bored of excitement – the griefjunkie blog 

Magic Number

Dear Rachel

As a child, I always knew when someone was approaching the house as my old dear would put Radio 4 on to make us seem sophisticated. If you’re unfamiliar with Radio 4, it’s a service provided by the British Broadcasting Corporation that strives to list all the things that middle class people can’t cope with, and even if my old dear and I sat around all day eating artisan pesto sandwiches and watching the Great British Bake Off, we would still not be its target audience.

A baffling woman, my old dear would be an interesting Bake Off contestant. She recently complained that ‘you can’t keep gravy on a Tesco’s sausage – they’re like candles’, and that by the time she was back from the shops she could ‘strangle for a bun’. When we take observations like this into account, and combine them with, for example, her recent desire to take on a rescue dog – ‘one that just wants a little bit of plc’ – you’ll understand why my advice for people meeting her for the first time is to get her drunk as quickly as possible – her behaviour won’t change, but at least you’ll have an excuse for it.

That said, I approve of the Radio 4 bluff, as I like to see a difficult position earnestly defended. Also, I am reminded of it whenever I visit a particular Brick Lane curry house of my frequent patronage. Like most Brick Lane curry houses, it isn’t very good, but it does have an alcohol licence, placing it in a minority. Furthermore, it has a bar set up with pumps and taps and everything, and if it wasn’t for the loud coughs given out by staff in order to disguise the sound of cans being opened when pouring pints of Kingfisher, you’d think the whole thing was pretty slick. I don’t have the heart to spoil the arrangement, so I usually amuse myself by pointing out that yes, there has been a cold doing the rounds, perhaps they should put an extra jumper on, I’ve got some Strepsils on me if they’re interested, and so forth.

An unadventurous diner, my old dear is suspicious of anything spicier than a bowl of cornflakes, and her own cookery displays a trademark tendency to replace key ingredients without warning. It was her seventieth birthday recently, and while we chatted she produced a loaf of homemade bread. ‘It’s tomato bread,’ she said ‘but I put apricots in instead, so you might find it tastes a bit funny’. Despite her unadventurous palate – seventy years is long enough to decide what you like to eat, after all – she is in favour of a new curry house, perhaps with a functioning bar, which is soon to open near her home. Recently infuriated by traffic calming measures in the area (‘It’s all speaking policemen along Langley High Street these days’), she unveiled the proposals thus:

‘Honestly, it’s terrible,’ she began, ‘they’re going to knock down Budgens and put the car park on the other side of the chip shop, no, not Budgens – they’re going to leave that, but the chemist, that’s right, they’re moving that to where the garage is, and you know the old Wilkonson Sword building? Well, that’s going to be a school, no not a school, that’s going to be the car park, and they’re going to move it opposite the library, but that won’t be a library it’ll be a petrol station, and it’ll be round the corner so lorries can use it, and as for the opticians, well that’s going to be a hairdressers and they’re going to move that back to where the college was, no not the college, the newsagents, the college is going to be the petrol station, that’s it, and although there is going to be a school no one knows where it will be because the car park has to move and they aren’t sure where to put it yet. Can you picture that?’

I thought for a second.

‘No’ I concluded, continuing to chew my way through the apricot tomato bread, reflecting that the only thing my old dear and I have in common is that neither of us know what she’s talking about.

I’d like to point out that she is not easily confused in the classic sense. In fact, it’s not so much that she can’t see the wood for the trees, but that she simply prefers the trees, and during forty years of exposure to her thought processes, I have formulated something called Roulette Theory to explain how her mind works. Roulette Theory states that my old dear’s brain can best be described as a rapidly spinning wheel, into which thoughts – ie, the little white roulette ball – tumble and skitter and jump until finding a resting place at random, from which they cannot be shifted. Born as World War Two ended, my old dear was a fortnight overdue. A family joke has it that my grandmother delayed proceedings until the Germans surrendered, as she felt they’d suffered enough. As my old dear continues to enthusiastically celebrate her seventieth birthday, I shall leave the keen students of Twentieth Century history among you to do a quick bit of mental arithmetic, and remember that at least in actual roulette there is no doubting what number is what.




This week’s triumphs of the photographic medium are:

Top: Ray, who sells clocks at Greenwich Market. An excellent man, we have an association going back to distant Camden days. He is an ardent Arsenal fan, and what you see here is a bit of a photoshop joke whipped up by Tim on the film posters stall. It depicts Ray decked out in Hull City colours on the morning of the Arsenal v Hull cup final. The most commonly supported club at Greenwich Market is Millwall, what with the geographic proximity of Bermondsey and Deptford and other poor areas, riddled with disease and genetic defects caused by inbreeding and sexual perversion, where their fans prefer to live. I am the only West Ham fan in the market and subject to constant distressing taunts from Millwall supporters, all of whom are ugly, and with which I will not trouble you.

Middle: A bike I bought in 1998, and which I recently restored. It hadn’t seen tarmac this century, but I think it looks quite mean, in a ’90s sort of way. As is widely known, I am no slouch when it comes to cycling – if it’s got a chain and handlebars, I’ll get it belting along Borough High Street like that boring racing scene in that Star Wars prequel everyone hates. I remember buying this bike as I was in training for something at the time. Presumably it was the Grand National, as it is so highly geared that I can barely get the pedals moving. Mind you, once airbourne I can get 35 mph out of it on the flat. This is of limited value in London, where in the three miles between Liverpool Street and Greenwich Market, for example, there are forty sets of traffic lights.

Lower: I’m sure we all have our own opinions as to the best field artillery of World War Two. This is a German 88 mm gun, which looks like a giant metal locust and can blow stuff up from as far away as Mars. It’s certainly among the more steampunky weapons of the era. In a typically underhand move, it was originally an anti aircraft gun, but by cheating they used it to shoot at tanks, too.

Leave a Comment