Category Archives: 1 Mile from Home

My Famous Street Standup Moment

There was a bright chill in the day. I was walking slowly up the hill when I saw one of my neighbours talking to two men in red t-shirts. She said hello to me and so I stopped for a quick chat. The men were from a building firm, working on one of the nearby houses, and were asking about parking permits. I made a tangential comment about my neighbour’s shoes and the men laughed uproariously. Slightly taken aback, I carried on my usual 5 minute conversation with the neighbour, covering a range of topics. Every time I said something even vaguely witty the red-shirted strangers would start giggling and choking. After a while it began to go to my head and I decided to up the ante a bit, trying out a few impressions and mentioning Brexit. You’d think the whole Monty Python team had reformed and were doing their greatest hits outside on a small bit of pavement in the southern slopes of Finsbury Park/Highbury border country. As they spluttered and wiped tears from their eyes, I realised I was starting to get addicted to this and already envisioning my forthcoming stand-up comedy tour.

Then a van the pulled up. The driver wound down the window and said “Alright lads?” and made some very bland comment about Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. The two men nearly wet themselves laughing and I realised that, far from them being highly tuned to my subtle brand of middle-aged beardy dad sub-Marxist Zen banter, these poor souls must have been stoned out of their minds on some kind of knock-off brain melting Skunk. I said goodbye, to my neighbour, the laughing twins and my dreams of comedy stardom, and shuffled off up the street.

 

High Speed Metaphor Bloke with Lager

I’m trudging back from the park, feeling tired and for some reason dejected by the clammy cold breeze that’s whipping off the pavement into my threadbare old jumper. A bloke in army fatigues heads down the road towards me, at a fair old clip. He’s on one of those self balancing motorized unicycle things. As he zips past me I see he’s holding a can of extra strong lager and talking on the phone in Russian. He takes a nifty left turn, sips from his can and carries on the conversation. He’s a metaphor. Heading north towards Finsbury Park.

Though it might have been Polish.

It’s A Beautiful Day

I’ve written before about rain. About how it makes me feel alive. Today the rain was beating down, propelled by cold gusts of wind that made the recently muggy North London streets feel like February in the west of Ireland. I leave the hood of my waterproof down, so I can feel the raindrops on my face. In theory you might imagine steeling yourself against this kind of weather. But I feel it stops me living in my head so much, which I am wont to do too a lot of the time. The heavy rain draws out any deep rooted melancholy so that it is truly felt, but it mixes with the joy of feeling… anything. So that in this rain I am both sad and happy at the same time. There is probably a beautiful word in old Irish for that. And also the sense of being firmly rooted in the physical world, and connected to all things, while being acutely aware of the non-physical, mystical nature of existence that is almost always hidden from us. This cold rain reminds me of those that have gone, especially recently.  In fleeting moments of understanding that I *am* alive I accept that they are not but feel, in tiny moments, that they are ‘somewhere’. How does rain do that? It makes me live in the now, which means I can see both backwards and forwards without consciously having to think about it… past/future, Highbury Corner/Finsbury Park one-way-system.

But I’m not just having a spiritual experience in this rain. I’m trying to catch up with my youngest son, who has gone off to school dejectedly after I shouted at him for breaking his glasses (again). Both my boys live in a 1970s World of Sport type existence, in which wrestling is a key component of a well-lived life. The youngest – 11 tomorrow – breaks his glasses once every couple of months, but has lost two in the last week.

I can see him trudging in the distance but I’m walking slowly, as I am dragging the neighbour’s dog behind me. Eventually I catch up with my soaking son and we embrace and I tell him to have a good day. He seems happy that we have connected properly. On the way back I encounter one of those road rage situations that seem to crop up more and more these days. An old man, with two bags full of ‘stuff’, is walking slowly across the road as a car comes up. The driver sounds his horn and the old man takes offence and stands in front of the car, arms outstretched.

“I’ve got all day. I’m not going anywhere!” he shouts and blocks the car. I go into the road and try to talk to him. Eventually he leaves the road but as he looks back the driver does that ‘finger on the side of the head’ sign that kids used to go when they called someone “a loony!” Enraged, he goes back out into the road.

“That’s it. I’m not moving.”

On a normal, dry day, I would have been tempted to not get involved. To leave them all to it, these crazy bastards. But in this rain, I am connected to them in some strange way. We are all connected… at least the people in our little corner of Southern Blackstock Road. The dog and I go back into the road. I explain to him that the driver is being incredibly annoying, but that it happens all the time when people are in a rush. What about all the other people in cars and vans, about 15 of them, backed up behind. Is it really fair to them? Don’t let this person in a car ruin your day. He looks at me and shrugs. Then sighs, and walks off the road with me. The neighbour’s dog looks at him as if he knows him. “Have a good day,” says the old man, and continues up the hill. The people in the cars are waving and giving the thumbs up.

The rain gets harder and my head starts to ache. The lollipop lady has to shelter in a doorway. The neighbour’s dog does a massive shit on the pavement.

It’s a beautiful day.

 

A short video about rain from three years ago.

Talking About Love on Drayton Park

I’m walking from my car to Tesco to go and buy some chicken dippers… the latest shit food fad in our house – when out of the corner of my eye I see someone walking across the road in my general direction. I look over and see a shortish man, around 5 foot 7, with his shirt off and displaying a muscled torso that suggests heavy martial arts or gymnastic training.

“Hey, mate!” he shouts. “Mate… can I talk to you?”

I sigh inwardly, and stop. He comes up to me and stares intensely into my eyes. He has a very red face, and is sweating profusely. Maybe he’s just done some heavy work on the parallel bars or something.

“What’s up?” I ask.

“Mate, do you know what love is?”

My initial reaction is to want to laugh – this feels like the title of a Cockney Rejects cover version of that famous Foreigner rock ballad.

“I know what it feels like, at any rate. Why do you want to know?”

He frowns. “Well, what do you do if you love someone but you’re not sure they love you as much?”

I’m about to quote the lyrics of a famous Sting song here, but I don’t know this unpredictable hardpan well enough yet  and not everyone responds well to the work of the ex-Police frontman. So rather than actually say “if you love someone, set them free “, I suggest that he gives the object of his affection a bit of space.

“YES! That’s just what she said. She wanted more space. You do know what love is!”

He’s smiling now and he introduces himself. His name is Jimmy Reilly. He’s just come back from a court appearance in Hackney. We’re still walking but we’ve come to Tesco now and he has to make a decision – does he want to carry on chatting about affairs of he heart but also commit himself to helping me get some food for the kids’ tea, or does he cut and run. He asks me a few more questions about love, and I try to be honest and not too profound and Zen-poetryesque with my responses. It seems as though he’s about to calm down. Then he remembers that when he was in court he saw his girlfriend and she was just texting on her phone and not watching him at all.

“I don’t know what’s in her head, what she’s thinking.” He frowns again, his face gets redder and he bunches up his muscles, as if he’s he wants to punch the living shit out of something.

I tell him that we can never really know what someone else is thinking and that he probably needs time to work out what he wants and feels because he sounds a bit… heavy. He takes this well and decides that we should be friends. By the way, could I give him some money and also drive him to his new flat which is several miles away. At this point I realise I can do no more to help him and explain about the chicken dippers. I wish him good luck. He tenses his muscles, waves and heads west to the Holloway Road, still unaware that he’s forgotten to put his shirt on.

Since You’ve Bin Gone

Today I walk the neighbour’s dog again. On my return leg I am reminded that the rubbish bin at the top of one of the nearby streets has gone missing. We walk back around to the next street, but the bin has been taken from there, too. That hasn’t stopped an accumulation of rubbish, of course. In the way that the light from a star shines down to us millions of years after the star itself has died, so refuse will continue to accumulate for years on an empty street corner due to the historic placement of the bins.

I phone the council and, voice rising in indignation, explain that it just will not do. Somebody says that somebody else will get in touch with me. Probably write a letter. And the ‘somebody’ wouldn’t be a ‘person’, it would most likely be a computer – the actual person on the end of the phone doesn’t actually say that, I just know. I sigh inside. I do that a lot these days. The actual person on the end of the phone didn’t make the decision about the bins. It’s not her fault.

The dog then does a massive crap, but the tennis ball he’s been holding in his mouth starts to roll down the hill. Should I continue to clear up the dogshit or chase the ball? Life is full of tough decisions like this. I decide to do the right thing and clear up the mess, but luckily for me the ball comes to rest on something sticky – I think it’s a big patch of 24 hour old vomit (brown with a hint of red… Merlot mixed with kebab?). I walk the dog back to the house, slightly concerned at the realisation that he can’t shit and hold a tennis ball in his mouth at the same time. What sort of dog is that?

Back at the house I’m feeling slightly guilty at getting on my high horse about such a trivial thing as bins. I need to get things in perspective. It’s Donald Trump’s inauguration tomorrow, for God’s sake. I should be complaining to the council about that. Or out on the streets. What the hell is wrong with me?  What is that saying? – that evil triumphs when good people turn into stupid wankers, or something…

Then my youngest son comes home and says that his school have decided to scrap afternoon playtime.

“I’m going to do a petition,” he says, looking very earnest.

“Good to hear,” I say.

He frowns. “Dad…”

“Yes?…”

“What’s a petition?”

The Portable Bouncing Playground

My youngest has become very excited at the new portable bouncing playground that’s been installed at the western end of our street. Since its introduction, he’s had no desire to visit the swanky modern play zone in the park. Every school morning he rushes up the road and starts to bounce up and down, shrieking and laughing. Sometimes other kids join him. I’ve tried to explain to him that the portable bouncing playground is actually just a temporary installation and that it won’t be there for ever, but he doesn’t want to listen.

One afternoon last week, after I’d picked him up from school and was watching him have his regular bouncing session I overheard another parent complaining about the PBP.

“That old mattress has probably got fleas. Why doesn’t someone just take it to the recycling centre?”

“In Your Days”

I’m walking through the park with my eight year old son. He’s asking lots of questions at the moment. The main thrust of all this is that he can’t believe how old how I am.

“Dad – in your days did you ride those funny bikes?”

“What do you mean by funny bikes?”

“Those ones with the big wheel at the front and the little wheel at the back.”

“Ah, Penny Farthings.”

“Yes!”

“Those are from the Victorian era.”

“When things were black and white.”

“Well, the photos were black and white. But I wasn’t brought up in the Victorian era. That was over 100 years ago. I was a kid in the 1960s and 1970s.”

“Oh. But it was black and white then, wasn’t it?”

“Not really, no.”

“So did you have a colour TV?”

“Er, no. It was black and white.”

He goes quiet and looks at me. He’s thinking… “My poor dad is so very very old.”

A walk in Clissold Park

Had a great walk out in the rain yesterday morning in Clissold Park, during which I outlined my four point plan (or is it seven?) for fully appreciating your local area. Brought along one of my sketch books and a few copies of my latest dodgy hand-drawn map. Various people did readings from my book A London Country Diary and we discussed  important topics such as how to decode discarded beer cans, when to break into parks and why magic trees talk in Yorkshire accents.

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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.

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