Moving experiences: the power of the new

Several people found my post about the stress of moving earlier this week had lots of personal resonance for them. Some also asked me to do some more posts as things went along.

One of the things that moving does is put time into perspective. In our case, having had many personal belongings in storage for a few years, their release has exposed the ravages of time–some things do not thrive when not used or kept in artificial conditions–as well as the speed of change in recent years.

The ravages tend to ‘attack’ things that need air and light. So, many wooden things we have have lost some lustre and may need a lot of TLC to get back their sheen; maybe, some good doses of linseed oil will work wonders.

Technological change has been rapid over the past few decades. Nothing shows that more than the world of electronics. However, the side aspect of this is how homes have had to change to accept these changes. For instance, we left behind a house that had an armoire and shelving to house a television and stereo music system. Well, now the world is full of flat-screen and wall-mounted TVs, so no need for furniture. We have the space under the TV and the cable boxes, etc. need to sit somewhere, but not in the old-style (relatively) set up.

Wall-mounted, flat screen TVs now the norm

Most people are not fans of dangling wires and I can now understand how nice it must be to design and build your own home and have these wires and cables hidden or so set up that they are not so readily visible. Anyway, time to think about creative coverings.

We’ve moved from a world of music on discs and tapes to a world of streaming. So, I had to smile when I came across some packs of blank cassette tapes. I should ask my teenager if she knows what they are.

What!? Cassette tapes

A friend suggested I sell them on eBay, and there’s a good market.

We don’t even need a radio to listen to radio broadcasts, as many cable services offer radio stations in their packages.

What about WiFi? Long gone are the days of having computers connected to the Internet. Now, we have wireless access all over, or almost all over, and get antsy if we have weak signals in any part of the area. I am thinking about leaving some of those weak spots, though, as a kind of ‘quiet zone’, especially as that is around the master bedroom. I’m pretty comfortable with many changes and all the little things one needs to know about setting up Internet connections. But, my heart goes out to those who never grasped how it all works. They may even have never mastered the remotes for the TV and still are at a loss when new equipment arrives and has to be used. Like the transition from a kettle on a fire to an electric one, it can be an odd shift.

We’re also having to deal with the ‘new’ that is not so new, that is living in a different climate and culture. The climate part is great in that summer all year round is a joy. But, life is different in the tropics. I do not freak out when I see lizards crawling over my sneakers, but I’m reminded I need to check my footwear before sticking my feet in 🙂 If you don’t like living things sharing your space, then see you later. Ants love people and their food supplies. I’d rather remove the temptation than spray, etc, but my wife loves to be armed with Bagon. Then, there is the bad weather. I have not been keep to open lots of windows because I don’t know how the rain falls where we are. When it rains, it can pour hard in Jamaica, and much as I love fresh air, I do not like surprise pools of water because I did not realise from where the rain comes.

So, as we plod along and things take shape, little adjustments will get made. I’ve mastered the lights. Success! Set realizable goals. Few boxes today than yesterday? That’s the spirit!

Moving experiences

“I’ve moved!” I’ve been telling friends, with a certain amount of pleasure and abandonment–of the carefree kind, not the physical leaving behind sort. They often came back quickly with “How did it go?” “Good luck with that!” “I hate moves!” or a set of not happy-inducing remarks.

I mentioned last week how moving is highly ranked as a cause of stress. I quoted the following:

“It’s one of life’s most stressful experiences, and it’s because it involves having to cope with change,” explains Nicky Lidbetter, chief executive of charity Anxiety UK. “Moving house represents a transition in life, it’s about change and unfamiliarity and for many people that causes stress and anxietyMay 5, 2016 Read How to reduce the stress of moving house – Anxiety UK.

Now, we’ve moved a lot over the past 15 years, from separate homes as singles into marital home; from our new home in the USA to an official residence in Guinea that backed onto the ocean, and back; from USA to another house in Barbados and back; from our house in a cul-de-sac in the USA to a house in a gated complex in Jamaica, and now within Jamaica. I’ve always thought about the moves with mixed feelings, but more tilted towards the positive, in part because each move was its own start to an adventure, and some of the ‘journeys’ are still underway.

We also had the good fortune of not ending up in some home that was terrible. Our first spot in Guinea was an official residence on a main road; not a very prepossessing house and not much lived in by my predecessor, and it lacked any homely touches. It also needed a lot of sprucing up. But, it was next door to one of the president’s wives, so was in a safe neighbourhood. I negotiated to find a new official residence and made an offer the owner of a new housing complex could not refuse and he gave up his villa to move into one of the tower blocks on the site, and voila! We had nice neighbours, in the Chinese Ambassador and the British Ambassador on either side. The former I rarely saw, but the latter (which had two postings) I saw often and we became and are still good friends. Living with lots of security takes some getting used to, though. Two guards 24-hours a day was too much, though, and I begged to half the detail. When we got back to the simple life, it was nice to be in a bucolic suburb near the Capital Crescent Trail, where it was a five-minute walk to the shops or to a patch that went to Georgetown in one direction and downtown Bethesda in the other direction, and was frequented by people taking exercise in all forms. Much of the year we could opt to ride to work, and when I retired it was my walking place of choice.

Capital Crescent Trail

We’ve been lucky because working for international organisations has meant that we get a lot of help. We have movers to help disassemble, pack, load, list, ship, store, unload, recheck lists, unpack, re-assemble, etc. That’s a huge physical and mental burden lessened, though the fact that you have to move is no less anxiety-creating. But, moves are wholesale, so it’s a full 40 foot container somewhere along the way. Each move, we got rid of plenty of stuff, but then acquired new things in new places and then shipped those home, to then go through a weeding out again later. But, our core furniture is much the same as when we first decided to buy a home. It’s nice timeless stuff, with lots of cultural and geography added, such as wooden figures, carpets from the Caucasus counties, pottery, and dirt from all over, plus abundant memories.

Our latest move from a furnished house to one that was unfurnished also had the excitement–yes, you read right–of seeing our own belongings after their spending more than three years in storage. My thoughts turned first to trepidation about what condition things would be in, but hardly anything was damaged or the worse for wear due to being in a container and warehouse all that time. By contrast, my wife was taken with “I forgot we had that!” She of the minimalist lifestyle. 🙂

Fortunately, too, the initiation of the moves hasn’t always been driven by one part of the couple, because all the liaison can be as burdensome as the questions about what to pack what to ship, what to think about keeping in short-term storage, etc. But, it’s good to have seen it from both angles, as ‘leader’ or ‘follower’.

I have also moved myself a few times, and I was telling the moving crew at the weekend how I moved from an upstairs apartment and got a bed out of a window single-handed. I learned how to move heavy furniture by sliding it on cardboard, up and down stairs. It’s amazing what one person can do. You have to be resourceful. But, as we agreed, you don’t want to do too much as you have work to do at the other end, and maybe a long drive in-between.

But, as far as I’m concerned there’s always something funny involved in a move. It may be people or things that cause the ripples in the stomach. This one has been all about Bed-lam! 

It all began when a friend and realtor offered us some air beds for the first few nights. It’s a while since I slept on one of those and I completely forgot how difficult they are to get off, let alone have a decent night sleep. I woke up feeling I was being wrapped in a huge bowl of blancmange. I had nothing on which I could lever myself, so I slithered onto the floor and then tried to pull myself up by a dresser. I had one night on that THING! I then had to go to the north coast early in the morning after that night and was then spoilt by having four nights in a big, real bed. But, I had to come back and spend one more night on the ‘Titanic’ bubble, which had by now lost half its air. Needless to say the night was rocky, or really squishy. Again, in the morning I had to do my impression of a slithering snake. I’M glad no one was with a camera.

So, I was excited when I heard that a delivery of our furniture would come the next day. Though I had planned to be on the north coast again from early Saturday, my wife ‘prevailed’ on me to delay my trip (as she and our daughter had just flown off to Florida for a weekend swim meet–didn’t they know we were moving?), so I committed to stay till midday. See, I care! 🙂 As luck had it, the first item out of the truck was our bed 🙂 At least a real mattress would be there for when I got back.

The movers came with a crew of about eight men, both old and young. Many moving firms seem to have a kind of ‘succession’ planning going on, with older guys (mainly) showing new and younger guys the ropes (literally, in terms of moving the heavy items). This crew was quite funny in a typically Jamaican way. The driver of the container lorry had arrived with his lady, who was a really ‘fluffy diva’, even down to the powder on her neck. I don’t know what he’d promised her, but the two of them were soon on the grass verge as if they had good to country and were on a river bank. Anyway, the guys told me they would be unloading the container and putting the things into a smaller truck to come down the driveway to the house. It sounded like more work to me. But, I was surprised to see it worked well, and of course reduced some of the heavy humping on and up and over. The supervisor was ‘Mr. Big Picture’ and it’s important that someone has that because some of the men are clueless. “Where do you want this box?” the man asked. ‘What’s in it?” I asked. He did not know. I asked him what was its number and we checked the packing list: ‘downstairs office’. OK. We could decide on general location. I gave general ideas, such as make sure that bedroom things are in or close to the rooms concerned. But, I had to point out that stacking boxes four deep by a window meant I could not get to the window to open or close it. Oh! Yes, oh! 🙂

In between all of this heavy lifting, I suddenly saw some men rolling on the floor with heavy wrapping paper and a man rolled up inside it! “It’s his birthday!” one man said. ‘What happened to the flour?’ I asked. They were having too much fun. Well, noon cane and I left. Most of the container had been emptied. The team was going to assemble as much as possible before their day ended at 4. 

I went to do my business and spent the night with friends, in a real bed. After playing in a charity tournament on Sunday, I headed home and got in about 8. What a joy! My bed! I couldn’t really wait, but I showered and unpacked a little and slid into it and under the covers. Bliss! I was soon asleep by about 10. Then…

Kachunk! I felt the bed move and I was leaning over, with my head toward the floor. It did not feel like an earthquake. So, I got up. I went to the bathroom and looked at the bed in the half-light of 2am. I got back into the bed. After what seemed like an hour, I felt it again. Kachunk! Now, my head was closer to the floor. What the…! I got up and looked the bed. The mattress was inside the frame at a steep angle. Had the bed broken? Search me, as they say. I got up and headed downstairs, knowing that I could at least lie on a sofa. What a disaster! I sent my wife a message in the wee hours, so that she could share my joy when she got up in Florida. I watched some tennis–Australian Open had begun.

In the middle of the morning, some of the loading crew came by. We looked at the bed. Unfortunately, slats that support the base mattress were missing. THey were not in any unopened packages, so somehow they had disappeared. Well, that was good news. I just suggested we move the bed frame and put the mattresses on the floor. So, that’s where we are. My wife came back yesterday and was agog at the stuff that was in the house. But, she seemed to like the make shift bed set-up and was sleeping deeply when I got up before dawn. She didn’t look that stressed. I saw that she had emptied a few boxes before going to sleep…and put away the things I needed to take somewhere today. Oh, I wonder where they are, now?

But, she’s off on the road again, and a two-day conference followed by another trip means that we will put off the joint decisions about whether her long dresses really should stay in the closet with my shirts. I know what I think. Now, let’s see what else I can do? Lots of boxes to unload. Not quite sure why my shoes are on shelves that look better suited for clothes. Where is the food? Well, here is some. Odd. It’s with some bed linen. Hmm! Can I find my Nutribullet? Well, here is a large blender cup part. But, where is the motor base? What are all these keys? Is there a map for the light switches? Oh, that sounds like a phone? Where was I when I last had my cell phone?

Just monkeying around: scenes from a round at Apes Hill

Looking west to the ocean
Sheep grazing
Nice to look at, and better to not hit here 😊👍🏾🏌
View of new clubhouse
Reminders of the past: sugar mill

#Griefporn: Jamaican media exchanges ideas with the public 

I wouldn’t expect a three-hour public discussion to conclude too much about big issues, and so it was with last night’s session organized by the Press Association of Jamaica, and sponsored by the US Embassy in Jamaica. The discussion on grief porn was good and animated, and gave us ‘a raising of a number of relevant issues, a sharing of perspectives, a highlighting of some of the ethical questions/principles journalists can/should use to guide their decisions’ as my friend Susan Goff stated on Twitter. You can watch much of it here.

If we go with one of the definitions of ‘grief porn’ or ‘mourning sickness’, we have ‘collective emotional condition of “recreational grieving” by individuals in the wake of celebrity deaths and other public traumas. Such traumas may be linked to hyper-attentive, intrusive, and voyeuristic media coverage…’ (my emphases). That really sticks it to the media, and tends to see the problems as one-sides and feeding a reluctant eater. But, we know the appetite for such material is there, and sometimes almost insatiable. We should think about the unpleasant aspect of that reality for a while. I would adjust this definition for Jamaica to cover many instances of private trauma, which begs many questions about how much time and space must be given to those who want to grieve.

Answering some of those questions is only possible when one also considers how the society or elements of it see and treat death. Caribbean people (and many African cultures) do not treat death and dying and bodies in the same way that many European countries do. For example, we generally revere the dead body, death is celebrated (even to stress that it is a transition) and we do not shy away from looking at it. Just go to a regular funeral in Jamaica to see what I mean: coffin open for people to pass and look at the body. If this is not done is may be deemed a mark of disrespect. If people are late to view the body coffins can and will be reopened to all that viewing. So, it’s not such a big step to say that the sight of death in any form or at any time is not appalling in our society. But, that does not mean that portraying the dead can be done with wanton abandon. Therein lies the space for much debate.

Though much as discusses last night, I have several things still rolling around my head, both as take-aways, but also as unresolved issues.

Take aways:

Media coverage is full of class bias: That was well stated by Gleaner journalist, Erica Virtue when noting that ‘downtown’ (lower-class) scenes were often up-close and personal, while ‘uptown’ (middle/upper-class) scenes were from further away. Some of that reflected, in her view, better control of personal space, including by having money and other resources with which to thwart intrusion, whether that is the threat of legal action or the inevitable web of connections. Such bias also comes across in the language used. For instance, stating that someone or some school is ‘prominent’ is value-laden, and leaves us wondering if the rest of society or the education is just full of ‘no counts’. I can’t speak to the origin of this, but must ask why training doesn’t work as a better filter in pushing out such treatment.

Media exposure is high value: We know that people often relish being covered by the media, with television often being better than radio being better than print. Actions speak volumes, so the advent of moving pictures was a boon to the ego of the ordinary person. To be ‘featured’ is not a trivial thing to many people, as it offers many levels of social validation, and bestows, even briefly, some ‘importance’. As people say cynically about politicians, all publicity is good publicity. So it has become for the ordinary person. With the advent of electronic devices that can take and share high quality still and moving images, we’ve seen the birth of many previously hidden ‘stars’, as can be seen in some of the viral videos that circulate. But, another aspect of this publicity is that its value may be high for what we may see as wrong reasons–notoriety. In the world of criminals it may be that exposure of the results of crime has value that can be measured by the intangible of ‘bragging rights’. So, much like graffiti can be important to demonstrate reach of people or gangs, then the images or stories that are the outcrop of crimes can have cachet. We know of stories where criminals have bragged about their crimes on social media, even posting footage from the events in some bizarre instances. Read this article about how much incriminating evidence is posted on social media. I have heard of instances of perpetrators alerting associates to watch the news or read the papers to learn what they did recently. So, if the media are in the business of looking for gory stories or just doing their routine reporting, they can easily be feeding unwittingly the egos of those whom they do not know committed offences. This may seem perverse, but so what? Society is full of perverted people.

Unresolved issues:

Newsworthiness: Many times what is bothersome to the public is what passes for news. Joshua Polacheck, Public Affairs Officer at the US Embassy in Kingston, lamented last night that certain important stories in Jamaica were pushed out of sight for other items that seemed less newsworthy. I noted at the time that not all newsworthy things can be reported easily, especially if the principals would rather avoid than encourage public scrutiny, now or later.  

Politicians are an interesting study, as they often crave publicity, especially when it’s favourable, but also show the other side when the media cudgels are flailing around to beat them with criticism. In that sense, certain topics are easier to cover (going back to my earlier point about the value that many place of being ‘in the news’).

But, an inconvenient truth is that ‘newsworthiness’ is not something on which we can all agree, and those ‘weighty’ topics that may have major social or economic or political implications often do not capture the public imagination. I would take a bet that people could cite more ‘gossipy’ things about the new US president-elect than they could about his policies, and I don’t think it comes down to which set of topics was covered more. In our neck of the woods, the recent rant by a party leader against members of her own party has more people gripped than by what is going on around the local government elections that what either party is hoping to achieve.

The five features of newsworthiness are listed as:

1. Timing–the new wins. Old news quickly fades in interest without something to keep it fresh.

2. SignificanceThe number of people affected by the story is important. So, in smaller societies, like Jamaica, that significance can be high for many events.

3. Proximity–Events that happen nearby have more significance. Again, in smaller societies, nearness is almost everywhere, and once things can be personalized that ‘nearness’ is even closer. 

4. Prominence–The ‘famous’ get more coverage

5. Human Interest–Such stories can stand the test of time, and revolve a lot around touching people’s emotions (hence, the appeal of dwelling on grief).

Grief is not just related to life and death in its usual form: I commented last night about how much media coverage looks to the highs and lows of life and events. That goes into many facets of society. I noted, for example, how sports reporters often draw no distinction in seeking out losers as well as winners, though the emotions of each is often very different. Losers are often in one of the early stages of grief, and really don’t need to have their performance examined in public immediately after not succeeded. But, just as the emotions are raw immediately after, so too in the media interest. We often see athletes holding back tears or anger when pressed in such circumstances; more so, when the trophy or cash prize that has gone is of major importance. To my mind, this is equally pornographic as far as grief goes. It may be much more appealing, of course, because you have the chance to hear directly from the ‘victim’. I don’t know how the ethics of media practitioners feeds into their treatment of subjects in various fields of activity. 

It was good to open the door to interchange between media and the general public. Some of what I heard as media policy seemed to be untested on the general audience, and as is often the way, may have some internal logic for an organization but can easily miss the mark when presented to customers. Part of the media’s problem, however, will be that the customers are not homogenous or consistent. 

I was not one who went into the session upset at too much gory coverage of death. I was exercised by how such things were portrayed, and had concerns about how the tension between relevant details and unnecessary intrusion was being resolved. I have a better understanding of that, but don’t see that the choices will be easier, especially as more people are willing ready to be ‘citizen reporters’ and ready to take images to make their own stories or offer them to others. 

Finally, I recall the movie Nightcrawler, which looks at how the search for the gory can become perverse beyond imagination. Take a look at the teaser, but make sure you have a strong stomach if you want to watch the full film. 

Hurricane Matthew: Personal images of Jamaica’s slight brush with danger

This time last week, Jamaicans were being told to prepare for a possible category 4 or 5 hurricane. It never hit us directly, though we were touched by its edges; those in the east and south on lower levels got plenty of impact from sea surges and flooding from rain. As I write, Haiti is counting its dead from a direct hit over the past two days–the number has gone past a staggering 800 people. The Bahamas is cleaning damage, but so far no deaths reported. Florida is facing the storm now, and states to the north, especially South Carolina and Georgia are braced.

Given what I’ve seen from elsewhere, my heart is easy with the knowledge of how fortunate we’ve been. But, I remain prepared as new weather systems form during the hurricane season, which has several weeks still to run. In that vein, I pick a few pictures and videos to remind me of what we passed through.​

The beginning, we thought:

Protective measures

Vendors strap down against the wind

Clouds looming in the morning sky

Hatches battened down and shutters in place

The sunset sky, Saturday night, ahead of Matthew’s expected arrival–Hurricane on its way, most people thought
One of forecasts pointing to the shift away from Jamaica

Flash thunderstorm midweek after Matthew passed

October 6: Boys, near Kingston Harbour, alongside garbage washed down in flooding the week before
 

Rain came suddenly on October 6, while Matthew was lashing The Bahamas and Haiti

Unbelievable light evening traffic, Tuesday October 4; Barbican

Time to open shutters and windows, October 5

Tuesday midmorning and the sky looks clearer
 

Taking a chance on a dawn walk on Monday, while still expecting Matthew

Walking back down Memory Lane

I took my daughter on a little walking tour back through time, yesterday: it was essentially to let her see where I had grown up as a boy. I arrived in London from Jamaica in September 1961; it was cold and damp. My parents went to live in Shepherd’s Bush, and I went to St. Stephens’s Church of England School. I was a fan of QPR from early days, as they were 10 minutes walk from me. I played on Shepherd’s Bush Green, just 10 minutes away. I got to know most of the area in a short radius, especially the market. I was a frequent user of the library. My father and I used to go to the public baths and washhouse; our basement flat had no bath. I ate in several places, including Cooke’s pie and mash shop. All of that, and more, I showed my 10 year-old yesterday. But, I got some surprises along the way. I had arranged to have lunch with a man who, as a boy had been my best friend from age 6. He now lived outside London, but would make the trip down specially.

Much of London is made up of 19th century buildings; Shepherd’s Bush is just that way, with lots of structures dating from the late-1880s. Immigrants, like my family, were just one of the many waves of people going there to live and work. It became home for many West Indians in part because it was close to hospitals that were taking in migrants, and its having easy access to public transport. I used to live on the Tube and buses. Exiting a station was no special thing for me. But…

My first surprise was what had happened to Shepherd’s Bush Green. Of course, change happens. But, I was shocked to see all the development of shops and multistory buildings near the Central Line station, which I had visited just a few years ago. I took that in with a sigh. We walked on the green. I pointed out the disused public lavatories, with their large ornate gates.
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What does that mean? One shilling; six pence; three pence.

No use had yet been found for their underground spaces. Maybe, none ever would be. We walked to see an intriguing moving play space. Where had the tennis courts gone? We crossed to where the cinema used to be. It was now an Australian restaurant. I showed my child the etched marking on the walls. I explained that they showed the prices, back from the days before decimal money, when pounds, shillings and pence ruled.

They seemed like hieroglyphics.

We went on to the public library and I walked proudly up the front steps. What! A bar and taps faced me. I blinked. I asked the young server what had happened. “It’s a theatre, now,” she told me. The new home of the Bush Theatre.

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The Bush Theatre. The bar, where books used to be. Changes.

I took that in. I read that the change had happened in 2011; I was last there in 2010. We wandered around, and I showed my daughter pictures of the library that were part of the decor. A young lady was doing some research, using the wi-fi service, and she asked me a few questions. She had also gone to school nearby, and we talked about using another library a few miles away, in Hammersmith, when we were schoolchildren. She shared my amusement at the changes. Buildings grow out of their uses and create new homes. Better that, than they stay derelict. My mind went to Jamaica’s downtown, where dereliction was more the order of the day. Even the theatre had not found use in its original form. Where were the visionaries to take those buildings and make them useful again?

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School and church from childhood days. Five minutes’ walk to and from home.

We walked on, and I showed my daughter a pub, that was now partly a supermarket; again, new uses. We stopped in front of my old primary school.

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Down there in the basement was home. Nothing special, just very special.

I showed her the small playground, placed adjacent to the church. I told her a short story of a fight I had once. “You were a naughty boy?” Someone let us into the school, which was still running (till mid-July), and I explained my visit. I made the trip brief, but not before a young schoolgirl had let her jaw drop to the floor as I talked about being there 50 years ago. We moved on. We crossed the road, to the street where I used to live. The roads were always neat and clean, and that has not changed much; they were also wide by London standards.

I’d noticed years ago that the area was being gentrified, and that feature has just been getting more notice, as shown in a FT piece last week. Many houses go for cool million pounds, these days. I showed my daughter the basement flat where we used to live. “Why did you live in the basement?” I explained a little social history. The houses still looked solid and neat, with blinds and signs of European chic now dressing windows. I took her on a mazy walk through some nearby streets, stopping to admire a Victorian era post box, that looked as good as new. We arrived at Mecca.

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The Loft, where fanatical young men stood and cheered for a team on Saturdays

I showed her Loftus Road Stadium, home of Queens Park Rangers Football Club, freshly promoted to the English Premier League. I explained what ‘The Loft’ was, and how I used to trek to stand there and look forward to a hot cup of tea at half time and maybe a hamburger.

We walked around three sides of the stadium, nestled with the houses. We went to the reception and I explained my journey, with a few reminiscences. I mentioned names from the 1960s, some of whom still visit the club. I had not expected to be able to show my daughter the inside of the stadium when no games were on. The club is also running to meet the higher standards of the premier league. We walked back the club shop and I bought her a jersey, which she can wear forever. I explained that back then, hardly anyone wore team kit to watch a match: that was for the players. Scarves, hats, and rattles were all we needed. Homage duly paid, we moved on.

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Middle Eastern-feeling in west London

We walked along Uxbridge Road, part of London’s former Roman roadways. My daughter did not ask about the Romans. I noted how the ethnic flavour had changed even in the few years since I was last there.

Then, I noted how Somalis were evident. Now, many places had a Lebanese taste, and men sitting outside cafes drinking coffee were everywhere. I also heard Slavic tongues, often trying to tease a reaction from some passing young lady. I hissed “Boring” at one group and got a glare. I glared back. I traced aloud the changes: English, West Indian, African, Somalis, Lebanese…. “What about the f***ing Irish?” came a shrill question, as a half drunk man overheard me. And…the Irish, I added aloud. We came back past my school and church, and went on toward the market. I explained about Lime Grove, and where the BBC Studios used to be. My encounter with aliens, the day I played in a friend’s garden and saw Cybermen walking across the studio gangway. I must have been about 9-10 when that happened. Frightening! My daughter told me how much she loves Dr. Who. I did too. So, we reached the market. I asked her which way in she wanted to try. We opted to go via the hanging clothes. She’d already spied the fruit and vegetables stalls when we’d come by earlier.

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Never pretty. Always functional and friendly.

The market has always been a bustling mess. Now, it is more bazaar than bizarre. Clothes and shoes and knick-knacks all over the place.

We heard strains of Jamaican accents, tinged with a strong London trait. We exited to the main roadway. We saw a fish seller, arguing with a man from Portland about the small kingfish tail he wanted to buy. “Is weh you cum fram?” He asked. We argued about our ethnic roots. A non-conversation. Walking on, we saw that mobile phones and their accessories were the main offering apart from clothes and fruit. Everyone seems to be giving away free SIM cards with a little credit. I wondered if people just took those and made a few calls, then repeated the process. I thought about how useful that would be for criminals. The villain in me? I got a seller to let me have a screen protector. He cut it to size and ‘fitted’ it, while a lady bought a cheap smart phone (ten pounds) and got a free SIM. The guy tried to up sell and offered me a case. No deal. Then, to the end of the market and another Mecca, though of different order. Cooke’s.

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Cooke’s eatery

Pie and mash is a dish more found in East London, but I just happened to live close to two shops that happened to be in West London, and I got to love the meal from early childhood. One shop is by the market.

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Refurbished and filled with modern baths?

Like a fish and chips meal, this is one of my ‘must have’ things when I visit London. My older daughter got her initiation a few years ago; her sister was due for hers. She asked about eels, the traditional dish. I explained. “I don’t like snakes!” Me, neither. The server asked what she wanted. She went conservative and took pie and mash, gravy and liquor (sauce made from the boiling of eels and parsley) on the side. She nibbled the pie; she loves mashed potatoes. She dipped the pie in liquor then tried the gravy; success. She nibbled on. We were hungry. I went smoothly through my plateful. She licked her lips. “Not bad,” she declared. We sat for a while. We were an hour ahead of my lunch buddy. We decided to take a walk then come back.

She was fascinated by where the BBC used to be. I told her it was just where people worked and that they only seemed different because we lap up television material like it’s nectar. She giggled. She saw an art college and wanted to go in. The building has been there for a hundred years and its style is clearly old, with lots of tiled steps. She adored being inside. I had visions of her at an old English college. We went back to meet my old friend.

Nearly fifty years between meetings is an incredible amount of time. We hugged and smiled at each other. We were no longer 11 year olds. We ordered food and started to recall. My daughter was going for her second meal, too. Impressive, I thought. We talked and talked, about old times. My friend’s memory was amazing. Many people from our class were still living close by. I told of times when I had crossed their paths later in life; very odd. We recalled some of the girls–all were beautiful. He told of his first kiss. My daughter smiled. We remembered how he had been assigned to ‘look after me’. How I was a fast runner; he was a great footballer. Together, we did a lot of damage on the football pitch–a cinder area, back then, not kind on the legs. Our teacher was a stolid man, who picked his team based on functional suitability: fast boys on the wings; big, strong boys in goal and defence. Oh, Mr. Cook! He also loved to use that ruler on your hands. We learned well, though, and were both good with both feet, a rare skill. We talked of races run and won; how he’d cheered. I soaked up the image of my running at White City. New boys and girls coming from the West Indies: Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guyana. Our friendships seemed unreal. It was so easy to get along? He remembered my parents, well. I remembered his, living just two minutes away. His uncle was the projectionist at the cinema and would let him in for free; he, in turn, would let friends sneak in through the side door. He got caught; we escaped. Naughty boys! Now, married with children. Working lives different; he’d worked for the Post Office for over 35 years (ironically, he might crossed my father’s path again). Education different, after primary school; he went to a good secondary school, but not university. Sporting lives different: he played for Chelsea FC as a boy and did well but was not kept; we’d both played football into our 40s, though.

I told him he had to visit Jamaica. We walked back to the Underground station. He had to head north. His wife suffers from MS. He gave my daughter a little gift and told her to spend it wisely. She gave a lovely thank you and they hugged. We hugged again. We didn’t cry, just parted simply.

The day didn’t end there, because we went on to Covent Garden, and enjoyed its usual offering of entertainment and people watching. But, a special stroll along Memory Lane had come to an end. Fifty years from now, what?