bored of excitement – the griefjunkie blog 

Sarajevo Moment For Upmarket John

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.

There is obviously some back story to work through before we come to Upmarket John’s arrest for not having with someone who isn’t a prostitute, and I find it curiously akin to the causes of the First World War. I’m not sure how familiar you are with these, but essentially an act which would otherwise have been relatively insignificant took place against a backdrop of extremely heightened tension, and subsequently sparked the death of twenty million people in a catastrophic global conflict. Whereas the Balkan states had rising ethnic, religious and nationalist tensions to create a volatile atmosphere in the early years of the twentieth century, the pubs around and between Petticoat Lane and Spitalfields markets have had a massive influx of plain clothes cops searching for people selling stuff stolen during the London riots, with the effect that no one trusts strangers and keeps themselves very much to themselves. With the scene set, we now need to dwell briefly upon some apparently minor, but as we shall soon discover, hugely important contributing factors. The first is Paramount Pictures’ release of Captain America, which in this context can be likened to the fateful decision of Archduke Franz Ferdinand to visit Sarajevo. The second is a trifling but persistent back problem that requires Upmarket John to stretch his spinal column from time to time throughout the day, which I suppose is the equivalent to the Black Hand Gang, a terrorist organisation which set out to reunite Serbs in territories annexed by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The third is a train that he needed to catch from Liverpool Street station in order to attend to some business outside the capital, and for which he was running slightly late. With these seemingly innocuous causal agents assembled, events moved very quickly towards their inevitable conclusion.

Walking along Brune Street towards Bishopsgate, Upmarket John happened upon the Chinese dvd lady as she wandered back from her supplier, burdened by three large sacks of newly acquired dvds. ‘Have you got a copy of Captain America on you?’ he enquired. The Chinese dvd lady replied in the affirmative, adding that because there were cops everywhere, they’d better take cover behind the bins outside the Brune Street flats.   Within our comparative history, this is equivalent to the moment when Arch Duke Ferdinand’s driver took a wrong turn down a back street in Sarajevo, and unwittingly placed himself and the Arch Duke directly in front of Gavrilo Princip, who was one of several Black Hand Gang members walking home thinking that their attempt had been thwarted by general bungling, and in a tetchy mood because, among other things, his girlfriend hadn’t let him have a bit the night before.

Venturing behind the bins, and therefore obscured from view, the Chinese dvd lady stooped, began extracting handfuls of dvds in plastic sleeves and started leafing through them in order to show Upmarket John the variety of new titles she had in her collection, including some martial arts ones of which he is very fond. I’ve just tried to replicate what I think the sound of dvds in plastic sleeves cascading over each other is like using household objects, but unfortunately I don’t have any. It will, though, sound a bit dodgy coming from behind the bins by the Brune Street flats, especially to a pair of plain clothes policemen who, it transpired, actually were targeting that specific location as an area where illegal things might happen. Even at this late stage, however, disaster could have been averted. There is such a thing as a Sarajevo Moment, and while obviously pertaining to the assassination we ourselves have been following, it is more broadly used to describe the specific moment at which a disaster attains its own momentum and can no longer be averted. The original Sarajevo Moment occurred as Princip fired point blank at Arch Duke Ferdinand outside Moritz Schiller’s cafe on a June afternoon almost a century ago, triggering alliance and counter-alliance among the European powers, all of whom were at war with each other within six weeks. Upmarket John’s Sarajevo Moment came when, acting suspiciously behind some bins with a lady in an area of London formerly known as the Devil’s Triangle for its lawlessness and brutality, he chose the exact moment that the undercover representatives of the Metropolitan Police had managed to approach to within earshot to a) place his hands on his head and arch his back, thereby extending his spine as medically advised b) remember that he was late for a train and c) praise the impressive selection of dvds being shown to him by saying, in a choice of words that he later admitted was unfortunate, ‘That’s amazing – do you think you could speed up a bit?’

The immediate arrest and detention of both Upmarket John and the Chinese dvd lady for kerb crawling and soliciting respectively following this remark was the subject of some debate when the incident was discussed by myself, Lou and Upmarket John himself the following week at the Duke.   Everyone was delighted that the Chinese dvd lady was not detained further for being an illegal immigrant – which, surely, actually is illegal – and that wandering around with several thousand pounds’ worth of dvds was not suspicious enough to warrant further questioning.   I am a man who once got arrested as an accessory to my own mugging about three minutes’ walk from the bins by the Brune Street flats, and know how difficult it must’ve been for Upmarket John to explain his ‘Could you speed it up a bit?’ remark. As I said in the Duke as the story was recounted, it could only have been made more unfortunate if, as the Chinese dvd lady flicked through her wares, things had kept catching his eye so that he’d said ‘Could you slow it down again?  That’s brilliant, now can you speed it up again? Go on, really go for it’, or something along those lines. Happily, her dvds were, indeed, returned upon her release, and she has gone back to conducting her business in pubs rather than around bins, which is why I plan to spend an enjoyable afternoon watching Dodgeball, drinking tea, and hopefully not getting arrested for anything at all.

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Photards – this week’s celluloid treats are:

Top: View from behind Greenwich pitch, between aprons, and towards a stall selling stuffed toys, handbags, books and picture frames, by the looks of things. I have a feeling I took this while bored, trading a weekday during the last Christmas run. If you fancy anything let me know – most of that stuff will still be there this Christmas, too.

Middle: Typical state of my stall during trading hours.  Among the Pac Man tube map glass place settings and retro travel card holders I put out on behalf of Gary and Lawrence and Lawrence at Retro GT, all of which are for sale, are two cups of coffee from Keith’s coffee van, two paper bags containing cakes, a pen, a discarded Lion bar wrapper, my note book and the Times.   If you look closely at the Pac Man place settings, you can see the reflection of a punter reading the aprons, or a ghost.

Lower: Nice looking early Victorian building near the Duke which was a notorious workhouse back in the day.  Note ‘Women’ written above the door on the left.   Bet they were lookers.

2 Comments

  1. Kim

    Sep 22nd, 2011
    11:51 pm

    Just read this out to my husband. You write so well :)

  2. Paul

    Sep 23rd, 2011
    12:05 am

    Thanks ever so much. It did drag on a bit, but I wanted to get everything covered.

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