Posts from 9th August 2004

9
Aug 04

Jel’s West London – Part 1

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Oh Acton!

A sprawling town on the edge of the centre, you could say it’s where the westerly suburbs begin, a mix of the urban and the very suburban. To me it has a really special charm, probably like your home town does to you. I don’t think you can really seperate place and memory, it’s always “where was I when…”, or going back to a place having all the memories come flooding back. We’ll get back to this…

What does Acton have to tempt the interested visitor? Er, well apart from the well documented seven railway stations, not an awful lot. There’s the tram depot, the police station, the way the roads rise and fall due to Acton’s hilliness. The Redback pub, a homing beacon for Aussies and South Africans. Some history to do with the Earl of Derwentwater, acorns and laundries. St Dunstans church is haunted by monks. And there’s always the Uxbridge Road, the great through road, get a 207 in Shepherd’s Bush and take a trip to Uxbridge some time, you’ll see a lot of what I call London – gritty high streets, estates, tree lined commons, bustling shopping centres, ugly buildings like Ealing Hospital directly opposite great architecture like the Viaduct, Southall, the lonely strecth of Hayes…It’s all there.

So, what does Acton mean to me? Well, it’s all the childhood memories like collecting conkers from the four great Horse Chestnut trees in Acton Park, and leaving them to rot in the back yard all through the winter. Getting stupidly excited about diesels transporting cars past the back of my house, and running around shouting “Car train! Car train!”. Buying those polystyrene toy aeroplanes with the little plastic propellers at the annual fete (what were they called? can you still get them). Walking to school with my pal Nav, and sometimes meeting Harchie and Omar too, buying penny sweets from the tuck shop on the way home (Cola bottles -yay!). The green grocer who spent half his time in the betting shop, the newsagent who kept my copy of Transformers back for me…Oh, this is so whimsical, of course Acton does have bad memories for me too, but it’s the happy childhood ones that spring to mind first.

I live by the river? No chance, mate…

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At the weekend a group of us celebrated a friend’s birthday by taking two boats down the Thames, from Greenwich to Westminster, and then on from Westminster to Kew. Unless you extend the trip in both directions to the Thames Barrier and and Richmond, respectively, this is more or less as far as you can go down the river without leaving London.

The first thing that becomes obvious when you get on one of these city cruises is how few tourists there actually are onboard. Everyone on the boat with us seemed to be a Londoner – understandable when you consider that this is a view of London that the majority of us rarely actually see, and a pretty damn great one at that.

The stretch from Greenwich to Westminster is probably the most interesting – from the decaying industrial space around parts of Deptford, past the converted warehouses and multi-million pound apartments, the high-rise sprawl of the Wharf and iconic City buildings old and new overlooking several fantastic-looking riverside pubs I never knew existed.

Once you get west of the Houses of Parliament and Lambeth Palace, however, the predominance of luxury apartments seems to force out almost every trace of the city’s history. There are exceptions, notably the empty husk of Battersea Power Station, but even that’s been sitting waiting for the property developers to come calling for years now. I’m not against redevelopment along the banks of the Thames, watching the skyline from Tower Bridge evolve over the past couple of years has been pretty striking. I’d rather audacious architectural setpieces, except perhaps those as preposterous as St George’s Wharf in Vauxhall with all its Bondvillainesque bombast, than dilapidated industrial wasteland and fenced-off riverside. But it doesn’t feel like my city. The guide gleefully informs us that x bland residential tower is home to Robbie Williams or Michael Caine for three weeks a year, and while the real world may be all of two minutes walk away, this is another London, and we’re not invited.

Just as it all seems to get overwhelming, the gradual westward drift into ruralism is refreshing – tree-lined riverbanks, the occasional pub and boat house, and the rowers who remind you that the Thames is still actually used for stuff. One of the most gratifying sights along the journey is the site of Fulham’s Craven Cottage ready for the season ahead after sitting dormant for two years, the property developers finally fought off. Londoners have neglected the river for so long, it seems wasteful just to turn it into another rich person’s playground.

Buy American

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Buy American — one of the more amusing things about my London visits is that I seem to inevitably pick up something there that is in fact from here. And theoretically I’m paying more for it. It makes sense that there would in fact be plenty of American-made items — I’m thinking of music and books and the like, I’m sure there are other equivalents — in London, just as you can reverse the situation and find plenty of UK things in Los Angeles or New York, it’s the marketplace and the nature of the products under discussion.

Usually what I’m finding, though, is something I didn’t think was available anywhere else, or was in fact only a UK release to begin with. And part of it is the setting of the place I’m at — thus, when I found myself a copy (American) of a Great Pop Things collection, it was at this one store that is not merely a music store but a music book store. Plenty of transcriptions and all that but also just a general collection of all those biographies and critical essay collections and fandom celebrations and more which have surfaced in print over the years.

A lot of the material in those books has been superseded by the web, I’d think — those endless chronologies of who performed what when, half the material that Omnibus Press put out — and so there was plenty of used books in this store, and when I went in there I got a happy charge, I admit. ‘Only in London would there be a store like this, surely!’ Which is probably not true at all, but I still felt like it could be the case — and it was the place where I purchased Dave Cavanagh’s brilliant book on Creation, in hardback for a used price no less, so I will always salute it.

But then there was the Great Pop Things book, happily spotted and immediately bought — and I’m pretty sure it was used — and only after I was looking at it later did I realize that I probably could have ordered it through the local Barnes and Noble around here, or Amazon or whatever. So I suppose that became an inadvertant souvenir of a London experience more than anything else. I didn’t mind, though, it’s a great book!

A Walk in the Wilderness

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A Walk in the Wilderness
I went for a Sunday stroll across Walthamstow marshes.

On previous walks, I’ve often thought I had the fields to myself (apart from the cows, back down from Waltham Abbey to preserve the rare marshwort). Yesterday, there were pockets of people. I spy a man in the long grass doing press-ups. Naked. Oh, right. A pink bloke in y-fronts smiled as I passed. It was an outside cottaging area. Dave B* walked past and said “hi”.

The Lea splits and twists among the marsh, soundtracked by the old East-West rail link to Stratford. Freight trains trundled along and dive-bombing dragonflies pestered my progress. The embankment provides picture frames of London. From one, the Isle of Dogs sat in a haze, a fine juxtaposition with the cows in the foreground. From another the Gherkin peaked above the estate line.

Around the waterworks, well guarded by nasty barbed wire (what kind of thief breaks into a sewage plant?). Along Coppermill Lane and then a swift right, bit of backtrack caused by the Chingford overland line, then into St James Park. Not as grand as its west-end namesake, but pretty in a green space surrounded by oak way. Cross the fields (a bikini teen reading Potter) then into the woods. Here lies Dagenham Brook, a tributary of the Lea and as unpicturesque a river as you could imagine. Six kids on bikes came the other way, I smelt the weed first. No eye contact from me. Not stupid you know.

Still following the Brook, I head to Leyton Industrial Estate and pass the art storage warehouse recently burnt down by Brian Sewell**. From there, I blundered through to Markhouse Road. Stopped to get a Vanilla Coke in the garage. A man with Sideshow Bob hair was shouting and gesticulating, the heat of the afternoon feeding his temper. I bussed to the junction. The Lea Bridge Road isn’t London’s finest. The bus lanes are too skinny and the traffic lacks patience.

Heading roughly south, the Brook twists around Leyton FC’s pitch, almost tunnelled by weeds. As it winds towards Leyton, a fridge sits midstream. About here, the Brook begins to smell. And it isn’t pleasant. A final flourish through the ancient grounds around Leyton parish and then it disappears into the earth by New Spitalfields Market. I believe it goes under the new Asda and joins the Lea near Hackney Wick. The books I researched are vague on its subterranean course.

I retraced my feet and cursed my Birkie blisters. Back to the Lea Bridge Road, past the new E10 nightclub (Coming Soon, Kiki Dee!). Back home I flopped on the sofa, rewarding myself with football.

* See earlier Blog 7 post
** This view is entirely Mike G’s own and does not reflect Freaky Trigger’s own arson theories.

Indie Chicken

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Indie Chicken

An occasional series that I hope all and sundry will contribute to. The varied quality of independent chickenmongerers has been of interest to me for some time and so I would like to solicit reviews of your local fried goods vendors, in the interest of the general populace. The meal consumed should preferably contain chicken pieces, hotwing(s), fries and an optional drink. I’m not overly given to scoring, but if you are, please feel free to indulge yourself.

#1: Chicken Cottage*, High Holborn, London WC1

Opposite the Princess Louise and handily placed for a mid-session filth fest last Saturday, we were dazzled by the brightness of the lighting and pleasantly surprised by the non-slashed state of the red pleather banquette seating. The chicken purveyed here is halal, which is nice, and also very common in central to north London. The breast piece and large drumstick I was given as part of my Cottage Meal (the name of which made me giggle for some reason, probably the same as the reason I regularly snigger at the Chicken Cottage logo) were tasty although a little dry, and definitely passable according to my drunken-scoffability meter. The fries (and these were definitely fries rather than chips) were skinny and crispy, but required an artery-flogging amount of salt to make them interesting. There was a sachet of tomato ketchup, but I was having no truck with that. The hotwings, or rather hotlegs (the disparate sizes of the various chicken legs in this meal would have been food for thought if it had not been food for hangover-aversion) were the outstanding feature of the meal, being a whole lot spicier than the corporate average, so much so that several gulps of the proprietary lemon-lime fizzy pop (surprisingly fruity) were required to assuage the burning thereby induced. There was a complimentary (also proprietary, they’re a classy bunch) lemon-scented freshening towelette, and then we went back to the pub. It did the job and was overall a pleasant fast-food experience.

More reviews please! Otherwise I’ll be forced to eat more filthy chicken myself, oh no.

* Whoa! You too can become part of the franchise.

LIMA – “Garden”

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One thing I like about Soca is that it often prefers a bit of good honest entendre-laden smut over slacker chat. So here over a typically sweet sunny day tune we have “Come water my garden… I need a gardener who can work this soil…” and then eventually Lima rhymes “water my rose” with “bring your own water hose”! OK I now feel like a broadsheet feature writer fondly hymning seaside postcards but this is great stuff.

(You can find it on Hott 2 Death: Soca Bible, available from Black Dog on Berwick Street and a bargain at 4 CDs for £12.)

Kittens At Science Forefront

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Kittens At Science Forefront: “It’s like a real life version of Photoshop!” says delighted public.

DO THEY MEAN US?

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DO THEY MEAN US?

Some months ago, an old friend and part-time Londoner had a Canadian colleague of hers over for a visit. My friend asked him what he’d like to see. “London Square” came the reply.

Unsure about what to do, my friend took her visitor on a tour of some squares she thought he might have meant: Trafalgar Square, Parliament Square, Leicester Square, you get the idea. It was good: they saw some of London and had fun.

No satisfaction was found on the London Square issue, though, until the next day, on the way from Victoria to Fitzrovia to watch the opening game of Euro 2004 in the pub. Skirting Piccadilly Circus, our guest said: “THIS IS THE PLACE! What’s it called again?”

Maybe we should have known. It’s just that Piccadilly Circus seems an odd place to be so iconic: it’s cramped and not very exciting. I suppose it has flashing lights…

Real Real Real

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Real Real Real: half the billboards in London seem to carry Coca-Cola’s posters celebrating its sponsorship of the Football League, with the 72 different – or ‘different’, if your club has a red-and-white strip – cans, one for each team. (I’m not sure how this scheme is actually going to work, by the way. As people have pointed out, you can’t take cans into football grounds. And selling them outside grounds will require retailers in several cities to have a very good idea of how their customers’ loyalties break down. Still, kewl idea.)

The poster also showcases the slogan for the re-branding: “The Real League”. In other words (I assume), grit, sweat, local loyalty and passion rather than overpaid foreign fannydanglers. It’s a good slogan and ‘real’ is a good football word, sports message boards are full of people having a pop at ‘plastic fans’. The only problem is that if the Championship etc. is realer than the Premiership, surely the Conference and non-league Pyramid is even MORE real? So where are their novelty cans? And if the Championship is the real thing how come the realest clubs, i.e. the ones who win it, are desperate to get out of it? As usual ‘real’ turns out to be a weasel word and best avoided.*

*unless the Spanish monarchy starts sponsoring the Championship in which case bring it on.**

**can someone who knows their Spanish football (or has read that book about it) tell me why so many Spanish clubs are called Real, and did they have to do anything to earn the right?

A CONVERSATION UPON CHEATING DEATH BY CHAMPAGNE!!

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A CONVERSATION UPON CHEATING DEATH BY CHAMPAGNE!!

Person A: Crikey. I hear the bubbles go straight to your head. BUT WHY! And speaking of which, if you have air bubbles in your blood, doesn’t that KILL YOU when they reach the heart and block it up?? Is champagne potentially MURDEROUS?!

Person B: I think the bubbles have to be in your veins. So unless you shoot up with champagne, you’re safe.

Person A: Good point. So with champagne – just for this to be clear, you understand -it goes straight down the GULLET into the STOMACH where the bubbles are all DISIPATED (sp?) and THEN the booze goes into your veins and hurrah hurrah you haf cheated DEATH YET AGAIN?

Person A: Cool!!!

Champagne = extreme drinking!!