Monday, December 29, 2008

A Fear of Big Brother

Old Street

Sun Street

Sunday, December 28, 2008

My cup of coffee

We considered a spot of cycling but the weather is against us. I have visions of me skidding along on my elbows in the opposite direction to the bike.

I considered going to the Tate but couldn't be bothered to get dressed.

I decide, after two years of them gathering dust, to arrange the statue photos into order and stick them in a book. After various exclamations and questions beginning "Where the fuck...?" the seemingly innocuous "I seem to have lost Queen Victoria in Kensington Gardens, seated, " tips C. over the edge. I can only guess he is seeking sanctuary in the bookies. (He isn't gone long; too early on a Sunday to be open). Perhaps I should point out, in his defence, that his sofa is in front of my bookshelves and I do make him (and the sofa) move so I can find a blank book, then the photos, then E.V. Lucas himself... I feel I may have been forgiven, when unprompted, he brings me a box of photo corners. I don't point out that they are the one thing I laid my hands straight on thanks to my desk. Third drawer down on the right.

It is strange though. I'm also at a loss to find the Duke of York "of discreditable memory on his column in Waterloo Place, doing all he can by his sheer existence to depreciate the value of the national tribute to Nelson close by", Queen Anne by "her beautiful gate" and Wellington at Hyde Park Corner.

I need a new project now. I keep taking Macauley and Browne's The Night Side of London (1902) from the shelf but I'm not a night person; I'd never stay awake. I've yet to come across London Mornings which would clearly be much more my cup of coffee.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A notebook is something to be loved

I am enlivened by 'Bennett's Dissection' in the LRB. 'Around 1964 I took to carrying around a notebook in my pocket in which I used to jot down scraps of overheard conversation, ideas for plays, sketches and (very seldom) thoughts on life'. Hurrah! There's hope for me I scribble in the margin before reading the notebooks became 'a reproach, a cache of unused and probably unusable material'.

Oh well! I soldier on. The current notebook (orange, on top of the pile) is nearly three-quarters full. I detoured from my last minute shopping on Christmas Eve to Liberty to choose the next one. Unless, like me, you are obsessed with clean pages and the smell of leather as you read and write, you won't understand the anticipation and the excitement this provokes. A notebook is something to be loved, cherished and fondled.

I love a layer of frost - particularly when I can simply gaze out the window onto it. I call these crunchy mornings. They make me happy inside. Today, however, is different. The problem with deciding to leave your car somewhere (to have a drink) is having to go back for it. Romford beckons (before the parking restrictions kick in out side my parent's house at 8.30am).

I wrap up new socks, new top, new jumper and new cashmere mittens on a string. (I do remember to put on my old jeans, old trainers and old coat too in case you're wondering). I walk briskly through Upney, a slight incline you only notice on foot or bike, towards the no. 5 bus, and eye a stretch of pristine frost-encrusted grass. The noise I want is precise: a crisp, clear crunch. I check over my shoulder before pulling my arms back and propelling myself forwards and up. My two-footed landing is met with a disappointing damp sloosh.

I must have heard the news of Harold Pinter's death on the radio. The television has been unplugged and removed to make way for the Christmas tree. With the exception of my sister's partner we all thought this perfectly normal behaviour on my mother's part.

E: That's sad.

E: I saw the Caretaker when I was in Swansea at uni.
W: Was it good?
E: I don't think I understood it.

A colleague recently explained to me something about teachers and stress. Apparently, it takes a zillion days of consecutive holiday for the stress levels of a teacher to decrease to those of the average person. (You may be able to tell I was paying really close attention to these facts; anything to do with the Union currently leaves me cold - another reason, no doubt, to back up Pat's theory that one day I will be a Conservative MP). I spend all term somewhere on the spectrum between very stressed and breaking point. I leave all this behind on holiday. Very quickly.

Holidays are for luxuriating in your pyjamas on the sofa. All you need for company are a few good books, a pen and a notebook. A window with a view of trees, birds and squirrels , for staring at intermittently and ordering your thoughts, is helpful but not obligatory. Combine these days with those spent tramping the streets of London with a camera (and a notebook) and the odd trip to the Tate or a museum and you have a happy, relaxed teacher.

Admittedly, I don't manage to sit on the sofa all day. It may be conjecture (one of the flaws of an otherwise enjoyable book) but I (possibly) find myself in good company:

While reading Wilde would have been in constant motion, lifting objects to this mouth, such as food, paper, pens, drinks and cigarettes. According to his friend, the author and caricaturist, Max Beerbohm, Wilde had 'the vitality of twenty men'. We can imagine him hastily hunting the pages of the volume in front of him and rapidly scribbling lines in his notebooks as he did so. And, when the tension and restlessness became acute, Wilde would have risen from his chair or divan and paced around his library. He must have frequently walked across to the bookshelves to check a reference, or over to the fire to dispose of a half-smoked cigarette.
Oscar's Books. Thomas Wright.

Friday, December 26, 2008



After two enjoyable (unintelligible) conversations with an inebriated Scotsman on the Kingsway (much was made of a foil carton of Capri Sun in his Sainsbury's carrier bag) we make for the Freemasons' Arms on Long Acre. Closed.

A right and a couple of lefts later we're at the Two Brewers on Monmouth Street. Calling time at 5pm.

I rage about big chains and head for the Montague Pike on Charing Cross Road.

"Justin Timberlake," comes C's weary response as my eyes seek out a video screen and my mouth starts to open. "I'm not answering that question every time the track changes, Em".

I decide he won't have to as I cannot bear the team manager's choice of tunes. I gulp my Guinness back and set forth for the Spice of Life. A sign on the wall reassures me we have at least a couple of hours before last orders (7.50pm).

We're in good company. A fisherman. An aged Graham Norton. A South Korean Elvis.

We debate who's from where. A new couple join the crowd. "Sign of a true foreigner - pint of water," mutters the boy from up North.


The following day, post-dinner, laying on the living room floor, I show my brother a photo take on my phone in the pub's loos. "I know I probably shouldn't laugh but the language us so funny".

W. reads it out to the privileged slumped on chairs:


Be vigilant, watch out for unsolicited
approaches from people you do not know.

Be careful when engaging with strangers
who wish to hug or dance with you.

Please help us by keeping your mobile
phones and other valuables safe.

Tottenham Court Road.

I give Barry some loose change as we wait for the 25. He says he ended up on the streets because of his ex-girlfriend. A Long Story. He offers us a can of Stella to share and tries to swap C's cap for a suede ear-flap hat someone had given him earlier in the day. He's plotting his journey to the Crisis shelter somewhere near Camberwell. There is one nearer but it's dry. We exchange kisses and handshakes as our bus arrives.


A last bastion against gentrifcation in the east End proper. (Tesco, Starbucks and Argos have all lais claim to the Aldgate East end but have yet to encroach on the main drag).

I have left the bus and am looking for a down-and-out. I've had a drink or three by now and have the idea in my head my money would make a nice Christmas present.

C. trots along behind me as I take purposeful strides towards the war memorial. "You've just passed one".

I look behind me and see no-one. The High Street is unusually deserted. A banana skids along the pavement. An offering from the entrance to the tube.

I turn on my heels and head in the fruit's direction. Just inside the doors is the kind of wide-eyed, wild-haired Whitechapel wino who can trace his lineage back through the generations. Fletcher. London. Booth.

I hand him the money and wish him a "Merry Christmas". He looks at me stupified. Silently, rooted to the spot, he pulls a shiny green apple from his pocket and pushs it towards me. I shake my head. "Don't lose it; spend it, " I advise over my shoulder.

The apple follows the banana out into the night.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Things you only get to do on holiday

1. Read the LRB from cover to cover in one sitting.
2. Write, and re-write, a letter.
3. Cook things that take ages in the oven like lamb with flageolet beans and tonight's offering of goulash.

Only a mum knows where to buy...

...drawer liners for my lovely desk.

Monday, December 15, 2008

They wear you down...

...and then pick you up.

A Christmas card:


Love M.!!!!!

There was another silence. I felt, above all, tired. Tiredness: if there was a constant symptom of disease in our lives at this time, it was tiredness. At work we were unflagging, at home the smallest gesture of liveliness was beyond us.

Netherland. Joseph O'Neill.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Regency Tavern

Nice-looking exterior. White with a touch of pale blue. The interior is crackingly-tacky.

The walls are decorated with wide two-tone green stripes. They are bedecked with plastic gilt mirrors, cherubs and candlesticks sporting electric bulbs.

Ponderous runners of plastic mistletoe dangle clusters of red baubles and red and white fairy lights between beams.

The unidentifiable battered bust behind us is wearing a red tinsel scarf and felt reindeer ears.

Giant, sparkly snowflakes hang behind the bar alongside a frosted pine garland displaying bluw twinkling lights.

My pint of spitfire doesn't taste of much.

A hen party slowly gathers numbers. Older rather than younger. Dressed mostly in black. ("Are you sure it's not a funeral?" asks C.). They acquire garlands of gold tinsel in a bid to match the Christmas decorations.

One of the younger women, certainly younger than me, has her boobs pushed up and out of her dress.

"Does that look attractive?".

"It might after ten pints".

The Bishops Finger tastes marginally better.

A glimpse of the entrance to the gents loos suggests something more in keeping with the alternative Brighton scene. The walls are covered in tiny mirrored tiles.

The ladies, on the other hand, are painted in red. The stage of the theatre confronts you as you enter; the side walls contain the boxes and their illustrious guests.

The Black Prince is the best pint of the evening.

Spot the Connection.

Regency Tavern. Regency Hotel. Prince Regent Hotel. Regency Restaurant. Regency Square.

But where was I?

Following a tractor on the A13 got me thinking...

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Repeat to oneself...

I am not in pain.

I am not in pain.

I am not in pain.

I am sat typing this with a bag of frozen peas strapped to the toes of my left foot with a tea towel (clean). I have only just about got over the embarrassment of the last major toe incident (circa late November/early December 2007) which involved me walking around school with no shoes for almost two weeks.

Want some background here goes....

C. text me to say: he'd found my (lost) pencil case in a fishy bag [that is a bag with fish on it; it doesn't smell]; my tax disk had arrived with a bright yellow letter and could I buy some milk on the way home.

I was ever so pleased about the pencil case - even the kids were worried about my multi-coloured Muji pens (not to mention the English coursework on my memory stick) and very excited about the yellow letter (the latter's me not the kids).

I played it cool when I eventually arrived home (if there's something wrong with the Blackwall Tunnel there's no getting off that damned Island; even though the two aren't directly linked). I called my parents about arrangements for mum's birthday meal tomorrow.

On asking for details (like where and when) my sister could only tell me she was going to the doctor's, my mum told me she can't drive and (thank the non-existent lord) my dad and I managed to agree a time and place convenient to ourselves.

I calmly cooked my dinner (simple tomato pasta with olives and manchego) and took the yellow letter and a glass of red wine excitedly into the front room...

...where I SMASHED my left foot into the bottom right hand corner of one of my recently acquired sofas (swapped with sister for a camera). Being something of an expert in the toe-injury field I'm beginning to think (an hour after the event) that the littlest one may be broken.

I will share two things with you from the envelope of my yellow letter (the third's my full name and address and you're not having that):

Saturday, November 01, 2008

I am waiting for friends in the Starbucks behind the Founders Arms (a Youngs pub on the river). I choose to sit in the window to watch the world go by but it's so bright in the coffee shop and so dark on the street outside all I can see is myself in my red-nosed reflected glory.

We eat opposite St Paul's. I like the fact I can look out at Brandy Nan as I sip my red wine (the others are still on coffees).

Before we leave, Pat lavishes us with gifts. I excitedly receive signed copies of:

On Brick Lane. Rachel Lichtenstein.

Phoenix. Leo Hollis.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tate Modern

Me and a thirteen year old at the Dominque Gonzalez Foerster TH.2058 exhibition at the Tate.

October 2058 - Tate Modern - London

It rains incessantly in London – not a day, not an hour without rain, a deluge that has now lasted for years and changed the way people travel, their clothes, leisure activities, imagination and desires. They dream about infinitely dry deserts.

This continual watering has had a strange effect on urban sculptures. As well as erosion and rust, they have started to grow like giant, thirsty tropical plants, to become even more monumental. In order to hold this organic growth in check, it has been decided to store them in the Turbine Hall, surrounded by hundreds of bunks that shelter – day and night – refugees from the rain.

- They let homeless people sleep on the bunkbeds?

- No. It's art and it's set in the future. 2058.

- But it says there about 'refugees from the rain'. That's homeless people isn't it? Why say it if you don't let people sleep here?"

- It's art. It's an idea.

- I don't understand it. Do you?

On the beds are books saved from the damp and treated to prevent the pages going mouldy and disintegrating. On every bunk there is at least one book, such as JG Ballard's The Drowned World, Jeff Noon's Vurt, Philip K Dick's The Man in the High Castle, but also Jorge Luis Borges's Ficciones and Roberto BolaƱo's 2666.

- Emma, did it say upstairs the books were rescued from the damp?

- Yes.

- That's not true. These are new but someone's crunched up the corners to make them not look new.

- Is that a real man on that bunkbed?

- Yes. He's obviously taken them up on their offer of refuge.

- Are you sure he's real? Haven't you been trying to tell me this is art; an idea in the future...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Advertising posters line the route in and out of most tube stations. Occasionally, you will see a piece of strategically-placed chewing gum (on someone's nose or such like) and at other times a small sticker protesting.

Ascending the escalators at Angel yesterday there were posters promoting cosmetic surgery at HarleyMedical which made me frown. That is until I saw one displaying a hand-written label: "self-esteem cannot be purchased". That made me smile.

Playing in Victoria Park

Two young blond-haired boys are wrestling at the edge of the grass.

Their mother approaches shouting at them to stop; they shouldn't be fighting one another.

"We're not playing fighting. We're playing mummies and daddies".

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Vingt-quatre heures

Looking at myself in the rear view mirror stuck in traffic this afternoon I laughed as I remembered something I read trackside yesterday:

My sister, Mrs. Joe, with black hair and eyes, had such a prevailing redness of skin that I sometimes used to wonder whether is was possible she washed herself with a nutmeg-grater instead of soap.

I now find myself teaching something called academic support. Students take one less GCSE to access support for the others. So, I'm a jack of all trades. To help out with current coursework demands I'm on a crash course to read Great Expectations and Of Mice and Men for Tuesday. The quote above comes from the former novel. (Anyone brings maths to the lesson and the game's up).

I am bright red. The nutmeg-grater sprang to mind but I think we can blame the cold.

Last night, I slept in 3 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of leggings, jeans, 1 vest, 4 long-sleeved t-shirts, 2 hoodies, 1 scarf, 1 pair of thermal cycling gloves and 1 hot water bottle in a tent. It's mid-October and bloody cold.

On another note: how do big people fit in sleeping bags? Do they come in different sizes? I slept remarkably well in my borrowed tent but when I moved the sleeping bag moved with me. Trying to turn in the bag was pointless; I fitted it too well.

The boy completed his third 24 hour race in one year and one week. A personal best of 119 miles. He assures me this is the last....

I love this photo...

Brother, sister and 7 of my 25 or so cousins.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Anti-Colouring Book

Design a postage stamp for the first letter mailed from Mars:

The beautiful in-between bits

I have a new-found respect for the words "unremitting" and "unrelenting".

The most accurate description of anything, ever, has to now be "a swine of a climb up the B6278 to the Waskerley Way, aptly called Crawley Side".

Coast to Coast

Whitehaven to Tynemouth traversing some of the most beautiful parts of Britain.

The start found us sheltering in a tunnel for Tesco's trolleys in a rather derelict Whitehaven (where the sea gulls like to party ALL night). The rain soon became a permanent feature of the holiday along with the wind, which, according to the C2C Bible, should be behind you. I can confirm this was not the case.

The finish found us sitting in the sun outside the Baltic sipping coffee and debating whether or not the newly-found sly cake was better than an Eccles.

Holiday reading...before the holiday

The guidebook I borrowed from the library informs me that the essential holiday reading for Kefalonia is Captain Correlli's Mandolin and The Odyssey.

The former was read long ago and I have no desire to re-visit it. The latter scared me half to death. Without opening the book to even peek at the pages I'd decided this was something I'd never manage. I had visions of lists of names that meant nothing to me - like in the Bible: the sons of Obed Edom - Shemaiah, Jehozabad, Joah, Sachar, Nethanel, Ammiel, Issacher and Peullethai or Russian literature - hang on, who's Bosoi? Is that the same fella as Nikanor Ivanovich?

However, having despatched all reading materials back to London by Parcelforce from the Lake District (along with the tent, sleeping bags and superfluous items of clothing; the hills!) I was in need of something to read on the train journey back from Newcastle.

Blackwell's provided me with The Odyssey. I'm wondering if, deep-down somewhere, the argument was put forward that having just cycled 160 miles in five days through the lakes and over the Pennines, wind-whipped and rain-lashed, I can now do anything. Including reading The Odyssey.

And, you know what? I can and I did and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm amazed.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Learning to draw

One of the things I thought I would never be able to do is draw.

On a whim I picked up an 'inspirational self-help' guide in the Tate (goodness ever knows why). Oh, what fun I have had!

It started off well when I drew a rounded bottom to my mug (Amnesty Women for freedom, freedom for women that I've had for about thirteen years). He (Danny Gregory) tells me "the test of whether they are really looking comes when they draw the bottom. Almost everyone will just draw a straight line across". And, I didn't.

I've realised I don't actually care how good my drawings are in the traditional sense. I'm enjoying myself immensely (and they can only get better!).
Posted by Picasa

A. I have been treading grapes.

B. My shoes got so wet at Ascot yesterday they dyed my feet.

Monday, July 28, 2008

London buses

I like buses. Especially the top deck. You have the choice of checking out the odd bunch on board or the passing humanity down below; or a combination of both.

The downside to bus travel is attempting a new route or destination. How do you know where to get off?

There is an answer.

(As I discovered about thirteen years ago in Berlin). I've experienced my first talking London bus. The "2-0-5 to Mile End". The next stop is announced shortly before you arrive. Simple...but so useful.

Just a shame I knew where I was going.

Cameron and his bike

I do consider myself a cyclist now (which is fortunate given I depart for the C2C tomorrow) so I do feel qualified to mention Cameron and his blessed bike.

C. has had two stolen over the past couple of years. I am lucky enough not to have suffered the same fate.

The Sunday Mirror recovered Cameron's bike and reunited it with its rightful owner.

There are, I believe, two lessons to be learned here:

1. you need to exercise a certain amount of common sense when deciding where to secure your bike (twat)

2. it still helps to be Somebody (even if that it is the leader of the Tories) than a Nobody (my bike would surely not be returned).

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Leake Street. Waterloo.

Street art allowed; tags and names not.

Three teenagers are approached by two police officers.

"Where's the spray can, lads?".

One of the boys stutters, "Our teacher's got it".

All eyes turn to me.

Finding out just how reslient you are

Two funerals in ten days.

Fourteen year-old pupil. Police investigation on-going.

Father of four, mid-thirties. Completely avoidable.

"Miss, do you wonder sometimes if your heart is too big?".

Friday, May 23, 2008

Looking after the class pet

When I asked C. if he minded me bringing home a pet from the school's animal club for the holiday he shrugged disinterestedly. I took that for a no and he guessed he'd be sharing the flat with a hamster or a gerbil.

Meet George.

A two-foot long water dragon.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Holiday Reading


Saturday. Bar Italia. Frith Street.
2 large black coffees and 1 bacon and egg ciabatta.
Discussion: final plans for Cuba.

Sunday. Patisserie Valerie. Spitalfields.
1 large black coffee and 1 croque monsieur.
Discussion: snow, tourists and moustaches.

Monday. Burger King. Ilford.
1 black coffee, 1 fries and 1 whopper.
Discussion: none.

Tuesday. Debenhams Cafe. Oxford Street.
1 black coffee and 1 pain au raisin.
Discussion: when the Easter holidays should be.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A week in the sun

Holiday company hierarchies

Families with very small children.

Families with bigger children.

Families with teenagers.

Groups of three or more.

The hierarchy for boarding coaches from the airport to hotels last night. Thirteen hour delay.

“Well, we must be next,” I said to C. cheerfully. “They can't do much to pigeon-hole couples.”.

“Don't bet on it,” replied a voice from behind me. “Married. Living in sin. And then us. Sodomites.”.

Books Etc

The shop assistant scanned the three books I had placed on the counter. Slowly, very slowly, he raised his head from the till and fixed me a long hard stare.

“Heavy duty...”, he commented.

I smiled. “And?”

He hesitated.

“And male”.

I laughed. “Holiday reading”, I replied.

Conspiratorially, confidingly, he lent forward over the counter. “People at Canary Wharf buy trash to take on vacation”.

He withdrew, pulling himself up straight. Admiringly.

Nabakov. Chekov. Hamilton.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Things that have been said to me today

1. Pupil: Don't you think you should have a baby soon? You are getting on a bit.

2. Work Dad (leaping off chair): Those stockings are too sexy for work. You can't interview in them. Are there any male candidates? You're putting them at a disadvantage. You need to think before you get dressed in the morning.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


- Your lunch looks, well, too healthy. That pot of seed things looks like something my guinea pig would eat...And, what's that?


- Beetroot?

Would you like to try some?

- NO!

- Do you know what happens if you eat too much beetroot? ... Your pee turns purple.

(and your poo, yells a colleague).

You're not exactly selling it to me, miss.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Should have gone to Specsavers

We've all been there.

On the tube or train or bus. Intently looking at a woman's stomach trying to work out whether or not she's pregnant. You don't want to be impolite if she is; you don't want to offend if she isn't.

The man who offered me his seat Monday evening on the Central line clearly needs his eyes testing. After my uncontrolled laughter I doubt he'll ever ask another woman ever again if she wants a seat.

My waist is a rather small size eight.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Welcome to 2008

Given the day started with the washing machine exploding (slight exaggeration but I did have to take my clothes to my parents to wash out the smell of burning rubber) and the Hoover breaking down (reasons enough for wanting to steer clear of both as I usually do) why I thought it would be a good idea to do a spot of overdue DIY I don't know.

The supercilious teenage twat in Homebase informed me that I could not find the “toilet flushers” as I was looking for the wrong product. I did in fact require a “cistern lever”. He was fortunate enough to escape unharmed as my brain was picturing him strangled with the chord of a power shower with a loo brush sticking out from where the sun don't shine.

Fitting the new toilet seat took far longer than anticipated due to the ridiculous length of the central metal spike, plastic wingnuts and the proximity of the bowl to the wall. I think the blue stripe is rather fetching. I'm guessing from C's face when he returned home he does not agree.

But, then, he may have been looking at the mess covering the bathroom floor. The old cistern lever may have been broken but could I remove the damn thing? No, anything that was supposed to come apart refused as it was melded together with limescale. I tried all kinds as evidenced by the array of tools, gadgets and implements littering the tiles. Helplessly, I appealed to the man for assistance. He couldn't budge it either but then he had a plan. Acrid smoke filled the flat for the second time today when he set fire to it and melted it to bits. I am still not convinced it was a good idea but as C pointed out it worked.