Archive for the ‘Summer in London’ Category

August   Leave a comment

Harvest is happening. The hills of the South Downs are chequerboards of yellow and orange stubble. The Van Gough wheat fields are gone. The smell of harvest is in the air. Men smell of sweat mixed with outdoors and cut wheat after a hard day in the fields.
On the coast it is holiday time for the rich and poor. Darren and Sharon, their barbecue, tent, fishing rods, metal detector and seven children sit on the pebble beach near Felicity and Reginald with their chairs, table, bottle of wine, fresh salad and crusty bread.
It is a quiet beach far away from the big towns. The sea is peaceful. The most striking thing is the background silence. It is only when you leave the city, that you realise that you’ve become inured to its constant buzz.


Olympics – the good side   1 comment

I know I’ve been a bit negative, so this week I’ve really tried to look for the good.

And I’m pleased to say I found it.

London is full of lovely tourists. Walking down Shaftesbury Avenue at night towards Piccadilly is a pleasure. Watching goofy people wandering around eyes up, jaws down, taking photos, gawping, eating bad food from expensive touristy restaurants, sitting on the steps of Eros, taking photos, getting the way of locals. But it is lovely. The absolute pleasure they are taking in my adopted city makes me look at it anew through their eyes. When you live here for a while, the novelty fades and you become blasé about it all. But when you see large numbers of tourists goofing at the massive lanterns in Chinatown, or at the lions in Trafalgar Square, or surrounding a street artist, it makes you stop and stare and say, “Wow! That really is beautiful! I do live in a beautiful city. Aren’t I lucky?”

And the Olympic Ambassadors are lovely, wandering around on the tubes and streets, on their way to be nice and smiley and helpful to everyone. Every time I see one I go “Awww!” Their uniforms are a mixture of purple and pink and are truly vile in both colour and design. I have yet to see an Ambassador that is flattered by their uniform. What I really love about them though, is that they come in all shapes, sizes and ages. No discrimination, people who are 18 and people who look 68. People who bounce when they walk and people on crutches.  What a lovely idea to recruit thousands of volunteers to help people.

And most wonderful of all, there was so much hysteria about people not being able to travel to work because of the Olympics, anyone who can, has left town, meaning that it has actually turned out quiet and easy to travel. In the mornings the tubes are not full. There is little congestion. I’m not late for work. I would almost say that London is strangely and unexpectedly quiet.

(Drawaing by David Gentleman)

So, three really positive things about the Olympics. I hear that some local guys, one with massive sideburns, won some medals or something also. The locals seem to be happy with this!

Court   Leave a comment

I am sitting outside the court. A thin barrister totters towards me. Wig askew. Three large bundles in pink ribbons in her arms. She stumbles on her high-heeled shoes. We make eye contact and I give her a sympathetic look. She dumps the bundles on the low wall beside me, pulls out a packet of cigarettes and a lighter from the depths of her black robe and lights up and lets out a big sigh. ‘Need my fix before the day begins!’ she says.

Around us are the bad, mad and sad. A middle-aged woman, overweight, dyed black hair with a haircut that is too young for her, and clothes that are too tight, stands with two young lads. The older boy has both ears pierced with ear plugs. His lobes will be permanently destroyed. He has a tattoo on his neck, a spider web. Incongruously he wears a suit, nervously, pulling at the tie. The younger is maybe 14 or 15 years old, with just one earring, slim and worried looking. The middle-aged woman hands them both cigarettes and they all light up. She is their mother.

A bit further away an older barrister sprawls on a metal bench. Her wig is disintegrating, just held together with a few fibres. She has a massive thatch of hair. Large clumps of her hair are sprouting through the tattered wig. She is oblivious, probably would not care in any event.

Large fat barrels of men with signet rings, accompanied by minions carrying Archbold and bundles begin to arrive. These people’s wigs are not askew. They stride through the dregs of humanity, not deviating in their trajectory. The mad, bad and sad jump out of their way. They peer through the doors of consulting rooms inside, attempting to intimidate those inside and get them out (that is if the minions have not already been sent early to stake out a room).

Inside, a massive Albanian family with several pretty young women in Primark fashion surround a dubious looking man with a heavy gold neck chain. They and their numerous screaming and crying children take up a large number of the few seats in the waiting area.

A man talks on his mobile about how his medication is running out, saying he is very nervous and that he needs his medication now.

Two young girls walk past. One looks too young to be here, maybe 14 years old. She wears tight clothes, has a massive hairdo and false eyelashes. She is walking with attitude. The eyes of waiting men follow her. Her friend is the opposite, a massive cardigan on a hot day, hanging off her shoulders, exhausted and scared looking. They find a place at the end of the corridor. Out comes a mobile phone and they begin to play music on it. A harried clerk tells them to switch it off. When the clerk is out of earshot, they switch it on again.

There are huddles of people everywhere with palpable tension in the air as the start time approaches. Every so often there is a break in one of the huddles, and a dash to the toilet. Fear is physical. Last minute instructions are taken and the clerks begin to call the cases.

We process these people through a system that is the only one we have, questionable in its effectiveness.

We emerge into the sunlight after warnings are given and plans for future activity made. More cigarettes. Relief. Sunshine.

Afterwards, because it is Friday,  I get on the train and go to the sea where it is green and quiet.

Posted July 28, 2012 by mshambainlondon in Curious incidents, Random, Summer in London

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Olympics   Leave a comment

It is finally here. I remember when London won the bid in 2005. What a different world! The economy was booming, we were affluent and on top of the world.
And now the Olympics is here and it is a different time. People are losing their jobs every day. The numbers seeking help from food banks is increasing. The government has changed and is driving through a rich man, fat cat agenda where there are no people only ‘workers between jobs’, ‘consumers’ and ‘customers’. The poor and the illegal immigrant are increasingly being targeted as the cause of all the problems in the country by both the government and the media. They are easy targets, poorly educated or unable to vote.
There are surface-to-air missiles on the top of blocks of flats where the poor live in order to shoot down enemies of the Olympics. The army has been called in to police the Olympics because a fat cat multi-national, G4S, was given a multi-million pound contract to provide security for the Olympics, but completely failed to do so.
London feels like a police state right now. There are large parts of the East End that are completely blocked off to ordinary people.
Apparently there is a government taskforce that has been set up to police the use of words like ‘Olympics’, ‘London’, ‘summer’, and ‘2012’. Any business that is not an Olympic’s sponsor (by this I mean more multi-national corporations like McDonald’s and Coke), cannot use these words.
Jeremy (C)Hunt, the minister responsible for the Olympics has been in the media this weekend telling everyone to stop whingeing and be grateful.
With respect, Jeremy, eff off.

(Rant over. I will look for something a bit more positive to say about the Olympics at a later stage.)

Surprise   Leave a comment

Weather today was my favourite. Huge deluge of straight-down rain, massive drops, black almost thunderous clouds, flash floods, people running for shelter, then five minutes later a tiny patch of blue in the sky begins to spread and its raining through sunshine. The clouds disappear and it is scorching with steam rising from the vegetation making London very jungle-like. Half an hour later angry clouds and huge drops start it all over again.

It is on such a day that I resumed the Capital Ring, (after a few forays to North and South Downs when  the thought of wandering the streets of East London did not appeal).  But once again, my preconceived notions were shattered. When am I going to learn eh?

Highgate to Finsbury Park (Parkland Walk)  along a disused railway track, a long strip of mini-parkland through urban London, the trees blocking out everything. Mad graffiti. I am an old person and, other than clever stuff like Banksy, I have never had much time for it. But this was beautiful. The colours were vivid and the artwork was really stunning. I found myself gawping and turning my head sideways under the bridges and along the arches to appreciate it. I even saw a young guy working on a new piece, totally absorbed with what he was doing.

Then through Finsbury Park and onto the New River, which is neither new nor a river. An old canal dating from the early 1600s created to bring water from Hertfordshire to London, amazingly designed and still working today. Surprised at the two massive reservoirs full of wildlife (especially my favourite, mad, bad-tempered, noisy coots and their very vocal young), just at the back of Seven Sisters Road, places I never knew existed.

An area of Woodberry Down Estate that appears to be undergoing renewal had a very big and  fancy fountain with a waterfall feature and a huge silver globe.  I am happy to say a large chunk of the children of Woodberry Downs were crawling all over and in the water feature, having a whale of a time. It was like a scene from Little Rascals.

In Clissold Park there was Kurdish music festival. People of all shapes and sizes were there. Young beautiful people with flags, baggy trousers and Yasser Arafat scarves. Middle aged couples, she in her good shoes and black skirt, he with his moustache and black leather jacket, gaggles of teenage girls, young couples. Beautiful, sad, haunting music in the air. Then a massive downpour. The music stopped. I took shelter on the veranda of Clissold House and drank coffee and watched people trying hide from the rain under trees.  The small patch of blue sky got bigger, people emerged from the trees and drifted back to the festival in the late evening sunshine. Children were dancing on the pathway as the music started again. They twirled their umbrellas as they danced.

Then Abney Park cemetery. Sunlight was streaming through the trees and steam was rising from the undergrowth in the rays of sunlight.  The mucky pathways were lined with monuments to the dead, some toppling precariously, others eaten away by pollution and age.

In the middle of the cemetery I could hear haunting choral music. I assumed the old chapel must have been repaired and was being used by a choir. I struggled and slid down through the muck and puddles towards the old chapel.  There, hidden behind a van, were a group of new-age hippies, holding a dance event. They had erected some plastic awnings to keep out the rain, and a girl was performing, twisting and turning on the ground, surrounded by people in dreads and piercings. It was so bizarre, unexpected, stunning, unusual in the middle of an old cemetery. But strangely lovely. I stood and gawped again. (Did a lot of gawping today). Then trotted on with a big smile on my face to the main exit and Stoke Newington.

London, in one day, crazy weather, coots, a graffiti artist at work, a Kurdish music festival and a new-age dance event in a cemetery.

Midsummer silence   Leave a comment

(I lie. It is 23rd June, St John’s Eve,  but this is the ‘real’ midsummer, the truly magical time.)

Just outside London, a steep hillside covered in big field daisies, meadows filled with full-headed field grasses.  In the corners of the field, elder trees just about ready to bring forth their fruit, and blackberry bushes in full bloom with pink-tinted flowers.  Both a hint of berries to come when we move into autumn.

Purple and white clover delicately fragranced. (When we were children we pulled out a single strand from the bloom and sucked the base because our  parents thought it was amusing to tell us this was how bees got honey.)

Wild woodbine (honeysuckle), old-fashioned roses with a fragrance that evokes memories of childhood. Oak leaves (because it is a magical time of the year.) And ferns, massive, jungle-like, primitive, in woodland with sunlight flashing through tall trees.

A tiny woodlouse strolls across the path. The only sound is the wind whispering through the grass. I have a micro-moment of realisation of existence.




Windy day   Leave a comment

At the weekend I walked across North London to Highgate passing through estates of affluence. For some reason I can cope well with places like Richmond to which I mentally attach redeeming features like scruffy dogs and mad old people. But when it comes to North London I can’t seem to find that internal charity.  I also got lost during my  walk, so a large part of my time ‘up north’ was spent wandering around the faux olde worlde houses, muttering names of streets, turning maps upside down and peering down unfamiliar lanes.  This may have added some grist to my mill.

However after various findings and losings of path, I found myself sitting under a tree near a cafe (with some of the most expensive coffee in London) watching a very windy day blowing up a storm in the park. Overhead the metal cafe sign creaked on its hinges. The trees were dancing. No, more than dancing, they were threashing in the wind. Only their deep roots kept them in one place. It was like watching dancers chained to the ground, desperate to move. Or how a wild symphony might look in your imagination. The grass rippled in a frenzy underneath the trees.

Humans were infected too.  Hair was blowing in all directions. There was a wildness in the air that caused children and dogs to skitter around the park with the wind up their backsides. Parents became infected with their children’s skittishness and the fear of their being hit by a falling branch or something from a building, and called them back to safety.

I bravely held onto my paper coffee cup and used it to stop my useless maps from blowing away. It was completely exhilarating. I wanted it all to end in a crash of thunder and a flash of lightning followed by a huge downpour. I felt that only this would do proper justice to such a big introduction.  But like many things in life, it didn’t.  A few drops of threatening rain, a bit more blowing and that was it. But the wind tearing through the trees is still creating beautiful re-runs in my mind.