Grumpy old men at bus stops

After the drought in the Summer turned the local park into a dustbowl, the grass bleached to straw ghosts, the ground rock hard, the air hazy, the Autumn monsoons that we have had for the past few weeks have turned it back into lush water meadows almost to marshland in places. It hasn’t quite got to the swamp quality we’ve had in previous autumns, with geese wading through puddles that have merged into small lakes, a testament to just how dry it got, but it’s on the way. I now stay on the paths when I walk through, so as not to plash.

A grumpy old bloke in the bus queue outside the Magistrates Court, perhaps ground down a bit by the almost constant rain, turns to the woman next to him and complains about the new Highway Code giving cyclists preference over cars in a tone that implies that this is a sign we are being driven to go to the dogs by a conspiracy of elitists with a thing about Lycra. It is so evident to him that this is a bad thing, and so evident to me that it’s a good thing that I say so. He ignores my comment. or, possibly, doesn’t hear it because I seem to be one of the last people in Northwest London still wearing a mask on the buses. It seems odd that he’s so defensive of cars when he’s queuing for the bus. Perhaps he’s more anti cyclist than pro car.

On the side of a bus outside Willesden Health Centre, “Come for our affordable premier dental care in Turkey”. The shortage of NHS dentists laid bare by an advert.

Outside a fruit and veg shop on Willesden High Road a sign reading “Polski, Irani, Arabi”. Fusion Grocery. Up the street a succession of shops with Brazilian or Portuguese flags. We duck into a cafe that’s a little gem of a place, panettones hanging from the ceiling, dark wood shelves all the way up displaying gleaming bottles of mysterious dark alcohols, a coffee machine that looks well used, a TV in the corner showing Joe Biden speaking grim faced in Indonesia with Portuguese subtitles, everyone else in the place speaking Portuguese and the guy at the counter just about understanding me. We sit at a tiny table next to a freezer cabinet and shelves full of the Iberian equivalent of chocolate frosted sugar bomb cereals drinking an almost perfect Capuchino, just smoky enough, not too sweet, not too much and the best one of those tiny custard tarts I have ever eaten, the pastry flakier than flaky and the custard full of creamy dimensions; positively mindful. J agrees that its better than Costa carrot cake, in more ways than one.

Coming back up the road, a pair of houses are being renovated by a hard working squad of, mostly Sikh, builders. Every day a different smell. Some almost poisonous, the reek of araldite. Some fresh and spring like, newly sawn wood. Outside on the scaffolding, a large stuffed rainbow unicorn is suspended like a hunting trophy with that awful pathos abandoned soft toys always have. “Jackie Paper came no more…”

Post Truss Polka with street scenes.

On my street, halfway up the hill someone has left a pile of bright yellow Don’t Pay Energy Bills Oct 1st leaflets on a garden wall. They have blown in the wind all over the pavement like autumn leaves amongst the equally yellow barriers put up by the gas men around the holes in the pavement they have dug to replace the mains. This, according to their hand out, is to make our increasingly unaffordable gas supply safe for “many decades to come”. This is a bit alarming. If we are to be off fossil fuels by 2050, “many decades to come” can’t be more than three at the most.

Along Grove Park, on top of the low brick wall under the boundary fence of The Village School – its shrubbery studded by crushed beer cans and discarded wrappers blown in on the wind – someone, some time ago by the looks of it – has propped up a copy of Salman Rushdie’s children’s book Haroun and the Sea of Stories as though it is an offering, or possibly a statement of some sort. Soaked by rain and spattered by leaves and bits of paper, it is steadily decomposing back into the wood pulp from which it was printed, the pages stuck together in a papier-mâché morass. There is something simultaneously plaintive and defiant about it – an echo and reminder of what it once was; haunting itself like a literary ghost.

Down at the shops, a middle-aged black guy in a brushed fur cowboy hat emerges from the halal butchers looked bewildered.

A huge man wearing a windcheater with a gigantic Welsh dragon emblazoned on the back chats quietly with his mate, in Polish. His 8 or 9 year old son stands next to him with an identical stance and body language.

Outside Aldi – “the cheap shop” – an aging Indian bloke stands staring across the road in a full-length black leather coat and battered, but smart, brown fedora, looking like a slightly effete secret policeman from 1920’s central Europe.

And this evening there were no less than two foot-patrols of police officers walking through the shopping drag. Two men heading East and, ten minutes later, two women heading West, crossing each other’s path like an attenuated square dance. Neither were making any contact with the life on the streets. The two women were absorbed in conversation with each other, turned inwards as they proceeded at the regulation two miles an hour in the general direction of Iceland and VBs and both talking at once. The two men seemed cut off from everything, and each other. No eye contact with anyone, staring unfocussed and a bit glacially into the middle of next week as they walked. There but not there. An oddly passive presence. Waiting for something to react to rather than trying to connect.

Between 1912 and 1920 along the West side of the Edgeware Road, where the Loon Fung, Morrisons and Asda Supermarkets are now and stretching up as far as the Volkswagen dealership by Hay Lane, was where the Airco factory used to be. This was a vast workshop that built a large proportion of the aircraft used by the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War. All the original De Havilands. The company went bankrupt within two years of the armistice. The end of the war meant there was no demand for aircraft anymore and BSA, who bought it, were sold a pup (and not of the Sopwith variety).

The only part of the original factory that’s left is the former head office, which is now the Beis Yaakov Primary School. Glancing across at it, it is surrounded with solid black railings well above head height – fortress style – and there is a tall square extension in compatible architecture topped off with an inwardly curving fence, presumably to stop balls being kicked over from the rooftop playground and, possibly, to make it hard for someone with hostile intent to throw anything in the other way. At 10 in the morning there are two Community Security Trust blokes shooing in Orthodox looking Mums in sleek grey SUVs delivering a rather late school run. They are both wearing bright yellow hi vis vests. One of them is holding on to it with both hands at chest height, while repeatedly doing that knee flex thing that the Police tend to do when they are standing still but feeling tense. Evenin’ all.

After announcing Liz Truss’s resignation as Prime Minister on the 2pm News, the first piece of music played by Radio 3 was the Thunder and Lightning Polka. I guess they are not in mourning.

Of Drain Covers and Walled Gardens.

The attraction of drain covers isn’t evident to most people. We walk over them without noticing. Primary schools sometimes do rubbings of them with crayons, like an urban industrial version of brass rubbings, but most people don’t give them a second glance or thought.

After having my flu jab this morning I was wandering along The Grove and spotted a couple of Drain covers with designs that were positively fractal, quite exciting as drain covers go. The patterns were quite vertiginous in a way that would pass muster in the opening credits for Dr Who. Most of the others were dull, symmetrical and functional. Nothing to see here. But these ones were an artistic labour of love that were worth giving a bit of respect to. Perhaps even photographing and collecting. Jeremy Corbyn is on to something here it seems.

One of the less serious attempts to put people off voting for Jeremy was the story that he collected photos of drain covers. This was part of a wider campaign to present him as a cracked eccentric; because it must be completely inappropriate to have a leader of a mass political party who grows his own cucumbers and pots his own jam. This, nevertheless, shows how universal this attack was. No stone left unturned. No angle not covered.

On Saturday, the rather secretive Roe Green Walled Garden was opened for a day. It does this a couple of times a year. Even though I’ve lived here for over 25 years, I’ve never been in there before, and it’s quite an extraordinary place. A sort of collective allotment growing organic produce, cultivating compost and worm juice (not for human consumption) and a celebration of a certain kind of suburban eccentricity and local historical awareness, with a little occasional cafe and a couple of sheds with a collection of fascinating bric a brac and second hand books. A joy of a place. Scattered around are life size dummies, mostly of people who lived on the site from the 1901 census with information about who they were. The Lodge by Kingsbury Road, which was empty for years and we used to call the “rat house”, because that’s who lived there, and is now on its third attempt to be rebuilt as a restaurant, was where a gardner lived with his family; and his model sits outside one of the shed with his mouldy cap on and a brass dog at his knee. But, my favourite is the bloke who donated the bike he cycled to Paris on in 1937. Tempting to follow suit, but I’d need an electric bike to manage it these days. He also looks a bit like Jeremy Corbyn.

Eat your heart out Bill and Ben.

Intimations of mortality 3. Holocene nostalgia

Looking up at the grey temperate sky on Thursday, and feeling the cool breeze, there was no sense of a return to normal after the Anthropocene heat of Monday and Tuesday. More a sense of being in remission for a terminal prognosis we are not doing enough to avert. Embrace it as it slips away.

The flowers on our straggly rose bush out the back have been seared into dry fossils.

The banks of wild flowers along the side of the park have been scorched into thickets of tinder.

The grass is bleached to its roots in widening bowls of dust. A few patches of green in the shade of the trees.

Down by the shops, people have directed their feet to the shady side of the street; a rapidly learned habitual reflex.

In a reflection of the times, in Iceland a display of energy drinks from Tyson Fury, with a picture of the man himself looking like a berserker, encourages us to drink the drink so we can “hit the day hard”. Just what we need.

J’s cousin died of a heart attack in the heat on Tuesday. He had Covid at the time. And underlying conditions. So, one of the vulnerable, discountable ones.

At the chemists, Rishi Sunak is on the TV talking about all the challenges facing the country. He does not mention the climate. Crisis? What crisis?

On the front Page of the Daily Telegraph in the Kingsbury library, Liz Truss “tells France to fix holiday travel chaos” (my emphasis) which is laugh out loud ironic. I suspect the response from the Elysée will be “Pfff!”

Outside Holocene Court, the new set of “Luxury 2 and 3 bedroom apartments with basement parking” down on the Edgware Road, there’s one of those hologram type images of the future when the building is finished showing gridlock in both directions up and down the road. And no new trees.