Thursday, 26 February 2015

Hello world

Having no internet for four days is odd - oddly calming, but also incredibly frustrating. I mean checking the weather and or if there really was an Earl of Sandwich/what cooking oil is best at a high temperature and if dogs do in fact see in black and white, etc etc is suddenly challenging. What did we do before? remain ignorant or went to queue up at the library behind a load of other people asking for dog biology books, I suppose. I can't even really remember now . . .
Anyway. I can finally do a blog about our (me and son) trip to London. It was time he conquered his fear of flying and saw/heard/tasted amazing things, and realised where I lived for the first thirteen years of my life - good old Muswell Hill, or at least an offshoot of it.
He was great and didn't yawn at all as I showed him 'the place where the bins used to be', the flat where I first saw a nude man (I couldn't totally explain this as I don't really remember the details other than I had gone there to feed someone's cat) the launderette I used to go to with a copy of the Beano' and other nostalgic details.

My favourite shop - ever. Martyns in Muswell hill: still there, thank the lord of dried fruit and special tea.

A tree just outside the flat's gate that I was particularly fond of - a Holme Oak I think

We stayed in a brilliant little hotel called St Athans, just off Russell Square: cheap, friendly and with Old Furniture in the rooms, and still a fair bit of Georgian character about it.
Most of the time we walked - miles and miles and took buses; sitting at the front on the top deck, just like I used to do. I was amazed and so happy to see a re-introduction of the Route-master 'hop-on-and-off' style bus, without however the old warm fuggy smell and with rather more groovy-coloured seat upholstery.

We didn't eat in here. I can't imagine why people want to eat cold fish in an over lit laboratory environment on a grey wet day.

But we did eat in here: Pellicci, on Bethnal Green Road. I wanted to show Ezra a real old Caf; sadly so many have gone now, but this is the real thing: great, warming food, cheery owners Formica tables and original 1920s fittings.

We ate wonderful food: Rasam soup (ow-ow-ow) as hot as I recalled from when I lived just off Goodge Street, at the Ragam, Turkish food, liver and onions at the above mentioned Caf in Bethnal Green Road and lots of crisps (the variety in the UK is boggling), visited art galleries, gawped at rediculous stuff in Harrods (well, you have to go there once, and Ezra hadn't) looked at The Shard, but didn't go up it (high price tag as well as dizzying height of building) and wandered about The City wondering why so much construction seemed to be going on in this financial mess time - especially that weird edifice that looks like a kids mobile phone

The Ragam Indian restaurant: somewhere at the back of Goodge Street - I didn't recognise the road as most of it seemed to have morphed into new vast office blocks.

One of many building sites around the City. I like the way they number the floors in big blue letters so everyone can remember which floor they left the bag of filler on.

And look at this! I just had to stand for minutes staring at the impossibility of this bit of machinery. Like something out of Batman, this giant screw/digger thing (one of many, I suppose) is the reason so much of London's floor can be delved into at such a depth.

Possibly the highlight of the trip was seeing 'The curious incident of the dog in the night time' at the Guilgud theatre: stunningly complex lighting and sound, beautiful, moving, funny, AND, I got a badge as I was sitting in a prime number seat

So may odd things to look at on London pavements, like this Christmas tree netting device, running free after escaping from a Christmas goods lockup somewhere.

And so many windows to look in

And so many silly things to buy

Harrods Dog and Cat clothes display . . . we rather liked the pure silk coat for tiny runty dog back home, but at 180 quid . . . maybe not.

Better than the Tate: a lone and dangerous vegetable in Harrods Food Hall.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015


Ezra has just discovered the wonders of The Armstrong and Miller show, and now most conversation in the house is peppered with BBC accented 'isn't it' and 'shit like that' etc.

I love this extract featuring the wobbly wooden poles and execution officer trying not to laugh.

Monday, 9 February 2015


Shameless I am . . .
But in celebration of the fact I've just had three short stories accepted for publication, here's a small ad for the first in my trilogy - now available on kindle and other readers:

A chapter featuring Peter, a violinist, living in a shared house that I had the misfortune to also live in back in the 80s

West Norwood   17 December 1996


Peter was halfway down the hill when he suddenly couldn't remember locking the door. He stood rigid at the bottom of the railway footbridge trying to re-live turning the key. He must have locked it. Why would he not have?
    If the door wasn't secure, the others might come back to a ransacked mess — if they could tell the difference. He sighed deeply. The only thing he owned of any real importance was in the case in his hand. The rest of his stuff at Carla's could be put in a skip for all he cared.
    Peter had taken a room in the shared house in desperation. Things between him and Carla had become unbearable. He never should have moved in with her. It had been a whim, based on . . . lust really.
    She had taken a fancy to him during a private view in a swanky gallery in Cork Street. He had been playing a sonata; she walked up in her tight black dress and red heels and just collared him. She took him back to her minimalist steel and black flat in West London, and had him — a lot. It was like being on magic mushrooms for weeks, nothing was real except a twilight world of sex. Gradually it slowed down, his socks became offensive, his violin practice, an annoyance. It was clear she was after a different fix.
Having hastily given up his flat in Streatham, which had been too expensive anyway, Peter was stuck. As luck would have it, Carol at school was moving out of a shared house in West Norwood so Peter took the room.
     Four other people lived in the house: William an eccentric animation student, Margo a depressed actress, who mainly worked at B&Q, and a tiresome couple. Peter rarely saw Anna and Phil, but always heard their rows and flamboyant making-up.
    The house was a semi-detached 1920s crumbling mess: damp, with a loo that froze in winter, dry rot and an unkempt garden full of weeds. Peter was horrified to find himself back in student land, but it was incredibly cheap and quite near the train station. It would do while he figured out where he had gone wrong.
    Swearing, he turned and trudged back up the hill against the gusting wind. Of course the door was locked. Should he check the gas was off? No. If that started he would be there all day. He locked and unlocked the door six times, his lucky number —no problem remembering now.
    Brushing past the straggling ragwort, Peter closed the gate and retraced his steps. He had missed the 08.00. There was half an hour before the next train. He stood on the footbridge: a rusting metal construction with a snarl of barbed wire, presumably to stop sordid exits from the world. Standing in silent contemplation, Peter regarded the melancholic skyline of endless slate roofs under scudding clouds. He was always intrigued by what he privately called the sinister buildings: a group of jagged shapes — flats perhaps? somewhere in the direction of Peckham.
    One day he would spend a day of psycho-geographic wandering in that area of London with maps, camera and sketchbooks, tracing the footsteps of chimney sweeps, horses' hooves, thin-wheeled carts, milk floats and buses.
    That had been one of the problems with him and Carla. She called him a dreamer — a wanderer through life. She was black and white: smart, polished, click-clack shoes and new handbags. How had they ever got together? Sex. It was enough for a few months then it was boring and complicated. They were light-years apart. Books, food, travel, music — she liked Andrew Lloyd Webber for God's sake . . . it never should have even started.
    Then he was running. Twenty minutes had dissolved into memories. The train would nearly be at the station. He arrived just in time, flashed his rail card, and was on the train with a hundred other passengers, reading papers, talking into mobiles or just staring with private thoughts behind tired eyes.
    The school was a dingy, crouching animal of a building, Venetian blinds like half-shut eyelids, its hide torn and scratched. Peter felt a landslide of gloom whump onto him: a boring two-hour meeting about Year Three's timetables for the coming year and the oppressive cigarette fug in the head of music's room. Peter knocked on the door.
    "Come," said the grating voice.
    Mr Colesworth was not a happy man. A failed oboe player, intent on putting as many children off music for life as possible, he had stuck to his head's position as a tick to a dog. Seemingly no one was able to remove him. The room reflected Mr Colesworth's personality well; a dull greyness seemed to pervade everything. Cadaverous grey desk and bone-colourd walls, stained with odd patches where posters had gradually detached themselves. Little rolls of ancient Sellotape clung to the wall, each a miniature exhibition of dead flies and fluff.
    Peter heard all of his own ideas squashed and trashed, one after another: no children's gospel choir, no early music group and no hip-hop club. Here is the plan for this coming year and you can fuck off and find another job if you don't like it . . . more or less.
    Peter walked over to the staff room. He ate a limp cheese sandwich and talked to Simon Alderley, a dapper man in tweeds and bow tie. Simon had been teaching flute and piccolo for over a thousand years at the school and was working his way to retirement.
    "Only another six years, Peter," he said, gleefully. His eyes misted over as he spoke of the voyages he would make in his camper van around Wales — the hissing kettle, the sound of birdsong — pastoral bliss after a lifetime in Streatham.
    Peter got through the rest of the day. The meeting had taken away his last vestiges of enthusiasm for the job. He enjoyed the challenge of introducing the kids to new fields of music, but it was more and more paperwork and less money for anything interesting. Everyone sitting it out for the gold clock — or these days a crappy cake from Marks and Spencer's and a ragged gathering of one's fellow prison warders to say goodbye . . . must keep in touch . . .
    At 5pm, Peter caught a train into central London to meet a friend and rehearse for the evening concert in Bloomsbury. This was a coup getting in with the arts centre. Perhaps things were taking a turn for the better at last.     Harold had already arrived and was tuning the harpsichord. Peter greeted him and they ran through some of the pieces, the instruments sounding good in the space. Then it was time to change into stage attire, Harold opting for his dark grey suit and a blue silk bow tie, Peter, his beloved old Savile Row black suit and bare feet.
    The audience was settled, the room quiet, an atmosphere of warm anticipation.  The room was about half full, not too bad for a midweek gig. They played the first half; polite but appreciative clapping followed. Peter had become attuned to different types of applause — this was a good evening. They took a brief pause. On returning, Harold introduced the duo and Peter talked about the origins of the music.
   The second half was better. The notes flowed easily, the violin sweet and poignant, the harpsichord, a delicate, textured layer of sound. Peter was full of the music, overflowing with new exaltation. Something good, the school receding: a different life beginning.
    The applause was loud now. They played an encore and the audience left in a straggle, some hanging on to talk about the music. Peter was placing his instrument back in its velvet nest when somebody laid a hand on his shoulder.
    He did not know her, but she was somehow familiar, deep down in his soul, a dream perhaps. There was an intensity of feeling unlike anything before. He took her hand.
    "Peter, delighted . . ." it was electric. Harold was gawping. He dropped his tuning tool to the floor, the 'ping' echoing in the complete silence. An eternity passed. What to do, what to say next? Then his mobile rang. It was Carla, her voice strange, desperate.
    "Peter, help! I'm at the flat and . . ." Then it went dead.
    Peter, the nice guy unable to do otherwise, picked up his case and ran.
    Up on the Tottenham Court Road, he hailed a cab, something he never did. Watching the meter was torture, only OK on someone else's expense account. "Where to, guv?" said the driver, a mountain of a man, possibly welded to his cab. Dark blue jacket, dark blue seat, it was impossible to see where man stopped and seat started. "Well?" he said, bored.
    "Earls Court, No 26 Warwick Gardens — quick," said Peter as he got in. He sat down, then leant forward and asked in what he hoped was a nonchalant voice: "What d'you reckon the fare will be?"
    "Now then," said the Cabbie happily. "Well you've got all the theatres chucking out, and then there's them lights out at Kensington . . . 'bout fifteen quid."
    Peter's normal self pushed open the cab door and ran down the street. The 'keep calm, this is an emergency' self stayed put and stared out at the streets, rather than the meter. The taxi arrived: "Twenty guv," said the man, eyes hooded, dismally serious.
    "But," began Peter, but there was no time. God knows what awaited him. He shoved the notes at the man, grabbed the violin and sprinted to Carla's door. He knocked loudly and stood, heart pounding, his breath steam in the wintry air. Nothing. He knocked again; visions of Carla hovered sickly in his mind. Carla bloodied, her elegant legs twisted beneath her after falling down the stairs . . . stabbed . . . a maniac's sinister laughter issuing from the bedroom. The door opened.
    "Oh, hi," she said, eyes squinting behind a plume of cigarette smoke. "It's OK, it's sorted."
    "What . . . is sorted?" said Peter, stupefied.
    "Sorry, darling, I was trying to tell you. Your phone cut off. It was a leak, the upstairs neighbour's bath. It was all running into my wardrobe. My Prada powder blue shoes are quite ruined. Tragic." She paused, seeing Peter's expression of pure hatred. "I did try and call the plumber but he's in Florida."
    "God, how I detest you," snarled Peter, caught in a rare moment of fury. "Your false bloody world, shoes, perfume, trade shows. Go to hell." He slammed the door very hard and walked in confusion before sitting down on a stubby garden wall. His tears dropped onto the violin case, leaving a trace in the old leather. The feeling of the unknown girl's hand was still imprinted in his own. All those sudden possibilities lost, because of a mobile phone call from a selfish woman that he no longer knew.

Friday, 6 February 2015

I can do this

but it's just  . . . I prefer not to, what with the dodgy hip and that weird shoulder ache, and then if I fell over . . . you know, who'd take the dogs out during the day . . . Shit! maybe next life.

Person in bed under blue and white duvet: "Oh, Christ, not that bloody tune again — look just come back to bed and get lucky, or at least bring me some tea!"

Thursday, 5 February 2015

The meaning of stuff

I, bizarrely, decided to clean the mantlepiece this morning. The one downside of a wood fire is the vast amounts of dust. I don't usually notice it, and certainly no one else does - perhaps the big dog; she was staring fixedly at a huge, grey cobweb yesterday. Maybe household disorder disturbs her? we'll never know.
Anyway . . . I did - dust, and it was amazing how gleaming everything now looks, in a grey February light at least. And it was an interesting nip back into the past for a while as I thought about the objects that have become fixtures in the part of our front room that becomes so important in the winter months.
A recent friend of mine told me over a cup of tea that she has thrown everything away, or at least given away. Everything. Just a box or two remaining. How incredible that is; I am in awe of anyone who could accomplish such a feat. Sometimes I imagine us moving to a smaller place, and honing down the STUFF. How would you choose what should stay or go, to quote The Clash.
Here's a picture of a small section of the mantlepiece (without dust) and a brief history of the stuff that resides there.

from the left:
A dragon soap stone letter seal: unusual in that it was from Mark's past. Most of the household clutter is of my doing - other than records and instruments that make up about 50% of the habitable space.
It was his dad's and resided on their mantlepiece until Mark 'borrowed' it to make his own version in wood; I have it here on the desk and it's rather good.

A hippo that I think came from Brick Lane Market, donkey's years ago. The mantlepiece holds many other wooden creatures from that era.

No 6 from the railway line; a find from a vide grenier-car boot sale, and my lucky number.

A piece of tile from the original Limoux tile factory that Ezra spotted on one of our 'let's walk round a   part of town we don't know on this drizzly day' walks. 'Ale' being significant in our family as the title of one of Tommy Trinder's drinking songs in Champagne Charlie, probably our most watched film: ever.
'Ale awd (old) Ale, give me a glass of awd Ale, nothing quite like the juice of the hop, nothing quite like when to know when to stop - Give me . . . Ale awd ale' . . . etc

A flattened fork from another walk around a vineyard. It was the only thing left in an old vinegrower's hut, and I think has featured in a previous post - touched by it as I was.

Ah. Something I could never get rid of. I will have to be buried with it.
A photo of a proud 1960's lady with her hair all 'done nice' in her garden arranging her collection of Pekingese dogs on a coffee table. What more could you want in a photo?

I suppose I could get the really VITAL things into one box if I had to choose: a bit like Desert Island Discs for stuff.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Pecking order

In winter I used to hang 'fat balls' in the pear tree, but the birds were not overly keen due to the cat being able to climb up and watch/eat them (birds, not fat balls).
This year I've hung them from the metal vine-holding construction (what is it called? - can't remember, but can't recall much this morning due to head being full of cold residue) at the front of the house.
This is good! Great, in fact. They can't see us, and we can see them. There's a sort of air-traffic control system of stacking in place now. Each fat ball has usually two or tree birds (tits of all sorts, sparrows, nut hatches, and once a wily starling) attached to it, while other same-specie birds wait on the bare branches above and around. A second layer of birds hop around on the flower pots - sparrows, robins, dunnocks etc picking up 'fall out', and on the ground: blackbirds, thrushes, robins, starlings and occasionally, magpies peck at grain and toast debris.
For the price of a cut price DVD a bag of fat balls provides them with food and us with endless enjoyment at their ariel acrobatics free of cat threat.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Box sets

Ahhh, winter: log fires, soup, hot water bottles and  . . . box sets - mostly Nordic Noir. Sad but true, they see us through the long winter nights. Why we both want to sit and look at grim, pale landscapes and discoveries of grizzled corpses etc is a bit of a mystery to me, but the urge seems to persist.

This is the best yet: The Bridge, to my mind anyway. We're way behind most people and I think there's another series with different actors now. I would be unable to watch it however as this cast are supremely brilliant.

Take a  robotic and obviously mentally damaged, genius woman detective, and a warm, troubled in love and over-emotional man detective and throw them together over a murder mystery planted exactly between Denmark and Sweden on the magnificent bridge connecting the two countries, throw in a twisting demonic plot, cold designer houses, bleak cityscapes and a good splash of black humour and you have something utterly memorable.

Here's a clip of 'Saga' engaging 'Martin' whether he likes it or not on the subject of his sex life; something she has been reading up on in 'self-improvement' books in order to make sense of the mysterious emotional world most other people inhabit. I can't remember where the scene is from in the series, but they're probably on the way to investigate some tortured body in a icy, grey empty warehouse on the edge of the icy, grey nordic sea.