September 29: the churches are closing; let’s go to Friends fest

The ‘Friends’ fest in Kennington park  continues apace. It has now been two weeks (the last two weeks of summer) that  fenced-off acres of the park containing New York cabs, the Central Perk cafe and the endless purgatorial spools of old footage have littered the only green space around. When you turn the telly on now, you get a mugfull of Rachel’s so-called charming haircut or Phoebe’s so-called hilarious cookiness or Ross’s so-called endearing nerdiness and a delightful earful of the canned laughter, now the laughter of mostly dead people. It is the new/old ‘Big Bang Theory’. Friends has become home to whole swathes of the population. The old look fondly back to it and the young have set up house there, as if they had nowhere else to go. Mars and Murrie (M and Ms to you) have their own ‘world’ in central London where, presumably, you just wander around several floors of variedly packaged and presented bean-like chocolate comestibles.  It’s called Mars and Murrie because Mars bought out Murrie’s 20% stake in the business in 1948. Fun fact, right? No doubt one of the the highlights of the ‘world’. Oh, I have eaten a packet of said produce in my time but do I need to live in its world? Are we lacking homes? Places that make us feel warm and fuzzy inside? The pubs are closing; the churches are empty. Let’s make home in the outposts of American tat.

September 25: which me does robert remember?

As a schoolboy and a student I was pretty good at football and many people who knew me at that time may well think of that competence as my defining characteristic. A few years later I was less good at football. My friend Robert is having a birthday dinner tomorrow. On Robert’s invitation, I remember turning out for some journalist team in my late twenties or early thirties with Robert, no doubt, expecting me to reveal the full panoply of skills I had exhibited as a very young man. During that match I remember trying to take a corner and, exhausted as I was, being unable to hoist the cross into the box and receiving a broadside from the big centre-halves who had come up to put the ball into the back of the net. In a word, I was not as good as I had been. Which me does Robert remember today? On another occasion a few years ago I remember finding a photograph of some of my former schoolfriends on Friends Reunited thirty or more years on. I knew the names but this portrait of fat men in a Manchester pub bore absolutely no resemblance to the boys I had once known. Which version of Paul Hadfield or Michael Kenyon am I to store in the filing cabinet of my memory? Every time you re-meet someone after a period of absence you are watching for which version of  Paul Hadfield will turn up. The old you is partially eclipsed by the new you, but the partial blindness that a lifetime of looking at the sun has caused in us means that we continue seeing the old you, even though that person is now almost completely obscured.

September 19: big luggage people

Thinking back after a long period of travel this summer it is mostly the issue of luggage that lingers. I try to travel light and am constantly amazed by the size of the luggage that sit next to mine in train compartments. My poor little knapsack is dwarfed by huge monoliths on wheels. And yet I am travelling for over three weeks in forest, mountain, lake, city and beach locations. What do they put in their bags that they should swell so? Let’s talk underwear. I wear a pair and take three. Socks. I wear a pair and take two. One pair of trousers and a pair of shorts. A couple of t-shirts and a long sleeved shirt. A small towel. Swimming trunks. Toiletries. A kindle. Very little else. What are big luggage people doing? An underwear a day and no washing on the hoof? Thick-tomed novels? Great vanity cases of face creams and manicure sets. Computers, of course. Life without screen is unenvisageable. Can you imagine this? No screen for over three weeks. No Boris Johnson. No mention of the word proroguing. When I got back it had taken over the word and everyone was pretending they had always prorogued. You come back to a new world. In short, it was a holiday.