Dec 052015



The maroon-jacketed barbers have clearly spent the morning Brylcreeming themselves in preparation. The pictures on their wall – Gregory and Rock and the first Darren from Bewitched – greet us with sneeringly-slick Hollywood sparkle. It’s the bloke who looks like that wise Irish sergeant from Z Cars doing my hair today. The bloke with his own monogrammed scissors. I steal a packet of dunkies (did you call them that?) when he turns his back to get a mirror. I’ll never use them, obviously. I’m eleven, for God’s sake.

Hair now successfully sliced in a mock-Rock style, we leave. In the haberdasher’s opposite The Hop Poles, the haber is busy dashing. When he and my mum aren’t looking, I nick a needle and thread. Just in case. That, too, goes in my Spurs bag.

Cobblers. Alf is tall, wears a clinical white coat. He’s fired up his whirring noideawhatitdoes machine in preparation, just for me. A true professional. There’s nothing he can’t mend, Alf. He smiles as he chats to mum. And I steal some Cherry Blossom as I slide out of the place behind her. Brown Cherry Blossom: all my shoes are black.

In Ken’s, with mum outside talking to a bunch of older kids who are scrounging pennies for a guy that looks exactly like my headmaster, I leaf through the used singles. Wizzard. Medicine Head. Mud. When Ken is distracted by Cliff the Biff walking into his shop, I take a Jubbly. It’ll make my gums bleed and taste of snow. They always do.

Nearly home. The rag-and-bone man rings his bell as his horse and cart turn from the Crescent into our road, excited – I can tell by the way he and the horse are both neighing – to see me. Someone’s dumped a promo picture of Elvis in Viva Las Vegas in the cart. I nick it as old Steptoe chats to mum and Mrs Ganderton. I can’t stand Elvis.

Later, in the stillness of my bedroom, I empty my bag of my imaginary haul, spread the stuff out neatly on the bed. I stare at it all, inwardly cackling like The Joker. I don’t yet know what a metaphor is.

 Posted by at 4:50 pm
Jan 262015



1.  Simply snap off a firm but flexible Y-shaped twig from a nearby hazel or willow.
2.  Select a park, a wood, a copse, a forest, a mountain: Clissold Park, Highgate, that secret place from childhood, the Bois de Boulogne, Black Mountain.
3.  Go there.
4.  With your twig.
5.  Hold the twig as if it were the handles of a lawnmower or a Harley.
6.  Except with your hands sort of turned inside out and upside down.
7.  I don’t know why.
8.  Wait for the ideomotor effect to make the twig quiver with a slightly disappointing mild excitement.
9.  Quiver with a slightly disappointing mild excitement.
10. Tell your companion there’s definitely water/gold/oil/a rare Clash bootleg under your feet.
11. Realise you’ve forgotten your shovel.
12. Realise you’ve forgotten to bring a companion.
13. Go home and construct your own metaphor.


 Posted by at 9:46 pm
Jan 122015



A couple of years ago, Kingston University bought hundreds of Iris Murdoch’s letters. When I heard about this, I emailed The Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies (oh yes), arranged a time to go down there, underwent a rigorous examination of my motives that included waterboarding and being forced to listen to Level 42’s entire back catalogue, put on special Kev-proof gloves made from swan’s feathers, swore I’d be really, really, really, really careful and then sat there for hours, quickly immersed in Iris’ thoughts and dreams and anxieties, all the time being glared at by the scarily-bespectacled Keeper Of The Letters.

All the letters were from Iris – she apparently destroyed every single one she ever received. And, while The Guardian had been full of the ‘sensational’ discovery of her long-term gay relationship with Philippa Foot, the fascination for me lay in those to Raymond Queneau, the French writer who wrote one of my favourite books, ‘Exercises in Style’. I sat there trying to piece together what he must have said to her: her responses were loving, tantalising, exquisite and sad. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 9:35 pm
Nov 272014



Blue, fluffy, two sizes two small, I wore it every morning for a while, looking like a very small, uncertain IRA man, though I like to think now I made balaclavas cool long before terrorists did. Bafflingly, its unbelievable itchiness, its Napoleonic harshness, the way it made me almost unrecognisable but only almost, the way in which it attracted attention and invited ridicule for its anti-style, its anti-elegance – even in 1970, even in Enfield – meant I hated it. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 10:24 pm

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