Friday, December 28, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Small Pleasures

Being ill, and bed-ridden, has afforded me some time to read.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


I attempted two and a half things on the list.

The car still doesn't work (Thursday).

I created pretty piles of matching items in the front room.

I haven't been taken up on the child minding offer (relief) so I took myself off to Tate Britain for the Millais exhibition.


I came out a different person.

Texts I received today

"you are destined to be a tory"

Monday, October 22, 2007

Hurrah! Perhaps not.

A week off to try and catch up with life. The Tates. Books. Walks in the autumn sunshine.

But then I think of all the things I really need to catch up with:

1. Getting the car fixed (it currently doesn't move).
2. Cleaning the kitchen (including the fridge and the oven).
3. De-cluttering the front room of papers, books and various assorted bits and pieces.
4. Sorting my clothes from a mountainous heap before C. gives them all away to the local charity
5. Offering to look after my friend's children for the week as his wife is in hospital.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Helmets off to Ken

Since my summer cycling holiday I've become a bike enthusiast. I cycle at least twice a week to school (seven and a half miles each way) and to other places besides. So, it didn't take much to twist my arm to sign up for the first Hovis Freewheel.

Three of us set off in a group from the Vicky Park hub like excited kids in our bright red bibs ('Watch out the bikes are coming') entering the traffic-free route at London Bridge. Friends, entire families, people on their own – all joined together to demonstrate London at its best. Fun, friendly and full of life.

Bikes of all descriptions were on display. Unicycles. Tandems. Children pedalling hell for leather; legs whizzing round and round. Stabilisers. Little ones (and dogs) in trailers. Recumbent bikes of all varieties – including one with an amazing Kenwood sound system attached to the rear.

We thought we'd have to give the free sarnies a miss due to the huge crowd at the festival in St. James's. But, no. The organisation was superb and the queues short. Sandwich, apple and water for nought. And a demonstration of some even more bizarre bikes.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Early to rise

I don't do lie-ins but even I usually draw the line at getting up 45 minutes earlier on a Saturday than I would do in the week. The Boy was running in Battersea Park. But, believe me, it was worth it.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Home for a day

Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. An utterly amazing experience.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Cycling down the Danube

The bike is in about six pieces. My belongings are scattered in little piles across the sitting room floor waiting to be crammed into two pannier bags. And I'm thinking why did this seem like a good idea at the time.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

I have very little patience with shopping. I know what I want and I buy it as quickly as possible.

On occasions I think I know what I want and I buy it as quickly as possible.

This is where the Internet becomes a dangerous place.

I could tell from the tone of his voice the delivery man was pissed off. (I couldn't tell much else as I can never understand a word anyone says over the Intercom. "I've come to murder you in your own home". "Ok!" I'd reply merrily before buzzing them up). Watching him to try to manoeuvre the half-landing I could see why.

My feeble "Oooh, I wasn't expecting something that big" followed by a burst of uncontrollable, hysterical, nervous laughter did not go down well.

After signing for the box, same height as me and wider, I dragged it inside in bewilderment (surely they'd sent me the wrong thing) before attacking the tape with a kitchen knife. Lo! The Rolls Royce of bike bags.

Will it ensure BA doesn't bend my bike to buggery? Yes.

Can I strap it to the back of my bike for a tour of the Danube? Can I f**k!

Return to bike company by courier. Small fortune.

Leave at left luggage in Vienna airport. Small fortune.

I needed to speak to someone. I almost called my dad but couldn't bear the 'didn't you read what you were buying' lecture; my friend G, is indisposed and C is going to kill me.

All Change

I'm a skilled practitioner of overdoing it on the first day out after an illness.

A morning jaunt to Marylebone for the most beautiful bookshop in London - Daunt Books - and while I was there a couple of tarts from Patisserie Valérie.

Having been unable to do any training for my cycling trip we thought it best I get back on the bike. The afternoon saw us follow our familiar route down the A13 and up the Greenway and Lee Navigation. Except once you hit Stratford it's becoming less and less familiar faced with the march of progress - also known as the preparations for the 2012 Olympics.

I took this photo last year - you can just see the car yard on the right.

The cars have now gone. And the tell-tale blue hoarding has been erected.

Marshgate Lane would have vans, car and lorries moving about at all hours. Now it lies eerily empty but strangely so - there is a sense of purpose rather than decay.

The Summer Holidays - Week One

Two thirds of the way into Joanna Blythman's Bad Food Britain I was feeling a little smug. I try to buy independently when I can – no small feat as I live in a working-class food desert – I cook from scratch almost every day and I rarely eat processed food. My body rebelled anyway. It refused to take anything on board and violently expelled any left overs from both ends. Fabulous. I'm not entirely sure what I'd planned for the first week of the holidays but five days in bed with sickness and diarrhoea hadn't been mooted as an option.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Having notched up a considerable 124 hours at school over the last 10 working days I haven't done much other than work, eat and sleep.

I have tried to start reading this about 5 times:

but can never remember what I read on the previous page. (The guy in the shop did warn me against buying it "To sum up Dawkins - God doesn't exist, worship me".).

I have read this:

but only because I have to write the questions for book group next week; we didn't agree with one another.
Before you go, J, I just want to say sorry for shouting at you. I...

Miss, miss. It's ok. You did tell me you were having a bad day and asked me to sit down nicely before I hit you on the head with the ping pong ball.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Turning London yellow for the day

London did the start of the Tour de France proud yesterday. A superb day. With not a drop of rain in sight.From this to this... this...

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Who said teachers work 9 to 3?

Monday 7am to 7.10pm
Tuesday 7am to 7.15pm
Wednesday 7am to 8.10pm

But then there are the little things that make it all worthwhile - like the three Jack Petchey nominations:

Ms X is very kind to me and always helps me to calm down and stay out of trouble. She is a teacher who really understands me.

Ms X has helped me throughout Year 9. She calms me down and is a great teacher to work with.

Ms X is always there for me when I feel upset.

I love them all!

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Stoke Newington to Whitechapel

Perfect Fried Chicken. Orhans Cafe.
Two men leaning over a car.
Baggy trousers, hoodies, bling.

She hadn't noticed him when she boarded the bus. She was reflecting on a pleasant evening. Good food. Good wine. Good conversation. A playful smile on her lips she was imagining what of the night she'd recount to the man who wasn't hers. (And pondering when).

Polish restaurant with no name. Taste of Cameroon.
Two teenagers sauntering along.
Fitted suits, shoes, yarmulkas.

She turned slowly, narrowing her eyes, peering at the man in the seat behind. Sorry?

He repeated his request insistently. Can I touch your hair, please?

Why do you want to touch my hair? She fired back. Abruptly. Startled.

I've never felt curly hair before.

The words ran through her mind. Mental health. Psycho. Harmless. Dangerous.

It's just like straight hair but a different shape. She cringed, annoyed, asking herself how stupid her answer had sounded as she started to wonder who else was looking and listening.

I would like to feel how the curl springs. He sounds like a child, she thought, wanting to know how the wheels on a bike go round or a caterpillar turns into a butterfly.

The okay just came out. Heart pounding, laughing too loudly, she added, be gentle!

She resisted the urge to screw up her eyes, grit her teeth and clench her fists to wait the unknown but watched as he, fascinated, carefully and methodically straightened one length of curls before letting go. Ping! His eyes shone and his body gave an involuntary jerk.

He marked the end of the exchange. Slowly, courteously and with a nod of the head he said thank you. He folded his hands in his lap and turned to look out the window.

Green Papaya. Dolphin pub.
Two men spilling kebabs on the pavement.
Ben Sherman shirts, jeans, trainers.

Saturday morning conversations


- I don't think I like you this morning.
- I watched Rambo when you went to bed last night.


- I am barring you from walking in that bookshop.
- In which case I won't give you your money.
- Okay. Only one book though and I'm not spending ages in there.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Students + Staff + SATs = Stress. On a grand scale.

I feel I have done nothing other than work non-stop for a month. Just when I nearly lost it after the last exam yesterday a bunch of flowers popped up in front of me followed by a large box of Thorntons. "Thanks for all your help and support, Miss. You're the only one who thought I could do it. We proved the others wrong - I'm not just going to be another black statistic. Gonna miss you!"

I'm back up there on top of the world.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Little things add up to a beautiful day

Sunshine. Children chattering. Birds singing. Flowers blooming. Lunch with a complete stranger.

Kensington to Westminster by way of Holland Park and Chelsea.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Green and Wet Bits of London

My hands, face and neck are burnt.

Tomorrow, I will be unable to walk, and, currently, it hurts to sit down.

Never one for doing things by halves I went for the first bike ride of the year. Cycle path on the A13, the Greenway, the Lee Navigation to Tottenham. By way of Hackney and Walthamstow Marshes.

26 mile round trip.


But doing so on your mum's too-small, bone-shaker of a bike is not to be recommended.

Antal Szerb

Very occasionally you stumble across an exquisite book that actually leaves you feeling bereft. What to read next? This is one such. Along with Nicholas Lezard, I urge you to read it.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Thoughts on a day spent wandering

Despite the government's apparent desire to curb our freedoms and our ability to demonstrate I am warmed by two small displays of resistance. One against Monterrico Metals outside St. Paul's (much to the bewilderment of the assembled tourists) and the other outside the Royal Courts. The bus normally passes slowly and solemnly but today it speeds past allowing me just a glimpse of a blue banner with a white dove and the letters PEA...

I'm drawn in by the colour and warmth of St. James's Park. This annoys me. I want to believe the gardens are too stage-managed with their immaculately manicured beds but they beckon. I leave with a spring in my step.

When questioned about the Duke of York's Column dominating Waterloo Place by an African woman I realise I know next to nothing about him.

I sing her the 'Grand Old Duke of York'. We giggle and laugh. A bond is formed. (I find out later the rhyme has nothing to do with this Duke of York).

She's arrived from Manchester on the 6.30am coach and is trying to see what she can of London before her lunchtime appointment at the Foreign Office. I whisk her to Trafalgar Square for Landseer's lions and a coffee.

She thanks me for my kindness and hospitality. I try not to think about the outcome of her meeting.

I feel like I've been invaded. I smile, shake my head and whisper 'No, thank you'. I want to shout. Hyde Park is about children on ponies, ducks and geese. It's about watching great-crested grebes go through their ritual courtships. Necks raised, heads turned deftly to alternate and opposite sides not unlike the stylised dances the Victorians so enjoyed if the current run of costume dramas are to be believed. It's not about old Chinese blokes trying to sell me dodgy DVDs. He's let the outside in.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Spring Clean

I get a headache even contemplating the idea of cleaning. I hate it.

The newspapers and magazines scattered around the front room were in danger of becoming a fire hazard and C. was quite possibly on the verge of walking out. So I have dealt with them. With the exception of a few articles which I still need (I'm sure that point will be debated) the whole lot have been deposited in an orange recycling sack.

My problem now is housing the wobbly stack of books next to my chair. They simply won't fit on the shelves. Ruthlessness seemed the only option and I attacked the bookcases with energy and vigour. This resulted in twelve books being removed for the charity shop. Out of a possible three hundred and fifty or so.

And the front room still looks worse than when I started.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Discordant Shopping

Things I remember about working in Woolworths:

  • cheese and celery sandwiches from Marks and Spencers
  • serving Frank Bruno Easter eggs for his children
  • Christmas cards; tonnes of
  • a girl called Vicki being arrested for stealing from staff lockers
  • smock-like tunics with buttons that always popped open displaying your knickers to all and sundry
  • resigning (at the age of 16) because I couldn't cope with taking orders from an airhead

Why the reminescences?

The Guardian's editorial In praise of discordant shopping

I was scarred for life working in Woolworths. The very first thing that pops into my head when Woolworths is mentioned is music. (Well, I'm lying slightly; it's the second. One day after work I just had to take my tights off and did so in the street after carefully looking around. Unfortunately, I didn't look up and was greeted by a number of cheers from builders on the roof of a house).

We were subjected to the same music on loop for weeks at a time. Lionel Ritchie. The Carpenters. It was torture. For this very reason I would support shop workers in saying no to Muzak which according to Mr Treasure could mean 10% more sales.

Long and often anti-social hours standing on your feet for not a lot of money is bad enough without being forced to listen to absolute drivel. Let the workers choose.

Monday, March 19, 2007

It's difficult to tell why or how people cheer up and get the feeling they want to work.

'German Measles'. A Winter Book. Tove Jansson.
Everyone must imagine his own snakes because no else's snakes can ever be as awful.

'The Dark'. A Winter Book. Tove Jansson.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Things you don't expect to see walking to work...

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A New Man

I have a new man to add my collection.

My men cause much amusement at school. I was recently left a message by a colleague which said something along the lines of being from the man "fourth in line to your affections behind the gardener, the cleaner and the candlestick maker." (I am slightly concerned he forgot C.).

I'm on first name terms with the man who sells me my newspaper every morning and exchange a greeting with the security men on the door of one of the banks I pass (more than many of the people showing their ID seem to do; how rude). The conversation with the guy who hands out City AM newspapers (I've never taken one) has improved at the same time as his ability to speak English has increased.

Two weeks or so ago I decided to swap the third leg of my tube/DLR journey for a mile and a half walk (thereabouts). This has caused some consternation and comments - including from the aforementioned colleague. ("There's more fat on a single chip"). I love it. I only wish I'd thought of doing it sooner.

The last part involves a walk through the park which is where my new man comes in. He's an older Bengali man on his morning constitutional. We exchanged greetings as we passed going in opposite directions. Somehow our paths converged on Friday and I now have a new friend to be teased about.
The first meal of 2007 eaten outside. Couscous, falafel, dips and vegetables eaten in the glorious sunshine on Whitstable beach. Things are definitely getting better.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

"Is it Soc Ed Day Thursday, Miss?"


"What we doing?"


"Oh, shit".

Thirty twelve/thirteen year olds. Five hours of sex education. Spare me a thought.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Everything has been something of a struggle recently but a good weekend has gone some way to restoring the equilibrium.

Good food from Borough Saturday.

Ranunculus from Columbia Road Sunday. I haven't bought cut flowers for a long time -they're not exactly environmentally friendly - but a girl needs a treat every so often.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


You know how it is when you really hope that one act will precipitate another. The people at the bus stop who jokingly light up exclaiming "well, the bus'll definitely be along now." Going to brush your teeth because then the phone call you've been waiting for will come through just as your mouth fills with lathered up toothpaste.

In the same vein she really hoped that if she made the pastry the meat delivery man would arrive. Still wearing her (mis-matched) pyjamas, flour and butter covered hands. It had to work, didn't it?


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A rush of humanity...for 79p

This caught my eye as I dropped off some clothes at a charity store. I can only echo the words of Jonathan Franzen in the introduction: "Read Munro! Read Munro!" Sublime.

The art of the chocolatier

After nearly being roasted alive in the library, I had to run the gauntlet of salespeople in the, very small, shopping centre. Do I want to write a will? Buy a life insurance plan? Have I had an accident? (No, but if you get any closer to my face you will). Sky? Electricity? But then I was stopped in my tracks. Thorntons.

Barking really is coming up in the world. I rang my mum to ask when it appeared. Last week came the reply. "I've been in there three times already. Only decent shop the town's got. You have to support it". Quite.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Victim Support

Emily was attacked on the tube in March last year. The assault obviously affected her but she coped reasonably well and got on with her life. She was upset when she knew the case was being closed but had soon put everything behind her.

The following February she was introduced to someone at a function by friends. By the end of the following day Emily was convinced this was the man who had attacked her. Confused and scared she did not know what to do. The following day she got up for work but spent most of the day sat on the kitchen floor crying and shaking. She was rescued by a phone call from the school's police officer who was suspicious about her absence and a comment she had made the previous day.

Emily and the police officer got the case reopened and Emily went back to work. Unfortunately, lots of people realised there was something wrong with Emily because she wasn't mixing and wasn't talking. (Two of the things she does best). Emily was restless, she couldn't concentrate and wanted to walk everywhere no matter how far because that was the only thing that made her feel better. She also felt permanently sick and was worried that she might burst into tears at any moment. The school's police officer suggested that going to talk to someone might make a difference.

With his help Emily made an appointment for Monday morning. She had her reservations due to an inbuilt squeamishness around anything vaguely classed as therapy but agreed if she didn't like it she didn't have to go again. Emily feels much better and now cannot stop laughing (hysterically).

Emily realises that what she'd needed all along was someone who she perceived to be intelligent to tell her what she was feeling was perfectly normal and would pass. She worked this out herself after feeling insulted and patronised by the person she saw. The 'session' has confirmed all her worst fears. Many counsellors are people who mean well and are trained to listen and to ask the right questions in the right order; not to think. Many also have a set idea of what a victim is and how they act. Emily was overjoyed to discover she didn't quite fit. She is the same person she has always been after all.

"A strutting, consequential little man"

I need to reread all 709 pages of this:

before Sunday when I go to see this:

Thursday, February 08, 2007

I love snow.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Usually when I go quiet it's because I've been so wrapped up in work (fight season seems to be upon us - took an elbow to my cheekbone Friday; mightily relieved not to have a black eye) that I haven't actually done anything / thought anything worth mentioning. But that isn't quite the case.

Fiona Shaw in Beckett's Happy Days. Photograph: Tristram Kenton.

I've been to the theatre. Fiona Shaw was an utterly convincing Winnie in Beckett's Happy Days at the National. We watched one of the previews last week. C. was totally bored while I was riveted. I spent the journey home asking the same insistent questions: "You must at least be impressed with Shaw's performance?", "Aren't you amazed at how anyone can learn a near-monologue like that?" and "How did she cope with just her top-half visible in the first half and just her head in the second?" C. is hoping for better things next week - George Etherege's The Man of Mode.

I've booked a holiday. In an attempt to lower our carbon footprint (and the fact that I get more and more fed up with the whole rigmarole of flying) we're staying at home this year. I'm just as excited about a week in Cornwall as I usually am for two weeks in Greece. The photo above is a view from the apartment we're going to be staying in.
I've bought an Eco Kettle. The dual chambers mean you can fill the kettle up but then release exactly the amount of water you need (measured in cups) into the boiling chamber. It only arrived on Friday so I am still at the novelty stage. I love it!

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Every Little Helps

Laugh? Cry? Or, run all the way home, dive under the duvet and give up the will to live?

Ministers want to know how to emulate the high level of customer satisfaction enjoyed by companies such as Tesco.

It's a toss-up which I hate the most. Tesco or the government? It's a close call. I'm wondering how customer satisfaction is measured here. Speaking from personal experience people return to the supermarket as they have little other choice.

Saturday, I wondered on which planet Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his mate Tom were living cooking “a whole dinner party menu” from ingredients bought “from the corner shop.” I didn't even get past the starter. Kippers? Cider vinegar? Lemon? These cannot be bought from my local shop. I fear these would be considered posh.

Tesco's ClubCard succeeds by openness, telling customers precisely what will be done – and not done – with information.

Err, Tesco ClubCard succeeds because people think they're getting something for nothing - which is an absolute nonsense - and because they do not question what is done with the information.

I suddenly had visions of a loyalty card for the NHS. Each hour you wait in A&E earns you 10 points. If you come out without catching MRSA / salmonella bonus points. 100 perhaps?

The icing on the cake was my post at home. I opened the rent account statement this evening to find a leaflet informing me of Barking and Dagenham's new Tenant Reward Card.

To thank those of you who pay your rent on time and in full, we are launching a new discount card which you will be able to use in a wide range of shops and websites.

It's our way of thanking you all.

I want one just to see where you can use it. There isn't much in the way of shops in Barking. I'm intrigued but alas I seem to have owed 38p since October. That's me in the excluded group.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

January in Barking

Thanks to Ruth Kelly's decision to pay for her son's education due to his learning disability (dyslexia) I've had something of a stressful week. Parents, teachers and the media want to know what we're doing with our kids. I've veered between criticism of the current set-up (the practicalities of inclusion are totally at odds with league tables and the fact schools are judged on pupils' attainment rather than achievement) and a defence of my work and that of my hard-working team.

January always seems to be ever so slightly depressing in Barking as well. Two years ago a neighbour was murdered - bashed over the head and set alight. Last year a teenager was murdered outside Upney station. This year a young man was murdered up the road and two young men have been killed by a tube train. If the photos of the depot had been taken from the other side of the tracks you'd almost be able to see our flat.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Unexpected

Certain routine events just happen with little thought and little in the way of expectations. This is usually true of a trip to the shop for some Brillo pads and loo roll.

Homeward bound and waiting patiently for the green man to appear and guide me safely across the road, I was taken by surprise when two men sauntered over, said hello and invited me to a party.

The correct response was probably something like "Not on your f***ing nelly, mate!"

My response? "Sorry, I have a chicken in the oven."

I despair.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Voices from Africa

Glancing through Guardian readers' recommendations for their "literary discoveries of the year" I was jolted out of my Saturday morning reverie when I came across Ahmadou Kourouma's Allah Is Not Obliged.

This is one of the most moving and powerful novels I have ever read but I have never been able to force it on anyone who doesn't speak fluent French. (Not many then in this country of monoglots). I first read it five or six years ago and it is now available in translation. (A good one I hope).

This is the story of Birahima. A ten year-old from the Ivory Coast who becomes a child soldier.

It leaves you wondering how something written with such humour and lucidity can be so harrowing, ridiculous and shocking.


District line heading east at Temple.

I always thought pecan pie was made from a bird.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

She's still there

"Mary Queen of Scots for some reason or other on a new façade in Fleet Street," A Wanderer in London. E.V. Lucas.

Added nineteen more statues today. Just seventeen to go.


Bookmakers in Barking. Directly after the 11.42 at Swindon. Yesterday.

Handshakes and Happy New Years all round and then the question: "'Ave you got an 'ead this morning?"

" 'Aven't 'ad a drink in ten years, mate. Well, I 'ave a glass'a wine wiv me Chrissmas dinna and annuva on New Year. Juss a drop, y'know? Can't touch beer or spirits but wine never done nobody no 'arm.
" 'Aven't 'ad a bet on an 'orse or a dog for two year. Numbers. I do the numbers. Forty-nines. Irish. Spanish lottery...forty-nines...Spanish...Irish...American! I get two 'undered quid sometimes. I'm 'appy wiv that.
"Could do wiv a new kidney though. Bloody dialysis an' all that. Big win's all I need. Find one on the internet. Family can't giv me one. All fucking piss 'edds."

Monday, January 01, 2007


When people ask where I live I always seem to feel the need to justify why I live in Barking. (I'm holding back the urge to write the reason).

It's a difficult town to describe to someone who has never heard of it. Once home to Billy Bragg; now the BNP. It's a hard place where people have felt the knocks of life. The town centre is full of cheap shops - 99p, Cash Converters, pawnbrokers, pie and mash.

But it can be beautiful on days like these.

Happy New Year

London has at last pulled off some fireworks to be proud of on New Year's Eve (not that I was there; watched them on the tele). About time too.

Wishing everyone a happy and peaceful 2007.

Unless you'd prefer a riotous one of course.