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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.”
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.”