Wednesday, 29 September 2010

On Walking [and almost singing] In The Rain

The train sat at Barbican, stubbornly refusing to move despite the chorus of sighs, tuts and four-letter words emanating from the rain-soaked commuters crammed within. After some time, the driver's voice crept sheepishly from the PA system,
"Due to signalling problems in the Moorgate area, this train will now terminate at the next station." A ripple of frustration and anger spread like wildfire through the carriage. I tried to immerse myself in it, to force myself to dread the 15 minute walk from Moorgate to Fenchurch Street in the rain. But I couldn't. The fact is, and I've mentioned this before, this my kind of weather.

The half-hearted groan I attempted as I stepped off of the train wouldn't have convinced even the least travel-hardened commuter, but I thought I should at least try to fit in. Inside, I relished the prospect of the soggy stroll ahead. My friends in Italy decided my love of rain was an anglosaxon trait, but I really don't think that this is the case. Any of you who are British or have British friends will have probably been subjected to many a lengthy moan about the weather. It's one the nation's favourite conversation topics, I think. And while I can often be heard whining about how effing hot it is, I think I'm definitely in a minority when it comes to my appreciation of the wet stuff.

Despite being traditionally thought of as gloomy and miserable and grey, rain makes me smile. I love seeing the raindrops leap into the air as they rebound of the pavement, and the way it makes the city shine in reflected light. Everything looks nicer in the rain. It amazes me that the ripples in puddles and splashes on the floor seem to be in time with whatever my iPod has chosen to play me. It's like magic. Then there's the patter of rain on the roof, which is one of my favourite noises, especially in cars when it's coupled with the sound of windscreen wipers. I've even started to enjoy the extra care rain forces you take; a leap over an unexpected puddle, for example, or the precision involved in staying upright as you slide like Bambi on ice over a wet station concourse. And then there's the politics involved in wielding an umbrella.

Take this evening for example; the pavement was narrow. A woman with a golf umbrella was coming towards me. Neither of us knew how to act. A collision seemed inevitable. I made a decision just in time; I'd lift my umbrella up, so her ridiculously oversized one could pass underneath. However, I hadn't considered the fact that the woman was a giant and about twice my height so, even with my arm at full length, my reasonably sized umbrella still connected with her's. At least she laughed, and didn't poke me in the eye with it.

Even this awkwardness wasn't enough to ruin my good mood. I felt like skipping through the puddles and twirling my umbrella. If I had a glass handy, I'd raise it, right now, to a few more joyous months of rain [check back in two months to witness me take this back].

Sunday, 26 September 2010

On the Old Days

My friend recently went to a Blitz Party. 1940s fancy dress was compulsory, the venue was a warehouse decked out like an air raid shelter and a swing band played on stage.

Predominantly, I love it. I think it's a great idea. I'm a massive fan of anything retro, vintage or slightly past its sell-by-date. My dream home, in fact, will need to incorporate the following:

  • a phone with a dial instead of buttons,
  • a door-knocker, not a bell.
  • a hatstand
  • a globe

[I'd also like a gramophone, but I understand that, sometimes, practicality must be considered.]

However, part of me felt that maybe it could be slightly bad taste. Is it wrong for people who have grown up in times of relative peace and plenty to go out on the lash dressed as 1940s Londoners who faced hunger, loss and even death?

I swiftly concluded that I was being ridiculous. Who would want to go to a party that accurately depicted the 1940s? An evening of rationing, blackouts and the threat of war does not sound like much of a laugh. But what these parties are doing, in a way, is highlighting the things we miss that their generation had in abundance. A sense of community, for example. Glamour. The ability to get by on what little was available rather than needing everything immediately and paying for it with borrowed money. The music; dancing in pairs rather than sweating out in groups to a bass line that makes your brain ache. They may have had less, and faced dangers that we don't, but they lived.

As I thought about this on my what home, I realised that's the way the world works. Each generation carries its good and its bad to the next. The new generation adapts its inheritance - the fashions, the lifestylyes, the opinions - to fit in with their situation. And I suppose it will be no different for us; our hopes and fears will be carried over and kept, changed or discared as the younger generation sees fit. Perhaps in 50 years they'll do the same for us; a Global Recession Party, dress like bankers and G20 protesters. We're all in it together, I suppose - the women who held the fort in WW2, the bankers who sent the world into economic meltdown and the hipsters of the future, whizzing around on their space bikes and jet packs. We're all involved in a massive struggle, centuries of trial and error, to make the world a better place. I'm off to book tickets for the next Blitz Party. It's not bad taste at all; bad taste would be forgetting.

Monday, 20 September 2010

On Dreams

I worry an incredible amount. Earlier this week I received a work email that sent me into a wild panic and looks set to make my life a misery for at least the next month. As I read it, I could hear the blood pumping through my veins. My colleagues' conversations became background white noise. My stomach churned. And that night I didn't sleep.

In actual fact it's really not that big a deal, but worrying comes naturally to me. It's my talent. My superpower, if you will. It's not just work I worry about - it's family, friends, the future, the past... I'm worrying about you now. Yes, you. Are you bored? Am I coming across as pretentious? Are you even there? Is anybody out there? It's no wonder I'm going grey.

But fear not; for I have discovered an incredible truth. But in order to explain it, I need to tell you about the 'dream' I had the other night, before the aforementioned insomnia began.

In brief, I was at a school fete with my friend [Stacey Slater from BBC's Eastenders] when I realised I had no money. Stacey suggested I borrow some money from the Loan Shark Stall. 'How handy' I thought, as I skipped off in the loan shark's direction. He lent me £14, to pay back at the end of the fete. I stress here that no other terms or conditions were mentioned. He later tracked me down and informed me that I now owed £15.40. 10% interest was to be added to the initial sum every hour it remained unpaid [I'm actually quite impressed that my subconcious can work out percentages when I can rarely do it when I'm awake]. I protested, but the bloke was massive and mean-looking so I went to pay him back and get the hell away. But the stall was abandoned. Stacey told me to leave the money there, so I did, and we left. Before long, however, we were being chased through back alleys and side streets by an angry loan shark demanding more money. He caught up with me, pushed me against a wall and punched me in the chin. Then, I woke up.

Because I'm addicted to the snooze button on my phone, I immediately went back to sleep and had a weird 2 minute mini-dream about my teeth falling out. In my dream, I was completely unfazed by my sudden lack of teeth and went to work anyway.

When I finally dragged myself out of bed, I was shocked to discover that my chin actually hurt where the loan shark had hit me. This can only mean one thing; that - Stacey, the loan shark and the school fete - is my reality. This - work issues, greying hair and the football team I support beset with injuries - is my dream-world. Yes, this may well be a little bit Inceptionesque, but it's the only logical way to explain it. Upon realising this, I felt strangely liberated; all this work and woe was just a dream. In a few hours I'd 'wake up' and return to the world where I'm a crazy, cool, calm and collected individual who rubs shoulders with celebs and isn't even bothered when his teeth fall out. I am that man.

According to my colleagues, I am not that man at all - I have merely lost the plot. And of course they are right. But I'm in the middle of a period of what-the-fuck-am-I doing-with-my-life angst*, as are the writers of many of the blogs I read and it was nice, for a moment, to think that I wasn't really me and that I wasn't really here. And that whatever happens to me during the day, I can wake up from at night.

* Would that be existential angst? I'm not sure it would be, because I'm not worried by the fact that I exist, but that my existence is so rubbish. I studied French philosophy but have a habit of burying things that make my brain ache as soon as I don't need them any more.

Monday, 13 September 2010

On Leigh-on-Sea

My favourite Beatles song is probably In My Life. I think it perfectly captures the way it feels to look back and realise that the things around you have changed [forever, not for better], without you even realising it. And yet, at the same time, it reminds you of the importance of the things that have remained, and the things that are important now. It's a song that has struck a chord with me on numerous occasions, not least on Saturday afternoon.

This weekend I went to a town called Leigh-on-Sea for the annual Regatta. Actually, when I say I went to Leigh for the Regatta, what I mean is that I went to Leigh to soak up the atmosphere of the Regatta while soaking up more than my fair share of alcohol. I used to go out in Leigh a lot more often than I do now. When I worked in Southend I'd go at least once a week, always to the same pub. It's a place with character, with a stone floor, nautical decor and a balcony that looks out over the Thames Estuary. Should you ever find youself in the area, you'll find it at the end of the cobbled street of cottages, fish n' chip shops and boozers that make up Old Leigh's high street, just before you get to the beach. Although the frequency of my visits has decreased, I still go there a for a few pints every now then, and usually spend at least part of the night wallowing in nostalgia.

Saturday was no different, only this time the nostalgia hit while I was having a wee, which it hasn't done before [please forgive my crassness]. In brief, for I wouldn't want to go into too much detail here, I used to have a favourite urinal in this pub. It was at the end of the row, in front of a broken window at head height that was most effective at clearing alcohol-fuelled fogginess. On the wooden window-frame, someone had scrawled "TOMMY P IS A SLAG" - there is nothing like an inspirational quote to ponder while...erm...otherwise engaged. The toilets have since been redecorated and, while the glass has been replaced and the woodwork given a new coat of paint, the memory doesn't fade. Tommy P's apparently promiscuous antics are yesterday's news, replaced with new graffitti for a new age [nowadays all the cool kids are writing about how Domenico and Miguel are wankers. Again, an inspiration]. The pub has changed, small changes over time that have slowly transformed the place so that it's no longer quite the same as it was.

I headed back to my table and looked at the people I was sitting with. Familiar faces; some of whom were there the first time I ever came to this pub. There were others who I've only recently met and am yet to get to know properly. And then I thought of the people who used to be there, and have since gone their separate ways. Like the pub, the group has gained, lost and retained. Things have changed, yet remained the same.

At that moment, just as I was ready to succumb to a wave of nostalgia, reach for my iPod and listen to the Beatles, N came back with a Jagerbomb and business returned to normal. It was only when I found a photo on my phone of the abuse directed at poor Domenico that I remembered that this chain of thought had even occurred. But the nostalgia isn't something I should be depressed by. I have had some amazing times with some amazing people in that pub, I had a fantastic time there on Saturday and I hereby swear to carry on doing so in future.

So despite everything that's changed, and as the Beatles say, I know I'll never lose affection for the people and things that went before. And for the people and things that are still around; in my life, I love you all.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

On The Day The Tube Stood Still

Well, God knows it had been a slow start to the week, news-wise. Page 4 of Monday's Metro had a full-page feature on a carrot that looked like Buzz Lightyear. Not so yesterday morning; thanks to the ever-belligerent Bob Crow and his industrial action. London's journalists had plenty to write about - from praising the 'Dunkerque Spirit' shown by disgruntled commuters to scanning Twitter for the most interesting updates; the tube strike dominated the news sites and headlines.

I get the Underground to work, so the fact that all but one of the lines were suspended left me with something of a dilemma. Do I cram myself onto an already over-capacity bus? Or maybe I should pull a sicky, avoid it altogether? Too much effort and too obvious, respectively. Instead, I decided to walk from Fenchurch St to my office, in King's Cross. This would take about an hour, but would guarantee me impressive bragging rights when swapping "how-did-you-get-in" stories with my colleagues. "''You let 3 buses go? WELL, I hiked. For miles. 3.8 of them. Hiked, I say."

The walk itself was great; through the City skyscrapers, on past St Paul's Cathedral, up through Barbican and Farringdon. And because I'd left early, I saw the city waking up; tables being set up outside cafes, streets being swept, traders at Smithfields Meat Market with forklifts full of raw beef. Or chicken. Or whatever it was - I had to step over a puddle of blood which I wasn't prepared for so early in the morning. But all in all I enjoyed it, and so felt rather smug when I passed a tiny picket line outside Kings Cross. "Strike all you want," I thought, "I don't give a shit because that walk was well nice. I could do that all the time." [I swiftly came to my senses and realised that there is no way in hell that I would walk that far everyday, and kept my thoughts to myself].

In fact, my love of The Walk didn't even last a whole day. By the time half-past five rolled around (and it took its sweet time) I really couldn't be arsed. Instead, I decided to join the scrum of people waiting outside King's Cross for access to the one tube line that was operating a good service. 20 minutes later, I was carried along by a stampede of commuters as they rushed to the platform, and three minutes after that, I'd wedged myself onto a train. It was one of those journeys where the handrails might as well not be there - it was so packed that the train could have rolled down a hill and I wouldn't have moved an inch. Returning to the surface at Moorgate was blissful.

Finally I made it home, having experienced two ends of the spectrum; a leisurely morning stroll to work, and a boiling hot, claustrophobic tube ride home. As much as I think some of the headlines were slightly sensationalist and over-the-top, I can't deny that they have a point. Everyone in my office turned up for work and I don't know anybody who couldn't make it in. That's pretty good going if you ask me.

And the fact is the tube workers strike too often for me to feel any sympathy with them. They are paid very well, and to strike because redundancies may be made in a time that's seeing the whole country tighten its belt seems slightly selfish to me. However, they can cause massive disruption and do so at least once a year. I'm pleased this time the papers focussed more on people's determination to get about on foot, on bikes and by boat and bus, regardless than on the picket lines and scenes of chaos. Plus, managed to beat a bus full of people down Gray's Inn Road because of the traffic. Admittedly I was almost running by the end and the bus driver wasn't actually racing me, just me racing him, but I got a sense of achievement from my victory nonetheless.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

On Horror

My choice of film has recently been the subject of criticism. In brief, I've been accused of having an exceedingly narrow mind when it comes to choosing what to watch. Apparently, I will only admit to enjoying films that aren't in the English language [*cough* Bollocks! *cough*] and, according to my brother and N, I need to broaden my cinematic horizons from World Cinema and watch more mainstream films. If you ask me, that's a contradiction in terms and can only make my selection less varied, but I agreed in order to combat this assassination of my character.

The first genre of which I was deemed particularly ignorant was horror, so it was agreed that we would each choose one horror film, and watch them back-to-back. I had one condition: no torture porn. So I sat down yesterday evening with three DVDs (The Omen, Pontypool and Paranormal Activity), too much popcorn and a cushion to hide behind should the demons, zombies and the apostates of Hell get too much for me.

The fact that I haven't watched many horror films in the past is not, contrary to popular belief, because I think them unworthy. The fact is, they too often scare the shit out of me and I'm not very manly in my reactions. Despite being a complete wimp, however, I can't deny that it is fun to do. There's something about the adrenaline rush you get from horror films that isn't equalled by any other genre, and come to think of it, it's a thrill I'd never seek out in real life, either - you won't find me prowling dark alleys or graveyards in the dead of night looking for something to terrify me, thank you very much. It's all a bit odd really. I mean if fear is a natural reaction, designed to make us run as fast we can in the other direction, what are we getting out of putting ourselves through the nail-biting, blood-curdling, sleep-depriving scenes that we watch? Is that not a bit like self-flagellation? Why force yourself to be uncomfortable?

Perhaps it's meant to provide an escape from the monotony of reality - maybe we look to horror films to provide us with a surge of adrenaline that we don't get anywhere else. And, because the action unfolds behind a screen, we get the rush without the danger. I'd go with this - and add to the theory that, as the setting of horror films is usually rural US towns, I feel extra safe. I mean the chances of being allowed onto a plane with a chainsaw are slim, and I don't think demons have passports. I've also heard that horror films are often looked at challenges to overcome - endurance tests. This is, apparently, why horror is particularly popular with teenage boys - sitting through two hours of blood, guts and gore is a way proving their masculinity [perhaps this is where I went wrong - at their age I was probably still watching and re-watching Pretty Woman]. Others watch horror solely for the sense of relief at the end, the calm after the storm has passed.

While I'm not sure of the reason behind the popularity of the horror genre, I will admit to enjoying the films I watched last night. Perhaps the plan is working and soon I'll be horror movie buff, able to sit through all manner of torture scenes without flinching. But that's a long way off. In the meantime, I'm off to watch some more Almodóvar [my director of choice at the moment]. I need to watch something nice, something colourful, something relaxing. I didn't sleep last night you see; it's quite difficult with the light on.