bored of excitement – the griefjunkie blog 

The Man From Stonebridge Park

Dear Rachel

‘Smokey Bacon’ is an ex-arsonist of my vague acquaintance who lives in a presumably fireproof box room on the Holloway Road. It’s an accurate nickname, as the first part refers to his former pastime and the second to his surname: Hogg. I bumped into Smokey recently near Archway tube, where he described his post-arson life as bouncing from project to project ‘like a shark’, presumably on account of always being on the move. I’m not sure that the thing about sharks having to be constantly mobile is actually true, but I pointed out that he must truly have changed his ways, as a shark would make a terrible arsonist, what with trying to get a decent blaze going under water and all the problems it would have with trying to hold a lighter properly.

Leaving him to bound off down Junction Road, I reflected that I am also like a shark, in that I eat a lot of seafood, and with this in mind got fish and chips from Planet Kebabs, a local landmark in perpetual competition with Universe Kebabs, just across the road. In N6 you’re either for one or the other, like Oxford or Cambridge in the Boat Race*. In fact, an annual boat race between the two rival kebab shops would be a sight to behold, and I predict that the winning crew would cover the course in about four months. Anyway, while I find Universe’s claim to have the best kebabs in the galaxy appealingly audacious, it’s just the wrong side of showing off for my liking. Besides, when I was a more frequent visitor to the area, Ali (who runs Planet Kebabs) once offered to fry me a salad as a light summer snack, which is the kind of service you go back for.

Across the road from Archway tube is the Lion public house, another old haunt. This is reached via pedestrian crossing. Both the pedestrian crossing and the Lion have the visually impaired in mind: the former by beeping when the traffic stops, and the latter by reeking of urine and Dettol. I wandered in with my Planet Kebabs chips, thinking that I could perhaps hold them over my face in the manner of a scented handkerchief, to meet A Man From Stonebridge Park, who is a Portobello Market bath towel vendor coping poorly with the continued economic downturn. His optimistically entitled ‘luxury cotton towel range’ consists of, essentially, large scouring pads with football club badges on them. It’s grim, but it does well at Petticoat Lane where it is said – not inaccurately – that people will buy a slap in the face if you price it cheaply enough. I left him with the chips and went to the bar. To my surprise, the Lion had spruced itself up considerably since my last visit, and I explained the scented handkerchief ploy to the barman for a larf, while complimenting him on the overall niceness of the premises. Archway is like a vast open air outpatients’ ward, and in keeping with the typical local afternoon drinker, he seemed both cheerful and mentally ill.

‘Thank you,’ he said, handing me my drinks and gripping my hand with what appeared to be genuine emotion, ‘you see – people can change’.

I thought I’d better agree with him, so I did and returned to the table.

‘Jesus,’ said the Man From Stonebridge Park, ‘was he welling up?’

There was no time to discuss this because I had things to sell before a van which a text message informed me had just left Southampton could reach the Man From Stonebridge Park’s storage unit. Taking advantage of an opportune random jukebox selection, I drew his attention to Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay. Although Smokey Bacon is nothing like a shark, the Man From Stonebridge Park is like Otis Redding, in that they are both wasting time: Redding by sitting on the dock of a bay, and the Man From Stonebridge Park by remaining in business. I added that I didn’t think he’d mind the comparison, being that he liked a bit of Motown. Incidentally, I am a man who has spent more time than you might expect in the southern states of America, and I am particularly fond of Alabama. I pointed out that the similarities between him and Redding ended sharply; according to the lyrics, Redding has a ‘home in Georgia’. This is next to Alabama, and both scenically beautiful and culturally interesting. The Man From Stonebridge Park has a home in Stonebridge Park, which is fucking horrible

I explained over a second pint that ideally I’d be wearing a floaty frock and a tiara and waving a wand about, because happily I was his fairy godfather. The thing is, what I had come to Archway to sell was his entire stock.  I just needed to buy it from him first, because the person I was selling it to had just driven past Basingstoke. It’s best to keep details like this to yourself in these situations, I find. To jolly things along, I further explained that it was a case of either selling everything to me, or going under. In a perfect world, ‘Yellow Submarine’ would’ve come on the jukebox at that moment, so I could say ‘That’s going to be you mate, otherwise. Sinking beneath the waves. This place is creeping me out, it’s like it can see into your soul or something’, but sadly that didn’t happen. He agreed to sell after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing though, which was lucky because the Chinese Hat Man – the mysterious van driver – was bearing down upon Bracknell, unaware of the tiny drama unfolding among the pint glasses and chip paper. It’s worth mentioning that this sort of carry on is not uncommon. In what we might call the Informal Economy, you never usually buy anything without having someone waiting to buy it from you; I had merely made things a bit more exciting than usual. With the deal struck, The Man From Stonebridge Park and I enjoyed a convivial afternoon, the Chinese Hat Man drove off with van full of luxuryless cotton bath towels, and I am pleased to report that everyone is better off for it.

The Chinese Hat Man pops up at Greenwich Market from time to time, and this is how I first knew him. Having established that Smokey Bacon has nothing in common with a shark, and that the Man From Stonebridge Park has only a vague commonality with Otis Redding, I was surprised to learn that I have a tangible similarity with the Chinese Hat Man’s son, a six year old boy in the Szechwan province. He sometimes accompanies his old man on London jaunts, and clearly has a gift for mimicry, because as a result of trading next to me one Christmas he’s the only child in China who says ‘Thank you my love – mind how you go’ in a broad London accent every time his form mistress gives his homework back.

*Cambridge, obviously.

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Photards – this weeks wander through the gallery has produced:

Top: Bellot memorial by the riverbank at Greenwich. Bellot was an incredibly brave French explorer who, among other things, once made a wooden leg for an Eskimo. Sadly, while being heroic in the Arctic, he vanished from view between sheets of moving ice, plunged into the freezing water, and was never seen again. If he’d only made himself some wooden legs, he might’ve floated I suppose.

Middle: Old bikes in a recently rediscovered storeroom at Greenwich Market. I wanted to dress some skeletons up and arrange them so that that they appear to be looking at a map and scratching their heads prior to re-sealing the room again, but was prevented.

Lower: Greenwich Market, early one December morning. From this angle, the second stall in on the right hand side is my Saturday pitch.

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