In suburbia

In suburbia

We’re getting our house at the Oval SW8 tarted up and have fetched up in the ‘burbs for three months to avoid the dirt and dust of the builders as they go about their business.

Apparently more than 50% of the UK population lives in the suburbs but it’s all new to me. I’ve lived in the centre of London for most of my life.

I’m more of a Zone 1 guy but here we are in Zone 4 way out on the Central Line. More specifically we are holed up in South Woodford. We are Essex.

This is car country. Every driveway is paved and planted with at least two gleaming BMWs. Seeing the power hoses going on a Saturday morning as the good Burghers of Redbridge sluice down their motors must strike fear into the heart of Thames Water. Some houses sport four or more cars out front and there’s some twat who keeps ponsing about in a seasick green Lambo that sets my teeth on edge. Net worth ‘round these parts is judged by your wheels, or lack of them.

I told our next-door neighbour we don’t have a car and she gave me a pitying smile that seemed to indicate that I must be some indigent hippy who would no doubt be knocking on her door later in the week begging for scraps.

We are rammed up close to the North Circular and the M11 which provide an aural backdrop that resembles a constant muted roar. Our house is on the Chigwell Road which also gets busy during rush hour with Mercs and Jags getting to where Merc and Jags must get.

In their song Suburbia the Pet Shop Boys don’t paint a very appealing picture of the place that isn’t city and certainly isn’t country.

‘Let’s take a ride and run with the dogs tonight, In suburbia
You can’t hide, run with the dogs tonight, In suburbia.’

The only dog I get to run with these days is Bucket so I unleashed City Mapper to find the local park where we could both get a bit of exercise.

Bucket and I plus the daughter head out the door, make a right, and walk into Rodding Valley Park. Five minutes into the outing the daughter has already named it Sodding Valley Park. She’s not a great lover of walks.

I’ve subsequently been back many times, in fact barely a day goes past when Bucket and I don’t tale a stroll there. It’s the most extraordinary place both god awful and wonderful in equal measure.

One of our favourite walks is along the Rodding River with its reed beds which are home to nesting birds and various forms of wildlife that city dwellers struggle to name.

Then there are the beautiful Silver Birch woods and the many mature Sycamore, Oak and Beach trees that were obviously chosen with great care by some long-forgotten council planner. Plus there are meadows, the favourite haunt of dog walkers and kids playing football. Sounds heavenly right?

Just one problem, you’ll remember I mentioned the slew of arterial roads near our house, well they all pass directly through Rodding Park with a constant thunder of din and dirt. There are great stanchions that hold up the motorways jutting into our rural idyll and even when you can’t see the traffic there’s no escaping the noise.

Then just to add another nuance, the landscape is littered with electricity pylons. Just walking under them I feel my cells start to mutate.

Along the river there are Blackberry bushes or brambles everywhere thick with ripe black fruit that nobody picks. Maybe it’s because I’m part of the immediate post war generation but I’m from the waste-not-want-not school of thought and would always go out with my mum to pick the free fruit.

In another part of the park the council had planted an orchard with various fruit trees which unfortunately has run to wrack and ruin. I found an apple tree laden with cooking apples which nobody had thought to harvest. Maybe all the pollution coming off the roads puts people off, but I’m looking forward to some Sodding Valley Blackberry and Apple jam sometime soon.

For all its conflicted craziness I’ve grown to love the place and I wouldn’t be surprised in a few years’ time, when we have long forsaken the burbs, if I don’t make a quick trip back to check on how Sodding Valley is doing. It’s a place like no other.

I’ll be revealing more secrets of the seedy underbelly of suburban life as soon as someone lets me know what they are.

A testing experience

A testing experience

The teenager and several hundred (honestly, I’ve no idea) of her closest friends are due to meet up in Devon later this week and as you can imagine the Devon Parents WhatsApp group is in meltdown. There’s only one topic of conversation and that’s making sure the little darlings are tested for Covid before setting off. We don’t want a bunch of mini-adult super-spreaders infecting the delights of the English Riviera.

Well, her result is in and so is mine.

Yesterday she signed-up online, admitted she had no Covid symptoms, but found they were happy to test her anyway. For reasons I won’t trouble you with we are currently living in Essex and the walk-in testing station is located at a car park in Newham. Mrs Preen was having a troublesome day at work so I volunteered to accompany the teenager. This seemed like a job for Uber and moments later Karmin appeared in his beaten-up Prius, said he knew exactly where the testing station was, and off we went.

On arrival, the teenager bolted in. Not normal behaviour.  She may not have liked the idea of having a giant Q-tip rammed down her throat but the thought of spending any more time with her parents when there were hi-jinks to be had in Devon made it a pretty compelling assignment.

Waiting outside I started chatting with the bloke on the gate and asked, fully expecting the answer no, whether I could get a test. Sure jump right in, knock yourself out he said, or words to that effect. I had no symptoms but wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Unfortunately, I’d just eaten a pork sausage sandwich for lunch.

So, I too bolt into the testing station in search of the teenager who is currently self-administrating her test. She shows me how to do it and jams the giant Q-tip right down my throat, this has me gagging and heaving up some of my delicious lunch. This she finds entirely hilarious. We put our swabs into a red solution, seal up the vials and hand them in. All done and dusted in just ten minutes.

Karmin is still waiting outside and he takes up back to the leafy ‘burbs of South Woodford.

This morning the teenager and I both got the good news, we are neg.

As I speak the Devon Parents WhatsApp Group is once again pinging into action. Other results are in and it looks like the teens are good to go. Good luck Devon, you’re going to need it.

Lockdown Eases: 4th July

Lockdown Eases: 4th July

  • It’s Super Saturday or Independence Day for drinkers. Pubs reopen at 6am.
  • Recently a major incident was declared by police following mobs of crowds going to beaches. Not sure why the government chose a Saturday to throw open the doors to the UK’s thirsty drinkers. Seems at best unwise.
  • But then again as my friend James O’Brien just tweeted: ‘No air bridges, no app, the third highest death toll *in the world* & no end in sight… No wonder they’ve opened the pubs’.
  • Took the bike through the West End and up to Regents Park this morning.
  • I’d say about 60% of shops were open but almost no customers except for barbers and hairdressers. Short line outside the Apple Store. Lots of shop workers chatting on the pavement.
London Zoo is open
  • Like everybody else I made sourdough. Friend and neighbour Richard dropped off the ‘starter’ and this is the result. Upside: tastes good. Downside: takes about a week to produce. Sourdough need to call in the time and motion consultants.
  • Zoom has taken over the world. All my business meetings and chats with friends are now Zoomers. They need to re-release the Aretha Franklin song ‘Who’s zooming who?’
Old Vic, New Vic is online
  • Last night we watched a play broadcast from the Old Vic. It came delivered by, you guessed it, Zoom.
  • The play Lungs by Duncan MacMillan stars Claire Foy (the Queen) and Matt Smith (Dr Who). An amazing, socially distanced two hander which I urge you to watch. It’s a torrent of dialogue; you are drenched in words. Claire Foy’s character is incredibly irritating, has no self-awareness, is deeply moving and hilarious all mixed up in the space of ninety minutes. Matt’s character has no emotional intelligence, but great hair. So strange to watch live theatre on a computer.
Home front

Home front

All the places I’ve lived in London

In the Autumn of 1977, I moved to London; I was 23 years old. I’ve lived here ever since except for an eight-year stint in Asia from 2007. During lockdown I’ve been roaming about on my bike taking pictures of the very different, almost empty, London that has appeared before us.

To set myself a goal I decided to visit all six addresses I’ve called home since I arrived in the capital and take a picture of myself in front of them. This is my home front, together with a little story or two.

Royal College Street, Camden N1 0RY

Full of fear and trepidation the decision was taken to move from Cropredy, a little village just outside Banbury in Oxfordshire, to London. We moved to a house share with my old friend James (well he’s old now) and various other young people kick starting their lives. The house had central heating which I’d never experienced before. James and I played bar billiards at the Old Eagle round the corner. The place wasn’t that much to look at then, but it looks in a right state now.

Broadhurst Gardens, West Hampstead NW6 3BE

After a year in Camden the first wife and I decided to rent in West Hampstead. We bought our first VHS video recorder. The night we got it, I managed to spill a glass of wine directly into the front where you loaded the tape. It had to be replaced, as indeed did the marriage.

Dukes Avenue, Muswell Hill N10 2PU

We bought this house for the princely sum of £84,000. I know this sounds like nothing now, but honestly at the time it was a king’s ransom; an unimaginable sum. We could only afford it because of generous help from the in-laws. The marriage broke down, I took to running around Alexandra Palace and ran away in 1983.

Ardleigh Road, Hackney N1 4HS

This one-bedroom flat cost me £15,000 in 1984. I had huge amounts of fun here for around ten years. It’s where I learnt to be young again. Flo did my ironing. When I went back to take this picture she was there, now 86 years old.

St Pauls Road Islington N1 2LJ

I owned a recording studio in St Pauls Road, hence the flat in Ardleigh Road. As you can see it’s now a Thai Restaurant. I didn’t live here, though there were some long nights. The studio was called the Red Shop and I ran it from 1980 to 1990 when I set out to do other things. My assistant was Robert Di Giuseppe, AKA Brains. Where is he now? I met some of my closest friends here, many of whom are my friends to this day.

Ufton Road N1 4HE

The future Mrs Preen decided that living in a one bed flat with me was more than any sane person could bear; we needed a house. I put the word out and wide-boy Barry stopped by and said words to the effect, yeah might have something. A day later he said pay £2k to this housing association and a house in highly desirable De Beauvoir can be yours for £400 a month. We didn’t ask too many questions. ABC News sent me skimming round the world and Mrs Preen worked her way around the national newspapers.

London SW8

In 2001 we bought this house from one of Mrs Preen’s colleagues on her majesty’s Daily Express. It was derelict; we did it up. We got married and our daughter was born in 2003. We moved to Thailand in 2007 and came back in 2014. We are about to do the house up again. This is home.