Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Thorndon Country Park

Pleasant country walks are easily accessible from London:

I've been into London a few times over the past week or so. I very much enjoyed the photos in Tom Hunter's exhibition at the National Gallery. The light is fantastic and I also like the subject matter – takes on Old Masters and photos taken to reflect the headlines of the Hackney Gazette.

On the bus back to Limehouse I was taken by St Paul's. It looks magestic lit up against the night sky. In comparison, the Tower looks remarkably squat. I got annoyed by the musical accompaniment that is the wheelchair ramp – resembled a siren sounding the alarm at a nuclear plant – and also a pair of Italian tourists trying to locate their position in an A to Z. Every time they managed to find the street they were on we'd moved on by at least five minutes. I couldn't help myself and had to intervene. I couldn't quite work out whether they were pleased or not.

Following on from Gaw Blimey's blog about coughing carriages on the c2c ( I thought it was April Fool's) the only mention I found was an advert for Benylin – Is your cough driving you off the rails? Four people were coughing, myself included, and I am pleased to say that the Health Police did not descend and remove us elsewhere.

Walking down from Fenchurch Street station I noticed a board for a local bar. 'All pints £2.90'. As if they think that is some kind of bargain.

The book (a present) I bought in the Design Museum came in a delightful paper carrier bag. I did ask the cashier if the bag was strong enough. The answer was in the affirmative. I couldn't help but check they were sure. 'Tried and tested' was the answer. Well, I don't know where. Half way down the South Bank one of the handles went and I had to carry the book under my arm – which rubbed the corner of the bag through. I am not impressed and shall tell them so next time I visit.

Outside Marks and Spencers on Oxford Street I was happy to acknowledge the black Father Christmas. He's been there collecting for charity for as long as I can remember. Lord Cole. When I asked how long he pointed to his badge – 12 years service for Diabetes Uk – except it was out of date; 15 years would be more accurate. His vice-like grip on my arm suggested he wanted more of a chat. So we did. It was lovely!

Sam Smith's pub are a shining light in the dark of London as far as I am concerned. The beer is good and cheap (£1.70 for a pint of bitter) and I have yet to find one devoid of atmosphere. Waiting for C. in the Red Lion on Kingly Street I did get embarrassed by the fact I had to ask a complete stranger to help me detach my hair from the wood panelling. That may have been less embarrassing than the fact I walked out of the changing rooms in the Ilford Debenhams having forgotten to put my top back on. I thought my coat felt odd; I looked down, saw my bra and nearly had a heart attack.

The View from my Living Room Window

I can see the black slate rooves, sitting proudly on their red brick walls, lightly-dusted with snow.

I can see a man in a red and blue tracksuit, shivering, smoking a cigarette in his garden.

I know that food is scarce for the birds.

A blackbird sees a woodie off from a piece of bread. The robins are pecking the frozen ground. The coal tits and blue tits cling to the bird feeder.

A woman in the adjoining block cleans her windows; her face set against the blasts of icy-cold air.

I see another blackbird poke its beak into the squirrels' drey and get short shrift from the occupants.

I can hear the silence shattered by the high-pitched yap of an ankle-biter. The muffled rumble of the tube. The swoosh of the fast train. The murmur of the African Chief's TV. The plaintive cry of the Lithuanian Baby. The water coursing through the radiator. The coo of the pigeons. The caw of the crows.

I can see the swirling seagulls reflected in the newly-polished windows.

I can see all is still and hear all is quiet.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Hoo Hing

We are lucky enough to be close to the main distributors for Chinese food in London. Most of their money obviously comes from the wholesale trade but they cater for us little people too.
My first feeling is always one of insignificance. Me and my little car parking between the thirty-odd articulated lorries on their day of rest. This soon changes to excitement as I browse the isles and choose my goods. There is then the bewilderment that is the check-out.

Service is very good but very frustrating.

Your shopping is packed for you. Fine if, like the man in front of me, you have bought enough to stock the kitchen of your restaurant for the next week and the whole lot needs carting out on two big flat trolleys. I had a carrier bag's worth of food. No-one was around to pack so I attempted to pick up a bag myself. “NO!” shouts the woman on the till scaring me half to death. “NO!”. So that left me stood there like a lemon until a packer came back from the car park.

Only once the goods are packed can you pay. Embarrassingly, everyone seemed to be paying with huge wads of money. £675 here, £567 there. I only had my card. Big mistake. The cashier wrote 11.66 on the back of a piece of paper and started shouting in Cantonese. I had to wait for another packer to come and collect the paper and my card and take it to a till at the other end of the shop. I did try to follow - “NO!”. Two minutes later I was shooed along to the till to enter my PIN. I asked if I could take my card back but no that wasn't to be. “We bring. We bring” and I was sent back to stand at my original till until someone was available to return the card to me. I contemplated making a run for the car with my shopping but the cashier's beady eye was on me so I waited for the man with no teeth to come to collect the bag and escort me out.
My final feeling was, not surprisingly, one of overwhelming relief.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Stress of the Season

I have to say I do quite like Christmas (even though I say every year that I'm not going to buy presents anymore; it's all far too commericalised etc. etc.).

I can kind of understand why people end up getting so stressed from all the pressure but then again I can't. We did our most of our Christmas shopping in one go in the West End a few weekends ago. We were over and done with in about two hours and sat down to a very nice brunch. (You can, however, trust my sister to be the awkward one. Wanting a present from a shop no-one has ever heard of in Covent Garden meant it wasn't open when we arrived at 9am. Far too early for the better sort of person).

It's taken me nine years but Colin finally relented and let me have a real Christmas tree. I was like a little kid driving up to Columbia Road to choose one. He even let me have a far bigger tree than I thought I would get away with. (It's all to do with who does the hoovering). Which of course meant I had to invest in some new silver baubles in Paperchase the next day otherwise it would have looked bare.

Last year's presents were very tastefully wrapped in brown paper with some leaves, a cinnamon stick and ribbon. This year I have gone for magazine pages. A slightly different take on recycling.

As for the free-range Norfolk black that should have been delivered yesterday, there was a 'technical hitch' which roughly translates as some arse in the warehouse dropped a crate of paint on it rendering it inedible. (That's the official version from the farm; my version reads – some arse from the delivery company splodged a bit of paint on the lid of the polystyrene box and has taken the turkey home for his Christmas dinner). Turkey number two should be arriving today.

Christmas Cheer

You may possibly have thought I've been quiet of late due to Christmas fun and festivities. You'd be wrong. Let me set the record straight.

Too tired and too knackered to do anything other than work, sleep and eat. Trying not to be ill – all in vain.

Monday I blotted my attendance record for the year by being sent home sick. Ridiculously, I then got a phone call saying that if you're absent on the last day of term (the following day) you have to have a doctor's certificate to get paid. 'But you know I'm ill. You're the ones who sent me home', I cried to no avail. I don't actually have a doctor and even if I did tell me the likelihood of getting an appointment on the same day.

Turned up at 7.30am Tuesday for the Head to take one look at me and say 'Should you be here?'. 'Go home. I'll say I've seen you'.


Monday, December 12, 2005

Early Morning Shock

The mix of people at Upney tube in the morning is pretty much static. I was jolted out of my early morning reverie last week when I spotted a rather distinguished-looking man.

Highly-polished shiny brown shoes. Well cut navy suit. Wool overcoat. Brown leather gloves and attaché case. Navy hat (can't tell a fedora from a trilby; sorry). Nice aftershave. Of a certain age.
We ended up sitting next to each other on the train. He leant into his bag and produced an intelligent tome as expected.

I'm lying. He pulled out a bright pink paperback.

Danielle Steel.

I was flabbergasted. I spent the twelve minutes to West Ham arguing with myself.

Book group. Researcher. Reviewer. Critic.

I couldn't ask as I don't speak to people in the morning.

I'm scared he might have been reading it for pleasure. The world is doomed.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Protest at Canary Wharf

Until I came up the escalators today I'd forgotten about the protest of yesterday. Too much going on in my head. I was confused. Next to the rolling stairs (as the French would say) there was a small group of people protesting. I couldn't understand what they were chanting and could not make head nor tail of their homemade banners:

Don't let the same thing happen to you.

China ate our organisation for lunch.

Unemplyed CEO.

They were there again today. I made a detour to collect a postcard from someone connected to the 'campaign'.

And what a good advertising campaign. A business school promoting their course about dealing with unpredictable markets. Well, they caught my attention. (I am not mentioning them or their website intentionally).

I was, and am still, livid.

Canary Wharf is private property. Cleaners who earn a pittance were confronted with posters a while ago informing them that if they tried to protest about earning a pittiable wage while the companies they work for, mostly banks, rake in unimaginable profits, they would be removed.
So, actors, (I'm assuming that's what they are), can stage an imaginary protest in the tube station against the possible loss of top jobs yet people who do not even earn a living wage have no rights to draw attention to their plight.

A disgrace.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Senses

I love crisp and crunchy mornings. Snuggling up in my warm clothes and striding briskly to the station - with my scarf wrapped round my face revolutionary-style so as not to choke on the fumes belching out car exhausts.

I had to walk past five cars with their engines running. Where were the owners? Sat in the driving seat hoping that a combination of the fan heater and the windscreen wipers scratching across the glass would shift the ice. Some hope. Whatever happened to the old-fashioned scraper? Mines being going strong these past fourteen years and, if I don't lose it, is good for another fourteen at least. Another sign that as a nation we're getting lazier, don't give two figs about the environment or the effect we have on other people.

Went off to a meeting on the Docklands. Before engaging brain I said to the woman next to me “Oh, look we've both got a burn in the same place”. (Top of left wrist). I blame mine on ciabatta, her on roast pork. By the time I got off the train I had Nonna's recipe for meatballs.

We were in a room far too small to accommodate us and I was shoved up against a scorching hot radiator. There was the mum's social worker, the dad's social worker and the kids' social worker. S.'s psychotherapist and M.'s psychotherapist. The Family Welfare Association. The parents. An interpreter and three teachers. It was all a bit overwhelming and after an hour and a half I had to lie to leave. I'm sure I have radiator burn down one side.

Coming home I had to listen to a woman wearing far too much make-up give the recipient of her phone call advice on 'tendering'. Don't concentrate on how cheap you can be but focus on service levels and reliability. “Stop, right there”, I wanted to scream. “Is it for the council? 'Cos you're going about it all the wrong way”. I've been on the receiving end of Cock-Up (or Shape-Up as the council likes to call it). Cowboys fitted the door so badly that I ended up stuck on the outside at some ungodly hour of the night and as for the double-glazing, that's a blog all of it's own. And they certainly haven't rid my flat of rodents.

Swapping onto the tube I became stuck next to a guide dog and his drunk owner. The dog stuck his head up my coat and when I tried to move him he started licking my hand rather violently. Not being sure what to do I just stood there thinking I can wash my hands when I get in. I wasn't counting on the toddler opposite shouting, “Mummy, why's the doggy licking the lady's hand?”. Everyone had a good gawp and the blind bloke coughed and spluttered fumes in my face to apologise.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Tube

Coolbuddha blogged yesterday about tube étiquette. I did my own pet hates back at the beginning of October - funnily enough, people barging on before you've got off hit the number one spot on both occasions.

Today, I jumped on the fast train 25 minutes later than normal and met a new phenomenen. The Smug Couple. Oh my god. They were loud and more importantly annoying. There were lots of them. What do I want to know about their drains, guttering and cat's fleas before 8 o'clock in the morning?

Trains in the morning are packed. Trains in the morning are, with the exception of the hisses and screeches of the train itself, silent. There is no place for couples.

I shall have to ensure I stick with the 7.14. We're all train singletons.

Dear Tesco

Food, and the thought of food, takes up a large part of my life. To this end, in order not to bore regular readers (assuming they weren't already), I have started another blog - all about food. The decision was finally taken after penning a letter to Tesco to tell them I have had enough of their stores not stocking what I want to buy.

I've yet to receive an answer but how will it compare to this gem from today's Metro? (Courtesy of C.).

A woman had written to her local Tesco on three occasions - 'oversized croissants', 'withdrawal of her favourite low-fat ice cream' and the 'withdrawal of her favourite brand of cooking chocolate'.

The response to the third complaint:

We have come to the conclusion that you have astonishingly bad taste in chocolate and Tesco is not prepared to accomodate the less sophisticated market. We suggest you try Sainsbury's as their food is especially bland and may satisfy your plain palette...If you insist on complaining, we sincerely hope you take your custom elsewhere.

Tesco have of course aplogised and said the letter is a hoax... I'd quite like to meet that disgruntled member of staff.

Monday, November 28, 2005


I have never tried smoking. I detest it. I used to battle with my dad when I was younger. He's only allowed to smoke in the kitchen. Whatever the weather I would fling open the patio doors and die dramatically over the kitchen table while attempting to eat my Weetabix.

Now, in some instances I would agree with the idea of not knocking something until you've tried it. But not when it comes to smoking. Everything about it is objectionable and you don't need to have tried it to work that one out.

I was interested to read in the paper at the weekend that banning smoking in enclosed public places has come up against yet another obstacle. Prisons.

Two thoughts popped into my head. Firstly, I hadn't ever registered the fact prisons are public places and secondly, if they want to smoke who am I to stop them?

I then got to the crux of the matter. According to the article in the Guardian, 'the Home Office Minister Fiona Mactaggart told MPs this week that the record prison population meant that prisons should be exempt as non-smokers would have to share cells with smokers'.

Outrageous. It must be bad enough to share a little space with someone else for an extended period of time. If that person also smoked it really would be hell on earth. So, we uphold the smokers right to smoke but not the non-smokers right not to breathe in the smoke.

A legal loophole apparently means prisons cannot ban smoking in cells as they are designated as a “private home”. Now, I do not allow smoking in my flat. So, were I in prison could I not say that smoking is not allowed in my “private home”? Who wins? Me or the anti-social puffer?

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Crown Prince

The two most common lines I hear at work are :

1. You don't look well.

2. I know you're really busy but...

It's a bloody tough job (and its starting to wear me down).

The Gardener (older, sexy) recognised my plight today. He didn't use either of these lines. He said 'close your eyes, hold your hands out, I have a present for you'.

A green pumpkin from his allotment.

I cuddled it all the way home on the tube.

Doesn't take much to please me.

Mr Darcy

I've been feeling a little sorry for myself - what with work being so hectic and a rodent invading the flat. I thought I needed something to cheer me up.

I've re-read Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time. It always works.

Cannot be beaten.


Pest control have returned.

The rodent isn't dead as it probably isn't a rat but a mouse. The poison would have been too big for it (?). We now have new small poison in trays.

We are now assured it will be dead in 48 hours.

I won't hold my breath.

Monday, November 21, 2005

How could I forget?

We have a visitor.

A squatter.

A rodent.

A rat.

It's not good.

This is Thursday night's damage...

We're in a bloody first floor flat. How did the bastard get in?

He should have died of the council's poison today.

Given my relationship with the council, it won't have worked.

Stating the Obvious

As a teacher you really do need to think about what you say before the words leave your mouth. (Although I do realise this can be easier said than done).

Today, I was screamed at on the 'phone to pick up one of my kids as he was quite literally bouncing round the classroom. When I arrived he stopped immediatley and smiled sweetly.

She [the supply teacher] had said 'You can be as silly as you like as long as you don't touch the teacher's desk'. He took this as his cue to do a Skippy impression across all the other desks (spurred on by the Jungle programme).

'I didn't break the rules, miss, so you can't tell me off'.


Too Tired

Just driven C. mad. He's watching the Jungle programme. Who's she? Who's he? Who's that? Carol Thatcher must be mad to do the show - everyone and anyone who hated her mother is going to take their revenge on her. Can you vote the same person for the trial every night for the duration?

I am half tempted to attempt the subject of licensing laws but not sure I have the energy. When I went to buy the newspapers at 8.45am Sunday there were two men outside the newsagents - one with a can of Fosters, the other with a Stella. I inwardly made a face. As I opened the door to the shop I realised a 'scene' was in progress. A queue of very polite people were watching the lovely man behind the counter explaining very calmly and slowly to a third man that he could not sell alcohol until 10am. 'It's the law of the land'. This was not going down well. Much effing and blinding and patient explaining later the man left with his empty holdall. Much to the relief of everyone. I half expected the window to come in.

Still, the mood was lightened when I returned homewards. Bloke from the block next door always washes his car before church on a Sunday. Due to the cold he was wearing a duffle coat with his violently coloured pyjamas.

Oh dear. Pyjamas have triggered a memory of last weekend which I have yet to share. To cut a long story short we had a new boiler from the council last year - unfortunately, this does not mean the battle for hot water and heating on a regular basis is over.

The boiler is in a cupboard outside the flat - in the hall. The water pressure having fallen flat (again) I had to take a monkey wrench to the apparatus (while cooking roast beef and trying to plan the week ahead) to ensure some warmth. There is absolutely no point in getting properly dressed for the occasion. So, there I was in my blue stripey bottoms, green jumper and bright pink socks.

The African Chief came down from upstairs and had a good old laugh. Cheeky bastard I thought. C. was not surprised when he popped out to see how I was doing. Given the position of the pipes I had my, not inconsiderable, arse stuck in the air. I also had a massive rip in my pyjama bottoms and was showing off me knickers. Oh the shame.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

A line for Jay

This is the second time this has happened to me. You cram into a tube and get pushed this way and that as everyone rearranges themselves and then you realise you're miles from a pole.

Emma: Can I just put my arm through there, please? I have nothing to hold on to.

Stranger: I've something you can hold on to, love. (Leer, leer).

Cue withering teacher stare.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Ham and lettuce in dead bread

I only bought the Independent Saturday because of the free DVD - a French film that the Americans liked the idea of and made their own version - Summersby or something like that. (friends at uni took me to see it to cheer me up after the death of a school friend. Shame they didn't check out the blurb before hand - bloke gets hanged. C. was found swinging from a tree by a man walking his dog. Didn't quite do the trick). Anyway, I digress.

I've become quite disconcerted by the papers over a period of time. I know that I can hardly profess to writerly brilliance - but then I am not paid to do so. For this reason I was overjoyed to read Howard Jacobson's piece Only a depressed Russian would get a kick out of a journey on a Virgin train. It was laugh out loud hysterical. I absolutely loved it. I thought I'd give you a link and encourage you to share my pleasure. But!

I have discovered you have to pay to read it on the web. Scandalous. Get whatever you like on the Guardian website for free. One pound indeed. Ludicrous.

I was tempted to bypass their silly money-making scheme by typing the whole column out (my secretarial skills aren't bad) but I'm too responsible for that. Could I get into trouble?
I've decided not to comment on the column underneath: The value of an erotic charge in the classroom.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Mine's a...

Even more surpising than the chip/potato survey has to be the following.

New research has shown that one third of adults who bought alcohol for under 18s did not realise they were breaking the law. (Click here).

I really do not know what to say other than what hope is there?

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

State of Emergency

In the UK councils slap dispersal orders on entire areas (collective Asbos) based on the complaints of a few residents. All young people are treated as criminals with no recourse to the law. No one says a word.

The French government, following 11 nights of rioting, have called a state of emergency to allow mayors to announce a curfew for minors in their districts in attempt to calm things down. The League of Revolutionary Communists exhorts people to brave the curfews and to demonstrate in the streets - at night if necessary - to stand against the law of 1955 brought in to quell unrest at the time of the Algerian war.

Geographically we are close but politically and socially worlds apart.

And, chips are made from...

Following newspaper reports and Buddhist Guy's blog I decided to take a straw poll of my own.

What are chips made from?

The little loves (all 25 of them aged 11 or 12) wrote their answer on a scrap of paper while I yelled the register this morning. No-one admitted to having watched the news yesterday and given the ridiculous looks on their faces when I told them what they had to do they clearly thought I was mad.

1 child said fat and salt, the other 24 said potato (albeit with various spellings, my favourite being pertayto). When I explained why I had asked they looked even more confused. They clearly thought the answer obvious and one asked 'where did they find these kids?'. Quite.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Ten ton polar bear

Psychologists have applied themselves to one of the big questions in life: what makes a good chat up line?

The article in the Independent on Sunday made excruciating reading. I feel really quite relieved that men don't try to chat me up – it's enough to put me off the lot of you for life.

I once broached the subject with male friends at uni. My friend and I, who aren't totally unattractive (we're not quite the back end of buses), were never approached by men when we were out. We put it down to the fact that we were always with a group of lads. They put us straight. T and I had 'f**k off vibes'. People were too scared to walk up to us. Laugh, we almost cried. I now realise we had a lucky escape.

The lines with the best chance of succeeding are apparently those 'reflecting the man's ability to take control of the situation, his wealth, education or culture, and spontaneous wit'.

These are the best of the lot (allegedly). My responses are in italics.

'It's hot today isn't it? It's the best weather when you're training for a marathon'. Which one? My boyfriend has run over 50 including a 24 hour race. How many have you done (liar)?

'The Moonlight Sonata or, to give it it's true name, Sonata quasi una fantasia. A fittingly beautiful piece for a beautiful lady'. I can play it on the piano. Name the language, the composer and then piss off.

'I'm sorry but I think you owe me a drink. I just looked at you and dropped mine!' More fool you.

Can you boys do any better?

La Haine

The idyll of France for many has been shattered.

The violence is no great surprise to me. I've lived and studied in France. I've taught the big themes of immigration, racism and integration at A-level. The kids were always surprised. The film that blew away all their preconceived ideas of French life was La Haine. (Hate).

The superbly shot film is a day in the life of three teenagers on a Parisian housing estate. Their friend is in a coma after being battered by the police. The fact it was released ten years ago and little or nothing has changed is depressing. It's grim but illuminating. Watch it.


Apparently, there have been 27 attacks on vessels off the coast of Somalia since March. I realise that if you're living the high life on board a luxury cruiser machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades might come as something of a surprise but do we have to call the culprits pirates? (Personally, I think the figures speak for themselves - you're asking for trouble).

I find the word pirate funny. Pugwash and Long John Silver come to mind. It's a bit like the East End in that you treat it with a kind of romantic nostalgia that takes no account of the truth of the matter. I kept telling myself as I tried to read the article pirate = bad man but it didn't work. I still think its an amusing story and I do not have one ounce of sympathy for the rich bastards on board. Should I be broadcasting the fact?

Fairweather Photographer

I have decided that I will get a photo in the Guardian supplement on a Saturday - Last Weekend. I thought the Stevenage half-marathon would be a good place to start.

A little girl's legs sticking out under a golf umbrella she was desperately trying to keep hold of. Her younger brother struggling with a huge broken branch. Runners queuing to pee behind a fence. Were the photos good?

They weren't even taken. It was just too wet. I've discovered I am a fairweather photographer. I hid in the hall on a little kid's chair reading the Independent on Sunday and drinking cups of coffee lovingly prepared by men from the Rotary Club. They even managed to twist my arm into eating a piece of treacle tart.

Sunday, November 06, 2005


I visit a few blogs on a regular basis: Pat's, Shep's and Jay's (he doesn't get a link as he seems to think I would make a good Roman concubine). I often click through 'next blog' and get bored very rapidly. I have found one blog which I return to and find very amusing: buddhist guy. Read him - he's good.

Fireworks are fun

I do love fireworks and I strongly believe you cannot beat a well organised display. In the past we've been up to Ally Pally and down to Blackheath (the best I've ever seen).

I spotted in the local paper that Canary Wharf was hosting a free display on the Thames Thursday evening – excellent time too. 6pm. Just the right time for me to hit the docks between leaving school and going to the pub.

The wind was strong but the rain had let up (thankfully) and the Riverside was full – of adults. Very few children which in a sense is a shame but positively put paid to all those bah humbug stories about glorifying anti-Catholicism. I am surprised at the strength of feeling here. I for one love the colour, smell and atmosphere of fireworks. I am celebrating a tradition – bright lights on a dark night. The only difference from whan I was a child is that I no longer wear the wellies...

The fireworks were not a disappointment. Absolutely brilliant. You couldn't even see them going up before they exploded (the sign of an expensive firework I reckon). There was a sinister moment as 'gold rain' slid down the sky towards the onlooking crowd before fizzling out. It was like a cloud moving nearer and closer. I was ever so slightly alarmed. As a child I may have been quite scared.

I did get hit in the face by a piece of flying debris. It stung but no lasting damage done.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

October Half-Term Day Nine

A stomp round Bloomsbury with the friend I had to cancel with Thursday (due to the three hour odd traffic jam). Had a fab time. He actually spotted this place - on the corner of Rugby Street (so called as the school owned the land there years back).

October Half-term Day Eight

Nothing to report.

October Half-Term Day Seven

Another lunch date. This time in Stoke Newington, north London. I was puzzled by the sight of loose groups of men, anoraks, huddled near Clapton Pond. All had cameras, old fashioned SLRs, around their necks. A man walked round the corner in a black mac holding a purple and white funeral wreath. I caught a glimpse of the card on the front – RIP R.. B..
I will admit that my first thought was Ronnie Biggs! The letters went nicely together but then I spotted it. The Routemaster Bus. The last day of the no 38. Later on in the day we had to get off the 106 and walk. Nothing was moving due to the crowds outside Clapton bus station. It was a sad moment. An overwhelmingly male one.

Abney Park Cemetery was a first for me. Where I grew up in Romford there is a massive well-laid out cemetery that is carefully looked after. The wild cemeteries of north London are totally different. Nature takes its course.

Well, I am very slowly getting there. Two days back at school and I am still trying to get half-term covered. It's the pesky photos.

The church at the centre of the cemetery is boarded up. There were remains of fires on the ground and graffiti adorning the walls. I hope it isn't left to rot. It's too imposing a building to deserve that fate.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Breath deeply

I am getting rather angry about my inability to add photos to posts this evening. It just isn't happening. The words are ready but the illustrations aren't. They will have to wait.

On a happy note, I came across the Grolsch quiz in the week. Clever Clogs. Answer general knowledge questions against the clock. On my first attempt I was four thousand odd in line to the title. This evening I claimed 13th place with 1772 points. I am DETERMINED to make the top 10. Beat me if you can!

October Half-term Day Six

B., my right hand woman at school, had invited me round for lunch. She offered me two possible routes – the Dartford Crossing (costs £1) or the Blackwall Tunnel (often shut as some complete buffoon in a HGV hasn't read the height signs). Both seemed to require driving out of my way to cross the river. After consulting the A to Z I spotted the nearest crossing – the Woolwich Ferry. Free and every 10 minutes. How exciting!

I only remember having been on it once before – when my cousin's dad's sister get married. They are originally from Kenya – East African Indians. They weren't too happy when he married into a white family but we were soon part of the extended community.

My sister didn't want to leave her shoes outside the temple because someone might nick them, my nan had a white hanky on her head, my brother fell asleep and at the tender age of about 9 I was worried about whether or not I should be bowing up and down along with everyone else? Offensive if I join in? Offensive if I don't? I think I sat in a semi-permanent bend. The service, completely in Punjabi, was interminable. The food afterwards was out of this world.

Anyway, rather than pulling off into Galleon's Reach for the supermarket I continued on the Royal Docks Road. The DLR station came into sight. High in the air above a building site it truly looked like something out of a sci-fi film. The glimpse of water in the docks shocked me. In no way did it resemble that of the Thames (muddy brown). Glorious Mediterranean blue with the Dome and the sparkling towers of Canary Wharf in the background. I wanted to stop and stare.

The ferry was superb. I was happily second in line for the next service. I was glad not to be first. I was surrounded by vans and lorries and I clearly didn't have a clue what to do. I needed someone to copy. You stay in your vehicule and get a lovely view on the brief trip. I was slightly alarmed as we first set off – you go backwards which was really quite disorientating.

I took B's advice and came back through the Dartford Tunnel. Doh! Swung onto the A13 and then hardly moved for an hour. A 13-vehicule accident had shut the road at the next junction. Three hours to cover 8 miles. I had to cancel my night out from my stationary spot. The only tape in the car had REM on one side and Robbie on the other. Both are a bit much after a couple of turns. Still at least I was safe.

October Half-Term Day Five

Well, this is doing my head in. It says it is uploading the photos but clearly isn't. This may end up being posted in dribs and drabs.

In amongst reading and drinking coffee yesterday I did actually plan a walk for a friend from the British Library in King's Cross (once an area known as Battlebridge but changed after someone plonked a statue of George IV on the crossroads of Euston, Pentonville and Gray's Inn Roads) to the British Museum in Holborn (former home of the library). She teaches English Language A-Level and needed a walk that would take in some historical place names and a church for explaining some point or another.

I have walked children from one side of Paris to the other, much to their utter amazement, but you do have to realise that youngsters these days just do not get about on foot. A real shame. Anyway, not knowing how long the walk would take I thought I would put it into practice.
After walking up the road to buy some electricity, and being intimidated by the men in the shop – they make me feel very uneasy -, something in my brain was telling me I didn't want to go to King's Cross but Bermondsey. No idea why but I went with it. As far as my travelcard allows on the Jubilee Line.

Once I'd packed my bag (Ed Glinert, notebook and pens, mini A to Z, camera, phone, keys, ham and mustard granary rolls, apple and banana), I was ready to go. Following a near altercation with a French girl who was emptying her voluminous handbag onto the barriers into an attempt to find her ticket (no-one else could get through), I hopped on board the District Line.

On exiting Bermondsey station I swung right and took a look at the shops. Jimmy's barbers. Payless Food and Wine. William Hills on one corner; Ladrookes on the other. The Castellano Ristorante adding a touch of class. On the other side of a set of metal barriers was a newly-created artscape (we get them all the time on the A13. Total waste of money). Swirling stainless-steel benches, shiny metal bins with mushroom shaped hats. Three coloured gravel swept into moving shapes and sprayed into shape (it didn't matter how hard you kicked it it didn't give). A couple of trees in front of the Kotechas Store, the Bermondsey Tandoori Balti House and the grilled windows of the Millpond Tenants and Residents Association Hall.

The war memorial to the Bermondsey dead surrounded by brightly coloured posters advertising the forthcoming Armistice services.

A man walked past wearing a bright blue bow tie.

Heading for the river path I caught a glimpse of the Angel pub. A statue on a bench made me jump. Dr Salter. Local hero. He'd made it his life's work to improve the health of an incredibly impoverished area and has been remembered for it.

He is waving goodbye to his daughter Joyce and her cat. Someone had wrapped pink ribbon round the cat's ears. Looks a little evil to me but then I have never been a lover of cats.
I stood and listened. Hum of the boats on the river. Lapping water. A muffled generator. Clanking dustcart. Seagulls cawing. Metal chipping away at stone.

The water was stronger further round the bend. I watched as three small boats clung together as the waves surged around them in the wake of the city cruisers. Through the gaps in the willow trees the Old Justice was peeking through.

Unable to pass some rather surly-looking builders I took a detour through the Dickens Estate. Part of Micawber House had been transformed into the Prince of Wales pub. Bottle green painted brick work and red lanterns. A tiny place with a normal front door closed to the public. A note in the window reminded patrons that after 7pm under 18s have to leave.

Nicklebey House sports a plaque to Tommy Steele, OBE. Entertainer. Born in Bermondsey and voted for by the people.

Much closer to St Saviours Dock and Tower Bridge I came across houseboats stranded in the mud. Did I know they were there? Had I forgotten about them or just never seen them before? Coverings of plants, tyres and bin bags. A brown paper sack that I wanted to be a fat ginger tom cat.

I love the old warehouses. New Concordia Wharf. Wheat Wharf Apartments. Butlers Wharf. My heart lifts when I see the bricks and the tall windows. There is always the feeling that something is missing. Atmosphere. Too still. Too quiet.

Dodging under Tower Bridge I continued past Hays Galleria, ('Mum, mum', says a boy pointing at HMS Belfast, 'Can we go on the plane? Please, mum?'), until stopped by a metal fence. Back through Hays Gap into Hays Lane where A.J. Pain Waste Management nearly put me six feet under. St Olaf's stairs, too, were filled in by wooden blue containers belonging to builders.

The smell of steamy fish and chips emanated from the Mug House under London Bridge. Little blue and green spots dance under perspex along the pavement.

Apostolides commercial removers were parked up outside the Cathedral. One asleep in the cab; another sprawled across the open back, head on bag, having forty winks.

Over the Millennium Bridge (why do people insist on running at midday in the school holidays and complain that there are too many people getting in their way?) and through the side streets to Ludgate and Fleet Street.

The King Lud which tragically became a Hogshead is now called Leon. But thankfully the Cheshire Cheese is much the same as it was when it was rebuilt after the Great Fire in 1666. (If over 5'4 you have to duck on the stairs. Built when people were generally much shorter). I thought the days of the suits having pub lunches was over. Clearly not if today was anything to go by. All men in groups. And me.

Small box plants in pots were for sale on Aldwych. I was flabbergasted to see a price tag of £75.00. Daylight robbery. £150 to adorn your front step.

C. rang to say he was on his way. Trafalgar Square seemed as good a place to meet as any. Sit and contemplate. Bright, loud and full of laughter. Children (and adults) climbing on the lions and the base of Nelson's Column; perching on the edge of the fountains for photos. Chasing pigeons. I positioned myself on the far side near the newly unveiled Alison Lapper Pregnant statue. The fourth plinth.

I wondered what comments I would hear. With the exception of one woman who, from her accent clearly hailed from northern climes, exclaimed 'It looks like a man', all remarks were favourable and generated some interesting conversations between well to do parents and their children. Others appeared not even to have noticed it.

Through Admiralty Arch and on into St James's Park. A duck was honking very loudly at a seagull. I quite liked the idea that he might be telling him to sod back off to the coast where he came from.

Once C. had bought his new trainers and shorts (Run and Become. Would recommend it to all. You can try on as many pairs as you like and then go and run around in the arcade outside), we retired to the Albert in Victoria. From there to the Two Brewers in Monmouth Street and a Chinese restaurant in Lisle Street.

What a painful scene on the table next to us. A young East London Indian, his girlfriend – late thirties Hampstead liberal with a face ravaged by either drink or drugs - and her precocious daughter aged about seven (named after an American state). They clearly didn't have two pennies to rub together and did nothing but squabble. 'You're not even my dad. You're the wrong colour' turned to tears when mum said he wouldn't be staying the night. 'Why not? I want him too' with a stamp of the foot. I was trying to work out how to pay without offending them and C. swinging for me. (£12). Having a nightcap elsewhere C. said if he'd been on his own he would have offered to pay...

Thanks to my cry of 'RUN' at 21.04 we managed to charge up the stairs at Fenchurch Street and onto the 21.05. I spent the ensuing 15 minutes to Barking trying to get my breath back. A lovely day.

Friday, October 28, 2005

October Half-Term Day Four

Mainly spent drinking coffee and reading Frankenstein. An excellent book which I would guess most people think they know the story of but in reality don't.

What's the name of the 'monster'?

Monday, October 24, 2005

October Half-Term Day Three

I have been reliably informed that the wardrobe in the bedroom is for clothes. So, I started today very much in the same vein as yesterday, by cleaning. I divested the floor of its attire – five possible options: wardrobe, ironing, washing-bin, charity, dustbin – and did the resulting ironing. (Major achievement). I then hoovered the carpet. Wow, the bedroom even looks bigger.

I popped round the corner for some loo roll and a newspaper and waited for my dad to arrive. He has done remarkably well. Made redundant 5 times since the age of 50 and still working. He got a job against all the odds this year – redundant at 64 and in employment within a couple of weeks in his field (carpets). Since then he has gone on to a 3 day week. A chance for him to do some jobs for me and for me to pass on some money.

The council alleges the windows they fitted last year are double-glazed. I will even admit they look that way but the draft is major. Dad has been brought on side to put up curtain poles and the cheapest curtains we could find to back up the very nice blinds I already have. Tomorrow he'll be draft-proofing the cupboard which houses the electricity and gas pre-payment meters which lets in a gale. I only have central heating in the front room and the hall. Both are crap. The bedroom must resemble the arctic in mid-winter.

I started reading Frankenstein even though I was very tempted to start Bloody Foreigners first. I love the story of immigration into England especially London. It's what makes it so great.

I've rounded up the day by making beef burgers of the highest order. Steak mince, onion, red pepper and parsley. Lovely served up in toasted buns with lettuce and mustard mayonnaise. Beats Mc Do and Burger King any day.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

October Half-Term Day Two

I am not tidy and cleaning gives me a headache but there was nothing for it. Today I had to do something to the flat before C.'s patience with me ran out.

I scrubbed the bathroom and kitchen; put away all the books on the floor; threw away all the old newspapers; and, hoovered the hall and the front room. Phew. (Unless you have an absolute aversion to these things you will never understand how hard all that was).

When I finally got around to reading the newspaper I was highly excited by the article in the Review about St Etienne's film of the Lower Lea Valley, What Have you Done Today, Mervyn Day? . The very area I went through by train last night. I recognised the picture of the abandoned scrap yard and blocks of flats (until they installed security doors C. used to run up and down them). I laughed out loud at the graffito on the blue bridge 'FUCK SEB COE' (says it all).

When I saw mention of influences from Cohen's London Nobody Knows I knew this was a film for me. All I could think is when is it on? Where? While the PC fired up I tried to think who would go with me? Geordie J? The Gardener? Pat? To hell with it; if I could get a ticket I'd be there on my own.

Once on the Barbican website, I clicked on the link and was instructed to choose my seat. NO! There were none left. I can cope with watching the film without listening to St Etienne live afterwards (I have no idea what 'post-acid house beats' fused with 'Sixties British pop' sounds like) so looked for alternative dates or venues. Nothing.

I am determined it will be out there somewhere. I am now on a mission to find it. Help will be greatly appreciated.

October Half-Term Day One

The sky, gently glowing orange and pink, was mostly obscured by banks of static pale grey cloud. The Silverlink platform at West Ham was obscured by the hordes returning home.

Anxious that we might miss the train which skirts round the edge of Zone 1 to North London we ran down the stairs, up the escalator and down the next flight of stairs to be faced with a sea of people and an announcement that the train was running approximately seven minutes late. Spotting the train heading in the opposite direction we jumped on and changed at Canning Town. We boarded our train calmly and chose two seats together. We had avoided the scrum at West Ham; the surge at the doors, the well aimed elbows and treading on toes.

Hackney Wick, derelict but for the council blocks, soon to be transformed for the Olympics. I've yet to meet a positive local. Lost allotments, warehouses and higher council taxes. 'What's in it for us?' they cry plaintively. (No-one is listening).

At Dalston we wrinkled up our noses as the smell of rotting veg, fish and meat wafted across from the market and through the train doors. The well-known market serves the Afro-Caribbean community; many a strange item can be found.

The Portuguese girl next to me was reading a textbook: Parabolic Solar Thermal Conditioner headed Chapter 4. I was really rather impressed. English is my first language and I didn't have a scooby what that meant.

We were quite taken aback on reaching the Wetherspoons at Highbury Corner. Full of drinking Gunners. A sight we hadn't seen for a while as, I think I am right in saying, this was their first Saturday kick-off at the traditional time at home. I wonder how different the atmosphere would have been if City had equalised after Pires's theatrics?

There were very few women – just a handful. The groups of men were interesting. They didn't look like they went together. Different backgrounds and clothes but all drawn in by the lure of the beautiful game.

I had to forgo my pint of Guinness. I cannot drink it from a plastic glass. I opted for a red wine. It tasted like vinegar. I was transported back to my student days – cheap plonk drank from whatever was to hand.

Walking down Upper Street in search of food we glanced in the shop windows. I mused on who decided it would be a good idea to advertise tasteful silver jewellery by surrounding it with plastic fried eggs.

Le Mercury was a first for us. A French bistro serving very reasonably priced food. A little rushed, particularly so for the French, but enjoyable. It makes it onto our mental list of good eats. I ordered in French and was relieved when the waiter replied likewise. I'm scared that speaking it so infrequently now it'll disappear.

The Kings Head, a charming pub with theatre in the room behind, was too full so we stopped for a post dinner drink in the less atmospheric Slug and Lettuce. It too was busy but I have an eye for a departing couple and we were soon seated.

A thoroughly pleasant way to start the holidays.

Friday, October 21, 2005

What should have been

Lots of things have caught my attention, had lots of ideas and done lots of things but have I blogged on any of them? Have I heck. I am amazed that I am quite as calm and with it as I am. The new job has been one almightly challenge. It has tested me on a daily basis and I think, for the first time ever, I have truly realised the enormity of what I have achieved. (I've always been a little modest apparently).

This is a snap shot of what you should have known:

1. Closing Oxford Street to traffic. This happened a few weeks ago and I had no idea it was planned. When mum and I stumbled across the road blocks I was ecstatic. Street performers, bands you name it, the road was filled with entertainment. I was particularly taken by the Punjabi-Celtic drummers. Overall I hated it. The pavement and road were so jammed it was nigh on possible to get up the road to Selfridges (sorry Pat - food hall is great). I started wishing for the buses and taxis.

2. After commenting on the old boy sans poop a scoop we saw another tying his dog up outside the newsagents (I was merrily munching on double egg and chips in the caff). He was carrying a rather amusing child's blue bucket and spade for the purpose. I love it.

3. My first visit to the Design Museum. The very same friend who took me to the ICA for Born In Brothels. Again I didn't know what I was going to see. Robert Brownjohn exhibition. Brilliant. The poster and Midland Bank adverts Watching Words Move were superb. You have to see it to understand and unfortunately I cannot find an example on the web. It's on for a while - it's worth a visit.

4. Not taking my camera on the aforementioned jaunt to the Museum. The light was magnificent in the shade of Tower Bridge.

5. St. Peter's Barge. The floating church in Docklands.

6. Wallace and Gromit. Thoroughly English and thoroughly enjoyable. Until I moved (backwards) from Upminster (thoroughly Middle England) to Barking (BNP stronghold) I had an allotment. I was never tempted to grow a prize anything but I do understand how protective one can be of produce.

Let's hope that with half-term on the horizon (next week) I night keep up.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Summer's Evening

Last night I had my usual performance with the central line at Bank. The severe delays of 5.30pm were only minor delays by the time I left the pub at just gone 11pm. Oh joy.

It was book group evening. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Attwood. Provoked some excellent discussion. The point of the evening (and the day), however, must be the weather.

Now, at 6.45am when I got dressed it looked a little murky and misty. Possibly a bit of a chill in the air. How wrong could I have been?

Wearing a (fitted) v-neck jumper, wool skirt, fishnets and boots, I was clearly over-dressed. I spent the entire day complaining I was too hot and had too many clothes on. (Cue S. (pupil) I'd say we don't mind you taking your top off but I know my brother nearly lost his balls when he called you babe). I still did not require my coat at twenty to twelve. We're not guranteed that in the summer let alone autumn into winter.

I think we're being lulled into a false sense of security. The winter is going to be an absolute bugger.

And Another Thing

Why is it always me that stands up for the expectant mother?

Frequently, I am not the closest person to the pregnant woman but everyone else in the vicinity seems to be studiously inspecting the floor or their fingernails. It annoys me that I am compelled to offer my seat when other people are much closer and given their office clothes have probably sat on their arses the whole day long.

There was something else about people on the tube. I've forgotten it.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

What's wrong with the tube?

I should be accurate. Things aren't necessarily wrong with the tube but the people using it.

This one is obvious. You do not charge on before I've got off. I did myself a mischief the other day shoulder charging a woman who refused to move on the platform. I can only hope that I hurt her too.

I-pods and movable music things. Note here please the word PERSONAL. For you. On your own. I do not want to listen to your music first thing in the morning. I make a point of not sitting near anyone with headphones. Should you sit next to me and pollute my atmosphere, I will tell you.

Food. I love it but not stinky greasy-fried chicken, burgers, chips or kebabs. Scoff them before you get on.

Lazy bastards leaning against the central pole. You hold on to it not place your entire body against it so everyone else has to sway around and smash into each other. I do admit to digging my knuckles into other people's backs should they lay on my hand. You deserve it.


I mentioned very recently my saunter to the tube station early in the morning.

Today, I noted an older man in a donkey jacket walking his sandy-coloured, wirey dog. Slightly ahead of me.

Before I knew it the dog had shit in the middle of the pavement and the bloke had walked off. Rather nervously, I called "excuse me" and then again louder. I wasn't acknowledged so I caught up and repeated my rather polite and feeble "excuse me".

"Didn't know you were talking to me".

"Are you going to clear that up?".

"F**k off".

"It's disgusting. It's bad anywhere but there's a primary school here. You should clean up after the dog".

"F**k off".

I rather weakly attempted to finish our encounter by informing the gentleman I would be calling the council. I think you know what his response was.


We were absolutely shell-shocked when we were informed on a Monday morning a couple of weeks ago that one of our colleagues had died at the weekend. In tragic circumstances.

We later found out he had committed suicide. It was so hard to come to terms with as we pride ourselves on being an open, honest and sharing staff.

The funeral was today. In our managers meeting this evening we started with a minute's silence. We were encouraged to recognise his absence and to think positively about his contribution to the school. I feel bad saying so but I knew that if I thought about it I would cry. I thought about all the list of things I need to do and what I was cooking for dinner. Not nice but a coping strategy.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Kitchen Diaries

I love Nigel Slater. I make no bones about it. The man is a god and I would be happy to eat his food all day every day. I am even considering sending him fan mail (something I have never done before. Ever).

His latest offering is the Kitchen Diaries. What he cooked and scoffed for a year. Very nicely written commentary with recipes and beautiful photos.

I got to thinking. I could entertain the three people who look at my blog with what I cook and eat. I could introduce them to my ideas of seasonality and could encourage myself to break with my deathly link to the supermarket.

I attempted to photograph last night's chicken and spinach curry with rice. Someone (C.) had stolen the batteries to my camera. It wasn't to be.

Things I Saw

I quite like walking to the tube in the mornings. I saunter; swinging my packed lunch and reading book in my bag (red and blue with a pig's big round face). I glance around me and smile. There is often little to see. Other people are in bed at 6.50am.

A cat feasting on a pot of yoghurt and some chicken bones from a black plastic sack.

A man, complete with too-short trousers, canvas record bag, shaved head and hat and who screamed Hare Krishna at me (not literally - we're talking appearances), carrying a red bucket of steaming hot water on the tube to Canary Wharf and then onto the Docklands. He alighted at Island Gardens same as me. Where was he going? Why had he carried his own water with him for the past 15 minutes or so? (Not that he had that much left - he was slopping the water everywhere. I narrowly avoided an accident with my new chocolate brown suede boots). Bizarre.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

London on Film

We must have looked a curious group. The Gardener clad in a black linen suit (with handkerchief) and shiny black brogues. The squat Geordie, J., and S., a massive hulk of a woodwork teacher, in their everyday casuals. And me. The baby of the bunch and the only girl. We were united in our wish to see Norman Cohen's the London Nobody Knows – a rarely shown 1967 documentary based on a book of the Daily Telegraph column by Geoffry Fletcher.

The screen is tiny with old burgundy velour chairs. A blast from the past (minus the fog of cigarette smoke). The projectionist is visible behind you. (S. did raise the question as we left: 'do you think there were fleas?).

The film did not disappoint. The dry wit and total Englishness of the narrator James Mason made it as he escorted us around the lesser-known areas of London. Chapel Street Marker, a derelict music hall, disused Victorian toilets complete with goldfish in the tanks.

The highlights for me were the South Bank – Wren's cottage with a glimpse of Bankside – now all the vogue as Tate Modern – and much more amusingly the egg-breaking factory (What? Why?How? When?) - and my beloved East End. The Yiddish singer. The drinkers in Spitalfields fighting over a bottle of meths. Writhing eels. Pie, mash and liquer.

Unfortunately, the evening was marred by the second part of the double bill. The World of Gilbert and George. F***ing hell.

What I knew about G and G before the film: gay artists, wear matching suits (always), have a beautiful Georgian house in Princelet Street (scene of the aforementioned meths fracas) and subject of a piece of graffito on the windowsill of the nearby mosque – GILBERT AND GEORGE ARE WALLIES.

What I now know: I am unable to articulate.

Absolute drivel. I struggled to stay awake. I completely lost patience as on at least seven or eight occasions i though 'thank God, it's finishing' only to have been completely fooled. I am not a religious person but I found myself praying to anyone, anything to just make it stop. The Arts Council should have demanded the money from the grant back. Atrocious.

Gilbert and George are now officially hated. It'll probably be years before I have the opportunity to watch London Nobody Knows again. If the opportunity does arise, it'll be viewed on its own so I can leave with happy memories. As is stands it has been overshadowed by a far inferior production.


My dad rang this morning. He was listening to Radio 5 where they were hotly debating the topic of blogs. He asked what I thought was the most common subject for a blog. I hesitated. So many blogs, so many different likes and ideas. Tell me, I said.


Is this true? I've yet to come across a site on wool, patterns and needles. I have to admit to being very surprised.

I haven't checked back over a year but I am quite certain that the Hobbits Journal has not mentioned knitting. But he wrote a very nice appreciative piece about my intermittent blogging so I am reciprocating. For news of life in Nottingham (NOT the capital), TV and a truly in-depth knowledge of music (which puts me totally to shame) click here. It's good!

Saturday, October 01, 2005


I really am a morning person - you either identify with that or you don't. Lie-ins are unknown to me.

There is something very special about gazing out the kitchen window at the crisp blue, cloudless sky. The sun is playing with the still-green leaves on the trees. A few leaves have escaped - turned yellow - and are skirting across the vivid green grass. Starlings, crows and wood pigeons take it in turns to pick something up for a meal.

The tubes add to scene as they rattle past. They only disturb the tranquility when they are not running. Conspicuous by their absence.

A beautiful scene I hope you'd agree. Surprisingly I live on a council estate in east London. In a couple of hours time ferral children will be kicking footballs at my window, inflicting more damage on my car and creating general havoc.

Long live early mornings.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Born Into Brothels

Having had a hectic day and sporting a terrific headache and an overwhelming urge to make my way home for dinner, red wine and sympathy I found myself crammed on the DLR heading for Bank. I'd arranged to meet a friend who had been travelling for the summer and had reserved us tickets to see a film at the ICA. Couldn't remember the name of the film and given the mood I was in it was sure to be some arty, high-brow production which I would be incapable of understanding.

The Central Line platform was full to bursting and the helpful man on the tannoy was just informing us that 'due to the earlier suspension the service was returning to normal'. 15 minutes for the next tube. My shoulders sagged and my body groaned. Surprisingly, few people made for the exit. Did they really think they would be able to get on the train once it did arrive?

There was a glimmer of hope as I boarded a bus bound for Tottenham Court Road almost immediately. Somewhere between its destination and Holborn we became well and truly stuck in a bus jam. Not having moved for at least 5 minutes there seemed nothing for it but to get off and use the most reliable form of transport known to man Shanks's pony.

As you may well imagine by the time I had walked to Coffea in Brewer Street I was seething. Fortunately, the waitress in the cheap Japanese down the road clearly understood my plight and brought me a far taller bottle of beer than the one I had ordered. Accompanied by G's stories of Vietnam and Cambodia I soon started relaxing.

I checked the name of the film I was going to see. Born Into Brothels. Surely she wasn't taking me to see something verging on the pornographic? No. Born Into Brothels is an award-winning documentary based on children born in the red light district of Calcutta.

Zana Briski, an American photographer, lived amongst the women periodically in the hope they would let her document their lives. It was the children of the prostitutes who held her attention. Briski gave them simple cameras and over a period of three years taught them how to use them; to show the world through their own eyes.

I came out feeling like I'd been run over by a steamroller. The film was at times heart-breaking, distressing, touching and funny. We were unable to dissect it then and there. Time was needed to sit and contemplate before discussing.

Ten or so days on I'm still undecided. It's an amazingly powerful film and people should watch it. On the other hand, I wonder how it has affected the lives of the children. Briski was determined to help these children lead better lives; to ensure the girls didn't follow their mothers, grandmothers and aunts 'into the line'. She showed them the world outside but was it really attainable? She fought red tape and prejudice to get some of the kids places in schools. At the end of the film only two had stayed on. The others had been withdrawn by their families or had chosen to go home.

What Briski set out to do was commendable but did it smack of the Sally Army trying to rescue fallen women's children in the 19th Century? Is it better to have tried to improve their lives and fail than not to try at all? I don't know the answers. Go watch the film and make your own mind up.

And did those feet...

A young lad, with a big grin, asked me the other day if I was “a weekend cricketer”. Not a phrase I recognised but the meaning was clear. Did I actually know anything about cricket or had I jumped on the bandwagon?

I will readily admit that the fielding positions sometimes leave me stumped – silly mid-wicket, this slip, that slip – but I did score 6 out of 6 on the quiz Colin subjected me to. All about the umpire's movements. I can tell the difference between a six and a four, a wide and a leg-by.

For quite sometime, I wanted to adopt the recently retired Umpire Shepherd as my grandad. I was quite alarmed and saddened when I discovered he was only a couple of years older than my dad. He looks just like a grandad should.

So, how did I grow from a early-twenties someone totally baffled by cricket to an early-thirties someone who genuinely enjoys it? Henry Blofeld. I could listen to him for hours on Radio Four. Blowers builds up such a vivid picture in your mind. Twinkle-toes Tendulka; Freddie running up like a baby elephant to bowl. And it isn't just the cricket. We get to hear all about the geese, the sea-gulls, the buses passing by. Such a pleasant way to while away the time.

My interest has been sustained by the great sportsmanship that still exists in cricket. Competitiveness and aggression clearly play their part but there is an overwhelming sense of fair-play and respect. One of the enduring images from the series will be Freddie placing a hand on Brett Lee's shoulder in a touching gesture of consolation while the rest of the England team were bouncing round the field celebrating.

Most men now accept that women can watch football – at the ground, on the tv – and sustain a conversation on the topic. Cricket, I have discovered, is another matter. It was nearly an all male-affair at school which is surprising. I would have thought the atmosphere and values on display over the summer would appeal to women more than the testosterone-fuelled antics and often raw-chauvinism witnessed on football pitches. Perhaps the rules make the sport seem impenetrable. Let's hope the win will encourage people, especially women and children, to get involved in the sport. And more importantly let's hope cricket, for all its successes, doesn't go the way of the sport it magnificently overshadowed for the past couple of months.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Home or Away?

Ten reasons why holidaying at home is better than going abroad.

1. No need to change up your money.
2. Ditto buying insurance.
3. No two hours to kill at the airport (without
4. Days are not spent avoiding timeshare touts
and evenings dodging over-eager adolescents
whose sole purpose is to lure you into dodgy
bars for fluorescent shots and over-priced beer.
5. Thermos flask and sandwiches in a layby as
trucks hurtle past at 70mph vs airline meal at
a few hundred feet? No competition.

Only in England do you get:

6. 'I (heart) whippets' stickers on the back of ancient campervans.
7. places called Compton Pauncefoot and Ugborough.
8. people whiter than me.

And only in Cornwall:

9. genuine, tasty pasties.
10. St Austell beer.


I've had my brown leather, wooden-soled flip-flops for about a year. For the past six weeks I have worn them almost continuously. Day in. Day out. No matter what the occasion or the weather. They are just so comfortable.

Sat in the brilliant sunshine of my mum's garden yesterday morning I pointed out that just maybe the soles were about to start peeling apart. Given they clearly were not created with the pounding they've been treated to in mind, I also commented that they'd lasted surprisingly well.

Woe is me! After a delicious Thai meal (Siam, Roman Road - never seems to be very busy which is a shame) and a couple of very pleasant drinks next to the canal (Pub in the Park - not it's name but people know where you mean), we started the walk back to Mile End tube.

That is when it happened. The sole of the left flip-flop crumbled away leaving me unable to continue. Sadly I removed it and continued. Thinking it may look odder wearing just one shoe I soon took the other one off too and popped them both into my bag. The end of my belovèd flip-flops.

Now, I firmly believe my feet should have come fitted with a thermostat. They freeze in the winter and rise to unbelievable temperatures in the summer. It isn't unknown for me to say that unless I take my shoes off my head will blow off. So in my younger days I quite regularly went around with no shoes on. Being slightly older and more respectable I felt very uncomfortable at first (memories of trips to A&E to have foreign objects removed; the fear of meeting a pupil) but once I was on the tube and the likelihood of standing on glass had receded I felt quite liberated. I stood tall and beamed beautiful smiles at the people nudging each other and pointing.

Of course I had Colin's moral support: "Are you sure you've enough money to get on the tube, pikey?" and "I'd love it if you stood in a turd!".

Dear flip-flops, may you rest in peace. With all the smelly rubbish in the chute.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Simple Pleasures

People do wonder why on earth I choose to work through part of my summer holidays. Apart from the fact I earn money for the four weeks rather than spend it (win win situation), I actually enjoy it.

The vast majority of the kids are little ones. I quite readily admit I wouldn't be able to teach them; I don't have the patience. The bigger and uglier the better as far as school is concerned. They are all considered 'in need' by social services - they may have a disability or need respite care. The only objective is to have fun. And trust me we do.

It has struck me that the simplest things are by far the most enjoyable.

Digging the biggest hole in the sand.

Building the tallest sandcastle.

Presenting me with a live crab for an extra 100 points. (My idea: little critter found on the edge of the beach. Their idea: massive thing blagged from the fishmonger).

Running through the woods.

Eating lunch together and chatting nicely.

Feeding farm animals.

Laughing out loud.


Learning to juggle.

What's so refreshing about all of this? Children being children. Aaahh.

Scan and Pack

Popping into Tesco for a few bits on the way to the playscheme, I have been really rather impressed by the new scan and pack tills:
Novelty. It's fun scanning the items yourself.
No need for small talk first thing in the morning.
No queues. Other people seem to eye these lanes suspiciously thus there is never anyone in front of you.
You're in control.
I have only experienced one problem. The till calls out the price of each item. I was ever so slightly alarmed when the pack of 4 bouncy rubber balls marked up at 32p came up at £199. The computer thought they were a diamond ring...
There is something of the Luddite about me though. I was in rather a quandry earlier; arguing the morality of scanning my own shopping. Am I doing someone out of a job? I know that next time I drop by for a pint of milk I'm going to end up arguing with myself – queue or no queue? Keep someone in a job or rush through without a care?
If only life were simple.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Weather

A very British past-time, I'm very good when commenting on the weather - too hot, too cold, too wet.

Sat guarding lunch boxes in the mud of an outdoor pursuits centre today, I did indulge in a grumble about the odd spots of rain. By the time we left, I was moaning that I'd put on a long-sleeved top and the sun was shining.

I felt quite humbled when I got home and saw the news - a metre of rain in a day in Bombay and a mini-tornado in Birmingham.

I'm not going to mention the weather for at least a week.

Except on the farm visit next week.

And the seaside.

Beware when Blogging!

I quite understand that some people really do not like to spend too much time with teachers complete with their endless stories about the children in their care but sometimes the urge to share the hilarities of the day is just so great – especially when you work in a school as mad as mine. The playscheme I am supervising for the first four weeks of the holidays takes children referred by social services – again, there are some adorable and truly mad characters around.

However, as much as I regale my friends with tales, I have always refrained from mentioning any of these larger than life episodes in a blog. (I’m not entirely sure why as very few people read it). Morally, even without identifying the kids, it makes me squirm a little so I have always avoided it.

I felt quite justified in my stance when I read today that in the States bloggers are in danger of losing their jobs. In a ‘cautionary tale for the internet age’ in the Independent, I discovered that ‘according to most legal experts in the US, there is almost no protection for those who love to scribble indiscretions on the internet, never mind what the US Constitution says about the right to free expression’.

This was mentioned in article about Nadine Haobsh who had spilt the beans on the beauty scene in New York in her blog The world according to Jolie in NYC. A victim of her success, she was ‘outed’ and was ‘let go’. One of the luckier ones, she looks likely to go on to bigger and brighter things (and buckets full of money).

Google, Microsoft and Delta Airlines have all sacked workers for internet goings-on and IBM has recently issued strict guidelines.

Personally, I think you should be able to post what you think about your boss on the internet and not lose your job but that seems to be increasingly an unrealistic proposition. Not that I have to worry – my boss is just moving on, a fantastic bloke (funny, warm-hearted and amazingly good at his job) he referred to himself in his leaving speech as having progressed from a total wanker 11 years ago to an arrogant bastard now. He’s done all the work for us!

Saturday, July 16, 2005


Clicking through other blogs I happened across pictues of Popemobiles. I found them very naff and very funny.

The second Popemobile featured reminded me of a propagator. My dad used them to grow seeds; my sister, friends and I tried to house a slow worm in one but it escaped after someone left the lid ajar. Both more useful than the Pope.

Fast Food

Waiting for a friend at a pub in the shadow of Canary Wharf on Thursday I took great interest in an article in the Independent detailing the British love affair with convenience food. So what's for TV dinner tonight? Sales of convenience food are up 63% on 1994.

I am very happy (read smug) to discover I'm apparently in the 30% of the population who don't admit to eating convenience food, the 20% who don't eat chips that are "pre-sliced and frozen" and the much larger majority who don't consume pot noodles - wonderfully described as "that toxic aberration...No other race in Europe joins in our enthusiaism for chicken and noodle dust irrigated by boiling water".

Convenience food may be just that convenient and quick but it also tastes false, bland and plastic-like. No, I don't have children but yes, I do work relatively long hours and yes, I do cook 'from scratch' most evenings. A decent pasta dish or stir fry needn't take long.

I really do think this goes back to the culture of food - the British have long seen food and cooking as necessities rather than pleasures. Until that changes those sales will continue to rocket.


Been slightly quiet recently as my computer had all but given up the ghost. I now have a new one, delivered by a lovely man last night, and it's fab. Much faster, much clearer and nicer looking. Not that anyone really needed to know any of that.

Saturday 9 July

Last Saturday, London was the place to be - Live 8, Gay Pride, cricket at Lords and tennis at Wimbledon. On Wednesday, we found out we'd won the bid to hold the Olympics in 2012. Reading the coverage in the newspapers Thursday morning on the tube into work, my indifference and slightly bah-humbug approach had started melting. (mostly on a personal level - increased council tax, no hopes of buying a house now, the gardener losing his allotments). I smiled knowing that by the time they come round I'll be joining in the excitement. Within a couple of hours everything had changed.

This morning we decided it was important to go to London. To be in the streets. Over the past two days I haven't felt shock or anger . Being subject to a terrorist attack was inevitable. There was a deep heart-felt despair, a realisation that something terrible had eventually happened, the recognition that people can commit such mind-numbingly awful atrocities. Pervading everthing is a strong sense that we as a city, a fantastic cosmopolitan city, have to carry on as normal. To take back our city from the terrorists.

I wasn't scared or nervous. I think I felt stragely defiant. Colin and I did, however, exchange slightly nervous smiles as the train suddenly lurched, popped and hissed.

Leaving Fenchurch Street station we crossed Tower Bridge. We wanted to be where there were people. We wanted to show our solidarity, our togetherness.

I was gladdened by the sight of toursits thronging the edges of the Tower; blocking the Bridge taking photos of loved ones from every angle.

In the summer sunshine, two violinists and a cellist were busking near the Egg. The cornetto tune.

The volume of the river traffic was high. Thames Clippers. Party boats. Lightermen. Boats on which you can dine in luxury. Private boats with onboard barbecues. Harbour Patrol.

The stretch of the river from the Hay's Galleria to the Millennium Bridge was teeming with life. Tourists. Families. Young couples making their weekly pilgrimage to Borough Market. All eyes were on the bride at Southwark Cathedral. She'd arrived in a red convertible. Smart car filled with mimosa. Curiously eccentric and British.

Before we could see the Golden Hind we could hear a children's party in full swing. Shouts and cries, a high-pitched "ahoy, me mates!".

The crowds milling around the Globe, the Tate, across the Bridge and circling St Paul's.

The pavements of Oxford Street were taking a pounding. Colin became impatient and scornful of the ditherers. Feelings reminiscent of Christmas shopping or January sales. With the exception of the hightened sense of camaraderie and the occasional comment, there was nothing to suggest that just two days before we'd been hit by a terrorist attack. Everything was calm. No panic, no hysteria, no outpourings of grief.

The crowds on the South Bank.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Thursday 7 July

The last of my journals started in Traflagar Square. An effigy of George Bush being toppled. A response to the Iraq war.

Today saw a new response to the war. A response which chose to ignore the way ordinary Londoners had reclaimed their streets to voice their opposition to an un just and immoral war. A response that has indiscriminatley killed Londoners of all backgrounds, colours and religions.

The first I knew about the events of today was Barbara telling us in the office that power surges gad shut down the London Undergrounf. Danny, her husband, had called her. I didn't really say much. Thought she was exaggerating, over-reacting. Clicked onto the BBC website. The 'phone rang. Barbara answered. It was Isaac's mum. She wanted to know if the trip to the London Eye had gone ahead. She wanted to know exactly where her son was. As she spoke I could hear the tv news in the background. I heard news of a bus exploding. I heard the word bombs.

The 'phone lines were laready jamming; the networls experiencing problems. We eventually got through to Jon and the transition group. Made the situation clear. Told him to come back. Dawn rang. Should they walk back from the Learning Barge? Yes.

The plans for what would happen during the day at school were thought out calmly and collectively. The pupils were spoken tho over the tannoy and in their classes. There was no panic, no hysteria. 7J suggested the French were behind the bombs. Sore losers. London had the 2012 Olympics.

Parents started to turn up to take thei children away. "I remember the last time. We lost all the windahs. We're taking no precuautions. We're evacuatin' the Island. The boys won'r be back until I know fings are safe." Mrs Smith seemes unconcerned that one of her sons was alleging assualt against a member of staff.

The children who were left at the end of the day were instructed to walk straight home. Staff met in the staffroom. Members of my department were all offering me a bed for the night. Ramon had already started a car share list on the whiteboard. Name. Spaces. Destination.

Sana brought me home. "This is not the Islam I was brought up with. This is not done inthe name of my God or any other god". The A13 was clear.

K. said she thought she's have to walk to Ilford where the overground trains were starting.

Barking to Bow to Romford to Barking.

I got in and held Colin tight.

I found out Friday that big boss Jon, who'd said "come stay", had not made it to Lewisham in all that time.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

When is an umbrella not an umbrella?

I picked up a copy of Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy in Fopp – not because I’d ever heard of him at the time but because the book was cheap and I quite liked the look of the cover. That was a while ago. I’ve gone through a phase of re-reading some of the many books on my shelves recently. This was one of them.

I am going to have to quote at length from Auster because I just couldn’t do the Professor’s idea justice in my own words. It’s appealing, unworkable and absurd and I love it:

Consider a word that refers to a thing – “umbrella” for example. When I say the word “umbrella”, you see the object in your mind. You see a kind of stick, with collapsible metal spokes on top that form an armature for a waterproof material which, when opened, will protect you from the rain. This last detail is important. Not only is an umbrella a thing it is a thing that performs a function – in other words, expresses the will of man. When you stop to think about it, every object is similar to the umbrella, in that it serves a function. A pencil is for writing, a shoe is for wearing, a car is for driving. Now, my question is this. What happens when a thing no longer performs its function? Is it still the thing or has it become something else? When you rip the cloth off the umbrella, is the umbrella still an umbrella? You open the spokes, walk out into the rain and get drenched. Is it possible to go on calling this object an umbrella? In general, people do. AT the very limit, they will say the umbrella is broken. To me this is a serious error, the source of all our troubles. Because it can no longer perform its function, the umbrella has ceased to be an umbrella. It might resemble an umbrella, it might once have been an umbrella, but now it has changed into something else. The word, however, has remained the same. Therefore, it can no longer express the thing. It is imprecise; it is false; it hides the thing it is supposed to reveal.

I have to admit jealousy – my thoughts and ideas are rarely very original and even if they were I wouldn’t be able to articulate them in such a pleasing way.

I think one of the reasons this appeals to me so much, though, is the use of the word umbrella as the example. When I lived in both France and Germany I had an absolute mental block when it came to using the word umbrella. For some unknown reason I always said ‘banana’. The people around me used to find it highly amusing. I was actually quite alarmed and scared by it. It wasn’t conscious; it wasn’t done for laughs; it just came out. It was freakish.

Anyone like to suggest what an umbrella that is no longer an umbrella might be called?


I succeeded in running over a verminous, mangy pigeon today and squished it dead. How many points do I get for that?

Make Poverty History

I am a kind, caring and generous person. I easliy get worked up into rants about the injustices of the world. I always do my bit. Which is why I'm a little confused about the fact I marked 'Make Poverty History' day in London by splurging out over £200 on three items of clothing - a beautiful skirt, a divine pair of shoes and a top. I'm even more puzzled by the fact that when I realised what I'd done I didn't even feel guilty but mildly amused in a naughty kind of way. Even stranger is the fact that Colin colluded in the purchase of these goods - I don't even have to hide the receipt. The world is changing. I'm scared.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Sports Day

As with Marmite you either hated Sports Day at school or you loved it. A pretty black and white affair; little grey in between. Things really don't change much either when you have graduated from pupil to teacher.

At junior school I was more than happy to take part in the bean bag race for the Normans but secondary school was a totally different matter. Rowan could quite literally go jump without me.

At my previous school sports day was a bit of a disorganised farce with the few (mainly PE teachers) enjoying the day. I used to feel quite stressed as I attempted to coerce members of my tutor group to participtre when I clearly shared their loathing. I once put a sporty boy in charge of recruiting volunteers. He bullied a group of over-sensitive girls so mercilessly that it all ended in tears and parents on the phone. The teachers all seemed to agree that holding sports afternoon at a stadium would make it more of an event. Something to be enjoyed by all.

Fast forward a year to Mile End Stadium. Pupils seated in house colours. A truly well organised event. But there was no hiding the fact we fell into two camps, pupils and teachers alike, the Loathers and the Lovers.

I felt quite relieved when asked to guard the exit with the Community Support Officer (there was no end to the number of attempted escapes). It got me away from moaning kids who I totally sympathised with. (Having said thet a boy did try barging me out of the way with a shoulder charge).

Surprisingly, then, I had agreed the previous day to take part in the staff relay. The grand finale to the day. D., the school's police officer, came charging through to me on sentry duty yelling they were all waiting for me for the race to start (no change there then).

All the other teams seem to have talked tactics, discussed how to pass the baton, who was best on which leg. We just knew that we were the only four in our department willing to make complete fools of ourselves in front of a potential crowd of about 1000 people. I'd never run on a track before and I'd never even handled a baton.

After the first leg we were very definitely going to be last. Everyone else on third had well and truly gone by the time I was passed the baton. I made up a very tiny little bit of ground but Deb The Bullet on the last leg wowed the place by steaming down the home strait and passing two others. We didn't come last. Hurrah!!

An exhilirating experience.

But I still hate Sports Day.