Scrapbook 2017

A diary collection of words and images from the past year. By Billy Mann

Includes an experiment in Trust, a trip to Portugal and a futile attempt to see the upside.

8 January

Remark by political commentator Andrew Rawnsley in the Observer about PM Theresa May, as reimagined in a text picture I posted on Insta.

11 January
RIP Peter Sarstedt. The songwriter has died, so here is my text-art tribute. Still can’t rid my mind of the view, which Kate attaches to her maid of honour Maggie Lunn, that the first-person male character in the famous song is a creepy stalker.

The song was once said to be about Brigitte Bardot.

16 January
Responding to the headline I tried to imagine how hard it is to recognise your own daughter, even through a fashionable piece of translucent glass. The person behind the pane is the poor woman who was mistaken for Ivanka.

She was surprised he didn’t come down for a game of golf.

‘Donald Trump mistakes Ivanka
from Brighton for his daughter’

Newspaper headline

17 January

I loved this film, so I messed with the poster to include my comment.

23 January
A Facebook posting claiming to be from a former US government information expert. I’m sure it’s real.

23 January

The argument for proportional representation will not go away quietly.

25 January
Trust: a World Café

Tess Baird is an unstoppable force. In November 2016 she gathered together a few colleagues and contacts in a small room in London’s Mile End Hospital to explain her bonkers idea. She wanted clinicians and service users to get to understand and communicate with one another in more meaningful and effective ways. The subject in focus was stroke care, which is how I got the call, being a stroke survivor. She reckoned this new groundbreaking bond between patient and practitioner could be found using something called a World Café. I posted a report of that meeting shortly after it took place.

Grand ideas often get lost in what is sometimes called Development Hell, so I turned up to that first meeting, made whatever kind of contribution I could and went home expecting the idea to fizzle out. It didn’t. Emails were exchanged and the spark generated at the first meeting was oxygenated into a comfy campfire, around which a whole bunch of people (plus one newborn child, Leo) sat early in the new year to thrash out some ideas for how quality communication might flourish on the stroke ward. This event quickly got its own hashtag, #trustworldcafe.

Seven round tables in the Garden Room at St Luke’s Community Centre, London EC1, each hosting five or six people, fired up and the room quickly took on the buzz of the marketplace, the sound of chatter and earnest declarations bouncing off the walls. Hot beverages were taken and posh cake digested. And to think some people were pretending to ‘be at work’.

Question 1

The event swung around four questions. The first asked us to talk in pairs about a time we “totally trusted someone”. What was the experience, what did it feel like? I got chatting with someone who told me how they had ‘bonded’ with their partner over an intense dislike of dating. As described to me this was a proper meeting of minds and outlook that was recognised instantly by both parties. They saw it as an ‘opportunity’ and both were ‘relieved’ to have found a sympathetic ear and a glad eye. It was heartwarming stuff.

We then moved the topic from the personal to the professional and asked what made trusting relationships function in the workplace. The answers we arrived at jointly sounded like statements of the bleeding obvious, but put under intense scrutiny started to carry more weight. All the time we were jotting words and phrases on to a paper tablecloth. Lines such as “say what you do and do what you say” and “deliver on promises” put some flesh on to the bones of everyday exchanges that involve trust, and which without trust would collapse. Relying on others is how our lives function.

Question 2

From working in pairs we moved to working the table, exploring within the group the mechanics of trust and how that might be nurtured. I learned of one stroke survivor’s desire to ride a horse again, having grown up around horses in Romania. By now an artist had been earwigging at each table and was busy creating a ‘live graphic’ of our thoughts. It was worth stopping just to watch as she gave visual birth to all our ideas.

The #trustworldcafe ‘live graphic’

The questions continued. We moved tables, went into huddles, struggled to find answers, but didn’t give up. There was still plenty of cake left. At one table I put forward the idea that every ‘hard’, factual question a patient is asked by a clinician should be offset with a ‘soft’ question that gently explores the patient’s life outside hospital. Cat or dog? was the example I used in a round-the-table demonstration (our table: three dogs, one cat and an awkward “cat and dog”). Questions about football, hobbies, telly, films, etc, can provide the therapist with valuable ‘clues’ that might open a window of opportunity on how best to advance treatment. There was some concern as to how what is essentially small-talk can be parlayed into ‘productivity’, the looming presence of a cash-conscious clipboarding nhs manager being the sticking point. I’m not sure my attempt to liken this kind of information-gathering to ‘detective work’ found any buyers.

Libby and Aoiffe on Twitter.

So what did I learn at the #trustworldcafe? Too many things to list here, so please check the Twitter feeds for details. But if I had to pick one it would be at the beginning of the session when, by way of a warm-up, Tess gave us a list of questions to ask each other. The last of these was something like, “What is the craziest outcome you can imagine springing from this #trustworldcafe?” To illustrate, Tess told us her answer. It was that news of this event’s runaway success reaches a rich publisher, who invites Tess to write a book about it, earning her £4million. Her newfound wealth somehow puts her in contact with George Clooney, who promptly ditches his existing wife and marries Tess. And everyone lives happily ever after. Such is the power of the hashtag.

7 February
Another bit of political text art. Apologies to Bruce Springsteen for stealing his lyrics (from ‘Backstreets’).


13 February
At HMS Belfast on the river Thames for a family day out.

You can always rely on a six-year-old to open your eyes to the realities of the world. A friend’s son was ‘doing’ ships and boats at school. The Cutty Sark was the first idea on the table for a visit. But self-interest soon stepped in and I proposed HMS Belfast. The reasons were pathetic. First, it is closer to where we live than the Cutty Sark and thus an easier journey. Second, I had never ‘done’ HMS Belfast and I’m always up for visiting somewhere new. Plus, I knew it was ‘a floating museum’, a project by the Imperial War Museum and the IWM I knew to be a class act.

It was snowing as we arrived, but the staff were cheery, helpfully telling us the tricky ladders an old disabled crock such as myself should avoid. Yes, this is as pretty much as close to a real warship (it’s actually a ‘light cruiser’) as most of us will ever get. Very little has been modified to accommodate the lily-livered landlubber, and as you scramble and duck around the decks, life at sea in wartime moves quickly to the front of your brain.

One concession to modernity is the audio guide. Our youngster was keen to get on with it and quickly embraced its button-pushing attractions. I’m going to guess it was his first time with an audio guide because it wasn’t long after he had started listening to the commentary that we heard him seize a pause in the recorded description to exclaim, “Can I just ask you one question?”

As we moved around the ship’s nine decks, snapping pictures and absorbing the claustrophobia, it was hard not to marvel at the technical complexity of all the wires and tubes, the guns, the radar and the proper deference to the hierarchy of command. It was a masterpiece of engineering, both technological and social. How on earth did they work out where to put everything? This I came to see as a ‘British’ skill, the kind of expertise envied by other nationalities. The kitchen (galley) is a design classic all by itself.

The visit was timely because the very next day the Observer ran a story about the British arms trade and its controversial dealings in Saudi Arabia. The piece claimed that the Saudis were using British mad weapons to massacre civilian populations in Yemen. The export of lethal weapons is restricted by law. Killing children is not permitted by licence.

Whenever I read these pieces I can’t help wondering where all our Great British weapons factories are. I’ve never seen one, or if I did it did not have a sign on it stating ‘intercontinental ballistic missiles sold here’. Visiting HMS Belfast the previous day and having my jaw floored at the magnitude of Britain’s technical accomplishments, strengths that saw us through world wars and to chequered flags in grands prix across the globe, seeing this wealth of talent directed towards extreme violence rather than to improving the lives of millions, was sickening. Maybe that should become the nation’s big post-Brexit idea to re-establish our great talent for innovation and invention as a cause for good, something to be proud of and to make our children proud of us.

19 February
Brexit: Tony Blair speaks, so I gashed up this piss-taking image to summarise what he said.


5 March
Northern Ireland Elections


8 March
The Siege of Golden Lane

Down your street: the architect’s view of life on the edge of Basterfield House.

There is a feisty north-south alliance growing on the Golden Lane Estate. The north of the estate is in a frenzy of disgruntlement over the proposed development of the former site of Richard Cloudesley school. The south is similarly irked by what is happening on the site of Bernard Morgan House. This looks like a straight fight over which ‘development’ project can piss off residents the most, Bowater or Basterfield. But what in other circumstances might be a friendly fight (who has the best window boxes, for example) is actually a case of two teams on the same side. The opposition is somewhere else, somewhere remote.

The former police section house (decommissioned in 2013), Bernard Morgan House, on Golden Lane, is the proposed site of a City of London development to create ‘much needed high quality new homes’. The project is to be handled by Taylor Wimpey. After a number of ‘consultation’ sessions, activity seemed to stop. Then recently an email from vigilant resident was circulated that purported to expose a crafty manouevre to get the building razed to the ground before the new one had even been approved. The document listed a host of Year 5 homework mistakes in the plan. Whoever penned it didn’t know the difference between north, south, east and west, and couldn’t spell Bernard [‘Benard Morgan House’]. The 3 March target date for demolition to start came and went and red faces were said to be seen rustling through the bushes of Fortune Street Park. I never got a reply to the email I sent asking whether the building’s vintage decorative tiles might be saved and recycled.

Meanwhile, Up North on the estate, the City of London Corporation and Islington Council have got themselves into a bipolar ‘partnership’ to renew the area around the former Richard Cloudesley School. With indecent haste, plans emerged from architects Hawkins\Brown, and the blue touchpaper was lit. The proposals showed a primary school, plus separate school hall-cum-kitchen, and a 14-storey block of duel-aspect ‘affordable’ apartments. To the untrained eye, the plan also appeared to show the theft of part of the service road that runs alongside Basterfield House. That’s where the ambulances and fire engines are meant to enter the estate in the event of an emergency. The drawings were very nice, and eventually a scale model appeared that looked like it was made from polystyrene offcuts and a matchbox.

The revolution starts here: Campaigners’ montage of the view from the heart of the estate

It’s hard to argue against schools and houses, but the diagrams did look as if too much had been crammed into a fixed space; the proposed tower block was a scary monster that would loom over the entire estate (it didn’t even have a funny hat on top, like Great Arthur does); the two-storey detached school hall would not only stare threateningly at the Golden Baggers but its proposed kitchen would soak Basterfield residents with the free perfume of cooking chips. I could carry on, but the rap sheet is far too long. A dedicated working group of People Pissed Off was started. They meet often in a revolutionary huddle and post damaging counter arguments and incriminating evidence on Facebook (see picture). With all this anger floating around, some previously unseen councillors eventually turned up to offer sympathy. The elections are on 23 March.

I wanted to find out who to blame. The architects and contractors are at the frontline of the projects and an easy target. The City of London Corporation has turned avoiding proper consultation into a dark art. Invisibility is the watchword. Transparency has too many syllables. But residents’ fears might never have grown to fever pitch had housing and planning officials been more assertive in explaining that, despite what looks like two cans of worms half opened, the management talent is in place, ready to make it work out happily ever after. This, of course, is a fantasy, so what passes for reassurance instead are weak variations of “we hear what you’re saying”, “we’re listening” and “we’re taking this all on board”.

The feeling from the north and south sides of the estate that the walls are closing in and Bowater and Basterfield residents especially are about to be squashed into submission by ignorance, stupidity and blindness. As a Basterfield resident and Golden Bagger I wanted to know on whose doorstep I should empty my sack of smelly compost. At one meeting I collared a man from the Corpy and gave him my very best psycho-killer gaze. He spluttered then told me plainly that the buck stopped with them, the City of London Corporation. Islington council, he told me, was merely providing the land and the tenants for the sky scraping tower block. He forced out a spluttered laugh when I told him it would be his head Golden Lane residents would be throwing rotten tomatoes at. He obviously thought I was joking.

21 March
French elections

I used to respect the French, but Monday night! Bordel de merde! Their TV schedulers have clearly been touched by the digit d’insanité. The only thing a Friday night in France needs other than four bottles of red wine and a takeaway is a three-hour political boxing match on the telly.

21 March
Film: Personal Shopper

With the (very arty) camera invading every corner of her existence, Kristen Stewart has to act out of her skin. Very compelling and gripping in parts. It was probably trying to say something, but I couldn’t work out what it was.

Cameras can be creepy

Diary: Prime Suspect 1973

Watching the TV drama Prime Suspect 1973, it is hard not to imagine some of that inter-police-officer hankypanky going on in Bernard Morgan House in days gone by. Any first-person stories would be welcome.

23 March
Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, was impressive this morning on the radio, the day after an attempted attack on the UK Parliament in which young overseas visitors were mown down on Westminster Bridge by a crazed motorist. The attacker then stabbed a police officer. Khan spoke clearly and with pride and authority on the issue of London being a great city because people here like to celebrate their differences with openness and tolerance. He also talked about being a Muslim and about the British tradition of the citizen police officer and ‘policing by consent’.

26 March
GLE Rant2

Campaign poster

The proposed development projects around the estate have triggered in me a number of proverbial sayings and the like. First it was all about trying to fit a quart into a pint pot, now it’s the one about doing one thing well rather than lots of things badly.

In the case of the Bernard Morgan House proposals, I am still stupidly baffled as to why the project was not conceived from the start under the title ‘heritage’, the existing building with all that lovely flint and retro tiling retained and its interior modified into contemporary living spaces. The determination to smash it up just seemed like destruction for destruction’s sake, the product of a hubristic mindset on acid that had cruelly infected the decision-making process. I am told the police needed to sell the land for a maximum return (to Taylor Wimpey) because funding from central government has been cut so deeply they could no longer do their jobs properly. All I know for sure is the more I look at that building, the more I will miss it when it’s gone.

Over at the Richard Cloudesley site, I am haunted by the memory of an early meeting with the Hawkins\Brown architects in which we were told how the team had completed a ‘zonal analysis’ of the Golden Lane Estate (leisure zone, community zone, recreation zone, etc) and that the Richard Cloudesley project would become an ‘education zone’ extension of the estate. This sounded reasonable, sort of. Here was once the site of a school, so putting a new one in that spot wasn’t such a controversial step.

Then an elephant walked into the room in the shape of a 14-storey apartment block and my already passionate dislike of that pretentious backslash in the title ‘Hawkins\Brown’ turned into something bordering on hysteria\psycopathy. A school on the Richard Cloudesley site and housing on the Bernard Morgan site would have been a fair, sympathetic and manageable solution – balanced, in keeping, and all that.

But what were are left with instead is a crazed seek-and-destroy masterplan of excess in which playmakers at both the City of London Corporation and Islington Council daily score points off one another in a display of tit-for-tat blundering. This sorry situation has left residents forced to take part in an Orwellian game that was both rigged from the start and is now being reframed at every turn to subdue any meaningful discussion.

Whether there is a great deal of support outside of the Golden Lane Estate for the residents’ campaign is hard to tell. Comments online and recent local election results suggest the game is not over yet. Yes, this estate is a temple of worship for architecture students the world over. Yes, it represents an enlightened vision of society from the past that says intelligent, creative planning and building can transform lives. Yes, it is a totally fab place to live. But does all that count for anything anymore? I would like to think so, but defending it is getting harder every day and requires a huge leap of faith.

My mind goes back to Istanbul, 2005. Liverpool are losing 3-0 at half time in the Champion’s League final to a rampant AC Milan. I won’t tell you what happened next.

30 March
At the Artskickers Awards in Shoreditch.

With Michelle Carlile, who cuts a better Peel than I do a Steed.

6 April
At Headway B is whingeing to P about his dire financial situation. ‘They’ve cut my money off,’ he tells him. B is possibly one of the scraggiest-looking people in Britain. He is a spit for the 1970s TV character Catweazle. His hair is long and grey. His beard is full of waves and knots. His simple rectangular steel-frame glasses sit on the bump of his supposedly once broken nose. As his chin drops in fixed concentration while he rolls a cigarette, furtively, closely to his chest, the glasses slip over the nose-bump to the tip, where they sit, waiting to fall off their orange-peel landmass into his lap, which is more often than not clothed by a pair of heavily and variously stained jogging pants. Grooming is not a word that will ever be used to describe B.

13 April
At the Bridges peer support group Mary is my favourite. Quietly determined, destined to succeed. I think the progress line should be called the Rocky Road and be randomly jagged.

Picture: Easter

Always look on the bright side

15 April
Walking west along the north side of Western Road, Brighton, about half way between Currys-PC World and Argos, I spot an outstandingly overweight woman bouncing along in front of me, pitching and rolling from side to side as if trying to keep her balance during a choppy sea voyage. I started to think unkind thoughts about her. Should she have equal entitlement to nhs services? Should she be charged double for the two seats she occupies on buses and trains? That nasty sort of misanthropy. Then I spotted her male companion. He was much thinner, but still probably obese by modern measuring methods. His outstanding feature was the pair of grey cotton jogging pants he was wearing – loose fitting and stretched droopy enough to exhibit his arse crack, but murkily stained in the rear toilet area. The single mark wasn’t big enough to spot from a distance, so not majorly embarrassing, some might think. But walking behind him was not a treat. Just as I expected to again to be taken over by hateful snobbish thoughts, instead I started to wonder whether I should tell him about it, and if I did, what might be his response. I found it hard to believe that his wife/girlfriend/spouse-equivalent wasn’t aware of his soiled state. Then I thought maybe they both knew but didn’t care. Maybe it had only just happened and nobody but me knew about it. All the time these thoughts were distracting me, my eyes were fixed on that humiliating patch. It got to the point where I started deliberately to look away in case anybody thought I had a thing about staring at men’s dirty arses. Then they both squeezed through the door of Foodilic and I was free.

16 April
To a Greek restaurant, Adelfia in Preston Street, Brighton, last night with Sue & Lil, Jaq & Lynne. We met beforehand for a drink in the Royal Sovereign. We laughed about the hammering Crystal Palace (Sue) had recently inflicted on Arsenal (Lil) and got tips for hangouts in Cristianos (The Hideaway, a pub near the church and the petrol station). Hotel California started playing on the pub sound system, at which point Sue asked me to name the band. When I replied the Eagles, she punched the air with a yell of EEEEGGULLLS (Crystal Palace), and I knew I’d been had. The music continued and I noticed at one point three of us quietly swaying in our seats to the country rhythm, mouthing the words to Take it Easy: ‘Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy.’ Jaq did not attempt to hide her disgust.

Adelfia was friendly in the way we have come to expect from Greek restaurants and the staff’s happy mood infectious. The menu had other Mediterranean touches: halloumi dusted with flour before frying; the cheese stuffed into the peppers was softly spiced. During the mains (me, chicken souvlaki), Sue dropped a biggie. When Sue, Jaq and Jane were at university together, an older student they all knew not very well turned out to be the Westminster bomber. Cue them all trying to remember something about him that set him apart as a would-be mass killer. He was not interesting in any way, they reported, or they would have remembered more about him. Not like the gender fetish bloke who did things with raw chickens on the weekend. I spoke to Lil about Brexit and whether he feared for the future of his two daughters, 17 and 23. He was sure everything would turn out OK.

20 April
Letter to Emily Thornberry MP

I sent a handwritten version of this sometime in March. I was bored and in a very cheeky mood. Thornberry did not reply but passed the letter to Mark Field, who sent me a creepy letter saying there was nothing he could do, etc, not my place to interfere, blah.

Dear Ms Thornberry
Islington Council and the City of London Corporation are about to unknowingly gift up to 300 of your constituents to Mark Field MP (Con).

This is the outcome of a proposed plan to redevelop a piece of land on the edge of Islington South formerly occupied by the Richard Cloudesley School to create ‘much needed social housing’ and a primary academy.

On paper, the proposals look innocent by modern standards: a two-form primary school and a 14-storey tower block of dual-aspect apartments fronted onto Golden Lane. In practice, the development is a backdoor extension of the Grade II listed Golden Lane Estate.

The Golden Lane Estate is, as you probably already know, a place of worship for architecture students worldwide and a historically important ‘living museum’. It was an attempt to regenerate a badly bomb-damaged area of London after World War II on principles of good functional design, and a socially progressive and humane demonstration of how high-density inner-city living can work and thrive. Key workers from the nearby St Bartholomew’s hospital were among its first residents.

Today it is a much-loved urban oasis of hard-faced concrete, steel framing, coloured wall panels and green spaces. There is a gym, tennis courts and a swimming pool. There is the multi award-winning Golden Baggers allotment project. And we have a soon-to-be updated community hall that recently hosted herds of excited children crawling around the floor while adults sat gently swaying to the sound of a brass band playing David Bowie’s Life on Mars.

Now it has become the plaything of political pygmies. Here we find two councils, City of London Corporation and Islington Council cosied up in a plot to plonk your constituents onto the doorstep of the Golden Lane Estate. Many of them, I am sure, would be very happy about that, but if the current plans go ahead their homes will be managed and controlled by the Corporation of London and, by extension, incorporated into Mark Field MP’s constituency of City of London and Westminster. The details of this ugly manoeuvre, plus graphic illustrations of its hideous effects can be found at Your local Labour colleagues Mary Durcan and William Pimlott can also brief you.

South Islington and Golden Lane residents have lived together happily for many years. We share a lot. We have welcomed our Islington neighbours to events here on Golden Lane and they welcome us to activities around Whitecross Street, King Square and St Luke’s. But now, the partnership of manipulation formed by the City of London and Islington Council in this proposed development is set to blur the borders so much that there is no way your constituents can be adequately represented. In this sense they become hostages to bad politics. I fear Islington has been duped by the dark forces of political chicanery and the desire for an instant solution to key social problems at any cost. The plans are being railroaded forward with unseemly speed and very little proper consultation.

This letter is starting to sound like a Nimby rant, so I will finish, but ask you please to check the details for yourself, for the sake of your displaced constituents and for the reputation of Islington South.

15 May
To a performance of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner by the Aldgate Players at the Golden Lane Estate Community Centre.


27 May
Marilyn Monroe word board, as posted to Insta.


1 May
In the Arona Gran hotel in Los Cristianos, Tenerife, they put a small vase-like bin in your breakfast table. I think you are meant to put your tea bags and butter paper in there.

Eric: “I don’t mind dying, I just don’t want to be Ill.”

5 May
In Paris at the the Montmartre Citadines, the reception fella told us that Dalida was buried/entombed in the nearby cemetery. We thought he said Derrida and got quite excited.

6 May, Paris
Kate tells us that Ade is “walking out hand in hand” again. What lovely news.

20 May, London
Boat trip on the Thames Clipper to Greenwich from Bankside for Séan’s birthday. He was deeply absorbed in the encyclopaedia of Lego Superheroes we bought him, but later managed a killer impersonation of me walking round with my stick uttering weakly, “I’m a very old man I am.” And Paula keeps her credit card in her bra.

20 May, London
Spotted people photographing chewing-gum blots on Millennium Bridge. Not sure what they were doing at first, but I noticed three different sets of people doing it, so watched more closely. Is there a social media-style photo collection somewhere on the web. I dare not look.

21 May, London
Meeting with poet called St John to see how he might goose up our allotment’s contribution to Open Square Gardens next month. Unfortunately, he cannot do his ‘Spring’ poem because it is June, which is Summer. Pity, that. The lines about sniffing fertile bushes would have been a real treat for our visitors.

25 May
Witnessed firsthand the conflict between parents and disabled people on the buses. Riding to the Guardian, a wheelchair user at one stop signalled to the driver to open the ramp at the middle door so that she might board the bus. The space on the bus allocated for wheelchair users was already taken by two mothers with buggies, who shouted to the driver that the space was full. Both women looked at each other and at the wheelchair user (also a woman, though I am not sure gender is important here, other than women generally being the parent who has to struggle with buggies on buses) and shook their heads in dismay. What this really meant I am not sure. Were they indignant that a wheelchair user might want to use a bus? Or were they annoyed that buses and bus drivers do little to accommodate parents and the disabled? I’m not sure the last is actually true, but the first has certainly made headlines recently and is likely to remain a sore point for some time to come. The wheelchair user decided to wait for the next bus.   24.5.17Yesterday came in three parts. First I settled into getting what to say about Chippy’s pictures straight in my head. I lay in bed in the early hours and it all seemed straightforward. I would start with his eyes and I would end with him having an attack of the giggles with Tony Allen. But when it came to recording the audio, it didn’t happen in the way I’d planned. I was stuck for words. Somehow I managed to utter something about his eyes, but then it all fell apart. I clawed my way back to talk (badly) about how he and Michelle work together. Then I went off on a ramble about Connie As A Goth, which was on the wall in front of me, and the portrait of me he did in which I look like George Michael with an oversized right ear.

News of the suicide bomb attack in Manchester was all over the news and I began to wonder whether this was a ‘gender crime’. It seemed targeted at girls and young women. Killing children indiscriminately was another thought, an act not exclusively practised by terrorist groups.

Later I attended a drinks-cake-speeches reception at the Guardian’s Education Centre, where I have been doing volunteer teaching assistance for over three years. Nice to see some familiar faces, and I managed to get a chat with the Chair of the Scott Trust Alex Graham, a Scottish giant, who sounded genuinely proud of the Education Centre’s work and how it reflected the core liberal values of the Guardian that began nearly 200 years ago in … Manchester. This is all the work of the Guardian Foundation, a charity wing of the Guardian covering the Education Centre, the Archive and Exhibitions.The speeches were short but packed with passion and commitment.

One of the familiar faces I bumped into was Joseph, now a senior editor. Many years ago he worked on the Education desk with Sheila, who was instrumental in setting up the Education Centre and was herself a senior executive until she left last year for pastures new. I asked Joseph if he thought the Manchester attack was a ‘gender crime’. He thought not, adding that terrorists simply seek the greatest number of dead bodies. They don’t do demographics. I still wasn’t sure about that, but began to wonder that maybe I had grown a little too attached to the ‘gender crime’ label.

26 May
I saw the crescent, Connie saw the whole of the moon. Or at least that is how it seemed to me. I wanted to know what colour eyes Marilyn Monroe had. Connie did a web search but ignored any written testimony in favour of checking the images and trusting what she saw. Blue-grey was the answer. I am too skeptical about photography to trust it to deliver facts.

Memory: 1981
Bruce Springsteen, Manchester Apollo. We had been told to stay seated, but as soon as the full blast of air from the speakers signalled the opening chords of Prove It All Night took off the front of our faces, we were up, on our feet, and on a charge.

31 May
A friend who has recently debuted as a councillor has been told off for behaving too much like a citizen, which is not befitting for a councillor, apparently.

2 June
Bill Shankly word board.


3 June
Some weeks ago I shared a long article on Facebook about Jeremy Corbyn. It more or less fingered him as the head of a crypto-Stalinist axis of evil. One person replied to the posting, the son of a friend I secretly refer to as Herr Miles (the son, not the friend, and he is not German, he just seems to spend most of his working life on an aeroplane). Miles replied to the posting saying (I paraphrase) that when the Blair/Brown project got elected as New Labour, lots of leftwing ultras “bit their lip”, so now the boot is on the other foot, the Blairite wing of the party should do likewise.

In the past weeks, I have come to agree. But what swayed it for me was the notion being aired that a Corbyn Labour government would be shambolic and inept. Prime Minister May is using the term “coalition of chaos” repeatedly.

But imagine this: Corbyn’s Labour does win. The question is, can they govern? There is the question of their numeracy skills. It is not an unfair one. Experience of running countries is not at the top of their CV. This is where Corbyn’s centrist doubters can make a difference. Ed Miliband, John Prescott, Gordon Brown, Alan Johnson, Yvette Cooper, Ed Balls, plus many more: they all have vast experience of running this country, so now is their chance to make a difference, get behind their leader and devise a new programme that works for the many, not the few.

3 June
Have just read an LSE blog posting to the gender gap in voting intentions. Plan by the current government on social care provision made older and middle aged women fearful. Older women because they don’t know what care they will get, and middle aged women because they are most likely to be burdened with caring for the elderly members of their families. These two groups were considered safe votes for the Conservative Party, while younger women preferred Labour. Now a rump of core Conservatives are having second thoughts.

4 June
Travelling to Heathrow, we passed the Shepherds Bush Empire and Jane recalled that Neville Brothers concert some time in the noughties when concert-goers turned up with their shopping bags.

4 June
Heathrow is for the few, not the many. No Accessorise here. Many of the staff are Southall people of Asian origin.

4 June
Heathrow airport

Reading news of the “terrorist” attack on London Bridge and Borough Market last night. Six civilians killed, reported on BBC. Three perps shot dead. Arrive at Heathrow around 8.15am. Armed police at drop-off point. Facebook is loaded with people offering to donate blood. If there actions result in more and more armed police deployed in the streets, the very foundations of ‘policing by consent’ have been destroyed. So the big question is, Who Care’s? And among those who do, Who Care’s enough?

I don’t think I will ever slip naturally into speaking Portuguese. The temptation to adopt the Sean Connery James Bond sound is never far away, and just mouthing the words “dosh shervayshas” (two beers) brings on a fit of the giggles.

4 June

‘Natural’ death, almost by definition, means something slow, smelly and painful.

George Orwell

J’s Mum once told the story of a local woman who died during a bus journey, adding, “At least she wasn’t alone.”

4 June
Spotted a man on the plane using his phone to take a picture of the back of his head. I presumed it was to check encroaching hair loss.

4 June
The Lisbon taxi colours are light green/turquoise with black. Nice combo.

4 June
Out walking in the streets off Avenida Liberdade, Lisbon, J spotted a nice place for a glass of wine. We sat outside. J started reading the DK Top Ten Lisbon guide book, and where we were sitting, the small street-front bar of Casa do Alentejo, was a guide-book recommendation. We went inside up pink marble steps to explore an ultra-decorative Moorish palace type space and had a lovely tapas meal in the buzzing Taverna. J said, “this is us”. There is a swisher Restaurant too, so we must go back and try that.

5 June
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has asked citizens not to be alarmed about the increased police presence on the streets.

5 June
Area around Casa do Alentejo is mobbed by heavy metal zombies. J said it was like walking through Kerrang, and she should know.

8 June
Here I am, awake and typing at 6.30am, excited not by today’s General Election in Britain. We are in Porto, Portugal and I have just finished listening to two radio pieces that make me proud of my country’s national broadcaster, the BBC.

The first was The Queen’s Speech, by John Finnemore, a play in which the inventor (a woman) of an early sound recording device, cons Queen Victoria (Stephanie Cole) into ‘buying in’ to her voice-recording contraption that uses cylinders and wax. The second was a 1966 version of Romeo and Juliet by Ewan McColl in which ‘Ron’ cops off with ‘that little dark piece’ Julie and they board a ‘jazz boat’ to begin their fateful life of love together. McColl sings narrative interludes into the play about the star-crossed lovers from the ‘Montagu’ and the ‘Capli’ families.

Both plays had class as a running theme. The inventor from the Finnemore play was an Eliza Doolittle type who was not afraid to speak to the Queen bluntly and argue with her in her own voice. In the McColl play, the class motif runs deeper. Not only is one family posh and the other common, but in the sung interludes, McColl adapted flavours of jazz, gospel and country to spice the narrative.

The plays ran in succession on BBC Radio4 Extra, the digital station of ‘comedy, drama and entertainment’.

8 June
Is Portugal the place that has most successfully fine-tuned mass enterprise to its own national advantage? Probably not, but they turned ordinary wine into a flourishing port industry. And they profit from the shoe business by aiming for quality rather than quantity – at least that is what I am told – knowing that in terms of low-cost production they cannot match Asia. In future I shall be watching for other ways Portugal is managing to niche the mass market. Add to this cork, sardines, fado, soap.

10 June
I am just remembering a young man named Derek, who used to install himself on any available sitting surface in Moss Menswear on Breck Road, a clothes shop run by Joe Hollywood (Evertonian from Bootle) and assisted by me, on occasions. Derek would spout the dogma of 80s Liverpool Militant and Derek ‘Degsy’ Hatton, but once you dragged him into a serious analysis of his politics, it emerged that this was young Derek’s chosen method of meeting good-looking girls.

11 June
Trying to imagine what the future would have held if the Theresa May Conservative Party had been elected with a stonking majority. Slavery is the thing that springs to mind, a uniquely neo-capitalist type of slavery where pittance wages are the norm and zero-hours contracts standard. Would any of these new slaves revolt and slit the throats of their ‘masters’?

Portugal tour


12 June
I was just about to pen a diary about how the centrists could make Labour a properly progressive government in waiting. They hold the chance of Britain finally becoming a modern social democracy.

A message to the rebels: work with Jeremy Corbyn and Labour can win. Then this appeared in the Guardian.

15 June

A firefighter’s helmet at the Grenfell inferno.

17 June
Open Garden Squares Weekend on Golden Lane.

Community Cafe at the Golden Baggers allotment project.

19 June
I understand from an internal email at the Guardian that the cricket match between India and Pakistan will always bring in colossal ratings from Google. This pleases me because one of the post-internet-revolution ways the Guardian has been very successful is in live blogging, a new way of reporting and a charming way to be told a story.

19 June
A young mother moves to get off the 390 bus on York Way, London. She starts to reverse the buggy out of the central door but the final step down is difficult and another passenger helps to lift the front of the buggy to assist. But the young mother is a dwarf and her kind helper nearly topples her over by lifting the buggy too high. The look on her face suggests this might have happened before. The helper cringes and apologises.

21 June
A bit of philosophy

Turn up
Be me
Go home
For a cup of tea.

24 June


26 June
It has been a soup of happy and sad these past days. Last night we got an email from Eric in Tenerife giving more details about Glen’s death. We never really wanted much information, but the big thing for me was that Eric valued our friendship enough that he felt he COULD tell us. I think they were more a couple (not sure I will ever be able to de-couple them) of the Fifties than the Sixties, but I have nevertheless/nonetheless put Sixties music on while writing this. If nothing else, they kept that spirit alive. But of course they kept a lot more alive.

I noticed a Stephen Staunton painting in the studio during the Headway Members Forum yesterday and set my heart on buying it. It is a self portrait in which Stephen has two mouths. I will leave you to look at his work, know that his brain injury left him profoundly deaf,  that he is an arsey bugger, and decide for yourself.

The price negotiation was delicate, but Michelle took control, and we sealed the deal at  £70. Stephen, shook my hand, blew me a kiss and promptly went around the entire building showing members the money he had earned. He was a star. I was saddened by this for selfish reasons. My ego seemed to be a part of the transaction and that was not comfortable. But if anyone who wants to argue, I will tell them it is a fucking great picture, tell them why, and then tell them to go fuck themselves, because it is on my wall.

30 June

‘The UK is a parliamentary democracy, so the amplification of MP power is welcome – especially after a period of executive arrogance arising from the aggressive over-interpretation of a referendum result.’

Guardian editorial

1 July

‘I think Jeremy Corbyn is perfectly right to sack members of his shadow cabinet for not toeing his line on Brexit. This is British party politics: voters are forever being asked to compromise, but the politicians don’t have to. At some point the kinder, gentler politics was always going to take a leaf out of Alex Ferguson’s book and start throwing boots at people who disagreed with it…’

Marina Hyde, the Guardian

‘Grenfell’s residents were not viewed as people with a right to be heard but as pathetic supplicants, ungrateful for what had been bestowed upon them.’

Deborah Orr, the Guardian

14 July
At the bus stop on Old Street, a begging woman approached, having already been spurned by another waiting passenger. The begging woman looked at me pleadingly and told me she was hungry. I reached into my pocket, pulled out a £1 coin and handed it to her. She thanked me then added: “A sandwich costs £2.50.”

14 July

Beatles Word Wall

15 July
Hand-painted T-shirt, a gift for Izzy, who tried to teach me to play the piano at Headway East London. I was rubbish but loved to watch her beautiful, long-fingered hands dancing over the keyboard.

A strange fascination for skeletons, obvs.

21 July
Footballer Wayne Bridge knows where the dishwasher tablets are kept. And he prefers red sauce on his sausage sandwich.

21 July
Jane on my outfit: “Not sure about the frayed microcloth in your top pocket.”

1 August
Just spoke to young woman on number 14 bus practising card tricks. Amazing dexterity and fluency. She told me she learned by copying from YouTube and then read books.

4 August

Yuri Gagarin Word Wall

4 August
At our studio exhibition at the Southbank with Tirza and Yoki.

L-R: Yoki, Billy, Tirza (Brian in background, right).

19 August
Heartbreaking news that my cousin Sonja has died. She was such a lovely sociable person and this photo of her with Kate and Izzy, all doing what they do best, sums it up for me. RIP Son xx

PS. Notice how Sonja is drinking beer while Izzy and Kate are necking Kir Royale. Just saying. No class comment here.

L-R: Kate, Sonja, Izzy.

31 August

Muhammad Ali/Cassius Clay Word Wall

5 September
August column.

City Matters page

18 September
September City Matters column.

Things that go bump…
‘Bumping’ sounds like a nightclub dance craze from the 1970s. In fact, it is a theory of social cohesion. The citizens of small, tightly-packed communities get on far better if they bump into one another regularly. And the places they do this are held by social scientists and community-engagement experts to be sacred, fertile grounds for a better society.

Golden Laners have their chosen spots. Fusion gym, Waitrose and Fortune Street Park are all well established ‘bumping’ places. Lesser known ones are the undercover pavement on Golden Lane alongside Stanley Cohen House and, my favourite, the short tunnel of trees behind the Cripplegate Council noticeboard at the back of the Shakespeare pub.

But bumping also happens outside the confines of our bright and colourful concrete paradise. Often I will see neighbours at the open meetings organised by Healthwatch City of London. These are round-table talking shops at which City residents, workers and service users chew the fat with healthcare professionals in an effort to shape future policy. Issues such as medication passports, community pharmacy, dementia and social care come under intense scrutiny. These talks are important because the City of London shares some health and social services provision with neighbouring boroughs, notably Hackney, so policy needs to embrace a wide range of needs.

The Healthwatch gatherings take place in various locations, but often at the Dutch Centre in Austin Friars, EC2. They are always a great success, and I think I know why: the free buffet lunches they serve to fuel the conversation are mouthwateringly good, so good that I have even spotted some of my Golden Lane neighbours stuffing their faces with free food at lunchtime then disappearing quietly before the serious topical talking starts. This is obviously unethical and I never hesitate to remind them of their poor conduct. And in my experience, all the best ideas come with a full stomach, so ‘Let’s do lunch with Healthwatch’ could be the start of a new trend. It’s good to talk…and eat.

‘Recovery After Heart Surgery’, an examination of patient experiences and priorities, is at St Bartholomew’s Hospital on 5 October.

Healthwatch City of London’s fourth Annual Conference is at the Dutch Centre, 7 Austin Friars on 20 October.

A crystal-ball moment
I predicted in last month’s Golden Lane Gazette that objections to the development proposed for the former Richard Cloudesley site would start rolling in. I wasn’t wrong, and even more piled in on deadline day last week. I also mentioned that a “clever resident from Bayer House” had circulated his own alternative to the existing Hawkins\Brown blueprint. This is the ‘Fred Plan’, a scheme more compatible with the estate’s existing architecture, and its author, Fred Scott, is so clever that to advance his rival idea he has created an artistic photo-composition of what looks like an awayday of 1950s British intellectuals loitering ghostlike over a model of Fred’s insurgent 21st-century Golden Lane redesign. They look to be contemplating, with deadly seriousness, a time in the future when our prize-winning estate will be enlarged in a way sympathetic to the original post-war vision of its architects, Chamberlin, Powell & Bon. In the light of how the Richard Cloudesley project has been managed so far, in which residents’ views have been barely registered, let alone considered, it is tempting to remark “pigs might fly”, but stranger things have happened.

The Fred Plan

Culture vultures
The reinvention of the City as a cauldron of creativity under the title Culture Mile might not be as far-fetched as it sounds. Getting the heritage architecture of Golden Lane and the Barbican to be included in this hot new idea might be a fantasy too far, but at a recent party to mark the closure of our community centre for refurbishment, I learned about Joe Mitchell. Back in the 1960s, Joe was the “Cameron Mackintosh of Cripplegate”, rallying residents of all ages to perform on the Golden Lane Community Centre stage in his famous ‘Follies’. Some of Joe’s protégés even went on to attend the Italia Conti Academy of Theatrical Arts. Italia Conti has been an incubator of top talent for many years, so don’t be surprised if the next Doctor Who hailed first from the Golden Lane Estate.

Behind the scenes
And if your life is not already dramatic enough, take time to check out the absorbing ‘Life on the London Stage’ exhibition at the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) around the corner in Clerkenwell.

An edited version of this column appeared in the City Matters newspaper, edition number 048 in September 2017

30 September
My instinct was to say no when invited to go on a skiing trip to Hemel Hempstead. It is now five years since my stroke and I have long since accepted that activities that depend on good balance are out of my league.

The trip was with Headway East London, where I’ve been a member for around four years. Yes, I declined, but then had second thoughts. First, I didn’t like the idea of ruling out any activity that I might still be able to enjoy. Second, I had never been skiing and this was probably the best opportunity to break my duck safely, since I would be surrounded by experts who could save me if I got into trouble.

So it was off to Hemel Hempstead Snow Centre, to be kitted out in all the gear and released on to, in my case, a slope so slight that hardly warranted the name. It might have been but a marginal incline of around 0.05° but it did it’s best to keep me at the bottom. Eventually, by adopting a gentle swaying motion to transfer my weight, I was able slowly to step sideways with my stronger right leg the haul my weak left leg after it. It didn’t look pretty, but it got me about 3m upslope, from where I could then begin my elegant descent.

This is when the déjà vu descended. As I slid gently down that meagre slope, crouched forward as instructed, the overwhelming, uncontrollable urge to stand erect got the better of me. In doing this the skis do what they are supposed to do and pull the rug from under your feet. You tipple backwards, saved only by a last-ditch, desperate forward-wheeling of your arms to propel yourself back to a balanced position.

The experience took me back to the early stages of stroke recovery when I was learning the classic ‘sit-to-stand’. In this case, the irresistible motion is forward rather than backward. As you attempt to stand from a sitting position, you feel yourself pitching dangerously forward, straight into a nosedive to the floor. Only a slow, purposeful rebuilding of your body confidence over time allows you to throw your weight forward and flex your legs to a standing position. At that moment on the ski slope in Hemel Hempstead, I could not imagine any time in the future when I had would have the confidence to hold my position without fear.

But because I know what I know from past experience, skiing IS something I might one day be capable of. The real question is whether I want to.

7 October


Notes made at Kid Creole gig
Mates with Basquiat.
The support band is a retro idea.
Arto Lindsay. Experimental beat, bass and percussion combo. Dark, brooding and poetic. Slashing guitars and feedback.
Jane: “It feels quite French.” It fitted the word NICHE so well I couldn’t disagree.
Musicians messing with volume dials on amps is a lovely reminder of how things once we’re. At one point, Arto signalled to the control desk at the back of the stalls that one of his amps was fucked. It was the same signal referees in football matches use to tell the offpitch staff that a player has a broken leg.
A job-creation programme for drummers.
As we came out for the interval, one gig-goer was heard to say “you’ve got to be on crack to enjoy that”.
The Kid’s kid is his guitarist. “He costs me nothing.”
3 coconuts.The very notion of the dancing-girl assistant seems creepy and old.
The Kid’s kid plays a mean Telecaster.
Pole dancers of today would once have found a vocation in the Latin Swing club scene of the 1980s.
It has Vegas written all over it, and yet it is such an obvious product of New York. I wish America could work out where it’s coming from.
You’ve still gotta be fit to be a Coconut.
11 people onstage.
One of the Coconuts broke into ‘My Boy Lollipop’.
The Kid is Leader of the band, and this is Band Musicianship.
The Kid is no longer such a great singer, if he ever was. The softer, gently brash side of his voice has gone. But, hey, what a showman, what a performer!
An orgy of dancing to Annie, and  a cute guitar riff inserted.
Upper Circle stalwart Remainers (in their seats).
The Kid introduced the word “insouciating” as a description of the Coconuts.
12-hour shift for the door attendant.

8 October
Old St/New St is a performance by a group of local teenagers who, using transcripts of interviews from residents around Islington and the City (including St Luke’s O55 members), tell stories about how our neighbourhood has changed over the years: The one-time council flats bought on the ‘Right to Buy’ of the 1980s now worth £730,000; the devastation of the Blitz in 1941 when German war bombing turned the whole area into an inferno.

The young actors obviously like the idea of impersonating local characters because their mimicry was so accurate I wanted to step in and add my own pennyworth. Touchy issues such as immigration and Brexit were all brought to life by 15-year-olds speaking the words of 70-year-olds. Their quirky mannerisms also spiced the performance, bringing a real sense of comic fun.

As a way of coaching young actors, using the oral histories of real people, is a brave and innovative idea that deserves to go a long way. So it’s hats off to the young professional actresses Rachael Spence and Lisa Hammond for bringing this fantastic show together with such style and vision. Let’s hope there are many more in the future.

For more information, please email

15 October
October City Matters column.

Don’t worry, be happy
Now that our community centre has closed temporarily for refurbishment, meeting places for residents are scarce. This makes us more than ever indebted to Sir Ralph Perring.

Sir Ralph was Lord Mayor when our estate was completed in 1962 with the addition of Crescent House. He was a master of both the Worshipful Company of Tin Plate Workers and the Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers.

His memory lives on in the Ralph Perring Centre, a former nursery next to the Golden Baggers allotment and children’s playground. The centre is home to the Ralph Perring Club for senior residents and former City workers. The club has been meeting for social activities since the mid-1960s.

The building has also now been pressed into service as a makeshift civic centre for City and residents’ events. In June it was a community cafe for Open Garden Squares Weekend, and right now it is hosting a Corporation-backed Action for Happiness programme of eight weekly sessions exploring “What Matters”, the Dalai Lama way to a stress-free existence.

At the first session we started with a Mindful Minute, which is always useful, if only to stop the noisy nattering. Then we were asked to think about Happiness and what it really means. Next came a YouTube TED talk by Richard Layard, professor of Wellbeing at the London School of Economics. This got us chatting in small groups about issues such as Trust, Contentment and childhood experiences, good and bad. If all this sounds a bit wet and hipsterish, it is. But at a time when mental-health problems have hit epidemic proportions, anything’s worth a try. It was, at least, a positive experience that each member of the group could take forward and build on.

Grout season
In April 2015, the wall tiles on Stanley Cohen House on Golden Lane began to fall off. Scaffolding was erected and all the outward appearances of a repair job started… then stopped. The building is Grade II listed, so no repair is straightforward. English Heritage has to tick its boxes, and wall tiles from B&Q are not on their list of approved materials. While decisions were being made about where best to buy the replacement tiles, what looked like black plastic bin bags were nailed to the walls as a “safety precaution”. So, for around two years Stanley Cohen House has looked like a distressed polytunnel. Only now have new tiles been sourced from Spain and scaffolding is once again in place. This is cause for great celebration and, fingers crossed, very soon the bin bags will be but a bad memory.

Human writes act
Getting a couple of Banksies in the neighbourhood was cool enough, and now the Fann Street side of Bowater House has been turned into an art installation, ‘Spectres of Modernism’, by “Turner Prize winners” protesting the Taylor Wimpey development of Bernard Morgan House opposite into ghost homes for rich overseas clients. But there is something unsatisfactory about this feted project. It looks too studied, and the slogans all seem to try very hard to be clever. The banners are also neat and tidy, so unlike most of the Bowater residents I know.

Protest: Bowater House, Golden Lane Estate.

All guns blazing
It is a running half-joke that on any working day there are more vegetarians in the City than residents (my bad-maths calculation puts the vegetarian/resident ratio at around 5:2). The numbers game gets even more exciting when you try to find a resident who is also a vegetarian. Reader, I married her, and most Sundays we repeat the same fruitless mission to find a pub that serves a decent veggie roast dinner. Thankfully, the Artillery Arms in Bunhill Row is blazing the trail with a well-pitched menu that includes a meat-free Sunday slap-up. Add a good range of Fuller’s and guest beers and you have the recipe for a proper lazy day.

We all want to change the world
This year’s centenary shenanigans for the Russian Revolution have not exactly gone off with a bang here on the estate, but 2017 is not over yet. On 22 October, the Great Chamber at The Charterhouse will deliver a piano/cello/viola concert featuring the post-revolutionary work of Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich and Prokofiev alongside crazy experimental jazz by Nikolai Kapustin. If that doesn’t spark any riots in your soul, pour yourself a large vodka and settle into a chapter of Onion Domes On Golden Lane, a ripping memoir-blog by one of my Basterfield House neighbours that both comments on contemporary Russian life and recalls evocatively the highs and lows of a young British woman working in the Moscow theatre of the 1990s (

A joke from our estate office
“A friend of mine invented the cold-air balloon… but it never really took off.”

An edited version of this column appeared in the City Matters newspaper, issue number 52

City Matters page

17 October, London
The more I think about the Old St/New St ‘verbatim theatre’ project I saw recently at Shoreditch Town Hall, the richer it gets. It reminded me how as a child I loved to study the words of songs and sing them in my own way. I was also fascinated at how mobile phones with headphones were used. They are such a natural visual marker for today’s teenagers, but nevertheless obviously a machine. In my mind I started to compare phones and headphones on youngsters with hearing aids on the elderly. Then I went a bit far and started to liken the twisted and tangled wires of the earphones to umbilical cords.

Doing teaching assistance with a Y12 class at the Guardian, I encouraged them to roam widely when trying to write a feature headline. The example I pulled out of the hat in that moment was for the story of Romeo and Juliet: ‘Boy Meets Girl, And Then They Die’. Not sure if it worked.

18 October, London
At the fourth Action For Happiness meeting on Golden Lane last night, the subject was compassion. We listened to some quasi-mystical ‘Kindness Meditation’ stuff from a woman named Sylvia who urged us to practise a kind of internal incantation when engaging with others. The Key phrases to repeat to yourself were: BE SAFE, BE STRONG, BE CONTENT, LIVE AT EASE (it might have been in a different order). In doing this you will exude an aura of compassion that other people can feed on to make themselves better people. Yeah, OK. We then watched a talk by Karen Armstrong and the tried to answer some questions about compassion. There was some disagreement on: 1) Whether lobsters and carrots have feelings, and 2) Whether you need to be able to speak fluent Arabic to understand the Quran. One of the set-text questions was: “What wider changes in our society might help encourage greater empathy and compassion for others?” In our group of three, there was some agreement that a new prime minister might help. I felt this was a flimsy answer and attempted to beef it up by adding “LAY OFF THE NHS”. I argued that while we all sat in this room agonising over compassion and kindness, etc, every day, every hour, every minute in the NHS is overflowing with the stuff. And still politicians of all stripes believe they know better and meddle endlessly. As an example of how compassion can work on a grand, albeit a sometimes messy scale, the NHS is it. Later, when we fed this notion back to the whole group, it struck a chord and various members were keen to offer their own input. I still think the problem with the NHS is the letter S. It should stand for SYSTEM and not for SERVICE.

19 October, London
I never knew that the French basically started the Vietnam War. This is covered in the first of eight programmes currently on BBC iPlayer. They are by the American history author and filmmaker Ken Burns. I once read a book of his on Lewis & Clark, but had never seen his film work, which is gripping. I wonder if there is a French equivalent somewhere? Not that I would be able to understand it, I would just like to think that they got their say on the matter and that popular knowledge is balanced and not dominated by one national viewpoint. Although implying that Ken Burns speaks for the whole of America is a bit stupid.

19 October, London
At St Luke’s, G goes into a rant about social housing, the right-to-buy, Thatcherism and the evil emperor’s at Islington Council. He is single, has a two-bed social-rent flat, and asked the council if he could take a lodger into his spare room to alleviate, microscopically, the borough’s housing problem. No, they said. Contact Shelter. Shelter were not prepared to find a solution, so he gave up and bitched about it to me instead. He also told me that the new council flats Islington has built on the edge of King Square, where he would like to move, rent for £180 (one-bedroom) “that’s fifty-sixty quid more than I am paying for a two-bed”.

19 October, London
Trois Grandes Fugue is a ballet about to open at Sadlers Wells Theatre on Roseberry Avenue. I have just seen a dress rehearsal and refuse to pretend to know anything about ballet. It begins with a B. It’s baffling. Er, that’s it.

What we saw were three separate performances by dancers from Lyon Opera Ballet to the music of Beethoven’s Grand Fugue. Just to be thorough, I looked up the word Fugue. The entry I picked gave two definitions. One was a musical meaning, which babbled on but eventually hit on the word “interweaving”. This made sense of some of the dancing I saw. But the more interesting definition of ‘fugue’ came from psychiatry, and stated: “a loss of awareness of one’s identity, often coupled with flight from one’s usual environment, associated with certain forms of hysteria and epilepsy.” This too made sense, but not obviously at the time, so in bafflement I started to concentrate on superficial details like, What colour were the costumes? In order of performance, they were grey, black and red. Other things I picked up on was whether the dancers performed barefoot or in shoes. Answer = bare, shod, bare. Oh, and the third element was performed exclusively by women, whereas the previous two were full-stage romps in which each woman partnered a man.

Before today, ballet was never on my radar. I’d seen it fleetingly on the telly, but never felt any great pull. It was for posh people. In moments  of abandon I could be heard blurting that Strictly Come Dancing was the people’s equivalent, but it probably never sounded very convincing.

I’m not sure I’ve changed my mind. What I found most intriguing was the use of the body as an instrument of expression. We see it sometimes in athletes, especially in gymnastics, but ballet dancing goes several steps further. Dancers need to know in detail not only every bone and muscle in the human body, but every bone and muscle in THEIR OWN body. Sometimes they look as if they will snap in two, such is the seeming impossibility of the steps and poses they slip into with ease. The control is mind-boggling. Most of us see our bodies merely as the vehicle in which we ‘do things’. Ordinary things. The opposite is true for ballet dancers. They take their bodies to the edge, exploring the possibilities and embracing the unknown.

20 October, London
Channel 4 posted a clip on Facebook of Scottish MP Mhairi Black giving it loads against the UK government and its austerity policies. I didn’t even have the sound turned on. Just the look of passion, anger and sheer fury was etched into every corner of Black’s face. Every word was a white-hot bullet of vitriol.

23 October, London
The elderly couple sitting next to Jane were really pissed off that it wasn’t a documentary.

Forced wit?

26 October, London
They goosed up a meeting with Cripplegate Common Council last night by including a guest speaker. It was Nicholas Kenyon, top man at the Barbican Centre, and he was there to tell us about Culture Mile. This is the CityCorp’s vision of a post-Brexit Square Mile in which the arts fill the identity gap left by departing financial enterprises. Two things came up repeatedly in Kenyon’s jibber-jabber about the genius of Simon Rattle and what a wonderful artistic environment the Barbican is. First was the arrival at Farringdon of Crossrail, the new train link that will eventually connect Liverpool Street with Reading. Farringdon and Moorgate are Crossrail stations that will deliver loads more people to the City, and these are the ones the CityCorp and Mr Kenyon would seek to ensnare and strip of their hard-earned cash. The second note of repetition in Kenyon’s presentation was the LSO. Aside from the need to keep Simon Rattle very happy in his new job as band leader, the London Symphony Orchestra emerged as a key power broker, bossing big decisions around not only things such architecture and local planning, but the placement of huge sums of money relating to the public realm. This is a face of power politics I have only previously been able to imagine. And here it was, bold as brass, in front of the ward’s elected members, the clear message that CityCorp was eating out of the hand of Crossrail and the LSO.

28 October, Winchester
Sitting on the sofa in Liz’s reading when an email pops into my inbox from Angelina warning all recipients of a fraudster who is prowling the neighbourhood in London “covered in fake blood, asking for money”. She says he calls himself Paddy.

1 November, London
Last night at the Action for Happiness meeting, the task I pledged to try for next week was to turn a negative into a positive. One a day. I am calling this project N2P.
Today I went in search of pumpkins. On 5 November the Baggers are having a Harvest Celebration to mark the end of the growing season and the start of the festive season. In the promo, pumpkins were promised and S discovered that all the local suppliers had run out. I decided that Hoxton Street was a good bet, but no, I was wrong. This is my NEGATIVE. I turned it into a positive simply by enjoying a stroll around Hoxton Street and marvelling at the vibrancy of life in this small area of south Hackney. And then, by accident, another POSITIVE arrived. On the bus home, I stopped off at St Luke’s and they had a spare pumpkin, homegrown by M, and possibly three more on Friday when the kitchen have decided whether or not to use their supply to make soup.

2 November, London
N2P: My default view about Cripplegate ‘s Alderman is that he is a ruddy-faced over-privileged uppercrust tosser worthy only of contempt (NEGATIVE). But in the last two meetings I have seen him at he has said things that were not entirely contemptible, and in a recent spat on the Golden Lane website about planning and the decision-making around Bernard Morgan House, he gained my admiration (POSITIVE) just for taking part. Say what you like about him, at least he gets stuck into the conversation. He also turned up to a Baggers open day earlier this year. He came, went, and came back to buy £3 worth of homemade biscuits.

3 November, London
This morning J was telling me about a government ‘policy lab’ she had visited, up a spiral staircase into the Sky Room, housed in a Westminster tower overlooking Big Ben. Here is where lots wonks and nerdy researchers chill out in an informal working environment and toss ideas up and down to see if any of them have legs. I said it sounded idyllic and far from the fevered offices she works in where graduate fast-streamers plot the overthrow of one another, and senior civil servants act out bit parts from The Thick Of It and Yes, Minister. We have recently felt the loss of the TV satire W1A, in which the BBC pulls of the masterstroke of taking the piss out of itself and getting the last laugh. I told Jane that the daily updates of her working life were starting to resemble W1A. She replied suggesting SW1A as the TV title of a new Westminster satire.
Today’s N2P (Negative to Positive) is no biggie. While hearing P moan about her shitty, unengaged students at City University (NEGATIVE), I started to really listen to her (POSITIVE).

4 November, London
Today’s N2P was gifted to me. I’d worked myself up (NEGATIVE) for an argument about the City’s plans for the development of our estate’s community centre, but circumstances robbed me of my rage. What I thought was a drop-in meeting was in fact a presentation, and one I came away from cheery and heartened (POSITIVE). Signs of optimism.

5 November, London
N2P. Badly hung over (NEGATIVE), but still managed to pick up my spirits for the Harvest Celebration on the estate, which was brilliant and very well attended (POSITIVE).
At Harvest Celebration, while eating a scone in the Ralph Perring Centre, M complained to her mother D  about the yucky butter S had provided. It tasted horrible, she said of the “posh butter”. It was President unsalted spreadable.

6 November, London
N2P. Sink blocked as dishwasher and washing machine simultaneously in action (NEGATIVE), so missed Guardian OAE class. Got an email from E saying the class had to leave early anyway, so I would only have been useful for around half an hour. This I count as a POSITIVE.

7 November, London
Bumped into H on Golden Lane. Her Great Grandchildren call her Fevvie, which she says is an old family nickname.
N2P. The treadmill in the gym is boring (NEGATIVE), so I have turned it into a POSITIVE by using it to practise ‘Tandem Walking’, which is similar to the hip-wriggly stroll supermodels do on the catwalk.
In the film The Killing of the Sacred Deer, the characters played by Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman do a sex role-play thing in which she starts to undress then asks him, “General anaesthetic?” whereupon she sprawls naked across the bed and plays dead.

8 November, London
Got the 10am yellow hail-and-ride 812 bus from Golden Lane to Lever Street for St Luke’s. On Bunhill Row, two chatterbox white women boarded, exchanged some casual banter with the black woman driver, and sat down. As the bus crossed Old Street and moved along Bath street towards City Road, the chat continued. Then one of the passengers rose to disembark, somewhere near the junction with Radnor Street. As the bus slowed to stop, the passenger moved towards the door, but tripped slightly on a device used to secure wheelchairs or walking frames. She recovered, huffing and puffing, and got off just before City Road, but only after warning words from the driver about remaining seated until the bus has stopped. As we continued onward, the remaining passengers (other than me) spoke about the recently disembarked woman. I overheard that she had two children of her own but had been a working childminder and foster parent for more than 20 years. On hearing this, the driver added that she had a friend who fostered 800 children. This sounded almost impossible, and one of the passengers questioned the number 800 in an astonished tone of voice. The driver clarified: her friend HAD fostered  A TOTAL OF 800, not 800 all at once but 800 altogether, in her life. It still seemed an awful lot.

10 November
November City Matters column.

Walk the walk…
Every so often residents are invited to an ‘estate walkabout’ with a member of the management team. The idea is to point at paving cracks that haven’t been repaired for a very long time. The chronic subsidence of the pavement on Golden Lane alongside Stanley Cohen House is always a good opportunity to point out the chronic failings of the City’s repairs department.

It was on one of these outings recently that my neighbour and Cripplegate Common Councillor Sue Pearson drew our attention to a spooky defect on the steps outside Crescent House. Two perfectly smooth scoops had been etched from the concrete. They looked like a weird sculptural hex. The marks were, she told me, the work of the enthusiastic skateboarders who arrive on the estate from time to time. Their wheels have left us a permanent reminder of their visit. Shortly afterwards, repairs began on the skateboarders’ scoops; the Stanley Cohen paving still awaits its first casualty.

Skateboarders leave their mark.

Slipping the Mickey
If William Wordsworth had ever lived on Golden Lane, his famous poem might have started:

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er Great Arthur House
When all at once I heard a sound
The hungry scratching of a mouse

At first sight, our estate looks neat and well ordered, with clean lines and a simple geometry that leaves nowhere to hide. But inside the individual flats are nooks, crannies and cavities galore – in short, a paradise for mice.

The M-word is not one residents use openly, but once the conversation starts it quickly moves to preferred methods of extermination. Glue pads are frowned upon by those dedicated to a more humane way of killing. It’s an ethical minefield.

The mouse problem surfaces whenever any kind of building work is in progress, such as the current refurbishments of the children’s playground and community centre. The mice scatter and find a comfy corner somewhere in your flat. Then, late at night, you hear the sound of those micro-molars at work…

Wicked leaks…
Each morning I open the curtains to see another rainwater stalactite added to the growing collection that festoons the underside of our building’s flat roof.

Flat roofs are prone to many problems if not diligently maintained and inspected regularly by professionals. The solidified cave-like drips that appear this time each year are a seasonal nuisance.

When I tell a Crescent House neighbour about this, he grins knowingly. He lives on the top floor, and has a clear view of Basterfield House roof. He is so fascinated by what he sees that he has in effect become a ‘roof mapper’. He sits watching the clogging of silt in the drainage channels and monitors the ebb and flow of rainwater and its failure to find a clear runoff route to ground level. He describes all these defects as if they were acts of nature, like an over-enthusiastic landscape geographer studying an ancient river bed. He talks like an environmentalist arguing for a better approach to the conservation and preservation of the natural world. He’s right about almost everything, but the bad news is I’m probably the only one listening.

Teenage rampage…
The Golden Lane Estate lies on the northern edge of the City and sticks up like a throbbing thumb. It is surrounded on three sides by Islington. Some of our best friends are from Hackney and Camden. We live on the edge, and our interests cross boundaries and push at the frontiers of the neighbourhood.

Recently I pushed myself as far as Shoreditch Town Hall to see an exciting intergenerational theatre project. Old St/New St is the brainchild of two young professional actors, Rachael Spence and Lisa Hammond, who have been busy interviewing senior residents of the City/Hackney/south Islington area around Old Street. They have turned their spoken words into a piece of ‘verbatim theatre’, performed by a group of local teenagers.

This is acting by imitation, and the comic potential of teenagers pretending to be pensioners is huge, especially when the pensioners are your neighbours. The eerie familiarity of the voices got stronger as the young actors settled ‘into character’, relishing every moment. The irritating Brexit Bore soon became a figure gripped by a sense of loss. The angry woman who doesn’t like the smell of garlic from the food stalls on Whitecross Street started to look slightly pathetic.

As a way to teach acting, Spence and Hammond have hit on a special approach, and the performances had an authenticity that put real voices centre stage. More, please.

An edited version of this column appeared in the City Matters newspaper, edition 056

City Matters page.

14 November, London
There is a stunning moment at the end of a new film called The Florida Project. A young seven-year-old girl is about to be taken from her tattooed slatternly mother and placed in care. She shakes free from the social workers and police officers enacting the deed. She runs to her best friend’s apartment and bangs on the door. Her friend, also around seven, senses something is wrong. They both gaze into each other’s eyes, desperation rising. The child on the inside of the apartment stutters, asking what the matter is. The child on the outside is lost for words, but continues to lock eyes with her best friend. Then she bursts into tears. Uncontrollable sorrow pours out of her. Her friend does not know how to respond so instinct takes over. She takes her friend’s hand and leads her on a dash of freedom through a web of Orlando’s tacky tourist traps.

The Florida Project

Another thought is how similar my own childhood in Anfield was to that of the children in this film. In one scene a group of children ‘accidentally’ set a derelict motel block on fire. I remember setting postboxes on fire and calling the fire brigade.

15 November, London
The smiling security attendant greeted me at the Guardian today. He is Asian, and for some reason that makes his smile seem more genuine. He is small and stocky, with slicked-back black hair. I don’t know whether he recognises me from years ago, before the stroke, but whenever he sees me his eyes light up as if spotting a familiar face. I remember him from all those years ago, but I don’t recall ever acknowledging him in any other way than common politeness. Yesterday he saw me approaching from the street. I normally head for the revolving door, but he waved, signalling that he would open the busted disabled entrance for me. I passed through and we exchanged big smiles. I thanked him in an effusive way and went off to the Y6 class I was helping with. He was there again as I exited around 90 minutes later, and I think my gratitude as he opened the door was again a bit too gushing.

16 November, London
Headway: I don’t know why anyone bothers to play V at dominoes. He is too good and has that knowing smirk when he knows he’s got you beaten.
Martin pronounces his surname, Mangan, as “Mongan”, “Martin James Mongan”.

He identifies many of the things he does as work. When he is in the art studio, a painting is a ‘job’, and Michelle urges him to “finish the job” or “get the job done”.
On a trip to the Science Museum, B was talking about how Headway might do something collaboratively with the Science Museum. My choice is for something to do with motor learning. Y’s lipstick activity (at the pop-up shop) was both fun, engaging and fascinating. Ditto the motor learning research I did with G at NHNN. In that, I even earned some money but what was really interesting was the use of competition as a motivator.
Back from a Headway visit to the Science Museum. I cannot decide whether it was a success or a failure. We went in a Hackney Community Transport minibus, driven by J. By the time we got there, it was time for lunch. They showed us to a quiet, cavernous basement, where we settled at some folding tables to eat sandwiches. The room was dark and forbidding and it freaked out S, so she disappeared with B. Others were demanding a fag break, so we didn’t get that much time to explore the museum before we had to get back to Headway HQ.

I’m not sure if a better outcome was/is possible with a bunch of people with brain injuries and individual care needs. Would any greater or more expert planning have helped with something so inherently unpredictable? And should the point of these outings be anything more than getting members off their arses and into the real world?

17 November, London
Listening to a reading of Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household on BBC Radio 4 Extra last night, one line of description impressed. I cannot remember the setting or context, but it was the labelling of certain characters as the “ecclesiastes of Savile Row and Jermyn Street”.
Also on the radio last night was the brilliant Alexei Sayle’s Imaginary Sandwich Bar, which alongside Andy Hamilton Sort Of Remembers makes listening to the radio these days an unrivalled joy. Both on BBC.

22 November, London
There were two very sad moments when the City of London Corporation clearance team came to dismantle M’s Crerscent House patio. The first was a sobbing M, sat with J and L, all surrounded by police, saying, over and over, “I’m not a bad person”, and the second was the number of residents who passed by claiming to be disgusted at the unfolding events.
The detachment of those involved in the clearance was depressing. The woman from the High Court whose job it was to enforce the order was stiff as a board. When I changed my glasses to read her identity tag, she snapped: “And you are?” I told her I was a resident, but when she later overheard me talking to a Crescent House resident and to a reporter from City Matters, she became aggressive. “I am not an ‘officer’, as you describe, sir,” she barked when I tried to introduce her to the reporter. She was an officer earlier, when I, a mere ‘resident’, asked who she was. Maybe she changed her mind about her job title at some point afterwards. Bev gave our estate manager, who supervised the clearance (which deployed shopping trolleys from Waitrose and Sainsbury) a mouthful of sarcasm, which I enjoyed.

The people moving all the pots and garden furniture were remote but not disrespectful to Maria’s property. I’m told she will be charged for the clearance, so maybe they were sensitive to that. They completed the task with caution rather than care.
I felt like a disappointed loser, though I’m struggling to imagine what more I could have done. This was an unfair battle and one that never should have taken place. I felt helpless, as M did, and I don’t have all of her many problems to deal with. I did my best, but somehow I don’t feel anything great was achieved today.

24  November, London
I knocked on D’s door today to see how she is. She is not long out of hospital after a fall. She came to the door with a walking frame and told me she was good, that she was lucky because her son retired just before her fall and can now look after her, and that she has been out, yes, but in a wheelchair only. I told her I would call again soon. My worry is that D might consider herself a failure as a mother if her son was not looking after her. Yet many of her generation are totally on their own. To admit that to strangers would be hard; to ask for help harder still.

25 November, Courtauld Gallery, London
Soutine’s portraits.

Flat faces and funny shapes.

30 November, London
McDonald’s in Victoria train station has click-and-collect machines to smooth the journey from cradle to heart attack.
P at Headway says that London is a good place for going out with no plans or at short notice. Culture, he says, is plentiful, whereas in Edinburgh, outside of Festival time, cultural activities must be planned in advance.

1 December, Brighton
One of those improbably balanced cranes has popped up in the distance. I do hope the building under construction does not end up obscuring our view of the power-station chimney.

5 December, London
An article in the Guardian about the 2001 decriminalisation of drugs in Portugal got me thinking about drug users and social isolation. By ‘referring’ drug misuse cases to healthcare experts rather than ‘tackling’ the issue through the courts, isolated people are ‘plugged back’ into civic society. This might not be what all of them want, but if genuine rehabilitation is what some really do want, this seems like a progressive first step.

6 December, London
In the playground there are two muslim women playing football with a bunch of squealing tots in hi-viz jackets. One of them fancies herself as a star player – dribbling, kicking with both feet, etc.

7 December, London
I think I must sometimes come across as being overly confident that I know what’s best. Many years ago, out late in Camden and needing a taxi to take us back to Leyton, Jane and I got into an almighty row. A taxi stopped for us, but as we approached it I said, “Get in and sit down before you tell the driver we want to go to Leyton.” I practically barked it as an instruction. This is because I had heard that there was some rule stating that once into a taxi the driver cannot decline your destination request. Had we declared our destination before boarding the cab, I was sure the driver would say no can do. So my intention was to secure a quick drive home with no argument. I might as well have been talking to the lamp-post because Jane marched straight to the cabbie’s window and said “Leyton, please.” The man shook his head and drove off. Several hours later we got home, neither of us in a good mood. The words WHY CAN’T YOU JUST DO AS YOU’RE TOLD rang in my ears for days after.

I can be as stubborn as the next person, but I do normally make some rough calculation before stamping my feet. It looks like this: YOU BEING PIG-HEADED = YOU’RE SCREWED. Answer = back down. But sometimes even common sense is no use. Sometimes you run up against someone so pathologically stubborn and resistant that all reason and common sense is stood on its head.

Yesterday at the Guardian one teenager was especially talented at this. She was determined to not write a simple headline with a verb, but instead piss around with a photo caption for which she had not yet even selected a picture. In a faintly ridiculous parent-child standoff, we duelled with the computer’s mouse for who had the right to determine the priority of the next task. Me: headline. She: not the headline. I tried everything, including humiliation, I’m reluctant to admit. “Tell me,” I asked accusingly, “What is the story about? Who did what?” in a very snidey tone. She sighed impatiently, her pupil colleagues, plus teacher, watching with interest. I walked away. “Is this what it is really like?” the teacher asked. Yes, I told him, but in the real world a punch might well have been thrown by now.

8 December, London
Donald Trump, president of the United States, has decided to relocate the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This seemingly has the effect of making Jerusalem the capital of Israel. The problem is that Jerusalem is a split city and a disputed territory. It is a holy site for both Israelis and Palestinians, so in ‘gifting’ it to one side over the other is an act of gross provocation and a threat to any ‘peace process’ that might exist. But what if the citizens of Jerusalem turned a negative into a positive and started work on a project to unite Jerusalem, making it a model city of the future where people of all faiths live together in cooperation and respect. On another note, someone has just been deconstructing William Blake’s poem ‘Jerusalem’ –  famously and stirringly set to music for many occasions – on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’.
The first phase of Brexit has been completed. It was derailed earlier in the week by the DUP, who thought they were being shafted by the border negotiations. I am becoming more and more convinced that Theresa May is playing the long game, hoping for an election victory in 2020. She has surrounded herself with idiots and vain self-promoters who make her look good when she pulls off a minor victory. If it ever emerged that she had actually plotted to provoke this DUP mini-drama, I would not be surprised.

9 December, Sutton
At P’s for her birthday, S showed us his Christmas list for Santa. One of the items was “a 30cm lizard taiI I can attach above my but”.

10 December, London
Toff from Made in Chelsea won I’m A Celebrity…

13 December, London
Mediation & Conflict Management
With Dave Walker Southwark Mediation Centre

1. What did you think about the content of the workshop?
Good. It became very good in the second half when one of the members shared a real problem we could jointly analyse and use to apply the principles we had learned in the first half of the session, with the facilitator as our guide.

2. What did you think about the facilitator?
Very good. Easygoing, communicative and knowledgeable.

3. What did you find most useful about the workshop?
The importance of listening and not rushing to judge.

4. What did you find least useful about the workshop?
The handouts. A collection of separate A4 sheets is easy to store in a file, but also easily forgotten about. I would have preferred the essential information to have been packaged in a usable and portable way. I would like to be able to pull out and consult a small ‘Southwark Mediation Workbook’ on the bus.

5. Do you have any suggestion for improvement?
See 4 above. Plus more real conflict problems to work through.

6. Any other comments?
The room was freezing. The snacks were brilliant. The sharing was sincere.

7. Will you recommend this workshop to others?

14 December, London

‘It’s only thanks to the solid and energised support of Alabama’s black voters that the United States avoided what would have been a moment of global shame.’

Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian

14 December
December City Matters column.

Spoke ‘n’ words
There is a two-wheel paradox on the estate. All around us are invitations to get on our bikes. There are two Santander cycle stations on Golden Lane, barely 100 metres apart. Other new bike-hire schemes seem to be popping up regularly. Nearby Old Street sees a daily rat run of pedal pushers, speeding like guided missiles to work and back. They even have their own café, Look Mum No Hands! And cycling certainly fits the City Corporation’s Air Quality Strategy.

Yet here inside the estate, there are NO CYCLING signs everywhere. The one on the wall of Hatfield House is terrifying: “Action may be taken against anyone ignoring this request under the 1990 Environmental Protection Act”.

The threat is backed by action. Children on bikes are ordered to dismount, and last month a bunch of parkour stunt riders, having sneaked onto the Great Arthur House roof garden, were promptly marched off the estate by police.

Draconian policies are unfortunate, because the estate’s design is so enticing to cyclists. It looks like an urban playground, and despite technically being a private estate, its openness is one of its most attractive features. It is built on a series of raised platforms, so heavy use impacts on the underlying structure. This is why attempts to control the footfall of marching City workers and delinquent cyclists are not entirely unreasonable. A hint at a third-way solution arrived last year when we got a community cargo bike. Up to now it has been used mainly as a fun ride for children (and parents), but it has recently come under new management so maybe now it will be steered towards more suitable activities such as ferrying shopping, bits of furniture and bags of waste to and fro.

The success of the cargo bike shows how strict rules can, with measured regulation and cooperation, be gently broken with no great loss to public order or safety. In time we might even get a few NO KIDS IN CARGO BIKE signs, but that would be a small price to pay to see wheels spinning freely around the estate.

On the move…
Other forms of transportation have found a niche locally. There is the Baltic Street Chapter, a bunch of motorcycle couriers who hang out in the no-man’s land between Baltic Street East and Baltic Street West, eating sandwiches and looking tough; there is the early-evening mass occupation of Kennedy’s fish and chip shop on Whitecross Street by black-cab drivers. And a yellow minibus trundles around our streets, leisurely picking up and dropping off passengers.

This is the 812 hail-and-ride service provided, strangely, by Hackney Community Transport ( You wave it down like a taxi. Seniors and children under 16 go free, otherwise it’s £1 per journey. The route takes in Golden Lane, then snakes up to Sainsbury’s at the Angel and onward to somewhere around Haggerston. Its friendliness is one of the service’s best-kept secrets.

Branch out…
The Tree Council’s National Tree Week passed recently without much fuss hereabouts, but for die-hard enthusiasts Golden Lane does have a few quality tick-list specimens. At west end of Bowater House there is a monster Indian Bean Tree. At the other end of Bowater, on Fann Street is a Canadian Sugar Maple. And in the beds at Hatfield Lawn there is a Judas Tree, the national tree of Israel. Add others (Mexican Cherry, Cedar of Lebanon), and on the Golden Lane Estate you can practically travel the world in trees. If you did so, it would not be without controversy.  At the west end of Bayer House stands what official documents say is a beech tree. But one of my Basterfield House neighbours is adamant that it is not a beech but a poplar. Now an expert has stepped in to verify that the disputed tree, planted in 1989, is in fact a beech, Fagus Sylvatica, a “fastigate form of beech that typically grows to a height of 12 metres”.

Live and learn…
The Gresham College website ( is the place to go for a juicy free lecture. There are plenty on offer, both to attend at a real college in Holborn and at other City locations, or to watch online. There was a good one recently about how Scotland tried to ban Christmas carols in 1582, but I have become hooked on two in particular: ‘From Mr Pickwick to Tiny Tim: Charles Dickens and Medicine’ and ‘A World Without News?’, by former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger. Bliss.
An edited version of this column appeared in the City Matters newspaper, edition number 061.

City Matters print page.

15 December, London
I screwed up on the Secret Santa for J’s book group. I sent an email naming S as their recipient to TWO members. I did this on November 6. They only found out at their Christmas dinner and I have been forced to resign. J sent an email to everyone confirming my departure, and cheekily giving thanks that they had not had to sign a card and make a collection.

16 December, London
On my annual Christmas visit to NRU at the National Hospital in Queen Square yesterday, I bumped into A, the gangly long-suffering Irish ward manager who was in charge during my residence five years ago. I looked around the day room at the current group of patients and remarked casually to A that, “It is such a desperate time. All they want to do is go home.” A was not so sure. “Some of them,” he remarked.
In Wallingford.
Rosie, age 4.5: “He hidden from me.”
Then: “He bited me.”

17 December, London
Strictly. I wanted Gemma to win. J said Alexandra was the best dancer, so deserved to win. When I wasn’t paying much attention, J sneakily used my six permitted BBC internet votes on Debbie. Joe won, which was good because he had started to peak at right time. I was roundly told off for saying Alexandra had “no personality”. And later I remembered the name of the excellent film I had seen Joe in many years ago, in which he delivered a class performance. It was called Small Faces.
Met G from Spain in the Artillery Arms for a pub lunch, then back to our place for cheese and, yes, plenty more wine. Brexit was the big, unshakeable topic and G said he was surprised that his quite comfortable brothers, K and A, had voted LEAVE. I wondered afterwards whether this was part of a class restructuring, as both K and A are fairly well off and their children will likely benefit in a class shakedown in which the children of the middle class become a new UK ruling class after Brexit.

17 December
Billy in Caesar.

Carboard box of tricks.

As part of a studio exhibition at London’s Southbank Centre, a bunch of the artists got to decorate stacks of cardboard boxes, which were then arranged like pillars or totem poles around which spectators could wander, absorbing the content in her own way. At the last minute, there was an empty space on one of the boxes and this is what I came up with. It’s all true, by the way.

That’s me.

20 December, Las Galletas, Tenerife
Saw E today. J said he looked “broken”, and that as exactly the word that was in my mind.”Lost” was the other one. G was not just his wife, but his best mate. E was thin, distracted and almost scared of himself.

21 December, Tenerife
Three young women on our Teide By Night tour were talking about their plans for the next few days. One of them said she would finish work  tomorrow and then start drinking and not stop until Boxing Day. One of the others remarked that she would be “totally fannied” by then.

22 December
Plaza Virgen del Carmen, Los Cristianos, Tenerife,

funeral car-cristianos

Las Galletas, later


23 December
Arona Gran hotel, Los Cristianos, Tenerife

This little piggy went down chimneys.

Later, at restaurant near Granadilla, Tenerife, with L, M and D


27 December, Tenerife Sud airport
There are signs all over the place stating ‘Sin Bareras’, which I think is a declaration that Spain encourages disabled people to travel ‘without frontiers’. They are very good at making disabled people feel included.

31 December, Winchester
J has to leave L’s New Year party shortly after midnight to pick up her boarding pass from her local pub. The landlord agreed to print it off for her before she heads to the airport for a holiday in Spain.

● Browse Scrapbook 2018.


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