Tales from the Edgware Road

Down by the Edgware Road, on a tiny oasis of unmown grass about a metre square, amid a desert of concrete and asphalt, bright wild flowers play host to a bee and a butterfly as the traffic grinds past. It looks like a tiny sliver of hope.


The rewilding of our back lot, and that of many others along here, where the grass is now as high as a doberman’s eye, has led to a local insect revival. A few years ago I’d have cursed the miasma of aphids tickling my face, but now `I see it as a blessing. 


Outside Asda, a newly erected sign points Westwards to “The Nordic Quarter”. This is vaguely in the direction of Queensbury which, last time I looked, was completely bereft of Vikings. 


As a result of one of our downstairs neighbours moving out, the front hedges, handsome beech ones, well over head height, have began to grow across the front path, narrowing the way in and out and I find myself thinking that I wouldn’t mond too much if it just kept going and sealed us off from the main road, with the only way in and out via the overgorwn alleyway at the back. 


Down by Sainsbury’s a pimped up Ford Focus, Kermit the frog green with red hub caps, low slung body and tinted windows, speeds towards the turn in towards Halfords and blasts its horn at a guy already half way across it – hoping he would jump back or forward, or at any rate get out of its way. He does neither. Instead, he just stands stock still and looks witheringly at the car; holding his ground and forcing it to slow and go round him. It revs up and speeds through the car park, farting a backfire of annoyance as it does.


Just as I am sitting on the bus thinking that the rapidly accelerating gentrification of West Hendon -old tutti putti social housing cleared for solid expensive flats built like fortresses, a smattering of cleaner neater shops and restaurents weeding out the old dusty jumble of plumbers, old fashioned looking hairdressers, boarded up supermarkets, grocery places with tired looking veg and filthy signage – will have done for the Martens that have roosted in the eaves of the above shop flats on the North side, they come screaming gloriously into view and your heart can’t help but leap and soar with them. 


Along Roe Green there is now an electronic sign that monitors traffic speed. The limit is 20mph. As vehicles approach their speed is flashed back at them. Those within the limit are shown their speed in green and given a “Thank You”. Those going above 20, get it in red. Above 25mph and they get a “Slow Down” message. There is no enforcement, just a nudge to doing the right thing. What I’ve noticed is that cars tend to follow the example of the car in front. To some extent this is a physical as much as a psychological thing. If a car in front of you is doing 18mph, you can’t really go faster without crashing into it or overtaking. So, you get a string of vehicles all doing the right thing and all getting a thank you. Then you get one that zaps past at 22mph, gets flashed red and ignores it. Cars behind tend to follow on, red, red, red. Some particulary cussed souls actually accelerate, just because they can; and doubtless congratulate themselves on how free and rebelious they are being. 


In the Park, as an acknowledgement of the heating climate, people now go out and shade bathe.


I’m not sure how spooked to be that the neatly arranged van parked up by the builders working on the house vacated by our local Kippers, who have presumably moved on to a whiter place and taken their spray cans and flags with them, has an upright fire extinguisher between the seats in the cab, topped be a decapitated dolls head. It looks like it is pretending not to be alive.

Muddy Waters

The Bronx Jewish Blues singer and Rev Gary Davies acolyte Stefan Grossman (1) – who I saw at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 1970 (the first and last time I have ever seen anyone choosing to eat cold baked beans) – had a voice like sandpaper. It was in tune, but so dry and rasping as to be the antagonist of anything so settled, complacent and smug as melody; the sworn enemy of the lullaby harmonies exemplified by the BBC’s acapella Sing Something Simple programme. These were not songs for people wanting to be reassured that life was harmonious, if you kept your head down, prioritised cosiness and put away all thoughts of life beyond the privet hedge, or your pink half of the drainpipe (2). This was a voice sung over broken pavements and burnt out car lots. He was nevertheless something of a smartarse; with a such a good joke about the “Surrey White trash blues revival” and how he picked up a track while staying in “a Delta in Basingstoke”, that he told it every time he performed. He got away with it because so many of us listening felt complicit. Not so much a joke as a catch phrase.

I grew up on a Delta without realising it. Travel out of London on the C2C line towards Southend and Shoeburyness, and once you pass Barking the river broadens and the land on either side becomes flatter, waterlogged, marshy, indistinct. A jumble of factories – some derelict, lots of extraordinarily ill advised new housing developments built by Planning Departments which have seen the news about the rapidly collapsing ice shelves in Greenland and Antarctica and concluded that building on land barely above current sea level, and down river of the Thames barrier, is a really good idea – punctuate wide stretches of half flooded flood plain, grazed slowly by somnolent horses, criss-crossed by the A13 and the HS1 line slicing overhead on stilts and the spectacular QE2 bridge, an Estuarine Golden Gate. Random wind turbines rotate gently. At a time when there were fewer housing developments but far more factories, cement works with immense chimneys belching smoke, and chemical storage sites, vast drums of oil and warehouses stretching for miles, this journey was described by a friend who came to see me from up North as “ a bit like visiting Mordor”; but it feels like home to me.

An attachment to bucolic landscapes is a much played upon trope of lazy nationalists, whose eyes well up at scenes that are green and pleasant. Film of marshland, mud flats scattered with dark green seaweed, a river khaki with silt and sludge and sewer runoffs, discharge from shipping and everything that flows from having been London’s cloaca for centuries, is never played as an accompaniment to Jerusalem. Those feet in ancient time didn’t walk upon Rainham marshes. The aesthetic doesn’t fit with the upper class self pretence that their beautifully preserved landscapes and comfortable way of life – which everything else must be sacrificed to preserve -are somehow an organic natural order and didn’t and don’t require the blood, sweat and tears of the working class black dwarves (3) (at home and abroad in the Empire) to sustain it. The Britain (or, more often England) we are set up to worship, turns its back on us as a dirty embarrassing secret that spoils the view; only sometimes half acknowledged so long as it is posed as a conspicuous demonstration that we know our place; especially in armed service. “Ours not to reason why, ours but to do or die”(4).

And we are meant to play – and sing – along, celebrate “our successes”, as Jacob Rees Mogg puts it, and never count the cost; neither to ourselves, nor those we have imposed on others.

The character of this part of the river is determined by the tide. All the freshwater flowing down towards the sea meets the sea pushing back twice a day. The combination of the two creates a tidal range that makes the river level as far West as Westminster rise and fall by as much as 2 to 4 meters between low and high tides. In the context of rising sea levels brought on by climate breakdown, this is an increasing threat. The last time there was our current level of CO2 in the atmosphere, sea levels were 23 metres above what they are now (5). Unless we get that level down, it’s just a matter of time before the estuary starts at Windsor, the solid looking river walls and gates notwithstanding.

These photographs are a study in Essex estuary bleak. The odd enclosed crows nest on the mast on two of them was from a lightship that was built in the late nineteenth century and anchored around various treacherous sandbanks in the North Sea to keep other ships at a safe distance; with mixed success. It was sank twice by freighters that obliviously ploughed into it without noticing its light and had to be resurrected from the shallow depths as salvage for a second lease on life. After being strafed by the Luftwaffe in the Second World War and put out of action, it was salvaged again and bought by the Grays Yacht Club to be used as their clubhouse until 2002. What is disturbing about it to me is the angle it is at, and the way it stands bolt upright and alone on the jetty. All through my childhood it loomed above the rest of the boat, drawn up and beached on dry land, but still recognisably a boat and at a jaunty angle, the boat having been fixed with a definite list to port and pointing vaguely towards London. It also looks clean. It never used to. There was always something mysterious about it. On the other side of the sea wall; beyond a boundary. Private property. The sort of place you’d have been in danger or trouble if you’d climbed over to explore. Taboo. The plaque that lists all this information also notes that many of the people who joined the yacht club weren’t very interested in yachts; which begs the question of what they got up to in there. The body of the boat was destroyed by an arson attack in 2002. This is attributed to “vandals” on the plaque; but suggests a plot line for a story of rivalry and murder in the small, enclosed world of a yacht club with fewer yachts than passions. Today there are yachts, calmly resting at anchor close in shore out of the shipping lanes, like sleeping gulls bobbing gently.

If you look east towards Tilbury Docks, the twin grain terminals rise indistinctly in the mist like two skeletal ships of the line locked together and about to fire broadsides. “For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly grateful”. Gratitude for the grain brought in from elsewhere is maybe something we should feel more than we do. When it rains, the distinction between the air and the water and the water and the mud blurs in the same way as the visibility does. The occasional passing freighter looms spray misted and indistinct high above the river wall and the buildings alongside it.

The dead boat, beached and abandoned, sinking and rotting into the mud, looks like the fossil of a trilobite. A relic of a time when Grays was a centre for Thames barges and Seabrooks Brewery was still making beer. In the early 1970’s there was an edition of the long lost Radio 4 – indeed Home Service – programme Down Your Way in which the presenter, Franklin Engleman, painted a picture of Grays that was almost completely nostalgic and time expired. Anyone listening would have gained a vivid impression of a place of small wharves, red sailed barges and riverside inns; a picture that might have been partly true fifty to a hundred years previously, but a long, long time dead; and completely missing the industry, the council estates, the docks. In some ways it was a lovely picture; but a fiction. Lovelier than the reality. Perhaps that was the point. Why the BBC put effort into projecting that kind of image of the country, while eliding the reality, implies that it was a necessary fiction for the national self-image at the time. I’m not sure much has changed there.

As the river turns past Tilbury, the Estuary broadens, with the Essex bank curving North and the Kent side easing South. At this point the estuary is more sea than river. Parts of the land are actually below sea level; like New Orleans. New Orleans gave the world Jazz. Canvey Island gave it Dr Feelgood. (6)

The River is shallow. The mud flats stretch for miles, sometimes submerged, sometimes not. The mud is full of river and the river is full of mud. All that is solid melts to air, via a misty, sludgy no man’s ground and silt –laden waters laying down barely submerged islands that make the waters treacherous and impel commercial interests to dredge navigable channels for the big ships on their way up to the Thames Gateway.

This colossal development is on the site of the old Shell Haven refinery and storage where my old friend Nick used to live in a small row of company houses. He built himself a car using the chassis and engine of a BMW bubble car and scrap bits of metal from storage tanks. It looked like a home made Bugatti and he more or less taught himself to drive on the deserted company roads that weren’t subject to the Highway Code – or any Police supervision. All these spaces are being filled in in the last spasm of hyper capitalist expansion before the ecological reckoning comes in and the rising floodwaters break the banks – in more ways than one (and not in a good way for either).

1 b.1945. In this relatively recent film of how to play Candyman he seems to have mellowed, as you do, but the voice is the same, as is the jaunty guitar style. It’s worth listening to the end to hear a recording of Rev Gary Davies himself playing a version. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EOQZEQAgcA0&t=67s

2. From the song by the Bonzo Dog Do-Da Band.

3. The Black Dwarf was the name of a satirical radical newspaper published 1817-24; named as a screw you re-appropriation of a description of the emergent industrial working class as Black Dwarves, because their work covered them in filth and their poverty stunted their growth. 150 years later, it was adopted by Tariq Ali and others to name one of the iconic revolutionary newspapers of the late 1960’s. https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/3816-we-shall-fight-we-will-win-on-the-black-dwarf-and-1968

4. Tennyson. Charge of the Light Brigade.

5. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/08/190830150751.htm

6. Dartford of course, produced half of the Rolling Stones. But this is higher ground – and definitely the wrong side of the river.

Startling Statistics. US arms vs Green transition to 2030.

A recent report on climate change from the US military – commissioned by General Mark Milley- argued that the impact of climate change could, within the next three decades,

  • overwhelm the US energy grid,
  • lead to a spread of epidemic diseases, water shortages and crises in food production,
  • with a third of the world living in “water stressed” regions within ten years, lead to societal collapse in more vulnerable countries – such as Bangladesh overwhelmed by sea level rises –
  • all of which would require military interventions that would be too great for them to cope with – posing the very serious possibility that the military itself could collapse under the strain.

What is mind boggling about this report is that it takes climate breakdown as a given – something to be responded to, not stopped.

This is particularly stark in the section on the melting of Arctic sea ice. The imperative here is for the US military to be prepared to project US power into the area so it can fight off competitors and help itself to the fossil fuel reserves uncovered as the ice melts. That burning these resources leads directly to the societal collapse outlined in the rest of the report does not seem to have occurred to the authors.

This Report was published while Trump was still President, but the figures above are those projected by Biden and shows they are putting the Cold War above climate breakdown. The scale of the expenditure should reflect the scale of the threat. You can’t deploy the Marines against rising sea levels or nuke a spreading desert.

Jesus!

In the Halal butchers down by Kingsbury Circle, there are large faded black and white framed photos of two men from another time and place. Mohamed Ali Jinnah, staring straight at you, intense and cancer thin in his Astrakhan hat and Sherbani. Qaid i Azam (Father of the Nation), whose saintly status was assured by dying so soon after Pakistan was founded, so he couldn’t carry the can for anything that actually happened after it was. Alongside him, and staring in a profile like a head on a coin, somehow deferential but distant, and – with his whip sharp moustache – looking like Omar Sharif’s even more glamorous grandfather, no less than two pictures of a man we didn’t know. A friendly butcher, meat cleaver in one hand, bright Union Jack mask across his face, catches our curiosity and tells us that this is “Dr Iqbal. Dr Iqbal” – so good they named him twice – poet and early advocate of Pakistan as a separate state; who died nine years before it was set up in the horrors of Partition and therefore even more saintly. I remember this butchers at the time of the 2011 riots. Although nothing had kicked off locally, most shops were shuttered, some that remained open had their staff nervously hovering at the door, waiting for the images from their TV screens to roll down the High Street; which they never did. In the butchers there was none of that. Just a dozen or so of them all lined up hacking lamb into chops with machetes; reasonably confident that no one would be bothering them.

A sign on the Wembley Gospel Church – just opposite VBs cash and carry – “Toilets are for use of worshippers only”. One definition of heaven. Relief for the elect.

All along the main drag in Alperton, the shops and cafes are stuttering back into life. The smart masked young woman at Masala Bowl takes down J’s details when we drop in for some Papri Chaat and Masala Tea, but not mine. I guess we look like a couple. Outside they have strings of tiny lights which must look magical at night when you can’t see the rest of the street.

All the Sari shops have crowded displays using an eclectic collection of macabre looking second or third hand mannikins. The contrast between the gorgeous fabrics – all bold, fresh colours, striking designs and rich decoration – and the washed out, oddly bewigged and battered figures wearing them is disturbing; as if these are display windows full of beautifully dressed corpses.

In the Medical Centre in Chaplin Road, seats are carefully spaced two metres apart and – to keep them there – a square of black and yellow hazard tape marks them off from each other in splendid isolation. On patient one box. It feels like a mental force field. Like one of those games you play as a child. Step over the tape and you fall into a lake of lava. The spaces in between are for official use only.

Looking out of the window of the 204 bus on the way back home, and in the front window of a standard suburban semi is a startlingly larger than life size statue of Jesus – presumably retrieved from a Catholic Church close down sale – everything must go! The curtains are drawn behind him, so he has no contemporary hinterland. He looks serious, as well he might, and holds his hand up in a benediction that also looks like someone shy giving a half hearted wave. His view of the sign at the Gospel Church remains unspoken.

Mourning in America. Reflections on Nomadland.


This is a film about coming to terms with loss. It is hard to imagine it being made in a time of optimism.


It opens with central character, Fern, sifting through a pile of possessions, randomly junked in storage, for a few to pack into her small camper van. The wreck of a life reflected in the wreck of a community, with the main employer, a gypsum mine, closing and creating a ghost town. The death of the mine reflected in the death of Fern’s partner Beau. She has hung on for a year in the wreckage – seemingly numb – but now feel compelled to move. Staying in a place suffused with loss and loneliness no longer bearable. 


It closes with Fern’s return, and the donation of all the remaining stuff in storage to goodwill, and her returning to her former home, an empty bungalow on an empty street, wandering through, then out the back door into a vast Mid Western emptiness, leaving it open and letting it go, then back on the road that goes ever, ever on; en route a des aventures nouvelles (in a rather downbeat way). 


In between, there is a Road Movie, Jim, but not as we know it. This is a long way from getting your kicks on Route 66 (or even the A13). This is not kicking over the traces of a comfortable life to fix a relationship or sort your head out before reaffirming its limitations by fitting right back in; even in Jack Kerouac’s sense of being “like the prophet who has walked across the land to bring back the dark word, and the only word I had was “Wow!” Its not a journey with an end, just a journey. Moments of epiphany come through nature. Reaching the ocean and walking over the rocks in a howling wind spattered by spray – utterly wild and unforgiving – floating naked in a mountain pool – a moment of exhilarating transcendence beneath a vast explosion of swallows; all symbolising the need to live before you die.


As the journey from here to there and back again unfolds, music starts up. A review in Counterpunch argues that this is to make us – the audience – feel something (or be aware that we are supposed to). I’m not so sure. I think its meant to show that Fern is beginning to feel something. The first shots of the journeying are silent. Numb. Then there’s a musical stirring that I think is meant to convey that Fern’s buried feelings are starting to wake up. If this also serves as an emotional manipulation of the audience – as film music always does – this is a kind of supportive collateral damage. The style of the music, Einaudi’s plinky plink piano noodlings with a side order of cello soul is dark side new agey, soul as commodity in a minor key.


The fleeting connections and solidarities built up between people trying to survive an mobile homes, moving down the road, making do and mending, are sometimes more profound than would be the case if settled, because it can be easier to be vulnerable with someone you may or may not see again than with a neighbour who is always there, keeping account and, sometimes score. “See you down the road” may or may not come to pass. Its serendipitous, so you might as well say what you have to say now. But, there’s a distance. Things can only go so far. The one guy that gets a bit close to Fern bails out to become a live-in Grandad and, despite an offer to stay, she moves on without too much regret.Nearly everyone is in their own van, travelling alone; though there is one unexplored echo of Ken Kesey’s magic bus that appears but is not explored. The prospect of all travelling together appears as a fantasy in an RV showroom, where a spanking new ocean liner of the road dazzles them with its swish facilities and whale like majesty. Fern sits in the driving seat and fantasises about cruising, making the brrm brrm noises that a child would in a rare moment of playfulness. 


None of the characters in this film are Hollywood glam. None of the fake plastic Stepford cosmetic finishes and faultless hairdos – Fern looks like she cuts her own hair with a knife and fork without a mirror – or vast, well furnished mansions that are passed off as average homes in romcoms. Many of the people in it are people who live on the road more or less playing themselves. Nevertheless, hard though they have it, they are people with resources. The vans for a start. The woman who is dying of cancer has visited a hospital and got diagnosed. She is not without access to medical insurance. When Fern’s van breaks down she has access to a sister who lends her the money to fix it. The van is the one settled thing she won’t and can’t give up. Its now home.


Where the Counterpunch review hits hard is that the film risks romanticising the gig economy and transient, insecure work. A couple of scenes shot inside a vast Amazon warehouse show Fern ambling slowly around, smiling at co-workers and exchanging quips and smiles; not harassed and rushing, driven by her monitor or pissing in a bottle because there’s no time to get to the toilet if she’s to fulfill her quota. Her comment about working for Amazon, when asked, is “good money”. $15 an hour. Aspirational as a minimum wage, but hardly “good money”. Other jobs always come along when needed. Hard to imagine that it always works out like that.

Sirens scream through opening up.

On the side of a bus, an advert for “PeterRabbit 2″. I wonder why Beatrix Potter never thought of a snappy title like that? Others come to mind. Crime and Punishment 2 – this time its personal!” ;”The Bible – you’ll believe a man can fly!”; “1984 – the romcom”…
The buses are now filling up. Jammed at rush hour. By the bus stop, a neat row of three PCR COVID tests left on the wall as a warning.

Outside Hendon Magistrates Court a huge bloke with a red angry face and the quickly flicking eyes of a minder looks montaged into a tight fitting electric blue suit as he walks towards his date with nemesis. A nervously harassed looking lawyer in dusty grey trundles a wheely suitcase full of Court documents, looking to right and left as though he thinks someone might jump out of the bushes and hit him.
The Vaccination Centre on Sunday night, as J went in for her second jab, was heaving. The euphoric vibe of the first wave replaced by a quick walking jerky nervousness. Alarm in eyes. Cars jammed and cutting each other up. Quick recourse to jarring horn blasts and angry glares. No longer the celebration of rare human company; contentment with any social contact at all, but a sense of others as potential threat; a society stretched to its nerve endings.
A similar disturbance among the crows in the park opposite, floating and tacking up and around each other like black ash from a fire; away from a slowy plodding old Labrador, all golden heavy jowels, too tired to bother having fun scattering them, just proceding on its way at the regulation 2 miles per hour in a way that can only be described as “dogged”. 

Mallet Bouquet and horrible news montage.

On the way down the hill, I pass a man who looks as though he’s been out all night; battered wincing face, booze blotched complexion, dark glasses protecting from the glare of pale April sunlight. He marches grimly towards the sound of psychic gunfire, carrying an appeasing bouquet of flowers upside down in his fist in the same way you might carry a mallet.

Approaching the steep and teetering top of Haydon Close with the last lot of leaflets and there is a startlingly fresh cluster of daffodils, still clean and bright; a belated flowering in a higher altitude. Hints of snow line and time warp.

The little round woollen hat worn by a Buddhist monk on the 183 bus is on the beige side of saffron. Possibly indicating that he is a doctrinal moderate. The middle way of the middle way?

On the lunchtime Radio news, the update of the horrifying situation in India – people dying on the streets outside hospitals, a new viral variant now killing younger people and children, a black market in oxygen, desperate families trying to find any place for sick loved ones, or even a place to cremate them – is followed by a bloke from the hospitality trade calling for earlier and wider easing of restrictions to get business going and money flowing, because they think its all over. Cutting straight from one to the other is morally and emotionally dizzying. It reminds me of an edition of “Nationwide”- the BBCs early evening “news magazine” programme in the early seventies – in which a grave interview about a famine in Bangladesh was followed instantly with the presenter* turning straight to camera, making eye contact with the viewer in a horribly intimate way, swapping his serious look for something chummily happy and, with the air of relief of a man returning to the comforting insularity of his “normal” day to day preoccupations, announced …”NOW, holiday traffic!”

*Michael Barrett, for it was he.

One sparrow doesn’t make a Summer.

At the bottom of Highmeadow Crescent, with its wide triangle of grass and trees a concentrated site for a multitude of ant civilisations – and therefore a happy hunting ground for swallows all Summer – a dark curved shape slices neatly towards a gutter and – for a moment – it seems like Summer has come early. But the shape is not so curved, and the slice is not so neat: more the bob and weave of an urban scrapper than a swallow’s smooth, electrifying elegance. A sparrow hoping to pass and not quite getting away with it.

On a, now rare, visit to the top deck of a bus; as we crest Kingsbury Road and London lays before us – Silver Jubilee Park dropping away steeply, all new leaf and shaggy un-mown grass – the Shard is visible in the far, far distance, pointing heavenwards like a blasphemous finger; 2 parts Ministry of Truth to 3 parts Eye of Mordor. Precise proportions may vary.

The Parliament of crows is back. All gathering in unvanquishable number in the tops of trees opposite the vaccination centre, looking like they are waiting for something.

Vapour trails are snaking back, slashing the sky like a duelling scar. The “good news” in the papers that demand built up during the lockdowns will fuel a feverish recovery – as those not ruined by it will splash out in a reckless consumerist binge – is rather like someone with cyrrhosis of the liver celebrating a partially successful spell in rehab by getting a round of drinks in.

All along the Edgware Road, disused light industry, clapped out retail or faded car show rooms are giving way to intense high level construction of swish new flats. As part of the grand new Sainsbury’s redevelopment – turning a substantial slice of its car park into the footprint for a block of flats handily placed for its supermarket, almost like a retail tied cottage – they have grubbed out all of their ornamental greenery, leaving a desert of stumps and bare earth in front of the posters that proclaim its pledges to go zero plastic and carbon by 2040.

Hummer Bummer.

Behind a door, someone is playing “somewhere over the rainbow” on a Hammond organ, somehow haunting and cheesy at the same time.

Going round delivering early voting packs for erstwhile Labour supporters for the Mayoral election – partly because the leadership of the Party is keener on neutralising the Left than actually winning and doing such a fabulous job of driving our poll support ever downwards, and it will make a material difference to people’s lives whether the next London Mayor is Sadiq Khan or the Tory – I notice that a disturbing number of them have big SUVs parked out front.

An extreme expression of this is parked up on the pavement and half way across a cul de sac; designed and built long before mass car ownership and completely inappropriate for it. A sparkling white Humvee, slightly smaller than our flat and probably just as heavy, squats like a reinforced steel toad and screams “look at me!” This is not an economic choice. With a fuel consumption of just 4 miles per gallon in the city, this on road off road light tank is a rather needy statement on the part of its owner. The message, “go big or go home” painted front and back removes any ambiguity about that.

I wonder about how the clash between the imperative to clean up our air, sharply cut our carbon emissions and travel in healthier ways, will play out against the presumption so many car owners have that its ok to pave over green space to park on, to turn streets that could be playgrounds or parks into rat runs, to drive around spewing out pollution for other people to breathe in – that costs the health service in London £8,000 per vehicle in treating the consequences – trumps all other considerations. As one angry woman said to me on the doorstep a couple of years ago, “But where am I going to park MY CAR?”

Since “freedom day” I have noticed the same angry driving phenomena that happened after the first lockdown was eased. Cars on the edge, driving too fast, frustrated drivers honking horns in outrage. The sense that MY CAR is king of the road. YOUR CAR is in the way. Vey little of the courtesy that is now common in bus queues. After you…

We had a conversation with a cab driver a couple of years ago – on one of the rare occasions we had to use one. He was furious about the Low Emissions Zone because his vehicle would be caught by it – restricting his range to the outer suburbs unless he could scrap his vehicle and invest in one new enough to meet the standards. He was angry enough to keep turning round to jab his finger at us when we argued with him, swerving around lanes and narrowly missing other cars; at somewhat above the speed limit. His solution was to emigrate to Australia. Australia – of course – is considered second on the list of countries most imminently threatened with ecological collapse. Not on his radar I fear.

There is no shortage of candidates in London who think we can simultaneously develop a greener city while ripping out bike lanes and low traffic neighbourhoods; some who think it a great wheeze to offer free parking and roll back congestion charges and low emissions zones; so we can all sit in traffic jams and breathe in each others exhausts as the population of the city grows and the road network chokes on over use. Still, as they said on Monty Python once “You could easily widen the road there, knock down that hospital”…

Meanwhile, in the park, as I walk cautiously but irreversibly towards the shops, a Brent Council clean up truck swerves past me and stops smartly by the overflowing bin by the playground. The two doors are flung open at once and two blokes jump down with litter pickers and blue bags. The theme from the “A team” starts playing in my head.