Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Night Visitor

Hi, 

It's been some time since I have posted regularly but am determined to pick up the pace once more. In the meantime here's something that happened me last week. I might write up the night's events in full as a short story (there's a lot more material there). 

Rory @theroryjohn

Just had an unexpected night visitor.
I left my bedroom window open to get air but was woken by voices arguing outside. It turned out to be just one voice - or rather one person. A woman arguing loudly with herself as she tried to get her drugs together and smoke something.
She sat on the windowsill. I got out of bed and stood in the shadows scared that she'd look through the window and...scare me.
Over the next two hours she got mad with herself over her fear of insects ('I know they are horrendous! You said so several times now, well it's still true'), the lack of porch light after I turned it off ('who would have the audacity to suggest a little light? Who would DARE DREAM?'), a chattering over mental health problems and how tired she is, all punctuated by an angry insistence that she concentrate and get moving. There was one voice that was hard and strict, the other was scared of it and childlike.
What was unnerving was when I hear another real voice approach, a man. She called out - 'leave me alone you can't touch me, there's someone listening inside that open window and they'll hear you!' The man moved off. Then it happened again a while later. She was staying because of the supposed protection of me listening in the shadows.
Eventually I went out to talk to her. She was meek and apologetic and looked so very...normal. Like a perfectly nice woman, the quiet one in the office who has a favourite pen. She said the drugs were 'just a little treat.. well that's not true'. She was very sorry for any bother. I said I could turn the light on if she wants but that I have to shut the window soon as I have work tomorrow and for her not to take offence. Her name was Mia, I told her mine. She insisted she would be safe and would find somewhere. I went back to the bedroom and shut the window, then a soft voice said 'ok I'm going, good night rory!' I called 'night Mia!' and she shuffled off.
I keep thinking about those dodgy men and how scared that nice Mia was of her own voices.

Monday, August 28, 2017

No Carnival. No Julia.

Having listened to ‘mixed reviews’ on the Notting Hill Carnival since arriving in London (these fluctuate between an aggressively traumatic war zone or the best street party of your life, nothing in between), I felt a tickle of compulsion to see it for myself this year. 

I shoved my proper camera into my bag, always an act of faith that I am about to bear witness to raw brilliance, and set off on the twenty minute walk towards Notting Hill. On the way I passed a few stray souls who were struggling to stay vertical. Usually dodging eye contact with the dangerously pissed might be unnerving but when on the way to a festival it seems to have the opposite effect - a preview of upcoming attractions. My anticipation buzzed for those electric pushy crowds, belly-vibrating music, and sun-sparkling costumes. 



I arrived to find street sweepers, confused tourists, graffitied wooden panels being pulled from shop windows, and nothing else. Kerbside plastic cups and cans marked the empty shell of a party long over. It transpires Carnival is a day event. It was now almost eight in the deep evening. I put my camera back in my bag. 

As I trundled towards home I passed a Mediterranean family who were not sure of where they were going and were very tired of not getting there. The father took charge as he asked me in hard-fought english if there was a ‘typical’ street nearby. ‘Typical’ was a key word he’d learned and so kept repeating it in a variety of tones. ‘Typical? Typical… Typical!… a TYPICAL street?’ 

I directed them to Portobello road and tried to explain it was the one from the film - which I had presumed was what led them to this part of town. But their faces remained clouded. I ploughed on. ’Hugh Grant? Julia Roberts?’ 


‘Ah Julia Roberts!’ the father’s face leap from question mark to exclamation and he checked the directions again - ‘The second road on right? The second!! Ok we go!’ He lead the kids and wife away, now strengthened by his mission. It was only when they disappeared from view that I realised I was not the only one who would be sorely disappointed by Notting Hill that day. All they would find there were street sweepers, weary shopkeepers, and equally confused tourists - perhaps ones who had also been sent on a misguided hunt for toothy Hollywood royalty. 

I'm on Twitter @theroryjohn

Saturday, August 26, 2017

My Secret Passion for Old People on 'First Dates'

Our vexed TV hero, who has likely been ‘taken off the case’ for their maverick ways, slowly draws their hand over their lips, stares into the injustice of systemic corruption/middle distance, and reaches for that bottle of whiskey clanking around in the top drawer. 

I do much the same when office life deals me a deathly blow (eg there's no clean mugs left and all spoons have disappeared yet again) but instead of a opening a bottle of whiskey I open up a new tab and watch clips of old people on ‘First Dates’. Oh the sweet relief of listening to the aged chat about death and disappointment over a prawn starter.


If watching twinkly old people and cute young people (eg 'The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds') is the new opiate of the masses then Channel 4 is the Walter White in the supply chain. They recently combined these powerful strains of the drug in the almighty ‘Old People's Home for 4 Year Olds’ (still on All4).  Such a powerful hit of life-affirming joy that one can easily become completely incapacitated with happy-sad tears (“Are you okay?!”, “No. A grouchy old man is pretending to be a bear… *sniffle*… so he can make a child laugh.”)


But back to ‘First Dates’ and what I believe the older folks can teach those of us who are relatively young about dating and decent conversation. 

First off they don’t immediately discount people if they don’t look like they’d be Insta-compatible.  Instead they just want to share and listen to stories, compare battle-scars, laugh and sigh over this joyful, cruel, daft life. Twice the age of those who might feel jaded by the terror and tedium of ‘making new friends’, they always seem to find something sparkling and fascinating in the other. Perhaps they don’t always end up ripping (or carefully unbuttoning) each other’s clothes off but as they wave goodbye to Fred they seem to be happier and lighter for having made a new connection.

What I most admire is not only their lack of shyness about asking direct questions (usually along the lines of ‘Wife dead?’, ‘Any kids?’, ‘Aren’t you sad?’) but also that they never seem embarrassed or phased by the direct answers. They genuinely want to hear about the other person’s life and want to get to the heart of that story even before Cici is looming for their drinks order. 

They listen intently to each other’s gentle adventures, the oft-rehearsed funny anecdotes, and tales of deep sorrow (always accompanied by a softly faltering piano). When told something starkly sad they don’t nervously nudge things back into the shallows or offer empty platitudes, instead they listen. Really listen. 

It seems to me they to usually come to the unspoken agreement that ‘This life can be shit but it’s also utterly brilliant… despite being mostly shit’ - which is perhaps why the rest of us take such comfort and joy in watching them. 

For example take this couple on First Dates who popped up on my feed today, she doesn’t become shiftily awkward when her date reveals his son died tragically - instead she keeps looking into his eyes and really listening. 



Now if only the staff were replaced hyperactive 4 year olds who want to build forts under the tables we’d be in TV heaven*. 

*Apologies to Fred, Cici, Laura, Merlin and that bloke who fancies Cici, I do love you. 


I'm on Twitter @theroryjohn

More older folk on 'First Dates' after the jump! 


Sunday, July 30, 2017

A Twist on Property Prices

As a child I was obsessed with mapping fiction. While others were out enjoying fresh air and mucky-kneed society I toiled away in my attic scrawling my own maps to wrangle some locational sense from the Wind in the Willows, Alice in Wonderland, Springfield, and the physically impossible Rovers Return (my heart still races with anger thinking about how the back kitchen would actually be half-way across Rosamund Street). 

I still like to know where things should be especially when if book set in a real city. I have retraced Mrs Dalloway's stroll to get flowers and can't read Sherlock Holmes without cross-examining each journey with Google Maps. And so this week I investigated/Googled where exactly the back alleys, dodgy pubs, and posh homes of Oliver Twist were meant to be. Luckily Dickens was equally obsessed with geographic detail. He mentions 93 unique London locations in the book and it all makes sense. That is my kind of writer. 




imagined Oliver Twist followed the expected divide between the slums of the East End and the leafy avenues of the West but actually the contrast is drawn between two areas of London whose fortunes have changed dramatically since 1839. 

Fagin's den is just off Saffron Hill, near Farringdon station (which means that unlike every other costume drama's obsessive need to stick St Paul's into the background, it does make sense here). These days it's a characterless Pret and glass-building commercial hub where businessfolk have a 'cheeky pint' after work, but then... 

“A dirtier of more wretched place he had never seen. The street was very narrow and muddy, and the air was impregnated with filthy odours. There were a good many small shops; but the only stock in trade appeared to be heaps of children, who, even at that time of night, were crawling in and out at the doors, or screaming from the inside. The sole places that seemed to prosper amid the general blight of the place, were the public-houses; and in them, the lowest orders of Irish were wrangling with might and main. Covered ways and yards, which here and there diverged from the main street, disclosed little knots of houses, where drunken men and women were positively wallowing in filth; and from several of the door-ways, great ill-looking fellows were cautiously emerging, bound, to all appearance, on no very well-disposed or harmless errands.”




Meanwhile Oliver's posh saviour Mr Brownlow lived "a quiet shady street near Pentonville" which brings us just east of Kings Cross and west of Islington. It was then a mecca for upwardly-mobile living (in fact was the first planned suburb in London) but, while still probably unaffordable for most people, is far from the aspirational hot-spot it once was. There's now large prison stuck on it and a higher crime rate than Fagin's end of town. 



So in conclusion - Fagin solidly beat Brownlow in the property investment stakes. He'd be laughing had he only just held-on to life for 180 years and not been fictional. 

Further info on the location in Oliver Twist HERE

I'm on Twitter @theroryjohn

Quick Reviews: Dunkirk, Baby Driver, & Wonder Woman

Hi, 

It's been ages since I've posted anything but I have my limp excuses - I was away in Ibiza for the summer and it's not a location that encourages productive blogging. I'm happily back in cloudy London now and will most definitely (ie hopefully) get back to more keyboard tapping. 

In the meantime I've been catching up on all the films I missed while away (the lads-on-tour side of Ibiza also has a mysterious lack of cinemas) including Dunkirk, Baby Driver, and Wonder Woman

Please have a look at my very quick reviews of these three after the jump! 

Thanks, Rory x 

I'm on Twitter @theroryjohn


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Discovering The (oh so obscure) Song of the Summer

All the best summers of our lives are locked and forever ready to reload in our memories by their very particular soundtrack. 




A big Christmas song will just remind you of burping turkey dinners and smiling faintly at 'whacky' gifts, a big summer anthem brings you right back to the very specifics of that one long summer you spent awkwardly snogging and grimacing through ciders in the park, or later discovering complete freedom and foreign medical services on your first big holiday with friends, or later again, sweating on your daily commute and going to a garden centre on your one bank holiday off (ah the wonders of adult life). No decent summer passes without that one track.  


Summer 2016 was conquered by Drake's 'One Dance', but while away in France myself and some friends uncovered an alternative -  Kungs vs Cookin' on 3 Burners 'This Girl'




It was our anthem and absolutely ours alone. The oh so sweet smugness of finding that obscure track you can casually gloat over back home 'Oh you haven't heard of it? I guess it's just a continental thing... you see I was travelling... and I am better than you.' 


We returned to the UK to discover that it was number 2 in the charts. And had been for the entire summer. Goddamit. 


I'm spending this summer in Ibiza and yet again had my little tastemaker ears primed.  We discovered a banger that is playing in every bar, cafe, and eardrum across the island. It's a little Spanish number called 'Despacito'. 





Which, it transpires, has been number 1 in the US and the UK for the past month. In fact it is topping charts in 57 countries. It has 1.8 billion views on YouTube. I fear I may not be the only one to stumble on this particular exotic gem. 





What links these two summer bangers? The majority of us trying to sing along have absolutely no idea what we're saying. 'This Girl' because it's muffled gibberish and Despacito because for us folk who aren't fluent in Spanish any attempt to join in involves trying to style it out with makey-up words like 'ta-ta-la-uriotto baba zinko rinko freeto!' 


Even Justin Bieber, who features on the track isn't quite sure what's going on, during a NY gig tried to get away with substituting with cries of 'Burrito!' and 'Doritos!' Good effort. 


The chorus actually means 'Slowly....I want to smell your neck slowly/Let me whisper things in your ear/So that you'll remember if you're not with me/SlowlyI want to undress you with my kisses, slowly/I sign the walls of your labyrinth/And make your whole body a manuscript."


Oh my. I need a lie down and a Cornetto after that. Sign the walls of your labryrinth? Personally I relate more to the burrito version. 





It is the first US number 1 in Spanish language in 21 years. So what was the previous one? Well it's a certain obscure little backwater of a track I personally uncovered. Check it out HERE 


What's your song of the summer? I'm on Twitter @theroryjohn

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The woman who remembers Southam Street

This afternoon I went to a photography exhibition of 1950s life on one west London street. Roger Mayne's pictures show grubby happy kids doing handstands, shrieking, playing, smoking, and looking warily at strangers.



A wiry old woman with an angular back kept trying to drum up conversation with tightly polite types. She asked 'You interested in Southham street then?' All she got in return were sympathetic smiles and flickers of panic. Eventually she gave it a go with me and found a willing audience. I was happy to prod her stories along with the occasional question (almost all of which were ignored).



'Course I grew up near Southam street...' she began, as though this were self evident. She told me of the 'squalid' street she was afraid to walk on, the only time she dared was when she had to go to the cinema and pass the sweet smell of the liquorice factory on the way.
'Course it's all gone now, it's under a tower'
'Course everyone treated each other the same in those days...'
'Course you've have twenty kids living in one house back then'
'Course it's getting worse again now, but I got something to look forward to..'


And so she went on reminiscing about a lost London, of how she was told to avoid teddy boys, how she worked on Portobello road which was not 'for tourists like it is now', how the area changed with arrivals 'in from the West Indies ', how she loved going 'down cinema, which they torn down now of course'.
One particular highlight was a casual mention of Rillington Place and how her mum lived opposite 'that Christie' (infamous murderer) who was 'a lovely quiet man they say 'cept for what he done. Course you don't know how much of it is true'.


Other gallery goers slowed their pace in her orbit, snatching titbits of childhood games, crowded tenement lives, of how it's all changed but how 'nothing's changed that much really, it all goes round in circles'.
When reflecting on how life is still 'just as bad as ever' for poor families in the area she added 'course I got something to look forward to'. That phrase bubbling up again and again.
I, thinking she's either talking about Brexit or death, didn't draw her on it but she wasn't going to hold back for an invitation.
'You know what I got to look forward to?' She pulled a leaflet from her bag 'I'm a Jehovah's Witness, I'm going to paradise. Have a look through this magazine on salvation...what's your name? Rory I'm Helen. You keep that, have a flick through'
'Course we don't ASK for a donation...'

I'm on Twitter @theroryjohn

The Night Visitor