Monday, June 06, 2005

Latvian FlagWhen exchanging keys in Waterloo, do plan beforehand where both parties aim to meet. Realising my brother was coming by tube, but having found on the last London expedition that the main escalators are blocked off, and knowing that he was going to a meeting somewhere in deepest Southwark I waited by the doors at the eastern end of the main concourse. And I kept waiting, with occasional abortive calls to his on-voicemail mobile. Eventually he rings me:

"Where are you?"
"At the eastern end of Waterloo."
"Eastern? Southern." He's his father's son, in that he always has to be right, correcting people even when he's not (ok, so he's not as bad as my father, but it's still annoying, especially when the end in question is roughly east-so'-east, and then south-east at the very end. If I was at the southern end, I'd be way down one of the platforms).
"It's by Waterloo East. I'm waiting at the top of the escalators down to the Jubilee line" I reply in full don't correct me, you've done it before over this and you're still not right mode.
"I'm at the entrance by the bottom."
"Oh. Bye" I said as I tried to cover up the fact I'd forgotten that there's a street beyond one set of doors, and yet there's also a street a few metres away, round 90 degrees and a storey down.
"Hello." He said, as I looked straight through him. He looks older (well, he would do, wouldn't he? Unless he's managed to make time ageing backwards). He needs a haircut and some sleep (as probably do I).

He gives me his keys. I put them safely away. We talk briefly, he leaves. I go to buy a three-day weekend travelcard. I discover they no longer do them. They don't do any weekend travelcards anymore. I'm told to buy a one day travelcard everyday. That's £4.70 each day. The 3 day one only used to be £8 something. So just under £15 instead of £8. Not impressed. I don't buy one, and peruse maps to consider the alternatives. Which are walk or get a bus. Walking whilst lugging, and then walking back, then walking further, and then walking back again. Not appealing. Bus. Or buses. £1 for every bus taken. And they're slow (and I hate buses because I can never tell that I need to get off when I see a brick wall with a growing buddleia growing out of the side of it, rather than one with a buddleia growing on top of it, and on only knows about the buddleia if one's been there beforehand, and to do which one would have to get a bus). But it's this whole charge for the number of changes, not the total journey business which annoys me. Why can't they work to the railway model where one buys a ticket from A to B and is allowed to use any reasonable route to get there, rather than buying a ticket for each of A to X, X to Y, Y to Z and Z to B?

But because I'm going to be moving around for the rest of the day, I go and buy a travelcard. And then I put it in the wrong pocket, and worry myself fleetingly when I can't find it. But then I do, but the temporary panic has unnerved me, and I worry about where I've put the keys. Which aren't where I thought they are.

About five minutes, and an incredibly high heartrate later, I realise that they are in the little pocket on my jeans which I normally put keys into, except I don't on this pair of jeans because my main set of keys won't fit. I sheepishly head towards the tube.

[Incidentally, I overhead someone complaining about hunt protestors being charged for frightening MPs. For some reason my brain wondered if charging them with sheep worrying might not be appropriate].

So then on to my brother's flat. Dump stuff. Get keys cut. Buy food (having smuggled in my secret supply of Weetabix. My brother doesn't do dairy, and usually has breakfast at work). Food in this case consisting of an uncut loaf of bread (price on shelf 73p, price on label 69p, price at till 73p. Legal? And bread is so bloody expensive, except for the Value/Basics stuff that not even ducks eat. Remember Orange's Everyday 50 adverts?), pate because it saves needing butter, a pint of milk for said Weetabix, tomatoes, and pears because they were cheaper than apples.

Back to flat. Test keys. Eat some of newly acquired food. Then back up to Waterloo with camera to seek out quirky urbanesque. Text brother, be rung straight back, as he's just left his meeting. Return keys. Decide round London Bridge more promising. Re-emerge. Wander around. Get frustrated with lack photographic material. Get too hot. Carry on walking. Get pissed off with overdue hair. Notice barbers. Loiter trying to find price. Ask. Get told price. Try not to show my surprise (it was £5 cheap than the cheapest round here). Go in. Find crowd sitting is not queue. Give firm orders. Backtrack a bit on orders. Give up caring (I might have already done that step). Listen to other conversations. Fail to follow. Make small talk (which largely consisted of disappointing the [Cypriot?] barber when he guessed I was half Portuguese, and confirming that yes I was not going bald - barbers often express at just how thick my hair is, and what bloody hard work it is to cut. I've even had one, who was a cheap apprentice in an expensive shop, complain to his boss that he didn't want to cut my hair because it was so difficult and his hands hurt. Unsurprisingly the boss wasn't sympathetic. But isn't it so nice when people one is paying complain about one's hair, and that they really shouldn't have to cope with it [which rather begs the question "So what should I do with my uncuttable hair? Other than be asked not to come back by every shop in the country?"]. Anyway, instead the most recent barber made profound observations, and then whittled merrily away).

Impersonate a calf in a cattle stall when the barber gets out a razor blade. He scrapes away at the edges as I practice sitting very, very still (thereby giving away that no-one's ever done that before, although my skin was probably saying that as well). More manoeuvrings with concoctions, and odd smelling talc. Then it's done, and it's too short (or maybe I always forget what the back of my head looks like), but part of that was me being annoyed. Once again my hair is busy creating interesting effects as the remaining hair alludes to previous curls (these migrating patterns drive lesser barbers insane as they try to work out why some patches appear shorter than others, and they never seem to realise it's only the angle changing the appearance). So I pay, and wonder if I should have tipped (my excuses: not much money, and this is England), and leave with self consciously short hair - and self consciously white skin and scalp round the edges. But that's nothing a little sun won't fix. It's about then that I connect the darkening skies, the increasing heat, the utter clamminess, and now the rising wind, with not the effects of overgrown hair, but with a right-on-cue-flash-of-lightning thunderstorm.

So I stride up Borough High Street, impervious to the wind howling past and pelting rain monsooning upon me. There's something refreshing about being rebellious about being unyielding in the face of such weather. That is, there's something refreshing right up until that point where one realises it's beginning to get a bit cold now, and this rain is awfully wet. At which point one finds a suitable doorway, shop or alleyway, and loiters with intent to watch the sodden people carry on scampering past. Now I see what my tutor meant about lighting creating mood. So, in the lee of some building I get my camera out. I point it towards the girl waiting on the steps of the pub opposite. I the thing beeps at me, and I (wondering when I turned the warning signals back on) adjust the aperture. Or rather I realise it's already at it's widest, and that there really isn't much light. Moody and atmospheric and unphotographable (well, without a tripod).

But at least I got to stand (getting occasional odd looks - I think the washed out hair trimmings dripping down my face might have been responsible) watching other poor people try to maintain their image in the onslaught of horrendous weather. I have a hunch the girl whose Ugg boots were slowly filling with water as it ran down her legs was not having fun (but if someone is daft enough to slavishly follow ridiculous fashions which include wearing fur lined boots in June... and they can't still be in fashion can they? They were so the third Thursday in April).

Once the rain abated, I wandered back up to London Bridge, taking blurry photographs along the way. Then underground to warm up and dry off, and to take more photographs, which just about fulfilled the urban aspect. The LU guy on the platform didn't seem to mind once I confirmed I wasn't going to use a flash (due to not having one). I decided to go to North Greenwich to take pictures of sumptuous blueness. I stand at one end of a platform waiting for the crowds to disperse. To my left is a near infinite line of grey and yellow doors, to the right intensely blue pillars. Down the far end of the dark platform is a worker in fluorescent orange jacket. The colours work brilliantly, except the fastest my camera will let me go is 1/4 second. Which given I'm not very good at holding cameras still... So I don't bother. I try to work out if there's any other shot I might be able to get. I'm not sure. But the orange man is nearer now, as he's shuffling hurriedly up the platform. Maybe the increase in light bulk will increase the shutter speed. No such luck. And then...
"Customers are [huh] reminded that [huh] fla[huh] flashpho tography [huh] is not [huh] permitted on any [huh] London Underground Sta[huh]tion."

(Come to think of it, I heard a prerecorded version of that at London Bridge, but there was a flash from the far end of the platform then).

I try miming that I don't have a flash, but the guy's still a way off. I wait (some while) until the guy comes up. He asks me what I'm doing, and before I can give a flippant reply (I wouldn't have done, but you know, stupid question and all), asks what I'm taking photographs of. I reply the station, but I'm not sure there's enough light. He asks why. I mumble something about architecture and colour, and he looks nonplussed (what was I supposed to say? That it's one of the few decent things Will Alsop has done, and I think he come and kick your pasty and over-pasty-ed arse for daring to not notice). He says if it was a snapshot of somebody and trails off. He says I need a permit. He says everybody needs a permit to take photographs on any London Underground property. I apologise (why is it that when I'm nervous my voice rises a few social strata?) and leave (well, go upstairs, cross over, and wait on the Westbound platform).

It turns out I was supposed to have a permit. Oh well. Next time I'll have to go and find a beggar and take a picture of them, just to really annoy LU, because I'll be doing something without a permit which the permit would ban me from doing.

So I slink off to Southwark, figuring the Southbank would be good, as would sunset from the members' room balconey of the Tate, and anyway I need to loo (art galleries are handy like that).

Then a couple of highly illicit photographs using the reflections in Southwark station (and not one member of staff or security announcement got in the way), and out into the orange-lampposted hinterland. I know following the designated route isn't the quickest, but I wasn't in a hurry and I don't normally go that way.

A quick play with sun, reflections, shadows, railings, bridges and bikes (with optional St Pauls), and then a quick run up to the sixth floor (it got less quick near the top). And for the record, I like art galleries which stay open until 10 o'clock at night. I do wonder how it is that I've never noticed that the members room has two balconies. There's the normal river side one, and there's a huge one to the south, running up against the skylights of the turbine hall.

So I bag a corner waiting for the setting sun to come out. I play round with reflections, and the distortions of drops lying on a table. I thought I got chatted up by a girl, but as she then spent ten minutes face-hugging a girl I thought was a guy but then realised was a girl, maybe I didn't. I curse whoever it was who left a pile of sandbags sitting in the middle of the panelled roof (do roofs have floods?). Realising that the sun may be shining south of the river, but with that cloud moving as it is, is never going to shine on the city, I give up, and descend.

Heading west I play round with the orange light on various shades of modernist concrete (and occasional interplays with Blackfriars railway bridge, as ably illustrated by LondonDan). Further on I mount that curious circle in order to avoid drunken ragers in full rant, and then into the National to get up to the decent views from the staggered balconies (it's amazing where a camera will take you. Property starts to become vaguer [Insert Earl Grey joke here]. But it was built to be a public space, and I only know about because I've been there for legitimate reasons). There's a spiralling stack of tables I try to use, but the light's failing (and there's a guy pissing in the stairwell. Doesn't he know they have loos inside, and they probably wouldn't object if they thought of it in terms of either/or).

So onwards, round the bend. I try a couple of hopefully-less-standard-than-normal-but-still-standard shots round the snowdome-able places, and then discover the very large quagmire which is part of the lawn in front of the shell building. Then it's down into the underground once more. I return to the flat, and rumble round in it on my own.

Then bed, then not sleeping, then half sleeping, then waking up extra early to get up and go out to take photographs in early morning light, then looking out of the skylight and noticing the clouds are grey, which means it's cloudy, and then falling back asleep and then waking up about 5 hours later.

Shower, dress, eat, inspect weather via digital Ceefax; hopelessly lacking in detail, and yet every forecasts for 3 hours force it to be inaccurate (over the entire weekend, it never got the weather right. I'd look at it at 11.59 am and it would tell me that at 12.00 it would be sunny. Looking out of the window would tell me it was solid cloud in every direction and it appears to be raining over there. I want wind, I want isobars, I want fronts, I want lows, I want highs, I want we used to have. I don't want the coverall symbol for sunny spells with scattered, occasionally prolonged, showers. And yes I know "'I want' doesn't get"). Surprise flatmate who seemed to have forgotten I was going to be here. Leave flatmate in confused and hungover state.

Then once more unto the breach, dear friends, as I head tubewards, then northwards. I have a minor wobble where I think I've forgotten to change on to the other branch of the Northern line, but realise that was Stockwell, not Kennington. Eventually I pop out at Tottenham Court Road (and then pretend I'm not really surprised that Centre Point's just there. My mental map has a few holes).

Then I try to cut through the backstreets near where CNN used to be, but discover the road I took only leads back onto Oxford Street (past a barbers who were one pound cheaper than I paid. Grr. Yes I am that much of a miser). Then back round and up TCR, with occasional instances of "Oh, that's where that is". Eventually up to the great glassy canyons by Warren Street tube (no, I didn't visit the colourful fountains or the closed Starbucks). As I'm playing with reflections and distortions in one of them, I suddenly occurs to me that I've seen this before. And I still worry about how it will age.

Then east past Euston, and some bizarre mixes of buildings. The British Library is an odd piece of architecture, and an awful piece of urban design. If I had a digital camera I'd have taken pictures of it, especially the oh-so-welcoming Midland Street face as an anti-New Urbanism example. The Midland Hotel, which I saw described elsewhere as Gormenghast (which it is, said he who's only see the television adaptation), is an odd pile of dusty, battered, vibrant gothic. It's being knocked about, as is much of the surrounding area, to fit the Channel Tunnel Rail Link in (hence the many, often broken, signs warning that changing a Grade 1 listed building without consent is a criminal action).

I walk up the road between King's Cross and St Pancras, never quite sure of what's where, as everything seems to be temporary. Once again there are some interesting bits of architecture oddly exposed, but I'm not able to get some of the shots I want (although at least a faint wave of a hand from behind a window is a nicer way to be stopped than being fe-fy-fo-fumb'd upon). It's odd the northern spur of King's shooed me, but the brand new St Pancras don't seem to care (the security does a studied job of ignoring me).

Inside the new bit of St Pancras, which is handling the normal trains at the moment, there's one gorgeous feature. Between two sets of escalators is a flight of stairs. These have opaque risers, and are lit from beyond. So when it gets very busy, and the escalators clog up, the overspill cascades down them. Seen from underneath the shadows made by various ankles bounce down the steps, like a slinky. It only works with the right density of people, but it's still an fun effect.

One less gorgeous feature, which I think they really should have sorted out beforehand, is the fire escape. Imagine the scene: a great glassy box breaks free of a Victorian trainshed, and gallops off into the distance, beneath a huge overhanging plateau of a canopy. It's all long, white, sleek lines, until at one random point a rectangular grey metal fire escape spills off the edge of the roof and drops to the ground, leaving a boxy, dark tower standing on it's own, only touching the main building at the edge of the roof. It's completely out of place.

Is it a temporary fix while the rest of the building is worked on? Is part of some other plan, to be completed later? Is it that the architects didn't bother to read the regulations, and tacked it on afterwards? I hope it's simply works access, otherwise it's a pretty damning verdict on the ability of the architects.

[Helpfully, every link to a larger image on the CTRL website brings up a load of junk text. Someone, somewhere, has got the encoding wrong. Anyway, from the thumbnails, the fire escape doesn't appear in the Architect's drawings].

But then one does have to wonder about people who brand their product CTRL. For a start most people on first contact will read it as Control, and probably ignore it because it's something to do with computers. Secondly it makes Googling a bit harder (until it takes off). Thirdly, it brings up images of +ALT+DEL and imminent doom. Yes, you too can enjoy a swift ride to Paris onboard our largely automated train, and don't worry if you suddenly stop 8 miles out from Folkestone, it's only the Blue Screen of Death, just wait till we reboot, and we'll have you out in no time.

Further up I discover that pedestrian access isn't high on the list of priorities, having come up against a junction filled with buses and lost drivers. I finished off the film, decide I ought to have lunch. Being lazy I consider getting the bus a back down to the main road, but then discover that each bus stop nearby is not yet in use (despite the man waiting at it. He asks me the time. I think he's just bored and a bit cracked, rather than actually wanting a bus. Or maybe it is in use, but they've forgotten to take the signs down). Walking back down, and it becomes apparent I'm not the only one who isn't quite sure of where to go; three different sets of people ask me directions (as for the guy who asked "Scuse mate, there a train station round'ere?" while standing between two of them... I pointed him to the nearer King's Cross, as I couldn't be bothered to investigate further, and have no clue where each station serves), and several taxi drivers drive into a dead end and then all have to turn round again.

Then I'm strictly admonished to "get in lane" by a sign which fruitlessly tries to ease the flow of bewildered pedestrian traffic. Then down into the underground, dodging then people doing u-turns halfway down the steps when they spot the sign telling them to buy tickets in the mainline ticket hall. Then into the blessed relief of the Northern line, with it's rigid statues all clutching unread books or phones.

Out at Camden (I'm sure there's probably a better route to Regent's park, but I was sticking to what I knew), walk on autopilot (having once again come out of the wrong side of the station). Walk down past some of the Nash Terraces, cut in through a gate, wander aimlessly avoiding football games and sand marking tracks. Sag to the ground in front of some Georgian House. Eat skewed sandwiches. Try sunbathing, but spend most of the time waiting for the cloud to pass, only to be replaced by the next one.

Get bored, seek out loo, find it's locked, give up, wander down and out, then down Portland Place. Be tired and half asleep. Give someone completely spurious directions to Carnaby Street (which I've just bizarrely typed as Gandy Street. Wrong city). He asked me outside RIBA, and I completely forgot which road I was on. So he's probably still wandering round Cavendish Square.

Realise my mistake outside the BBC, but he'd be long gone by now. Then I veer off right, straight through BHS, and into John Lewis (it's strange the way one can navigate by where the loos are). Then back to H&M to buy clothes. I find a pair of linen trousers. I decide to think about it. I can't find the same display again. And there's nothing quite like realising one is standing in a shop full of gay couples, all judging me a variety of disapproving manners to really hammer one's self confidence.

I fail to buy anything, having been unconvinced by the omnipresent pink. I wander round various other nearby clothes shops seeing what's there, and largely want I don't want. I was originally looking for a replacement pair of shorts, but everywhere seems to think plus fours are so much more fashionable (yes, I know they're cropped or capri or whatever you want to call them, but they just manage to make me look odd, with skinny white legs which get cold without getting tanned, and I'd just been thoroughly dismissed by umpteen waxed eyebrows sneering at me, so I wasn't in the mode to take sartorial risks).

So, in full risk avoidance mode, I realise I'm investigating yet another beige item of clothing, so I move on, vowing that if I buy anything it has to have colour. About then was when I began my quest for the plain yellow t-shirt. Not ordinary yellow, but an intense mustardy one, like the colour of Selfridge's bags. I have no idea why I suddenly fixated, but I was tired and had had enough (yeah, that's always the best mood to be in when starting to walk down Oxford Street). I think I'd seen someone in one recently I thought "I like that" rather the usual "Oh Good God" response to any bright colour.

Naturally enough I could find none. They all either advertise, in a shredded way, some minor American sports team, or advertise proper brands out right (and don't ask me why some part of me feels wearing something which advertises O'Neill is better than something which advertises The St Louis Mudslingers. Maybe blatant branding is just more honest than "Logos are very in, but we know 'Next' isn't really emblazoned across the chest material, so we'll pretend you've really been to Hicksville, US of A, and bought a crap tourist t-shirt". Admittedly no part of me thinks spending £30 for the privilege of wearing authentic branding is a good idea).

But I did find a lot of pink shirts (and another thing - Coloured t-shirts with white trim round the edges suggesting there's a white t-shirt underneath; what's that all about?). I even nearly bought one (don't worry, it was reduced). Annoyingly, it would appear that the places with the best selection of wearable clothes also happen to be those I didn't need to go to London for.

I am a bit concerned that I've started seeing things in shops, and thinking "Ooh, I like that" only to realise a few seconds later that I used to have a shirt exactly like that, only smaller, when I was 3. Bloody revivals.

Can I get away with wearing clothes which match what I was wearing in that picture of me on the trike [shortly before I rode off the end of the patio into the gooseberries]? But the real problem is I can't distinguish between liking it because it's like what some distant part of me is used to, or because it's actually quite nice.

But then I was feeling as if I was so far out of kilter with the current world that catching up would cost a bomb, which I don't have, so I may as well not bother trying. That, and I was painfully aware of just how thin my arms are, and how X my Y is [&rpt].

I think it's become a case of Confidence, Nebraska.

Anyway, pretty demoralised, I head back down, once again failing to navigate Bond Street station (I don't know what it is, but it isn't instinctive). For reason I got off at Waterloo and wandered up towards the river making up my own route. Which largely consisted of walking past a garage door labelled 35a, and desperately trying to remember why I know it.

Then on, past people drinking a couple of tonnes of mint, and then into that patch of grass between the Oxo Tower and those odd shops next to the studios (and if you want odd juxtaposed architecture, look at The London Television Centre from the street side). The gardens in a glass seem to make sense now as there's some Cuban festival one. Well, lots of people drinking rum anyway.

I don't stay, as there are crowds and queues everywhere, and I'm on by own with a big, heavy bag. Eastwards to the Tate, a quick, needless sortie up to the top, then back down, and out onto the balcony bit in the middle of the turbine hall. The exhibition below is Herzog and de Meuron, the architects who remade the Bankside power station into Tate Modern. The exhibition is largely made of their models; scraps and offcasts reflecting ideas. From above it looks like a shape fair; scattered stalls each flogging some piece of geometry.

I go down, and find that under the stairs is a room showing a film about their projects. I sit on the floor at the edge; cross-legged while the teacher shows a video. I watch and think.

(It's quite a lengthy process).

[Bear in mind I started midway through, but there's no apparent order anyway].
One of their buildings is a great diagonally bound block towering away over Tokyo. It's some high fashion shop full of sleek gadgetry. And then they show a wide external shot. Over the back fence are a couple of houses, built in mock-Tudor style. I find it a bit odd that Prada's new cubic bubblepacked building is flanked by Japanese Elizabethan houses.

One overriding theme, throughout the film, exhibition, and surrounding building, is the fondness for boxes of light. Sometimes they form entire buildings, sometimes protrusions from and within them. I think the architects work best when they adapt the pre-existing, or are otherwise constrained. Some of their other work is too shape-not-building.

Some of their work also has other faults. They show one building in the middle of a snowy landscape. In front are trees blocking access. Well, they're not really blocking access, but they obscure the direct route to the main entrance. The film cuts to another shot, showing it without snow. The path to the door curves away to the left and back round to the door. It takes the user on the scenic route. Which is just what one wants when tramping through the snow.

They make a great play of creating novel surfaces for their buildings. One favourite seems to be casting thick concrete, and then chipping away the surface, to reveal the aggregate underneath. This is done in rolling undulations. So the end building looks like a Gaudi, but pebbledashed. I dread to think of what it will look like when it's aged.

There are a few other examples of innovation for the sake of novelty, such as the Chinese houses built by splitting air bricks in half, with the broken edges sticking out. Photographically: great texture. Practically: don't brush against this wall. And don't get it dirty either.

Other Chinese projects seem equally without constraint. A building in Quingdao (I think) built to mimic the building blocks used to assess mass. Elsewhere an entire borough built of haphazard geometric shapes, like dropped crystals (or Koolhaas on drugs).

It's quite entertaining reading their hatchet job on some man who built a mosque, got it wrong, asked for help and refused to take it (and stopped paying for it). H and de M steadfastly try to suggest it's their fault for overlooking nuances, all the while managing to convince the reader that the client was a bit of a nutter.

There are other interesting and fun ideas; a few new ways of thinking. And some of what they do is good stuff. The Beijing stadium (other than a few Pompidou-like worries, and trying to figure out how the canopy drains) is impressive, as is the one in Munich.

Near the end (or beginning, depending), is an odd selection of test tubes. The blurb describes their aims for creating an architectural scent (like the Oak Tree, it makes more sense at the time). Beneath it is a range of test tubes. As no-one else appeared to be doing anything other than reading the wall, I started investigating (figuring if they talk about smell, they must expect people to try smelling them, and therefore praying I wasn't about to get kicked out). There are a mix a different smells, from river water, engine oil, musky animals and various other scents of the post-industrial.

One does get a few odd looks by continually bending down to sniff the potentially unpleasant. But I found it quite interesting (ok, so I'm not entirely sure of the point, but it was a mildly amusing diversion). Trying to untangle the blends at the end is quite fun, if futile. Oddly the scent they choose to make into a product wasn't the one I thought best. But then maybe Rotterdam 11 doesn't have quite the cache required.

And I'm wondering just how long the sample bottle of scent, from their limited run, will remain with the display. I imagine it might make rather a good collector's item. Would anyone in an art gallery do such a thing? Well, it is the turbine hall of Tate Modern, full of people flouting most of the fairly few rules. And possibly related, this exhibition also informed me that Southwark considers the turbine hall to be a street.

By the way, I also liked the tear off and fold your own tour guide. That's nearly as the weather project's unsuspected yellow one.

Going home, I remember why 35a Cornwall Road [Project 1] is familiar. It was the violin factory next to the LFO, which was on Grand Designs when it was converted into a house. It was the one where the LFO opposed it every step of the way, and came out of the programme looking incredibly petty and spiteful. Other than refusing legal obligations over the fire escape, the decided they didn't like the colour of brick used to top a party wall. Only they'd already signed a party wall agreement and hadn't specified at that point which brick they'd like to be used. Once the wall was finished in red brick, which matched most of the much amended wall, the LFO demanded it be demolished and rebuilt using yellow bricks, which matched the very base of the wall. I think what they were really objecting to was the bright newness of the bricks, but were much too short-sighted to understand that every single other brick in that wall was that bright originally.

Apparently a compromise was eventually reached, and the top of the wall was treated to age the brick. However the LFO refused access to do this, so the workers had to work from the fire escape and roof. Nice, sensible LFO.

Anyway, from Cornwall Street all there is to see is a garage door in the middle of a terrace. From Theed Street, the home of the LFO, not much can be seen other than the part of the LFO's courtyard. Sorry, it's not very interesting, but I've never connected Grand Designs with real, actual places.

The house in question is now apparently available for rent, but the connected website - - is so slow I've haven't had anything beyond the title load yet.

Moving on, and down the Northern line. I get off and as I walk back to my brother's flat, another person asks me for directions (what is it about me?). Then a few yards further down I'm stopped again. A incredibly well spoken man is asks me
"Can you smell marry-whan-na coming from in there?" as he points to a closed shop.
"Um, no. All I can smell is stale chips" I reply gesturing towards the spilt chips on the pavement, which was all I could smell.
"Do you know a small Portuguese cafe near here where one might stop and have a drink of coffee?"
[I'm being to feel as if I'm in some language textbook of the "I have a flat tire. Do you have small gates? I would like a single green parrot in a glass please" type]
"I'm sorry, I don't" as I smile politely (the fact the bar next door might actually be a Portuguese cafe completely passes me by at this point, as I've never bothered looking).
"I say, are you Portuguese?" he enunciates with great clarity.
"Er, no I'm not."
"Hmm, Latvian?"
"We might be here some time."
"Palestinian?" he asks, nonplussed by my comment (naughty me. Never try to jest with the insane). I don't answer.
"Oh. Slovakian?"
"Er..." I say as I wonder just where this, and the woman who is incredibly hunched up, as she's avoiding us, but not sign which she's about to get trapped behind, is going.
The man starts questioning the woman, as she edges out from her hole.
I stealthily steal away (is there any other way?), and toss a "Goodbye" over my shoulder from a safe distance just to complete the surreal experience.

It's about then that I notice I haven't seen the friendly neighbourhood drug dealer since I've been staying there. The street always felt much safer with him standing on the corner.

But the present occupier of the corner adds a certain something to the area, although I'm not sure it has much need of more "character". He wasn't threatening just bewildering. But then how much of that is his innate state, and how much comes from trying to have conversations with people who either ignore him, give flippant replies, or spend their time running away when he's not looking. I imagine finding that suddenly happening could unhinge one a great deal more that whatever it took to make him forget that abrupt conversations with complete strangers is not really the done thing in London.

Then back to flat, avoiding being taken to a party (I always feel so odd at parties of people I scarcely know. Ok, so I swam with him on New Year's Eve last but one, but that was once, and last but one), by claiming I'd be asleep in half an hour. Which I would have been, had I not decided to watch Bullitt because I've never seen, and then spent the next half an hour trying to make the video work. I couldn't. Well, it was playing the tape, but I couldn't make the television find the signal.

So instead I flicked round and found there was nothing on, and then ended up watching TMF with its Blasts from the Past (hey, that's not old, well, not that old). And so to bed.

Sunday I was fairly idle. The plan was to walk up to the river, then along it and into town, mill round a bit in various galleries and museums, then walk back. Guess who was still cross about TfL abolishing weekend travelcards, and therefore determined I didn't need one. But then the weather was pretty overcast, and it is a long way, and I'm not sure how long, so I didn't. Instead I bought some more bread, and some thank-you doughnuts, ate lunch in an empty flat, thought better of wandering to the nearest bit of green space, and sat in front of an open, occasionally sunny, window reading Riddle of the Sands.

And there's a lot of noise in London, isn't there? Various trains chattering, clattering, clunking, hissing past (one very knackered one sounded like a steam engine, or in modern terms, an ailing bendy bus). There was the usual chorus of sirens plaintively calling across the sea of cars. There were planes coming in overhead, pitch dropping as the froth suddenly builds as they slow. There were the twin roaring shushes of the passing Eurostar. There was the whinnying of a pair of unhappy horses. Yes. No, I don't know. Somewhere over there.

I also discovered that I could see a woman down the road looking out of her window, in the reflections in the mirrored windows on the Eurostar. It would have made a great shot, but I'd finished the film.

I've never noticed before that I could see the chimneys at Battersea down the road. Just as I can also see the same chimneys as are in one of the photographs on the wall. The flatmate had asked me my opinion the day before. I just about managed not to give it, realising that if it's the view from the flat then one of the flatmates probably took it, and I didn't think it was my brother. It was a picture of chimneys, the top of a tower block (which looked better at dawn on Saturday, when the lights on the upper floor were on), and of the clouds of a sunset. Except the buildings were silhouetted against the sky, and were utterly black, so added nothing, and the sky was a vibrant dusk. There was just nothing special about it. No convenient shape of cloud leading in, no half seen details on the foreground. Silhouette, sky, and that's it.

Then I packed, borrowing books (I'm sure he won't mind, probably), and left. And so began the long walk to Clapham Junction. I'd already missed one train I was aiming for (unless I really can get to the station in under ten minutes). I sat on the platform for a while, pretending to read. Then the train arrived I realised why leaving from Waterloo is better; you get to pick seats, and manipulate other people into not sitting next to you. It's amazing the number of people who get on a train and fall straight asleep.

I ended up in the first carriage, which it turns out was a quiet, mobile free zone, except most of the people who had got on hadn't known this when they got on, and they couldn't move away because the aisle was blocked with suitcases. There was a opposite, who was sprawled across the seat, and sat tutting over his book at every use of a phone. But as he was being an antisocial sod by taking up two seats and the passageway, I wasn't going to worry about him (not that I used my phone, but it's the principal of the thing). He eventually withdrew his leg from the aisle when someone stood on his ankle.

It was quite funny watching his reaction to the group of girls sitting further up, who when not gossiping, playing games, or using their phones, started signing. And then they started impersonating that frog ringtone (even though I doubt any of them know who Axel Foley is).

Another train oddity was the juggled balls appearing above the seats, when the juggler (presumably the baby sister of one of the group of girls) was slouched down and couldn't be seen. She occasionally dropped one, and oddly it was always the orange one, and even more oddly, no matter its original direction is contrived to land at my feet each time. After I passed it back the third time (the first time I threw it, and she caught it and put it into the juggled set) she got embarrassed and stopped.

Nearer home I developed an avid interest in the tray on the back of the seat in front, as I was trying to avoid detection by someone I know who means well, but could do with a good stabbing.

And then home, and washing. Which was nice.


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