Saturday, April 29, 2006

What I've Read in April

The Beer and Books choice for April was Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. When you stop and think about it, the story is quite unbelievable but it's so full of life that you happily think someone will wait 51 years and however many days and months for the girl they loved as a young man – even though they have spoken to them, err, about once. I did feel less sympathetic towards certain of the characters after our discussion but, still, a book I enjoyed and would read again.

Loving London, there are certain authors who immediately appeal to me, for example Peter Ackroyd. Hawksmoor was absolutely fantastic (and Pat you do have to read it before you undertake any kind of photo 'project' of his churches in the City). This time around was The House of Dr Dee the story of a son who inherits a house in Clerkenwell, that he knew nothing about, from his father. A researcher, he discovers the building once belonged to Dr John Dee, astronomer to Queen Elizabeth, alchemist, navigator, hermeticist and cabalist (amongst other things), and he becomes convinced things aren't as they seem. The book drew me in and against my better judgement, ( I like to think I'm a fairly rational person), I found myself wanting to believe in strange supernatural goings-on. Sign of a good book perhaps but it didn't have as much of an effect on me as the far superior Hawksmoor.

There are many stories which we all think we know but have never read. Oliver Twist would be a good example. I have struggled reading other Dickens's novels but this one is good. It's thoroughly readable and must have been quite hard-hitting both morally and socially at the time. I'm not sure I like Oliver as a child but the book itself is to be recommended.

I should now be reading the Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov but having decided to rely on the local library, partly as a result of reading the hugely entertaining A Life Stripped Bare. My Year Trying to Live Ethically by Leo Hickman, a present from a friend, things have gone a little pear-shaped. I have been waiting a considerable amount of time (forever it seems) for the reservation and am now obliged to try and buy the book Tuesday to read it in time for the following Monday. Given work has been so hectic and I've read so little this month, it doesn't look promising.

Instead, I've started The Tiger in the Smoke by Margery Allingham. Written in 1952 she's currently being rediscovered. The 'Campion mystery' starts in a pea-souper in the heart of London; it can't fail to be good.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Best Spectators

These two were indefatigable - running up and down, shouting, screaming, encouraging and banging saucepan lids together to support the runners in the marathon today. He is wearing Morris Dancer bells round his knees (thought the Hare Krishnas were coming when they first appeared) and her t-shirt says No Loo Stops. I was actually wearing the same socks as her but mine were safely hidden under a pair of boots and jeans.


Last weekend we cycled up the Greenway to its end before cutting back to the River Lea towpath where we continued to the Hackney Marshes.

The Greenway is calm, quiet and home to an assortment of plants, birds and critters. We went slightly further than we have before and found a less salubrious part.

Sausage and Lentil Simmer

There's nothing quite like a bit of comfort food when you've been stood in cold drizzle half the day. The sausages and pancetta were bought direct from the producer; the veg and herbs from the farmer's stall. All English ingredients to celebrate St George's Day. (Well, Napolina being superior to all the others the tomatoes were from Italy and the Puy lentils can only come from France). (And the only reason I remember when the day falls is its the one after my dad's birthday).

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Guardian printed my letter about Margaret Hodge and the BNP today. I'm up to three now.

It's made me very happy!

Monday, April 17, 2006


I harbour a deep rooted fascination with Ann Widdecombe. I disgree, quite passionately, with much - if not all - of what she says but I love her nonetheless.

'Why?' you are probably asking. She is a straight-talking, no-nonsense politician who is quite clear about what she believes in.

I had to laugh when I read that she had shamed two 'fathers for justice protesters' down from the precipices of Westminster Abbey with the admonishment they were making old people stand on the green rather than enter the church for their Good Friday service. Faced with Widdecombe the protesters didn't stand a chance. I'm just sad it wasn't filmed.

Down and Out in London

As our bus crawled along the Strand on Saturday evening I spotted an old man with a beautiful face sat in a doorway. The kind of visage that tells a story; judging from this one his life has not been easy.

He noticed me staring down and waved. I instinctively waved back and smiled. He then procured from the folds of his green overcoat a bottle of amber spirits. He shook it at me and motioned that I should go and join him just as the bus pulled away. I laughed, he laughed and the man say behind us laughed. C. sat in a stoney-faced silence.

I asked later if I'd embarrassed him. "What do you think?".

That'll be a 'yes' then.

Margaret Hodge and the BNP

Well, she has gone and done it again. Margaret Hodge MP had me in an apoplectic rage this morning following comments in yesterday's Sunday Times which have been widely reported elsewhere today.

The Times: More people considering BNP protest vote
Angry voters may support BNP
The Guardian: BNP 'needs 5% swing to win 70 council seats'
The Mirror: Hodge: we could lose white voters to the BNP
The Telegraph: White voters are deserting us for the BNP, says Blair ally.

The fact that she believes eight out of ten white working class voters here are going to vote for the BNP (offensive party of the far right) deeply saddens me but it is not a surprise and ultimately isn't what has made me angry.

At the General Election, in May 2005, the BNP polled nearly 17% of the vote in Barking. Their biggest success ever. Hodge, who won the seat, wrote a defensive article in the Observer blaming Labour for losing touch with its traditional voters. She highlighted the sense of anger, disillusionment and powerlessness felt by many constituents here and how the BNP had effectively capitalised on it.

This maddened me. If Hodge clearly understood the problems on the ground and what was causing them why had she done nothing about it beforehand? Why had she not organised an effective campaign to promote Labour and to counter the BNP's poisonous lies? Why was she blaming the Labour party as if she was not a part of it? An edited version of my letter was published.

My last point was that Hodge 'must translate today's insights into actions and admit her own failings'.

Has she heeded my advice? Of course not. A year on she is showing the same high level of understanding which, given her total lack of action to address the issues we as a constituency face, smacks of nothing more than a modern day mixture of paternalism, condescension and pity.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


Two signs spotted from the number 5 bus today:

1. A shop with no name on the Barking Road, Upton Park, has the following written on the awning: EVERYTHING YOU WANT FOR DAILY NEEDS. OPEN 366 DAYS A YEAR.

2. A small poster in Tippy's Cafe (English by day; Thai by night) at East Ham, and replicated on a much greater scale on the railings of Upton Park football ground, advertising the upcoming local elections: May the 4th be with you. Vote.

I'll let you guess which one made me laugh and which had my cringing in my boots.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Hamilton Hall

I survived the Hamilton Hall experience.

The Hamilton Hall is a pub at one of the main overground stations in London – Liverpool Street. The commuter trains run out to the Essex coast carrying the wide boys and girls* in and out every day. I grew up on the edge of London and Essex – Romford – through which the overcrowded and slow Great Eastern line runs.

I was to meet friends there before going for a curry Wednesday night. The place makes me nervous. Very nervous.

The problem is I always run into someone I went to school with or knew in my younger days. The conversation goes something like this:

Them: Emma! Are you married?
Me: No.
Them: Oh. You've got kids, though?
Me: No.
Them: Never mind. You're not too old yet! A house?
Me: No. I'm happy as I am. Live with my partner and am doing well professionally – one
step off senior management in a school.
Them: You always did like school, didn't you?.(Sneer). Where do you live?
Me: Barking.
Them: Oh, that's awful. My husband's a trader in the city. We've got a four bedroomed house
in Hornchurch, his and hers convertibles, three children, a swimming pool and a villa in

Okay, okay. I may have slightly exaggerated that last bit but you get the drift. They think you have to acquire certain material things (husbands and children are seen as commodities) to be happy; I don't and am always annoyed that I leave with their pity.

This time I didn't bump into anyone. I felt like I had triumphed over the place. The weight of the world left my shoulders as we sauntered off to the curry capital Brick Lane.

*does this translate into US English – dodgy chancers?


After taking the digital card thing from my camera to Jimmy Chung's for processing, where admittedly I pay more, for good service and flattery (“Good photos, Emma, good photos”) than I would in somewhere like Boots, I set off up the escalators to the library which is temporarily housed above Asda.

The man on the Information Desk did not fill me with confidence. A weak, weedy and ineffectual Mr Muscle type. He listened intently to my pin problem, took my library card, stared at the monitor for a moment or two and wandered off. He came back with Joyce. She didn't need a badge to announce her position as Senior Librarian. Robust and confident she would not have been out of place during the Blitz. I imagined her with her sleeves rolled up ready to charge into the fray.

We exchanged knowing looks. I'm not sure what about. She seemed to take a shine to me. Within moments I had learnt everything that was wrong with the new system and how she was clearly the person to put it right. I was in no doubt - I would be leaving with a functioning pin.

Not only can I decide where I want to pick up my reserved book from I can choose how I am notified – post, email or SMS. All I have to do now is wait.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Borrowing Books

Back to books. I am attempting to borrow this month's book group choice, Master and Margarita from the local library. You can check to see if the library holds it online.

A new page pops up. It informs me that I am searching in the London Consortium catalogue which comprises Barking and Dagenham, Havering, Redbridge, Waltham Forest and the other north London borough of...Wandsworth (ok, just in case you don't know London it's very definitely south of the river).

I start ranting. The page doesn't tell me if I can actually borrow something from another borough. It's all very well and good being able to browse but that doesn't really help me in the long term. (It is at this juncture that I should point out I don't actually want to borrow the book. I want to buy it. Things going wrong are making me happy).

Author search: BULGAKOV

Bulgakov, Mikhail or Bulgakov, Valentin Federovich?

I click on the former. The first entry reads: Six Soviet Plays, ed. By Eugene Lyons. Author: AFINOGENYEV, Alexander.

Hello? I'm getting angrier and happier by the minute.

I locate the book and guess what? Most of the copies are held in Tooting, Putney and other South London libraries. There are none in Barking and Dagenham (quelle surprise).

Rubbing my hands with glee I decide there is only one way to find out if I can have an out of borough book and that is to try to reserve it.

I enter my library card number and my pin. I get an error message. I try again. Three times. The number is in front of me and the pin is always the last four digits of your phone number.
I am now getting delightfully frustrated. I email the library asking why I can't log on to the new system and to see if I can borrow the book and collect it from my local branch. I expect an answer sometime in 2010.

30 minutes later Mr Librarian explains that yes, I can borrow any book listed and collect it from where I choose, and that the pin is now randomly generated by a computer system – ask any librarian.

Any librarian? The one at my school? Doug in the States? I click on opening times. 7pm every weekday've guessed it...Wednesday! Shuts at 5pm and it's now 4.30pm. I ring expecting them to say you cannot have it over the telephone. No such luck. After taking my details and seemingly endless tipp-tapping on a keyboard, I get my new pin.

I sulked in the bath. This plan was coming together. I wouldn't be able to buy the book.

With a heavy heart I tried once more to log on with the new pin and HURRAH! It doesn't work and it's too late to tell anyone. Hee hee.

Regent's Canal

Before I regale you with stories from my Regent's Canal walk, chosen by Coolbuddha, I must make a confession.

I was forced into committing a sacrilegious act. The printer jammed as I tried to copy the relevant pages of the guidebook. I was quite determined I was not taking any extra baggage this time so I unceremoniously butchered the pages from the binding with a pair of Ikea kitchen scissors. I did feel guilty but as the day wore on the memory conjured up a naughty giggle more akin to having been caught behind the bike sheds.

My excitement was tempered at the bus stop to Barking. In stark contrast to last Thursday this was a walk I was looking forward to but the weather could not have been more different. The wind was biting into me and the cold chilling my bones.

I was cheered on the train by the sight of families talking to one another. One little lad was told by his grandmother that the Gherkin was “Ken's New Building”. He confidently asserted it would be better named the “Bullet Building”. I managed to keep my gob shut and not point out the mistakes being made and got off the train with his imaginative comment of “this station must be called after a house made of lemons and limes” (Limehouse) ringing in my ears.

It doesn't matter what the time the buses always crawl down from Aldwych to Trafalgar Square. The Column is being cleaned. Buggers up the tourists' photos (which does, unfortunately, make me laugh).

We covered the main shopping street with ease and were soon winging our way up the Edgeware Road. I defy anyone to find more establishments starting with Z within spitting distance of each other – Zam Zam (supermarket), Zonzo (Italian restaurant) and Zorba (Middle Eastern eaterie).

Surprisingly, I managed to get off at the right bus stop for Warwick Avenue. I am usually so preoccupied with missing the stop that I get off too early.

My first thoughts, as I gazed at the Clifton Villas, was that I was in the northern equivalent of Kensington. The big houses with magnolias out front and the village-like feel were similar. I then hit the canal.

Little Venice. I have never experienced the Real Thing but, lovely though this is, I would expect something a little more from the original. The area only acquired the name in the 50s but Byron and Robert Browning had made comparisons back when they were around (apparently). Advertising suggested you can eat on a boat, watch a puppet show, the list goes on...

The more houseboats I saw the more I was carried away with the idea that this was a romantic way in which to live. Surely life on a boat MUST be idyllic? The smell of wood burning took me back to my childhood and I decided all was well with the world. I then spotted the Sir Percy who is for sale. I broached the question: what would Colin say? And came back down to earth with a bump. “Can you get satellite?”.

The architecture, of which, technically, I know very little was varied but reinforced my love of red brick, high ceilings and big windows which let in an abundance of light. Railings (black) would be nice as well.

On spotting a boarded-up pub my first thought was one of reassurance. It wasn't just us poorer areas that were being hit. I then realised what a beautiful building it was and was saddened by the idea it would be turned into expensive flats.

My first descent onto the tow path proper and I was humming away (On Top of the World) without a care in the world. The first tunnel was narrow, low and very black and I suddenly wondered whether I was safe alone on a dank day. I didn't want to end up like Dirty Den (admittedly he did rise from the dead a few years later).

But then, all change! I was taken aback by the grandeur of the houses skirting Regent's Park - both the buildings and the gardens are immaculate - with no signs of life. The original plans had the canal running through the park but the riff raff working the boats on the water would have lowered the tone of what still is a very exclusive area.

A sign announced workmen were ahead. I couldn't fathom out what they were doing but later passed a sign asking people to be careful as the “powerwashing of the pontoons” was commencing on April 10. It sounds like I had a lucky escape.

There was only one boat in action. As it approached I could see an elderly gentleman guiding at the rear. I'd decided to shout a hello in friendly greeting. He beat me to it with a cry of “how do you do?”. My heart a-flutter, I was suddenly Austen's Emma Woodhouse, I shouted back “very well, Sir. Very well”. (I then collapsed, metaphorically speaking, in fits of laughter while I tried to work out where on earth that response had come from). The water responded in his wake with a thwack, thwop, thwump.

Since our visit to the zoo a few weekends ago more of the Into Africa exhibit area was open. I spotted same rather vicious-looking hyena/dog type creatures in an enclosure bordering the other side of the canal. The giraffes would be much more suited to a gentle stroll by the river. On seeing the Snowdon Aviary I did burst into song myself – a quick rendition of 'Kookaburra sits on the old gum tree'.

Camden Lock was more pleasing on the eye than I had perhaps imagined although there was a group of 16 year old German tourists conducting a love-in on the banks of the canal.
Boats are not immune to the money-making schemes of councils – mooring for the 'stop and shop' is limited to four hours – 'charges apply thereafter'.

(Pat, all I can say here is Dan Flavin, eat your heart out!)

It was strange to approach St Pancras from the canal. The gasometer and the tower were familiar but from a very different angle.

There was very little noise on my walk. The only real exceptions being the reggae pumped out of the Global Express warehouse, the platform announcements from the Marylebone Station and the drilling from the building site at King's Cross. I thought the worker's carrier bags pegged to a string in the window of one of the mobile huts rather touching – and a wonderful source of practical jokes.

I felt slightly unnerved as I approached the crowds in Islington. The atmosphere was so different from that of the waterside. Chapel Street market is a gem where the old and the new meet. On one side of the street is M. Manzes live and jellied eels, on the other the trendy euphorium bakery.

The guidebook describes the walk from Warwick Avenue to Angel but mentions the possibility of continuing to Limehouse. I was unsure until I got going. I was so full of life that there was no way I was stopping short. Until it started pouring with rain. I took shelter under a tree at St Pancras when it was at it's worst and trudged my way to Islington. Undaunted I stopped for a coffee in the hope the cloud would clear. It did me no such favours and I resignedly decided to bail out. Another four miles in the rain would be foolish given my recent health scares (although I do believe that the idea you are automatically going to catch cold in the rain is a load of poppycock).

Disappointed, I didn't want to rush home so decided that whatever the first bus was at the stop on the other side of the road I was jumping on it to its destination. I was fortunate. The 30 to Marble Arch. Followed by the 23 to Liverpool Street and the 8 to Bow. And the District Line home.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Clearing up the books

There seems to have been a misunderstanding.

In writing about my need to economise I mentioned books. At no point did I say that I am going to stop buying them – it's an impossibility. They are paid for out of my pocket money.
I went to Beer and Books last night with two books (House of Dr Dee which I am reading now and the book group choice of Love in the Time of Cholera) and came back with six. One was a gift and the other three I bought with the voucher my brother gave me for my birthday.

P., who is the only person, because of my illness, to have been to all the gatherings puts me to shame as he has a far superior collection of books and has plenty of ideas of how to fit more on the bookshelves. He is also rather posh and has a fantastic vocabulary. If I turn up a little late it's because I've had a f**king nightmare. Yesterday, he'd had “an incipient disaster”. Sounded too delightful to be something terrible.

Monday, April 10, 2006


Like Drawing Blood from a Phone - it's fantastic! Click the link.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Buying Power

We are trying to save the deposit for a house which, in these times, even in east London, is a considerable sum. The problem is that I am not very good at it. I like books, good food, drinking and going places. On the other hand, I don't want to live forever in a one bedroom flat with no garden. I know that we can buy our council flat, and most people have encouraged us to do so, but I do believe in social housing. It's helped us out and I hope that it will do the same for others after us. The only other option is a strict budget.

After the bills are paid we have joint going out money, food money and 'pocket money'. I am trying to spend more wisely and according to the rules of something which I read ages and ages ago. With embarrassment I note these were copied into my journal in November 2002. I obviously thought they were important but it's taken me two and a half years to act!

Do I need it?
How many do I already have?
How much will I use it?
How long will it last?
Is it recyclable?
Could I borrow it?
Do without it?
Repair and maintain it?
Dispose of it environmentally?

It's very difficult. Books are an issue in themselves. I do frequent the local library as I believe they are important, especially for the elderly and the very young. I do, however, like to buy my own copy of a book. If they are crap they are recyclable – I take them to a charity shop.
I have made two purchases this weekend – each for £10 and both very exciting (in my mind at least).

The first is a plain black shopping trolley (ie not tartan or gaudy colours). I can now buy much more at the market and actually get it home. I need it. I don't have one already. I will use it every weekend. It'll last a while. I'm sure my dad could recycle it or repair it. I can't borrow one and I can't see myself needing to dispose of it. Hurrah!

The second – three headbands. The picture on the stall clearly showed four uses. I can remember two (keeping your hair out your eyes and ditto plus less band on top with some round the bottom of your face if its cold). I did nearly find a fifth of my own trying to work out the remaining two- strangulation.

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea

Increasing numbers of children are arriving at school without the prerequisite listening and speaking skills according to an article I read recently (and which I now cannot find). This point was brought home to me on the train Thursday. A whole family were sat listening to mp3 players. Mum, dad and three children. There was no conversation, no interaction. At their age (between 7 and 13) we would have been looking out the window, pointing to things and asking interminable questions which my mother would have answered with the patience of a saint. I grumpily guessed they were off shopping to Oxford Street rather than sampling the cultural and historical delights in which London abounds. I then remembered that I myself was en route to Kensington.

Buses are infinitely more interesting than trains so I took the 15 from Limehouse and changed for the 9 at Aldwych to reach my destination. They also take far longer and it put off my inevitable arrival for a good 30 minutes or so. The speed with which we shot through Knightsbridge confirmed the fact the bus driver was of good working class stock and viewed the place with the same sense of antipathy as his passengers. (If you are wealthy (and stupid) enough to shop in Harrods you don't get on buses).

My first dilemma was how to hold the guidebook, my notebook, pen and camera all at once. I realised I was going to look like a total tourist rather than a reluctant day-tripping Londoner from the Other Side (ie the east). The rude stares I elicited while eating my beigel outside M&S made me wonder whether I'd tucked my skirt in my knickers and turned green on the way but ultimately made me think to hell with all of you. And off I set.

Turning the corner from the High Street into Derry Street the first building I spotted was that of Associated Newspapers. My heart sank and I was filled with foreboding. Not only was I having to contend with the ghost of Diana but was on the home territory of the Daily Hell and the Evening Standard. Colin has a lot to answer for (for your chance to fill with me horror, see below *).

Through a small alley and I found myself in a beautiful square. The houses were perfect and the communal (gated) garden in the middle has never seen a down and out in its life. The Chapel of the Convent of the Assumption informs passersby that the “exposition of the blessed sacrament” occurs “daily”. Exposition of the sacrament? Sounds either dangerous or painful.

On reading the little plaque attached to the railings of the Maltese Embassy – diplomatic cars only – I did wonder if they pay for this privilege of reserved parking on a public road. Going off on a slight tangent, the embassy of the United Arab Emirates has just stumped up £99,950 in unpaid congestion charges and fines. That of the US is still flouting the law. They should be told, most diplomatically of course, to cough up or ship out.

My journey took me through mews of cottages, past giant houses and the odd council block (Lexham House). The sun was shining and at times I felt like I was in a village or even abroad. The smell of hyacinths drifted on the breeze. Magnolias and almond trees were in full blossom. I photographed the buds of the biggest camellias I have ever seen.

I lingered looking in the windows of the greengrocers, the organic butchers and the Pie Man. Everything was serene, calm and very English. I was enamoured. On my return to the city I passed the cabbies' green tea hut at Hyde Park Corner and was amazed to see a man contending with the traffic on a penny farthing. I could not believe that no-one else on the bus was looking out at this spectacle. I wanted to nudge the woman next to me and say LOOK!

My whole mood had changed. Colin was no longer in the doghouse. I felt happy and alive. I had enjoyed a wonderful glimpse of another world. I tried to imagine myself living in a majestic house in a quiet square but failed. I would be suffocated and constrained by what I perceive as the rules of another time. I arrived back on the estate to herald the arrival of police officers on mountain bikes, a bright blue leather sofa being hoisted off the back of a pick-up truck and kids screaming and shouting. That's more like it.

*First person to choose a number between 1 and 30, exlcuding 2, decides my walk for Tuesday!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Once the beigels have defrosted, I'm off into uncharted territory. Kensington. I blame Colin.

Devoid of inspiration yesterday I asked him to pick a number between 1 and 3. 2. Another number between 1 and 30. 2.

These numbers correspond to the three books of London walks I have (and the order in which I acquired them) and the walks contained therein. Colin has chosen Kensington in Andrew Duncan's Walking London.

When I say, which I frequently do, that I love London I am referring to the east, the City and parts of the West End. I don't do west or south.

If we were to play a word association game Kensington would be followed by Princess of Wales. I shall spare you my opinions on her as some of you would probably find them offensive. Let's just say I have never been, and never will be, a fan.

Being in the habit of treading familiar paths I use the walking guides more for teasing out snippets of information and for finding slightly less obvious places– I don't follow the walks and I don't take the books with me. All that is about to change.

I'm just wondering if I popped to my mum's first whether or not I might find a distress flare in the garden shed...


Surprisingly, my legs are in perfect working order. Not a hint of trouble following yesterday's bike ride.

I do, however, have a problem.

I can't sit down.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

1st Bike Ride of 2006

It should be a truth universally acknowledged that a size eight woman is not necessarily fit. There are probably women five dress sizes bigger than me who are ten times fitter (or so it seems at least).

I readily agree to a bike ride today as I do believe we have to make the most of the sun while it lasts. My brain is working overtime to decide whether or not I can realistically point out I won't be up to much due to my really rather severe illness. In terms of regular exercise walking is about it and I haven't been on the bike (my mum's) since last summer. Having been back at school for a full half-term I guess my excuses would no longer wash. Hey-ho!

The cycle path is variously obstructed by pedestrians, who cannot hear me shouting 'excuse me, please' over the deafening roar of 6 lanes of traffic, incomplete sandbagged traffic signs, no less than four parked yellow contraptions complete with flashing lights announcing a lane closure and a red lorry reversing directly at me. Not to mention the usual tyre-busting debris. Glass. Stones. Shards of metal.

We swing off the A13 at Silvertown. Beckton to the east and Canning Town to the west. All industrial areas named after the men who first built the factories – rubber and gas respectively. Silvertown is home to Britain's first flyover and was spectacularly blown up in 1917 – 83 tons of TNT went up at Brunner, Mond & Co. Probably the best non-military light show the east of London has seen.

The smell of freshly baked bread follows us as we whizz (creak in my case) past the London City Metal depot and the Peacock Gym (infamous for its alleged links to the criminal underworld). Round the bend and we are in the docks – an odd, in-between world.

The small, squat houses opposite the Excel centre resemble nothing more than beach shacks. DLR stations rise futuristically into the sky. Trains pass. Buses. But no people, few cars. The old and the new; the strangely quiet.

We stumble across a blue sign for the Newham City Farm. Any possibility of pigs fills me with joy and we take a detour (longer than needed; we skid across the one apparent green patch of a housing estate and nearly get our heads taken off by a father and toddler bonding over golf; real clubs, yellow ball).

The pigs, unfortunately, will not pose as I want them to and the eggs are only for sale between 11am and 1pm. Still, it's a wonderful little place and entry is free. (Donations are welcome in the milk churn but I can't bloody find it). I'm all for city children working out where their meat comes from.

I have my first glimpse of City Airport and enter yet another time zone devoid of life. Empty roads, buildings and sky-bound train tracks.

I make it home but not without struggling for the last part of the return leg. I'm quite certain I won't be able to walk tomorrow. Skinny or not.


The temperature may only have been 1°C when I drove Colin to work this morning but the sun had risen almost majestically.

The red brick houses to the north of Ilford were bigger and wider than usual; their chests puffed out to bathe in the sun's glorious rays. The railings of the park cast shadows onto the crunchy, frosty grass. The shopfronts glittered and the cars sparkled. (I was almost blinded trying to drive with a sun so bright but so low in the sky).

Yesterday started in much the same vein but failed to continue. The clouds came over to match Colin's mood. After an hour being subjected to GMTV at top volume in the hospital waiting room, we were told his operation had been cancelled. He was gutted. I was purely angry but kept my mouth shut as it was his shindig. Someone had allegedly tried to ring the day before but the number they had on file was clearly made up. (No mention of the home number, Colin's mobile and mine that he gave them at the pre-op). He has been given another appointment later in April but which is useless as it transpires he's on the wrong consultant's list even though this one does veins and the one he is under now apparently doesn't. Proverbial piss up in a brewery comes to mind.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

I dropped C. off at a meeting this morning and on my return sat staring at bits of paper on the kitchen table. A compliments slip from the British Transport Police which accompanied the attack alarm they sent me. A letter from the same institution which confirmed I had 'reported an offence of SEXUAL ASSAULT on a FEMALE'. Three articles torn from Thursday's Independent referring to the low conviction rates for rape and sexual assault. I was also replaying a scene from the Hills Have Eyes, a terrible film which I saw last night, in which two grotesque mutant men assault and attempt to rape two young, blond and attractive women.

My feelings alternated between depression, anger and a sense of being chilled to the bone.

Depressed in that I feel powerless in the face of the statistics quoted by the journalists:
only 5.6% of reported rape cases (I wasn't actually raped) end in a conviction when it is estimated that perhaps just a quarter of women in that position have the courage to report the rape to the police.

Angry that this is where we are at as a society when 'almost half of all adult women in England and Wlaes have experienced domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking' (Robert Verkaik, Independent). It seems accepted that women are going to be attacked and that, still, the prejudices prevail. They'd been drinking/wearing revealing clothing/going home late on their own. The letter sent from the police was standard. It was sorry for any inconvenience I have been caused. Inconvenience? I felt dirty, ashamed, intimidated, confused, angry, upset. Not inconvenienced.

Other people have always thought me perhaps a little too naive, a bit too optimistic about human nature. I've been brought down to earth with a bump. I was on a full tube when I was assaulted. No-one did anything to help me. Not even an 'Oi, mate! Leave her alone'. That has possibly affected more than the attack itself. (I have been stalked and sexually harrassed before).

Chilled to the bone in the sense that everywhere we are surrounded by images of women as sexual objects. The scene in the Hills Have Eyes (a film I had no inclination to see in the first place) crystallised for me what women are up against. Films are full of scenes of women at the mercy of men. Magazines are full of naked women in sexual poses. Lap dancing and pole dancing have increasingly become accepted by young women as otherwise they are seen as prudish – they are sold the lie that they are liberated and free when they are in fact gratifying men's most basic, and sometimes degenerate, desires. The men who are highlighted as being deviant in some way are ugly, outsiders. Another lie. Women, if they are not stunners, are not taken seriously. Believe me: ordinary men commit crimes against ordinary women.

I am intelligent enough to realise that a lot of men can view the pictures, watch the films and still treat women with respect. Unfortunately, I am increasingly of the opinion that the mags and flicks reinforce a low opinion of women in society as a whole and that they have to go.

And just in case you wanted to ask, yes, it was late, yes, I was wearing a skirt and no, I hadn't had too much to drink.

Barking's Barcelona

I have no objections per se about spreading money around. Now that I am better, I have returned to my pre-illness days of shopping here, there and everywhere in an attempt to give less money to the supermarkets. I do put my money where my mouth is – I was at Billingsgate fish market (a first) at 6.15am yesterday; after breakfast (double egg and chips) in the caff over the road, I bought the newspapers in the local newsagents and had a chat, and then toddled off to Queen's Market for my fruit and veg and the Newham Bookshop for chalk and a gift.

So, people may think that on reading Tristam Hunt's column in today's Observer that I agreed with his assertion 'The capital must share the spoils'. He is referring to the 2012 Olympic Games.

Before I tackle this issue I must just take him to task for even imagining that the 'Lower Lea Valley' could be 'reborn as Barking's Barcelona'. I am aware that he is attempting a spot of alliteration and that Barcelona did host the Olympics (not sure which year). I have never visited Barcelona but I am convinced it is a beautiful city. I am sure that even in it's roughest parts it does not compare to the blight of Barking. I live here. It is grey, dull and overwhelmingly poor. Racism and sexism are rife (which, when considering the football, certainly are also problems in Spain). The Olympics is not going to change that.

(I couldn't find an image of the infamous Gascoigne estate - but click the link for the kind of news it generates).

Continuing with the B's, Hunt asserts that the 'Bradfords and Birminghams' of the country should also benefit from the regeneration that the Olympics will (allegedly) bring. I agree totally but only if they too have to pay an extra fiver a month on their council tax. If Londoners have to pay for the damned Games, then Londoners should bloody well see the benefits. Can't say fairer than that.