Archive for May 2012

Metaphor   Leave a comment

“Going Up in the World is a metaphor, which I am learning about, it is like Lying but more decorative.”

Captain Carrot, from Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett (Illustration by Paul Kidby)


Posted May 27, 2012 by mshambainlondon in Random

Tagged with , , , ,

Oxford Street and beyond   Leave a comment

I left work late and strolled down Oxford Street. Down past the umbrella shop, one of the most amazing shops in London. Straight out of Victorian times.

Past the cheap Chinese buffets and snack shops and English colleges leaking young, beautiful people. It is a balmy evening, the first real one of the year. The feel of warm air on my skin is sensuously beautiful.

It is not as hot as Dar where the sweat drips down the back of your legs. Not as mad as Bangkok. Almost like New York but not as dirty or as manic. Because of the warmth there is a general uplift in mood. I see people catching eyes and smiling as they pass, the secret communication of happiness.

At Tottenham Court Station, outside the theatre are throngs of people waiting to see Rock of Ages. I run across the road and hit the section where the big shops are. I am struck by the beauty of the young people.  A young man in shorts and a shirt walks towards me. He is straight out of a catalogue. Young lovers are everywhere, the heat increasing the passion.

The whole street is hung with the Union Jack. I have very mixed emotions. The conditioned citizen of a former colony has been taught to hate this as a symbol of imperialism. But the logical and critical part of me says, ‘you know you live in Londistan, but you also know that this is located in the UK and you choose to live here.’ I try to reconcile the conflict by telling myself, that I am happy for these people to celebrate their queen (even though the concept of a queen, a ruler, a monarch is completely incomprehensible to me). I try to look at the Union Jacks across the street as pretty decorations. (I guess, not particularly successfully because I’m writing this now.)

Down past Selfridges on the right and the huge Primark on the left, two extremes of shopping. Then Oxford Street begins to become more Arabic. The perfume shop with its beautiful smells drifting out the door.

I hit Marble Arch and the trashy souvenir shops and cheap burger places.  Across the road and through the Arch a small park is full of Arabic families, spilling over from Edgware Road, sitting on the scrubby grass, enjoying the warmth of the evening.

Into Hyde Park. It is almost dark now. A film crew on the right with big spotlights and a queue at the food van. I keep close to the railings because I don’t want to get locked in.  I walk on the grass and love the feel of the earth under my feet. The rain of the past few months has made the park overgrown and jungle-like. I make it to Lancaster Gate before I have to leave because the park is shutting.

I’m back on the pavement and all along the railings on my left are unsuspecting tourists who have been caught in the park late. Some are trying to jump the railings. A few kindly Londoners standing outside are directing others to the gates that are still open.

Past Kensington Gardens, then left and through the quiet road where the embassies are. The quietness of high security and wealth seeps into the road. It is a relief from the noise. Out onto Kensington High Street and back into the noise again. Past Holland Park on the right before the long stretch to Hammersmith. And finally out onto the river’s edge, the peaceful, silent river and down the river to home.

Jungle London   2 comments

Spring has tipped into summer. London is lush and verdant with the long rainy season. I am struck with premature midsummer madness after walking for 10 miles through the overgrown jungle that is this city yesterday. I dreamt of jungles.

I woke today and spent the day in a daze, unable to concentrate and longing to be outside again. I left early, walked from central London to where I live in the west, dropped my work stuff, pulled on my walking boots and kept going for miles and miles. I could not get enough. I wanted to dive into this early summer and roll around in the grass and then spend the next month camping by the river like a child of nature.

Crystal Palace Station   Leave a comment

Man runs along platform for train. He makes a loud and desperate groaning sound – part strain at running so fast, part fear of not making the train.

Runs past the driver who is standing beside the cab of the train. Man is so focussed he does not see the driver. Driver smirks across the track at me, stretches his arms, yawns and then gets into the cab and starts the train.

The E bus   Leave a comment


I live at the end of one of the E numbered buses. On rainy days, or when I’m feeling lazy, or just when I’m in the mood, I take it. I love it. It is a rare thing in London these days. Drivers smile and talk to people. Little old ladies (and sometimes young men with hoodies) say ‘thank you driver’. Women with children and older people are usually given seats.

Some journeys are adventurous when the driver is at the end of his/her shift and wants to get home. Then it becomes a computer game bus, dodging around traffic islands and orange traffic lights to get to destination asap.

The stop near my house at the end of the route is my favourite place. It is where human nature at its rawest can be seen. The veneer of courtesy is dropped and replaced by intense competition among drivers about who goes first.  Or rather,  last.  The aim of the game is to be the last to leave the stop, in order to do the least amount of driving on your shift.

The game involves manoeuvring your bus into the space where you are least likely to have to move out first, deliberately ignoring passengers and other drivers. This is a fine art and an entertaining game to watch. But occasionally when it does not work, the situation descends into open warfare between drivers.  Then peoples’ mothers names are taken in vain and bad language is used.  I love these days.

Or the days when there are five E buses all parked on the narrow suburban street, three on one side and two on the other, with barely room for a motorbike to pass and no driver willing to leave, with a huddle of angry passengers mumbling about calling someone, but not sure who to call. A regular Mexican standoff.

On Friday a bus was parked at the stop. Another one was just pulling in behind it. But it didn’t. Instead it drove around the first bus and stopped in the middle of the road. Cars were having to drive up on the pavement to get around it.

It was lashing rain (the drought continues). A skinny little schoolgirl waited in the rain under an umbrella. She dashed up to the bus in the middle of the road thinking this was going to leave first. The driver ignored her. Nothing happened. Her head swung back to the parked bus. Her body language made her agony clear. ‘Which one do I go for?” it said.  She decided to go for the one in the middle of the road. Logically it had to be going first. Why else would he have stopped in the middle of the road? The umbrella was not much of a defence against the rain and she was soon dripping. I stay at the bus stop, a veteran of the E bus.

A young Somali man in a hoodie chatting on the phone strolled past. Our eyes met and we nodded.  I recognised him as the driver of the parked bus. He opened the door of the bus and then shut it behind him, leant against the glass of the door and stared out at the dripping passengers and continued his conversation.

About two minutes later, the doors of the bus in the middle of the road burst open. A tiny little man, full moustache, dark sunglasses (in the rain), open shirt and big gold medallion on a hairy chest emerged. There was a quickness and irritation in his walk. He knocked on the door of the parked bus where the young Somali man was still absorbed in his phone conversation. The young man opened the door of the bus. A very curt conversation occurred. The moustachioed man turned on his heel, looked at the poor dripping passengers, jerked his thumb at the parked bus and said ‘that one’ before marching back to his own bus.

The young Somali driver reluctantly ended his phone conversation and we piled on.

The other bus was still parked in the middle of the road.  We had to drive around it and up on the pavement to get away.  I saw the driver as we went past. He was reading a newspaper, oblivious.

Mad conversation   Leave a comment

Did you ever have one of those off-the-wall conversations with a stranger where you are genuinely stumped for a response? A situation where you find yourself beyond the limits of your life experience?

I met a woman in a remote location on the edge of the ocean. We greeted each other. Made some polite conversation about our surroundings.

Woman: “I’m walking around England”

Me: “Wow!, that is great. I hope you are documenting it. It sounds amazing.”

Woman: “It is a prayer walk. I’m praying for England. God was telling me to do this. I think most of us would agree that England needs prayer. It has sort of…fallen by the wayside. Don’t you agree?”

Me: (thinking of Londistan life so far removed from England) “Mmm… Like a pilgrimage?” (grasping at a vague notion from my childhood, scrabbling frantically for solid ground)

Woman: “Yes, like a pilgrimage. I’m just going up to the church to pray now (pointing to a tiny rural church up a track) Would you like to join me?”

Me: ” Sorry I need to get back and I’m running late.” ( we are on the edge of a cliff, in the middle of the day, in the middle of nowhere on a Bank Holiday weekend) “Well, nice to meet you. Enjoy your church… and your walk.”

And off she went walking around England, praying for it. Lovely woman – fantastic notion- a bit mad!

Heaven   Leave a comment

On both sides of the rough track, flat scrub grass spreads out with a slight upward incline in the direction I am going. Because of this I cannot see my destination. The end view that I know is there, is hidden. But I can feel it. I walk faster. I sniff the air and I even find myself licking my lips at one stage. I hurry along up the rutted track. And then I reach the top of the incline and the ocean explodes in front of me. Its vastness is almost incomprehensible. Almost too much to look at. I can feel its effect on me like a drug. That slow loosening of my jaw and brain. Infinite. The ocean is grey and hazy. The edges blend into a faint bluish-grey haze. Below me, running down to the top of the cliff is a field of bluebells and primroses. It smells of heaven. I drink in the glory from the top of the world and then half trot down the path to my little cottage on the edge of a cliff on the edge of the ocean.