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.