Reading Glasses

Went to the optician the other day, after losing yet another pair of glasses in a messing-about-with-the-kids incident. 
"Your eyesight is maturing" said the optician?" 
"What, you mean I appreciate art and ballet a bit more now and fancy Fay Weldon?" 
"Er, no, you need reading glasses."
"Hmm. So I'm not short sighted any more?"
"You're still short sighted. You'll still need distance lenses as well".

In other words, there is only a depth of field of about three inches in which my vision is clear. 

I am shagged.


Urban Tractor Scene

Sitting at a bus stop on Stoke Newington Church Street I heard a sound both familiar yet strange. In the midst of the normal sounds of the city - police sirens, buses, cars, motorbikes, car alarms, roadworks -  came a low rumbling engine rasp. Then, chugging slowly from Green Lanes, along came a weather beaten John Deer tractor, pulling some kind of plough/rake contraption. It carried on towards Albion Road then disappeared into the centre of Stoke Newington. 

Is this now the fashionable drive of choice for the smart Stokeyites?

Talking with The Dog People

While the numbers of Dog People frequenting Clissold Park has grown enormously over the past few years, one of the things that hasn't changed is their inability to 'see' normal humans. I have always been able to walk amongst them, seemingly invisible, without so much as a glance. I could have marched into the middle of a group of them and emptied a bag of Winalot on their heads and they wouldn't have noticed.

This week, because  our neighbour is poorly, I've been walking her dog most days (breed? Er, it's a little brown dog that looks uncannily like Robin Smith the late Labour MP)  and today we ventured into the park. I wasn't in twenty seconds when two Dog People approached me, smiling in a strange friendly way.
"Hello!" one of them said. Was she talking to me? I must have looked startled.
"He looks like he needs a good run!" beamed her friend.
"Aren't you going to let him off his lead?"
"He's very friendly!"

Their eye contact was unbearably intense. I didn't dare let him run free yet, I said. But if I let go of the lead perhaps I would become invisible again. Most likely the effects of the dog wear off over time. Luckily I was pushing a pram with the other hand and my son was able to get me out of danger by crying. 

Bike chains and feng shui

On Riversdale Road today, on the same part of the road that was the other day covered in rubbish, one of my neighbours was trying to put the chain on her bike.

"Her chain's bust," shouted the tall Irish bloke from across the road, out tending his front garden on the other side of the road.

I stopped to help. The bike wasn't in good nick and I couldn't get the chain to work. The Irish bloke came over and we started discussing how this part of the road might be haunted, as my hands got more and more covered in oil.

"It's bad feng shui" said the tall Irish bloke. "All the chi is flowing off down Wyatt Road. That's why I'm poor," he laughed, pointing at his jumper full of holes. I told them about the New River which used to flow under their houses and we started discussing plans to reinstate a stretch of it on Riversdale Road.

"Did you know there was a battle between the Danes and the Saxons round here," said the Irish bloke. I said I did, though I can't remember how I found it out - perhaps on a rainy afternoon in Guildhall Library from an obscure book whose title I wrote down in a now lost notebook. The area was once known as Dane Bottom, a reminder of a group of Scandinavian lads who came over for a European away tie and never went home. We discussed the possibility that the road might be haunted by the ghost of a Viking, then the tall Irish bloke realised he hadn't done any front yard tidying for at least 15 minutes, and scooted off home.

Dirty foxes

Walking home along Riversdale Road I see the tall Irish bloke who's always cleaning and painting his front yard. He's standing in the road looking forlorn. As I get closer I can see rubbish - papers, bags, crap, clothers - strewn all over the place.
"How are you?" I say.
"Foxes." he replies. "They can smell the dogshit. What a mess."
I decide to help him clear up the rubbish. It's in front of his house and he's very proud of his place, I know. As if reading my mind he says "I like tidiness. I hate mess like this."
I find a brown shoe. "It was a stylish one legged fox," I say. He laughs. I find a copy of Marie Claire. "It was a stylish one legged fox who is into fashion and make up tips." He laughs again.
I see him later in the day and he waves. He is once more cleaning his front yard.

How to get a plastic boomerang back from your next door neighbour

My kids got a yellow plastic boomerang thing a few weeks ago. It actually looks more like a propellor than a boomerang but, if you throw it correctly, it does come back to you. I attempted to show them how it worked. It sailed over the fence into next door's garden but didn't sail back.

An hour or so later I saw our neighbour and said "Our yellow plastic boomerang thing is in your garden. Can you chuck it back for us?"

"Yeah, sure," he said.

"The yellow plastic boomerang thing will soon be back," I said to the kids. But it didn't come back. For several days it stayed in the same place in their garden. Next time I saw our neighbour I kind of did boomerang actions with my hands. Possibly my attempt at mime looked like I was saying he was a wanker because our neighbour resolutely ignored the boomerang thing for another week. He even walked about in his garden and probably trod on the yellow plastic boomerang thing.

I didn't see him for ages after that. He was avoiding me. Perhaps he'd tried throwing it back but it kept returning to his garden. Then, just before Christmas, the boomerang thing returned. What a great guy our next door neighbour is.

As soon as it gets a bit warmer I shall be showing my kids how to use it.

The old tin box factory on Blackstock Road

In my post-pub dreams the old deserted tin box factory on Blackstock Road was going to be turned into something exciting. Any day now. Over the years it has been the site of:

1) A writers' retreat with running water and personalised minibars
2) A cafe for nymphomaniac jazz chicks
3) A zoo for put-upon grey squirrels
4) A cinema for stay-at-home dads
5) A swimming pool for people with dodgy knees
6) A museum of cheese

Unfortunately I always dreamed these things but never did anything about them. Now the bulldozers have arrived and the old deserted tin box factory on Blackstcok Road is now just a few piles of browny-yellow brick.

So which of my ideas will become reailty? Or will it become just another shite block of modernist flats?

Avoiding the sailor

On days like this when I’m really busy it’s essential that, when popping out on errands, I manage to avoid the sailor. Whenever I bump into the sailor he tends to take up a blocking position that is impossible to counter. And I am stuck.

The sailor’s favourite topics of conversation are:
1) The speedbumps in the road that lorries drive over and keep him awake at night
2) The inevitablity of the UK become a Muslim state
3) Women and how he doesn’t have much luck with them

A while ago I rushed out to the corner shop to buy some herbs for some fish I was cooking. The sailor must have been hiding in undergrowth in his front garden for he suddenly popped out in front of me, took up the blocking position and started to tell me about his relationship with Michael Flatley, the Riverdance bloke. He even had a photo of the two of them in his jacket pocket.

ME: Got to go. I’m in a hurry.
THE SAILOR: You’re always in a hurry. You need to relax a bit more.

And it's true. I only ever seem to meet the sailor when I’m pushed for time.

Now and again I will try to predict where I’ll meet him. I’ll change direction at the last minute, but there he’ll be. He must have some kind of high tech sonar equipment built into his fedora.

“In 15 years time we will all be Muslim, you know.”

Hackney Brook and Bayern Munich

Coinciding with a massive hangover, the Hackney Brook appears to have resurfaced on Blackstock Road, just south of the Arsenal Tavern. Not caused by heavy rains this time but a large yellow JCB, which has dug a huge hole in the side of the road. Water shoots out of a pipe and into what's becoming a quite decent sized pond. My little boy Seánie is well impressed. "Digger!" "River!" He dances up and down on the pavement. We go to the Gunners Fish Bar for lunch, where we meet a group of Bayern Munich fans in town for tonight's Champions League game. They have come for some hot Pukka Pies. Blackstock Road is certainly at its most beautfiul for these visitors - shit weather, grey skies, soggy chips. and huge puddles in the road.

I suspect an Arsenal plot, some kind of pitch waterlogging thing must be going on here. I notice that one of the Germans looks like Nigel Winterburn and mention it to Seánie. He is not impressed.

Which reminds me of that poem, 'Arsenal fullbacks try to change the world in a night':

Lee Dixon came to our local pub
And tried to convert us all
To the cause of International socialism
"You're too late mate," said the landlord
"We had that Nigel Winterburn in here last night.
We're all Buddhists now."

Return of the New River

The New River has returned. I feel a bit confused. Part of me wants to leap up and down with unrestrained joy, splashing about in the clear waters shouting "Look kids, let's catch fish!". My more sensible side is eager to phone Thames Water to come and sort out the problem.

Our street as two burst water pipes, a little spring at each side of the road sending the water cascading down the hill. Actually, that would make it the New River for about 30 yards then a tributary of the Hackney Brook the rest of the way.

God, I need to get out more.

Blackberry Way

A Hackney Brook walk around to the new Arsenal stadium to gawp at some concrete and cranes then a quick sketching session (still can't draw blackberries) in Gillespie Park with my dad. Actually, I didn't know blackberries lasted so long into the Autumn.

The wetlands are dry, due to a leak caused no doubt by scuba diving vandals with harpoon guns, and part of the parkland is closed up for renovations. If only London could have more strange wild areas like this. Perhaps the mayor could pull down a couple of glass and concrete monsters in the city and create a new London International Centre for Blackberry Studies.

"Algernon, coming to the champers bar for lunch?"
"No ta, chum, I'm off blackberry picking so auntie can make some jam for tea!"Gillespflowers

Clissold Park Chainsaw Massacre

Another of the ancient horse chestnuts in the south western sector of Clissold Park, probable remnants of the old Newington Common, has been cut down. I asked one of the rangers why so many of the trees in this area were dying - was it something to do with the fair, which visits two or three times a year and always in the same spot. Perhaps some of the chemicals used in the candy floss making process have been leeching into the soil? Or is it connected to the groundwater problems in this bit of the park? The ranger said that he had wondered about the fair (though not the candy floss connection).Newington_common

Old Tree's Time Has Come

More old trees in Clissold Park are being cut down. Some of the gnarled horse chestnut trees in the south west corner have seemingy died in the last year and spent the summer without leaves. Now they wear an X and wait for the chainsaw. Two came down last week and another three will soon follow. One of them has purple rangs tied around various branches in some kind of North London tribute the the 70s song 'Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Old Oak Tree'. But everyone fears that the oldest and most beautiful tree, on a little mound in the middle of the park, will soon be firewood.

A New Underground River?

Amazing news. I've recently learned about an underground river that flows from Highbury down into the Hackney Brook Valley. Usually I spot these streams when I see cans of extra strong lager scattered about on the surface, but in this case there was a whole off-licence.

I was buying a few bottles of beer at Highbury Vintners and commented on the strange slope of the floor in the shop, which seemed to counter the slope of Highbury Hill.

"That's because there's a river that flows under the shop," said the owner. "It goes through here and underneath the church."

I expressed an interest in starting to go to mass, then fiddled about with the real ales before announcing to the whole shop: "I've written a book about underground rivers."

The shopkeeper was not phased. "Bloody Highbury. Everytime I bring up some topic of conversation, one of our customers will go 'I've written a book about that'."

'Never Let Her Slip Away'

This morning I was sitting on the top deck of a no. 19 bus. Around Highbury Corner the conductor started to whistle the tune to Andrew Gold's 'Never Let Her Slip Away'. He whistled it from there all the way to where I got off near to the old Penny Black pub on Exmouth Market/Rosebery Avenue (can't remember what it's called now - something like Le Cafe Pretentious). I said to him "I haven't heard Andrew Gold's 'Never Let Her Slip Away' for about 20 years. Cheers for that."

"Was it by Andrew Gold?" he said. "I just know the tune. I had no idea who it was by."

"You should listen to it and learn to whistle the intro. It's got these lovely off the beat organ chrods."

"Thanks, I will," he said.

Postman Patter

Bright sunshine and cold breezes this morning, as befits the first official day of Autumn. The postman says there are no letters for us today but that we can have some rubber bands.

"What for?" I ask.

"For the kids. So they can make, er, space rockets and stuff."

He roots around in his postman wheelie trolley and fishes out a large handful of big thick brown rubber bands.

"Do you have any used toilet rolls as well, then?"

"What for?"

"Well, to make the rockets."

He smiles and sticks up a thumb. "Arsenal!" he says, and starts to walk up the hill.

London Calling

Seemingly out of the blue, my friend Lee asked me yesterday if I knew that The Clash had recorded the London Calling album in Highbury. It's the kind of anal-retentive conversational nugget I usually love to hoard away for a rainy day but on this occasion I was out analretentived. Apparently it was at Wessex Studios, at the old church on Highbury New Park. Maybe it's St. Augustines. When quizzed Lee admitted he'd seen an article about it in the Independent a few weeks ago. But I feel a trick was missed in The Groundwater Diaries in terms of local history and the punk influence on hidden London.

What Lee didn't tell me, and which I had to find out myself at the University of The Clash's history archive, was the mention of Blackstock Road's bus in the song 'Rudie Can't Fail':

"Sing, Michael, sing-on the route of the 19 Bus
Hear them sayin'
How you get a rude and a reckless?
Don't you be so crude and a feckless
You been drinking brew for breakfast
Rudie can't fail"

Fading leaves

Yet another of the old horse chestnut trees in Clissold Park is starting to peg out. On the south side, near the route of the buried New River, this tree always dominated that section of the park. Now, though, while the sides of the tree are still verdant and healthy, the whole middle part appears to be dying - the leaves are thin or non-extistent. It looks like it's had a monk's haircut. It's a Ralph Coates tree - actually, a Terry Mancini tree would be a more accurate description. Other old trees in that part of the park - I think the former Newington Common - seem to be on their last legs as well. Is this anything to do with the work to reduce the groundwater in the area? Maybe the trees liked it when it was boggy round there.Tree_1