Tuesday 31 December 2013

London wanderings

Hoorah, back in the land of empty hills, less traffic and enlarged duck livers.
Yes, just in time for 'Réveillon' or New Years Eve; the emphasis here being on obscene amounts of food rather than drink that seemed to feature in most UK parties I can remember (or not).
I went back to spend Christmas with Mum in her home; a quiet affair along with the other residents dressed in their best, and silently sporting the required silly hats, etc. A handsome Christmas lunch and attentive kindly staff still wasn't enough to dispel the sadness for Mum and the others at not being in their own homes, but . . . c'est la vie, and as these places go, she's in a very fine one.

A couple of days after, I packed my stuff, said goodbye to my generous UK family and departed for LONDON. Yes! A whole day on my own to wander lonely as a cloud, urban pigeon or enthusiastic traffic warden.
Equipped with over-insured hire car, I ventured into the West End; past favourite buildings and parks, expecting the usual traffic-snarls, but was amazed to find it was QUIET. Of course, post-festive slumber and rest from shopping; but surely the sales would be in full madness along Oxford Street? Nope, pretty quiet there too. Great. An easy drive around London, stopping like bemused pensioner at any recalled shop front or familiar road: Oh . . . that's where the police stopped me, driving down a one way street the wrong way with a styrofoam cup and bacon sandwich in one hand, and the A to Z in the other. 
First nostalgia stop: Titian house in Nassau Street, just off Goodge Street, where I lived for a couple of years in the mid 80s
My flat, about the size of a Transit van, and a filthy pit, was at least hyper-central; the area oddly village-like in the early mornings and at weekends.
Jasper, a character in my book Going out in the Midday Sun, enjoys the delights of the same flat. I may post an extract, if I can figure out how to patch Word into this blog.


Next stop, Spitalfields: mainly as the lead character in my current book lives there in a church (Christchurch).
Unfortunately, the Vicar wasn't around and his housekeeper\wife\? was not full of festive help and told me to go away (more or less) when I knocked on the rectory door. I did however find my ex-employer/stylist, Sue, was still in residence at one of the beautiful old houses on Wilkes Street; we had tea and a chat, and she gave me a parking permit, allowing me continue my 'flanning' around Brick lane and the now-ruined Spitalfields market. I say ruined from my perspective, as someone who loves 'real' places and hopes hopelessly that things will stay as they are.
When I worked as Sue's assistant, the market was a magical place full of exotic smells: tropical fruit, stacks of lilies, earthy veg . . . and sounds: barking vendors, birds foraging endlessly for discarded fruit, and lorries arriving and departing loaded with world-wide produce. Now it's a vast cavern of arty gifts, cafés and expensive clothes shops, that looks like a lot of the rest of London.

Shop fronts/landmarks from around the area.

The fabulous blue of the Sandy's Row Synagogue

 The Cat and Mutton pub in The Broadway - not sure if this the original name, but I think it's fantastic.
A Victorian? 'false frontage' standing in front of a recent office building.

 An interesting bit of Spitalfields.


Below, the London fruit exchange.
I went in and asked if they would like to take a very brown banana I found in the car in exchange for a nice ripe mango, but they weren't interested.

Probably my favourite London café, featuring 'London's noted cup of tea', and still going strong on The Farringdon road.

I then got lost as The knowledge what I once had, has been replaced by bits of Toulouse and Marseille. Ending up somewhere in Shoreditch, I spied another magnificent church (St Leonard's) and risked a residents parking area to go and look in more depth. The church in my novel, and in my mind, became replaced by this one as I looked around. Christchurch, Spitalfields - pah! St Leonard's - Mm . . . yep.

While lurking around the back and checking out the graveyard, I met one of the Church trustees, and, along with two other visitors, was given a guided tour of the crypt, the highpoint of which, for me, was the monstrous old oil boiler, and the complex, rusting electrical system - apparently this was the second church in Britain to run on prayer, candlelight and electricity.
Deciding I was harmless, Robin (above) the trustee let me in and introduced me to Paul the vicar - it was his birthday and was marking it by playing the organ at that point. The building is beautiful, and in need of some restoration; if my book ever propels me towards fortune, I will give them a large donation for their kindness in letting me amble about - even in the vestry, as I planned where my character and her horse would live.

Above, the bandstand on Arnold Circus, behind the church - surrounded by, possibly, the oldest Estate in the world, (according to Robin) a collection of beautiful striped orange brick buildings, glowing in the winter sun.

Stomach protesting, I headed off in a vague direction towards Hackney, where I thought I could remember a wonderful old formica-infested café; alas it had long gone, but I did stumble across 'The Broadway', Hackney's colourful market street, stuffed with interesting shops and cafés. So stuffed in fact by the before-mentioned and a riot of happy arty/middleclass folk enjoying the afternoon sun, that I thought I had stepped into a film shoot; Hugh Grant about to appear at any moment hurrying along to the pub he would be drinking in for Take Five of Three weddings, a funeral and a pot of jellied eels.  Talking of which, after a stroll along the canal to admire the giant latticed-metal gasometers glowering in the distance, I remembered I was hungry and so to F. Cookes eel and pie shop sitting unbudgingly on the Broadway.
It was just like the one I recall in Greenwich: all tiles, strip lighting and ancient posters about how EEL is good for you. I'd always ducked out of actually ordering the fish, opting for PIE, but in the light of - what the **** is actually in a meat pie, I opted for the hot eel and liquor.
I'd so love to be able to say it was delicious, but it was truly vile. I had to hide most of the gelatinous/spiny stuff under the spoon, much to the delight of my neighbour- a local man- who said, and I quote: 'Fuck! you didn't try ve EEl did yer?' Well, it was worth it for the mug of Creosote, and the happy knowledge that F. Cooke's emporium would withstand any amount of planning applications from Costa's or Starbuck's who would be met with a resounding FUCK OFF from themselves and all local residents.

After a quick tour of the Barbican, I got stuck in a huge traffic jam in Islington, got totally lost and eventually arrived at my friend's flat keening for a cup of tea, and to put my feet up.

In the morning, duly refreshed I made my way to Stansted, returned the car and fought my way through the crowds to customs.
I was glad to see Ryanair have now introduced a 'Menopausal Women' fast lane, complete with cold air misters, free ice cube-full drinks and gentle doe-eyed young men giving shoulder massages; thus avoiding all the sweating and swearing of and from wild-eyed women (like myself) removing and re-doning layers of clothing throughout the whole preparation-for-flying process.

Happy New Year.

Sunday 22 December 2013

Merry Christmas

From the Hothouse.

Alter of the micro-church up at St Salvayre on the same hill mentioned in previous post.

Building 31

Small concrete shed on the very top of the 'woolly hills' above our town.
I suppose it's function is something to do with the radio masts, but I like to imagine an old guy sitting in there next to a small wood-burner, looking down onto the town and all its festive scurryings as he pours a thermos-cup of coffee and sighs with relief that he is alone up there with just the sound of the crows in the scattered clumps of box trees.


Saturday 21 December 2013

Science faction?

A very favourite cartoon that had graced our webby office walls for many a year. Sorry, for credit - don't know who's it is.

Friday 20 December 2013

Lucky dip

I went into a city yesterday, albeit a small one, to do a minuti of Christmas shopping.
After ten minutes of being smacked in the eyes by hard-sell gift adverts I'd had enough and headed towards a cake shop. Who spends a hundred and forty euros on a perfume gift-pack?
I did venture out of the cake shop again, but only to the rather nice 'Esprit de sel'. A shop stuffed with desirable objects of the culinary, decor, toiletry world; but even in there I experienced a sort of things suffocation.
Do we need a vase in the shape of a semi-squashed paper cup, or a plastic donkey post it note-holder; or room spray that smells of 'coin du feu' (the corner near the fireplace) certainly not ours; it probably smells of an overlooked dog pee or two and dead spiders - if they have an odour.
The point being, I think we have in the West have reached thing saturation. We don't need anymore items for the sake of them, books, yes, plants, yes, nice cake, yes, but not things you reveal on Christmas day and wish you hadn't: 'ha ha how drole. Angel and devil salt and pepper shakers - real china too'. As for electronic gadgets . . .
Anyway, lucky dip, yes.
My mother had a wonderful and eccentric friend, Margaret, I think - this is going back a few hundred years now. She had a great outlook on life and found a partner with the same outlook at the great age of eighty; they married and continued along life's highway until pegging out at about ninety I seem to remember.
Anyway, again . . . I once went to a Christmas lunch that she was also invited to. I can't recall anything much about the day now, other than her presents.
She appeared with a cardboard box full of small badly wrapped festive packages: 'Lucky dip' she called, and everyone took something from the box. 'everything from Oxfam, and nothing over fifty pence.' (probably about four quid now?)
There were varied expressions on faces, but mine was of delight as I unwrapped an orange and brown 70s tie, proposterous in its very being.
I wore the tie for several years at art college, teamed with skinny jeans, white shirts, braces and stilettos (it was the early eighties); unfortunately it was lost on some hovel-move or other, but I still remember it and Margaret with affection.

Wednesday 18 December 2013

We need dogs!

We, as in humans generally, and not just to pose next to in a Victorian photographic manner: my dog and I are slightly amused, or confused . . .  
This, if you are new to this blog, is Mark (the one on the right) and new super-dog, Gala.
Amongst the many reasons we acquired her were: companion for small dog (bereft of ancient other dog, Una, who passed away in the summer - sob) guard dog and the thought of being able to help at at least one abandoned Spanish greyhound (Galgos/Galgas) But the main reason was one of serious enforced exercise.

The runty small dog can make do with a vague amble down the road or a boot up the arse to send him out quaking to take a pee. We needed something with an urge to walk, for hours, possibly days.
Greyhounds generally fit this requirement admirably. They will walk anywhere at any pace for as long as you like, then slip gracefully onto any soft surface (preferably the sofa) when you return to the house, and remain there until food or further suggestion of walkies occurs.
This morning while watching 'Telematin' and exercising! I saw a feature by the lovely 'Fanny-Bidget Cohen' about moving around - i.e how we are formed to move, run, catch, climb, dig, etc, etc, not drive, look at screens, and eat iced buns while doing so. Of course we know these things, but it's always good to have them reinforced from time to time.
So, the big dog . . . brilliant: you have to walk her in any weather, for at least twenty minutes at a time, even in vile, freezing drizzle, thus returning to the house, limbs tingling, heart rate increased and generally feeling better.
Even when I lived in London in a tiny flat, the same applied - walking George the manic Jack Russell/Fox Terrier with added bonus heart rate increase as she would invariably try and attack any other living dog/cat/duck/pigeon.
I'll have to try and find a picture of her - well before digital, and stored in a shoebox somewhere along with all the other London memories.

Sunday 15 December 2013


On a forage to our local junk recycling emporium yesterday, amongst other treasures (large piece of 70s fabric for thirty cents, five glasses for a euro and a plastic cassette carrying case that Ezra is going to turn into something else) I found this absurdity.
We have a loo wall covered in such tat, but this piece is a Mona Lisa.
Added to the super-kitsch photo of frolicking Spaniards, is the fabulous attempt at micro-DIY. In fact, it looks just like something I would have done.

Oh, the key hooks have fallen off our costa blanca key holder. I'll just do a quick repair job with a large hammer and an assortment of nails, screws and allen keys (and anything pointy that happens to be gracing the floor of the shed). Shit, the bar's made of plastic not metal . . . never mind I'll just hit it a bit harder. There job done.

Saturday 14 December 2013

Colney Hatch Lane (misplaced blog post)

I'm just re-editing the blog from day one with a view to printing the whole thing up. Somehow this post has moved from 2009; I can't seem to move it back, so . . . here it is, a piece of the past in 2013.

The last part of this time's London perambulations.
Took the 134 bus from Highgate to Muswell hill - my childhood home of 13 years. Most shops have changed, of course, but joy, the pet shop and most important, the old coffee and tea merchants emporium is still there. This ancient shop with its coffee roaster in the window and dark wood shelving stuffed with spices and jams was a place of wonder when I was a child, and still is.
Bought a few packets of nutmegs, mustard seeds etc, and listened to an elderly lady recounting exploits of her morning to the shop keeper.
When she had completed her shopping, she was helped on with her small rucksack, and set off to walk to Kenwood, which I think must be over 4 miles away.
After she had left, the shopkeeper told me the lady had just celebrated her birthday of 103 years. I also left and walked briskly up the road, aching feet bones and dodgy hip forgotten - I am young, I am young, etc.
Looked in on my junior school playground, and then tried to remember where there had been a species of Lyon's tea rooms near the bus station, to no avail.
Bus to Colney Hatch lane, where we lived in a ground floor flat of this block in above photo.

Wednesday 11 December 2013

unwitting art

What is the point of trying to create art I thought to myself as I stepped back from this wonderment, backlit by the morning sunshine. It's all around us; created by us, knowingly or otherwise.
The person who concocted this gate did so out of necessity: keeping dogs in or out, people in or out, whatever, but they made it from what was available; probably from that fly tipping site I noticed just down the road.
If I passed this in the Tate, hung in the main gallery, or in a dare ye to enter gallery near Bond street, I would have admired it as I did this morning, for its colours, its random construction and sheer boldness. Whether it had a price tag of seventy thousand pounds or it was about to be loaded into a skip, it was art either way, to my mind.


I'm writing a book at the moment set in 2090.
Here's an extract set in a shouting-house (auction rooms) after the early 21st century furniture lots have been sold.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

frosty dog walk

This morning at -1 degrees, but with sun shining and mist rising from the river.
Some leaf-snaps as I had remembered to take the camera.

Saturday 7 December 2013

It's December so it must be . . .

Christmas . . . unless someone discovers very quickly that Jesus was in fact born in Woverhampton on the seventh of July.
Yes, we are shuddering inexorably towards that crucial date for which a hanger's worth of festive twaddle must be bought, obscene amounts of food stocked and permanent smiles fixed as much-loved relatives such as warty and irritable Aunty Joan are welcomed to the hearth and table.
Each year my keening for a lonely beach and a small fuggy café where we can sit eating egg on toast quietly reflecting on the year, increases. But fun must be had, Mary Poppins watched, paper hats worn and terrible cracker jokes read.
I love it really.
No, I do, it's just all the overfed lead up to it - like some glittery nightmare turkey increasing in size each day, stuffed with internet purchases and credit card limits. What is it all really about?
Jesus. A baby who was presented with three gifts: an iphone, a play station and Grand Theft Auto.
I think we have lost the plot, or it was lost for us by desperate manufacturers.
Anyway. This post was meant to be about the yearly visit of the postmen, bin men and firemen and the delight of receiving their calendar for the coming year. Not.

Why don't they make something different? I don't want three dreadful calendars that are so covered with ads that you can't write take dog to vet on them. Or at least it could be a cheeky one with firemen sliding down greasy poles wi nowt on . . . but then thinking about some of our local firefighters . . . maybe not. Just a promise to turn up if one's house catches fire would be fine. I'm happy to donate, but we don't need a calendar - thanks.
The firemen calendar is informative on the whole: pictures of people dressed in dark clothing directing water onto flames and the like. The postmen and bin men ones are usually a selection of choc box images: flowers, kittens, palm trees on white beaches, simpering kids; well I suppose a snap of a couple of overflowing bins or the local tip might not be considered . . . nice.
One of my favourite images in our 1970's photo-plastered loo is a 1974 calendar pic of three bin men in Collioure (highly picturesque seaside town) The choc box idea went a little askew that year . . .

Friday 6 December 2013

1918 — 2013

We are all on the planet for such a nano-particle of time in relation to space, galaxies, stars, the Earth itself. But some people stand out in this passage of time that each of us experience; people who make such a monumental difference to our human world that when they move on it seems impossible that they have done so.

Thursday 5 December 2013

Building No 30

I'm not sure if this should be classed as a building. But rather than start a 'folly, or bizarre, seemingly useless constructions' sub-blog, I thought I'd lump it in with the buildings.
I've noticed this square shape in the hills many times while driving southwards from town, but never actually got close to it. On a dog walk yesterday, I discovered, after a wrong turning, that I was approaching afore-mentioned object.
It sits on the crest of a hill, guarded by two giant rabbit ears of cypress, facing the distant snow-covered Pyrenees. Built of various types of stone and Toulousian brick, it is topped by nothing: no statue of Christ, no bronze sculpture of famous local wine maker. It has no door, no interior,  and no plaque stating why it is there.
I might go back each week and place a different item on top, a sort of changing installation, but as no one apart from me and a few disinterested sheep will notice, perhaps not.

Tuesday 3 December 2013

The road into winter

I'm finding it hard to deal with the cold this year. I know people live in - 40, etc and I'm not grumbling, really. I think it's mainly the early morning starts (5.30) in order to get boy on right train each morning.
By the time it's dark, fire lit, shutters shut, I could quite happily snuggle into bed, but really, six o'clock - a bit pathetic.
Yesterday really was 100% leaf-pile hibernation temptation, today less so as the sun is shining brightly and the washing is steaming gently outside rather than on various strings hung around the house.
Summer is a distant memory, awakened by the sight of cushions in need of a wash in the sun shelter, a tangled mess of swimming goggles in the shed and the brown crumpled heads of roses still clinging to leafless stems.
Was it ever really 42 degrees? But then, I can remember standing next to the same roses looking at the heat haze in July thinking, 'could it ever have been - 4 degrees?'

Sunday 1 December 2013

Post for Claire

As you go through life, you meet people - those that visit your life for a brief time leaving good or not so good memories, and those that remain strongly part of your existence, even if you see them infrequently. One such friend is celebrating a big birthday today.
All residents of the Hothouse wish you a fabulous birthday, and send-virtually a large pink rose. Hope all the kids are with you and that the day is very special.