Friday, March 06, 2009

A trip down south

Going South There was a food order waiting for me in South London, at the Food Co-op. I usually go there - when I go, every month or two - on Thursdays, so I can chat with C, who has his usual shift then. But yesterday I was in the Library and Friday is my designated running-around sorting-things out day (I'm trying to be a good Jew, finish the chores before the Sabbath).

I decided not to cycle but to take the bus, and took with me a big suitcase in which to carry the food back. My reasoning was that the food was going to be quite heavy for the bike, and I could spend the time on the bus reading.

Losing Marks The 149 bus travels southwards on the borderline between the City and the East End. We pass near the Royal Bank of Scotland headquarters and I wonder how long will it take before people start smashing its windows (there are plenty to smash). In less than a month all this could become a battlefield: it's the G-20 Meltdown, Storm the Banks. The bus is busy and it proves cumbersome with the suitcase. I change at London Bridge. - Only later, on the way back, I will notice the river; I see it so rarely these days, a shame because the Thames is one of my favourite things about London. - it's windy, and cold, and it's taking longer than I thought.

When I am on the 40 bus I open the book again and realize I dropped the bookmark in the other bus. So that's why I never use bookmarks: I lose them. Now I have to search for the page. I am disappointed and sad. I really liked this bookmark, with the image of Om Koltum, which I got in the Yafa Cafe/bookshop in Jaffa four years ago. I promised myself to visit Yafa soon to get a new bookmark. This spring, inshalla. Trying to concentrate on the book but it doesn't really work. We are now travelling round my beloved mammoth, the Elephant. "Bus stopping at next bus stop. Please do not block the doors".

As I step out to Walworth Road I automatically smile. This still feels like home. Am I still a South Londoner in exile? -

Greenwashed Mandelson I have to take out money, so I try first the petrol station. They don't have a cash machine, but they have the newspapers, showing Peter Mandelson's image with the green custard smeared all over him, and there's a quote from Gordon Brown saying that Mandelson has always been very green or something similar. So the British Cabinet's Business Secretary had just been humiliated in public, and it seems like everybody think it's funny.

I am trying to decide what I think about this. First, hats off for the custard lady, Leila Dean. Second, I feel like credit has to be given to British politicians for their self-humour. And also, despite all, it has to be admitted that civil liberties here are better than in most countries - the fact that the protester has not been arrested or charged and simply walked away (the police approached her and said they wouldn't comment on what she did, and wished her a good day). Compare this to poor Muntadhir al-Zaidi - the guy who threw shoes at Bush - who was tortured and is still in prison three months after the incident. (Of course, Leila Dean is white; had she been black or worn a veil the whole thing could have ended quite differently).

But maybe, I think, protest is simply not taken seriously here. The government is not afraid, they understand it's better to treat it as a joke rather than a real challenge. They know that for most people it's entertainment, not politics (not for the custard woman: she was very serious, and apparently worked hard to get the texture right).

More than anything, it exposes the real meaning of democracy in Britain: the occasional public humiliation of people in power. It's not about electing your government (less and less people bother to) but about dragging its members through mud every once in a while. And they fully cooperate in the process. Mandelson even said "that's what I'm paid to do". Is it all about S/M?

Walworth What has changed since I moved north? A new Tesco. More buildings being built, towers of shoebox flats for bubble time up-and-coming professionals. Only the bubble has burst. What are they going to do with the shoebox-towers? - I stop at a new arty cafe near the Co-Op. I want to let my brain slow down a bit. The cafe looks cute from the outside but inside the fridge is making a terrible noise and there's pamphlets with pictures of dead children, I notice after I order my Latte. - I try to concentrate on my book but the woman is talking about evictions, evictions, evictions. I pay and leave.

At the Co-Op I pack my suitcase with 42 packages of gluten-and-yeast-free bread. I add to it Saurkraut, alfalfa seeds, Tofu, tahini, fair-trade basmati rice and nuts. I come here so rarely that I always feel like I have to stock on everything. But the suitcase is really heavy and the Co-Op is out of plastic bags. Time for an exit. I wheel myself out, under the bridge, and onto the bus. It's full of people and there's no chance to open my book. I start to think I should have cycled.

Shirts As I get off the bus in the City (one stop too far) I see a smart shirt shop with Sale signs. I step in and the shop assistant measures me up in his eyes, hesitating a couple of seconds before saying with a French accen, a little too emphatically: Good Evening Sir. Which I take as: you look scruffy but I will still be polite to you. "Are you travelling?" he said, pointing to the suitcase.
No, I'm just bringing stuff from South London.

Once a year, on average, I buy myself a really nice shirt - one of my few luxury addictions. I have already used my allowance in December but I decide to try their black shirt. The lighting in the dressing room is fierce and frightful: it comes directly from above, and it makes me look horribly pale, especially with the black shirt ON.

I start a little discussion with the shop assistant. I tell him my reservations about the colour: I don't have a single black shirt. He claims it's easy to wear black, it goes with lots of things - unlike colourful floral shirts, for example, he says referring to the beautiful brown shirt that I'm looking at, with yellow and red flowers - floral shirts are so difficult to match.

I tell him I have at least five colourful floral shirts, and I wear them all the time.
And you find black difficult? He is genuinely perplexed.

As I step out of the shop, I feel I have to cleanse myself of this make-belief world, and happily rummage through the rubbish outside a sandwich shop, finding only packaged bread-slices to go with soup. I live them at peace and go to catch the 149 back home.

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