All posts by tim bradford

Getting Waylaid While Buying DIY Supplies

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.

Plants I Don’t Know the Name Of: Some Herb Seeds I Scattered Around The Place

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. Herbseeds

 

The Seagulls

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.

Seagulls

 

Café Vintage, Mountgrove Road, Highbury

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 Cafevintage 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.

 

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(A Hat on a sunny day)

The Crazy Modernist Building At The End Of Our Street

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.

 

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A City Walk

Had to go into the City on Monday – around Mansion House – and was reminded how beautiful the old streets can be. You have to look along the curve and twist of the lanes, squint, then try to ignore many of the most modern buildings and attempt to see the City as it once was. Some new projects seem to be trying to obliterate the past with agressive bombast, like the 1990s No.1 Poultry, which was ugly (but not even good modernistly ugly) to begin with and has not improved with age, its creator perhaps obsessed with Battenburg Cake due to a moment of Prousian recollection with his sketch pad.

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I worked in the City for brief periods in the late 80s, including a stints temping at Warburgs, the Financial Times, BP and a couple of others whose names I can't remember. As a computer input drone my mind was free to explore and after work I could drift anonymously around the alleyways and lanes, imagining, then sit in old pubs and try to guess which era particular people would look best in.

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I love the 60s/70s building at 30 Cannon Street. Although bursting with crazy 60s humour it gives a substantial nod to medieval architecture of the past in the way it seems to get bigger the higher it gets. There's something edible, biscuity and Italian about it. (for more info see http://www.mimoa.eu/projects/United%20Kingdom/London/30%20Cannon%20Street).

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The names of the streets around here are magnificent. Old Jewry. Ironmonger Lane. Poultry. Cheapside. Walbrook. Garlick Hill. They give you the sense of rapidly changing environment, something London can still offer in pockets. Old Jewry is now slabs of concrete, expanses of glass, but a vision of the past can be found in an old plaque embedded into the wall telling of the synagogue that stood until the late 13th Century around the time the Jews were expelled from England.

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And one suprising thing is the amount of small, old fashioned shops in this part of the city – tailors, cobblers, cafes, galleries, old restaurants, hats, umbrellas. Everywhere you look, fragments of the past are still woven into the fabric of the streets. Tiny churchyards. Old houses next to office blocks. Ancient coats of arms peeing out from the roof of a bank.

 

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Workers Café, 740 Holloway Road

 
Workerscafe There are seven tables in the workers Café. Apart from me there is just one other customer, a little Irish lady called Mary sitting in the corner eating meat and two veg.

My coffee comes – it’s weakish and very milky. I haven’t had coffee like this since I was on an internal flight in Venezuela 20 years ago. Café con leche.  I remember nearly shitting myself when the pilot flew much too close to some mountains and that parts of the internal structure of the plane were held together with string.  So the coffee brings back exciting memories. And it is the same temperature as the molten core of the Earth.

The bacon sandwich comes and it’s your normal basic rasher in thin white sliced bread. But its USP is that it’s neither straight cut nor diagonal but a mixture of the two – is that a trapezoid?

What sets the Workers Café apart is not the grub, honest though that is, but the ambience. In the space of about 5 minutes the place is full. It’s like a little Irish village in here this evening. Next to me are two Irish lads in their late 60s/early 70s. One of them orders pork chops the other chicken curry and rice.

“I’ll do a runner now,” says the one with the massive grey beard, “and make ye pay fer the lot ha ha ha ha.”

The other bloke laughs weakly.

Another Irishwoman comes in and sits down at a table on her own.

“Alright Mary.”

“Alright Jean.”

 

A tall thin old man enters.

“Alright seamus,” says the bearded one.

“Johnny.”

“You’re a hardy man where you come from up in the hills ha ha ha.”

 

They all chat about football and the GAA and how in the 60s you only got 10 minutes for breakfast on a London building site.

“Now it’s half an hour, 40 minutes. Luxury it is.”

 

There’s a silence for a while then Johnny says

“We’ll never go back now.”

“No.”

“It’s just misery there now.”

“Aye.”

Before you get too excited about visiting a part of Irish culture from 40 years ago I should point out that this time last week I was in and the place was completely packed out with Eastern Europeans.

Starbucks, Highbury Corner

As usual on a Saturday late morning I’ve dropped 7 year old off at football then rushed to grab a coffee and continue my ongoing Great Lincolnshire Novel. But I can’t get a seat anywhere. It’s Arsenal v Spurs today , starting early at 12.45. So everywhere round here is packed, even the coffee bars. How did I not know this? There was a time, not that long ago, when the first page I turned to in the papers was the Sport. Then the news, then international news, then the sport again to check if there’s anything I’d missed (not motor racing, horse racing or tennis, though, of course – but proper sport like football, rugby, boxing, cricket).

But now I have to read the Review section first, find out about the latest short story collections, history books, kids’ stories. This morning, rather than checking to see what the opinion was about the North London derby, or talk about the upcoming Ashes series, I’d turned first to Maggie O’Farrell’s short piece about the late poet Michael Donaghy in The Guardian. Sport isn’t like ‘’Finance’ or ‘Work’ sections – it doesn’t get used for cleaning boys’ football boots or clearing out the ashes. It’s also still not on a par with ‘Travel’ or ‘Family’, which are put in a ‘saved’ pile to read on a rainy day. But when the rainy day comes, we’ll cook soups, watch a film or look for pianos on Ebay or just stare out of the window.

I queue up for ages at Starbucks behind noisy  fans buying skinny lattes then edge my way down the back where the fans disappear and it’s just mums and dads with prams and Guardians or students with laptops.

It’s a latte with an extra shot, with a BLT. It’s obviously not a proper bacon sandwich. For a start, the bacon is cold. How could it be otherwise when it’s covered in tomato and lettuce.  They should have a big pan of bacon on the go at all times. The bread is good – tastes like granary Hovis. Too much mayonnaise on it though. And of course there’s no brown sauce. The coffee? It’s OK, but there’s just too much of it, and even with the extra shot it’s drowned in gloopy hot milk.

Is that Frank and Nancy Sinatra singing “I Love You’ on the speakers? No, it’s the rubbish Nicole Kidman and Robbie Williams version. The sound of muzak, jetplane woosh of the coffee machine and general hubbub makes me hear an extra layer of tinnitus, like a water rushing through a weir in my eardums. Brown sauce might have made it go away.

Noo Noo & Bebo’s, Kentish Town Road, London NW5

Coffeesign
I was passing this when I saw the chalkboard sign “The best coffee in London”.  There was no mention about who had bestowed this accolade – possibly the owner – but it certainly made me curious.

Noo Noo and Bebo’s (Even though I double checked, I’m sure I’ve got the name wrong) is a tiny café, about the size of a big school store cupboard. At one stage there were about eight people in there, some ordering, others just chatting or listening to the French rap music that was playing on the speakers.

For my sandwich I was asked “white or brown bread, love?” I asked for brown and so, a short while later, a neat little white bread bacon sarnie appeared. The brown sauce was a bit sweet – Daddy’s rather than HP perhaps – and the bacon was a little stiff and not quite fatty enough.

But the coffee really was very good. I had a latte with an extra shot. This is my current crush as I try to wean myself off Americanos.  Admittedly latte with an extra shot is the alcopop of the caffeine world but Americanos after lunch give me a headache as well as flashbacks to a rugby tour to Paris in the mid 1980s. But this lovely little latte – which was like a kind and gentle, hair strokey version of an espresso – reminded me of sitting in an apartment in Mamers, France with my pen friend and his cousin, staring at flowered wallpaper and discussing the works of Laurent Voulzy.

The_forum Afterwards I walked up Highgate Road to pick my daughter up from school. On the way I passed The HMV Forum (formerly the Town and Country Club) which I last went to in 1991 to see a Throwing Muses gig. Even though I’ve been in London for over twenty years I’ve never walked the stretch from The Forum up to the railway bridge (which I’ve previously approached from the  north). Another little piece of London is now joined up in my mind.

“It’s the half term holiday!”

I had a dream last night that I was in the west of Ireland and had left a pub to go in search of a mandolin so I could join the session. (This is dream bravado, of course – I've had three lessons and can play two and a half tunes at walking pace). I wandered through the night, getting completely lost, until I came to a little boreen and turned down it. At the end of this lane was a large, modern detached house, surrounded by grass. I knocked on the door and the writer Arthur Mathews answered it. Yes, he said, there used to be a mandolin here. He invited me in. He would have a look, he said.

The house was huge inside, with many corridors and dark rooms with big modern furniture. I could hear Arthur talking from somewhere but his voice was growing faint. I then glimpsed some light and walked down another dark corridor until I came to a small white room which had had a whole wall removed. It was a bit like Darth Sidious's anti-chamber on the Death Star in Star Wars. In the middle of this white room, on a big white chair, sat Graham Linehan (Arthur's former writing partner), reading a tabloid. I introduced myself and tried not to to be too fawning. He sort of grunted and carried on reading. Then Arthur reappeared with lots of other people and we all went in to a big living room. One of them was Graham's Brazilian model girlfriend/wife who said she had a really bad headache. Most of them were drinking some kind of green potion to get rid of hangovers. Then Arthur made milky coffee for everyone. I sat on a big sofa next to Graham and Mary McAleese (President of Ireland) stood up and started to explain who they all were. Graham turned to me and said something but it was in a faint, high-pitched shouty voice. It sounded like "It's the half-term holiday!" Then the voice got louder. "What? What are you trying to tell me Graham?" Then I was lying awake in bed and my kids were upstairs shouting and jumping up and down on their beds. "It's the half term holiday!"