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Archive for 2011

Adventures With The Aspirational Poor

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Dear Rachel

Until this Christmas Day, I had assumed that the word ’scrage’ – pronounced to rhyme with ‘rage’, and used to describe a minor skin abrasion – was the sole linguistic property of my old dear and, by association, myself.   It turns out to be Bristol slang, according to a book on the subject being bandied about the Christmas dining table along with an inventive and eyewateringly potent butter collection which consisted of brandy, cherry brandy, and amarula cream variants.   I dislike alcoholic butter, and instead familiarised myself with sundry other Bristolian phrases, which enabled me to safely arrive at the conclusion that I was in no danger of being stung by a macky buzzer if I was of a mind to go outside and see if the snow was pitchen yet.  

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Lullaby Of Tooting Broadway

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Dear Rachel

A couple of Saturday mornings ago in Greenwich Market, volley after volley of threats, curses and expletives of all flavours and descriptions being hurled at Danny were my first indication that Keith had returned from an eight week sojourn in Cuba, where he is the guest lecturer in photography at Havana State University. I pride myself on an eye for good tailoring and a confident, understated sartorial style, and to this end was giving a full length cashmere overcoat from Liberty’s of Regent Street rare market airing.   It is a fine garment supplied by a fine English company, and both Keith and Danny know that I do not tolerate profanity or foul language in front of it.  I once made Childbrain apologise to it for swearing, to the amusement of Cartoon Ben, and indicated my displeasure with Keith’s tone by addressing him with a stern look and tapping a lapel with my forefinger.  I’m afraid to report that he responded with further recourse to the language of the gutter, with which I shall not trouble you.   Informing Keith that he was a very common fellow indeed, I retired to what seems to have become my regular pitch near the lesbian cake ladies – who have taken to providing me with shortbread so sugary that it actually makes me shake – and waited to see what all the fuss was about.

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Tiramisu And The Dyspraxic Diner

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Dear Rachel

Dyspraxia is often accurately, if unkindly, known as ‘clumsy child syndrome’, but adults have it too: Harry Potter has the condition, as did Albert Einstein.   If Winston Churchill had had it, his famous broadcast to the Empire and Commonwealth as the Germans threatened seabourne invasion would’ve been ‘We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets; we shall fight in the hills.  We shall never surrender.  Blast it, I’ve knocked my bloody brandy over’.  It’s that kind of a thing, really.

If you had your house rewired so that you could drive a bumper car from room to room, or even across rooms to feed the goldfish or put the kettle on, it would be similar to the interactions that a dyspraxic child has with their environment.   I don’t have children and I don’t have dyspraxia, and while the former would appear to be creeping up the agenda, the latter is unlikely to change.  I would suggest, however, that our allegedly impoverished public sector could save a great deal of money spent on conventional testing for infant dyspraxia by simply getting children to walk through a wide doorway with no distractions whatsoever, and seeing what happens.  I myself was sitting near a doorway of this type at a dinner party recently.   Had I not already known the the daughter of my host had very mild dyspraxia, I would’ve offered a prognosis to this end with no paediatric training whatsoever, on account of the number of times she charged into the back of my chair while walking through at steady pace with no distractions at all, then pinballed into the doorframe while trying to correct her trajectory.   This was before the dinner had started.   After the dinner had started, and in support of a conversational point, I managed to say ”Basically, I just can’t stand children’, offering a quick ‘No offence’ to all the people seated on my right, none of whom were over 10.

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Awkward Moment

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Dear Rachel

I would not list the Duke of Wellington public house, Toynbee Street, London E1 alongside the Houses of Parliament or the Oxford Society as a white hot crucible of enlightened debate.   However, the fact remains that many decisions of vast importance in the lives and businesses of the people who drink there have taken place around the circular table by the dart board, the oblong table between the Gents’ and the Ladies’, and my personal favourite table beneath the portrait of the Iron Duke himself.

It was at this table, at about the time when a long evening has turned into an early morning which has in turn given way to the irrefutable truth that actual people with real jobs are on their way to work, and that very soon you’ll have to dawdle down to Liverpool Street station and take the Central Line to Soho to see your wholesaler, that I had to inform Lou that I knew nothing whatsoever about comic book art.   There are several reasons that the exact sequence of events surrounding my revelation can never be replicated, not least because Vinny the landlord has recently replaced the Duke of Wellington portrait with yet another telly, on the curious grounds that life is too short to look at anything more than eight feet away. (more…)

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Prudent Purchases In Tooting Bec

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Dear Rachel

I have only been abroad once in my entire life – I decided on a whim to ride a mountain bike from Atlanta to New Orleans and back on my own, for reasons that now escape me – and perhaps because of this I have always found airmail writing paper curiously exciting.   It makes a lovely crackly noise when you handle it, for a start, and it has a romantic quality, too – whenever I recieve letters written on airmail paper I always imagine that the person writing them is sitting under a palm tree in the East Indies, even if they are in a rented room in Chatham.   Not that Chatham or the nature of rented accomodation are necessarily without romantic qualities of their own, of course, but they do not spring as readily to mind as a classic romantic backdrop.

I have spent a good deal of the past summer outside London, scampering around the provinces in the interests of our wider commercial affairs.   While doing so, I’ve taken to using Basildon Bond airmail paper over emails for personal correspondence as, due to what we may now call the Chatham effect, it gives a letter from Hastings or Ramsgate or Grimsby an exotic aura that it might otherwise lack.   When writing from home I usually use standard Basildon Bond post quarto paper, either blue or champagne, depending upon my mood.   For very special letters I whip out couple of sheets of Eclats D’or, which has tiny flecks of gold in it, and I favour a Parker Duofold pen.   There are only two downsides to written correspondence: 1) It could be misconstrued as self conscious whimsy, which runs the risk that the kind of women who feature prominantly in Match.com advertising will drag me off to meet their cats and parents as soon as I start to write anything, and 2) my handwriting is so atrociously bad that I routinely have to send a version of all written correspondance by email, so that the recipient can actually read it.

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Billy And My Monotone Brothers

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Dear Rachel

I was returning to London last week, having spent a couple of days tending to our commercial interests in the provinces, when I found myself considering the Essex countryside from the window of an inter city train.  While doing so, the following forgotten rhyme from my childhood suddenly unforgot itself and came to mind, as the greenery between Manningtree and Colchester tumbled by:

My friend Billy had a ten foot willy,
He showed it to the lady next door,
She thought it was a snake,
And hit it with a rake,
And now it’s only four foot four.

While I’m sure that none of the above is based upon actual events, I do have a friend called Billy – he sells handpainted Jerusalem pottery at Greenwich Market – and he can’t be much more than four foot four tall, being the shortest man in casual retail.   He lives in a flat in Tufnell Park, and although there is a lady living next door to him, neither of them have a garden and she is therefore unlikely to own a rake, or indeed gardening implements of any kind.  Whether she needs to chill out a bit, as the lady in the rhyme would appear to, I suspect we will never know for sure.

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Sarajevo Moment For Upmarket John

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

Dear Rachel

The outdoors is, on the whole, very overrated, and my own natural suspicion of the countryside extends to any open space which is not enclosed by walls and a roof.  My unfamiliarity is such that if, for example, the beer garden of the Duke of Wellington public house, Toynbee Street, London E1 did not have concrete paving, wooden tables, a wardrobe and a pink scooter abandoned there in 2006 by persons unknown and now showing visible signs of disintegration in it, I would think it was part of Dorset.

The beer garden is where the lovely Chinese dvd lady, who is a welcome sight in the pubs around and between Spitalfields and Petticoat Lane markets, attends to the tipsy yet thrifty film buffs who form her core customer base.  Interestingly, selling dvds from pub to pub is not illegal, and as long as the landlord of the public house concerned is satisfied that there is no attendant illegality taking place, it is perfectly acceptable. The landlord of the Duke of Wellington is Vinny, a man whom we may safely assume is at peace with his personal interpretation of the concepts of what is legal and what isn’t. Past patrons would certainly have included both Jack the Ripper and at least a couple of his victims, and while selling digital versatile discs pub to pub is not illegal, dismembering prostitutes clearly is. To further complicate this legal minefield, prostitution in itself is not illegal either, although if the recent experience of Upmarket John, a Brick Lane trader of my acquaintance is anything to go by, not having sex with someone who isn’t a prostitute actually is.

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Doing A Luton With The Goat Bag Man

Monday, September 5th, 2011

Dear Rachel,

I’m sure you’ll know what a middle eight – or ‘bridge’ – is, but in case you don’t, it’s the ‘middle eight’ bars of a pop song, which break up the verse structure and add interest, usually by embellishing a central riff or adding a solo.  For example, this morning I listened to the Beatles’ tremendous 1965 hit I Feel Fine.  The middle eight in I Feel Fine is the instrumental bit at the end of the second chorus and before the second verse.  It’s excellent, but when removed from its context, makes no sense whatsoever.  Now imagine a tune consisting entirely of middle eights.  To return to the case of the middle eight from I Feel Fine, you’d think, after a while, ‘I like this, it’s highly enjoyable and very catchy, but I don’t know where it’s come from, I don’t know where it’s going, and I don’t know the structure in which it is supposed to exist’.  That’s what a conversation with the Goat Bag Man is like.

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For Idle Hands To Do

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Dear Rachel

We didn’t have a valid insurance certificate the last time we traded at the Thames Festival, so to be on the safe side Tony drew one for us.  Resourceful bluffing of this kind is a valuable asset when trading at events, and a great deal cheaper than getting actual insurance.  Sadly, I do not have Tony’s easy familiarity with the calligraphic arts, so when I trade at it this year I will be fully insured to do something for the first time in my life.  Lack of insurance is also a hindrance when attempting to drive legally, but fortunately not if you’re driving illegally, so I foresee no problem getting the considerable amounts of stock involved to and from the event itself.

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Walking Through Town Is Quite Scary

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Dear Rachel,

In future, whenever I have bad news to impart – redundancy, death of a parent, the unhappy results of a smear test, and so forth – I’m going to ask the recipient to whip their shoes off and boing about on a bouncy castle at a children’s party while I do so, because nothing seems so bad when you’re airbourne among all that red and yellow vinyl in the company of five year olds.  I discovered this last Monday when I was informed, in a voice shouted over the happy yelling and squealing, that Croydon had burned down, Clapham had gone up, and the whole of London had gone off.

I was eating toothpaste in the bath when I learned that John Lennon had been shot.   Thirty one years later, and being roughly thirty one years older than my bouncy castle companions, I have a much more immediate grasp of cultural events.    Therefore,  it only took a couple of hours  for the  implications of the London riots to become clear.   By three o’clock the following morning, with my bouncing shenanighans seeming to belong to an entirely different world, I was drinking tea, watching rolling news footage and finding myself unable to say anything other than the names of parts of London whose streets and inhabitants are familiar to me, as they drifted across the bottom of the screen accompanied by words such as ‘riot’, ‘looting’, ‘arson’ and ‘widespread’.

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