“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…

House guest, Sam.

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.

Barbers – Dalston
Barbers – Homerton, Sunday morning

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.

Barbers – Homerton, Sunday morning

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.

The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities
Dismembered head – Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities

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.

Cranes at Stratford
How the Tube used to be – St John’s Wood
Greyhound Road, Fulham
Cladding abstract – Broadgate
Hitler’s revenge, lying in wait – Hackney

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.”

‘nuff said.

Sunday morning near St Paul’s
Sunday morning near St Paul’s
Sunday morning near St Paul’s
Bloomberg – Bank
Hackney life
City abstract

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.

Hackney life
Hackney life

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.

More soon.


“Half of Hackney talks to itself.”

I’m waiting for a bus at the stop outside our local Lidl. This is the considered opinion of the lady next to me in the bus shelter. We’ve both been watching the antics of a man and a woman, also waiting for a bus, but passing the time by looking for something only they can see. All the while, they are both and separately talking to whoever it is that’s responsible for nothing at all.

I’m forced to agree; “It takes all sorts,” I reply hoping not to cause offence and spark an outburst of my own.

“It’s the drugs,” she says.

Fortunately, the 388 bus arrives before I am able to talk myself into a real corner.

The halfway house I mentioned in my last post must have some kind of resident churn, because I hadn’t seen these two before. I also hadn’t encountered the couple who were having a full-on marital outside yesterday afternoon. I think the male partner must have Tourette’s Syndrome – it’s possibly the same guy who sits across the road in the morning sun and has intense conversations with someone known only to himself.

His Tourette’s is very focussed, encouraging him to say little more than fuck, accompanied by an occasional word that isn’t. What with hearing only half of it and all, it’s a hard conversation to follow;

“You fucking, fucking, fucking, fucking wanker, fuck you, fucking West Ham, fucking, fucking fucking, fuck you. Yeah, fuck you too”.

And so on.

Meanwhile, the marital dispute downstairs has entered the name calling stage, the narrative seemingly borrowed from our friend across the road. The in-between words have changed though – always a reasonable clue.

If it wasn’t so distressingly close and loud, I’d be able to look on it as a kind of alcohol-fuelled, late afternoon cabaret.

So, waiting for a bus can be a pleasant interlude, watching the traffic go by. Or a harrowing experience, especially if it is tipping down with rain and you need to share the shelter with a small mob of drunk, gesticulating, sweary buggers. Many have more than a faint whiff of eau de pee about them and will at the merest glance in their direction, or the slightest sign of interest in their problems, try to start a conversation with you.

I especially didn’t want to strike up a chat with the man standing outside the flats yesterday, with his trousers at half mast. I really, really didn’t want to see what he was up to either. I just know I shall at some point give thanks that he wasn’t queueing to get on the bus, too.

Summer is oozing by. Recently, the mercury hit 39C in London. This week it’s not very warm and has been raining on and off for the last few days. Either way, the flat gets the full force of whatever late afternoon sun there is and while that will be most welcome in the winter, right now, it’s a serious PITA.

And of course, it’s holiday time here.

They got the shapely bodies according to just about every food, travel, holiday and social media it’s possible to find. All are extolling us to eat slim, be healthy, lose weight and in the main, squeeze ourselves into clothes made for (and by) six year old Laotians.

I get it, but unless you plan to live on air, rainwater and traffic fumes, it’s nigh on impossible to find something to eat that doesn’t have bread making up at least ninety percent of its content.

As you know, I walk a lot and while strolling the streets it’s not unusual around midday for me to want to feed the beast. So, the hunt is on.

Hamburgers are everywhere. On buns. That’s bread and I know it’s possible to order without, but wandering Whitechapel, or Soho leaving a trail of cooked meat, tomato, onion, pickle and/or mayonnaise down one’s clothes and on to the pavement is hardly desirable.

A wrap? Take the bread away and see above times ten.

Doner kebab/schwarma? See above too, but even worse.

Bao buns?

Hot dog?

DIm sum? 



And there’s the rub. No matter what you try, if you want to slide into that slim-fit outfit for your summer hols, you’d better be living on something with a powerful emetic in it, ‘cos you’re not going to get any help from the food sector.

It’s awful. In desperation, I usually try and choose the least bready (like a burger) and then eat only as much bun as is necessary to keep body and soul together.

Oscar Wilde said “I can resist anything except temptation.” He was a Brit, clearly talking about his lunch and I’m not surprised.

On the subject of food. Whatever you do, don’t let these little bastards into your home. Why? Well, when the jar is suddenly empty and you’re feeling vaguely guilty at your piggery, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The braai fire is at the ideal temperature and mine host (aided by me) is flipping burgers for the guests. A brace of teenagers are waiting, the host offers a burger to the young lady; “Ladies first.”

Seems OK to me.

“That’s a very sexist thing to say,” pipes-up male teenager.

My punching reflex almost catches me out at this extraordinary rudeness, but I manage to defer to our host, who calmly tells this young chap that’s how things ought to be.

Alas, not any more.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that the face of London is changing. I discovered today that there is a massive hole in the ground where the Earl’s Court used to be. Home to inter alia both Motor and Boat Shows and many, many others over the years, Earl’s Court used to be an exhibition hall, a suburb and a short-term home for tens of thousands of Aussies, arriving annually in London to find fame and fortune.

Now, the redevelopment scheme will deliver trendy tree-lined malls, hundreds of homes, most likely to push the cost of even a one bedroom flat through the £1m barrier.

The old Earl’s Court was an eyesore, vaguely dangerous late at night, probably shockingly expensive to maintain, but an anchor of both pre- and post-war London. Trendy new living units don’t feel like they’re going to be fair replacement value for anyone but the investors. Still, all those people have got to live somewhere, I suppose.

The 388 bus I mentioned at the top of this post takes me to Stratford and a meeting with the Chief Mechanical Engineer of the 4709 Night Owl group, a steam locomotive (re)building project I’ve signed-up with to assist with their marketing.

Only nine Night Owls were ever built – they were developed in late Georgian times, to haul heavy food trains into London from the Midlands, the West and South West. In railway terms they were giants and though I’ve only been joined-up with the group for a short time, I am looking forward to help move this project forward and meeting their self-imposed deadline to see this monster produce its first steam sometime in 2024.

This is what one looked like in the daylight:

I mentioned the noise made by emergency vehicles and ambulances in the last post. From our lift lobby, here’s another reason:

Dickhead driving the Mini has ignored the lane lines and arrows and despite wanting to continue straight, has stopped in the RH lane which has a filter light. The filter allows traffic to turn, while the LH lane is held. Alerted to his stupidity by the sound of a million angry horn blasts from behind, DH now inches left so he can continue straight on, towards downtown Hackney. But not far enough to let the right turning traffic pass. The noise from the queue of angry motorists waiting to turn gets louder…

The photographs in this month’s post have mainly been shot from my mobile studio. Here it is:

It weighs 11kg and takes up so little space that it lives in our flat with us. Unfolded? See here.

And finally, I managed to get tickets to see the James Taylor Quartet at Ronnie Scott’s last night. It was never going to be to Di’s taste, but Julian bravely agreed to come along and keep me company, fearing several hours of meandering, hard to like jazz.

How wrong he was. The JTQ put on two hours of the best Hammond organ-led funk/jazz we’d both ever heard. The club was rammed and there were people stomping, dancing and cheering everywhere. A great night out and if you can beg, or borrow a ticket, I can’t recommend it highly enough. BTW, the picture does it no justice – photography is banned in the club and I grabbed this one shot on the way out.

Photo buddies

I’d planned to (re)post an article from DearSusan, the photo blog I contribute to, but when I opened the photographs, they were murky and not at all nice.

So, if you amble over, you can see this collection in all its glory(?)

If you’re missing the words, there’s more of those on the way, too. Soon.



July 2019 and for the first time since the mid-70s, we’re not living in South Africa. Di got to London early in May and I arrived – dragging 40+kg of luggage – a month later.


We’ve rented a flat in Hackney, an area I wouldn’t have even dreamed of visiting in the ‘70s without an armed escort. Today, the place is populated by hirsute hipsters and slight, studious, often serious looking women, many pushing some kind of wheeled uber padded device containing their (no doubt) soon-to-also-be-hirsute and precious offspring(s). Oh yes, there are lots of snowflakes too, but Mrs P has warned me against even mentioning them. So there you have it.


It’s supposed to be summer and still chilly in the mornings. Meantime, my South African cell phone continues to bing and bong with WhatsApps from the Rooi Els village group and block watch. It’s enough to make me homesick.


The fact that everything here works as expected is a bit of a shock. The postal system delivers overnight – unlike Mark Barnes’ Post Office back home. Yesterday, I got a very polite e-mail, detailing a speeding offence. In the text it said; “As you may be aware, the South African Post Office is currently experiencing a massive backlog in delivering post. We have been made to believe that 80 million pieces of mail are currently being delayed”.


That’s been going on since this time last year and there’s still no resolution?




London’s buses, long the butt of everyone’s frustration, now work really well, with annunciators at most stops advising how long the next bus will take to arrive and generally doing just that and within seconds of the estimated time. From the several stops adjacent to where we are living, it is seemingly possible to reach almost anywhere of importance in and around the city and many other places besides. It’s really difficult to say this isn’t pole position.


Prior to arrival, we both applied for a Freedom Pass, issued by the local council. It permits free travel on bus, trains and pretty much any form of public transport across the entire city. They were delivered by post – yet another surprise for us colonials. In South Africa something of this value would have merited a courier delivery.


We’ve registered with a medical practice, just a couple of minutes walk around the corner. There’s no one doctor to tend to one’s ills, as personalised care no longer exists in the state system. One can be certain that non-serious medical issues (colds, flu etc.) will be triaged by the system, to be dealt with by an almost doctor, paramedic or the carrier of one end of your stretcher. Still, it makes sense when budgetary and manpower resources are as precious as they are here.


Signing-up triggers all manner of ancillary activities, including a poo-by-post bowel cancer screening. Unthinkable? Nope. A plastic phial containing a matchstick thin probe is provided, with which you are to apply/smear one’s bodger before popping it back into the container and thence the post box. The brightly illustrated instructions are a bit light on how to catch said bodger and how to apply enough, sufficient to test, but little enough to not overcome the lab staff. I wanted to stick a merry Post-It on mine; “Give it five when you open it,” but Mrs P advised me against such levity. Getting their own back and a false declaration of bowel cancer might be the least of their responses.




Downsides? None that I would raise as a major issue. The local council has a hostel/halfway house a couple of doors along from our own block. It’s home to many of life’s less fortunate, who inhabit the nearby pavements and bus shelters around the clock. They drink almost continuously, opting for either either lager, or cider. As the day wears on, there’s often quite a ruckus going on as things in their world(s) don’t quite work out as expected. Noisy, drunk or both, they do all seem to be perfectly harmless – a relief after the hassling one expects on South Africa’s streets under similar circumstances.


The Dolphin (pub) across the street has a night club which functions on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Late night, it’s surprisingly quiet, but by chucking-out time – sometime after 03:00 – can get very noisy, especially if fisticuffs are involved. Last Sunday morning, there was an altercation at about 03:45 and by the time I’d prised my eyelids open, there was a body on the pavement and several blokes piling into a VW that had stopped in the middle of the street. As the downed reveller revived, casting about for the last of his beer and pizza, the Plod arrived, blues and twos howling and with them an ambulance. A return to sleep was now impossible, so I watched fascinated as the loser in the punch-up lurched back to life and staggered off to the still open chicken shop, doubtless wanting chicken wings and chips to wash down everything else.


Amazing stuff, alcohol.




Ambulances. That’s an issue. Our sixth floor flat is on a very busy road junction, midway between several nearby hospitals. The ambulances that carry patients to and fro invariably find the traffic lights controlling the junction at red, or blocked with turning traffic and resort to their sirens to warn and move traffic out of their way. The first one usually seems to wail its way past around 04:30. After that rarely an hour goes by until well after midnight that at least one doesn’t make its noisy contribution to the day. Late afternoon and early evenings are the worst with anything up to a dozen raucous patient carriers wah-wahing past every hour. The double glazed windows reduce the noise a lot, but who wants windows closed in a steamy London’s mid-summer?


Hard on the heels of my arrival, I fulfilled an ambition to become involved in the railway preservation movement and signed up with a group busy re-creating a giant steam freight locomotive, last seen in the early ‘60s. My physiology is as you’d expect at my age, ruled out grovelling around in inspection pits, wielding spanners and welding torches. So, I’ve volunteered to assist in marketing, media relations and fundraising. Doubtless, there’ll be more about this as the project moves forward.


Also occupying me, a three day sojourn in Paris amongst my fellow-DearSusan bloggers. The city is wonderful and one of my favourites. I suspect this is the first of many similar trips on the horizon – certainly the talk between us suggested as much.


I also spent two days in Bristol, attending a school reunion. Imagine! It’s fifty years since we left Shene Grammar School and went our separate ways, most of us not having seen sight nor sound of each other in all that time. Within minutes, the years were gone and fuelled by a plentiful supply of alcohol, the conversations picked-up, seemingly where we’d stopped half a century ago.


There’s talk of annual reunions here too. As long as someone is prepared to mastermind and organise. Given the collective enthusiasm, I’m sure it’ll happen…



And, the Cricket World Cup grinds on. There’s nothing for a South African to be excited about, save a thorough house cleaning when the team drags itself home after the (almost) inevitable drubbing at the hands of the Aussies this coming weekend.


Final edit – we won – handily beating the Aussies. Why we couldn’t have done that earlier in the competition remains a mystery. That said, I still have no wisdom to offer as to the side’s almost complete lack of performance, but find myself wincing at the thought of the looming Rugby World Cup.


No. Our cricket (and quite probably our rugby too) seems to have fallen victim to the same malaise as the rest of the country; complete stasis. The people who are supposed to make things work are either still asleep at the wheel, drawing fat salaries for no work, or sitting on their hands, waiting for something to happen. Politically, we all thought a win at the polls for Ramaphosa would spell the start of a renewal.


I’ve been holding that particular breath for a while. Letting it out and disappointment rushing in seemed unthinkable just a few short weeks ago.