bored of excitement – the griefjunkie blog 

Me And The Girl From Clapham

Dear Rachel

Anyone who, like myself, was glued to rolling news coverage of the London riots last August will doubtless have swiftly concluded that what London needs more than anything else is a velodrome. Fortunately, the Olympics have given us one, and as if this wasn’t bounty enough there is also a swimming pool and, basically, everything’s going to be alright forever. The Games themselves will bring many new visitors to London, which is always nice but will inevitably result in hilarious cutting edge social comment about Londoners being miserable and stand-offish, based upon their behaviour on an overcrowded and frequently malfunctioning underground railway.

I think this is a subject we may have discussed before, but I can only guess at the disappointment of people mistaking the entrance to Tufnell Park tube or wherever for some kind of magic portal to a non-stop party world. The London Underground isn’t Alton Towers. There is no log flume at High Barnet. There is no Ibiza-style foam party at Kennington. If you started chucking a beach ball about at Stockwell people would probably be a lot more amenable than you might think, but even so, don’t. The reason is simple: if you look closely, you’ll notice that the London underground is not Disneyland Paris, but a Victorian mass transit system operating surprisingly well under the considerable pressure of serving a major world city with an urban catchment area of ten million people. While there is the occasional conga at King’s Cross and hokey cokey at High Barnet, it’s a bit unfair to expect people quietly going about their business to be wearing novelty headgear and endlessly blowing those paper whistles that unroll and have a feather on the end in order to get a party that no-one’s asked for going with a bang. That said, while being at ease with people on the Northern Line being less than ecstatic, you don’t expect one of them to get on at Clapham North and weep in front of you all the way to Tooting Bec, a slightly awkward scenario I encountered myself last Friday.

Putting aside the weeping girl for a second and allowing our gaze to fall once more upon international sporting events, the Olympics, we are repeatedly told, is a marvellous thing set to change British society by getting everyone into tennis or whatever. This is an optimistic goal, considering that the only things that change societies are religion, violence, or a combination of the two. Presumably, the Olympics saving us from ourselves is why all of a sudden the Riots didn’t happen, and why we have reverted to writing off increasingly huge numbers of dispossessed or disenfranchised or societally inconvenient or economically surplus inhabitants of the British Isles, with no danger of simmering resentment or inevitable backlashes or anything like that. While following the Riots on middle class screambox Twitter last year was extraordinarily interesting, I was intrigued by the fanciful and widely-circulated post-riot ‘fact’ that more people helped with the cleaning up the next morning than all the smashing things and stealing stuff the night before, as if that could in any way be proved, and as if a couple of hundred Guardian readers waving brooms about can solve four decades of accelerating social decline, almost all of which will never affect them. Even rioting, which is a difficult thing to gentrify, becomes so once Twitter gets hold of it.

Anyway. While I doubted that the girl was weeping over the annihilation of the working class, I was nonetheless disinclined to ask if she was alright. This is not because I am some joyless misanthrope, but because, apart from all the crying, she seemed pretty much in control and had an ‘I’ve just been dumped’ force field around her, which is a bit of a minefield at the best of times. She looked very Clapham – blonde and well turned out, but not self conscious or self loathing enough to live in Hackney – and I decided that she’d probably had an altercation with a boyfriend, stamped off across the Common, and was possibly en route to a tiny but cheaper than Clapham flat in Morden, paid for by being a PA to someone nice. She was furiously checking text messages, which she couldn’t have just received, what with being underground and everything. I imagined these were sent by her presumably now ex-boyfriend – or, if she was a practitioner of witchcraft, hex-boyfriend – as she strode determinedly across the SW4 postal district on the way to Clapham North station.

I’d thought that if she left the train at my stop – Tooting Bec – I would ask if she was alright before she vanished towards the uncertain pleasures of Trinity Road. In the event she didn’t, but gave me a tiny ‘I somehow know you’re concerned, but thanks for not asking how I am – as you can see I am under a bit of pressure at the moment and while I’m sure everything will be alright, if you tried to cheer me up I’d probably try and kill you even though you seem nice, which would simply add more unfairness to an already unhappy world’ smile as I left. Mucking about trying to untangle my earphones from the strap of my bag on the escalator, I reflected that, if nothing else, prolonged use of the London Underground certainly sharpens up your non-verbal communication skills, and furthermore that I’d like a tetchy, recently argued-with girl from Clapham around the next time a bunch of annoying people burst onto my carriage wondering where the party’s at. I may in fact hire one to accompany me whenever I am likely to encounter crazy/wacky people over the Olympic summer and, if you live or work in town, I suggest you do the same.

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Top: Picture of my beloved Larry Grayson, the campest man who ever lived and one of my comedy heroes, in my kitchen. I took a picture as that was the only time I’ve ever been in my kitchen and I didn’t want to forget I had it, being that it was a present. One of my earliest memories is of my old dear crying with laughter at Grayson, and I have remained fond of them both ever since. This picture is from a summer show that this excellent man did in Margate in 1974.

Middle: The Cutty Sark, outside Greenwich Market. Make no mistake – this thing is all boat. Everyone loves it and it’s brilliant. There exists a picture of me on it with my Auntie Mavis, at about the same time as Larry Grayson was making a television career out of ficticious conversations with Sterilised Stan and Pop-It-In Pete, his milkman and postman respectively. Not only that, but anyone who includes among their catchphrases ‘Shut that door’, ‘Seems like a nice boy’ ‘My hair wants washing’ ‘I’m riddled with arthritis’ and ‘I wish I was dead’ is alright by me. I speak with confidence when I say that I am not a man noted for an effete nature, and to find myself increasingly conjuring Graysonisms while working at Greenwich market is as baffling for me as it is for everyone else. Perhaps I’m possessed.

Lower: The Lighthouse Fish Bar, just by Tooting Bec tube. I regularly wander in here after going to the Duke of Wellington public house, Toynbee Street, London E1 or the much nearer Wheatsheaf on Trinity Road. It was closed on the occasion of this photograph, but that was because I had come all the way down from the Good Mixer at Camden, which is sixteen stops on the Northern Line into the Deep South and takes absolutely ages. Distraught, I went to Lidl on Balham High Road in search of sustenance, and bought what I thought was a massive bucket of ice cream, only to discover it was a catering tub of Greek yoghurt with chocolate chips in it. Making the best of a bad job, I ate all of it before going to bed, and had very strange dreams indeed.

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