Friday 11 November 2011


With remarkable irony, I managed to get a paper cut when opening one of the myriad catalogues that come through the door at this time of year. It was a catalogue for Robert Welch kitchen knives.

I know when it's time to get my haircut. I walk down Bermondsey street and peer in through the window of George the Cypriot barber. If the naked girl on his calendar is a different one from the last time I looked, then it's time for a trim. It's not that I really remember which girl was there before, its just that I recognise that I haven't seen the new beauty before. This week I spied a new girl on the calendar.

George is a feature of the Street, and there are others like him. I would imagine he's been in the street at least thirty, maybe forty or even fifty years. It's changed a lot in that time. Whenever I go in he likes to chat. Just about all his sentences include the word 'fuck' or 'fucking'. And I can always get the latest prices of flights to Cyprus. If I want I can buy a dodgy DVD, batteries, a pen or whatever is his latest scheme to bring in a little bit more money. He has to cut six people's hair a day in order to cover his overheads. I guess from that the rent is not too much. There's usually a good black and white or technicolour film on in the background. I know a lot about his family. His daughter is married to an Italian. I'm amazed that there isn't a Green Line painted down the middle of the road outside his shop. Opposite is a Turkish sandwich shop which I go in a couple of times a week. As far as I know there's no animosity, but I've never seen them speak either. In the Turkish shop I'm known as Mr Marvelous. One of the girls behind the copunter once asked me to marry her. I have a feeling it was more because she wanted a visa than because of the romantic way I asked for a chicken kebab with chilli sauce.

Next to George's is Al's Cafe. I think Al maybe Italian, although I've never asked. It's always busy with workmen buying their English Breakfast...bacon, eggs, sausages, beans and a big mug of tea. Delicious. I'm generally in there after a heavy night out to get my bacon and egg sandwich. White bread, no sauce thank you very much.

Twenty years ago, I started working in another part of London - Clerkenwell which at the time was similar to Bermondsey as it is now. Cheap and cheerful Cafe's and Chinese restaurants serving delicious albeit probably unhealthy foods. The whole area was forgotten and decayed. But in the boom years Clerkenwell changed as the money moved in. Printers were replaced by Corporate Design agencies, textile traders were replaced by contract carpet suppliers. The area became gentrified, the cafes went to be replaced by hyper-trendy restaurants and cutting edge bars. Shabby terraced houses were replaced by high-rise designer flats. On the one hand I can't say it's a bad thing. It's progress for sure, but whimsically I feel some heart and soul has gone forever.

The same is becoming true of Bermondsey. It's now fashionable. At one end of the street is The Shard, the spike of glass that rises high above the London sky-line and will contain designer flats, a fashionable hotel and restaurants cutting edge bars. At the other end of the street is the new White Cube Gallery full of uber-trendy arty types with more than a few bob to spend. And just beyond is Bermondsey Square, the new block of concrete and glass hotels, offices, bars and restaurants. In its centre every Friday is the 'world-famous' Bermondsey market - a now motley collection of market stalls flogging stuff that may well have come from a car boot sale. It's not the same as it was when you could smell, taste and feel the history.

I'm not sure how long George, Al and the Turkish sandwich bar will be around. I'm afeared not as long as I would hope. If I'm lucky they'll be here for another couple of years which is when I'm planning to move out of my office and work from home. Probably a shed at the bottom of the garden if The Cat's Mother has her way.

That's progress.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

Olympic dreaming

I can't remember the last time that I was as nervous as I was yesterday.

No it wasn't that I was concerned that Berlusconi might decide not to go. No it wasn't that I was concerned that Israel may launch pre-emptive strikes on the Iranians. No it wasn't even that I was worried that Theresa May has allowed hundreds of extremists in to the country because she's worried about people having to queue for too long. I like the gag that's going round at the moment: "Knock, knock" Theresa May "Come in"

No it was far more important than that.

It took me until my thirties before I stopped having stress dreams about exams. It seems I'm not alone...many friends say that it was similar for them. So I hope my experience yesterday will not lead to another decade of restless nights, but it certainly brought back memories of queuing up outside the exam room before the next 'O' or 'A' Level or degree exam.

I mentioned before, though I can't remember when, that I'd got an audition to participate in the Opening Ceremony for the Olympics. It was done in a moment of enthusiasm without really thinking it through. Yesterday, the day rolled round so I schlepped off to Three Mills where the auditions are being held. Although I cycle past there every time I come into work, on this occasion I decided to go by tube, managing to arrive three-quarters of an hour early. Amidst the decay and mess that is Bow, it stands out on the riverside as a beacon of beauty. A large complex of studios based around old warehouses where some of our favourite TV programmes and films have been made. I was not alone, and soon we were all in, registered and measured for any costume we might need. There were 200 of us, and in total, twelve and a half thousand are being auditioned. That's a lot of people ranging from 18 to 70ish, and from rank amateur Daddy dancers to professionals who presumably would like ti on their CV.

We've been sworn to secrecy about what went on...but it's the first time I've participated in any mass choreography. It may well be my last. It was a phenomenal amount of fun. But it must be said that although I regard myself as quite fit, within a few minutes I was huffing and puffing, read in the face with sweat pouring down my forehead. I guess having a heavy cold and cough didn't help things. Clearly the professionals did their thing and did it very well....they obviously had techniques for creating 'stand out' whilst the rest of us tried to even vaguely remember what we were supposed to be doing. My favourite person by a mile was an Indian man who came along in suit and tie whilst the rest of us wore baggy sports wear. Inspite of being encouraged to take it off, it remained on him for the entire three hours. So too did his thick square moustache and the biggest grin I've ever seen. I really, really would like to see him succeed...he was obviously loving it. The organisers were amazingly friendly and was a lovely thing to get to do with them.

As for me, I managed some parts OK, did other parts disastrously so have no expectations of getting through. Co-ordination was never my strong point, and that was amply demonstrated throughout the evening. And it obviously hyped me up as last night was particularly restless. I'd really love to get the chance to participate in the Olympics, but I'm not holding my breath. But it was a great experience, and I can now say I tried. And I shall be back to my Dad dancing at birthdays and weddings.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

And did those feet in ancient times

Whilst everyone was reading the press reports with the name of the new Bond movie which will come out next year, I was through pure good fortune walking through the filmset on the first day of filming. In the arches of Ewer Street in South East London was the venue. No doubt Danial Craig had hop and skipped directly from the press conference to cause some mess and mayhem in our locale. In a school boy way I find this sort of thing absolutely thrilling. It is the collision of fantasy and reality that makes you think it wouldn't be impossible just to slip from one to the other.

This morning too I felt like a bit part player in another movie - Contagion. The tube train managed to go one stop before the driver announced we were halted as someone had been taken seriously ill at Liverpool street and were being removed by ambulance. I buried my head in my book. After a while we moved again, then stopped as the driver announced another person taken ill at Liverpool Street. I buried my head in my book. After a while we moved again, then stopped again as the driver announced another person taken ill at St Paul's. I buried my head in my book. After a while we moved again, then stopped again as the driver announced another person taken ill at Liverpool Street....

Jerusalem is a place I've never been to. Nor do I have much desire to go there. I can't help but wonder how long it may in case be there. You've got Israel determined to have it all, Palestine determined to have their share, and in all likelihood (according to a report which will be launched later this week by the IAEA) the Iranians who might like to flatten it. I've never understood why western powers have turned a blind eye to the Israelis having nuclear capable weaponry. The almost inevitable consequence of this is bound to be a determination by an enemy of Israel to have a nuclear deterrent. So the likelihood of nuclear confrontation is that much higher. And let's face it none of us wants to glow in the dark, do we?

Jerusalem is high on our minds at the moment. In the West End Jerusalem has re-opened. It stars Mark Rylance and McKenzie Crooke, and was amazing when we first saw it a couple of years ago. It then transferred to Broadway where it was a run away success, and has now come back to London, marginally updated to reflect our current financial travails. That it was a success in America is truly remarkable because, on the surface at least, it is quite parochial. It is set around a dirty caravan parked in the woods featuring a motley collection of life's ne'er do goods speaking in heavy West Country accents. Teenagers, drinking, drugs and everything that doesn't speak well about life outside the mainstream is its lifeblood. On a bigger scale, of course, it's about the human condition. The Cat is lucky enough to be going to see it with the school this week, and we all get to see it again on Saturday for our afternoon's entertainment.

I suspect many of the play's character's were at Lewes this weekend. Lewes, the county town of Sussex is a sleepy old place that hasn't really changed for centuries. Yes there's a couple of supermarkets, a Boots and a few other chain stores, but if you peel back the modern skin you'll find it's the same as it was before electricity. It is rich in ancient timbered houses...including one that was the home of Anne of Cleves. The town has a rich history - some of it quite socking. The BBC has a good background to it:

A catholic background

Mary Tudor, was a devout Catholic, and during the reign of her half brother, Edward VI, lived in withdrawal from the Royal Court, and emphatically refused to accept the Protestant faith. Despite a conspiracy devised by The Earl of Northumberland [1502-1553], to prevent her succession to the throne after Edward’s death, Mary Tudor entered London and seized power to the throne from Lady Jane Grey who had been enthroned for a mere nine days.

Mary proceeded cautiously at first, repealing anti-catholic legislation, but soon, with the backing of Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal Pole, she proceeded to reinstate papal dominance and seal a Catholic union with Spain and Spanish King - Phillip II. The year 1554 was momentous. Lady Jane Grey was executed, Elizabeth, Mary’s half sister, was imprisoned and Mary I of England and Philip II of Spain were married. The following year was also one that will be etched on the annals of history with blood. The royal marriage between Mary and the Spanish Philip was deeply unpopular with such a close association with Spanish Catholicism. Mary’s persecution of the Protestants started in earnest in 1555, earning her the dubious name of “Bloody Mary”.

Protestants generally trace their separation from the Roman Catholic Church to the 1500s, which is sometimes called the magisterial Reformation because it initially proposed numerous radical revisions of the doctrinal standards of the Roman Catholic Church - called the magisterium.

Hundreds of Protestants were pursued and forced to languish in appalling conditions in jail while waiting examination or execution. No thought was even given for pregnant women, many of whom gave birth in squalid conditions with both mothers and babies dying in the company of odious criminals. There were eminent Christians in their number too: the Archbishop of Canterbury, several Bishops, dozens of clergymen and scholars – none were spared. Those who were lucky were able to escape abroad to France and beyond.

Toward the end of October 1554, a Bible-reading was taking place in the home of one Dirick Carver, a brewer from Brighthelmstone (now Brighton) with John Launder, Thomas Iveson and William Veisey. Under the command of Sir Edward Gage, the High Sheriff of Sussex, the four men were arrested at prayer. It was a short matter of time before they were brought before the court of Bonner, the Bishop of London in Newgate, London. They were kept there until 8 June 1855.
After forced confessions were signed, their fate was sealed.

On 22 July 1555, Dirick Carver, was taken by his Catholic persecutors, to Lewes town centre to be burned outside of the Old Star Inn, where the Town Hall currently stands. His Bible was taken from him and thrown into a barrel on the pyre. The crowd called to him, pleading God to strengthen his resolve and his faith. He knelt down and prayed, but was then forced to climb into the barrel too.

Carver took his Bible and threw it into the surrounding crowd. His final words were: “Lord have mercy upon me, for unto thee I commend my spirit and my soul doth rejoice in thee!” His Bible was preserved and is on display in Lewes Museum today. Clear evidence of his blood splattered on the pages of Judges, Zephaniah and Ruth is a graphic reminder of his physical ordeal.

On 6 June 1556, a further number of Protestants were taken to their flaming deaths in Lewes. Thos Harland, John Oswold, Thos Avington and Thos Reed had all spent a great deal of time in prison, and still rejected the Mass and refused to go to a church where the language was one they would not understand.

Despite these deaths, Bonner, the Bishop of London was not convinced that the heretics were being persuaded back to the Roman faith. So he arranged the largest bonfire of humans the
The 17 burning crosses serve as a reminder town or indeed the country had seen. The ten hapless Protestants were: Richard Woodman, George Stevens, Alexander Hosman, William Mainard, Thomasina Wood, Margery Morris, James Morris, Denis Burges, Ann Ashdon and Mary Groves.

Such was the conviction of the Protestants’ faith, that they could endure imprisonment, deprivation, torment and burning but they would not recant their deeply held opinions of the fundamental incorrectness of the Roman Catholic faith. The central belief of their Protestant faith was the belief that Jesus Christ was the head of the church, and it was inconceivable that the Roman Catholic Church should put the pope at the head of Christian faith. They stood firm with their principles and endured horrific persecutions, and it was only when Mary Tudor’s reign came to an end in 1558 that they were able to return to open worship.

John Foxe (1517 – 1587), was an English martyrologist converted from the Roman Catholic to the Protestant faith in about 1540, while he was a fellow of Magdalene College, Oxford. He committed the remainder of his life to the promotion of the English reformation. In 1554, he went into exile in Basic in Switzerland, to escape Bloody Mary’s persecutors, in the same
way as so many other Protestants did and he did not return until the Protestant Elizabeth I came to the throne.

It was while he was in exile he compiled an ecclesiastical history, 'Acts and Monuments', justifying the reformation and had it published in Latin in 1563 – the English version not being published until 1641. It became a testament to the Protestant strength of faith and his perceived injustice of Roman Catholicism.

It was through this publication that Foxe set out to prove that the Roman Catholic Church had been a false church since the 11th Century, citing the persecution of those agin the papacy and his declared conviction that the Pope was the anti-Christ. The persecutions in England often involved the death of his friends, turning his academic interest in the Acts and Monuments into a passionate and angry publication.

He wrote a comparatively small amount of the 'Acts and Monuments' himself, the remainder of the content coming from a huge array of letters, personal memoirs, registers and eyewitness accounts. It chronicled accounts from the 11th Century, accentuating the similarity between the reformation martyrs and those of the late imperial persecutions. He continued making amendments and additions from new information supplied.

When he was approached by the church for an abridged version, he refused, insisting on producing further revisions of the entire works in 1583. He was in the midst of planning further modifications to the publication when he died in 1587.

When Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558, she had other religious problems to surmount with Philip of Spain, the husband of her deceased sister, still vying for the English throne, but the religious persecutions had all but come to an end.

The memory of the Lewes 17 is still celebrated with annual torchlight processions through Lewes which attract up to 80,000 people. Five bonfire societies carry 17 barrels of burning tar and 17 flaming crosses every 5 November.

We went to Lewes on Saturday evening. I've been a regular visitor for the last 20 years, The Boy has been a few times, and this was a new experience for The Cat and The Cat's Mother.

On the up side it was dry. On the down side there were 60,000 people crowded into the narrow streets. On the upside the event is still allowed despite our obsession with health and safety. On the downside the streets were full of the cast from Jerusalem. On the upside you're allowed to shout 'Burn the Pope' without meaning it and without being arrested. On the downside there were children who were terrified. On the upside the parades were spectacular. On the downside we queued for an hour and a half to get on the train from Brighton. On the upside we managed to get a good view in the high street. On the downside we had to fight our way through a crush that made you wonder if you'd ever be able to breath again. On the upside the costumes were spectacular (although I didn't understand the Zulu link). On the downside the bangers were very, very noisy and reduced The Cat's Mother to a quivering wreck. On the upside we had tickets to the best bonfire - Cliffe. On the downside it was a long walk. On the upside the fireworks were the most spectacular The Cat's Mother has ever seen. On the downside The Cat's Mother says she never wants to go again.