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 When I asked how long he pointed to his badge – 12 years service for Diabetes Uk – except it was out of date; 15 years would be more accurate.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.