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.