30 September, 2006

September Song

I can't help feeling it's been a rather itchy, shabby month.

September, for me, has tradtionally represented the start of something: a new school, a new term, a new season, a new sense of freshness in the air. Up until this year, however, when instead it seems to have been almost wholly devoted to the end of something. Specifically, the end of the long hot summer, including the end of suffocatingly balmy nights and relentlessly blistering days.

It's taken a hell of a long time for remnants of the heatwave to pack up and move out. Even this week the temperature was back in the mid-20s in central London. Signs of autumn kicking in last month were deceptively premature; there was still plenty of discomfort to come and I wasn't ready for it.

The other night, though, there was an exciting foretaste of autumn in the shape of a romantically gloomy wet and windy storm. There is little that is more evocative in life than lying in bed late at night listening to the rain falling outside. I defy anybody to do such a thing and not be moved, be it into some profoundly cosy state of mind or a nostalgically-tinted reverie of other similarly-tinged occasions.

Autumn should, by rights, deliver up a good few dozen such experiences. It's what I always look forward to this time of year, along with the joy of seeing how the evolving climate can have such an immediate impact on things.

A brief rainstorm changes the look and feel of the world around you in as dramatic a fashion as nothing else. Even the colour of buildings and streets alters before your eyes. After months and months of endless sun beating down and imperceptibly bleaching the pavement and grass, the forces of autumn and their restorative, levelling influence upon the very fabric of society are what I'm aching for.

I hope their arrival has been postponed temporarily, not indefinitely.

29 September, 2006

Paper tigers

Sitting in a corner of my bedroom in one of many similarly-dusty, similarly-unassuming cardboard folders are a couple documents I wrote in the late 1990s.

One is a screenplay, the other a script. They hail from a time when I thought the sort of thing I should be doing with my life was getting stuff down on paper, regardless of merits, regardless of consequences. I was at a crossroads, between university and a proper, full-time job; I was also at several loose ends.

I don't think I've looked at either finished works for a good five years or so. Their presence simultaneously annoys and taunts me.

They symbolise concrete evidence of how I used to be and how I used to think when I was quite a bit younger and far less rational than I am now. As such their contents, from recollection, are embarrassingly self-righteous and unashamedly polemical. They were my attempt at putting the world to rights with a pen rather than, well, a sword. They were completed in part for expediency, to prove I could do it and to prove to others I could do it. But they were also, and remain as such to date, the last pieces of creative writing I ever did.

Throughout my early childhood I was always dreaming up stuff and committing it to paper, be it in a formal capacity at primary school or to pass the time at home. At secondary school I sort of lost my way and got too embroiled in the business of studying for the sake of it, devoting far more time to the business of homework than any sane person should and throwing away part of my teenage years as a result.

Later on again, especially during my A-levels, the process flipped back and I rediscovered the joy of creating, be it prose, poems or songs. That feeling and passion persisted through university and out the other side, culminating, you could say, in these two epic productions which, in fact, are neither epic and have never been produced. But still.

One, a screenplay entitled 'Illusions', was a preposterously ambitious art-mirroring-life affair, tracing the fortunes of five former school-friends forwards and backwards in time up to the start of the new millennium.

I stuffed it full of allusions to real events and people, crammed it full of my favourite songs, and shoehorned into it every technical camera and staging trick I'd ever seen or read about, including a scene where characters spent two minutes walking towards a static camera, another where the camera spent the entire scene moving slowly into a café then out of it, a third where proceedings turned into an episode The Avengers, and so on.

I showed it to three friends, each of whose personalities had been shamelessly imported into the script. I don't know what kind of response I was expecting; none mentioned the liberties I had taken with their own characters, which was very gracious of them. Equally, none ever made reference to the screenplay ever again, which was probably just as kind. I wrote the entire thing in the summer of 1997, just after graduating from university.

The second document, a play script entitled 'Hustings', was a shorter piece but no less pretentious. All the action took place during one night - the night of a general election - and once again featured an ensemble of characters with various affinities and affiliations squabbling and falling out and making up and mouthing off.

I wrote the thing in 1999 when I had lost all patience with New Labour and its machinations of government and when I was perilously interested in writing about politics and nothing but.

Both pieces are now relics, echoes from an earlier age when I thought I could see the world for what it was and everything was black and white.

If they were conceived to put a full stop on the end of my life as, for want of a better word, a writer of fiction, they certainly did that job. But where they failed was to sufficiently wrap up enough unfinished business, answer enough questions and resolve enough internal and external dilemmas for me to put them and their concerns behind me. Maybe it's time for a sequel, an update, a 'reunion' of the characters - after all, it'll be 10 years next year since their creation.

Except of course that's not true. The characters have been with me in one form or other all of my life, and putting them onto paper was just an artifical means of preserving them in a form which, as I once thought of myself, would and could never change.

28 September, 2006

Own goal

What's most amusing about these wretched videos is that they appear to be sitting on the same company's very own website, thereby receiving implicit endorsement from the very organisation the clips are so pitilessly lampooning. Somebody's looking the other way...

27 September, 2006

Tone deaf

There's no doubt the Prime Minister made an impressive last stand at the Labour Party conference yesterday; he's always had an undeniable flair for oratory and theatrics which have seen him through many a scrape in the past and which (almost) always seem to come to his rescue at times of personal crisis.

But in reality his slick presentational skills and nifty turns of phrase have long since changed from being an addendum to Blair's problems to being the one sole problem above all else. Where once his way with words would charm and impress, now it just grates and offends. He no longer convinces, persuades, cajoles. Rather he merely drones, blathers and shouts.

The initial reaction may be the same - of someone who can make you listen and catches your ear like nobody else on the Labour front bench - but the lasting impression is quite different from that of, say, 10 years ago.

There's now a huge swell of indifference to the business of taking Blair at face value. Once he didn't have to fight against such a thing. Once he stood a reasonable chance of being accepted and trusted and respected. But then came, in the words of another infamously derailed Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, "events".

Ultimately Blair became his own worst enemy, his way with words being both his making and his undoing. Lest we forget, it was one soundbite too many - "45 minutes" - which triggered his fall from grace.

Will we miss Blair when he's gone? You bet , but only in the way you miss having something to moan about, the way you miss idly picking at a scab once it has healed, or the way you miss cursing the British weather for being too hot when winter arrives and it's too cold.

Besides, he'll make it his business to not be absent from the scene for too long. You can guarantee his face will still be popping up all over the place, just no longer as a representative of the people (ha!) and instead as an unelected, unaccountable celebrity. Or more likely, checking in overdue books behind the counter at the Tony Blair Memorial Library.

25 September, 2006

Pet project

On Saturday a cat appeared on the scaffolding outside my flat.

Heaven knows how it had got there, but it seemed perfectly content and effortlessly happy, basking in the sun, snoozing for hours on end and casually watching the world go by.

It was still there as night fell. My initial enchantment at such a domestic scene turned to worry. Perhaps the cat was stuck. Surely it would want to go home? Wasn't it hungry? Wasn't it cold?

When I got up the following morning and saw it was still there, I knew instantly it couldn't get down. Either it had been chased up the scaffolding or scuttled its way up in a fit of wild exuberance, but now it was well and truly stranded, and it seemed like I was the only one in the entire neighbourhood who had noticed.

The problem was, just as the cat couldn't get down, I couldn't get up to rescue it.

The bottom part of the scaffolding was pure iron bars - no ladders or climbing frames in sight. What's more, the plank on which the cat was sitting was too low for me to reach from my own window. All I could do was watch it, helpless, willing it to work out a way to escape or summon up the courage to climb down the ladders it had originally clambered up.

Last night - Sunday night - was the worst. The cat was mewing and whining for hours. I felt absolutely dreadful. Should I call the fire brigade? After all, it's what people used to do when a cat got stuck up a tree. Should I call on my neighbours and try to organise our own rescue?

Yet both ideas felt utterly ludicrous and far-fetched. I would be laughed out of court. Everybody would say they had better things to do. Nobody would believe me.

My sole hope was that today, Monday, the workmen would show up and help the cat to safety themselves. I couldn't bank on it; last week, when I worked from home for a day, not a single person showed up to do any work on the scaffolding whatsoever.

My abiding fear was that I could return from work and find the cat still perched up there, miaowing its poor heart out, desperate for food and shelter. Or worse, the cat would be up there, but dead. Starved into extinction, having been sitting in front of my own eyes the whole weekend.

Well, when I came back from work the cat had gone. Vanished. It was already dark, so I couldn't see any sign of how it might have got down or to where it had made its escape, but the poor creature had definitely disappeared. Helped down, hopefully, and allowed to trot off to its owners.

Daylight will confirm the fact and not, as is still my deepest, darkest dread, the sight of a cat lying immobile, stretched out not on another plank of wood, but far far below me on the ground, silent, still, alone.

24 September, 2006

Shana Tova

This weekend has marked the Jewish New Year, or Rosh Hashanah.

It's something ordinarily I would have no awareness of or interest in, but now that I'm living in one of the most predominantly Jewish areas of London it's an event that has proved hard to miss.

In truth I didn't know it was happening until I was doing some shopping and noticed the greater concentration than usual of Jewish families out and about, in particular the crowds pouring forth from the various local synagogues and temples.

Two things above all impress me about Judaism: the fact it's a very dignified religion, and the fact it's a very sociable one as well.

The former is self-evident from the pride Jews take in their appearance on important religious occasions and holidays: immaculately dressed, impeccably behaved, unwaveringly polite.

The latter is equally self-evident from the way you'll see large groups of friends and families passing the time of day and swapping chat on street corners, in the parks, by road junctions - anywhere in fact that can lend itself to the exchange of conversation and discussion.

From my limited experience of Christianity (when I was young I used to earn some money by playing the organ at weddings and funerals) you certainly get neither such traits in the Church of England. I recall seeing people show up to services in the tattiest of clothes, then pissing off afterwards without even bothering to return their hymn books.

It's undoubtedly instructive and also somewhat humbling to be exposed to the cultures of the world's great religions. Just living in the same borough as a large concentration of Jews has led me to read up a little on their New Year, ascertaining that, among other things, it's just turned 5767 in their calendar, and the event marks the start of what are known as the ten 'Days Of Awe', culminating in Yom Kippur - a name which, for students of history like me, comes bearing ominous resonances of the eponymous Israeli war of 1973.

The common expression of good wishes, meanwhile, is "Shana Tova", and the occasion is commemorated by eating, among others, round challah bread, apples dipped in honey, and pomegranates.

I'm sure any Jews reading this will think my innocence and naivety laughable. I gladly hold my hands up to any accusation of ignorance you'd care to muster. Yet I've ended the day knowing something more about the ways of the world than when I started it, and that can only be a good thing.

23 September, 2006

Around London VI

From my kitchen windows I can see, on the horizon, the woods of Richmond Park - around 20 miles away as the crow flies, I'd say. Today I actually got to walk through these famed, illustrious pastures as part of the sixth leg of my circumnavigation.

And to be honest, wild deer aside, they weren't much cop. In fact, I didn't really enjoy this stage of my journey at all. I'm not sure precisely why, though the weather definitely had something to do with it: unseasonably hot, sticky and dry. I don't know what the fuck has happened to our climate this year, but it's been behaving in the most petulant fashion since round about March and I dearly wish it'd settle down.

You'd have thought late September would be a time of cool winds, gentle colours and calming sunlight. Struggling through acres of Wimbledon Common and Richmond Park today I could well have done with any one of those three things.

A grim and relentless trek all told, and one that didn't lend itself to many decent photos.

One of the best, in fact, I took on the train journey out to Wimbledon. This itself was a joke, lasting a total of 95 minutes: longer than it takes for me to travel from London to my hometown in the East Midlands. I know I was travelling to the furthest place from my starting point on the entire circumnavigation, but 95 minutes was taking the piss.

It was a blessed relief to arrive in Richmond and to see, after previously leaving it dozens of miles away and a month and a half ago at Woolwich, the River Thames.

Day 6: Wimbledon - Richmond
Miles Added: 8
Total Miles Completed: 59.25
Total Miles Outstanding: 18.75

22 September, 2006

Here, now

"I will observe the Islamic process."
"The Islamic process, but not the democratic process?"
"That's right, yeah."

On the Today programme this morning, John Humphrys tried to interview the activist Abu Izzadeen, the man who'd heckled that recent press conference by the Home Secretary John Reid. The results were utterly gripping.

21 September, 2006

Lib doomed

This cartoon by Steve Bell in The Guardian pretty much sums up the state of the Liberal Democrats at present.

Watching them at this week's party conference has been akin to eavesdropping on an overlit, understated tupperware party.

Old age reeked from every pore, along with equally ancient bugbears and brickbats. Everybody smiled and laughed on cue and nobody raised their voice too loudly. When they clapped, they clapped with reticence and timidity. Standing ovations quickly curtailed to modest muttering. Policies were debated but to no true end. There were no anti-climaxes because there were no climaxes. The conference merely began, quietly cleared its throat, then disappeared.

The fire has gone out of the Liberal Democrats and all that's left for its old-timers to do is rake through the embers. Menzies Campbell should have burst out the starting gates upon becoming leader and stamped his authority and personality throughout the party in his first 100 days, like all decent political helmsmen do. Instead he dithered and declined and withered and waned and said little of any consequence to nobody in particular.

The result has been a wasted year, a squandered inheritance (the highest number of MPs ever) and falling public credibility. I remember watching footage of a Lib Dem rally during last year's General Election and being amazed at the scenes of tumult and excitement ricocheting around the venue. People of all ages clamoured to lend their support to a party which had bravely and correctly stood up against the war in Iraq and student tuition fees and ID cards and denying old people free health care and a raft of other lunatic destructive Labour policies. The atmosphere, even at one remove, was palpable and potent.

By contrast the atmosphere detectable at the Lib Dem conference this week, what there was of one, was stale and indifferent. I voted for the party at the last election and, despite at the time living in an ostensibly safe Labour seat, helped make enough of a dent in the sitting MP's majority to turn it into a winnable proposition next time round. That was assuming the Lib Dems continued on the same kind of trajectory as they had up to 2005.

How quickly everything put together falls apart.

20 September, 2006

Iron brew II

Here are some immensely exciting photos of what has happened to the outside of my flat. Clearly what with a coup in Thailand, allegations of corruption at the heart of English football and the trial of the UK's first Iraq war criminal, the state of my brickwork is the most important thing in the whole world.

18 September, 2006

Iron brew

I came home from work this evening to discover almost the entire outside of my building caked in scaffolding. The whole three floors, from ground to roof level, had been virtually enclosed in a cage of metal pipes and wooden platforms, with only a bit of space at one end to allow daylight into the flats within.

I felt like I'd walked into a Terry Gilliam film, or that a dozen Kafka-esque anonymous authority figures were about to materialise from nowhere and escort me off the premises while the mysterious "repairs" were completed. Nothing of the sort transpired, naturally, but the presence of this unappealing, unwieldly lattice of iron right outside my windows is immensely off-putting.

I don't know why it is there. I don't know who put it there. I don't know for how long it will remain. I don't know to what end it was so artfully constructed then so artlessly left standing without explanation.

Part of it has been built so close to my exterior walls that I can't actually open some of my windows. The ones I can open are right by ladders or walkways or other highly accessible vantage points. The wind has picked up during the last couple of hours and now the whole edifice is shaking eerily and groaning melodramatically.

I'd feel a whole lot better about the situation had I been told it was going to happen. I can only surmise it's something to do with the state of the outside drains, which as you know are highly unreliable and which I guess need a thorough overhaul to avoid any future cases of self-combustion.

Better it be done now than in the middle of winter, I suppose, but better it be done in a way that didn't suggest a stranger was about to drop into your living room the moment your back is turned. Still, at least old fag ash Fred downstairs can't open his windows anymore, thereby depriving my flat of the omnipotent odour of his pipe smoke.

17 September, 2006

Humble pie

There's an episode in the first series of The West Wing where the American President, as played by Martin Sheen, agonises over whether he and his staff can find a reason for commuting the death sentence on someone.

Against all of their better instincts, not to mention a great dose of common sense, the President bows to what he cites is public opinion (specifically a poll which says something like 70% of the American public support capital punishment) and allows the execution to go ahead. Immediately racked by guilt, he turns to his childhood Catholic priest, who he has deliberately invited to the White House as if to anticipate this very moment, and offers up his confession.

It's a startling, shocking moment of drama - it was when I first watched it over five years ago, and it was again just yesterday when I watched it again on DVD. Its potency, however, seems all the more visceral now compared with then.

It surely beggars belief to ever ever expect the present occupent of the Oval Office to even consider offering up his confession as forgiveness for any possible act or deed. It would simply never happen. He probably thinks everything he does and says is blessed by God already. In fact he already thinks and acts this way.

For one of the most powerful people in the world to ever contemplate showing an ounce of humility would be a truly wonderful thing indeed, but at present can surely only occur in fiction, in some parallel White House filled with decent, self-aware, dignified people, prepared to accept blame and acknowledge mistakes.

When The West Wing was first aired it felt like a joyful escapist fantasy, a benchmark against which other TV drama and the practice of politics could be measured. Now it feels nothing less like a clarion call of hope for the restoration of sanity in an increasingly off-kilter and demented world.

16 September, 2006

Paper chase

London has recently been blessed with the arrival of not one but two new "free" newspapers, both published mid-afternoon and both intended to be perused by "urbanites" on their way home from work in the evening.

In their short lifespan London Lite and thelondonpaper - equally shit names, I'm sure you'll agree - have already stirred up a rumpus, thanks not just to their over-hyped rivalry and fierce competition, but also for the latter's hapless editorial and production values, typified by this amusing faux pas.

This isn't to excuse or even condone the quality of the former. In fact, both are as lowsy, sloppy and unappealing as each other - hardly surprising, really, when you realise one, London Lite, is published by the same company that is responsible for The Daily Mail (Associated Newspapers), and the other, thelondonpaper, is the work of Rupert Murdoch (News International).

What a grubby, pitiful and ultimately pointless contest: two disreputable organisations trying to outplay each other for the same tranche of upmarket of readers and the same downmarket content. I'd happily cast a plague on both their houses. In a war between the owners of the Mail and the Sun, nobody can ever emerge with any dignity.

Yet the worse outcome is surely the amount of litter being generated by their simultaneous publication and blanket consumption on the Underground. Previously the situation was already pretty dire thanks to the ubiquity of the Metro, the "free" morning newspaper, copies of which were always and still are knocking around on trains 12 hours later.

Now, though, that has been compounded threefold, so you find carriages caked in the remains of the Metro, London Lite and thelondonpaper (those names don't get any nicer to look at, do they?).

Plus you've got the Evening Standard still widely read and equally widely jettisoned, together with any other publications commuters may have deigned to shell out for on their way to and from work.

All in all it's a really unedifying and ugly (in every sense) outcome. Heaven knows what visitors from around the country and abroad make of the capital at the moment, its streets and transport system swimming in acres of rain forest while the vast majority of its inhabitants are apparently happy to go about their business choosing to bury their faces in these tawdry rags rather than read a book or even, say, look up at things around them. A practice which you sense would, undoubtedly, enlighten them far more to what was really going on in the world than the contents of any "free" daily newspaper.

But then there's no accounting for taste. As the starched housewife on A Bit Of Fry And Laurie intones, "My husband and I read The Daily Mail. We prefer it to a newspaper."

15 September, 2006

Frequency modulation

Popular sentiment suggests that a reliable measure of increasing age, if not infirmity, is when you spot a policeman on the street who looks younger than you are.

The moment your local constabulary starts to resemble what appear to be pleasant, open-faced teenagers is the moment you know you've passed the full flush of youth and are heading deep, deep into adulthood.

I'd like to propose an alternative benchmark for the advancement of years. It is the moment you realise BBC Radio 4 continuity announcers are younger than you are.

The current edition of Radio Times features an interview with a member of the said profession who gives his age as a somewhat preposterous 30. That's a mere 12 months away from being a twentysomething. It's the same age as me. It's the sort of age you'd ostensibly assume was comfortably removed from the vocation of continuity announcer by a good couple of decades at least. Not anymore.

Popular sentiment suggest the folk who do "the bits inbetween" the programmes we watch and listen to are veterans of the broadcasting establishment - reliable, unflappable old hands who exude calm and authority, who would know what to do the moment any technical foul-ups or "gremlins in the works" reared their head, and who could handle even the imminent end of the world with noble stoicism and avuncular aplomb.

Now it turns out they're no more advanced in age or experience than someone that, like yourself, was still at school when the Berlin Wall came down, was doing their A-levels the time Tony Blair became leader of the Labour Party, and had only just finished university when Princess Diana decided not to avoid driving into a brick wall.

There's something profoundly wrong about such a state of affairs. But then I would say that. After all, I'm now officially the age of the professional curmudgeon.

14 September, 2006

Bush whacked

13 September, 2006

Formative fields

Somewhere in England.

11 September, 2006

Slight return II

Some great news. The Bluetones are back, and moreover, back with an utterly fantastic new single.

10 September, 2006

Shit happens

A drainpipe has exploded outside my flat. Mercifully it's not right outside, rather a little way along the walkway that connects all the small buildings that make up this residence. But it still means I have to negotiate my way around, or more precisely through, the debris in order to reach the main road, and it's not a pleasant experience.

I can't think how it has happened. I'd spotted that the pipe was leaking a few days ago, but thought nothing more of it. Sure, every morning as I left for work a small puddle of old rainwater had gathered on the pavement, but it had always disappeared come my return in the evening, either drained away or evaporated in the sunlight.

What must have come to pass to render the leak into a combustible crucible of crap? Maybe the person whose flat the pipe belongs to has been suffering from the runs, thereby contributing to a larger than usual quantity of effluent flowing through the mains and creating a situation where something had to give. Maybe foul play is afoot, and someone has sabotaged the pipe in order to engender such a shower of shit. Maybe it's just shoddy workmanship and what has been threatening to happen for months and months has finally come to pass.

Whatever, it's a fucking disaster area with water everywhere and what looks, from a distance, to be lumps of suspiciously-flecked mud splattered all up the side of the wall. As I said, it's not my wall and not my pipe, so it's not my fault. But is it my responsibility? I can't see the damage from my flat, nor can I smell it. Part of me hopes it will just go away. All the same, as I write nothing whatsoever has been done to clean up the mess and I haven't spotted anybody bothering to investigate the source of the catastrophe.

The flat the pipe belongs to has its windows open, implying residents are present and going about their business. Haven't they spotted what has happened? Isn't the whiff of stale excrement drifting merrily into their living room at this precise moment?

Even if it is, I bet they can't be arsed to do anything. Still, who can blame them. It's the same everywhere you look. And what, at the end of the day, can you do? Shit happens.

09 September, 2006

Around London V

Not such an epic hike this time, and nowhere near as geographically varied as any of the legs I've completed to date. This was very much a sojourn through suburbia. But that, as it turned out, was no bad thing, especially when it included the genteel middle class boroughs of Croydon and Bromley.

I found myself in a part of the country best known to me through Sherlock Holmes stories: names like Norwood, Copper Beeches and Reigate were all around, while many of the streets had a quaint, otherworldy air that could have had you mistakenly thinking you were ambling through the late 19th century. To continue to sleuth associations, at one point in Balham I went past the building used as the main location for ITV's Poirot series.

Plus there was a whole slew of hills: Herne Hill, Biggin Hill, Fox Hill and Tulse Hill, all of which keep bringing me up above the horizon and affording fabulous views in all directions. The latter, of course, kept reminding me of Carter's reliably pun-laboured song '24 Hours From Tulse Hill'. And just after I'd got 'The Only Living Boy In New Cross' out of my head from last time.

At one point I was crossing a street in Streatham (SW16), looked to my right, and far away at the end of the road was, somewhat unbelievably, Wembley Stadium (NW10) which is only a mile or so from my flat.

I also saw a Muslim man reciting his daily prayers on a mat in the middle of Norbury Recreation Ground. His calm nonchalence and personal devotion, provoking not one iota of reaction from anybody passing by, was somehow deeply reassuring.

Day 5: Crystal Palace - Wimbledon
Miles Added: 9
Total Miles Completed: 51.25
Total Miles Outstanding: 26.75

07 September, 2006

Counting down

I have to say I found this highly fitting.

So many of Tony Blair's grand declarations and pious recitations as Prime Minister have taken place in school playgrounds or assembly halls with pupils and teachers playing the role of mute, anxious bystanders. It was ironic, then, that on this day of all days, it was this particular speech that was the first to be interrupted by a bit of long overdue rabble-rousing.

It was also fun to see how the protest got straight to the point - 'Tony The Poodle' - and boasted students as young as 13 amongst its ranks.

In truth it's surely now the case that the majority of the country, from 13 to 113 (were such people in existence), are in broad agreement that the man's time is most definitely up and would be quite happy (i.e. not that bothered) were he to have told the media he was stepping down next week rather than next year.

Instead what we could be looking at now is month upon month of agonising back-biting and name-calling - more agonising, were it possible, than the kind which has been going on for the past, ooh, nine years - forming a complete distraction from the carnage in Iraq, the slaughter in Afghanistan, the tensions in the Middle East and the follies of the Anglo-American alliance. Never mind the state of this nation, replete with a population deeply ill-at-ease with itself and its ruling classes.

I sorely hope Blair will go before Christmas, not least because it will bear out the prophecy I have made several times on this blog, but also because I'm now terminally weary of finding the man's haggard yet petulant face popping up all over the place believing it's what the public want to see.

Plus I'd hate to be 13 and to have known no other Prime Minister than Tony Blair. Imagine growing up under just one PM, forever unsure if and when they will finally shuffle off the scene. But then I don't need to imagine.

06 September, 2006

'Arms way

I was thumped in the stomach today on two non-consecutive occasions.

London seems to boast an inordinate number of pedestrians who choose to go about their business swinging their arms in an acutely unselfconscious manner. These people are particularly prevalent in areas of concentrated crowds, where their affectation takes on, in inverse relation to their immediate surroundings, even more of a violent trajectory. Consequently it's pretty lethal trying to make your way along the pavement, as I discovered today. Twice.

I've never come across such behaviour before. It's like being back in primary school music and movement classes, where everyone would be cajoled into finding "a space" and, to the sound of a hopelessly out-of-tune piano accompaniment, swing their limbs around in a vague approximation of a tree being caught in a thunderstorm.

Only these people are adults. And, in theory, somewhat more reserved and appreciative of their environment. One of my assailants was parading around swinging her right arm out behind her almost a full 90 degrees, while leaving her left arm near-motionless. After making contact with my stomach, she didn't apologise (naturally - nobody does in London), choosing instead to simply carry on with her demented limb-flapping somewhere else.

The other person was walking towards me leaving enough room, or so I thought, to pass cleanly by without collision. Oh no. As he neared I could see his arm was swinging in a quite preposterous fashion all over the bloody place, and inevitably I was thumped without remorse or pity.

It's the little things that can push you that bit nearer the edge and set the seal on an otherwise indifferently tough day. It's the little things that stick more in your mind when the evening comes and you're reflecting on the previous 12 hours and which end up overshadowing any number of more significant and portentous issues.

And it's the little things which invariably contrive to hit you where it hurts as opposed to the big things which just fester away inside and whose damage only become clear ten years down the line.

05 September, 2006

Door stopped

Yet another development to report on the Underground.

Twice in one day I have witnessed people in such a desperate rush to jump into a carriage that their luggage has got caught in the sliding doors and the entire train has been held up waiting for the confusion to be resolved.

Yesterday morning it was a bloke with a giant rucksack, who somehow contrived to end up standing on the platform with his bag poking through into the inside of the carriage. Some charitable passenger jumped to his aid and tried to push the rucksack back through, while another person on the platform joined in and tried the pull the rucksack out. It was all to no avail, of course, and a huge palaver ensued before the driver realised something was wrong and opened up all the doors. Not before a great deal of time and energy had been expended for no reason.

Then in the evening the same thing happened again, although this time involving a person who'd made it into the carriage but whose luggage was still protuding half-out. Again a lot of faffing and flapping ensued, and again everybody was held up waiting for the doors to be properly opened and the offending bag freed.

Such cases are probably quite common, but in each instance I don't blame the driver. I blame the passengers who have the nerve and idiocy to believe a closing door isn't in fact closing but is somehow going to magically let them through despite being made of glass, plastic and lots of electrical wires. When the tannoy booms out "Mind the closing doors", they seem to regard this as an instruction to do the precise opposite. No wonder so many people are injured on the Underground every year simply boarding and dismounting from trains.

I'm still waiting for the occasion when I get to see someone have their tie or a piece of jacket caught in the machinery behind them and then have to stay jammed up against the door until being "freed" at the next station. It'd certainly make commuting a lot more fun. For me, that is.

04 September, 2006

Mersey tales

It's now just over half a year since I moved to London and six months exactly since I started my new job.

Time seems to have raced by, yet I can't help but feel the sensation that my life in Liverpool (all 12 years of it) might just as well be a generation ago. Everything feels so distant to me now.

It was such an upheaval coming down here, and such hard work trying to put down new roots, that since the move my energies and attention have, for good and ill, been utterly consumed simply with the business of staying alive and keeping going. I haven't had the space nor stamina to contemplate what I left behind. I suspect there's a part of my subconscious that doesn't want to allow me to either.

In truth I have been thinking about Liverpool increasingly of late, and of how many different kinds of experiences and rituals I had to abandon in order to break free of a soul-destroying job, a humiliating salary and a character-humbling workplace.

I don't miss that particular vocation, of course, nor most of the people who passed as my colleagues. But they weren't all a bad bunch, and I was fortunate to fall in with a small group of allies and confidantes amongst my immediate peers who, during the three and a half years I spent in that job, proved selfless in their support and understanding.

I miss them; but I also miss...

- the serenity around where I used to live, which allowed me to hear the birds in the morning and the trains at night;

- hot buttered toast from the bakeries in town;

- blustery western winds that would blast all the cobwebs from your crumpled office-bound exterior;

- neighbours who actually spoke to you and took an interest in your welfare;

- the reassurance of being somewhere you've lived for so long and the confidence in knowing that, however many times you go away, you'll always want to return after not too long;

- the cavernous starry skies at night;

- decent haircuts for just £5;

- public transport that doesn't roast you alive;

- the rain, falling hour upon hour with untempered abandon and sparkling delight;

- revisiting old haunts;

- the coolness, even in the height of summer, lurking in any nearby park or garden;

- the parts of the city I somehow never found the time to visit;

- the desolate romanticism of Lime Street station;

- being so close to the sea;

- nicer accents;

- living amongst so much of my past;

And a million and one other things that made up the fabric of my existence in Liverpool and which were completely unravelled in the process of moving 200 miles south.

I wish I could have them all back. I really do.

03 September, 2006

Immaterial girl

Sifting through more intriguing clips of David Letterman I was particularly glad to find this, such was its notoriety at the time plus the fact that you would never ever get anything like this unfolding on British television (for shame). Why can't we do talk shows over here like they do over there?

02 September, 2006

Aisle bet

Two people in my office at work have just got engaged, and have been subjecting all and sundry to their hopes and plans for their respective marriage ceremonies.

They're not engaged to each other, let me make that clear, but in a way that has made things even worse seeing as how the rest of us have to sit through twice as much nuptial nattering as would otherwise be the case.

It always depresses me when somebody I know, be it a friend or colleague, declares their forthcoming intention to head up the aisle. It's not that I'm depressed for them, far from it; rather I can't help but end up feeling sorry for myself as yet another person ostensibly of my "age" has got their life into enough of an order to want to "settle down" by way of committing themselves legally to spending the rest of days with somebody else. I can't help but compare their fortunes with my own - or rather, their confidence and security and self-assurance with my own.

I also have to confess to being somewhat surprised as to how fashionable and popular marriage appears to have become once again. I thought ours was the generation that wasn't going to have anything to do with that nonsense of till death us do part, let alone doing it so early on.

Perhaps that misconception is erroneous. Most, but not all, people I know over 30 (and granted that's not many) are either married or in intensely long-term relationships which might very well end up in knots being tied before too long. Equally most people I know under 30 (ditto) are similarly settled, albeit with not such grand designs for the future nor such a feeling of settlement about them.

One of the websites I write for has witnessed, amongst its staff, a wedding once a year for almost the past five years. What began way back as something being written and edited solely by a bunch of single (well, unmarried) blokes, for whom it was the principle thing in their lives, has changed utterly both in status and priority. I'm now in the minority by dint of being wholly unattached - and also by still, uncoincidentally, having just as much time to spend on the site as I've ever done.

Ah well. I guess it's like any kind of gang anywhere in the world: there comes a point when everybody grows up.

01 September, 2006

Go now

It's great fun reading the numerous comments people have posted in response to a 'Have Your Say' feature on the BBC News website concerning when Tony Blair should stand down.

Virtually nobody has a good word for the Prime Minister, and virtually nobody would like him to stay in his job one day longer. Most wish he'd quit months ago. Some would've liked to see him go a few years back. A few would really quite have preferred it were he never to have become PM at all.

The quantity and focus of vitriol seems, at first, quite astonishing when placed against the fact that a mere 18 months ago Labour won a General Election with a very safe majority and until about three months ago had enjoyed a lead in the opinion polls which had remained almost unbroken since 1992.

But on second thoughts it pays to remember how Blair only won last year with a 35% share of the vote - almost one in three of those who cast their ballot. And that figure itself was from a turnout of a little over half those eligible to vote. In actual fact only around 18% of the electorate voted Labour in 2005.

With over 80% of the country having not elected to support this Government, little wonder such fierce resentment is surfacing in such a manifest fashion. But remember, the Conservative Party polled even less at that election, with even fewer people expressing a desire to see the Tories back in power. Although David Cameron has scored a few opinion poll successes of late, and will undoubtedly continue to do so, it remains a truism that opposition parties never win General Elections, it is always governments which lose them.

Hence Cameron won't win the next election; instead it will be Blair's replacement who, on the surface, will have lost it. Of course in truth the damage may have already been done, and it will be Blair himself who will have cost his party a fourth successive victory. Or rather, it could be the cumulative amount of gossiping about the damage he could be doing which ultimately creates the climate in which Labour can do nothing but lose.

Whatever, it's a turbulent party conference season that is about to begin and proof that we remain in one of the most dynamic periods of political upheaval in this country for a generation or so.

For the first time in a very very long time we don't really know what's about to happen and when. And for someone who grew up during 18 years of endless Tory rule, only to see it inevitably replaced by 9 years (and counting) of endless Labour rule, the number of unknowns surrounding who and for what reason the country will vote for come the next polling day can't multiply fast enough.