Yesterday I went out onto Blackstock Road with the specific task of buying a replacement blade for my hacksaw. A nice, simple, job – there are three hardware shops within half a mile or so so it shouldn't have been too difficult. Yet when I returned to the house all I had managed to buy were some really pretty little plants with delicate purple flowers. Somehow I got waylaid. Somewhere along the way my face – set in a hard frown that said "hacksaw blades" – changed to a smile of wonderment at the pretty flowers I saw and I forgot all about my important DIY task.
I need to cut a metal curtain rail. But the flowers really are very lovely.
A few years ago I read a book about medieval herbalism and, as I am wont to do, afterwards decided to make it a part of my life. I could be a herbalist! So I sent off for a load of seeds from a specialist shop and when they came, rather than sticking them in a drawer like I usually do, I scattered them all over the garden. All kinds of different seeds. Over the years various plants have come and gone but one seems to thrive but I don’t know what it is. It’s either Crimson Parsley, Herb Robert or Feverfew. Or a mixture of all three. The problem I have now is that, whereas Parsley is good for cooking, and Herb Robert is OK, Feverfew is, I think, poisonous. This is complicated further by the fact that there is no such thing as Crimson Parsley.
I’ve got be honest. I would be a really shit herbalist.
I’m woken from a dream by the sound of birds. It’s a multi-levelled effect, with blackbirds and starlings in the background, the odd heron (or is a goose?) flying around aimlessly but by far the most dominant noise is seagulls. It could be thousands of seagulls. Or maybe just four or five – they’re extrovert birds, after all. I’m being kind – they’re fucking annoying and very loud. I drift in and out of sleep for a while, washing back to holidays on the pebbled beaches of South Devon in the early 1970s, the sea pulling against the stones and the seagulls overhead. I try to imagine the sound of traffic is like the sea. Then I remember that film with Rock Hudson or was it Cary Grant where he’s blindfold and thinks he’s at a party but it’s just the sounds of birds at a lake.
Not too far away from here there were filter beds for Thames Water which were developed into a housing estate in the late 1990s. No-one has told the birds that. As far as they are concerned is is still an unofficial nature reserve.
Most people, if they pray, pray for material things – cars, houses, holidays, cash – or stuff like getting
someone nice looking to love them/world peace. I’ve always prayed for one thing (and when I say prayed I mean hoped really hard with my eyes closed) – that a really good café would open up just down the end of my road. As in George Orwell’s essay The Moon Under Water, about a mythical perfect pub, there are several key factors for it to be a good café::
1. Great coffee
2. Excellent bacon sandwiches
3. Run by cool women who are into jazz and poetry or interesting/funny blokes who like
football and/or experimental electronic music
4. Quiet/good/no music
5. Near to your house
6. A selection of interesting brown sauces for the bacon sandwich
7. They also sell tweed jackets/suits
8. They have a few old books to read.
9. A working Wi-Fi
10. Friends will drop in unexpectedly
11. They have hats you can wear on sunny days.
So imagine my delight when I discovered Café Vintage had opened in the old premises vacated by
Tatran/Slovak Café (the Expert Milky Coffee Makers), Run by two sisters who look like they might have been in a band, they sell tweedy clothes and play jazz at a decent level (how many cafés have you been to where they’re arguing about where the Miles Davis CD has gone?). The coffee is great – especially the Americano. You won’t be able to walk properly for several hours after the bacon sandwich. The men’s clothes are the sort of thing you used to see in your Grandad’s wardrobe when you were in his bedroom looking for pipes to nick for WWII fighter pilot games. The women’s clothes look like you’re your granny’s Sunday best. And as for hats, they have Sergeant Pepper era German military band peaked caps, to keep the sun out of your eyes when you’re tapping away on a laptop.
(A Hat on a sunny day)
For years we looked at the crazy modernist building at the end of our street and said "What a fucking dump!" (It's not exactly Nikolaus Pevsner, I know.) It was either sheltered accomodation or an athletes village for a joint East German/British Olympic bid in 1972. A few people lived in the crazy modernist building – walking past at night you'd hear crackly garage radio blaring out from an open window, or shouting coming from another window. But nobody ever went in or out.
A few weeks ago the crazy modernist building
began gushing water like an incontinent cow. Then a wooden wall was put up around it, which usually means demolition time. I asked a hard-hat bloke what was going up in its place.
"Dunno mate. I only started today."
So, looks like there will soon be a crazy free improvised building at the end of our street.