Blog 7

Aug 04

In August 2004 Blog Seven was a weblog about London.

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In August 2004 Blog Seven was a weblog about London.

Leaving London

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Leaving London — whenever I do leave London it’s always the end of whatever trip I’ve been on to Europe, wherever else I’ve been in the country or continent. It was the case the last three times, it will be again next year when my July vacation rolls around. And so everything which had been familiar suddenly takes on an air of finality, for the time being.

Last time going down to a tube station, last time getting a pass if I need to get one, last time settling into the seats and watching the buildings pass by, then into the tunnels and seeing the station stops shoot past. What were interchanges are now places to cross once more and then not again for some time yet. I don’t know if I ever consciously drink in all the sounds and conversations and whatever swirling around me at those points, I think usually I’m either too focused on getting to Heathrow on time or else just too tired if I had to get up really early. And sometimes I just throw on the iPod and zone, letting the beats take me away, somehow.

It becomes a smear of people and locations and sights as that trip goes along, making my way back to the airport the same way I came in. And sure, it’s always a little depressing — almost always it’s right back to work the day after I get back, jet lag or no jet lag, so there’s nothing to look forward to on the one hand (on the other, there’s getting to crash in my own bed, always a fine feeling).

And then I’m at Heathrow and hauling my bags any which way and then it becomes AirportWorld rather than London pretty quickly. Nothing left but the touristy posters I pass by on the way to my gate. Well, and my memories too.

Vanishing London: The Harvill Press London Writing Series

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Vanishing London: The Harvill Press London Writing Series

I read Harvill books. I don’t read any old Harvill book, obviously, because some of them look very long and very boring but there’s an amazing strike-rate of quality in the numbered series which started, I suppose, in the early-mid 1980s and dribbles on (past 300 now) even today, after Harvill’s purchase by Random House.

I am reminded by an article by pop doyen John Carney that I meant to write about Harvill’s short-lived London Writing Series. This series could have been made-to-measure for me: books about London with that trustable wee leopard prancing on the spine. Lovely bright primary-coloured covers. Interesting introductions, too (well yes OK also one by Moorcock who is a nasty stain on any list, I agree, but we can forgive them one small indiscretion).

They seemed to be choosing un-obvious books (I hadn’t heard of any of the authors of the first four before) and they seemed to be doing it with a sense of attention to detail: the base of each spine had a little black line, notched like a tube station. And the quality! “Capital” by Maureen Duffy (Victoria Line blue), “Fowlers End” by Gerald Kersh (Central red) “The Lowlife” by Alexander Baron (Piccadilly blue), “Caught” by Henry Green (Circle yellow). Each at least good, I think, and only the Duffy falling short of great.

The series stopped then. I don’t know why (it had stopped before the rumours of the Random House purchase of Harvill had surfaced), and in truth I don’t know whether it was intended simply as a set of four London books. It’s hard to believe they ran out of appropriate material. Maybe they sold a grievously small number of copies, maybe no-one liked the books. I did. I was delighted with them and I wish they’d carried on to give my fanboy collector fetishism something to work on. The series wasn’t really around long enough for me to say I miss it, but I do think it’s a shame it’s gone, at least before we had a book per tube line.

full moon over scratchwood

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full moon over scratchwood

So I’m just back from
a. real proper actual holiday abroad for the first time in more than 20 years (ie not a work-related trip and more than three days) (more on this when blog7 switches theme), and
b. depping while the professional carers take *their* summer break holiday, which last week meant
i. commuting every day to visit my mum in hospital as she recovers from a successful emergency operation, while
ii. cooking three meals a day for my dad (who has a giant huge healthy appetite, but as an advanced Parkinsonian occasionally [eg one day in ten?] needs extensive fork-to-mouth help with it)

Which has what to do with London? This: the experience of the return to it from Shropshire. A journey I’ve made more than 100 times over the last 20 years (maybe a lot more). A journey I am this time making bone-tired, despite urgent billboard entreaty: a journey coinciding with busy though not nightmarish end-of-bank-holiday traffic; a journey I keep myself focused on by (as always) counting down the junctions and service stations, A5 -> M54 -> M6 -> M1: Corley, Watford Gap, Newport Pagnell, Toddington, London Gateway (the Rest-Stop Formerly Known as Scratchwood…)

So I left Shrewsbury 6-ish, with the late august sun beginning to set – it had been gorgeous all day, and now the sky was all fab colours behind me and the shadows lengthening away in front of me into twilight, then evening, then – by abt 8.30 – night. When I reached I shd think Luton, I suddenly realised I wz driving straight towards a vast autumn moon, warm and full (I think: only a fingernail off it if not) (Favourite word alert: sadly i therefore don’t get to say GIBBOUS!!) (GIBBOUS GIBBOUS GIBBOUS!!)

Anyway I don’t recall this ever happening before: it illuminates something it’s easy to miss motorway-driving, which is exactly how a road curls and bends and straightens as it vectors you into a great city centre. The M1 hits London out between Bushey and Borehamwood, and I get off at Junction 2, for Finchley, Highgate, Archway, the Caledonian Road, then Balls Pond Road, then Dalston, then Hackney. I kind of love how London always feels like it got on w/o even missing you (my sudden utter anonymity = respite from urgent calls on my time and care = i can relax and get on with ME again), but what was fantastically lovely this time was that the moon was right ahead of me – actually hanging over the road – for almost all the last reach of the journey, suburbs and city streets, the only one of London’s countless bright busy lights and lived-in faces to be watching and welcoming me home.

My walk to work every morning

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My walk to work every morning takes me along the back side of Buckingham Palace. The other side of the road – Grosvenor Place – is all blocky Regency pomp and big pillared porticos, interrupted by the occasional corporate HQ. The biggest building on the road is 4orty, which was built five years ago to be the European headquarters of Enron. Soon after they finished it I wandered in and had a look round the colossal lobby, a great chilly space dominated by a massive bank of plasma screens showing advertorial company videos. A guard came up and asked me what I was doing. I said I was looking around. He told me to leave.

The Buck House side is even bleaker. There’s nothing to see but a big brown wall, topped by spikes and wire, and beyond it a thickness of trees. People tend not to walk on that side of the road; there are few places to cross and the traffic at Hyde Park Corner is fast. The deserted pavement and the wall’s long shadow give the palace a dour, sinister air. The gardens of Buckingham Palace I’m sure are well tended, but on several mornings I’ve found myself wandering if between the trees and the wall is a strip that no light reaches, and what curiosities grow and rot in that royal loam.

Aug 04

My own tale of Notting Hill hipness beyond description

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My own tale of Notting Hill hipness beyond description — by chance, back in 2000 I was invited to attend the opening night of Alan McGee’s club he started a few months after Creation pissed away the last bits of champagne. What was it called, Radio 4 or Radio 5? It was in Notting Hill and I remember looking about the area as we arrived and thinking…well, not all that much I suppose. What American real estate agents would call ‘a funky neighborhood,’ without giving away whether that was supposed to be a positive or a negative.

Whereever the club was exactly, it was down a narrow staircase into a lower basement area where a band was supposed to play later (Montgolfier Brothers or Gnac, I assume the former though). We ended up leaving before that (another opportunity to see a band in close quarters in London missed!) but I remember thinking the beer of choice was nice but I failed to see what the special attention paid to it was all about (it was Finnish, I recall that much). It was all fairly cramped and hot and tiring and there were few places to sit and those that were sitting there seems distinctly disinclined to move from those locations.

I guess I was surrounded by some sort of semi-professional will-always-turn-up-at-openings crowd. For all I know I now know a number of the people who were there. But at the time I was just sorta thinking that it was a million miles away from the extended blissfloat that McGee’s money helped fund a decade beforehand, probably. Then again Dave Cavanagh’s book hadn’t come out quite yet.

Notting Hell

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Notting Hell

This weekend is the Notting Hill Carnival. Luckily I’m going to Scotland and will be shielded from dancing policemen, incessant steel drumming and ear-killing whistles. Warm cans of Red Stripe are available at inflated prices from ‘street sellers’. When you’ve drunk a couple, join the trend and piss in a corner.

There is talk of moving the carnival out of London. That’s good talk. Even the film is better.

If you’ve never been, I envy you.

Aug 04

The closest I got to the Marquee was the pub that took it over

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The closest I got to the Marquee was the pub that took it over — four times been to London, and while I’ve seen a couple of shows courtesy of Meltdown (it was Scott Walker’s year and why yes I *was* desperately trying to get into the Radiohead show but couldn’t), I’ve not seen any other rock concerts. Did go to the Royal Albert Hall for one night of the Proms, though, and that was good fun because they were playing “Fratres” by Arvo Part, one of my particular favorites among modern composers. But you can’t exactly headbang there, even though I was tripping out on imagining past shows there by Siouxsie, the Sisters of Mercy, Marc Almond, Echo and the Bunnymen — ah, if only.

Getting into Melody Maker in the early nineties meant — as I’m sure getting into it any other year for any other Anglophile did — getting a vision of London where there were shows going on all the time (and there WERE! the gig guide proved it!) and where you could see everybody you wanted to all in one place at one time, practically. I remember one time reading about a Chapterhouse/Slowdive/Moose show back in 1991 or so and DAMN RIGHT I WAS JEALOUS. Same with hearing about the Cranes/Young Gods shows. Etc. etc. etc.

So the concert London that I never experienced held a certain fascination, though I’m sure it’s just the equivalent of my experiences going to shows in LA. “Oh it’s at the Whisky? That’s nice I guess…is the beer even more expensive now?” So I don’t think of places like there or the Palladium or the Palace (or whatever it’s called now) as storied venues, they’re just spots where I’ve seen bands, good and bad. London clubs can’t be any different, though if anyone wants to compare and contrast based on direct experience, feel free. I assume the chief difference at present is the lack of smoking out here.

Of course these days if I was given a chance to see a London club show, I admit I’d be leery. If Coldplay is (as I’ve heard alleged) the role model for so many upcoming bands and the Disco Inferno EPs are still out of print, there is no god. (So post some recommendations of bands I should see when I next get over there, darnit! And where I should see them!)

On Monday I set off

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On Monday I set off earlier than usual for work. I was pleased with myself because I had caught a bus just as it was starting to rain. I was going to get in dry and have a nice productive early start. Less than a minute from home, the bus was held up. The Police had cordoned off the road. We all had to get off and walk, in the strengthening rain.

I have started taking the bus all the way to work from where I live by Peckham Rye, to New Bridge Street. The quick way is to take the bus to Peckham Rye station then train it straight up to Blackfriars. Most days, though, the bus only takes ten or fifteen minutes longer and it’s more fun seeing people come and go, up through North Peckham and along the Old Kent Road, all the students at the Elephant, and the abject anonymity of Blackfriars Road. Also, having a single journey gives me more time to read my book, or listen to some music.

As we walked around the cordon I realised there was an AIR AMBULANCE waiting on the Rye itself! I haven’t seen one of these on the ground since a game at Torquay years ago, it landed on the pitch at half time as part of a fund-raising display. There had obviously been some sort of crash on the road. A motorbike was down, a car was stopped. Someone was being cared for, all I could see was his jeans. There were a few people who’d stopped to look: I didn’t. It shakes me, seeing road accidents. I supposed he was going to be alright. None of the watchers looked terribly distressed. People seemed to be talking to the fellow who was on the road. On I went to work. I silently wished him good luck and hoped he was in a state to enjoy his ride in the helicopter.

Making the decision to take a slower, more pleasant form of transport in preference to a faster, nastier one is something which makes me feel like a Londoner. Far more than knowing mostly how to handle three degrees of bus separation from anywhere in London to anywhere else. Far more than knowing the stops on the tube. It’s something about qualitative choice rather than information retention. I like recognising people on the bus, and sometimes even saying hello to those who seem to recognise me. I enjoy the thought of all those wildly different life trajectories held together for thirty five minutes on a 63, all these lives I’ll never touch and likely won’t touch me. I like to be reminded that I’m alive in London, and that they all are, too. Looked at this way, the view inside the bus over Blackfriars Bridge is as exciting as the breathtaker up and down the river.

And this morning, like a kick in the guts, the yellow sign: Fatal Accident. Monday 23rd August. They were appealing for information. Of course, I have none.

Aug 04

From the travel news

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From the travel news on the radio this morning, but not on the various websites (as far as I can see) came the important intelligence: Canada Water tube station was closed. The reason: an unusual smell.

Why choose today? How did they know when to re-open?

I wonder what the unusual smell smelled like.