Friday, 30 March 2012

Sky Rats

I am sick and tired of telling tourists in Trafalgar Square not to feed the pigeons. Ken has banned the practice. Do they listen? They do not. Get a new guide book. Or go to the north side and swap your sandwiches for excrement up there. The Heritage Wardens do nothing and the man with the harris hawk has given up and gone home. It seems even the vigilantes are defeated. I refer to the east european gent seen stuffing the blighters into a sack to flog to expensive restaurants. Where is he is now? Have the well to do given up on pigeon breasts?

The other day I was looking at the camp kid on his rocker atop the fourth plinth where Tom Paine should be when I heard a woman shout. 'Oh that pigeon! Have you got a tissue?'  'Too late luv, it's miles away by now.' Serve her right, she shouldn't have been feeding them. There's a bijou lock up built into the south east corner of the square, offenders should be stood in there for the night, pour encourager les autres. They're a sorry bunch hobbling around on their knackered pins. Damn nuisances. But back to the pigeons.

It's been a while since I last shared an Underground train with a pigeon but I had that privilege the other day, one hopped on at South Ken and off again at Sloane Square, it pecked around and waited for its destination to arrive. I don't know who was the more anxious, me or the bird. Whether it was making a single or return journey I couldn't say but I doubt it had a ticket. For all I knew it was working every platform on the line. When I surfaced there was a crowd of them in the square opposite Peter Jones, perhaps he was going to join them.

One Sunday the pigeons of Trafalgar Square were invited over for lunch by the pigeons of St Paul's. Come the day they duly arrived and everyone enjoyed a good meal. In return the Trafalgar Square gang invited the St Paul's posse over to their patch and they were pleased to accept. The next Sunday was a fine day, one o'clock came and went, two o'clock, three... It was getting on for four by the time the St Paul's posse arrived. 'Where the hell have you been?' their hosts demanded to know. 'Oh, it was such a lovely day we decided to walk.'

Should have got the District Line.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Toilet Humour

I used to work with a loud mouthed journalist who loved to employ Kelvin Mackenzie's loutish put down against any criticism of the Sun, 'You read it though doncha!' Kelvin's usual evasion and bluster. One brave day I spoke up, 'That's right I do, if it's in front of me, and I read toilet walls as well.' It did the trick. It's true, I mean you have to do something while you're standing there. The other day I stood before black crayoned Nietzche disapproving of a god that needs to be worshipped. So last century. Elsewhere, 'To be is to do - Sartre. To do is to be - Camus. Do-be-do-be-do - Sinatra'. Old hat but funnier.

How does the soprano sing? 'I dreamed I dwelled in marble stalls with many writings on the walls…' Something like that. 'The future of Britain is in your hands - While you're reading this you're pissing on your boots - Be alert, Britain needs more lerts - Always stick up for your dad because he stuck up for you - I like grils…' etc. etc. Old familiars all of them and once in a while a resurrected classic.

Like 'Here I sit broken hearted, paid a penny only farted.' Well that's dated isn't it? From a time when it did cost a penny and an old penny at that, when the coin had value and spending one was an expense. It's 30p at Victoria and a bleak experience it is too. In Harrods the bathroom costs a round pound. (My dog needs to use the bathroom! You hear that in New York.) Inside al Fayed's super-bog you get a tall man in a funny hat and not a peep on the walls. Daylight robbery. Get back to Egypt. I'm told ladies' loos don't host this kind of entertainment. Can it be true? Is that why stand up comedians are mostly men?

Years back there was a publication called The Golden Convolvulus which maintained the only place people could express their sexuality was on toilet walls. This was before Lady Chatterley, homosexual and divorce reform, abortion and the Pill. Since the 60's the fear of sex and its consequences has largely disappeared and as a result the confused and the lonely have largely fallen silent. Which all round is a good thing. Nevertheless there are still gay call numbers and wham-bam assignations. Piss poor I say. Why go cottaging when there are so many other places to meet?

I used to frequent 'Norman's - the grumpiest landlord in Soho' and The French House in Dean Street, still do the latter, the haunt of artists and writers I've seen some good stuff there. Here's something intriguing and truly memorable: 'My name is Armitage Shanks and I am not impressed'. A world opens up. But this from Alan Bennett beats them all: 'When the English have to resort to the toilet for their humour the writing's on the wall'.

Friday, 16 March 2012

St Patrick's Day

Tomorrow is St Patrick's Day and another opportunity for Brits to celebrate as only they can, by getting get pissed. Sunday being Mother's Day I worry she'll be left safe and sober. But Saturday first, with slopped glasses, silly hats and some good crack if I've heard it right, perhaps later if they're up to it. Nor will the festivities will be exclusive to O'Neill's or the other plastic paddy pubs, any place will do, and the young drinkers won't be on original drinks either, believed to be Magners, The Murphy's and legendary Guinness - the first nitro-keg beer - each one the invention of a marketing department and no more Irish than my granny. If you can fake authenticity you've got it made. The money rolls in.
But enough of my jeremiads, they are but by way of introduction. Here's a tale from O'Sullivan's Bar in Greenwich.

'Paddy is a gentleman!'
But he likes to drink the stuff
And when he's down upon the ground
He's still not had enough.

'Paddy is a gentleman!'
The kindest man you'll meet
So take him warmly by the hand
And help him to his feet.

'Paddy is a gentleman!'
He weaves a drunken dance
And we might be in his shoes
Not by choice but chance.

'Paddy is a gentleman!'
He'll call to you all day
And then he'll heap abuse on you
And you will walk away.

(copyright reserved)


Friday, 9 March 2012

The Germans

Me, I like a German. Which one you say? Well Max down the pub for a start. He lives over there in the week and over here at the weekend. Circumspect and self contained he is the personification of the stiff German. I have a go but I can't make him laugh. He makes me laugh. I split my sides. 'What are you doing today Max?' 'I'm going to have my hairs cut.'

I often run into our German cousins in holiday hotels. Happy to be in a sunny clime I walk full height and look straight ahead. I am blond and have blue eyes. 'Guten Tag!' I hear. It happens all the time. 'Guten Tag,' I breeze. 'Die Sonne scheint!'  'It does indeed.'  'Ach, I thought you were German.'  'Afraid not, just a smattering.'  'Was?' While I'm hereabouts let me settle the matter of the sun loungers... the Germans are up and on them before breakfast, meanwhile the Brits are in bed nursing their hangovers.

One winter I did a silly thing, I went to Tunisia. The hotel bar was dry so I had to search out a drink. Late back I saw the Germans drinking beer. Again the barman shook his head. 'Aber sie trinken Lowenbrau!' I protested auf Deutsch. 'Ah, Deutscher. Kein Problem!' The Afrika Korps was not refused a drink. Nor was I. I joined up. Nor were our cousins inconvenienced in Morocco, whereas I had to struggle to catch the waiter's eye the Germans simply shot their arm in the air and bellowed, 'Bier!' That's the way to do it but it's not my style, not all at once.

Germans speak good English but they can be hard work. Drink in hand it's what lies beneath the talk that counts, the search for fellow feeling and ready understanding, shown by expression, tone of voice, banter, nuance and word play etc. Alas the Germans seem to be deaf to what's going on, literal minded everything in conversation turns to substance and argument. The deafness has to be cultural because it's not a problem with other nationalities. Except the Americans who are more foreign than any continental, and who I'm convinced are Germans speaking English. Don't make jokes with either unless you stand up and announce your intention first.

And so we return to the knotty problem of German humour. The truth is they do have some, they slap their thighs and roar with laughter, especially if someone falls over. Schadenfreude - they even have a word for it. I asked an assimilated colleague about the apparent lack, he said his countrymen had many faults but a sense of humour wasn't one of them. Indeed. A German joke is no laughing matter.

Friday, 2 March 2012

The Charging Herd

When I'm not in The Widows Arms with The Blackheath Stick Men I can be found out with my sandwich board railing against the destruction wrought by the infernal combustion engine. Exactly what triggered my antipathy towards the motor car I don't know but I've always disliked the contraption. Maybe it was when I was a kid and we were forced off the side streets where we roller skated and raced our box-carts. For certain by the time I gave up walking country lanes. 'Look out, car coming!' Back when you could still hear the blighters.

On our estate owning a car automatically disqualified your council tenancy but as incomes rose small cars appeared, Anglias and Prefects, Imps and Heralds, and the magic Mini, which you had to love for blowing raspberries up and down The Kings Road. The thrill of the empty road called and car ownership grew and grew and GREW. You had to have a car or you were an arse and an unperson, the bigger the better and ever more ostentatious. And so the roads filled and filled until the cry went up, 'I'm stuck in the traffic!' No, you are the traffic.

In the Middle Ages they built cathedrals, the people loved them and everybody wanted access to one. It was a mass delusion and it impoverished the populace. Motor cars are the same. The model T made some sense in the US where farm distances were vast and a horse took all day, less so when cars became racing machines and the playthings of the rich. But what the rich have today the poor will want tomorrow and the manufacturers were pleased to provide. And so the peopled pavements disappeared, the streets where you were known and looked out for, where neighbours talked over the garden gate and children safely played. Before people got into their armour and slogged it out. Friendly not anomie.

The freedom machine ha ha, which chains us to murderous sheikhs and religious thugs, that homogenises and hollows out the high street, sends sprawl across the countryside and empties our pockets, that infuriates, alienates, poisons and kills. Too many, too fast, not to scale. No, bring back the packed omnibus with its community singing, the time when laughing shoppers conga'ed down the high street, and the citizenry queued cheerfully in the rain for buses that never came. The motor car! I don't want one. I have set my face. Anyway, I never had the money.