Archive for June 2007

Enlightenment on offer

30 June, 2007

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It’s the first day of the Peter Jones sale and the rain has not let up all morning, varying only it seems in its intensity. I can see each outward breath condensing into dandelion fine white mist on my way to the parking ticket dispenser. It’s the end of June but it could easily be October if it were not for the green. I’m sticky damp by the time we get to the store where nothing, it is said, is ever knowingly undersold.

The sale is a disappointment. I suppose there’s a central irony about sales: the stuff that’s discounted is the stuff that won’t otherwise sell. If you like something you see – I mean, really like it – then the chances are it is indeed a truly likeable thing. And, because of its inherent universal likeableness, it will inevitably, as night follows day, lack the little red tag that says, today you have been blessed. Also, sonofsoulcompost only wanted to look at the toys. And it was crowded.

As we trudge back through the rain along the red brick streets, clutching our solitary duvet cover, trying to find where daddy left the car, I reflect on how we’ll laugh about this later. Irony, like fine brandy, is best enjoyed when it’s had time to mature, I decide.

The traffic is crawling along the stretch of the King’s Road in front of the store’s facade. I have a few moments to study a man in the red cloak and sandals holding a bucket and a sign. He must surely be collecting money, but he makes no approaches to any passersby, doesn’t even rattle the vessel. Sir Alan would most definitely not be impressed. He stays rooted to the spot, sometimes shifting his weight to the other foot, sometimes glancing up and down the street, but little else. I notice then that his is the calmest face here. I like to think that his sign says something spiritually wrongfooting like nothing is forever, to live is to suffer, please give generously.

But maybe he’s not collecting money at all. Perhaps he’s collecting a little bit of the suffering that passes in front of him on the pavement. With the rain and the traffic and the frustrations of the PJ sale, trade will probably pick up soon. He might even need a bigger bucket. I suspect there’ll be one on offer in the basement.

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Strange fauna of London

26 June, 2007

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No it wasn’t. We waited for ages too for it to turn up. Perhaps, we thought, it was on its tea break, or possibly browsing the antique shops littering this end of Northcote Road.

Naturally, we speculated at length as to the nature of this fabulous animal. One hump or two, for example? But it wasn’t long before we were waving goodbye to casual speculation and marching off to the realms of heady theorisation. Could it be that this was a road crossing for people carrying their own zebras, slung across their backs like mighty sacks of coal? I for one would want my road crossing safety assured by a specialist crossing point if I ever found myself lugging a zebra around.

Or perhaps it might be a special crossing for zebras who have…now, how to put this delicately…just floated down in a daze from the lofty heights of carnal, though not necessarily unromantic, zebra love?

Now, that’s just the sort of thoughtful and farsighted thing that the nice people in Wandsworth Council would think of.

Ceramic Superhero

21 June, 2007

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This is the first photo from my new Nokia N73, upgraded yesterday from my battered N70. I did have my eye on the very flash N95 (I think that’s right), but that would have involved parting with £90. Still, this new phone does have a very decent little camera on it, and, given it didn’t cost an extra penny, I left the shop a contented man.

This is more than a try out shot, though. It marks the first time in 5 years that I have been treated to brewed coffee and ginger nuts in my outpatient clinic. Somehow, amid all the cuts and controversy in the NHS, a little act of gratuitous niceness like this goes a long way.

Red Mug seems to be standing out proudly, a heroic champion flanked by his trusty companions Floral Pattern Mug and Mighty Silver Cafetiere. “Don’t worry,” Red Mug says to me, exuding cool superhero assurance, “It’s all going to be fine.” And, for the rest of the morning, I almost believe him.

Come back Professor Quatermass!

18 June, 2007


The girls from next door popped through the gap in the fence between our gardens. “What you doing?” one of them asked. They were on their way over to catch up with sonofsoulcompost, having taken him under their little maternal wings, but were halted in their tracks by the sight of his dad, face contorted in an expression of bemused disgust, bare arm inside the rotating compost bin, scooping out slimy smelly brown sludgy goo. “It’s our composting,” I answered. “My mummy doesn’t do composting,” said one, with a serious look. “She says it’s too much trouble.” Just for a moment, as I looked at the morass in its newly constructed wooden pen, I found myself losing faith and wondered if “mummy” had a point.

Somehow, this B-movie horror would one day become like the soft fluffy fragrant earthy stuff that came from the garden centre. I sniffed my forearm; it smelled of cow poo, an odd pungent odour with undertones of rusty metal. It was indeed going to take some miracle of alchemy.

That evening, in the pub, the remnants of the whiff clinging to my arm hairs for dear life, Tim said, “I think you need to pee on it.” Urine, it seems, is the philosopher’s stone of composting. But then again, Tim’s training to be a conceptual artist, so he could be taking the piss.

Where the Thames gets tougher

15 June, 2007

Today I found myself beside the Thames at Erith, just on the border of London and Kent. It’s hard to believe that this is the same river that flows through Oxford, Chiswick, Putney, Westminster and Greenwich, and I couldn’t resist taking a picture. To my left, just out of shot, ‘affordable housing’ overlooks this flat grey expanse of cold water to a deserted bare green low hill on the other bank, with an empty iron barge moored in front of it. It’s Essex over there, but not the Essex that Constable painted.

Over my shoulder is the QEII bridge, already backing up with Friday afternoon M25 traffic queueing at the toll booths. Below my feet, dark green reeds are growing in tufts out of the silt. Dotted around the place are factory workings and metal sheds of various shapes and sizes, some working, some I think are defunct. And here and there timbers , like the ones in the picture, poke up through the water, the remains of old moorings and jetties.

At the Erith riverside the air has a faint tang of salt. Its affinity here is with the North Sea (though there’s still some way to go to get there), not the picturesque wooded uplands of the Chilterns where it smells of grass and trees and stone and cucumber sandwiches. The whale that was stranded at Battersea last year would have passed this way as it swam oblivious down the watery funnel to its sad and tragic end.

It’s bleak and windswept place, remote even with the housing estate on the bank; part city, part moor, and all the more impressive for that. And there’s no pretention or affectation. Bare and exposed, this is the hard end of the river.

Rorshach on my dinner plate

14 June, 2007


The Rorshach on my dinner plate
Originally uploaded by soulcompostphotos

Steak for dinner, oh my gosh. On the red side of medium and drizzled over with olive oil, this is the plate it was prepared on. Is there an picture here in liquid swirls? I thought I could see a jester at the time. Later, when I looked at the photo the other way up, I imagined I could see a strange spider creature.

This reminded me of the famous, fabulous and arcane Rorsach test. The subject is shown a series of random inkblots and asked to report what they imagine they can see: butterflies, couples locked in sexual embrace, angels, demons, monsters of the id. The unconscious mind reveals itself through what is perceived. Heaven knows the significance of the jester though. Was I feeling jolly? Well, I was in a good mood, anyway. Can’t jesters mock as well as entertain? Could he be having a last laugh at my expense because steak is unhealthy, betraying my secret inner guilt?

If only I’d seen Jesus or the Blessed Virgin: our kitchen could have become a pilgrimage site and helped pay the mortgage.

Last Train

13 June, 2007


waterloo east at midnight
Originally uploaded by soulcompostphotos

At this time of night trains back to Penge are a rare thing. I got here 30 minutes before the last one, relieved that there was indeed a last still to come, but still ungratefully frustrated that I’d have to wait. I could have had a little longer at Meson don Felipe, or explored some of the quirky streets nearby that look so different at night under the yellow sodium lights and with no one about. And, yes, I had had a few. Oiled and caffeinated and open to experience.

But it’s not often that you get a place like this all to yourself, deserted but for the sole platform attendant getting ready to go home, checking the loos one last time to make sure that no drunks have fallen asleep inside and diligently picking up the day’s final rogue crisp packet, before calling it a night.

Somehow urban quiet and solitude like this feels that little bit more profound and mysterious than the variety in remote places, perhaps because its such a fleeting thing. In 7 hours time this place will be heaving under the weight of the morning commute. By then I’ll be sober, but just now the place is all mine.