Saturday, October 12, 2002

Dead centre

My Dad came down from East Anglia for the day (yes, I'm afraid his shoes lived down to all my expectations) and we spent most of the day amongst the dead.

First on our list was Paddington Cemetery (which is of course 3 miles away from Paddington) on a hunt for my great grandfather's grave. Edward was born the son of a tailor in South Molton Street, just round the corner from Bond Street tube station. He later moved out north-westwards to Maida Vale, but ended up being gassed on the battlefields of Belgium as a soldier in World War One, dying of respiratory problems two years later. We searched round the cemetery trying to find the right inscription on the right grave, but alas with no success. Knowing the family interest in horticulture, his was probably that grave with the small shrub planted on it 80 years ago, now grown into an enormous unkempt thorny weed, obscuring the entire plot and that of the two graves on either side.

Later in the day we visited Highgate Cemetery, the final resting place of, amongst others, Karl Marx and hordes of European student vistors. The twin cemeteries were dark, mysterious and silent, crowded full of ostentatious Victorian monuments and featuring an amazing Egyptian mausoleum cut into the hillside. The whole place is now seemingly run by a crowd of ageing volunteer lesbians, no doubt drawn there by the body of Radclyffe Hall, early 20th century dyke icon authoress.

We rounded off our day with a trip to Body Worlds in Brick Lane, an anatomical exhibition of real human bodies, preserved after death by the mysterious German scientic process of 'plastination'. It was disconcerting to come face-to-skull with what I look like underneath, alarming to realise how much good meat I have inside me, and particularly unnerving to see how testicles dangle from the pelvis like a couple of deeley-boppers. On emerging from the exhibition the restauranteurs of Brick Lane stood in their doorways trying to invite us into their curry houses, but strangely enough we were no longer feeling hungry.

I bought a danish pastry at Liverpool Street station this morning. Three questions struck me:
• Why, when I asked for a danish pastry, did they insist on giving me a danish pastry, a paper bag and three serviettes?
• Why, when I'd finished my danish pastry, did I discover that there are no litter bins anywhere on Liverpool Street station into which to dispose of my paper bag and three serviettes?
• Exactly how many years ago was the last time that a terrorist organisation actually placed a bomb in a litter bin in London, and how many more years will it be before anyone in London dares to put all the litter bins back? Please.

 Wednesday, October 09, 2002


When you've spent nearly twelve hours in the office for the third day in a row, the last thing you want to do on getting home is cook, so the local fish and chip shop is a real saviour. I now have the luxury of two fish and chip shops located within two minutes walk from my flat. This is a big improvement on Suffolk, where it was probably quicker to drive to the coast and catch a fish myself, rather than wait til Monday for the chip van to turn up in the neighbouring village. One of my two local chippies is run by the mysterious 'Mam', a woman with over-starched red hair and a permanent bemused smirk on her face. Unfortunately on my last visit Mam kindly served me up with a newspaper full of food poisoning, which helps to explain why that was my last visit. So, tonight I visited chippie number two instead, which is basically one bleak white room next to the post office with a fish frier in the corner. I was served by an old trout (which I guess is only to be expected in a fish shop), who looked even older than the bottles of own-brand ketchup and no-brand vinegar substitute stacked on the shelves behind. Meanwhile her teenage son lounged menacingly at the end of the counter, no doubt ready to mug me of my change on the walk home. Most frightening of all, however - the menu board announced the sale of 'donor kebabs'. I shall definitely avoid the steak and kidney pies there in future, just in case they're from the same source, and stick to cod and chips instead.

 Thursday, October 03, 2002

How the other half live

After yesterday's journey into the parallel universe surrounding my local post office, I decided to experience the other end of the social spectrum by visiting the new Waitrose that's just opened up at Canary Wharf. It's huge. It's on three floors. The food mall sells every ingredient that Delia Smith ever put in one of her recipes. The select band of shoppers carry shiny new green baskets filled with aubergines, balsamic vinegar and organic vitamin supplements. Local business types can grab a quick lunch at the in-store sushi bar, or maybe dine out on steak and oysters instead. For anyone who's planning a dinner party for the boss and her husband there's a complete set of bone china and designer cutlery on sale, as well as a huge selection of quality Indian and Chinese gourmet ready meals. The lovely Jessica is on hand to pamper you with a manicure in the nail bar if the stress of shopping gets all too much to bear. It's dead posh, even for a Waitrose. But I bet not one person who uses my local post office will ever set foot in there.

 Wednesday, October 02, 2002

Another tube strike

Week-day-world: Being at home today, it seemed a good idea to pop out at lunchtime to see what the world round here looks like during the daytime. I risked a trip to the post office across the road, in what used to be the local high street until post-war planners concreted it over. It clearly wasn't a normal day out there, with big queues at the bus stops and unusually heavy traffic, all courtesy of the tube strike. However, normal life was still going on for all the people round here who don't have anywhere to commute to. Our three local alcoholics sat on the brick wall by the shops, well into their third hour of lager drinking, heckling the passers by. An old man who hadn't washed either himself or his clothes recently walked past, just too close for comfort. A large group of spotty schoolchildren stood around outside the kebab shop eating their nutritionally balanced lunch of chips and more chips. In the post office an old lady in fully knitted costume spent unfeasibly long sorting out her pension in front of me, savouring her one social contact of the day before dragging her shopping basket back to the nearby block of flats. And when I finally got to the front of the queue the man behind the counter looked at me as if I was speaking in a foreign language, which of course I was, and I walked away empty-handed. Back home I was glad to be able to get on with some work - it's a different world out there for those who can't.

 Tuesday, October 01, 2002


Unlikely as it may seem, in the year I've been in London I have yet to see one single traffic accident. I can't understand why I haven't, given that most car drivers in London appear to have a deathwish, and most pedestrians in London appear to have a deathwish too. Car drivers in London are speed-obsessed. This is odd, given that most of London has a 30mph speed limit, and even then drivers are lucky if they ever reach even 10mph in all the jams. Nevertheless, most drivers still love nothing more than to prove that that their car can still do 70mph, even if it means accelerating and braking like a maniac between two red traffic lights fifty yards apart. Pedestrians in London don't seem to have noticed this, however, and love nothing more than walking straight out into the traffic to avoid a thirty second detour via the nearest pelican crossing. Hence my disbelief that, so far, I have yet to see one of these blinkered pedestrians get mown down by one of those grand prix boy racers.

So, this morning, there I am crossing the busy red route just outside my flat - admittedly only thirty seconds from a pelican crossing, but there was nothing coming, honest. And then, following me across the road, came a little squirrel. It was a bit of a shock to see wildlife on the streets of the capital, but I hoped I wasn't about to see it flat on the streets instead. The squirrel scampered across the road, then stopped and turned to face the number 25 bus suddenly bearing down upon it. Time stood still - as did the squirrel. Then, at the very last moment, the little rodent turned and ran, alas right under the wheels of the the blue car now doing 70mph up the outside lane. Were I ever to witness a car accident, I suspect the police would be very disappointed at my descriptive powers when it comes to cars. "Make and model please sir?" "It was, er, blue, officer, and it had four wheels." There was another heart-stopping moment - for the squirrel, if not for me. And then, unexpectedly, a flash of grey sped out from under the chassis and into the nearby churchyard, back to safety. So, that's yet another accident I haven't seen in London, but I do hope my luck holds out longer than that squirrel will.

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