Tuesday, 6 October 2015


We drove into work in yet another monsoon this morning. For a minute or so it was like nothing I've ever seen. We aquaplaned our way down Highgate West Hill, past scores of reversing drains spewing yellowy-brown water all over the place. The road was like a waterfall.

The nearest shop to the office is unfortunately a Tesco Metro, which I'm quite convinced is the worst kind of shop in the UK. Unless, of course, you count the Co-ops on North England estates, which seem only to stock special offer fondant fancies and bars of Turkish Delight Dairy Milk! The Tesco stores never have anything in them that I'm remotely interested in buying. Today I wanted a fresh bread roll. They had one sort: the kind that my Grannie used to cut in half, smother in margarine and leave uneaten until it become stale and chewy. You might find something similar soaked in malt vinegar in a chip shop. Not great for soup...

As we walked past William Ellis school just along from the Heath, we became aware of scores of big fat conkers on the pavement. For old times' sake, I picked the biggest one up and stuck it in my pocket, thinking, for old times' sake, that it would be at least a nine-er!

I desperately hope that most of the people reading this blog will know what I mean when I talk about the game of conkers. In short, if you don't, it's a game little boys play in playgrounds which involves threading a piece of shoe-lace through the toughest looking conker you can find and using it to bash merry hell out of someone else's conker until the weaker of the conkers falls apart. Simple. If you win, your conker is a one-er, win two games, it becomes a two-er and so on...

A few years ago the game hit the headlines when health-and-safety-conscious head teachers started banning this "violent" game from schools, but sadly, I think, as evidenced by the sea of conkers lying in the road outside the school today, the game may have had its day, swept aside by Nintendo and Wii. When I was ten we'd travel miles for a decent horse chestnut tree and break into all sorts of orchards and things in our pursuit. Trees near the school would have long-since been stripped of fruit by bigger boys who could throw sticks higher and with more force into the branches to make the conkers drop prematurely.

The saddest sight today was possibly the countless conkers which had been trodden into the pavement by hundreds of little feet. True evidence, if any more were needed, that kids don't revere them any more.

The same, I'm afraid, seems to be true of blackberries. When I was a kid, the bushes would have been stripped of fruit long before we turned up with our Tupperware bowls. Other women on the estate where we lived were always cursed by name for getting there first. Yet, every bush I've seen this year, be they on the Heath, or Greenham Common, are positively laden with blackberries which are slowly going over. It is so sad to think about the death of folk crafts and these traditional pursuits. Why does everything we eat now come out of shrink-wrapped plastic? I'm as guilty as the next man, of course, demanding fresh bread roles and bemoaning the quality of supermarkets...

If you're reading this and you went blackberrying this year, please imagine that I am shaking you firmly by the hand!

I went to the chemist today to buy some Gaviscon, and came out laden with a whole load of soaps and smellies but without the very thing I went in for! I did, however, overhear a hysterical conversation between a woman (obviously a heavy smoker who looked years older than her age) and the Pharmacist. The Wheezey Jet woman wanted cough medicine "for bronchitis." The chemist was trying to help, but tactfully pointing out that if she actually had bronchitis, she might need some prescription medicine; "don't be stupid" said the woman "I was born with bronchitis. I know all about it..."

And I wondered if it was possible to be born with bronchitis? The pharmacist certainly looked bemused!

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