Sunday, 24 April 2011

Happy Easter and that

It's Easter and, just like Jesus, I have been resurrected this weekend. In blogging terms, of course, not, like, as the saviour of mankind. Although I never say never.

Two and a half weeks may be my longest period of non-blogging since Miss Jones blogging records began. That includes holidays. And I haven't even been on holiday this time. Although, as anyone who lives there will tell you, every day in south-east London is like a holiday. I have no good excuses for not posting, apart from mild busy-ness and a fear of repetition. This never stopped Barbara Cartland from a prodigious work rate though, so really, buck up, Miss Jones.

Let's focus on some positives. This year, I have three Easter eggs to eat, and I didn't even have to buy any of them for myself.

This is not one of them:

It's not strictly an egg, of course. It's a Baby Basil Hollow White Chocolate Duck. Is Basil the name of the duck or an adventurous addition to the flavouring? I don't know, the modern world baffles me.

Anyway, BBHWCD – as all his crazy pals in the confectionery packing depot probably nickname him – had been jilted by the tills at London Bridge Marks & Spencer, with an affliction so severe you could see straight into his pretty, empty little head. Who knows what cruel conspiracy of fate was responsible?

Perhaps he simply had a congenital physical imperfection, and that's what led to his last-minute spurning – we've all been there. Perhaps he was an innocent bystander caught up in a skirmish over the last packet of Cranberry & Orange Hot Cross Buns. Or perhaps someone in the queue loved him a bit too much, squeezed him a little too hard, until a hot clammy digit found its way right through his skull. Again, we've all been there.

We may never know.

This is a sombre note to end on, but I feel Easter should be a time of reflection. Reflection and consumption. I could never bring myself to eat BBHWCD, though. White chocolate is disgusting.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

ALERT: Earnest gag-free Olympic self-indulgence, in which I can't decide whether the Olympics should be singular or plural

A couple of weeks ago, I found my new favourite view in London:

Waterloo Bridge From The Bus At Night Time is feeling pretty bloody second best these days, let me tell you. My new No 1 is from a cafe that overlooks the Olympic-park-in-progress. With my mania for all things Olympic, I don't know why I haven't been there before, but that is the joy of London. It's full of places you don't have to visit because they're on your doorstep and you could go and see them any time you want.

Beside what is essentially a building site with promise, an enclave of British Day Out seems to have cropped up. Parties of school children trickle past. Cyclists flit by at high speed, causing those of a nervous disposition – I am foremost among their number– considerable anxiety. Get off and walk, you hooligans, people are trying to drink lattes here. The hale-and-hearty post-middle-aged stride along purposefully, occasionally stopping to peel off their rucksacks and unwrap the kind of tinfoil-clad packed lunches that have yet to embrace the modish likes of hummus and home-made lentil salad:

I don't mind telling you, the whole spectacle swelled my heart, then almost broke it. I'm not totally sure why.

But I know this – and bale out now, cynics; seriously, go and read some nihilistic free verse or something, because here comes the syrup – the Olympics breathes the kind of excitement into me that I sometimes think I definitively and permanently exhaled during my teenage years. I feel as though it's always been there in my life, like my family, or my best friends, or a football team.

That's no twee overstatement. It's a simple fact. I'm a fresh-faced 37 and the Olympics are at least 2000. Of course they've always been there. Admittedly, once every four years is not a particularly great meet-up rate (I have cousins on the other side of the world who I see more regularly than that) but when it happens, it's like we've never been apart.

Cynics, don't make that face. I warned you.

I have a vague recollection of the Moscow Games, but Los Angeles in 1984 is the first I really remember. I was 10. There are phrases from the television commentary that I think will still be in my head even when my own name, my way home and the importance of personal hygiene is not: Carl Lewis taking the final relay leg to win his fourth gold medal ('And the big man has the baton!') and
Daley Thompson's decathlon ('It's a better one... It's a better one... It's a better one... It's a better one!').

When London was bidding for the Games, I remember calculating how old I would be if/when they took place. I also calculated how old my dad would be. I always imagined if the Games ever rolled into my town, it would be him I would go with. Every summer, during my school years, he would drive my mum, my brother and I from our home in Norfolk to Crystal Palace, to the international athletics grand prix. I remember the agitation of being trapped in the 6pm south-London traffic on the way there. I remember seeing enormous bails of blank paper waiting to be news-printed in glass-walled presses somewhere north-east of the city on the way home. I now live incredibly close to the stadium that we used to drive three hours to get to, yet I rarely visit. (See paragraph two.)

When the games were awarded to London, on 6 July 2005, my colleagues and I stood around a TV set in the office, caught up in the excitement and blinking back Grade A Olympic Emotion* (me) or clutching on to an excuse not to do any work (some other, stupid people).

24 hours later, we were standing around the same TV set in the same office, watching Tony Blair give a hastily arranged address to the nation and frantically trying to contact friends and colleagues to make sure they weren't on that bus or those three tube trains.

Then, two months later, my dad died.

I don't remember too much about those weeks between the start of July and early September. Except I knew there was something different about that summer. You never see it coming, I don't think, but I'm convinced I could sense something creeping up behind me, waiting to shove me off the Precipice Of Pretty Much OK into The Pit Of Really Hard, Horrible, Grown-up Stuff.

I do know how lucky I am that nothing like that had happened to me before.

But something I do recall from that time, amid the
isolated flashes of trauma, is a sense of disbelief that any of those extraordinary, enormous events were actually happening. At the time, the over-riding emotion I felt about any of them was that it was all just so... weird. For those months and quite a few immediately afterwards, everything was confusing and awful. But slowly, the Difficult Things become assimilated into your older, sadder self and you shuffle forwards.

The reality of the Olympics was probably the slowest concept to take hold. It pretty much got bumped, emotion-wise. But a couple of weeks ago, there was the evidence in front of me. The Games are growing three-dimensionally before our very eyes, in steel and brick and mud and access roads. Despite the skeptics, who seem to be positively willing the budget to be bust apart and the deadlines to be broken, they are Definitely Happening.

And seeing the stadium almost at touching distance (definitely at touching distance if I was, like, Mr Tickle – or maybe Peter Crouch), I couldn't help but think of Now and Then (the popular terms relating to time, not the coming-of-age chick flick with Demi Moore) – how life was before that summer, and what came after, and also what didn't.

My dad would have been thrilled by the Olympic site and its construction. He would have found any excuse to drive us around it, tirelessly seeking the best vantage point, revving and reversing until we were car sick, marvelling at the curved roof of the velodrome, watching the cranes, walking into places he wasn't meant to go, attempting to befriend frowning security guards in neon coats. Since he died, I've never had a strong sense of my dad being 'with me', like people who go on about that kind of thing always seem to. He's never appeared in a dream with the answers I am seeking Рlike the reason why the lamps in my flat keep fusing Рand he's never apparated in front of me in TK Maxx, pointing the way towards a brilliantly bargainous and perfectly fitting Chloé dress. I'm five years stronger now, but at times like this, despite my excitement, my chest almost bursts with the sense of him not being there. Not scowling at the cyclists cutting him up on the path. Not eating a hard boiled egg unwrapped from tin foil.

And while I often imagined sitting in the stadium's cheap seats next to my Dad, I'm sure that on occasion I probably also imagined attending the Games with an adorable, curly-haired child or two of my own, hoping their tiny souls would absorb the privilege and the atmosphere, while I smiled beatifically, concealing how peeved I felt at shelling out £5 per branded Olympic ice cream and having to take them to the toilet just before some crucial lap or throw. While this is by no means biologically impossible, it's looking unlikely. I waited a long time for the Olympics to come to London – and they did. There's other things I've waited a long time for, and I'm still waiting.

But in my dad's absence, I visited the Olympic park with my friend Mrs G and my adorable curly-haired godchild Sonny – even if he's a little young for ice cream and he wasn't revealing his most adorable side on the day we visited. Instead, he rolled around on the concrete pathway doing angry crying for the best part of an hour and bellowing 'NOOOOOO!' at any attempts to mollify him, until passers-by started looking anxiously at us, wondering whether they should intercede.

Sonny is just another way in which things have changed since London won the Games. But a happy way. Ivy, his older sister, is another. She's 5 now, and I imagine she might have high-fived my dad on the way past him in some celestial Arrivals/Departures hall.

And then there's their mum, my friend, Mrs G. Like many of my friends, she was there before and since, and will carry on being there. They're Olympic, my friends – and yes, cynics, I am actually saying this. Not expensive and excessively sweaty and fond of ugly mascots. No. Constant, and getting closer all the time. And only a normal amount of sweaty.

* It is my intention, at some point in the future, to write a post classifying the various grades of Olympic Emotion. You probably know better than to hold your breath for it.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

The Man With The Yellow Trousers

*WARNING* Contains shallow class-based generalisations

On Thursday morning, the man sitting opposite me on the train was wearing a magnificent pair of yellow corduroy trousers.

In this photo, the colour is not displayed in all its true and dazzling vibrancy on account of the glare through the window. But believe. Daffodils. Buttercups. Colman's mustard. Cartoon bananas. Yellow peppers. Yellow crocuses. Other things that are way yellow. That is the kind of yellow we are talking about. He had the yellowness turned up to yellowven. I'm sorry. I haven't done this for two weeks. Forgive me.

Being acutely aware of my recent period of non-posting, I thought I may have found the perfect way to break my drought. I would become for one day only – or possibly more if it went, like, really really well – a street style blogger (like this or this). Here is a genre that's really hit a peak since I began this blog three years ago, and there's nothing I like more than being slightly late to a party. As I travelled through the city that day, I thought to myself – all the way from Dulwich to Islington and back again – my trusty yet furtively operated iphone camera would capture the fashion flashpoints of all those idiosyncratic tastemakers that make London the coolest city in the world. Apart from Tokyo. And probably New York. And I should point out that I've never actually been to Split, so for all I know they could really be pushing the asymmetrically cut style envelope over there.

Two basic problems here.

Firstly, I kept getting distracted and failing to notice what people were wearing. Secondly, when I did remember, I didn't really see anyone else wearing anything so worthy of a double take. Really, people do mostly wear bland shoes and black and denim clothes. Although I did like these ladies with matching hair, who I saw while I was waiting for my lunch dates at Angel station.

So then I was left with a photo of a man in yellow trousers and a desperate need for a new blogpost.

So I kept thinking about the yellow trousers – and the man inside them. He had a certain air of well-to-do about him. Distinguished, I might say. You may be able to discern this yourself from the sturdy brown shoes visible in the photo. To me, they say, 'I'm just going to take a relaxed yet purposeful stride around my vast country estate', as well as, 'Then I will put on a striped shirt and a blazer and enjoy an evening of light orchestral music in the expensive seats of the Royal Festival Hall.' He is also carrying a classy-looking leather binder (just seen, as we say in the world of fashion-photo captioning), which may contain information on his portfolio of stocks and shares, or perhaps just a copy of The Beano or a cut-out crossword puzzle from the Telegraph.

It occurred to me that apart from the young, skinny and hip, the only other men I had seen wearing below-the-waist colours of this intensity were... well... a bit posh. I know this is a gross generalisation. You were warned. But a former neighbour of mine was a good example of this correlation. He was a lovely man, plummy but poorer than you'd expect, primarily as a result of spending his working life trying to make things better for people less fortunate than himself which, as it turns out, doesn't pay quite as well as one might think it should. I provide this information so you will understand how he was my neighbour, and thus living in a one-bedroomed Victorian terraced flat conversion in southeast London, and not, say, a glass penthouse in Chelsea Harbour. Anyway. I would often hear the front door slam and look out of the window to see him striding in the direction of the bus stop wearing a pair of pink or scarlet jeans, as bright as a tulip.

What is the connection between the posh and their lurid pants? I welcome your theories. I have three of them:

1) I wonder if it is related to the innate, achieve-anything confidence that often seems to come with what someone in a BBC costume drama might call 'good breeding'. "Who says that just because I am not technically young, skinny and hip, I can't wear these trousers? It is my BIRTHRIGHT! And now I will climb The Matterhorn! And then do some motivational speaking. And then I will buy a 6-BEDROOMED house in FULHAM."

2) The reason posh people have money is because they are deeply, and secretly, thrifty. They only buy clothes that are heavily reduced in the sales, which means they only wear clothes rejected by the majority of shoppers who – as I have established during my street-style blogging research – plump for black, brown and denim. Not yellow, green and hot pink.

3) It is some tiny act of rebellion against the charcoal and tweed, traditions and tedium, of their social strata. 'I may have lived a childhood of rules and repression at boarding school, and still feel the need to ask permission every time I go to the toilet, but LOOK AT MY TROUSERS. I'M SO ALIVE!'