Friday, December 28, 2007

My Friend Flickr

Hyde Park on that morning everyone got grounded. Sorry but it was beautiful

My last week in London has made me hungry for it. I stare so shamelessly, I'm sure I should have been arrested many times over. And now I finally have the means to record these extraordinary moments. My life on the road will be a success after all. I've joined Flickr. I'm staying with Mr T and he knew how to do it.

Still, I'm determined to have a simpler life after all this travelling is over. I don't want to learn new things. I simply want to sit and read the 600 or so books I've stockpiled over the last year because books are hideously expensive in Australia and they also don't have a habit of leaping out of Oxfam bookshops and grabbing hold of your wallet. I'll never have to leave the house again.

I've done some fun things in the last week including spending the best part of a day in Hyde Park skating and going on rides and joining the Christmas throng in Oxford Street for the last time. Whereas I dislike shopping, I quite like the sight of other people doing it. It allows me to indulge in moral superiority. It's an issue for me getting my backpack down to a managable weight in any case. Once you've filled it full of mosquito repellent and malaria tablets, there's little room for anything else. I've had to learn to live without an umbrella even.

Does anyone remember the television programme My Friend Flicka? It was a show about a kid and a horse. There were lots of these entertainments around at the time. In the sixties, people in the country waited until they were pensioners to have one lonely child whose best friend was either a dog or a horse or, on rarer occasions, a kangaroo. Quite often one of the parents died and the other withdrew to his or her whittlin' or weavin', leaving the poor child with no recourse but to confide in their hairy friend.

The series was based on a trilogy of books by Mary O'Hara which Ialso lapped up. There was a 1943 film with Roddy McDowell too. In those days it was mandatory to have Roddy McDowell in any child/horse/dog combination. Ken McLaughlin, erstwhile friend of Flicka the horse had a toothless old uncle Pete who 'cut his teeth on a branding iron'. They don't make 'em like that any more. I once even wrote a series of songs which had a working title of Thunderhead, after the second book in the Flicka series.

Once getting older just meant losing your teeth, whether or not a branding iron was involved, and settling into elasticated waistbands. I've resigned myself to a month with just one pair of shoes so you can see my resistence to 'not letting myself go' is low, to say the least. The other day I was at a party and a friend who's in her late forties told us she was asked by a train conductor to show her 'Senior Rail Card'. She has a young son who is often assumed to be her grandson but no way does she look sixty.

It occurs to me that the nip-tuck culture has created an expectation that sixty-year-old women will now look forty-five. I didn't go through the whole politicising process of the seventies to end up in a situation where I feel obliged to have a facelift just to look my real age. It's absurd.

I am however grateful for the delete facility on the digital camera. Any snap that dares to infer that gravity and I have engaged in mortal combat is despatched to the ether from whence it came faster than Shergar's ashes. I may be above nipping and tucking but I'm certainly not one for shying from ducking and diving when it comes to the cruelty of the lens. There is no chance of me looking like Flicka on Flickr...

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Christmas Everyone

I know it's last year's

But I'm 'On the Road' to quote Kerouac


xxx Pants

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Barney takes a well-urned break

Barney, as you've never seen him before

When you move house... Pause for gasps of astonishment - it's happened. There is a system in place after all to facilitate the selling of a much-adored home and the dream relocation. It's not just a Channel 4 fantasy. Who knew? My solicitor John, for one. Being a conveyancing professional, he finds the transfer of property not only routine but even mundane, judging by his singular failure to match my hysteria.

House of Pants has, this very day, passed into new ownership. The procedure is not dissimilar to how I imagine a ransom exchange going down. Your solicitor phones you to confirm that your money has been transferred into the bank account of your choosing. This triggers frantic phone calls from the estate agent, demanding to know when you're going to bring in the keys. You toy with them, the agents I mean. You have to. You also play with the keys. It's your last chance, after all? 'I'll be there within the hour', you say.

In reality, you're still hanging on the phone to Hackney Council's bulky waste service trying to get your old mattress and ironing board picked up. Yes friends, I have finally fulfilled my lifetime ambition of leaving my twenty-year-old Warren Evans mattress in the street. Only now can I truly call myself a Londoner.

I was also a bit held up waiting for people to collect all the superfluity I advertised on Freecycle. Miraculously, even my wackiest items found homes. What are the odds of four pairs of different sized Wellington boots (don't even think about asking), being taken by the same person? What would you say if I told you his name is Godfrey and his son runs an organic farming project? Result, hey! Three people phoned about a tambourine. Draw your own conclusions.

I dawdled away that hour and then some, largely because I could but also because I kept finding dirty patches even though I'd cleaned for a solid week. There is a weird rule of house selling that dictates you'll be forced to clean on a week of dull days only to find that the sun floods through your slimy windows on completion day, illuminating every organic red pesto spill you've ever failed to deal with appropriately.

After eleven years, you want to pick your own moment. It seems crazy after the months of fretting about it, but the situation demands that time bends to your will. So, I'm on the 236 bus, very likely for the last time, and the agent phones to tell me my buyer is there waiting to 'take possession'. Seriously, what do they think you're going to do - abscond with the keys? Apparently so. The key handover ceremony involves the agent taking a colour photocopy of all sets of keys and getting both the buyer and seller to sign the copies.

Do you have a kitchen drawer that looks like this?

Good, I am normal. I'm going to give you a piece of advice that you will never follow and neither will I. You will attempt to clean out this drawer approximately once every five years. When you do so, you will find at least one set of very large bolts. You will have no idea what these are and why you have them. There will be three of them which will give you the perfect excuse to throw them away. You'd think twice about it if there was an even number.

These are the 'travel bolts' for your washing machine. You would be wise to put them in an envelope and label them. No, I'm pretty sure I won't either.

Here are two of my three lovely removalists.
That's Pete on the left and Kevin on the right.

And yes, you will note that I've managed to transfer photos. After the fiasco of spending fifteen quid on a pointless lead, I ended up in Jessops in Islington where I had to discover from a ten-year-old that all I needed was a Universal Card Reader. Duh! So, why isn't anyone telling me this stuff?

Oh yeah, and Barney's been cryogenically suspended in the cocktail shaker. No one on Freecycle wanted it, so it was the perfect solution. I've never known him so serene. House of Pants is now a backpack. We're at large and will be in touch soon...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Moving Tale

Family Fun while elegantly dressed on the South Bank in 2007

Never again. Once I get to the other side of the known world, I’ll never again put my jumbo sized stapler and me through the ordeal known as moving. To House of Pants, it was more disruptive than if Alexander McQueen had hooked up with Hugo Chavez and imposed a long overdue state of fashion emergency.
The photo above is of a family I don’t know. I took it myself last summer. I don’t think the faces are distinguishable enough for them to complain that I haven’t secured their permission to release the picture into the public domain. They ought to be glad, it’s a good photo and the little girl is elegantly dressed for drenching if I’m not much mistaken.

It's not, however the photo that I wanted to put up tonight. House of Pants now resembles a junkie’s doss house. For several days I've been sleeping there on my ancient mattress which I fully intend to leave in the street. I’ve been waiting a generation to do that. I will, however, phone Hackney Council's free bulky waste service and ask them the pick it up rather than just abandon it like everyone else does. I took a photo of the grubby nest in which I've been sleeping, but it's trapped in the Kodak like an outtake from Jumanji.

I also don’t have access to the picture I took of the lovely removalists from Birmingham who magically spirited all my stuff away. Quite what my assorted chattels plan on doing in Birmingham, I can’t imagine. I can only hope Barney stays away from the Bullring. I've had him cryogenically frozen in a charming 1950s cocktail shaker I had lying around. It seemed a shame to offer it on Freecycle when it could provide a perfect temporary home for Barney. I’ve never seen him happier and, to be honest, the silence is bliss. I have a photo of that too.

The removalists were incredibly efficient, and therein lies the problem. Somehow the little lead that connects the Kodak to the computer slipped through a crack in the security cordon I set up to separate the ‘needed on voyage’ items from the rest of the tat I got fed up sorting out and just piled in a corner. Needless to say, that lead and my spare contact lenses are now languishing in a warehouse in Birmingham and I have put the Bosch electric drill, my Gore-Tex jacket and ski gloves on Freecycle. I found them all in the rubble after the removalists had left. I actually ran down the street after them with my nearly new Dr Scholl's sandals and that was embarrassing enough.

So I slipped out today in time I didn’t really have, to buy another camera to computer lead in order to carry on posting my own photos. After wading through several layers of queue-disrespecting tourists in Peruvian bobble hats, I finally found a nine-year-old in Curry’s who appeared to understand what was meant by ‘a lead that connects a digital camera to a computer’. Seriously, these can’t have a specific name can they? What would you call it? A Kodakacon? A Compudak?

Mindful of the propensity of modern manufacturers to create unique connection systems in order to maximise income from accessories, I asked said nine-year-old, ‘are these universal?’ He nodded, of course he did, as he would have had I asked him, ‘are these a cure for cancer, do you know?’ So I get back to my house-sit and locate a chainsaw to open the carton. It clearly proclaims itself a Digital Camera USB Cable so there is no question of gingerliness on my part in getting to the produce. I need to liberate my pictures, fast. The lead does not fit the Kodak and my £15 is up the spout. Calling all Freecyclers - anyone want a camera to computer lead that probably won’t fit your camera?

It's now clear to me just how seriously difficult it’s going to be managing my cyber-life on the road. I haven’t even left town yet and I’ve already lost the ability to manage my images. I now have total sympathy for all of Britney Spears’s multiple personalities.

What used to constitute my ‘stuff’ has all taken a separate journey and I feel very free. I don’t worry about it because none of it is that important. Some of it gave me grief, and I’ve a few stories to tell, particularly about the piano – but that’s a post in itself.

You know me as someone who trusts no one – because I’ve said so often enough. However, when I travel, I become a person who trusts everyone. As soon as the backpack goes on, I willingly place myself at the mercy of strangers, and few have let me down. Perhaps I should spend the rest of my life travelling. I wouldn’t complain if offered that opportunity, believe me (provided someone could sort me out with the right camera/computer interface).

Leaving this city where I’ve spend half my life, and the flat where I’ve lived longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere else apart from the council flat across the road I left it for, is overwhelming to me at present. I like overwhelming, most of the time.

It was weird for me, and quite embarrassing, to have loads of strange men milling around House of Pants packing my, errr, pants. The worst moment was when they pulled out the washing machine. It had been in-situ for some eight years. The layer of grime confronting us made a mockery of the Quentin Crisp assertion that ‘after four years, you don’t notice the dust’. Believe me, it was noticed. The guys found they needed ‘a smoke’ immediately after its discovery. Either dust is very sexy, or they were revolted enough to absent themselves while I applied enough Cillit Bang to invalidate Kyoto. My final exposure as a slovenly cow was strangely liberating.

Ever helpful, the removalists explained that I needed a ‘blank cap’ to put over the hole in the pipework exposed by the departure of my now quite clean washing machine. I responded with my ‘I should know about this, why?’ look, whilst wondering if it had anything to do with contraception. It sounded vaguely familiar. Undaunted, the head removalist brokered a call to my local hardware shop who signposted me to a plumbing suppliers in Hackney Road for the ‘blank cap’ that would render my kitchen sink usable again.

Opposite Hackney City Farm, I found a plumbing shop full of young Asian men all calling each other ‘uncle’. The removalists insisted I take the companion part. It was a useful piece of advice as the term ‘blank cap’ meant nothing two miles down the road. One of the ‘uncles’ produced a piece of brass confidently. I asked how much. He said ‘One pound twenty.’ I’d given the removalists my last twenty-pound note to buy themselves a couple of pints. In Birmingham, you can actually get a couple of pints for twenty quid. There was next to nothing in my purse. I asked the ‘uncle’ to direct me to the nearest cash machine. He said, ‘how much you got?’ I was able to draw together 60p. He said, ‘Okay, okay, now go.’

When I got home, I found the cap fitted. There’s a lesson there but it’s far too esoteric to be contemplated at present…

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Where there are leaves, there's hope - Elegantly head-dressed Wednesday

Pants is at the very end of her elastic, emotionally speaking. Forgive my converting to first person. I want sympathy, and lots of it. I am distraught, seriously. The move is not going well, (Barney, will you shut the fuck up!!). I wish you to know that cyanide commercially available on the internet is not of sufficient strength to dispatch a hybrid, especially one of Barney's indomitable fortitude. I should have worked that one out from the speed at which he turned the tables on the yellow fever.

Whatever possesses hypoallergenic pet manufacturers to persist with conventional selfish genes, I can't imagine. Surely the trade-off for threatening the stability of the global environment by unleashing a potentially lethal cocktail of genetic tutti frutti upon the hearths of the developed world is that all the undesirable characteristics of traditional species are 'designed out'.

I look at Barney and I think, what is the point of you. Barney says he now knows how the Duchess of York feels (except for the whole toe-sucking and being Beatrice's 'mummy-and-best-friendy' thing - which not even Barney is prepared to contemplate).

Christmas, divorce and moving are even more stressful than death for most people. (Arguably, if you're dead, you're no longer stressed, and that's something to look forward to). I chose to do them all at once. Although, having your hybrid pet put into cryogenic suspension doesn't technically count as divorce, I'm sure the personal toll is equivalent. I checked it out thoroughly.

Someone rather creepy from Furriers 4 Justice contacted me because he thought I ought to be entitled to some compensation and wondered whether Barney had a decent coat. I told him I presumed so since a Stella McCartney cashmere blend hooded jacket at £1,495 appeared on my last credit card statement. Since the order was for a size 000 and was placed at 4.15am, I figured it wasn't a panic reflex on my part.

Moving, after eleven years in one place can throw your inner project manager into a major time-frame crisis. I always thought I could accurately predict how long it would take to complete any task. I also laboured under the serious misapprehension that I had hardly any 'stuff'. The three cavernous built-in cupboards at House of Pants have been sleeping Tardii. They conceal items I could never have imagined owning.

These new discoveries have created a massive time lag as I go, 'Barney what the fuck is this?' and Barney goes, 'how the fuck should I know'. Then we have to glare at each other suspiciously until one of us backs down and makes a cup of tea. Then there's the inevitable dilly-dallying over which pile the object I never knew I owned goes into.

There are five piles

  • Definitely going to Australia - books, underwear.
  • Not sure - anything that isn't familiar but looks like it might have a purpose.
  • Things to give to other people - tennis balls for my downstairs neighbour who's a tennis coach. Freeview box for my friend's son to watch the History Channel.
  • Put on Freecycle - virtually anything electrical that I can't get clean - which is most of it.
  • Backpack - the things I'll need for the next three months.

What I've noticed the most is that everything is so dirty and it's taking forever to get it all clean. Just as well Barney and I have had our diphtheria shots. (Now that I've decided on the cryogenic suspension, I'm looking forward to waking him up in gentler times. He might have turned into Buck Rogers by then).

The movers are coming tomorrow and I've managed to pack 25 boxes. In my panic, I'm sure to have packed important documents I find I need tomorrow, like bank statements and instructions on how to stop direct debits from being extracted from my account for the rest of my life. Oh, and I finally get around to signing up for online banking, beating down perpetual doubts about the security aspects, only to discover you can't transfer money internationally with it. Sorry? I thought the point of the internet was that it has no international boundaries.

Is it just me or is it so much harder to get everything done now? Maybe people with complex personal lives and an inexplicable penchant for switching utilities suppliers are used to this level of aggravation but it's all new to me. Why is it so difficult for suppliers to comprehend that you are moving house? Aren't we a predominantly transient population these days? Isn't it just a matter of hitting a key?

And then there's the insidious trait of modern city life which dictates 'what's my problem is your problem'. My new neighbour across the hall gave the neighbour underneath his old washing machine. Nice gesture you'd think. It's been sitting outside her front door, blocking the hallway for three weeks. I've left her notes telling her my movers are coming tomorrow. Still it sits there. Tomorrow I'll have to do something about that and live with moving men in my house for two days. They seem nice but they'll ask all sorts of questions I can't answer and I'll have to clean the bathroom tonight, just in case they want to dirty it up again.

Come Saturday, it will all be over. (Barney, will you shut the fuck up!)

Monday, December 10, 2007

I dream of...

Having a moment like this guy back in the summer of 2000. I snapped him in Islington on my way to a meeting I seriously didn't want to go to. The summer of 2000 was like that.

I dream of having this whole moving business over. I have nine pairs of scissors and can't find any of them. Going to India as an emigration interval was at least the stupidest idea I've ever had because it just makes everything so complicated. I'll love it when I'm there and it will all be worth it.

The demon that is Barney has flatly refused to help with the packing on the flimsy grounds that none of the stuff to be packed is his. Doesn't stop him using same I might add.

Anyway, must get back to the boxes. If you've got a mo, you might want to check out Barney's own webpage. He was memed by Signs so I succumbed to the pressure. I had a few emails suggesting I might be flouting the anti-discrimination laws, and even though they were obviously from himself, it hardly seems worth the bother to gag him. Barney is the hybrid for which 'enough rope' was invented.

I'm going to be otherwise occupied for the next week or so...

In the meantime, check this out - That's So Pants is ranked 3rd in London's hottest blogs over at London Daily Voices where Wednesday's post is also in the top ten this week.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Immeasurably Pissed-off Wednesday

Anyone had one of these lately, ever?

Twenty-five years ago, I left the then police state of Queensland Australia because of the total randomness of that state's interference in its citizens' private lives and because the music was better, obviously. For all this time, including living fairly precariously in squats and participating in decidedly fringe pursuits, I have evaded the attentions of HM Woodentops until now - one month before I officially resign my post as a council tax paying Londoner.

As a respectable middle-aged 'IC1 female', I was yesterday officially 'stopped' at Hackney Wick Station under 'Section 44 of the Counter Terrorism Act'. Admittedly, I was carrying a back pack. Our dozy little station serves about a dozen people an hour so why Hackney Police thought it was a reasonable use of police time to deploy ten officers to find some people to question about terrorism here is anyone's guess.

I was approached by a WPC who asked me if I'd be willing to answer some questions. Thinking this was a type of public consultation and since I'm currently harassing people for a crust under this very pretext, I truly thought it would be churlish of me to refuse. Next thing I know, Sister Sledgehammer has pulled out her fucking Stop and Searches book. Never mind the chummy, chummy approach. I had no right to refuse. Below is the net result of my encounter.

I've scratched out my personal details but it's hardly worth the bother since I know the police are keeping these on a database which was almost certainly hacked into by every under ten year old in the country before I'd bedded down last night.

The flimsy excuse under which I was 'stopped' was to ask me if I'd 'seen anything suspicious' on my way to work. I was tempted to offer that I'd noticed a Brazilian or two hastening to work but was wary of sparking a mass panic, if not slaughter. I thought the better and assured the WPC I'd nothing to report.

Before anyone gets steaming with me about the police needing to be seen to be vigilant when it comes to taking the threat of terrorism seriously, let me just say I'm very glad to have lived the last twenty-five years in a country where I am and feel free to protest. And I did. I told the WPC I found the method of approach invidious. Since the train still hadn't come and I liked the word so much, I harangued the Sergeant and demanded the name of the Borough Commander. I told the Jim Royle-alike Sergeant I'd write a letter of complaint. He looked so pleased I wondered if I'd inadvertently ticked another target box.

When I got to work with the Stop and Searches duplicate burning a hole in my hackles, railing for all I was worth, a black colleague quipped,

'You should try being black love.'

And rightly so. I have black friends whose kids could probably paper their bedroom walls with these things. I wouldn't expect to be treated any differently from my black friends' teenage sons in the same situation. But here's the weird thing. It seems to me my Stop and Searches experience was an exercise in collecting gratuitous but usefully comparative information. Put simply, they grabbed the opportunity to 'question' someone other than a young Asian male under Section 44 of the Counter Terrorism Act, because there was actually no one else around.

No one with a conscience wants the police to be constantly harassing young black and Asian men but, how is taking down the details of my attire going to avert terrorism exactly?

I snarled at the WPC,

'Well I certainly hope you meet your targets'.

She countered,

'It's not just about numbers.'

Stupid fucking cow.

If you're the type of person who thinks that you've nothing to fear if you've done nothing wrong, you might want to rethink. It's very scary but the police can't seem to find a better way of keeping us safe but to treat us all as a potential risk to safety.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The puss and the owly-cat

Bad news, for Barney at least. As you can see, he’s had an adverse reaction to the jabs for India. I suppose I ought to take some responsibility for it. I transported him in his especially adapted owly-cat basket down to our lovely practice nurse Florence. He moaned the whole way and actually inferred that instead of getting a tetanus booster, he might be being prepped for having his cojones disappeared. Suffice to say that mutual trust has never built in quite the way I’d hoped.

Fortunately for us, our local surgery is reckoned to be the best in Hackney. Admittedly that’s not much of a recommendation, but it’s incredibly efficient and there never seems to be anyone in there. I suppose that doesn’t seem like much of a recommendation either but I don’t think there’s quite the link between quality and demand when it comes to health services as there is say with restaurants. No sooner had we entered the waiting room than our names began to flash up on the big screen. I admit I was disappointed as I’d my eye on a Take A Break article about Britney Spears embracing her new hobby of plastic surgery. I’m so relieved she’s taking an interest in something. In any case, the expediency left Barney little time for protest.

I was surprised to discover that all the inoculations you need for travelling in India were available and free and could be done right there and then by the nightingale-like Florence. But that’s the NHS. If you’re in agony with a bung hip or urgently need drugs for cancer, you’ll be told to go to Germany or pay for your treatment yourself. If you only want to go on holidays to a place where you’ve a slim chance of picking up typhoid, you get to make an appointment convenient for you and arrive to find all the right drugs in the fridge.

Where I think I might be culpable in Barney’s present predicament is that I was possibly a little too cavalier in suggesting that he should have double the human dose of everything just to be on the safe side. I stand by my logic. Barney, being a hybrid, has twice the DNA of a standard species. I could find no evidence in my, (admittedly cursory), internet research to suggest that body weight should be factored in.

I have a feeling it might be the yellow fever. Those spots are really quite yellow and sort of weeping. I don’t want to alarm Barney so I’m keeping him in a darkened room while I quietly contact his originators to see if he can be cryogenically frozen for the next three or even six months. God knows I need a break. To be honest, I think it’s all for the best. I know Barney had his heart set on visiting the Maharajah of Katpur but there would have been all sorts of problems in setting that up as the ‘Maharajah’ is really a long dead London alley cat called Merlin. Barney has the infuriating combination of extra keen eyesight and ultra-suspicious nature so only the most elaborate of hoaxes would have sufficed. Who needs it?