Photos (mostly) without a camera – some of my favourite things.

Outside Morrisons in the midwinter mist, the old sax player stands against the wall of the undershop car park – that makes the entrance so welcoming with its reek of stale exhaust fumes – a series of mute grey frames with him the only image, playing snatches of tunes that sound a bit like Coltrane’s version of “Favourite things” (1) drifting through the attenuated traffic on a very tired Edgware Road. Coltrane’s version is cool. Julie Andrews, it isn’t. A necessary historical corrective to a false impression of how dominant the cultural challenge that took place in the sixties was is that the best selling album of the decade wasn’t Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but the soundtrack from The Sound of Music. The fifties lasted until about 1977 in most places.

A young woman in a hoody and a half mast mask waves wildly at someone drifting slowly and invisibly upwards on the escalator.

My graffiti spraying neighbour has now painted the letters “WLM” on another white van; showing the respect for private property so characteristic of the right wing. This is more obscure than his last effort – which was “Trump Jesus”, as in the slogan chanted by the fascist mob at the Capitol building on January 6th, “Trump is President and Christ is King!” Because you can just see Jesus smashing his way through windows with a riot shield wearing a horned hat and carrying flexi-ties, a Glock and a Confederate flag shouting “Hang Mike Pence!” in my brain, since about 1974, WLM has stood for “Women’s Liberation Movement”, but I somehow doubt that that was what he was spraying. Googling it throws up more possibilities, but nothing obvious. “Windows Live Messenger”? “Weak Localisation Model – physics”? “Women Loving Men”? “White Light Motorcade?” That one sounds implicitly Alt Right and supremacist, but turns out to be a band. Maybe he’s taking a turn to culture, but the mystery remains.

Although a little out of season at this time. I’m signing off with a happy gesture of solidarity for 2021 from the cheerful snow people in Ash Tree Dell, who look as though they have joined the Red Front.


White van graffiti – and two flags for the price of one.

In the week before the general election someone started spraying the word “TORY” all over the place around the down at heel suburb where I live in NW London – on bus shelters and walls – even on the sides of white vans. This must have been very upsetting for the owners, even if that’s how they voted.

It was hard to tell initially whether this was a declaration of support by a new sort of edgy vandal activist inspired by the US alt right spraying allegiance over his locality like a tom cat sprays urine- the spidery black lines showing a shock abandonment of all pretence at being law abiding and staying within bounds – reflecting times in which the leader of the Party could say “Fuck business” and their attack dog newspapers call for “traitors” to be cleared out of the Judiciary and House of Lords – or a false flag operation meant to look like someone from Labour was spraying an accusation of being a Tory on the sides of “white van man” vans – and the Kingsbury road temple – to propel people to the polls out of indignation.

This week, a variation on a theme confirmed that it was the former, with the word “TRUMP” in the same writing on the side of another vehicle – in this case a small truck – neatly symbolising the relative weight of UK and US Conservatism. The local Conservatives will presumably not put “spray cans” in their election expenses return and this is probably a “lone wolf cub” operation, but the writing is on the wall (and the vans) that we are in a new and unstable kind of politics.

A more light hearted and less indelible piece of graffiti was seen in Grays High Street a couple of years ago, where a similar van had the words “also available in white” scrawled into the tidal wave of sludge that covered its paintwork.

Meanwhile, our pro Brexit neighbour down the hill – who has had a “Get Ready for Brexit” ad in his window for several months – showed his British patriotism by putting up an England flag on 31st January. To be fair, this may have been for the Six Nations rubgy match the following day, in which England – having swaggered into Paris claiming they were going to “beat up” the French – were beaten in a way that was very therapeutic for anyone worried about nationalist triumphalism. As I walked past a week later, it looked as though he was putting up two flags in time for the Scotland match. But it turned out he was swapping one for the other – like a monk with a habit – one to wear, one in the wash – so it looks like this display might be permanent.

For anyone whose idea of heaven is an intense political discussion in a cafe, trying out a new coffee adds an additional layer to the experience. Turkish coffee in the Sim Sim bakery arrives with a flourish. Twice the size of an espresso but just as black and intense, set off in a small white cup and saucer. The spiritual opposite of cappuccino. No creamy, milky frothiness. Nothing easy drinking about it. Deep, dark, bitter; the bottom third like a mud bank of grounds. To be sipped slowly; a mouth can only take so much of an assault at once. An antidote to chugging. Almost an ordeal, it requires a slow, careful, thoughtful, disciplined approach that affects the way you think too. Profoundly mindful. Looking out of the plate glass window, another discussion going on silently. A man with a large head and close cropped curly beard is holding forth while smoking. His silent words come out with puffs of smoke.

The local library is buzzing. A dozen people working on the computers at the back. About twenty women learning English in the middle, their teacher moving round checking their writing. Old – slightly grumpy looking – guys reading the very grumpy papers. People checking books in and out; children hopping around the kids section. Toilets that are not “for customers only” as a community facility not a commercial one. The kindness of the public sector.