Sunday, May 29, 2005

Old Acquaintances

On summer breaks from uni, I used to meet friends up town and stagger home via Holborn tube. More often than not, a black guy was on the eastbound central line platform with his guitar entertaining the crowds. He always made me smile and I was always gave him some small amount. He grew to recognise me and would shout at me - something along the lines of the white girl with the curly hair. I left uni, moved out of home and live on the district line now. I’d forgotten all about him.

After watching Mark Thomas in North London, I approached the platform at Holborn, swung right into a seat and prepared to wait the three minutes until the next tube. And then I heard it. The first chords on a guitar. I almost stopped breathing. I couldn’t look round. And then that gravely voice. It was him after all these years. You can’t imagine the feelings of surprise and joy. I sat back and watched him perform. As the tube pulled in, off came the brown cap and out came the money. Not thinking he’d recognise me I threw in a pound and jumped onto the train. The cry of “hey, I remember you!” made me want to jump up and down with excitement. I wanted to hug everyone in sight.

By chance we ended up travelling through Holborn on Saturday night. We caught the 25 bus at Tottenham Court Road but 2 stops on we collided with the number 8 and both buses had to pile off. The buses go in the same general direction so waiting with 2 packed bus fulls for the next vehicules didn’t seem like a good idea. We headed in the direction of the nearest tube – Holborn. After a pit-stop involoving the loo and a Baileys we descended to the Central line.

A train was just departing and my man was sat down. Much to Colin’s embarrassment I plonked myelf down next to him and started chatting. No, he hadn’t been there all those years. He said I probably remembred he liked a bit of the juice. He’d had to get himself off it and had been to Portugal to sort himself out. Now he’s back and tee total. Then he strutted his stuff. The people nearest to us were dancing and clapping. It’s how it should be – I defy any member of the London Underground to tell him to sod off. I for one love him (and will be back).

Urgently Required

1. 4 sheets of floor-to-ceiling plaster board
2. 1 door
3. enough soundproofing to cover the plaster board
4. 1 table lamp
5. 1 person willing to help me create a cubicle around the computer with the
aforementioned items.

Why? 11 weeks of hell. 11 weeks of Colin watching Big Brother. I was trying to think of an eloquent way of voicing my opinion but put quite simply: I HATE it. It does my head in.

I shall have to alternate between reading in the bedroom and reading in the kitchen with intermittent spells at the computer in the living room.

Westminster Eight

I remember walking down the street with three lads on their Ford-sponsored gap years when I was 17. We had only just met and were chatting about school and the future. They all had a really clear idea of what they were about. After ascertaining I was studying French, German and history, one commented: “You’ll study Arts at university then”.

My response is indelibly printed on which ever lobe memories are kept and always makes me cringe, “No. I can’t draw. If I am allowed to go I’ll do French”. It was then that Arts and Science were explained to me – admittedly in a very non-judgemental kind of way but I was still left feeling a completely inadequate working-class idiot. And, if I am being honest, very jealous of their paid-for education. (The bonus to this conversation is that they told me I could go to uni; you don’t have to be posh and rich).

I have carried a chip on my shoulder ever since. Which is why I am finding it so hard to be objective about the Westminster Eight. Conditional discharge? They should be banged up for a pre-planned crime involving the heart of our democracy. Absolutely makes my blood boil. What if it had been eight of the hooded kids I teach protesting about the Asbo dispersal order operating where they live? Eight British-born Muslims from the same area protesting about the deprivation and poverty in which they live? Eight anti-hunt supporters? Eight Fathers for Justice? The result would have been very different.

The Westminster Eight have “good characters” and mix in all the right rich polo / hunting circles. The fact they have committed a crime is irrelevant.

I then stop and think. Had it been eight anti-globalisation protesters, for example, I would have thought what a wonderful stunt and supported them all the way, laughing very loudly.

I suppose that when it comes down to it you identify with some causes and not others – it depends on what is important to you. I have an inbuilt antipathy towards anyone with too much money and a predilection for hunting foxes whereas I see it as quite wrong that teenagers cannot stand still in the street in groups of two or more because a minority intimidate the local residents (with the help of the scaremongering local press).

Unlike me the law should not be prejudiced and The Cause should not be taken into account. Is it against the law to enter the House in the way the Westminster Eight did? Yes or no? Punish/acquit accordingly.

Unfortunately, there is a part of me that doesn’t have faith in the legal system and thinks that it is still prejudiced and biased towards the wealthy.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Tuesday Night at the Pleasance Islington

Before I mention the star act I must say something about the venue. The Pleasance Islington should be named the Pleasance Caledonian Road or the Pleasance Lower Holloway. I do admit my two suggestions have a less trendy appeal but are geographically accurate. I would not have made arrangements to meet in Islington had it been named otherwise.

Studying the A to Z over a pint of Guinness in the pub (yes, ok, I could have looked it up before but I’m a busy woman), I realised it was a little bit of a trek. When G. turned up we shared the pint (strange looks – are they poor? Lesbians?) and scoffed a quick, tasty and also very cheap Vietnamese meal in Lower Holloway.

The theatre is tiny – we were snuggled up 9 to a row, 6 rows, on blue fold up banquettes. And didn’t we have fun?! Mark Thomas was no disappointment. The show was hysterical. The subjects of his gags were obvious – the election, Bush, Iraq, asylum seekers, terrorists, protesting but the material was new and Thomas pushed the boundaries. His delivery was spot on. It was one of those occasions when you get to the interval and are shocked that an hour has just whizzed by. The audience was obviously comprised of a certain type of person. I thought of a right-wing friend who sees things very much in black and white who would have been apoplectic watching Thomas. He would have disagreed with so much of what was said and I have no doubt he would have heckled constantly. I’m wondering if I could set it up!

Pat, you would have loved the gag about a performing art evening at the ICA – wonderfully done. Thomas and his mate were escorted from the premises for joining in. The thing that has actually stayed with me is the protesting bit. I have images of myself floating along on a pink inflatable dragon from Toys’R’Us in front of some dodgy ship or another to save the world (well, attempt to stop some evil arms dealers) or chained to railings suffragette-style but then I go cold. Eldest child responsibility syndrome kicks in. I am a teacher. I am a pillar of the community. I could get arrested. I could lose my job. All the excitement disappears. Sigh.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

How to...

...start a conversation on a tube.

Tip One: eat a packet of pickled onion monster munch.

I have done this three times now on the Jubilee Line on the way home from work and each time someone (or to be more specific a man) has spoken to me. (Just in case you were wondering I didn't eat them to start a conversation but because I was hungry). I think all three were variations on the "do they still make them?" type comment. The second man was very lucky actually because I gave him a spare bag to share with his friend. Childhood memories flooded back for the pair of them. Who says traveling on the tube is a waste of time?

Tip Two: just start bloody talking if you feel the need

Now, my childhood memories were evoked by a man with a rubic cube on the tube Tuesday night. I had quite a debate with myself as to whether I would talk to him (and also what nationality he was) because he had a too-open shirt which displayed a rather clammy, pasty looking chest with sparse patches of hair which wasn't at all appealing. I took the plunge and asked where he'd picked the cube up from and he chose to ignore me. Bastard.
This tip may be useless as it didn't work in this instance.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


I do feel the need to share information on the following:

  1. children wearing hooded tops
  2. Barclays Bloody Bank
  3. Mark Thomas
  4. the funeral I went to today

but am too tired. They will have to wait.

La gĂȘne

I'd rather forget most of last week. Embarrassing moments as follows:

  1. Offering to be in goal, provided J. didn't "blast the ball at me", wearing a skirt which the wind clearly delighted in lifting, a top which, on reflection, is a little low cut for school and a pair of shoes which, while flat, were not designed with football in mind.
  2. Falling over outside the teachers' centre in Mile End.
  3. Falling up the stairs at lesson change (and swearing very, very loudly).
  4. Being HOUNDED up Villiers Street by a student from the London School of Fashion who, much enamoured of my big curly mop of hair, wanted me to be a model for his portfolio. ("Are you blushing?", he asks. "Yes, just at the very thought of it", I replied).
  5. Falling over coming out of Upney tube, being picked up by two men and bursting into tears while explaining I'd fallen over three times in two days and I'd really rather hurt my knee, hip and shoulder on one side now. Poor things didn't know what to do (although I think one was contemplating giving me a drag on his joint but thought better of it - just as well given I've never smoked anything in my life and probably would have choked - topping the evening off fantastically).

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

I don't

I like to believe I lead an honest and legal life. I’ve done a few daft things while under the influence but have never knowingly broken the law. So, imagine my surprise when I read in a recent Guardian that if I lived in one of seven US states – North Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Michigan, Virginia, West Virginia and North Dakota – as I have done for the last seven years here in the UK, I would actually be liable to prosecution and could face a $1000 fine or 60-days in prison.

The offence?


A 40-year old woman was sacked by a sheriff in North Carolina when it was discovered she had been cohabiting for the past twelve years. (More accurately she was given the choice of marrying, finding another job or getting the push). The law, which clearly needs to be reformed, is 200 years old. Over the past six years thirty-five people have been charged and seven convicted. Given the size of these counties, it has affected very few people but this is clearly a piece of anachronistic legislation which the American people should be fighting against. Even in less tolerant times in Britain, living with someone outside of marriage was never (to the best of my knowledge) a criminal offence – you just had to cope with the looks and snipes of the more ‘moral’ neighbours.

I’ve been in my current relationship for nine years in September – far longer than many marriages these days. Surely, that’s saying something.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Letters to the Editor

The General Election passed this blog by. For the first time ever I had no idea who I was going to vote for before I entered the polling booth. I really did struggle - I knew who I wasn't voting for (the Conservatives, Demetrious Panton (independent standing on an anti-immigration ticket, the BNP) but who did I choose from those left (Labour, the Workers Revolutionary Party, the Lib Dems and the Greens)?

The only party to actively canvass my vote was the BNP. We were deluged with leaflets and harrassed in the streets. They even had the temerity to send me a letter in the post with my name next to a slogan stating "People like you vote BNP". Therefore, it was no surprise when they polled their biggest ever vote. Except to the Labour party and the incumbent MP, Margaret Hodge. I was apoplectic with rage when I read her defensive response in the Observer last weekend. Her reading of the situation on the ground was absolutely accurate which makes you wonder why she did nothing to counter the BNP's claims and attempt to win the votes of her disillusioned constituents BEFORE the ballot papers hit the bottom of the black boxes. People openly voted for the BNP because the party recognised their fears and efficiently exploited them. Hodge blames the Labour party for ignoring it's heartland voters. In my anger I thumped out a letter to the editor of the Observer laying the blame fairly and squarely on Hodge's shoulders. Today they printed a much edited version. (Letter).

My next letter will be to the woman herself. When I lived in this constituency a few years ago (I have voted in four general elections in four different constituencies), I would write to Hodge every so often but in the end gave up. The answers were not good for my health - bland, formulaic platitudes that made me go mad. I have, however, decided to plague her on every issue, local, national or global, that I see as important. And there are many.

Watch this space.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Honesty Pays

Saving One: £1.70 or £10 depending on how you look at it.

I very politely explained to the barrier man at Oxford Circus that I'd forgotten to touch in with my Oystercard when I got on the DLR at the start of my journey and I'd have problems getting through the gates. Could he help?

"Where did you get on? So, you're saying the reader didn't work?"

"No, I just forgot".

"We don't get many people like you through here. I should fine you £10. It's nice to meet honest people. Everyone else blames the equipment. Go on, go through. Have a nice evening".

Saving Two: £3.00.

Having worked in shops when I was much younger and having made mistakes when bored, I always appreciated it when a customer pointed out I'd cocked up in case I got in trouble for it. So, when I signed to pay for a book (in a well known bookstore) and saw £4.99 instead of £7.99 I told the guy on the till (much to the astonishment of the people already queuing behind me). The young lad started flapping, clearly not knowing what to do so I very sheepishly said, "I wouldn't want you to get into trouble".

He smiled, "No danger of that. Go on, take it at that price".

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Passenger Action

One of the things that makes me smile about the tube are the drivers who still make their own announcements. They can be great – unscripted, impulsive and quite often hysterical. One of the Jubilee line drivers in the evening has styled himself on an airline pilot and gives out all kinds of useful information about connecting trains at Canning Town, West Ham and Stratford and thanks us for travelling with him. I could have hugged the guy the other night who apologised for the delays which had been caused by “incompetent and over-paid managers”. The Irish bloke who got very confused about where the train was actually terminating and posed the question “What’s a couple of stops between friends?”. The match-making attempt “all single people look up over your books and newspapers…now” which of course everyone did to varying degrees - made for a very jovial atmosphere.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of platform announcements. They all seem to be the same – recorded and sent out electronically or some such way. They are monotonous and sanitised. Much as I used to cringe when some poor guy made a pigs ear of telling us that a passenger was being cleared off the tracks, it has to be better than the new line: “Due to a passenger action there are severe delays reported in both directions on the X Line”. The phrase ‘collateral damage’ springs to mind.

Mile End station seems to have its share of jumpers. Two questions arose when I saw the response vehicle outside – what drove them to it? Will the driver be okay? I’d feel quite queasy. I’d look on the local news, in the press, on teletext to see what had happened and there’d be nothing (unless they were pushed which is very rare). I’d protest that they should be remembered in death if not in life. But as the saying goes – familiarity breeds contempt. Until you use the tube day in day out you don’t realise how often attempted suicides actually happen. Coincidentally tonight I read, after the defining moment related below, that “there are, on average, two jumpers a week system-wide”. (Very entertaining book by Christopher Ross called Tunnel Visions).

The awful moment came this evening when I got off the train at West Ham. The announcement came over – there seemed to be a huge pause before the name of the line was mentioned: “Due to a passenger action there are severe delays reported on the…………….Hammersmith and City line”. My stomach didn’t churn, I didn’t wonder what kind of life they had and I didn’t even spare a thought for the driver. Relief flooded my veins. It wasn’t the District line. On the escalator down, there was a twinge of guilt and a recognition that I’d become hardened to something very sad. I tried to force myself to think about what had happened but then I saw the noticeboard ‘Hammersmith and City Line – good service’ ‘District Line – severe delays due to an earlier suspension’. I was soon cursing the poor unknown bastard again.

I’m left wondering whether I’m still good, turning bad or just normal.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

A decidedly disgusting pizzler

Following on from last week's sucessful bike ride, I decided to get back out there before I remember I am lazy and don't enjoy exercise of this sort. My plan was to reach the other side of the Canning Town flyover - a round trip of about 10 miles.

My backside unfortunately rebelled as soon as it touched the seat and the wind was blowing so strongly into me that at times it felt like I could go no slower without coming to an actual stop. I made it as far as Plaistow which, ultimately, I was more than happy with (there and back roughly 7.5- 8 miles).

There was only one incident of note just shortly before the turning point. Through the green railings of Newham Angling (Members only) I was confronted by a teenager/young bloke taking a leak into the bushes on the other side. This wouldn't be noteworthy if he hadn't then wiggled his decidedly disgusting pizzler at me and asked with a leer, "Do you want to come over for a better look?".

I stopped, changed a withering-teacher-look into a you're-disgusting-look and managed a rather feeble, pathetic "pervert" before moving on. One of those moments that bug you for quite some time because you really wish you could have come up with something witty and scathing. As it was, he nearly took me out a couple of moments later on a mini motor. When will grown men realise they look totally ridiculous on these nuisance machines?

I'd become quite accustomed to men harrassing me in the street but that's the first time in a while. Either men are getting their act together or as I become older I'm less of a target. When I first moved to Barking I did wonder if it was a requirement that male inhabitants abuse women both physically and verbally in the street. Past incidents include:

1. An Asian man blocking my path near the train station to tell me I had a great pair of tits and could he touch them?
2. A man who, while speaking a language I didn't understand, performed some kind of Slavonic mating ritual which made him look like a clucking chicken into which he tried to drag me (on the way to and from the shops).
3. An old white boy sticking out his walking stick for me to trip over; "I can still get it up, love" wink, wink, leer.
4. Three young men sitting next to me on a bench in the shopping centre; one of them puts his hand on my legs and says, to the laughter of his mates, "nice tits".
5. While queuing for my car tax in the Post Office, a man came in, gripped my arm and tried to pull me backwards while telling me he liked the look of me. I actually had to be rescued by the man in front of me who shouted at the man in his own language.

These all happened just before I read an article in the Guardian (back in 2003 I guess) which said women needed new laws and a fightback. Rather than responding in an aggressive or confrontational way women should say very firmly and calmly "Don't harrass women". Simple, to the point and clearly stating a desired behaviour. Much like talking to children who don't realise what they've done wrong.

Beckton and Back

I'm really not sure I know where the suggestion came from but I do know I made it. Why don't I borrow my sister's bike and we can go for a ride somewhere? Colin nearly peed himself laughing (he does more than enough exercise for the two of us put together; I do very little). Nothing like a bit of doubt in my abilities to make me come out fighting.

I spoke to dad about collecting the bike (see below - this conversation took place on the Number 8 bus). K's bike has a part missing and is not at home. W's is knackered. Mum's has a puncture and is the right size for a midget. W had dad's as he had consumed so much alcohol the night before that he was concerned he was still over the limit at midday. Knowing Colin would say these were all just excuses I thought I'd better take a risk on mum's. The heavens opened as we (sorry, dad) pumped up the tyre and raised the seat. Bundled it into the back of the car and I was off.

And, didn't I do well? About 9 miles all told. Bloody fantastic as it's the first time I've got on a bike in about, err, six or seven years. Colin gave my last bike away to someone who might actually use it.

I got to the end of the street without incident but then was faced with the flyover or the twisty turny pedestrian ramp. Flyover = dangerous when you've just got on the bike; ramp = impossibly steep for an unfit novice. My shout of "I'm walking up this" was met with a withering I-knew-this-was-going-to-happen type look. First obstacle overcome there was no stopping me.

The A13 now has a rather nice green cycle path on the pavement which took us to East Ham and the entrance of the Greenway. We turned left to see how far it would take us; the answer not very - Galleons Reach. Admittedly I had wondered whether I'd get any further than Beckton and back. Crossing over the numerous lanes of traffic, we headed in the direction of Stratford. When people mention the London Borough of Newham nature doesn't spring very easily to mind. But here it is - birds (including a very majestic heron), butterflies (cabbage whites and red admirals), plants, two of the fattest, biggest fish I have ever seen (likely to be carp) and even a rabbit.

Surprisingly, we saw very few people given the weather is lovely (yep, I'm now burnt) and it's a Bank Holiday. A few bikes, couples strolling along, men with dogs. A very English afternoon.

Graffiti has a good classical past (we have borrowed, as have the French and many others, the word from Italian. Graffito was first used to describe an insrciption on the walls of Pompei). Nowadays a graffito fills many with dread. Tags are acts of vandalism pure and simple but there are some very talented people wielding spray cans out there.

Opposite the rugby club in West Ham we discovered two complete walls of graffiti.

I've seen a lot of graffiti as art in France and Germany before but not really in Britain. I wonder how long each graffito remains in place. Are you supposed to paint over the top of someone else's? There must be a form of spray can etiquette.

Lunch was a sandwich and packet of crisps from Tesco at Bromley By Bow. An old haunt.

The stench of rotten mud was overwhelming as we approached the river. The tide being out the tyres and rubbish were on display.

A local couple sat with their child and dog a little further up under a willow. The staff/mongrel, Lady, would race up to certain people, stop and bark very aggressively, pinning the unfortunate passers-by in place until collected by her owners. I was confused at first - there didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to her outbursts until I realised none of the people she had tried to intimidate were white. Taught behaviour or just a strange dog?

We did attempt a short distance on the canal tow path but I had visions of ending up in the water. The path is so narrow and overgrown that we were brushing against the nettles and bushes on either side releasing all kinds of critters in our wake. The return path was definitely going to be by Greenway.

A couple of hours on the people had changed. The old people sat on benches and women undertaking their daily constitutionals had been replaced by whole families on mini motors (complete with mini leathers and crash helmets) driving rather dangerously up the path.

I made it home exhausted but happy. When's the next outing, Colin?
Posted by Hello
Another graffito. Posted by Hello
Three Mills. Posted by Hello
Sun, mud and water at Three Mills. Posted by Hello
Canary Wharf development seen from the Greenway at West Ham. Posted by Hello
Faces Posted by Hello

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Hainault Country Park

Coot on one leg! Posted by Hello

I have discovered a new species at the Hainault Country Park. The Car Park Visitor. I was forced to become one myself. A thoroughly enlightening experience.

Colin was running round the park and forest. My plan was to visit the farm and then enjoy a coffee from the hut. This went wrong from the off.

1 October to 31 March – farm closes at 3pm.
1 April until 1 October – farm closes at 5pm.

Time: 3.30pm. Date: 31 March. What a bugger. A day too early to see if they had any pigs. A pig would be the best ever present. I’m obviously not sure the council would appreciate a pig living on the grassy area behind my flat but then I don’t appreciate very much they do (or don’t do) either so it would at least be a mutual thing.

Having the wrong footwear to squelch through big gloopy puddles of mud, I went for a brisk walk around the lake and returned to the car for a coffee. A little, smiley man commented I was very lucky to get one as the hut was normally shut by then. I clocked him as a regular.

Sitting in the car with the door ajar for clean air, I soon realised there were lots of other people doing a similar thing. Solitary men - car, paper, cup of tea and packet of sandwiches. All of a certain age and mostly smartly dressed. I really wanted to laugh. One half of the couples you see sat looking at the sea eating their Tupperware lunch. The cars were all parked looking at the grass and lake.

They are Car Park Visitors. I learnt, from the aforementioned small smiley man, they do not acknowledge one another. On the pretence of putting rubbish in the bin next to my car (there was clearly a nearer one), he sidled up, pulled the door open a little further and leant very coolly on the top. (Urgh). He started off by reinforcing the point I was lucky to have bought a coffee.

“Think he runs that place as a hobby. He don’t have proper opening hours. You couldn’t run a business like that love. A hobby. You know when we had that bad weather? He didn’t even bother coming down to open. Had to go to Hainault Industrial Park. 3 burger vans. Bought a cup of tea from the best one and brought it back. Definitely a hobby. Normally shut by now. Perhaps he knew you were coming, eh love? Do me paperwork here. Better than sitting at home. These others just sit here though. Have you seen ‘em? Same ones all the time. Probably what they say about me an all.”

“You seen my car there. Got the bit on the side showing I’m a driving instructor, Take the boards off though ‘cos you get stupid people pestering you otherwise. Ask all kinds of silly questions and want cards and prices and things. I’m a driving instructor but I don’t just want to talk about driving. I tell you what though, love, women are better learners than men. They listen. Men think they know it all. Tells a bloke the other day, keep your hands at ten to two and use push pull. He starts trying to pull the steering wheel backwards and forwards. And I says to him, ‘Whah, mate! Stop. Stop.’ Nearly everyone can learn to drive nowadays as well. Not that’s a wrong thing. But it is hard with the deaf and dumb love. They use sign language and lip reading. They trying to look at me and I want them looking at the bloody road, love. Signals. You have to have signals but they all want different ones. Not as easy as it sounds this job. Women don’t normally sit up here on their own. You passing by?”

Suddenly very scared that he thought I was either touting for business or just looking for a bit of the other I blurted out I was waiting for my boyfriend who was running round the park.

“Don’t he drive, love?”

I explained he is blind in one eye, has never learnt and doesn’t really see the need to now.

“He can do it though. Tell you what if the deaf and dumb can do it, he can, love. Taught people with one eye. Make good drivers cos they have to be careful. Lot they can’t see though. Tried that once. Shutting an eye to see what I couldn’t see. Wouldn’t want to do it meself like. Going to do me paperwork. Bye, love. See you up here next time.”


Thursday Night in West India Quay

The docks are quite a strange place now. The old and busy became old and derelict to be replaced by old and trendy. People who earn ridiculously high salaries live side by side, and worlds apart from, people living on next to nothing. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty. High expectations alongside a state of resigned apathy.

I remember with a real sense of nostalgie the deserted, dilapidated streets complete with dumped cars that made up the docklands a few years ago. I vaguely remember the opposition made by locals that the wealth generated by Canary Wharf and the proposed developments would do nothing to aid them. And in many, if not most, cases it hasn’t. Some locals may have cleaning jobs or may serve customers in the many shops and restaurants but have no aspirations to work for one of the big companies located in the tall towers. Some of the big firms are taking note. The school where I work benefits from a free breakfast club for all pupils (and staff) and workers who choose to do so come in once a week to spend half an hour with pupils who need additional help with reading, maths or science. Just in terms of confidence and self-esteem it is successful. The pupils see men and women in suits as important people giving up time to help them.

Anyway, there are plenty of watering holes in the docks too. R. and I popped into someone’s leaving drinks in Bar 1802. I think the bar is actually part of the museum next door – the Museum in Docklands (an outpost of the Museum of London based at the Barbican). The bar takes its name from the year in which the warehouse was built and the East India Company was founded. It is all bare brick walls and timber. Very few tables. Big groups of people stood around drinking. I don’t necessarily mind standing up but I am sure my drinks last far longer if I can put them down rather than hold them.

We didn’t stay long but I was intrigued by the wall-mounted flat screen TVs. They were showing footage of the docks when they were a real going concern – the trade of actual goods as opposed to the trade in electronic money.

Via Fossa is just a couple of units up along the quay. We met some of the others and sat outside until I complained it wasn’t really warm enough to do so. We managed to find a table in the downstairs bar. I found the atmosphere a little sterile. When we lived in Warrington we made a few visits to the Via Fossa on Canal Street in the heart of Manchester’s gay scene. The bar was also featured in the Channel 4 series Queer as Folk. The London equivalent pales in comparison.

The toilets downstairs are worth a mention. I’m not sure I have come across unisex toilets in London before. I don’t mind sharing with boys at all but I do mind piss all over the floor and toilet seats in the air. I must be honest I suppose – my mum always taught us to never sit on the seat of a public loo. And I don’t (much to the detriment of my little used leg muscles). But the toilet seat still has to be down. Call me fussy but that is just the way it is.

I’ll also mention the beer. No decent lager, no decent ale and absolutely no Guinness downstairs. And the John Smiths was nasty. We left for the Wetherspoons which is located in the old Ledger building. Grade I listed apparently. I don’t know the pub’s name but it has more beer, costs less and a lack of piss decorating the toilets.