Central Line commuters #1


If I die prematurely it’s as likely to be on the Central Line as anywhere else. It may be heat, overcrowding, a bomb, a fight, or spleen.

Perhaps trying to get off the westbound platform at Holborn in the morning rush hour. The day before yesterday the queue backed up all the way into the train. Mostly we’re exposed to this risk by London Transport. But as I grimly held the doors apart, I noticed again the way people look at fruit ninja on their phones when they should be watching the person in front, and the way young fit women hobble themselves with footwear they should be ashamed to wear.

And norms are changing. Last week nobody would offer a pregnant woman with an eye patch a seat. Something like this happens most days. Young men and women of Asian background are most likely to give up their seats – I don’t think the EDL has noticed this yet. Maybe when they do they’ll disband. Earlier in the week I had to ask another man in a priority seat to give it to a woman with a crying baby in a sling. Once I gave somebody my seat and then moved the man in the priority seat and sat on it myself. It hadn’t even been busy when he got on. If you take that seat, you have to stay alert. Unless you’re the ill one – which he wasn’t. He was young, fit and healthy like all the worst gits.

There was a young plump man sleeping in the priority seat when I got on on Tuesday. He looked done in – it was sweltering but he had folded his arms inside his hoody. He turned this way and that trying to find a place to lean. Finally he gave up and lolled with his legs stretched out across the aisle. For half an hour he didn’t move. I think he was a rough sleeper. As I got out I brushed his bare leg with mine. He was alive.

And people are going deaf because of personal stereos, occupation, and the dangerous levels of noise on the Central Line. Yesterday three construction workers shouted to each other in Polish even after I moved them into adjacent seats. The day before that I had to tell the couple next to me to stop shouting. And it’s a rare week I don’t have to tell somebody that their headphones are too loud. The week before last I had a set to with a man who was playing his phone out loud and wouldn’t stop. He called me names. I called him lovely, a real charmer and laughed in his face. But mostly they stop because they know it’s wrong – but at the same time they don’t stop unless somebody makes a point of asking them. It’s hardly ever not me. Why is that?

Last night a man was playing fruit ninja so hard on his iPad that his entire body was jerking and knocking the man next to him. I think it’s very rude to fidget and flap in public space cf the women who cover the upholstery in face powder every morning. It makes it impossible to relax with your eyes open.

And the litter that gets dropped. This week a tub so large had been left on an airvent that the man in front of it couldn’t lean back. And you know what – even though it wasn’t his, he took it away with him. Imagine if everybody did that.

Earlier in the week I found myself between two selfish men squeezed from both sides. One of them was spreading his legs so I put my bag on his knee. The other was spilling out of his seat for no good reason, so I leaned on him as I read. He looked as if he felt the heat more than me. When life serves you lemons.

And this is how it is. It didn’t used to be this inconsiderate and disrespectful, I think. It’s our culture now, on the Central Line.

There’s so much more.

Crutch – and yet stiletto sandals. In the priority seat. Not a good look.

Central Line commuters #1

Nothing to hide.


What is the moral of this story?

Matt, Mo and I travel to a friend’s birthday party in a British seaside town. We’re all staying over with a mutual friend, Bert, so we leave our bags at his place and head out.

The party ends at 1am and Mo goes off to a different pub from the rest of us. Texts are exchanged. By around 3am Matt, Bert and I are back at Bert’s and Mo is starting a long walk back to where we are.

Morning at the seaside town. There are texts from Mo at 5am saying he made it to the neighbourhood, but after that it’s radio silence. Calls to Mo are going straight to voicemail. We call places where we think he might have spent the night but the last anybody saw of him was refusing an offer of a different bed for the night and insisting he knew the way to Bert’s while walking in the wrong direction. We call the police. Over the course of the day the police call us back 3 times to give us the opportunity to admit that Mo may have found a stranger to have sex with after 5am on the dark, cold edges of the seaside town. Alternative scenarios which occur to us are a) he was mugged and left unconscious; b) he succumbed to cold on the beach where polite members of the public assume he’s just having a quiet moment to himself; c) he fell into the sea and drowned; d) he flipped like the man in Falling Down; e) a fall and amnesia.

We call the hospital – nobody called Mo has been admitted. It occurs to us to ask a different question so we call again – no unidentifieds since 5am. We let his landlady know and plan to call his work the next day. The police call again to ask where he works – they’re thinking along the same lines. Night falls and we return home on the train with Mo’s overnight bag. Hope is retreating.

Then Mo texts that he is alive. We tell the police to call off the search. We phone Bert to put his mind at rest. Then we call Mo. Here’s what happened.

After 5am Mo rings the buzzer on Burt’s place. Maybe it’s not working – at any rate, nobody hears. Mo has been taking flash photos with his iPhone, and by the time he makes it to Bert’s the battery is dead. No battery, no calling Bert or anybody else. No battery, no phone number for Bert or anybody else – so no payphone call. Mo walks round the block to Tash’s place. Nobody answers there either.

Mo has his train ticket and decides to take the first train back to London, and does that. Some hours later he arrives at his front door and discovers that his keys are in the bag he left at Bert’s. It’s early morning when he starts to tramp round East London killing time without a working phone, and late evening when he finally makes it through his own front door and texts us that he’s home.

What is the moral of this story?



Snails crazy about chilli, and other food encounters

Because there’s so much shit going down in the world at the moment I thought I’d journal in an escapist manner.

We’d bought some searingly hot chilli sauce from the inappropriately named ‘farmers’ market’ at Valentine’s Mansion in Ilford. We ate it for a couple of weeks but it must have begun to ferment because one day I heard hissing and moaning at the lid. I felt sure it would explode so Matt took it outside and called me an idiot when I urged him to remove the lid. Anyway, it continued to emit. That evening Matt noticed a strange thing – a snail had climbed the bottle seemingly attracted to the chilli gas. I chalked that one down to dysfunction but the next evening some of the chilli had begun to seep out and a slug had climbed to the bottle neck. It had a deep hole in its body (update: Uncle Monkey below has identified this hole as the slug’s respiratory opening, or ‘pneumostome) and some crud at its hind end. I wondered if perhaps sick slugs self-medicate on chilli, and made a mental note to ask B21.

Then at some stage the next day, there was an eruption (I was right, I’m always right) which blew off the lid and fired chilli sauce as high as the guttering where it’s still caked, a stain on Matt’s judgement. And there was the bottle, a mess of chilli sauce, being licked by something like 3 snails and 6 slugs.

Are we the first to discover this – and where will it lead?

More food tales.

Yesterday Matt and I walked down to Gants Hill and got a table at Idly Dosa (41 Perth Road IG2 6BX, 020 8554 5777) which is a newish idly and dosa joint at the roundabout opposite the Chabad Lubavitch House. Despite referring to itself as “fine dining”, it initially strikes you as more of a take-out place with seats. But then you settle in and begin to realise that the atmosphere is great, very reviving. There are local South Indian food fans with their families, chatting and laughing early on a Saturday evening, the plate glass window with the busy street beyond, the interesting blue and green ceiling bevelling with the myriad lights, the comfortable wipe-clean upholstered chairs, the steel cups, the keen service. I had paper dosa and it was good. Matt had onion and it was good. We didn’t have idly but did in the end have some curry, however, the curry is subordinate to the idly and the dosa, so better go for those. There wasn’t much in the way of greens on the menu, either. The lemon rice is excellent – one portion is plenty for two. A lot of it happens to be vegan.

Further on food, I had my hands in what had become of our discarded vegetable parings and left-overs today as I planted out 5 cucumber plants, several lettuces, some rocket, chilli and parsley which I’d grown from seeds. I wonder if its too much pee that makes my compost so much more like mud than anybody else’s compost.

The strawberries are ripening – we eat them one by one before the woodlice or slugs get them, and they’re sweet. I’m remembering to cut the thyme and oregano for drying before it flowers. We have fresh mint tea too at this time of year. Today we had breville sandwich with a loaf I made last night, fake Redwood cheese from Barkingside’s new Holland and Barratt, with oregano and some parsley from the garden. Blanched and preserved in brine what I pruned off the vine – dolma for next visitor. Hot brine smells surprisingly good. The lettuces will soon be ready – if I can only remember to water them. This all takes a lot of time, and on my worse days I wonder if I shouldn’t pave over the garden and read a book instead. I always conclude that it would be a bad mistake to do that, on account of water run-off, hostility to wildlife, waste, and (even more profound) alienation from my means of existence. Anyway, I was raised to garden. Before he got his allotment, my dad used to negotiate to cultivate the neighbours’ gardens in return for tithes.

There’s somehow an asparagus crown in the front garden – one of the few unpaved gardens in the street, note, and see how Gaia rewards me? – which bolted before I noticed it. The shoots before the flowers come are, in my view, tastier than asparagus spears.


I opened my huge craw to the day and all this coursed in.

Public spending

Visualise Open Government data at Where Does My Money Go, a site for looking at UK public spending. The only place I know of that’s recording cuts as they happen. The Treasury has set aside a staggering £2bn to fund the cuts. Perhaps some of that will be my redundancy package. I’ll be lucky to make it through this

This is what our new Conservative minister for higher education thinks about public spending.

Labour candidates

According to MP for Popular and Limehouse, Jim Fitzpatrick, Labour has undermined the selection process for London mayoral candidates in a way which favours Ken Livingstone the defeated 2008 candidate. Ken Livingstone means control without scrutiny and he keeps terrible company – if he’s the best Labour can do, Labour is in a bad way. I hope Oona King gets her campaign in gear soon. I’m afraid the ‘Why Oona for Mayor’ part of the site provides no basis for giving her my vote. Brilliant news about childcare (more detail please), but what about a balanced green economy, social housing, water, noise, waste, biodiversity, air quality, safer cycling and better public transport? Still, early days.

And immigration

Jon Cruddas isn’t interested in standing for Labour Leader because believes in the kind of grass roots action exemplified by Hope Not Hate in his constituency. He says that Labour is no longer the voice of the voiceless. Trouble is, the voiceless don’t speak with one voice, and Labour’s wants to speak for only some of the voiceless. Richard Darlington on a leadership contest fought over immigration; Denis McShane on why Labour is wrong to scapegoat immigrants. I wish I understood what lay between the current state of affairs regarding borders, and borderlessness. Also, a bit like Jon Cruddas, I detest this stupid hierarchical political system. I’m not persuaded of the need for chiefs – I think we need participation, subject experts, consensus-generation techniques, executives, occasional representatives and administrators. And in my world, everybody cleans the toilet.

A Lord Mayor with deep pockets

And another Dispatches, another mayor. Will Hutton exposes the income of the Corporation of London and how it has been used to lobby for resistance to reform and regulation of the banking sector, while the bumble bees of our economy, the small to medium sized businesses, founder. And the Corporation’s pocket is incomparable with the taxpayer’s. Every British household is in depth to the tune of £90,000, says BBC Radio 4’s and the Open University’s number crunching tour de force, More or Less hosted by the people’s economist, Tim Harford. Yes, I’m angry about it. Unemployment is a terrible, terrible thing.

We need a pay cut

My sector is in a terrible way, so is the environment due to consumption, and so I wondered today whether I should offer to work fewer hours for less pay (the organisation is hoping we will) but actually work the same number of hours. The main barriers to that are that my work wouldn’t be recognised, my standing in the organisation would suffer, expectations would rise, I’d lose on my pension, I’d undermine colleagues, and all in all I’d be at a deficit. Also I’d pay less tax (which is bad).

I think we should negotiate a proportional pay-cut affecting only the affluent. But my trade union reckons otherwise.


The church, memory and child abuse

One of my favourite public academics, Chris French, insists that evidence about false memory syndrome is brought to bear in the campaign to bring child abusers to justice. This is proving a troublesome point of view.

Saudi hunger strikers

From time to time I think of them – I go to search for news and find none.

Instead we have our pet victims, whom we maintain as our perpetual victims.

Gaza flotilla

Israel is launching an inquiry into the violence and deaths further to its raid on the Mavi Mara. Former Israeli ambassador to the UN Arman Chaval defended Israel’s rejection of a UN investigation on BBC Radio 4’s 10 o’clock news last night: “When you talk about an impartial inquiry under the UN, that is basically an oxymoron”. The UN has given Israel good reason to say that. I wish it hadn’t. Modernity says that news is emerging of an extreme right Turkish presence on the ship, unlikely to have been motivated by humanitarian concerns – no matter how real those are. Israel’s investigation will have two observers, one of whom is David Trimble.

Now I’m going to listen to an academic making excuses for jihadis. Flesh, I dare say there are some things you’ll never understand.

Down the tubes

I went for a hen weekend in Croyde, North Devon, where there’s no public transport to speak of. When I got back I appreciated the Tube again.

A four-child family got on with McDonalds burgers. They smelt completely appalling – not of meat, which is still savoury to me, but kind of acrid. Burger grease on the upholstery. In Washington DC not only have they dispensed with upholstery but they refuse to allow eating. I wish we did that.

This morning I arrived at Fairlop to a terrible scene. A heavy goods vehicle had crashed into the bridge and fallen onto a car – it looked bad but there didn’t seem to be any crushing (the HGV was soft-sided).

Then I set next to the only people chatting in my carriage and heard a story about a young man who had recently sustained a deep cut from a tin of spam and gone into shock. I almost went into shock myself on finding that people – young people! – are ingesting spam. A worse thought occurred – maybe all these years they never stopped.

Now I’m ready to make my journey home, I’m wondering whether it would be a problem to openly read Ruth Wisse’s ambiguously titled Jews and Power in public, or whether I should take off the sleeve. I think I’ll take off the sleeve.

While Rome burns

Work is so intense at the moment that spare time is spent with friends or the seductive cocktail of Matt and the idiot lantern. What with the coming election, the marginal status of my constituency and the activities of the BNP in Hainault, this rampant hedonism must surely stop. But for now, specially for Barkingside 21, here is something lovely from last weekend when we showed some visitors, old friends from Barnsley-way, a good time in Claybury Park with a solar airship from the Science Museum.

It’s all for them

Monday before Christmas, outside the Royal Exchange facing the Southern wall of the Bank of England, an artistic installation had appeared. The child-sized papier mache merry-go-round ponies were plastered with newsprint bearing the year’s financial panics. Printed UK currency decorated the carousel poles, which were fixed to nothing. As I passed that evening the ponies bore a covering of snow. The following morning the snow had melted, dampening the ponies. The ink of the currency denominations had run. One of the ponies had slid down its wooden pole and was lying on its front on the flagstones, legs splayed, broken at the shoulder and hip.

Tuesday before Christmas and the seasonal ice-rink near Finsbury Circus continued the impression the City gives me of going nowhere. It was actually cold enough not to need artificial chilling but I think the prospective skaters were on Oxford Street, buying. Europop was blaring (it was this which lured me up the steps to see) but there was virtually nobody there.

Wednesday before Christmas, observe the piss-up close to work prior to going to see Stewart Lee at the Leicester Square Theatre.

Stewart Lee was extremely funny – he just gets better and better. Everything he ripped into was stuff I wanted to see ripped into – Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond, prosperous UK emigrants and people who move to the country for “quality of life”, and that utter shit Frankie Boyle. Oh, it was very, very, very, very good. Then we went to Gaby’s where I ordered pickles and they came like a Union Jack. Could this be a coincidence, like when Jesus appears on pieces of toast?

Essex, Christmas lunch. My nan-in-sin, waiting for her grub, enjoying the Coldstream Guards’ band playing the theme from The Great Escape.

I don’t celebrate Christmas, I just go along with it*. Last week as John Lewis parted me from a large wodge of loot, I remarked to the woman behind the counter that Christmas was too costly** and I was thinking of changing my religion. She (Chinese if I had to guess) let out a peal of laughter and told me that everybody celebrates Christmas. “You’re Muslim aren’t you?” she said, turning to her fellow till operator, “and you celebrate Christmas”. “Oh yes”, he replied, “Everybody celebrates Christmas”.

I celebrate my dad’s birthday, which is tomorrow. Everybody is coming to Matt’s and mine, including my oldest friend, her mum, her bloke, their little girl, our next-door-but-one neighbour, who was also Matt’s grandad’s good friend, our mums and dads, Matt’s nan, my brother. It’s going to be good – we have many different kinds of vegan sausages, chestnuts, an open fire, and I made (veganised) a chocolate and chestnut terrine which contains 375g of marg and half a kilo of chocolate.


The heart-attack terrine, with a garnish which isn’t as funny as I hoped:

And the alternative, nectarine and marzipan slice, easy and extremely delicious:

My mum made one of her excellent rich fruit cakes (I don’t indulge any more because of the egg) for my dad’s birthday, and my dear friend Peggy, knowing that puff pastry is my favourite food, brought sausage rolls and a mincemeat strudel, but I haven’t captured them here.

* In fact, “it’s all for them” is a little game I play on myself where I say Christmas is nothing to do with me. While outwardly it looks like I celebrate Christmas in fact I’m discreetly doing the winter solstice. Yeah right.

** It’s not true these days that I find Christmas too costly – I just said it to shock at the till.

Weekend tales: Tom Paine, Stalin, why God loves vegans, gin, Breville joy, and birds

Last night was magic. Matt and I went to The Globe to catch the last night of A New World, Trevor Griffith’s play about Thomas Paine in America and in France. Paine, who suffered beatings and pariahdom for his beliefs and who, imprisoned without charge by fellow revolutionaries in France during The Terror, authored of The Rights of Man, the is one of my heroes. His pamphet of 1776, Common Sense, was instrumental in building support among ordinary Americans for the revolution which gained their independence from Britain. He was a man who fought for freedom when revolution lost its way, and for clemency – the life of the last Louis – against vengefulness. If he had lived today, he might well have been making common cause with Peter Tatchell, with cultural commons campaigners, and with the AWL.

It had rained quite hard all afternoon and I was going from work in rubber wellies with my ridiculous rubberised soldier’s poncho in my bag – but then it stopped. This was exceedingly fortunate because I’d got tickets for the Yard where you stand in the open to watch the play. The best seats in the house are in the Yard; the cast are in among you interacting with you – all the more incredible that tickets are £5 only. I stood looking up at slaves for sale on the platform next to where Matt and I were for most of the production, and stood at the feet – literally within spitting distance – of the man himself as he addressed the assembled crowd in favour of pensions and child allowance. Once a revolutionary whispered to be to be careful seconds before he and fellow cast members pushed the platform to the other side of the The Yard. The Yard was warm and full – in fact the whole theatre was full. This is the cult of the Last Night. Special things happen at Last Nights, as they did last night – the playwright was in the audience and there were speeches (I love speeches).

It was an excellent production – I’ll leave you to read the many positive reviews. One thing’s worth mentioning though. Watching, in this now-established English institution of The Globe, the Union Jack shot through by French Revolutionaries, defiant colonials railing against their English rulers, and the low evaluation of the English national character by Edmund Burke – watching all that, the morning’s news about Russia came to mind, where the Russian authorities have permitted a man called Yevgeny Dzhugashvili to sue the Novaya Gazeta, a Russian newspaper, for libel against his murderous dead dictator grandfather, one Josef Stalin, for “calling into question his honour and dignity“. As historian Orlando Figes (whom I will hear speak later this month) observed on the Today Programme, it is valid to remember Stalin as a murderous dictator, and the Putin-Medvedev government of Russia is perpetrating revisionist historiography in the face of the law marks a turn for the worse. And I thought about what, by comparison, a solid, honest country I live in, and how good it is if your country’s national self-confidence doesn’t flinch from historical truth.

Meeting missionaries. I was out the front cutting the dead lavender to make lavender bags and talking to my neighbours, when two women walked by and exclaimed about the scent. I passed them some flowerheads and they took a few steps away before turning back. Because I had given them a present, said the more talkative of the two, she would give me a present. Out of her bag came a copy of Watchtower, the organ of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I declined, citing environmental reasons – non-bait to most missionary minds, in my experience. Besides, my neighbours (still beside me) are Catholic and I don’t want to talk about God with them – for me God is a wedge which makes me feel far from believers. For example, my closest Catholic friends believe in flying monks which, to my mind, is entirely consistent with believing in God. But the missionaries wanted to talk more, so when my meat-eating neighbours had departed and I’d had enough, I swung the conversation round to an agenda of my own: veganism. This yielded a lesson in scripture – I hadn’t realised that we were vegans before the flood – and a fairly quick conclusion as I turned back to the lavender in silent frustration: how can you believe you are following God’s enjoinder to be kind to animals, and at the same time slaughter them for no reason? If there is a God, it wants those of us who can to be vegans.

Sloe gin. Pick and wash your ripe sloes. Get a large jar with a water-tight lid. Prick the sloes with a special technique so it doesn’t take you a year. Weigh them. Put them in the jar. Add half as much sugar. Pour in gin to the top. Agitate daily for a week and then occasionally after that. Drink no earlier than 3 months (and in my case make it three months before New Year).

Breville joy. Did I mention that my cousin mended my broken kettle, helping me keep faith with my 10:10 pledges? But that’s not what this is about. Since Redwood began to produce vegan melting mozzarella, I’ve been able to occasionally open the old Breville sandwich toaster. You have no idea how happy this makes me – I thought I’d never have a toasted sandwich again. So, I margarined one slice of the bread I’d made overnight in the breadmaker, then layered on thin slices of cheese, then tomatoes out of the garden, then shallot, then smeared egg-free Plamil mayo (which is blindingly good stuff) over the other slice to waterproof it, placed it on top, margarined it, then made another the same, then battened down the lid. It was so lovely. So, so, so lovely. Then you must scrupulously clean your Breville, not leave the fat to go rancid for next time.

Birds. My RSPB-approved cat deterrent/repellent (ha, Weggis, you must live in a district of hard-of-hearing cats) appears to work but I scan the rooftops in vain – not a birdy. Today Matt bought, from B&Q, one of those metal bird feeding stands with hooks for different types of feeder. I put it to the lee of the cat deterrent, between that and the house, in the middle of the lawn. There’s a grub tray which I’m reluctant to use, but when I searched for “vegan alternatives to grubs” that was kiboshed by the double meaning of ‘grub’, and when I searched for “vegan alternatives to maggots” I got a load of medical information. Do you think young blackbirds might make a go of Redwood melting mozzarella, perhaps grated?

Am I a doppelganger?

Recently, somebody told me they’d seen me at climate camp. Another colleague followed a woman down the road for quite a way last week because he thought it was me.

And now a vegan feminist blogging woman resident of Barkingside has made contact. Perhaps it’s because she feels obliged to extinguish me, which is what you’re supposed to do with doppelgangers, I’ve been told. So if I stop blogging, it’s because I was a doppelganger.