Friday, February 28, 2014

6 Hendon

Not so long ago, by chance, I found out that Hendon has got the dead Sir Stamford Raffles buried in it.

Sir Raffles invented Singapore and later he was probably the one that legalized gambling at village fetes. Sir Raffles lies six feet under the aisle of the Church associated with my old secondary school. I find this is disgraceful. Not that Sir Stam was under the nave and that we trampled over him every Septamagesima, but that in all my years at school no one told me about this.

What did the masters have to hide? Why didn't the vicar drop him into a sermon at the monthly school service? That would have grabbed our attention and stopped us flinging the hassocks.

Information on a well known local British traveler could have inspired us school kids to roam the globe and make riches beyond our wildest dreams. Knowing about Sir Stamford could have prompted us to trip off into the yonder and claim bits of land, because (unlike the locals) we British had an official flag, decent uniforms and a national anthem already. And if you've got the flag the uniforms and the anthems then, well, that means you are sophisticated and deserve everything, right? Then, like Sir Stamford, we could return home wealthy, live smug in a huge Hendon manor house, suffer death from a brain hemorrhage and get buried gloriously down at the parish church round the back of the school Annexe. Brass plate to our memory screwed into the paneling round the assembly hall.

Now also get this. The same St Mary’s Church that’s got Stambo's skeleton somewhere in the graveyard also held Herbert Chapman's body for a couple of hours. They had Herbert in freshly corpsed up for his funeral. Herb popped his clogs in 1934. His Times’ obituary says;

"Death of Herbert Chapman. A GREAT MANAGER. (Their caps not mine.) Association Football is not so rich in personalities that it can afford to lose such a man as Herbert Chapman, the Arsenal manager who died suddenly at his home in Hendon on Saturday after a short illness...

"...a lot of nonsense has been talked of his "black board" lectures on tactics, but he did his sides an inestimable service in making them think about the game and the results of his teaching were obvious on the field of play."

Great. What the Times' obit team are saying is Herbert introduced the startling notion that football managers and players should do a bit of thinking before their boys sprinted around the pitch drenched in Ralgex and Vidal Sassoon hair gel. We could have done with that strategic breakthrough twenty years earlier when lads not much older than myself were sent off to the playing fields of Paschendale.

Mr. Chapman finally found full time in Hendon cemetery, a few miles away from the church. We discovered that this off the beaten path centre of death provided a handy two mile shortcut on our willy shrinking Ernest Shackleton-esque polar cross country runs. Herbert died of pneumonia in 1934. In February 1974 my pals and I would have been happy to join him.

Fortunately, Herb played for Tottehnam Hotspur in his day. Only later did he become the Arsenal manager.

I hate Arsenal. It is a hate of the purest Dennis Wheatley “Devil Rides Out” form. What’s the definition of a good school Monday morning in North London? Tottenham won on Saturday. And the definition of a perfect school Monday morning in Hendon? Arsenal lost on Saturday.

More about the St Mary's graveyard. “Legend has it” that Bram Stoker mooched through the headstones behind my school and enjoyed the experience so much that he referred to St. Mary’s tombs when he wrote Dracula.

Well come on. Really. Who gets to make up and sign off on these so called "legend has its?"

How important do you have to be to create a worthy legend? And how long do you have to leave your embryonic tale before it gains full blown legend status? Do you need to get your mates to cite your legend or something and for them to send it in to "Jim'll Fix It?" Dear Jim, can you fix it for me to get my mate's bollocks of a story elevated into being called a legend....

"Legend has it, that is the one started by me today, legend has it, that the emblem of the Lamb and Flag on St Mary's School blazer badges represents secret mystical symbols used by the Knights Templar and the Freemasons in black magic ceremonies hosted by Mr Carter the geography teacher, just before he heaved us up on a field trip to somewhere in Derbyshire. A ritual mimicked by our inspirational maths guru, Steve Lerman, before we had to crucify virgins, upside down, while chanting Today's Differential Equation. ” Wait and see. That geography teacher John Carter and the one that did maths, Steve Lerman. Legends.

5 Norwich

In... Nicholas Country

Not many people go to Norwich, but I'm fairly confident that tens of millions of Brits believe that Norwich is in Anglia. They wouldn't have looked in an atlas or zoomed in and out of the satellite photos on google earth to know this locational fact. Nor would they have had to have paid much attention in schoolroom geography lessons to get the pin set correctly in the map.

Gazillions know Norwich is in "Anglia" ...because the telly told us this was so... every Saturday evening.

Anglia is a regional British television station... among many others. And Anglia's most renowned telly show of all time (the nineteen seventies that is) was intimately bound with Norwich. It was introduced thus...

"Live. From Norwich. It's the Quiz of the Week..."

Just as we've got the jist about where New York sits because of The Apprentice and Kojak and Hill Street Blues cop shows, so the same is true with our English jewel in the incredibly near east crown of Anglia. Norwich. Sale of the Century.

However, instead of featuring a brash whacky haired Donald Trump or a pool ball smooth headed Kojak, on Anglia's Sale of the Century and were given the ultimate in fingers down your throat, slickly coiffured English, question masters;

"And here's your host...Nicholas Parsons."

"Norwich" to English families watching Saturday evening telly in the 1970s meant back then Nicholas Parsons. I would suggest it will still mean Nicholas Parsons today, so great is the Nicholas factor. Norwich means Nicolas Parsons running down the stairs. Norwich means Nicholas posing a tricky but not too tricky question for contestants to allow them to win the kitchen knives. Norwich means Nicholas announcing that even more kitchen knives are coming up on an Instant Sale. Norwich means peroxide bimbos draped over lounge suites or perched on a "complete set of family bicycles - sixty five pounds" in the final mega Sale of the Century.

Norwich means a strange electric organ played by ….. (someone please remind me of his name, Peter Fenn?) building up the anticipation and tension for our Nicholas to arrive through an ocean of grannies in the live audience, every pensionable one of them delighted to have got free tickets and to be on a group outing.

My paternal grandparents lived just outside Norwich in Ormsby St Margaret. It's a smashing village marooned in an ocean of pea farms and quite close to the Norfolk Broads. Olive and Frank fitted like a hand in a Morrissean glove into the Sale of the Century audience demographic. They drooled over the kitchen knives. Nicholas Parsons was their patron saint. Their retirement bungalow was a mere one hour up the country lanes from the "Anglia" TV studios.

In school half term holidays my dad's folks treated me and my sister to a trip to the shops in Norwich's city centre and a tour of the frightening medieval armoury in Norwich’s castle. We'd pass the TV Studios on the way in. From the back seat of their Morris Marina we'd pipe up with the fanfare and intro music to "Sale of the Century". Christ almighty.

However, those very same buggers at Anglia's TV studios that provided Archbishop Nicholas were also responsible for me failing idiotic school geography tests, those that test your memory to correctly label the English counties on a whitened out map. What use is this going to be in later life... I questioned, and repeated, on my way out into the corridor for yet another 15 minute session against the wall.

If you've been to Norwich and were paying attention you'd know that Norwich is really in the county of Norfolk. Norwich is actually the county town of Norfolk, though I forget what it is that makes a "county town" a "county town". Probably in the corridor for the explanation of that one.
It was the telly that implied around Norwich there was an "Anglia". And telly is more impactful than a road sign. It is why Saatchi and Saatchi have no qualms paying millions for a picture of an air hostess to feature for one second on their latest ad but can't find twenty pence to sponsor a sign outside the biggest hypermarket in the country.

In my later years I also came to realise that, worse still, "Anglia" is a figment of our English cultural imaginations. Anglia doesn't exist. Wessex doesn't exist. Camelot doesn’t exist. They’re made up, they’re fictitious spaces. Labels used to make us feel something about an English past when the jolly workers shared common lands and the landlords were nice at Christmas. Or something.

"Anglia" was created for the telly people just as "Wessex" is a Thomas Hardy-esque handle for the posh literary crowd to have a bank holiday near Dorset. Suffolk (the county south of Norfolk) nearly, so very nearly, remains Suffolk. But some of us know that Suffolk is increasingly and sickeningly becoming marketed, and is under threat of a re-name for the oil painting appreciating tourists as "Constable Country".

Thomas Hardy, he gets a county, all Arthurian and providing turn of the 20th Century scenes for Hovis commercials when kids delivered bread on bikes.

Shakespeare. He gets a county in the Midlands.

Then there's Emily Bronte. Her county is up in Yorkshire I believe. And Wordsworth has got his spot in the Lake District.
No doubt Postman Pat and Harry fuc'king Potter will be assigned a swathe of Britain in years to come. If they haven't already.

But Norfolk, as far as I know, still remains Norfolk. "Norfolk is Nicholas Parsons Country" as a cultural-geographical-pull-in-the-punters-label probably won’t happen. And that's a shame. Nicholas is as much a part of Britain as any bloke dibbling his palette knife in his oils or any writing lass twiddling her quilled pen.

Surely Nicholas' Instant Sale Steak Knives are as culturally relevant as Constable's horses and haycarts stuck in the rivers, or the baird's plays performed by sixth form students.

In my dreams I would like to see this hegemonic county labeling shattered into tiny Gramsciian pieces. Come the revolution I would like to see that the committees relabel our counties with the earthy 1970s labels that meant something to us workers, when we were kids. I would propose to the comitern that they use county boundaries and labels that meant something was kicking off on the telly;.

Granada, land of Coronation Street. Yorkshire, home of Emmerdale. Tyne Tees, the place of incomprehensible weathermen. Central, Crossroads Motel Country. Thames, Eastender World.

But of all the local television networks it is Anglia that tops the lot and lands spontaneous top of mind awareness and salient associations. Anglia has the best intro music and the best logo. The Anglia logo gives us a proper cultural history and presents us with proper Norwich-ness. The Anglia logo is a cracking stainless steel knight wearing full Norwich Castle armour. The knight even has a silver flag flapping on the top of his lance. What's more, the whole lot revolves on an automated cake stand (Instant sale price ...pause... four pounds). 

 That's what Britain's about. Steel. Black Princes, Henry V, Jousting. Anglia. Norwich.

"Live. From Norwich. It's the Quiz of the Week."

Play it again Anglia!

4 Hull

King Edward I's brick and concrete town

By the time I was six, Hull was my most visited holiday destination in the galaxy.
Hull's really called Kingston Upon Hull. The King in question being Edward I. Apparently, medieval Edward (a bit of a wanker of an English king, truth be told, the sort of dictatorial monarch featured in Braveheart) used Hull as a staging town for his armies before sending them further up north to ick hell out of the Scots. Edward also sued Hull to import through her North Sea facing port lots of things from Europe (which back then we weren't a part of), and he used Hull and her lovely earth to create one of the world's biggest medieval brickworks.
In writing this piece I searched King Edward and Hull on the internet. After fifty references to things American (all searches on the internet seem to give me fifty things American before they list out what I'm really after) I found this...

"Edward the First, conquered Wales, razed Berwick on Tweed to the ground and tried to give Scotland the same treatment..."

Over the years I've realised that King Edward's Hull descendant folk rarely mention King Edward's naughty deeds. If they ever mention them at all. One of my nans was born in Berwick on Tweed. She lived and finally died in Hull. She never grumbled about Edward. Not once. Never even mentioned what a tosser King Edward was when it came to her birthplace. Margaret and her man, Alex. A fine pair. Fine.

When I was young I found the Hull accent quite strange in a nice sort of way. Hull people (Hullians?) like my grandparents, with incredible oral lethargy, pruned back their pronunciation of that complex, single city syllable "Hull" to... Ull.


Ow good is that? Some of Ull's residents even use Ull as the title on their community website; thisisull dot com. The site isn't that inspiring but it has a cracking amount of getting on with it and down to earth articles. Read it. I promise you that for the rest of your living days a Long Bank Holiday Weekend stopping in or tidying out your shed will never sound more appealing.
And that's a problem with being an unselfconscious Ull insider, an emotional in there Ull local. The local finds it hard to understand where they're at and suspend judgement. Instead it is easier to give off the extreme scale "it's all rubbish" / "hate it here" attitude or an even more extreme and equally un-credible "it's all great" / "don't you dare knock it" picture.

Hull's not all great. And neither is Hull complete pants. Ull's glass is alf full. Hull is what I would say, Quite Good. If St Paul's and the City of London is the orchestra in stone, then Hull has to be the chorus in Kahnian brick.

Oh for Hull and Ahh for the River Humber. While Lancastrian streams tootle off to die in Liverpool, Hull's offshore aquatic graveyard is blessed with Yorkshire's / God's Country rivers ending their journies, the Ouse, Derwent, Don, Aire and Calder. It makes Ull very U2-ian. As Bono once sang (before he started to wear ridiculous sunglasses);

"I believe <slight pause> in the Kingdom Come,
When all the rivers <even slighter pause> will bleed into one.
Bleeeee eee eeeed into wwuuurrrrrrn
Bleeeed into wuurrrrnn.
< and cue the gospel choir > In To One."

Which means, Mr Irish matie boy, the Kingdom’s already here. Yorkshire's rivers have been bleeding into one for years - and they will keep on bleeding straight out east into the North Sea and off to Norway, with the Sealink Ferry, for a good while yet.

My dad used to drive us to Hull from London, once a year, taking nearly all day in the Mini or Vauxhall Viva. Now when you drive into Hull you can look down and admire the vastness of the Humber when you approach from the west, when you drive across... The Bridge.

The Bridge used to be the longest single span suspension bridge in the galaxy. It is so tall that its towers stick up three inches out of parallel. Not because they were built wonky and that the contract workers left out a key R.S.J. but because of the earth’s curvature. We're talking huge. Epic. Ben Hurr-ian. A four horses abreast Charlton Heston chariot race on the thing would not be out of scale.

In their opening ceremony press pack the Council deployed full on Yorkshire understatement to play down their achievement. They featured neat photographs of their new toy. The big brochure cover picture was the bridge photographed from underneath. A strip of concrete running across the page. Nowt else. None of those Brooklyn Bridge helicopter aerial shots with indigo sky and puffy white cumulus clouds. Forget the idea of a panoramic wide angle image - as they do so well in Japan - through the mist and with an oil tanker the size of Corsica maneuvering in the foreground. Nope. In East Yorkshire the Council outsourced a professionally photo'd up skirt shot of the Humber Bridge’s tarmac'ed butt.

Hull folk really should be gloriously proud of their achievements, after all, Hull docks were once the third largest in England. After London and Liverpool. Liverpool; The Merseybeat, The Beatles, Paul, Ringo, George and John. Strawberry Ice Cream For Ever, Walruses and singing about how fab it is when the sun shines...

"Here comes the sun, here comes the sun,
And I say it's all right.
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes,
Sun, sun, sun, here it comes."

Hold my hair back while I puke.

What does the Humberbeat offer? The Housemartins; who rather than address the rosier effects of global climate change instead advise us against the dangers of being sheeplike trendy and “I spoil my ballot paper in protest" idiotic. The Housemartins; who reassure us that tomorrow the forecast may be perpetual heavy drizzle with gray skies, but so what if society has planned ahead and got the umbrella at the ready.

"Too many Florence Nightingales,
Not enough Robin Hoods.
Too many halos not enough heroes
Coming up with the goods.
So you thought you’d like to change the world,
Decided to stage a jumble sale
For the poor, for the poor."

And whereas Liverpool has one of the most successful footie clubs in Europe, Hull has a Hull Kingston Rover Rugby League team and... Hull City Football Club.

In my football watching days Hull City were a struggling team of young apprentices and decaying veterans, usually found locked in the middle of the Division Two. In the deepest freezes of winter the football commentators would talk over the radio "Hull City at home. Match postponed. Pools panel sits. No score draw."

City played in orange shirts with a couple of black stripes. Hence their nickname. The Tigers. Tigers? More like a swarm of overweight bumble bees. But that strip, oh yes. It was why Hull was my most aesthetic Subbuteo flick to kick table football team purchase (# 35 in the catalogue, albeit with some strong competition from the Norwich City's green and yellow, "The Canaries", #28).

Also. Hull City is the only team in the English footie league (all divisions) where you can't colour in a single letter, using either upper or lower case. As I found out when bored and trying it on my school GCE Soc and Econ History exercise book.

h u l l c i t y H U L L C I T Y.

Told you, nothing to colour in. Liverpool ( e, p, and two o's ). Arsenal (A e a) Blackburn (B a b). Chelsea (e e a). Keep going. I'm right.

I loved my Hull City Subbuteo team. Because when I flicked them I was sitting in their stands and not crouched over the green baize in my bedroom. Liverpool FC had Anfield and the euphoric roar of blokes walking together on the Kop. Hull City FC's Boothferry Park had a few dozen lads from Sutton chanting “ Ull Ull Ull Citee” in the drafty train station stand. Specialist sports architectural critics such as Simon Inglis found it hard to describe Boothferry Park’s stands without crying into his pint. (Actually, he didn't try that hard.) If he had, his texts may have read "Ancient Britain gave us the Stone Age, the Bronze and the Iron Ages along with the structures those materials support. Two millenia on and it was left to Hull’s sports ground architects to advance us into the Asbestos and Formica Age."

Why didn't Hull's stadium architects use brick? Kahnian bricks, like they did for Holy Trinity Church? Why didn't they get a few trucks in from Hull's they-go-all-the-way-back-to-the-14th-century brick works?

Yet the old Boothferry could have been made out of Meccano and wooden lolly sticks for all I cared. You see, grandpa Alex, my Berwick on Tweed nan's husband, took me off to watch my first professional football match at Boothferry. 21st November 1971. Dark by four, damp by five past, and flipping cold.

I, as a seven year old I, saw the tribality (made up word). I loved it. I doubted the Vikings and the Danes would have risked sailing up the Humber if they had a copy of City’s home fixture schedule. If the Norse folk accidentally landed after a boring nil nil Tigers draw on a bleak winter's afternoon they'd have been annihilaited. Kicked back to Oslo by Doc Marten ox blood six hole boots with steel toe caps. Their horned helmets whipped off them and kept as trophies. Their long boats sunk in Fish Dock Three.

Now the Boothferry crowd is a tad more middle class. And better behaved. If City gets thumped on a Saturday they don’t get fussed. Hull's Larkinesque fans would, with culture and wit, blame the shoddy result on the fatherless referee. A lack of two parents, a mum and son combination that 'ucked them up and out of a chance of the cup."

There you have it. My Hull. And as a wrap up, a quick mention of Roger McGough, another fine poet who was was influenced in Hull. In my book Goughie beats Larkin. This is one reason...

"The trouble with Snowmen," Said my (grand)father one year,
"They are no sooner made Than they just disappear.
I'll build you a Snowman And I'll build it to last
Add sand and cement And then have it cast.

And so every winter," He went on to explain
"You shall have a Snowman Be it sunshine or rain."
And that Snowman still stands Though my (grand)father is gone
Out there in the garden Like an unmarked gravestone.
Staring up at the house Gross and misshapen
As if waiting for something Bad to happen.

For as the years pass And I grow older
When summers seem short And winters colder.
The Snowmen I envy As I watch children play
Are the ones that are made And then fade away."

An interesting theme from Roger; decent people and decent city places as temporary snow people and temporary snow places. True. We can't preserve and bottle every great stadium and every grand parent.

3 London

Going in

Kentonians know that Kenton is in Harrow and that Harrow is in Middlesex. And Middlesex is in the "Home Counties" - though no one is daft enough to write "Home Counties" on an envelope or to use up valuable characters and squeeze "Home Counties" into the address boxes on ebay and PayPal. We knew this because Kenton has an HA postal code.

 Real London places have compass points at the start of their postal codes.

For example. NW, N, SW, E, S, W1, NW9, N5, SW9.

NW3, NW4.

I think you have the idea. I don't think I need to go on. This postal code thing is so efficient that if you just wrote a full post code on a letter the people sorting the mail would know which five households it referred to. Just five households! All 18 million households across the UK postcoded using six alphanumerics into cosy bundles of five.

Back in the day, if a space alien, or even Sigourney Weaver for that matter, popped my name followed by HA3 9PS onto a Alpha Centuri postcard and then gave it to the folk at a General Post Office then that post card was guaranteed to reach me generating a smile and a chortle at their short interplanetary holiday greeting. The outer spacers wouldn't even have needed to have broken their biological quarantine to lick a stamp and stick it on, as long as I paid the postman when he asked for the delivery  money.

Crikey, how good is that? What happens these days when I type a dot com instead of a dot co into the search / menu bar is that google chucks a hissy fit and automatically runs a "program update - so piss off why don't you" for twenty five minutes.

This geographical precision in knowing where you're at meant that when I lived in Kenton I knew I did not live in London, even though London started less than 600 yards away from my dad's greenhouse (behind Ruskin Gardens). I had to travel to London. On the tube. In fact I went “into London” on the tube. This now seems as bonkers as English families saying they “going over to Europe this year” for their holidays.

In short, I've never lived in London. Yet, I'm a Londoner.

County Hall and Westminster

For a few post graduate summer months I did attend work in London. I commuted in and out to County Hall when the Greater London Council was a tenant and holding on by its fingernails against a budget slashing Conservative Government. My communal socialist office was high up above the river's South Bank and oh oh oh did that room provide a splendid view of Westminster! Although the junior soicalists, like me, had a better view of the corridor than the sweeping Thames vistas reserved for the senior socialists with the best seats. I was part of the Population Studies Group in Room 603, in the first storey of dormer (roofline) windows, third and fourth windows in from the Westminster Bridge corner. At lunchtime I sometimes ate a packed lunch where the entry queues to the London Eye now trail. After lunch we would run statistics on big clunky computer things and assess the thickness of electricity cables needed in Battersea, or pipe diameters in Dagenham, the number of French text books in Bermondsey, twenty, forty, sixty years in the future.

Since my late 1960s to early 1990s era of living four hundreds yards from a NW postal code London and commuting in and out of a London office I have become a London tourist.

Now I live four thousand miles away. I catch a 747 to get in and out. My lived on the edge and worked in the centre years have passed. I now see and feel London differently, with nostalgic middle aged bloke's eyes.

These days when I'm in London I stay at hotels. It happens. After two decades of it I have had enough. I can't be doing with being polite to my old school, uni and work pals, staying with them why don't I? Eat and drink and leave them is the best policy. Sanity for all. Give me a power shower, endless litres of immediately steaming hot water and the recently released Nelson Mandala-esque freedom to wander naked, beer belly and balls swinging majestically as I trot between the bedroom and bathroom, singing Paul Weller lyrics and while doing so knowing that I am not going to bump into my mate's nineteen year old daughter on the landing, the one I remembered last as a toddler in a Christmas family update email.

However, in any hotel wherever I am in the world, when not in there on work, come the next morning I tend to wake up excited at the coming day's events and the potential sightseeing.

Before the room service breakfast trolley rattles up the corridor my adrenalin starts to flow. Often, I can't get back to sleep (even though I've grown out of hangovers). So I listen to the soothing early morning radio voices and wait for my holiday egg, pork sausage, bacon with horsemeat DNA, beans, toast with more horsemeat DNA and marmalade. And there is no fucking way that I let the twats on the telly disrupt the atmosphere.

Dong and Clash Sounds

The BBC’s Radio Four style newscasts are still preceded by a time check embellished on the hour with the Ding dong ding dong… Ding ding ding ding ding… time thing as smashed out by Big Ben, his family and friends.

After the first dings there's that pregnant pause, that wonderful silence. A whale watching silence. A womb like silence. A nothingness of the cave. In here and I can visualize a hammer coming down Ben's deep baritone shell releasing him from slumber, thwhacked so hard that he sounds out across the world...

Dong... ...Dong... ...Dong...

I am not sure a D, an o, an n, and a g, grouped together to create the word 'Dong' on a computer screen quite does that Big Ben Dong justice. But that dong... oh yes. Big Ben. The sound of London. Ben brings to life the sketch of the Houses of Parliament on the label of the breakfast brown sauce bottle.

Even if I hear a carriage clock tinkling the hours in some back track East African village my mind drifts to the dobbing bells suspended over the home of my British Democracy.

The history of the tune is delightful. In the 1850s the Members of Parliament were getting a new bell tower and office, or something. The head designer took the striking rhyme for their clock bells from a tune created by one William Crotch in 1793. Mr. Crotch was an organ student at Cambridge. (An unfortunate degree to read for a lad with a name as his. You can't make this stuff up.) Ever since the Parliamentary donging has been known as the “Westminster Quarters.” I was told that the Westminster Quarters are chimed with just four bells - an E, a D, a C and a G.

I wonder what they would do if they rebuilt the tower and redid the clock tomorrow.

I think The Clash's “London Calling'” could be a smashing alternative to Big Ben's clanging opener for yesterday’s news. London Calling's got a rich, heavy bass rift and angry young lads chanting,

"London calling to the faraway towns.. The ice age is coming, the sun's zooming in, engines stop running, the wheat is growing thin. A nuclear error, but I have no fear, 'cause London is drowning and I, I live by the riveeeerrrrrrrr."

We now know The Clash got the ice age part wrong, because we are supposedly heating up and getting flooded, but yes, London is indeed by the riveeeeeerrrr. Just as was my old office.

Smells Tastes and Book Covers

I believe that it is smells and tastes that evoke the strongest memories, but I've yet to meet anyone who can do odours on the internet. As a second best I can do internet visuals. The picture here below is one of my favourite scenes, Christopher Wren's seventeenth century Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

Saint Pauls is indeed an ecclesiastical gob smacker. It is king marvelous. What happened was that a few years after the city of London people had died from a dodgy dose of Black Death, the survivors then got roasted by the Great Fire. Our special architect, Christopher Wren, wearing his curly white wig, was thus commissioned by London's forefathers, wearing their expensive, yet slightly impractical, silk white stockings, to "do something with that space there, and make it look good this time, pal".

Christopher Wren was the Norman Foster of his day and was finally okayed to build his Cathedral Design v2.3. The one that was not too pagan looking and appropriate to us British Christians.
I personally would say, using perfect twenty twenty Marxist materialist hindsight, that a big hospital or a couple of fire stations may have been more appropriate considering the circumstances, and it would have been public money better spent. There's little point in praying over spilt milk no matter how large your place of worship is.

In the 1940 Bill Brandt shot a black and white photo of St Paul’s rising over the Henkel blitzed ruins and smoke and ash of London. That photo is a classic. It's also copyrighted. So I can't post it here. (Though I might try and sneak a photo of a photo of it in my Bill Brandt exhibition book in.... give me a day or so to dig it up...)  But what you can look at is my favourite view of London as painted on a London guide book of 1942. This book was published when London was still up to her eyes in it and the middle classes needed a reminder of what “England” meant. Brian Cook’s the illustrator of that pic.

Brian Cook is now quite a famous chap for those that follow book binding and cover art. Brian took book covering art three steps further than those that book covered before him. Brian pushed wrappers to their limits.

First, he drew pictures that began on the front cover, and the same picture then drifted over the spine, and finished complete and resplendent on the back cover. This was revolutionary in his day. Just one massive picture. (The picture really starts on the back and ends up on the front if you open the book and lay it flat on your table and scan your eyes left to right. Back-spine-front. However, if you’re a gowned person from Arabia, then front-spine-back may match your right to left text reading convention.) Anyhow, Cook’s topographical covers were meant to be a single picture used to cuddle and protect the words within. Quite a new thing in its time.

Second, Brian Cook bled his pictures off the book’s ends and sides. He drew no restricting frames or margins. Not a border in sight and that was a good decade or two before Jackson Pollack was wittering on "There are no borders in my art, there are only edges" on the opening night of his retrospective at the Guggenheim.

The third dust covering ground breaker was that (at least I would like to think that) Brian Cook was on something when he had his crayons out.

Brian captured St Paul’s using vivid yellows, pinks and oranges. Pinks. Oranges. What a trip! Eat your heart out you Fijian Gaugins. We've got Brian in London!

When Brian did the cover for "Chiltern Country" he coloured the roofs on the high street… purple. What's more, no one muttered a single “that's pants that is, it has been PhotoShopped, when I paint I do all my art on the easel” type of complaint. If Brian Cook had used purple in Sir Christopher Wren's day there would have been an artistic outcry, accusations of witchery, hangings at Tyburn, bishops buggering him up the banger in the bursary. Maybe Brian's World War Two contemporaries were more worried about how blitz dust was getting everywhere than they were with having with a bright yellow St Paul’s on the front of their book.

Inside Cohen Porter's don’t 'judge a London guidebook by its Brian Cook dustcover' there is a  chapter on St Pauls and St Aldgates and St Everyother Person reads; "St Pauls, with its soaring dome – a striking and widely recognised feature of the London skyline - has arrived in our current troubled times as a symbol of hope and inspiration, of enduring architectural prowess."

What a pretentious git. Down to earth 'sixites kids like me recognise St Pauls as the cathedral we could climb up and into, the one with the gallery running around the inside of the false skin under the famous dome. The Whispering Gallery in the day before global tourist security guard cavity searches meant we could enter a place of worship unmolested and drop sweet wrappers onto the visitors below without getting tasered and put into care. Back then we'd lean right over the handrail, no knowledge of health and safety, and look down onto the altar. While Mrs. Russell next door suffered the onset of vertigo and told us to “be careful” we'd mutter rude phrases onto the wall, while our sisters on the other side of the gallery, with their ears slammed against the cold Portland Stone could listen in to what was said. "Whisper, whisper, we're going to Hamleys next."

Plus St. Paul’s had a crypt. A cracking cathedral. A cathedral kids could “do” things in. Brilliant.

London. Bells and classic sounds. Domes and classic views. Should you stay or should you go? I now do both. I stay in London and listen to The Clash on your iPod. Go to St Paul’s and whisper onto the walls "HA3 9PS"... because HA3 9PS that was my house that was; 62 St Pauls Avenue, Kenton, Harrow, Middlesex. And I had the room at the back, no river view.

2 Kenton

 Childhood Home

If I was writing a coffee table travel book on "Kenton" the introductory paragraph might read:

"Kenton is edgy. Kenton is placed neatly on the petite dinner table that is England's Home Counties. If England is your holiday dinner table covered with a starched white tablecloth as crisp as cardboard, dressed with our finest silver and crystal then the ornate candlestick is mighty Nelson's Column, the flower arrangement is Hyde Park. King's Cross and Euston, the matching cruet set. Kenton, oh peripheral, peripheral Kenton. What art thou? A mere 29 minutes from Marble Arch. Right where the side plate should be. Traveller! Kenton is the prime locale on which to plonk your garlic bread."

And the book would have a picture of the Glynn’s Bakery near Gooseacre Park, with a scratch and sniff panel beside it honouring the fresh crusty granary loaf and rolls counter, that usually had a long queue in front of it every Saturday morning.
Fortunately, I have not written a coffee table book about Kenton. Nor am I about to.
Topographical Writing.

Most of the amateur travel writing I’ve come across seems to have been written by those who think they have to whack out some history about a place. They feel a need to tell us how it was worse back then and how the rich folk were repsonsible for improving everything and that it was the royalty who made things of lasting importance. They use phrases like "located on" when the word "on” would have done fine. Them’s their rules.

I can't be doing with that. I can't be doing with knee jerk tory histories and tory geographies - unless they are modern and relevant. And not tory. Therefore, and politely, I shall ask you to lob in your own dates if you need them, and I will encourage you to factor in inflation and fluctuating currency rates wherever you want a "King X did Y at a cost of Z" reference. Otherwise you'll make it seem like their peasants' work was done on the cheap.

Here we go then. Kenton; a Google Maps' no mans land somewhere between Kingsbury and Harrow.
Saxons travelled through Kenton. Saxon times is way back; before shaving, before shampoo, before toothpaste, Doc Marten shoes, denim 501s, Oxford shirts and boxers. Yonks ago. Saxons came to England from the continent. Many paused for a while around the London area before they set up more farmsteads and cleared more glades among the oak trees further north and west.
Mr Coaena, he was a Saxon. He did the emigration thing. Him, his family and their matching set of kitchen axes. Mr Coeana helped the area known as "Iss Close to London Beside ze Vembley Jah That Way" to get a name. Mr Coeana morphed into a modern day Mr Ken. The Saxon noun 'Tun'  (for 'farm') transformed into 'ton' and therefore the progression... Mr Coeana's Farm. Coeana's Farm. Coeana's Tun. Coeana's Ton. Ken’s Ton. Kenton. Bingo. Even if you struggle to concentrate through a complete BBC history programme hosted by an academically re-launched and re-wardrobed TV history professor with curly hair and a bald patch, a Simon Schama type, the linguistic leap from Coeana's Farm to Kenton is not hugely challenging. 

Some of the write-about-the-old-years fanatics would give us reason to believe that Herr Coena and his Frauleins raced their ox carts along Kenton's highways. This conclusion is based on some ropey evidence; seven half rotten wooden axles that they dug up in the summer of 1927 on Honeypot Lane. These days it's mainly 140 buses that run along Honeypot Lane. Thus in years it's possible the specie spinsters in the library will be basing their historical analyses on stainless steel hub caps and a Haynes Owner's Workshop Manuals left over from last week's car boot sale.

Not long after I left Kenton (for a adventurous life in Nottingham), the 140 bus was serving the peasant classes that could afford to wend their weary way to Heathrow Airport on the first leg on their cheap trips to Lanzarote. Many of the 140s going the other way were whisking lads and lasses off to practice their doggy paddle in Northolt Swimming Pool. Northolt was where I learnt to swim on a Sunday morning, and drink Bovril from the vending machine around Sunday lunchtime.

Kenton's 140 may not be as earthy as a rotten ox cart or as exotic as an oriental Hong Kong tram but when you you live there or a temporary Kentonian tourist tootling along Honeypot Lane I’m afraid that’s all you’re going to get.

The road featured in the photograph on the top of this page runs off Honeypot Lane. You can walk down it after you've hopped off the bus with your rolled up soggy towel with your wet trunks and goggles tucked in safely in the middle. This street is a typical Coena-tun residential "avenue" - though it is an avenue without trees. The Council's street namers lied to us. They only got round to planting trees on St Pauls Avenue after I’d upped sticks and left. Today's trees may not quite give it Champs Elysee status, but they do complement the telegraph poles. (I'm not sure if they have got round to putting the apostrophe on the street sign.)

In the far distance you can pick out the Kenton Road. The 183 bus runs along that. The 183 trips you away to Golders Green, a fabled land where Bob Monkhouse lived. My father went round to Bob's after he had been burgled. Together they had a cup of tea and then got on with fixing Bob's patio door.
There are dozens of streets like these in Kenton. I doubt you'll find any other kind. It's the only style the developers did. Standard template for the sub urban sup topian lot.

The upside to this street is that if you turn left at the end - when you get to Kenton Road - you arrive at Barn Hill.

Before venturing to further distances school pals and I used to cycle up 'Barnill' and fish its pathetic pond on her drizzle capped peak. In the chilling boredom we'd gaze for second upon second over the distant splendour of London and the suburban splat of Kenton splodged below. Try hard enough and you could even see down into Wembley Stadium through the drizzle, and occasionally on a Saturday afternoon we could hear the faint distant rumble of an evening international crowd.

Alas, my father never escorted me up Barn Hill to declaim "One day, Son, this will all be yours" as fathers are supposed. Hindsight has me believe he would have preferred I inherited the North Sea Oilfields. But you can’t see Aberdeen and the North Sea from Barn Hill. So he stopped at home and said nowt.

Aye, as I dab away the tears from my eyes, I remember that this strip of bland Kentonian tarmac, the street that lead to a majestic peak, a rue lined only by telegraph poles and paved with wonky slabs, a street perpetually shrouded in "overcast with the possibility of intermittent showers" I realise that this strip of bland was my first road travelled.

My way.
Frank Sinatra did a song about it.
Sewage Farms

In the late Georgian years rural entrepreneurs from the Midlands had their horses to haul hay barges down the Grand Union Canal from Birmingham into London. The Grand Union Canal runs fairly close to Kenton. After the barge managers supervised their oppressed wage labour peasantry offload the hay bales into London's elitist stables they made the downtrodden, and by now somewhat stinky, proletariat re-load their barges with horse dung. This was used to make even more cash for the masters on the return barge trip. They boated the previous week's hay that was now shit back up and out to London’s northern dairy farming suburbs. The more recent day Coena's living and farming there flung it over the fields in and around Kenton.
I reckon it must have stunk big time. And to think we complain about nuclear dumping off picturesque atolls in the Pacific and get concerned about radioactive Japanese tuna.

Let's fast forward (...A fast forward is where a team can skip all remaining challenges and advance to the next pit stop. There are two fast forwards in the whole of the race...) to the 1840s and the Victorians.

The Victorians had seen Kenton expand from a farming area using cattle fertilizer to being a farming area spread with farmyard shit coupled with a handy spot for London's urban explosion to discard the contents of their cleaned out septic tanks. The Victorians thus decided Kenton needed to sort out its personal freshness and waste management issues. With Protestant work ethic zeal they had built three sewage works in Kenton. That may seem a tad excessive, but who am I to question? Leave these more informed decisions to the elected experts, is what I say. Three small sizes rather than one big one. There would be reasons.

Anyway, later on, to Kenton’s deodorantal brand image rescue in came the Edwardians. It dawned on the Edwardians that three sewage plants could be a bit much, and that getting Kenton labelled as the town with three sewage plants may make it difficult to attract in wealthy businesses to pay the council's rates and poll taxes. So even though the Eds had a big job on at the time, expanding the Empire and filming the Series 3 and 4 of Downton Abbey they transformed two of Kenton's sewage processing works into recreation grounds.

Recreation and outdoor life for the young was all the thing in the Edwardian era. Kids or at least the lads, like me, were encouraged to use parks and sports grounds so we would grow healthy, team sporty and strong. Edwardian Kentonians had to grow up without bandy legs or squiffy backs and the right mental attitude. With strong, manly bodies we would be able to fight tough and rough when recruited for any upcoming barny.

After a right royal massive kick off between 1914 and 1918 some of the toffs decided the returning soldiers deserved "Homes for Heroes". But these were "council houses" and to be public rented accommodation. These were not seen as appropriate for the lower middle classes who worked in offices rather than clearing oak glades, shoveling hay and shit or shooting the oppo from a trench. The lower middle classes needed homes of their own. To own.

Throughout the post war 1920s and 1930s, the Metropolitan Railway’s housing developers leapt on the Victorians attention to fragrance and the Edwardian's dedication to recreation and physical development and went berserk building the Dun Roamin style houses you see in the photo. These speculative private housing estates sprouted all over the fields and woods between Honeypot Lane and Kenton Road. It made them developers pots of money as it did the railway who were selling season tickets for the daily commuters. Over 55,000 people moved in during the first wave. Back then Edwards sold an end of terraced bay window "semi" for 785 pounds - with a 50 pound deposit. These days the same house would sell for 400,000 pounds plus.
In 1965 my family rolled in. My folks were enticed in back then because they knew Kenton didn't smell quite so bad as other places but form y folks it was because St Paul's Avenue was close to the Hendon Police Cadet College yet not too close to the patch my dad would patrol. Issues of which I did not give one toss. What mattered to me was that my recreation ground of choice, Queensbury Park aka Queensbury Rec, was five minutes walk away if you used to shortcut over the "sewer" (stream) behind the houses on the other side of the road.

Queensbury Rec had football pitches, ponds, neat flower beds, a pavilion for the vandals to graffiti and a cosy chalet for the park keepers to brew their tea in and for us to smoke long brown cigarettes behind (Mores?) and scan Graham Jackson's dad's dirty mags that Graham had nicked out his dad's wardrobe. Queensbury Rec had been the first of the Kentonian Sewage Farm Triptych and it sits proudly off the right edge of that picture up top (the Rec is behind you if you can pretend you are holding the camera).

I played my first game of "we've got a referee what knows all the rules" football on the Recs muddy pitch. In my new boots, gold shorts, gold socks (don't forget the shin pads), blue shirt and an old pair of underpants I performed as a solid hard working centre back for the 4th Kenton cubs team. A few years earlier Stuart Pearce had lashed a ball about on the same pitch, and bitten opposing forwards' legs in the process. For those in the know, Stuart played 78 times for England. He was "well hard" and from an even well harder part of Kenton we tended to avoid. But I reckon Douglas Bader may have caused Pearce's tackling style a problem or two.

You can still belt a ball about at Queensbury Rec today, if that is your wont ...and if no one else is on the pitch.

You can also be posh and play tennis on one of the two tarmac courts that run along the park fence - next to the playground with the Witches Hat (before the Witches Hat was banned for being too dangerous). All the girlies and the blokes trying to chat up the girlies played tennis for the three weeks after Wimbledon. Then no one bothered playing tennis and snogging and got back to playing football with their real mates.

I was told the tennis court nets sometimes sagged too much, no doubt do they still do today. Hang in and go with it. Use the little winder thing on the side of the post to tighten them up. Or wedge a stick up the middle of the net. I am sure you'll have a grand time pretending you're Ile Nastase or Yvonne Goolagong.

And now I must wrap up my introduction to Kenton.

Kenton was a fine home in my early years. She was a splendid side dish to the distant maincourse of London. Oh Sweet Odorous Kenton. Grade A fertilizer for my young mind and body. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

1 Finchley

 Everyone has to start somewhere

Convention dictates that the place where you're born should hold some meaning to you.  To disregard, let alone dispute, this rule could mean you end up featured and analysed in an Albert Camus novel. Therefore, people think that Finchley is an important place for me simply because I was born in it.

Whether Finchley really is important to me or whether Finchley is just an echoing void spiraling in the spiritual wastes of my universe is an irrelevance. I will talk of Finchley because that is what society dictates. Because Finchley is my place of birth if ever I become 'memorable' I will always be in danger of ending up dead and 'biographised' on a Wikipedia page - forever hyperlinked to Margaret Thatcher. Because Finchley was Maggie's electoral constituency.

I hope that worries you too. On an upsetting blue evening in 1979 Margaret stood on the front balcony of Finchley Town Hall and blasphemed a few lines from Francis of Assisi. And in that moment she seared her Finchleyness into Hansard, as my mother had seared my Finchleyness, fifteen years earlier, into the Victoria Maternity Hospital's daily ledger a few miles up the Wood Street road.

I entered Finchley in June 1964. That date is exactly nine months after my sister's third birthday. I need not comment on what my folks were getting up to after they had cleared away the left over party cake and scraped the jelly off the walls. If not downright rude it will be me asking for a clip around the ear should we ever be reunited in an after life. Anyway, one full term later and my mum was paying the price.

Fully dilated and out as quick as a rat leaping from a drainpipe in a tropical rainstorm, so the family story says, I'd taken a good look at what was to come long before the midwife had got me and Tozz in from the corridor. Maybe I couldn't wait for a leg stretch and a healthy breath of fresh air. After nine months curled in the foetal position with me thumb shoved in my gob I was no doubt rather bored. Through the cervix,  "cabin doors to manual" and nothing to pick up at baggage carousel.

Thrown into the world I was on that June 1964 day. Heaved out into the summer in a Sartrean tumble. Into Finchley. Condemned to a North London freedom. Bundled up into a stranger's arms and whipped away to the ward. Truly absurd.

Within minutes they realized my first claim to fame.

I was born straight after Richard Baker's - the BBC news reader - son. Same delivery suite. Yep. Me and him were snoozing when the dad's were allowed in; both of us in adjacent cots. How good is that? My Mum may have even have had her feet in the same stirrups that Mrs. Richard Baker had stuck hers. Oh yes. This image made watching television news roundups over the next 18 years rather more personal and a tad more relevant for me than it was for the normal Joe Blow. Whenever Richard Baker was on... I was there, back in Finchley.

Next day, June 9th, it was farewell to my gurgling mate Richard Baker Jnr. After some cine films out the front I was "off home". My Uncle Doug drove us in his Morris Minor. Off to the police flats at Clandon Gardens, Finchley, Barnet, U.K. Europe, World, Solar System, Galaxy, Universe. N3 3BD.

Now. The official United Kingdom kiddie counters had decided that 'Finchley' wasn't sufficiently grand for birth certificates and the census records. and seeing that the gray suited beaurocrats didn't allow the complete Europe, World, Solar System, Galaxy, Universe thing on their forms, they just upped Finchley a level, to 'Barnet'.

Barnet's what is printed as my birth place in my passport and Barnet's what I've penned onto hundreds of forms ever since. Barnet, UK. June 1964. It's my only geography they want to know.

Truth be told, I can't remember much about Barnet and 1964. Dribbling on and drooling over Barnet was about as much as I could manage. Therefore when I write about my Barnet I have to refer to the memories and tales handed down by others. And I believe them. I believe by using the same reasoned, historical and geographical trust that I use when watching re-runs of the 1969 lunar landings. I know, as does any other sane human being, that Neil's small giant steps were not plodded onto a fake surface in a studio round the back of Cape Canaveral. I know Rome was not built in a day. And I am sure that my post Darwin world was not created in seven by some bloke with a beard.

Finchley, Barnet, U.K, me. It happened. It is written. On my passport.

But. However. And another similar word from the thesaurus. If 'Barnet UK' had instead been somewhere weird and tribal, far and distant, like for example, 'Barnet Australia', then my inherited memories of and personal attachment to Finchley could now be all so different.

If I had been born in 'Barnet, Somewhere Outback and Parched' I could lark about and tell you some ethnic non sense and toss out some touchy feely Lonely Planet type tales. I could tap into the deep, rich, mysterious, Finchley 'dreamspaces' of days gone by. At the very least I could pretend to. I would have a decent reason for getting a tattoo on my bum and an alligator bone shoved through my nose.

While sitting inked on and boned up under a twisted Australian outback tree I would 'see' (with my ethnic Finchley eye) that the space bordering the flank of the mighty North Circular Road wasn't built up with police flats. Finchley borns, and only us Finchley borns, would see an icecap where others would think there was the housing estate. Because a million years ago there once was. And only us bonded-through-birth-with-the-dust-of-North-London would know that in the back gardens of those sold off philanthropic homes lived Glug the mysterious Glacier God.

If I was a Finchelyian where Finchley was in Deepest Mongolia I could join with other Finchleyians and sing of my group legends; those related to the delivery grounds of Wallolloollooobedoo; the epidural places where our ancestral foremothers rode and screamed on the Crystal Swan Birthing Chair.

If my records said "Finchley, Somewhere Far Eastern" I might be allowed to witter, with subtitles, on a National Geographic "TV Special" about emerging as a poppy seed. How I, like my brothers, was gobbed out from the gaping mouth of the Golden Gemini Dragon, the pink one on the left of the pair, the one who defends the Divine Emperor's gateway to the hell that is Yong, up in the barren expanses of the snowy north west.

I could go on, after the irritating advertising break, about how my seed was dropped into the moist soils of the Pingowan Forest. I could give you the skinny on how my seed was widdled on by a passing brown bear and how I flourished and grew into a wise opium tree. Then, because I had a low hanging branch pruned with a silver axe forged in the furnaces of Zwog, by the lad next door, I morphed into the Great Green Monkey Demon of Ping.

But no. Sorry. There's not a chance of any of that. Not with being born straight after Richard Baker Jnr. in Finchley / Barnet UK in 1964 there isn't.

Instead... for me, what usually happens after the probing conversation starter at smarmy dinner parties is this,

"Well hello Ian and how very nice to meet you. Ian, tell me (eye contact eye contact smiley face)where are you from?"

Emerging in Finchley, Barnet, UK means that all you get is

"Well, Barbara, I'm from Finchley. Finchley in Barnet."

...and then there's that embarrassing pause. I've suffered this pause for over thirty years of eating with potential friends. I've got mates from Ascot, Sydney, Paris, Oxford. There's never an issue with them. Me... Finchley. Fortunately it's not long before someone else chips in to help out,

"Finchley, Babs. It's near IKEA. You know. They do a lovely Swedish meatball."

In summary, my Finchley, in my Barnet, in my UK Barnet is an IKEAn epicenter, a Conservative Party ash heap from where a Thatcherite phoenix arose. Finchley is the populated space on the map without a mythical fairytale.... because Finchley, My Finchley, doesn't have any mythical gods or spatial fluff going for it.

Finchley to me it is just is what it was. Writing on a passport and family album photos without the memories.

Right. Okay. That's the "who we are, where and when froms" out of the way.  Now for life's bigger and more stimulating questions,

"Where are we going?"

"How much time off work have we got?"

"Who's got the spending money ?"
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i. Introduction


It was a humid, rainy season day in Thailand and the drum towers were striking seven.

Me? Kind of you to ask.  I'm currently occupied with the challenging and stimulating years that lie between birth and death. So far so good. Truth be told, I'm a lucky so and so. Every day I catch a few more of the world's absurdities. Often I find myself having a chortle at the lighter side of the planet's wonkiness and as the years roll by I gain a little more confidence and get to grips with many of Mrs. Earth's intricacies and foibles. Though there's a fair few that I am leaving right alone.

What's going on here in these writings is that I am remembering some of those mad bits and many of the straight forward things now times have passed and spaces have become distant.

I'm putting down my thoughts about my traveled to places. I'm remembering as if I'm holding a dinner party - and you're in here with me noshing on a geographical amuse bouches. As the host I'm the one igniting the conversations.

"Clifford. Clifford, have you met Barbara? No? Well Clifford, this is Barbara. And Barbara, this is Clifford. Barbara's been known to balance sliced caramelised strawberries on her kneecaps at charity events for the British Red Cross in the Sudan, you know. She has more talents, but let me allow Barbara to talk with you regarding those. Oh, refills."

Then I quietly retreat, leaving Clifford and Barbara to it.

Except for Barbara you may get Pyongyang, or Havana, or Phnom Penh, Great Yarmouth, Norwich, Kingsbury or loads of options. And your name probably isn't Clifford.

Experiential place introductions. Stories and chats. That's what I'm into. Yes, yes, oh oh Meg Ryan in a diner yes, yes, yes. The places I've met and the trail I've met them on.

I'll start with my birth in Finchley in north west London. Then it will be off through my growing years in the Home Counties of South East England. Through early adulthood and Europe, then Africa and also get East Asia. I'm now aging in Thailand and popping in and out of the Middle East and the Americas - you'll get those as well.  And other topophilic spots. Lots. Through three hundred memorable places we'll waltz the fifty plus countries and seven continents I've visited in a muted tango of excitement. We can dance together chronologically, as best as a chubby six foot four bloke can.

But, hey, you know what it's like when you listen to an album on your iPod. These writings will probably end up like that. You hear one song and you're off thinking about another on a different album. And you can't listen to that next song without thinking of the other version, or the live performance or the extended mix when someone else did it. In the past a D90 cassette lead us in one direction. Now we've got musical anarchy on our 'Walkmans'. Nowadays I've found I can rarely can get through Rachmaninov's Brief Encounter without having to hit the theme for Breakfast at Tiffanys, then whisk away into another New York mind space, or a Dustin Hoffman movie scene, or a De Niro Streep Redford hopscotch and before I know it I am in Out of Africa. English train station, Fifth Avenue and Kenya - all in under fifteen minutes.

Lord knows where the tunes will end up by the time my whisky's run out. Aye. This blog might become like that; all my places stored somewhere on the menu, but sometimes pulled in out of synch in a structureless, Foucault-esque memory twiddle.

But first. I should do the niceties. I should offer up some of me so you know what you're going to get and from who.

It was my Auntie Violet that taught me these polite manners. I'd like to think that she taught me well. She showed me that introductions and a display of trust for the person you're chatting with is pretty important to set the relationship running in the right direction.

"Give me a boy until the age of seven and I will show you the man" someone once said. That may have been my Uncle Doug (Auntie Vi's husband), but I doubt it. Whoever it was that said it I think they were referring to Shakespeare. Or possibly it was Shakespeare himself.

But I couldn't get my hands on stuff about me to the age of seven. All I could edit together was some shaky old cine film footage of me to about the age of four. Therefore, could I suggest an updated sociological mantra... "Give me a toddler's home movies until the age of four and you'll get a pretty fair idea about the boy of seven."

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