Thursday, 30 November 2017

#328 Less than impressive, less than impressed.

7pm. Crystal Palace. I walked along the rather modest parade of shops. One cafe, some cheap fast food outlets, a laundrette. A couple of corner shops that weren't on corners. Newsagents. That was the word. They were newsagents. That was about it. Hold on. Was that really about it? The station had six platforms.This was supposed to be Crystal Palace. Where was the rest of it? Maybe there were other parts elsewhere.

If I was going to find a new home, I was really really going to have to start showing an interest in some places. The sleep thing had become so important though. I couldn't bring myself to compromise. Vera seemed like an amazing landlord. Friendly. Tidy but not obsessive. There was a drawback though. She got up at 5:45am. My room would've been right next to the bathroom. I didn't feel like waking up at 5:45am every day. It would drive me bonkers. Maybe. So I declined.

Was I supposed to be learning something here? Would I eventually have to resign myself to a zombie-like existence, plodding my way through life like some exhausted tramp? Would I have to start taking sleeping pills? Or get hypnosis to be able to snooze through background noise? Or take a risk and hope that one of these houses would be ok, sign a contract and move all my stuff knowing full well that I might hate my new accommodation? Was that what it would take to finally make a decision and start getting on with life?

Speaking of getting on with life, I'd been accused of some hypocrisy lately. Apparently I claimed to take an interest in personal development but never really developed myself much. It was an interesting claim, I mean on one hand they were entitled to their opinion. Why wasn't I making more progress? Quite. Good point. Guilty as charged.

On the other hand, this person had only known me for a year. What did they expect, that I'd turn into Bill Gates? During the past five years, I'd ran a marathon, improved my diet, started dating, written a book, become more vocal, had a short relationship, left my job, seen a therapist and a coach and started volunteering. The five years before that? I never did anything. Sure, I was more sociable and perhaps less cynical back then but I was also very quiet and never did anything other than play videogames and stand around in pubs.

Sure, the effects of therapy on my overall attitude toward life were at best slow-burning and at worst non-existent but guess what? Real personal change is very difficult and can take years. Apparently. That's if the person even wants to change. Setting my sights on getting back to work felt like enough for the time being. Improving my relationships was a nice thought but when and how and why? I was spending most of my time arranging and attending room viewings. There's no such thing as bad feedback though. It seemed worth giving the accusation some further thought.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

#327 Further west

10pm. The train back from Barnes to Waterloo. I'd first taken this line back in 2006 to attend a house party in Syon Lane. It seemed very exotic at the time. Who were these strange people, living such a vast distance from the city? What time did they set their alarms for? How much were their train fares? Now, I risked becoming one of them. I was looking further out.

A month had passed since I'd started searching for a new room. I'd messaged pretty much every advert within zone two. My body had become more used to sleeping from 3am until 11am but I was fed up and irritable.

Air B&B had seemed like a realistic alternative but during the last 48 hours, I'd more or less abandoned the idea. It had dawned on me that living out of a suitcase without knowing where the next booking would be was actually quite scary.

For three days now, I'd commuted to The Barbican and sat trying to pretend that the high ceilings and colourful lighting made me feel better. Meanwhile, I'd been spamming messages to dozens of room advertisers. I'd started to get rude with the ones who replied without properly reading mine.

In theory, I could carry on like this for a long time. There'd be more adverts to apply to. I could take my time. Why compromise and risk being somewhere else I didn't like? Because I felt stressed out every day and risked becoming ill. Because I'd been messaging solidly for three days and this was the only viewing I had arranged. Because I continued to hemorrhage cash that I'd spent ten years saving and might never make back. Because in the heat of the rental market's competition, if I really wanted to find somewhere, I might have to.

Yet I still didn't want to. I got offered the room in Barnes tonight. Inexplicably quickly. Without meeting three of the housemates. This was all completely commonplace. I couldn't bring myself to do it though. To move in with just anyone, at short notice. Near-impossible as the odds of finding somewhere seemed, I would keep searching and searching. My discontent and frustration would get worse before they got better.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

#326 Sunday night

10:40pm. The Barbican. I'd trekked out to this concrete fortress yesterday and today for a change of scene. Too stubborn to take more than one tube line, I'd decided to walk from Southwark. At least there was a KFC en route.

The room search had been going badly. During the past three days, I'd messaged 27 adverts and still didn't have any viewings lined up. In an effort to make it rain, I'd broadened my range, as well as my criteria. Maybe tomorrow, I'd get a few responses.

With no better options and nothing else to do with my time, I decided to press on with the search during the coming week. If I stayed open-minded, I could probably continue to find new rooms to enquire about every day although it was getting harder.

They'd just announced the closure of the section I was sitting in. It wasn't worth trying to find a plug socket on the ground floor for the last twenty minutes, so I packed up and headed out into the cold.

My housemates use of the kitchen after 11pm now wound me up so much that my latest strategy was to try and be out of the house while they might be in there. To this end, I'd been killing large chunks of time at night. I walked slowly over to Liverpool Street and sat in the station playing with my phone for a while. I then caught the central line to Stratford, changed to the Jubilee, and took it back to Canary Wharf.

I spent another fifteen minutes walking around the shopping centre. It was now midnight. If I stayed indoors any longer, I knew security would move me on, so I left the building and found an outside walkway with a roof. I walked halfway along it and sat on the concrete floor shivering for twenty minutes. It took another ten to walk home.

I'd been aiming to stay out until 1am but 12:30 would have to suffice. Fortunately everyone was upstairs and Miguel was already home. If I was lucky and there wasn't too much noise the following morning, I'd have enough energy to return to The Barbican. Or elsewhere. It did me good to get out of the house. I wondered how long it would be before I could leave for good.

Monday, 27 November 2017

#325 The Air B&B testing phase

11:30pm. The Ledger Building. Poplar. I am in Brockley right now. At least according to my itinerary. That's why I'm calling this my Air B&B testing phase. I'd turned up at tonight's room to find it was next to a busy road.

I stayed there for forty minutes, mostly trying to get internet access. I then left the key on the bed and walked out. I sent the host a polite message explaining the departure in terms of my sensitivity to noise. I hoped she wouldn't take it too personally.

I now had two nights at home to look forward to. If I was lucky, Miguel would return to the house by 1am and the boys would already be upstairs, so I could chill out for a change. I'd been continuing to watch The Tudors on Hetal's recommendation. Every time I saw the opening credits, I was surprised at how overtly smutty they were, even though I'd seen them half a dozen times.

As a teenager, history had been my third favourite subject even without Netflix's dramatisation. Mind you, we did watch Gladiator at one point. That took up three lessons. I'm not sure the teacher had realised how long it was when he let us choose it.

Two nights in that house. On the one hand, I was looking forward to trying out more B&Bs the following week. On the other, the thought of living in so many different places was almost as unsettling as staying put. Maximus had left his job and his house. He'd never made it back to either. That was hardly the point though. He had no choice. For a time, he'd survived and even done coped well in his new life away from his rightful home. By the end of the coming week, I'd have a better idea what that felt like. Hopefully I wouldn't have to fight anyone in the process.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

#324 The power of King Solomon

"Aaaaaaaaaargh!" This is how I was greeted as I opened the door to the house near Camden Road. My host ran past me into the bedroom, threw the TV remote behind the bed and jumped up onto it. As he bounced up and down, a woman appeared and explained that the boy wasn't normally like that.

"Yes" I thought to myself "perhaps on Wednesdays he behaves like Rory McIlroy and at weekends like an Amazonian two-toed sloth". Or perhaps he was two years old and behaved like that the whole goddamn time.

If little Solomon did have any other operating modes, he certainly wasn't showcasing them for guests. His continuous screaming made it almost impossible to have a normal conversation. At one point, the mother started screaming at the child, during which time the child stopped screaming. Then when she stopped screaming, he started howling, which was just as disruptive.

To be fair to Solomon, his language was much cleaner than my housemate's boyfriend's. The woman assured me that her little darling's bedtime was early enough that his volume would never prevent me from getting to sleep myself, however she commendably admitted that he liked to get up at six or thereabouts. I was looking for somewhere quiet, not the opportunity to dispose of my alarm clock. I thanked Solomon and his parent for their tour and walked away muttering to myself.

"No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no."

Saturday, 25 November 2017

#323 Seventeen stops

12:15pm. Ideas Store. The wharf. Everything seemed different. I wasn't groggy. I wasn't glum. I had the energy to walk at my usual pace. My appetite was back.

Sleep deprivation can have some bizarre short-term side effects. Earlier in the week, someone had approached me in a coffee shop to ask what the matter was, simply because of how I looked. I told them fairly bluntly that they'd been reading me wrong. That was fun. A part of me actually quite likes confronting people. Occasionally.

Luisa told me last week it was like I expected everyone to read my mind. "Not read my mind" I said "Just to read me". It was a clever comeback, I thought but how true it was, I wasn't sure. Did I expect too much of people?

I had practically bounced out of the house and along to the tube station earlier. I'd not been sure what to do with the key. Not wanting to leave it in the room unattended, I'd carried it with me down to the front door, hoping to bump into Zafar. An older gentleman approached me. I squinted at him. "I'm going to assume that you're someone I can give this key to" I told him, placing it in his hand. He asked if I was going to catch a flight. "I'm heading to the Isle of Dogs." "Do you know where you're going?" "Seventeen stops south." He seemed satisfied.

I'd written a note to my host thanking him for his troubles and commenting briefly on the venue I'd eaten at the night before. There's only so much you can say about a kebab house but the pita bread had been particularly fluffy so I decided it was worth a mention. If I got to the host before he wrote his guest review, he'd be twice as likely to give me good feedback, which might come in useful. I was already wondering where I'd stay the next time I used the app.

Friday, 24 November 2017

#322 Ready or not

10:30pm. Some guy named Zafar's house. Neasden. I was now a refugee. Twenty-four hours ago, I'd been supping E14's cheapest pint, banking on a decent night of shut-eye. All had been going to plan until 3:30am when Miguel returned home, slamming the front door and proceeding to the kitchen. I was livid. It was the third time he'd done this recently. He went to bed shortly after. My anger kept me awake until 7am.

I'd never used Air B&B before. Stuart had suggested it when I'd asked about ways to find a room on Facebook a couple of weeks back. It seemed pretty straightforward. I'd had a browse and found places that were the equivalent of what I was paying in rent, so I'd decided to test one of them for a night.

Zafar was a twenty-three year old accountant, who had shared the house with his sister. When she'd got married and moved out, he began renting the rooms out to guests. He was an amiable sort of chap and kind enough to give me a lift into town to find food. I was just glad he existed. After rocking up, ringing the doorbell three times and trying his phone, I'd been wondering if his ad was a scam. I'd thought about returning home, except it was practically inhospitable and seventeen tube stops away. So I waited. After a few minutes, I got a call saying he was on his way.

I'd come straight from a room viewing in Balham and had managed to make the journey in just over an hour. The tenants at the viewing had been absolute darlings. Having walked up their road and found the house, I'd noticed that all the lights were off. Puzzled, I'd asked a stranger to confirm the street name. They'd said I was on the wrong road.

I went mad for fifteen minutes, walking around in circles, trying to find it. It seemed to have vanished. Exhausted and low on patience, I decided to give up and started walking back to the station. The tenants sent a stream of texts to try to help. On the way, I walked back past the beginning of the road I had taken. It had been the right one after all. I walked back up it and found the house number. The lights were on now. They showed me around and we had a proper chat. It was one of the few suitable houses I'd seen.

There were good places to live. I just had to be patient. In the meantime, I had wi-fi, an en-suite bathroom and somewhere to sleep. In Neasden.



Thursday, 23 November 2017

#321 The Road Traveled By Hetal

10:45pm. Wetherspoons. Poplar. I'd been intending to write some installment about the room search or the kitchen noise or whatever but recent conversations had interjected, which was fine. That happened. What it meant was that I might need to make it a spliced post.

The Ledger Building wasn't the worst place to escape to. It was warm. It had a Christmas tree and 568 mils of IPA was only two seventy-five. In London. Sitting there from somewhere around eleven until midnight was part of my latest cunning plan to evade restlessness. I couldn't be irritated about not being able to sleep if I wasn't trying to and where better not to try to sleep than the pub?

I needed alcohol anyway to deal with the discussion I'd just had with my ex about whether or not I should continue seeing Luisa. She had certainly put a lot of care into making her point. I'd say one thing for Hetal, she didn't do things by halves. Why was she doing it at all though?

To be fair, she might have had a reasonable enough viewpoint and was doing her best to explain it maturely. I really struggled with it though. I felt like I didn't know how to bring my own feelings into the conversation. Was she talking with too much conviction, or was I not doing enough to represent myself? I went back to the email, she'd sent, read it through once more and started drafting a response.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

#320 Adam and Lily's place

3:30pm. Some coffee shop in the underground mall at Canary Wharf. I'd just spent the last couple of minutes noisily swapping tables with the one next to me by dragging them around the floor Men In Black style. Only to find out it was the floor that had the wobble.

Of all the stupid ways in which I still waste money despite not having an income, unlimited data is perhaps my favourite. I see my ability to tether pretty much anywhere without having to worry about wifi networks and passwords as a significant personal freedom. One that Virgin keep trying to snatch back because they will never again offer it at the price I paid. Over my dead body. Or until they decide my custom isn't worth it anymore. I'd give it another year or two before they reach that conclusion.

The coffee shop had been Sarah's idea. Mix it up. Write somewhere new. I said to her "Listen missy, I've written all over this city, there isn't anywhere I haven't written before." At least I would have if my memory was better. As it was though, technically I couldn't remember if I'd written an actual blog post in an actual coffee shop before so I decided to go along with it. The idea was that I get out of the house more, which was fair enough.

I do actually quite like coffee. This might come as a surprise to some people. Mostly because when offered it, I always say "No, I don't really like coffee." That fact is, I'll drink some decaf now and then and quite enjoy it but at a day-to-day level, honestly who can be bothered?

I was in between viewings. This morning it had been the residence of Adam and Lily. What a beautiful residence it was. I don't know styles but I'd compare it to the images that come to mind when reading about the old house in The Borrowers. A very fitting setting for a transitional period in a person's life. 

Lily made rules. She could enforce them too. No use of the kitchen after 11pm or before 6am. No excessive noise that disturbs the other housemates. No leaving the kitchen in a state less than completely clean. I kid you not, this place was the exact opposite of my current digs and I could have planted a smacker on each of its owners for it. There was a teensy-weensy niggle though.

Lily let the other room out to Air B&B guests. What that meant, was that I could be sharing a bathroom with different people every week and if they wanted to occupy the bathroom between 7am and 8am and I didn't get there first, I'd be stuck having to go to work without a shower. It wasn't exactly appealing. 

That wasn't all. Lily was currently letting her mother stay on the guest floor too. That meant I'd be competing with three other people for a narrow window of bathroom time. Two of whom I didn't even know. A less fussy tenant might decide that they'd simply get up early and hope for the best. I was not that tenant. I turned into a demonic monster if I couldn't shower in the morning. I'd be frothing and fuming almost as much as I was in my current abode. 

Once again my aim of finding accommodation where I could meet my fellow occupants and be assured that their routines wouldn't interrupt mine seemed almost unrealistic. For a while, I wasn't sure whether to show interest or not. I decided not to.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

#319 The three mile radius

The past few times I'd searched for rooms, I'd had The Tudors playing in the corner. I found it entertaining but not so gripping that it distracted me. Hetal had suggested it and Hetal hardly ever watched TV shows, so I figured when she made a recommendation, it was worth a look.

I had to pause the show when I needed to concentrate. To respond to a message or to personalise one. Then I'd resume it again. Like a spoonful of sugar, its accompaniment to the chore of browsing through adverts made the process a smidge more bearable. Plus I was learning some history. At least, the Netflix version of it.

The viewings themselves were a chance to work on my diplomacy. When I wasn't interested in a place, I found that I could usually give a polite explanation. The landlords were never in want of potential tenants, so there was no risk of upsetting them, providing I was courteous.

I'd already been to several parts of South London that I'd never seen before. Tulse Hill. Crofton Park. Brockley. In my running days, I used to occasionally discover new areas but most of the time I'd stuck to laps of the park. I once ran around Peckham Rye nine times in a row. It took me three hours. There were so many other places I could have visited.

When I was in a new area, I tried to buy food there, or at least walk the length of the high street to get to know it better. Sometimes I'd learn that one place bordered another, so I'd walk between the two instead of catching the train right away, to help build up a picture of where I was.

In the grand scheme of things, the benefits gained from these excursions into other territories were negligible. I'd probably never need to visit Tulse Hill again or Nunhead or West Dulwich but the observable differences and connections between these nowhere-places probably helped to maintain my sanity and were enough to bring a small feeling of exploration to my search.

Monday, 20 November 2017

#318 The latest details

After getting back from Kent on Thursday, I spoke to Bruno. He worked en route back to the house from the station and when neither one of was was preoccupied, we said hi. He was understanding about my lack of sleep and since then, he and Alex hadn't had dinner later than midnight. He'd probably never know that I'd rather it was 11pm but midnight was better than nothing.

My body was still adjusting from my attempt to shift my sleep hours to between 2am and 10am. After the chat with Bruno, I decided to shift it back to as near to midnight as I could get it. By that point, though I wasn't feeling tired until 2 and my eyes tended to open at whatever time they felt like, which ranged between about 8 and 10. If the regularity of Bruno and Alex's eating times was sustained, I could probably fall into a reliable pattern myself. There was still one problem though, Miguel.

Miguel had moved into the house several weeks ago and couldn't speak any English. Don't ask me why I didn't try to veto the move. It was stupid of me. I might have felt that since Bruno had done all the work in filling the room, I should let him go along with whoever he chose. My apathy hadn't done me any favours. I had no idea what the guy did for a living, or what his routines were. For the past two nights, I'd heard him come home after 1am. I wanted desperately for that to be just a weekend thing. Maybe he'd been out drinking with friends. I knew that might not be the case though. What if he worked late every night?

It was coming up to 10pm on Sunday. Twice already, I'd heard the door, waited for footsteps to head upstairs and then walked outside to check if his light had come on. The first time, it was just the Czech girl. The second was Alex. Miguel was still out there somewhere. I'd go to bed, praying for enough quiet to switch my brain off and then I'd hear him come home and start boiling eggs or toasting cheese. I'd messaged sixteen advertisers this weekend and had arranged four viewings for the coming week. I'd keep at it in the hope of setting more up. 

I had to get out of this place. I just had to. For the time being though, I had no choice but to wait it out. I'd load up the earplugs and the headphones, read a book for an hour or so and hope that I woke up the next day with enough energy to attend the viewings.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

#317 Remembering weekends

Today I resumed the room search. With it being a weekend, I decided I should build some leisure time into my schedule, so I took a stack of old books that I didn't read anymore and carried them to the Oxfam bookshop over in Greenwich.

I miss the weekends I had when I was about twenty-three. They were probably the best. Actually that's not true, I had some good ones in my late twenties too but at twenty-three they were more innocent.

Work was hard but it wasn't so hard that I'd be catatonic about it for two days. I'd just bought a 42" plasma, which was way too big for my room. I'd hooked it up to my speakers and at weekends, I'd come home and just play Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas for hours.

At lunchtime, I'd pause and walk into town for a McDonald's, back when Sevenoaks still had one. Then, in the evening I'd go to the pub with my two friends Jim and Kev. We might see some girls there, I'd have a shot or two and four or five pints, two of which I'd down because Jim would penny me and then I'd probably go and get a kebab afterwards.

I'd spend all of Sunday playing GTA . Mum might have cooked a roast and if she hadn't, I'd probably microwave one of those Birdseye beef dinners, with that little Yorkshire pudding that was always way too chewy because no matter how hard they tried, they could never really design a Yorkshire pudding suitable for microwaving.

It's hard to imagine being able to have a weekend that good ever again.

Ok that's not true either, I'm sure it'd be possible to imitate it but it's not the norm anymore.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

#316 Room ads and Jalapeños

Friday, 10:22am. I pulled back the covers and got up. I'd been semi-awake for about forty minutes but that was just a guess. It felt like I'd had less than eight hours. Bruno and Alex had courteously gone upstairs at four minutes past midnight. It had taken me another two hours to get to sleep. Proof that my difficulty in doing so hadn't all been down to their routines.

I put some socks on and walked back across the surface of the bed, banging my head on the light as usual and pulled back a section of one of the curtains, along with the two double duvets I'd hung over the curtain rail to keep the light out. After pulling back the collection of sheets just enough for the mid-morning rays to reach my two plants, I wedged the remaining parts of the duvets into the rail with an old T-Shirt. I then walked carefully back across the bed, grabbed a towel and my toothbrush and headed for the shower.

If I had to say what had inspired me to shower this morning and get dressed straight away like a responsible adult, rather than lounging around checking emails and uploading the blog post first like I often did, I'd attribute it to the couple of days I'd spent chilling in Kent. Or maybe watching The Martian the night before. Seeing Matt Damon surgically remove shrapnel from his own torso after being left for dead on Mars helped put my own circumstances into perspective.

I took a ten minute walk along the Thames. Made sure I ate a proper breakfast (cereal and toast), then opened up the laptop. It'd been three weeks since I'd started looking at rooms and not much else. I'd messaged seventy-five advertisers so far and had a hit rate of about one in ten. I'd been to eight viewings, half of which I'd shown an interest in. I estimated my odds of success in any one viewing at between one in ten and one in twenty. I could make that work.

I spent the next few hours looking for suitable places and messaging. A break for lunch. Periodic checking of my phone to exchange a message, or check one of the half-dozen Scrabble games I had on the go. As for what I'd do if I couldn't move, I had two options. Try and work from here and then move, or head back to Kent and work from there and then move. I wasn't quite at that point yet though.

During the course of the day, I identified eight rooms and wrote to the advertiser of each one. Two came back offering viewings. I could replicate that behavior every day this week with a view to seeing ten places. I could do the same next week if necessary. That would give me a fair chance. Fewer people would be moving out over Christmas but fewer people would be looking to move too. Dates didn't matter to me. I could sign tomorrow if I found somewhere. Sell some possessions. Bag up the rest and get out of here.

On my last night in Canary Wharf, I'd take myself out for a pizza. I'd done the same on my first night here. I remember standing outside Pizza Express painfully deliberating for a full ten minutes over whether to eat there or not. This time there would be no deliberation. When I found somewhere new, I was going to celebrate. It would be a milestone. A step on the critical path. Towards what exactly, I still wasn't sure.

Friday, 17 November 2017

#315 The day I tried to pass

There'd definitely be a market for it. The first few films made a killing. Plus, it wouldn't require all of the characters to return, only some. So the budget would be cheaper. It's important to understand the consequences of one of history's greatest stories, not just for the hero and his friends but for all of Middle Earth and that's why I think a Lord of the Rings film should be made from the Balrog's perspective.

Winter in mountain country. Off goes my demon alarm clock. I get out of my Balrog bed, brush my Balrog teeth and eat some fire for breakfast, with a glass of lava. It looks like it's going to be a lovely day.

Life is pleasant here in this deep place of the world. At fifty kajillion years old, I don't go outside much anymore but I have my little den and my underground rock garden. I spend time rehearsing my roar, which is coming on leaps and bounds. My balance isn't what it used to be but I can still crack a whip when I need to.

The goblins bother me. I have to keep scaring them off and I worry that one day they'll become too strong for me. Still, it could be worse. Most of my demon friends have passed on. You have to be grateful, don't you?

Hey! What's that I just heard? It sounded like the voice of a Wizard! I'm so excited. I've not had any guests around here for a long time. I'm going to go and see if he wants to make friends with me.


Thursday, 16 November 2017

#314 Visiting what's left of Bob Ranson

Would you like to come and visit grandad?
There's plenty of room in our car
If we leave right now, we'll arrive before lunch
He might not remember who you are.

Grandad! he's our grandad!
Even though he doesn't have a clue
If we leave right now, we'll arrive before lunch
That's what families do.

How's everything with grandad?
Are his trousers on the right way?
Is he mad as an ape? Has he tried to escape?
Is he picking a fight with the gay?

Grandad! he's our grandad!
He's a crazy homophobic old man
But we love him still, though he's mentally ill
And we do whatever we can

Everything's ok with grandad
Though he isn't eating any food
Wears his shoes in bed and he's injured his head
Won't get up unless he's in the mood

Grandad! he's our grandad!
Lonely, starving and confused
Slowly wasting away, lies in bed all day
Parts of his body are bruised

How was everything with grandad?
Yes he's fine, had two sips of his tea
He's a bit frail too, wouldn't recognise you
but I know that he recognised me

Grandad! he's our grandad!
And he's had two sips of his tea!
Yes he's doing quite well and his room has a smell
Surely he recognised me.

When shall we next visit grandad?
I'm free next week, let me know if you are
Still a funny old dude when he's in a good mood
At least his last months aren't suffering in unbearable agony like grandma

Grandad! He's our grandad!
Are these visits from strangers needed?
We'll be glad we've been, for the sake of routine
Probably suffering less than she did

Would you like to come and visit grandad?
There's plenty of room in our car
If we leave right now, we'll arrive before lunch
He might not remember who you are.

Grandad! He's our grandad!
He doesn't know it's Monday

But we go before lunch
Hope he doesn't throw a punch
Set his trousers straight
Check they've locked the gate
Fix his bleeding ear
Stop him fighting the queer
Check he drinks his tea
He remembered me
Back next week and then
Do the whole thing again

Cause we'll all be like that or worse one day.


Wednesday, 15 November 2017

#313 Lost for words

"Hurry up Dan!" begged my sister over the phone. I smiled slyly. "I promise I'll look at it on the train" I said. Drat. She was almost fifty points ahead and there can't have been more than twenty tiles left in the bag. Catching up would take nothing short of a miracle.

I'd never expected to beat her at Scrabble. She was the one with the English degree. She excelled at Boggle. Her book was longer than mine.

I'd been ahead for about the first eight turns, then I lost it. Lost my focus. Lost my letters. Lost the plot. I'd been so tired on Monday I could barely fetch my lunch.

It wasn't all because of the housemates any more than losing at Scrabble was because of tiredness. I needed a break though. To get out of the city.

I chatted to my coach for forty minutes about how the room search was going. Fortunately she had a finger or two in the life coaching pie as well as career management.

When choosing Sarah Gonzales, my gut had told me I'd need someone who could do more than offer dumb encouragement and put people through frameworks. She'd lived up to my expectations and had offered a wonderfully practical handful of suggestions and perspectives at short notice.

Hetal had weighed in too, out of kindness, with her ideas about some concepts that she thought might help me. I am very lucky that she has time for me at the moment.

After fifteen minutes of staring at my phone screen, I was no nearer to finding a word to play. Plus my battery was getting low. For the time being, I would have to surrender to circumstances. Once I was out of the city, I could charge my phone, eat some food that hadn't been microwaved for a change and come back to the game. For now though, my sister's Scrabble turn would have to wait.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

#312 Priya

"That's the longest voicemail anyone's ever left me" I told her, after ringing her back. "That's only because you sent me the longest message" she replied. It was true, I had.

Priya was a 38 year old dentist. She wasn't working, she wasn't noisy and she was looking for someone to share a flat with. We had one or two minor things in common as well. We talked for twenty minutes. She told me about how she had lost her family. I don't think she meant in Tesco or on a beach.

She'd been drawn to my message, firstly because it was amazing and secondly because I'd described myself as unintimidating and had said I knew the area well and felt at home there. Finally, my borderline obsessive love of anywhere remotely close to East Dulwich had showed some sign of paying off.

I've never felt this way about a postcode. Sometimes I go back there, just to walk around and reminisce. The pineapple roundabout. The cheese shops of Lordship. That very fat guy with the very fat dog, who both look like they might keel over at any moment but never do.

I'd seen seven places so far and none had been in Dulwich. It would be too lucky if I got this one. I'd probably end up in Catford, West Norwood or back with my mother. I was already fed up of house hunting. Still, I had a few more viewings left in me and if my circumstances were of interest to anyone I met, then all the better. Finding a room seemed unlikely but not impossible.

Monday, 13 November 2017

#311 Wanting to leave

I'd thought a lot about whether to tell Bruno. To explain that I found it unbearable not being able to sleep until the early hours of the morning because I knew, as likely as not that he and his boyfriend would start making their dinner late at night and that would be it. I'd be kept awake.

The truth was, I didn't believe telling him would do any good. I'd seen how he treated Hellen while she was living here. When she raised concerns about the state of the house, he would tell her if she didn't like it, to move somewhere else. I had to send her embarrassed messages, explaining that he wasn't speaking for all of us.

When we had no hot water, it was worse. For two weeks in July, the landlord had been reluctant to replace the boiler, which wasn't that old, so we were stuck waiting through several ineffective visits from the engineer. Hellen would sometimes walk to the gym to wash as she was finding it very difficult to tolerate cold showers. When the uncertainty about the boiler getting fixed was at its peak, she became distressed and started to cry. Bruno thought she was behaving unreasonably and complained to me that she was overreacting.

Two times, I had walked into the kitchen after midnight, so angry that I couldn't speak. I'd send messages and had conversations and talked about possibly moving in the past but it had made no difference. Eating late was just a part of Bruno's routine. It was how he lived and I didn't think he would necessarily understand why I found it so difficult to cope.

My housemate is not a bad man. I suspect he simply doesn't understand the impact that his actions have. On many occasions, he has helped out when something has gone wrong in the house. He takes care of all the bills, he's friendly, easy-going, a marvelous cook and he has a good sense of humour too.

I thought about messaging him, or writing him a letter but ultimately I decided to do nothing. If I said something and it had no impact, I'd feel worse. If I disturbed our current relationship, living here would become even more stressful and I wasn't ready for that at the moment. I kept quiet and for the time being and decided to put all of my time into finding a new home. The rental market in London was always competitive. I'd need all the time I could get.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

#310 How much guilt do you want to carry around?

I got asked this question by my coach last week. Not on its own. As part of a series of questions. To get me thinking about what sort of psychology I would want to have, if it was different from what I have now. I say "psychology", she called it "head space" I think. I suppose "mindset" or even "attitude" might be another word for it.

So what does my response look like?

Stupid question
As far as I can see, this is a perfectly valid response. It is a stupid question. My view of the world is... I like to think I'm an open-minded person, so I won't go and say that people can't choose how much guilt they carry. Many people might feel that they can. However, I'm not convinced that our ability to choose our emotional baggage is absolute, or even that we have that ability at all. What if we don't? What if it's simply impossible to reduce our guilt, in the same way that it's impossible for one hand to clap?

I think if there was just one person on the planet, that person wouldn't have any need for guilt. It's a social emotion. If you're religious, you might feel guilty to God. If there was no God and no other people, there'd be no need for guilt. That's one theory at least. Another theory would be that you can feel guilty to yourself. You plan on building a log raft, then you sit around eating coconuts instead. Then you feel guilty... maybe. I don't know. There might be psychologists or biologists who know whether guilt is a social emotion or not.

No guilt
I think that "none" would be the ideal answer. Let's not feel any guilt, so that we're free to move forward and do what we want without worrying what other people think or thought or feel about our circumstances and our actions. It's a nice idea. It doesn't seem very realistic though. If people could simply discard their guilt at a moment's notice, they'd presumably do so and guilt would have vanished many decades ago along with smallpox, scarlet fever and shingles. I'm just saying random disease names, I have no idea which ones have been eradicated.

Some guilt
This is answer number three. "Some guilt". Perfectly consistent with what I think my subconscious might thinking, perfectly realistic, unhelpful and boring. This is the sort of answer I'm unlikely to get any brownie points for giving although I don't know that for sure. Maybe it's the right answer. It is, after all, perhaps the most honest.

Less guilt
This seems like a better answer on paper than answer three but I have to ask "What's the point of trying to feel less guilt?". Is it possible? What's the basis for it? How is it done? I'd like to give this answer but I don't really know how to.

OK
"OK". Is "OK" really an acceptable answer to the question? Possibly. You see, when someone, particularly a coach or an authority figure of some kind, asks a question, they often mean it rhetorically. Not because it doesn't have an answer (although it may not) and not because they don't want you to try and give that answer (they may do) but just because their reason for asking is not so much to get that answer as to make you think about it.

They know that you can't immediately change your mindset. They know that a person's emotional patterns are complex and affected by outside influences. They know that most people have egos and vices and critics and beliefs and preferences and limits. Still, they want you to check in with yourself. To ask the unanswerable questions. To pump fresh attention into areas that have been dry for a long time. All the while, probing and searching for information that resonates. Unlikely answers that come out by surprise and untapped meaning that sits in the darkness, waiting to be discovered.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

#309 Being bad at being good at things

Everyone's good at something. Good at one or more things. Almost everything in the universe is unevenly distributed, so whatever ways in which you spend your time, you'll be better at something than most other people, without even trying. It's like an inherent part of being alive.

But not everyone is good at being good at the things they're good at. Without proper patience and training. Without education and effort, recognition, reward, resilience and relaxation, a person can be good at something and waste their talent. Because they're bad at being good at things.

When a person is good at being good at things, it almost doesn't matter what they're good at. They might be good at one thing for a few years and then switch to being good at something else. Then, to make sense of their profound good fortune, they'll look for a pattern and lump all their achievements under a convenient label which describes that pattern, so they can explain their success at cocktail parties in as few words as possible.

People who are bad at being good at things hate cocktail parties. They'd rather drink something sensible and can't fathom how combining fruit and liquor in so many complicated ways is justifiable. Surely noone's efforts are worth such extravagance?

People who are good at being bad at things aren't any better off. Pitied by many and aided by few, they bravely solider their way through situations that you and I find easy, supported by subsidies, benefits and sympathy. It's a hard and unenviable life.

People who are bad at being bad at things might turn out to be quite good at some of them. However, they might just be average. Average is ok. It means they're unlikely to win any awards but necessity will require they maintain a certain basic standard, so as not to jeopardise their average prospects.

Unless they're bad at being bad at being bad at things.

Friday, 10 November 2017

#308 If you want to see a sixty year old man cry

I'd heard about the story of Jaggi Vasudev before. Like other Indian Mystics, he'd grown up with an intense curiosity about the world around him. While other children played and read textbooks, he'd sit staring at an ant or a blade of grass. Staring at it, staring at it, staring at it. Wondering what it was.

In his twenties, he went and sat on a hillside. Perhaps under a tree (Yogis love sitting under trees) and then it happened. A profound feeling of ecstasy and unity. An irreversible change in the way he seemed to see himself and the world. Apparently similar to the experiences of Osho, Eckhart Tolle and if you believe him, Jim Carrey.

One area in which I'd love to do some more reading is in the difference between enlightenment and psychosis. If there is one. Are these people who get paid millions to speak simply mentally ill? Can their mindsets be explained? Does it matter? Plenty has been written about it.

I'd not seen this video though. Regardless of whether he's enlightened or psychotic. Awakened or deluded. A teacher or a crook (Osho used to admit to being a crook. Having convinced his followers to buy him 93 Rolls Royces, it would've been hard to deny). A sixty year old man stands on stage and for seven minutes, fights hard to get his words out. Describing an experience thirty five years ago that was so impactful and so devastating that it changed the course of his entire life.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

#307 Searching for sleep

Sleep. The final frontier. I'd attended two viewings on Monday and had another four to attend before the week was out. South London was becoming my evening playground except instead of swings and roundabouts, I was riding the overground from house to house, trying to find tenants who cared enough about who they lived with to show up for meetings.

It would've been easier if the trains were on time. I was standing on West Norwood platform on Tuesday night wondering how on earth I was going to get to Brockley by 7:30pm. I'd been feeling run down and helpless for about three weeks, with no end in sight. It seemed as though my housemates, who had always used the kitchen at what to me were unthinkable times for daytime workers, had been doing so more lately and my room was right next door. I'd mentioned it several times in the past to no avail. That was just how they lived.

The sound of Bruno's thunderously loud, foul-mouthed boyfriend had always put me on edge. These days he appeared to be staying over more often than not. I couldn't sleep until 1am most nights and I was a mess. I'd been falling behind on the coaching exercises and snapping at anyone who called me. Something had to give. I paced up and down the platform, racking my brains and that's when it hit me. I could just change my sleep pattern.

Back at uni, I'd stayed up late all the time and had just got up later. Why hadn't I thought of it before? I could never sleep in late when I'd been working but I was no longer working. I decided my new bedtime would be 2am as the house was pretty much guaranteed to be quiet then. I could throw some covers over the curtains and set the alarm for 10am.

The delayed train came into view. It would take a couple of days to get used to the new routine but I'd already been staying awake into the night involuntarily so the change wouldn't be too difficult. I thought about changing my clocks to make it seem like I was sleeping regular hours but decided to leave them as they were. This was a brilliant idea. Now I could guarantee myself eight hours of sleep every night without having to worry about it. It was the perfect solution until I managed to relocate. The train doors opened and I climbed aboard. Now all I had to worry about was finding a room.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

#306 Mamabear wins

I didn't think she'd beat me. I'd been playing Scrabble for about a week. Naino's mum. My sister and now this kid. The one who'd introduced me to it. It was our second or third game but she did it. As I sat there. Three turns left. All I had was the letter Q. I'd dragged that goddamn final letter over every single square on that board waiting for a match. Thousands of words I'd never heard of and they don't allow EQ or IQ. Or QE. I guess they're all abbreviations. Fucking Scrabble.

Then I lost the game. I'd already said "Well done" in the app so I posted a smiley on Messenger. My winning streak was over. Reality had caught up with me and I was no longer invincible. What a cruel world it was.

I'd found Aimee... I have no idea when actually. Several months back. Something like that. I'd message about stuff, then she'd message about her stuff, which was generally more serious. I felt guilty that at 21, the girl had been through things most of the people I know never had to reckon with. I didn't know how she held it together. Now she'd beaten me at Scrabble too. That university didn't know what it was missing.

What can you do with a "Q"? I think it would've allowed "QI" but there was no "I". Now and then I'd wait a while and the app would tell me it was their turn. Then it'd tell them it was my turn. We'd have to quit and start over. I suppose we could try Monopoly but that wouldn't make sense. The pace was right for Scrabble. Chess maybe but that really made my brain ache. I never liked chess that much. It was ok but I'd get bored and quit half-way through. I lost a friend that way once. Kinda.

I'd get bored of it soon. Probably sooner now I'd lost one. Delete the app. Make space on my phone. For something else. Another app. Leave a comment recommending one if you want.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

#305 Why are so many Netflix shows set in the past?

Nostalgia. It's astonishing to me the number of series that take place ten, twenty, thirty years ago. Before anyone interrupts, I have no idea if that's a new thing, meaning, maybe TV has always had a certain percentage of nostalgic programs. It's definitely a current thing.

During the last two weeks, I burned through both seasons of Stranger Things, a show set in the '80s. Before that it was Better Call Saul. '90s, which itself was a prequel to Breaking Bad. '00s. Why? Was it just easier and more realistic to create a show where the characters weren't sitting around on their phones 24/7?

It's not that I don't like those types of shows. I lap them up like a kitten drinks milk. I just worry that it'll get too hard to make shows about the present, either because of the phones thing or because nobody has any real experiences anymore, which is the same as the phones thing.

Another reason for making shows set in the past is to remake or sequelise shows that were set in the past. It allows moviemakers to tap into an existing audience. Take the 2016 version of Ghostbusters for instance. Except that wasn't a remake because the original movies were brilliant whereas the latest effort... although I feel bad using the word effort... was about as watchable as a puddle of ectoplasm.

Perhaps the number of good films that can be made are as limited as the notes on a keyboard. A finite set of plots, settings and characters that can be woven into amiable combinations and all we can do is to remake them in cycles while playing with the cast and graphics. If that's the best we can do then so be it. I rather enjoyed Stranger Things despite its shameless similarities to E.T. and The Goonies. I look forward to Netflix's next nostalgic series. Whatever limit there is on the number of films that can be remade, it hasn't been reached yet.

Monday, 6 November 2017

#304 Why are our eyes in the back of our heads?

My ex-girlfriend and I tend to message now and then. Even though the relationships section of most libraries is probably filled with books warning against going back to old fireworks. What do they know though, right?

We were discussing how it had almost been a year since we met and how that seemed like a really long time. Or no time at all. I can't remember which. This post probably sounds like it's going to be about her now. That was actually just an intro. I'm headed places much less interesting. 

If you want to stick around 'til the time I have the strength and standing to really write about all of my life in public that's another five or ten years in coming at least. Sorry to disappoint. It'll be worth it I promise. 

But... this ability to look back at the past... to feel it and consider it and frame it. It's essential to our survival. I'd been responding to a thread in the Google+ Philosophy community on a subject entitled "Why do you live?" for the past two weeks. Those links might not work. I think you have to join the community.

Anyway someone had posted a message explaining that one of the reasons people live is that they're really bad at imagining the future. Take for instance, the millions of people who buy lottery tickets. For that feeling that they have a chance to become rich even though the odds of winning are only 0.0001%. Hope has an improbable component to it. Hence the title of Obama's book The Audacity of Hope. 

I started thinking what's the reason for this? Why are we able to remember the past and look back at it and analyse it but when it comes to the future, we're almost blind? The most obvious answer seems to be that the future hasn't happened yet but is there more to it than that? 

The lottery players participate in the draw because they need to hope that the future could be better in some way than it in all likelihood will be. Does evolution favour blue-sky thinking? Are we predisposed to be blind to the future because if we could see it, we wouldn't want it as much?

Sunday, 5 November 2017

#303 The value of following up

First-time experiences tend to seem more magical. That moment a couple of weeks back, when I walked past my old house and spoke to the new tenant, who'd only just moved in cause they took a year to let the place out again. It's far more romantic than going back a second time two weeks later. There's nothing sensational about a follow-up. Most of the time.

Follow-ups can be hugely impactful though. I did actually walk by that house again this morning and for some reason, the exact same girl was stood in the doorway drinking what I only assume was the same beverage. I looked at her and just started laughing. There was no effort involved.

With the conference earlier this week, I had to really wring out the impact. We had a talk about it with the group. I got to give examples of what the sessions had covered but at the end of the meeting, all we'd done was talk. There were no solid actions written down. So I started the discussion again, managed to get some more attention on the notes I'd taken and eventually arrived at the makings of a commitment. The charity would try to post at least one video on its channel each month.

That might seem really insignificant. I'd spent a whole day and thirteen sheets of paper learning the ins and outs of how to use marketing software and all that had come of it was a slight improvement in the frequency of video uploads. It was a start though. We were changing something. Some of the conference attendees probably didn't even get that far. Spending a whole day attending talks. Paying attention. Talking it over with their teams. Then failing to follow up and ultimately changing nothing.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

#302 Microblogging

If I shortened my posts by about 30%, I'd be microblogging. It hasn't happened because I have no idea how to tell a story in two or three paragraphs but if I ever figure that out, I might try it. Probably not here. Maybe on Facebook.

I'm curious as to whether anyone blogs on Twitter. You can fit 250 words into a Twitter image at font size 12. That's 1,300 characters compared to Twitter's normal limit of 140. It's a strange place to blog but somebody must have tried it. I'd love to shake their hand and give them a biscuit.

My antipodean ex-housemate Naomi put up a 73 word post today. In a way it wasn't really a blog post. The first three words were "sorry" as she hadn't written in ages but she packed a surprising amount of content into the three lines.

We learned that Naomi had been working hard, seeing friends, spending time with a man friend (!), working out and swimming. That's a ton of stuff. Her dinky little post told me pretty much everything that her usual posts do but in less detail. It was like the Scotch pancake of blog posts.

I love Scotch pancakes. I think my fondness of them began when my parents started getting lazy and shoved a couple of buttered pancakes into my lunchbox instead of sandwiches. I was the first kid in the whole school to finish my lunch and having crammed them down my throat in ten seconds, the dinner ladies (as they used to be called) would have no choice but to let me out to play. Of course, there was nobody else in the playground yet but I still welcomed the additional free time.

Friday, 3 November 2017

#301 Taking the Waterloo & City line

"The task should be fun, exciting and something you don't normally do." I considered painting a picture. However I wasn't keen on the idea of buying paints to use once and upon reflection, I did not find the idea of painting exciting.

I checked Meetup. One lunchtime event. A talk on practical philosophy. That could be interesting. I clicked the link. A talk revolving around a classic 15th century painting. Damn and blast it! Why did everything suddenly involve artwork? I had no appetite for it.

What did I like? Well, I liked exploring. A little bit. When a certain mood took me. Would it take me today? The tube map. I opened it up. There it was staring me right in the face. The Waterloo and City line. The line with only one stop. I'd never taken it before. That line wanted taking. That would be my task for the morning.

I normally changed lines at Waterloo by taking a foot tunnel that ran along below ground. Not this time. Today I would be resurfacing to change. How exciting!!!!

Waterloo itself was moderately busy. Where could all these people be travelling to at 10:30am on a Tuesday? Delinquents and cads the lot of them. McDonald's. Should I? No.

The turquoise line is a silly thing really. Presumably it makes much easier the lives of those commuting from places like Richmond into the city at rush hours during the week. Here's how busy it is during the day:


Most of the time, the gargantuan corridor that feeds into the platform is just as crowded:


Every so often, there's a mysterious door that leads into further corridors. One had been left open. It looked like the sort of place that might be used for secret government experiments. This is what I saw:


The cutest thing about the Waterloo and City line is that it pretends to be a normal line like all the others, fully fitted with a digital timetable. Shown below is the only message it ever displays:


Then there's the essential tube map, just in case you forget where you're going:


I enjoyed my time on the Waterloo and City line very much and will remember to take it the next time I need to travel from somewhere near Bank to somewhere near Waterloo or vice versa.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

#300 Google for nonprofits

What lovely golden carpet. That was brand new. I could smell it. I was sat next to a socket on the floor of Google's UK office next to Paddington, holding my faulty Primark charger cable into the bottom of my phone with my little finger, trying to look preoccupied.

Twelve minutes to go until the next talk. No phone signal. Here. There'd be a reason for that. It was lightning fast in the toilets.

I'd received an invite on Monday to the nonprofits conference quite by surprise. It was a day designed to explain how to get the most out of their products. My volunteer group leader hadn't been able to attend so I got to do some of my favourite things. Taking notes. Eating free food. Pretending to be a woman named Elizabeth.

The office was nothing like I'd expected. I'd assumed corporate policy would have somehow halted or at least diluted the manifestation of the typical tech scene stereotype. Yet upon my arrival, I was instantly greeted by a platoon of jeans-wearing, coffee-slurping North Americans, all of whom had exactly the same personality.

Having only been volunteering for a mere three weeks, I wasn't ideally placed to be attending. The talks were aimed at people who'd been using Google products for while and were looking to get more out of them. I was a veritable master when it came to watching YouTube videos. Making them not so much. I had very little idea of the team's budget, experience and existing usage. So I just sat there, writing frantically to get everything down and praying there'd be no group exercises. One was mooted but fortunately there wasn't time for it.

The six talks I attended were educational and some. I came away with thirteen pages of notes, some of which had to be useful. Making notes was how I retained information. If I'd been asked to speak about a subject without looking at what I'd written, I'd struggle. Even if I'd just come out of a talk on it. My pen captured everything though. All of the points from the speakers' mouths and all the info from their slides. With none of the accents.

My phone had been charging nicely but I was fed up of the lack of signal. I unplugged it and got up to try some of the strange purple tortilla chips that some dick had put out instead of real crisps. I needed the sustenance. When I got home that evening, I'd spend two and a half hours typing up what I'd learned, inserting questions in red periodically to assess how key parts of the advice applied to the organisation. I'd then attach that to an email, in which I'd include a short summary and a much more polite joke about the crisps.

I could go to events and write about them every day and would never get bored.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

#299 Floria

The wind teased me as I marched towards the tube station. It was two days before the end of the month and although it had dropped by a few degrees, I was determined not to wear a coat. Coats were for wimps. Besides, I'd said to myself, no more layers until November. I was in no rush to welcome in the dark nights, cold hands and that annoying feeling that I'd be deficient in Vitamin D for the next few months. So I pretended it was still summer. Or thereabouts.

Whatever the season, I was always sweating by the time I reached the underground. I was a fast walker. I boarded the tubular furnace, pulled down the sash without any undue regard for the other passengers and positioned myself in the path of maximum airflow. I'd have been dry again by London Bridge but tonight, I was journeying north.

I'd first discovered Floria quite by accident after a work night out in Dalston just over a year before. I'd been walking back along Kingsland Road towards the city and had grabbed a kebab before hopping on a bus. I'd not since returned as it wasn't exactly on my doorstep but something drew me back there tonight. No doubt the hazy memory of astounding flavours that had registered somewhere deep in my psyche despite my inebriation. Floria was my favourite kebab shop in London and tonight I was going to go back there.

At Shoreditch, I alighted and made the fifteen minute stomp northward. I passed pizza places, Vietnamese restaurants and three other kebab shops until finally, I reached the unassuming shopfront.


It was dead inside just like last time. A scruffy, middle-aged gent was sat at a small wooden table to one side that looked like it belonged to neither staff, nor diner. "Ali!" he hollered "Customer!". A rumbling sound came from the back room. Moments later, the fat seventy year old appeared and waddled over to the cash register. With a raise of his eyebrows, he silently asked my choice. A chicken donner and chips. I sat down to wait.

The place hadn't changed in a year. It probably hadn't changed in forty. Floria first opened in 1969, making it the oldest kebab shop in East London. Cash-only. Hand-written menus. The old codger probably cut the chips himself. They were incredible. Culinary aficionados would be able to tell what he'd used to fry them but as far as I was concerned, it was magic. They were like no other chip I'd tasted.

The meat came sprinked in a home-made seasoning, which again was completely original and tantalisingly flavoursome. It made a complete embarrassment of your average kebab shop with their unremarkably bland offerings. It wasn't too greasy or hidden under too much salad.

I wondered if many people knew about Floria. It had two Google reviews, both rated five stars. One just said "The wedges!!" while the other had written "Lamb kebab was great" and left it at that. Not exactly the most detailed feedback ever written but I couldn't disagree with the ratings. Ali probably didn't even know about them but I couldn't resist making a contribution so I typed the name into Google, clicked on the reviews link and typed up my thoughts.