Monday, June 26, 2006


I renewed my firewall etc yesterday and am now unable to leave comments in pop-up windows because the visual verification bit is a red cross. I've tried looking at the settings but cannot work out what is wrong. Any ideas would be gratefully received.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Market Boy

You've got to talk to them son. Listen to them. Look for a way in. You're a handsome bloke – they'll love you. Give me a year and I'll teach you everything I know.

Possibly about six weeks ago a booklet for the National Theatre popped through the letterbox. I have heard about their Travelex £10 seasons and have always made a mental note to get off my backside and watch something. This time I needed to act.

I flicked through and Market Boy caught my eye. I love markets. When I saw the word Romford I knew this was a play for me. I spent many a weekend and holiday selling fruit on one of the stalls during my A-levels.

There's an art to selling stilettos and you'd better grasp it. Learn a good wind-up, learn the pull of cash, learn drugs, learn sex, and run wild with the market monkeys. Stay sharp in the ruthless world of Essex traders. Romford Market, 1985. This boy has everything to learn.

A spectacular, savage, gorgeous yarn which brings a market jungle to the vast Olivier stage; a tale about the time Mrs Thatcher said we should embrace the marketplace; a story about losing your innocence. And your cherry.

After checking the football fixtures I booked two tickets. C. rightly pointed out I should have invited my parents. I booked two more tickets the next day and coincidentally got seats next to those I had already reserved.

It was absolutely fantastic. One teenager's rite of passage. It's bold, vulgar, brash and totally captures the time and place. We were surrounded by people with very well-rounded accents so it was hard to tell where they were from. One commented, at half-time, that the play was superficial and full of stereotypes. I wanted to shout at her “No! It was bloody well like that”.

It didn't matter what you looked like, if you were a boy working on Romford market – even just packing in and packing out – you were a God. The girls all adored you. It was a glamorous job! (My sister and her friends were part of the coterie who hung around hoping to catch eyes).

The four of us left enthused; listing the people we would force to see it. We were also trying to work out who might have known the writer, David Eldridge. Just a year older than me, someone in our circle must have gone to school with him or even worked with him on a nearby stall.

It came as something of a surprise reading articles about him on the net to learn he went to a posh independent school. I shouldn't imagine that went down too well when he first arrived. It's fantastic to know he thrived. I was too scared at first to say I was going to university in case people dismissed me.

The fruiterer I worked for was second generation. He knew his business inside-out but could barely read and write. I used to help him, and others, by reading and replying to official-looking mail . When I confessed I was going on to study they couldn't stop laughing. Many of them were illiterate in the language of the land and I was off to perfect two others (French and German). They referred to uni as 'Big School'. The nearest stalls had a whip-round and sent me off with a few quid in my pocket.

Give them what they want. And they'll give you what you want. We were put on this earth to chase women, and women were put here to buy shoes. Ginger, brunette, peroxide, they're all here. But this is what you're after, this son, this.

If you're in London, and even if you're not, this a must-see. Just a tenner a ticket. National Theatre. Runs until 3 August.

Friday, June 23, 2006

I knew it was going to be one of those days when I nearly threw the teaspoon in the bin making my first cup of coffee and then got in the bath still wearing my vest top. I was at a conference today which started far later than school and at a venue closer to home so I hoped to have a lie-in until 7.30am. True to form I was wide awake at 6.15am and ended up much earlier.

The conference lacked oomph and the building, Victorian, lacked air. In this afternoon's session I was sat opposite a man with the most pallid, grey, clammy skin I have ever seen. I am convinced he was the walking dead. I couldn't help but keep looking at him which gave him entirely the wrong impression. The thought of fancying him was horrific and somehow, counter productively, made me stare at him even more. I did try to make a quick escape at the end but he caught me and tried to engage me in conversation. I was rudely monosyllabic and he soon gave up. I hope he wasn't anyone important.
I was all set up to do a bit of blogging last night when C. asked if I could do him some mango. Next thing you know he's got his mango and yogurt and I'm sat crying on the kitchen floor.

Skidded on some over ripe mango, which I hadn't realised I'd dropped, and smashed into the kitchen cabinets. I thought I'd broken my toes. Agony.

Did C. come running to see if I was alright? No. Apparently, I am always crashing about and swearing so he didn't realise anything out of the ordinary had happened.

Did I then get sympathy? No. C. washed up his dish round me, said "you need some ice" and went back to the football.

Didn't want to blog after that.

PS. I forgot to mention I'd already punctured my finger on the shell of a frozen prawn. Blood everywhere.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Social skills, sunburn and sports day

I was really rather pleased, on reflection, when one of the boys in the social skills group pointed out to the others, far louder than he realised, that "Miss is in a shit mood". It meant he had taken on board everything I have been teaching about body language as at that point I hadn't even opened my mouth.

(They are very good at demonstrating 'invading someone's personal space'. Whilst modelling it with a pupil last week we collided quite peculiarly and I poked him in the eye with my left boob. I think you can imagine how this went down with a group of eight teenage boys).

Some absolute lunatic tried chatting me up in the park when we were all playing football which again they found hysterical; they had great fun modelling me politely telling him to go away when they quite clearly knew I wanted to tell him to f**k off.

Someone else received the Glare when he mentioned the fact I hadn't brought any suntan lotion. My shoulders, neck and face are now evidence of this.

And tomorrow is sports day. I hate it.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

What I read in...May

I still have The Master and Margarita reserved with the library's online booking system. I did resort to buying a copy so I could read it in time for Beer and Books at the beginning of the month. (Seven weeks and still counting on the library front...). A strange but beguiling book. A Faustian romp through Moscow. I was concerned at times that I wasn't really 'getting the point' but thoroughly enjoyed it. (I'm still not sure what Pontius Pilate has to do with anything though).

A novel revolving around a pub in London? How could I not enjoy Patrick Hamilton's trilogy Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky. Funny, painful and sad I absolutely loved it. Very much a product of its time – the Thirties – but I have no doubt the characters have their London equivalents today . Full of humanity – and sentences that hang in my mind. “He wondered what the other passengers discerned of them and their relationship” whizzed round and round on the Central Line after a full evening's drinking in the Old Mitre with the Gardener.

I am determined not to lose my French so occasionally indulge in a novel or two. The latest selection includes L'Enfant de Sable by Tahar Ben Jelloun. (Sand Child). With seven girls already in a society (Moroccan) that only values male descendants, a husband and wife contrive to raise their eighth daughter as a son. The story – poetically told – has been playing on my mind. What does make a man a man and a woman a woman if you discount the obvious biological bits? What makes us who we are and different? I had to refer back to Simone de Beauvoir's Le Deuxième Sexe – 'On ne naît pas femme' and also Germain Greer's the whole woman where she asks why women so readily accept men with their bits chopped off as women. A book with no ready answers that will stay with me.

The story of Kentish Town from village to a blighted part of the London sprawl to urban gentrification. The Fields Beneath. The History of One London Village. Gillian Tindall's history is illuminating. She importantly points out that there is often more to be learnt from the neglected parts of London than in the carefully preserved areas which have not been exposed to various social upheavals and dislocations. This was written in the Seventies and I'd love to read what has happened in the intervening years. A journey of my own on foot might go someway to filling in the gaps.

In torrential rain on a Hackney Wick allotment (a truly enchanting place that deserves to be called something more than an allotment), perched in a shed drinking red wine I met Iain Sinclair and his wife. It was an odd moment but just about the right circumstances for briefly meeting the celebrated psychogeographer. The plot is making way for a footpath for the sustainable [sic] 2012 Olympics. Sinclair has been on the radio since explaining how the words 'visionary' and 'developer' scare him. Anyway, meeting him prompted me to buy Dining On Stones. This is easier to understand than Downriver, harder than Lights Out. I enjoy reading his books for the areas and ideas I do recognise. The A13 is home territory. The blue light roundabout just down the road. I would never recommend his work to anyone but do relish reading it in a perverse kind of a way.

Central Parks

Our walk through London's central parks (not Regent's) starts at St James's. Probably the most cultivated of the capital's green spaces. James I's elephant is long gone. Replaced by innumerable water fowl.

Viewed from the bridge over the lake, the pinnacles and domes of Horse Guards look lie a Rhineish castle. A place full of sinister fairy tales. The buildings date from the 1750s but the ground was used much earlier than that for much the same purpose as now – the annual Trooping of the Colour and the daily Changing of the Guard. The jousting, which started under Henry VIII, no longer takes place!

Leaving the park to cross Pall Mall I can hear music. Definitely muffled drums. Possibly a trumpet. The crowds of tourists at the foot of the avenue outside Buckingham Palace give the game away. The Changing of the Guard. A ceremony we've not seen before.

Pall Mall is a strange place. Named after the game paille-maille introduced by Charles II (he had the avenue cut through the park to play it), it consists of black cabs and tourists. One of those few places in London where you don't feel you belong. It's only purpose is for passing through.
I love the idea of the tunnels running from the Palace to Whitehall and Downing Street. Little used now I should think. Just right for a childish royal prank on the Prime Minister. How could one resist?

Two men, street cleaners in City of Westminster overalls, are taking it in turns to pose and take photos of one another. The Palace, disappointing in my view, too plain, their backdrop.

The guards exiting the Palace catch up by surprise. Mounted guard at the front and rear. No-one is blocking our view so I try a quick photo. I have to run to keep up with their seemingly-effortless march. Shot ends up nothing more than a blur.

Andrew Duncan describes Green Park as “the plainest of the central parks with no lake or fountains and very few flowers”. The lack of buildings could have something to do with their unfortunate history: in 1749 buildings were destroyed during a royal firework display and in 1814 the Temple of Concord exploded. (Glinert).

The plainest but the friendliest. A tip of the head from an impeccably-dressed Asian man and a “How do?” from an upright-looking Northerner.
We laugh as we approach the crossing to Wellington's Arch. Cyclists are increasingly incorporated into pedestrian lights but this is a first for us: horses.

The arch, also known as Constitution Arch, was built between 1825 and 1828 to commemorate Wellington's victory at Waterloo. Designed by the wonderfully named Decimus Burton.

It doubled up for while as the second smallest police station in London. (Some would discount the lamp-post in Trafalgar Square and claim it is the smallest). I can only picture it in some old black and white affair; a policeman full of bumbling incompetence who somehow solves the mystery of the stolen paintings from Robert Adam's nearby Apsley House.

Tea,coffee and toilets as we enter Hyde Park.

The weather's not good for business. May half-term and a solitary boat on the lake.

We debate whether or not, a few years ago, we trusted our lives to a rowing boat. We;re not sure. My usually good memory is failing us. I have vague recollections of going round in circles; laughing; not being able to steer. Was it here? Was it us?

We joke about the lido. Open from the end of May. Surely not yet. Madness (but not on a par with Moscow).
The stone balustrade on the bridge separating the Serpentine of Hyde Park from the Long Water of Kensington Gardens is low. Sighs warn: NO JUMPING. SHALLOW WATER.

Reassuring that some daft civil servant hasn't slapped a health and safety order on the work; whack some monstrous railings on the top to stop the fools falling in.

A tanned twitcher, with binoculars, is walking ahead of us. I think my eyes are deceiving me: a great tit followed by a jay flit across is outstretched hand for food. The act lasts a seconds. Colin confirms what I think I've seen.

Further round we watch more closely. I cannot make out the food. I ask. In a frightfully posh accent (is he a landed millionaire?) he answers and explains: “Double Gloucester. They like cheese. Ideal as it is low in salt and orange. The birds can see it clearly”. I thought birds were generally timid, nervy. “The birds here are not shy. They are used to people. It takes very little time for them to become used to one”.

A robin eyes Colin and I expectantly; puppy-dog eyes. We will return. With Double Gloucester.

J.M. Barrie had Peter Pan's statue erected on site overnight. He wanted children to believe it had appeared by magic. I love it. The gate is open. I touch it; feel it. Marvel at the smoothness, the workmanship.

“It must be worth a fortune”. An unfortunately mercantile comment in a place of dreams and never growing old.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Blast this bloody thing. Lots to say and its being slow and temperamental. I'm liable to blow a gasket if I persevere. Further instalments will have to wait.
The spire of Kensington's parish church, St Mary Abbots, echoes the slender shape of Speke's obelisk. The first explorer to trace the Nile to its source in 1864. Lake Victoria. (Did he name it? What was it called before?).

A pastoral landscape that it just one of many Londons.

Perhaps the fuss surrounding Diana s starting to die down. Few people appear to be on a pilgrimage the house in which she lived.

We look for the toilets, marked on our map at least, behind Hawksmoor's Orangery. Paths through bushes lead nowhere.

I wonder if the birds have a reduced rate on the deckchairs. Humans need pay £2 for four hours. Reasonable I believe but few takers.

We eat our lunch on a bench. The sun is breaking through in every direction except one: directly above us. Grey clouds pregnant with rain. A few drops fall but scare over. Normal cloud cover resumes.


Talk at the bus top is of missed opportunities (“missed two while I was in the Post Office”), the weather (“It's like winter. Summer'll be over soon”), gardens (60 foot mine. You used to live round there? 120 foot I had there. Too big for me now. I'm the only one what does it. No-one else cares”), Barking (“I don't know why they had to move the library. Why'd they have to move it? Everything's changing too quick in Barking. No car parks now) and housing (“Not for the likes of us. Not for locals. Foreigners coming on a freebie. Never thought I'd hear meself talk like this. They should shut up shop now. Don't let no more in. Their countries are building up. Say 'enough's enough' and sort out eh mess we got first”).

A black woman, last to the bus stop, tries to get on first. Not a good idea.

The bus is jammed. There are seats at the back but they are unobtainable. Two pushchairs and three square shopping trolleys block the route. Pandemonium ensues when the owner of one buggy wants to get off. The cry goes forward “Hold up for 10 minutes will you, driver?”. Everyone laughs.