bored of excitement – the griefjunkie blog 

Archive for 2012

Merry Everything! It’s Christmas!

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Dear Rachel,

I am spending Boxing Day in a house which no one has walked or driven past since Christmas Eve, when I arrived here via Land Rover straight off the train from London. I am about as far into the countryside as it is possible to get, and not being naturally rural would certainly have gone mad by now if the house in question were not equipped with merlot and Smarties in special fire extinguishers with which I can be hosed down by my companions whenever I feel a panic attack coming on.

This all means that I’m not spending Christmas with my old dear and, embracing technology, I suggested that we communicate by Skype, which involved setting her up with an account and such over the phone. I instilled the importance of taking care over filling in the registration form, as I sensed that this could be a bit annoying to someone who has yet to grasp the concept of a search engine and can only find things by typing the entire url of any given website into the address bar. Taking this advice, she confirmed what she was writing by loudly repeating each letter of her name as she typed it. The location part of the registration form was dealt with in a similar fashion. When we got to the password, I said that she should keep that to herself, so she observed security by loudly whispering each letter instead. The password was skype22 if you’re interested, although I have changed it now. In any case, access to my old dear’s Skype account would be fairly useless – I’m the only person on her contact list, and I’d know if you’d hacked it, because you wouldn’t spend the first eight minutes of the conversation away from the keyboard deciding which cardigan to wear.

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Slapstick On The Stairs

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

Dear Rachel,

In keeping with the rest of the place, the stairs in the upper storage area of Leadenhall Market are ornate and other-worldly. They are the sort of stairs you have to really commit to, though – steep, twisty, barely wide enough to climb and the cases I have to heft up them are very heavy indeed. Physical strength and fitness are assets for a market trader, and while never having been anything other than slightly overweight I decided to try fasting for a larf in May, and have unexpectedly lost 40 lbs since. On paper, this makes me more suited to my occupation, however this is sometimes not so in practice, as we shall see.

I stopped to adjust my grip while wrestling a case of jewellery boxes up the Leadenhall stairs a few Fridays ago, at roughly the same place where a stouter man might stop for a breather. Whereas our imaginary stout friend would have completed an uneventful ascent thereafter, the case rested against my upper pelvic cavity and caused my jeans to fall entirely down to my knees. This was not an ideal turn of events, and although there was another trader nearby, I felt uncomfortable with the prospect of requesting assistance. I therefore battled on trusting that my new conjoined denim leg warmers would not cause me to topple back over myself and heap further indignity upon an already un-suave situation. Fortunately they did not, although anyone enjoying a lunchtime bevvy outside the Lamb would’ve seen something they may never have forgotten, had they happened to look up.

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Mistaking Identities

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

Dear Rachel

I am often told that being a market trader must be great for people watching. This is true. However, you quickly learn that there aren’t that many types of people to watch. Understanding this enables you to develop a kind of shorthand which then enables you to efficiently sort them into accurate demographic groups. I suspect that with close enough observation this would be possible no matter what means you employed; in my case, I use the medium of kitchenware.

For example, I can tell a great deal about someone by how much of ‘I Believe I Can Fly’ by R. Kelly they will shout when confronted with an apron which has ‘I Believe I Can Fry’ written on it as a lazy but effective wordplay. Even if I was to trade blindfolded, I would know as soon as they got as far as ‘…I can touch the sky’ that I was being serenaded by someone with access to competitively priced tattooing facilities and large amounts of bad food. Observations such as these are all well and good, but ultimately it’s how you react to such people that counts. People projecting R. Kelly lyrics in response to a novelty apron aren’t necessarily dull, stupid, plain, predictable and disappointing, but there is always the risk that they might be. There are, after all, a lot of thick people about. The thing about thick people is that they are very good at being angry. I had to explain this once to Tony, with whom I once had an unlikely but successful kitchenware alliance, shortly after one of them punched him in the face.

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Salutations To The Dawn

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

Dear Rachel,

‘Each morning when I wake here in Spitalfields’, writes the Gentle Author at one point in Spitalfields Life, ‘I lie for a few minutes contemplating the squirrels gamboling in the yew tree outside my window before climbing from my bed to start another day’. If you don’t know the Gentle Author or Spitalfields Life, the latter is the creation of the former and documents people and places in and around the Spitalfields area of east London, including the famous market there. The Gentle Author and I live in very different worlds, although we both write about market life quite often. I have had plenty of time to consider these differences recently while at Greenwich Market, in the quiet couple of weeks between the various Olympic Games which are being held next door. Well aware of what they have done to Greenwich, I have been fond of referring to this pause as the lull before the calm.

Not having the opportunity to listen to squirrels playing in trees, I started last Sunday by cycling to Greenwich from Tooting Bec, via Clapham, Brixton, Peckham and Deptford – as is my habit on trading days – and walked straight into an argument between Danny and Keith. This broke out because of the way Danny started his day, which was by pouring Marshall’s water bowl over Keith’s chair, as part of an on-going attempt to convince him that he is incontinent, and therefore eligible for the forthcoming Paralympics. Marshall, needless to say, is a dog. Marshall started his day by eating some money, which as you can imagine did little to cheer Danny up. Be that as it may, Danny has been routinely pouring water over Keith’s chair in this manner for several weeks, but on this occasion Keith’s counter measures caused little short of civil war.

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All The Lonely People

Sunday, August 19th, 2012

Dear Rachel

Of all the different groups of people that co-exist within the haphazard ecosystem of a London market, none are more different than weekday and weekend traders. They are barely the same species, and nowhere is this more evident than in Greenwich Market, and attitudes towards dress sense and cats.

For example, I’m not sure that grown women should really be wearing polka dots. However, as I spoke to a weekday trader doing just that at my stall recently, I decided not to bring the matter up. You shouldn’t judge a book by the cover of course, but then again you are in charge of your cover, and if you want it to make you look like an eight year old at a wedding reception, you shouldn’t be surprised if someone gives you a paper plate with sausage rolls on it. As luck would have it, I actually had a paper plate with sausage rolls on it handy, and she took one while discussing a detective novel she was reading in which all the characters were cats. They had names like Mr Neatwhisker and Milady Pinkpaws, and reading it made her sound lonely. I asked if she would have liked it as much had they all been humans, and she replied no, definitely not. Finishing her sausage roll, she asked what I was reading on my Kindle. It was Geoffrey Hosking’s History of the Soviet Union. I felt this would be difficult to explain via cats, so I just said ‘Football’ and left it at that.

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The Gift That Won’t Stop Taking

Saturday, August 11th, 2012

Dear Rachel,

Anyone who has been here for a very long time may recall that I once saw a man demonstrate the durability of a chopping board by firing a gun at it in an abandoned railway building near Acton. As a result, I consider myself largely beyond surprise. I was, though, as enthralled and entranced as the rest of us by the Olympics opening ceremony, not least because I’d always thought that the only way the Jam, the Who and the Sex Pistols would feature amid such proceedings would be if I choreographed them myself. It was a lovely thing, and successfully masked the fact that the Olympics have declared war on London, and I don’t know what we did to provoke them.

Indeed, throughout the ceremony, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Battle of Fontenoy – one of the great comedy battles – and in particular the actions of Lord Hay as he lead the Grenedier Guards against fortified French infantry. This is a tricky thing to do. Ordering the Guards to halt, he drew them up in a line and, waving his hat, lead them in three cheers for their opponents. The French responded with three cheers of their own, whereupon Lord Hay, showing a keen sense of the opportune, ordered his men to open fire. Anyone with a business anywhere near an Olympic venue feels like one of those French infantrymen, thinking ‘Well, this is a lovely moment, by why are they pointing guns at us?’

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An Awkward Matter Dealt With

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

Dear Rachel,

When boiling a kettle, my old dear will first boil it in the accepted manner, and then boil it a second time by holding the switch down until it is literally shaking.  I am told that this is to ensure that the water has ‘properly warmed through’ prior to making tea with it.  I have often pointed out that liquid which is turning to steam is unlikely to be tepid and explained my fears that one day she will make her kettle so hot that a solar flare will escape from it and interfere with the electromagnetic fields in Slough, where she lives.  She still keeps doing it though, ‘to be on the safe side’, and I suspect she always will.

Over the last couple of years, we have taken to meeting at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and did so again last Friday.  Here, tea is made by directing livid fountains of steam into small metal teapots, a process which as you might expect greatly impresses my old dear.  My job during these visits is to stand behind her as she buys us lunch, smiling in a supportive manner to the person behind the till as she does so.  On this occasion, the politely attentive girl listened as my old dear explained, among other things, that I was her son and how handsome I was.  We then took a table by the pond and found ourselves troubled by a pigeon, which we shooed away.  It flew four foot and landed on a nearby table.  The lady and gentleman there counter-shooed it, and it came back.  This happened two further times, after which my old dear said ‘Let’s put up a net and call it bloody badminton’ which I thought was a good line from a 67 year old struggling with a determined pigeon for supremacy over a hummus baguette.  Incidentally, the next thing she said, about forty seconds later, was ‘Christ, that’s hot’ when she tried to pick up her teapot.

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Podcast 5: Dysentery

Monday, July 16th, 2012

Yes, it’s a podcast again, dealing with dysentery in confined spaces, bandits, buses, and sundry other delights.

If you fancy it, click here.

PS. Although it’s tempting, there is no point clicking ‘read more’ at the end of this post. You are already looking at the whole thing. Don’t be a fool to yourself.

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The Things You’d Like To Like

Friday, July 13th, 2012

Dear Rachel,

I am as English as rain in an alleyway.  Scramble back a few generations, though, and there is a rogue dash of Highlander lurking in the gene pool.  This came as no surprise, as I have long demonstrated a fondness for shortbread, porridge and bagpipes – in fact, the Massed Pipes and Drums of the Royal Tank Regiment appear between ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ and ‘Uptown Top Rankin” in a playlist I was listening to on the Northern Line this afternoon, and they seem strangely at home there.

Our main family name is Whitehead. The dynasty, which can best be described as something of a handful, has always been based in and around London and the Medway Towns. Ages ago, a stray female with the powerful Scottish clan name of Sinclair – no doubt a wizard with the porridge spoon but defenceless against the charm of the Whitehead menfolk – found herself married to one of them and transplanted to the sharp end of Victorian London. I should imagine that pleased her no end.  Why the Whiteheads were marauding to the distant north is a mystery, but a bloodline was nonetheless kindled, and here I am at the other end of it. A quick bit of research into Clan Sinclair reveals that they fought with great bravery at the Battle of Culloden in 1745. The Highlanders’ defeat here marked the end of their entire society. The reason I feel an affinity with the Sinclairs is that they fought with great bravery on both sides.

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The Last Bad Morning

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Dear Rachel,

I sometimes wonder what people reading Take A Break are taking a break from.  I suspect that it’s from reading other magazines like Take A Break, but whatever it is, it isn’t being part of a House of Commons Select Committee on public transport.  I am able to state this with authority after eavesdropping on a discussion that took place on a train the other week.   It was a delayed train, and it was on the Essex side of London.

Actually, it was more than delayed.  It had been irretrievably halted on the London approaches after someone killed themselves in front of it at Shenfield.  I had retained a stoic attitude as the guard repeatedly apologised for the disruption this would cause our various mornings, reflecting that although my morning had been disrupted, it was not as bad as that which had befallen the deceased man.  Or, come to think of it, the several mornings, afternoons, evenings and nights he must’ve had prior to deciding that this was a reasonable course of action to take.  As a result of what was at least the very last bad morning he would ever have, my train was reversed back up a branch line to Romford.  Here, transferring to a replacement service, was where I found myself at a table with the Take A Break ladies.

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