February 23: life as an urban flaneur

When you are a city flaneur like myself you find any number of strategies to avoid spending money. Last week I saw two nice shirts in a shop but they were about £50 each. Too much for my meagre purse. Here’s how I go about it. Stage one: I have registered an interest in these items. Stage two: I go back in a week and have another look. I am looking clinically for things that are wrong with them. Maybe I cut my interest down to just one of the shirts. Stage three: I give it another week. Now I am just looking at one of the shirts. I may try it on and the problem may resolve itself, i.e. I look hideous in it. And so my objective (not to spend money) has been accomplished. What did it? Simply spreading the decision out over as big a time period as possible. What then happens is that the changes and shifts in your temperament and tastes over an aggregated period cause you to find an imperfection in your purchase and so not to buy. Your appetite has been quashed.

Other urban negotiations that you become an expert in mainly concern toilets: how to locate them and get in and out of them without restaurant or bar staff noticing you are using their facilities and not buying a drink. You get to know where the Gents are placed in which pubs. By the entrance; on the upper floor; at the back of the saloon bar under the vigilant regard of an over-eager bartender.  In winter months when the bladder is under greatest pressure, these skills are most required. It is then that my competences as an urban strategist are most to the fore.

If, in the instance with the £50 shirt, my appetite has to be suppressed; so, in the business of the toilets, that appetite, or rather requirement, must needs be placated. As an urban flaneur, these are just a couple of the variegated skills that must be mastered.

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February 16: that top of bus stairs look

My idea for a photography exhibition. You are on the top deck of a bus. The bus is nearly full. At each bus stop people are coming up the stairs and at they top they swivel round to see if there are seats on the upper deck. In one moment they try and take it in and decide if they are going to stick or twist; go back downstairs or forage along the aisle upstairs to find a seat. That moment of mixed curiosity, indecision and hesitation, when you get people at their most alert. It’s that top of the bus stairs look.

To do this, you’d have to take the snap and catch them off their guard; then ask them for their permission; then take their email to send them the pic. It would be an intense twenty minutes on the 59 bus. Then you’d print all the pictures and mount them in an exhibition, inviting all the people from the 59 bus along. That way you’d make a set of friends on the same bus route. They’d come along to the exhibition private view on a Thursday night and a get a free glass of proseco. There you go. Art in the community. Feel free to run with it, but invite me to the drinks as concept from peoplearerubbish.com

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February 12: the day the earth stood still

We had a power cut last night. It was like the good old days. Between 8.15 and 10 in the evening all electricity vanished from some randomly selected flats in our and other blocks in the vicinity. I was watching The Day the Earth Stood Still on the telly at the time. Keanu Reeves was an alien come down to earth to confiscate the power that the human race had misused. I don’t know what happened in the end because of the power cut, but there were intimations he might change his mind because of the attentions of Jennifer Conolley as an alluring scientist wearing lots of white lab coats and her father, the Nobel-Prize winning scientist played by (don’t laugh) John Cleese. There was one particular scene where the alien came into Cleese’s office at home (Persian rug; lots of books, a blackboard with chalk equations on it and (get this) Bach’s Goldberg Variations on the turntable; Bach’s Goldberg Variations (not the English suites or the Partitas, mind) have been the semiotic indicator of genius since Hannibal Lector). The alien was stopped in his tracks by the Bach and said (I said it before him, it was so predictable) It’s beautiful. So I had a pretty good idea he might melt and save humanity at the end of the film. This became increasingly clear when he had some face time with Jennifer Conolley’s mixed-race stepson. Keanu Reeves couldn’t standby unmoved with a mixed-race stepson. Anyway, it was a bit surprising to feel how eerie things were with no electricity for ninety minutes or so. It doesn’t take much for us to feel that our civilization is a paltry thing. I went to bed. The lights came back on about ten. By then the film was over. I reckon the alien would have melted.

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February 10: windows for cheese

We were passing by the front of the block and the guy from no 1 was cleaning his windows and the windows of no 2. I live at no 3. We said Oooo, hallo, you’re cleaning windows. Can you do ours? He said sure. I said we’ll bring you back some cheese. We were on the way to a cheese shop in East Dulwich. Do you like cheese? He said he did. How did you get out there? we asked. It wasn’t easy to get to the grass verge at the front of the windows. I climbed through the window, he said. Fair do’s. Climbing through the window had never occured to me. Afterwards, we thought: oh dear, we shouldn’t have put him on the spot like that. Never mind, we’ll get him some cheese. In East Dulwich we went in the cheese shop and got three cheeses: roquefort, fourme d’ambert and comte. When we got back to home the windows had been done. When we went round with the cheese, No 1 was out. So we brought the cheese back home. Oh dear! No 1 had probably been in  a hurry to go out and we’d forced him to do our windows. When we looked through the windows it was cleaner, no doubt about it. We had some of the cheese. Between us we got through a fair bit of it. I like the blues particularly. I had the fourme d’ambert on my pasta. We kept the cheese out of the fridge. It’s better that way, but it gets softer. Probably not really acceptable as a gift for no 1 anymore. I had a bit more after dinner tonight. When I next bump into no 1 I’ll have to have a strategy.

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January 30: how old are you?

A student asked me how old I was today. I said I can’t tell you my age; it’s against the rules. I don’t suppose it is, but I think it is normally a bad idea to reveal too much. One boy said; you’re either really old and look young, or really young and look old. I said: can’t I just be in the middle? No. The middle isn’t a place that fifteen year olds want to consider. I wonder what’s best: being old and looking young or being young and looking old?

If you are old and look young, you’re still old, and maybe old in places that are not visible. Still where’s the harm in being old? It has its advantages. If you are young and look old, you probably look old for a reason, which may not be good news. The index to our age is mainly numerical, but there may be others too. Your appetite for the future or your attachement to the past. As I get older, I find the past becomes a bigger and bigger resource. This may be another index of your age; how you look, forward or back? Having said that, sometimes I hear some fifteen year olds or eighteen year olds talking about their futures and I feel quite a bit younger than they are.

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January 28: just a minute

As I was walking into the tube at Earls Court this evening I overheard a snatch of conversation between an elderly female Evening Standard distributor and a couple of bemused foreign tourists. You just had a minute, she was saying excitedly. Why just one minute? the Russian tourists were asking. That was the thing, she said. But you cannot explain everything about computer in one minute, the Russians replied, looking earnestly at her. No, you didn’t have to explain everything, said the news vendor. World of computer is complex, said one of the Russians.  And you couldn’t hesitate or repeat or go off topic, she said, carrying on regardless. Perhaps could explain in five or ten minutes or one hour lecture, they said. No, said the vendor, just a minute. The Russians were now looking for a way out. They looked at the cover of the paper.Who was this remarkable Nicholas Parsons? they seemed to be thinking. They exchanged looks and moved into the station as though into a strange now world.

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January 26: refusing the fist-pump

I will never have a personal trainer. You see them in the gym high-fiving or fist-pumping stick-dry businessmen who, puce with embarassment, are suddenly, randomly, embarked in a world whose rules they do not know. I, you see, could not do this. I would turn down the fist-pump, eschew the high-five. I am like that. I can’t use the word ‘movies’, as it was not the word I used in my childhood. I went to the ‘pictures’ and need to run with this even today. I have high-fived, though. Although ironically. Once, naively, I tried it with a six-year-old, who looked at me with high disdain. The moral is: don’t do things you’re not comfortable with; don’t do things whose culture you have not investigated. A fist-pump. I don’t even know its provenance.

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