Monday 29 January 2018

London wanderings (shortish)

Curtailed by time constraints and clothes-soaking-in-seconds rain.

First wanderings: quick stopover in my base - the St Athan's hotel, Bloomsbury; sadly no evening meanderings as I'd arrived at two in the morning, not seven in the previous evening (see last post), so just a mornings walk. Anyway, as ever, London even within a square mile or so, was visually and audibly fascinating, and perhaps it's not always a bad thing to have time and distance perimeters.
Left the hotel and walked around the Bloomsbury squares partly thinking about a wonderful little 1960s documentary narrated by Kenneth Williams of his childhood in the area (will see if I can post it), re-found Woburn Place with its charming little parade of non-knackered shop fronts, then got on a random bus and ended up in the madness of Trafalgar Square; up Charing Cross road (stopping in all second hand bookshops) turned left and into Soho, where, opposite Ronnie Scotts, I found the ancient Italian café of my most earnest desires (oo, ek).
Thought all these had well and truly been sat on by Starbucks, Costa's, Nero's et al but there it was in all its Formica and neon splendour. I asked if I should order at the counter and the slick-haired man smiled: "You like men or women?"
"Err, Men?"
"Okay, I take your order then."
I drank excellent hot chocolate (sadly no can do coffee, but did appreciate the scent of it), ate a weird little maggot-like cake that tasted of brandy butter, and listened in to the conversation all around - which was impossible as it was mostly flamboyant-sounding Italian.



Back out into Soho square and beguiled by a shop-display pile of old TVs all broadcasting the same flickering 70s? film, went in to see what the shop actually sold - hand-made designer and vintage glasses. The two elaborately dressed assistants or owners were helping two traffic wardens with a possible choice of frames, a conversation I think had been going on for some time. After the dark-suited two had left purchase-less the woman turned to me with a unruffled expression.
"I think they just come in to keep out of the cold."


I continued on, crossing over the river of consumerism (Oxford Street) and wandering around the streets leading back to Tottenham Court Road - Goodge Street hardly recognisable from when I lived there back in the late 80s. Took my crap old iPhone 5 into one of the small electrical shops as its charge was disappearing after an hour.
"Hello, do you deal with antique phones?"
Looks at it with mild distaste. "Maybe - what's the problem?"
Explained, after which he suggested a new battery for 35 quid, to which I said, "Oo, not sure," to which he said, "OK, 20 for cash." Ten minutes later after some technical stuff involving a hairdryer, my crap phone was once again working. Useful info BTW: never let your phone charge for more than 100% and certainly not overnight - "kills the battery dead quick," he said wagging a finger at me.
And so, it started to rain. Back to the hotel, grabbed case and off to the tube/Waterloo.

Thought my spelling was bad . . .


                         Grey day in Trafalgar Square.

Shop windows around Bloomsbury and Soho

The Pitted Olive - good café near Tavistock Place


                 Waterstone's shop window display - 'Why we Sleep' . . .


One of the beautiful shop fronts of Woburn place (Champagne dress-trying event underway in the shop)


Two beautiful people in their vintage clothing shop

Second even shorter London trip from Dorset to see a literary agent.

Set off after meeting to do a planned walk to Archway but the steady drizzle morphed into a monsoon; cafés and buses and tube visits/voyages instead . . . which had their own pluses.


                                                               Wet weather solace

Aliens on the Central Line

Pushchair Spiderman

Take five

Bus condensation art

Saturday 20 January 2018

Some days are longer than others

Smiths song, wasn't it?  . . . nope.  Some girls' mothers are bigger than others - that was it, anyway, yesterday was extremely lengthy, the hours stretching impossibly longly - is that a word? I don't know, I only slept for four hours last night, but I have a large pot of tea and an egg not-Mac-muffin  in front of me; it's a perfect drizzly London day and all will be well.
Yesterday, the hours had been quite normal until Mark dropped me off at the airport - a hundred and twenty minutes too early but that was fine; time to work and do a bit of London wanderings-planning. X-raying-the-stuff time arrived, all ok, and they failed to spot my extremely dangerous lip-salve concealed in jean's pocket.
Usual wait in the 'holding bay' with whirr and clunk of vending machines, hiss-hiss of headphone music and choo-choo of plastic train-ride, occasionally interrupted by the cry of a disgruntled child wanting another turn.
After a remark from my seated neighbour regarding the weather, we got chatting and, weirdly - how I love these accidental meetings - he told me he had bought a house in our town: the house I had looked at some years ago with some B and B guests staying with us. Great little place - well done Andy, if you read this.
The time came and we obediently trotted out into the rain and stood about while staff ran around with walkie-talkies and then told us to go back inside. Being optimistic sheep, we stood about a bit more hoping the vague info about the plane being 'en panne' - broken, was Fake News. Nope - it was broken and we would have to go back in and eat crisps for some indefinite time until someone could stick the wing back on, or whatever the problem was.


Back inside there was excited talk of a refreshment voucher. We queued and were handed a two pieces of paper: one, a lop-sided photo-copy explaining how you could spend a day trying to reclaim money for the late flight, and another, the voucher for . . . five euros! Wow, a small cake and a cup of tea, or possibly just the cake since we were in an airport.
I talked to my new friend, did some more work and waited for information. The pilot appeared, (who seemed to be about eighteen), to buy some nougat for his 'other half' and explained that the problem had been a small sensor announcing there could be a brake issue. They had tried to mend the sensor - probably turning it on and off a bit - that usually works, but it had stubbornly decided to continue saying there was a problem. Not a bad thing, really; the thought of cruising the Stanstead tarmac at several hundred miles an hour with no brakes, well, best not to think about it . . .
We drank tea, and some people drank a lot of wine,  especially a white haired lady next to us . . . actually, no-one had been remotely grumpy, and even when the announcement was made that we would have to wait until ten, there were no heavy sighs or complaining, just a lot of silent texting and buying of more wine.
The Ryanair solution that had been arrived at was 'a plane is being brought up from Barcelona' - I liked this, imagining the giant white metal bird on the back of some Pantechnicon being delivered up the autoroute, or more likely, the flight of an empty plane, with just a (undoubtably, fed up) pilot or two, lights on, seats empty, the ghost of a drinks trolly rattling up the aisle.
Ten o'clock: we again shuffled outside, stood for some time in freezing rain and eventually entered the still-cooling plane. Flight of nodding off, slumped, wishing I had one of those neck cushions, until we reached the UK coast. Then it was worth all the hours of sitting about. I have never seen a more magnificent view of London. The air must have been particularly clear after a recent rain episode: every road into the city a glittering coppery-golden necklace, the river a dark lazy snake within a jewelled web of lights. I could have looked at it for hours but the seven minutes or so laid down a permanent visual trace in my mind.

Pic: Reddit. com - my camera failed to work

The plane landed with a squeak, bump and no fanfare (odd that). The pilot came to say goodbye to us all, standing at the door of the cockpit like a fresh-faced vicar after a Sunday service; I really did get the feeling he meant it too. We exchanged a few words about the view, and he said, eyebrows raised in agreement, that it had been the most spectacular he could remember too.
Found my case, found the train (last one, and full of yawning, dead-eyed folks returning from or starting holidays/jobs/new horizons), and eventually ended up in Liverpool Street station keening for a taxi as I was too pooped to lug my case any further - but there weren't any so I did lug my case up and down many staircases, escalators, and through tunnels, and got lost - got lost somewhere between the central line and Piccadilly line.
Found the platform and even in my weary state, did gawp, as ever, at the astonishing plethora (after Southern France) of different humans - topped by a beautiful bearded black guy dressed in leggings, cowboy boots, woolly bobble hat, Chanel sunglasses/earrings, jewelled and feathered mohair cardigan, shouting at a trio of youths who had 'commented' on his attire, to, and I quote, 'go back home, watch Brigit Jones and pull on their three inch dicks'.
Arrived at Russell Square, resisted the idea of a glass of wine and packet of cheese and onion crisps in a pub that still seemed to be open, and loped, everything aching, to the St Athan's hotel (hurrah!) where I signed in, got lost again and wandered the corridors looking for room 16 which seemed to have never been constructed; at last found it and collapsed on the bed to find the heating was on full and impossible to turn off. Opened window, despite adding wildly to global warming, and tried to sleep, knowing it was now 2.00 am and I would no doubt wake as is my habitude, at 6.30. Which I did.

Thursday 18 January 2018

Resonant documentary on London

By John Rogers.

Not London Bridge, Crown jewels, Buck House, galleries, Oxford Street, or anything else listed on a tourist trail - a study of Nick Papadimitriou's everyday quiet investigations of the overlooked areas of Suburbia and the no-man's land edge of London/start of countryside. Also, added bonus of interviews with will Self, Iain Sinclair and Russell Grant - no women 'deep topographers' however - yet. (I feel another book coming on).

As a urban wanderer I found this touching, fascinating and inspiring.

Monday 15 January 2018

Small gestures and the usefulness of chickens

With everything that seems to be insurmountably terrifying these days: state of the seas, pollution generally, plastic madness, off the scale-bizarre politicians, etc, etc,  The Future is a worrying place.

While listening to a Will Self lecture recently, I was struck by something he said - am quite often struck, in fact, but this particular remark felt oddly reassuring: all we can do are small acts of kindness, and I think he's probably right.
Absorbing and worrying about everything that's going on is overwhelming and depressing, but fairly constant small gestures for the the planet, our fellow man and for ourselves are manageable, whether it's taking an aged neighbour to the shops, helping at a food bank, putting more effort into recycling of all sorts, helping your local winter bird population, telling a friend they look great, buying a bag of lentils instead of marshmallows - or better, buying lentils rather than meat, planting lettuce, walking/cycling rather than driving where possible, appreciating nature wherever you are, reading books as appose to gawping at another something on Net flicks, buying as much as possible in charity shops, donating to crowd funding for useful inventions and art projects, and, picking up your dog's poo before someone treads in in - which brings me to this wonderful small and incredibly clever invention, above.

Back to the subject of recycling: Chickens. Unless you are a vegan, chickens must be the most useful entities to have about the garden - if you have one. We boil up our veg peelings, they love them and require little else other than a bit of grain and garden-roaming, and we get beautiful eggs. Six chickens = no egg buying for the last two years, enough for breakfast each day, a lot of cake, and   often, enough eggs over to give to friends.
After the initial investment of the chicken housing, and the bird itself (rather less than a reasonably good quality dead one in supermarket) they cost virtually nothing, provide protein-packed food, great fertiliser, and you are saving one more bird from a miserable existence in a battery cage somewhere.

Pan scraps - cooked on top of the wood-burner


                     Flock of 'Gladys' on hearing the arrival of said-scraps

Friday 12 January 2018

Fifteen minutes, and the usefulness of dogs

The mechanic swore slightly and gesticulated to the door of our aged Golf - "eet will 'ave to come off, Madame, eef you want to replace ze retroviser (wing mirror) quinze minutes, d'accord."
'Okay', I said, 'I'll walk the dogs'. I would have gone and sat in their - unusually, for a garage - warm waiting room but the dogs were starting to howl, so a walk in freezing drizzle seemed a kinder option for him, and them.
This particular fifteen minutes of my life turned out to be a lot more inspirational than drinking a weird version of hot chocolate from a plastic cup and flipping though Tyre Monthly.
Behind the garage and beyond a sign that read - no admittance, skulked a vast, mostly-derelict building set amongst sweeping tracts of weed-pocked concrete. Beautiful.
Oddly, this very morning I'd been thinking of finding a suitable place to set up and film/photograph a few scenes from my 'Dyst - hopian' (Dystopia with hope) book. Thanks to a stubborn door panel and howling dogs, I think I may have found it . . .

Large building and small runty dog

Monday 8 January 2018

Leaving bits of yourself

I spent quite a long time thinking about this blog title and that still isn't quite what I meant . . . anyway, it's what I feel has happened after arriving home from re-installing The Lad into his Bordeaux student life.
We'd all spent Christmas together and a happy two weeks it was - he slipping back into all the old routines of home, and apart from a few minor irritations I'd forgotten about, it was a harmonious, warm and memorable break for all of us.
Term due to start, I took him back in the car, we did a bit of a road trip, next day further explored the environs of the city/region, and happily stayed/cooked/read and chatted in his minuscule flat.
This morning arrived. I wasn't anticipating feeling overly sad as I got into the car after saying goodbye, but I did - nothing as bad as the time I left him in for the first time, three months back (new flat, new life, knowing no-one) - but still a weird ache which hung around for the journey back despite the cheery tones of Lord Peter Wimsey (comfort listening).
Now I'm back at home with all the familiar stuff: dogs, husband (he does come before the dogs really!) piano, chickens, clutter (after the minimal flat), but it's as if I'm mostly here; some parts of me still back in the flat, observing the lad playing the guitar; wondering if we might go for a walk along the river, or perhaps make another cup of tea . . . as ever, I expect the lost pieces will catch up with the rest of me tomorrow as I get back into my usual routines, but today will probably carry on feeling a little disjointed as perhaps it should. Then bit by bit, emails, texts and a bit of FaceTime will become the norm until he next visits, or one of us makes a trip into Aquitaine.
Happy term, son.

Monday 1 January 2018

New Year

It's just another day but a madly warm (for time of year) day here, and boots will be donned, dogs walked at length and nature gawped at.
Last evening, Mark and I opted for a night in: Gone With the Wind, a larger than normal 'Plate of Bits' (film-watching-salad, crudities, crisps etc) and a glass of fizz. The lad had gone up the road to do something adolescent with mates, and that was as should have been.

I stayed awake for 80% of the film, ate too many crisps and then stood on the terrace in the drizzle thinking about the stars above the clouds - the plan had been to lie on the terrace and look at the stars without the intervening cloud, but not to be.

New Year's Eve. A weird time on the whole.
Most parties I've ever been to seem to have been cloaked in a slightly desperate air - drink masses, eat masses, sing that song that contains words no-one, unless they come from well North of Berwick-on-Tweed, know the meaning of, and possibly have a major row with a nearest and/or dearest.
There have been good ones, like piss-up events at neighbours houses, where we did daft céilí dancing rip-offs and only had to walk a few hundred meters to fall into bed, or that time Mark danced in a Brazilian street after too many Mojitos, but on the whole, a film and the fire on - nice.
The French seem to ensconce themselves at home within a wall of food and eat their way through it to celebrate the birth of the New Year, or they go out and pay for the privilege at astronomical cost.
I dunno, all seems a bit pointless and then there's the now what syndrome that starts up the next day - 'Hey, holiday booking time! and The Sales!'
Better perhaps just to do something low-key and wake up the next day to another similar and hopefully wonderful day.

I'm re-writing my trilogy 'Going out in the Midday Sun' at the present time and, oddly, all the characters' experiences of the Millennium New Year's madness arrived on my screen yesterday to be re-edited.
Here's Peter's experience of the evening.

Peter pressed the bell next to the huge white gates. Someone from the end of a wire asked him who he was.
    “Peter. One of the musicians for the evening.”
    No reply, but the gates started to move. He slipped inside and crunched up the gravel drive to the front door. Clipped bay trees stood primly to attention; a sign featuring a slavering Doberman read: 'If you break in here I will eat you, then seek out your family and eat them too,' or something to that effect. Peter had an unpleasant feeling about the gig. Suddenly he very much wanted to be curled up with Holly on the sofa. The door opened and a giggling couple swayed out into the evening.
    “Oh,” said the woman. “Who are you?” She was heavily made up with dark beige foundation and searing red lipstick, her perfume overwhelming.
    “Musician,” said Peter. “For the party?”
    “We thought you were Caroline and Tristan,” whined the man. “He rang a minute ago as they were driving up – look, could you go around to the side entrance. They should have told you.”
    He turned, muttering about staff. Peter walked around to the other door, rang, and a minion opened it. He was shown to the back of the house and met up with the other members of the group.
    “Quite a place,” he said to Harold.
    “So, you had the same treatment, did you?” smiled Harold, eyebrow raised. “At least you didn’t get attacked by the dogs,” he said, pointing to a ripped trouser leg.
    “Is there anything to eat?” asked Peter, realising this was going to be a job where benevolence was not high on the agenda.
    “We have to start in twenty minutes, then break to eat at ten, while they do speeches and whatever.”
    Peter changed into his black suit and tuned the violin. It was quite a time since he had played a jazz set; it would make a change from the spate of musicals he had played in recently. The group had met for a couple of rehearsals the week before and added a few more numbers. He ran through the new ones with Harold on double bass then went to see where they would be playing.
    He opened the allotted room’s door and stood gaping at the desert of thick cream wool carpet and shimmering chandeliers. A white grand piano stood at one end of the room. Judith was already there trying out the keys.
    “A Steinway. A white Steinway. This must have cost more than my flat,” she squeaked, “a lot more.”
    Peter patted her on the shoulder. “And all our flats would probably fit in this house. How the other half . . .” He tailed off as he noticed somebody in the crowd, the sight of whom made him feel totally cold and rather sick.
    “Oh . . . shit.”
    “What?” said Judith. “Are you okay?  You look very pale – gas left on?”
    “Nothing so trivial,” murmured Peter. “There is someone here that I really, really, do not want to see.”
    “Well, you’re not exactly going to blend into the wallpaper so just have a few drinks and make the best of it.”
    The rest of the band appeared, installed themselves, and, with a click-click-click-click of Jed’s drum sticks they started with a bossa nova, a ribald laugh or shriek of drunken hilarity from the hostess occasionally drowning out the music. The crowd increased every few minutes as the door chimes went and another elegant couple entered the room to be offered champagne and caviar toasts.
    The band had nearly played their first set, Peter trying to hide behind the piano as much as possible. The next piece was a Romany melody with a big fiddle solo in the middle. Peter would normally have been center stage.
    “What are you doing?” hissed Harold. “Get out from behind the piano.”
    Peter reluctantly did so; the others made space for him and he began the piece, soon forgetting his angst and performing the wild solo with exuberance. A lot of applause followed, especially from Carla, who was staring at him fixedly – just like she had done on their first encounter when she had bodily removed him to her flat.
    The first set finished, and the group was directed into a back room to eat. They discussed New Year events they had played at over the years. Harold’s favourite involved the tragic end of a grand piano. Judith winced, knowing the story.
    “It was this guy in Hampstead . . . he had the most palatial house you have ever seen, makes this one look like a chicken shed. Anyway, he had this mad idea about someone playing the grand piano on a platform built out across his swimming pool. Candles all around reflecting in the water, you get the idea . . . mad obviously. He got a specialist contractor round who said it would be almost impossible, and to cover himself he put in a ludicrous quote.
     The house owner decided to use a builder instead for half the price. It was made, the piano wheeled onto the platform and there it stayed, much to the smugness of the guy – until about four minutes to the magic hour when the whole thing gave way and the piano and player ended up in very cold and deep water.” 
    “I hope the piano player sued him,” said Judith. “Bastard.”  
The food finished, they returned to the main room where the atmosphere had changed from sedate chat to party.
    The red-faced host came over and prodded Harold in the chest.
    “Goose it up a little, eh?”
    They did, and soon the floor was filled with gyrating, unshod, flushed people: makeup running, ties undone and flung aside. Later Harold changed double bass for electric bass and the band switched to the 60s, Peter singing and playing lead guitar. Just before the hour, a woman lurched up.
    “Say, can you play that Prince thing . . . er, 1999.”
    “We’ll have a stab at it,” said Harold, then turned to Peter, eyes wide in question. Peter looked at the crowd and shrugged.
    “Why not – they’re well past knowing if its crap or not.”
    “True. Okay – Prince, 1999!”
    Peter sang, remembering most of the words and they partied like it was 1999.
    Everyone crowded outside for the fireworks. Peter watched the gold and silver chrysanthemums exploding into the smoky sky. In all directions came the clatter of bangers and whine of rockets: a million celebrations spreading out across London. He smiled to himself – it had been quite a year.
    At around two, people were starting to leave. The band rounded off the evening with a few slow songs, the hangers-on, slumped over each other, dancing in drunken circles like end of season wasps high on fermenting apples.
    At the end of the last song, Harold grabbed the microphone.
    “Thank you everyone. You were wonderful, and we were The Overnight Bags! Hope you enjoyed the evening and Happy 2000!"
   A ragged but appreciative cheer greeted his words, followed by a hopeful call for more from a few hardened partyers.
    The band started to pack up and Peter went to find the loo. He was just coming out from the bathroom when someone came up behind him and put their hands over his eyes and spoke in a husky feminine voice.
    He turned, already knowing with dread who it was. Carla was dressed in her trademark skin-tight silver and black dress. The heels were even higher, the lipstick redder. They were alone in the corridor. Carla spoke under her breath.
    “God, you turned me on playing that solo. I’d forgotten just how sexy you are.”
    She moved closer and ran a finger down his chest to his stomach. “How about a quick reminder, mm? Lots of bedrooms here . . . remember what I used to do on the edge of the bed?”
    Peter did, graphically, but whatever fun it had been then was in a different and distant life.
    “Carla, I’m not remotely interested in you. I have a woman I really love and a child at home. I’m knackered, and want to leave this bloody place. Get out of the”—
    She had moved even closer to him and was undoing his shirt, running her other hand up between his thighs, half-opened red lips, half-closed bedroom eyes . . . Peter felt some part of him beginning to suggest this seemed like an interesting idea. He moved sharply to the left to escape and knocked hard into a consul table. A large lamp wobbled and fell onto the parquet floor with an explosive crash.
    He ran, hurled apologies at Harold, said he would explain later and grabbed his gear. As he left the house, slamming the door, he caught sight of Carla grinning as if in a Hitchcock movie. He could almost see her mouthing: ‘You haven’t seen the last of me.’
    Peter got a cab back to the flat, let himself in quietly, threw his clothes off and slipped into bed next to Holly. He embraced her tightly, kissed her neck, and breathed in her comforting familiar scent.
    “I love you so much,” he murmured. She stirred in her sleep and smiled. The baby slept on, his tiny breathing sounds clear in the silent room.

Happy New 2018