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corners [Dec. 21st, 2018|12:36 am]
On the corner the former fire station is occupied by Buddhists; variants of yoga and mindfulness are practised there. The other morning, early, two pale young men were at its entrance, verbally altercating; they were in disagreement and had Taken It Outside. As I passed I heard one to say to the other: "...I hear that, I accept that, but how you make me feel, when you..."

Out of the disused public toilet at the corner of the gardens by the tube station, a small bar/restaurant thas been contrived. Before this establishment was installed a coffee stall was displaced, the eviction being effected passively: the proprietor's power supply was cut off. My initial impression of the new establishment was of the generic cafe background scene in a television series, or the aspirational images depicted on a retail development hoarding. Later an acquaintance remarked that it "...looks like something off of fucking Hollyoaks", which I think is the same thing in fewer words.

In the evenings, the whir of Ocado vans and the buzz of food delivery scooters; my block is one of three with the same name and the mopeds move from one to the next in confusion, nosing around the corners, like bees at a rose bush.

My building was a place where cleaners lived; now several of my neighbours are visited weekly by cleaners.

The process of economic, social and cultural change locally is not so much one of gentrification, but suburbanisation.
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Postcode hopscotch [May. 12th, 2018|09:36 pm]
A Saturday in light rain, and he was lost. He showed me the map on the screen of his phone, but those streets were not near that which we were in. Perhaps he'd emerged from the Underground and the GPS, or the mast triangulation, or whatever it is that allows spatial location of a device, had not caught up from his last detected location.

He was showing me Notting Hill Gate and we were just off the Farringdon Road. What was he at?

I reckon it's a psychogeographer's delusion, that navigating through one place using the charts for another - countermapping - can be rewarding. I've tried it: for me it just obscured the pleasure of being lost. Moreover, psychogeography is largely an older man's game, and this fellow was a lot younger. Additionally, he exhibited convincing symptoms of one who wants to find a place, with some urgency, having for some time been in search of it.

He could swipe his screen about as far as Marylebone, then it would flick back west to the foot of Pembridge Gardens. He said, he didn't know the name of the place he was seeking, but he would recognise it if he saw it.

He looked stressed; that he needed to be in that place by now.

He looked like he needed a hug.
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Christ at the National [Jan. 12th, 2018|01:24 am]
I am reminded by that of the LRB, and by association at this time of year, Alan Bennett's diary. Impossible not to read it in one's own approximation of his gentle, Yorkshire accent. Sorting out the link to the website version, I find Bennett has supplied his own narration of it, see top of page. So now I've enjoyed it all over again, as read to me by himself.

"In the National Gallery’s picture [The Supper at Emmaus] Christ, suddenly recognised by the company at supper (and also with downcast eyes), looks plump-cheeked and almost debauched, a grown-up version of one of Caravaggio’s grape-eating boys."
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And always when there were bus replacements. Without fail. [Jan. 10th, 2018|01:26 am]
I was pleased that I could meet them together. They'd split up now, but were by no means estranged. Even now, after years, I saw a frame around them.

Their Sunday lunch invitations were often at short notice, and I didn't always accept them, but those I did, I enjoyed. Always mid-afternoon; any earlier and they wouldn't have been awake. They always had a Bloody Mary for me, with a decent charge of Absolut Peppar in it, 'for your hangover'; whether I had one or not. Then he or she would say: 'Now we'll have to catch up with you', and they did.

They'd dance in the kitchen when Kylie came on the radio. On warm days the garden door would be open, letting in bees and the noise of planes.

She said: 'We never rowed when you were round', then quickly: 'He still calls it London Fascism Week 'cause of you'. I replied 'It's big and it's bland, full of tension and fear, beep beep'.

He had been talking to her friend, who was also along; he turned to me and said '[Metro] she doesn't realise how much she taught me about fashion. When you're into someone and you want to know about them? What's important to them? I learnt a lot.' He could be so immediate, open and direct, and he had not lost that.

Having cleared the feint, I said: 'Was that why you had me over?' She replied: 'Sometimes... so as we were on our best behaviour'. I asked, in more words than this: was I that austere? 'You calmed us down', she explained; turned to him then: 'Didn't he?' 'Yes, you were a calming effect'.

I'd always suspected something of the kind. For couples, Sundays can be the best and the worst. I said: 'I was like the donkey they put in the horsebox to stop the horses panicking on the way to the racecourse'.

And they both said, oh no, not just, but yeh kind of.
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SAD / Sandwich At Desk [Nov. 25th, 2017|08:46 pm]
Pointed out to me by a colleague. He said: "It's like Raymond Carver... yeh, thought you'd like it".

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Cardinal Place, cardinal sin [Nov. 17th, 2017|05:24 pm]
We were returning from daytime dining at the near edge of Belgravia. We crossed reformed territory opposite the station, where the cafes were chains pretending not to be and protective plastic was impatiently peeling from the new facades.

I saw a couple kissing goodbye - and not perfunctorily - then separating to return to their respective offices. And then another, taking leave of each other with similar warmth. It was not the first time I'd noticed this, in this place and time, and I remarked on it: I said how heartening it was to see partners taking that time in the middle of the day to be with each other; I went on to say that this probably makes for a healthy relationship.

My companion looked at me, smiling, then searching: as if I were to say a little more, or that what I had said was not quite understood. I now realise he had thought my intent was humorous, then detected it hadn't been.

'[Metro]', he said 'this is lovely for them, I'm sure. They might be in relationships - but not with each other.' He went on to explain that for many this was the only time not accounted for between the demands of work and home. There might be other moments grabbed here and there by fabricating overtime, gym visits, evening classes, and so on. But at lunchtime, people who should not be with each other, could be - and without constructing a specific alibi to do so.

I was too struck by the revelation to be embarrassed at my naivety: that there was this further layer in the street scene, and I had not really seen it. It was as when someone points out the plain clothes policemen in a crowd: you kick yourself you did not clock them immediately, but thereafter, you see them here and there.

Additionally, now I know who forms the clientele of those eerily generic restaurants of a weekday lunchtime.
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Fortune Green [Oct. 6th, 2017|09:43 pm]
They were walking ahead of me: presumably a mother and son, perhaps he was about seven years old.  They were talking ahead of me, and I didn't catch much of it, but one sentence floated back. She said:

    Today's a day when we don't have to do anything we don't want to.

I thought this was marvellous.  It was a weekday mid-morning, it was during school term, I remember that.

They had turned off the Finchley Road, I was carrying on towards Swiss Cottage and the words stayed with me.  I wondered, what were the parameters, what was the context?  Did it apply to her as much as to him?  I hoped so.  But so much was imponderable, and I was happy enough to simply repeat the line in my head and think it was marvellous.
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Display, on and off the bus, there and here [Sep. 20th, 2017|08:25 pm]
An elderly woman swoops aboard the 37 at 07:15, at Zemo Alekseevka, chattering to the captive audience in Russian. A TTC employee has been conducting passengers to the machine to pay their fares, but this new addition is unconductable. She moves with vigour, up and down the aisle, a constant patter. She addresses us by turns collectively and individually. She's not passing a hat around, she may not be in her right mind, but her objective seems solely to be to entertain. Many of the passengers laugh, apparently not unkindly; whatever her lines, they're found genuinely funny. Then she's off at Samgori metro, so much energy so early in the morning, so late in life.


We are stuck on the 176 while buses ahead queue to drop passengers in the small space beyond the new barrier on Waterloo Bridge. Something has caught the attention of a young couple several seats in front of me, something below the bridge on the concrete skirts of the National Theatre. In his expression, the tone of his voice, is genuine, urgent concern: he's saying to the glass and the air between here and there: "Don't do it, you don't have to do that." His companion, leaning across him, similarly dismayed, hand to her mouth murmuring "Oh stop it, no..." Another passenger now faces that way, shakes his head and sighs at what he sees. I'll have to look, but I'm imagining variations on contemporary themes - maybe someone about to detonate themselves in a spray of industrial drain cleaner and shattered moped parts. Now I see it isn't: a man kneels before a woman on the public slabs and is offering her a shiny object in a very small box. Now I understand my fellow passengers' reactions, but it's a relief nonetheless.
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თბილისი [Sep. 12th, 2017|10:33 pm]
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Sblot / Splott [Aug. 20th, 2017|10:18 pm]
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Croeso i Co-op Sblot
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For no good reason, I remembered this today [Jul. 17th, 2017|08:38 pm]
It was one of those awkwardly wet days; in trying to jam something into one of my pockets I had managed to cut my thumb. My hands are soft, you understand: when the Revolution comes it will be evident by my silky palms that I am not a Worker.

My thumb was bleeding, and I was sitting on the tram on the way to the bus for the airport, and I was staunching the flow, or rather dabbing away the single droplet, with a bit of paper napkin from Pressbyrån. The lady sitting opposite me reached into her bag, and once she had switched to English, offered me a sticking plaster. She had Elastoplasts in her bag! Fancy that. Praktisk.

So I thanked her and put the plaster on, and thanked her again, and in response, what with limited language, etc., she gave me that internationally recognised ‘thumbs up’ sign. And so I made the same gesture in response with my freshly plastered thumb.

At which she giggled a bit, then a bit more, pretty soon she was giggling quite a lot. And then she got it under control for a moment, but from there until Drottningtorget all I had to do was catch her eye to set her off again.

She might have been laughing at the visual joke of the plaster on the thumb, or straight up laughing at me, but I'm past caring about that. It was worth cutting my thumb for it.
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What we talk about when we don't talk about the weather [Jun. 23rd, 2017|11:46 pm]
Perhaps this is a characteristic of buying books in London, or perhaps a characteristic of me, but the point of exchange - the money for the book across the counter - has rarely been accompanied by discussion.

I remember the last anomaly before recent times: I was purchasing a large format tome explaining how to use 'Windows ME', and Terry Eagleton's "Literary Theory: An Introduction''. I agreed with the employee that if neither volume were helpful on their stated subjects, I should simply swap them around: the literary critic helping me work my pc, the low-tech consumer manual offering insights into theme and structure in the written narrative. It was a rewarding interaction.

Since then, many years had passed until the next exchange, but from a certain point, I don't know why, they come thick and fast - the most recent last week.

First. The cashier lights up at sight of the cover, and asks me if I've read the author's other novel - she had and considered it excellent. I say I haven't, but that I'd seen one of her films. Now we both look confused, because I didn't think she had published a novel in addition to that now before us, and the cashier appears puzzled at suggestion the writer made movies. With a queue behind me we leave it at that, but it's an unsatisfying moment, I expect for both of us.

Second. The cashier clouds over, in fact becomes stormy, at the sight of the cover, and mutters more to the counter than to me: 'Hateful book'. I feel I should respond, if only to acknowledge her remark: I ask 'What didn't you like about it?' To which she spits in response: 'I haven't read it!'. As if I had accused her of the same sin I am clearly about to commit. As she gives me my change she has the irritably breathless demeanour of someone who has just needlessly run up a long flight of stairs, and is now in the presence of the inventor of steps. So I did not seek to prolong the encounter.

Third. The cashier beams at the four books, then at me, and exclaims: 'All women writers!'. She does so in a tone normally accompanied by delivery of a pat on the head, or a biscuit, or both. I consider expressing mild surprise at this commonality in my purchases, but conclude I cannot do so convincingly. Instead I seek refuge in my blandest smile. Esprit d'escalier supplies me with me with variously (in)appropriate responses all the way home, and intermittently since.

I should be more positive about this outbreak of lively point-of-sale discourse. After all, what are books but communication itself? A stimulating, positive discussion could have followed each of the above exchanges. But it didn't, and if it carries on like this I will end up reduced to mail order.
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They don't make life like they used to [Apr. 21st, 2017|01:07 am]
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When I was growing up, all the rainbows were singular. Just one multi-coloured arc at a time. I was about twenty when I saw my first double rainbow; it was somewhere in North Derbyshire.

Now they're all doubles. Every last one. It's just so crass, so unnecessary.

Do you remember a time before double rainbows
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Maidstone Punx [Dec. 17th, 2016|08:33 pm]
Maidstone Punx
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Kick your feet [Nov. 16th, 2016|09:03 pm]
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Kick you feet
Sugar Loaf Walk, E2
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. [Sep. 26th, 2016|12:32 am]
He said: when they give things out, I always get the knackered one. He went on to describe being part of group, or a team, given inflatable objects, and his kept deflating. Then he spoke of when young, being sat astride an unwell pony.

This was what he would admit to publicly. He did not go onto say that this tendency which he had noticed had a reliability, a consistency, that convinced him of an unchangeable fate. Either he could see the flawed object coming towards him, its preordained position in the pile exactly matching his place in a queue, or an apparently serviceable item would prove to fail as soon as it was allocated to him.

Once, scuba-diving, he had nearly drowned.

Imagine conscription, war, so much kit to be issued with. The grenade with the faulty timer, the gun with the impeded barrel, the parachute...
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. [Sep. 26th, 2016|12:28 am]

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He probably said: "Can't miss me, I'll be reading Carol Shields"; what are the chances, eh? [Aug. 8th, 2016|10:41 pm]
Owing to advances in technology and its applications, practices are developing here which are established traditions elsewhere. The arbitrary matchmaking effect inherent in gathering at licensed premises is now being supplanted by methods more contrived, but no less random.

The way we did it before: presence preceded possibility; now it's vice versa. People have to go by pictures to begin with, which I understand are not always reliable.

"Are you Scott? I'm ____"*

I was impressed by her good manners: when I told her I was not Scott, she had the politeness not to look relieved. She went away and took a seat from which she could glance from her phone to the door and back.

I was waiting for a friend. He was delayed, but I had my drink and my book and I was happy.

I wondered what Scott was like: how closely might he resemble me, what was his outlook on life. Punctuality not his strong point perhaps.

"You're not Scott? 'Cause if you are... it's not funny."

She was back again.

I carry an identity card bearing my name and likeness. The card also displays a logo: an improbably elongated lion, on its hind legs and wearing a crown, and a unicorn, also rampant, and unselfconscious of its mythical status. Despite this lurid cartoon, people usually find the card plausible.**

If ___ was convinced too, when I showed it to her, then only just: her gaze flicked sceptically between the face on the front of my card and the face on the front of my head.

She also took a good look at the book*** on the counter in front of me, as if in question: would Scott read this? I was tempted to recommend it to her, since she was gawping at the thing, and maybe to add some value to this otherwise disappointing encounter. But on reflection, best not to prolong the exchange. I was not Scott, nor near offer.

My friend arrived before she left. I told him what had passed between us. He wanted to stay. He wanted to see Scott too.

*A name a bit more distinctive than 'Scott'.
**Like our Foreign Secretary (joke).
***An anthology of Alice Munro short stories; I thought the maple leaf design on the cover was a bit much, but they really were quite Canadian.
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Stamford Brook [Aug. 8th, 2016|10:14 pm]
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Stamford Brook, looking towards Turnham Green
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Riding on city buses for a hobby ain't so bad [Jun. 27th, 2016|11:36 pm]
The lit up, steamed up windows of an 87 coming the other way up the Strand; odd to see that on a dry evening. Middle aged man thinks so to, says to his wife, in a tone almost indignant:

  Look at that. Are they boiling potatoes on that bus?


A couple discuss where they will eat tonight. It is taking a long time; we are on a 3, now passing the Crimea monument, they've been at it since Lambeth Bridge. His suggestions are lengthy, featuring favourite dishes at each establishment, the wine list, the disposition of the staff, the decor, the acoustics. Her contributions are staccato and terse, consisting primarily of the restaurant's name, cuisine and location.

There seems to be no point of agreement between them. Neither engages with the other's recommendations. They must be in a state of mutual oblivion, for it's not until the queue at Shoryu slides past the windows that he says:

  Are you, ... I thought you were just, ... you're getting all this from your phone, ... from a, an app!
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