“Summer wevver innit. Know what I mean?”
I didn’t think I’d get a local quote this time around, but waiting for our dinner in the local curry house last week, our host delivered this as he and some other guests debated the unusually balmy climate.
The East London accent is viewed by the rest of the world as typical and essentially, cockney. It’s neither and can sometimes be difficult to disentangle. Being born in the sound of the Bow church bell(s) is the qualification for being a cockney. It’s a couple of kilometres down the road from here and the locals guard their heritage closely.
Meantime, the less affluent areas, already populated by the working class families of the past are being enlarged by immigrants of almost every stripe. If the government lets them in, you’ll find them here, often in tiny enclaves, just a few hundred souls strong.
The straight line between them all is the clipped, throwaway semi-nasal accent, used by just about everyone, regardless of their origin..
We’re currently cat sitting for Laura, Zach and Elliot just now. This is Sam. He’s a Scottish fold cat, very handsome, extremely hairy and in no way a lap sitter…
London wasn’t always as stylish as it is today. Back in the early ‘60s when everything was drab, an occasional splash of colour, or some kind of artistic statement invariably made the news – those were tough times and there didn’t seem to be much to be happy about.
Enter the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Mary Quant, Biba, Pizza Express and a long list of other trend setters, now accepted as having fundamentally changed the way we lived. Clothes became colourful and occasionally absent, hair grew, attitudes changed and the pill made sex something more than a rapid condom-ed grope and weeks of praying for a null result.
That was then. Today, fashion feels like it has plateaued and everyone’s interest has risen above the hair line. I may be numerically off beam, but it seems to me that there is a barber on every street corner around here and often several in between.
In East London, many are owned and run by members of the Turkish community, who will happily use a burning taper to singe recently cut hair to ensure the smartest of finishes. They’ll give you a shave, trim your nose and ear sproutings and in some cases encourage a visit to their hamam – for what many would refer to as a Turkish Bath. It’s a growing business, I tell you.
So, the style du jour is the fade, which starts bald at the nape of the neck, growing thicker until just above the ears, where hair of almost any length may be found. The man bun has largely disappeared and neatly coiffed, gelled hair has become the norm, brushed back, sweeping from temples and crown, to the rear. Aside from a little more care in cutting and we could be back in the ‘40s.
And, it stands to reason then that keeping this look requires regular maintenance; a trip to the hairdresser every ten days to keep that fade just so. Better if the hair garage is just at the corner.
Just along Mare Street (the main thoroughfare through this part of Hackney) is the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & Natural History, a fine hostelry and collection of oddities. The Web site describes it thus: “…first all encompassing museum to open in London since the Horniman in 1901. The Museum will present an incoherent vision of the world displayed through wonder enclosed within a tiny space, no attempt is made at classification and comprehensiveness, instead the museum focuses on the pre-enlightenment origins of the museum as Wunderkabinett – a mirror to a world so suffused with miracles and beauty that any attempt at categorisation is bound to fail.”
If you want a quiet pint in strange surroundings and are comfortable sitting within reaching distance of a sample of Amy Winehouse’s poo, this is definitely the place for you.
Aside from cutting hair, the Turkish community has another significant presence around here and the Anatolia restaurant just along Mare Street – fortunately, the opposite direction from Amy’s demi-coprolite – is about as good as it gets.
A summer Sunday afternoon dealing decisively with a plate of charcoal grilled lamb ribs, salad, chips and flat bread, washed down by some ice-cold Heineken is almost as good as a family braai at home. Not quite, but it isn’t expensive and avoids the washing-up. It’ll definitely do for now.
There’s an item in the Guardian this morning about whether we should abolish public schools. It appears on the same page as several deeply critical articles about Boris Johnson’s plans to force BREXIT to a conclusion at the end of October. Draw a line from one to the other and we’re back in the usual debate about education, the silver spoon and leadership.
From where I sit, it’s all a bit unnecessary. Every nation needs leaders. If the public school system churns them out, chinless, guffawing and willing to do their duty, so be it. Perhaps our attentions ought to be more focussed on controlling and managing what they do when they get to warm the government’s benches with their genteel high class bot-bots.
Theresa May failed to deliver BREXIT for lots of reasons, but as I see it, the most egregious reason was doubtless the haw-hawing party elite who just couldn’t see any way her middle class background could (or should) empower her to such triumph.
So, if the Borises, Jacobs and Davids want to run things. Let’s not break the chain – let them. But before we do, we really need to re-visit the rules and ensure their parliamentary high jinks are under control before the starting gun (inevitably, a 12-bore?) goes off.
Our twenty-something year old democracy in South Africa is somewhat different. So many of our leaders would have you believe that to a (wo)man they are benign and well intentioned, just wanting to do their jobs. Recent history would give lie to that of course and despite the Red Fascist’s pratings, our fantastic constitution ought to impose those controls for us. Mind you, someone has to ensure those rules are followed.
That won’t happen and while Tito’s discussion document on the economy continues to draw praise from the commercial sector and brickbats from the unions. We need to understand that it was largely the ANC’s post 1994 government, peopled by many leather elbow-patched former university professors turned cadre, who dragged us to where we are. I posited this to a good friend, journalist and broadcaster this morning. His response wasn’t long in arriving:
“It’s the ANC’s complete failure to actually execute any kind of plan which is the root of the problem.
Do we not have the National Development Plan – put together by Trevor Manual and a host of experts and economists? What happened to that?
And to GEAR? And the RDP?
All of this traces back to the unholy alliance between the ANC, SACP and COSATU. Implementing any kind of plan involves things like taking Eskom’s workforce from 46,000 to around 30,000. The unions refuse to countenance any kind of job reductions anywhere, let along things like productivity increases. And don’t start me on SADTU and its absolute refusal to have any kind of supervision of teachers in schools. The current figures say that on any one day, one in five teachers is absent – and that’s assuming they’re qualified, willing and able, and sober enough to teach.
You would well remember Britain in the 1970s, when the unions had Labour government after Labour government and then Ted Heath’s effort over a barrel. We’re in the same place. Except there is no Margaret Thatcher round the corner to take the units on.”
I recently met up with a British train enthusiast and photographer I’d met some years ago on a trip to Zimbabwe. We had lunch and a couple of beers – it’s good to catch up. En route into town, I was pondering a list of essentials that might help anyone find a suburb, village, town or city to comfortably live.
Admittedly, it was a simple mental checklist, unresearched, based largely on our own recent experiences, but what was immediately clear was that Hackney ticked just about every box, from facilities, availability of housing, public transport and pubs, bars and restaurants, theatre, cinemas and so on. So, what’s not to like?
For me, that would be the availability of medical care. To get an appointment with one’s GP can result in a fortnight-long wait. Specialist care much longer – my dermatologist referral as booked on 17 July, for an appointment on 22 October – is a good example. That’s three months. Twelve weeks.
I have no doubt that were I seriously ill and not just beset with psoriasis, a gap would have been found in the schedule for me. Still, private healthcare remains an essential if costly, option.
Summer sidles away. The mornings now have a chill, distinct and damp edge and daytime temperatures live in the high teens and low 20s at best. Soon it will be time to put our clocks back and winter will arrive; cold, dark and seemingly endless. At least until April, when we get our lost hour back and we can hope for better weather.
Meantime, we’re off to Cape Town via our annual Singapore sojourn, tomorrow. We’re both looking forward to a couple of weeks in the heat and humidity, doing little but supping ice cold Tiger beer and eating street food that is the envy of the rest of the world.
After that, it’s home to Rooi Els mid-October, the Kruger Park in November and back to Hackney for Xmas, early in December.