Another long lovely heathy walk…

Mmmm another lovely day up in North London. It’s like I’m on holiday.

Emma appeared and we went for a walk. We hit the heath properly. Not so crowded and gorgeous at this this time of year. The only issue is that there are no loos open anywhere so everything has to be meticulously planned, which as you know is not my forte.

We wandered over to Kenwood House and sludged through mud and clambered and watched and talked and laughed. There’s so much to do when there’s nothing to do.

We did get sold a 99 Flake each for like four quid round near The Spaniards, and we sat on the grass that slopes to the lake from the back of the house while I carefully rubbed most of my whippy into my beard. Then more walking and suddenly we were near The Pergola! “I’ve never been!” says Emma.

One of my favourite bits of London. The remains of an old country house garden, now owned by The City of London Corporation. Some bastard put it on a “Secret London” list in 2018 so the peace was broken for a while as the Instagram hordes crowded in to play “Better Than Life” with their unfortunate camerastooges and their bullshit faces. But it’s still glorious if you ignore the insecurity. And by now they’d have found somewhere else to take the same photo 100 times.

Well – they’d have had to. It’s closed for Covid. Padlock on the gates. Reasonably low fences though. We didn’t climb over the fence as that’s not allowed.

We weren’t the only people who hadn’t climbed over the fence. There were some kids who were very loudly distressed about having already lost their weed baggy somewhere. A young couple sauntering around enjoying the beauty, and another desperately wishing we weren’t wandering around. A good place to isolate. And beautiful.

It’s well maintained. I would have kept expecting a friendly but stern volunteer to come and tell us we shouldn’t be there. If we HAD been there. There were roses in full bloom, and the flower beds and lawns are still carefully kept. The frisson of being a little bit disobedient makes things all the sweeter. Even if we weren’t disobedient oh no. I definitely didn’t take any photos.

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Eventually, and much later than I thought it was, we emerged back in Hampstead. There was a little Italian place selling coffee through the window near Flask Walk. It’s probably for the best that the pubs are closed or I would have had a pint in The Holly Bush.

Coffee after a long walk and no public loos necessitated a swift hike back to Mel’s on Parliament Hill, but thankfully it’s only about 10 minutes from Flask Walk. Just as well I didn’t have coffee up when we were at Kenwood or I’d have been desperately banging on stranger’s doors in Hampstead and somebody would have bagged me with the family blunderbuss and mounted my head in the drawing room.

The other day my brother very proudly showed me the chemical loo he now keeps in the boot of his car. It makes so much sense. Up in Yorkshire most of the little garages told me their loo was “out of order”. You’d be onto a winner if you had a little luxury loo-wagon to drive around on weekends near places like Battersea Park or Hampstead Heath. Everybody crowding around outside and no public loos open? You’d coin it. You’d be like the teenagers on Carnival who successfully charge queues of drunk partygoers a fiver for use of the downstairs loo at mummy’s house in Notting Hill. Whoever Andy from the ubiquitous Festival “Andy Loos” is, he’s missing a trick, especially with festival season cancelled.

Sleep patterns and the Heath.

My sleep patterns have momentarily gone to pieces due to my big plan of getting myself largely straightened out and healthy in time for solstice. There’s a solar eclipse on the 21st and then we’re in the dog days. Things are already bonkers so I’m not gonna let myself coast through the heart of the year without an attempt to align myself with myself and the things around me. Just under two weeks to get myself to ceremonial mind and body state.

Booze, my old demon. That’ll be on the back burner for a while as I try and teach my poor broken liver that it doesn’t have to be constantly pustulating in an attempt to keep up with the Peter-Pan complex of its host, and I try to teach my brain to do things normally rather than respond to constantly shifting chemical stimuli. The first thing that happens when I start to detox is that sleep goes blooey and I get ragey.

I stayed up all night last night. Sleep just wasn’t available. At 8.30am, just as I decided there was no point trying and put my clothes back on, sleep suddenly became the only thing I was capable of, and I rolled fitfully through vivid dreams into half noon. Then a particularly unusual and hungry dream propelled me up and out, down to South End Green, wide awake again and hoping somehow that a shop would be available without queue for a purchase of the bread I had been so joyfully eating in the dream. No such luck though. All the dream-bread shops required patience and standing still. Neither of those resources were available. The bottom of Hampstead Heath is even busier than Battersea Park at lunchtime, and all the shops had queues so long that I weighed up my desire for dreambread and against my need for non stop movement and the bread was wanting.

I went for a brisk walk on the breadless heath instead, looking and listening to the conversations and the humanity, and enjoying the stoopid dogs.

The entrance was chocka but as I walked up the hill people started to peel off exponentially. There were moments as I strolled up that I could’ve tried to pretend to myself that I wasn’t completely surrounded by people.

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It was gloomy compared to how it has been. But if today’s walk is the shape of things to come then I’ve definitely landed in the right place up here. Trees and moss and space and air, and panoramic views of my metropolis from the top of one of the only proper hills. I roved around for ages. I’m sure I could’ve come up with all sorts of practical things to do, but walking was today’s jam. Fuck knows how I’ll make money. I’m strangely peaceful. Life finds a way.

Now it’s gone 2am and I’m still totally discombobulated and have no idea where the day starts and ends, let alone whereabouts it is in the week and which deity it’s named after. I think we’ve just had the moon day. This time last night I was filled with strange anger but today I’m just awake and calm and hoping that I can remember how to stop myself from being awake without the aid of chemicals.

First up, ditch the screen. Night!

Long unstructured rant about protests and conspiracies.

(TLDR Black Lives Matter. And if you believe my made up incel hacker called Sven, you’re a mushroom.)

Of course the whole of London is cold but because there’s been a cold snap since I moved, I’m now convinced that North London is colder than South London. It’s a useful miniature example of all the little cognitive biases that are being satisfied by people with suddenly too much time who are looking for patterns that back up their dislike of various technologies etc. These non-causative correlations that have inexplicably pulled the wellness industry into the same illiterate stinky bucket as the USA alt-right incel nastyboys.

Maybe it IS just colder in North London. Did you think of that? That’s been my personal experience. Oh yeah, so the “mainstream media” – (and by that I mean ANYBODY with careful understanding and proper evidence) – they haven’t said anything about North London being colder, so there’s clearly a cover up.

Listen: you can’t trust the people who have dedicated their lives to geeky and careful forensic understanding of the facts based on careful peer reviewed studies done out of aspy passion – often with no real care who reads them and why. A politician once lied which proves that the only people we can trust are propaganda bots and 34 year old virgins called Sven who live in their mother’s basements despite being bitcoin millionaires.

And it’s ok because Sven is going to overthrow the new world order! Big government want us to think the temperature is roughly the same across the whole of London! If you don’t believe me watch an 8 hour video of somebody ranting or you can’t join the argument because you haven’t done enough of what I have decided to call “research.”

Meanwhile Black Lives Matter, and there’s another thorny one because if I start coming in and saying that yes I agree that we need to fundamentally address unconscious prejudice then somebody else tells me I’m virtue signalling and somebody else says I can’t comment on it because I haven’t experienced it and Sven comes out of his mother’s basement to tell me it’s all a smokescreen to distract us from the real issue which is that Bill Gates and Satan are feeding cold North London children to Hilary Clinton in Pizza Express in warm South London and IT WILL ALL BE FINALLY EXPOSED NEXT WEEKEND except it won’t and it won’t and it won’t because essentially Sven and his mates had way too much weed ten years ago and they still can’t quite countenance why so many people internationally are actually listening to the stuff they made up when they were stoned because they know when you peel back the final layer to get to the core, it’s an onion and there is no fucking core, but the ad-revenue alone is worth keeping the website updated as it keeps Sven with enough skunk to make it up.

As for the protests, so much anger though in the heat of South central London today, and all over the world, and I see why.

George Floyd is murdered by an agent of the law as part of an longstanding ongoing systemic law-enforcement and basic Social problem, and when anger is expressed, “white” people are reacting defensively immediately – posting shit like pictures of “white” kids murdered by people definable in their minds as racially “other”. As if by ceding an inch of ground they are somehow risking something. Not even the kindness and calmness to accept they have a spot of privilege and step back a bit and listen. “How dare they graffiti Churchill,” one of them shouts without looking or listening, seizing on the thing they’ve been after which lets them dismiss the whole issue.

We have to listen, even to Sven and his dupes just to sure, but particularly to people who are angry enough about something REAL to crowd together now in protest, when it’s literally dangerous for their health and potentially fatal for their loved ones. Yeah people will undermine themselves or disruptors will deliberately undermine others by doing stupid or violent shit.

Often if you aren’t in the ascendant you feel your voice is taken away unless it’s amplified by those around you. Sven and his bullshit is amplified by other people seeking justification through patterns and sense, to the extent that some of Sven’s mushrooms are pushing up fruiting bodies that are trying to tell people in the real world that it’s definitely colder in North London and they need to agree or they’re wrong.

The people protesting know that this is a rare chance to be heard and to be amplified. Yeah so they do contentious things but actually why not? Pull the thing down. People need images. A statue of a slave trader chucked in the harbour is a good clear image despite the inevitable defensive fool with his bulgy eyes telling us all tomorrow how after the guy was a slave trader he actually went on to invent Sudoku or, I dunno, taught us all how to ride caterpillars or … well we all know there’ll be something. Oh it’s missing the point. But you know we’ll hear them sawing away on the BBC about what the fucker did with his blood money.

Black Lives Matter. We need to do better. I will be what they call an ally in this, awkwardly, expecting to be blown out for doing it wrong.

But here’s the problem. Nothing is free of awkwardness anymore. It’s complicated to protest. It’s complicated to support the protesters. It’s complicated to disagree with the protest. Anybody having any opinion about anything ever is risking somebody saying “You haven’t thought about x y z and that makes you EVIL”. It’s complicated to be human in the face of this weaponisation of the scorn of people who largely agree with you, but for one detail that you missed WHICH IS WHY YOU’RE EVIL!

I support the protesters. The stuff they’re protesting happens too often. I hope they don’t all take covid home to their neighbours after trying to make people aware of how angry they are. Right now with Boris and Donald at the top of the funnel I think it might be hard to make positive changes through expression of rage. The message might be deliberately smudged by the damage in the short term. But time will hopefully prove better than the chumps we’ve got in charge right now. And we need to make ourselves heard, to try to affect policy, to wake people up.

As for Sven, I am fed up of intelligent people pattern matching and going down rabbit holes that almost all lead to poison and trust me I’ve “done my research” as I find myth utterly fascinating and I don’t think you actually know what the word “research” means even if the myths themselves are very compelling and emotional and sometimes quite epic in their scale. But hey, it’ll all going to be exposed next weekend anyway. Unless it isn’t. Repeat ad-nauseam.

If I didn’t blog daily I’d edit this. I’d go over it carefully and find my argument, delete all the circular ranting and all the stuff that probably only makes sense to me – like imagining people trotting out somebody else’s conspiracy myths as the unknowing fruiting bodies of some nasty fat mycelium…

I blog daily though. And it’s late.

I’m going to bed. Just as well I’m not a daily columnist. My editor would be waking me up at 6am asking me what the fuck I’ve been taking.

Eat cold blog. From cold North London.

Pulling out of Chelsea

Suitably apocalyptic weather as I cross town in an Uber. We are in the heart of a storm. Crashing thunder and shocks of lightning over a city that has dried out. The roads are flooded.

Mel’s landlady would likely be pleased I’m heading over as there’s been a history of flooding in her flat and it’ll comfort her to know I’m there to bail out the buckets. It was hard to pull out of my flat though. There’s much there to attach me, not least that my idea of London is centred there. I know the shops and the buses and the trains. But these days transport is not a big concern, and shopping is more about efficiency and planning than it used to be.


I’ve been worried about the state I’d find it in here. I didn’t trust myself enough it seems. Last time I was here it was innocent February and we had no idea what was to come. Turns out I was reasonably tidy. A miracle. Needed to wash a couple of glasses and dispose of a toxic but thankfully unexploded vacuum pack of chicken in the fridge. I had made the bed before leaving. One pair of dirty socks was strangely laid out on floor as if I was supposed to leap into them. Plates in the drying rack. But on the Al Barclay scale of messiness, this is right up there with digs in a shared house with strangers. Better than I imagined by far. And evidence of hasty and indiscriminate scoffing of painkillers as a reminder of how I was inexplicably in constant agony with my shoulder for the best part of two months at the start of the year. Thank fuck whatever that was fixed itself. We forget so quickly when we have no pain what it’s like when we live on pain relief, counting the hours until we are allowed another one. Every morning I was pulled out of sleep early by the screaming of my nerves, augmented by my imagination that didn’t and still doesn’t know the cause so can put no time limit on the pain. I would frequently cut out the drugs for as long as I could bear, to “assess if it’s getting better” (aka to service my masochistic streak.) It wasn’t, until it did, and then one morning I forgot about it completely until I found all the Tylenol and Codeine wrappers by the kitchen sink here and remembered.

Some people live with chronic pain for their whole lives. Two months was long enough for me to know how much I respect those people for ever getting anything done. There were times when I was writing this and all I could write about was the pain because it filled my thoughts completely. I’m throwing away those wrappers. Respect to the memory but in the bin for now. Right now I’m one of the lucky ones without chronic pain. Long may it continue. I’m not getting back into those socks if I can help it.

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The birds are singing to the dusk after the storm. London sprawls below me, and the sound of a siren rises through the gloaming. No river here, but hilltop heathland, doves and better air. Here’s to June.

Eclipse. Endings and beginnings.

Knowing that Hampstead is supposed to represent a bit of a detox and a bit of a shit getting together period, I’ve been polishing off the wine I’ve got in Chelsea in anticipation of moving. The flat actually looks half decent now. I reckon I can leave it with Kitcat in charge for a few weeks.

Brian spun by at lunchtime on his incredible bike, making me glad of the company and envious of his wheels. I was still in sleeping gear. It was 2pm. He wasn’t under time pressure, having finished his checks for the day, so he waited while I got dressed. We had distance-sandwiches provided by Tesco. We sat on my bench watching the river at high tide. It was almost like being normal- but for the fact we couldn’t hug and the conversation was frequently going into “how the hell do we manage to keep making work?” territory.

There’s stuff out there. I saw a bold and strange Time Machine by Creation last night, continuing and adapting technique and thought from The Tempest into something challenging and topical, with real science. Fitzrovia Radio Hour are making something that’s likely to push the idea of what can be done live in a home green screen even further. I bet there’s a lot of stuff happening out there right now, being made, being dreamt, being born. I’m glad people are remaining generative. It’s always going to be the case. Give creative people time and toys and they’ll find an interesting way to play with them and try to include you if you walk past.

It’s peaceful here now, with the bath running and Kitcat browsing on her phone in the same room as me. It’s just gone midnight and I’ve been trying to eat all the perishables left in the fridge.

We saw the lunar eclipse through the window. The shadow of the earth over the full moon. Bright and dark. A beginning? A shift. A change of gear.

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I’ve been packing as if I’m going on holiday, but really there’s little point as it’s just a short bus ride home and I bet I end up coming back all the time to … to swap out the Judge Dredd books I’ve read with the next lot … to pick up a box of random stuff to put on eBay … to grab my green screen and lights  … my swimming costume … whatever the heck it is that I decide it’s worth crossing town for.

Crossing town though – it does feel like a big old thing. I haven’t taken a bus or a tube since February. I won’t tomorrow either, I’ll get a cab and hang the expense.

Kitcat got a cab from Oxford to London and he charged her literally hundreds for the privilege. I kind of wish she’d asked me to drive her. If I’d charged her half what he charged, on a zipcar, I still would’ve made much more than I did for the Yorkshire job, which I pitched far too low by mistake. Still, he’ll have gone home full of it joys of Spring.

For tonight at least she has come into my very chilled out umbrella and we’re listening to Out of Season by Beth Gibbons and Rustin Man and just winding down. It’s not one of it 100 best albums of the nineties but I couldn’t cope with the Nine Inch Nails right now. And it sets the tone.

 

Hampstead HO!

I don’t think I’ve ever been as happy about a decision I’ve made as the one I made to move to Hampstead for the rest of June.

My erstwhile flatmate suddenly appeared this evening, causing much consternation with my neighbour. I’m the baddie now, with the evil bad snake bad bad evil danger bad bad evil, so logic and rational behaviour went out with fidget-spinners as far as my neighbour is concerned. We’re left with volatility and reaction.

I’m none too pleased about the reason for my flatmate showing up either as it seems she’s experienced domestic violence where she’s been. My instinct at first is to try and help her out…

I didn’t think we’d overlap – I hoped I’d be gone when she arrived – but it seems that her situation in Oxford has gone south. It’s totally legal to move home in the case of domestic violence, and I think that’s what she’s done.

Everybody is so fucking damaged right now. God even knows what has happened to her –  she’s bruised and shellshocked and has a hospital tag but swears she can’t remember anything after she got downstairs in the morning.

I figure it’s the same guy that had me taking a crowbar into my bedroom for protection the first time I met him. Apparently she’s been staying with him. He’s 3 inches tall, 180 years old, and literally hates everything but himself and his chest hair.

Hampstead HO!! The uncomplicated heathland of north London, where a man can be free and people in ancient patterns of circular neurosis and self harm can slowly spin into themselves and glom onto dangerous sociopaths while I look at pretty pretty trees and remove myself from the endless cycle of bollocks.

“My fear of snakes is left over from when I was a child in Africa,” says my neighbour who has had at least 20 more years than me to find perspective and has clearly fallen at the first hurdle and lain there flinching ever since. She’s attempting to rationalise a disgracefully unexamined phobia of snakes that has caused her to catalyse me out of my flat – mostly, frankly, as part of my quest for an easy life.

It was that same catalyst that caused me to send the message that allowed my flatmate to feel ok about returning. “Hi, I’ll be moving to Hampstead on Saturday in case you need to get back and you’re worried about isolation?”

Now snake-neighbour is even more angry about my flatmate coming back, which probably wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t kicked off about the snake. You reap what you fucking sew. She’s just gonna be angry. Haters gonna hate, players gonna play, neurotics gonna rot rot rot rot rot rot.

I’m glad my flatmate knew she felt comfortable to return, in the sense that it’s good to be able to provide a safe haven. Someone almost certainly beat her, and he’s a lucky fucker because she insists she can’t remember and I literally haven’t got the headspace to tease it out of her. It gives me pause though because if it’s who I think it is he knows this address and the last thing in the world I want is to go away to Hampstead and come back to find he’s broken in, trashed the place and killed her. But I’m … You know what? I’m over it. Fuck it. I don’t have the headspace. I’m out. I’m done. Sorry. I’m gone.

You wanna freak out about a totally harmless snake? Fine.

You wanna invite poisonous people into your life and then wonder why they hurt you? Fine.

I can’t fix everybody. Sort your own shit out. I’ve worked hard enough on mine and I’ve spent years prioritising everybody else’s shit over my own. Fuck that. I’m not getting swept up.

The very fact I’m going to Hampstead in the first place shows that I have let this shit affect me a bit, but Hampstead will be good for me no matter what, even if it’s a bit more faff than using the sentence “It’s a fucking snake in a fucking box and if you can’t cope with that then look at yourself not me.”

It’ll be a holiday – a change of scene. A detox too.

My immediate environment has suddenly become a seething mess of other people’s neurosis and, apart from wanting them to be happy and all the rest of my pathological shit, I literally can’t be fucked with it. Any of you who have read this regularly will appreciate how unusual that conclusion is to me. But comes the time, comes the set of circumstances, comes the avalanche of people who are just bringing it on themselves, comes the lovely delightful numbness when you just say “Fuck it.”

I’m happy. If you want to put stuff in the way of your own happiness, do so, fine, but don’t try and make it affect mine. I’m over that.

I’m off to Hampstead on Saturday. I’ll be happy there.

I wish you all the best in whatever world you want to make for yourselves.

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Musings in the dark

I know by now that if I start writing, something will form, even if I’m telling myself I don’t have much to write about today. Life is rich and even a day spent in contemplation (aka pottering) can yield material. I’ve done this unbroken for over 1200 days now, somehow. Lots and lots of words.

My friend Mel, the snake owner, is still stuck in New Zealand, now living in a caravan in somebody’s garden, earning her keep by making limoncello and stringing together fairy lights. Before that she was living in a brewery on the Coromandel Peninsula. “You should be the one writing a blog,” I tell her. She doesn’t like the idea. I tell her I’m moving to her place in Hampstead on Saturday. She’s pleased. “At least somebody will be getting some use out of the rent I’m paying,” she remarks. I’m lucky to have the option to shift base. It’ll be good for me, and it’ll help my neighbour not worry.

We forget that our normality is still unusual for people in a different idiom. Time and again in the years I’ve done this daily record, the things people have been activated to communicate about haven’t been the well turned phrases, but the glimpses of weakness, the flashes of vulnerability. The things I find hardest to write about.

I’m sitting in my living room, half tidy half not, still listening to the top 100 nineties albums in reverse order – (after a sabbatical when I just wasn’t in the mood to listen to anything.). I’m on Guns and Roses now but earlier this evening it was The Fugees and Wyclef Jean painfully reminding us as things go up in flames all over the world that things were just as shit 30 years ago. George Floyd. I haven’t seen the video because I know it’ll upset me deeply. This stuff keeps happening. I am so safe from it and it’s confusing to contemplate the difference in experience between being me in my nice flat worrying about trivial things and being someone in a developed country who has to worry about going to the store in case a policeman takes badly to him and actually kills him.

After this hibernation it’s a good time for rejigging old systems and throwing out patterns of thought that don’t help, and we all have generations worth of unexamined assumptions that we need to try to pull out and examine. It’s a lifetime of work, but its never too late to start and nobody is completely free of it.

But debate is getting harder and harder online as propaganda bots polarise and stoke rage and confusion seemingly just because they can. Now the ghost of “deep fakes” is starting to haunt the edges of fake news and the logical next step is to say “If you want to trust it’s me, you have to see me in the flesh” and then it’s the fecking Nuremberg rallies all over again.

I roasted a chicken and ate most of it on my own. I’ve made enough gravy to feed an army so there’ll be casserole for a week.  Good things can happen.

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Snake related blog-trouble

I’m a little torn today, despite the wonderful weather. This blog has got me into trouble again. Not major trouble. Just local, domestic trouble. With my neighbour.

I don’t like making people unhappy. It’s almost pathological – my desire not to inconvenience others. It gets me into all sorts of scrapes as I destroy my own calm and decentre myself making sure that others are ok and not taking myself into account. It’s something I’m trying to examine and deconstruct as it actively doesn’t serve me. But these old ingrained habits – they can be slow to pull apart. Like irrational fears.

One of my neighbours is extremely phobic of snakes. I had no idea. We are friendly enough to have each other on Facebook. I’ve started manually sharing these blogs again. They read on one that Hex has been staying for a while. They are extremely unhappy about him.

It’s thrown me off my stride, feeling the concern. The reaction was so extreme that I thought they were joking for too long, and by the time I realised it was a genuine extreme reaction rather than a pantomime for a joke I had lost any trust I could’ve had –  by appearing to laugh at their fear.

“What if he gets into my bedroom at night?” I am asked, and in that circumstance, if we were to pretend for a moment that it was possible, I would mostly be worried that my neighbour would roll on him and hurt him. On his supervised exercise outside the tank he spends most of his time diligently trying to get himself crushed or get underfoot. He has the survival instinct of a piñata.

He’s a long mobile pudding. He’s too small to constrict anything bigger than your thumb, and he’s not venomous either. Plus he’s surprisingly attractive, extraordinarily lazy and unexpectedly shy and basically anorexic.

I honestly couldn’t be bothered with snakes when I was asked to take him in. He’s won me over. I’d still not get one of my own, but while I used to think it laughable when people anthropomorphised reptiles (cold implacable eating machines) he has surprised me with a quantifiable personality. He gave a great performance in The Tempest every time. I reckon the reviews gave him as much copy as me.

I guess it’s just a short hop from reptiles to birds.

Plus he’s in a sealed tank for Christ’s sake. He can’t get out.

But … we all have things we’re afraid of and logic often doesn’t come into the frame with fear. I used to have it with spiders until I forced it out of me, but part of my self appointed job is to chase out my own neuroses. It’s not my job to chase anything out of others though.

So. What to do?

I’ve been thinking of going to Hampstead for a while to inhabit Mel’s flat until she’s finally back from New Zealand. Hex officially lives there, so it makes sense to go live in the same place as him now that he’s persona non grata here. It’s a bit like running away, but it’ll make the neighbour feel safe and allow me to continue to look after Hex properly without awkwardness or guilt. And perhaps it’s for the best as I can look after myself into the bargain.

I’m planning to shift base on Saturday, after making sure it’s good and tidy here for Kitcat if she shows up. A change will do me good – whatever the catalyst. Mel’s place is right on the heath, and I can use it for a month or so of reflection and self care. Eating well. Living better.

I’ve been sleeping late and waking later, eating less and drinking more. A new roof always breaks the old habits. The world looks different from North London, and The Heath is tantalising on these long warm summer days.

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Ashdown House, my old school…

My old junior “prep” school is closing. It was in the news today because it happens to be the same place that our illustrious Prime Minister attended as a young’un. Being sent over the Irish Sea to this isolated school in Sussex to live there for large parts of the year was initially quite alien to my childish brain. I didn’t get it at all. But it was the thing, and it seemed inevitable despite my childish reservations. I was always sad to be wrenched from the family unit at the start of the term. But along with all the other kids from all over the world, we made the best of it.

We created our own crazes. “Blimph” was a chaos drawing game I invented with obscure and shifting rules depending on how much I wanted to make people feel included. “No you’re doing it wrong.”

We put disproportionate value in arbitrarily chosen pop culture items. I traded one Masters of the Universe figure for a whole black bin bag full of Star Wars toys. Garbage Pail Kids. Fighting Fantasy books. Shiny shiny junk.

We traded and we chased and we fought and we played.

When I was there they were building a theatre and I concealed a time capsule in the concrete of the foundations. It took the form of rolled up piece of paper in a Bic biro shell, with my stated intention to be an actor scrawled on it, probably involving blood harvested carefully from one of my inevitable constant injuries.

The first play in the new theatre was Macbeth and Mr Wimbush the maths teacher directed it so I didn’t stand a chance of a good part. O couldn’t be bothered with him or with maths. Still I got to play Seyton. One line was kept in the cut. “The Queen, my lord, is dead.” My instinct was to milk it so the only note I got was “say it quickly”. Actually it’s usually a good note. Don’t let them get ahead of you. Even more important for comedy.

Then there was “the jungle”. In my memory it was huge and overgrown. Weekends were about the jungle. Some of the kids would go home. Sometimes I’d get to hang out with someone’s family – Navin or Mark or James would pick me up for the weekend. But just as often I’d be left there to run loose in the jungle and get myself covered in filth running around inventing mountain ranges and tribes and whatever the heck else we could come up with.

Apart from the wrench from our parents it was a terrific privilege to attend that school. It’s sad to think that I wasn’t to get long with mum and dad after I came out of the remarkable and expensive education their hope and money had sent me to. I’m using it, but not perhaps in the way they anticipated.

Maybe it prepared me psychologically for the reality of their early passing, although I never stopped being an open heart and man I miss them. But for a kid who is going to be sent somewhere no matter what, I can think of a lot worse places than Ashdown House. You could see the fringe of the forest from the window where we all brushed our teeth at a long sink. Someone had planted “Wellingtonia” Redwood trees in the grounds a long time ago, and much of my time was spent clambering through the lower branches of its secondary growths. There was freedom and kindness and individuality available there. And I learnt stuff too, but that was never the focus for me at school. I was lucky that, of all places, that’s the one they chose. Farewell, old place. If someone wants to buy the grounds and turn it into a theatre-making community, I’m in.

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Journey home

Waking up in York, having finished my job, I had the day to myself to get back to London. A beautiful day behind the wheel of a van. I got lost in Yorkshire.

At one point I drove down a little path – so unused that the grass between the tyre tracks was worryingly high. I thought I might get stranded so I drove faster than sensible to chop it or be able to coast. It was so narrow there would be no turning so I pushed on as far as a closed gate. “Beware of the bull” said the gate. Shit.

There was a bull near our place in Jersey. It once chased my half brothers as they cut across the field. I didn’t want to be chased by a bull. Nobody wants to get injured enough to go to hospital generally, and these days doubly so.

I very carefully opened the gate as the only way forward was through. I inspected the horned beasts for udders and was satisfied I was in no immediate danger when they all seemed to be women and to be profoundly uninterested in me, just hanging out and chewing.

I made it through the field, and closed all the gates, without getting rushed. I then decided to try and observe the delights of Yorkshire from the safety of the van. Isolated and safe from bulls. And eejits.

This decision bore out when I got to Ripley. I did almost a decade of summers, around this time, playing happy Shakespeare in the grounds of Ripley Castle. In all the years I did it I’ve NEVER seen so many people sitting around on the lawns and every spot of open grass. The ice cream shop was open. Because ice cream is essential…?

With no pubs open and nothing else, everybody from all the neighbouring villages had descended on this tiny little boutique town with one road. I drove through in slow-mo like I was in a zombie movie. Then I drove round and through one more time, getting a couple of snatched photos in places that used to be significant in those sunny times – places that weren’t thronged with people.

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I’m not sure if it comforted me or annoyed me that people are as thoughtless in Yorkshire as they are in London. It seems everybody on my Facebook is being careful and then I look out the window.

I put a fire under myself and motored back in record time, through the deserted A roads, occasionally stopping for petrol, frequently deliberately puddle-ducking down little lanes, taking in the countryside from the van, getting a sense of how little is open, but how many people are defiantly gathering in outdoor spaces in large numbers. Under different circumstances it would be great to think so many people are playing outside, connecting with nature and taking pleasure from natural beauty. But it can’t help but ring strangely with me when it’s likely there’ll be a second spike of this as a result and who knows who will suffer.

Then I got home and discovered that my lovely neighbor, who now reads this occasionally, is terrified of snakes. Best get Hex back home. I’ve been looking for an excuse to go live in Hampstead. Looks like I’ve found it.