2017 minus 75: A gentle start…

Posted: 18 October 2016 in 2017 minus, London

Hello. Welcome. Nice to see you. 

Grab a chair. Get yourself a drink. Either/or. Both.

Quick introduction for the newcomers: I’m budgie. How’d you do? 

“Why ‘budgie’?” Funny you should ask.  

And that’s… pretty much all you need. You’ll figure out the rest as we go along, I promise. 

Oh, just one more thing. You’ll occasionally see references to something called going cheep. It’s a [usually] daily brain dump on tumblr; just the first thing I write every day, a couple of hundred words on whatever strikes me at the time. (This was today’s.)


Seventy-five days to go until 2017. 

I know. You thought you had more time, longer than ‘less than eleven weeks’. Sorry. Hell, if the election goes the wrong way, you could have a lot less than that. We all could. 

No, stop. Wait.

Look, I’d planned to start this countdown to 2017 with something about polarisation in politics, well, polarisation in general, but my reaction to recent events both here in the UK and across the Atlantic is not a calm one; I’m pissed off. Add that to a lousy night’s sleep, and best I leave my views on polarisation both as a strategy and a consequence for a couple of days; if I start with something so… polarising… Well, a long time ago, a boss told me that if I made a speech in anger, I’d make the best speech I’d ever live to regret; safe to assume the same applies to this place… Maybe after the final debate. Yes, then I’ll be nice and calm.

How calm?

Well, the first picture below is an unopened bottle of twelve year old Balvenie single malt whiskey. I opened it while watching the first debate at home, live, at 2am in the UK. The second picture is what’s left after the second debate.

So, join me on Thursday for my views on the final debate. 

But man, 2016’s been a long year. No, this isn’t a “Can you believe it’s October already?” blog post. If nothing else, it’d immediately garner too many responses of “Last month was September, budgie; that’s the way the calendar works.” Which would be nothing but the truth, but unhelpful.

Sidebar: I’m reminded of the gag about a fella in a hot air balloon, lost. He spots a guy walking his dog, so takes the balloon down to thirty feet above the ground and yells “Hey, where am I?” The man on the ground looks up, and shouts back “you’re in a ballon, about thirty feet off the ground.”

The balloonist calls down, “You’re an accountant, aren’t you?” When the man on the ground confirms it and asks how he knew, comes back the reply, “Your answer was accurate, timely and relevant, but no bloody use at all…”

That’s where the tale normally ends. A few years back, I heard the gag and someone with me told me how it should have gone on…

The man on the ground smiles and asks the balloonist “You’re a managing director, right?” When the fellow thirty feet up asks how he knew, the man walking his dog replies, “Because you’re in the same shit you were in five minutes ago, but somehow now it’s my fault.”

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, Something else. Some odds and sods, something to get the words flowing. (Future entries will have a point, I assure you.) Let’s see where we go… London, that’s a good place to start.

Well, kind of. Although I’ve lived in London for about 60% of my life, I wasn’t born here. I was born, and spent the first eighteen years of my life, in Luton, about thirty miles north west of London, ten junctions up the M1 motorway. My accent certainly reveals I’m from England, from south-east England at that, with the very occasional word pronunciation that’s stuck from my three years at Manchester Poly in the early 1980s. (One of my favourite comments about my accent was said by an American friend, only semi-jokingly, “…like Michael Caine on an off day.”) 

The abbreviation “poly”, in Manchester Poly”, as I never tire of telling people, meant something quite, quite different back then. “Poly” was an abbreviation for ‘polytechnic’, which was what some further educational establishments – not quite as good as universities – were called back then, long before the UK government realised that – if they wanted everyone to go to university – they needed additional universities as well as additional students. So Manchester Polytechnic became Manchester Metropolitan University

I went there at age 18, a very, very young 18. Compared to the life experiences my son had had by the time he was 18, I’m shocked that I managed to survive my first year away from home. Compared to the life experiences some friends of mine had, I’m surprised I survived the first month. But survive I did, and a lot more than that. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Manchester. Not everything was great, but enough was, and I gained life skills, knowledge, and a love of writing. Somewhere along the way I lost my virginity. I’m happy to discuss the first three, but the last one isn’t for this place. (Or if my son is reading this, it’s never to be discussed nor explained under any circumstances, right Phil?)

But after leaving Manchester, and a short return back to Luton, I moved to London, and I’ve been here ever since.

There are places I’ve visited around the world, and other places in the UK that I like, a lot. But London’s… ‘home’. 

I love that every street* in London is drowning in ghosts, either the memories of my own past experiences, or those of others. Pretty much everywhere in London has played some part – large or small – in making Britain what it is today.

(*An old trivia question: how many roads are there in the City of London?)

Pick any place in London and there’ll be something, something there, that’s important. Where I’m sitting now is about five minutes’ walk from Richmond Bridge. Originally built between 1774 and 1777, it was a toll Bridge until 1859. People had been crossing the river Thames at that point by ferry for hundreds of years earlier, the earliest known in 1459.

Over five hundred years ago. Far closer to Magna Carta (or to be precise far closer to the several Magnae Cartae) than 2016. Whenever I think of that, think that where I’m walking, where I’m standing, hundreds of years ago, people were walking where I’m walking… 

Not only London has this, of course. When I was 15, I went to Israel as part of a youth group. I stood by The Wailing Wall and while I didn’t get a ‘religious epiphany’ or anything, what struck me then was that precisely where I was standing, touching the wall, people had stood at that precise spot for literally thousands of years. Blew my mind then, still blows it today.

But it throws me even more in London. I kind of expect it in Israel, in Egypt; less so where I buy my daily coffees, where I go for a wander for the sake of wandering. 

Again, not limited to London. Less than a decade ago, I was in Russia for business, in Moscow. That sounds far more exciting than it was. Our representative agents – the people who sold to new clients the tv channel for whom I worked – had been sending numbers that kind of didn’t make sense. I went over to see why. (Mind you, telling people I was going to see our Russian agents was amusing in and of itself.) Point is that hile there, I took the opportunity to visit Red Square. Standing there, the smell of hot horse chestnuts in the air from a concession stand twenty feet away, I looked at the walls of The Kremlin, knowing that a century earlier, a grandparent had fled russia to avoid decisions made in that building. Walking back, I saw buildings being pulled down, some that appeared very old, some that looked almost new. And building going on everywhere.

Leaving Russia, a few days later, it was the history of the place, and the way the old and new didn’t so much exist together as violently crash into each other on a daily basis. If you were asleep, and in those last few seconds before you woke up , when sound and light just about start to intrude, you dreamed up a city? Moscow’s what you’d dream up.  

That memory – of standing by the Kremlin, thinking of my grandfather, and his parents, fleeing Russia – brings to mind another memory: that of the first time I got antisemitic hate mail through the post. No, maybe not. That’s a story for another time.

But London has ‘something’; I’m not sure what. But it’s definitely there. The ghosts of recollections, the spectres of memory, exist and persist. So many places show that London has always been a centre of immigration, and again, that immigration over centuries has made Britain what it is, has made London what it is, a wonderful city. I’d call it incredible, but that’s the point: London is, astonishingly, utterly and wholly credible, with a history of welcoming people from thirty miles away of from across the world and saying “call me ‘home’.”

And homes exist and have existed in London all over the bloody place. I once had a client off of Regent Street, in Central London. One day, for no more than idle curiosity, I looked up the history of the building in which I was working. I mean I knew it was old, and had been repurposed from residential to business long ago, but that there had been a building, someone’s home, on the site for over four hundred years? 

If you’ve an iPhone, there’s an app for that. Well, of course there is. The Streetmuseum London app , using photos from the Museum of London, allows you to overlay pictures from decades ago over your current location. The Londinium app allows you to go even further back (though that uses CGI rather than actual photos).

Huh. This got away from me a bit as a first entry.

Never mind, something different tomorrow, together with some indication of how this seventy-five day countdown is going to work. (Beyond the obvious, I mean.)

See you then.

  1. marypicken says:

    Enjoyed that, thanking you

  2. It’s okay to have this one “get away from you”, I think. Living in a city with a much shorter settler-recorded history (phrasing deliberate, as I don’t know how far back the Algonquins’ pre-contact history goes into the past beyond European settlement), I have to admit to no small amount of envy.

    There are apps and websites for what history Ottawa-Gatineau does have, and I’ve occasionally contributed to one of the latter

  3. First time reader Budgie.. enjoyed it!

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