Archive for August 2007

The Great British Bank Holiday, Part II: Paint Job

28 August, 2007

18082007244.jpgAfter the hypothermia of the traditional seaside getaway, no bank holiday weekend could be complete without the no less traditional home improvements, in this case bedroom painting.

I know that Homebase stores up and down the country are choc full of earnest DIY types who love nothing better than to blow up a new boiler, knock through load bearing walls, undermine foundations or saw off their digits with expensive power tools on weekends like this, but Soulcompost, effete espresso-sipping man of letters, is not one of them.

Anyway, this particular job needed doing, I did it and now it’s done. Me and the paint-spattered digits are moving on. ‘Nuff said.

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The Great British Bank Holiday, Part I: The Cruel Sea

27 August, 2007

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Beautiful, isn’t it? A stretch of golden shingle and smooth quartz-veined pebble stretching off into the west beneath a hazy blue end-of-summer sky. A thin lip of salty foam hisses as it slides back and forth over the hard and brittle shoreline. On the sea, a few windsurfers, sailing boats and nodding bobbing heads are all that stand between me and and the horizon. Marvellous.

Really, it is marvellous. It would take a heart as hard as the stones under my bum to think otherwise. But even as I think these things and reach for my camera, I know I am stalling. Time is running out.

It’s bank holiday weekend and we’ve driven down to Hythe on the Kent coast for a day or two. It’s still quiet even though it’s almost 11am and we are by no means off the beaten track. Sonofsoulcompost and MrsSC are in the water, exhorting me to get a move on and come in, whilst I wrestle with my underwear under a large towel.

“It looks very cold,” I say, knowing I sound doubtful.

“Oh do hurry up and come in, it’s lovely!”

Her apparent cheeriness can’t cover up something unnatural in her tone and the faintest of hesitations before the word lovely. Perhaps sensing that my suspicions have been aroused, she adds, “It gets better once you’ve been in for a while.”

There, I knew it. I knew it the moment I looked at the grey water. Indeed, I didn’t really need to see the water at all to know it. That is because the waters that bathe this island are always cold, no matter the time of year and despite any rise in global temperatures. Still, best foot forward.

Ohmygodits#/?@*$¬£ingfreezing! I’m only up to my knees and I can already feel the life-force draining from me. I don’t know how the pair of them are managing to stand it, up to their torsos, Sonofsoulcompost whooping as he bobs up and down next to his mum. Their upper lips are obviously much stiffer than mine. Was I tougher when I was two? I make a mental note to check with my mother.

I try to think of a face saving exit strategy and then, as luck would have it, spot a jellyfish the size of a dinner plate with rust brown stripes radiating out to its rim, drifting towards the shore. Is it alive? Is it dangerous? Does it matter? If Great Whites are basking around Cornwall, who knows what sort of exotic assassin this may be. And even if it’s sting isn’t fatal, it’s still a jellyfish, and jellyfish are just, well, spooky. I make my discovery known and we decide to get out. Sharpish.

Back on the pebbles, waiting my turn for the towel, I take in the scene once more. Yes, it is beautiful here. Beautiful like a Chandler femme fatale.

No, the waves whisper back, tell them I’m beautiful like siren song.

In Memoriam A Stranger

20 August, 2007

It was damp and autumnal up in Crystal Palace yesterday morning, on top of the hill with the city hemmed in below, like water close to boiling in a high sided pot.

I was out with So19082007246.jpgnofsoulcompost when we saw this scene. The people here have gathered to remember a young local man called Evren Anil who was killed here last week when he remonstrated with a man who threw rubbish into his car at the traffic lights.

There was no breast beating or grandstanding rhetoric on the safety of our streets or the state of society or the estrangement of resentful hooded youth on cold estates, just what seemed to be quiet companionship amongst those whom I imagined knew him, or who knew those who knew him. Maybe anger will come later – with grief it’s never more than the next turning away – but, for the moment, it was sadness and numb disbelief that I sensed here.

We stayed for a few moments, and I thought about a lost stranger, a man I only knew through a news bulletin. And I thought, too, about how much crueler death is on the living than it so often seems to be on the dead.

Hard Sell

15 August, 2007

08082007210.jpg“Psssst!”

I stopped short at the sound of the quiet hiss behind me and glanced over my shoulder. Not seeing anyone who looked like they wanted to get my attention, I prepared to move off once more.

Psssssssstt!!”

Not louder but more insistent this time. If the first hiss was a tap on the shoulder, then this one hooked me back midstride as though jerking on an invisible leash. I turned round fully, but even though Borough High Street was beginning to fill with office workers keen to forsake their desks for an early lunch in the warm, blessed sliver of summer that a grudging August had at last offered up, the space behind me was empty.

“No mate, down here!” The lips didn’t move as the voice, warm with cheery antipodean undertones, sounded in my head, but the face on the poster in the nearby chemist’s window seemed to wink at me and its muscular smile become a little broader.

“Sorry, are you talking to me?” I said, stooping forwards, hoping no one passing by could hear.

“Sure am, mate,” the image replied, or seemed to reply, its lips once again remaining still. “Can I interest you in a totally one hundred percent natural herbally-based smoking cessation product? If Mother Nature smoked, it’s what she’d use to pack ’em in. ”

“I thought willpower was the natural way to stop smoking. Anyway, I don’t smoke.”

“Shame. What about varicose veins? Or male pattern baldness? Got some great seaweedy vitamin stuff for that.”

“No, I’m fine thanks,” I said, determined to conduct my end of the conversation as discreetly as I could manage, not at all sure that talking to a promotional poster was a normal sort of thing to be doing. At least, not outside of Camden Town anyway.

“Tiredness and lethargy? Concentration problems? You can’t beat our banana-gooseberry-and-coconut capsules for that. They go great with espresso too. You do look a little peeky, if you don’t mind me saying.”

“Look,” I replied, beginning, I knew, to sound a bit testy, “I don’t need any overpriced pseudo-remedies, lacking any sort of scientific evidence to back up the claims made for them, pushed at me by – and please don’t take this personally – a talking poster in a chemist’s window. And I am not looking peeky.”

I glanced sideways. A Community Support Officer was eyeing me warily as her colleague tilted his head towards his radio. I decided this was a good point to draw matters to a close and with a curt good day to Mr Healthsupplementguy, turned and set course for the market under the wrought iron railway arches on the other side of the busy highway.

As I crossed the road I could still hear him, clearly not one to give up on a sale so easily. “Auditory hallucinations, then. Say, how about erection problems? Something for the weekend, as we say in the business…”

Blimey, what’s happened here?

10 August, 2007

04072007004.jpgStupefy v.tr. 1 make stupid or insensible (stupified with drink). 2 stun with astonishment (the news was stupefying)” Concise Oxford Dictionary

All is change around London Bridge. Not far from here, the sky blue hoarding around a patch of rubble and earth proudly declares that the renaissance is coming. Renaissance in this context means, I think, multitudinous towers of sinewy steel and gleaming glass and granite veneers.

Tooley Street has been well and truly rebirthed and I wondered if this statue was intended as tribute to those, like me perhaps, who feel a little taken aback by the extent of the transformation. I come up to London Bridge fairly often and, you know, I’m sure these latest fancy architectural filing cabinets weren’t here a month or two ago. Perhaps the builders used some sort of special genetically modified brick.

If ever a sculpture managed to capture dumbstruck bewilderment, then, it seems to me, this one has. But those clever planners have anticipated all eventualities and, foreseeing the possibility of the likes of me ending up in a state of 2, have thoughtfully provided many new and exciting local opportunities for the pursuit of 1.

Coins in the Fountain

8 August, 2007

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Two coins, old friends it seems, sit in the Royal Mint’s home for retired currency, reclining side by side in worn button armchairs. One lifts a glass from the small table set beside him and takes a sip of port. Without lifting its gaze from the crackling embers in the hearth in front of them, he says to his companion, “We’ve come through some scrapes in our time, haven’t we, Fifty?”

“We certainly have, Ten. Remember that trouser pocket in Deptford, where you got stuck with chewing gum to one of them Euros?”

“Remember it? I can still taste the peppermint and garlic. And what about the time you helped that bloke make up his mind in Archway?”

“I think I did him a good turn that day. Terrible thing the troubled mind. Other way up though and, well, don’t bear thinking about. Just show’s what you can do when you use your ‘eads, I say. ‘Eads…geddit?”

The pair make wheezy chuckles and lapse once more into silence, each for a moment reaching back to a time when he was shiny and stupid with youth, when another pocket was another adventure. A threadbare and crinkled old five-bob note shuffles in and flops into a chair a little off to one side.

“They reckon Churchill bought cod and chips with him during the blitz,” says Fifty in a reverential whisper.

Another memory occurs to Ten. “Talking of adventures,” he says with a shiver, “remember that outpatient department loo in Sidcup?”

Fifty shudders. “There are some places that even time and impending senescence don’t improve, Ten. Let’s not take that particular trip down memory lane, eh.”

They fall silent again. In another room a grandfather clock bongs out the hours of midnight.

“But now you mention it,” says Fifty looking over to his friend, an orange twinkle reflecting off Britannia’s shield, “I do wonder sometimes what became of that cheeky git with the camera.”

So long, Harry

5 August, 2007

31072007180.jpgIt’s been a tough week. True, I’ve been maintaining my vital functions and seeing to most of my self-care and occupational obligations. Otherwise, though, I have been a bit useless. But, as of 2am this morning, I can now say that normal service is close to restoration. Thanks to a marathon intensive reading session starting at 7pm, during which don’t think I made more than one or two cups of tea or had more than a single toilet break, I have managed to pull myself through the ordeal that is the last 400 pages of the final Harry Potter book.

I had been putting it off all week, reading small chunks at a time, wondering if there would be a happy ever after waiting for me at journey’s end, or some bittersweet knife through the heart just to remind me that, joking aside, life is still a carpet of tragic banana skins. Either way though, this was the end.

And now this particular ending is behind me and my decade-long brief encounter is over. I know how things turn out. I have said my goodbyes and and let Hogwarts slip away to join Middle Earth, the Hundred Acre Wood and Central Perk as a fond memory of times past. I feel like Kerouak, back on the road again.

Early night tonight, I think.