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...