Tuesday 29 September 2015

#123 Got milk?

Apparently the cereal cafe in Shoreditch was attacked this week. The assailants were a group that generally oppose the takeover of London by rich and/or foreign people, who in some cases displace those who would otherwise be able to live there.

The blinding irony that the cafe immediately received priceless publicity does not need acknowledging here. I do so purely out of my own need for some sense of completeness.

The Telegraph chose to focus on the angle that the attackers picked the wrong target. I wonder if that's true. Putting aside the question of whether vandalism can ever be right, if you're gonna slosh up a shop front in this kind of protest, is a popular new, relatively expensive cafe a poor choice?

I suppose if they'd spraypainted a regular restaurant, their antics would have gone less well noticed. The fact that not all of the cereal cafe's customers are public school toffs may mean that it wasn't an ideal target but it's not an ideal world. Plus, some of the customers invariably will be toffs. Who pays £4.40 for a bowl of cereal? You can get two boxes for that.

I find it breathtakingly beautiful that the media is allowed to cover such incidents. Before reading about it, I had no idea that there was this protest against gentrification. The price of free speech is that it is now known about by thousands of people.

The pluck of the angry mob makes me wonder about the hardship that they have, presumably, had to suffer as a result of the change in their environment. Still, the inelegance of the attack and the fact that the villains scared customers do little to enthuse the law-obiding public about the cause. It does make me feel like some Ricicles though.

Sunday 20 September 2015

#122 Hey, the Queen's back

About two years ago now, after the worst of the economic crisis had passed, our team at work started organising socials again. Being a business recovery team, we remained profitable throughout the crisis but I think maybe some other teams were feeling the strain a bit and so we cut back on some things for a while. This week, our team decided to go rock climbing. At around five o'clock, my colleagues packed up their stuff, flocked southward in their comfortably stretchy clothes and started doing some dodgy looking hand-clenching exercises to warm up. At the same sort of time, I put my own pen down, sneaked off down the stairwell and headed several miles in the opposite direction to a small restaurant, up the north end of Farringdon Road.

During the walk there, my friend and I had gotten rained on at least a medium amount but the place was incredibly warm on the inside, which created an almost sauna-like experience. As the waitress tried to light the candle, it broke off from its holder so she dripped some of the wax onto the stump and did some DIY candle-making whilst leaning across the table. It wobbled precariously for the rest of the evening. 

It was almost two years since the events of #44 The fellowship of the ring, which I noticed sat on her finger. She was down in the city for a VAT seminar. I somewhat rudely didn't ask her much about the seminar itself. In fact there were a few things I didn't really cover off all that much. The fact that I'd been happier lately. That girl on the edge of Peckham that I'd dated briefly. The house gossip (there's always some). Anyway she'd made it through the train journies, the seminar and the rush hour tube traffic. Was she a tiny bit out of her comfort zone here? Possibly although you could never tell with her, unless she told you.

We both ordered steak and chips, which was actually pretty good. Little Bay is a chain of quirky restaurants with annoyingy red, inca-style interior decor. At one point, I'm pretty sure it was actually the cheapest restaurant in London as I realised that I'd been there with my housemates before. I remember the desserts being something ridiculous like £1.50 at the time although the place and the menu had changed a bit since then.

So we chatted and had some laughs... harking back to some of the appauling non-endings at the bottom of the blog posts when I first started writin them, this one doesn't really go anywhere and just sort of drops off. I'm sorry it wasn't about rock-climbing but meeting up with my friend again had been long overdue!

Saturday 12 September 2015

#121 Utility

The following blog post includes a cynical, satirical, alternative summary of a religious text. It is not intended to be accurate and may not be particularly sensitive to your religious beliefs. If you are likely to be offended by this or to take it more seriously than it is intended then it may not be suitable for you to read.

We may not believe the story but we all know the story. A deity, some kind of cross between Gandalf and David Blaine, wakes up one morning and decides to create heaven and earth and all the trees and animals and a couple of people, who get thrown out of the nice garden. We say it's because they were eating apples but in the pictures they were both naked so you know what they were really doing.

So then later in the story the humans are still misbehaving too much so the omnipotent pixie makes this big flood and kills everyone. Nice. Except he perversely saves Noah and the best looking two of each animal and so they all start breeding like rabbits (two of the animals were actually rabbits so they set the example) and the population grows back and starts misbehaving all over again.

Now at this point the deity does something that nobody really expected him/she/it to do. Instead of punishing the people or destroying them, which wasn't really working because we're resilient and stubborn buggers, he incarnates himself as one of the people. A slightly odd and preachy sort of chap named Jesus and he kind of does ok. I mean he does some pretty cool tricks, some of which the Pizza Express magician waiter, if anyone saw the article on that lately, can explain how they are done. He also gets a cult following. Then he pisses off some people with his preachy ways, flips over some tables and so we kind of decide that actually we don't all want to be Christians cause it sounds like a lot of hard work and we don't quite believe all these stories even if the guy can do magic, so instead we nail him to a piece of wood and leave him there. This is what we used to do to people who were a bit annoying.

So anyway we know the story that he rose from the dead again, so that we could all have Easter Eggs and blablabla and then he just sort of said right, I'm bored now and beamed himself back up to heaven again. I still think it's a cool story. So people started writing about the story. They loved it. They told it all over town. They became hysterical about it, most of them very peacefully but some really quite violently, some were smug about their "faith" and exclusive about it. They took a kind of "holier than thou" attitude but many of them were and still are quite nice ordinary people. In fact even the pope these days is quite open minded about the tolerance and acceptance of non-believers.

One of the things that made the story so popular and worth believing in was the idea of this guy Jesus. This incarnation of God as a human. What would he do? You know? What would a supremely wise being say if he walked among us? How could he have the right kind of impact? He used to say things that people hadn't really heard before. He didn't say "love your friends and family but forget about that bitch down the street". He told us to love everyone. Even the tax collectors. The hateful. The killers. Love your enemies. This is what he said and how he tried to live. 

The son of God was not a fearful man. When the soldiers came to kill him, he asked for their forgiveness because he knew that evil in humans was more like a disease. More like an ignorance, than a true choice. He knew that the decision to do wrong was only taken by those who were incapable of properly, properly considering the consequences. That those who chose evil needed help and sympathy, not punishment. Indeed, he would rather take the punishment himself. His teachings on this, before the book Zero Degrees of Empathy, were thousands of years ahead of their time and they in many ways still are, if you look at how some parts of society talk about and treat criminals or those groups who seem to pose a threat to them. We may of course believe in the story, or we may not believe in it but we can all believe in the virtue of mercy.

Sunday 6 September 2015

#120 502

My old home town of Sevenoaks is, if you ignore ninety percent of the British climate and thirty percent of the British middle-class attitude, a more or less ideal place to raise a young family. Its safety, easy commute to the city and great primary schools are rivalled only by the often overlooked confidence that any child will inevitably develop from growing up in a country where you can look at a map of the world with the reassuring satisfaction that you're always pretty much in the middle of it... and up a bit. Sevenoaks also has some tremendous secondary schools. However, there's another town in Kent that has even more. Tunbridge Wells.

After six years of rolling out of bed at eight thirty and walking across the road to my Sennockian primary school, I wasn't exactly thrilled to discover that I'd be getting up at six thirty for the duration of my childhood and sitting on a dusty 1970s bus for an hour, just to get to the start of a morning, which was sometimes no more exciting or useful than Geography and double German. I was not on my lonesome though. Droves of kids were and still are ferried daily along the twelve miles of road between the two Kentish towns and so it happened that on a fresh, sunny September morning twenty years ago, I met Jim and Kev.

Our first few years' worth of interactions were largely confined to the journey itself. Then, at around age fifteen or so, we started heading out to the cinema or the bowling alley, along with other friends and a group from the nearby girls school. Later on, some occasional house parties and trips to the pub. During univeristy holidays, we'd return home and hang out again. When we got jobs and started working, we founded a six-a-side football team called FC Hammer, which played every Monday night for about six years, eventually winning the local league and the cup. Then Jim and Kev moved to Tunbridge Wells, I moved to South London and for the last five years, we've only really met up a few times a year for birthdays or special occasions.

To mark the passing of twenty years since we first climbed onto the bus as eleven year olds, Jim suggested that we walk the route that the bus took, from Sevenoaks to Tunbridge Wells. At first... and second and third... I thought he was joking but the nearer it got to September, the more it seemed like he was probably serious. "Why not just take a bus?" I thought. Anyway, so we met up this morning at 10am, having all travelled for about an hour already, to start our walk. "Off we go then" said Jim and started walking off, in the wrong direction. "The bus stop..." I said, nodding up the road. "Nope, we're starting at my house" he said eagerly. It turned out that the route he'd planned included each of our houses and each of our schools. He would be less eager later on, after we'd walked thirteen miles and had to continue on to my school. Neither of them had ever actually been as far as my school before and they didn't know exactly where it was.

Along the way, we took a couple of breaks for breakfast and drinks, as well as a lot of boring photos. Jim had surprised us both by bringing us muffins because he used to eat a lot of muffins. He also brought us some personalised t-shirts, which he'd made, showing the bus route on the front with dots where our houses and schools were. By the time we'd completed the half-marathon length walk, we'd decided that if we made it to the thirty year mark, we'd probably celebrate it in an easier way. Overall though, we agreed that the walk had been a good idea. We had a coffee, parted ways and I wandered off to the station. The train back to Sevenoaks was cancelled. Smiling, I walked around to the car park and hopped aboard the replacement bus.