Saturday, April 30, 2005

Follow that Bus!

Following a few pints of Guinness in the Matter of Time in Mile End (ludicrously packed out by Sunderland fans) and a couple of large glasses of red wine in the Holborn Spaghetti House we caught a number 8 bus to Bethnal Green (money saving tip: if you have a travelcard for any zone you can go anywhere on buses without paying - you can avoid the exorbitant prices of Zone 1). I was merrily chatting to my dad on my mobile and suddenly realised we were rapidly nearing our stop. Said bye to dad and jumped off the bus. Dodged the orange road works and holes in the road to enter the tube. Oh my god! I'd just left my rather lovely blue Little Miss Chatterbox bag on the bus. Complete with diary, notebook and confidential reports on children in my care.

I panicked and called my dad (what was he going to do in Romford?). Colin remained calm, ran into the middle of the traffic and hailed a passing Black Cab.

What joy! I could actually say "Follow that bus". Ok, that's a little bit of an embellishment. The bus was nowhere to be seen but knowing the last stop for the number 8 is Bow Church I told the guy to hot foot it to there. Bloody bus driver must have been practising for a rally because he passed us going in the opposite direction to the bus garage. Out we jumped (7 pounds and 40 pence from the Roman Road to the Bow Road - how do these people stay in business?) and Colin sprinted in pursuit. By the time I arrived puffing and panting at the garage Colin was on his way back out with the aforementioned bag complete with all its contents. Quel héro! My job is once again safe.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Tuesday at the Red Lion

Was meeting T and R in the O'Neills at the top of Carnaby Street. Little bit early so went for a wander. Saw lots of Japanese/Oriental girls with their own idea of fashion. (I would look ridiculous in it but they always seem to do themselves justice and look good). Bloke smacked on the door of a shut eating establishment and informed me they usually gave him something left over to eat; they'd closed early. He asked me for 80p for a sandwich. Now, where would you buy a sandwich in central London for 80p? I had to say sorry because to the best of my knowledge I actually only had a twenty pound note in my bag. After a bit of a delve though, I came up with one English pound and fifteen pence. So, I gave him a yell and passed it on. Goodness only ever know what he was going to spend it on but it brought a smile to his lips. (And a look of "you're stupid" from people sat outside the Shakespeare).

O'Neills is a bit of a Tardis (fab programme; about the only thing I've watched in the past couple of weeks). It looks small but goes back a long way. Well, it was full of Chelsea fans and was a little on the loud side. Very impressed with the table service though. As you approached the bottom of your glass, someone would pop up and ask if you wanted another.

T and I went to the Red Lion on Kingly Street. Sam Smith's pubs are great - always nicely furnished and cheap with a good atmosphere. Really rather strange last night though - a student crowd. Arts/fashion. And every single one with a trust fund from mummy and daddy. Never seem so many posh people in one place. All seemed to be discussing the guest list of somewhere nearby. Girls in little skirts and boys in jeans, shirt and jumper.

Bloke next to me on the District Line home had a couple of plays on his lap. Navy blue covers. One was by Alan Ayckbourn - anything I've ever seen by him has been hysterical. C. who I used to work with is into Amateur Dramatics. They've performed a few of his things. The other play was called something like Duet for One (hmm...something inherently wrong with that) by some guy I'd never heard of (and can't remember). Had quite a good chat with him once he got over the shock of some drunk girl striking up a conversation about Ayckbourn. He's in a showcase for agents - doing a scene from each of the plays. Has to work during the day to make ends meet. Told him teaching was acting enough for me. Really couldn't imagine myself on the stage. I wouldn't be able to stop myself giggling uncontrallably.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Thursday at the Thameside

M. suggested we all meet at the Thameside to take advantage of the lighter, warmer evenings. Our first Thursday Club of 2005 in the outdoors. True to form, as I left school at about 5.20pm the thunder and lightening started. R. and I took the ferry from Canary Wharf to London Bridge (a much underused means of transport). The water looked quite choppy (read weather above) but the journey was remarkably smooth.

Sat indoors, we could glimpse, over the Bridge and through the relatively new buildings, the “Fish Street Pillar”. The Monument was built to commemorate the Fire which swept through London in September 1666. At 202 feet the height of the building is equal to the distance from the pillar to the outbreak of the fire in nearby Pudding Street. Sir Christopher Wren, the renowned architect and scientist, and Robert Hooke, the lesser known scientist and architect, designed the Portland Stone tower collaboratively.

Hooke was the most prolific inventor of scientific instruments in the Seventeenth Century. For him the tower served another purpose – it gave him the opportunity to carry out otherwise impossible experiments. The steps were placed a very specific six inches apart so experiments in pressure could be conducted, pendulums could be swung in the vertical shaft and the golden urn crowning the monument had a hinged trapdoor through which a telescope could be directed. His laboratory was located in an underground cellar. Unfortunately for Hooke the building was not stable enough to give readings of the accuracy he required.

He seems to have been a rather cantankerous and argumentative soul. He frequently fell out with his fellow scientists – Christopher Huygens and Isaac Newton to name but two. Newton, Wren and Hooke were all members of the newly-founded Royal Society – Hooke starting out as an employee in the post of Curator of Experiments before rising to the equal footing of Fellow. He was also Professor of Geometry at Gresham College. (The college, named after its founder Sir Thomas Gresham, has offered free lectures to the public for over 400 years – and still does). Hooke had formerly been assistant to Robert Boyle. He spent years on his theories of light, gravitation and the movement of the sun and planets (he watched Mars and first sighted a double star).

Hooke’s inventions include: the spring control of balance wheels in watches; the compound microscope; the wheel barometer; Hooke’s joint (found in all cars apparently); the first reflecting telescope; and, the term ‘cell’.

Popular opinion at the time of the Fire believed Catholics were behind the destructive force. A young French watchmaker confessed to starting the blaze and promptly swung for the crime. The fact he wasn’t even in the country when the fire took place was conveniently overlooked by the authorities. An inscription at the base of the tower which blamed the “malice and treachery of the Popish faction” was belatedly removed in 1831.

The viewing platform was enclosed in 1842 – only after a maid had thrown herself off the gallery.

Only worth the climb on a good, clear day. I have heard you now receive a certificate to say you reached the top. You’ll have to take my word for it – I managed it with my family and German penfriend about 15 years ago. Probably a damn site cheaper then too!

It wasn’t all talk of history and London. R. discovered I can bake. Not only did I win a prize for my chocolate hedgehog cake in the Christmas fête (as demonstrated on Blue Peter), Wayne P’s mum paid me to make one for their Christmas table. Pretty impressive for a ten-year old. My cousin’s first communion cake went down quite well a few years later too.


I usually try to ignore the intrigues and scandals of the royal family. I view them with a mixture of indifference and hostility with an occasional outburst in support of a republic. But I do genuinely wish Charles and Camilla well. Everyone deserves a bit of happiness at the end of the day.

Not surprisingly the crowd seemed to comprise women of a certain age, children and the odd old boy. Euan Ferguson, writing in today's Observer, pleased me no end when he mentioned Peter Tatchell's presence ("Charles can get married twice, gays can't get married once"). He pops up everywhere now and no occasion would be complete without him.

Clothing was much discussed. More accurately, women's clothing was much discussed. Or did I miss talk of Will's waistcoat and Harry's tie? To sum up, every woman I saw was wearing a hat and none were wearing trousers.

I allowed my mind to wander. What if this teacher from a Barking council estate had been invited? (Not as ludicrous as it might at first sound - a B&B owner, a pub landlady and a couple of tiffin-wallahs from India were included in the gathering). My first thoughts revolved around the fact I don't really do posh people (ie royalty and the aristos). I progressed to seeing it as people-watching of a different kind - plenty of material there. But then fell at the hurdle of the hat. (I suppose they tell you to wear one?). Those fancy creations would never sit on my bed of big, frizzy curls and, more importantly, I'd feel a complete and utter plonker. I've only ever worn hats of the woolly kind (complete with bobble(s)) - at football matches (Goodison, White Hart Lane and Upton Park) and to survive selling fruit and veg on Romford Market in the depths of winter. Perhaps it just wasn't my kind of gig.

Thursday, April 07, 2005


I've had numerous requests for money by post. Chuggers have stopped me in the street. TV adverts have tried to pull all the right strings and now I've had the double-glazing style phone call. I can't quite believe it. If I haven't personally given you my phone number - don't bloody assume to use it.

Just in case you think I am a hard-nosed cow, I do think that most charities do fantastic work and I support a couple on a monthly basis. What I object to is my privacy being invaded and being made to feel guilty about someone else's situation. You can't possibly give to everything.

My Mum's Best TV

My mum's top two TV moments recently:

1. the Pope being stuffed in a window and the reporter explaining he was trying to wave
2. Prince Charles's outburst about the assembled press

She claims she has never laughed so much and rang everyone she could think of. If only the news were always that entertaining.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


Quite clearly some of you will think me backwards but I'd never read a blog until today. What a mistake. There are some great sites out there. And it is so bloody easy too. I shan't make any claims for my little spot - but I fully intend to enjoy myself posting whatever takes my fancy.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

london types - the tube drunk

Ordinarily, I hop on the tube by the middle doors – a greater choice of seats or standing space. Spotting fewer people at the single, end doors of the carriage, I jumped in.
It took all of three seconds to understand the space was in fact an exclusion zone around a rather dirty-looking, fragrant, prematurely-aged man spilling a can of 69p super-strength White Lightening.
His hair alternately plastered to his head and sticking up, eyes rolling, he slurred, “Do yer shpeak fack in’ Inglish? This train…stop at ‘Ainult? Shpeak Inglish, you kant?” to the black man opposite.
Not surprisingly, he received no answer.
He looked up at me, brave (or stupid) enough to stand next to his seat. “Shpeak Inglish, luff?”
I answered in the affirmative.
“These uffer kants don’t shpeak fack in’ Inglish”.
I explained his aggressive, possibly offensive way of speaking was stopping people from answering. He looked confused, and shouted above the rattle of the carriage, “like football?”
“I don’t mind it”.
“Wess ‘Am? Mill-wahl?” he sneered.
Same perplexed look when I told him my boyfriend was from Up North, so Everton.
Mightily happy that I sustained the conversation by asking him who he supports, he replied, “Tott’nem. Lotsa kants shpeak Inglish…’n’ lotsa kants don’t.”
“Whats’ya name?”
“Inglish name that.
“I think it was originally German.”
“Fack in’ kants. German kants”.
He pats the sit next to him. “Sitt‘ere”.
I explained I was getting off at the next stop.
“Mile End…Yer stop. See ya Emma.”
“She shpeaks fack in’ Inglish, she does.”

London, A Short History

My very first attempt at a book review - they can only get better!

London, A Short History. A N Wilson.

To borrow a phrase from the world of advertising, it does exactly what it says on the tin. This is indeed a short history of London – one which left me feeling dissatisfied and even disconcerted.

I first read the book in a couple of sittings in the sunshine of Gran Canaria and I was greatly disappointed. I had expected better from the press reviews and comments on the back cover.

I had to ask myself whether I’d given the book a fair hearing – I’d had my concerns from the start. Firstly, how could Wilson say much in such a thin book? I devoured Stephen Inwood’s ‘History of London’ and have recommended Ackroyd’s Biography to virtually everyone I’ve ever met who has even hinted at the word London.

Secondly, Wilson himself. Not only does he write for the Evening Standard (I occasionally buy it on a Friday as I like the ‘My London’ page of the accompanying magazine) but I have the overwhelming sensation that he is an upper-class twit looking down on us mere mortals. This was certainly reinforced by the way he charges through the chapters of London in the style of an old-school history textbook.

My second reading was no better. I think, if anything, it may have been even more prejudiced in that I had a point to prove – namely, that this is an ambiguous and irritating book. Armed with a freshly-sharpened pencil (I did once think it was sacrilege to write on a book but needs must), I again set about reading this little tome.

Wilson’s words immediately strike a negative tone. In the five pages devoted to Tudor and Stuart London Wilson writes that the first of London’s great historians, John Stow, “saw London as being steadily wrecked by overpopulation, overbuilding and by the greed of developers, City men and speculators”. This is clearly what Wilson still believes over 400 years on. At the end of the Prelude he writes about the two historical ‘camps’ – those, like Ackroyd, who believe the spirit of London lives on and conversely those who “think that the London of old has actually died – at best, gone underground – to be replaced by a confused, overcrowded multinational conurbation”. I think you can work out where I’d place Wilson.

For me one of the most disconcerting subjects in this book is that of immigration and cultural diversity. I cannot work out where Wilson stands on this. He writes that London has taken in more asylum seekers than any other city in the last ten years and mentions as a ‘coincidence’ a few lines on that at the same time there has been “a colossal increase in crime, and a near-crippling of such resources as council-owned housing, hospitals and schools”. Surely he wants us to think there is a direct link between the two?

Wilson reflects the opinions of many who have written about London when he refers to London as being unwilling to “absorb foreign or alien elements” but to me that is one of the strengths of London – anyone can come here and fit in. They can be as much a part of London life as they choose. London, in my mind, is built on immigration and it is about time we celebrated the fact. Today’s hostility towards Eastern Europeans and London’s Muslim communities mirrors the welcome shown to the Irish immigrants of previous centuries. Successive waves of immigrants have integrated into London. This process takes time.

Yet much further on in the book, where he performs the most amazing about-turn and shows that perhaps, yes, he does actually like modern London, Wilson points out that the NHS and the transport system (to name but two areas) have largely survived because of immigrants prepared to work for low wages. Wilson also points out that the relatively high crime levels linked to Afro-Caribbeans is the fault of the ever increasing gap between the rich and the poor. These problems do not have a “racial cause” and I applaud Wilson for making this clear.

Wilson also bemoans the fact tourism has filled the gap left by the banking and manufacturing industries, claiming tourism has cost London its historical character. I do not agree. There are so many links to London’s history – if you know where to look for them. Yes, much has been damaged or destroyed - the Fire, the Victorians and the Luftwaffe have collectively seen to that - but fine buildings still stand. One could also argue that what does remain is likely to do so in the future with the promise of tourist’s pounds and pence.

Comments on the back cover refer to Wilson’s “passion and authority” and his “love for the city”. Until the last few pages where Wilson does declare “London is good” and decides that London “will meet the challenges of the future”, his tone is one of a grumpy old man lamenting the old way of life. Modern buildings are referred to as “silly” and a racist graffito scrawled on a wall is “nasty”. One cannot help but think Wilson is hiding stronger opinions behind these seemingly inoffensive words. A more forcefully-written, more controversial book may have convinced me that Wilson does indeed love this beautiful city.