A modern Pilgrim’s tale

The Old Kent Road.

Grubby, run down and ignored.

The route for people from south east London and south east England to get into central London but one that has history and is important in its own way because of that.  Now, I am in no way a pilgrim in the religious sense, but I liked that link in the road’s history and my own as it was the road Dad would use when driving into London when I was a child and I always wanted to live in the Ole Smoke, so you could say that I was a pilgrim of sorts and I just liked the title.  So I wanted to place another tale of observation here from my daily bus commute to the Elephant and Castle where I work and those characters I see have a story to tell, or I might add an indulgent little twist to their lives…

The toothless, scarfed old ladies, leaning on their industrial shopping trolleys waiting for the shop to open.  Their coats are missing vital buttons and the trolleys are held together with string and the crossed fingers of hope.  They don’t talk to each other and would sooner poke you in the eye with a sharp stick than let you push in front of them.

A new café opening, optimistic that people will come in and become regulars, but at the moment, there is only one gent wearing smeary glasses who is sitting outside nursing a coffee as his wobbly fingers roll a cigarette.  He has combed the few strands of hair he possess neatly down one side and the production of hair pomade is safe in his hands.

The rows of Victorian cottages, some that are three-storey high.  They have seen the years go by and have themselves changed little but are now being dwarfed by so called, luxury flats with thin walls and little storage.  I know which I prefer.  Some of those cottages however, have suffered such subsidence that at first glance you wonder how they are still standing with their door frames at such extreme angles!

People legging it across the car park to get the bus, trying to hold onto everything as they frantically wave at the driver hoping that he is in a good mood and feels sympathetic towards them.  And the curses when the driver isn’t.

Then passing Asylum Road, which has a fascinating set of buildings you can see from the Old Kent Road.  I have often wondered about them and they have a story which I have never known about in all my years of living in London.

The middle aged lady wearing a grubby jumper and skirt who marches up and down her patch of the road.  I would not be so fascinated by her were it not for the chain and padlock that is tight around her waist.  Perhaps she is looking for an errant bicycle that needs chaining up.  Oh, but I would love to know the history behind that accessory!

The Drovers Arms, an old haunt of mine from the 1980’s when it was still called that.  The faded and chipped tiled mural around the top of the building depicting drovers from a bygone age and I will forever call it that.  Practically every Friday, I would go there with a friend from work and dance to the hits of the day and lust after the blokes with their mullet New Romantic quiffs and shiny silver grey trousers and life was good and we were carefree and we didn’t give a toss that we walked down the Old Kent Road at two in the morning, swaying and giggling our heads off and holding our shoes because our feet hurt.

Passing the car park where small groups of men wait patiently.  They mill about chatting and sharing fags.  They seek a days work and hope that the breakfast they had from the Golden Arches emporium next door will sustain them.

The bus stop by the little park where the street cleaner sits on a bench.  He is taking a break to roll and smoke a cigarette and contemplate life through whatever he hears in his ear phones before getting up to carry on clearing up after us.  And behind him, a dog owner lets his dog run about and get some exercise before doing what dogs do and what the majority of their humans ignore and fail to do afterwards and this human falls into that category, sad to say.  Meanwhile, under a large tree, a rotund tabby and white cat sits with its front paws curled underneath its body and watches the dog, wary of it getting to close and annoyed with it being there and possibly preventing it from catching a bird unawares or a mouse.

Then there’s the man in the pub doorway.  He stands there everyday with his two dogs in their studded harnesses.  He is sometimes alone and sometimes with another man and they chat and put the world to rights and gesticulate wildly in the process, such is their intent to get their point of view across.  The dogs look in better condition than their owner and I suspect he is much younger than he appears, but he is there everyday and not giving up.

And the ever present artery of buses, crawling along and suffering the curses of the cyclists as they duck and dive between them and the other traffic.  The cyclists wearing varying degrees of tightness and padded bottoms in their attire.

East Street: The Egg Incident.

And the ever present Shard…

For sale, to let, under offer, sold, let by, subject to contract.  All that in addition to what is happening to the enormous graffiti covered Heygate Estate on New Kent Road, waiting to be demolished as part of the regeneration scheme.

Onto that building that some say is the biggest bar code in the world, yet somehow reminds me of a lipstick container!  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Strata.

Oh, last but not least, on this occasion as I get ready to get off the bus I spy a fellow passenger calmly plucking her eyebrows as the driver plays pothole roulette…

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A morning bus ride.

For the past four months, I have travelled to work by bus. One to Old Street, then a connection to King’s Cross. The first part takes me over London Bridge and into the Square Mile and I lazily gaze out of the window, watching everything and everyone as the bus moves on.

Now, that journey has ended, for the time being at least, as my temp job ended yesterday. My thoughts about the people and places I have seen, will stay preserved here.

Starting from London Bridge, passing the Shard; that glassy tower that has engulfed the station and surrounding area. The silver dragon marks the entrance to the Square Mile, proudly displaying the City of London’s Coat of Arms.

The view on either side of the bridge. To the left you can see St Paul’s to the right, Tower Bridge and HMS Belfast. Beautiful and I always try to turn my head both ways to see as much as I can. And if the sun is out, then see the glints of those morning rays bouncing off the buildings and the Thames.

The Fishmongers’ Company: that grand building on the river front with many, what look like to be, coats of arms or other such charters, hanging on the wall and glimpsed through the windows.

Monument: tall. Marking a time when London was nearly completely destroyed by fire.

Round the corner continuing on King William St, past the Japanese asset management company, watching someone half heartedly dust the railings and the steps. Flicking the litter off the property with a long-handled feather duster. He looks bored and perhaps thinks this job is beneath him.

The boys in blue anoraks, who give out the City AM free paper. Jumping on buses to put a pile down for the passengers and giving a cheery cry of thanks to the driver. Standing with their arms out as the people automatically reach to grab a copy. No words are exchanged between them and the public.

The lady with the black Labrador. They are who I looked out for everyday, and I would see them from about King William St to Old St and beyond, but my second bus always parted company with her by then… She, in her daily attire of a short skirt, tights, boots, a short jacket and a floppy hat, drinking a tall coffee from a company that has no concept of how good coffee should taste! Her trusty four-legged companion trotting by her side, looking up at her every now and then until an interesting smell catches his attention. His coat glossy and black as jet and seeing him/her made me smile.

The key cutting/shoe repair shop always open that early with him at the back starting on the work load and she at the front dealing with the city gents offloading their mound of white shirts for dry cleaning. Expecting them to be clean and pressed by the time they are collected.

The large M & S at Moorgate, open well before eight in the morning, and people are browsing the clothes and going downstairs to the food section.

Sleepy night security guards who wait for the morning receptionists, yawning and waving hello to the early morning arrivals, who struggle to get their security pass out with everything else they are holding.

At Finsbury Square, the large cranes of the construction site, lying idle and still, as the masses walk by on the pavement beneath them. These people clutching their coffees and bags of pastries and checking their mobile phones. Must read this email, must read this text message, must read this email, must read this text message…

Then onto Old Street where I would change buses. Passing the Honourable Artillery Company, and while waiting, sometimes peeking through the locked gate to Bunhill Fields. Fascinated by the old, moss-covered graves and every time making a mental note to come here one day and walk around this ancient area.

And on the second bus, approaching the large roundabout at Old Street and wondering about the Chinese café on the corner, missing two of its Louvre window panes. It never looks like it is open for business but the two gold maneki-neko or welcoming lucky cats, are always waving their paws to beckon you in.

Continuing on the City Road towards Angel. Watching the hoards of young school girls so inadequately dressed for winter. Experimenting with make-up and seeing how short they can make their skirts. Odd hair styles and busy texting on their mobiles. Rushing to become women and wave goodbye to their childhood. Ah, puberty! You are a strange creature.

The rows of elegant houses that line the City Road up to the Angel. They look Georgian to me. Many of them now offices of course, but how lovely it would be to have a whole five-storey building to yourself! Just me then…

Down Pentonville Rd and to my stop and a short walk to the café I went to every morning for a white Americano coffee. And a Full Monty breakfast – but that was only on a Friday.

Those who can, stand up and be counted.

There is one good thing about being made redundant this summer, and that is that I have been able to watch so much of the Olympics and Paralympics. And these occasions, along with the major international football tournaments, are really the only time I am interested in sport.

With the Paralympics coming to an end tonight, the closing ceremony will mark the signing off of a great summer of sport for this country. But I am not writing about that this time. It is the Paralympians themselves that I want to write about.

I grew up in an era where words like “spaz” and “flid” were not seen as derogatory as they so obviously are. They were just words used against those who got a question wrong in class, or did something stupid in the playground and I am sure that some of my teachers used them as well. I don’t think any thought was given to what they truly meant or who they really represented.

WRONG!

You betcha.

Questions are being asked about the legacy of the Paralympics.  Questions like has it made us more aware of people with disabilities? Has it made us more tolerant and will the swell of loveliness that we have been riding due to the Paralympics, continue with us being more compassionate after the sport euphoria has died down, and London returns to its usual pattern?

I hope so, because I have been truly humbled by what these athletes have achieved and take my hat off to them because they are absolutely bloody marvellous! They have made me laugh with their humour and characters, made me cry and made me gasp in amazement watching them. I really think that the Paralympics absolutely deserve to be as hyped up as the main Olympics; they are just as important and I have loved watching them.

I want to make sure that I never forget the respect I have for these people because watching them makes me ask myself what is normal, what is a disability? These folks are doing things that I could never do and have proven to me that whatever problems they have/are facing, be it mental or physical, they have pushed through and continue to push through so many barriers to be where they are today.

However, I don’t want my respect to be reserved just for these athletes. I need to continue to remember the many, many people out there with the same health problems, the same barriers to break, because I will pass them in the street, be on public transport with them, stand in a queue behind them in the shops and work with them in the office environment. I need to remember patience, if they are not as quick as I am at something, or can’t get on or off a bus quickly, because I am not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and I have no more rights than they have.

I hope these games will have given hope to anyone who has any kind of disability who think they have no future, because look at what this lot have achieved! That could be you in four years time! And even if you don’t take up any kind of sport, know that you can still do so much, you should not think you are invisible or useless, because if you think you are, then so am I.

London 2012

So, we did it.

We pulled it off.

Many said we couldn’t.

Many said we wouldn’t

They were silenced.

Those who know me well, know of my love affair with London. There is no rhyme or reason and I can’t explain it. London has held a fascination for me since I was a child and was the shining place we would visit from time to time when I was growing up in the country.

There were lots of people who were against us hosting the Olympics. They said it would not work, our infrastructure would not be able to cope and it would be a disaster. After Beijing 2008, I read a lot of comments from overseas people who said they would boycott London 2012 because they hate the English, our weather would be foul, we would be rude and unhelpful, London was a horrible city etc.

Well, we proved them wrong didn’t we folks? Even the weather behaved for the most part!

London rises up and dusts herself off after whatever has been thrown at her. Even the next day after it was announced we had been selected to host the games, we had the atrocities of 7th July. Did that stop us? No it did not. We picked ourselves up and carried on. We always have done and always will do.

This time last year, we were reeling from the August riots and again, people worried about how we would cope with the Olympics. Did that or the threat of a possible terrorist attack stop us? Again, no, it did not.

This great, beast of a city organised a party, and what a magnificent party! The opening and closing ceremonies were eclectic, eccentric and truly British. Some of you won’t have liked them, and that is fine! I loved them. The city was shown off in all her glory with iconic venues being used and London shone.

We were treated to some magnificent performances by the athletes, both from home and abroad. We connected with and supported TeamGB when they won a medal or even if they were unlucky, we felt they were like our own family in some cases because we cried when they cried and cheered when they did. In fact, we cheered and supported EVERYBODY from everywhere and if there had been a roof on the stadium, then it would have surely been lifted by the cheers.

I can’t begin to imagine the hard work, dedication and sacrifices that these athletes go through to reach the ultimate goal of appearing at an Olympic Games and hopefully winning a medal; it is the pinnacle of their career. Let us not forget though, that whilst we admire these people, we must also cheer and support those that are going to compete in a couple of weeks time in the Paralympics. Their achievements are just as important, more so in many cases.

I won’t go into the security fiasco that happened right before the start, because quite frankly, that company has had enough publicity already thank you and was a bloody embarrassment. Suffice to say, that the armed forces stepped in and performed magnificently. They and the police had an important job to do, but they did it with a smile on their faces. The infrastructure managed, much more than anyone said it would and the few times I went into central London, there were no problems on any of the forms of public transport I used.

And of course, our wonderful army of Volunteers! Without them, it wouldn’t have happened. They, the Games Makers did it and they all deserve gold medals for the sheer amount of dedication, long hours and bloody hard work each and everyone of them put into their experience. I salute you!

And how wonderful it was to snatch the flag back from the those groups that would seek to destroy us? Ha! How we waved the Union Flag and it felt good to see so many people walking around, wearing it in every way shape and form and know they are not a member those of dark, diseased groups. You don’t belong in 21st Century London/Britain. Please know that, once and for all.

So, world, what do you say? Did we manage it, was it a success, do you see us in a new or different light? It is a simple answer so say it: YES!

Think this is too stupidly patriotic? Jingoistic? Maybe, but I make no apology to you if you feel that; my blog, my rules.

Despite another city holding a very special place in my heart, I have to say this:

London, you truly are #thegreatestcityintheworld.

A little treasure in SE London

People are very quick to write off south east London, and proclaim it a no go area; unsafe and dangerous with nothing here worth visiting.

Well, yes, there are places around here that I would not want to particularly walk about on my own at night but there are areas like that all over London.  On the plus side, there are the wonderful villages of Greenwich, Blackheath and Dulwich that are beautiful, with gorgeous houses (yes, and very expensive to live in!), and parks providing a vast amount of greenery in an often ignored area.  You should explore them sometime.

This morning, I walked up the road to Brockley Market, a vibrant food market five minutes from where I live.  It has a good mixture of food stalls and take-away food.  I know that it does not look particularly busy in the photo below, but that was because I got there shortly after ten, when it opens.  Get there a little later and it bustles with local people and families and the air fills with the smells of the hot food – wraps, burgers and fresh ground coffee – and the happy murmur of people talking amongst themselves as well as talking to the stall holders.

I love that there are so many of these markets and good quality delis around London these days.  Supermarkets are soulless creatures I think, and if I can afford it, I prefer to buy a few good quality things direct from the producers and give them my money, rather than let a supermarket take the lion share of the profits.  I don’t care that my vegetables are dirty; that is how they are when you pick them!  And I’m not bothered if they are not a uniform shape; nature is wonderful like that and perhaps we should re-educate ourselves to embrace misshapen fruit and veg!

I mean look at these muffins!  I can’t wait to have them for breakfast tomorrow.

I got them, a wonderful soda bread loaf and young, fresh goats cheese…

…from these stalls…

I also bought some purple spring onions, a knobbly red pepper, mushrooms and eggs as I fancy making an omelette this evening.  I didn’t have breakfast before I left, so bought a banh mi sandwich from these people.  They originate from Vietnam, and use French baguettes (a left over from when the French were there) which are then stuffed with all manor of delights.  I chose the Imperial BBQ (sliced pork marinated in caramel and lemongrass then grilled) with salad and hotness in the form of chili sauce and chopped green chilies.  I ate this when I got home and it was delicious!

So, if you are in this area, come check it out sometime.

Now, when is the little market at Hillyfields next open…?

London on a new spring afternoon.

I am happy.

I see you London, waking up after your holiday.  Shaking off winter, and swapping it for the optimism of spring.

And you, the sun, new spring warmth glistening everywhere.  Making me smile and be happy now that the stark beauty of winter is dead.  You shine on everything as I pass.  There is the golden boy on his rocking horse in Trafalgar Square, and if I look hard enough, I can almost see him rock back and forth laughing at the tourists looking up at him.  Shafts strike across Hungerford Bridge hitting the Houses of Parliament making the building shimmer and shine, but hiding the decay of politics within. Whilst across the bridge, there stands St Paul’s and the city, and flashes of you bounce off the windows, like a hundred cameras going off as my train continues on its way.

At last!  The heavy coats of winter can now be shrugged off in favour of the lighter clothes and brighter colours.  I see the first glimpses of sandaled feet, the skin soft after a season of living in socks, tights and boots.

The sunglasses that have been frantically looked for in the depths of wardrobes, cupboards and drawers, now placed in their rightful positions or perched on tops of heads.  Are you sure they are real Raybans sir?

New life bursting in parks, gardens and trees.  Animal and bird parents frantically preparing for new young to come or feeding that which has already been born.  Fresh greens and the pink and white blossom that catches on the wind and dances in the air to then land, becoming a carpet of loveliness. Shoots thrusting through the soil and a sea of yellow as the daffodils bob and sway in the breeze and brighten everyone’s mood.

People straighten as they walk, realising that they no longer have to brace themselves against the winter elements.  The edges of their mouths soften, is that smiling I can see..?

Tables and chairs placed outside, silver cutlery against the white of the starched table-cloth anticipating al fresco eating; so lovely to do.

And the Lady of St Johns has returned!  She must have been hibernating for winter as well.  She is rocking and singing to an unknown song.

Oh, how I love London on a new spring afternoon.

Waterloo

I was away at the weekend visiting my close friend P and her family.  I can’t remember the last time I saw her or my god-daughter so I was really looking forward to it.

As I had some time to kill before my train was announced I thought I would sit and pass the time away by indulging in one of my favourite pastimes of people watching, and like any other main London terminus, Waterloo is extremely busy so there is always something to see and hear.

Therefore, in no special order I give you the poetry of feet from:

People rushing, or not, pulling suitcases and bags or struggling with bags over shoulders trying to juggle ticket, coffee, food and mobile phone, sometimes not successfully.  Oops!  Another coffee for you sir?

The rows of trains in their South Western livery of blue, red and gold looking remarkably clean for a change.

A couple of staff in their high Vis vests, chatting to a concourse cleaner, whose rubbish sack bulges with the dirty mix of discarded cups, fast food bags etc that he has picked up.

Assorted prams and pushchairs, kids either in them (some asleep, some looking around) or walking beside them, their hands firmly held in their parents grip, some of the dads wearing every year’s accessory of a child on their shoulders.

A line of Converse All Stars snaking past me, belonging to the foreign students who have no idea and probably give even less of a shit that they are in one of the most exciting and wonderful cities in the world.

The queues of people trying to use the ticket machines, pressing the wrong buttons and then having to run to get their train.

A rucksack and high heels, not a clever mix on this occasion, watching her totter about trying to balance herself, the back of her top riding up to reveal the skin of her back.

The multitude of day trippers, weekend visitors, and grandparents happy to be visiting their families, excitement on their faces.

People munching on greasy pastries that were cooked a long time before they bought them, and the smell of coffee wafting past my nose.

Those familiar green Marks & Spencer bags bulging with the train picnic, a sandwich, crisps, drink, chocolate, sushi…?

Pigeons fluttering down to land, only to be chased off and land again a few feet away.

Sports fans in their team’s strip, cracking open tins of beer and loudly taking the piss out of each other, full of testosterone and up for the game and anything else that comes their way.

Bicycles; various shapes being walked by their owners because you are not allowed to ride on the concourse.

A copy of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar flash past me to catch their train because the queue was too long in WH Smiths and they now have to rush.

One man walking on prosthetic legs, a casualty of Afghanistan?  Is this the immediate
conclusion we come to when we see these people now?

A group of female Morris Dancers, their multicoloured ribbons fluttering in the air as they walk.

The people who discard their unwanted rubbish; the ‘I don’t care, it’s not my problem’ brigade.

And me, getting up to board my train, getting lost within the crowd.  I hope your weekend was as good as mine.