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 fa├žade 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.