign, aimed primarily at black teens, was launched in the light of the increasing amount of young women convicted for possessing weapons in the last year.

Like most of these type of campaigns, I don’t think it will work. Girls in gangs is nothing new. Some people defend the young girls by saying they feel pressurised into carrying weapons for their gang-member boyfriends.

Yes, they’re treated as second class citizens and subordinates to their male counterparts but-and I may sound cold- most of them know exactly what they’re getting themselves into. People will only treat you how you let them.

Prevention, as they say, is better than cure. Stay in school ladies, and earn yourselves a promising future. I’m tired of people blaming organisations, charities and the police. What’s wrong with these girls taking responsibility for their own lives?

It’s easy to throw money at a situation: glossy add campaign, more funding for charities but if these girls don’t want to genuinely help themselves how can anyone else help them?

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n85497682086_3804I’ve returned home from what can only be expressed as a truly uplifting evening out. Tantalizingly described on Facebook by its organisers  as “vibrant spoken word, emotive, intimate live music and saliva-conjuring short films”, I had to ask myself: ‘how can I possibly say no to Writer’s Block?’.

The event, which was scheduled to start at 7:30pm, was held at Juno Bar in Shoreditch, East London.

My favourite performers included songstress Floetic Lara, hip-hop verbalist Breis (pronounced breeze), soul artist Martyna Baker, poet Deanna Rodger and of course the 7 piece band The Illersapiens.

Floetic Lara was truly delightful. Her ultra positive aura had me smiling throughout the whole of her performance. She freestyled so well with the band that it could have almost been mistaken as rehearsed. You can tell that this lady is doing what she loves: the passion, and spiritualism is infectious. The tone and balance to her vocals was so soothing that I just had to buy her album. Love, love, love.

Breis. I remembered his name purely because he spelt it out when performing one of his tracks called Identity (It’s da B to da R to da E to da I to da S…) Loved the song and loved his humour and free-spiritedness even more.

MB effortlessly played the guitar as her impeccable voice told a story so touching, I was almost moved to tears.

DR kept me so engaged that I almost felt as though I was right there, living her ‘Love Story’: her ups, her downs, her woes fears, realizations, and her tears.

The Illersapiens topped off the night with spectacular live music (and yes my right shoulder bounced along to the beat, as requested by the band’s frontman). The band’s singer has a beautiful voice and the MC was so on point with his flow, his content and his finesse.

That’s not to say the others weren’t amazing but these acts really stood out to me.The poetry was deep, conscious and inspiring. Admittedly, many of the acts put me in a trance and all the performers definitely gave me food for thought. I left the bar feeling somewhat elated and strangely wanting to rhyme every sentence and speak in iambic pentameter. I suppose that’s how I know the ‘writer’s block’ has had its affect on me. Can’t wait for the next event.

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