Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Bruno

20/12/11

Bruno

This disappointing follow up to Borat was on TV so I watched it out of lethargy and with slight voyeurism; I knew there would be endless gratuitous nudity and Sacha Baron Cohen, famous for his green “mankini” is an attractive man.
I was well punished. The first half of the film was a slow ramble around unpleasant permutations of anal sex. We even saw him having his anus bleached, some poor woman in an overall labouring away at his back end.
I struggled to think myself into the joke, it took effort but the joke was there – ghastly Bruno has an obsession with be coming famous. Everything in the plot was geared to that simple story. We were in for a little parable about modern folly.
From about the middle the film got better, and faster, as Bruno reached America and began hitting numerous US targets; stage mums who would sacrifice their children’s safety to get them into a film, any film, a gullible black American TV audience were outraged that he appeared to have adopted a black childe, he even became a recruit in the US army, and regaled his horrified homophobic comrades with gay banter. Whatever you think of him, Cohen is certainly fearless, death defying when he gave cheek to a twitchy middle-eastern war lord.
I realised that Cohen is really Roger Cook all over again. I was watching the Cook Report, with added depravity and visceral hatred. In Borat, Cohen visited and lampooned the peasant villagers who helped to murder his relations during the war. That film was the most ruthless riposte to the Holocaust I’ve seen. Bruno is at the revenge game again; a detestable Aryan who by being gay is also a victim, Cohen uses him to torment people he sees as dangerously oppressive; bigoted blacks, stupid women, evangelical Christians, bone-headed soldiers and American red necks.
Bruno makes constant references to Hitler, which his victims naturally don’t recognise, and as a puppet of Cohen the supposedly gentle Bruno is fuelled by loathing. It’s a pity he can’t get himself transported back to the Third Reich, where he would undoubtedly get right up Hitler’s fat nose and one can only imagine what he would do with his neurasthenic henchmen.
Despite Bruno’s reckless adventures I didn’t learn anything new or get many laughs from the film, but I wasn’t meant to. It was made by and entirely for the delight of Sacha Baron Cohen. It was a tonic to see someone enjoying himself so much.

Monday, 19 December 2011

The state we're in

19/12/2011

The strange idea of making the ugliest towns in the UK, “shit towns,” as one author put it, into cities goes on. Wolverhampton was thus adorned recently, and still looks pretty much the same despite this fairy dust. Beautiful and picturesque contenders such as Luton, Croydon, Medway, Southend and Blackpool, are hoping to be chosen in the Queen’s diamond jubilee year, and other elements have caught on to this strange egregious trend.
Lutfur Rahman the ambitious Mayor of Tower Hamlets is trying to get his area of east London turned into a separate city, or more I suspect into full secession from the rest of the UK.
He has just persuaded the Mayor of Philadelphia, the aptly named, Michael A Nutter, to write to the Queen praising the borough’s (non-Islamic) heritage because the Liberty Bell was cast there in 1752.
This is all a little worrying to those of us who still see London, “flower of cities all,” as one entity although sprawling badly, and wonder how part of a city can be hived off to make another city.
Of course over here we all know that the idea is for Lutfur Rahman to extend his power over what has become his own Islamic fiefdom. But do his American friends know this?
As so often seems to happen the Americans are well meaning but na├»ve – and one has to ask again, why can’t they read up a few facts on a place before they go and start messing with it?
M A Nutter looks as if he might belong to the Nation of Islam brotherhood himself, but whether he does or not I doubt if he has ever read Private Eye’s accounts of Rahman’s greed, his gross spending on his own office, worse than any MP would risk these days. Or worse still newspaper reports on the state of things inside the Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets.
In April a woman was prevented from working in a pharmacy because she wasn’t fully veiled. There has been a prolonged, violent attempt to turn this part of London into a “gay free zone.” Adverts showing women in skimpy clothing are banned. There are constant calls for Sharia and the anti-extremist Quilliam Foundation says that Tower Hamlets is ruled by “Talibanist thugs.”
Last year there was an organised protest against Christmas, calling it “Evil.” Extremists in Tower Hamlets say they are going to “take the fight to the enemy.” That’s us and moderate Muslims.
If they get city status, over the other ugly contenders, it will be an interesting place to visit, probably with its own strict dress-code, passport and currency. The government would never be daft enough to allow it – would they??

Friday, 16 December 2011

The run up

Friday 16th December. 2011

Racing around, writing cards, wrapping, wrapping, wrapping, finding gift tags, sticking on old ones that I've had in the bottom of the wardrobe since the 1970s, sending out cards in reply to cards from people who weren’t on my list, giving out gifts and going out every night.

I bought myself some Dover sole a few days ago and haven’t been home enough to eat them – that is how I like my life to be.

This run up to Xmas is almost the best bit, an exhausting, breathless canter up to Midnight Mass, the big lunch, and then – what? I used to go into mourning for Christmas Day for about three weeks after but I have come to like the tranquillity of Boxing Day, which shows how old I am.

I was busy wrapping the last few presents whilst listening to a Radio 4 play about the founding of the EU after the war, as an iron and steel agreement, by someone appropriately named Jean Monnet, who wanted economic integration as a way to avoid future war, ie to stop Germany attacking France yet again.

During the play he implied that Britain had let France down during the war and was making unreasonable demands. Ces't plus change or whatever. Quite interesting but shameless propaganda from the BBC who must think we listeners are gullible fools.

Also to my delight today realised that the “bendy bus” has really gone. Not only did D Cameron go to Europe and do something to please the British public, but the mayor has also done what he said he would, and given us back something that looks like a real British bus.

Public transport which shifted from convenience to coercion, has now budged back to something on a recognisable human scale; in memory of the old London bus, these new ones are short, square, double decked, you are not allowed to jump on and off, but at least all the seats face the same way. No more of that horrible forced social engineering when passengers had to sit eye-balling each other. that was fun for psychopaths but tedious for the rest of us.

The 207 to Shepherd’s Bush was a kind of nightmare but now I no longer have to look directly into the ghastly faces of people from my worst nightmares, and they no longer have to look at me.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

And Statistics

On Monday 12th after a weekend of entertainment and entertaining, I got the results of my three monthly blood test.

Before I went in to see the doctor, I sat in the clinic praying; please don’t let my CA125 go up. I was aware that this was a pretty hopeless prayer, as the test was in, for better or worse.

I remembered Rabbi Lionel Blue recently saying bleakly, “Don’t pray for miracles just pray for courage.” You need that as you sit there looking at other women’s faces, wondering what they are going through.

At the previous test, my count was seven, up from five. That rise in the wrong direction made me almost sick with anxiety. The normal CA125 for cancer is anywhere under thirty five. One of the doctors told me hers is twenty, but the fact that it had gone up not down upset me. It had been five the time before. This marker of cancer is not accurate, but we are all obsessed with it.

This time it was down to six, and not only that, the young woman doctor was quite optimistic about my future!

This is the first time I have felt any reassurance that I might live beyond a couple of years. This doctor is young, perhaps she doesn’t think like the others yet, she was focussing on me as I am, not on statistics. Or maybe there is really no reason to be gloomy. Incredible.

“Your CA125 was only 60 when you had the cancer,” she said. Some people register in the thousands. I have pointed that out before, but it didn’t seem to mean anything positive. And there was that laughing and chuckling Dr Argawal saying, “With that level of disease it is unlikely the chemotherapy will work.” Adding for good measure, “It will be back in two months to a year.”

Well here we are nineteen months on and going strong.

“I eat a lot of nuts,” I said as the doctor began to examine me. It must have sounded rather odd, if she was listening. But oncology doctors probably hear more hysterical rubbish than any other sort.

As she prodded about my mind began rummaging through the fragments of statistics I have picked up since I first Googled the disease when this all started. I tried jamming these disjointed pieces together into a jigsaw:

Good: The CA125 was only ever at 60

Bad: I was 54, statistically the worst age to get the disease.

Good: The cancer cells were identified as endometrial which respond well to chemo, unlike glass cells which are more lethal.

Good: The cancer was well contained within the ovary (so it said in a letter)

Bad: It had moved in an odd trajectory into the lymph node in the groin and two nodes inside, making it a stage 4.

Good: The operation to remove the cancer went well. "Such a good process," said the young doctor.

Bad: The odds of surviving a stage 4

Good: The longer the remission the better the chances

At home in bed later I wondered if I can ever relax again. If I drop my guard, even in sleep, it might sneak back.

Have I learned anything from my short walk in the Valley of Death?

I think Yeats said, “We begin to live when we see life as tragedy.”

So I am living now. Is it better than before, and if this hadn’t happened, where would I be?

Saturday, 10 December 2011

London Life

Sat 10th December.

I’ve got a bad cold but trying to prepare a Christmas lunch for tomorrow. One of the knobs on the little Turkish “Beko” cooker came off in my hand. I stuck its parts together with glue and shoved it back, hoping it will see me through. Then while I was cooking a rather fiddly thing with potatoes I realised I had no hot water, and with it no heating.

Rummaged around for the letter from British Gas giving my policy number, which sits below their words: “ Sit back, relax and continue to enjoy expert service for another year.”

They said they would come out between 12 - 6pm. I felt vaguely anxious all afternoon, a feeling I associate with depending on the Royal Mail for anything. At 4pm they rang to say they can't come out as there are "too many calls."

They begged me to reschedule, I stood firm. Then they said they would only come if I was in an emergency category. I didn't mention the lunch tomorrow, but I said I have flu, rather than a cold and it’s freezing here. Not good enough. So then I had to tell them I have been having treatment for cancer. It was embarrassing having to say that, just to get them to perform a service I am already paying for!

Also, how is it we have got so much unemployment but they haven't got enough engineers?

Any how, when my guests get here I hope to have everything assembled somehow. Or I might put the food in the oven and go to bed, they can serve themselves and bring me Lemsip!

- The engineer arrived at 8pm and told me the boiler needs “flushing,” not quite as bad as having to buy a new one. British Gas charge about £850 to do it.

Look it up on line later and saw that a lot of companies do it, nearly all of them for about £400.

- British Gas came again the following day as I was preparing my Christmas Sunday lunch. Even though they had come on the wrong day they got the right door for the first time ever.

- Monday – another text from British Gas saying they are coming round. They must really like it here. Wonder if I can find them something useful to do.

Happily they didn’t show up.

Friday, 9 December 2011

The Maltese Cross Society

7/12/11 Mail on Sunday Christmas party.

It was the first paper I worked on when I somehow entered the magical kingdom of Fleet Street in 1984. I got a staff job at the paper in 1988 after an interview with the ladies who started the Greenham Common campaign. Then I quickly bought my first flat. Mrs Thatcher, say what you like about her, had opened a door for comprehensive school types like me, and we were all rolling in money. I didn’t use my own bank for years, just Lord Rothermere’s.
I was a little nervous as I approached the Brittania pub in Kensington, cranking myself up for seeing people from the past. I decided to make it a “no arse-holes evening,” avoiding anyone who’d gnashed their teeth at me or wanted to fill me with wrinkles.
The champagne was gushing like a faulty spigot, just like old times. A seamy old editor was leaning on the nearest bit of bar. He was much hated in his time but for some reason always liked me so I managed to survive just beyond the reach of his death ray. He grabbed me round my waist and I leaned on him, going into a kind of swoon of false bonhomie for a few minutes.
“You’ve got one really strong friend high up,” he said. Not him of course. I didn’t think he was talking about God either, and felt rather hopeful. He named someone on the Telegraph who hasn’t given me a lick of work since I left the Mail nearly six years ago. In fact we have no contact at all and he puts it about apparently, at least according to this old boy, that this is because I once quoted him on my blog.
I remember that, ages ago. The Mail had its first ever gay executive and he made a small joke about the Daily Mail being on Derry Street, calling it “derriere street.”
I think his reaction suggests just how much he wants to get back to the Nirvana that is the DM, at least if Lord Rothermere is still writing the cheques and he's terrified that anything might prevent it. This kind of neurosis, the clinging to a job, the thought of a career seemed almost quaint.
I unwound myself to wander down into the long bar, past Peter Tatchell, standing with the editor of the Tribune. This was a bit of a stumper, a clutch of lefties, as if I’d come to the wrong party. Peter is surely a modern day saint, he probably walks through walls into any party he chooses.
Attenuated with a kind of famished look, but burning within he reminded me of William Tyndale, the Protestant martyr. I tried to say this to him but it came out as William Caxton and he looked a bit puzzled. When I got the name right, he agreed he would die for his beliefs.
In the meantime he’s working on a feature for the Daily Mail. One of the few people who can say that whilst sounding quite innocent. But I was surprised as when I was there I arranged to interview him twice, with some difficulty as he didn’t like the Mail at all, and both times our meetings were cancelled at the last minute by Paul Dacre. Peter was on his hate list then.
At the other end of the bar I saw Chester Stern, now a little bent and crinkly. We share membership of the Maltese Cross Society; he once went there on a job, got as far as Valetta airport where they took one look at him and put him back on the plane. I went to Malta for the Daily Telegraph, spent a week there looking at the place, wrote what I thought was a fair piece, and got a letter from the Minister of the Interior telling me on no account to ever return. The bit about “on pain of death” was implied. The great Anthony Burgess once tried living there. He lasted three months before they put him in a taxi, took him to the airport and sent him back to the UK post-haste.
“You can go there now probably,” said Chester reassuringly. Who would want to? If I’m going to risk concrete sling-backs it has to be somewhere better than that lump of burning rock. I remember the black flies on what passed for the beach.
He started his career on a police newspaper, The Bill I think, in the days when Peelers were straight men who kept out of politics. He knows more about their doings than most. I told him he should use all this knowledge to write a book as most British people are strangely fascinated by the force, or perhaps puzzled would be a better word.
I trawled the room meeting people from the past, some I’d known only briefly but because it had been “on a job” it remained memorable. Leaning on the bar, large handsome and benevolent was Ron Johnson, as I called him, or Jon Ronson as he is. My memory for names vanishes with alcohol. When we were together on a job, about twenty five years ago, sailing around the Amalfi coast fruitlessly hunting for Charles and Diana, he had been rather lean and mean. I didn’t like the rat pack and felt rather scared of him. I remember sitting opposite him at a silent breakfast overlooking the Bay of Naples, feeling very uneasy.
“That photographer who was with us has terminal bowel cancer,” he said. “At least we are still going strong.”
Well up to a point. There were more similar tales to come; a snapper I knew when I first started work now has terminal cancer of the jaw, one of the really cruel ones. They’ve taken some of his tongue. Another has extensive prostate disease. But there are still quite a lot of us; thinner, fatter, written off but still hanging on. A few people seemed to be looking at me as if I’d come back from the dead, or was doing a turn as the pub ghost.
It’s not just the print media that’s dying, but many of us who made it what it was. The God’s have cursed us for our lippy, gabby hubris.
Above the increasing hubbub I could hear voices marvelling and mourning the expenses we used to get. It was the best of times, it was the worst. The journalist Nick Cohen reminded me about sub-editors as we used to know them, when they were also well paid and powerful: “Now look, Mr Dickens. It is either the best or it’s the worst, it cannot be both. The editor won’t like it.”
He also told a long joke, with a lot of arm waving about two subs in the desert who finally find an oasis of fresh water. One of them immediately pisses into it.
When his colleague asks him why, he says, “It looks so wonderful I just have to improve it.”
I spotted an MP standing in a corner, smiling. Couldn’t remember his name although I could clearly remember that he began life on a council estate. He often appears on Question Time, serving up the usual flannel. The person standing by me, a good diarist, couldn’t remember who he was either. We put this to him and he laughed happily, admitting that he is David Davis.
Eventually reaching a table of food I saw Anne Atkins, Christian polemicist. She has sprouted soft white curls, and dressed in a voluminous gown sprigged with jewels she looked like Elizabeth I without her red wig. She surprised me by saying she doesn’t like doing Thought For the Day on Radio 4.
“All so last minute,” she said vaguely. I wonder if that is because of her pressing demands as a wife and mother or something to do with the Today Programme ringing her up ten minutes before they broadcast.
The pub was bursting with women, of all types. There were youngish Russian looking prostitutes with elaborate yellow hair and tiny sequinned skirts, and older girls who’d been made famous by the papers; Nancy dell’Olio and a former mistress of Lord Archer. One of the dolls said she had been getting unpleasant letters from Julian Alexander Kitchener-Fellowes, known to us all as Sir Julian Fellowes, purveyor of Sunday evening comfort to the gentry.
“Mad,” she says, “utterly mad.” Fascinating, but I had missed the beginning of the story about how they fell out.
At one point just as I was getting fuzzy I was surrounded by women with the yellow doll hair and plastic faces, slit eyes, distended lips and airbrushed teak coloured skin. They seemed to be peering curiously at me and I was as puzzled by them as if they were a tribe from the New Hebrides. We had no way of communicating and I quickly escaped.
There were the ladies who made it into journalism by being pretty and posh. I spoke to one who’d lost her husband a few years back, when her children were small. She smiled down at me with the condescension of a Mitford, with no need of concerned kindness from the likes of me.
In the loo I listened respectfully to one of the Dimbleby gels grieving about her lack of pregnancy. She said she was about to start IVF, many rounds probably, with financial family support. She obviously really loves children as she said she would be happy to adopt.
“But as we are upper middle class and my husband is an army officer the odds are stacked against us,” she said.
Extraordinary that there are social workers who would prefer that a child stay in local authority care growing up to lead a life of crime, rather than let it become a prosperous little Dimbleby! It’s like a dark fairy-tale, a production of the Nutcracker or Oliver which begins and ends in the orphanage.
Then there were the old hackettes like me, slightly dusty, wasted and worn, wall eyed with clinging on to the last vestiges of work in the print medium. I can only hope that, in the words of Primo Levi, there will be a long, mild autumn for all of us.


Now that the time presses urgently,
And the tasks are finished,
To all of you the modest wish
That autumn will be long and mild.
Primo Levi

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

What is it about Watts?

At the weekend I visited the G.F Watts Memorial Chapel in Compton, Surrey, and the gallery dedicated to his painting and sculpture. It has just been refurbished with £11 million from lottery funding, with another £100,000 needed.
It's really quite extraordinary, such a lovely gallery for such a terrible painter.
It was the first time I'd walked around an art gallery and hated everything on the walls. Well there were a couple of very free oil sketches, including one of Florence Nightingale, but he did very few of those. He favoured the large, heavy, dark history/religious paintings already out of date by the second half of the 19th Century.

Flapping round in long cloaks and strange hats, he fooled the philistine English and may be even himself. Lacking imagination and courage Watts was an utter plaigiarist; each painting a laboured pastiche of whichever artist he was keen on at the time. Despite a life of wealth and celebrity, invited into all the salons of the eminent Victorians to ply his painterly trade, he never found his own voice. His work is a lesson to all would be creative artists - if you can only imitate others, give up.
His favourite phrase was apparently, "the utmost and the highest," which probably referred to his fees. Perhaps he was the Damien and Tracey of his day?

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Looking for a new England

2/12/11

The couple in the top flat above me have sold their flat for quite a good price and moved out. They sent me a text asking to meet up so we could say goodbye before they went. I bought them a card and managed to meet them outside, loading up the removal van.

It was nice to be able to see them before they went. He said they were looking forward to their new home “in the country."

“It’s a lovely old fashioned English place,” his wife said, beaming. "Like a village."

He is Belgian and she is Asian – but like many British people they are making the flight from multi multi cultural London to go in search of England.

They might not really have ever been there, but they think they know what it looks and feels like. At least they are certain enough to know that this is not it, not it at all.

Bert

Bert, one of my mother’s neighbours, has died aged 90. He is about the last of the parents of my friends I knew as I was growing up.

I used to see him sitting in the Wheel pub with his pals. That hostelry went four years ago, sold off by the brewery for building land, replaced by “executive dwellings.” Now Bert too has been turfed over, in his case hopefully topped by a nice piece of granite. I hope he is now raising a pint in the heavenly Wheel on the other side.

When his family and mine were near neighbours, our lane was a compact little world, linear but short, knew everyone on both sides; Mrs Whittingham with the big teeth who rarely went out, Mrs Yardley whose son married a Mooney. Mrs Lewis who had a sexy son. The Lamberts, their mother wore a turban left over from the war, next to them a Catholic family which seemed rather strange, and I knew my father deeply disapproved of Catholics. Mrs Handley whose quiet, elegant husband had been something in the RAF, then there was Betty, my mother’s friend a single lady who taught maths at the High School. She excelled at gardening and calligraphy. So it goes on up the lane, and down our side. Next to us, Miss Mayland and her sister Mrs Soames. Miss Mayland surprised everyone by marrying a Scotsman when she was in her 50s, this was so wildly unconventional that no one was really surprised when she died soon after.

Next to them lived Miss Farmer who taught at my primary school. On my first day there I was told that she often hit her pupils, but only the boys. She was a large ungainly woman with a skin the colour of parchment. She lost her black cat, Sooty. He went missing in the orchard and fields once at the back of our gardens. He was found dead, strangled in a hedge and there were rumours that the man who owned the land had killed him.

I felt sorry and took two tiny pictures that I’d bought on holiday to school to give Miss Farmer to cheer her up. I remember her taking them from me with an odd look on her doughy face. Years later I heard that this small gesture had broken her and she’d had to rush home. Another teacher came in for the afternoon.

The village was composed of long standing farmers, middle class families with children, and a few single women teachers who were highly active and impressed everyone with their long exotic holidays to places like Burma and Egypt.

After the war a council estate was built to house overspill families from Wolverhampton. It immediately gained a bad reputation. Respectable people didn’t go there, but they speculated on the people who did live there, who were generally thought to be a bad lot. I am not sure why as there was hardly any crime whatever. Probably rumours of drunkenness and wife beating. There was one vaguely dark skinned family. The father was Irish and the mother had apparently made off and left him with four children. This family was famous in the village for being “bad,” and the children felt separate from us at primary school. One of them did break the law in his late teens, by breaking into our chemists. People say he was looking for drug money. This caused a lot of excitement and talk but was so far beyond most people’s imagination and so was quickly forgotten.

My parents and most of these people in the lane knew each other well because they all belonged to Toch H a charity set up for servicemen during the Great War. The women met on Tuesday nights, the men on Fridays. My father also did the accounts for the Scouts. I was so relieved that this didn’t involve any kind of uniform.

At Christmas these people in our lane held, or at least drinks, sausage rolls and crisps. We went from house to house eating and stealing sherry.

In the summer there were weekend fetes, each charity in the area booking a Saturday on the school field or by the village hall, culminating in the great Flower and Produce show, held in Codsall Wood, the next village in the grounds of the local manor house. This had been the home of the Gaskell family, which had been wealthy since the restoration of Charles II whom they helped on his flight into exile. Once they gave the house up in the 1980s, it was used by the local authority for adult education classes, heavily patronised by the single ladies. There were also village “treasure hunts,” by car, with everyone following written clues. Betty almost always won this.

I didn’t take much interest in what my parents and their pals did outside the home, they only existed for me inside it, my father in his chair next to his ashtray, and my mother in the kitchen, or standing surveying her terratory, from her ironing board. She ironed everything, pants, socks, large cotton handkerchiefs, and my brother's work jeans, taking pride in putting sharp creases down the front of each leg.

Most of the people in the lane had small jobs, teachers, electricians, sanitary inspector, gas board, travelling sales, but they all had good sized houses with gardens, a car outside and a two week holiday away once a year. Bert and his wife Dorothy went to Weston Super Mare every year of their married life until old age.

Children went to the local state schools and then university – no problem.

What a settled life that was, and I can’t see that that generation or mine, “drained the economy,” and “ruined” it for the next generation as we are now accused. Life was rather non-acquisitive. The adults I knew hardly drank. Bert only started going to the pub regularly in old age. My parents and their friends never resorted to buying things on hire-purchase as it was called, that would have been considered as bad form as buying cake instead of making it. Credit cards were unknown. In our house there was one cheque-book which lay in a draw rather guiltily, only taken out for grand purchases, after the matter of buying or not buying had been debated for months with my mother usually against it.

The adults around us didn’t swear, get divorced or expect much out of life. Perhaps in the great back-wash of the war they didn’t want any more excitement. By the age of eighteen I had to get away. I wanted the great unknown, and felt that by losing myself in the world I would find myself.

I expected to find fulfilment and success, and of course I didn’t realise that the village I had left behind would melt away like Brigadoon, in this case buried under new bricks, roads and metal fences. Much of the local farm land has been sold for building, the lanes widened and girded by metal fences for the sake of safety we never needed before. Traffic lights illuminate every junction and large signs tell everyone where everything is, just in case anyone gets lost. It is in fact now more of a small town, an adjunct of Wolverhampton than a village.

The summer fetes, even the flower and produce show have stopped as no one has time to organise them. The manor house has recently been sold to a private developer. The village along with the people I knew has vanished.

“That’s progress,” my mother says, echoing traces of a creed British people really believed just after the war. When she says this I look at her in astonishment, as if she'd declared that the world is flat.

The post man doesn't even ring once

24/11/11

Is there anything these days more likely to lower the spirits than that small red and white card on the mat, c/o the Royal Mail logo, sweetly headed:

“Something for you”

Sounds quite cosy but it’s something that you will probably never get.


The Royal Mail now earns £1 million a day. Its pre-tax profits have tripled since last year when they made a £67 million profit. This is strange because as far as its customers can see, it is an impoverished organisation, on its last legs. Services of the past – several deliveries a day and a reliable first class postal service have gone the way of stage-coaches and swallow tail coats.

When you go into the big post-office in Acton it reminds me of the post-office in Katowice, Poland, when the communists were in; overcrowded, full of angry, resentful people, only two counters open and a sense that what you might be trying to send might not be worth it.

Getting one of their jocular cards through your letter box is worse than going to one of these lousy offices. When the card arrives you have two options. The PO encourages you to have your missing mail re-directed, on line. On their web-site you tick their calendar for another delivery day – they can’t give you a time, probably because they know there isn’t one. Twice I've sat at home all day waiting and waiting and nothing has been re-delivered.

It’s probably best to take the second option - take a bus or drive to the sorting depot, which is even more miserable and crowded than the post-office.

Driving there has its problems. The council has recently tightened up all the parking restrictions outside this office in Ealing, so it's illegal to stop there. People waiting in the long line which snakes past the tiny war-memorial to posties shot in France, around the dirty room and outside onto the pavement, all get neck ache twisting their heads around looking out for wardens, anxiously jangling their car keys, ready to run. The joys of living in present day London.
Yesterday, it happened to me. There it was on the mat, promising a world of stress and fright. It said a “packet,” in fact a large portable halogen lamp for use in the studio, had been delivered at 1350 but I was apparently “not at home.” Infuriating as I was there all day.

At 8am today I rang a postman who used to deliver here, you can never usually get
through to anyone in the post office by phone, but he once gave me his
mobile number as he also does computer repairs and other nefarious jobs on the side.

I asked him about this non-delivery and he put me straight through to the postman who’d left it.

“I knocked but you wasn’t in,” he said nastily. I asked why hadn’t just rung the bell.

“I never ring door bells,” he said. “I ain’t standing around waiting for people to answer bells.”

I knew and he knew that I knew that he hadn’t knocked or rung, just shoved the card through the door and gone back to his cosy van. My post is regularly stuffed through the letter-box on the ground floor.

I heard my voice rising, fighting its way through his layers of thickness. Not a good idea, but he came out with such a load of sad piffle to excuse his laziness.

My “friend” the posty with the phone said the man would bring the “packet” round the next day. But would he? I spent the day full of doubt about this and at the same time I didn’t believe he would appear.

At 2.45pm he arrived. One lamp for the use of. What a relief. Postman Pat, unshaven, no hat or tie, handed it to me sort of sideways, without coming right down the steps, without a word, a rather disgusted look on his thin mouth, as if I’d forced him to do me a big favour.

At least I got it. When I was in hospital a book arrived from E-bay, and a CD of photos from a friend. These were apparently “tracked,” what ever that means but for some reason the RM only holds onto these “Royal Mail Tracked” "packets" for one week. They sent back my book and CD to the senders who never got them, and no one has seen them since.

I've also had a parcel go missing from a safe "cubby hole" outside too. At least it said on the card that the parcel had been put there but the postman who left it, or otherwise, couldn’t be tracked.

I was interested today 4/12/11 to hear the very strange news that this Christmas post-men will not be allowed to accept large gifts, nothing over £30 and these must not be given as bribes, or in hope of a better delivery service than the neighbours.

Do people give their post-men tips? I rarely see them and hardly ever get the same one twice. I don’t know them and I don’t know my neighbours enough to know anything about their postal deliveries.

What kind of people now compete over the post? In this road I suspect that most of us are unemployed, or “job-seekers” as they are now called. It’s nice to think that somewhere there are streets of people working so hard, running such successful businesses from their homes that they have to bribe their loyal mail men to help them. Or this strange pronouncement perhaps shows that the mysterious profits from the royal mail are being used for filling their executives and press spokesmen with hallucinogenic drugs and alcohol.