Archive for the ‘London’ Category

I’d planned to restart the Ten Things today, but to be honest, I’m not in the mood. And I’m not entirely sure what do a Ten Things about anyway. I’ll have a ponder and hope to return to them next Friday. Besides, which I’m still getting used to this blogging thing again.

And anyway, as has been mentioned the past couple of days, my foot’s bloody killing me.

So, instead, one more post about London in Lockdown, to do with health. My health.

My physical health, anyways. I may write at some point on how I’m ‘dealing’ with lockdown and social distancing and stuff. Summing it up, the post would be ‘not that well’. But no, I’m not writing that post today. (Edit to add: It might, however, go some way to explaining why this is a shorter entry than you might reasonably expect from me.)

I’m fifty five years old. I take a few medications every day, including drugs or cholesterol and high blood pressure. (Although to be fair, the latter is a very small dose, and both my GP and I were fairly astonished that it had such a huge effect, returning my at times stratospheric blood pressure to a ‘normal’ measurement almost immediately.)

But like everyone else, in every area of my life, things have changed.

Ordering a repeat prescription is as easy, as convenient as ever, using the online website. Going to pick up the prescription, however? Well, yeah, that’s a different experience right now. Along with the pharmacists wearing face masks that look like they’re from a science fiction movie, those same pharmacists look… weary. Not just tired, but bone weary, utterly and completely shattered.

The queue outside the pharmacists was one of the smaller ones I saw… only about a dozen and a half people, and in substantially less good humour than the shopping queues. These were – some of them – people in pain, people who shared their pharmacists’ weariness. And people who just wanted to get their medications and return home.

Let’s put it this way: I was one of the more cheerful people.

Two quick other points; a hospital follow up appointment is now going to be by phone… to be honest, I’m surprised and impressed they didn’t cancel it completely. And I’m due to donate blood (after not being able to donate for 14 weeks after a procedure) in mid-April. I’m still planning on donating.

Sorry; I’ve nothing else to say today.

Hopefully, something more cheerful and light tomorrow.

I’m an idiot.

I know, this doesn’t surprise anyone reading this. But I am.

I mentioned on Twitter a couple of weeks ago pre-lockdown that were I still to be living in my last place, in Ham, between Richmond and Kingston, I’d almost certainly have thought at some point during the weekend: you know what? It’s a nice day, I can go outside as long as I don’t go near anyone else… you know what? I think I’ll go for a wander in Richmond Park.

This was the weekend when videos of crowds of people in Richmond Park appeared on the news and online. This was the weekend when the temporary (?) idiocy of the British public was shown to the world. This was the weekend when I realised that I’m a fucking idiot.

Because of course everyone else would have thought the same. Because of course me staying the hell away from everyone else is no bloody use whatsoever… if other people won’t stay the hell away from me.

Now I didn’t go to Richmond Park that weekend, because I don’t live in Ham any more. I didn’t go to Regents Park, because although it’s doable for me to get there without much difficulty… it’s still far enough to make it have to be a deliberate decision, not something that happens on a whim. I’ve lived here three years and only walked there twice.

But I was reminded of my own idiocy today when I went shopping. The restrictions have slowly increased, the queues have slowly grown, fair enough. And it’s not like the shops instantly went from ‘everyone? Come in the shop, no distancing necessary’ to ‘full social distancing, and we’re limiting the number in the shop at any one time’.

But today was the first time it really sank in. When I walked to Kilburn from me, about a mile or so from the flat, it was to discover that every ‘decent sized food shop – Sainsbury’s, Iceland, Marks and Spencer – had a queue measured in the dozens, and in one case, there were over 50 people in the queue, all about six feet apart from each other.

And I’ve noticed that the shops have cut down the number allowed into their premises almost day by day. Shops that last week let 20 people in… are now letting in 5. Pharmacies are letting one person in at a time, if they’re letting anyone in.

That said, the politeness in the queues and the understanding that for once, we are ‘all in it together’ is a but heartwarming. What’s interesting to me, however, is how the rules of courtesy have changed.

Someone a bit older drops something out of their shopping basket, and two or three people near them go to pick it up… then stop… and merely point towards it, gesture towards it. Where once they’d have picked up the item and returned it to the older person… now the courteous thing is not to do that.

People working in shops are being thanked more than ever before (cf the busses post from yesterday), as are the people standing by the doors letting one person at a time out… and in.

What I definitely noticed today were the people with huge shops offering those picking up only one, two or three items their place in the queue. OK, that happens sometimes in normal times, but now? Happens a lot.

There are a lot of things changing, in the day to day stuff, the little things that matter… that I wonder – I truly wonder – how they’ll change back… or if they won’t, afterwards.
 
 
See you tomorrow with something else.

One guaranted reaction these days to someone tweeting or blogging, or even putting on Facebook, something they overheard is the inevitable
 

“it didnt happen!”

 
or
 

never happened!

 
There are twitter accounts devoted to claims that this thing being reported, or that anecdote, didn’t happen, never happened, that it was being tweeted for the retweets, or to get notoriety, or just to get some exposure.

Now I’m sure that some of them didn’t happen. Let’s get that out there.

I mean, whenever I see someone report something that, purely by coincidence I’m sure was entirely a justification for, or an example of, a previously expressed political view, I’m… sceptical, I’ll acknowledge.

Say… someone who loves the idea of Brexit, and has frequently complained that it’s taking too long…. says they overheard someone complaining that ‘they just won’t let it happen, the politicians should just get on with it! It’s taking too long’?

Yeah, I’m not wholly and immediately convinced that the report is strictly accurate.

Or, say, someone who loathes the current benefits system excitedly tweeting that they “heard people on the train saying how horrible it is…

Again, not necessarily true. Could be. Might be. Might not be.

Or, say, something even less… heartwarming.

Say someone thinks all the reports of antisemitism inside Labour are smears, reporting they heard people at a coffee shop saying exactly the same thing. Or someone who thinks it doesn’t matter that Boris Johnson lies as easy as he breathes, saying that in the street they hear loads of people saying exactly the same.

Somehow, I’m able to withhold my immediate and complete acceptance that they’re repeating nothing but the unfettered truth.

Someone exaggerating on Twitter? Perish the very thought.

But all of these types of reportage are trying to suggest, are extrapolating to propose, that ‘the public’ think the same as they do. That the conversation they overheard was representative of a vast swell of public opinion.

That’s not what I want to write about today. Hell, that’s not what I want to write about any day.

No, what bugs me is the pissing all over the other type of ‘overheard…’

The silly. The funny. The odd. The bizarre.

Because what I don’t understand is people claiming ‘it didn’t happen’ when it’s not political, it’s just… odd, or funny. Or silly.

Because people, individually and in small groups, are odd and funny and silly.

And if you spend a lot of time in coffee shops, as I have, you do overhear people, as they tend to forget that others in the place can hear them.

And occasionally I, like others, will tweet an overheard bit that’s weird, silly, or just funny out of context. Not a whole conversation; a line or two. Because it’s fun. Not identifying the people in any way, not livetweeting an entire conversation, or the break up of couple. The odd line.

Taking a quick look through my blogs and tweets, here are some of my favourites.

I’ll put it in the diary
Just popped down to the car and overheard the following from two people walking past:
Person 1: You’re not serious?
Person 2: What? I’m just saying if Jesus was born on Christmas Day and died at Easter, then Christmas should come at the start of the year and Easter should come at the end…


 
Yes, that’ll work
On the Picadilly Line
“OK, but if anyone asks what you’re doing with a body, tell them you’re making a movie…”


 
Wait, what?
A selection of comments overheard from a group of what I presumed were either PR people or party organisers, sorting out a new Year’s Eve Party for a client.

“OK, well New Year’s Eve, we’ve got the fetish party thing. Who’s arranging for the cleaning afterwards?”

“Well, if we kill the project, do we have to kill the project originator as well?”

“Yes, I know sex sells, but who’d buy her?”

“Do we have to use green jelly? Can’t we use red for a change?”

“What do they mean when they say they weren’t happy with the ‘yuk factor’? Do they want more or less?”

And my favourite from that session:

“Well, tell her to go fuck herself. Oh, no you can’t, can you? She’s your mother…”


 
Mothers
Two weeks later; same coffee shop. Sitting on the next table to me were three people: a grandmother, mother and daughter, given the frequent exasperated mutters of “mother!” coming from the three of them, anyway.

Then the youngest fairly shouts out “I don’t believe it! I swear, it’s like living in a bloody soap opera being related to you two! I need a cigarette…”

And she walks towards the door very huffily.

And the two older women look very sheepish before the presumed mother says to her mother, “You just had to tell her, didn’t you?” only to get a ‘hard stare’ in return…


 
Einsteinian
Overheard on bus:
Person 1: …and that’s why time is relative.
Person 2: Yeah but the bus was late.


 
Always tell the truth
At the next table outside a coffee shop, young mum with small children.
Small boy: you’re lying!
Small girl: No, I’m not!
Boy: You’re lying!
Mum: Don’t accuse your sister of lying…
Girl: There was a dinosaur in the road


 
Coffee!
Again, outside a coffee shop, young mum with young child
Child: You can have coffee, why can’t I? Why? Why?
Parent: Yes, because right now, I need you more excitable.
Child. Yes! You do!


 
But this, this is probably my all time favourite:

Two women sitting on the table next to me:
Woman 1: I’m really sorry about last night.
Woman 2: That’s ok.
Woman 1: I just didn’t realise how late it was.
Woman 2: I told you, it’s ok.
Woman 1: But if I’d have known you were in bed with him, I wouldn’t have phoned.
Woman 2: Seriously, we didn’t mind.
Woman 1: Are you sure?
Woman 2: Yes. If anyone can call him late at night, it’s you. I mean, he is your husband…

erm, yes.

The ‘didn’t happen’ lot lead very anodyne lives, ignorant of silliness. And that’s very, very sad.
 
 
Anyway, something else tomorrow.

Of course, that title should continue “…a Londoner.” And, in a post I wrote in June, it did end that way. Kind of.

Short entry today; just some thoughts on London. Noodling, as James Burke calls it.

Because I’m not one, not a native Londoner, I mean. I wasn’t born in London.

I was born in Luton, Bedfordshire. Born in the Luton & Dunstable Hospital, so I’m told. But as you’d expect, I don’t remember much about the experience. Luton, as they say, might be a great pace to come from, but my experience is that it’s a lousy place to go back to.

Both parents were Londoners, though; my mum was born in Stoke Newington, and my father was a cockney. A proper one, ‘born within the the sound of Bow Bells’, and all that.

And yes there were some phrases my old man used that were straight out of a ‘how to talk like a cockney‘ handbook.

I grew up hearing something that wasn’t quite the done thing described as ‘bang out of order’ and hearing a suit described as a ‘whistle’¹, and feet as ‘plates’².

¹ whistle and flute = suit
² plates of meat = feet

That wasn’t the language and dialect my parents used when they didn’t want us kids to know what they were saying, by the way. My parents and grandparents – my mum’s parents anyway; never knew my father’s – used Yiddish. Not a lot, but enough so we didn’t know what they were talking about.

And, before they realised I could spell, they spelled out words. A family story is that at one point, they wanted me to go to bed before a specific television programme was on. And my mother spelled it out… only for me to vigorously protest because I wanted to watch that programme.

After that, though, it was Yiddish all the way when they didn’t want one of us kids knowing…

But I’ve lived in London since I was 21; in Barnet for most of it, in Richmond – well, Ham, really – for four years, and, for the past almost three years, in Abbey Road.

I like the Abbey Road area. It’s close enough to.… well, pretty much everything I want. Fifteen minutes from central london by bus, half an hour if I walk. And, despite the foot, I do often walk. Similarly, ten minutes from Kilburn by bus, half an hour from Golders Green, or Brent Cross; a bit longer to North Finchley, where I usually meet up with my ex-wife for a coffee and catchup.

But as I’ve mentioned before, central London is a place I really like walking around. Every street has ghosts, both the impersonal – events that happened at this place or not, in a long and not always distinguished history – and the personal; places I worked, places I met people, places that remind me of people I loved, and people I cared for, and people I disliked intensely.

And places at which I spent evenings drinking with all three of them.

I walk past coffee shops at which I spent what seems now an incredible amount of time; one shop was my regular ‘have a coffee before work’ for the best part of 12 years. Another was the coffee shop that everyone knew and so we met there for a coffee.

Yet another was down a little alleyway around the corner from work, and no one from work knew about it so if I wanted to guarantee I’d never see anyone I knew…

Nowadays, I have different coffee shops I go to; it’s not the same. I’ve changed, the times of the day I visit are different, and there’s nowhere I go frequently enough where I could ask ‘the usual, please’

London’s a great place to get lost in. And I don’t mean geographically, Well, not solely, anyway.

I read something a while back about the difference between being alone and being lonely. I’ve rarely read anything on the difference with which I agreed. (Notable exception for Stephen’s Fry’s masterly piece on the difference.) But this one stressedthe differences, and I agreed with them.

Because I’m both, on occasion, but prefer the former to the latter.

I live alone, and I spend most of my time alone, in my own company. It’s rare that I like spending time in others’ company, or subjecting others to my company, and even rarer for me for actively welcome it for more than a couple of hours at a time.

But then I realise, as I realised long ago: it’s not other people who are the issue, but other people who I know. Lots of other people who I don’t know? That’s different. and with vanishingly small exceptions, that’s what I find preferable.

And other than perhaps at 4 in the morning, when you might be the only person, or only one or two, in the all night place, in London, with its coffee shops, cafes, anywhere… you’re not going to be alone. Not quite.

You’ll be, or at least I will be, surrounded by people, none of who give the faintest toss about me, my problems, my company. And it’s reciprocated; trust me, it is.

I saw, online a couple of weeks ago, a suggestion to approach people sitting alone, and strike up a conversation. I’m not sure what it says that I greeted the idea, the very concept with unremitting and unending horror.

London’s a great place to get lost. It’s equally good as somewhere where you can lose yourself, if you want to.
 
 
Something else, tomorrow.

Although it shouldn’t be by now, it’s always a surprise to me that the one person you can pretty much guarantee won’t visit what is regarded as a “must visit” place… is a resident of the city in which the place exists.

What percentage of people in New York, for example, visit the Empire State Building compared to the percentage of out-of-towners? And what of the Sydney Opera House? Or the House of Lords?

Or… the British Museum?

I mean, I visited the latter about 15 years ago, for the first time. I’d always been aware of it, but for whatever reason, I’d never gone in.

Now, as a rule, I don’t like museums. No, that’s not quite fair. It’s not that I don’t like them. But my foot ain’t a fan, for obvious reasons. Also, I genuinely find them of so little interest that they bore me. It’s a bit like the classic response to “You don’t think much of me, do you?”: “I don’t think of you at all.”

I’m not sure why that is, and it’s begun to bother me a bit. I mean, I like the idea of history; as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more interested in the history of Royalty in the UK, the history of representative democracy. But I’ve never felt any urge to visit Royal Palaces, or to see the Royal Family in person.

Oh, don’t get me wrong; if I suddenly received an invitation to a Buckingham Palace garden party, I’d accept, just for the experience. But it’s not like I actively want to attend one.

I’ve been to the House of Commons a few times, a few times in the past couple of years, I mean. But on each occasion, I’ve gone because of what’s been occurring then and there. I went to see a debate; I went to meet someone for coffee; I went to hear a talk about the parliamentary traditions.

And I went to see a friend present his show about antisemitism, more about which in another post, later in this run. But the flyer for it is to the side, over there, linked to when you can see it in December.

But in all the times I’ve been in the Houses of Parliament, I don’t remember – apart from the very first time, when I was about 17 years old and came with a friend – feeling any ‘wow, I’m surrounded by history’.

I have felt that, more than once, when I’ve been walking around London, and noticed that I’m passing this building, or that street. I once had to attend the Royal Courts of Justice, merely to pick up some papers, and oh boy did I feel the weight of history surround me, and bury me.

But again, as I’ve mentioned before, until fairly recently, I’d never attended Court for any reason, even to witness the proceedings.

The British Library. Pretty sure I’ve been there a couple of times; I have no memories of the experiences though.

The London Eye. Been on it twice, with my then-wife Laura and our then-young son. I remember quite enjoying both experiences, without at any point actively wishing to repeat the experience. Not really been there long enough to have ‘history’ attached to it.

Abbey Road Studios. OK, give me that one. Yeah, I’ve walked past it more times than I care to recall, and even been into the shop a couple of times. It’s fun, but nothing more than that.

Carnaby Street. See above; not what it once was, but yeah, ok, there is a sense of history there, just.

Westminster Abbey. Walked past it a few times when visiting parliament. Taken the occasional nice snap.

Trafalgar Square. This is an odd one, because of course I should feel a sense of history; the place has gone out of its way, through the decades, to give that sense of history. Me? It’s something to walk through when I’m getting from A to B. Sorry, but yeah.

Tower Bridge. OK, yeah, you’ve got me. This one does give me a sense of history when I walk across it, but not for the obvious reasons. It was originally built more than a hundred years ago, but what strikes me is that about half a mile away is The Gherkin. OK, it’s officially known as 30 St Mary Axe, but more relevantly it’s a building that was completed in 2004, and used – at the time – the most modern materials, the most modern electrics, the most modern, energy efficient design… and it’s half a mile away from a landmark build over a hundred years before. You can see each from the other. Yeah, that matters, though I couldn’t tell you why.

St. John’s Gate, Clerkenwell. Again, yeah, ok, I’ll admit to feeling the history here. A bare gate tower, that was built in 1504. Yeah, ok, something 500 years old gets to even me.

Hmm, maybe I should visit a few more places; it wouldn’t do me any harm to at least try to appreciate some history.

Just no museums, ok?

Something else tomorrow… hopefully, the return of the Ten Things…

Regular readers of this countdown blog – and indeed previous countdown runs – will know that by the time I’m a couple of weeks through it, the breakdown has started.

I don’t mean my breakdown – that happened several years ago, and some day I might even feel ok blogging about it – but the pattern of the blog.

We’re now at the stage where readers know what to expect: Tuesday, you’ll get some fiction; Thursday, we’re in the middle of the antisemitic imagery stuff; Friday, a list of content (tv, comics, movies) I enjoy; Saturday, well, we have the Smiles.

Which leaves three days a week when I’ve got to sit down in front of a blank screen and decide on what to write, on which subject to opine.

And, walking to a coffee shop in Kilburn, I was playing with various ideas in my head, wondering whether this subject or that topic, or this item of news, or that piece of tech would be worth a few hundred words.

(Answers: no; yes, but not today; definitely yes at some point; probably not.)

And then I walked into someone in the street. Quite literally. My body collided with theirs.

My fault entirely. I have to stress that, and you have to understand… the lady in question was completely and objectively free from blame and responsibility for the collision.

And yet, when I apologised, she shushed me immediately. No, no, she insisted. It had been her fault. She hadn’t been looking where she was going.

I demurred: it was wholly and solely my fault, I protested.

Nonsense, she continued, my fault entirely.

This continued for about thirty seconds before we grinned at each other, and moved past each other, her to continue into Sainsbury’s, me to head for Costa, and coffee.

I’d never felt more British in my life. Or rather more “English”

Which is weird because I don’t usually ”feel’ English. Not as a thing, an important thing.

John Cecil Rhodes may have once said to Lord Grey:
 

You are an Englishman, and have subsequently drawn the greatest prize in the lottery of life.

 
usually misquoted as
 

To be born English is to win first prize in the lottery of life. 

 
but Rhodes supported aparthied, and Hitler liked him, so maybe not the best fella to cite if you’re proud of being English.

But it did set me thinking about being English, and British, and European.

I’ve written previously, when the government were considering making public servants – people who work for or are paid by, the state – swear an oath of allegiance to “British values”.

As I and others pointed out at the time, enforcing the swearing of an oath to British values is, in and of itself, pretty self-contradictory to British values. It’s not what we do, it’s not the kind of thing we like. Other countries may insist that their people carry identity papers, and swear loyalty and all that, but our constitution – such as it is – is built around the principle of “we leave you alone and you leave us alone, ok?”

Yes, of course there are oaths sworn in the UK; the military swear oaths, politicians swear oaths, and the general public do so in court. But in the latter case it’s an oath to tell the truth, not to pledge allegiance to a nebulous collection of nonsense called “British values”.

I kind of like the idea that British values aren’t easily codified, and indeed, if you asked ten different people you’d get fifteen different answers. (Not because we like arguing; we’re just useless at maths.)

But with the unavoidable juggernaut of shit that we chose to name “Brexit” rumbles towards us once again, the concept of what it means to be British, or English, or… European, has been asked.

I’m not sure how I identify myself these days, in that respect.

Or rather, I kind of know how I identify myself; I’m just not sure that if I was questioned as to why, I could come up with anything beyond “Because I do” as an answer. And that’s a shitty answer to anything, and should be restricted to those occasions when it’s either said to a toddler, or a toddler’s the one saying it.

Do I feel European? Not really. Not in any meaningful way. I’ve barely travelled to Europe in my life, something I faintly regret but again not in any measurable, meaningful, way. And unlike many of my friends, I don’t speak a European language beyond a paltry smattering of German and the occasional word in French I remember from school.

I don’t speak any languages, really, other than English, although I can get away with fluent Rubbish when called upon to do so. I can understand some written Hebrew and even speak a teeny tiny bit of it… and the occasional Yiddish phrase, in the same way as I know some Latin phrases. Doesn’t make me anywhere close to fluent, and I’m at as much of a loss when listening to people speak fluent Irvrit as I would be hearing someone speak fluent Mandarin.

But do I feel a commonality with the French, or the Dutch, or the Germans? Not really. I’ve not visited any of their countries, and I bet I’d feel like a complete stranger if I did.

I mean, I’ve been to Russia, on work; spent a week there in 2006. I never felt anything other than a stranger there, although I did have the opportunity to feel several strangers while there… but that’s another story for another time.

Don’t get me wrong; I like that the UK is – still is, just – ‘part of Europe’, both politically and geographically. And I certainly voted to Remain in 2016.

But I didn’t vote to remain because I felt a strong link to Europe, nor that I felt everyone in Europe was my brother, or any such nonsense.

I voted Remain for the simplest (some might argue simplistic) of reasons.

If we stayed: we kind of, sort of, maybe, with a tip of the head, and a squint… knew what would happen. OK, we didn’t know everything, and the stuff we did know, we weren’t completely sure of, and the stuff we were sure about, we didn’t like it all. But again, we kind of ‘knew what would happen’.

If Leave won, no one had a fucking clue what would happen.

(One of the single best things during the Scottish Independence Referendum was Andrew Neil’s documentary a couple of weeks earlier, when he asked campaigners for independence what happened if Scotland voted Yes. The overwhelming conclusion was ‘no one has a fucking clue…’ Beyond ‘Scotland would leave the union’, no one had a clue what would happen. Plenty of hopes, plenty of desires, but no one could say THIS would happen or THAT would follow.)

And that was my view on the EU Referendum. All the promises…? None would be kept, none could be kept, because they relied upon other stuff happening… which wouldn’t happen.

So, no, I don’t ‘feel’ European in any meaningful way.

OK, so how about “British”? Do I feel British?

Well, leaving aside my 30 second apologyfest with the lady earlier this afternoon, I’m not entirely sure that I do. Not especially, not particularly. I mean, ok, I am British. But I’m very sure, I’m certain, that other people could identify what about me – beyond my accent – makes me “British” and why I should feel British.

“English”? The same applies. I was born here, and I’ve spent almost every day of my life in England. A few, rare, trips to Wales, and a total of about two months in Scotland. A few trips abroad. So I’ve nothing really to compare it to. I’m British, and I’m English, but I don’t ‘feel’ British nor English. I just feel like… me.

OK, so what about London? Do I feel like a Londoner? I suppose if pushed… I do, in a way. But I wasn’t born here. And yes, I’ve spent most of my adult life here, but I was born in Luton; despite Luton airport’s formal name, it’s not in London. Indeed it wasn’t even called London Luton Airport when I lived there; the name change was in 1990, five years after I left the place.

But again, it’s daft for me to ‘feel’ like a Londoner, because I’ve no idea what that truly means.

Unless it merely means “feels a connection to”.

But it can’t be that.

Surely it can’t just be that.

Because I spent a week in Maui, on my honeymoon. And I still ‘feel a connection’ to it because of that. I spent ten days in Antigua, ten much needed rest and recuperation days, back in 2011 when I was a complete mess, physically and mentally, and the holiday helped, a lot. I’ll always feel a connection to the place in gratitude.

How about, “ah, but are you proud of the place?”

Then… no. Not Antigua, nor Maui. But not Britain nor England, either. Not especially. We’ve done some pretty shifty stuff over the centuries. In fact, given some of the stuff Britain has done over the centuries, I’m not entirely sure anyone should be that proud. But plenty of people are. Just as others are proud of being Australian, or American, who maintain that their country is the greatest country on earth… Really?

New Yorkers are proud of New York, most of them I know, anyway. Plenty of people are proud of their cities. I know people who are proud of Liverpool, and Edinburgh, and Brighton, respectively.

But while I’m proud of London that we, on the whole, welcome visitors and hell, we elected Sadiq Khan, we also as a city elected Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson. There’re times I’m proud of London, but not always and as A Thing.

I mean, I lived for four years in Richmond, well in Ham. And I very very much like Richmond Park. Definitely feel a connection to it. But ‘proud’ of it? No.

I’m proud of my son. And I’m proud of the things my friends have achieved, and I’m proud of the strength people I know have shown under incredible pressure and in horrible circumstances.

But that’s in part because he is my son, and they are my friends and they are people I know, like and personally care about.

But the country? Britain? England?

The country’s sportsmen and women… the country’s representatives in any number of fields? Not particularly. Not at all, in fact. Not really.

So yeah, I’m English, I’m British, I’m European.

Why, if I don’t ‘feel’ like any of them, do I claim those identities?

“Because I do.”

Damn. I really need to find a better answer to that.

 
 

See you tomorrow, with the usual Tuesday fare.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

I joined Instagram a couple of months ago.

Unlike most social media platforms, I didn’t join it to grab the name “@budgie”. I’ve done that on more than a few, not knowing whether I’d use the platform, but fairly sure that if I did want to use it at some point, it’d be nice to have @budgie as my account name.

I’ve missed out on a few, obviously. And I used to use budgie_uk, but for the past few years, as with this blog, I’ve preferred budgiehypoth, a concatenation of my name, and, obviously, the hypotheticals panel I ran for a few years with Dave Gibbons.

Hardly anyone remembers hypotheticals any more, true, but I’m sentimental about it.

So, yes, on Instagram, while budgie – and every possible similar short name – was taken years ago, budgiehypoth was available.

I’m still figuring it out; there’s a lot I like¹ about it, a lot I don’t², a lot I understand³ why they do it their own way whether I like it or not, and some I have no idea⁴ at all why they do it the way they do.

¹ It’s easy, quick to use, very user-intuitive for the basic stuff, very little politics on there, and it’s – probably not a coincidence – very friendly

² the ads are intrusive, it’s owned by Facebook, the learning curve for anything beyond the simplest stuff is huge, and fuck me, more than a dozen hashtags per post is too many, shurely?

³ No clickable URL links inside the posts; cuts down on the fake news for a start, and makes it immediately less oppressive.

⁴ Stories. I have no idea what or how stories are, how useful they are for others, or for yourself.

Anyway, what I’ve been using it for, what I’ve been posting every day while I figure out whether Instagram is for me, is weather shots, from an app called WeatherShot amusingly enough. I’ve stuck with the basic default overlay, which I like. But it means that I’ve taken a lot of shots of areas local to me.

So for today’s entry, some pondering and thoughts about the pics I’ve taken, and where I’ve taken them…

Swiss Cottage

Perfectly appropriate that I took a shot in the rain, as it seems whenever I’m walking through Swiss Cottage it rains (a slight exaggeration, but not much) but also because what instantly springs to mind is the local swimming pool which I visit on an occasional basis. I’d probably visit more if I could afford it. It’s a great pool, and I miss swimming more often.

However, I know the prices are an excuse, not a reason. Even if I could visit every day, I probably wouldn’t, due to my buggered up foot. Its funny; whenever I tell someone that, I normally get two responses:

a) Oh, swimming’s very good excercise (which it is)
b) ‘hurts to tread water, I guess’ (it’s not that)

Nope, the reason isn’t me, but other people. If I’m swimming, or the aforementioned treading water, and someone swims swims past, the wake… well, the wake twists my foot in the water, and I go from ‘this is very nice, isn’t it?’ to ‘ohmygod who poured molten lava on my foot?’ in less than a second.

So, swimming in a pool when there’s hardly anyone about? Lovely. Swimming when there are lots of people around? Not a risk worth taking.


Kilburn

I’ve had an odd relationship with Kilburn over the years. A bookkeeping client had an office there – a hemp importer/exporter – and I always enjoyed going to the client. The area? Not so much. Then there was a girlfriend from my single days (my first set of single days, not the past few years) who lived ten minutes’ walk from where this photo was taken. But despite going to her place dozens of times, I can’t remember which street she lived on, let alone the house.

And though I’d driven though it hundreds of times over the decades, until I moved to Abbey Road, I don’t think I’d actually walked through Kilburn – from Brondesbury to Kilburn Park, though Kilburn High Road – more than maybe twenty times?

This pic was taken from outside Kilburn High Road train station. A few minutes’ walk from here is where I buy my vapes – heh, there should probably be a post about that – and one of my favourite coffee shops. Well, it’s a favourite now; had one of the few bad, horrible, genuinely lousy, experineces at a Costa Coffee there.

And it took a while for it to be sorted out… but, give them credit; I’ve never seen a coffee place, hell any business, respond so completely to a customer complaint. Now, I’m not suggesting that they reacted solely to my complaint. But the difference between how the staff acted, the politeness, the friendliness… everything switched from barely tolerable to flat out excellent in a couple of days.


St John’s Wood

This was taken about five minutes’ walk from my flat, on the way to St John’s Wood Tube. I’ve been in this area for coming up on two and a half years, and I love how down every street, every side road, there’s a story waiting to be told. Down this street, there’s a police station; down that road, there’s a ballet school; down that street, there’s a children’s nursery, the air ringing with laughter; down this road, there’s a charming little spot of green, surrounded by, almost covered by trees.

And each of them looks slightly different in bright sunshine than in the shadows of dusk, or with the rain bouncing off the pavement.

This is still London, but it’s not. It’s a little village in the heart of London, which delightfully reminds me in some ways of Ham and Richmond. A decent park being nearby merely highlights the comparison.


West End Lane

Two shots, taken 30 yards apart, taken two minutes apart. Two entirely different shots that sum up West End Green perfectly. A quiet road, and a quiet green, with people just relaxing on it.

Between Abbey Road and Golders Green, it’s a lovely place to spend an hour or two, walking, pondering, and enjoying the quiet. Both are attached to a main road, but you’d rarely know it. The air’s clean, the atmosphere lovely, and… hell, it’s lovely.


Teddington Lock

I’m back in Richmond, in Ham, every week or so, staying with close friends, crashing over the night. This, however, wasn’t a visit for that. I was attending a comedy gig at The Anglers. I’d even already taken my weathershot pic for the day, and had no intention of doing another. But as I walked over Teddington Lock, I glanced up, saw the scene above… and come on, how could I not take a pic of that?

I spent four years in Ham, ten minutes’ walk from the Lock. It remains a huge puzzle to me why I never spent more time taking photos of scenes like that.


Marlborough Place

And this is now about as close to my place as you can get. Have walked down this road any number of times, and it’s only ever a ‘problem’ when my foot is playing up. (there’s a more than slight incline). When it’s hot, there’s almost always a breeze; when it’s raining, no matter how hard, the walls on the road provide a break from the worst of it, and the walk is the perfect length to listen to one of my favourite [short] podcasts.

And I get pics like the one above.

Something different again tomorrow.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.

In August, I’ll have been in my current flat (ok, ok, ‘apartment’, for the Americans reading) ‪for two and a half years.

Two and a half years. Yes, that feels about right to me.

Which is… odd, because in the closing days of January, when it occurred to me that I’d been at the flat almost two years, it was quite a surprise to me.

It couldn’t be two years, it just couldn’t be. But it was. That meant two birthdays, two Christmasses, ‬two New Years… and while I knew it intellectually, it sure felt a lot less than two years had gone by since I left Richmond, Well, Ham, actually, but yeah, Richmond.

But now, this… two and a half years feels about right.

‬I’ve lived in London since early 1986, and while I can’t say it’s my favourite place in the UK, let alone the world¹, it’s where I’ve chosen to live since I was in my early 20s.

The UK. Ah, the United Kingdom. Four nations, four countries, yet I still think of it as one ‘place’, and I think of myself as British, not English.

On a related point, I don’t really ‘get’ patriotism, as a concept, I mean.

I can understand immigrants to a country being grateful to a country that takes them in, and ‘loving’ their new country because of it, sure. But loving a country merely because you were born there, thinking it’s the ‘greatest country on earth’, etc. Hmm, no, never understood that.

But I digress. Back to the UK.

While I’ve been to three of the constituent parts of the UK, I’ve never yet managed to make it over to Northern Ireland. I kind of regret that.

Wales I visited a couple of times in my 20s, and I dunno, once or twice a decade since?Scotland, I’ve only visited half a dozen times or so, all in the past decade, but only to the Isle of Skye, and Edinburgh. And my favourite place in the UK, I have to say, is… Edinburgh.

But, I should acknowledge, that opinion comes with so many caveats, I’m not totally sure it’s a fair view to express. For a start, I’ve only been to Edinburgh six times, each visit for roughly a week. In August. During the Edinburgh Festival, or more properly, at the Edinburgh Fringe. So it’s at least arguable that my favourite place isn’t Edinburgh per se, but that weird place named ‘EdinburghDuringFringe’.

Now, I could write several posts’ worth of content on the Edinburgh Fringe… which means, as you no doubt realise, that I probably will. I’ve always been curious whether I’d enjoy Edinburgh as much outside August, when every other door in the city doesn’t lead to a venue, when a walk along a street doesn’t leave you with pockets full of flyers, when the streets aren’t so packed they make London’s Oxford Street on Christmas Eve look empty.

I’m digressing again. Apologies. Back to London for a bit.

When I first moved to London, in 1986, it was to a flat-share near Ilford. Not one of my smarter moves, I never really enjoyed my time there; in part because what was originally just me and the fella who owned the flat quickly – a couple of weeks later – became me, the fella who owned the flat… and his new fiancée, who he proposed to. Two weeks after I moved in. And two weeks before she moved in. The flat was great for two, and awful for three… and after a month of that, I was looking again.

About my only fond memories of the flat are of the fiancée who was very sweetly embarrassed about the whole thing, and a beigel bakery that had just opened nearby.

So I moved into a flat in Highgate. I’d say that the landlady was the typical ‘little old lady’ who had a nice flat but just liked having lodgers but she was anything but typical. Managing Director of a thriving electrical wholesale business – she’d taken over after her husband died – she had a brain like a razor blade, was funny as hell, and… just liked having lodgers. I was there for a few years, and only moved out after she died and her family sold the flat.

I’ve many, many fond memories of the flat and of Highgate itself. Particularly of the people living in Highgate, and of one fella, named D’Arcy – never knew his first name, everyone just called him D’Arcy – who ran a coffee shop in Highgate Village. I’d wander down there at the weekend, and when taking a break while on accountancy study leave. And we’d play chess, and backgammon, and shoot the breeze about anything and everything. Lovely man; funny, a booming voice, and a fund of stories about his background, some of which might even have been true.

A couple of years in North Finchley followed, a house share, the only place I’ve lived in where I was almost ashamed to invite people back to. Awful. Six of us in the house, at any point three of us weren’t talking to another three. But there was a Canadian writer living there, and we hit it off… a playwrite, she was fascinated by British radio comedy…

I can no longer remember whose idea it was to write together, but we submitted some stuff to Radio 4… and soon enough we were both commissioned to write for Weekending. And yet that isn’t the prime memory of my life at the house. Because I’d met Laura… and started going out with Laura, and gotten engaged to Laura…

Oh, and I was still studying to be an accountant, so there was that as well.

The next twelve years was spent living with Laura, at a flat in Barnet, and then a house. They weren’t all fantastic years. But they were great places to live, with Laura and then Phil, when he came along a year or so after we married, and I can barely remember any of the bad times now; on the whole, they were good years.

A flat in Barnet for seven years after we split up; oh, I loved that two bedroom flat; just big enough for me to not feel crowded with all my stuff in it; small enough that it felt like ‘mine’. And Phil was regularly there which made it even better.

Career was going well, social life was great-ish, comics stuff was great, writing stuff was great. Flat was great.

Then…

Yeah… then.

I mentioned yesterday that I’d had some mental health issues, and I wouldn’t yet go into detail. I had, and I won’t. Suffice to say that I had a fairly comprehensive nervous breakdown, and leave it there… for the moment. Only reason I’m mentioning it here is to get to what came next: close friends said ‘come and stay with us for a few months… we’d love to have you…’

“A few months.”

Four and a half years. And I loved living there. In Ham, in Richmond. I discovered how much I enjoyed Richmond Park; genuinely never expected that. Until then, friends would good-naturedly rib me at my lack of interest in, let alone affinity for, nature and all things… green. But I loved the place. I rediscovered how much I enjoyed living in what’s effectively a village, but with all the advantages of a large town mere minutes away.

But, in early 2017, it was time to move on, and so I did… to my current place, in Abbey Road; as I said yesterday, very close to Abbey Road Studios.

Every place I’ve lived, I’ve some fond memories. Every place I’ve lived, there’s been oddities and weird quirks. Never expected, however, to find tourists asking me for directions every third day, or traffic being held up as other tourists pose on that bloody crossing… You’d think that’d get tiring, and the latter, yeah it does.

But the former, the asking for directions? Nope. After two and a half years, it’s still cute, and sweet, and genuinely lovely. Their enthusiasm, their ‘we made it half way around the world, but we can’t find something 300m away’? Yeah, honestly, that’s never anything but… nice. And their gratitude is politeness itself.

I’ve lived in London since 1986. Thirty-three years; three-fifths of my life; hell, almost all of my adult life. At some time in the future, no doubt, I’ll start to feel like ‘a Londoner’, to feel that “Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner’ will apply to me. I hope so. Because really, I don’t. I feel like a welcomed guest, someone to who London has said ‘come on in, stay as long as you want, you’re always welcome here’.

And for the past two and a half years, that’s been in Abbey Road.

I wonder what the next two and half will bring.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to my fifty-fifth birthday on 17th August 2019. You can see the other posts in the run by clicking here.


¹ one of the best things about writing a blog is the ‘huh, I should write an entry on that at some point’ thought, so maybe a ‘favourite places around the world’ entry will appear later on in this run. Maybe.

James Burke makes the point, fairly regularly, that the biggest crises happen when something that people are so used to relying upon that they don’t even think about it… stops working. Also, that when things do stop working, the assumption is that it will, soon enough, start working again. There’s irritation, not worry, nor panic. It’s irritation rather than panic because there’s a temporary inconvenience, not a permanent end to it.

Similarly, I think that the biggest non-recognised events come when people begin to not think how amazing something is, and start to accept something as part of everyday life. 

I used my contactless card to pay for coffee today. OK, yes, I’m still old fashioned enough that I prefer to pay for small items in cash, but that’s slowly changing. But, as I was queuing up, I saw people pay by four different methods:  one person paid by cash, another used NFC via Apple Pay on their iPhone, someone else used their ‘contactless’ bank card, and yet another used Chip and PIN. And as new methods come into play, older ones vanish. While cash remains a useful method of payment*, use of personal cheques in retail shops has plummeted. 

(*worth pointing out that intent out that in London at least, you can no longer use cash to pay for busses; it’s contactless or tfl’s Oyster card.)

But whereas even I thought it was ‘wow’ to use contactless when it started, now it’s just ‘how I sometimes pay for stuff’. It’s not even fair to describe my attitude as blasé, because if I did think about it, I’d probably still be a bit ‘wow’ over it. But I don’t. I don’t think about it, any more than I think about the genuinely modern miracle of constant access to… well, to everything, via the wonder of constant internet access. As Chris Addison puts it: it takes roughly thirty seconds for the modern miracle of the Internet to become, if it’s ‘down’, a basic human right. 

There’s so much I use and experience every day, from my iPhone and my iPad to my bluetooth keyboard, from text messaging to the large digital displays by the bus stop, to the fact that the London Underground keeps running, somehow. 

That’s something else I’m used to and don’t think about that often, if at all: the systems that keep working. Whether it’s the National Health Service (no matter how bad, I know I can turn up at Acciednt and Emergency and I will, eventually, be seen) or the street lights or – as I say above – the London Underground.

Those trains, hundreds of them, running roughly to timetable, thousands of drivers and staff just keeping them moving. And, when there is a problem, (the Piccadilly Line has severe problems at the moment… and will do so for some weeks to come) somehow, the system copes, manages. Except it’s not just the system itself; it’s the people who work there, working harder than anyone realises, but that’s the truth of most jobs: no one realises how hard any job is unless they’ve done it.

It’d blow my mind if I actually thought deeply on what it takes to keep the major infrastructure systems running.

But I don’t think about it.

I probably should.


This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

While I’m scared of wasps and bees, I apparently don’t have a phobia.

To my delight, I discovered a while back that a phobia is an irrational fear, and since wasp and bee stings hurt, what I have isn’t a phobia but good old fashioned rational fear of being stung, and the associated pain therefrom.

Fortunately for this post, neither do I have an irrational fear of heights. Good thing too, as in my time I’ve been fortunate enough to have been in some very tall buildings: the BT Tower, the Gherkin (officially ’30 St Mary Axe’ but everyone calls it The Gherkin) and others.

Less than a decade ago, I was in New York for a bar mitzvah. I’d already been told that while the Empire State Building deserved its iconic status and indeed, I’d been up there years earlier, if I truly wanted some great views, I should go to The Top of The Rock, otherwise known as 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Once I got up there, I saw what everyone meant. While the Empire State is slightly taller, the view back then was, maybe still is, obstructed by vertical railings. Spectacular views… but not exactly designed as a place from which to take photos.

Top of the Rock on the other hand? Well now. Instead of the railings, plates of thick glass, with a few inches gap between each one. Not only was the glass clear enough to shoot pictures through, but the gaps were more than wide enough to do the same.

And the views? 

Occasionally, I get to do the same in London.

Like this morning, when I managed to get – after some time – tickets to The Sky Garden in Fenchurch Street.

I’ll shut up for a moment and just let you see the photos.

Well now.

The weather was pretty much perfect; enough sunlight, possibly a tad too bright, but no clouds and you could see for tens of miles… Glorious.

For all that I love walking around London, for all that I can happily lose myself in the world of London Below, I forget sometimes just how great, how wonderfully great, London is from above.

As for walking around London, it appears that Christmas is approaching…

These are the Christmas lights in Regent Street…


This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

2017 minus 49: London Zoo

Posted: 13 November 2016 in 2017 minus, life, London
Tags: ,

When I started this blog, I’d intended to write some entries about the city in which I live. Yeah, things kind of got away from me, what with the… now, how does John Oliver put it? Oh yes…

That said, this afternoon I got to spend some time with birthday girl Greta Benn and family at London Zoo. I should say upfront that I’ve no strong views either pro- or anti- zoos, but that if you’re very anti- them, then this entry is probably not for you, and you should probably stop reading at this point.

Similarly, if you’ve a problem with looking at spiders, then, yeah… probably best you skip this entry and come back tomorrow.

While you’re deciding, here’s a nice video I took of a long necked turtle.


OK, still here? Good.

So, yeah, Greta, her sister Astrid and friends, together with us adults went off to London Zoo today. Was a fun afternoon, looking at various animals, learning a lot in my case. Seriously. Those little information signs outside the cages or glass fronts? I learned stuff I didn’t know.

I didn’t know, for example, that a rattlesnake’s ‘rattle’ grows with each shed of skin, and that baby rattlesnakes are silent, until their first shed. I didn’t know that London Zoo have a gorilla named after one of our parrots at home. (Yeah, yeah, you can say that it’s just a coincidence, but I know better.) 

I also didn’t know that the Slender Loris is one of the cutest animals on the planet. (It was too dark to get a shot of own, but this is a Slender Loris. Tell me it’s not cute; go on, I dare you.)


I also discovered that I’m surprisingly all right around big spiders, including a tarantula. I should note that friends took great delight in introducing me to this young lady, a bird eating spider…

Here, have some monkeys.

And a gorilla, a new daddy apparently. We could just about see the baby gorilla…

To show my expert zoological knowledge, I confidently identify the following as a bird.

Whereas, again showing off my knowledge of the animal kingdom, this one is… a bird.

This one is definitely not a bird. I’m fairly sure of that.

I’m equally sure that the smaller ones are recently born cubs. (Or midget tigers. I’m not entirely sure.)

Here, have some monkeys.

Yeah, here come the spiders…

I’m 90% sure this isn’t a spider.

I’m not convinced about this one, though.

And this one…. yeah, this one’s a snake. A big snake. A REALLY BIG snake. No, I’m not kidding, how fucking big is this snake? Run, for fuck’s sake run…

Huh. I was going to write more about the zoo, but you know what? You’ve got pictures.

More on… something else, tomorrow.

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

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.)

Anyway…

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.