h a r r i e t m a y

Tag: reviews

Inner Tube, Inner Peace


I’ve just walked my bike, Beyoncycle, with a flat rear tyre, up the hill from Battersea to Clapham, so already I’m not impressed. Because it’s my lunch break I’m in a rush, and in Evans, a cycle shop where no one seems to care what you are, cyclist or customer or otherwise. But on the phone they told me they had the inner tube I need, so here I am.

A man, wearing an Evans T-shirt and the same expression as my brother’s when being talked at by our parents, asks me what I need, glances at my bike, and hands an inner tube off to someone else. This someone else has a “trainee” badge and a permanent look of confusion.

“Is this all you need?”

“Uh, what size is that? I’m not sure that’s right.”

He glances, for the first time, at the small black box in his hand.

“700 x 18-23cm?”

I don’t know as much as I should about my bike, considering I cycle at least 18 miles a day, back and forth between Hackney, which is littered with chicken bones, and Battersea, which is one ginormous construction site. Well ok, I don’t know anything, but I do know how to read the numbers on the side of my tyre.

“That isn’t correct.”

He looks at the inner tube box, then me, then back at the box.


“Is there someone you can ask?” I try to use my most encouraging tone of voice, the way I used to talk to my dog Ninja during thunderstorms, but my patience is wearing thin. And he doesn’t have Ninja’s eyes, or her imagination.

The man who had guessed my inner tube size in the first place pops back up, and actually looks at my tyre this time. “Nah, we don’t have it,” he says, shrugging. He doesn’t look at me. He walks away.

I grunt angrily and exit the store. I know there is another cycle shop just across the road, Apex, but I had called them too and they didn’t have my inner tube, either. Not sure what to do, I think perhaps the man I spoke to on the phone will at least be receptive to my rantings on about the incompetencies of his local rivals.

When I walk through the door I’m met by a warm, bearded man in an orange polo shirt. Flustered, I don’t even know how to begin, but he says hello like he’s been expecting me. “You called about an inner tube!”

“I did have one, after all,” he says, plucking a small box from the shelf. He wheels Beyoncycle to the back, where they don’t mind changing it for me because I’m not confident enough to do it myself. “Ten minutes!”

“You’re not the first person to say that,” he responds when I tell him how awful my experience was across the road. “They had one good person work there, ever. He works for us now!”

At 5:30pm I’m glad I’m able to cycle home, rather than abandoning my bike at work and getting on the tube, with all the other sweaty, dissatisfied commuters. I see a man in a navy blue suit on a Dutch city bicycle run a red light and get pulled over by two policemen on horses. And then on the final stretch home I find myself trying to keep up with a man who has a slice of pepperoni pizza tattooed on his right calf and think, that’s good motivation, I wonder if he did that intentionally? There’s so much you see when flying through the city streets. I’m glad I’m a cyclist.

Apex Cycles
40-42 Clapham High St, London SW4 7UR
020 7622 1334


Visiting “The Visitors”


“Once again I fall into my feminine ways.”

“Once again I fall into my feminine ways.”

So Ragnar Kjartansson sings, on repeat, while strumming a guitar in a bathtub. Recently I read of the Icelandic performance artist in the New Yorker, which said of him: “Exuberance is Kjartansson’s default mode, in directing as in life.” And so, when I heard he had an exhibition at the Barbican I decided we must go. After all, performance art is not about knowledge, or even story. It’s about experience.

The nine-screen installation “The Visitors” is in a room through a black curtain. A plaque outside describes briefly what you’re about to enter into, but there’s really no way of knowing until you do. People seem to go in but not return. It is Sam, Amy, and myself, and we collect one another before making this seemingly permanent transition. On the other side, eight other performers play different instruments in different rooms of a single house (Rokeby Farm in upstate New York), and over the course of the sixty-four minute running time, they join in with and repeat the artist’s refrain, an ABBA lyric, their voices rising and falling as they give way to melancholy, reflection, bliss.

Together they’re mesmerizing, more so than any art I’ve ever seen, and while there’s a painting-like element there’s also engaging intensity; fine art for the Netflix crowd.

The piece culminates in clamour and rollicking as the nine musicians, having left their posts, collect the friends who have been porch-bound for the duration (just before, an elderly gentleman has aroused himself from a nap and fired off a small cannon), and dance, now singing at the top of their lungs, to the very edge of what we can see. It’s joyous, and then a little lonely being left behind. Are they the visitors, or are we?

When we finally emerge from the room, we’re silent for a moment. “I think I need a little time to assimilate,” Amy says. We all agree, and after wandering around the rest of the exhibit, convene outside by the lake with Icelandic pale ales.

Heart & Flesh


In a city, it is possible to feel alone, even though you are surrounded by people. But I find it is more likely that you feel right at the heart of everything.

On Wednesday I walk home from work, wearing a blue a-line dress, Adidas trainers, and my leather Kate Sheridan backpack which although the most expensive bag I’ve ever bought is still a little bit Dora the Explorer. I have my phone in hand and so when Sarah sends me a Whatsapp message I immediately see it– “Are you around tonight?”

Sarah is in town for work from Newcastle, where we went to university together. She was a maths star and is now quickly ascending in the world of finance, and I was dyscalculic and still am. I call her and hash out our plan for the evening out loud, which makes me sound crazy but how can I think on such short notice any other way? We decide to do what we always do when she visits: go to Smith’s of Smithfield at the centre of the meat market, where we will order a slab of beef and drink a bottle of wine each. Maybe just ¾ of a bottle if Sam meets us there; we all have work in the morning, after all.

When the three of us are seated and have decided what we’re having, our order is taken by a woman who is not a waitress– she is in her own clothes rather than a black shirt and apron–a manager perhaps? She attempts the upsell: “No starters?”

“Nah,” I answer for the table, which is one of those bad habits I feel remorse for but never do anything to change. “Just the wine!”

When we’ve finished our meal and two bottles of Garganega, water from the day’s earlier torrential downpour finds its way through the ceiling and upon us. Our manager-server rushes to our rescue. “Well!” we all protest, feigning indignation. “I believe we deserve another bottle of wine for this. Free!” We are shocked when she brings us one; her favourite red. We have not succeeded in limiting our alcohol intake, but life is for living and not always in moderation.

The lights are low and the staff are mostly sweeping and trying to stay awake. It is nearly midnight and we have very nearly overstayed our welcome. The hostess, in a crimson dress, well-coiffed, and confident, approaches us encouragingly with the card reader.

“How old are you, if you don’t mind me asking?” Sarah ventures as we are paying.


We learn she is from Poland, is here studying, and has been in London since she was eighteen when she moved “for love.” After we have paid, we toast Poland, because everyone comes here from everywhere, for every reason, to do everything. It means London has a lot of heart.