Thirty Thousand Streets

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Though now it's technically Wednesday.

Woke up this morning to the bleat of my alarm.. stumbled across the room to switch it off and discovered I'd been sleeping on one of my arms and it was completely dead. I was reminded of my mate Peed telling me how he once woke up having fallen asleep on both his arms, completely unable to right himself until circulation resumed..

Work's OK, can't complain.

Got in this evening and cooked up a brisk stir-fry, with chillies, garlic, ginger, five-spice and some duck with noodles. Whilst eagerly slurping them down over Eastenders a droplet of the spicy liquor from my meal was catapulted into my right eye, which spent the next thirty minutes or so streaming.

Just went to the Hermit's Cave for one, then went back to Ed's and watched 'Holiday in Rome' starring Audrey Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart, which was charming: She playing the monarch, slumming it in, yes, Rome, he a cynical reporter. They fall in love, but it could not be.. It's all quite sweet and relatively chaste, but sexy in that way unconsummated love on the silver screen must surely be.

Throughout most of the film both are attempting to conceal their identities from one another (though Jimmy's character knows what's going on) and when the Hepburn's princess asks what it is he does for a living – whilst sitting at a cafe in a square – the air is split by the sound-effect of a horse whinnying, before Stewart responds "I sell fertiliser" (horse-shit). Genius.

I think I once saw a programme about Audrey Hepburn saying she nearly starved to death in the second world war, and she does have a ambiguous air of fragility/toughness about her which is pretty captivating - an air of mystique which the faintly saurian posh spice is probably attempting to replicate by pouting in a mirror as I write.

Wednesday tomorrow.. January nearly gone though I've not been so hung up about it this year.. mostly looking forward to a pint with the man like Ade, who's been on the wagon for most of it.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Brick by Brick

The quest for the perfect charity shop is a thankless one. As more and more seek to emulate high street shops in today's parlous retail environment, the genuine article – musty shops piled high with vintage garments, well thumbed 70s paperbacks, treasure troves of vintage shellac LPs and managed by frightening eccentrics – becomes an ever more rarified phonemenon.

Unfortunately, I begin to see why. And furthermore, I think I'm finally 'over it'.

Yesterday I visited the Brick by Brick charity shop on the old Kent Road, which a friend had mentioned to me earlier in hushed tones, in the hope of unearthing some thrift store gems. Unpreposessing in the extreme from the outside, the shop is a tardis-like cavern within, piled high with assorted bric-a-brac and racks of clothing. At last! I thought, I have found my Shangri-lah.

A more than cursory inspection reveals that something here is odd, though not displeasing in its symmetry – Everything is arranged in rigid formation: some shoes in lockstep on a shelf, clothes hung in precise intervals like ragamuffin uniform in a ghostly barracks, books stacked flush with fanatical precision. This shop isn't just tidy, it's an attempt to impose order on a chaotic universe, a battle cry against entropy, an attempt to wrong-foot the third law of thermodynamics by tactical placement of donated goods.

For the shop's wares are jealously guarded by a shopkeeper who would be better suited to living under a bridge and accosting goats than vending second hand goods in the name of charity. A bristling Russian man of about six foot in drab olive military fatigues, with a curled moustache, and blotchy tattoos creeping from beneath his sleeves, he patrols the shop like the commander of an extant cold war nuclear bunker, stamping snow from the boots of his mind.

Spotting some leather coats on a rail near me, I moved to investigate them.

"Those are women's coats!"

he barked at me, from behind the counter

"Men's are on the other side"

Ok, I thought, and duly walked over to the mens aisle, where I started thumbing through some t-shirts.

"Those are too large for you!"

"All extra large!"

He announced from behind me, closer this time, a questing bear snuffling at my heels.

Riiight I thought.. and headed to investigate some coats, which I browsed through idly, sliding the hangers on the rail to permit viewing as, y'know, people do in shops. Nothing doing, so I moved on. At which point, he pounced.

"Please leave the clothes as you find them!"

He snapped, briskly rearranging the hangers on the rail according to some internal rote.


I asked.

"The clothes. You find them tidy, you leave them tidy! Do not make a mess!"

He grunted.

"Look mate" I said, somewhat exasperated, "I don't work here" (mistake)

"Oh yes?"

he bristled, marching toward me.

"And what am I, your servant? Who the fuck do you think you are? royalty?"

"Yeah, actually" I quipped lamely "I'm the king"

Maybe, just maybe, his were ancestors who sacked the Tsar's palaces, for this wisecrack was the straw that broke the charity-shop-Bolshevik's back.

"Right!" he intoned sternly "Get out of this shop!"

Ok, Ok I thought, you don't need to tell me twice and headed towards the exit, he escorting me all the way to the border of his miniature state. At the door I turned at last to face him, his piercing blue eyes wintery with scorn.

"Have you ever heard the expression 'the customer is always right?'"

I enquired, in a perplexed but irritated fashion.


He laughed, ironically.

"Get out this charity shop!"

Which I did, bemused to the point of peturbation.

I will concede that I don't necessarily respond too well to many things petty and bureaucratic and have a tendency to bristle in response, (the blame for which I lay firmly at the feet of this country's bizarre institutional contempt for the paying customer).
But even so, I find the idea of a shopkeeper actually intimidating his customers a bizarre notion.. even if it is 'just a charity shop'. Why won't you let me look at what you want to sell.. you never know, I might actually buy something.

Feeding the shop's name into The Google, I actually chanced upon this forum where people where burbling excitedly about this man, venerating his drill-seargent approach to customer relations like it was a genuine sighting of the sasquatch in SE1. But to me, rudeness is rudeness, whether it's dispensed by a surly checkout girl at Somerfield or some 'gruff but loveable eccentric' rattling sabres with his customers on a forgotten corner of The Old Kent Road.

And yeah there's lots of stuff in there but there's lots of stuff in there 'cause no-one goes in there because in doing so they'd risk facing some kind of hastily convened military tribunal for glancing at a shirt. And while I might have forgiven the big guy's intransigence if he was curating a priceless cache of forgotten byzantine art, all he's really doing is chasing customers away from a hoard of second-hand jumble. Shame really, as I generally like second-hand jumble.

All this said.. I did some digging and found out that the charity does good work building homes for the, um, homeless, and the man in question – in spite of his fearsome demeanour – has certainly done more to help his fellow man than I have, including releasing a book on the flora and fauna of St James's Park (it's just a shame I didn't have the chance to find this out for myself). So to offset my 'wanker footprint' and prove that I'm 'one of the good guys really' I made a small donation online (which should hopefully balance out the karma lost for slagging off a shop that raises funds for charity).

But much like the danger zone that is the Walworth Road Army and Navy, I would caution anyone visiting said establishment to tread lightly and be solicitous – if you do actually want to buy something. I, it would seem, don't have the patience.

Give me Ebay any day.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Other people's music on the bus

Unlike my esteemed colleague Zeno Cosini, I'm actually really rather partial to the odd bus ride. This is of course pretty contingent upon route and mode of bus of course (three years in and I still think the Bendy bus was as welcome an addition to London as the kane toad was to Australia).

They may be slow, they may meander, but for the flaneur, or idle man about town they therefore represent the zenith of metropolitan transport, allowing as they do an unparalleled view of our capital's streets, and how they stitch together. And in the unlikely event that you don't want to gawp at the shifting facades of Starbucks Coffee houses and Chicken Cottage takeaways slipping past in the January rain, what better excuse to stick your beak in a book, for an hour or three.

Today I caught the 176 to town, and was in reflective mood, staring out the window thinking about god knows what (my accountant, I think), when my idyll was shattered by that most modern of annoyances, some dickhead two seats behind me playing mp3s on his mobile phone.

There is nothing particularly new about this headache, and it's being going on quite apparently for some time now, but I actually get more irritated about it now than I ever have. When I first heard someone regailing the entire top deck of the bus with tinny renditions of R&B pap through a mobile handset, I think I rather assumed it was a passing fad, but three years on it just seems more prolific than ever, with at least a third of my journeys being marred by having to endure someone else's shocking taste in music. The reason I've become so hyper-sensitised all of a sudden is, I think, that it's just started to sink in that this is the way things are going to be from now on: mobiles are here to stay and buses will never be the same again. The hinges of the world have turned, irrevocably.

Today the musical feast (or rather Chicken McNuggets) being served up, sounded very much like the Neptunes, with Pharrell William's trademark warbly falsetto rending the quiet. I used to quite like the Neptunes production when it first came out, melding as it did the glitter and sheen of pop with the grime and posture of hip-hop. Unfortunately now that the shock of the new has dissipated somewhat, I can see that they've got a lot a lot to answer for, as every lump with a keyboard who can sing a hook can now pretend to be a rapper. In any event, these days you're more likely to see Mr Williams on a red carpet wearing Billionaire Boys club gear than actually in the studio 'holdin' it down', so there.

Ironically though, it's kind of fitting that half the music I'm forced to endure from other people's mobile phones is brainless 'ass-titties-ho's-n'-cash' rap, given that the music actually sounds like it's being played out of a mobile phone.. before even being played out of a mobile phone, it's that brittle and plastic.

And there's the rub: momentarily putting to one side the rather subjective factor of musical taste, music played over mobile phone speakers always sounds like it's emerging from a (closed) biscuit tin. It just sounds rubbish. Why not just listen to it through headphones and do everyone a favour?

Whenever I'm forced to endure someone else's chronic lack of musical taste on the bus, a variety of scenarios usually play out in my head, ranging from the witty (me turning round to the owner of the phone and saying "'scuse me mate, seeing as we've got to listen to your phone, any chance you could put something good on?) to more directly interventionist tactics (such as used by Mr Spock in the Star Trek film with the whales in it, where he gives the Vulcan neck pinch to the punk on the bus with the ghetto blaster).
However, as the offending party is usually a Akademiks-tracksuited rudey who looks like he stabs bloggers for breakfast, I, along with the rest of the bus have so far demurred from actual comment, much as I'd like to tear the guy in question a new orifice, and stick his phone up it (having first turned it off, of course).

Anyway. There you are. Even though the tube sometimes feels like it's giving your lungs an insight into the life of a nineteenth century chimney sweep, it also seems above the grime threshold of those who think using a mobile as a hi-fi is a good idea, which is definitely in its favour. I think I read somewhere that it was going to be made an offence to play really annoying music in public like this, though I suppose there's fat chance of that ever getting enforced. I for one would totally be up for a 'Guardian Angels' scheme, like they had on the New York subways in the eighties. Only these would be on the buses, and would primarily deal with infractions relating to mobile phones (they could still wear berets, though).

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Troy Bar, Trocadero, Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

On Friday night I headed up to Shoreditch to meet an old(ish) friend, Sarah, who is over visiting from Spain, and who I hadn't seen in over three years. We met in the Troy bar near Hoxton square, where they have a jazz jam session on Fridays. It was good to catch up, though it did get really busy later on, and both her and my friend Al stepped to the stage to perform, him on keys, her singing at the very end. Altogether the music was fine, though some of the shifting lineups didn't really gel that much.

At closing time we parted ways, my friends to Wood Green, me to Camberwell. The weather was foul as I waited for the bus, a sparse rain, a keen bone cutting wind slapping reluctant pigeons into the air like grey litter. All around me the exiles from Shoreditch's clubbing Eden shuffling past: a girl in her mid-twenties pushing a chopper bike, lads in drainpipe jeans and hightops.

After about thirty minutes the bus rocked up, and for once didn't park up at the previous stop to thumb it's nose at everyone for ten minutes or so, though the downside of this was that it was already rammed with drunken revellers, especially upstairs, where from the sounds of it, someone had installed a mini German beer hall, replete with chanting and syncopated foot stomping.

I arrived home, drank a pint of water and slid into bed.

On Saturday it was a nice day and I fancied getting out and about so headed up to Portobello Road Market, where I bought my annual black beanie from
stall there, which I'll probably leave on a bus at some point in the next six months. They do incredible hats and scarves, and are one of those outfits who seem mostly to be 'big in Japan'. They don't seem to have most of the styles on their (wholesale only) website on their Portobello road stall though, annoyingly.

After that I headed into the centre of town to meet up with Sarah again, who I caught up with in the Trocadero centre of all places.

It's odd, though maybe not all that odd, that despite having worked mostly around Soho for the last three years, the square half mile or so around Leicester Square is a kind of geographical bindspot for me, marked "here be tourists" on my mental map. The Tracadero centre especially, though I do have vague memories of wandering in there with Will around seven or eight years ago. It's like a bit of blackpool, transplanted to central London – though more warren like – with a dizzying array of balconies, stairs, escalators and the like, all festooned with flashing lights and kiosks vending tat. It's sort of a modern consumerist rendition of one of Piranesi's imaginary prisons.

After I finally caught up with Sarah, we headed up to Denmark street where she got excited about guitars and I mostly stood about, before going for a fairly average meal in Chinatown, then a pint in The Angel, before parting ways.

At eight fifteen I met up with Will, Ade, Helen and Rachael at the Leicester Square Odeon, where we went to see 'Before The Devil Knows You're Dead', which I'd heard absolutely zero about, but was a really good film, though probably the bleakest thing I've seen since Requiem for a Dream. After that I got a lift back home.

Today's been Sunday-ish. Toast and coffee for breakfast, while reading the paper, then went for a walk up to East Dulwich, where I bought some wildly contrasting records (Silva Bullet's 'Bring Forth the Guillotine and Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald's 'Porgy and Bess', since you ask) before heading to the Chinese Supermarket on Denmark Hill to get some tuna steak. The light at the minute is odd, and tinted with blue. Very melancholy and January.

Last weeks booking wound up, though I do have some work pencilled in (potentially) for the end of the month. This might be a week of re-jigging my CV and sending it out, along with tax stuff and more enjoyable personal projects.

Sunday, January 06, 2008


The January sales are an occasion for me to stock up basic clothes as well as the odd extravagance.. things such as hoodies, socks and jeans.

When it comes to denim I like dark, indigo, rigid denim. I don't really get jeans that have had some kind of wash or treatment, or have been hand distressed previously by some poor sod with sandpaper and a basket of rocks somewhere. Surely the point of a pair of jeans is that you have them for years and they age naturally with wear, becoming a garment particular to you, no?

It's bizarre what a modern fetish jeans are, and how much something that originated as durable workwear, can cost. There are some dizzyingly expensive jeans to be had these days.

I opted for a couple of pairs from from Uniqlo in the sale, which were nice quality selvedge denim. Unfortunately the only jeans in this style were the seemingly ubiquitous 'skinnys', when I'd probably opt for something more like a straightforward 501 fit these days. But, they're straight leg and have quite a nice sillouette so I guess I can pour myself into them and get down like that. Having sported the baggier styles for years it does feel different though (and I more self conscious) and I seem to recall Umberto Eco having written an essay on jeans in Faith in Fakes where he contrasts the introspection bestowed by slim-fitting jeans, against the meditative freedom permitted by the loose fitting monk's habit* (though I guess as a professor of semiotics at Bologna university you can forgive him for missing out on the whole 90s hip-hop fashion thing).

Anyway, my jeans are cool, but bluer than Barry White, and seem to take the concept of colour transfer to a logical extreme – bestowing anything worn above or below them of a lighter hue a noticably blue tinge. Needless to say, if you had some white leather scarface-style sofas from Linda Barker's range at DFS, these babies would be out of the question.

So, I've given them a soak in the bath for a couple of hours this afternoon, then wrung them out, and hung them out to drip dry in the bathroom. At the end there was a lovely blue tidemark in the bath which I dutifully cleaned. I think my housemates were slightly bemused by it all, but hopefully, it'll shift some of the dye.

*As The Name of the Rose attests, Umberto Eco's kinda big on monks.

Friday, January 04, 2008

New Year Crime!

Hey! How's everyone's new year going?! ours is going great! we just got burgalled!

Ok so it wasn't a particularly extensive burglary.. we think they walked in off the street, into the first room at the top of the stairs, where they rifled through David's drawers, pockets and underwear (bizarrely), and exited with a digital camera through a window. We were all in, too.

This is slightly unnerving, for apart from an incident where me and Jess witnessed a couple of yardies getting busted by submachinegun wielding feds out the front of our flat two plus years back, we've (touch wood) managed to avoid even witnessing much crime round here, something I have in the past put jokingly down to living in the eye of Camberwell's storm. No room for complacency though it would seem, especially as crime seems to be such an opportunistic pursuit.

The place is getting dusted for prints tomorrow, and we'll hopefully get new locks fitted soon.. until then? dunno. Hope they behave more like lightning than a murderer I guess.