Village Life

London is a series of villages. Londoners all know that, it’s a series of connected but not inter-connecting villages. A village may cover a large area or it might just be a street or two. There’s not much inter-village migration or mutual empathy. Londoners are highly tribal.

Goldborne Road is a village and in many ways it is London – it’s a mirror of London. A significant second or third-generation ethnic minority largely from North Africa, an indigenous white working-class population, a sprinkling of very new migrants and the posh hip white ones. The posh hip white ones who spend a fortune buying old wine crates in the junk, sorry, antique, shops. Crates that you could find in France probably for nothing. It’s a great area to sit, people- watch and to eat North African food. It also happens to have one of the best Palestinian restaurants in London and it was there that I headed to eat some lamb and drink some tea.

I didn’t go to Goldborne Road to see it – I knew it was there somewhere but I tried to keep it in the back of my mind. In fact I suppose I’ve been pushing it to the far reaches of my mind ever since it happened. I saw it as a tragic event that had nothing to do with me. It happened in another village of London to different people who are not part of my world. But when I sat sipping my mint tea on Goldborne Road I realised it was indeed very near. Of course I’d known that when I’d left home that morning, but now I was sitting a mile or so away trying not to think about those events. And totally failing. How could I not think about them as I shuffled out of the restaurant, a belly full of lamb and mint tea still making its way slowly down my gullet, wondering where I could go next. Should I get some cake, look at some overpriced artefacts in one of the shops or would I just do a little bit of candid street photography. But it was clear that I was only walking in one direction, the direction where something inside me told me it was. I crossed a couple of roads and began to understand that I really didn’t know the area that well, but to look on Google Maps for it seemed wrong. I walked a little further, I had to find it. Looking left, looking right, lots of people I could have asked. No, no, no, wrong to ask, but yes it was on Google Maps – I’d actually tapped it in and saved it the day before. I’d now remembered that I had gone there not to eat lamb or drink tea but to find it. I’d been kidding myself again. I followed the map, speeding up as I walked, and saw million-pound-plus houses, good-quality cars of a certain age, Vote Green stickers in the windows. Yeah, the liberal middle class of North London living here close to it.

I stopped and looked at one possible it from a distance but it was still occupied so that wasn’t it. I walked under a railway bridge and instantly knew it was close by – flowers, scrawled names on the walls, names followed by the initials RIP. So they had names those people, they had children, had parents and friends, and their children, parents and friends had come to the railway arch to try and remember them. Everywhere street art expressions of anger, real anger. “400 dead” written on walls, gates and doors. I’ve no idea if 400 is correct or if 72 is correct but clearly any thought that the number of dead has been underestimated is going to be a significant part of the anger. I dwell under the bridge a little, examining their names, examining the flowers, but as I walk and turn a corner into a side street the sense is edgy, very different from the millionaire houses a few metres away. It’s edgy but it’s silent, an eerie silence seems to pervade this small side street, an unremarkable street. Unremarkable except that on virtually every tree, every lamppost, every street sign there are yellow ribbons for those who have gone, those who are missing, those who will never come back. I looked up, I didn’t want to look up but it’s there. I somehow thought it would be black and charred and naked, in fact it’s pristine, covered in some kind of white tarpaulin with a smart new red lift on the outside allowing whoever needs access to have access.

I froze, eventually took a photograph, ghoulish maybe, I don’t know. Something draws me towards it, I didn’t know it was right next to a school, right next to a sports centre, surrounded by other buildings thus embedded in the community, then and now. What I think was the main entrance is boarded up with a notice over the makeshift wooden gate telling me it’s a ‘construction site’. I guess it’s the only sign they had, as ‘deconstruction’ may have been more appropriate, I walked towards the gate but turned. I didn’t really want to approach the building any more closely as, by an odd juxtaposition, there was a small group of giggling teenagers smoking a joint literally in the shadow of the tower. Life of course goes on, life has to go on.

I found  a bench 20 metres from the entrance and sat there to take a breath. I didn’t know what to say I didn’t know what to think. Grenfell Tower was nothing to do with me;  yet I felt ashamed that nearly a year after the event I had never visited the site. I’d never heard of it before the fire as it’s not my part of London, not my village and not my problem.  But of course Grenfell is London’s problem. It’s a staggeringly dramatic symbol of so many things that have gone wrong in the city and in the country around it. So many things we knew, we suspected, but we did nothing about because we had been socialised into accepting them. We assumed nothing bad would ever happen, but something bad did happen. Grenfell is now a bigger symbol of London then almost anything else and no, life must not go on; we need to stop, consider and act.

I’m part of London, I am London, Grenfell is part of London, Grenfell is London and now finally I am Grenfell.

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Posted by on June 19, 2018 in Uncategorized


A letter to Dad.

Dear Dad

Full of surprises as ever, you shuffled off rather unexpectedly. No chance to say goodbye or ask you those very things I’ve only thought of now it’s too late. Still I’m glad that you went quickly and quietly. You told me that I’d have to drown you in the sea rather than putting you into a old folks home. That would have been awkward and I’d have probably gone to prison. And ruined a pair of shoes. So I’m glad you went so fast. But it was far too early, and we’d never really talked had we?

The only serious talk I can remember having with you was when I was about 16 and your advice then was “women and drink – don’t mix them”. Advice I have studiously ignored since then with some messy consequences. You did once try to broach the subject of our common curse, clinical depression, but I was too much of an arsehole to discuss it. Told you I was ok, which I clearly wasn’t. Didn’t even ask if you were. Sorry about that. We could have helped each other a lot. Maybe. You said that you learn to live with, and even relish depression. I kind of agree with that, and have often said I don’t really want to recover. Which is fortunate, because you can’t.

I guess the thing I’d most like to have talked about is how we didn’t know each other that well and how incredibly similar I am to you. Funny, but it’s only by spending time going through your things that I’ve seen how similar we really were. How we did things in the same way. Sorting, boxing, filing, planning, organising. We’re both great at getting ready to do things but never actually get round to doing them. You had enough different kinds of glue – all neatly labelled – to rebuild Sodom and Gomorrah. Yet like me with my projects you never got round to things. Still I’m ok for glue now.

I see so much of you in me – the curiosity about almost everything, the desire to say the wrong thing as often as possible and the profound belief that what others think doesn’t matter in the least. We didn’t know or understand each other that well but I really hope you knew about these similarities. It means a lot to me that some of you lives on through me. I’ll try to keep those flags flying and to keep the anti-depressant drug makers in profit.

You talked a lot about the second world war. You were only a teenager but it clearly shaped you a lot. I never took the time to ask you about it. I don’t mean about the events themselves, I mean about what the war did to a young boy growing up on the south coast of England. You used to tell me that the German bomber pilots on the way to London would wave to you on the beach as they flew over. That used to make me cry. You didn’t know that did you?

You kept a lot of stuff didn’t you. Victorian spirit levels, maps, Edwardian encyclopaedias, photos. I cursed you enormously now and again I’m sorry to say, as I waded my way through them and boxed them up. Still they all just about fit into my flat. Another flag keeps flying. The flag of the hoarder.

I’d love to have talked to you about your relationship with Mum. Most of what I want to know may not be suitable for a letter that others might read, but you two really did screw things up for yourselves didn’t you. The two of you were the closest thing Hastings has ever had to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. But with fewer diamonds and possibly more booze. Mum seems ok considering. She misses you but never quite manages to say so except – and I know this’ll make you laugh – in the context of your giving her lifts to the supermarket. She misses that. What a legacy eh.

I haven’t really cried since you went. I said goodbye as I washed up your last meal the morning after you went. I fill up now and again but I don’t think that big cry is going to happen. What you will miss of the children growing up gets to me most – you loved them so much and they will always love you. Balls, I’m feeling it now.

Well I guess I’d better go. I have things to prevaricate over and postpone. I miss you like fury and I’ll write again as there’s more to ask.

Your loving son.


PS where did you hide the fucking papers for the car? It’s been a nightmare trying to sell it!

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Posted by on September 28, 2014 in Uncategorized


Time to come home Mr Snowden.

I write this as a left-of-centre liberal with a strong mistrust of corporations and big government. But I also have a major issue when fellow liberals look at life with Guardian-tinted spectacles. Liberals who follow fashionable causes without really thinking. Now this may lose me some friends, but I think Edward Snowden should be in prison. Not eaten by dogs, but in prison.

I fully accept that the NSA have been involved in domestic ‘phone and email tapping for years as have the telecom and tech. companies. That is probably illegal and it is up to the US authorities to deal with it. I also believe that there are big terrorist threats out there. I am not in the business of saying here why the terror threats exist, but the CIA et al have some very brave people in Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan who are risking their lives to keep the bad guys away. By exposing some of the communications practices that the spooks use, Snowden has probably put them at risk. That is unforgivable.

Let’s think about this.

When Snowden joined up he will have signed  a secrecy agreement. He has broken it and got away with it.  Others may do the same. If you worry about corners being cut, don’t be a spy. They have to cut corners – it’s a nasty fucking world out there.

As I say above, the NSA are out of line on their domestic behaviour and need to be brought within the law. ES could have shared that information with the many liberal and libertarian politicians both Rep and Dem who could have helped him drive the cause forwards yet advised him how to protect those that needed protecting. This is a noble cause in many ways but the data is in the hands of a naive coward with a scatter gun attitude to information.

I think whistleblowers tend to be cowards. Assange springs to mind. Accused of sexual offences, he hides in the embassy of a country that will do anything it can to annoy the USA. Julian you have been accused by Sweden, hardly a country with a record of corruption and poor transparency. If the Swedes think there is case, then the evidence is likely to be pretty strong. And no, the Swedes won’t hand you over to the Americans, it’s Sweden. Snowden has also bolted. Firstly to Hong Kong, not a nice little British outpost any more but a fully integrated part of China, and now to Russia. Both countries with a great history of openness and freedom of speech. Not. The Russians also will do anything that pisses off the Americans.

Oddly, Snowden has not leaked anything from the US files about Russia.

The information he has leaked is enough to totally reset the American public’s relationship with the state. It has also re-energized that old but vital liberty vs security argument. This is valuable data.

He has also leaked a lot of information that is highly detrimental to US and global security, and that is not acceptable.

Critical information that needed to be handled with discrimination.  In weak hands.

Edward you are probably a good guy, so come home and face the music. You knew the risks but when it came to it you ran scared. You also fucked it up.

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Posted by on January 4, 2014 in Uncategorized


A Drink After Work.

Rory and Tim are arriving at the Diplomatic Club. A club that is diplomatic in name only. People go there to drink themselves into oblivion, to eat food of the refuelling type and when they can, to get laid. But perhaps most of all they go there to forget about their work. To escape from the awfulness of the daily grind. And most of the people that go to the Diplomatic are involved in a particular kind of daily grind. A daily grind of national importance.

Rory is heading to the bar while Tim grabs a table for them both. The club is dark, sweaty, smoky and hot, a visceral type of hot somehow. Rory is drinking his beer in a few burpy gulps. It’s dribbling down his sunburnt and unshaven chin. An attentive observer would note that both men have scrubbed clean hands. Sterile hands that have seen a lot of washing.

Tim kicks the evening off. “So, Mr Rory you must have had a shit time. You bought the first fucking round! Where were you today?”

Rory is looking up. Haggard, almost broken. “The stadium. I’ve had a two day job there. Big numbers.”

“Christ you poor bastard.” Tim looks like he means that. “I hate it there, so public and so big. And y’know they always seem to be noisier and fight back more. Cos it’s public I always think. But the boss likes public. And there’s the money too.”

“When are the girls due in?” Rory is asking.

As it happens, the girls are walking towards Tim and Rory. They’re both looking exhausted, unkempt and in need of a drink.

Charlotte is whispering in Tim’s ear “go on get us a bottle of bubbles – we’ve been at the central all day”.

Tim nods, whispering back ” so you’ll need some distraction later on then?”. Charlotte is making a lewd gesture but Tim is heading to the bar anyway. On a promise he reckons.

Rory is sitting back, assessing Katie’s chest. He’s well aware of the fact he won’t ever get near her tits but imagining a bit of a grope takes his mind off work.

“How was the central?” he’s asking as Tim gets back with the bubbles.

“Pretty busy, new batch in from the north needing re-orientation. Bit of a struggle at first but they nearly all came round in the end.” replies Katie.

“I had a few resisters, had to send them on to the stadium,” adds Charlotte ” anyway, fuck it, let’s get pissed.” Tim is rating his chances of a shag more positively.

“We gonna eat here or go on to Johnny’s – he might have the game on later?” Rory is asking ” anyways I’ll get some more beers in.” He is soon making his way to the bar, shaking a few hands and giving a few high fives on the way. They’re a small bunch, closely knit, nearly all colleagues.

Katie and Charlotte are talking clothes shopping, teasing Tim about his dress sense and hairstyle. He takes it – Christ he has worse things to worry about than his jacket and jeans habit.

Rory is getting back from the bar with the beers – two one litre glasses. Tim can see it’s all getting to Rory. It gets to us all he’s thinking. It always comes to him in waves, he starts to drown, then it recedes. For a while.

The girls are drinking their second bottle of fake champagne, the guys are well into their third litre of the cheap and gassy lager that the club offers. The four of them are enduring a long silence. A few burps. A bit of quiet lust.

“Why do we do it?” Rory is clearly on the edge.

“You know we never ask that, never.” Charlotte is pushing the thought away.

“Well I AM asking.” Rory is starting to cry. Really driving at his colleagues. His friends.

Tim finds man-to-man emotion hard, let alone positive man-to-man physical contact, but he is putting his arm around Rory.

” You know why mate, you know why.”

Rory is shoving Tim away. ” Yes I know. Of course I know. We kill, we maim, we torture. To keep him in power. We do his dirty work, he stays in power and we’re safe. He loses, then it’s us who’ll be on the receiving end, us having our balls chopped off, us having our foetuses cut out.  At best we get a trial and prison. At worst, it’s our turn. We’re trapped. We can’t get out. We’re all victims, those guys I shot today, and the four of us. Those women you electro-shocked today, and the four of us. Yes I know why we fucking do it. I know.”

At the other end of the bar some music is starting to play and everyone is beginning to dance.

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Posted by on August 14, 2013 in Uncategorized


A sorry tale of swivel-eyed loons, marrying your own offspring and why we should keep David Cameron.

To avoid people stopping talking to me and/or considering me a sexual object, I suppose I should start all this off by saying that I totally back the idea of gay marriage and also civil unions for heterosexual people. I also do not support either the Tory party or David Cameron.

But I do feel sorry for him. Really. I think on the gay marriage issue he genuinely believes that reform is needed and is trying to get the law changed with good intentions. He does not deserve Norman Tebbit saying that the gay marriage law will allow you to marry your own children. Tebbit really did say that today. David Cameron does not wish to legalise incest as far as I know, but at a political level he has totally fucked it up.

Let’s think back to 1994 when Tony Blair became leader of the Labour party. It took him three years to ‘modernise’ the party  and make it electable. I have put modernise in inverted commas as what Blair did in the three years before winning the election was to either convince the awkward elements of the party to shut up if they wanted power or just somehow got rid of them. I suspect Peter Mandelson’s foot on your neck is quite a persuasive tool. Either way the swivel-eyed loons of the Labour party have been kept well out of sight and out of mind. Yes, there are swivel-eyed loons on the left too, but they are my swivel-eyed loons.

David Cameron had five years in opposition to modernise the Conservative party but his swivel-eyed loons are still well and truly alive and kicking. Kicking more than ever. Blair – love him or loath him – and his henchmen Mandelson and Alastair Campbell  are consummate political animals, hence the demise of the more vocal and vote-losing elements of the Labour left. Cameron is not a political animal – wrong man, wrong job. Hence the loons. He is simply not tough enough.

But for pinkoes like me he must stay in the job and finish his term

If he stays in place the Tories will continue to be in disarray and with UKIP on their tails – DC will never make a deal with them in my view – the vote on the right will be split and Labour will likely win quite easily in 2015. If he goes now, we on the left have several problems. Firstly a possible general election now would be a disaster – if we are honest, Labour are not ready for one. Secondly, if Cameron goes now he will likely be replaced by a loon and that loon may well do a deal of some kind with UKIP. Thirdly if he jumps now, UKIP and the loons will smell blood and we will have more unity on the right than we can cope with.

So DC please stay where you are and we will enjoy the sight of the Tories becoming and more disunited and the loons getting ever loonier. But I think you might be mortally wounded on the gay marriage issue. How strange would it be for you to lose your job over a policy most of your party seem not to support but the other two main parties wholeheartedly back. It’s those loons, Dave.

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Posted by on May 22, 2013 in Uncategorized


Mad Pat.

It must have been about 1974 or 1975. Not sure. Either way it was one if those hot midsummers of youth. I was a keen underage drinker and there was a pub in Battle, down in Sussex where the landlord was a little more age-blind than those in Hastings where I lived. Anyway the point was I spent a lot of Friday nights in Battle and tended to go there by train.

As I recall we used to drink cider and buy it for girls. It was nicknamed ‘leg-opener’ so my weekend trips to Battle were not at all innocent really. Not that there was much leg-opening and what there was of it was usually followed by fumbling and ineptitude. On my part at least. I digress, albeit with a glint in my eye.

We would arrive at Battle station at about 5 each Friday and that’s when we used to see her. Our train came from Hastings and was going towards London. On the opposite platform the train from London would arrive at about the same time. And there she was. There she always was, on a Friday at about 5. A tiny lady, elegantly dressed, no elegantly turned out, for a special occasion of some sort. She seemed to me then to be ancient, but I guess she was only in her fifties. She was gaunt and always looked edgy, always anticipating something.

We used to watch her from the footbridge. She would appear from the waiting room as the train arrived and trot up and down the platform looking quickly into each carriage. As the train emptied and readied itself to pull away she would step back and stare at it. She watched it until it was out of sight and would then leave. But she left slowly, no trotting, no edginess, no anticipation. The moment had clearly passed.

All the station staff knew her – they greeted her – and that’s how we found out she was called Pat.

The pub we were allowed in had a mixture of townies like us, local girls of our age (the sometime cider drinkers) and ancient locals who drank mild and ignored us. Normally anyway. My friends and I had seen Pat and her routine several times and were curious about her, so we asked one of our new female friends. We were told she was mad, a witch, smelly, always drunk and hated teenagers. In short, Mad Pat was best avoided. Overhearing our conversation, one of the older local guys just exploded. A real torrent of rage about how we were disrespectful, didn’t understand and just how much Pat had been through. He never wanted to hear us mention her again. So while we did often go back to the pub for its cheap leg-opener, we avoided the topic of Pat. We still used to see her at the station though.

It was only many years later and quite by chance that I met someone who knew the full story. He was my age and had grown up in Battle and had been told the full story by his father. Mad Pat was in fact mad, driven there by love and loss. It seems that in about 1938 she had married her childhood sweetheart – they we both very young – just before he went off to fight in the British Army. He was reported missing in about 1943 and poor Pat refused to accept that he was not coming back. She had managed to convince herself that he would be on a 5 pm Friday train from London and had been meeting the train virtually every week since the end of the war, certain each week that this time he would be on the train. I also gather that a little after my summer of booze and sin in Battle, she was finally helped by the local social services who succeeded in convincing her that it was time to stop the station visits.

I guess she is long gone now and who knows, she may finally be spending those much overdue happy times with that young boy who died somewhere abroad in 1943.


Posted by on June 13, 2012 in Uncategorized


Arrested in Moscow.

Moscow, August 2005 and one of my Russian friends called me.

“Chris, I need a favour – can you meet a local detective – off to an Interpol conference in Geneva next week – teach them some British police slang?”

I was free that evening so why not?

I sat in the faux Italian cafe Mi Piace on Tverskaya Street and watched the blonde supermodel in the leather miniskirt park her pink Audi on the pavement. I saw the policeman walk up to it. “Ha, a ticket – serves her right” I thought. No, he stood there waiting and watching.

She came up to me.

“Chris? I am Olga Ivanova , Moscow Murder Squad. Talk to me – I need a slang.”

The flash of red knickers as she sat down drained away my focus on John Thaw’s Sweeney lexicon, but I recovered in time. We went through “old bill”, “grass”, “you’re knicked”, “banged up”, ”ten year stretch” and even “sing like a canary”. Olga tapped it all earnestly into her laptop. Until we came to “a stiff” – she was in the murder squad after all. “Translating machine says this is when man is wanting. Yes ?” she looked at me a little too directly. This was not Juliet Bravo.

“Ah yes, quite so – stiff and stiffy .” I think I went through the various connotations accurately enough and in sufficient detail, and we pressed on to “paedos”, “narks” and “bung”. Then her mobile rang – a few words in Russian and, “sorry Chris, colleagues have the stiffy at Leningradsky station. I go now. Goodbye.” Another flash of the knickers and she went to her Audi.

No chance of a night in the cells with Olga then.

Gutted, as they say in The Bill.


(This first appeared on my now defunct Russian blog in 2010 but I still think fondly of Olga.)

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Posted by on April 29, 2012 in Uncategorized

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